Well, the follow-up to my Rainbow Award runner-up From the Boots Up is now available on Kindle. That would be From the Hat Down. It’s a novel, so it’s cost effective for me to put it in print. Expect that version very soon. I am also getting it ready for other ebook platforms. Expect that, too, in the coming days. In the meantime,
You can read a synopsis there or here on my website. I’ve also posted a playlist there, too. Music plays a huge role in my writing, and the songs on that playlist are songs that played a role in this project.
But what most of you don’t know is how From the Hat Down came to be. I thought I’d tell you.
Some of you may be familiar with my novella, From the Boots Up.
It was a Rainbow Award runner-up in best contemporary lesbian romance.
The thing about novellas is that they’re a perfect length for a certain kind of story. Boots actually started life as a 15,000-word longish short story. That was its first incarnation, and I wrote it about, oh, 7 years ago. It was published in an anthology that didn’t seem to get much play, so it kind of languished for a couple of years until I got my rights back to it. While I was waiting to get the rights back, I started writing a follow-up. I hammered out a draft (the future From the Hat Down) in about eight months and put that on a virtual shelf and involved myself in other projects.
I got my rights back to Boots in 2012 or thereabouts. I had always really liked the characters in the story, and the setting, which has a special place in my heart. I grew up in the Rocky Mountain West and Southwest. I spent my undergraduate college years in Boulder, CO and had many friends from Fort Collins, which is located in northern Colorado. Through my network of various people and my rugby days, I met someone whose family owned a working ranch that was also a dude ranch kind of thing in southern Wyoming, outside a town that was little more than a beat-down convenience store on a state highway that served as a post office, too. When it was open, which was rarely. The big city was Laramie, and it was a good 40 minutes up the road.
I spent a lot of time on that ranch, and a lot of time driving to and from southern Wyoming.
So when I originally decided to write Boots, there was no question that I would set it in Wyoming, and that the main character was going to be a young woman who had grown up in a relatively isolated part of Wyoming, involved in the family ranch. Those of us who grow up in rural areas (I grew up on a goat farm) are imbued with lots of responsibility from an early age.
Meg Tallmadge — the main character in both Boots and From the Hat Down — not only has that aspect to her personality, but she’s also the lone daughter of a divorced father. So she and her father develop a relationship that includes shared duty to the Diamond Rock Ranch, though Stan does his best to shield Meg as much as he can from his worries about money and keeping the ranch going in an industry that is traditionally hard-hit and suffers the vagaries of climate and market forces beyond anybody’s control.
Alice, the “Kitchen Queen” (she’s in both Boots and From the Hat Down), is a very loose embodiment of a seasonal cook on that ranch I used to visit back in the day. Alice is about twenty years older, and a completely different personality, but she shares a no-nonsense but gentle teasing way about her with that other cook. And Alice isn’t just seasonal. She’s at the Diamond Rock year-round, which I set further west than that ranch from my past, near the town of Saratoga, which is quite a gem, though definitely off the beaten path. It’s in the North Platte River Valley and the North Platte River flows on the edge of town, which reminds me a lot of the town in Colorado where I grew up.
The Medicine Bow National Forest is easy access in this part of Wyoming, too.
So Boots is an homage, of sorts, to my own past, to my love of the Rocky Mountain West, and my love of Wyoming. It’s also a shout-out to the family that owned that ranch where I spent so much time and had so much fun. And yes, that ranch is still alive and kicking, though I haven’t been back there in many years.
Back to the present. Remember, Boots didn’t do very well with its initial release back in 2008 or thereabouts. Oh, it got a couple of nice mentions here and there, but the anthology didn’t seem to catch on and the story basically languished. Which bummed me out, because I really liked the characters and the setting. It had a special place in my heart, and I felt I had let that story down. But when I got the rights back, I read through it again and thought that maybe, just maybe, I could re-do it and release it as a novella. Maybe it would do a little better and I could make it up to those characters and the story. And maybe I had become a better writer since then and could really do the story justice.
So I expanded 15K words into about 38K, and the novella format allowed me to do a slice-of-life: a week in the life of Meg Tallmadge and the strong secondary character (and love interest) Gina Morelli. It was absolutely the perfect length to tell that week-in-the-life and to capture the burgeoning romance between the two characters and also leave some possibility for the future. Any longer, and there wouldn’t have been a reason to do a follow-up. The novella length allowed me to set up a variety of possibilities for the two characters without the plot fizzling had I tried to extend it beyond its boundaries as Boots.
Some readers don’t understand that when an author writes something, and creates the plotlines and develops the characters, some stories are not meant to be novels. Boots never felt like a novel, not from its original form, and certainly not when I wrote the last sentence in the novella.
And because I left Boots the way it is, I had left possibility doors open. I released the second incarnation of Boots in March, 2013. And what do you know, it seemed to resonate this time. It didn’t languish in a back alley of neglected books. I felt like I had finally made it up to the characters and the story, at least a little. And I was so very humbled and honored that I could share this story with many more people, and that Meg and Gina seemed to make an impression.
About two months after I released Boots as a novella, I pulled From the Hat Down off the virtual shelf and dusted it off. I was ready, now, to give it the makeover it needed. I felt that I was a better writer than when I wrote the initial draft, that I’d learned a lot more about craft and plot and characters. So I opened that file and set to work. It was not an easy process. I took to calling it “The Neverending Story” because I kept taking things apart and re-writing and fixing and adjusting. There were days I walked away for a while, completely frustrated. Days I did not have fun with it. Days I wondered if there was any point to writing it. After all, I was re-writing something I’d written 7 years earlier. Hat takes place ten years after Boots (which was set in 1999). Could I do the characters justice? Could I capture the passage of those ten years realistically? Could I tell this story effectively? Or would I be letting this story down again?
And finally, after months of wrestling with it and doing all the technical things that go into creating a book, it felt like it was ready for its debut. I’m not going to lie and say I don’t have a sense of trepidation about this. I let this story get pretty close to my heart, and it’s a genre I don’t generally write novel-length pieces in (romance). So yeah, I’m pretty nervous about how it’ll be received. But, hey. That’s part of this journey called writing and there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t feel incredibly lucky to be on it.
Happy Friday, all. And here’s to happy (hopefully) reading!