Tule Author Q&A: Julie Benson talks wedding planning + A GIVEAWAY!

Julie Benson stopped by the Tule blog to discuss the fourth book in the Wishing, Texas, series, To Marry a Texas Cowboy!

Where did you get the inspiration for this story?

The inspiration for this series came when my oldest was visiting his Texas A&M Corps buddies. I predicted they’d probably still be friends ten years after graduation. (BTW, they are!)  Immediately, I created four heroes ten years after graduation who have the same bond as my son and his friends. 

Zane was the hero I saw the clearest. He’s an incredibly handsome man women fawn over and cater to. But his relationships never go past superficial. A previous heroine pegged Zane as a BBD man, meaning he’s always looking for a bigger, better deal. But I saw Zane as a counterfeit playboy. Playing the field was his protection against repeating his parents’ mistakes. 

When I needed him to return to Wishing, I knew he’d do anything for his grandmother, but what would be his idea of torture? Running a wedding business and having to work with a strong-willed woman like McKenna who saw through his ploys. 

 

Finding the Wishing Well- Polished Personal – Hunni APAre your characters set before you begin writing or do you let them develop as you go? Did they ever surprise you?

I know some basics about my characters when I start writing such as their personality type and what their goal is. However, their motivations, fears, idiosyncrasies, and what drives develop as I write. For me, characters reveal themselves when they talk and react to each other. Early on, not knowing those characteristics drove me crazy. Then I learned to accept my characters reveal themselves on their terms and I need to be patient. But it’s not easy.

Do my characters surprise me? Constantly! I’d probably faint if they didn’t. When Zane strolled into the first Wishing, Texas, book, he wanted to take over. He always had a quick comeback, a slick line, and personality enough for two. I immediately fell in love with him. Despite that, I reined him in to prevent my heroines from falling for him, too. I couldn’t wait to write his story, but when I did, what did he do? He clammed up on me! Unless he was with his friends, Zane became tongue-tied and uncomfortable. He drove me nuts! I didn’t know what to do. Then he told his buddies (and me) what the problem was. He’d never met a woman like McKenna. “Whatever I do makes it [their working relationship] worse. When I joke with her, she gets mad and says I don’t take the wedding industry seriously. When I compliment her, she thinks I’m condescending or a smart ass.” I finally understood. When his go to strategies dealing with women failed, it threw Zane. He was different with McKenna and that was the point. 

 

 In To Marry A Texas Cowboy, wedding planning brings Zane and McKenna together. Do you have any advice for planning a wedding?

Doing research for To Marry A Texas Cowboy I was amazed how much weddings had changed since I mine. Weddings have become bigger productions, and the cost astounded me. First, there’s nothing wrong with keeping a wedding simple. Sometimes less really is more. 

When another previous heroine, asks how to save money on her wedding, McKenna’s advises eliminating pew and chair decorations and favors. She also says serving beer and wine costs less than a full bar. My research claimed people won’t miss or care about those changes. 

I think too often couples cling to a dream image of the perfect wedding and this causes stress. Couple (and parents 😊) should have realistic expectations. Everything won’t go according to plan, but how the couples react determines whether something is a big deal.

For example, as a ringbearer my middle son insisted on carrying his blanket, but at the altar, decided he didn’t need it. He walked to his father and I seated with the family and handed his blankie to me. Then he and the flower girl sat on the altar steps, eating goldfish from her basket. Some brides would’ve been mortified. I’ll admit this mom was! But the bride and groom, simply looked over their shoulders and smiled. But at another wedding, the flower girl refused to walk down the aisle. The groom’s mother, a minister officiating the ceremony, stood at the front of the sanctuary and commanded, “Sarah, come!” as if calling a dog. I cringed. I don’t remember if the child walked down the aisle, but I still remember grandma’s tone. She definitely needed to chill out. In other words, don’t sweat the little things. 

 

What was your favorite scene to write and why?

There’s a scene with a maid of honor who’s an old flame of Zane’s. Let’s just say, the woman isn’t subtle about wanting to rekindle their relationship. I enjoyed writing that because Zane’s external actions appeared one way, while he felt another. McKenna is horrified by the incident and confronts Zane about his part in the disaster. I enjoyed writing that following scene even more. I love scenes that remind me of the banter in old Hollywood movies between stars like Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant. This scene reminded me of that, but also illustrates McKenna and Zane’s differences and the chemistry underlying the interactions. Here’s an excerpt.

 

When McKenna entered the barn, dust and bits of hay floating in the air caught the sun, sparkling like minuscule stars. 

“Hey, Chance. Life been treating you well today?” She followed Zane’s voice. The horse snorted and whinnied. “I miss you, too, pal.” More snorting and whinnying. “Even if I could take you, you’d hate California. It’s nothing like Texas.”

