Thursday, November 26, 2009

THE COWBOY HAT

THE COWBOY HAT
By
Roberta C.M. DeCaprio


I think hats define the wearer and the era of the times. Growing up in a Catholic/Italian household, I remember wearing to church on Sunday the “chapel veil” during the 1960’s. The round, lacy hair adornments replaced the wide-brimmed picture hats of the 1950’s and the pill-box hats, which Jackie Kennedy made famous. So, with my thoughts on “hats” this month, I thought I’d do some research on the cowboy hat. At THE BEST COWBOY GEAR site (http://www.lastbestwest.com/), this is what I learned:

A traditional cowboy prized his hat above all things - with good reason. It was often worth a month or two's wages - and that made it very expensive. The cowboy likely spent hours personalizing the hat with creases to the crown and molding the brim - that made it his. An old west cowboy would go to hell and back to retrieve a misplaced cowboy hat and it was seldom further than an arm's length away.

There were several styles throughout history, as well as the individuals or circumstances that defined them. Here are a few:


THE ROUGH RIDER (Crown: center trench/Brim hand rolled, Open hatband: 1" Satin with 1898 bow) was worn by Teddy Roosevelt, who called these short 4 months in 1898 the most exciting of his life; culminating in leading his "Rough Riders" up San Juan Hill in that storied charge. If you look at any picture of the US Expeditionary Force, you'll see almost as many brim and crown treatments of the same basic hat as there are soldiers. Teddy’s hat was based on the originals worn by the US Cavalry, which included the traditional military style side bow on the hat band.

THE 1898 CAMPAIGN HAT, the enlisted man’s issue (Crown: 4 pinch peak Brim: Flat - Open Hatband: 1/2" Satin with bow). The Spanish–American War was a conflict between Spain and the United States of America from April to August 1898. It heralded the emergence of America as a world power and climaxed with Teddy Roosevelt's charge up San Juan Hill in Cuba.

THE TEN GALLON HAT is a legendary slang from the old west - this is a common term for a very large cowboy hat, the idea being you could carry ten gallons of water in it for your horse. Well, the 10 gallon hat doesn't exist - simple as that. This was a misinterpretation by Texas Cowboys of the Spanish word, "galón." that Mexican Vaqueros used to describe the narrow, braided trimming they used to decorate the crowns of their hats. In reality the largest cowboy hat crown would barely hold one gallon of water, and any hat that would hold 10 gallons, would be so large and unwieldy that it'd be un-wearable.

THE WASEY (Crown: Three Dent Modified SagebrushBrim: Open Hatband: 1" Satin with Bow) had a modified Sagebrush shaped crown and was one of the most common of the first few decades of the 20th century. Crown shape was first seen in the 1890s. Cowboys wore this hat while hunting.

THE HICKOCK (Crown: Texas Straight; Brim: Pencil Roll Bound Hatband: 2" Satin with Bow) is another version of the Boss of the Plains – and the best guess on what James Butler Hickock or Wild Bill circa 1875 wore.

OLD TEXAS (Crown: Texas Straight Brim: Kettle Curl OpenHatband: 1"multi-colored burlap). Some variation of this design was seen on almost all the actors, in the remake of John Wayne's "Alamo", starring Billy Bob Thornton, and others. This traditional Texas look for a Cowboy Hat was the precursor of the Boss of the Plains, and was well known in the Texas of the 1830s and onward.

DIRTY TROOPER (Crown: Creased and Pinched. Back has a "Mule Kick" indentation. Brim: Hand worked Open Hatband: Satin Ribbon) This cavalry hat is the classic look sported by the US Cavalry in the later quarter of the 19th Century. Originally the hat was a sand color, but the color faded from constant exposure to the sun (better your hat, then your skin and eyes).

