Years ago, when I attended my first rodeo, I had a great laugh at the Wild Cow Milking event. These days when I write rodeo scenes, it’s usually the bull riders or saddle broncs that get my attention. But when I was writing LITTLE COWGIRL ON HIS DOORSTEP, I was faced with a unique challenge.
My hero is a dairy farmer.
In the middle of ranch country.
Callum Shepard bought the place from a retiring farmer. Dairy is what he knows. He spent lots of time working on his uncle’s farm on lower mainland BC. When he’s looking for his own little slice of heaven, this small dairy operation is just the thing. But Callum’s also a bit of a loner, and doesn’t make friends easily. The only people he seems to trust when Avery comes on the scene are the Diamond brothers who run a local ranch.
Throughout the book Callum mellows out and comes out of his shell bit by bit. And since it’s summer, there’s the annual rodeo to think about. Is he going to go? Sam and Ty Diamond seem to think it’s time he become a part of the community, so they drag him into a fun event: Wild Cow Milking. Right up Callum’s alley. Sort of. Because Wild Cow Milking isn’t like putting a Holstein in a milking parlor. It looks more like this (only more often a 4 man team and not 2):
Well, you’ll have to read to find out if they win or not, but I will tell you that Callum is a great sport, and even receives a proper
cowboy hat at the end from rodeo royalty.
What’s your favorite rodeo event? Answer in the comments and we’ll draw for a copy of LITTLE COWGIRL ON HIS DOORSTEP!
And please visit me at my website at www.donnaalward.com! You can find out more about my new releases…and the Cadence Creek series. Next up at the creek is A COWBOY TO COME HOME TO… coming in July.
There’s a song I like called Check My Brain that starts out, “So I found myself in the sun…oh yeah. He** of a place to end my run, oh yeah…”
When I sat down to write this post, that song popped into my head. It’s a neat idea, riding into the sunset. There’s a finality to it but a hopefulness too, I think. Sunsets are beautiful, warm, and comforting. It’s very different from, say, riding off into a rain storm. Huddled against sleet or snow or wind. Riding into the sunset kind of says, well, I’m done here, but I’m moving on to some great things. Just wait until tomorrow.
I’m riding away from the Junction after a few years of being a regular resident. But I’m not riding
away in the cold and dark. I’m in the sun, feeling good about my time here, and with the knowledge that I’ll be back. I’m not sure that you, the blog readers, get a true sense
of what it’s like to be part of this group. It’s a sisterhood. It’s warm and friendly, hardworking and generous, and always, ALWAYS there to lend a hand or a sympathetic ear. Take it from me – the P&P gals are something special. I’d be crazy to leave that behind forever.
And because it kind of feels like “Once a filly, always a filly”, I’m going to be back for regular visits. While I’m going to be writing more than westerns, I’m can’t leave my cowboys and ranchers alone completely. Hopefully there’ll be room at the table for me to pop by during my release months. Have a good gab and catch up with y’all, and let you know what I’m up to.
So it’s Happy Trails for now…but really it is only until we meet again.
I write pretty short books, so there’s not always a lot of room for a supporting cast. Big families can get troublesome when you’re supposed to be focusing on the central romance. Because of that, my characters are sometimes only children, or they live away from their family, that sort of thing.
In my next book that’s coming out in March, the hero has 2 siblings (and yay – you get those stories in November
and next January) who both live far away. The heroine had a sister, but her sister died suddenly, leaving Avery to care for her baby niece.
Just because I “get rid of the family” doesn’t mean they aren’t important. And in many ways, LITTLE COWGIRL ON HIS DOORSTEP is very much about MY sisters.
My eldest sister Janet was the first person to give me the kick in the butt I needed to write my first manuscript. She always believed I could do it and told me that the years and rejections I put in was my form of “internship”. The second book I ever sold starred a veterinarian (and so does my novella in May!) – just like my big sis.
This book is definitely a bit of a hat tip for the middle of us three, though (and we do have a brother, who is the oldest). My sis Janell has taken on a huge role in the care of my mom and stepdad this year. When someone needs driving to appointments or running errands, she’s on it. When my stepdad had surgery out of town this fall, it was Janell who went with my mom, stayed with her in bed and breakfasts that week, and made sure things were groovy. I half-joked that she was working on a fast track to sainthood. Her patience and compassion have been amazing. She is a far better daughter than I have been.
