To All My Friends and Family

Best Wishes for Peace, Happiness and Health in 2013. 
Let it be a great year, and don't forget to have a little fun.

 I'd like to give special thanks to the wonderful people who have helped me beyond measure this year:
Amity Grays
Julia Barrett
My husband, the Bronc Rider
Wonderful Beta Reader, Tonya Holmes
Jenn Contreras
Diane J Reed
All of my writer friends in my RWA group, Coeur Du Bois
My terrific kids who each in their own way have given me such joy.
And everyone who's encouraged me.


Diane J Reed--Author, Master of Fairy Lore

It is my pleasure to have my friend and terrific author, Diane J Reed as my guest blogger, today. I have been one of her greatest fans since reading her debut book, TWIXT. I was enchanted, frightened and completely fascinated by the characters and setting, which is in the Idaho mountains near where I was raised.
Today, she's releasing her next book, a YA novel, Robin in the Hood.
Here is her interview for The Next Big Thing.

Hi Diane,
What is the working title of your next book?
Robin in the Hood

Where did the idea come from for the book? 
I was always buying YA books for my teenage niece, and to make sure they were appropriate for her age level, I would read a copy first before giving one to her. And I got so tired of wimpy heroines who chase after Alpha guys that dominate them! So I finally blurted out to my niece, "Just for once I'd like to see a YA book about a girl who directs her own life and who's feisty enough to do what it takes to solve her own problems—you know—by robbing banks or something!" And voila—the idea for my book was born.

What genre does your book fall under? 
YA Contemporary Romance

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition? 
Abigail Breslin is 15 now and she would be PERFECT for the part of rich-girl-gone-bad Robin McArthur. And I have my eye on Alex Pettyfer to play the street-tough backwoods hero Creek. 

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?  
Robin in the Hood is the story of a wealthy teenage girl whose family hits the skids, so she turns to robbing banks to make ends meet—only to find true love along the way.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? 
It will be published through my company Bandits Ranch Books.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript? 
A year.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? 
I consider Robin McArthur a teenage version of the feisty heroine in Janet Evanovich's One for the Money. Robin in the Hood is also similar to the themes in Pretty Crooked by Elisa Ludwig.

Who or what inspired you to write this book? 
I simply wanted to see a fun, page-turning YA novel published with a self-directed heroine who tries to solve her own problems—even if things turns out wacky sometimes!

What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?  
When Robin's rich & crooked family hits the skids, she takes her father to a trailer park to hide him from authorities—and the people there become the first truly loving "family" she's ever known. Then she partners up with Creek, the local bad boy in crime, to provide for their neighbors, and the two of them strike up an unlikely but powerful love affair that changes their lives forever... 

Thanks, Diane.

The Next Big Thing

Thanks to friend, fellow writer and All-Around cowgirl, Kari Lynn Dell, I’ve been tagged in The Next Big Thing meme. The premise is for an author to answer ten questions about the project they’re working on, so here goes:

What is the working title of your next book?
Sugarwater Ranch has been the working title, but I’m also considering With a Cowboy Like Him. It’s a toss-up right now.

Where did the idea come from for the book?
Nearly five years ago I read a contemporary rodeo romance. The author had done a wonderful job of writing the romance, but the rodeo and horse information was so off base that I cringed. I read on, eventually hoping the heroine would just shoot the TSTL hero and get it done with.
Speaking of TSTL--my next thought was, 'how hard can it be to write a book'? So I decided to try, you know, just whip one out and have a best seller. Little did I know the amount of time, struggle and high learning curve it takes to write a good book. 
My hat’s off to all the great writers out there.

