Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Finding Inspiration in Western Photographs....

By Amber Leigh Williams

The concept for my first western romance came around slowly and on somewhat on a whim, an idea that I never thought would come to fruition. For me, it took a while to come around to reading western romance. The first one I picked up was Nora Robert's Lawless, which to this day is the best historical western romance on my shelf. Through its pages, I fell in love with the untamed landscape of the West and the dangerous lifestyle of the cowboy hero. It intrigued me, both as a fan of western films and as a storyteller.

Surprisingly, the idea of writing a western romance novel didn't come to life until I found inspiration while thumbing through an issue of Vogue. Charlize Theron was on the cover. I remember this because she's my husband's favorite actress. On the cover, she was posing in front of a barn in chic western attire. In the article, it was revealed that Charlize grew up farming/ranching before going on to become one of Hollywood's A-listers and an Academy Award winner. The western-themed shoot took her back to her ranching roots in South Africa. Not only did the western spread capture my attention. Snippets of the article itself - especially the part where she reminisced about her ranching heritage and her wish to return to those roots later in life - made me take pen to paper and begin brainstorming the character of Stella Ridge, heroine of Blackest Heart.

The notes were rough, but I saw America's Sweetheart going through a life-changing ordeal and retreating to her family's ranch in order to find peace in the solitude of the West. I chose a serious car crash as a personal choice because when I was a young girl I discovered firsthand just how traumatizing a car accident could be. Stella's search for peace, serenity, and a true sense of self leads her back to her family, her old ranching life, and the man she is destined to love.

It would be several months before I saw another photo, this time on the web, that furthered the story  concept of Blackest Heart....

I don't know how it happened but from this one photo the character of Judd Black, the silent cowboy, came to be. At that moment, I knew for sure that I had to write this western romance. I had to give Stella and Judd their own journey of forgivness and healing as well as a satisfying HEA. Although I love each and every one of my heroes, I have to admit that so far no other hero I've written has lived up quite to Judd's standards. There's just something about that mysterious, silent cowboy that makes me want to reach out to him again and again and it all goes back to a single, random photograph.

To get a taste for the rodeo town of Wayback in which Blackest Heart takes place, I turned again to images to help me set the tone for the setting of the story. I have to say that researching rodeo cowboys isn't the worst part of my job ;) 

If not for these images, Blackest Heart never would have found a life of its own. I look back on that day in October 2007 I found inspiration through the lens of Mario Testino in Vogue with happiness and appreciation because I’m not quite sure where my writing journey would have led me without finding a true writing niche in western romance.

Blackest Heart is now available in ebook from The Wild Rose Press, Kindle, and Nook! Recently, it became available as an audio book from AudioLark! You can also find it in paperback in the western romance anthology, The Way Back Home!

To read more about Blackest Heart and its subsequent trilogy, visit the BOOKS page of my website and read the REVIEWS. Happy reading!


  1. Amber--what a perfect post! You really got your story across with these photos and the explanation of how you wrote The Blackest Heart. I know it has done extremely well at Wild Rose, and I hope new readers will pick this one up. Good job...I enjoyed it.

  2. Amber, I love stories of where an author got the idea for a book. This is such a good post. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Just have to quickly say wonderful post. Now I'm going back to take another look at those cowboys. ;)

  4. Amber,
    Congratulations on your success with The Blackest Heart! With great inspiration, a great story should surely follow. With wonderful photos the characters must come alive. :-) Enjoyed your post!

  5. Celia, thank you! I loved writing for the Wayback series with authors like you :)

  6. Caroline, I love the evolution of a story idea. It's so intriguing to me. Blackest Heart is definitely my favorite one to tell.

  7. Lauri, you're welcome! Eye candy is the best part of my job :)

  8. Jeanmarie, thank you for reading my post! So glad you enjoyed it.


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