Over the holidays my family made the 5-hour trip and descended on her house for the better part of five days. We ate and played cards and she cooked a boatload of food for the potluck we held for our mom for her 80th birthday. I told her I felt like I’d been a total slacker and she’d done so much, and she laughed and told me she was thinking the same thing about me, so I guess we were even.
Anyway, the dedication and Dear Reader letters in this book are to my sisters, and I named the mini-heroine, baby Nell, after Janell. As I say in the letter, I wonder if she will grow up to have the same twinkle in her eye and wicked sense of humour that my sister has?
For my card, I decided to use a pic I took last year from the end of my driveway. There’s nothing like a white christmas, but if it can’t be white the number one thing that’s a must is very, very simple. I just live for our little family to be snug and together and just hanging out – either with a holiday movie, or carols, a fire in the fireplace and a fuzzy blanket to snuggle up in. Here’s wishing Happy Holidays to all of you from a very cold, fairy-land white Nova Scotia, Canada!
We Canadians take our hockey seriously. HNIC – Hockey Night in Canada – is an institution on CBC and is the main event for a lot of people on Saturday nights. Rivalries are bitter. Flames vs the Oilers, Toronto vs Montreal – or gosh, don’t even get me started on the Sens (Ottawa Senators). There are a lot of Bruins fans where I live right now (might have something to do with Marchant). Sid Crosby is from here. It doesn’t seem like Saturday night without a little trash talk and players chirping at each other…
This year’s NON SEASON is BIG NEWS. It seems very quiet without Don Cherry and Ron MacLean on the television for the east/west double header.
When I was growing up, not many of my classmates played organized hockey. But I remember lots of pond hockey games. Most of my skating was done at Mactaquac Provincial Park – they opened 2 of the golf course hazard ponds for public skating in the winter. There was a heated shack with benches where you could change, and they played horrible music over a loudspeaker. It was wonderful. Sometimes a parent would drop a bunch of us off on an evening for a few hours or, most likely, a Sunday afternoon. The pond right in front of the shack was for figure skating. The other pond, across the road, was for hockey only. Oh yes, and don’t forget the lodge/clubhouse – which had a canteen open on the weekends and where we used to take a dollar for hot chocolate. Yum!
I suck at hockey. For one thing, I’ve only ever had figure skates and there IS a difference. I never played hockey at the park, but our next door neighbour also had a pond in his cow pasture. A bunch of us used to skate there now and again, but because it was spring fed we had to wait until it was really really really frozen and not dangerous. I remember one time in particular I decided to play hockey and quickly discovered there is a disconnect between my hands and my feet. I can skate and keep the puck on my stick. However, when I use my brain to think about shooting or passing, I forget about my feet. So the pattern was shoot, fall. Shoot, fall. OUCH. A few years back I was skating just before Christmas. I was doing better with the passing and shooting thing but got a little too comfortable and decided to have a go at taking the puck from my husband. I fell. I hurt my wrist. Two days later, on Christmas morning, I was at the Emergency room getting a cast because it turned out it was broken. I should also mention that this spectacular example of klutziness and sports injury happened just 2 weeks before my deadline with a brand new editor. Auspicious beginning.
Still…there’s nothing quite like a rousing game of pond hockey in the cold outdoors. And when I was writing my current release, Sleigh Ride with the Rancher, I knew I had to have a pond hockey game. The hero, Blake, grew up playing hockey as so many prairie boys do. It seemed a natural thing for him to hold a pick-up game in his yard for some local guys.
My heroine, Hope, isn’t a die-hard hockey fan, but she sure does enjoy watching him play with “the boys”. It’s a fun side of him she doesn’t often see.
How about you? Are you a hockey fan? Does it seem like this winter is a little less colourful without the NHL? And I’m not just talking about Don Cherry’s suits…
(PS, for a brilliant display and funny commentary on Don’s style, check this out. I particularly like the Kerry Fraser reference!)
November is NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month. The challenge is to write a novel – or 50,000 words – in a one month span. Writing 50k in that amount of time means you don’t have the luxury of going over everything you’ve written over and over again. You have to keep moving forward. The idea is that at the end of the month you have a complete story to work with – and revise (because it WILL need revising!).
