One of the ways I love learning about writers is through listening to them. Occasionally, I’ve been fortunate enough to attend an author signing at a bookstore, a lecture at a college, or a book talk at a coffee house. However, lately I’ve been able to connect with other writers from the comfort of my own home through podcasts.
Books start in different ways, for me at least. Sometimes it’s a single situation or scene, and I have to build both up to it and down after it. Sometimes it’s an exchange of dialogue that pops into my head and I have to know who these people are and how they came to the point where this exchange happens. Sometimes it’s an image, a still or in video, that sparks something. Sometimes it’s hearing something said; I once got an entire book out of a conversation between a mother and her young son in the produce aisle of a grocery store.
But the one thing all of them have in common is music. Songs had always inspired stories, but it was somewhat belatedly in my career that I discovered that a “soundtrack” helped my mind set. And when I began writing more than one book at a time, that soundtrack became essential; it was the main thing that could shift my mind from one world to another. In the case of Whiskey River Rockstar, I already knew my heroine, Zee Mahan, from the previous books. But Jamie Templeton was a bit more elusive, and took some searching.
Travel is my biggest inspiration for writing. My favorite element of telling a story is setting, so the places I write about are largely places that are special to me. As a reader, I also love discovering fresh places through an author’s work. The journey to a new location is always fun, and I’m fortunate to be able to do that for readers in FINDING TRUE NORTH.
Anyone else out there a Pinterest nut? I use it mostly to pin tons of inspiration for my books. My new release, Saving the Sheriff, is included in this pile of inspirational photos. I thought it might be fun to share some of my favorite piece of inspiration with you…
Meet Holly Jensen
Holly is an odd combination of small-town Texas girl (and large animal vet) and gypsy free spirit who dresses and dances to the beat of her own drum. Jeans and boots at work, flowing skirts and lots of color on her off time. Holly has lost everyone she loved, leaving her very alone. But maybe a certain Sheriff can come fill that hole in her heart…
Meet Sheriff Cash Hill
Cash is your standard gorgeous young Sheriff. His stand-out feature is his eyes—the Hill blue eyes (and boy does my inspiration have those). Gruff and standoffish, but by circumstance not by nature, poor Cash has had his heart and his life stomped all over. Now his only focus is his job and his daughter. Maybe Holly can help him start living again…
Travel to Texas Hill Country
I grew up in the Texas Hill Country, and so, of course, had to set my stories there. I moved here when I was 8, and was surprised to find that it wasn’t what I picutres (desert, flat, dry). This gorgeous land is anything but with rolling green hills, trees, and, in the spring, blankets of wildflowers.
BTW… It’s not a coincidence that Cash’s family name is Hill, it’s set in the hills of Texas, the town is called La Colina (the hill in Spanish), and the series is named “The Hills of Texas.” Too much? Lol.
Real Texas Dancing
Okay… It drives me bananas that movies and media portray country dancing as line dancing. Here, at least, most of the time it is NOT. Instead it’s a usually two-stepping or sometimes a Texas style of jitterbugging. This video is of the Texas Aggie Wranglers. They’re a performance team, so obviously better than much of what you see in a country & western club. But actually, I see these moves often at these places. So, to set the record straight, Cash and Holly demonstrate and the local dance in the book.
I hope you had fun seeing some of my inspiration.
By the way… if you want to guess at what’s coming up with the next book in the Hills of Texas series—Resisting the Rancher—which is coming in April, check out the newer pins in the series board: https://www.pinterest.com/abbyowen/the-hills-of-texas-series/
Colby and Dakota’s story came out of a scene I wrote in the prior Forever Texan series, Loving the Texas Lawman, where Dakota (Day) was bidding on my hometown sheriff, Jack Walker in a charity auction. Day’s attempts to make Colby jealous at the auction go awry and next we see the two of them, rancher boss (Colby) and wrangler (Day) are arguing at Jack’s engagement party. It’s a pretty heated exchange and the fact that their mothers are best friends and Colby and Day pretty much grew up together, only adds to the forbidden love story. When we first meet Day in Redeeming the Texas Rancher, she has pretty much given up on having a relationship with Colby.
