All Good Things…

We’ve all heard the saying, “All good things must come to an end.” While I don’t necessarily believe that’s always true, it’s doubly true today. This is my last post as a regular blogger at Petticoats & Pistols. It’s been great hanging out with these wonderful, talented ladies and getting to know a lot of the enthusiastic readers. It’s been fun talking about our shared love of western stories.

This month also marks the release of my final book in my Blue Falls, Texas, series for Harlequin. Since the Western Romance (formerly American Romance) line folded last summer, this one book has been awaiting its day on shelves. Harlequin is releasing Texas Cowboy, Be Mine under their Home on the Ranch program, and I must say it’s a very pretty cover.

Here’s a bit more about the story, which concludes the five stories about the adopted Hartley siblings:

Single mother Angel Hartley has her priorities straight—building her career as a photographer and making sure her young daughter, Julia, will never suffer the pain of being abandoned, a pain Angel herself knows too well. Dating can wait, even though she suddenly can’t stop thinking about Hunter Millbrook, who happens to be the handsomest rancher in Blue Falls, Texas.

Hunter also has a full plate. How can he juggle a relationship with running his family’s ranch and looking after his mother as her memory slips away? He’s just too busy for love…no matter how long he’s had a crush on Angel. But as Hunter begins to suspect, hearts don’t wait for the perfect moment!

What’s not in that blurb is the fact that Angel is Native American, but since she doesn’t know who her birth parents are part of her story is her search for her heritage. I think that’s a basic human instinct, the need to know our origins.

Since this is my last blog, I also would like to mention that the third book in my Once Upon a Western series for Tule Publishing is coming out next month. This is Wes McQueen’s story, the third of the three McQueen brothers, and like the two stories before it it’s loosely inspired by a classic fairy tale–this time Beauty and the Beast with a twist.

Wes McQueen has always been a casual dater, not in any hurry to settle down with one woman. But that begins to change when he meets his new neighbor, Claire Moon. But all Claire wants is to be left alone to make and sell her jewelry, to live away from the eyes of others following a fire that left her scarred. But her resolve to live a solitary existence is shaken every time Wes looks at her and doesn’t seem to even see her scars.

To go out with a bang, I’ll give away three signed copies of Texas Cowboy, Be Mine today. In the story, Angel Hartley undertakes the big task of trying to find her birth parents and her heritage. To be eligible to win, just tell me something big you plan to undertake this year. Me? Because I’ve recently developed a love for Korean dramas and pop music, I’m going to try to start learning Korean. It’s evidently one of the hardest languages for native English speakers to learn, so it’s going to be a challenge.

Finally, thanks for all the support since I’ve been  P&P blogger. Hope to see you all out on the range (in person, on social media, etc.). Here’s to a happy, healthy, productive and fun 2019!

Deadline Brain and a Contest!

I’ll admit it. I have deadline brain. Thus the reason I’m writing this post at 2:38 a.m. after finishing writing for the day. You see, I have a book due Friday, the third book in my Once Upon a Western series, and my brain feels as if it’s the consistency of oatmeal. Yum, oatmeal, I’m hungry. I need to go to bed and have the oatmeal tomorrow (or later today, ack!). Anyway, let’s have some fun today. I’m going to ask you five questions, and I’ll draw for a winner at the end of the day for a surprise pack of three books from my western backlist.

Okay, here we go:

1. You’re driving through the wide open American West and listening to your all-time favorite song. What is it? This is my favorite: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bx51eegLTY8

2. You win a vacation to a week at a dude ranch or a spa with views of the red rock formations of the Southwest. Which do you pick?

3. If they were going to remake a classic western movie, which one would you like to see remade? Who would you like to see in the lead?

4. You are invited on stage to sing with someone famous. Who would it be?

5. You get to pick a name for the newest bull on the PBR circuit. What would it be?

The Healing Touch

For some reason, I’ve always loved stories in which a hero or heroine helps the other one heal — either physically or mentally. I think it’s because there is a vulnerability, a tenderness when one person takes the time to help another heal, even though it might not be a quick or easy process. A lot of emotion and eventually love can be born out of those moments. I don’t know how many westerns I’ve read where the heroine has to help the loner/farmhand/gunslinger/you name it heal from some illness or wound. They’re alone in a cabin, quite possibly during a blizzard, and the forced intimacy of the space just lights a fire — whether a slow burn or a raging inferno — under their attraction.

