Night Rides by Carole Beers

Three books published in one year? Hell, yeah. That was my output for 2019—two new Pepper Kane Mysteries, plus the holiday novella, “In From the Cold.” In a world where publishing one book a year is the norm or at least a goal, I gobsmacked even myself. How’d that happen?

My background, as many of you know, was in daily big-city journalism for nearly 40 years, and mainly for The Seattle Times. Features, hard news, obits, criticism and columns. Oh, I ground out some stories for romance and horse publications. But predominantly I was shaped by the values and daily discipline. Fine training for any writer—Hemingway and Faulkner, included!

Retiring in 2006 and moving back to Grants Pass, Oregon, where I graduated high school, I read voraciously, gardened, rested and competed in horse shows—all the things I couldn’t pursue as I liked while employed full time. I also wrote short stories as part of the Monday Mayhem fiction group. The stories were, for the most part, less than stellar. I soon learned writing fiction is way different than doing journalism! You invent characters, settings, plots, rather than having them handed you on a sterling tray.

The next ten years, between stories, I penned three rough-draft novels—including the devilishly tongue-in cheek whodunnit, “Saddle Tramps.” And queried, and queried some more. In 2016 a small indie press I use today, W & B Publishers, signed me to a contract for “Saddle Tramps.” The next two years I wrote a book a year for them while continuing to study craft and build my author platform. Always trying to hue to a morning writing schedule, ever building more complex plots and characters. Learning from readers and other writers. Social media!

What happened was, rather than working at and studying writing, at sweating, editing, grinding it out—which I still confess to doing, at times—I fell in utter love with it. And, as they say, If you love your work, you’ll never work a day in your life. So I was in love. Fully engaged, inside my stories and settings, caring about my characters as if they were family, and wanting to know what happens with them, 24/7.

And, voila! Stop the presses! For me this was the “secret,” the key to prodigious (and more fulfilling) production. My path to writing three books a year. Being “retired,” no doubt, is a ginormous help. More time and energy! But it was the love that made it happen.

You’d be surprised at how much writing you get done when you’re prepared for and are truly captivated by a project—as writers taking part in NaNoWriMo learn. (I’ve not done National November Writing Month, but I understand you madly plot and prepare for it in advance so your daily word count in the month is stratospheric!)

Here’s to falling I love with not only writing, but also what you’re writing about. It can take you places you never imagined. Even to multiple books a year!


Can authors have it both ways? Create books that earn honors, tick bestseller boxes and align with a strong author brand while laying bare our hidden secrets, shames, fears and dreams? I’m beginning to believe so, thanks to recent nudges from Creator. I touched on inner concerns—or wrote around the edges—in my first books. Used social issues as metaphor, or offered guarded glimpses into my/my heroine’s flaws and vulnerabilites. It was my unbiased reporter’s way. But now I’m ready to show myself more clearly through characters and story, to be not only brave and positive, but also as sometimes clueless and vulnerable as anyone else.

In her seminar here in Grants Pass last week, literary strategist Anna Weber said that an author’s writing her own deep, scary but authentic truths in her book speaks to READERS’ deepest needs, desires and truths. Which we must do to be successful. This is a big reason why we read book, crave story. Weber’s seminar resonated powerfully with me. That’s one reason I want to read. That, and to be entertained.

The next day came my author friend Susan Clayton-Goldner’s newsletter, “Writing the Life.” She said that sharing in book form (“Missing Pieces,” the achingly dark tale of her late father and her relationship) not only helped heal her, but also to reveal her strength. All of which we as readers also look for. Don’t we all want to be healed and strengthened? Susan says showing one’s weakness without fear, not hiding behind words or an image, is the real strength.

For example, I might write deeper into my longtime fear of not being chosen (for a team, friendship, prize) despite hard work and commitment. Or, my often-fulfilled situation of forming a group, or hosting a party for friends and loved ones, and then having the committed guests cancel. Fifteen minutes before the event. When the standing rib roast is coming out of the oven. Knowing how such betrayal crushes me, I try to respond to invites and requests in a timely, truthful way, and fulfill commitments even if “something came up.”

God! The pain of promised success–whether in friendship, finance or romance–that is inexplicably yanked away. I’m sure the lesson here is to stay loose, and flexible. But it’s still hard.

I’ve occasionally faced having to eat a beautiful dinner alone or semi alone. I accept that I’ll never understand the whys. But at such times I’ve somehow pulled myself together and asked someone else to come on the spur-of-the-moment, and had them come! I’ve also driven the meal to people who haven’t eaten yet, and will appreciate having dinner delivered. And had a blast!

