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Friday, July 9, 2010
Thanks to Pearl, Leontine, Natascha and Marissa (four of the most romantic names, ever!) for inviting me to talk about how my debut contemporary cowboy romance, LIBERTY STARR came about.
It all started late last summer. I was at the dentist’s office, half-watching a psychiatrist on a TV talk show who was saying that men are confused today because we women are so hard on them. At this point, I would have switched the channel, but there were at least 3 men glued to the TV. So, my choices were to sit back and allow her to distract me, or obsess about the nine inch drill that was about to go into my mouth.
Here’s what I remember the psychologist saying (and I have admittedly taken some liberties). We want our men to be sensitive, to be able to cry if the situation warrants—but we criticize and lose respect for them if they cry too much. Right there and then, this psychologist looked directly out at me from TV-land and said, “Isn’t this true—isn’t this what we women do?” I had to admit to myself that at least in my case, it was true. All three men looked at me, their eyes full of accusation. I slunk low in my chair wishing I could disappear into the fabric. It was the first time I found myself hoping the dentist would hurry up and call my name! She said that we want our men to support our career aspirations and not be intimidated if we make more money than they do, but we also want them to please-oh-please buy us the 3 ct. diamond ring and the big house. In fact, we secretly want them to be independently wealthy so we don’t have to work if we don’t want to, but that they should understand we could be executive material. We want the man who will even make time for our girlfriends—note that I said ‘make time for’ not ‘make time with’. And, can we please have men who aren’t kitchen-phobic—who can make a lovely avocado salad as well as grill a thick steak (or brats if that works better for you), and happily take out the garbage afterward. I smiled at the guys—it was their turn to slink low in their seats.
We want these same men to be the heroes of the world… as long as they don’t encroach on our own heroic endeavors. We want them to be tall, strong, masculine—but we get to define what masculine means, because he can’t be too much of a caveman. After all, we have to be able to take him out in public. We expect our men to man up, to step up, to open doors for us, and to know when to ask permission first, or when we want to be tossed onto the bed and ravished. She had me half-laughing and half-crying because what poor man can live up to all that? Still, if I’d been in her audience I would have liked to ask her, okay, but is it any different for women? Don’t men have as many conflicting demands for who women should be? With all of these conflicts—all of this noise—just how do men and women ever manage to get together? That night while in that half-conscious state just before sleep as I was still mulling all of this over, Liberty, the heroine of the novel I would soon write,hopped off her horse and walked right into my dreams, wearing nothing but a Stetson. I said, "You've got the wrong girl, honey," but she grinned and jerked her head to the side. Sure enough, along came Rafe--wearing the same getup. It was love at first sight... for all of us!
The next morning I sat down to write about these two characters, still remembering the psychologist’s claims. As a romance author, I try to create the perfect hero—one who is flawed in many ways (like any of us), but who is perfect for the story, and for the heroine. It occurred to me that it might be interesting to write a hero who was inherently good, but who had a huge secret—a man who would deliberately misrepresent himself in order to hide that secret—to pretend to be who he wasn’t. Give that man a lot of power, and it would be interesting to see what he did with it. Suddenly, my hero Rafe, became an undercover FBI agent, with a secret, and a lot of power to change the lives of those he was investigating. His cover? To be just another cowboy down on his luck with a saddle, a Stetson, and very little else.
When I begin a story, I don’t try to map it out much more than I’ve just described. I don’t want to bend my characters to my will until I understand better who they are and what they’re about. Although it’s a wild ride never knowing (for sure) where I’m going, I let my characters run pretty free in the first draft of anything I write. By the time the draft is done, I’ve finally ‘played’ with them enough to know who they are. That’s when I get serious and do some pretty intense profiling. My characters don’t always like to be tamed—to them, it feels a little like having their wings clipped. But I tell them everyone has to learn a little discipline at some point in their lives. Rafe knew who he was from the moment he walked out of my consciousness and onto the page. He told me he was of Ute, Hispanic and Caucasian lineage. That he grew up poor on a ranch in Salt Lake City. That he was a skilled cowboy with a fine mind for detail. He let me know he was as elusive with women as a shadow—that he’d never been in love and wasn’t planning on it in his future. That he was capable of just about anything if the situation warranted, but preferred to be peaceful. So my job was easy when it came to Rafe. All I had to do was listen to him… until he was so distracted by Liberty, he started getting confused about himself.
What will a man who depends on knowing himself well do, when he is suddenly confused about who he is and why he’s doing what he’s doing—and in love for the first time? Suddenly I realized that I was writing a character who was feeling the effects of what the psychologist had been talking about. On the other hand, Liberty, the heroine kept going wild on me, no matter how many drafts I wrote. My biggest problem with her? I couldn’t get her to keep her clothes on—not even in the rewrites. At first I thought it was because she didn’t have a clue who she was. As it turns out, there was a good reason she kept kicking off her clothes. Libby was raised in a nudist colony and while she’s not a practicing nudist, she is a practicing naturist and loves being naked in nature. She kept hopping on her horse Marengo to ride her private trails in the buff, and doing yoga outside with the sun streaming down on her well-tanned body. She knew exactly who she was. Together, Libby and Rafe have an intimacy that is both sizzling hot, and romantically compelling. Always a little dangerous, she still manages to teach Rafe how to be lighter-hearted and playful. But, don’t make the mistake of thinking Libby is all fluff. She runs a successful inn and equestrian center, and can give Rafe a run for his money when it comes to her rodeo skills—and her brains. When I (or any author for that matter) write a romance, I walk that fine line between the everyday stuff of our lives, and fantasy, with the goal of weaving them together to create something special. What I hope to give readers is laughter, tears, a whole heck-of-a-lot of titillation, and a hero and heroine who become something more because they’re together. Not because they complete each other (I’m too much of a realist for that) but because every time we connect with a new person and let them into our lives, our world gets a little larger. Libby and Rafe become something more by being together, even while they work out the kinks of roles and expectations. That something more is what you, the reader get to discover as you experience the story. If I’ve done my job well, you’ll close the book with a sigh and wish it wasn’t over.
