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.
When I started researching Western Christmas traditions I discovered pioneer celebrated with the holidays with homemade gifts and were described as being filled with “humble fare.” This made me think how elaborate the season has become. Then I realized the older I get, the more simplicity appeals to me.
I thought about holidays past, and admitted one of my favorites occurred a year when my husband was unemployed. Surprisingly, that took away of the holiday stress. I wasn’t going crazy searching for the perfect gift for family and friends because everyone knew we couldn’t afford presents. I didn’t worry about what to wear to my husband’s office party or how I’d spend an evening with people I didn’t know. Not being able to spend money on gifts and activities forced us to emphasize the important aspects of the holiday. We concentrated on what mattered—family and close friends.
We gave more than lip service to spending quality time with our children. We asked each child what his favorite Christmas movie was and watched each together as a family. We looked at Christmas lights. We baked everyone’s favorite holiday treats. We talked. We laughed.
Thinking back on those memories to write this I recalled a little book I bought years ago entitled The Little Book of Christmas Joys by H. Jackson Brown, Jr., Rosemary Brown, and Kathy Peel. I pulled out my dog-eared copy and read through it again to pick some suggestion to share some with you.
#7 * Take a basket of Christmas goodies to a notoriously grumpy neighbor.
#8 * Be nice to sales personnel. They’re often wearier than you are.
#18 * Let go of a problem you can’t solve. Enjoy the season.
#38 * Take a shut-n a scrumptious Christmas dinner.
#53 * Go caroling.
#69 * Before going to bed every night of the Christmas season, ask yourself, “Whose life did I make brighter today?”
#91 * Offer to run holiday errands for an elderly friend or relative.
#104 * Give anonymous gifts of money to someone who has been laid off.
#108 * Curl up before an open fire with someone you love.
#183 * Compliment at least three people every day in December. This is a gift that’s always appreciated.
#203 * Give a donation every time you pass a Salvation Army bell-ringer.
#231 * Add a new Christmas CD to your music collection each year.
#283 * Tour a historic home in your area that has been decorated for the holidays.
#409 * Watch the television special, “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
#425 * On New Year’s Day, light three candles and think about the three things that happened the past year for which you are most thankful.
May your holiday season be filled with simplicity and joy, and one last tip. #279 * Remember that the loving holiday spirit in your home depends more on the words you speak than on the gifts you give.
Now tell me your favorite holiday tradition or tip and be entered to win the set of four mugs, perfect for hot chocolate or spiced cider as you sit with loved ones in front of the fire.
I’m from Iowa, and there it’s easy to tell fall has arrived. The trees change to lovely shades of yellow, orange and crimson. A crispness lingers in the air all day. It feels like fall. I love that time of year. Wearing jackets, snuggling under a blanket with a good romance on Saturday. Walking on crunching leaves.
Now I live in Texas, and fall is different from what I knew growing up. In Texas, it’s hard to tell autumn has arrived. Halloween has come and gone, and Thanksgiving is around the corner. Despite what the calendar says, this week’s forecast is for record high temperatures. We’re talking hitting ninety degrees. When the leaves change, they turn a shade of brown and fall off the tress. Not exactly the ooh-ahh fall colors I spotted in the Midwest.
Saying It’s been an adjustment for me is like saying Texas and Texas A&M have a little rivalry. Over the years I’ve learned fall is heralded in different ways in Texas. First and foremost, we know it’s fall because of the arrival of football season. Yes, it’s true. Football is almost a religion here in Texas. From high schools on Friday night to TCU, Baylor, Texas Tech, Texas and Texas A&M on Saturday. There’s even have a “Red River Showdown” between Texas and OU at the Texas State Fair.
Which brings me to another huge sign of fall in Texas, the state fair. When people start talking about corny dogs, turkey legs, and fried any and everything, I know autumn has arrived. I hear Big Tex’s voice and see pictures of him everywhere. In 2012 when Big Tex caught on fire, it was huge news. We got updates on the progress to rebuild him, including details on changes in his iconic outfit.
