My mother and paternal grandma were responsible for my love of TV westerns. Mother’s favorite show was Gunsmoke and she enjoyed it so much that she was going to name me Marshall Dillon if I'd been a boy. True story. And Grandma? I don't think she knew who the actor Lorne Greene was, but she could give you every stat about his Bonanza character Ben Cartwright, along with those of his three sons (Adam, Hoss, and Little Joe) living on the scenic Ponderosa ranch.
My Saturdays this summer are almost shot because of the MeTV network showing "Most Wanted" westerns all day long. Besides Gunsmoke and Bonanza, the lineup includes Wagon Train, Big Valley, Rawhide, The Rifleman, Maverick, Wanted Dead or Alive, Have Gun, Will Travel, and The Wild Wild West. This wonderful channel is a wicked distraction from all the weekend stuff I need to do, but you won’t see me turning it off. There's just something about a cowboy, you know? At least, there is for me. TMI, perhaps, but my late husband would tell you I once gifted him with a cowboy hat and I’m just sayin’.
As someone who writes romance, I know there's an entire sub-genre called "western romance" that I should probably try my hand at, if for no other reason than the chance to create my own saddle sitting, rope swinging Romeo who looks mighty fine atop his horse, silhouetted against the sinking western sun. Ah, I can swoon for it now, but whether I ever write western romances or not, I'm definitely thinking I should read them. The covers below explain why.
Be still my heart, my favorite cowboys are the Cartwrights. Who couldn't love one? They were the perfect steer-rustling gentlemen of the Wild West. Okay, they were perfect except for ONE thing: they were lethally unlucky in love. Every time a Cartwright gave his heart away, the same thing happened.
The woman died.
Unnamed mysterious illness, swept away by a cattle stampede...the Bonanza women ALL ended up in the ground. There was just no femming-up the guys-only Ponderosa, that frat house of the frontier. But other than setting you up for the cemetery, those Cartwright men set the bar high ... and I'm sure the romance was great while the campfire burned. Maybe yummy immersion in Little Joe's chocolate brown peepers really WAS worth a rattlesnake bite taking you out shortly down the road.
My friend Barry recently asked me which of the Cartwright sons ranked as my favorite. As a child, snuggled against Grandma for our Sunday night Bonanza fix, my crush was devoted to Little Joe, but mainly because I liked his horse the best. Now, watching the reruns, I find eldest son Adam to be incredibly appealing. Of the brotherly trio, he was the one who had been higher educated “back East,” where he was exposed to all things well rounded, so he was what you might call a cultured cowboy. Basically, he could recite Shakespeare amid the cactus while intercepting an approaching stagecoach bandit with one quick shot. Admittedly, I do so adore such versatility in a man.
The Cartwrights weren’t the only Ponderosa men who had fans, though, and our attractions are subject to change with time. Remember Hop Sing, the cook? As my friend Susie put it when asked about her favorite, “Hop Sing looks pretty darn good these days. Imagine the idea of a man cooking every meal for me in my kitchen?”
Hard to find any problems with that fantasy.
If I ever do write western romance, one thing is for sure. My women are going to live to tell their stories. No recounting romance from the grave, no cuddles-to-casket formula will be penned by me. Right now, though, my focus is on the 1930s South, which is the setting of my two books in the historical romance series Heart Tides. Part I, Watching the Water, was nationally released by my publisher (BQB - Boutique of Quality Books) in November 2016; the second and final part, Seeking the Shore, will be available in paperback and on e-book this October.
Several events are scheduled to help with promotion, including two that bookend the month of September. I’ll speak at the Decatur Book Festival in Atlanta during the first weekend and participate in an author’s event at the Georgia Romance Writer’s "Moonlight and Magnolias" conference during the last weekend. The smack-middle of the month may find me in the enchanting city of New Orleans for the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance (SIBA) trade show, but that trip is not yet confirmed.
But wait – there’s more! In January, I’ll be traveling with my marketing manager, Susan, who also happens to be my sister-in-law and BFF-since-we-were-16. The Thelma to my Louise. The Ethel to my Lucy. The Laverne to my Shirley. And the steel to each other’s magnolia.
