Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Writing the Ruby's Ranch Series Brings me Home

Home can be many things...

I had a whole different post ready to go for today's blog...and then I came home for a visit. I'm not sure what it is about coming back to the town you were born and raised in, but it's brought a strange sense of happiness and a profound sadness all at the same time. Even though I've only lived in Georgia six months, Bakersfield, is still the place I know by heart. I can drive these streets without GPS, and I know all the best restaurants, even in the scary parts of town. 

It's been a year since my father passed away after a short illness. My mother and brother passed only a few years before him, and since my move, I've lost a cherished aunt and uncle. Thus the sense of sadness at returning to the place I lost them. I see where they lived and worked and where we picnicked every Easter. It's hard to visit, but we do it to remember.  

Grief is an ever evolving haze that can swallow a person whole, if they're not aware enough to recognize the signs. I've been confused and absent many times over this past year. I've preferred to hide and write about a different world, than to deal with the fact that everyone in my immediate family, aside from my amazing sister, is gone from this world. It's these times when I lay softly against the memories of a happy, chaotic childhood. It's in these places I came upon Ruby's Ranch.

I was born on a verrrrry small ranch in Kern County that was named Ruby's Ranch. There were a few horses, dogs, chickens, coyotes in the hills behind the house and a dozen feral cats that kept the critters from our door. Though my characters in my Ruby's Ranch Series endure different troubles than my own family, I feel a hug on my soul every time I write the next book because of the similarities. There's a kinship with these characters, an understanding of their struggles, and of their need to find calmness and love.

The first book in the series, Return to Ruby's Ranch, was meant as a stand alone. Don't make the mistake in thinking this is a sweet love story. I wrote this story to solve some mysteries, and there are some hard truths as well. The main character, Ruby Lattrell is the granddaughter of the original matriarch. Ruby lived on the ranch with her family for the first 15 years of her life. She was especially close to her father, John, who taught her the beauty of 'home' and nature and listening to the horses. Her mother, Katherine, was another story. Though loving with John and her children, she was raised by a very strict mother and had always craved for a life away from the ranch. When Katherine disappeared, Ruby was dragged from the ranch by her broken father, never to see her beloved ranch again, until she inherits the property from her crazy Granny Rube.

Ruby's plight to understand what happened to her mother and grandmother, along with a beautiful love story that blossoms between she and the boy next door (who loved her since they were children), drives the story through many twisted paths. I love the characters, flaws and all, I love the setting, similar to one I lived in and I love the 'ghostly' presence that protects them. (Also from my own experience as a child.)

Book 2 of the Ruby's Ranch series was requested by my editor. She said, "your readers are gonna want to know Katherine's story AND Granny Rube's story and maybe even one more after that to wrap." Writing a prequel is not for the faint of heart. Especially when menopause keeps the brain in a constant state of fog. The character bible was ESSENTIAL, and the story lines, as fun and twisted as I made them in the first book, were like unraveling a bundle of barbed wire. But I'm glad she pushed me to write Escape from Ruby's Ranch because Katherine's story is a beautiful, tragic tale that leaves the reader satisfied and hopeful.

Katherine is a strong, stubborn character in her own right. She was bound and determined to 'escape' the minute she turned eighteen, but alas a boy got involved, as they so often do. John Lattrell, horse-whispering cowboy, is a little older, a lot more experienced, and just what the doctor ordered to keep Katherine at the ranch. They had a beautiful life until a cluster of events led to her disappearance. I'm a 'pantser' writer, as you may have deciphered from this rambling blog, so believe me when I say, I was SHOCKED by what happened to Katherine. She has the heart of a warrior.

I turned in Book 3 - Legacy of Ruby's Ranch, to my editor two days before I made this trip back to my hometown. This tells the story of Rube Adams, the original matriarch of Ruby's Ranch. Another prequel, this time the trick was getting my audience to love a stern, crazy woman. Some trick, ha? Turns out, I get her more than I've gotten either of the first two. She has her reasons for being so protective of her only daughter. She has her reasons for losing it in the end, but man did she live a life. An enviable, bizarre life. The love story between with Mac Adams will make you swoon. He definitely sticks by her, no matter what. Book 3 could be my most favorite so far. It'll be out, hopefully, early 2019! And yes, the reader will be shocked again, if I've done my job.

I started telling a story about going home and how sometimes that can make a person feel sad. Writing this series has really brought my childhood back to life. The way I felt bareback riding in the back pastures. How the smell of my horse calmed me down. The quiet moments reading to the animals. The way a real man treats his woman. Sometimes, and I know I'm guilty of this, we're so busy we forget to listen to the birds chirping and the way the wind sounds through a tree thick with pecans. The way an apricot tasted when you climbed the tree to pick the best one. And the coolness of the grass beneath your feet when you pull off those hot boots. Sometimes, we forget to look deep into our partners eyes, and thank them for supporting our journey and for loving us for who we are, damaged writer or whatever else you may be.

I guess coming home has helped me more than I know. Even though I still feel the sadness of my loved ones passing more profoundly when I'm here, kneeling next to my father's grave, I can feel his arms around me, telling me everything will be okay and that he's proud of the woman I've become. He'll see me again.

Thanks for letting me chatter. Hope you'll check out the series and follow me. My journey has just begun.

Happy Halloween everyone!!!

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1 comment:

Kristy McCaffrey said...

R.J. -- I think you're the first writer I've come across who wrote her series in reverse. :-) But we can't keep ourselves out of our work, no matter how hard we try.