Leontine asked me to talk a little about the characteristics, quirks and passions cowboys and FBI agents should have. After I wrote the first draft of LIBERTY STARR, it became clear to me that as a cowboy Rafe looks like this: Fun-loving, athletic, killer-handsome, good hair (a cowboy’s got to have hair that can handle the hat-hair effect caused by a Stetson), a sense of humor, and cowboy eyes (this needs no further definition!). Cowboys have that air of needing a lot of space. They’re untouched by love—as if their need for space moves them just out of a woman’s reach. Finally, a cowboy must have one last thing… a great pair of… leather chaps. And, it’s up to him whether he wears them with or without jeans :)
As an FBI agent, Rafe looks like this:
Dangerous, driven, a true alpha male with a powerfully protective instinct who searches for truth. He’s irresistible and incorruptible. He’s uncompromising and because of this, he might lose the love of his life. He’s the kind of man who will chose what’s right over love. Or is he? :)
As readers and writers, are these characteristics consistent with your idea of what makes up the essential ingredients for cowboys and FBI agents? I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment on this blog, my blog or drop me an email!
Thanks for visiting with me today. Here’s the story description and a short excerpt. If you pick up a copy of LIBERTY STARR, I hope it takes you deep into the once sleepy town of Stone Hill, Colorado where more than the rodeo is kicking up a lot of dust. And do let me know how you enjoyed it!
Rafe had never met a truly irresistible woman, until he met Liberty.
Libby has the kind of beauty that comes on slow—strikes a guy the longer he looks. And Rafe sure is having a fine time looking, and touching, and loving Liberty Starr. The only problem is that Rafe is pretending to be just another cowboy down on his luck. Working for the FBI, he’s come to Stone Hill, Colorado, to investigate the man Libby loves like a father.
He was just another cowboy. Free-spirited Libby offers him a job and a place to stay. Together they spark like wildfire, their intense passion filling their days and nights. But Rafe is only in town for the summer, and while Liberty is willing to risk her heart, secrets threaten any possibility of a future together…
Excerpt from Chapter Four
She was half-blinded by a new round of tears as she left the house and headed for the stables. She didn’t even see Rafe until he caught her. She buried her face in his chest. She didn’t care whether he was Rafe the playful, ardent lover or Rafe the dark and sulky version. All she cared was that he was there. That his arms wrapped around her as if she belonged in them. That he held every part of her body against every part of his. She wept into his chest until she had nothing left. Her
soul ached for that lonely man who had never really learned how to connect with another human being. After a while, she grew silent, and still Rafe held her. When at last she was breathing normally, he said, “I don’t know what happened in there, but if he hurt you in any way…”
“He didn’t hurt me. Quite the opposite.”
“Well something he did made you cry.”
“Yes.” She brought her mouth to the soft place between his jaw and his neck.
“Yes. I am crying because of him.”
Rafe held her even more firmly but said nothing. She could feel the tic of his jaw. Instinctively, she brought her lips to the tick. “It’s not like that. It’s not what you think. He didn’t do anything to me.”
“I’ve heard enough around town to know he’s an unfeeling bastard.”
“No, no. That’s just what people say about him.” She kissed his neck, aware that he was supporting the full weight of her body. She kissed the underside of his chin and the hollow between his shoulder and collarbone, aware that his jaw was still ticking.
Rafe swung her into his arms. She closed her eyes and turned in to him. She wouldhave crawled into his skin if she could have. “Open your eyes, Elle.”
“No, no,” she murmured, kissing his ear.
“Elle, open your eyes. There’s something you need to see.”
The last thing Libby wanted to do was open her eyes. She brought her lips over his. She hadn’t meant to. There just wasn’t any way not to. At first he didn’t respond, but she knew it was just a matter of moments. She felt his arms tighten,
his back grow taut. She heard his breath quicken and felt the beat of his heart against hers. When his mouth opened, she drank him in. His lips captured hers, pulling at them until she was breathless. He moved to her neck. The gentle suction caused her to cry out, and then he was back, moving his lips over hers until she was nearly limp from the pleasure of it. He set her on her feet. “There’s something you should see.” He slid his hand into hers and drew her into the stable where Jared had worked so diligently on the injured mustang, earlier.
“Look.” Libby looked and saw that the mare was no longer down, but back on her feet. Marengo was in the same stall. He stood very close, as if guarding the mare.
“I think you’ve lost him to another woman.”
Libby whirled into Rafe’s chest and cried again. This time he laughed. “I can’t figure out if you’re happy or sad. But one thing’s for sure. I’m going to need a new shirt.” 84 Liberty Starr
“Oh, take the damn thing off.” She peeled his shirt away from his skin, and leaned into him. He chuckled even as his arms slid back around her.
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Read Pearl's review of LIBERT STARR here
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