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.