But I’ve learned to adjust. I decorate the yard and house for fall, Halloween, and then Thanksgiving. I admit a couple times I had a fire and then turned on the air conditioner because the house got so warm. I bake items that remind me of fall. One of my family’s favorite is pumpkin bread.
3 1/3 C flour
3 C sugar
2/3 C water
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 can pumpkin
½ black walnut flavoring
Sift dry ingredients into a bowl. Make a “well” in the center. Add eggs, water, oil and black walnut flavoring in well. Mix. Add canned pumpkin. Mix. Place in greased loaf pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour.
Now tell me about your favorite fall tradition and be entered in the drawing to win the pumpkin and Home On The Ranch: Colorado.
Why do I write romance? I haven’t been asked that question as much as I expected, but there’s a simple answer. Life is tough.
I’m sitting at Starbucks staring out the window at the gray, misty world around me, and realize the weather matches my mood. As usual, life and my procrastination means I’m writing this closer to my deadline than I’d hoped, and recent events are weighing heavy on my mind and my heart.
Yup, life is darn tough. Recent hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria, et al have wreaked havoc with people’s lives. While those natural disasters are devastating, what truly tears at my heart is what destruction we inflict on each other. When did we get to the point where so many people believe the answer to their problems is violence against their fellow man? Someone cuts you off on my highway? Pull out a gun and shoot ‘em. Gone is a girl about to be a college freshman, along with all the good she could have done in the world. Something not right in your life? Take an arsenal with you to a Las Vegas hotel room and kill fifty-nine people who’ve done absolutely nothing to you. My heart breaks for the lives lost and those irreversibly changed because of the violence we perpetrate on each other.
Which brings me back to why I write romance. When I read, I don’t want to come away depressed. Life has a way of doing that on its own. The lyrics to Tom Petty’s song “I Won’t Back Down” have run through my head since his death on the heels of the Vegas tragedy. “No, I’ll stand my ground, won’t be turned around. And I’ll keep this world from draggin’ me down. Gonna stand my ground and I won’t back down.” I write romance for the same reason I read it—to keep the world from draggin’ me down.
In my books my characters have been knocked around by life. In To Love A Texas Cowboy, when Cassie’s sister and brother-in-law are killed in a plane crash, she moves from New York to Texas because she become guardian to her niece. In Roping the Rancher, Colt, a single father to a teenage girl who’s left the military, struggles to find purpose and meaning in his life.
I write about characters discovering a strength they never knew they possessed and receiving help when they least expect it, but need it the most. Themes of finding an untraditional family when theirs has failed them time and time again run through my stories. Good always triumphs. The bad guys always get what they deserve in true Western fashion. My characters face life’s difficulties, but receive the reward for facing them and getting through the dark tunnel. At the end they find love, strength and happiness.
So that’s why I write romance—because life is tough. I hope when people read my books they escaped for a little while, and maybe they are filled with hope that they too, can find their happy ending.
Comment and let me know why you read romance to be entered in the drawing to win a Texas Starbucks mug, a gift card and either Roping the Rancher or To Love a Texas Cowboy.
Last summer after dropping off our youngest son at college in New Jersey, we visited wineries on the return trip to break up the endless miles. Once home we discovered quite a few wineries in our area. Now I had a goal I could really get behind–visiting local wineries!
I found Valley View, Texas because of a billboard advertising its local winery. What I never expected was to also find a Texas getaway gem in this town of seven hundred fifty-seven people.
The minute I drove into Valley View, my tension drifted away with the warm Texas breeze, and that was even before I had a glass of Firelight Vineyard’s sangria! The town reminded me of my childhood spent at my grandparent’s farm in northeastern Iowa. There was open space, trees, horses and cows. Often all in one front yard. There life doesn’t speed by. Neighbors know each other. Everyone’s friendly and laid back. Whenever I’m there I run into someone who wants to talk. Whether it’s someone at the winery, a local business owner, or an Army/Air Force Veteran. Whenever I hear Josh Gallagher’s “Pick Any Small Town” Valley View’s the one I’d pick.
