E.E. Burke's Best of the West: Meet Bestselling Author Debra Holland

For today's Best of the West, I'm thrilled to welcome New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author Debra Holland.

In addition to being a fan of Debra's Western historical romances, I had the good fortune to work with her on a special project in 2015 (American Mail-Order Brides) and to attend a class she offered on audiobooks through RWA University. She's knows her stuff when it comes to romance. Her latest book, A Rolling Stone (Irish Sisters Trilogy: Book 3), will be released tomorrow. Here's a sneak peek...

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Abandoned by the father of her illegitimate baby and pretending to be a widow, Catriona O’Donnell leaves Ireland to find her twin sisters in America. She intends to put her wild past behind her and, once united with her sisters, establish roots and make a home for her unwanted child.

Moss Buchanan has a bad case of wanderlust, drifting from job to job on a quest for new horizons and interesting adventures. On the point of moving on from Sweetwater Springs, Montana, he encounters Catriona, who faints into his arms, forcing him to return to the Thompson ranch and his former employment.

Moss feels responsible for the beautiful widow and her baby, and his attraction to her grows. But his wooing won’t be easy, for Catriona is bitter and wants nothing to do with men, especially handsome rascals who won’t settle down.

Here's an excerpt:

Spring 1895, Sweetwater Springs, Montana 
Moss Callahan rode Traveler, his white gelding, down the dirt track leading from the Thompson ranch to Sweetwater Springs. He’d left at daybreak, just in time to escape the bustle of the O’Donnell twins’ wedding, carrying all his worldly possessions in two saddlebags and a bundle wrapped inside the bedroll, strapped behind the saddle. The wanderlust tickle in the soles of his feet this past month had grown to a fierce itch, too acute to ignore—not that he’d intended to do so. He’d just had to wait out the winter weather. A ludicrous self-delusion. In Montana, snow could still fall in the summer. Spring, more often than not, brought one rainstorm after another.
But today had dawned sunny and bright. Wedding weather, the Thompson’s housekeeper had proclaimed, a wide grin crinkling the wrinkles of her face.
Traveling weather, Moss contended. But he hadn’t said so aloud.
After a hard winter cooped up with a bunch of stinkin’ cowboys, or out riding in freezing weather, Moss was more than ready to cut out for someplace warm. Wyoming was the farthest south he’d ever traveled. Texas beckoned, for he had a hankering to see the ocean.
The real reason he was scootin’ out as quietly as he’d arrived nine months ago—the one he didn’t really want to think about—was his fear of wedding fever. Yes, a highly susceptible outbreak of the illness, caused by proximity to the pretty O’Donnell girls—the twins and their cousin Sally--had driven Moss away from gainful employment made more than tolerable by the fairness and generosity of his boss, Wyatt Thompson, and his beautiful wife Samantha. He certainly had some regrets about leaving Thompson’s employ, which wasn’t usually the case. Bosses always looked sharp-eyed at the new hand—and Moss was always the new one--and assigned him the worst jobs.
But the marrying epidemic had infected two of Thompson’s cowboys and also one of the male guests—a horse breeder from a neighboring town--striking the men like lightning. Moss wasn’t sure if susceptibility to the sickness was caused by nearness to a pretty O’Donnell girl in particular, or just from loneliness in general. But he wasn’t of a mind to stick around and become victim number four. Not, God be thanked, that there are any more O’Donnell girls of suitable age to infect vulnerable males.
But I’m not taking chances.
The train had just arrived when Moss reined in by the brown clapboard station. He’d almost cut the time too close. He swung down from the saddle, tossed the reins around the hitching post, and took the stairs two at a time to the platform, racing to buy a ticket for himself and a stall in the horse car for Traveler.
The door to the depot stood open, probably to let in the fresh spring air.
A young woman in a loose gray coat and carrying a bag came around the corner of the building. Something about her seemed familiar, although Moss knew he’d never seen her before. Even showing the ravages of a train journey, he’d have remembered her ethereal beauty—the blue eyes that stared past him as if he weren’t there, the hair of glorious red-gold showing from underneath a once-blue bonnet that had since seen hard usage.
