Andrea Downing has spent most of her life in the UK where she received an M.A. from the University of Keele in Staffordshire. She married and raised a beautiful daughter and stayed on in England to teach and write, living in the Derbyshire Peak District, the English Lake District and the Chiltern Hills before finally moving into London. During this time, family vacations were often on guest ranches in the American West, where she and her daughter have clocked up some 17 ranches to date. In addition, she has traveled widely throughout Europe, South America, and Africa, living briefly in Nigeria. In 2008 she returned to the city of her birth, NYC, but frequently exchanges the canyons of city streets for the wide open spaces of the West. Her love of horses, ranches, rodeo and just about anything else western is reflected in her writing. Loveland, a western historical romance published by The Wild Rose Press, is her first book. She is a member of Romance Writers of America and Women Writing the West.
We’ve all been there: the large hotel in Anywheresville that just happens to have a conference going on at the same time you’re trying to give your sorry uh-soul some rest. You get into the elevator and it’s packed with people wearing name tags, clip boards in hand, women trying to be comfortable in high heels they’ve already been wearing for eight hours, and men…ugh! That smug look. Does it have anything to do with the sounds that later come barging through the wall at one o’clock in the morning? When someone says “conference” to me, I cringe. Thank goodness The Wild Rose Press, my publisher, called theirs a “retreat.”
So, what’s the difference? Were we in monk’s cells, sworn to quiet and bread and water for a week? Saying prayers that our next chef d’oeuvre get the contract of our dreams followed swiftly by rave reviews and a spot on the NYT Best Sellers List? Were we even forced into self-flagellation for not having written the next Fifty Shades? Uh, no. Authors get enough of that at home. This retreat was at a ranch in Bandera, Texas. And let me tell you, pard, when you say “ranch” and “Texas” to me in the same breath, my horse is saddled and ready.
The Silver Spur Guest Ranch is nestled in the peaceful, undulating landscape of Texas Hill Country. No elevators here, and certainly no high heels. The rooms were hardly cell-like; named after western heroes such as Wyatt Earp, Annie Oakley and Doc Holiday, they are comfortably furnished in an old western style. And as for the food, we certainly weren’t starving on bread and water; there were hearty meals with fabulous deserts to follow. But what actually happened there? That word “retreat” still hangs in the air…
The main idea was to have time away from family commitments, household chores, ringing phones and other distractions and just work. The huge, inviting living area of the main lodge was where we all settled, computers at the ready, for a day of either getting on with our own WIPs or taking part in workshops run by the editors on hand. Some workshops were aimed at having our work critiqued to improve our writing, while others, simply to get our creative juices flowing. And if I tell you there were bowls of candy and drinks in the fridge available for our consumption, that hopefully shows you how relaxed and pleasant the atmosphere was.
But, as they say, that’s not all! There was, of course, horse riding available and we were also treated, in the spirit of the Halloween season, to tarot readings and angel card readings. Oh, and ghost stories… Silver Spur is haunted, a hanging having taken place on the property some time in the 19th Century. As you ride through the wooded area of the pasture, you come upon a noose where the hanging supposedly took place. And there’s a lady in white as well as a cowboy roaming the lodge and flashing the lights. I was more interested, however, in present-day cowboys and moseyed on in to Bandera, a few miles away, with its honky-tonks and bars. But the best bit was meeting and sharing time with fellow writers I had only known via the listserv, putting names to faces, and having a good laugh at the foibles of writing.
Yup, retreating to the ‘cowboy capitol of the world’ sure was tough work. Do I really have to wait two years for the next one?
Find Andrea and Loveland at these sites
When Lady Alexandra Calthorpe returns to the Loveland, Colorado, ranch owned by her father, the Duke, she has little idea of how the experience will alter her future. Headstrong and willful, Alex tries to overcome a disastrous marriage in England and be free of the strictures of Victorian society –and become independent of men. That is, until Jesse Makepeace saunters back into her life…
Hot-tempered and hot-blooded cowpuncher Jesse Makepeace can’t seem to accept that the child he once knew is now the ravishing yet determined woman before him. Fighting rustlers proves a whole lot easier than fighting Alex when he’s got to keep more than his temper under control.
Arguments abound as Alex pursues her career as an artist and Jesse faces the prejudice of the English social order. The question is, will Loveland live up to its name?
EXCERPT FROM LOVELAND
The two men looked over at Jesse who was leading his own horse into the stable, anger etched in every muscle of his face. Joe nodded toward the chuck house and they followed the others in to leave Alex alone when Jesse came out.
She was starting back to the main house when Jesse grabbed her arm and turned her around. “You ever do that again,” he said in a voice she had never heard, intense in its anger, rage just below its surface, “I swear to God, Alex, I’ll…I’ll take you over my knee and give you a lickin’ once and for all.”
“How dare you!” She shook him off. “How dare you talk to me like that! How dare you! Who the hell do you think you are?”
Jesse jabbed his finger at her to emphasize he meant what he was saying. “Who do I think I am?”he snarled back. “Who do I think I am? You ever, ever take a gun off me again and point it at someone, you’ll find out who the hell I think I am. You know that coulda gone off? You know you coulda killed someone? I told you—out there yonder—I told you, you never point that thing at anyone less’n you mean bus’ness.”
“I did bloody well mean business! They were destroying that horse. Furthermore, I knew, and you knew, and they both knew, there wasn’t a shot under the hammer. You taught me that, didn’t you? So there was no chance of an accident!”
“That don’t matter none. You coulda pulled the hammer back twice. Way you was, you were nothin’ better’n a loose cannon, Alex. You ever do a thing like that again—”
“You’ll what?” She shook with her rage as tears pooled against her will. “I apologized to them both and they accepted my apologies. It’s none of your concern—”
“None of my concern! You pulled my gun! You ever do that again— Don’t you walk away when I’m talkin’ to you!”
She turned back to him after a few steps. “You’ll what? You’ll what, Jesse? What will you do? I want to hear it! Say it again. What will you do?” And she stood there in the evening darkness, facing him down, wearing him out like she’d faced down the stallion.