To be successful, authors must come up with relatable characters, engaging plots, and fascinating twists and turns. We want to immerse readers in story and action. To do so, it turns out, we must also show ourselves/our characters as realistic, relatable, engaging, with fascinating twists, turns—including darkness and vulnerabilities. Maybe even celebrating same.

We don’t have to go overboard. Don’t have to devolve into melodrama. Who wants to come to that party? But we as authors can think more about our book characters, show their fears and weaknesses and, by proxy, some of our own. Which goes a long way forward making them “true.”As a matter of fact, I have begun to do exactly this in “Shadow on the River,” my current Work in Progress. It is Pepper Kane Mystery #5. It may be my strongest yet.


Yes, we’ve had some rain in Oregon. I have to come clean. Mud puddles are not my preferred body of water. Murky brown glimmers or shining silver sheets on the path or road hold terrors and mysteries my horse and I can only speculate about. Does that wet patch lying dead flat ahead or shimmering in a breeze, hide a rock, a bog, perhaps even a bottomless hole?

Same deal when an author writes toward a perceived hole or other obstacle in a book. I write forward boldly, stodgily or timidly, for forward I must go. While the soggy monster lying in the way grows larger and more threatening. I am drawn toward it, and yet I fear it. Funny thing is, the closer it looms the more I start second-guessing and questioning why I even considered such a random development in the first place. Why on Earth did I think I need this question, that scene, this surprising dialog, that shocking denouement? Am I mad? My heroine would never, SHOULD never, do such a thing. It’s out of character.

But is it really? I put a toe in, keeping one foot back on solid ground, and what the heck. Write her into the puddle, see what happens. My writers group balks. “You can’t have her/him doing that. It’s not realistic. Your readers won’t like it. I don’t like it.” I sulk a moment. Then I rise to the challenge.

“You say my amateur sleuth, Pepper Kane, wouldn’t let her memory challenged, 80-YO father go on night patrol on the guest ranch after a body was found? And that I, the writer, shouldn’t make him go?

It’s the the nudge this Creative needed. Go ahead. Tell me I can’t do it. Then I’ll move heaven and earth to prove you wrong, make my book even better than I’d imagined. What’s “wrong” suddenly seems terribly right. This plot twist, this character trait, was never expected. But that’s why it’s so damned satisfying when it works.

Does something similar happen to you? The more you want something, the more resistance you encounter, the less time or energy you seem have to go through or get past something unresolved or unpleasant? Yet you lift your chin, call in your courage and imagination, and tackle it anyway? I bet you often find it turns out pretty well, in the end. Maybe better than everyone thought.

My parting words to you, when writing, when living, when facing puddles? Maybe even a whole swamp? Embrace the mud!


What do you see in book covers? Promise of the world between them, of what a reader can expect as to theme, mood and style? Or a wall graffitii’d with a title and author name? To me a cover is like a front door. It can either be an invitation to enter, or a barrier that practically dares me to open it.

With the rise of covers shown in online vendor sites such as Amazon, we’ve noticed larger type and more contrasty colors against nondescript backgrounds. Or with simpler, cliched images (e.g., romance and Westerns). The thinking is to simplify since readers can’t discern detail let alone realistic people and places, in an image the size of a thumbnail or tarot card depending on the device displaying it. And with the barest suggestion of the characters, setting and action inside. Unless you’re familiar with the author’s work, buying such a book is a guessing game.

I don’t want to have to guess! I want to get an idea of what I’m buying. In the case of my own books, The Pepper Kane Mysteries—four to date, one one the way—I’ve been blessed with a publisher who asks if I have a cover concept. I not only have a concept, I have 200+ professionally shot photos from which to choose (thank you Jenny J Jaks Grimm), and a wonderful designer (Cheryl F. Taylor) to add filters, backgrounds and effects that suggest what’s inside the book. Perfectly. A Western show diva and her horse silhouetted against a mysterious background with symbolic details, e.g., a sky with full moon and owl (“Ghost Ranch”). Western colors such as coral, Sienna and aqua add to the ambience.

Many compliments have come our way for those covers—particularly the one for the latest, “Night Rides” (Pepper #4) with its mountain horizon, night sky and lightning bolt. But all capture well what I intended with the novels, which is a gripping, and sometimes beautiful and lighthearted, mystery set in today’s sophisticated American West, with shades of cozies and serious women’s fiction. Can we touch on tough issues like loyalty, child trafficking, and faith/race/gender prejudice? OK, but with a hopeful outcome.

