They don't call Linda Lael Miller the "First Lady of the West" for nothing. The beloved author of more than 100 romance novels—most of them set in the West—knows of which she writes: She grew up on a ranch in Washington state, her father the town marshall who also competed in rodeos.
Miller's authenticity has certainly struck a chord with readers, with all five of the books in her wildly successful Big Sky series landing on the New York Times bestseller list. The just-published sixth—and final—book in the series, Big Sky Secrets, returns to Parable, Montana, to share the passionate love story that unfolds between Landry Sutton, a self-made tycoon, and Ria Manning, the new owner of a flower farm neighboring the Sutton ranch.
In this guest post, Miller reflects upon the ways that her childhood has influenced her career as an author.
My life certainly has influenced my writing in the past, and it continues to do so, I’m glad to say.
I like to say I grew up in the Old West. I rode my first horse before I was two—sharing the saddle with my cowboy dad, of course—and even then, I reportedly loved “cutting the brush,” which is country-speak for chasing stray cattle out of the bushes, etc., on horseback.
I heard a lot of great stories as a child, and some of them later turned up in books, slightly altered. My father and uncle both followed the rodeo circuit back in the day—Dad rode bulls and Uncle Jack rode broncs. Dad gave it up after he drew a particularly bad bull and got himself banged up, but Uncle Jack continued to compete for a long time.
Naturally, tales of the rodeo—and attending a number of them myself—sparked a lot of ideas that came in handy later.
As kids, my brother and I (we have two sisters, but they’re a lot younger) spent a lot of time on the Wiley ranch, outside of our old hometown, Northport, Washington, where Dad later became the town marshal. He had the star-shaped badge and the whole shebang.
Our honorary grandmother, Florence Wiley, grew up on a farm outside of Coffeyville, Kansas, and she told some great stories while cooking many a meal on the old cast-iron woodstove she refused to give up, even after the ranch got electricity.
My favorites were 1) an account of the night Jessie James slept in the Heritage family barn and 2) the day the Dalton brothers tried to rob the bank in Coffeyville. It seems the townspeople got wind of the plan ahead of time, and when the Daltons rode in, the local men were waiting with rifles and pistols. The whole motley bunch was shot to death in the space of a few minutes, and later, their bodies were strapped to old doors and boards and propped up against the wall of a building on the main street as an object lesson to anybody who might be considering a life of crime.
Gramma heard the shots from the farm, but though folks came from far and wide to view the spectacle, her father was ahead of his time and refused to parade his children past a row of dead outlaws, thank you very much.
Television was a big influence on my writing style, too, I must admit. I LOVED “Bonanza,” or more properly Little Joe Cartwright, as played by Michael Landon, and I’m pretty sure I learned the concept of scenes by noticing how they began and ended on the show. Obviously, something had to be happening before the commercial break to bring the viewers back after Dinah Shore sang, “See the U.S.A. in your Chevrolet…”
Today, I’m living in the country again, just as I did in the early days. Guess you could say I’ve come full circle!
Thank you so much, Linda! Big Sky Secrets is available now. Will you be checking it out, readers?
(Author photo: John Hall Photography)
Merry Christmas Eve, readers! Now is the time to fully indulge in Christmas themed everything before the big day passes, forcing you to pack up your Santa sweaters and tinsel for another year. Popular novelist Debbie Macomber admits she tends to overdo it a bit with her love of all things Christmas, but her latest book, Starry Night, gets it just right with a blend of romance, adventure and a little touch of Christmas magic. Carrie Slayton, a successful gossip columnist wants more out of her newspaper career, but when she comes upon the scoop of a lifetime in small-town Alaska, she must decide between her career or her heart. Watch Macomber excitedly introduce Starry Night in the trailer below. What are you reading this Christmas?
In her Darkest London series, Kristen Callihan has concocted a winning blend of history, the paranormal and sizzling romance that's seriously swoon-worthy. Set in Victorian London, the latest book in the series, Shadowdance (out today!), follows Mary Chase, of the Society for the Suppression of Supernaturals, as she teams up with loner Jack Talent to solve a murder. Neither wants to be working with the other, but lurking beneath their rivalry is an undeniable attraction that swells with each of their many heated exchanges.