Out of gentlemanly reflex, he touched a respectful finger to his hat but caught himself before he could flash the patented Moss Callahan grin. No sense allowing the lure of a woman to make him linger and risk catching the deadly disease. However, a partial smile slipped his control—just enough to bring the woman’s focus to him and the faintest tinge of peach into those alabaster cheeks before she looked away.
The woman faltered a step. “Oh,” she said in a weak voice, raising a dainty hand to her forehead. Her bag fell from her fingers to thump onto the platform. She started to crumple, as if her knees buckled.
With a curse, Moss leaped to grab her, catching the woman just as she fainted into his arms. He scooped her up. Holding her close, Moss could feel she was waif-thin beneath her coat. Helplessly, he glanced around. Not seeing anyone nearby, he carried her inside. “Jack!” he yelled for the stationmaster. “Jack!”
Moss tossed a glance to the left. Jack wasn’t behind the counter, and the door to the office was closed. He hurried over to the nearest bench and gently laid down the woman. Long eyelashes the same auburn as her hair swept her cheeks. Her pale skin was almost translucent, with the faintest dusting of golden freckles over her nose. Angel kisses, his mother had called them, and the heavenly description suited her.
His chest tight, Moss pulled off his gloves and thrust them into a pocket. He touched her neck for a pulse, relieved to feel a flutter under his fingertips. “Miss, Miss, please wake up.” He brushed back the hair from her face and patted her cheeks.
Her eyelashes fluttered and then lifted, showing beautiful eyes of dark sapphire blue. At first she stared blankly at him, and then awareness returned.
Once again, he was struck by a sense of familiarity, but he couldn’t place her.
“Oh,” she murmured, shifting as if to rise.
“Careful, now. Can’t have you going off again.” Moss slid an arm under her shoulders to assist her to a sitting position. Once she seemed steady, he reluctantly removed his arm.
“I ’spose yer right. Fainting away once can be excused.” She sounded almost amused. “But not twice.”
Her musical Irish accent smacked him upside the head. Moss suddenly knew who she was. Well, not precisely who. Dread weakened his limbs, and he folded to his knees in front of her. “You’re an O’Donnell.”
She raised a fine red-gold eyebrow and gave him a faint smile, a mere upturn of pale pink lips. “How do ye know?”
“You look like Bridget and Alana and their cousin, Sally. You all have the same beguilin’ blue eyes.” Although her eyes have a slight upward tilt at the corners, making her appear even more dangerous.
What have I done? I’ve put myself square in harm’s way.
Flirtation sparked in those eyes. She gave him a coquettish flick of her eyelashes.
Moss tamped down a wave of lust. Climbing to his feet, he held up a hand as if to ward her off. “Don’t even think about turning those eyes on me. You save those pretty wiles for all the other men around here who’ll soon be falling at your feet.”
Those lovely eyes narrowed. “Better than me fallin’ at theirs.” The O’Donnell siren held up her left hand to reveal a gold band with a heart and crown on her ring finger.
Moss should have felt relief that she was married, but instead he experienced an inexplicable sense of disappointment, as if he’d just lost something very dear.
“So ye see, boyo, yer very, very safe with me.”
Moss didn’t feel safe with her at all. Quite the contrary. His skin felt flushed, his chest ached, his throat was tight, and his head spun—all recognizable signs that he’d caught a sickness. If he weren’t in the presence of a lady, he’d turn the air blue with his curses, even if that meant his sainted mother rising from the grave to take a switch to his behind.
Moss gestured toward the door of the depot. “I need to get you to the doctor.” And be done with you. Only vaguely did he hear the tooting whistle of the train signaling a departure, for he was too mesmerized by the beguiling creature.
“I don’t need a doctor. I’m fine.”
“I beg to differ, Miss…um, Mrs?”
“I’m Catriona O’Donnell. Well, ah, Catriona O’Donnell Crogan.” She patted her rounded stomach. “And this is Flea.”
Moss had been so focused on her lovely face that he hadn’t noticed she was with child. “Flea?” he asked, bewildered.
“For the saying, ‘If ye lie down with dogs, ye’ll get up with fleas.”
Moss cocked his eyebrow. “Would that be a boy’s name or a girl’s?”