Oh, yes. I worry the horse and the cowgirl hat will turn off some readers who think my books are Westerns, or horsey, or I-don’t-know-what. That with my books’ unique covers in related styles, which indicate a series, they might look a little different from “Big 5” or establishment covers. But I kind of love them for those same reasons! They ARE different, they do offer a unique entertainment and voice.

Besides. I get to immortalize not only a way of life I’ve enjoyed—horses, nature, life sleuthing and relationship building–but I also get to see my entire creative vision displayed. That’s big. And YOU get what you see. My doors don’t lie!

Write for the Brand

We’ve all heard about author “branding,” or creating an effective, identifiable writer persona that will draw readers of certain genres and  styles to our work. After all, whether out shopping for cars, tools, groceries or clothes, through experience or advertising, we expect certain things of a maker when it comes to fit, styles, craftsmanship.

It’s the same for manufacturers of fiction. Any kind of fiction, romance to mystery, family drama to literary. The author name on a book cover should raise readers’ expectations about what’s inside regarding genre fit, styles and craftsmanship. Therefore we author’s can’t be shy creating a literary persona. It is an authentic representation of who we are, what we care about, what we write.

This is not about one’s deep feelings, doubts, day to day triumphs and tragedies. Although if one “does” social media as part of the marketing plan, it can touch on such things. No. This is about a persona we create and reinforce, a detached name-brand guaranteeing a certain prose behind your name. Shrinking violets take heart. You, rather your public brand, are about writing or selling books. Maybe Ralph Lauren is the same dude who’s suggested in his company advertising with its depictions of an idyllic life sailing, attending polo matches, and living on an upscale Aspen ranch. But l’ll bet the farm he’s not telling all, and certainly is not spending sleepless nights thinking The Real Ralph (poor, shy, artsy Jewish boy from Brooklyn or wherever) will be discovered via his advertising.

When I began writing fiction for publication in 2014 or so, I sought a marketing mentor in a program offered free by Mystery Writers of America. They paired me with bestselling thriller author, Libby Fischer Hellmann. In phone interviews, she suggested I first identify and codify my author brand. That would go into a website, so readers could find and learn about my work. She had me pick a selfie or other portrait that captured what I am about—expression, favorite genre, and loved setting, etc.

Then she had me create my motto, or logo—six to ten words expressing the kind of books I write. Currently it is “New West Mysteries with Heart,” suggesting modern, cozy whodunits with a dash of romance. Writers with more than one category or genre can create a different logo or motto for each category.

Finally, this Carole T. Beers branding effort, after I’d identified what “look” and “motto,” stood for how I look, what I like to do, how I live and what I believe in, took me into social media. Free friending, free marketing, but first, gathering like-minded souls and responding to their posts. My brand was launched! Now I have 5,000 “friends” of my Facebook profile, 1,500 “likes” of my FB Carole T. Beers Author page, and opportunities daily to spread my message and reinforce my brand.

I am a friendly type, though clinically an introvert, and absolutely love doing it all. It does take time from writing. But what will my writing be, with no one drawn to read it?!

Let’s do a little exercise, to make sure you “get” this  branding thing., whether or not you’re a writer. Because every public thing an you do or say, whatever you post, drops info about you, for good or for ill. And you don’t want people confused by what you reoresent. Write down the names of three of your favorite or influential authors. Take a moment and pick out the best. Write down three qualities of personality, outlook, lifestyle or writing style you admire in these authors. That is their brand.

Now write down three to five of your own qualities of personality, outlook, lifestyle or style that you would like to be known for, or at least would not mind people knowing. Congratulations! You’ve just identified your brand. This can define and shape manuscripts. Or lives!

I had an idea about my brand long before I was published: New West Mysteries with Heart. I love the West old and new, books and art dealing with it, people navigating it, as well as horses, dogs and growing things. I love a mystery, risk, adventure. And celebrate our connections, gnarly or mutually gratifying. Energy and humor are musts. My website and posts reflect this. Unbranded livestock can be stolen or get lost in the herd. It simplifies my writing life, brings it into sharp focus.

For me, there’s no room for doubt. A brand tells readers what they need to know. What they might reasonably and reliably expect when they borrow or buy a book with my name of its cover. I write, therefore I brand. And I’ve branded myself so I can write even better. And be discovered, read, and relied on. Consistency and standing in your truth is a powerful thing.


Starting Fresh (But Not!)