The last year has been stressful, so for our anniversary, my hubby and I headed to Valley View for a getaway weekend. We wanted to spend time away from email, texts, social media, and other city commitments. For us, when we’re away from the city and in the country, life’s troubles fade away and we focus on what’s important—each other and family. The drive to our B&B, Towering Oaks Haven, took us on a gravel road, once again reminding me of my childhood. The fast-paced-need-to-get-ahead-world disappeared. We spent the weekend wandering around antique stores, shopping at my favorite boutique Rustic Ranch, and becoming reacquainted with each other. We weren’t on our phones constantly. We weren’t worried about spotty internet service. We connected with those around us, rather than those on social media sites. We listened to stories, told some of our own, and were simply in the moment. We ate fantastic gourmet pizza from Lil’ Brick Oven delivered to us at the winery. After that, we listened to the David Alexander Trio while sitting on the Firelight Vineyard’s patio chatting with someone my husband knew from years back and a wonderful couple from Oklahoma.
Life was simpler, personal and connected. And I loved every minute of it.
I remembered why I write stories set in small towns, because of the feelings I rediscovered in Valley View. Because of the way I felt at my grandparents’ farm and in their small town.
I can back rejuvenated and my head spinning with story ideas! A Texas winery owner heroine and a rancher in a small Texas town trying to revitalize the town square. Hmmm. It’s a start.
Now it’s your turn. Tell me about your favorite getaway spot that rejuvenates your body and soul. Enter a comment for a chance to win the wine charms and a wineglass from FIrelight Vineyards.
Sorry I’m so late getting this done, but I’m still learning the ropes around here. Next time I’ll be sure to announce my winner the day after my post.
Thanks to everyone who stopped by to chat and made me feel so welcome during my first day as a filly!
And the winner is…
Lately I’ve wondered how an Iowa city girl ended up writing romances with cowboy heroes. Or, I’ve wondered about the reasons other than the obvious—that cowboys are incredibly sexy. For my first official blog as a filly at Petticoats and Pistols, I’m sharing what fascinates me about cowboys.
For me, a cowboy isn’t as much about the occupation as the state of mind and attitude. Sure when I think of a cowboy, I see a man in form fitting Levi’s or Wranglers. I see dusty, worn cowboy boots and a cowboy hat, but it’s more than that, too. There’s something about the way he moves in a slow, yet deliberate way, that says he’ll take his time with what matters in life. If you’ve seen Scott Eastwood in The Longest Ride, you know what I mean. If not, watch it now. I’ll wait.
Now that we’re done drooling over Scott, back to the topic at hand. Cowboys have a connection to the land that goes deeper than most people’s. That taps into my love of my grandparents’ farm in Decorah, Iowa. I spent hours wandering over that land spinning stories and imaging my life living on a similar place. Writing about my heroes and heroines strolling over their land or walking along Wishing’s streets fill me with the same warm affection. That intense bond with the ZSAER%^land was a big inspiration behind my Wishing, Texas series. For those heroes, their link Ty Barnett’s ranch, The Bar 7 and each other anchor their lives.
As to a cowboy’s attitude and mind-set—people see him as a loner, and he is, but I also see his strong tie to family. Family, however he defines it, is allowed past his guard. When I wrote my first novel for Harlequin, I wanted my hero so desperate for money he’d model in New York. But I wanted something different. What does a cowboy love more than his ranch and horse? His mama. That one detail told me everything I needed to know about my hero.
A cowboy has a sense of honor that factors into every decision. In my first Wishing, Texas book, To Love A Texas Cowboy, Ty Barnett’s world is turned upside down because of a promise to a friend. One he’ll keep even if it means dealing with Cassie Reynolds. This unwavering honor paired with a good dose of Alpha male, makes writing stories with cowboy heroes fun when I turn the tables on them. In To Catch A Texas Cowboy, AJ Quinn’s sick of hearing “let’s just be friends” from women. Poor cowboy. I had a blast torturing AJ giving him what he asked, but not what he bargained for, in New Yorker Grace Henry.
For me, these characteristics make cowboys fascinating, and oh so hero-worthy. Now it’s your turn. Tell me what it about cowboys makes you swoon or say that’s a hero?
I’m giving away a copy of To Catch A Texas Cowboy and a wine glass. Post a comment to enter.