As part of its Get Hooked on Historicals campaign, Callihan's publisher, Forever Romance, challenged five of its authors with the same task: Write a scene featuring a dishonored heiress with a complicated family situation as she meets her handsome rake in a cloakroom. Here is Callihan's scintillating scene:
Fur was creeping up her nose. Min pressed her body further into the silks and satins surrounding her and tried not to sneeze. Bloody inconvenient, this. There were far better places for this sort of thing. She’d be having words with Timmons when she was done here.
Which was likely to be later rather than sooner, given that the inane babble drifting through her hiding place would not let up.
“Lord Elsmere went this way. I am certain of it.” This from Miss Whetherby, husband hunter of the highest caliber.
“Let us try the ballroom once more,” said her sister, Miss Jane. “Men cannot play cards all night long.”
Min rather thought men could, and would, but gave a mental wave of encouragement toward the sisters all the same. They bustled off, arguing now over whether the diamonds around Mrs. Standish’s throat were real or paste.
Min sagged against the cloaks. Finally. Her eyes had barely fluttered closed when an arm snagged about her waist, drawing her close to a hard male body.
Suppressing a squeak, she slapped a hand against a solid chest even as she grasped the handle of the knife hidden in the voluminous folds of her altered evening gown. But she halted when a familiar voice drifted down.
“Well, well, what do we have here?” Eyes the color of strong coffee smiled down at her.
“Surely not Miss Wilhelmina Post, London’s most notorious vixen, hiding out in the cloak room.”
Glaring, Min gave his chest a good shove, and he let her go, falling back in to the deep recesses of the closet with her. The man ought to look ridiculous surrounded by cloaks, but lean, long, and with the sleeve of a fur coat draped over his dark hair, Lionel August Cavanaugh was still elegant.
In her grandmother’s time, when Empire waists ruled, Cavanaugh would have been deemed a rake. Now, when one had to contend with bustles and waist-synching corsets, he was merely labeled trouble.
“My exploits are merely a prelude to your circus act, Cavanaugh.”
He chuckled, a dark rumble of sound. “Well you’ve got me there, sweets.” He moved a bit closer, bringing with him the warm scent of vetiver and linen. “Pray tell, what are you doing in the cloak room?” White teeth flashed in the dim. “No, let me guess. You had an assignation with a rather dashing overcoat, but were thwarted by an overprotective opera mantle.”
With pronounced deliberation, he plucked an ostrich feather from her hair and held it aloft.
She ignored it. “Excellent deduction, Cavanaugh. Your talents are being underutilized.”
His eyes narrowed, yet the corners of his lips twitched. “Yes, aren’t they just?”
They grinned at precisely the same moment, and then Cavanaugh gave her arm a friendly bump with his. “It is good to see you again, Min.” His tone was softer now. “When they told me you’d be my contact, I was most pleased.”
Pleasure warmed her cheeks. “It is good to see you too, Leo.”
Though she’d not had much contact with Cavanaugh over the last year, he’d been Tony’s closest and oldest friend. Cavanaugh had been witness to all the major moments of her life. Including her downfall.
The memory, and that of her brother’s loss, had her swallowing down a lump of regret. “Well, let us proceed. Eventually the attendant will return.”
“I paid him to keep guard.” Cavanaugh’s eyes twinkled. “Bloke fully supports meetings with fallen heiresses.”
The moniker ought to sting, but didn’t. Some things were worth more than respectability. Her loss of good standing was not really a sacrifice at all. Because she and her brethren were all that stood between humanity and monsters that crept about in dark corridors.
As if he were thinking along similar lines, Cavanaugh leaned in, and his warm breath touched her ear. “The demon is using Delacorte’s identity.”
Delacorte was announcing his betrothal to Lady Sarah Smithe at this ball. If they acted fast, perhaps they could find the real Delacorte and save him.
Cavanaugh moved closer. “I’m going now. Be sure to leave appropriately mussed.”
He moved to buss her check the precise moment she turned to do the same to him. Their lips met instead. It was the slightest of touches, a small exchange of breath, but Min felt the shock down to her toes, and her heart stilled.
Slowly, Cavanaugh drew back. The familiar insouciant expression he usually wore wasn’t there. No, this was far more worrisome. He appeared shocked, thoughtful, intent. Gently, he reached out and snared a coil of her hair with his finger. The auburn lock gleamed bright against his white gloves. How strange, all these years and she didn’t even know what his skin felt like upon her own. Dark eyes stared down at her. When he spoke, his voice was rough and thick. “Take care of yourself, Min.”