Sometimes We Eat Giant Pickles at the Movies

When I talked to a dear friend, Jennifer Jacobson, about writing a blog on misconceptions Easterners hold about Westerners, she recommended the children’s book Gila Monsters Meet You at the Airport by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat and Byron Barton. The book’s young hero laments about what he’ll find when he moves out West. Not only did I get a good laugh, but the book fit perfectly with many stories friends shared on the subject. As Sharmat and Barton’s hero says at the end, “Back East they don’t know much about us Westerners.” Because of this fact, getting regional dialect/phrases, career details and settings that add richness to a story can be harder than readers realize because many industry professional are Easterners.

 One thing the hero in Gila Monsters Meet You at the Airport claims at the beginning is, “…there’s cactus everywhere you look.” I chuckled because apparently, we have a cacti cover problem on Texas romance novels. When I asked author friends and readers on Facebook what Eastern folks get wrong about the west, I received a few cactus stories. Fact is, we don’t see many cacti in east or central Texas, but often there they’re on covers of novels set there. Other authors found saguaros on covers for west Texas novels though they don’t grow in Texas.

Often authors must explain regional phrases or words to editors. For example, what some call a dish towel, others call a cup towel. A pumpjack or nodding donkey is part of an oil well. It was suggested she say pumping jack. Ah, not only no, but hell no. As the author who shared the story said, she’d be “laughed out of west Texas if she’d used that term.” Another thing people don’t understand is y’all isn’t singular. A live oak is a specific type of tree, not a tree that’s actually alive. Texas barns are most likely weathered and red, not the giant red barns seen in the East and Midwest.

Another big issue was horses. One friend’s pet peeve was when authors put a hero on a “well-behaved” stallion. First, stallions are rarely “well-behaved,” and second, stallions often can’t be near other horses. Another author friend said she spotted a cover where the male model had a bridle thrown over his shoulder… upside down! According to her, “No one who has been within 20 feet of a horse would carry a bridle that way.” 

A friend and amazing artist, Jane Monsson also said her pet peeve is when authors get horse details wrong. From her art, it’s apparent she loves horses and knows a lot about them. I admit, I’ve worried about messing up with horse anatomy or gear. After all, I write western romance. There’s going to be horses in my stories and I need to get it right. While I know which end of a horse is which, I’ve never owned one and am nowhere near an expert.

How do I get details right enough so as not to offend experts like Jane? Edgar R. “Frosty” Potter’s cool book Cowboy Slang. The book contains an illustration “Parts of a Horse” and “Parts of a Horse Skeleton.” (I haven’t needed the later, but one never knows!However, I’ve frequently referred to the section “Colors of Horses.” This book of one hundred twenty-three pages is a treasure, containing great western sayings, info on cattle brands, barbed wire, cattle ear crop types, and how cowboys use a bandana! For horse gear, I refer to the illustrated horse gear section of a volunteer booklet from Equest Therapeutic Horsemanship Program. 

The other way I check facts or do research for my stories is by finding an expert. But that’s a blog for another day.

Now it’s your turn. Share with me what your pet peeve that people get wrong about the west or us Westerners and be entered to win a copy of To Catch a Texas Cowboy and the Book Club wine glass.









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Julie Benson has written five novels for Harlequin American, and her Wishing, Texas series is available from Tule Publishing. Now that her three sons have left the nest in Dallas, when she isn't writing, Julie spends her time working on home improvement projects, rescuing dogs, and visiting Texas wineries with her husband. Visit her at

48 thoughts on “Sometimes We Eat Giant Pickles at the Movies”

  1. People have some odd preconceived ideas about different parts of the country, thinking they know how people talk and dress, what they eat. Maybe now from television? We moved from the Midwest via Florida to Northern California years ago. Friends and family think it’s all Hollywood or San Francisco, that we don’t have farms and small towns and “normal” people. And someone informed us when we moved that none of the homes are built with furnaces since it doesn’t get that cold here. SF Bay Area? Um, yes it does. Thanks for the fun post.