Fresh starts require fresh thinking. And sometimes, no thinking. Let me explain. I’ve just sent “Night Rides,” Pepper Kane Mystery #4, off to the publisher, A-Argus, the small press in North Carolina that printed my three previous books. Quick acceptance, editing, forrmatting and turnaround. Now I have time and ideas on my hands—boy, do I have ideas—before proof copies come back for line editing and final author checks.

What better way to spend this time bonanaza than getting the jump on writing Book #5, where Pepper opens her long dreamed-of guest ranch—really a bed, barn and breakfast that offers a Western ranch experience as well side trips to other Rogue Valley recreational and cultural sites. Problem is, this book already exists, kinda. But in super rough-draft forrm, it representing the first run at the series. Written almost ten years ago!

There actually are three or four different beginnings to this book, originally called “The Hay Hook Murders.” The two main characters, best friends Tulip and Pepper, are reversed in look and name. There’s a whole different boyfriend. And some elements of the murder weapon seem wrong, not to mention that two whole chapters in the middle are missing. Entirely. So something happened between saving the digital draft, and printing out all 300 pages.

I’ve started re-reading the version(s) I have, which I can salvage as a kind of detailed outline. There is that. But now I’ve found so many versions of the beginning, and directions to go in, that I’ve become a bit confused. OK, a lot confused. Maybe I need to chuck the whole thing and start from square one.

But wait. There are some really good scenes, dialog, and useful people, in that draft. I realize it’s an advantage ro have options, to have a bunch of set characters with their own agendas, some already roughed-in scenes, and a general idea what’s going to happen. There’s gold in that there manuscript, albeit covered in grit and sitting at the bottom of the river. Time to pan for grains and nuggets, maybe even get out the old suction dredge.

I’m writing new. Just setting out, setting up camp, keeping to me vision for the book, but letting my subconscious that already knows the important bits, bring me along. This is the fresh-thinking and no-thinking part. Fresh, in terms of new wording and scene-setting. But completely new in terms of how and where the story goes. In terms of what I discover as I write forward into new yet oddly familiar territory.

That makes me excited. That makes this book #5 seem like an entirely new adventure. And if it feels that way to me, think how much more so it will feel that way to a reader. Tally ho, I say. Onward, the wagons. Northwest discoveries await.

Get real!


My author friend Tisha Martin’s smashing 5-star Amazon review of “Saddle Tramps” praises how I portray my characters, including horses—their  traits and trappings—convincingly.

It is the most lighthearted of my books, where I tested my author’s voice and outlook, explored what role horses would play—I don’t want to be thought only a “horse-book” author, though it paid off for Walter Farley—and uploaded onto the page some dark thoughts, goofy observations and sometimes off-center opinions I’ve developed over the years. I refined these, wove them even more tightly into the story in “Over the Edge”and “Ghost Ranch,” Pepper Kane Mysteries #2 and #3.

Formal Western horse shows are an abiding interest of mine, my area of expertise. Few authors I know of have understood or taken them on. There are some books on cutting, reining and roping. And Carly Kade does portray a trainer specializing in the “arena” Western pleasure, but not in an in-depth detailed way. Perhaps for fear of boring readers. My writer’s critique group keeps me keeping it interesting. Detailing what the rider thinks and feels doing the event, what they’re aiming for, maintains pacing and excitement. Particularly if the horse is a bit bronc-y!

Regarding another tack I take (pun intended), I think relationships, whether human or cross-species, absolutely must be FELT by an author as she writes. Actions, reactions and interactions that appear accurate make a book come alive for a reader. The personality and give-take between my amateur-sleuth and her horse—a thinking, feeling being with instincts that’ve helped it survive for millennia—come from my own experience. I really feel these things in my mind’s eye as I write.

Finally, to answer many an interviewer’s burning question, Pepper and Sonny’s opposite personalities and elusive but electrifying relationship reflects a long-ago love affair of mine that (in the dreamworld) persists to this day! And Pepper, herself, is a lot like me. Former reporter, dancer, cogitator, kidder, nature girl with sometimes expensive tastes. Hello?

Writing all this into a book, and a mystery, at that, while peppering it with believable humor, is daunting. Hell. All writing is scary. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

I think the key to any author’s success lies in fearlessly tapping into one’s true times and personality, warts and all. In fact a few warts, laid bare and shown honestly, can make one’s writing stand out. Hopefully in a good way. In other words, instances/essences of a writer’s actual life “goods” AND “bads,” dreams and disappointments edited and channeled into a book, make her word tapestry unique, fully engage people, and take them on that winning ride. It does help if one is able to walk in another’s boots and live as an empath on some level.