Surprised by the almost wistful tone in Zane’s voice and feeling as if she was eavesdropping, McKenna called out. He stepped out of the stall, glanced her way, then scooped up a pile of hay with a pitchfork and disappeared. 

When she stood outside the door and peered inside, Zane dumped the hay into the feeding trough on the far wall, his biceps flexing with his movement. Her palms grew sweaty and a flush spread through her. 

How could a man who played video games for a living have such remarkable arms? His faded maroon Texas A&M association of former students’ T-shirt dotted with darker spots from sweat clung to his broad chest. She shook her head. Why couldn’t Aggies simply say alums? 

“Once I finished here, I intended to come to the office to see you.” 

“I can’t believe you would return to the scene of the crime so soon.” 

“Crime? What’re you talking about?” He stepped past her, leaned the pitchfork against the opposite wall, and shut the lower half of the stall door. “I meant to thank you for getting me away from Campbell before she tore off my clothes.” 

At his lighthearted, joking tone, every muscle in McKenna’s body tensed. Secretly, she’d hoped he’d take responsibility for his actions. So much for that. “You think today was funny? Do you know how hard it was for Ginny to convince Susannah and her parents to have the wedding in Wishing rather than a fancy destination wedding? She feared the wedding would appear rinky-dink and hokey here. Since the invitations haven’t gone out, she can still change to a destination wedding. Doing that would be disastrous. Because of the number of guests, we’ll make three times more on this wedding. Lucky Stars can’t afford to lose that income.”

“You done? Ready to let me get a word in?” he asked as Chance poked his head out between them and shoved his nose under Zane’s hand.

She crossed her arms over her chest, leaned back on her right heel, and nodded for him to proceed. 

“Don’t get your panties in a bunch worrying about Susannah cancelling. Mayor Timmons won’t let her. He likes being the big cheese, and he can only do that if the wedding’s in his kingdom.”

Considering what McKenna knew of the mayor, he could be right, but that didn’t mean she’d let Zane wiggle out of his actions. “However, he also gives Susannah anything she wants, which means we have to keep her happy. If she gets upset, so will her parents. That would get around town and would hurt our reputation.”

“Was Susannah upset when she left?”

“No.”

“Did they pick a dress?”

McKenna nodded. “The one you had Campbell try on.”

“Then what’s the problem? The bride left happy. The dress was picked out. Mission accomplished.”

How could he fail to grasp the seriousness of what happened? How could he laugh it off simply because of a good outcome? Unless they dealt with what caused the issue, they’d be in a similar situation again, and next time they might not be as fortunate. “It could have been a disaster if Susannah and Campbell had gotten into a major argument. Susannah could’ve claimed we didn’t handle the situation properly. She still might.” 

McKenna shared the bride story she’d told Grace. “Darby discovered one bad review affected the business negatively for three months. Because of the risk, today’s behavior can’t be repeated.”

“I can’t control Campbell.”

“I was referring to your behavior.”

“I didn’t do anything wrong.”

“You’ve got to be kidding.” McKenna’s harsh, raised voice echoed around them.

Chance snorted, shook his head, and shifted nervously.

Zane smoothed a hand over the animal’s neck and crooned reassurances. “We need to take this outside. I don’t want Chance gettin’ upset. We don’t know what happened to him before we got him, but he was seized in a cruelty case, so it can’t have been good.”

What was wrong with her? How did this man so easily destroy her self-control? Now she’d scared a traumatized horse.

Before setting off to follow Zane, she turned to the animal. “I’m sorry, Chance. I didn’t mean to scare you.”

When she joined him outside by the corral, Zane stood with one foot on the lowest rail as he leaned against the top one. McKenna stopped a few feet away.

“What you need to focus on is the good outcome. Quit borrowing trouble. Be thankful you got the job done,” Zane said. 

 “That’s right. I got the job done. I cleaned up the mess you created and kept it from blowing up in the company’s face,” McKenna said, keeping her voice even, despite her rising ire. 

“I didn’t do anything. Campbell did.”

“That’s where you’re wrong. If you’d hadn’t folded when she—” 

“Let me tell you something, little lady. Campbell has a temper when she’s in a mood, and today she was in a doozy. Her nickname in high school was Hurricane Campbell. She was fixin’ to strike, and if she had, then you’d have had trouble. That was why I agreed to stay. Who knew picking out a dress could be that big a pain in the ass?”

“With brides and wedding details involved, nothing’s easy. However, when Campbell started flirting and getting amorous—” Heat rushed up McKenna’s neck, into her face.

Amorous? If Susannah hadn’t been seated on the love seat, Campbell would’ve tried to toss him down on it and climbed on top of him. “You should have immediately handled her, making it clear her behavior wasn’t appropriate.”

