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.
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.
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.
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.”
“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!