What do you think Colby and Dakota had to learn before reaching their happy ever after?
Let’s see…I think Colby had to let go of his past and the secret he’s kept all these years from Dakota. He had to learn to forgive himself or at the very least give himself a break. The secret dictates his world and is one that he’d never trusted anyone with, especially not Day. So of course, when Day finds out quite accidentally, about it, she’s floored. Colby has always been her friend, and she thought she knew him inside and out. Apparently not. So for Day, she had to learn how to forgive past mistakes and trust in Colby again.
What’s your favorite thing about Texas-set romance stories?
My favorite thing about Texas based romances is that there’s a certain rustic charm about the lone star state and its people. Texans are courteous and respectable and proud. They are a breed like no other and so writing a tall, handsome, honor-bound and sexy Texan is easy. Not that all people are alike, my heroes are all different, but they have certain qualities that scream TEXAN from page one. Or at least, I hope so.
Did you have any actors or models in mind while writing Colby and Dakota?
Yes, I do. Colby is a rugged man of the earth rancher and Chris Hemsworth fits the bill and he often stars in my books. (ha!) And I adore Chris Pratt also. Either of the Chris’s will do. As for my heroine, a tomboyish dark-haired beauty in Dakota Jennings, I am thinking of Jenna Tatum. What do you think?
If you could choose just one song to represent Redeeming the Texas Rancher, what would it be and why?
The one song that represents my story would have to be: My Best Friend by Tim McGraw. The lyrics tell the story about how this woman, is not only his lover, but his best friend. And Colby and Dakota have always been friends. Redeeming the Texas Rancher has a lot to do with how love can heal past wounds and bring you closer. It’s a friends to lovers to friends again, romance.
I never had no one
I could count on
I’ve been let down so many times
I was tired of hurtin’
So tired of searchin’
‘Til you walked into my life
It was a feelin’
I’d never known
And for the first time
I didn’t feel alone
You’re more than a lover
There could never be another
To make me feel the way you do
Oh we just get closer
I fall in love all over
Everytime I look at you
I don’t know where I’d be
Without you here with me
Life with you makes perfect sense
You’re my best friend
You’re my best friend, oh yeah
You stand by me
And you believe in me
Like nobody ever has
When my world goes crazy
You’re right there to save me
You make me see how much I have
And I still tremble
When we touch
And oh the look in your eyes
When we make love
You’re more than a lover
There could never be another
To make me feel the way you do
Oh we just get closer
I fall in love all over
Everytime I look at you
And I don’t know where I’d be
Without you here with me
Life with you makes perfect sense
You’re my best friend
You’re my best friend
Who are your top 3 favorite romance authors?
Oh, not a fair question. I have so many and I have to start with these wonderful and talented authors, Leanne Banks, Robin Bielman, Lynne Marshall, Samanthe Beck, Jane Porter and Tessa Dare. But then, I also have read every book these authors have ever written; Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Sandra Brown and my favorite of all-time author LaVyrle Spencer. I’ve read their books once, twice or three times!
GIVEAWAY! Thanks so much for stopping by today! To celebrate the release of Redeeming the Texas Rancher, I’m giving away a $10 Amazon or Barnes and Noble gift card! Just post a comment about who you rate as your favorite authors and what kind of books you enjoy reading the most?
My blog tour starts tomorrow. So please stop by one or two of these sites (below) and enter into the drawing for a gift card grand prize!
Charlene Sands is a USA Today Bestselling author writing sexy contemporary romances and stories set in the Old West. Her stories have been honored with the National Readers Choice Award, the Cataromance Reviewer’s Choice Award and she’s a double recipient of the Booksellers’ Best Award. Charlene is a member of the Orange County Chapter and Los Angeles Chapter of Romance Writers of America.
Thank you to the wonderful ladies at Tule for the invite to blog. The best place for me to begin is to introduce myself, and explain why I write the books I do. I won’t rehash my official ‘bio’ from the website. I am a Texan. Many people will understand all there is to know by those four simple words. For those who might not, allow me to elaborate.