What genre does your book fall under?
Contemporary Romance, or to be more specific, Contemporary Western Romance. Ah heck, it’s Rodeo Romance with cowboys and cowgirls, of course, and bucking horses, bulls and rodeo clowns.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
I have a hard time choosing an actor or actress. I don’t watch a lot of TV, and the last movie I watched in a theater was The Jerk, starring Steve Martin. That was back in the . . . well, never mind.  Suffice it to say, I’d rather read.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Sean O’Connell’s life was perfect until drinking affected his bull riding, and he ended the season too broke to leave the Northwest for the warm southern rodeos.
When bar manager Catherine Silvera finds a waterlogged, unconscious cowboy in danger of freezing to death in front of the Sugarwater Bar, she saves his life--then runs away faster than a jackrabbit with a coyote on its tail.  Any man who makes his living following the rodeo circuit is not for her, especially if he thinks partying is part of the competition. 
Okay, that’s three. I guess I’ll have to work on that.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
It will be represented by an agency. I'm not ready to try to self-publish. Learning to write taught me a lesson. Not one part of putting out a book is easy.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
I started Sugarwater Ranch during National Novel Writers Month 2011. It took 30 days to put fifty-five thousand words on paper for the first draft. After nine months of revisions, it is now finished at eighty-four thousand words.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I’d like to compare it to Katie Lane’s, Deep in the Heart of Texas series with a little touch of magic. If I could write as well as Katie, I’d be happy.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
This book was inspired by all the rodeo friends I’ve known and traveled with for most of my life. They are a different breed. I wanted to write a romance involving cowboys and cowgirls with life on the rodeo trail accurately portrayed.

What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?
Readers might be interested in the rodeo and ranching scenes. I’ve kept them as true to life as I could. Or, they might be interested in the blond, green-eyed, totally hot hero, Sean O’Connell.

And now that the hard part is done, it’s my pleasure to introduce you to more remarkable and gifted authors. Drum roll, please . . .

I met Diane J Reed after reading her wonderful book, TWIXT. Diane chose to set her story in a small Idaho town not far from where I live. As I read, I could picture the beautiful mountain scenery. If you like fairies, magic and a love that traverses different worlds, you’ll love TWIXT.

Jacquie Rogers is a multi-published author whose motto of Fairies and Dragons and Mules--Oh My! has me laughing every time I visit her website. Her Heart of the Owyhees series is the best of historical western romance. Jacquie writes in several genres, including Faeries. Oh, and mules. With Jacquie, there’s something for everyone.

I got hooked on Dianne Solberg’s serial titled Angus & Lily--The ‘Clysm Wars. I waited for each chapter to come out and was disappointed when she finally brought it to an end. Dianne then began another wonderful story called, The Bear Facts. I can’t wait to see what Dee comes up with next.

I found John Ross Barnes  on the #amwriting website. I enjoyed his blogs then got to know him better as a Twitter friend. He writes a variety of genres, including Friday Flash fiction, Haiku, Gogyohka--and, yes, I had to look the last one up. It's a very interesting form of Japanese poetry.

If you're looking for a realistic view of life on a working ranch, tempered with a touch of humor, visit Kari's blog, Montana for Real.
Thanks, Kari.



We are having most of the family over for a big traditional feast. Where ever you are and what ever you are doing, I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving. Smile and enjoy today.

Expressing Freedom

             I'm so excited to have my friend and fellow writer, Craig Carter, here today. He writes, among other things, a weekly editorial for the Argus Observer.

                Here’s something interesting.  According to the US Census and the Centers for Disease Control, the five fattest states in the country are also the five poorest--Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky and West Virginia.
                How can people be fat and poor? Well, it’s partially because overly processed, fatty food is plentiful and cheap. Which means poor people don’t starve to death in America. They die from obesity and nutrition related ailments. Plus, Southerners traditionally eat a lot of fatty, fried food.
                It’s also interesting that these five states are the center of the college football universe. Yes sir, each of these states can boast at least one huge college football stadium and multimillion dollar facilities and yet, the states the stadiums are in are poor and fat. Speaks volumes about priorities, doesn’t it?
                However, I’m a politics geek, so what I noticed is without exception, voters in our nation’s fattest and poorest states vote overwhelmingly for Republicans. (What do you call a Democrat in Mississippi? The quietest person in town.) This is especially interesting because Mitt Romney was pretty much talking about these states when he made his now infamous comment about the “47%.” And yet voters in those states wouldn’t vote for a Democrat if you held a gun to their heads.
                Now, my parents, who were FDR Democrats, always told me Republicans were the party of the rich and privileged. And if you listen to liberal pundits, you’ll hear the same argument. But Southerners voting predominately Republican kinda blows that theory out of the water doesn’t it? Well, as it is with most things political, it’s really not that simple.
                You see, the reason Southerners vote predominately for Republicans is because a Democratic president, Lyndon Johnson, foisted the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 on the South. Before that, the South was every bit as partisan for the Democrats as it is for Republicans now, because Southerners didn’t like a certain Republican, Abraham Lincoln, who also kinda forced federal policy on the region. (Which is to say both Johnson and Lincoln dragged the South kicking and screaming into the real world, and Southerners held (and hold,) a ponderous political grudge.)
                But here’s where the plot thickens. Had it not been for Republicans, LBJ wouldn’t have been able to pass the Civil Rights Act or the Voting Rights Act, because those 2 pieces of legislation caused southern Democrats to switch parties in droves, leaving LBJ to court and win the votes of Northern Republican senators and Congressmammals. (Many of whom later switched parties.)
                There are many lessons to be learned from such political history, but I’m neither smart nor astute enough to reach a single, unifying conclusion here. I just find the way free citizens choose to express their freedom incredibly interesting. You can draw whatever conclusions you wish.


