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 www.juliebenson.net.
This is how I feel after all the wonderful renovation suggestions you gave me for the house in my newest story. The wealth of knowledge y’all possess amazes me! I was especially thrilled to hear Alice’s father, also a farmer/rancher, had carpentry skills! BTW, her hubby has carpentry skills too! Whew! I forget my concern over readers not believing my rancher hero is working as a contractor/carpenter to make extra money. I was also excited to learn Patricia has remodeled an 1898 Victorian farmhouse.
But now to my winner. Drum roll please! The winner of the Thanksgiving dish towel and signed copy of Colorado Rescue is:
Congratulations, Denise! Look for an email from me for how to claim your giveaway.
Thanks again to everyone who spent part of the day with me. Take care, stay safe, and have a happy fall, y’all.
My current project is a fish-out-water story, my favorite type to write. I do so love putting my characters in uncomfortable situations. I realized this with my first book Big City Cowboy when I forced my hero Rory to model in NYC. In the book I’m currently writing, my heroine, Jade works as a Senior Account Manager for a NYC designer. When her aunt leaves her a house in Tishomingo, Oklahoma, she travels there to supervising renovations for its sale. Of course, my hero is a cowboy. Dalton’s forced to take contractor jobs to earn money to keep his ranch afloat.
Another reason I’m enjoying this project is get to show off my DIY/renovation skills. (Yup, I love power tools and own tile, miter, and table saws, a cool nail gun, and various sanders.) I’ve retiled floors, removed wallpaper and popcorn ceilings, then retextured them, and retiled a shower. (FYI, renovating your house is a better workout than you get at any gym!)
After I hammered 🙂 out my characters and their backstory, I thought about the house’s floor plan to determine what renovations Jade would do. Despite knowing all we can discover on the internet, silly me, I tried to sketch a floor plan of my grandparents’ farmhouse. I almost drove myself crazy before turning to the internet where I discovered floor plans from houses built in the early 1900s from Sears and Roebuck.
Starting in 1910 homes were built wired for electricity, except for ones in poor rural areas. They didn’t get electricity until the 1920s. They also had indoor plumbing. This meant houses had one bathroom with a toilet, sink, bathtub (or shower), and a kitchen sink. Because of the growing popularity of automobiles, home also started having a detached garage built. The last new feature of the era were built-in closets to replace wardrobes.
I choose this floor plan.
I’ve selected option #2 or Jade’s house. It’s still hard to believe this house could be built for less than $3,000. I chose it for a couple reasons. One, the square style reminded me of my grandparents’ house and the happy times I spent there. Secondly, this design had a bathroom upstairs. Because this novel is shorter than ones I’ve written recently, I wanted to keep the renovations simple and didn’t want to add a plumber character. Because of this, I’m also saying the aunt already added a downstairs half-bath.
Before you think I’m writing a DIY renovation book and calling it a novel, my plan is to use the renovation to create trouble for Jade and Dalton. As anyone who’s renovated a house knows, it’s stressful and messy. Ordering supplies online, supply chain issues, and weather problems can create havoc with a timeline. And with Jade wanting to get in, get the job done, and get out of Oklahoma ASAP, this will drive her crazy. Further, there’s opportunities for Dalton to tell Jade about the perils of ordering online and the value of using local suppliers, only to be told Jade’s the boss and she’s made her decision. But of course, he’ll show this city girl a thing or two and she’ll give him a run or his money. Oh, how I love putting two strong-willed, intelligent, stubborn characters together!
So, now you’ve got the inside scoop on my latest project. More to come later on Jade and Dalton…
Giveaway—To be entered in today’s giveaway for the Thanksgiving dish towel and signed copy of Colorado Rescue, leave a comment on what renovations you would do to the house in my story if you wanted to sell it.
Yesterday, I returned from a journey to Iowa. I didn’t visit where I grew up, but rather the northeastern Iowa farm where my mom was born and the small northeastern town nearby. I spent a large part of my childhood there and created so many memories. It’s also where my remaining family lives. I was there to bury my parents’ ashes in the cemetery with six generations of my mother’s family resides.
The journey wasn’t easy, and thank you to fellow filly Cathy McDavid, who said traveling the end of life journey with our parents could either be a blessing or a difficulty. She helped me realize I controlled which of these this trip would be. I left Texas for Iowa determined that my trip would be a blessing. And it was. In more ways than I could’ve imagined.
