Julie Benson & “A Fish Out of Water”

I love writing fish out of water stories. I have a husband and three sons who’d tell you I love those stories because I get a perverse pleasure out turning the tables on confident men. It’s true, but okay gals, is there anything more fun that that? Really?

But it’s more than the fact that writing those stories is fun. I’ve always been a person who’s nervous in new situations. There have been times I haven’t gone to an event because I wasn’t sure I’d know anyone there. I’m not big on change, either. I actually prefer being in a rut. As Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory would say, “They call it comfort zone for a reason.” Because I loathe uncomfortable situations, it’s easy for me to step into my hero’s boots and really know what it’s like.

One of the things that sold my first novel to Harlequin was that my editor loved the fish out of water element. For those who haven’t read my first blog for Petticoats and Pistols about how I came up with the story idea for Big City Cowboy (click here to read the post), I met a cowboy in Colorado who people often asked to model. Cowboys are so confident, so much a part of the land they love, and yet often so private, that forcing one to go New York City to model sent my brain into story spinning mode. In Big City Cowboy, my hero, a dyed in the wool cowboy, is forced to go to New York City to model in order to get the money to pay for his mother’s experimental cancer treatment. When I wrote that book, the minute the hero’s brother, Griffin McAlister, strutted onto the page I knew he needed his own story.

On top of being a former bull rider, Griffinis a first class charmer, who’d gone back in the confidence line for seconds. As I thought about his story, I realized I had to turn the tables on him. One day while watching TV, a commercial for The Bachelor came on, and I had the idea for Bet On a Cowboy.

WhenGriffin’s model brother can’t become the bachelor because he’d engaged,Griffinagrees to go on the show. A friend told me someone she knew who was on the show as a bachelorette received $3000 an episode.Griffinthought he had it made—he’d get paid to date gorgeous women. So what if he doesn’t want to get married? Every woman has a deal breaker issue. All he has to do is find the finalists’ and use that to his advantage. His plan is that whoever he proposes to will turn him down.

The story is a fish out of water combined with a ‘be careful what you wish for’ story. Griffin discovers life isn’t all fun in games when, instead of doing the chasing, he’s now the prey. Those scenes where the bachelorettes took control of the situation were so much fun to write. And then I threw in a heroine, Maggie Sullivan, who instead of falling atGriffin’s feet, saw through his tactics and had the audacity to call him on it. Now that was fun to write!

For me, I’ll stay in my comfortable little rut and make my characters face the unexpected and awkward situations in life. It’s a lot more fun.

Julie’s new release, Bet On a Cowboy, is available now. Add it to your “to-be-read” pile today!

COWBOY SASS – Single Action Shooting Society

While on vacation recently, my husband and I spent a morning visiting the Arizona Cowboy Shooters Association in action. Every second Saturday, enthusiasts of period weapons, dedicated to preserving and promoting the sport of Cowboy Action Shooting gather together to talk history, weapons and shooting.

The Single Action Shooting Society–SASS–is for folks who “…share a common interest in preserving the history of the Old West and competitive shooting.”  [SASS website, www.sassnet.com.] There are clubs all in all fifty states, andCanada,New Zealand, Europe,Australia andSouth Africa, too.

Personally, spending a Saturday or two a month enjoying the sport of shooting sounds like a lot of fun. And every club member we met agreed. The day consists of target shooting with revolvers, a shotgun, and a lever-action rifle.

“Cowboy Action Shooting is a multi-faceted shooting sport in which contestants compete with firearms typical of those used in the taming of the Old West: single action revolvers, pistol caliber lever action rifles, and old time shotguns.” [www.sassnet.com]

Every member of the ACSA carried reproduction or original period firearms. There were Colt Peacemakers,Winchester1873s, Model No. 3 “Russians” (pictured to the left), Model 1873 repeating rifles, 1866 “Yellow Boys”… You name it, someone was probably carrying it.

We saw 1897 pump-action and 1887 lever-action shotguns–that one “Terminator” fans would recognize–and lots of double-barreled or side-by-side Coach guns.