End of Summer--or the last cutting of hay

  About this time of year, the last cutting of hay takes place here in the Western Treasure Valley. This is what it looks like on our farm. First the swather cuts it and arranges it into rows.

After being cut, it drys from one to several days in the field, depending on the moisture in the air. During the drying period hay is in the most danger of damage. Rain during this time can rot the alfalfa and make it unfit to be fed to the animals.
We have been in a drought much like the Mid-west, but we have reservoirs holding vast amounts of water saved from the winter snows. During the summer growth period we can irrigate the fields. When its dry, the baler moves in and makes short work of the large 3' x 4' x 8' bales.
 It takes a lot of practice and a talented loader driver to stack ten 1300 pound bales onto each flatbed truck. Fully loaded, the trucks carry over 13,000 pounds with each load.
 The thirteen tons of hay loaded on these two trucks is on it's way to the stack yard.
In the end, from this cutting, we have around 260,000 pounds of hay, finished and ready to be fed throughout the winter. Next spring, the cycle will start all over again. 
If you've never stood in a blooming alfalfa field, let me assure you those small purple flowers are among the most aromatic blooms in the world.


The LOOK Challenge from Jacquie Rogers

I've been tagged.

According to the rules, you're supposed to do a search in your work in progress for the word "look" and then paste the surrounding paragraph(s) and tag as many people as possible.   
Okay, here goes.Sean O'Connell's life has been great until this year. He has spent his time riding bulls and winning. After the rodeos, the party begins. Life was great until this summer. His winning streak slowed to a crawl. He finds himself without enough money to go to Arizona to the winter rodeos and has to get a real job. 

After being on the losing end of a run-in with his brother-in-law, he needs the soothing comfort of a beer and just happens to find the Sugarwater Bar.

            “You don’t look so good, partner. Run into a fist?” The old man behind the bar cackled, as he served a beer to the only other patron, a woman who fit the bar stool like a saddle on a duck.

            “Just get me a boilermaker and cut the jokes,” Sean said as he dropped onto a stool and leaned his fore arms against the bar. He was in no mood to play games.

            The bartender drew a beer and poured the shot. Sean grabbed the whiskey and threw it back. He grimaced then lifted the mug and sucked down the beer.

            “Hit me again,” he growled, slamming the mug onto the bar and sliding it toward the bartender.

            “Looks like you’ve already been hit.”

             The sharp bark of laughter made Sean grind his teeth. His muddled brain had just enough clarity to know if he wanted another drink, he’d have to control his temper. “Boilermaker, please.”

            “I’ll have to see some cash first,” the older man said. “You’ve stiffed us before.”

            “Not me. I’ve never been here before. Besides, I always pay my way.” Sean concentrated, trying to get a clear picture of the old man before him. He couldn’t quite see the bartender, but he was sure he hadn’t been to this place before.

            “Sure you do, sonny, but we run a cash-up-front system.”

            God, he hated to beg, but at this point, he’d do about anything for another drink. “I’m flat broke, but I get paid Friday. I’ll bring in the money then if you’ll let me have one more tonight.”  He even sounded pitiful to his own ears.

            Without taking his eyes off Sean, the bartender called out. “Junior, we have us a moocher here, and it’s time for him to leave.”

            “I’ll pay twice what you charge, if you’ll run a tab until Friday,” Sean said. “Come on, help me out.” When had he been reduced to begging? There had been a time when he entered a joint like this as if he owned it.