I was born and raised in this country… sorry, this state. (Texas was a country first, but I digress.) My ancestors fought and died in the Alamo. Another relation led the defeat of Santa Anna and became the first President of the Republic of Texas. When I say I have pride in my heritage and state, that is an understatement. According to some friends, the slogan, ‘Don’t Mess with Texas’ will be on my headstone.
When I chose to write novels, I followed the best advice for any author… write what you know and love. I write about Texans… tough cowboys and feisty heroines. Their backdrop is a land immense in size and encompassing prairies, hills, mountains, lakes and rivers, and a gulf. Their secondary characters are country gentle-folk and chic city movers and shakers… but all Texan to the core.
I have lived in every section of the state from the High Plains to the Rio Grande, Big Bend to the Piney Woods. But as many readers know, if only by looking at the covers of my books or my webpage, I find my heart draws me back to the hills and cold, spring-fed streams and rivers of the Hill Country region. My idea of Heaven is an unending field of brilliant Bluebonnets, sprinkle in a few stately pecan trees, add a dash or two of sprawling vistas of hills and crystal-clear rivers, with a bright, cloudless sky over all of it and I am home. Add a shady porch with a rocker or two or better yet, a porch swing, and I could be happy forever.
Growing up, often after a huge Sunday lunch of the best home-cooking ever… supplied by my grandmother, I would often spend hours seated at the feet of a retired Texas Ranger, listening enthralled to stories of legendary bad guys, famous politicians, heroic cowboys and cases right out of the history books. One day, he asked me, “little honey, what is it you plan to be when you grow up?” I immediately said, “A ranger.” Well, he laughed outright at that one. “Honey, there aren’t any female rangers.” I was crushed. But, am pleased to say, there are indeed a few females in those hallowed ranks today. I can imagine his response to that one. LOL
Cowboys always capture the imagination… and trying to describe the ‘why’ of it would soon become too long-winded. They are good people. They can be depended upon when all others fail. They give their word and it is still good as gold in many places. They stand tall and shoot straight… in word and deed. They work from before sunup to after sundown. They make us all feel ‘protected’. They take care of their loved ones, and their family and the land are always their most treasured possessions. They represent a part of history that is still to be found today. Cowboys will never fade away… they live still on remote vistas, in small country towns, and in the hearts of those who love what they represent.
Until we meet again, I will continue to write about those heroes. I do hope you will give my stories a read and meet some of these contemporary cowboys.
Ya’ll come visit for a spell.
Born and raised in the Lone Star state of Texas, Debra grew up among horses, cowboys, wide open spaces, and real Texas Rangers. Pride in her state and ancestry knows no bounds and it is these heroes and heroines she loves to write about the most. She also draws upon a variety of life experiences including working with abused children, caring for baby animals at a major zoo, and planning high-end weddings (ah, romance!).
Giveaway Closed! Congratulations to Toni Whitmire.
So for A Country Love Song, I wanted it to be a bit of a tribute to how music teachers endure those awkward beginning years with their students and instruct and cajole and inspire and push through the challenges
I have always loved music, but especially country music because it’s really about the story and the characters in that song’s story. Many of them are not even necessarily a story I can relate to like shooting whiskey or keying some cheatin’ guy’s ride, but I see that girl, I can feel what she feels. Emotions are universal, no matter what event or person inspired them—-love, sorrow, disappointment, betrayal, abandonment. In the fall, I was talking to Jane Porter about music, what we listen to when we write, and we were wondering why Tule Publishing hadn’t received a lot of romance submissions where the characters were musicians or in the music industry. Country music, especially seems like a natural as Tule has the Montana Born and Southern Born imprints. Jane and I counted the music oriented manuscripts published, and it was only a handful. I don’t remember exactly what Jane said. I think we were drinking water with lemon, and really, we should have been drinking something far more exciting, because Jane said something along the lines of “get on that.”
We bandied about some ideas, her acting as scribe and generally groaning, nixing and throwing a pen at me over my cheesy ideas because I love to make her laugh. But later that night, I got a little more serious and started thinking about my middle school music teacher. I had loved to sing—-walking, in the car, in my room, at the mall. I was okay. Never more than that. But she always said “You enjoy it, keep singing.” So I kept joining choirs all the way through college.