NORTHWEST PEAK (Crown: 4 pinch peak Brim: Hand shaped Open Hatband: Braided Leather) This 4 pinch peak was first shown in the Northwest in the 1880s. Today most working State Troopers wear a version of this crown, and of course the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Up until the turn of the 20th Century most cowboy hats were sold in Mail Order Catalogues. In those days if the local haberdasher didn't have the hat you wanted - he likely had a catalogue to order one from. The first cowboy hats were all made from 100% beaver fur-felt, natural and undyed, and worth their weight in gold to working cowboys and most all other Westerners.

The Montgomery Ward Catalogue of 1872 was the first to offer a "Western Sombrero" for sale to the public. Most hats were shipped with un-creased crowns, and little shape to the brim. Manufacturers knew the cowboys wanted to personalize the hat themselves - so they shipped unfinished. Remember Hoss from Bonanza and his big dang hat? That was the most authentic old west hat any of the Bonanza cast wore.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

THE HELP YOU GET ALONG THE WAY

I’m blogging today about becoming a finalist in the EPIC Awards. Now wait, don’t go yet. This is not “all about me”—I promise.

Most people that I’ve met in the last half of my adulthood would never describe me as “shy,” but as a youngster, I was—horribly. That’s one reason I turned to writing. It was a great way for me to get my feelings out without actually having to say them. I could have someone else say it all for me.

I imagine that’s how many of my fellow writers started, too. I sometimes wonder what might have happened had we all known each other when we were younger. Would we have developed into the writers we are today, or would we have found our “niche” with one another and NOT turned so much to writing?

If you can relate to the “shy” part, then maybe you felt this way, too: I was never competitive. Not like so many sports contenders might be. The things I enjoyed, writing and music, were open to everyone, I felt. I am not a “joiner” and I am not one to enter a lot of contests. I entered Fire Eyes in the EPIC Awards, and something odd happened when I did.

From the moment I entered, my attitude about myself changed. BEFORE I entered, I thought, “I probably don’t have a chance.” But my mom always used to say, “If you don’t enter, you certainly are NOT going to win!” I remembered those words, and sent in my entry that very day. Once it was sent, I began to feel some confidence growing. As I analyzed WHY, here’s what I came up with.

Fire Eyes was a joint project. I wrote it, but I couldn’t have if I hadn’t had the cooperation and support of my family—my kids and my husband. While I was writing it, my oldest sister, Annette, was constantly asking about “how it’s coming” and she was the one I could bounce ideas off of. Once written, my business partner read it for glaring mistakes, and my best friend of 45 years read it for moral support. The Wild Rose Press accepted it, and my editor, Helen Andrew, was so phenomenal in helping me mold it and shape it into the story that was released last May. My cover artist, Nicola Martinez, did a superb job on the beautiful cover. With all these people behind me and my story, my confidence rose. Whatever would be, would be—and entering the competition was a win/win situation. Even if I didn’t make it to the finals, I would still have taken the chance and had the experience.

When I received the news Sunday evening that my book was, indeed, a finalist, I thought immediately of all the people who had helped me get to this point; people in my life who had faith in me, and in my ability, and in the story itself. I thought of that saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.” It’s true, even in the broader sense of our lives as writers. The experiences we had growing up, people who encouraged us even then, our spouses, our children, mentors and teachers we’ve had along the way, and peers that have helped and encouraged us. Editors, artists, publishers and organizations such as EPIC that give us a chance to compete and strive to be better and better.

Does anyone have a “special person” that helped them along the way? What about a “collection” of special people? With Thanksgiving drawing near, I’d like to say that my “collection” of special people in my life is the thing that I am most thankful for above all else. Without them, my dreams could have never happened. I could never have done it alone.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Gotta Love Reference Libarians


The last two days I've been googling and sending e-mails to librarians as my story takes different twists and turns. When I need to learn about things like how long did it take for a stage to get from Wallua, WA to Boise Idaho? What did the Old's Ferry look like? Where did the stage stop along the way? I need those answers so I can keep writing and meet my deadline.

I've been lucky in finding research librarians at several places who get back to me in short order. I don't mind waiting for information or a book when I'm in the beginning of a story and the research will develop the plot and story. But when I'm writing and the characters go a different route than I'd originally planned, then I have to find the 1800's travel agency ASAP.

