The Writing of HEARTBREAK RANCH~ Chelly Kitzmiller

A big Wildflower Welcome to Miz Chelley and her pals. Don”t forget to comment…one of y”all will be winning a copy of  Heartbreak Ranch! 

Readers are always asking, “How do you come up with your ideas?” Truthfully, ideas are everywhere; all you have to do is have an open mind and a story will emerge from the most trivial information.  

But Heartbreak Ranch has a unique beginning and that’s the story I’m sharing with you today. 

I wanted to go on a writing retreat with my friends: Jill Landis, Dorsey Adams aka Dorsey Kelly and Suzanne Forster. Since we all liked writing about cowboys and the old West, it seem fitting that we make the hour and a half trek from my house to Rankin Ranch.  And since we were all going together, I thought it might be newsworthy. So I called a reporter, Lisa Kimble Edmonston, from our local news station. She liked the idea of interviewing us at a place she wanted to cover anyway.



~Lisa Kimble Edmonston 

   The year was 1993 – Bill Clinton was President, $1.16 would buy you a tank of gas (imagine), and for a few dollars more you could go see Jurassic Park at the movie theater.

    It was also still part of what is now a by-gone era in television news, when even smaller market television stations like Bakersfield (size 147 at the time) sent a two-person crew beyond the city limits in search of good stories.

    By then, it had been my good fortune to have been assigned many such stories – a Papal visit, the Academy Awards, and the San Francisco earthquake among them.   But it would be what at first seemed like ‘just another assignment’, a feature on one of California’s last and oldest working ranches, in the foothills above Bakersfield, that would become the hallmark of my broadcasting career and spawn the idea for a best-selling book in the process.

   My photographer and I snaked up the Lion’s Trail road to Caliente – a trip that even by car would make a mule sick.  Our destination was the rustic Rankin Ranch, a working dude ranch, one of the few remaining in the West, where dudes are gentlemen cowboys and the pastoral land is rich in history.

   Time stands still at this piece of heaven in the Tehachapi Mountains.  It is exactly that same peaceful feeling of tranquility and deep history that a group of four romance writers sought out each year at the Rankin.  Their annual sojourn was a sort of soulful reunion in which these four women, all acclaimed in their own right, also immersed themselves in all things rustic and rugged which would eventually weave its way through their future manuscripts.

  Lucky for us, my visit to the Rankin and their retreat overlapped on one beautiful day.  Within a matter of hours (a luxurious amount of time by today’s broadcasting assignment standards), Chelley Kitzmiller, Dorsey Kelley, Jill Marie Landis and Suzanne Forster were interwoven with my story on such a beloved place hidden in the hills, a new friendship with Chelley began, and by the end of our time together, ‘just one more question’ sparked what would become Heartbreak Ranch.

    “Why haven’t you collaborated on something, given all your trips up here?” I inquired.  The four women looked at each other in wonderment.  “What a great idea!” they chimed back.

     And the rest, as they say, is romance novel history.  I went on to win an Emmy Award for that story, certainly a highlight of my broadcasting news career.  But it would be the publication of Heartbreak Ranch, a quartet of original stories by the four women a few years later, including a dedication to me for my encouragement, that I will treasure forever!


            Lisa spent a lot of time with us and so did her camera man. She seemed genuinely interested, which I later learned was not always the case with media people. Because of her interest in people in general, Lisa and I have since become friends and even though we don’t see each other often, we keep in touch via Facebook.

            Indeed, it was Lisa who was the instigator for Heartbreak Ranch. Her question sparked an idea in me and I will forever be in her debt.


It seems like a century ago now, myself and three friends–all passionate about writing and cowboys–used to take off for a lovely retreat at Rankin Ranch in the foothills of the San Joaquin Valley. The ranch was founded in 1863 and the place was perfect for Chelley Kitzmiller and I to get our historical romance writer imaginations running in high gear.Chelley, noted author, photographer, entrepreneur and advocate for all furry creatures large and small, always spearheaded the group. Chelley is well known for saying, “I’ve got an idea….” or “I was just thinking….” and as soon as she uttered one of those phrases, we knew we were in for a wild ride.While horseback riding around the ranch (actually it was bouncing around on saddles), we asked the rugged wranglers all manner of questions about ranching and roping and branding and horses and cattle and pigs. After Lisa finished interviewing us, Chelley came up with an idea for a compilation of short novellas, an anthology connected through time by heroines who inherited a ranch in the Walker Basin where the Rankin Ranch is located and Heartbreak Ranch was born.When one of our cadre had to decline, Chelley, Dorsey Kelley, and I were disappointed, but then Chelley’s friend, Fern Michaels said she’d toss her hat in the ring and write one of the novellas.

Fern Michaels!! New York Times Bestselling author of bestselling historical romance and women’s fiction novels. We were thrilled. Little did we know that meshing our individual writing styles could fill a novel on its own.

