So much goes into the writing a novel. There’s characters to be created, plotlines to be decided, subplots to consider, and that all important setting to decide. I love finding out where the seeds of these ideas derive. Today I’m delighted to be joined by fellow writer and dear friend, Stephanie Berget, as she shares her inspiration behind the settings for her debut novel, Sugarwater Ranch, which is out now and gaining widespread interest and excellent reviews. I can’t wait to start my copy!
Thank you, Jane, for inviting me here today.
I was playing with the idea for Sugarwater Ranch as we drove home from the Pacific coast after a mini-vacation. I was enjoying the beautiful sights along Highway Twenty in central Oregon, and about halfway between the city of Bend, Oregon and the small town of Burns we drove through a valley with several ranches. I knew right away this was the perfect place to set my fictional town of Dalhart.
After you cross the Cascade Mountain range, the climate changes from temperate, with lots of rain and vegetation, to what we call the high desert. The most common perception of a desert is of land that is arid, hot and barren. This region averages 15 inches (380 mm) of annual rainfall. Contrary to its name, most of the high desert is not dry enough to truly qualify as desert, and biologically, most of the region is classified as scrubland. But high desert sounds much more romantic than scrubland.
The area is filled with lava rock formations and breathtaking views of ancient volcanos. One of the most unique structures is the Dee Wright Observatory, built during the Great Depression of lava rock, has viewing windows cut to specifically highlight the neighboring mountains. Large ranches, some going back several generations, dot the landscape. Three Sisters provides a spectacular backdrop for the panorama of sagebrush and Juniper trees. It is the perfect location for my cowboy and his story.
Sean was born and raised in Dalhart and can’t wait to get away when he turns eighteen. Ten years later, he finds himself back in the heart of central Oregon, once again looking for a way out. His plan for escape is solid until he meets a reason to stay.
At age ten, for the first time in her life, Catherine finally finds a loving home in Dalhart. Her uncle and cousin become the family she needs and she falls in love with the area. She doesn’t want a party happy cowboy, but she can’t seem to get him out of her mind.
It seems like every town in Oregon, Idaho and Washington has its own summer rodeo. They range in size from Pendleton, Oregon who’s rodeo is over one hundred years old and billed as the Most Exciting Rodeo in the World, to White Bird, Idaho with one of the smallest rodeos in the west.
I wrote Sugarwater Ranch because I wanted a romance that was also accurate about rodeo and ranching. It is filled with the cowboys and cowgirls who follow the rodeo trail. Whether they ride bucking horses or rope, barrel race or ride bulls, they are a unique and amazing group of people.
Here’s an excerpt from Sugarwater Ranch:
Catherine changed into her pajamas, her arms and legs so heavy she wasn’t sure she could make it to the bed. Gator was curled into a ball on the bedside rug. She rubbed the dog’s ears then climbed into bed and snuggled under the covers. At last, she could sleep.
But as she lay in the dark, her mind wouldn’t quit whirling. Having a stranger in her house unsettled her. Even though she knew his name, she really didn’t know him. She hadn’t seen Sean since she was twelve.
Her feet hit the cold floorboards, and she padded across the room to her antique dresser. Pushing and shoving, again and again, she moved the heavy piece of furniture until it stood guard in front of her bedroom door. It wasn’t as good as a deadbolt lock, but better than nothing. This way he couldn’t sneak up on her while she slept. She doubted he was going to wake in the next twelve hours, but a girl couldn’t be too careful.
She’d lived by herself since she’d returned to Dalhart, so it never occurred to her to get a lock for her bedroom door. Tomorrow she’d call Uncle Ray and have him pick up a deadbolt at the hardware store. She’d be prepared for the next time, if there was a next time.
As the first pink rays of dawn lit the sky, Gator woke her from a deep sleep, whining and pawing at her bedding. On a normal night, he stayed outside and had the run of the yard. He was ready for his normal night.
With Sean in the house, Catherine had kept the dog in her room as added protection, but now he wanted out. She felt her way across the room, flipped the latch then slid the window open. Gator hopped through into the large backyard and began to explore his territory. After closing the window, she dropped back into bed. By the time her eyelids had closed, she was asleep again.
Uncle Ray owned the old farmhouse where she’d lived since she’d come back to Dalhart. It was less than three miles from the bar and one of the perks of the job. Living alone, Catherine was used to her house being silent unless she made noise. She heard someone moving outside her bedroom door, and panic filled her sleep-fogged brain.
Memories of the night before flooded back. The man she’d brought home must be awake. She heard mumbling and a small crash, followed by loud swearing. She pulled the covers up to her chin and debated what to do. Did she want to leave the safety of her room? If she waited long enough, maybe he’d go away. Then she remembered his truck was still at the bar. He wasn’t going anywhere.
She pulled on jeans, running shoes, and a thermal shirt. After pushing the dresser just far enough to slip through, she turned the doorknob slowly so as not to make a sound and inched open the door. The hall was empty, but the sound of water running let her know someone was in the bathroom.
With her back pressed against the wall, she was careful to be quiet as she crept along the hallway. Leaning forward, she stuck her head around the corner of the door.
Quiet be damned. There, in the buff, was one of the nicest butts she’d ever had the privilege of ogling. Not that she’d seen many naked men’s butts, but she was sure this was prime real estate. Holy cow, where was her cell phone when she needed a camera?
The man stood at the sink with his head under the faucet, her quilt pooled at his feet. She should leave, she really should, but her feet were pasted to the floor, her heart beating so hard she was afraid he’d hear. Her fingers tingled with the desire to touch. Without thinking, she put her hand against the door, moving it just enough for the hinge to screech.
He straightened, and looking in the mirror, stared directly into her eyes.
She’d been caught, and she wanted to run, but the sight of his green eyes locked on her kept her motionless.
Without a word, he bent to retrieve the quilt. Wrapping it around his waist, he turned to face her, and her eyes focused on his six-pack abs. The slight movement of his mouth as he smiled drew her attention to his face. The scar running through his left eyebrow kept him from being a pretty boy. He was the whole package, candy to her sweet tooth. Then she remembered how she’d found him last night. Stepping back into the hallway, she put her hands on her hips and raised her chin. No matter how good-looking, he wasn’t the man for her.
To Catherine, life was more than partying till she dropped.
Thank you, Stephanie, for sharing your work with us. Sugarwater Ranch is available on Amazon NOW Check out the blurb:
Sean O’Connell’s life is perfect, or it was until his partying lifestyle affected his bull riding. Now he’s ended the season too broke to leave the Northwest for the warm southern rodeos. When a wild night with his buddies gets out of hand, he wakes up naked, staring into the angry eyes of a strange woman. His infallible O’Connell charm gets him nowhere with the dark-haired beauty. It’s obvious she’s not his usual good-time girl, so why can’t he forget her?
Bar-manager Catherine Silvera finds a waterlogged, unconscious cowboy freezing to death in front of the Sugarwater Bar. She saves his life–then runs faster than a jackrabbit with a coyote on its tail. Any man who makes his living rodeoing is bad news, especially if he thinks partying is part of the competition. He’s everything she doesn’t want in a man, so why can’t she shake her attraction to the rugged cowboy?
Stephanie Berget was born loving horses and found her way to rodeo when she married her own, hot cowboy. She and her husband traveled throughout the Northwest while she ran barrels and her cowboy rode bucking horses. She started writing to put a realistic view of rodeo and ranching into western romance. Stephanie and her husband live on a farm, located along the Oregon/Idaho border. They raise hay, horses and cattle, with the help of Dizzy Dottie, the Border Collie and Big Al, team roping horse extraordinaire.