He laughed. “I kept her from wrestling me to the ground and jumping my bones. I also prevented her from giving you another shiner. All without setting off her temper. I’d say I did a pretty damn good job handling her.”

He thought she couldn’t protect herself? New kids often got picked on in school. She’d toughened up fast and learned some fancy footwork. “I didn’t need you protecting me. I’m not a delicate miss.”

“The appropriate response is thank you.”

“Thank you.” She paused, weighing whether she should continue pressing her case.

Technically, Zane was her boss, though temporarily, but she owed it to Ginny to watch out for her best interests. She knew the wedding industry, while Zane didn’t. She owed Ginny so much for giving her a job when she’d been at her lowest. “There is a rule in the wedding industry. Personal relationships with someone connected with the bride and groom is off-limits because it rarely goes well. I suggest you follow that while you’re managing Lucky Stars.”

“That’s gonna be tough at AJ and Grace’s wedding since I’m a groomsman,” he joked.

“You know I didn’t mean their wedding. You need to take this seriously. There’s nothing funny about what happened today.”

“While today wasn’t, why can’t a job be fun? Life’s too short to spend it being miserable eight or more hours a day.”

“I enjoy my job, but that doesn’t mean anything goes. There must be structure and rules. Incidents like flirting with or dating bridesmaids, relatives, or friends of the bride or groom isn’t professional and can’t happen.”

“In a town the size of Wishing when there’s a wedding near everyone’s connected to the couple in one way or another.”

McKenna tsk-tsked in exaggerated sympathy. “I guess you’ll have to cowboy up and deal with it.” 

“What is it with everyone’s fascination with my love life? First Ginny, then Grace, and now you,” he snapped, his voice tinged with frustration.

McKenna laughed. “Talk about a huge ego. Yours has to be the biggest around, but get this, Mr. Small Town Loverboy. I don’t give a flying flip about your personal life. What I care about is my job. What you did today caused problems for me. Can I have your word you won’t get romantically involved with anyone associated with our clients?”

Zane straightened, crossed his arms over his broad chest, and his mesmerizing gaze drilled into her. “No.”

 

What are you currently reading?

Right now I’m reading Debra Salonen’s All the Stars in Montana and Pam Crooks’ A Cowboy and A Promise. I love reading other authors’ cowboy stories. Then for something different, I’m reading Jana DeLeon’s Miss Fortune Mystery series.

 

For a chance to win this glass, comment anything below! Winner will be selected on Monday, October 5th. US only. 

 

About the Author

An avid daydreamer, Julie Benson doesn’t remember a time when she wasn’t creating stories. After graduating from the University of Texas at Dallas with a degree in Sociology, she worked as case manager for a social services agency before having her children. Three boys, and many years later, she started actively pursuing a writing career to challenge her mind and save her sanity. Now she writes full time in Dallas, where she lives with her husband, their three sons, two lovable black dogs, a mischievous brown one and a turtle. Julie says, while her house is never quiet or predictable, it is full of heroes.

19 Comments

  1. Aw, thanks for the mention of A COWBOY AND A PROMISE, Julie! It’s the first book in my Blackstone Ranch series, and the second and third books come out in February and March. I already have my covers, and we all know that Tule has the BEST covers, don’t we?

    Love the excerpt!

    1. Charlotte, I have gotten fabulous covers for my Wishing, Texas series. I have to give credit to my cover artist, Lee Hyat. She came up with the design for To Love A Texas Cowboy. For the rest of the books all I did was tell her about the characters and she did the rest!

    1. Nova, I’m glad you enjoyed the Q&A. Those were some great questions. My favorite scenes to write are always the one with banter between my hero and heroine. I have to admit, when McKenna asked Zane to promise that he wouldn’t get involved with women associated with weddings and he said no, I laughed. That scene was so real to me. I could see him having reached his breaking point and digging in his heels!

  2. Thanks Julie for sharing behind the scenes facts about your book. I enjoyed learning about your inspiration and ideas. Loved the snippet!!

    1. Eileen, it’s such a blessing when a great idea for a series hits me out of the blue the way this one did. Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen like that often enough. I’m glad you enjoyed the excerpt as much as I enjoyed writing it.

  3. I always love to see how you process the work of writing a story. Everyone is different and unique. Thank you for sharing. Your book sounds like a winner. Hugs

    1. Charlene, thank you for the kind words. When I started writing, I didn’t realize everyone had a different process. Mine is so jumbled and seat of the pants, I describe it like working a puzzle. I work on one area, then get stuck and move on to another area. Eventually, the holes get smaller, until it all comes together. But I thought writing should be linear. It took me a long time to realize the process is a function of how my brain works and I had to accept it.

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