She also directed a hand bell choir at my middle school and high school, and of course I joined happily. Unhappily I was the worst, always playing the F# in my left hand even though I KNEW the note was a G and the G was in my right hand. My brain said G. Right hand. I heard it, but my left hand charged out. Many of the other kids grumbled the first year, wanting to toss me out because when you play a wrong note in a hand bell choir, everyone knows it. That sucker rings out. Carol shrugged off the mistakes and explained it as a neurological issue of mixed left right dominance or something like that. “Keep playing” she said. So I didn’t quit. And the grumbling turned to sideways glares. And then those faded because I got better. And better.
So for A Country Love Song, I wanted it to be a bit of a tribute to how music teachers endure those awkward beginning years with their students and instruct and cajole and inspire and push through the challenges and build a foundation where the artist can find their own voice. So I created in my mind, a young girl, Sutter Knight—naïve, earnest, talented, enthusiastic and driven who could really blossom in a small southern town with a music teacher who believed in her, and also started thinking of her a little bit as the daughter she never had. And then of course I thought of the boy who loved her and performed with her in the school choir and musicals but reluctantly and oh so painfully let her fly far from him. Sutter Knight headed to Nashville to pursue her dream of being a country singer and songwriter, but Dawson Yates stayed grounded in Sweet Tea, Tennessee because he had family obligations and dreams of his own that don’t involve a stage—unless he’s building it.
Because I love reunion romances, the story starts ten years after Sutter has left. Her career is finally on the rise. She’s charted, toured and been nominated for an award. She returns to her home town to visit her music teacher before heading back into a Nashville studio, and that’s where she finds an unexpected challenge desperate for her talents and enthusiasm as well as the boy, now a man, she thought she’d left behind. But when Sutter sees Dawson again, she quickly realizes that her feelings aren’t as far in the past as she told herself.
Writing about a country musician who thinks in melodies and lyrics was a lot of fun and definitely a different experience. I listened to a lot of music, not all of it country. The song I listened to on repeat when I took long walks to think about how the story would unspool was Ryan Adam’s To Be Without You. That song is for me the best description of a post break up—where you are no longer sick with grief or anger and sobbing a lot, but have entered the acceptance stage. But you are numb. It’s all sinking in that it’s over, really over, and you aren’t sure how you are going to keep walking forward, but you know you have to. Because so much of Sutter and Dawson’s reunion keeps tumbling into the past, that song really put me in the mood to write a story where two people’s lives split even though their hearts never fully made the separation. And they trudged on with grim determination and found success but never that effervescent happiness they had as teens. The story is them at an emotional cross roads. Can they go back and retrieve what they lost? Do they keep moving on alone? Or Find a new direction together?
I listened to many, many more songs. Some of the songs or artists I mention in the book because Sutter does performs, but mostly because she is constantly taking her guitar with her and noddling melodies, singing in snatches and scrawling lyrics in a notebook. One song that makes an appearance is Setting the World on Fire by Kenny Chesney because I absolutely love the goofy energy of that song and the images and the sense of two people just drunk on love and acting silly and yet having a little ability to reflect and recapture those emotions. Keith Urban’s Boy Gets a Truck totally fit with Dawson’s personality and life as a teen in love with Sutter and also even later as a man glimpsing his 30s and wondering if he dare to try with Sutter again. When I was trying to think of a song that themed with Sutter, two songs really seemed to fit. Miranda Lambert’s The House that Built Me because Sutter is all about the town of Sweet Tea and her memories there and also Tim McGraw’s Humble and Kind, because even with her shiny confidence and success, Sutter is still so sweet and determined to pay it forward for other musicians and kids and her home town and larger community even when the task of giving back is daunting.
One last song that I had on repeat on my play list was My Church by Maren Morris. The attitude didn’t fit Sutter at all, but man oh man could I relate to doing a lot of thinking and emoting while driving. And as I drove and played this really loud and sang along (my poor teens, but I’m not even that sorry) another, future character started to form—Tyler Knight, Sutter’s fallen pop star actress younger sister, who returns to Sweet Tea broken but determined to grind it out and become her own personal phoenix in a future Smoky Mountain Knight book some time down that long dirt road of writing.