I never used to NaNo, then I discovered #1k1hr (which is 1000 words in 1 hour, generally in a group and done via twitter). With #1k1hr I focus a lot better and get so much more accomplished! The problem I find with NaNo is that, as a working writer, some days I simply can’t work on a new story because I get revisions or proofs or something else that has to be done that is all part of the job.
But I’m doing it this year (I did it last as well) and I’m a few days late (just handed in my last on Friday) getting going.
So far this morning I’ve written over 1500 words! That’s great! And I would have written more except I do keep getting distracted and spending time on Pinterest. Now bear in mind, it’s all in the name of research and FUN research too.
Because this is a Christmas book. And what makes it even BETTER is that there is a Christmas WEDDING.
So far I have my gents in tuxes with cowboy boots and four-in-hand ties. I have a lovely lacy wedding dress for the bride, gorgeous flowers, and beautiful centerpieces. I have a couple of cakes that I ADORE and chair covers and even wedding favours. Why is this all so very important? Well, my heroine is the event planner in charge of bringing all this together, and she’s also a bridesmaid. And the hero? He’s a groomsman.
I’m going to have to work very, very hard at pulling myself away from Pinterest and actually WRITING the book (I open with the heroine, Taylor, surveying the lineup of men in various tuxedo styles. Yum!). If you want to check out my Pinterest board, feel free! In the meantime, I’m at Eharlequin this month celebrating the release of my current Christmas book, SLEIGH RIDE WITH THE RANCHER with a special video message and also a fantastic Christmas cookie recipe!
Sometimes my mom will call me up and ask me for a recipe. At times I have it and will give it to her. At times, she has to deal with a bit of karma when I answer, “Well, I do this and put enough of this in to make it whatever, and bake it until it’s done, you know”. My mom has given me that answer plenty of times so it serves her right.
So here’s the thing. The way I cook vs. the way I bake is a lot like the way I write vs. the way I handle the non-writing part of my life.
When I’m baking, I follow a recipe. You have to worry about timing and proportions and things like leavening and consistency A LOT. So if I’m making cake or cookies or breads – anything with yeast, baking powder, baking soda, etc….I follow the recipe. But when I’m cooking a dinner dish – a casserole, something in the crockpot, roast, whatever…I usually don’t follow a recipe. I might sometimes use a guideline if it sounds good, but I often throw stuff together. Last week I thought the recipe for Turkey Meatball Chili needed to be saucier, so instead of 2 tbsp of tomato paste I put in the whole can. If I don’t have a certain veg I’ll throw another in – or add extra. Seasoning numbers? That’s a guideline only. Seriously. I wing it. A LOT.
When I’m not writing, my life is like a recipe. There is a schedule (writing is on it), and there is a list. Things are in a certain place and happen at a certain time. It’s very orderly and it works.
But when I’m writing, my process is like making chili. Or a better analogy – my Kitchen Sink Soup (recipe on my webpage). I start with a base – 2 characters with a goal, motivation and conflict and a happy ending by the last page. But everything else?
You got it. I’m what they call a pantser.
This wasn’t always easy to accept. I tried doing a synopsis ahead of time, or an outline. I tried doing up GMC charts. Tried writing to a three-act structure thinking it would make it easier when I got into trouble. Know what happened? I got into MORE trouble. Finally, finally, I came to accept that you know what? THIS IS MY PROCESS. And it works. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t get a tweak when it’s necessary – I totally think processes evolve with the writer. But I stopped fighting it. I embraced it. After I did that, I wrote faster and with less stress because I LEARNED TO TRUST IT.
Recently a friend was lamenting her word count compared to mine. I told her to stop. She has a certain process and it’s OKAY. She writes fabulous books, so what does it matter if it takes her a little longer, or if she has to have the front end of the book completely solid before moving on? You can’t judge yourself next to someone else’s process. And if yours works, why would you want to? Some people write a dirty draft and go back and do an overhaul. Some people write out of sequence. Some write a methodical word count every day and others strike when the iron’s hot. Some do extensive planning first and others “write into the mist” as Jo Beverley once said.