We’ll be attending the Pulpwood Queen Girlfriend Weekend, which is a fabulous and very popular convention described as a “celebration of authors, books, literacy and reading, all while having some really BIG BOOK LOVE FUN!” It will be held over MLK weekend and will peak with the "Big Ball of Hair Ball" where we’re encouraged to dress according to the theme of Bohemian Rhapsody. What can I say except “Mama Mia let me go…as in let me go to this ball.”
Pulpwood Queens is the largest book club in the world and is one where “tiaras are mandatory and reading good books is the rule.” Susan and I are both proud to be members.
It was founded by Kathy L. Murphy, author of The Pulpwood Queens’ Tiara-Wearing, Book-Sharing Guide to Life, (published under Kathy L. Patrick), and I encourage you to check out the fun and informative website at www.beautyandthebook.com. It's pretty cool how a book club of six members grew to one with more than 600 chapters around the globe! It all started at Beauty and the Book, the world's only hair salon/bookstore (dubbed Home of the Texas Big Hair), which opened in 2000 and quickly gained the attention of Diane Sawyer, Oprah, Time Magazine, Newsweek, and plenty more, plus celebrity clientele.* Now don't you want to be a Pulpwood Queen, too? (Or a Timber Guy if you're male.)
One of my dreams is to someday be a featured author at Girlfriend Weekend, but for now, it will allow me the opportunity to connect with book clubs while Susan will benefit from the marketing workshops ... so we’re going, and where we’re going to is the great state of Texas.
Which brings me back to the west.
Susan and I recently happened upon some cowgirl hats at a gaudy tourist trap that people said we were lucky to escape from without being robbed. We also saw what can’t be unseen, which was the door to the men’s room ajar just enough to reveal some fellow plopped on the can with phone and TP in hand. What do you do with such a sight? Well, Susan yelled something slightly off-color and snapped a picture, I laughed like a hyena, and we both ran into the ladies room to hide – because there’s nothing middle school-ish about us.
Finding these hats was worth the risk of theft and trauma, though, because they’re pink with feather trim and ... wait for it ... built in tiaras.
There was no question as to whether or not we’d each buy a hat for Girlfriend Weekend. Of course we would buy them. The style represents Texas and the tiaras are mandatory; the fact that they’re girly pink, and pink IS our sorority (Phi Mu) color, is a bonus that makes this whole thing meant to be.
And just when we didn’t think it could get any better, Susan suddenly exclaimed, “Could it get any better?”
She’d discovered that these already-marvelous hats have inside switches that turn on the lights – flashing lights that make the feathers shimmer and the tiaras sparkle like fake diamonds, so now it couldn’t get any better.
But actually, it does. We’ll be flying into Houston, which is too near the coast for us ocean-loving gals to pass up a quick detour to the beach where we’ll rent horses and ride them along the shore, $60.00 for 60 minutes. This is something we’ve both always wanted to do, but never in our big sky, Lone Star dreams did we think we’d do it while wearing PINK FEATHER TRIMMED COWGIRL HATS WITH BUILT-IN TIARAS THAT LIGHT UP.
Yes, we’re going to wear them on the beach in Texas. We’re going to wear them at the convention in Texas. I’d wager to say we’ll wear them on the plane to Texas. We’ll definitely take pictures of our Girls Gone Mild-Wild West adventure, plus you never know – maybe showing up as shameless chicks in pink flickering headgear will make us more memorable to anyone we mention my books to. We’ll try anything in the name of promotion.
Gosh, I wish Girlfriend Weekend was this weekend.
There is much to do between now and the actual January event, though, so I work away. Whatever your calendar holds, may it be a smooth run like a cattle drive to green pastures. Rollin', rollin', rollin', keep them doggies rollin’, but remember to stop and kiss your cowboy.(Or your cowgirl, cowperson, or cow s.o., whichever the case may be.) I sure wish mine was here to kiss. After all, I’ve still got his cowboy hat.
In closing, here is a picture of Gunsmoke's Marshall "Matt" Dillon, the man I would have been named after if I'd actually been a man.
* Beauty and the Book is located at The Nail and Hair Shed, 2501 S. FM 2687, Suite B, Hawkins, Texas 75765.