When authors promote a new book, a new series of books especially, it’s necessary to concentrate on the big picture. We talk about What’s the premise of the books and what’s the thing that’s going to hook readers and make them recognize the idea as one she or he will enjoy? Writers call this ethereal thin g the “high concept.”
My new high concept is Seven Bride for Seven Cowboys. It immediately evokes the famous Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and everyone can grab some mental picture of what the books might be about.
Today, though, I’d like to talk about specifics. Every book is more than just its “high concept.” There are details and plotlines and characters that weave together to make every book unique. In THE BRIDE WORE RED BOOTS—which just came out this past Tuesday—one of the things I had a great time writing into the story was the adoption of wild mustangs.
In the story, Mia and Gabe get a small group of veterans suffering from traumatic brain injury and PTSD involved with training wild mustangs. Here’s a short excerpt where the idea is first planted during Gabe’s chat with Mia’s sister Joely.
Joely gestured toward the television. “This is a special about the National Mustang Makeover. It’s a competition where trainers take an untrained, adopted mustang and work with it for three months. Then they’re all judged against each other. My sisters and I did it three times, and I’d always planned on doing it again. Now . . .?”
“You’re all horse trainers, too?”
“In the amateur division. It takes a lot of time and commitment, but it taught us a ton of patience.”
He gave a rueful laugh. “Sounds like something I could use. I have eight men who are definitely testing my patience.”
“Yes, your big experiment. Well, give the guys in your program mustangs—they won’t have time to test anyone’s patience.”
He laughed. “Eight retired veterans with wild horses. I’d fear for the mustangs—they’d wind up painted like zebras and sent to mill around in someone’s office.”
“Or the mustangs would kick the guys’ butts and teach them to respect animals and people.”
“Miss Joely, I think I’d like to see you train a mustang.”
“You know who made a surprisingly good trainer was Amelia. She’s great with animals. It’s like she sees straight into their hearts, even though she doesn’t take any guff.”
No, he thought. I’ll bet she doesn’t. “I think I’d like to see that, too.”
Mustangs, perhaps a little surprisingly, are controversial. They have been a part of our American heritage for hundreds of year, but they are not truly native to this country. They are descended from Spanish horses brought to the “new world” by early explorers. Over the centuries they became the stuff of legend—used and bred by native Americans (who developed the Appaloosa horse for example), and turned into valuable work partners by early settlers and ranchers. They symbolized the free-spirit and wild beauty of the country.
But mustangs thrived and as ranchers started “taming” the western states, mustangs got in the way. They overran grazing lands and used water resources needed by cattle. Ranchers began to devise ways to eradicate the mustangs they viewed as pests. Over time many “modern” ways of rounding up wild horses were employed: jeeps, trucks, helicopters, and planes were used to move the offending horses from private lands. Many were killed, others starved, and the public started to take notice.
Enter activists like Velma Johnston (1912-1977) who became known as Wild Horse Annie. She and others fought to end mistreatment of wild mustangs in the 50’s, and pushed for laws that protected America’s mustangs for the future.
Today, although there are people who still believe the mustang doesn’t need protecting because it isn’t truly an American original, the federal Bureau of Land Management humanely manages wild horse populations. A fixed number of mustangs live free mostly in western states. Others are rounded up and kept in facilities where they receive veterinary care and plenty of food until they are adopted by private citizens. It’s a compromise that sort of works to control mustang overpopulation.
I introduce the Rock Springs Mustang Holding Facility in Rock Springs, WY in THE BRIDE WORE RED BOOTS. It is a real place. Although there is no “Claire” as in the book, there is definitely a caring staff for the 700 wild mustangs that are rounded up each year. (For more information visit http://www.blm.gov/wy/st/en/programs/Wild_Horses/rs-wh-facility.html
Here’s another excerpt from RED BOOTS where Mia, at the holding facility to help the veterans choose horses, falls under the horses’ spell herself:
Mia waved to Harper who stood at the other end of the corral. She trotted to them.
“Compare the two gray horses for us. See if you come up with the same things I did.”
“Hmmm.” Harper looked them over for several minutes and nodded. “The darker one with the stockings has more height—maybe fourteen-three? He’s shorter coupled and his back is nice and straight. The lighter one is a little swayed. A little sickle-hocked, too. And I like the nice, gentle eye on the bigger one.”
