Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Nod Your Head, Cowboy

The cool thing about being A. a contestant and B. at a small, local rodeo, you can get right down in the middle of the action. While watching, try to tune out the rodeo announcer and concentrate on the pickup men and gate man.

Notice the guy on the white horse. He's sitting as close as possible to the chute because the proximity of his horse helps keep the one in the chute calm. As soon as the cowboy is ready to nod for the gate he backs off to give the bucking horse room to fire.

This would be Cole Jacobs from my Texas Rodeo books. "I'll help you any way I can but don't be messing around on my horses. Get in, get down and nod your face."

And in Tougher in Texas you'll meet the fictional version of that white horse, who I named Salty. He's one of the best characters in the book.

**Addendum: you can also see that the ground was a little iffy due to a rainstorm a couple of days earlier. The committee did a great job getting the arena in shape overall but there were still a few slick spots and this horse seemed to have a gift for finding them.

For more info and where to buy Tougher in Texas visit my website at


Monday, June 05, 2017

Win an Advance Copy of Tougher in Texas!

It's Almost Rodeo Time!

55 days until the release of the next book in my Texas Rodeo series, Tougher in Texas! It sounds like a long time but if your summer plans are anything like mine, it'll be the first of August before we know it.

Like the first two books Tougher centers around a fictional family of rodeo stock contractors, Jacobs Livestock. Well, sort of fictional. I grew up going to Montana rodeos produced by the very real Jacobs Rodeo company, and the name in the book is an intentional salute to a lot of great memories. Last weekend we went to what has been one of the first rodeos of the summer season for at least half of the years of my life, and I was able to catch a behind the scenes video that is an almost perfect replay of the opening of Tougher.

Almost perfect because the real crew does it flawlessly--but flawless doesn't make for a good story, so...

Here's the video, and the opening scene. Meet Cole Jacobs. And if you click on the link in the right tool bar and subscribe to my newsletter by Sunday, June 11th at midnight PDT, I'll toss your name in the hat for one of two signed Advanced Reader Copies of Tougher in Texas.


Chapter One

All of Cole’s problems would be solved if he just found a wife.

The thought popped into his head at the exact instant that a ton of bovine suddenly bellowed and kicked, slamming into the steel gate Cole was holding and knocking him flat on his ass. If Cole hadn’t stood six foot six, he probably would’ve lost some teeth. The gate caught him in the chest instead, and sent him sprawling in the dirt. His red heeler, Katie, barked once and launched herself at the bull to protect him, but Carrot Top just trotted off down the alley, more interested in checking the empty pens for leftover hay.

Cole scrambled to his feet and snarled as his gaze zeroed in on the bright-yellow cattle prod in the hand of one of the men who rushed to his aid. “What the fuck are you doing with that thing?”

The cowboy took a hasty step back, then another when Cole stalked toward him. “Just hurryin’ things along.”

“My stock moves just fine without a hotshot.” Cole made sure of it, training them from birth to handle easily.

The rodeo season was a cross-country marathon of long miles and strange places. Less stress equaled better performance, and even though the low-current buzz of the cattle prod was more startling than painful, Cole wanted his stock as relaxed as possible until the moment they exploded from the bucking chute. Carrot Top was an old pro. He’d earned the right to inspect the loading chute before setting hoof on the steep ramp.

And to come unglued when some asshole zapped him.

The cowboy ran out of room and backed up against the fence. Cole snatched the hotshot, busted it over his knee, and then tossed it back, the ends dangling by the wires that ran down the long shaft. "Pack that and the rest of your shit and get out of here.”

The cowboy clutched the broken prod to his chest, jaw dropping. “But I’m your pickup man.”

“Not anymore.”

Cole turned his back and strode down the alley to retrieve Carrot Top. As far as he was concerned, the conversation was over.

Half an hour later, his cell phone buzzed. He was tempted to ignore it, but she would only keep calling until he answered. There was a strong undercurrent of stubborn in the Jacobs gene pool. He heaved a deep sigh and put some distance between himself and the rest of the crew before he accepted the call, holding the phone three inches from his ear in anticipation of his cousin’s displeasure.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” Violet yelled.

“He used a hotshot on Carrot Top.”

“So ban him from the stock pens. Hell, ban him from the whole rodeo grounds except when he’s working the performances, but did you have to fire him?”

“He used a hotshot on Carrot Top,” Cole repeated, slower this time.

“I understand. It was stupid. But what do you suggest we do next weekend when you’re the only pickup man in the arena?”