  2. Great blog, yes people often make me laugh that are from the east trying to describe the west and especially Texas.
    “Do you want a coke?” That could mean any type of drink, not an actual coke.
    I despise the word lasso, it’s a rope, plain and simple.
    Put lasso in a book and I’m instantky turned off and know right then the author is clueless on cowboy terminology.
    You are so right y’all is not singular.
    I laughed at the live oak statement. It is a real tree, grew up with them forever. I will probably think of more, it’s still early for me this morning, but great blog.

    • Tonya, I’m glad the blog made you smile. I forgot about the coke thing. That took me a while to catch onto when I moved to Texas. My friends came up with some great things to share such as the live oak and y’all. I’m adding lasso to my running list of terms I need to be careful about. Since I’m originally from Iowa I have to be careful to get things right.

  3. Being a Texan, it seems we all wear 10 gallon hats or Stetsons. Most cowboys will probably have on a baseball type cap now a days. Boots are usually worn for working (with or without spurs) or shined up for going out. Tennis shoes are more common.

    • Jerri Lynn, you’re right about the hat. I have got to start using baseball caps more often. When I read your post, I thought of my oldest son. He’s always got a baseball cap and cowboy boots on. He has every day ones and then a “good pair.” Thanks for stopping by today!

    • Estella, you’re right! As a mom of three boys, I know they can fight about the weather, but getting all the way to fist fights? You’re right. They need a good reason. I think scenes like that come down to laziness. The writer doesn’t want to work hard enough to properly motivate the scene. I find that happens all the time in movies. When we’re watching TV or movies, I’m constantly saying to family, “Oh, come on, really? I could never get away with that in one of my books. If my editor was brain dead and let it get by her, a reader would certainly point it out to me.”

  4. I live in Texas and a lot of times I see the state portrayed as all cowboys and ranches or oil fields in Dallas. The truth is, I don’t see many cowboys in my area even though I live near a huge rodeo arena. I live on the edge of the city and country and there are a few ranches around here, but they are slowly going away. I hate to see that part. Even the feed store that had been here for longer than most people has shut down. More and more houses are going up in areas that once used to be farmland too. I have to drive a really long way to see any oil wells. Dallas is a big city and I never seen people wearing cowboy hats or boots.

    • Janine, I forgot about people thinking Dallas is all cowboys, ranches and oil fields! mistake. Losing the open spaces and old stores like the feed store you mentioned makes me sad, too.

      I live in Plano which had three or four farms right in town when we moved here in the 1980’s. Now there’s only two left on 15th street and they’re much smaller than they were. Losing those to houses makes me sad, too. Thankfully, we have Heritage Farm museum which has held onto a decent size piece of land. Now people have to go farther and farther out to find farms or ranches. My favorite place is Valley View, Texas. I blogged about that town almost a year ago. I work with a dog rescue, Cody’s Friends Rescue ( and I transported a dog to an adoptive family in Valley View. The couple has a fabulous ranch there, The Promise Ranch. Earlena says there is a story to go along with the name that she’ll share with me over a glass of wine at Firelight. Isn’t that a great name for a ranch? I’ve got to ask her if I can use that in a book some day.

      • I live in Mesquite, right along the edge of Sunnyvale. mesquite was pretty well built up when I got here, but Sunnyvale was a lot of open fields. Over the years, little by little that land is tuning into home. I believe the people moving in there are the ones responsible for the fed store laving. Either they lost business because of the decline of ranches or they were run out because the people moving in don’t want to see the farms and all. When I first moved into this house 18 years ago, we used to lay out back and see so many star. Now you can’t see much at all. There were also big fields across the street from the neighborhood, now it’s all businesses and factories. Plus the big hospital that went up a few years ago next to our neighborhood too hasn’t helped. I toy with the idea of moving out towards Terrell, but fear it won’t be long before that open land is gone too. I may have to look and see where Valley View is and take a drive. I think it’s wonderful that you work with the dog rescue. I volunteered at a cat rescue for quite a while until my friend split ways with her partner and quit doing it. I knew she would be upset if I continued volunteering with someone she wasn’t friends with anymore. I didn’t want to get in the middle of that and lose a good friend over it.

