Friday, April 19, 2013

Get Along, Little Doggie!

What does an Eastern greenhorn know about a cattle drive? Very little.

In Double Crossing, my western historical mystery, I introduced a handsome Texan -- Ace Diamond -- a mix of Rooster Cogburn and LaBoef from True Grit. His background reeled out while I wrote the first draft several years ago. Born in Texas, check. Easy to pull up a map and figure out where he might have been born (around Anderson), and that he'd worked at the Fanthorpe Inn as a stable boy after his brothers left to fight in the War of Rebellion. Three brothers killed at Shiloh, check. I had plenty of books about battles and conditions, weapons, military gear for both sides.

But when Ace mentioned he'd worked a few cattle drives after the War -- say what? That's when the real digging came into play. I had a dictionary, Western Words: A Dictionary of the Old West by Ramon Adams. Great resource, really. There's even an on-line website for slang. I'd done some general research on Charles Goodnight, dug up a trail map, etc. But did I really know that much about what a cowboy did on a trail drive? No. Luckily I'm a member of the Western Fictioneers, and have learned a LOT more since writing my Double series about horses, cattle, life on the trail and such.

Such as calling coffee 'brown gargle.' That cattle ought to walk four head across for best results when trailing them. That the youngest cowboys always ride drag and get the dirtiest (I'm sure Ace's younger brother had that lovely job). I had mentioned Ace carrying a Bowie knife (check), a Colt (check), a suede jacket, boots and hat (check), and along with his horse he probably had a saddle, spurs and rope. But I'd forgotten that a cowboy was never without a handy dandy bandanna. Huh. 

How odd that Ace never had one when he met Lily in Omaha, or after he showed up on the train in Double Crossing. Why didn't I do an image search? Surely I'd have seen what I'd missed. Readers are pretty forgiving! I guess I never mentioned he kept one in his pocket. (wink)

Do readers realize how little of all that research we writers dig up make it into the book? Probably not. But for authenticity, writers ought to know as much as possible about the character's past experiences.

For Double Crossing, however, I only knew Ace had lost his "cutter" -- not that 'riding shank's mare' was something he would confess to right off the bat! I had to research what a "cutter" was (a horse skilled in matching a steer's movements to 'cut' them from the herd), but that was it. Ace refused to explain what happened. But for Double or Nothing, when Lily asks him in detail about his cutter, I had to research the type of horse and color and what kind of accidents might have occurred while riding. And Ace reluctantly gave out bits of his background. I had to arm-wrestle him for the details. (wink)

Sometimes characters just won't cooperate! But since I plan to write a short story about Ace and his brother, I figured I better know a lot more about them, the slang they use, their manners (or lack of them) and their horses. For now, here's a brief excerpt from Double or Nothing about Ace's cutter.

After sharing a passionate kiss, I breathed in his scent of musk, bay rum and soap. He tasted salty, too. “Remember you said how you lost your cutter? Your horse, right?”
“Yep. Good old Reb.”
“Reb?” I laughed. “For Rebel, I suppose. That seems to fit.”
Ace snorted. “Best gelding I ever had. A bay roan, and his coat turned darker in winter. Reb knew which way a steer would run, a few seconds before it moved. He was more intelligent than most people I ever met in my life.”
“So what happened? How did you lose him?”
“Broke his leg in a gopher hole, and had to put him down,” he said, eyes downcast. “Worst day of my life, too. Kept my brother company from Fort Riley, Kansas, up to Nebraska. He was headin’ west to his next assignment. I started back but never made it.”
“And then—”
“Ended up in Omaha. No horse, sold my saddle for a room and a few meals. No jobs till that boardinghouse landlady took pity on me.”
“We’d never have met if not for your horse,” I whispered in his ear. “I’m sorry you lost the cutter, though. How did you learn to speak Spanish?”
He ran his tongue around my earlobe, his breath hot, making me shiver. “Told ya that me and Layne worked to round up mossy horns down in Texas. A few men never learned English, so we picked up Spanish pretty quick. Is that important?”
“No, but I remember something else you told me on the train.”
“Mm? What’s that?”
“That I’d never get a chance to see your scars.”
Ace flashed a mischievous smile and leaned back, arms held out wide. “Go ahead and search for ‘em. What, are you too scared? I dare you.”
“It wouldn’t be proper,” I said, my cheeks burning.
“I’m all yours, Lily Diamond. Whenever and wherever you want me.”

From DOUBLE OR NOTHING -- the sequel to the Spur Award-winning Double Crossing!

Book blurb: A mysterious explosion. A man framed for murder. A strong woman determined to prove his innocence.
October, 1869: Lily Granville, heiress to a considerable fortune, rebels against her uncle’s strict rules. Ace Diamond, determined to win Lily, invests in a dynamite factory but his success fails to impress her guardian. An explosion in San Francisco, mere hours before Lily elopes with Ace to avoid a forced marriage, sets off a chain of consequences.

When Ace is framed for murder before their wedding night, Lily must find proof to save him from a hangman’s noose. Will she become a widow before a true wife?


Caroline Clemmons said...

Fun post, Meg. Learning extra facts from research grounds us and enriches the story, even when we don't use all we've found. We always save those unused details, though, don't we?

Meg said...

Golly, no kidding! I've got ideas for other stories and believe you me, those tidbits are stored in my treasure chest for later use!! ;-) Thanks for stopping by, Caroline!

Ginger Simpson said...

Great post, Meg. I always enjoy what you share, and although I don't always comment, you'll surely notice on every post that I share them on FB and Google plus every post goes through Triberr for tons for tweets. I look forward to reading the continuation of your story.

Meg said...

Thanks, Ginger! Yes, I see and RT your Triberr posts, so thanks for making sure it goes out to the world. :-)

Nancy Oswald said...

Love the slang dictionary. Thanks for the link.

shaileshtr said...
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Ellen O'Connell said...

I don't know about anyone else, but I read those slang dictionaries and have to wonder. Did most people actually use those phrases often, or were they used occasionally and so colorful they made it into the records? I have a friend, for instance, who is always up on the latest slang, but most people I know don't constantly throw out colorful phrases. I confess I don't like to read extreme vernacular or attempts to imitate accents in writing, so I don't write those things either.

Meg said...

Slinging slang around is like an info-dump. Best to drop a pearl or two in the book and leave it at that. LOL. Thanks for stopping by!

Paty Jager said...

Meg, I agree, readers don't always know how much we research just to make the characters come to life and be authentic. But it's that extra research that moves a book up a peg. Good post!

Meg said...

Thanks, Paty! I've been reading Carol Crigger's China Bohannan series and she does a marvelous job of putting in those extra tidbits. One or two per book is all it takes -- makes you believe you're right there. :-)