There were stations set up on the range, with different targets, arrangements and distances. At one station, participants emptied both revolvers at steel gunslinger- shaped targets, or “steels,” then switched to their rifles and pinged off nine shots at five dinner-plate sized targets from 10 yards away. At the next station, the targets were 25 yards away. And at another, knocking down one “steel” tossed a clay target into the air. Bonus points were awarded for shattering it. There’s also a long-range rifle competition, but we didn’t get up early enough to observe that.

Another fun aspect of the sport is that every participant got to be someone else for a day. “One of the unique aspects of SASS approved Cowboy Action Shooting™ is the requirement placed on costuming. Each participant is required to adopt a shooting alias appropriate to a character or profession of the late 19th century, a Hollywoodwestern star, or an appropriate character from fiction. Their costume is then developed accordingly. Many event participants gain more enjoyment from the costuming aspect of our sport than from the shooting competition, itself. Regardless of a SASS member’s individual area of interest, SASS events provide regular opportunities for fellowship and fun with like-minded folks and families.” [www.sassnet.com]

For sheer fun while shooting, you’d be hard pressed to beat Cowboy Action Shooting. Unless it was mounted cowboy action shooting–but that’s for another post.

Cheryl St.John: My Christmas Story and a Giveaway!

I just love writing novellas for the western Christmas anthologies and am always tickled when my editor invites me to participate. I’d wanted to do a train story for a long time, so when I got the call, I immediately started thinking about a train. Some stories are meant for novellas and others have enough plot for a full length book. A wise writer knows which is which. I often come up with a story idea and then tuck it away for the future, because the premise won’t sustain a full-length novel.

This time I didn’t go to those stored ideas, I sat down and brainstormed new characters. Characters always come first. Once they’re established, I know what they’ll do and how the plot will come together.

Jonah had a few other names in the process—names are a number one priority for my creative process. Without the perfect names I can’t move forward. I considered and dismissed Cole McAdam, Grady Neville, Ivan Kingsley and Jeremiah Thorpe among others. But Jonah Cavanaugh won out. He sounds like a duty-bound U.S. Marshal, doesn’t he? He’s inflexible, honorable, protective and always on the lookout for danger. With Jonah it’s all about duty.

Meredith was always Meredith. Her name came to me with the story premise, and she was the easiest to flesh out. Born into a well-to-do family with a railroad tycoon father, Meredith is living up to expectations. She doesn’t like to feel ordinary. Nothing is grand enough for her; she loves drama, and she has an adventurous spirit. She’s competent, bossy, headstrong and used to getting her own way. But while Meredith is fearless, she hides her lack of confidence regarding her true worth.

Now to get these two together.

Christmas = snow.

A few days before Christmas Jonah is protecting a gold shipment on a train pulling the Abbott’s luxury Pullman. When he spots a notorious bandit aboard, he knows there’s trouble coming, so he alerts the engineer and uncouples the last three cars, stranding the mail car, the luggage car—and the Pullman in a blizzard.

Little does he suspect the railroad heiress is traveling alone on her way to a Christmas Eve party in Denver, where her suitor will propose. Now, not only does he have a strongbox filled with gold to protect, but a pampered female—and before the day’s out—two stowaway orphans.

I had so much fun writing this story about the true meaning of Christmas and the promise of love that I believe it’s one of my favorites. If you’ve already read it, I hope you’ll leave me the gift of a comment or brief review on amazon.

If you leave an amazon review today CLICK HERE, send me a quick email: SaintJohn@aol.com and I’ll add your name to a drawing for this beautiful 50” single strand bead necklace! (The round disk beads are pale pink, which you can’t see well in my photo.)

If you haven’t read Snowflakes and Stetsons yet, here’s the link to order:


If you order today, let me know and I’ll add your name to the drawing.

Among my favorites by other authors are Mary Balough’s Christmas anthologies. Many readers tell me that the novellas are their favorite Christmas reads and they buy them all. Are you one of those readers?

Travelin’ Dreams!