My latest release, Miner in Petticoats, I had researched all I needed to know about stamp mils and the area where I set the story, but then as my heroine grew in the story and more of her background came out, I had to dig into more research.

My next book, Doctor in Petticoats, coming in 2010, again after I was about two thirds of the way through the book I had to research Pullman cars for a trip they were taking. My favorite research librarian hooked me up with a railroad historian and the rest was easy. I've also made another resource through that.

How about you? Have you become buddies with reference librarians or specialists while writing books? If you're a reader, can you tell when something has been researched or does it even matter to you?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Proud to be a Cactus Rose...


I couldn't resist sharing some good news today. First of all, my recent book signing at the Barnes and Noble in Encino, California, was a great success. Fifteen of us shared the stage so to speak, and I was very much honored to be a part of the event. Our chair Niki Chanel worked tirelessly to obtain books and make sure they arrived on time.

As if that wasn't enough joy, I received the book cover for the second in my "Paradise Brides" series, Marrying Mattie, to be released in 2010. I had requested the incredible designer Nicola Martinez and was completely overjoyed at the outcome.

Here's the blurb:

Caldwell Hackett knows everything about horseflesh and nothing about women, yet he's managed to snare beautiful Mattie Carter's heart. With their wedding coming up, he's nervous about his inexperience in the bridal bed, but his lovely fiancee manages to ease his worries in just the right way.

Mattie Carter is hopelessly in love with the handsome horse doctor and knows this marriage will be wonderful, unlike her first one that was fraught with her wealthy husband's infidelity. Eager to begin her new life with Call, Mattie is heartbroken when her former husband halts their vows, claiming to the whole church she's still his wife.

Can Mattie regain Call's trust? Can Call, whose livelihood is threatened when an epidemic hits the horses in Paradise, figure out the truth with Mattie's help? Or will these star-crossed lovers be destined to live apart?


I can't praise high enough the excellent editing, the caring attention, and the professional demeanor of everybody at The Wild Rose Press. Thank you, thank you.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Florida's Offical State Horse-The Cracker Horse




(Yes, this is me taking a picture of the horses, and enjoying the entire two day event)
A few weeks ago, I received an invitation to attend the Florida Cattlemen’s Cracker Cow and Horse Gathering. Being a fourth generation native Floridian, a former avid horsewoman and a cow-hunter, I am excited and pleased that Florida has adopted the ‘Cracker’ horse as their official state horse of Florida.

The Florida Cracker Horse Association was organized in 1989, and tasked with searching the remnant herds of Cracker Horses. A registry was established and foundation animals were registered based on their history and external type: 31 Cracker Horses were registered and blood typed for the foundation stock. A stringent application of rules has resulted in a very consistent breed. Today, the Florida Cracker Horse is promoted as a valuable and vital part of Florida’s heritage and is still considered quite rare. Today over 800 horses have been registered.

The ancestors of today’s Cracker Horses were introduced into what is now Florida as early as 1521 when the Spaniard, Ponce de Leon, on his second trip to Florida, brought horses, cattle and other livestock. By mid-1600 cattle ranching and horse breeding was well established.

First the Indians and later the pioneers began using the Spanish horses. These animals were hardy, had adapted well to the Florida climate and environment and excelled as work cow ponies. Although best know for their talents at working cattle, Cracker horses were frequently pressed into service as buggy horses, workstock, and in many instances, were the only horse power for many family farms well into the twentieth century. They are indeed a vital part of Florida’s agricultural heritage and are very deserving of a place in Florida’s future.

The genetic heritage of the Cracker Horse is derived from the Iberian horse of early sixteenth century Spain and includes blood of the North African Barb, Spanish Sorraia, Jennet and the Andalusian. Its genetic base is generally the same as that of the Spanish Mustang, Paso Fino, Peruvian Paso, Criollo and other breeds developed from horses originally introduced by the Spanish into the Caribbean Islands, Cuba and North, Central and South America. The free roaming Cracker Horse evolved over a long period of time through natural selection. It was molded and tempered by nature and a challenging environment into the horse that ultimately was to play a large part in the emergence of Florida as a ranching and general agriculture.