Cole hadn’t thought about that at the time. He’d been thinking about it since, but hiring contract personnel was Violet’s job. If she was here like normal, he wouldn’t have had to put up with a stranger. He wouldn’t have to put up with any of this crap. He could go back to just taking care of his stock and leaving all the people bullshit to Violet. He couldn’t say that, though, and as usual, his brain collapsed under pressure and offered up only the one sentence in his defense. “He used a hotshot on Carrot Top.”

Violet huffed out a breath so exasperated he swore he felt the breeze on his end of the line. “You do realize the doctor sentenced me to bed rest because my blood pressure is through the roof, right?”

Cole ducked his head, crushing a dirt clod with the toe of his boot. He wasn’t trying to aggravate anyone, especially Violet. She was command central for Jacobs Livestock. The hell she’d been going through had thrown all of them for a loop, Violet most of all. She hadn’t been sick a day in her first pregnancy, though Beni had decided to make an appearance six weeks early. She’d been prepared to be cautious and watchful. She had not expected to be sick as a dog practically from the moment she and Joe had seen the telltale line on the home pregnancy test.

Besides, Cole was almost as excited about the baby as its parents. He loved being Uncle Cole, and now a little girl? He grinned at the thought of a future full of ponies and pink cowboy boots—assuming his family didn’t string him up for driving Violet into another premature labor.

Cole huffed out a breath, leaning a shoulder against the back of the infield bleachers. Around him, the empty rodeo grounds looked like a hangover—garbage cans overflowed with empty bottles, corners of banners drooped along the fences, spilled popcorn and a smashed glob of cotton candy littered the ground. Katie nosed around under the bleachers and came out packing a half-eaten hot dog. It all looked ill-used and abandoned—sort of like Cole felt.

Yes, he had put them in a tight spot, but there were some things he wouldn’t tolerate when it came to his stock. Okay, many things. Obsessive-compulsive prick was another way of putting it, though only Joe dared say that to his face. He was family. Plus, he was a lot faster than Cole.

“Don’t try to say I didn’t warn you,” Violet said, her voice laced with grim amusement.

Cole froze. She couldn’t mean… “I thought you were kidding.”

“No, I was not, any more than I was kidding when I told you to make this one work, or else.”

Panic churned Cole’s gut. “Violet, you can’t. There must be somebody else—”

“I refuse to even ask. This makes three perfectly good pickup men you’ve chased off. If you can’t force yourself to get along, I’ll send someone you can’t fire.”

“Don’t. Please.” He didn’t hesitate to beg. If she followed through on her threat, he’d either be insane or under arrest by season’s end in September. “Just one more. I promise—”

“Nope. I’m done. If you can find a replacement before tomorrow morning, I’ll hire him. Otherwise…” He could hear her smirking, dammit. “Your new partner will meet you at Cuero.”


For more about Tougher in Texas AND handy dandy links to pre-order a copy of your very own, visit my website at:


Friday, May 19, 2017

Happy Spring!

We have, with the exception of a few stragglers, survived another year of calving. Another winter. And in nine days, another school year. We are literally emerging into the light, as we approach the longest days of the year when we have around eighteen hours of daylight.

You may feel free to assume that we don't work from dawn 'til dusk, although some days I have to practically hit my husband with a stick to make him stop at a decent time. Spring is fickle--like every other season--with a bitter wind, snow and rain on Wednesday.

But today...well, today was the kind of day that makes all those other kind worth the suffering. Blue skies, white mountains, fat shiny calves, good horses, awesome cowdogs and almost NO wind.

I have also survived another new book, the fourth in the Texas Rodeo series, which was turned into my editor next week. I am an brain break for a few days, but the beginning of next week I'll be back with a chance to win an advanced copy of my August 1st release, Tougher in Texas, which early reviewers are saying is the best in the series so far. 


Friday, April 14, 2017

I Can Do It....


It's calving time. Actually, it's been calving time since the middle of February--first the pampered registered princesses, then the first calf heifers--so we've been watching this scene replayed over and over for two months--and this year it's on Cow Cam! We now have a remote-controlled infrared camera mounted in the rafters of our indoor arena/maternity ward. At 2 a.m. we could just stagger out of bed and into the porch to check the cows.

Now we've hit April, the weather has warmed up and the older, commercial herd is calving out in the pasture, where there are fewer germs to share but also so much space that doing night checks isn't feasible. I shove the husband and kid out the door at 6:30 every morning to make the twelve mile trip to the school bus, then I go drive around and check to see what happened overnight. It's sort of like hunting for Easter eggs, poking through the brush patches to see what I can find.


Unfortunately, calves aren't the only thing that's due. The fourth book in my Texas Rodeo series, Fearless in Texas, is supposed to land on my editor's desk by the end of the month and I am not exactly on schedule, so when I'm not wrangling or playing midwife I've been feverishly trying to pry words out of my brain, and reminding myself that I have, in fact, done this before. 