The key thing is to realize that your process is yours and it’s not right or wrong. It just is. I have learned that in every book there will come a time when a character surprises me. When a piece of dialogue or internal monologue will come out and be so powerful I will probably cry – and I haven’t planned it. That I COULDN’T plan it. That characters will take me in directions I never knew and make the book so much better than what I could have outlined. That is where the magic of my stories comes from. I know it will happen because it always does.
So if you’re a writer reading this – trust your process. Claim it, love it, embrace it. And I promise – things will be so much better when you decide to work WITH it rather than against it.
And if you’re a reader, you just got a glimpse into my rather twisted writer-mind. Meanwhile, in case my first analogy made you hungry, you can check out my recipes on my recipe page at http://www.donnaalward.com/recipecorner.htm
I kept trying to think of a topic to write about and was coming up blank. During all this scouring of my brain, I was in the process of cooking one of my favourite summer meals: Hodge Podge. And then it clicked! I”ll do a recipe post, I told myself, and give the P&P readers two of my favourites! Problem solved!
Except both of these recipes aren”t actually written down anywhere. I just add whatever amounts seem right. So bear with me – the good news is you really can”t screw either of these up if you get a little too much of anything.
The first one is for Hodge Podge, or what some people call Poor Man”s Stew (because it doesn”t have any meat). We always just called it Beans, Peas and Potatoes and we only had it when the garden was on. Creative bunch, our family. And you MUST have it with fresh bread. The nice, soft, white kind like your Grandmother used to make. Ready?
Approx 4-6 cups green or yellow wax beans, FRESH, stemmed and cut into <1 inch pieces
Approx 3 cups shelled peas (again, FRESH)
Six good sized new potatoes
Milk AND cream
Salt and Pepper
Prepare beans, wash, then put to boil in a large pot. Make sure you have enough water to cook ALL ingredients, not just the beans.
After they come to a boil, cook approximately ten minutes, then add peas.
Cook another ten minutes and add potatoes. Cook until potatoes are tender. Drain.
Add: a knob of butter (you can use margarine, but real butter is AWESOME), and begin with 1 cup of milk (we drink 1%, so that”s what we use) and 1 cup of cream (we use 5% fat cream in our coffee, so we use that, but a richer 10% or so is better). Use as much milk/cream as it takes to make it as wet as a stew but not brothy like a soup. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with that fab bread and butter, which is particularly good for sopping up the salty milk at the bottom of the bowl.
And my other go-to recipe in the summer, especially for feeding a crowd. Our favourite thing to serve it with is fresh coleslaw or a tossed salad.
EASY PULLED PORK
One 2-3 pound pork shoulder or butt (You can use a leaner loin roast but it won”t shred as easily)
Salt and pepper
1 bottle of your favourite barbecue sauce (we use one that is called Kansas City Barbeque, which is very dark and rich)
Put the roast in your crock pot, and add about 1 inch of water. Sprinkle roast with a little steak spice, 1 clove of fresh garlic (or equivalent of dried/minced), and a little salt and pepper. Let simmer 6 hours.
Remove roast to a large bowl (a bowl keeps the juices in) and drain most of the broth out of the crock pot (you don”t want this too watery!). Using 2 forks, shred the pork. Put back in the crock pot and pour in the sauce. Stir it in and then let cook another hour in the sauce.
Serve on your favourite bun – we like whole wheat kaiser rolls just lightly toasted. We”ve doubled this recipe and it fed nine hungry people (including teenagers, who eat like nematodes).
When I was writing my latest book, I ended up thinking about food a lot. This isn’t a new thing. Food usually plays a big part in my books, because, well, I like to cook and I like to eat. 🙂
My heroine is a baker – specifically a cupcake baker, and she’s “roped” into making special cupcakes for a charity fundraiser at the Cadence Creek Rodeo. It did get me thinking about rodeo and fair food and what makes it so good. When I was growing up we had “The Exhibition” and it was an agricultural fair as well as stage shows and a midway. Harness racing instead of rodeo, but similar in that food vendors were everywhere. I was never one for candy apples or cotton candy, but I always loved one particular vendor who sold burgers and fries. The line ups were huge but worth it. Sometimes I’ll smell meat and hot grease somewhere and immediately think “that smells like Exhibition”. Whether or not the food is fantastic or not, there’s no denying that it’s tied into memory!