We divided up the story by time periods. Chelley came up with Amy Duprey, daughter of an infamous madame, Bella Duprey. Amy inherited the ranch in 1869.  My heroine, Josey Heart, owns the ranch in 1890 and low and behold, I managed to work in a handsome Hawaiian paniolo (cowboy) who arrives and soon becomes Josey’s hero.

The stories are as varied as the writers themselves. Heartbreak Ranch was originally published by Harlequin in 1997. I’m happy to announce that our Heartbreak Ranch Anthology lives again and is available in paperback or eBook.    



For those old enough to remember the movie “If A Man Answers” with Bobby Darin and Sandra Dee, Dee was a new bride who envied her parent’s perfect marriage. When things start to go bad in Dee’s marriage, she asks her mother, a savvy French woman, her secret for wedded bliss and mom gives her a book from her bookshelf titled “How To Train Your Puppy.”  Dee is outraged but her mother assures her that the training techniques really do work and that she should try them. I had just watched the movie on the classics movie channel and the concept was stuck in my mind, so I went with it thinking it would be fun. As you probably know I’m a huge fan of dogs. I have 11 of my own and currently 5 fosters and I run a pet rescue—

Just like the movie, Heartbreak Ranch is fiction. We were not saying that men should be treated like dogs; we were saying that men and women should be praised when they do good and corrected when they do wrong, which is what dog training is all about.  I know this now more than ever because I’m currently in training classes with one of my rescue dogs.

Just about the time that Heartbreak Ranch was about to hit the stands, a story about 60 starving Arabian horses came over our local news. The horses were found near Rankin Ranch, which was also our basic setting for the book. The horrifying pictures of these skeletal creatures made me call Jill, Dorsey and Fern and ask if they would join me in donating money to help. Together, we raised several thousand dollars, which was used to buy portable horse corrals. The horses were being transported to the Lerdo Correctional Institution and the prisoners would be taking care of them. The corrals were for the mares, most of whom were pregnant. Once they gave birth, they needed  to be separated from the other mares and geldings. The media covered over efforts and helped inspire others to donate as well.

Working with Jill, Dorsey and Fern was a real thrill for me—a dream come true.  A few years later I had another opportunity to work with Fern Michaels, this time as her writing assistant.  In fact, I worked with her on nine of her books: Guest List, Picture Perfect, Split Second, Late Bloomer, Kentucky Rich, Kentucky Heat, Kentucky Sunrise, Plain Jane and the infamous Weekend Warrior. She sent me one or two chapters at a time, which were mostly dialogue and I added descriptions, emotions and all the research information…basically fleshed out each chapter and did all the research and revisions. She was a good teacher and I learned a lot from her.

Heartbreak Ranch was an experience I will never forget and a memory I will forever cherish.

                                                                           Back view of rec room and patio

It was right there, outside the recreational room, where Elaine Palance (wife of late actor Jack Palance) is sitting that Heartbreak Ranch was born.  Yes, that’s Margaret Brownley on the left. This picture was taken on a later visit to Rankin Ranch. I  wasn’t think back then that a photo of all of us might be helpful.

                                                                                                 Cabin 2

This is where we retreated to every night during our stay. Twin beds, a cot, a couple of chairs to each room, very comfy except for the cot, which will put a big hitch in your get-along.


                                                                                              Dining room  



                                                                                            Helen Rankin

The dining room is the heart of Rankin Ranch. It’s attached to the main house, which was built in the 1800’s. The food that came out of the kitchen had more starch in it than your grandma’s apron. It didn’ t just stick to my ribs; it stuck to my hips, thighs and waist!  Special guests had the honor of setting at  the same table with the late Helen Rankin, whose story of being widowed at a very young age and taking over the cattle ranch is the stuff that movies are made of—or books!  Uhh, we never got to sit at her table but we had a good time anyway.

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30 thoughts on “The Writing of HEARTBREAK RANCH~ Chelly Kitzmiller”

  1. Touching story of Ms Rankin and her dedication to a worthy cause. I’m so glad that you were able to experience this place, capture the essence of it and share it with all of us in HEARTBREAK RANCH.

  2. Hi Chelley,

    I’ve heard the story of how Heartbreak Ranch was written before, of course, but it still delights.

    I, too, have fond memories of Rankin Ranch when you and I went there. If you recall, we did get to sit at the grand lady’s table–or at least as much as our saddle sore backsides allowed.

    Thank you for sharing and CONGRATULATIONS to all on the book’s new release!


  3. i hadn’t heard the story about how Heartbreak Ranch came about – very cool. i am going to have to go get the ebook. these sound like stories i will love.

  4. Hi Chelley, welcome to Petticoats and Pistols today! I loved hearing your “backstory” to Heartbreak Ranch. I had the great pleasure of spending time at a guest ranch in Bandera TX and wow, what fodder for books, what ambiance. I sure felt like a cowgirl!

    Nightmarish about the starving horses. I help out at our local horse rescue and treasure these magnificent animals. And I’m a dog nut as well as defender of wolves. Horses, all canines, donkeys…thank God for rescuers and fosters! Lovely post and pictures, Chelley!