      • Janine, hearing what’s happened to where you live makes me sad. I bet it’s hard not seeing all the stars you once could. Valley View is just north of Denton and south of Gainesville on Interstate 35. It’s a little town of 735, and there’s still lots of space there.

        As to the cat rescue, I friend of mine Nancy Strasner Stephenson has just started a cat rescue, A Voice For All Paws. Check it out on Facebook!

  5. I was raised in the east and what some of the question I get from friends and relatives is do Indians still live in teepe’s and do they carry bow and arrows and is the west still wild. Much easier now to say just look it up on the internet. What people think when they don’t travel far from home is funny and crazy.

    • Kim, lol. Seriously, right here in Starbucks, I just did at your comment. Now that’s funny right there. Yup, all we do in Texas is ride on our ranches checking on cows and oil fields while we’re watching out for Indians. Thanks for making my day!

      • Seriously. When people don’t travel outside of there bubble meaning state they believe more in what the movies say that what is real. The internet is such wake up call for those still living in the middle ages.

  6. I don’t live in the west, but I still have a pet peeve. My hubby and I sport shoot and know a bit about guns. I have found quite a few mistakes and misconceptions in books regarding shotguns, caliber, etc. I have no clue how hard it is for authors to ask questions about: horses, cactus, guns, wild west, horse gear, etc, so I don’t get too upset about it.

    • Susan, for a while I wrote romantic suspense. (Obviously not well, since none of those stories were published.) Getting gun details right was hard for me. Luckily now I could ask my oldest son questions since he’s a former captain in the Air Force and a police officer. What I would do is try to find someone like you who I could shoot an email. I’d explain the scenario and ask, “What kind of gun would he/she use and what do I need to know about it?” When I finished the scene, I’d often run it past my expert. Let me tell you, I’ve had experts catch more mistakes than I care to count. But I want to get the details right. If I ever have a character who needs to use a shotgun, I’m definitely contacting you! Thanks for stopping by today.

  7. Julie, fascinating what Easterners believe about the Wild West. I love horses, and you’re right that they are often depicted in very strange ways in some books. I also love research, the deeper the better. Kudos to you for your very fine research efforts.

    • Thanks Hebby. I try to get it right. I’m sure I’ve made mistakes along the way, but I hope they haven’t been major ones that cause readers to toss the book across the room in frustration.

  8. I am originally from the East and North and now live in the Southwest which I love. The wide open spaces and the climate are soothing and give me such a good feeling. No one from the East understands the allure and the simplicity. They think that there are snakes, scorpions and mountain lions.

    • Anne, I know what you mean. I’m sure you have those things where you are, but they’re not everywhere. Thanks for stopping by this morning. Watch out for those scorpions if you head outside!

  9. Yes – after living on a farm for most of my life and riding horses for almost 55 years – I quickly pick up on anything wrong with farm animals/horses and where/how they live in general

    • Teresa, what amazes me how different farming is depending on where someone is. My grandparents were Iowa farmers and that was so different from what it’s like here in Texas. Different crops. Different soil. All kinds of things are different.

  10. I live in college town in the midwest — we have kids from the East Coast who think Indiana is the land of cowboys and horses….ummmmmm….we do have horsepower at the Indy 500… but geez, corn and soybeans farms. No ranches..

    • Kate, that’s hilarious that people expect to see cowboys in Indiana. Farmers yes. But that’s different than cowboys. It’s more like Iowa in terms of crops. A few times when I’ve substitute taught, we’ve discussed how people need to know the area–how much rain it gets, the temperatures, the soil because that determines what crops and animals thrive in the area. Thanks for stopping by. Your post made me chuckle.