When I was in Calgary I hit the Stampede Grounds a few times and the offerings are slightly different but perhaps even more tasty. My two favourites were Beef on a Bun – succulent shaved roast beef piled on a crusty bun – and the ever popular mini-doughnuts that came fresh out of the grease and seemed to melt on your tongue. The last time I was in Calgary, I bought a bag of them at Calaway Park, an amusement park on the west side of town. Delicious.
Those things are all at the Cadence Creek Rodeo, too – but in THE LAST REAL COWBOY I added something else: a chili cook-off. In my latest (still waiting on a title), it’s rodeo season again and the chili contest is a fundraiser for the Butterfly House women’s shelter. My heroine is making cupcakes to go along with that event, and I figured they needed to be something with a little kick. Chocolate Chili cupcakes were the answer, with Cream Cheese Chili Buttercream. Yee haw!
Whether it’s by shotgun or another equally pressing reason, sometimes proposals and weddings don’t come at the right time – even if they’re the right thing. Here are Donna Alward and Mary Connealy with glimpses into a few forced unions from their books!
From THE REBEL RANCHER (June 2012)
“I thought about it all night, Clara. Thought about you and the baby and Diamondback and I know what we have to do.”
She wasn’t sure she liked the sound of this. He seemed very sure of himself and considering she’d already explained her proposal this meant he wasn’t likely to go along with it. She tangled her fingers tighter together and replied, as evenly as she could, “I already told you what I’d like to do. This doesn’t have to change anything, not really. I can keep my life and you can keep yours, and we can work it out so that our baby has both a mother and a father. Right?”
Somehow in the twisting of her fingers, she managed to cross hers, hoping he would see reason.
Another step closer, and this time he was shaking his head. “That doesn’t work for me, Clara. I can’t be a father hundreds of kilometers away.” He reached out and pried one of her hands loose, clasping it in his strong, warm fingers. “What makes the most sense is…”
He paused, then got down on one knee while her mouth fell open. No, no, no! This couldn’t be happening. He couldn’t possibly be proposing. It would ruin everything! She didn’t want to get married. Didn’t want to lose herself in another relationship where she wasn’t loved in return. Why couldn’t he just be reasonable?
She tried to slide her fingers out of his but his grip was too firm. Oh God, he was looking up at her with those heart-on-his-sleeve eyes and she couldn’t look away.
“I want you to marry me,” he said softly. “Come home to Diamondback, and we can raise our child together.”
Panic threaded its way through her body. “We don’t have to get married to be parents,” she answered, adding a nervous laugh to the end that fell completely flat. Ty’s brow furrowed and a wrinkle appeared just above his nose.
He got to his feet and Clara realized once more how very tall he was. Ty had such presence that he tended to fill a room with it without even trying. It was hard to go toe to toe with that. But the truth was Ty had mentioned absolutely nothing about love. He had asked her but for all the wrong reasons. And it would be a disaster to marry without it. They would end up resenting each other and then what sort of parents would they be?
She had to make him understand that somehow. “Ty,” she tried, praying for calm, “getting married would be a mistake. We’d end up regretting it, I’m sure of it. And then there’d be a child stuck in the middle. If we’re calm and practical now, it’ll be so much better, can’t you see? We’ll make rational decisions rather than running on emotion.”
“Of course there are emotions involved. We’re not talking about buying a car or taking a job. We’re talking about a baby here. My baby.”
“And mine,” she reminded him.
A muscle in his jaw ticked. This wasn’t going the way she wanted at all! It had never crossed her mind that he’d propose. He didn’t love her. She wasn’t a naïve little girl after all. She knew that one night of passion and grief did not a love affair make.
“You’re asking me to make an impossible choice, do you realize that?” He ran his hand through his hair. “I either have to try to be a father on special occasions and holidays, or…”
He dropped his hand. “Damn,” he muttered.
“Or what?” she asked, wondering what choice she’d possibly forced.
“Or leave Diamondback.”
Her lips dropped open. “You’d do that?”
The chocolatey eyes she’d drowned in earlier now hardened. “What choice would I have? You should know me better, especially after everything I told you.” His voice turned accusing. “You know my history. You know how I feel about what my parents did. Thank God Virgil and Molly were there, but what if they hadn’t been? Don’t you think I know how it might have ended up for me? Maybe this was unplanned, but I could never turn my back on my own child. I could never put them second in my life and I thought you understood that.”