Gabe laughed. “All right. You’ve convinced me you know horses. Can I show that one to one of the guys?”
Mia looked at Harper and bit her lip with a wishful heft of one eyebrow. “Tell me to say he should.”
Harper tilted her head skeptically. “You’re not serious.”
“No. But, he sure is gorgeous,” Mia replied.
“Serious about what?” Gabe asked.
“Nothing,” Mia said quickly.
“She likes the horse.” Harper laughed. “And she has a very good eye.” Mia waved off the compliment, but Harper leaned on the fence and cupped her chin, deep in thought. Finally she stood. “I think you should get him.”
“What? No! That’s not what I told you to say!” Mia’s laugh escaped, strangled and shocked. But her heart thrummed with impulsive, unexpected excitement. “I’m leaving in a couple of weeks. Getting a horse is not a possibility.”
“It’ll bring you back to visit. We can work on him together. And Gabe can keep an eye on him while you’re gone.”
“I . . . what?” Gabe’s eyes went wide as the mustang’s.
“Sure!” Harper clearly found the idea suddenly irresistible. “The perfect partnership.”
Mia fixed her gaze on the little horse munching hay, completely unaware of the discussion it had incited. The whole idea of taking home a horse was insane on the face of it. She couldn’t come back and forth to Wyoming often enough to train a wild horse. She had work and now Rory . . .
“So?” Harper pressed.
“Seriously, what’s going down here? Are we really getting a horse?” Gabe’s eyes were bright, not with uncertainty but with the hopeful delight of a kid who’d always wanted a pony for Christmas. Which he had not. Until Harper had planted the idea five minutes ago.
Mia shook her head firmly. “This is crazy talk. Harper.
“Crazy, and yet totally sane. I think this is the best thing you could do for yourself, Mia.”
The gray horse lifted its head as if it suddenly sensed the strange human vibes bombarding it from beyond its fence. Mia lifted her head as well and gazed back. When she met the animal’s huge brown eyes, her heart turned to mush.
“What makes you think I need some ‘best thing’? I don’t need more complications.”
“What makes you think I need some ‘best thing’? I don’t need more complications.”
“This isn’t complicated. This is your heritage.”
The words tumbled and slammed into her brain, her heart, her soul. Her heritage? Was it? She’d grown up on a cattle ranch. Horses had been frivolous . . .
That thought screeched to a halt. No. Horses hadn’t been frivolous anythings. They’d been challenges, companions, working partners. They’d taught her everything she’d learned about patience in adversity, about learning to think outside the norm and problem solve when you couldn’t ask what the trouble was. She was a better doctor because of . . . her heritage.
“More than the cattle,” she murmured.
“For us girls, yes. Far more than the cattle.”
Mia found Gabe’s eyes again and studied them. “Would you help me?”
“Doubt I could.” He grinned. “But I know I’d learn from you.”
Her shoulders sagged in acquiescence even as her heart raced. Gabe wrapped his arms around her, shoring her up, and Mia’s face heated, knowing everyone watched. There’d be no end to Harper’s relish in teasing her later, but Mia didn’t let that stop her from hugging Gabe in return and burying her face in his jacket with a last bout of uncertainty.
“Please talk me out of this,” she said.
Instead he kissed her on the top of the head. “No. I want a pony.”
I didn’t go into the controversy in RED BOOTS although I alluded to it. Still, I brought it up because it is a real issue, and because when the veterans in the story adopt their mustangs and it changes their lives—it also changes the lives of the horses, and that makes me so happy.
Hope you’ll enjoy THE BRIDE WORE RED BOOTS—and learn a little about wild mustangs along the way to Mia and Gabe’s HEA!!
I love romance novels for the romance, of course, but I also love a story with substance and if I learn something along the way, I’m even happier. I try to put a little bit of that in each of my books—I think that’s why I love the contemporary romance sub-genre so much.
What about you? Do you like a bit of reality-perhaps even a dose of controversy—in your books or do you prefer a straight-up romp to the HEA? I’d love to give away a $10 Amazon gift card to one lucky commenter!