I hope you enjoy A Country Love Song and find something to sing along to.
After teaching writing classes and workshops to adults and teens for many years in Seattle and Portland, she returned to her first love of reading romances and became an editor for Tule Publishing last year. Sinclair lives in Oregon’s wine country where she and her family own a small vineyard of Pinot Noir and where she dreams of being able to write at a desk like Jane Austen instead of in parking lots waiting for her kids to finish one of their 12,000 extracurricular activities.
Music is the soundtrack of our lives.
— Dick Clark
Growing up, music was a constant in my life—the radio always played as we rode in the car, my parents sang and listened to records (the original vinyl) in our house, my older siblings introduced me to the latest and greatest singers and bands, and I sang in chorus for nearly a decade.
Now, one of my husband’s and my favorite things to do is go to concerts, especially to see all the performers we didn’t get to see ages ago. Along the way, we’ve discovered a long list of new favorites to hear and see.
When I began to write, music played in the background and created the perfect mood for the story. Many songs inspired scenes and some wound up in my books. A phrase in one song even became the title of one of my books.
But nothing surprised me or influenced me more than when I heard Chris Young’s song, Think Of You, for the first time. Cody and Hannah’s book, The Cowboy’s Rebellious Bride, came to me in an instant—best friends to lovers, life of the party, all their friends wishing they were them, memories that can’t be erased, etc. It was a perfect fit. The song played in my head when I wrote their story. (It’s now the ringtone on my phone.) And, it just so happened, the day I turned in the manuscript to the Tule Publishing Group was the same day my husband and I got to see Chris Young in concert. I remember hearing him sing Think Of You and tears came to my eyes. What an incredible full circle moment for me—a very grateful writer, indeed—to merge my love of music with my love of characters and stories.
I hope you fall in love with Cody and Hannah the same way I did when they jumped out of this song, danced in my head, and came to life on the pages of The Cowboy’s Rebellious Bride.
Here’s a few of the tunes on my playlist for The Cowboy’s Rebellious Bride:
Think Of You by Chris Young
Kiss Me Like This by Toby Keith
Top Of The World by Tim McGraw
Perfect Storm by Brad Paisley
Life’s A Dance by John Michael Montgomery
Bestselling author Laurie LeClair writes romantic comedy, contemporary romance, and contemporary women’s fiction. Laurie’s habit of daydreaming has gotten her into a few scrapes and launched her to take up her dream of writing. Finally, she can put all those stories in her head to rest as she brings them to life on the page.
We officially have a trilogy! Ben and Sabine’s story makes three. Forever, Alabama is the third installment of my Alabama series with Southern Born books. They are full-length, stand-alone romantic women’s fiction titles.
I came to Tule as an unpublished writer, thrilled to be given the opportunity by this team to publish my debut novel. It has been a pure pleasure to be on the verge of releasing my third story here. Much gratitude to then entire Tule family for helping me along with such grace and professional care.
The Alabama books are set in fictional Ministry, Alabama, somewhere between Montgomery and Birmingham. God’s country, some would say. I’ve never lived in Alabama, but I grew up in a tiny non-fiction small town in Louisiana that bears great similarity to Ministry. If you’ve never spent significant time in such a town, let me fill you in with a few Southernisms:
1) Family ties are stronger and more unbreakable than any earthly substance, manmade or otherwise. Families can fight and call each other names, but don’t mess with kin.
2) Recipes are sacred, but don’t share them outside the family. You can give out a bogus version so as not to sound stingy, but leave out Granny’s secret ingredient. A good casserole will cure what ails you.
3) Gossip isn’t really gossip if it’s true, bless your heart.
4) It’s okay to mount the head of roadkill if it’s at least an eight-pointer—ask your local taxidermist. It would be a waste not to.
5) Nothing’s cuter than a speckled puppy under a red wagon in a rainstorm.
All three Alabama books feature siblings of the Laroux family, a large, loud, and loving bunch, who hold hands in support, possibly right after wrestling one another to the ground for a noogie. These stories aim for big family love, romance, humor, and in the case of Forever, Alabama, a good shot of suspense.
Thanks to Tule for hosting me on the blog today!! It’s been such fun.
