Cowboys, wranglers, dude ranches . . . yup, looks like a Western romance! Authors Maggie McGinnis (A Cowboy’s Christmas Promise, Accidental Cowgirl) and Joan Johnston (Sinful, Shameless) sat down for a heart-to-heart on everything related to Westerns, holiday traditions, and writing rituals. Saddle up!
Maggie: I’m so excited to have the chance to chat with Joan Johnston today! Joan, what is it about writing Western romance that most appeals to you?
Joan: Our American cowboys are the equivalent to England’s “knights in shining armor.” They’re truly heroic characters with a “Code of the West” to follow, similar to the rules of chivalry followed by knights. A cowboy’s word was his bond; he “rode for the brand;” he never shot an unarmed man or an unwarned man; he had a tremendous sense of humor; and above all, because they were so scarce in the west, he respected women.
How about you, Maggie? What has drawn you to cowboy romances?
Maggie: Oh, gosh. What wouldn’t draw a person to cowboy romances? For me personally, I think it’s the combination of strength, character, and respect that define the modern-day cowboy. There’s nothing like a man who’s strong enough to wrangle horses, but gentle enough to make the most broken woman feel cherished. Sigh.
Joan, I don’t know if everyone knows this about you, but you’re really well-traveled! If you were to pull up stakes and go live for a year somewhere outside the United States, where would it be?
Joan: I probably wouldn’t be able to settle in one place outside the U. S. any better than I’ve been able to settle in one place inside the U.S. All my life I’ve moved about every two years. It started when my dad was in the Air Force and he would be stationed somewhere else, so we’d have to move. I guess I got into the habit, and even if I stay in the same city, I usually change houses about every two years! Overseas, I’d love to live in London. I spent the summer there a few years back and there’s just so much history to explore in England that I could easily live there for a while.
Let’s talk about holiday traditions. Have any unusual ones?
Maggie: Hmm. Does failing at cute projects we find on Pinterest count? Because we totally do that. Every year. Santa does leave our girls notes each year under the cookie plate, summarizing the special things they’ve done that make him proud, and we love to watch them open and read those letters before they even look at their presents. I’ve kept them all in a box, and know someday it’ll be fun to share them with the girls when they’re older.
So Joan, you’re so prolific, it makes me wonder about your writing process. I am an unabashed write-by-the-seat-of-my-pants girl, to my own dismay. How about you? Do you plot your stories out carefully before you write? Let the characters drive? Somewhere in-between?
Joan: I need a synopsis! I usually write a 20-25 page synopsis before I start, which will turn into a 400-page book. The synopsis is there so I have a guide to where I’m headed. However, once I write it, I never look at it again! I let the characters tell their stories.
How about you? Do you have any habits or rituals you use before writing? Music you have to listen to, lucky pen you have to use?
Maggie: Ha. You’re asking me this as I look toward the living room recliner, and for the fifteenth time in as many school days, see a sick kiddo lying there. So really, the best habit I could get into would be to bubble-wrap all of my children against their classmates. Short of that, I have two Pandora stations and an egg timer that help get me—and keep me—in the zone while I’m writing. When I’m stuck, my graph paper notebook and Staedtler pens help me out of my (usually) self-made holes. There’s something about the scritch of a felt tip pen against a blank piece of paper that jump-starts my creativity.
Let’s talk about your latest book. Have a favorite character?
Joan: Shameless has an Australian heroine, which was great fun, because I got to give her a few Australian expressions in her dialogue—which I carefully explained in context. She happens to be a horse whisperer and I give her a black stallion named Satan to tame. I can’t help it if she used the same methods on my lone wolf hero!
How about you, Maggie? Can you tell us a little bit about your holiday book, A Cowboy’s Christmas Promise?
Maggie: Oh, I love this story so much. Authors aren’t supposed to have favorites, but we all do, and this one just sort of ripped my heart out as I wrote it. It features Daniel, a widowed veterinarian with impish twin girls who’s convinced love doesn’t come around twice, and Hayley, a gun-shy Boston woman who really, really doesn’t mean to fall in love. Throw in the beauty of western Montana and a good dose of meddling besties, and Daniel and Hayley can’t help but fall hard for each other.
What’s coming up next for you, Joan?
Joan: I am currently writing the fourth book in my Mail-Order Bride series, Blackthorne’s Bride. I’ve gotten tons of reader mail asking me, “Where is Josie’s story?” She’s the youngest of the four Wentworth sisters orphaned by the Great Chicago Fire. When last we see her, she’s been captured by a band of renegade Sioux—and rescued by the Duke of Blackthorne, who bought her with his gold watch. I’ll give you a hint how this final mail-order bride story goes: Wanted: Titled gentleman seeking American heiress for purposes of matrimony. Inquire at Blackthorne Abbey, Kent, England.
How about you, Maggie? Anything special in the works?
Maggie: I’m so excited to let you know that three more Whisper Creek books are in the works! The fourth in the series will be out in 2016, and the next two will arrive in 2017. In addition, I have a new print series that’s just barely hit the virtual AND real shelves! It’s set in a small Vermont town centered around a Christmas theme park, and features first loves, second chances, and lots of quirky small-town characters who are determined to help others get their happily-ever-afters.
Thanks so much for letting us gab, Smitten Word!