  5. OH my, what a wonderful back story on the ranch. Thanks for telling the who, what and why of your book. And then, Jack Palance was one of my most favorite actors!

  6. Laurie, go to the Rankin Ranch website; they have a wonderful history written there. It’s quite a ranch, but take an ice chest with “lite” food or you’ll be walking around groaning.

    Margaret, I’d like to go back one of these days and see if anything has changed. I seriously doubt it.

    Deb and Katie, thank you for commenting. There are a lot of memories associated with this book’s second printing.

    Tanya, Regarding the horses, the people who starved them were lawyers and they got a tasted of justice, but just a taste, which included a hefty fine. I would have preferred to see serious jail time. Most of the horses survived and were adopted. A few, unfortunately, didn’t make it; they were too far gone when help came. I think that more and more people are “waking” up to what is happening to the animals and joining rescue groups as you have done. But we wouldn’t need rescue groups at all if people were responsible in the first place and kind to animals.

  7. Why would anyone starve an animal like that. It just makes no sense! What is wrong with them? Sell them for heaven’s sake or even euthanize them if you don’t want them. But to leave them to starve is just evil.

  8. Cate, I was friends with Jack and Elaine Palance for many years, until his death. Elaine is my age and Jack was 20 years older; they had a rocky marriage,got divorced, then lived with each other as if they were married until his death. As you know Jack had a voice that could either send chills of fright down your spine or butterflies into your stomach. He wrote of book of poetry, The Forest of Love. He also wrote an endorsement for me in one of my books–The Seeker. He was a good writer but his punctuation was way out there! I know, I typed a whole book for him that he narrated and everytime I punctuated, he changed it. Please sign up for my email newsletter at

  9. What a great place to write the story. What memories you must have of this time.. I don’t write, but I would love to just visit this wonderful place.. It looks very restful.

  10. Mary, there is no one answer to your question about why people do bad things to animals. But on a lighter side, I think you’ll enjoy what I do to the Poodle in Heartbreak Ranch; he, Toddy, doesn’t like the hero and he let’s him know it!

    Renee & Kathleen, Rankin Ranch is a wonderful place to visit; it’s a low key guest ranch with lots and lots of history. In fact, I first went there to learn about the hero of my first book–Joaquin Murietta. Apparently he visited the ranch just before his death. Please join my email list at

  11. Thank you so much for sharing with us… I truly enjoy learning background bits about a story. I am happy that they have brought the anthology back for us that have not experienced it yet.

  12. Hi Chelley,
    You guys were right in my back yard. I live east, just over the mountains and north. (Hwy 395). Many of our local cowboys will go down there and work.
    Thank you for this backstory. Our California history is just as wonderful as any other part of the country.
    I would love to win your book.
    Mary J

  13. Welcome back to P&P, Chelley. Wish I could’ve been on that retreat with you. What an amazing inspiring place. And the company wasn’t too bad either. LOL Oh to hang out with you ladies. I can only imagine the conversations.

    The anthology that resulted from that trip looks wonderful. Lots of talent there. Wishing you much success.

  14. What an interesting post. Your experience was unforgettable and special. How fortunate to stay there and meet these people.

  15. Ellie, Thank you for your comments. Yes, Rankin Ranch is a neat place–a great destination for writers and families.

    Linda, It’s always nice to hitch up with you fillies. I feel honored to barge in on your space.

    Mary, I’m not sure where you are??? East? Ridgecrest? Inyokern?

    Coleen, we too are very happy about the books 2nd chance.

  16. What a delightful story! It is always nice to here the backstory. Thank you for sharing and congradulations to all on the book’s release.

  17. Yeehaa!
    Chelley, how fun to read all the points of view on the birth of our project so long ago. So glad you shared it with the Petticoats and Pistols readers. I hope they enjoy the stories as much as we did writing them.
    Aloha all,
    Jill Marie

  18. Mary J-
    Lone Pine? We visit Boulder Creek RV Resort 4-5 times every year; my hubby loves fishing! You probably saw flyers last week for “Jack” the little brown and white Chihuahua–lost in Independence by Craig Leck, the electrician. I adopted Jack to him and he got away from him; he wasn’t on a leash and something frightened him. My heart breaks for him; he was only about 5 pounds. He could not have survived the cold or the predators. This is the hard part of pet rescue, hearing about the babies you loved that go way before their time. On a light note–email me through and next time we are in Lone Pine we can have a meal at the Alabama Hills Cafe!

  19. Thank you everyone for all your nice comments. I’m so happy you enjoyed the backstory of Heartbreak Ranch.
    I look forward to chatting with you all another time.
    I’m giving away two copies of the book tonight so good luck.

  20. Oh, that all just seems so amazing. I love hearing back stories and anything else an author wants to share about their stories. I enjoyed hearing about it all! Thanks.

  21. Congrats on your new release! Loved learning a little about each author. Would love to read this book, looks really good.

  22. Sorry I missed the giveaway. Still was an enjoyable post. Sounds like a great time and the book sounds like an enjoyable read. I hope it does well.

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