Cracker Horses are from 13.2 to 15 hands (or 54-60 inches) in height and weight from seven hundred fifty to over nine hundred pounds. They are known for their unusual strength and endurance, herding instinct, quickness and fast walking gait. A good percentage of them have a running walk and some have another lateral single-foot gait which, in true Cracker dialect, is often referred to as a “Coon Rack.” Cracker Horse colors are any color common to the horse, however, solid colors, roans and grays are predominant.

Over the years Cracker Horse have been know by a variety of names: Chicksaw Pony, Seminole Pony, Prairie Pony, Florida Horse, Florida Cow Pony, Grass Gut and others.
I came away from the event with a renewed sense of my ancestral roots; and while sitting around the campfire listening to real cowmen and women tell their tales, I collected a fodder of ideas for new stories. Yee-Haw!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Dodge City Cowboy Band

Shortly before the Santa Fe Railroad arrived, Dodge City, Kansas was incorporated. The booming business was buffalo bones and hides. The town provided a social gathering place for the soldiers from nearby Fort Dodge. In 1875 the cattle days were born and for the next ten years Dodge City was known as the “Cowboy Capital” as well as the “Queen of Cowtowns”. Well known lawmen and gunfighters took their turn in Dodge- Wyatt Earp; Bat, Ed, and Jim Masterson; Doc Holliday; William Tilghman; Clay Allison; Ben and Billy Thompson; Lake Short; to name a few. Matter of fact, it was often hard to tell the good guys from the bad.

One of the only real bullfights ever performed in the United States was in Dodge City in 1884. Mexican Bullfighters were invited and a dozen longhorn bulls corralled in town for the event. Advertising across the nation brought people in from all around the state as well as a few neighboring ones. The event was proclaimed a success, but the sport never became legal so the event was not repeated.

Another highly attractive event for Dodge City was the Cowboy Band. Their musical abilities was high quality, however it was their manner of dress that attracted fans by the hundreds. The members wore flannel shirts, gray cowboy hats, leather chaps, spurs and pearl-handled revolvers, and the band leader used a revolver to keep time instead of a baton. The Cowboy Band also played in Denver, Chicago, Minneapolis, and in Washington, D.C., at the inaugural celebration of President Benjamin Harrison. Though known as the “Dodge City Cowboy Band”, not one of the ‘cowboys’ was from Dodge.

The Cowboy Band appears in Boot Hill Bride-The Quinter Brides Book 3 which will be released in July 2010.

Blurb: Howard (Hog) Quinter is hell bent on getting The Majestic, the finest hotel and restaurant west of the Mississippi, open by May 1st. The last thing he needs is interference from his family, but that's exactly what he gets when Ma Quinter strikes one brisk morning. Sound asleep, Howard rolls over to discover a lovely young woman lying beside him, however, standing at the foot of the bed are his mother, the girl's father, and a blubbering preacher reading wedding nuptials.

Randilynn Fulton runs from a forced marriage to her aunt in Dodge City, only to discover Aunt Corrine is one of Danny J's brothel girls. If she stays, Randi may become one as well, which would damage her father's chance at running for the Governor's seat. But it gets worse when she finds herself in the middle of what she ran from-a shotgun wedding, and she's the bride.

The second book of the Quinter Brides series, Badland Bride will be released this weekend from The Wild Rose Press.

Ma Quinter is at it again—using the double barrels of her shotgun to force some unsuspecting female to marry one of her boys. This time it's Skeeter and the young, pregnant girl he hauled home.

Escaping from her abuser, Lila Scott, crawls through a tunnel, and ends up in 1882. Even though her rescuer is the most wonderful man she's ever met, she must hold true to her mission of returning to the future where she can have her baby with modern medical care.

With the help of some rotgut whiskey and a few peyote buttons, Steven Quinter, aka Skeeter, participated in Buffalo Killer's ghost dance. When he wakes up there’s an adorable redhead staring down at him. Not knowing what else to do, he takes the girl home to his mother, but when Ma Quinter realizes the young girl is pregnant, another shotgun wedding takes place.