So it was to this story trope that I gravitated for my new release, A Cowboy’s Kiss. There’s no trapped in a snowy cabin story thread, but my hero is a doctor in addition to having a ranching/cowboy background. Here’s the blurb:

When librarian Anna Kenner wakes up in the hospital, she’s stunned to learn that she’s been in a coma for a week, and her life has been turned upside down. Anna has always been quiet and self-reliant, but now she must ask for help. To make matters worse, the man she’s coming to rely on is a casual friend from high school, whom she always wished could be more. As Roman helps her recover, Anna wonders if this time she will be braver and have a different outcome—Roman in her arms. 

Dr. Roman McQueen leads a busy life between his work at the hospital and his time spent at his family’s Montana ranch. And yet, he finds himself sitting night after night at Anna’s bedside reading her a mystery and hoping that somehow she knows that, even though she has no family, she is not alone. When Anna wakes and begins the long process of recovery, Roman finds himself by her side. He tells himself he’s being a friend even as he tries not to notice how her kindness, quiet wit and subtle beauty make him dream that someday they can have more.

Because this is the second in my Once Upon a Western series, it also has that tie to a classic fairy tale — this time Sleeping Beauty. Anna and Roman’s story falls more onto the slow burn end of the spectrum, first because, well, she’s in a coma. But even when she wakes up and even though she isn’t officially his patient, he has to be careful not to give the impression of any impropriety between a doctor and a hospital patient. But they do know each other, so at first their friendship builds even though each is attracted to the other. There are also things in her past that make her hesitant to act on her attraction to Roman, even after she’s back home. Still, no matter how much she might fight it, the pull between them is just too strong. They are just too right for each other. I’m smiling now just thinking about how I gradually brought these two together.

To find out more about this series or for buy links, check out my website

Now I’d like to hear from you — do you like the healer story trope in romance? What are some of your favorite stories that have used this?

An Oft-Depicted Legend

John Henry “Doc” Holliday at at 20, when he graduated from dentistry school.

There are some figures in history who, while they were real people, have achieved legendary status. And sometimes that legendary status has a kernel of truth behind it but has grown well beyond the reality of the person. One such figure from the Old West is Doc Holliday.

John Henry Holliday was born in Georgia in 1851 and by age 20 had earned a degree in dentistry, thus the famous “Doc” moniker. Unfortunately for him, he soon thereafter was diagnosed with tuberculosis due to the fact he’d helped care for his mother when she had the disease. Hoping the drier climate of the American Southwest would help alleviate some of his symptoms, he moved there and became a gambler. During a stay in Texas, he saved Wyatt Earp’s life and a legendary friendship was born–a friendship that would lead to the O.K. Corral and the events that made both men famous.

Melanie Scrofano as Wynonna Earp and Tim Rozon as Doc Holliday.

Despite Holliday’s reputation as an accomplished gunslinger, researchers have since determined that it’s likely he only killed one or two men during his short life of 36 years. But that hasn’t stopped the myth of the man from being repeated and embellished since his lifetime. He’s been immortalized in numerous pieces of fiction, in song and in a seemingly endless array of movies and TV programs. Famous names such as Cesar Romero, Kirk Douglas, Willie Nelson, Dennis Quaid and Val Kilmer have portrayed Holliday, and just this past week news broke that Jeremy Renner will be the latest in that list to play the man, this time in a biopic based on Mary Doria Russell’s books.

Me with the cast of Wynonna Earp at DragonCon 2017.

Holliday has even made appearances in sci-fi/fantasy stories such as a 1966 episode of Doctor Who, a 1968 episode of Star Trek and my personal favorite, the current SyFy show Wynonna Earp, in which actor Tim Rozon plays Holliday to perfection. In this reimagining of the Earp/Holliday story, based on the comic book series of the same name, Wynonna Earp is the great-great-granddaughter of Wyatt. On her 27th birthday, Wynonna officially becomes the “Earp heir” and inherits the ability to return revenants, or the reincarnated outlaws that Wyatt killed, back to hell using Peacemaker, the revolver with a 16-inch barrel that once belonged to her famous ancestor. In this telling, Holliday has been cursed with immortality, thus his lack of aging between the time he ran with Wyatt Earp and now when he’s helping Wyatt’s great-great-granddaughter with her duties.