Meet Debra
Debra Holland is the New York Times and USA Today Bestselling author of the award-winning Montana Sky Series (sweet, historical Western romance) and The Gods’ Dream Trilogy (fantasy romance.) She's a three-time Romance Writers of America Golden Heart finalist and one-time winner. In 2013, Amazon selected Starry Montana Sky as one of the Top 50 Greatest Love Stories. 

When she’s not writing, Dr. Debra works as a psychotherapist and corporate crisis/grief counselor and is the author of The Essential Guide to Grief and Grieving, as well as Cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude, a Ten Minute Ebook. She’s also a contributing author to The Naked Truth About Self-Publishing. 

Debra lives in Southern California with her dog and two cats, who keep her company while she writes. You’ll often see pictures of her animals on Debra’s social media pages. Join her newsletter list and receive a free download of the ebooklet, 58 Tips for Getting What You Want From a Difficult Conversation at http://drdebraholland.com

It's great to have you visit us today, Debra. What’s your favorite kind of story to get lost in?
I read all kinds of books—romance, fantasy, science fiction—are my favorites. But I also enjoy mystery and action-adventure. I like an author who can pull me into the story within a few pages.
I easily see craft mistakes, so I’m really picky about not reading farther when I see them on the first few pages. I like a hero and heroine I can relate to and root for. I love series because I want to read one story after another, and when I find an author I like, I’ll read his or her whole backlist.
Do you write while listening to music? If so what kind?
I don’t tend to listen to music while I’m at home, although I do so when I drive. I don’t watch television much either, although I love HGTV. Music tends to take me out of the story rather than keep me in it. When I’m driving and I want to plot my book, I turn off the radio.
If you couldn’t be a writer anymore, what profession would you take up?
I’m already a psychotherapist and corporate crisis and grief counselor, so I wouldn’t take up something, but do of that kind of work. I’d probably also do more public speaking, workshops, that sort of thing.
What’s the first thing you do when you finish writing a book?
SLEEP! I have that in caps because deadline time means long hours, little sleep, too much caffeine, sugar, carbs, and no exercise. So I crash, then I take a day or so of lying around and reading (without guilt that I should be writing) and tackle my house, which is usually a disaster. I’m just off a deadline, and yesterday, I opened two weeks worth of mail. Today (three days post-deadline) I’m doing a detox for the week (eating totally healthy) and getting back to exercising.
If you were given a chance to travel to the past where would you go and specifically why?
One of my favorite daydreams before I go to bed is going back in time. I like to acquire stuff that would have been destroyed anyway (can’t interfere with the space-time continuum.) So I’ll go rescue scrolls and books from the libraries that I know were burned or furniture, clothing, artwork, and jewelry from houses and ships that were burnt down or otherwise destroyed. (Can’t rescue people because that changes the space-time continuum.) I have a big private museum, where I stash everything, not that I can open it to the public because of there’d be big questions of how I acquired historical artifacts. J
So I pick a time and place and off I go to the past.
Do you read reviews of your books? If so, do you pay any attention to them, or let them influence your writing?
Yes, and yes. I read my reviews almost every day, and I mentally thank the reader who left the review, even if it’s not positive. But most are positive, and I enjoy reading them.
My readers tell be what they like about my books, for example, the sense of a time and place (small town historical Montana) and I try to keep giving that to them.
I’ve written a couple of books because readers told me they wanted those stories. Some of the stories wouldn’t have occurred to me without readers wanting to know more about certain characters.
What color would you make the sky if it wasn’t going to be blue anymore and why?
Purple! I love the color, and amethyst is my birthstone. In fact, in my speculative fiction series-The Gods’ Dream Trilogy (fantasy romance and Twinborne Trilogy (science fiction romance) the sky in my primary worlds are purple.
What is your biggest vice?
Reading!!! I’m an avid book a day reader (sometimes more, sometimes less.) That’s why I hate deadline week, because I don’t read. It’s like withdrawal time. I’ve been this way since I learned to read. Second grade was when I first started getting in trouble for reading instead of doing what I was supposed to do. That hasn’t change, although now I don’t have parents or teachers scolding me. “Put that book away and do ____!” J
How did you come up with the idea for A Rolling Stone?
I’d originally planned to write two novellas set in my Montana Sky Series about twin sisters who emigrate from Ireland to my Montana town of Sweetwater Springs. I wrote and published A Valentine’s Choice, and was part way into book two, An Irish Blessing, when I realized I kept referencing the twins’ older sister Catriona, who’d eloped with a peddler before they left Ireland. The twins didn’t know what happened to her, and she didn’t know they’d left home. So soon the wild sister had her own story, when Catriona unexpectedly shows up in Sweetwater Springs, pregnant with an illegitimate baby.