The first book in the series, Shotgun Bride was released in 2008. Like most girls, Jessie Johnson will never forget the first time she met her mother-in-law. After all who can forget a shotgun pointed at them? Bartered for a dead horse at gun point, she either agrees to marry one of the Quinter boys or her brother will hang for horse theft. Jessie knows nothing about being a wife- other than the wedding will likely put her new husband in grave danger. After being knocked unconscious by his brothers, Kid Quinter finds himself surrounded by his uncouth family, the sheriff, a preacher, and an adorable young woman. Tied to a chair, he's given no choice but to marry Jessie Johnson. And that’s just the beginning of his troubles- it appears his pretty little wife has quite a past, including a notorious gunslinger looking for retribution.


I'm still working on the younger two brothers and their stories.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

What's in a Name?

I remember when I first started reading romance, the characters’ names fascinated me. They were always different, exotic--and a bit unusual, yet memorable. Let’s see, Palmer, Templar, Trelawney, Tristan (lots of t’s), Chase (not so unusual now), Daffyd, Cholla, just to mention a few. Perhaps these authors had a superstition not to name characters after anyone they knew. Perhaps they wished to convey something of the character, for instance, Cholla was a prickly hero named for a cactus.

This topic came to mind after reading a blog on the Black Rose site, Vampire Legends. http://twrpblackrose.blogspot.com/2009/10/vampire-legends.html This blog mentioned the tale of Lilith, not a name you hear often. In fact, I have only heard this name used one other time. She was the wife of Dr. Frazier Crane. Was she named for this evil succubus? Probably.

The Puritans often named children for admirable traits, Patience, Mercy, Faith, and so on. I’ve always thought it was interesting how J.K. Rowling named her characters. Sirius Black, shape shifts into a dog, and Sirius is the Dog Star. Remus Lupin is named for one of the twins of Rome. The twins were said to have been raised by wolves and Lupin is a lot like Lupine. He’s a werewolf, by the way. Much like Melville’s use of the name Ahab in Moby Dick we can actually tell a bit about our characters from just their names. Melville’s captain was named for the evil King Ahab, husband of Jezebel. Atticus Finch, from to Kill a Mockingbird, is named for a bird himself, so there's a hint of sadness at the very beginning of the book.

Have you ever noticed there are certain names that are off limits, or at least regulated, to the bad guys? Granted, I have read a few where the character’s horse or dog or animal of some kind is named Lucifer. But to name a hero an unheroic name...the horror. And there are some names, while not taboo, that have been removed by notoriety. My grandfather’s name for example—Rudolph. Rudolph Valentino was the heart throb of many, but that blasted song about the red nosed reindeer swiped every bit of sex appeal from the name. It’s a strong name, a good name...It means wolf. I was so happy to see a derivation of this used in the upcoming Cactus release, Halfway to Forever written by Lee Scofield. The hero's name is Rudolfo.

Looking back I've named some characters for traits, my soldier was Joshua and shared his name with the Biblical warrior, another character, Jericho, had personal walls that needed to be broken. My heroine Eden, was temptation to the hero and ultimately his paradise.


So...what’s your favorite or most memorable character name?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Hoosier Cabinet


The majority of Victorian houses didn’t have built in cabinets in their kitchens. For homemakers, lack of storage to organize cooking supplies and staples was a major problem. For years free-standing cupboards made food preparation and storage somewhat easier. In 1898, the Hoosier Manufacturing Company of New Castle, Indiana, produced the first Hoosier cabinet. It put everything at the woman’s fingertips and remained popular into the 1920s when builders began to incorporate cabinets into their kitchen designs. Many homes used the cabinet much later into the twentieth-century, some until 1940s and 1950s. Today they are collector’s items. My aunt has one that still has the paper label. It looks almost identical to the one pictured to the left. 