Are you a fan of Earp/Holliday tales? If you’re a Doc fan, what has been your favorite incarnation?

A Slice of Idaho History

I just returned from my first trip to the West in four years – two weeks of mountains, lakes, seeing friends and family, and experiencing a bit of local history. Today I’d like to share with you a bit of that history.

On one of the days of my trip, my nieces and I visited the oldest building in Idaho, the Mission of the Sacred Heart, also known as the Cataldo Mission, located in Old Mission State Park located 28 miles east of the city of Couer d’Alene. The mission, located on a picturesque hill overlooking the Couer d’Alene River, was built between 1850 and 1853 by Catholic missionaries and members of the Couer d’Alene tribe. Next door to the mission is the restored parish house where the Jesuit missionaries lived. Also located on the park property are a cemetery and a visitor center where you can visit an exhibit titled Sacred Encounters: Father De Smet and the Indians of the Rocky Mountain West. The exhibit details the history of the Jesuits’ interactions with the Couer d’Alene and Salish tribes of the area. The site’s historical significance led to it being designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1961.

The establishment of the mission came about in a different way than many such structures. It was actually the Nez Perce and Flathead people, who had heard about the white man’s “Book of Heaven,” who sent representatives to St. Louis to find out more. Eleven years later, Father Pierre Jean De Smet responded by traveling to the area. Other brothers and friars picked an original location for the mission, but it was later moved due to the first’s tendency to flood. In 1850, the mission was taken over by Italian Jesuit missionary Antonio Ravalli, who oversaw the building of the current building. He had the local tribes build the structure so they would feel a part of the church. Not a single nail was used in the construction. Visitors today can see some of the exposed wattle and daub that was used instead.

Because of the mission’s remote location, decoration of the structure required some creativity. Newspapers were painted and put on the walls. Tin cans were fashioned into chandeliers. And local huckleberries were used to create the blue used to stain the interior wood.

It’s a lovely, peaceful place to just sit and admire the surrounding landscape as well. If you’re ever in Northern Idaho, it’s well worth a visit.

We Wish You a Merry…Wait, what?

This week, the heat index here in Florida has been over 100 degrees. It’s hard to breathe air that feels like soup…or think about snow and Christmas and caroling. But that’s exactly what I’ve been doing. You see, I’m writing a Christmas story, which means I’m writing about snowball fights when a snowball would melt in approximately point 2 seconds outside. But that’s actually kind of fun, writing about Christmas when everything isn’t all Christmas all the time. Well, I think some stores have Christmas stuff out already, but I frankly think that is ridiculous.

You might be wondering why I’m talking about writing a Christmas story on a Western-themed blog. It’s because despite the fact that we talk a lot about things like ranches, rodeos and cowboys here, the West is actually a pretty big tent and encompasses a lot of different lifestyles that might not be ranch- or rodeo-centric but is very much at home in the Western landscape.

My Christmas story, A Merry Mountain Christmas, takes place in Montana just like my Once Upon a Western series for Tule Publishing. It’s not set in the same town because I needed a different locale and a different feel and landscape. My westerns for Tule take place in the Paradise Valley, so basically flat ranch land between mountain ranges. I needed this Christmas story to take place in a picturesque mountain village with plenty of snow and a ski slope. So it’s roughly set in the area where real-life Big Sky, Montana is, though it’s also sort of inspired by some ski villages I’ve been to in North Carolina.

In this story, we have a classic city girl meets small-town boy, but with a twist. The town is called Merry and it’s on Yule Mountain, and so of course it’s the town where it’s Christmas all year round. Here you’ll find businesses such as the Elf House toy store, the Silver Bells Bakery and Kris Kringle’s (the other bakery, because you can never have too many sweet treats for Christmas, right?), the Candy Cane Cafe, the Evergreen Inn and a huge, magical Christmas decor store called A World of Christmas, owned by my hero, Ben McNamara. Literally everything in town is Christmas themed, even the street names.

Heidi Forrester has a high-level marketing job at a new and growing social media company in Chicago, but she has two glorious weeks of vacation to indulge her love of all things Christmas when she visits Merry. She’s always loved Christmas, especially since it’s also her birthday. But what she doesn’t expect is to start falling for a local, especially one who is planning to leave to forge a new life where every day isn’t Christmas. But that was before he met the girl who loves Christmas more than anyone he’s ever met — and who just might make him love it again himself. As for Heidi, this little vacation might just might turn a city girl into a small-town girl living her happily ever after in the Montana mountains.