Since I’m on a mission to complete a manuscript this month, before I head out on an actual vacation, my writing time is stretched a little thin. So I’m going to open my blog up to you today.

If you could go anywhere on a research vacation–or on any vacation–where would you go? No limits, no budget. Anywhere.

I have a bucket list of sorts, place I really want to go, and, while Australia, New Zealand and Fiji are all on there, it isn’t a list of exotic locales. I’ve been to Russia, back when it was still the Soviet Union; and to England, France, Austria, Germany, Canada, Mexico, Honduras, Grand Cayman, St. Thomas, The British Virgin Islands… Can you tell my dh and I love to travel?

The places on my list right now are mostly research trips I’d like to take in order to give life to some of the story ideas that are floating around in the gray matter of my mind. For instance:

> The Buffalo Bill Historical Center & Cody Firearms Museum, Cody, Wyoming

> The National Rifle Association’s National Firearms Museum, Fairfax, Virginia

> The eastern-most spot in Newfoundland, Canada [that’s it, in the picture on the left]

> Maine – the whole state

> Bainbridge Island, Washington – or maybe Neah Bay, since it’s the westernmost point in Washington State

> Alaska

> Idaho

I could keep going, but you get the idea. How about you?

I’ll give away one copy each of Touch of Texas and Touched by Love–all you have to do is leave a comment.

Happy Dreaming!


MJ Fredrick ~ Time Travel and Romance

If I could have any superpower, I’d want the power of time travel. I wouldn’t care about going into the future—I’d prefer not to know. But I would LOVE to go into the past. I drive by buildings and wonder what they were like in their heyday. I live in an old city, so there are a lot of old buildings. Depending on my mood, there are different eras I want to visit.

The early 1960s, the era when my mom was young. It’s also the era of Mad Men, and it’s just fascinating to see how different mores were in those days. A lot of the buildings around my neighborhood were built in that era, with the flat roofs and the plate glass, and I would love to see them when they were new.

The 1950s, when my mom was a child. She talks about shopping downtown, and the buildings are still there. I can just imagine her traipsing down the street in her little dress, going to the soda fountain. My dad’s hometown was also thriving in the 1950s, and I would love to experience that small town in that time period. I’d also love to travel Route 66, and stay in those motels along the way.

The post-Civil War era, during western expansion, the time of Laura Ingalls. I devoured those books when I was young, and while I didn’t really care about visiting that time period at the time, now I wonder what it must be like to have experienced that wide-open feeling.

MAYBE I’d want to visit a trail drive. Just for a few hours.

And downtown San Antonio as it recovered after the battle of the Alamo. I’m not sure I’d like to visit the time period that my book, SUNRISE OVER TEXAS from Carina Press, is set, during the time Stephen Austin brought the first families to Texas, when it was still a part of Mexico. The Texas frontier was wild at the time, and the Mexican government wanted it settled. I don’t think I could ever do the things my heroine Kit has to endure.

Time travel would be a fun power to have, but I’d want to return to my own time period, of air conditioning and transportation and hamburgers.

Where would you want to time travel?

MJ will give away a $10 gift card to either Amazon or Barnes & Noble today to one lucky commenter. So get typing!

Brenda Minton ~ True Cowboys

Wow, I’m guest blogging at Petticoats and Pistols! When Tracy first mentioned it I actually had to ask her what to talk about! I’ve never guest blogged before. My own blog has been neglected this summer, but previous posts were about exciting things like noises in the night and runaway mules. If I’m going to guest blog, I’m sure I need something a little better than that, something a little more exciting.

Ummm, yeah, I got nothing. My life is about runaway mules, crazy kids, and chasing the Chihuahua down the road. In my spare time, I write for Steeple Hill Love Inspired. Most importantly, I write about cowboys. When I was searching for my niche, cowboys just made sense to me. It wasn’t about what was hot (not that cowboys aren’t) or what the publisher was looking for (although it’s always good to know). No, I picked cowboys because to me, they define HERO.