As you can see in the picture, the Hoosier has a large base section set on casters. It has one door and several drawers and a slide out countertop for baking, with several thin drawers below to hold utensils. The upper section is shallower and has several smaller compartments with doors. One door has a roll top. Another holds a flour bin with a sifter attached and another bin to hold sugar. Shelves hold racks and other hardware to store spices, tea, coffee, and other staples. Special jars were made to fit suspended in a metal hanging rack. In the picture you can see the labels with measuring conversions, sample recipes, and household hints. Lucky was the woman who had a Hoosier in her kitchen.


In my novel, My Heart Will Find Yours, the kitchen my heroine Texanna found herself learning to cook in had a cabinet similar to the Hoosier, an earlier model not nearly as modern. Many antique cabinets are called Hoosiers but few are the real McCoy.


Blurb:

Fated lovers suffer the agony of loss only to be reunited to fulfill a greater plan.

TEXANNA KEITH doesn’t believe an antique locket is the key to time travel, but plays along, and to her horror, is zapped back to 1880 Waco, Texas. Her mission is to prevent Royce Dyson’s death in a shootout. Wounded, she loses what she longs for most — a life with Royce.

Marshall ROYCE DYSON’S wife disappeared in 1876. Now she’s reappeared, claiming she’s a time traveler from 2007. As he seeks the truth, he’s determined to keep Texanna with him, but it’s not destined to be.

Excerpt:

She pumped water into the pan and washed her hands. Why didn’t Royce and Garrett wash up in here? Maybe it was a habit because if they worked outdoors, they’d be clean before coming in the house. She located bowls and plates and placed them along with spoons on the table. Now, where were the napkins? She found them in a drawer of the Hoosier. The supply was quickly dwindling. As the so-called lady of the house, she’d be washing and ironing a lot to keep them stocked. Yeah, like washing and ironing was her favorite thing to do.

She took another peek out the window. Here they came. Royce had folded his jacket over his arm. Texanna leaned forward to watch them approach. Royce’s shoulders looked so broad in that white dress shirt. She jumped away from the window. Oh, no. Surely he didn’t expect her to wash, starch, and iron those white shirts. If she remembered correctly, spray starch hadn’t been invented until the 1950’s. Drat! She didn’t have a clue how to make starch.

The food was already on the table when Royce and Garrett entered the kitchen. Royce carried in a pitcher of milk from the larder and placed it on the table. Stew was in their bowls, but they’d slice and serve the cornbread at the table.

Royce picked up all the napkins. “Don’t you want to save yourself some washing and ironing? Unless it’s Sunday or a special occasion, we share a dish towel.” He reached back and snagged the towel off the sink.

He’s a thoughtful man. And here she thought all nineteenth-century men were brutes who wanted to be waited on hand and foot. “Thank you.”

Royce nodded and reached for her hand, then bowed his head. Garrett’s hand felt so small in hers, Royce’s so big. Royce’s thumb stroked hers as he gave thanks. Texanna felt a chill. Seeing this man and child here at the table in prayer, reminded her of the simple pleasures in life, things taken for granted today. Well, in her time period.

Someone milked a cow this morning to provide this milk—milk she wasn’t going to drink. She liked milk, but not the raw kind fresh from the cow. But the fresh butter was a different story. Who’d churned it for Royce and Garrett?

“Texanna?” Royce had asked her a question. She looked up to see she still held their hands.

“I’m sorry. I was a million miles away. What did you say?”

“Pass the cornbread.” He cut it into squares and tried to lift a piece from the pan. It fell apart.

Texanna groaned. It wasn’t just overdone—it was a mess. “I’m sorry. I must have forgotten one of the ingredients.” Darn, why hadn’t she taken home ec in school and learned to cook?

“It’s fine. We can crumble it in our stew.” Royce scraped some out of the pan into Garrett’s bowl, then hers and lastly his. “Stir it up and it’ll be perfect.”

She took a bite. It didn’t taste bad at all.

Royce asked. “What do you think you forgot?”

Texanna looked at the Hoosier. “The egg.” How could she be so stupid? She’d been in a hurry to paint. “I’ll do better tonight. I promise.”