And now she saw his eyes glisten with the barest sheen of moisture before he blinked and turned away from her.
“But you love Diamondback,” she said weakly.
“Yes, I do.” His voice was hoarse with emotion. And he didn’t need to say anything more. If she insisted on staying in Saskatchewan, he would leave the ranch behind. His birthright. His family.
For a chance to win a copy of THE REBEL RANCHER, leave a comment!!!!!!!!!
And now here’s Mary, with an excerpt from CALICO CANYON:
“I can’t be out here alone with you wearing a nightgown.” Grace clutched the blankets. “It’s not proper.”
Daniel’s fair skin turned an alarming shade of pink as he stared at her. “I’ll bet it wasn’t proper of us to sleep together either.”
“It most certainly was not.” The deep voice from behind hit them at the same instant the cold did.
They all turned to face Parson Roscoe.
The boys wheeled fully around. Daniel sat up. Grace clutched the blankets to her chest and looked into the startled eyes of the kindly parson and, just behind him, his gentle-hearted wife, Isabelle.
“Parson, it’s not what it looks like,” Grace said.
“Oh, thank heavens,” Mrs. Roscoe said. “Because it looks like you and Daniel spent the night together in this cave.”
“Then it is exactly what it looks like,” John said into a silence more frozen than Grace had been last night.
“Well, yes,” Daniel said. “We did spend the night together, but…”
“Daniel,” Grace gasped in horror.
Daniel looked away from the parson, his skin now fully flaming red. “Well, we did. Do you want me to add lying to the parson in on top of having you in bed…I mean, sleeping together…I mean…” Daniel lapsed into silence.
“Pa brung her home to be our ma, but he tried her out for the night and he decided to return her,” Mark said.
Parson Roscoe stepped fully into the cave. “Both of you get up immediately.”
“In front of the children, Grace? I’m shocked.” Mrs. Roscoe came in and shut the door behind her. The plump woman clutched her hands together in front of her chest as if desperate to get away and spend an hour in prayer just to wash the shock out of her mind.
Grace climbed to her feet. She fumbled with the blankets, there were too many of them to hold. She tried to drop a few of them and managed to drop them all. She caught at them and almost fell forward trying to keep herself covered.
In a voice that seemed to promise eternal flames, Parson Roscoe said to Daniel, “We’ll get on with this and no one will have to know what exactly went on here last night.”
The parson gripped his big black Bible in both hands as if he needed to physically hang on to his faith in the face of this indignity. “Do you Daniel take this woman…”
Daniel was staring at her, his eyes so wide Grace would swear the man had seen a ghost, shook his head.
“I don’t even know how I got here.” Grace flung her arms wide, narrowly missing backhanding Daniel in the face.
“I do.” Daniel grabbed her hand to protect himself.
“About time.” The parson turned his fire and brimstone eyes on Grace.
“No, I didn’t mean…” Daniel dropped her hand like it had sprouted cactus bristles.
“Do you Grace take Daniel—?”
“We told you we aren’t keepin’ her for our ma.” Mark turned on Grace. “You want out of here as bad as we want you out of here, don’t you?”
Grace nodded frantically. “I do.”
“Hallelujah!” The parson raised his hands to heaven.
“I now pronounce you—”
Mrs. Roscoe threw herself, weeping into Grace’s arms, whispering ‘congratulations’.
The parson, whom Grace had always liked, and his wife who seemed like such a sweet-natured woman in the normal course of things, swept out of the cabin. The door slammed shut.
“But I need a ride back to town,” Grace called after them.
“You’re not getting a ride back to town, woman. You’re married!”
Daniel might as well have been a cougar trapped in this cave with her, she’d have felt no safer.
“I’m what?” Deafening silence followed her question.
“To who?” Mark shoved himself to the front of the pack of boys.
Grace looked at Daniel, and it hit her. She was the mother of five—including two ten-year-olds. And she was only seventeen. Grace sank onto the floor and pulled all six blankets over her head.
Mary’s giving away signed copy of her SOPHIE’S DAUGHTERS trilogy! Just leave a comment to be entered for the draw!