A Source of Inspiration

As much as I’d like to regularly get to travel in the West, I only get to visit every few years. So as a writer of contemporary western romance, I look for inspiration in other ways — movies, TV shows, reading other authors’ books. Another way is by reading magazines that focus on various aspects of the West. For instance, in my book Home on the Ranch, the heroine, Ella Garcia, was inspired by Amie and Jolie Sikes, the sister duo behind the junking and repurposed decor empire known as Junk Gypsy. As I watched their TV show, Ella started to form in my head. I sent Amie and Jolie copies of the book dedicated to them when it came out. They were sweet to write me back and send me a Junk Gypsy mug which I drink out of all the time. So when I saw this copy of Cowgirl magazine with them on the cover, I had to pick it up.

Inside was more inspiration for characters’ style choices, whether it be western clothing or jewelry, furniture for their homes, or the homes themselves, as well as articles about western life. There’s even an article in this issue about a cattle drive in Florida, the Great Florida Cattle Drive.

The same can be said of magazines such as Cowboys & Indians. Plus, who can resist Sam Elliott on the cover, right? In this particular issue from a couple of years ago, Elliott talks about his Netflix show The Ranch. There are also articles about camping across the West, Ernest Hemingway’s time in Idaho, and Muscogee/Creek artist Joy Harjo. Even the ads have beautiful imagery of expansive Western vistas, gorgeous Western-style homes and decor, Wrangler jeans (known to be worn by cowboys far and wide), and useful information such as the list prices for ranches that are for sale.

Sometimes all it takes is one image to set a writer’s mind down a path that ends up with a completed novel. I’m a visual person, so I’m continually inspired by the things I see — whether in person on on the glossy pages of a magazine.

Do you all enjoy Western-themed magazines? What are some of your favorites?

Creating a New World

Though some writers set their stories in real locations, a lot of us create our own settings. That has been the case for my books, and yet every new locale I create is inspired by places I’ve been. For the past seven years, I’ve been writing in mainly one location — Blue Falls, Texas. Blue Falls was inspired by several real towns throughout the Texas Hill Country. The downtown shopping district was modeled after Fredericksburg; the lake was based on Lake Marble Falls; and the Blue Falls Music Hall was based on the the oldest dance hall in Texas in Gruene.

Yellowstone River running through the Paradise Valley. By Warrenfish at English Wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
Though I still have one Blue Falls book still set to release next January, I’m fully immersed in creating a new setting for a new series for a new publisher. In my Once Upon a Western series for Tule Publishing, I’ve created the small tourist town of Logan Springs, Montana (I evidently like towns based on bodies of water). It’s set in the real Paradise Valley north of Yellowstone National Park, a simply stunning valley that stretches out between the Absaroka and Gallatin mountain ranges. And once again, I’ve used bits and pieces of real-life inspiration to create Logan Springs. It’s one part Gardiner, Montana, the northern gateway community to Yellowstone National Park; one part West Yellowstone, which as its name suggests is the western gateway to the park; and one part Chico Hot Springs, which is in the Paradise Valley and home to a hot springs resort that gave me the idea to have the main family in my series, the McQueens, own a hot springs resort as well as an expansive ranching operation. As with these real world locales, the Yellowstone River runs through my fictional one.

Even though my main setting is fictional, I do have my characters visit real towns. For instance, my Blue Falls characters would make trips to cities such as San Antonio and Austin. In the Once Upon a Western series, the characters go to Livingston, which is the town where travelers exit I-90 to head south to Yellowstone. It’s also the nearest place for such things as a hospital, which is where the hero of my second story in this series is a doctor. Livingston is a charming little town with some neat western history. In the first book in this series, Her Cowboy Prince which comes out in June of this year, I have a scene where the hero and heroine have dinner in Livingston and he tells her some of the history of the building where the restaurant is located. Though their dining location is fictional, I borrowed some real history from the real Murray Hotel, which saw the likes of Buffalo Bill Cody and Calamity Jane as guests.

I like the freedom of creating my own town but being able to pepper it with real-life details. As a reader, do you like fictional or real locales?