“It’s okay.” Royce patted her hand. “There’s enough left for supper tonight.”

Thank you, God. The thought of heating the kitchen again made her cringe. It was already so hot she’d begun to sweat. She didn’t know which she missed most—air conditioning or indoor plumbing.

“Be sure and keep water in the tank so I can wash when I get home. I’m filling in for Jason tonight and won’t be in until around midnight.” She groaned. There went any hope of the kitchen cooling off. “You don’t have to get the fire hotter, just add more water after you and Garrett have bathed.”


My Heart Will Find Yours is book one of The Turquoise Legacy. Book Two, Flames On The Sky, is now out. I hope you’ll take a look at both books.

Happy Reading and Writing,

Linda

Linda LaRoque ~Western Romance with a Twist in Time~ A Law of Her Own, Desires of the Heart, My Heart Will Find Yours, Flames on the Sky10-9, Forever Faithful, Investment of the Heart, When the Ocotillo Bloom




Sunday, November 1, 2009

When Truth and Fiction Collide

When I was researching how life on a ragtag ranch in the 1860s would be for my characters, I had no idea that the worst recession in the last few decades was about to strike. I went about my merry way (work from home mom with pocket money!) while pondering the hard life my character, Cassie, was about to embrace. How would it feel to live without running water, no store within four miles, no way to get a loan, and no other option for survival but to rely on the charitable assistance of a stranger? A handsome stranger, of course (this is a romance, after all!), but still, a stranger.

As writers, we get lost in the worlds we create and rarely do the two collide. Now, three years later, my own family, many friends and colleagues, and the whole country are locked in an endless battle with impossible-to-pay debts, plunging home values, and local mom-and-pop businesses closing up. Repossessions, lost assets, and depleted savings accounts are commonplace. Each episode of nightly news features another high percentage of job losses, sinking stock market rates, and foreclosures. There's no end in sight.

Like our western forebears before us, strong women all, I and others will pull through somehow. True, we don't have crops to worry about, raiding native war parties, or cattle rustlers on the horizon to show us wherein lies our strength. We can borrow from the ingenuity and gumption of our heroines and apply it to our own lives. Instead of buying a new dress that will only be worn for one special occasion, we can be like our fictional Old West sisters and make do with a dress that lay hidden in a trunk. Instead of wishing for fancy vittles, we open another box of pasta and make sauce from scratch. No expensive vacations are needed - on the prairie, a fictional miss would be happy to spend an evening watching for shooting stars, her head nestled on the shoulder of a strong cowboy (or sheriff, or rancher, or, even, a scarred outlaw with a misunderstood heart of gold!).

My novel and my own life got me thinking along the lines of, "if SHE can do it, so can I!" In my story, Cassie patched up her own house, planted her own garden, and learned to ride a horse. As hard as her life is in the first few chapters, she never whines or complains - even when it's beans and...well, beans - for the first few weeks. She even has to tote her own water from the river (which leads to a brush with a scandalously intimate encounter!) but doesn't kvetch. She's grateful when our hero offers her a place to stay, clothes on her back, and food in her stomach. Even though she's known a better life, she's making it on her own. Despite all the fictional odds I've thrown at her, she comes through stronger and better than I probably would in that situation.

Many people have said the recession has brought out the best in us. Potluck lunches at work instead of ordering out. Discussions of recycling at home (I have taken to washing out empty jelly jars and saving scrap paper for the kids). Offering a place to stay to a friend who's losing her home. And through all of this, the one thing I keep hearing myself say is, "it could be worse." When jobs and money disappear, we can only look at the irreplaceable in our lives. Good health and happy children. Aging, but still independent, parents. An enduring marriage in an uncertain world.

Cassie saves her husband's life (and her ranch!) with her inner strength and sheer determination of will. She never lets the environment or the bad guy get the best of her. True, three years ago I never dreamed I would be facing my own battles with an all too harsh reality. But Cassie did - and if a fictional heroine can do it, so can I. After all, I wrote the book on it.