As an avid fan of the PBR (pro bull riding, for those who might be thinking Pabst Blue Ribbon) I love the sport because it is exciting, dramatic, and dangerous. But I also love it because cowboys are heroes. These men are competing against one another, and yet they are always there to help each other. They cheer for each other. They defend one another. They’re willing to jump into the arena with an angry, one ton bull if it means saving a friend’s life. And they pray for each other..

When I think of cowboys, I think of Cord McCoy, the professional bull rider who also competed on Amazing Race. Cord is a true cowboy. He’s a man of faith who smiles, even when the bulls are against him. Even when he’s losing, he’s smiling. He’s cheering for the guy who is beating him. He’s praying for them to do a great job and stay safe.

But these cowboys are also tough as nails. They can get stomped on by a two thousand pound bull, get back up and say ‘yes’ to a reride. They’ll ride with broken ribs, punctured lungs and torn ACLs.

Tough is the bull rider who jumps in the arena with bull fighters to grab hold of the rope that his unconscious buddy is tangled up in.

When we think of cowboys we think tough, gentle, heroic and chivalrous. A cowboy hero is the whole package–a man sent to rescue his woman. A man in faded jeans, five o’clock shadow and rip hard muscles sent to rescue his woman, and get rescued by her in the process.

John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, George Strait. What could be better than a hero in the mold of one of those men?

So, you ask, why do I write cowboy stories? Well, it should be obvious—the research is a wonderful way to pass a weekend. What better job than a job that takes a girl to the rodeo to watch men in wranglers!

In my August release, THE COWBOY’S SWEETHEART, the reader gets the combination of a tough-as-nails cowboy and the cowgirl who is having his baby. I’m so excited about this book that I’m giving away a copy to one of you who leaves a comment today. I hope you enjoy the story.

THE PHILADELPHIA DERINGER ~ A Little Gun That Changed History

 The Philadelphia Deringer is a small percussion handgun designed by Henry Deringer and produced from 1852 through 1868. The term derringer is actually a misspelling of the maker’s last name. Kind of like kleenex (with a small k), the term derringer is now used to describe any pocket-sized pistol.

The original Deringer pistol was a single-shot muzzle-loading pistol. That means you had one ball of lead backed by the power of a measure of black powder. No multi-shot shootouts with this little beauty. Subsequent models were made to use the new cartridge type ammunition–aka a bullet–but a derringer never held more than two shots.

Derringer often refers to the smallest usable handgun of a given caliber. They were frequently used by women, because the size made the pistol easy to conceal in a reticule on slipped into a stocking garter. Derringers are not repeating firearms. The original cartridge derringers held only a single round, usually a .40 caliber cartridge. [.40 refers to the diameter of the bullet, in this case .40” or 10.16mm.] The barrel pivoted sideways on the frame for reloading.

The famous Remington derringer, sold from 1866 to 1935, was designed with a second barrel on top of the first. This meant two shots instead of one, without much more weight to carry around. On this two-shot pistol, the barrels pivoted upward for reloading.

If you plan to use this pretty little thing, keep in mind that the bullet moved very slowly–about half the speed of a modern bullet. It could actually be seen in flight. Still, at close range, such as at card table or in a stage coach, it would be deadly.

Another thing to consider, should you want a character to carry a derringer: it took a lot to load and prepare the pistol. I’ll let you read for yourself.