            A young man the size of Bigfoot came into the bar from the back room. “Him, Papa?” he said, as he approached.

            The bartender looked at Sean and asked, “You want to leave on your own or have Junior help you?”

            Sean would’ve liked to save face and leave under his own power, but he couldn’t seem to get off the stool. With resignation, he laid his head on the bar and waited. At least he was drunk enough that he might not feel the blows until tomorrow.

I'm tagging:
Amity Grays @amitygrays
Dianne Solberg @wxmouse
Kristi Atkinson @kristyatkinson
Penny Watson @PennyRomance


The Higgs Boson Discovery Explained by Someone Who is There

My guest blogger today is Joe Bochenek, a Ph.D student at Florida State University. He is working at CMS, one of the experiments at the Large Hadron Collider, located on the border between Switzerland and France.The LHC announced observation of a new particle on July fourth.

Stephanie--Joe, what can you tell us about the amazing discovery that has taken place at the LHC?

Large Hadron Collider
Joe--The exciting thing about the LHC is that it is on the absolute boundary of human knowledge about nature.  There is a theory called the Standard Model of Particle Physics that describes all of the matter that we know about, from stars to the particles that make up a new born baby, to more exotic forms of matter.  Everything we have observed experimentally fits in to this eloquent mathematical framework, and this framework can be used to make predictions to fantastic accuracy.  

The only problem is that the framework, by itself, is incomplete - it has a mathematical inconsistency. To fix this, some very smart theoretical Physicists, including Peter Higgs, proposed an addition to the theory.  This addition is called the Higgs field (keep this distinct in your mind from the Higgs boson, which is related but not the same).  The Higgs field "fixes" the standard mode so that the Standard Model gives us everything: a theory that describes all that we have seen in experiments over the last 100 years or more, and complete mathematical consistency.  But if we include this modification to the theory we get some extra baggage, and that baggage is called the Higgs boson.  

The Higgs boson is a particle predicted by the Standard Model if we include the Higgs field -- it MUST exist if the Higgs field exists, so we should be able to see it in our experiments.  No Higgs particle, no Higgs field, no consistency, and thus our theory is wrong, and there must be something else that we don't know about or haven't been clever enough to think up.

         Electromagnets at the LHC

However, on July 4th the world saw evidence for a particle that is consistent with a Higgs boson.  If, upon further scrutiny, it turns out to be the Higgs field, then the theorists who proposed it 50 years ago will be very happy.  

Then again, it could be something else.  It could be something that is imitating the Higgs field, or it could be a brand of Higgs boson a bit different from the one predicted.  In either case it would mean that there is more in nature than our theory tells us.  But this is actually a good thing because we can use this new particle, whatever it is, to try to determine the real theory that explains everything.  That is, at least if we're wrong, we have a lead.  When we have more data we will be able to measure the properties of this new particle and better determine if it is a Higgs boson, or if not, we can see more clearly what it is.

Now I should mention that Cosmological experiments tell us that normal matter -- quarks, electrons and the other particles described by the standard model -- only make up 4% of the universe.  The rest of the universe is comprised of so-called "dark matter" and "dark energy".  

We don't know ANYTHING about this stuff, but we can see that it is there by the way stars move around each other.  So even if the particle we observe is a Standard Model Higgs boson, and the Standard Model is shown to be right, we still have a lot to learn about the universe, and we hope that we can catch some hint of what is out there using the LHC, in concert with other experiments.  

Also, we know that even if we have found the Higgs, that the standard model doesn't explain gravity.  So there are many problems left unsolved.  But that is the nature of pure science: you don't know what you will find until you look.  You don't know what will be the windfall a particular experiment, either technologically, scientifically or just in terms of human edification, until you look over that next mountain.  Or maybe you won't find anything at all (of course, we're pretty sure we would find something otherwise we wouldn't have built the experiment and dedicated many sleepless nights to making it work).  And so the observation of this new particle at the LHC is very encouraging.

I think this is a good video explaining the Higgs better than I could (and the artwork is cool):

Or for something less colorful, here is the CERN press release from July 4th:

Stephanie--Joe, thank you for your explanation. I think I understand a little more about this fascinating subject. Keep us up to date on any new discoveries.

Joe--Thank you.