The Best Surprise Ever!

Have you ever given a surprise party?  Have you been the guest of honor at one?  Several months ago my sister-in-law called me about a surprise party for my brother’s 50th birthday. They live in Denver, so it’s been awhile since we’ve all gotten together.  No way would I miss it! But oh my goodness!  Keeping the trip to Denver a secret for that long nearly did me in.  I had visions of talking on the phone and blurting, “See you in September!”

Well, I managed to keep quiet and I’m so glad I did.  My sister-in-law planned the best-ever surprise. She sent my brother on a scavenger hunt with a series of clues. Instead of finding trinkets, he found people.  I was Clue #5. The clue directed him to the  place were he works and told him to look for a loved one.  He saw his wife first and said, “Where’s my clue?”

“I don’t have it,” she answered. “Keep looking.” 

My brother works at a western supply store. Among other things, they sell cowboy boots. I was seated on a bench with boots in hand. To anyone else, I looked like a customer trying on a pair of Tony Lamas.  They were cool boots but not nearly as cool as the moment my brother spotted me.  It’s not often you get a chance to completely shock someone, but that’s what happened.  I’ll never forget that moment…It was the highlight of my trip to Denver.

The good times just kept coming.  After the big birthday bash, we did a mini-tour of the mountains around Castle Rock.  Some of you will remember Bounty Hunter’s Bride and the final scene with Beau Morgan and outlaw Clay Johnson in a canyon. The book is set in Castle Rock, Colorado, so a lot of my research consisted of calling my brother for info on the terrain. A cowboy at heart, he’s ridden all over the area and he told me about a particular place on the Platte River.

On Sunday we piled into his big truck and and drove to the place he described.  What a glorious feeling to kick off my sandals, wade into the river and feel the reality of my characters from the book!  I could picture Beau riding up the river and then into a side canyon. The dirt was as red as I’d imagined, the walls of the canyon as steep.  Rocks jutted just like my brother had described.  Fiction came alive for me in those moments.

It also came alive in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Wyoming Lawman is on the shelves now.  The first chapter takes place in a fictional place called the Dryer Hotel.  Before the surprise party, my husband and I detoured to Cheyenne where we spent a night at the Plains Hotel.  The lobby has been maintained in the style fitting the year it was built.  I could practically see my hero and heroine sitting on the chairs while the heroine made braids for the hero’s five-year-old daughter.

The last stop on the Wyoming journey was the Wyoming Territorial Prison. My all time favorite hero, the Reverend John Leaf from Abbie’s Outlaw, spent time in this place. Online research provided the facts, but walking through the prison yard, seeing the monstrous walls and the dying grass, brought the place to life in a new way.  The cells were what I’d imagined, and I got to see where the women were housed.  Did you know the first chaplain for the prison was a woman?  She’s definitely blog-worthy, if not a heroine worthy of her own book.

So that’s my trip to Cheyenne and Denver . . . I had a great time combining research with a family celebration. About the boots I was trying on when I met my brother . . . I wear them all the time and I love them!

Available now at Amazon: Wyoming Lawman 

More on WYOMING LAWMAN…How History Changed The Story

In just a few week Wyoming Lawman will be on the shelves. I thought it might be fun to do a blog on the “story behind the story.”  Some books have deep historical roots. They’re based on the life of a real person, or maybe the story comes out of a real event and a “what if” question.  That’s not the case with Wyoming Lawman. The historical elements that make this book unique are all small, but they still came straight from historical research.

I ran into my first historical roadblock in Chapter Two.  I wanted my hero, Deputy Matt Wiley, to give flowers to the heroine.  The book is set in 1875 Wyoming in October. The Union Pacific had a huge presence in Cheyenne, and flowers could have been shipped in . . . but this is October. And I wanted her to get a big, beautiful bouquet. That led to research on greenhouses. The earliest greenhouse I could find was later in the decade, and it was in Missouri.

If this book had been set a few years later, flowers would have made perfect sense. But in 1875, I thought it was too much of a stretch. What else could he give her as a token of his appreciation?  A fellow writer suggested hair ribbons and I went with it.  Those ribbons worked perfectly. Not only were they a fitting gift, they show up throughout the book. If I’d cheated on the history, I’d have missed a great opportunity for a recurring motif.  

Another historical tidbit is Pearl’s name. She started off as a secondary character in The Maverick Preacher. When I name secondary characters, I go to the Social Security website where it lists the most common baby names for a year. I enter 1882 or whatever year fits, then mentally pick a number between 1-50. Bingo! That’s the name I use unless it rubs me the wrong way.  Pearl’s name was that random. Already I’ve gotten comments from readers about how much they like a name that’s so old fashioned.

And wouldn’t you know it? The imagery is perfect for her character. Just as real pearls are formed from a grain of sand, a wound of sorts, my heroine is recovering from an act of violence in the past. 

The last serendipity involves the Texas Rangers. I made the hero a former Ranger before I did a lick of research for this book.  He’s an honorable guy, a defender of justice. Being a Ranger fit his personality. When I started researching, I discovered that in the time Matt would have worn the badge, the department had corruption issues. For a while they were the Texas State Police.

My conception and the history didn’t match at all, but this is where history–if respected–gives a fictional character more depth.  Not only is Matt a former Texas Ranger, he’s a man who took grave exception to the corruption and fought it. That fight gave him yet another reason to go to Wyoming with his little girl.

So that’s some of the “behind the scenes” stuff for Wyoming Lawman. Here’s the back cover blurb:

Matrimony? Never again for deputy sheriff Matt Wiley. The only good thing from his first marriage is his daughter. His little girl might want a mother, but Matt knows that no woman should have to deal with his guilty secret, or his anger at God. He’ll do his duty, serve the town of Cheyenne and keep his distance. Yet when courageous single mother Pearl Oliver comes to town, watching from the sidelines isn’t an option–especially when Pearl lands herself in danger. His heart, Pearl’s life and the safety of their town are all at risk. Only the love and faith he thought he’d left behind can help him win his way to happily ever after.

Available for pre-order at Amazon…