Today's Drawing!

Debra is giving away an audiobook copy of Beneath Montana's Sky in a random drawing. Leave a comment and enter the Rafflecopter!

If you had a time machine, where you travel and why?

a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Just love the excerpt! I haven't read the prior stories, but I have a feeling I will be soon! Given my druthers, I think my Time Machine would bounce around the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries! I just want to soak it all in! trdivincenzo (at) gmail (dot) com

  3. I would go back 5 years and tell my mom to prepare for the fight of her life against the cancer that was in her body and to get more than 1 opinion!!

    1. A huge sorrow to have, Teresa. I'm sorry you lost her.

  4. Either 1849 on the Oregon Trail to Oregon, or Dodge City in the 1870s

    1. You'd definitely have adventure, Charlene!

  5. Love Oregon's scenery and would love to read your book.

    1. I love Oregon, too, Carla. My books are set in Montana, which is also beautiful!

  6. Back To 2005 Knowing what I know now to stop something that happened or a couple things

    1. Or Again Back to 1989 For The same Reason with Different Out Come

  7. 1900s America sounds interesting

    1. I think that was an interesting time. Every year my books are inching closer. Now the closest was 1896.

  8. I just love this author, who ever wins these prizes are in for a treat.

    Send me back to any time period with the cowboys and I will be thrilled.I would be happy to just jump around in that old time machine all over the years.

  9. I love your books and this new one sounds wonderful from the excerpt. I enjoyed the interview and finding out more about you.

    1. Thank you, Connie. I enjoyed writing the excerpt and the other encounters between Catriona and Moss.

  10. I would go back to the after The Civil War in the years from 1866 to 1885. Those were the years which are considered by historians as the Era of what we preceive as The Wild West which is what I am most interested in rather than just being interested in the entire Victorian Period. I would prefer being in a Western state including my home state of Texas or Montana and Wyoming.

    1. Except for Beneath Montana's Sky, my books are all set later. I wanted a little more civilization.

  11. I love your books, can't wait to read this one

  12. If I had a time machine I'd go back to ancient Greece to meet Socrates and Aristotle.

  13. I would visit the American West of the late 1800's. It was a time of growth and things were starting to settle down a bit. The West did attract all types of people, good and bad. It could be a place to start over, so people were judged for who you showed yourself to be.

    1. That's why I like writing Western/frontier stories. :)

  14. I would like to go back to when I was born and know what I now know! But,of course, that would change history.

    1. That's a favorite fantasy of mine, too, Linda. Although I'd go back to my teen years. I'd still live the live I have, but just start writing books earlier. So by now there'd be 50 Montana Sky books instead of 21. And other books as well. :)

  15. I'd travel back to the old west.

  16. I would like to go back to when I was 5 before my dad took me to the police station and told them he couldn't take care of me as my mom was out doing her thing at night. I would want to tell him not to put me foster care and that he and i could do it and i could take care of myself as i had done it for 2 years already and he didn't know . I would love to read the book in print and post reviews on amazon and goodreads

  17. I would travel to the old west, the 1800's. I love that time in history.