“For loading a Philadelphia Deringer, one would typically fire a couple of percussion caps on the handgun, to dry out any residual moisture contained in the tube or at the base of the barrel, to prevent a subsequent misfire. One would then remove the remains of the last fired percussion cap and place the handgun on its half-cock notch, pour 15 to 25 grains of blackpowder down the barrel, followed by ramming a patched lead ball down onto the powder, being very careful to leave no air gap between the patched ball and the powder, to prevent the handgun from exploding when used. (The purpose of the patch on the ball was to keep the ball firmly lodged against the powder, to avoid creating what was called a “short start” when the ball was dislodged from being firmly against the powder.) A new percussion cap would then be placed on the tube (what today would be called a nipple), and the gun was then loaded and ready to fire. (The half-cock notch prevented the hammer from falling if the trigger were bumped accidentally while carrying the handgun in one’s coat pocket.) Then, to fire the handgun, a user would fully cock the hammer, aim, and squeeze the trigger. Upon a misfire, the user could fully re-cock the hammer, and attempt to fire the handgun once more, or, equally common, switch to a second Deringer. Accuracy was highly variable; although front sights were common, rear sights were less common, and some Philadelphia Deringers had no sights at all, being intended for point and shoot use instead of aim and shoot, across Poker-table distances. Professional gamblers, and others who carried regularly, often would fire and reload daily, to decrease the chance of a misfire upon needing to use a Philadelphia Deringer.” http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Derringer&action=edit&section=3

And how did this little pistol change history? It was the weapon used by John Wilkes Booth to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln in the Ford Theater on April 14, 1865.

The Chicago Palm Pistol – A “Handy” Little Gun

Y’all know I love research, right? I’m always on the lookout for a proper weapon of choice for a character. Look what I discovered the other night. While catching up on the to-be-watched shows on my DVR, I ran across one about old guns, including this little beauty.

The Chicago Palm Pistol.

Originally called the Minneapolis Protector Palm Pistol, The Chicago Palm Pistol began as a copy of the French Turbiaux pistol, Le Protecteur.

The design for this palm-sized weapon was patented in 1883 by the Minneapolis Firearms Company, then sold to Peter Finnegan of Austin, Illinois. Mr. Finnegan created the Chicago Firearms Company and immediately contracted with Ames Sword Company of Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts, to manufacture the pistol in time to introduce it at The Columbian Exhibition–The Chicago World’s Fair of 1892. Because of manufacturer delays, it didn’t make it in time for the Fair, and, in 1898, Mr. Finnegan ended up with 13, 000 pistols to sell.

The moment I saw it, I knew this would be an excellent concealed weapon for a character to carry, whether he’s the hero or the villain. Since it was billed as a small enough weapon to be easily handled by a woman, I suppose my heroine might have one tucked into a pocket or her reticule, as well.

Here, you can see the actual size.

It wasn’t a very powerful gun, so no shootouts from twenty paces, but for an ambush, or a last ditch attempt at protecting the one he (or she) loves, it would be perfect.

What do you think? Would your character have a need for a Palm Pistol like this one?

St Joseph, Missouri ~ Stepping Off Spot for the West

St Joseph MO

Best known as the place where the Pony Express began in 1860, and where Jesse James met his end in 1882, St. Joseph, Missouri, holds a place of honor in the history of westward expansion.

Situated on the bluffs of the Missouri River, St Joseph began life in 1826 as Joseph Robidoux’s first trading post. Although Missouri had become the 24th state five years earlier, in 1821, the area was still Indian territory. Lewis and Clark haJoseph Robidoux_founderd passed by here on their way upriver in 1804.

When the fur trader filed the plat for the new town, he named it for his patron saint. Robidoux had only one stipulation for those wanting to buy lots of his land: no one could take possession until he had harvested his crop of marijuana. In those days, it was used in the making of hemp. These days the delta 8 carts can be availed easily.

The town was destined to be successful because it’s location on the Missouri River made it easily accessable. Naturalist John James Audubon visited in May of 1843, (two months before its official incorporation) and described Robidoux’s settlement as “a delightful place for a populous city that will be here some 50 years hence.” St. Joseph celebrated its Sesquicentennial in 1993.

The settlement grew steadily, but the discovery of gold in California in 1848 turned it into a boom area. Gold seekers came across Missouri to St. Joseph by steamboat, to where the city’s location on the westward bend of the Missouri River made it one of two choice “jumping-off” points (the other was Independence, about 60 miles southwest). Gold rushers bought supplies here for the westward wagon trek. Estimates say as many as 50,000 passed through St Joseph in 1849 alone.

Another 100,000 or more pioneers would crowd the streets, bound for California and other points west, before the coming of the trains. And that’s why I chose it as a ssteamtrainubject for today’s blog post.