Takeaway? Feel the horse, the mother, the friend, the killer. Put yourself in the alley, onstage or in the arena. Analyze your feelings and thoughts at what’s happening around and to you, ask questions, what you imagine will happe or HAS happened, no matter how seemingly insignificant. Then record it. All of it. You can edit and refine later.

That’s how a writer sucks me into a book and makes me live inside it. That’s what I do when I craft my own books. They become code and a metaphor for real life, past/present, real or imagined. Setting it down lights a way, brings answers. And prepares me for more daring literary exploration. 

Yes, books can do that!

Writing Rogue!

Writing Rogue!

Whew! “Ghost Ranch,” my third Pepper Kane Mystery, has burst from the starting gate and is gathering steam on the backstretch with not one, but TWO giveaways on (one Kindle, one for Paperback). To enter the Kindle giveaway, click  To enter the Paperback contest click Or visit and search under “book giveaways.”

If you already have a copy of this fast, provocative novel featuring my spirited amateur sleuth, horsewoman and ex-reporter, enter anyway. If you win, give your prize to a friend or a favorite charity. May I suggest a cause that fights bullying or prejudice—strong themes in this book? Perhaps one that supports American Indian youth. Such as Seattle Clearsky Native Youth Council. These books are suitable for ages 15 and up.

Ghost Ranch by Carole Beers

With “Ghost Ranch” on its way and earning great reviews, notably by authors whose work I admire, I’ve turned my attention to my next book. Its working title? “Night Rides,” fourth in the series. I am setting this one in Seattle AND in Oregon’s Rogue Valley. Southern Oregon happens to be where I live now. Where I graduated from high school (Go Cavemen!) when dinosaurs roamed the Earth. Hey. I knew T. Rex personally!

Much as I love the Rogue Valley, the Puget Sound region is where I spent 40 years. After earning an editorial journalism degree at University of Washington, and selling stories to romance magazines and horse periodicals, I wrote for The Seattle Times for 32 years. And King County Journal. So I know and love this area. Bosky forests, steep hills, gleaming waters, energized people, and air scented with saltwater and (yes!) coffee. “Essence of horse” is optional.

With the new book I get to “live in” the best of both worlds. Don’t worry, I’ll figure out how to have the main crime committed at the horse show near Seattle, and how to transport the whole mob including the killer to Southern Oregon, Pepper Kane’s stomping grounds.

You readers have been very helpful in giving me the confidence to go ahead with this unique split approach to setting: Comments on my Carole T. Beers, Author page on Facebook included a lot of thumbs up. Using a venue other than Rogue Valley will freshen things, say some. Give the series added pizazz. Besides. The first two books in my series, “Saddle Tramps” and “Over the Edge,” started in the Rogue Valley and traveled to horse shows in California and Texas for their thrilling conclusion!


The Oregon sky arcs grey and wide over Red Horse and me as we leave the barn for a relaxing ride at Saddle Mountain Cattle Company. Cold, wet weather has kept us in the covered arena. We need to expand our horizons. But where to go? Down by the whispering Applegate River, to wade ankle-deep into that flashing water? Across the grasslands to where 80 Black Angus cows hang out below the ranch-house? Or to a field by the trees where three bulls graze?

I point my pony past the long arms of the Rainbird sprinklers. Put the sprinkler line between us and the bulls, who seem unconcerned with our presence. They’re 200 feet away. We’ve ridden near them before. No cows in sight, nothing to ruffle their calm. We start jogging large circles. Then small circles, figure eights, serpentines. Move to lope circles, each way. I like to revisit our horse-show moves, not let the training slide. It makes me feel we could compete again if we chose.

A crow flaps by overhead. A dog yelps somewhere on that forest ridge above the pastures. But not an anxious yelp, a bored, lazy one. Is that an eagle’s scree I hear?

Hoofbeats pound softly on cropped grass. I finger the reins to adjust speed and body angles. I rock and sway gracefully. A wonderful ride! Bliss. Like when a novel-writing session goes well. 

Until it doesn’t. The bull start to stir. Suddenly the largest one, a heavy-shouldered beast, lowers his head, strides toward the middle sized bull and rams his face into that of the other who pushes back. They stand locked forehead to forehead. They circle around joined heads that are capped by bony ridges minus horns. Around and around they go, the smallest bull watching.

