Q&A with Shirley Penick

Do you love small town cowboy romances? Shirley Penick writes some great ones :)
Here are some questions my fellow Romance Book Club* Readers asked her this past month (minus the spoiler ones)! 

*To join the Book Club go here

-  When did you start writing? Was it a hobby at first or did you always wanted to be a writer?
No, I did not always want to be a writer, I nearly failed English in high school and still don’t know what a dangling participle is. However, I have always been an avid reader from my Nancy Drew days right on until today. I started writing at my day job. My boss was only utilizing me about 25% or the time and didn’t want to change that. So, at first, I read lots of ebooks and then one day I thought maybe I should try writing. So, I did. My first stories were a mess and I had to read lots of craft books to shape them up. I started writing in 2011, just dabbling, I got serious and published my first book in 2016.

- When you are not writing what genre do you enjoy reading? And do you have a ’go-to’ author?
I still read a lot, mostly romance both contemporary and historical. My son and granddaughter talked me into Harry Potter and I read the whole series in 2 weeks. I read everything Nora Roberts/JD Robb, Susan Mallery, Julia Quinn, Jill Shalvis, and Stephanie Laurens write as soon as they come out! On top of that are a bunch of others I read as I can get to them.

- What was the inspiration behind A Cowboy for Alyssa?
I wrote the prequel The Rancher’s Lady after a talk about having a novella that could be a loss leader or perma-free. It’s a story about Alyssa’s father and stepmother, Alyssa played matchmaker. It’s a holiday story but people loved it. They loved the cowboy, they loved Alyssa. Even though I’d written four other stories about firefighters, people bought the holiday novella all the time. I love cowboy stories too. So, I decided to write my own cowboy stories and started with Alyssa as an adult. I loved her as a child so I knew she would be fun as an adult.

- What was the inspiration behind the series as a whole?
My dad’s family were ranchers. My mom’s family owned a feed store. My brother and sister were in a precision horse riding club and I drove the trailer to the practices and parades. We went to stock shows and rodeos in Denver and the surrounding area. So, I’ve had a peripheral connection to cowboys all my life. When I decided to write cowboys, I chose to place them in the area we vacationed in every year of my youth. In the mountains of Colorado, my town is called Spirit Lake but it’s really Grand Lake, Colorado, with some of the shops and restaurants from Estes Park thrown in.

- Are the stories completely fiction or do you use experiences or moments from your own life to write about? 
There are definitely some moments from my life thrown in, but mostly in the Lake Chelan series. My father was a volunteer firefighter and we lived a few houses down from the fire station. My parents were young, so we always had a house full of firemen. Lots of pranks were pulled on us with our family returning the favor. So, the flavor of the volunteer firefighters in my Lake Chelan series is patterned after my youth, and some of the pranks actually happened.

- Who was your favorite character to write and why?
I have 16 books with 32 main characters and dozens of secondary characters. I love them all! Sandy and Greg from The Fire Chief’s Desire were actually the first characters that I wanted to tell about. They ended up being book #5 in that series. But they are the ones that started the journey. Sandy is a game developer, in my former life I was a programmer, so I relate to her and her geeky personality. The other one I relate to a lot is Patricia in Helluva Engineer, which is a totally stand alone, no overlapping characters story, it’s set in a mineral engineering college in Colorado that is ‘in essence’ the one I attended. My minor was Geology, Patricia is a Geology professor.

- When you write about the farming and such how do you get the detailed information about how the cattle are handled etc? Is that done by research on the subject? 
My brother worked on my uncle’s ranch for several summers, so most of that information comes from him. However, I still do a lot of research whenever I want to delve into some area. I ask people, I still have cousins in the ranching business, or I look it up online. Some of the later books I’ve used bits of the lives of the female cover models.

-  Are your two book series related?
Yes. Alyssa and Rachel, the heroine in Taming Adam, are both from the town in my Lake Chelan series. So, you will see the two intertwine here and there. All my books are written to be stand alone, however if you like reading the progression, the best reading order is actually the publication date, rather than by series, because I put tidbits of information from the previous stories in whatever I’m writing and I flip-flop between the two series.

-  Is the Colorado as bad as it was explained in the book?
I assume this is about the weather, and yes it certainly can be. I took a bunch of girl scouts for a hike one year up into the mountains close to where this story takes place. It was a gorgeous sunny summer day, when we got to the top above treeline, which means we were the tallest things in the vicinity, a huge thunderstorm rolled in. It was terrifying, being in charge of a dozen girls in a torrential downpour and lightning flashing all around. Everyone made it safely down the mountain. People in Colorado carry winter coats, rain gear, snow scrapers, winter boots, and a full change of clothing everywhere they go, summer or winter. The motto is “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes”. Just like when Alyssa gets trapped in the snowstorm, bad weather comes in fast and leaves fast. Snow storms of three feet during the night will turn into bright sunshine and warm temperatures in the morning and the snow is melted off the roads by noon (of course they do plow and salt and sand there so that helps with the melt).

- Do you only write romance?
So far. It’s my primary love. I am going to get into a bit more suspense with my romance, as I go forward. Trusting Drew has more suspense and I had fun writing it.

Thank you Shirley for joining us! 
Find out more through Shirley's Website HERE 

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