My dear Uncle Wayne, the youngest of my mother’s siblings, who sat me on a neighbor’s horse and walked me around the pasture, said something profound that has also changed my life’s perspective. He told me he’d heard a quote about how we put a person’s birth and death date on their tombstone separated with a dash. The quote talked about that the dash mattered most because it represented what came between our birth and death. He then said we need to make the most of the dash in our lives.
After a quick search, I discovered came from a poem by Linda Ellis.
?I read of a man who stood to speak
at the funeral of a friend.
He referred to the dates on the tombstone.
from the beginning…to the end.
He noted that first came the date of birth
and spoke the following date with tears,
but he said what mattered most of all
was the dash between those years.
For that dash represents all the time
that they spent alive on earth.
And now only those who loved them
know what that little line is worth.”
? Linda Ellis, Live Your Dash: Make Every Moment Matter
“Your life is made of two dates and a dash. Make the most of the dash.”
? Linda Ellis
We all need to make the most of the dash in our life.
To me that says, be kind where I can, even if it’s something simple like holding the door for someone, flashing a smile, or saying hello. Even in places where they don’t do that like my Aunt Margaret, Wayne’s wife, did. (She told me a story about doing so in a not so great NYC neighborhood.) I hope I can have her courage in those moments.
I want to make the most of the dash by standing up for those who need another voice to argue against injustice and bullying. I hope to be honest, but not brutal or cruel. I want to forgive because as my Uncle Wayne said with his take on the Nelson Mandela quote, “Not forgiving is like taking poison and expecting someone else to die.” Yup. Holding a grudge and refusing to forgive hurts the one carrying the anger.
I want to make the most of the dash, by being there for my children when they need me or me to do something fun. It doesn’t matter that they’re grown. I also need to maintain the connection with my remaining family in Iowa. They will help me make the most of the dash because they fill a hole in my heart and soul I didn’t know I had in my heart. Those aunts, one uncle, and cousins along with my relatives buried in that small Burr Oak, Iowa cemetery, played a huge role in who I am today, and I am incredibly grateful.
I hope my tombstone says that I made the most of the dash or at least she tried to.
Giveaway: To be entered in today’s random giveaway for the Spooky Season T-shirt and signed copy of Family Ties, leave a comment on what you think people can do to make the most of the “dash” in their lives.
Soon after having my first son (I now have three), I realized how males and females possess dissimilar views the world. We also speak and communicate differently. This realization and my sons have helped me be a better writer and create more realistic heroes. At least, I hope so!
When my heroes talk, I keep in mind there are phrases that guys just don’t say. Here’s the ever-growing list I search for to eliminate on my final edit.
I don’t think…
What if we…
How about if…
You may have to…
You might want to…
Think about… (or as I say qualifying it further, “Think about maybe…”)
I thought we might…
Men don’t qualify what they say or soften the blow. They tell others what needs to be done. Period. In clear, concise terms. What if someone doesn’t like it? Tough. We women worry about hurting someone’s feeling. Goodness, we don’t want anyone getting mad over what we say. And where does that come from? Anyone else raised as I was to avoid conflict at any cost? I see all the raised hands from here in Texas.
For example, here’s setting up a lunch date between two female friends and two male ones.
“Where would you like to go to lunch?”
“I don’t know. What sounds good to you?”
“Anything. You choose. Wherever you want to go is fine with me.”
“I was thinking Italian.”
“Actually, I had that last night.”
“That’s alright. We can have something else. What do you suggest?”
“Anything but Italian is great, and if you’re really in the mood for that, I don’t mind having it again.”
Five minutes later, the women will hopefully have decided on a time and place.
“Sounds good. Make mine pepperoni and green peppers.”
This leads into my next point. Women use around 20,000 words as day versus the paltry 7,000 men use. Guys are like Sergeant Joe Friday in Dragnet. They keep it to just the facts. They don’t embellish or add emotion to the story. (When I taught fourth grade writing, that was the hardest thing for boys to learn—to add their feelings to their writing.) Nor do men notice the same details women do. Women notice what people wear, jewelry, outfits, shoes, and hair. My heroine might think a friend’s dress is aqua, but then qualify if as turquoise, but not the blue kind, the type that has a green hue. Guys? They’ll say it’s blue if they notice the color. But a car? Men will often know the make, model, color, how much horsepower it has, and Lord only knows what else. Me? I’m lucky if I know how many doors the car had. This can be fun, though, giving a character an unusual trait such as the heroine being a car expert or a sharpshooter as in The Andy Griffith Show when his date, Karen beats him in shooting competition. Or I might have a hero who has two or more sisters notice details other heroes won’t.
