Wednesday, February 01, 2017
Cowboys, Kids and Bull Riding School -- Anne McAllister
Loosely means you don't have to have read the others to make sense of it, but if you do, you'll know more about the people who make up the hero and heroine's world. Out of my seventy books, it is one that has remained near and dear to my heart.
In thinking about why it has remained one of my favorites, I've decided that it gave me the chance to celebrate bits of my life that I value a great deal -- and it took me out of myself to a place I'd never been, which is always the best part of research.
So . . . what I value:
Cowboys, of course. Goes without saying. I imprinted on one when I was five and the inclination to follow one anywhere still lingers. Not sure what it is -- maybe the sense of responsibility, the 'try' that means he always makes maximum effort no matter the cost, the strong/quiet vibe that so many of them do so well. Or, well, maybe it's the Wranglers and the hat . . . but cowboys, especially ones like sinigle-father Taggart Jones, will get me every time.
And kids. They're very much a part of my world. I've got four -- all grown up now -- and nine grandkids in various stages on the road to maturity (well, one is already there). And Becky, Taggart's daughter, owes a bit to several of them who are dear to me, in particular to the daughter of friends who was seven when I wrote about Becky and who had every bit of the curiosity and determination and stubbornness that Becky did. She's all grown up now, too, and I'm thinking she wouldn't make a bad heroine.
And scrapbooks. I inherited a few scrapbooks from my long-gone relatives, and they inspired the scrapbook at the beginning of The Cowboy and the Kid. I always loved looking through them and "reading" the story of the person whose life they reflected by reading the news articles and seeing the cards and bits and pieces of memorabilia they saved. I did one myself in 8th grade to tell the story of Peter Stuyvesant in New Netherlands for a social studies project. I remembered it when my then editor wanted me to start with something that focused on Taggart (otherwise the book started from Becky's point of view). It was fun to do. (There's still an 8th grader somewhere deep inside me).
And small town folks. Sometimes they can be urban neighborhood folks, of course. But they are the people who live nearby and who feel almost more like family than they do just acquaintances. They're the ones you can call on when you need a helping hand. They're sometimes the ones who know you need a helping hand before you know.
This is the research part, the part that took me out of my own life and dropped me straight into one I had only seen from a distance. This wasn't a natural for me, but this kind of research is one of the parts of writing books that I value more than anything else.
A year or so before this book, I'd done another book -- The Eight-Second Wedding -- and in it there was a bull-rider. I sort of fell in love with that bull-rider, and in doing research to make him 'real,' I spent a fair amount of time on the phone with a cowboy who taught bull riding "for real."
He was a great resource. It was a fun experience, so much so that I wished he could be a resource for another book. He said, "Well, you could write one about a hero who was a bull-riding instructor."
So I did. And of course, ever the stickler for authenticity, he said, "You should come to bull-riding school."
So I did -- over the Presidents' Day weekend quite a lot of years ago.
Let me be clear: I audited the course. I did not take it for 'credit' -- I did not ride any bulls. One of the other things I value, besides authenticity, is self-preservation, and I know my limits.
But I did spend three days attending class and watching my fellow students survive -- and thrive -- in the course and in the arena.
I came away with a great appreciation for what it take to put yourself out there, for the commitment and the determination, for all the tiny details that go into making a success of a ride. Or not.
That weekend was one of the most memorable of all the many bits of life that have turned up in my books. And that bull-riding instruct or was one of the most helpful, insightful cowboys I've had the pleasure of following around for three days (and it wasn't just the Wrangers and the hat).
Putting it all together afterwards, and finding the heart of the story in all the details from so many places and people, made it one of the most enjoyable books I've written (sometimes I tear my hair. OFTEN, I tear my hair. But not on that book). It was even fun to go back through it and touch it up a bit.
Check it out at your favorite online bookseller if you like cowboys who don't (as another former editor said) "own multi-national corporations on the side. In other words, there are no billionaires in this series. Sorry about that!
Book 5, Cowboy Pride, will be released February 13, and can be pre-ordered now.