I'm a Little Bit Country by Karen RockWhen I proposed the story that became my March release, HIS KIND OF COWGIRL, I was excited to set my novel in Texas (where I've only visited once for an RWA conference), on a prize bull ranch (my uncle's a dairy farmer- so how much different could it be?) with a bull-riding hero (I've ridden horses so- it's all good...).
Then I began to research and thought- uh-oh- what have I done?! I'd only stepped foot out of the conference center for a lunch in downtown San Antonio. Cattle ranching and Dairy farming... they aren't even in the same food group. As for horse riding and bull-riding being related... well... my riding experience is limited to older, gentle horses and the closest I've ever been to a bull is at the 4H exhibit at the county fair. Yikes.
What was I in for? I'm a stickler for getting even the tiniest details right. One reference to roadside wildflowers means loads of investigation to make sure the particular species is native to my setting and blooming during the particular time period in which the book takes place. So... you can feel my fast approaching pain when the reality of all that I'd need to learn finally hit.
Luckily, I have an awesome friend from Texas, Elizabeth Robertson, who talked me off the ledge and even volunteered to beta read my book! She ensured that my characters sounded and behaved like Texans and my small town details were on point. I also worked with Rach Cutrer, co-owner of the generations-old V8 ranch in Wharton, Texas. Through phone conversations and email exchanges, she answered my questions about the daily life of a rancher, showing prize bulls at the Houston Livestock show (where one of my favorite scenes is set) and the breed in the book that she also raises: Brahman. The first thing she taught me: Brahman is not spelled Braman. lol.
Finally, Sheri Smith, an agent that represents Mike Lee, a PBR national bull-riding champion, took me under her wing and helped me understand the profession and the fearless men who ultimately helped me to create Tanner Hayes, my hero. When I needed to write a bull-riding scene, she put me in contact with Brandon Bates, a former bull-rider turned PBR Elite Tour announcer. I learned the step-by-step, blow-by-blow of bull-riding from the moment the athlete enters the chute with the bull to their quick hustle up and over the fence when they're bucked off (or "dismount").
Knowledge is a powerful thing. For authors it informs our story-telling and enables us to immerse our readers in an authentic world. They can trust us to take them on a journey that's honest and real, an experience I always want readers to get from my books. In turn, I feel as though I become a part of that world, too after living and breathing those characters and that place for hundreds of pages and months of time.
The best thing about reading and writing is the chance to travel to other places and times without ever leaving your seat. After this experience, I've become an 'explorer with a keyboard'. This northern gal now considers herself a little bit country... bless her heart ;)
On a side note, I wanted to give a shout out to Sheri Smith's wonderful charitable organization: Warriors and Rodeo. WAR provides rodeo gear, via donations and sponsorship to military, EMS, firefighters, law enforcement and other professionals that protect and serve our country who are interested in the rodeo/western lifestyle. Whether it be vests, helmets, chaps, boots, spurs, hats, ropes, clothing or other items, WAR gives back to those who are willing to give it all. I'm proud to have become a sponsor and hope you'll check out this very worthy cause HERE . Thanks!