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Wednesday, March 2, 2011


Not All The Ranches Are In Texas

When I decided I was going to write a cowboy romance last year, I knew right away it wasn't going to be set in Texas. Or Colorado, or Wyoming, or anywhere typically thought of as "ranch country." Why? Well, mostly because I'm obstinate.

I'm an Iowan. I've always been an Iowan except for two years in Wisconsin during high school, which both states will assure you really only counts as tourism. Those two years were enough for both Wisconsin and I, and I'm happy to say in 1989, Iowa took me back with open arms. I've been here ever since.

I've traveled to Colorado, and Wyoming, and now thanks to last October (hat tip to Marie Sexton: HAMEMA forever!), I've been to both Texas and Oklahoma. They're all nice states. They have nice ranches. But I wanted my boys to be more local. Iowa doesn't have very many ranches. We're more suited to farms, where we do frequently have cattle. The problem is we don't have the whole "hands" thing. We can raise a lot of cattle on a little bit of land. Get your cousin and your uncle and a dog, and you can herd them onto the truck no problem when the time comes, and pretty much the rest of the time they just stand in beautiful valleys and dot hillsides eating grass. Every now and again you move them to a different pasture. You know, right next door. We have a lot of grass, a lot of rain, and we also have grain. I believe I was told something about how grain-fed isn't as good for the cow or for the planet or something. Man, it sure is tasty, though. Give me corn-fed beef any day over grass.

But perhaps I digress.

I set Nowhere Ranch in western Nebraska because I think Nebraska is about as maligned as Iowa in public consciousness. Nothing sexy ever comes out of Nebraska. Iowa has same-sex marriage, so we got major cool points on that one, but even that spotlight is wearing down a bit. Both states need a boost. I am here to provide.

Ranches also aren't just cattle. You can have a sheep ranch! And they do in Nowhere Ranch. Sheep are actually a damn lot of work, which I knew in abstract from my dad's swearing and vowing he would NEVER raise sheep again EVER, but in researching this story I found out why he was so adamant. Especially if you're a hog farmer—pigs are DAMN smart—switching from hogs to sheep is like going from graduate school to junior high.

Naturally, I had to have sheep. So much built-in trouble! An author can't resist.

Why did I set a cowboy story in Nebraska with sheep? One, for something different. Two, because it's not about Texas or cows. It's about country. Isolation, but community within that isolation. About working with and against nature. About teams of men and women, about the harshness of nature.

And rope. Cowboys always have a lot of rope around. Rope is a handy, handy, handy thing.

And that is the story of how my cowboy story got set in Nebraska.

Check out Heidi's website.


Tam said...

I have to admit that Nebraska (and Iowa) is a rather little known commodity up here. Perhaps known for hicks, country music and ... tornados. Yeah, that's it.

Pigs may be smart, but they are stinky. Sheep are cute, but not having raised a sheep I can't speak to their orneriness (is that a word?). However we had cows, pigs and chickens growing up. Chickens are plenty stupid. Geese are just plain mean.

I really must get reading your book. I've been in a slump and haven't read much later. Blah.

Anonymous said...

GEESE! God yes. We had two, and they hated me and I hated them. They chased me everywhere.

As for the book, the nice thing about books is that they just sit there patiently, not going anywhere. In your own time.

Anonymous said...

I loved the setting of "Nowhere Ranch" - it was a real plus point, having sheep and a different countryside to the typical cowboy story.

There was a point when I was dabbling with the idea of possibly trying smallholding (God knows how I ever thought I'd afford the land or cope with the early mornings), and I looked into sheep. They do sound like a helluva lot of work, but they're such wonderful creatures! I adore the smell of lanolin - it makes me feel high.

Chris said...

I've actually been to the area where Nowhere Ranch is set - I was driving back from Colorado via Wyoming and Nebraska, and I cut north to go to the Black Hills. BIG bluffs. They put our little SE MN bluffs to shame.

Damon Suede said...

My bf is from Nebraska, so now (including Nowhere Ranch) I know of TWO hot things from there!

Thank you for this and for continuign to push the envelope Cullinan. You're amazing.