Where steamboats helped established St. Joseph as the place for travelers heading west, trains kept it there. The first train from the east arrived here February 14, 1859. Until after the Civil War, St. Joseph was the westernmost point accessible by rail. That means, until around 1870, if you wanted to get to Texas–or Colorado or Montana or anyplace west–by train, you had to go through St. Joseph. By 1900, one hundred passenger trains a day came into St. Joseph. I don’t know about you, but that number boggled my mind!

And where the train tracks ended, the stage coach lines began.Pony Express stables

If you read my blog on 11/27/09, you already know St. Joseph was the starting point of The Pony Express in 1860. And in 1887, St. Joseph became only the second city in the U.S.–after Richmond, VA–to have electric streetcars.

Wholesale houses for things like shoes, dry goods and hardware, helped ensure St. Joseph’s prosperity during its Golden Age in the late 19th century. At one time, the town ranked fourth in the nation for dry goods sales and fifth in hardware sales.

Cowboys were familiar with St. Joseph, too, since livestock was a large part of the economy beginning in 1846. Swift and Armour were important names in town.

I’m thinkiJesse Jamesng that song from the musical OKLAHOMA, “Everything’s Up To Date in Kansas City” probably should have been written about St. Joseph.

To top it off, infamous bank and train robber Jesse James, a Missouri native, tried to retire here in 1881. His wife wanted him to live a more normal life. And it was here, in a house on top of the highest hill, where, in 1882, one of his new partners, Bob Ford, decided collecting the reward for Jesse James would pay better than robbing the Platte City Bank.

St. Joseph is a town full of history. There are national parks dedicated to the Lewis & Clark expedition, museums housing collections about The Pony Express, Jesse James and westward expansion, and stunning views of the mighty Missouri River. Stop in sometime. You’re bound to learn something new. I did.

Nicola Marsh ~ What inspires me?

Nicola Marsh

As a writer, the question I’m most commonly asked is ‘where do you get your ideas from?’

My first book?  I was between patients while working full time as a physiotherapist, picked up a glossy mag from the waiting room, flicked through and there was a fabulous article on speed dating.  I’d only just started writing at the time and something about that article set off a little ‘ding’ in my creative brain and off I went.

Another book?  Reading the Sunday newspaper, I came across an article in the travel section on hotel concierges, all male, and thought I’d make my heroine a hotelier filling in as concierge for a week and having to deal with a prince incognito.acland2

Most of my books?  From real life experiences around my beautiful home city of Melbourne.  There’s nothing like first hand research anlygon2sd considering how much I love my food it comes as no surprise I’ve set many books around the ‘foodie’ areas of this restaurant-rich city. Brunswick Street (boho central), Acland Street (home to the best cakes and pastry shops on the planet!), Lygon Street (Little Italy), the Docklands (hip new eateries),all intriguing settings in their own right but once you throw in the food…yum!

So what inspired me to write my current releases THREE TIMES A BRIDESMAID…(Harlequin Romance) & OVERTIMTTAB US coverE IN THE BOSS’S BED (Harlequin Presents Extra)? 

THREE TIMES A BRIDESMAID…came about after many trips to the Melbourne Aquarium with my kids over the last two years, and OVERTIME IN THE BOSS’S BED was inspired after lightning struck my house last year!  (That scene in the book where Starr runs tOITBB US covero Callum’s house after lightning strikes the cottage?  Didn’t happen that way for me.  My hero was away at the time!!)

Sometimes characters leap straight into my head, other times it’s the uniqueness of a setting that will tempt me to create a story.

So next time you read a scene in a book, who knows?  It may have happened to the author and inspired them to write an entire book!


If you could ask an author anything, what would it be?

Thanks to the lovely gang at Petticoats and Pistols for having me!  To celebrate my double release this month, I’m giving away a signed copy of my recent Romantic Times finalist for Best Harlequin Romance 2009, A TRIP WITH THE TYCOON.  Leave a comment to be in the running.