The oldest bull pushes his opponent backward again and again, their hind ends tracing a larger circle. Then the smaller bull peels off, walks away. But the big bull follows, increasing his pace while the third bull trails these two.

Slowly the group arcs around. They are headed our way! Unnerved, unsure what that they will do, whether they are targeting me, I turn Red Horse toward the barn and start walking there. Safety is a good quarter-mile away. Don’t want to run; that may excite them more.

But they definitely are coming my way. Still targeting each other, or focused on me? I take no chances. I urge Red Horse into a jog. I look back over my shoulder. Still the black bulls come. I halt and turn to have a good look.  They’re coming even faster!  Who knows their intent? My heart races, my mouth goes dry. We trot forward faster.

We reach the barn doors a few dozen feet ahead of the running bulls. I pile off, lead Red Horse inside, and drag shut the heavy door as the bulls stampede by, headed to the cows by the house in the south.

Big exhale. Tragedy averted. But I’m shaken. It’s probable I wasn’t in danger at all. The bulls may have been focused only on themselves. But, better safe than sorry, yes? Corrective action taken in a timely fashion, ahead of the disaster, saves the day.

Note to self: If you THINK you’re in trouble, you probably are. Or at least headed for it. Therefore — as with a rogue, runaway novel in progress — take immediate action. Do not tarry, or be lulled or distracted by pretty scenes and phrases By past success.

Change course. Set your sights on a reachable, reasonable goal and head there. With dispatch. Go. Ride on, write on!


The double closet doors stand open, hangers displaying a variety of appealing colors, textures and styles of footwear, shirts and cardigans. The bureau drawers are open, too, showing pants of many colors. Which will be chosen for the upcoming author event for which I am the main attraction? I must choose soon. It’s nearing show time.

I’ve already rehearsed bits of my spiel in the mirror. Gone through what I will say, what feelings I will project for the hordes of adoring fans (if only!) that will attend to my every word and gesture. Why do I get the feeling that this bookish outing in which I surely will be judged, is eerily like competing in a horse show? Like riding in the spotlight, trying to stand out from the herd of other contenders, trying to look happily competent and sure of winning while my gizzards flip like a landed trout?

I’ve already flailed away at the mirror. Fluffed recalcitrant locks. Blushed my cheeks. Filled in eyebrows, eyelashes and eyelids with a dizzying array of crayons and potions. Applied with a discerning hand, of course. At my age (72) I don’t want to resemble a lavishly tended grave!

This outfit is tried and discarded. Then that one — “too dressy,” “too warm,” “too tight” (I’m cutting back on Cheezits tomorrow). I choose one, appropriately feminine and Western. Yes, that’s the look I want today. Then I hold out a book. I say a few words about it, trying to look as if I think this is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Cubed hay?

The Honda is packed and ready to hit the road. Books, posters, bookmarks, pens, goodies and guest book. And finally, so am I. Ready. Maybe. I’m sure I must have forgotten something. But I cannot for the love of Mike remember what. I can barely remember my own name, let alone salient points I want to mention about my “New West Mysteries with Heart.”

On the road again, driving to the bookstore (or library, reading group, literary festival), it feels as if I am warming up. I again practice saying my main points, running through the coming gig mentally, visualizing perfection. That, too, is what I did those wonderful years showing my horses in various events — Western pleasure, horsemanship, trail, hunt seat and showmanship. A confident calm settles over me. I really am ready.

The bookstore looms ahead. The “arena” where the magic happens. I park, bring my gear inside, set up at the table, adjust the microphone. Listeners trickle in. A tingle riffles through me. I review my points. A hint of stage fright — just enough to put me on point, with all my prep set to peak at the right time. Breathe, breathe. Cue energy. Do it like you did at home. Only better.

“Hello, it’s great to see you here today,” I begin, making eye contact with the two or twenty that have set aside part of their day to see me and hear about my books. “I hope you’re ready for a good ride — or, read — with my amateur cowgirl-sleuth in the modern West.” Or words to that effect. Keep it natural, make it easy for “judges” to like you and your books. Win that class!

I loved showing horses. A bit of a wreck beforehand, a bit overwhelmed by all the elements that went into preparing for those few minutes on the spotlight. Obsessed with this or that detail of outfit or presentation. Afraid of bombing, of going over like a dead horse.

But you know? Once underway with people watching, judging, responding, I come out a winner no matter how many judges like me, how many ask great questions, how many listeners buy my books. Really. It all depends on how you define winning. And believe me, I have a very broad definition of it!