  11. Excellent post, Julie and a chance for me to air my own pet peeve–every cowboy on the planet wearing a Stetson. I don’t know one cowboy who wears a Stetson and I know a lot of working cowboys. (Nothing against Stetson, mind you. They are excellent hats and I own two, but they are hunting hats). I don’t mind the occasional cowboy in a Stetson, but every single one? No. Just. No.

      • Jeannie, thanks for stopping by. I’m so glad you did, because you can answer a question for me. If I want my hero to wear a cowboy hat, what’re other brands he could wear? I just realized I need to change it up a bit, mention other brands and throw in a baseball cap or two once in a while.

      • There’s Resistol, which is the most common on the shelf brand in my area of Nevada. I haven’t checked in Montana, cuz I have enough hats and don’t want to be tempted. Bailey is another. A lot of cowboys have a 20x-50x beaver hat for town. Of course, Stetson makes very nice ones, so I have to eat my words there. 🙂 These are very expensive–$250 to $500 for a 20X and $500 to several thousand for a 50X. (The hats go from 2X to 100X dependent on the content of actual fur in the felt.) In the summer cowboys generally wear palm leaf or straw hats. Palm leaf is more durable and can be dunked in the horse trough and then shaped. Straw is more brittle, but I have a 25 year old Larry Mahon straw, so they can last. In the fall, winter and spring cowboys tend to wear felt. Some cowboys have arena hats for rodeos–hats that can be beat up. My husband wears a ball cap or an Atwood palm leaf cowboy hat in the summer, a Reistol felt in the winter, and his town hat is a custom 50X that we spent too much for. 🙂

      • I have a Resistol on my closet shelf even though I haven’t owned a horse in years, sadly. But some things you just keep.

        And talk about Eastern perceptions….without naming names, I was once contracted to do a continuity book for a major publisher, with a story brainstormed by New York editors. And they insisted, over my vociferous protests, that my hero had to teach the heroine to ride on his prized breeding stallion. Let me tell you that was an exercise in getting to where I could even look at the story without bursting out laughing.

      • Justine, what a hoot! Teaching a heroine to ride on prize breeding stallion?! Sure. Not like the horse was worth a lot of money. And he’d be such an easy horse to ride—patient and not the least bit temperamental. Thanks for another great laugh today.

  12. I can’t think of any pet peeve about cowboys, but I do love reading cowboy romances & I have to say they are my most favorite read. Thanks for the chance at this amazing book.

  13. I enjoy this informative and interesting post. Research is always rewarding and so worthwhile. Being in the West gives me such pleasure since the over populated cities do not appeal to me. The vast horizon does so much for me.

    • Pearl, the minute I get far enough out of town I can feel my chest loosening up and my stress level go down. I felt the same way at my grandparents’ Iowa farm. Thanks for stopping by to say hello today.

  14. Cowboys are my heroes and when I watched the Westerns on television that were so popular during the 1950’s I knew that one day I would be living in the West. Their manners and principles are what I was impressed with and know that this is an important facet of their lives.

  15. My pet peeve is about all books, although the majority of the books I do read are about cowboys. I just hate mistakes in general whether it be about something in the story or spelling errors.

    • Linda, we try our best to catch all the mistakes, but it’s hard, especially for me. My brain knows what I mean to say and often glides over the mistskes. I swear, I’ll proof a book multiple times, have two or three other people read it, and my agent will still catch additional mistakes.

      Thanks for leaving a comment today.