I love to hear from readers anytime! You can find me at the following places:
Susan Sands grew up in a real life Southern Footloose town, complete with her senior class hosting the first ever prom in the history of their tiny public school. Is it any wonder she writes Southern small town stories full of porch swings, fun and romance?
Susan lives in suburban Atlanta surrounded by her husband, three young adult kiddos and lots of material for her next book.
I am so excited to be working with everyone here at Tule; the energy is contagious! I’ve been at this a few years now, and it’s great to work with such enthusiastic people. I also need to thank my friends Eve Gaddy and Kathy Garbera for allowing me into the fictional world they created; I’m a Texan by heart if not by geography, the Hill Country is my favorite place in Texas, and I’m enjoying playing there. And what’s not to love about a place called Whiskey River?
It’s also been great fun to return to the roots of my genre, and utilize a tiny bit of my personal history in my first Tule release, Whiskey River Rescue. (As you’ll find in the story, the rescue in the title applies in more than one way!) As is usual for me, the idea for my hero came first, so Crazy Joe Kilcoyne, as he’s known around Whiskey River, went into the pot. Being the dark, haunted character that he is, he of course needed a heroine who is. . .his exact opposite. Sunny, outgoing Kelsey Blaine fit the bill perfectly. With her soft heart and a life already dedicated to rescuing abused horses, she of course can’t leave well enough alone when her world is upended by her mysterious neighbor.
But that bit of personal history I mentioned. . . I’ve always been a horse lover. I was that little girl who never grew out of the childhood infatuation with these magnificent creatures. My first horse was a learning experience that landed me in a hospital ER; never again, I resolved, would I fall for a pretty face with a malfunctioning brain. (Hmm, sounds like a romantic suspense. . .) That horse was way beyond my competency level at that point. But my second, my sweet Sassafras, was ever willing, tolerated the fact that my only riding time was at the crack of dawn and sunset, and developed a highly amusing relationship with my dog at the time.
I also grew up in the San Fernando Valley of southern California, a place jokingly (yet not) known for its four seasons of fire, flood, drought, and earthquake. And I got to know that first one up close and personal one year when the roulette wheel of the fire season stopped on the foothill neighborhood where my horse was boarded. My first instinct, along with several other fellow boarders at our stable, was to go make sure she was all right. The only problem was that the fire department, quite reasonably, had all the roads blocked off. But we all knew the riding trails in the area, away from the main roads. (apologies to fire fighters who were probably scared to death by kids popping up on the wrong side of those lines)
Our stable, thankfully, was still standing; the tack room was scorched, along with a couple of corrals, but the fire had moved on. But others in the area were not so lucky, and not only were their houses and stables burning, they weren’t being allowed in to rescue their animals. Some, on the other hand, were already inside the lines. . .
And so began what we later called the round up, through the streets of this spacious but definitely suburban neighborhood, where those who could get to the endangered horses did it for those who could not. Someone yelled out the plan, the closest safe place big enough and safely fenced. Those who could got to trailers waiting outside the fire lines. Of the rest, those who could trust their own horses enough rode herd on the frightened animals, while those whose own horses were too frightened or had already been rescued led others away from the smoke, chaos, and flying ash and embers. The air was barely breathable, but at least the humans knew what was going on; our horses only knew they were terrified.
It wasn’t pretty, or neat, and not all were gathered—a few were found loose in the streets at daylight—but hours later, the local high school had acquired a sizeable herd of horses on the football field. It was quite a sight.
So that’s my bit of personal history, something I hadn’t thought about in quite a while, until the day I found myself writing a story about a horse lover named Kelsey Blaine who ends up rescuing more than horses, and changing her entire life in the process.
Author of more than 70 books, (she sold her first ten in less than two years) Justine Davis is a five time winner of the coveted RWA RITA Award, including for being inducted into the RWA Hall of Fame. A fifteen time nominee for RT Book Review awards, she has won four times, received three of their lifetime achievement awards, and had four titles on the magazine’s 200 Best of all Time list. Her books have appeared on national best seller lists, including USA Today. She has been featured on CNN, taught at several national and international conferences, and at the UCLA writer’s program.