One of the questions I get asked most as an author is how do you come up with your ideas? The truth is I gather ideas wherever I go. A writer is an observer. I carry around a little notepad and pen in my purse to jot down ideas as they come to me. Lately I have been using the voice recorder and notepad on my cell phone, and also using the camera feature to take photos of things that catch my interest.
I got the basic premise for my new series, MONTANA HEARTS, from a real event that took place at a fabulous equestrian guest ranch in Wyoming. The owners told me that the previous ranch managers had embezzled most of the ranch's money and fled town. The modern day villains had also left them hanging with unfinished building projects that had not been built to code, holes in the schedule, and had failed to line up the required amount of ranch personal for the upcoming summer season.
The rustic cabin my family stayed in was amazing. I loved sitting in the hammock chair on our own little wooden front porch. We got up at six a.m. to see the wranglers round up all the horses from the field and drive them through the open gate into the corral. The ranch offered trail rides, river rafting, and nightly campfires complete with cowboy songs and roasted marshmallows. As I listened to the ranch hands' stories, I had to laugh because I have a horse of my own and know full well no two days at the barn are ever the same. You always have to be prepared for the unexpected.
By the time I left, I knew I had several ideas for plot, characters, and setting. I also knew I could draw on my own experience with horses. Then I traveled to Montana and fell in love with the tiny two block town of Three Forks, which I used as a model for my fictional town, 'Fox Creek.' I went to Bozeman for a writer's conference that included field trips to many places around the area. We hiked two miles up the hill to the big white 'M' and learned its history. This provided me with a full scene in Her Weekend Wrangler where my hero and heroine also hike up to the famous letter on the hillside.
Sure I could use Google Maps, travel guides, and read various stories of wranglers online. But by interacting with the real world, I've found I can provide better detail and authenticity for the fictional worlds I create. Not to mention—it's fun. Hopefully my readers will think so too!