And trying not to be that guy who was recently arrested for taking his laptop out on the front lawn and shooting it. Five times. 


Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Cow Tech

A writer friend sent me an ad from the USPS, showing a rancher out in the field checking the status of his package on his mobile phone. She was highly amused at the idea. And then I had to go and burst her bubble because, yep, we walk around with a phone stuck to us like everyone else. Comes in pretty damn handy when you're a couple miles from the house and bury the tractor in a deep and steep dry wash you couldn't see because of the snow. And if that package happens to be the replacement whatchamajig for the hay baler that has us at a standstill, you can bet your boots we'll be checking to see when it's gonna get here.

Beyond communication and "Um, need a little help here", there are literally hundreds of applications for cell phones on farms and ranches. Computerized irrigation systems send alerts to a farmer's phone, letting him know if there are malfunctions, or if water levels need to be increased or decreased in particular parts of a field. We have an app that lets us enter data on newborn calves out in the field and creates a spreadsheet that tracks cow performance from year to year. And of course there are the podcasts and audiobooks that keep me from losing my sanity somewhere around load #127 of round bales.

But nothing since the invention of pickup trucks has revolutionized the rodeo industry like the cell phone. No more standing in a phone booth outside the cafe in Lavina, Montana, dialing and dialing and re-dialing, trying to get through on the always-busy line to the rodeo entry office. And now when they put you up in Thursday evening's performance when you're already scheduled to be at a rodeo 500 miles away, you can actually track down the people who are on the program for Friday night to try to find someone who'll trade you places. Plus, when you're at the Pendleton Roundup and you can't locate your traveling partner, instead of hiking all over the rodeo grounds to run him down, you just fire off a text that says, "Put down the drink, get out of the Let er Buck room and meet me at the rig in half an hour or I'm leaving without you."


Thursday, December 29, 2016

Tiny Home on the Range

Since it's Throwback Thurday, I would just like all of you to know that we are SO far ahead of the curve on this whole tiny home craze. When we moved back to Montana we took up residence in the bunkhouse. Two adults, a toddler, a full grown Border collie in approximately 450 square feet. We survived the first six months with our minds and our marriage mostly intact, mostly because we arrived in the spring and spent a lot of time outside. But there was no way we were going through the winter with the kid sleeping on a futon in the kitchen.
The answer to our fervent prayers was a wooden granary built by my grandfather and mostly unused. Come fall, we shoveled out a pile of fertilizer from one side, a pile of old barley from the other (funny, you never see THAT on the home improvement shows) jacked the granary up onto a pair of telephone poles for runners and dragged it half a mile across the hayfield to set it on the concrete pad we'd poured for a floor.
We learned many things in this process. First, it was easier than you'd think to saw the old floor off and bolt the building to the concrete. Second, these old granaries are lined on the inside with plywood to resist the outward pressure of tons of wheat or barley. And my grandfather was a real over-achiever when it came to nailing on siding and roofing. Which was probably why the building was in such great shape, but we weren't feeling as thankful as we might have while we pulled out those ten thousand nails. Especially when the dust, grain chaff and mouse turds began raining down on our heads.
Also, because like most things the process took a bit longer than expected, I learned that when the temperature is hovering around zero, you don't hold that extra new nail in your mouth. Think tongues and flagpoles. Ouch.
But we finally got it stripped, insulated (six-inch walls in cold, windy country are AWESOME), wrapped in moisture/wind barrier and sided in particle board, at which point we could hack a couple of holes through into the old part of the bunkhouse and triple our square footage. We also added an attic so I could unload the last of our worldly possessions from the tack room of the horse trailer.
After a couple of years of the kid sleeping on a mattress in the living room, we added a wing with another bedroom and a porch, a quick three-year project. And last summer we decided to put on real siding (mostly because my mother was tired of looking at the peeling, faded particle board and offered to pay Dale and Richard Bird to come out and do the work.)
One of these days, I might even get around to doing something with those plywood interior walls.

**Note that the tractor is larger than the original bunkhouse.

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Saturday, December 17, 2016

Not that I'm procrastinating or anything....

...but this damn book is not cooperating, AND I got a pretty cool shot of Hollywood with the Super Moon rising in the background, but the resolution wasn't great so I decided to run it through this awesome app called Prisma ( ) that applies all kinds of artsy effects. And you can adjust the intensity of the effect, all the way from just giving it a paint stroke look in the first example to totally abstract in the third. And since there are about twenty different effects to choose from....yeah, I could basically do this all day. 

But I will suck it up and get back to the writing of words. In the meantime, you can decide which version you like the best.