There are those who think the Old West ceased existing with modern living. They think cowboys are a thing of the past or maybe only in movies or rodeos. I suspect not many of them read Sweethearts of the West where it's more likely known that the cowboy way of life still exists.
Today, cowboy grit is how it gets done on big and small ranches, wherever people raise herds and live on the land, facing the elements, often not working for much material gain, struggling with economics, and against an encroaching modern world. It still exists in both fiction and non-fiction.
In the non-fiction part of my life, I grew up at the end of a gravel road, where my parents first ran a small dairy and then a flock of sheep. That lasted until when, at 17, I was forced, by family choices, away from the rural world. Country remained in my heart.
Fortunately, in college, I met a man with a similar background, a man who wore boots (always a good sign). Some of our dates involved looking up at the sky, while lying in a tall field of grass on the ranch where he worked. When we married, we both wanted back to the land. In 1977, we bought our small place where still today, we raise cattle and sheep.
In the fiction part of my life, I grew up with westerns both on television and in movies. I was pretty young when I fell in love with books by authors like Zane Grey and William MacLeod Raine. They were writing about the Old West but also the West of their time, a West they knew firsthand.
As I went through years here on this farm, raised a family here, as I wrote historical westerns, the idea grew of writing a modern western romance. I wanted it to be real for the life but also encompass Western mythology (which doesn't have to be untrue), and to be about families living such a life. I wanted to merge what I knew firsthand with what I'd dreamed.
From Here to There evolved from imaging a woman who dreamed as I had and a man she saw as not a real man because he wasn't a cowboy. How about beginning with a marriage that ends between the wedding and the reception when that woman told her new husband she wanted an annulment.
The idea grew into taking those two mismatched mates to a Montana ranch where they both had a lot to learn about strength and illusions. The 'There' part of the title came from a journal that had been left for the heroine by her deceased aunt.
I wanted a romance about a couple who had to separate illusion from reality. The West has a way of bringing all that out-- real and mythic. Dreams do that. As a writer, to use what I have learned and combine it with my own dreams about what the West really means, who can ask for more than that?
A Snippet from the book:
Turning, Phillip looked toward the assortment of barns beyond the house. A man he didn't recognize was striding toward him, an irritated expression on what was visible of his face, his eyes nearly hidden by the battered brim of a cowboy hat. Phillip wondered if he'd incorrectly followed the primitive map Amos had drawn. The roads had wound back into the hills farther than he'd expected, and the wood-burned sign where private road turned off of county had no name, only a brand, which to Phillip's inexperienced eye had seemed might have indicated a Rocking H. Maybe not.
Puffing by the time he got to him, the tall, skinny old man looked at him belligerently. "What yuh want, young fellow?"
Got me cased as a city slicker, which he doesn't like and which is, of course, exactly what I am. "I'm looking for the Amos Hartz place."
Before the old man could respond, Amos emerged from a large, log barn, a mammoth dog at his side and a broad grin on his face. "So you came," he said, reaching out to shake Phillip's hand.
Phillip smiled. "I flew into Bozeman early this morning. This is quite a place you've got here."
"Yeah, we like our little spread."
Phillip looked a little uneasily at the big dog. Was the dog friendly or trying to decide where to take a bite? Phillip stood quietly as the dog sniffed of his legs. When Phillip saw the wagging tail, he relaxed a little. Somewhere he'd read a dog wagging his tail never bit. He hoped whoever had written it knew what they were talking about.
Amos grinned. "This here's Hobo."
Taking his cue from the name, Phillip asked, "He also a stray you picked up?" He took the risk of patting the big animal and received more dignified tail wagging for his effort.
"Nope, purebred German shepherd. Got him as a pup. Paid a bundle for him too. I know he looks like a cross between a bear and a dog, but he's--"
"This here a fella looking to buy the ranch?" Curly impatiently interrupted. He glared first at Phillip, then back at Amos as he took off his hat and using his sleeve, wiped sweat from his bald head.
"Nope," Amos said laughing and shaking his head. He didn't hesitate a moment as he added the explanation, "This here's my new hand, Phil Drummond. Phil this is Adolph Sampson, but we call him Curly."
"For the hair he had," Phillip guessed.
"Nope," Amos said still smiling, "he’s had that name since him and me was in school together but never had no curls that I remember."
"This guy don't look like no cowhand to me," Curly grouched. "You can't be serious about hiring him. I'll be spending all my time tryin' to teach him the ropes." He looked dubiously at Phillip. "And even at that, I don't figure he's goin' to make any kind of hand."
"That's neither here nor there," Amos said. "Phil'll be sleeping in the bunkhouse down by the barn."
"It won't put you out, will it?" Phillip asked, leveling his gaze on Curly. Clearly, his existence was putting out the older hand.
Amos laughed and shook his head. "Curly lives in the little house over to the left there, when he ain't staying in town with his sister." He pointed toward a shed at the end of a long line of ramshackle buildings. "The bunkhouse is what city folks'd likely call--rustic."
Phillip shook his head. "It's what city folks would likely call a shack."
Amos grinned. "Wal, it might take a mite of cleaning and fixing at that, but you can do that when you're through work at night. It's got its own bathroom. Even put a shower in. Sometimes it's even got hot water. Little woodstove keeps the place cozy when you remember to build a fire. You could cook on it, but you're welcome to take your meals up at the house with me and Helene."
"What about Curly?" Phillip asked, skeptical that Helene would welcome him at any table she set.
"His place's got a kitchen, does most of his own cooking. Mainly cause he leans toward beans seven times a week. Food's been real good since Helene got here. You'll be needing good food workin' hard like you'll be.
"As to the work, do we need to discuss that?" Phillip asked uneasily. He knew nothing about ranch work, still less about creatures like cattle and horses or for that matter--dogs. In fact, standing there listening to Amos discuss the daily tasks for a ranch hand, Phillip couldn't believe he'd taken the older man up on his dare. It had seemed stupid and rash when he'd first heard the idea. He knew part of it was the derogatory way Helene had regarded him as a man who could do nothing that didn’t require a checkbook.
The idea though was crazy and no less so as he'd ordered his Learjet readied for the flight west. When he'd landed in Bozeman, he'd nearly changed his mind, fueled up the plane, and headed back east where he belonged. But instead, he had found himself purchasing a Dodge Ram and studying the small map Amos had given him.
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Available for eBooks at the following vendors (paperback at Amazon)