Men are also fixers. That’s why when women talk, they often jump in with solutions. They don’t realize we merely want to vent and need another human being to listen. This makes for great conflict, especially if the heroine assumes the reason the hero’s offering solutions is because he thinks she can’t solve the problem or needs his help.
For me to write strong characters I had to understand how people are different and how those distinctions create conflict. It’s not that these traits are right or wrong. They’re simply facts. I find if I don’t remember them when I’m writing, especially from my hero’s point of view, my hero doesn’t come off as real to me, and if I don’t fall in love with him, I know none of you will.
GIVEAWAY: To be entered in today’s random giveaway for the credit card holder, coaster, and signed copy of To Tame a Texas Cowboy, leave a comment on what you think is the biggest difference between men and women–other than the obvious Y chromosome, that is. Lol!
My husband and I recently visited Kiepersol Winery and Bed and Breakfast in Tyler. Our room at the Bed and Breakfast was in the building with the restaurant. Not only were the surroundings quiet, calm, and serene, the wine was wonderful, our room beautiful, and the restaurant defied description. They feature great steaks and seafood, with incredible sides. My favorites were the sauteed mushrooms and garlic potatoes. And the desserts…I had cherries jubilee, and I swear I gain a pound thinking about it, but it was worth every calorie.
But the stories of the winery’s history our wine tour guide, Ron shared captured my writer’s sentimental heart. Founder Pierre de Wet’s story would do any hero proud. Born in South Africa, in 1984 after the death of his wife from skin cancer, he and his young daughters, age two and four, moved to America. Pierre worked as a farm laborer until he could buy acres in Tyler, Texas. Though in 1996 there were no wineries from Austin to Florida, Pierre was sure he could make a winery work.
The winery’s name comes from the Kiepersol farm where Pierre grew up. Legend has it soldiers running from a lion toward a lone tree, shouted, “Kiepersol! Kiepersol” as they sought safety in the tree. (Later it was learned the soldiers yelled, “We hope this tree will keep us all!” Pierre named his winery after that Kiepersol tree, hoping everyone who visited the winery would find that same comfort.
Pierre’s determination and frugality when he started his winery served him well. To lower startup costs, he purchased used equipment. In tough times he sold residential lots, eventually creating one of two wine estates in the U.S. In 2000, he harvested his first grapes. To sell his wine, he hired teenagers with signs and obtained retired Clydesdales for carriages rides that ended at the winery.
I can’t share all the winery’s stories today, but I want to share one behind Flight sparkling wine. Guinea fowl have roamed the area for over 20 years as vineyard stewards. Their chatter safekeeps the grapes from deer and birds. They eat bugs serving as nature’s pesticide. Guinea fowl spotted feathers are believed to be good luck charms. Now to the name. The winery says, “We believe each spotted feather found represents a releasing of the past. Flight is grown in a place where one can feel soulfully grounded while also letting dreams soar. So. Take Flight my friends.” That sentiment makes me shiver.
I love visiting Texas wineries and hearing their stories. The minute I heard Pierre de Wet’s, I thought how I would’ve loved to create such a hero. The courage, strength, and determination he possessed to come to America with two young daughters when the only person he knew was a Texas A&M professor, astounds me. He created a winery, a bed and breakfast with fifteen rooms, an incredible restaurant, a distillery, and an RV park! But most importantly, he raised two strong women who carry on his legacy.
I may have found a retirement-keep-busy-and-involved career. What could be better than telling a winery’s stories, meeting fabulous people, especially if I could be paid with an occasional bottle of wine and dinner?
Today I’m giving away this horseshoe decoration and a signed copy of To Tame a Texas Cowboy. To be entered in my random drawing, leave a comment to this question. What is the best story you’ve heard or best/most interesting fact you’ve learned on a trip? Or, if you don’t have a story to share, just stop by to say hello or tell me about a real life hero in your life.
Thanks to everyone who dropped by to tell me who you’d chat with if you could talk to any real or fictional western person. Y’all mentioned quite a few people I need to learn more about. Thanks for making me think on a Monday morning. I enjoyed it.
The winner of the coozie, key chain, and signed copy of To Love a Texas Cowboy is:
Look for an email from me on how to claim your giveaway.
Thank you again to everyone for spending part of your day with me.
I’ve been visiting a winery in Tyler. More news to come about that in a blog soon, but I’m here today for a game day what if.
What if you could meet any western historical or fiction person to sit down for a chat. Who would it be and why? For me, it would be Calamity Jane. I’ve often worried how she held her own in such a male dominated world.
Leave me a comment to be entered in the random drawing for the coozie, key chain, and a signed copy of To Love a Texas Cowboy.