  16. They either think it is desert or wide open prairie with the Rockies poking up somewhere. Much is true, but many states have a wide variety of terrain. Colorado has the plains, desert, Rocky Mountains, mountain meadows, deep gorges, Indian cliff dwellings, and much more. Each state has similar diversity. South Dakota: the Badlands, Custer National Park, Deadwood in the mountains. Texas: a little bit of everything. Ask many about Texas and they think of dusty rangeland with cattle. Uh, not totally.
    There are lots of cowboys everywhere. There are lots of people with boots, jeans, and stetsons but that doesn’t make them real cowboys. It is sort of the uniform of the West that has spread east lately.
    All Indian reservations are poverty stricken wastelands full of lazy drunks and dishonest people. Sadly, most reservations suffer much poverty thanks to government policy. But not all reservations are swamped in poverty. We have been to and through some that are doing well. Furthermore, poverty is not an indication of honor and respect. We visited a cemetery on a windy reservation that was not as bad as some but by no means financially in good shape. The graves were covered with many personal items. One little boy’s grave was covered with matchbox cars. A little girls had a carousel music box and little dolls. Other graves had angel statues , pictures, flowers, even jewelry, and other mementos. Much of this stuff had been there for some time. As poor as the people are, they did not take these items. Where I now live in the Southeast in a comfortable middle class area, these items would be stolen off the graves within just a few days of being put out.

    • Patricia, your comments about the reservations moved me in so many ways. I haven’t had the privilege of visiting any, but I’ve heard stories about the desperate poverty, and you’re right, it’s mostly caused by the US government’s policies or failing to follow through on what was promised. What you noticed about the graves was particularly touching. The comments about the Matchbox cars and the music box on the two children’s graves made me tear up. It’s also very true that items like that would be stolen in many middle class neighborhoods if left out as a tribute. And what a profound statement, that “poverty is not an indication of honor and respect.” A lot of people could use to hear that today. Thank you so much for your thought provoking comments.

  17. I was raised by an Easterner father and a Westerner mother (and their families of course), and I’ve traveled all over the U.S. by car, and there are differences everywhere! even within a state. Not everyone in the East has a Bronx accent, just like Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington are literally different worlds. Try living in them to see the differences. So…while it’s natural to talk about the West since we’re on P&P, uninformed, not well traveled people are the same everywhere. Want me to talk about how very different the parts of Scotland are, like the Lowlands, the Highlands, Western Isles and so much more in a country that’s not quite as large as the state of Maine? Or the differences throughout the UK which is much smaller than California? Casual, small, “limited” mistakes are one thing, but I myself never ever find ignorance funny. At all. At all. If you can’t travel, then read for goodness’ sakes and get yourself better informed, is what I say. There’s no excuse not to be informed these days.

    • Eliza, I agree there are misconceptions everywhere about what an area is like. You’re also correct that there’s no excuse for being uninformed today. For example, when I wanted a B&B for Cassie and a ranch house for Ty in To Love a Texas Cowboy, I looked at houses that were for sale in the geographic area I set the series. (My imaginary town of Wishing is loosely based on Athens, TX.) I also checked what type of crops they raised there and what the fauna was like. Though I’d visited there, I hadn’t noted those details. I refer to pictures of an area a lot to get details right because I’m such a visual person. If I have a picture of a house I imagine Ty living in, I do a much better job describing it. Thanks for reminding us that misconceptions are everywhere and we need to get our facts right!

      • Thank you for your most gracious reply, Julie. I truly appreciate it.

        Just to be clearer from my side, though, I’m more concerned with understanding based on humanity rather than ‘just the facts, m’am.” Lack of understanding and even the desire to care to try to contributes to a lot of heartache these days.

        I apologize for referring to country and world conditions rather than to limit myself to western novels.

      • Eliza, there is nothing to apologize for! And there’s no need to limit your comments to novels. Part of why I write is to explore the human condition, and you’re right, misunderstandings contribute to a lot of heartache these days. I think misconceptions we see in novels occur because they’re prevalent in society. One way I combat that is to reflect accurate portrayals of regions, careers, and people, in my books, at least to the best of my ability.

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