Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Contemporary Comparisons

 When asked to share a post, Leigh Bale and Shannon Taylor Vannatter were honored. Once paired, they realized their books shared some similarities. The authors thought it would be fun to compare books with a Q & A.

  • The hero in Leigh’s book was best friends with the heroine’s brother. The heroine in Shannon’s book was best friends with the hero’s sister. Both siblings are deceased now.

      Leigh:  Sean Nash, the hero in the story, felt guilty when he couldn’t save his best friend (and the heroine’s brother) during a burnover while they were fighting wildfire.  Sean and Tessa (the heroine) were engaged to be married at the time, but he feared she might always blame him for the death of her brother and that, over time, her anger might canker inside of her and eventually destroy their marriage.  So, he broke off their engagement.  But the deeper problem is survivor’s guilt.  Sean can’t accept that there was nothing he could do to save his friend.  He needs to learn to have faith and trust that God cares for each of us, even during a horrible tragedy like this.

      Shannon:  Landry Malone befriended Chase Donovan’s sister when they both attended culinary school in San Antonio and ended up working and living at the  Donovan family ranch in Bandera. During those years, Chase was traveling and working as a hunting guide. They never met. After his sister’s death, they learned she left Landry her half of the dude ranch. When Landry shows up to claim her inheritance, that’s when she meets Chase, who owns the other half. Because his family owns a successful dude ranch, he’s run into a few gold-diggers over the years and assumes Landry scammed his sister into her will. Needless to say, he doesn’t trust her and they don’t get along at first.

  • Why do you enjoy writing romances?

      Leigh:  I just love writing romance, period.  I think the world needs more romance in it.  Healthy romance that shows two normal people with failings and foibles who learn to love someone else more than they love themselves, and to learn to love and trust God more than they trust themselves.  That’s what the world needs more of.  And being able to write stories of faith and love brings all of that together.  I feel like I’m sending a powerful message “out there” to the universe by bearing my testimony within my writing.  That God lives and loves and cares for each and every one of us.  That He knows us each as his children and wants only the best for us.  Romance rocks!

      Shannon: Romances were the first books I read as a teen, so I’ve always loved the genre. When I decided the story, that had been in my head forever, could be a book, it came out a romance. But my characters kept talking to God, so I let them. Once I started trying to find out how to get published, I learned there was a Christian romance market. I love weaving a spiritual thread into the romance and pointing readers to God. My goal is to show that in order to find lasting love, both parties should have a relationship with God first. My motto is – love doesn’t make the world go around, God does.

  • The hero and heroine in Leigh’s book end up in a boss/employee situation. The hero and heroine in Shannon’s book are business partners. Describe your characters’ occupations and the research you had to put into them.

     Leigh:  As the story opens, Tessa Carpenter is returning to a fictitious town named Minoa, Nevada, to start the wildfire season.  She is a hotshot on the Minoa Interagency Hotshot Crew (also fictitious), an elite wildfire fighting team that serves as an international resource for wildfire suppression.  During the winter months, Tessa is working to complete her Master’s degree in fire science.  She has goals and plans to one day work as a Fire Management Officer for the U.S. Forest Service. 

The previous summer, her beloved brother, who was also a member of the Hotshot crew, was killed during a burnover.  Sean, Tessa’s fianc√©, broke off their engagement.  She is stunned when she discovers that Sean has since been promoted to superintendent over the crew and she wonders how she can work under him while combatting the friction of their past history together. 

I developed the story off of some very real situations my own father had faced during his years of fighting wildfires.  He worked for the Forest Service and retired as an Assistant Forest Supervisor.  He served for over 25 years on a Type I wildfire crew and knew the lay of the land.

Also, I went to high school with one of the first female Hotshots, JoAnn Overacker.  She worked for my dad when he was a Forest Ranger and did, indeed, become a Fire Management Officer.  Her husband is Greg Overacker, a former superintendent of the Stanislaus Hotshot Crew.  They were kind enough to host me at their home and took me over to meet the actual Stanislaus Hotshot Crew members.  They answered questions, showed me their equipment, told me stories and how they would handle real life volatile situations.  They were so kind and generous to me.

I did a lot of reading and searching the Internet as well, but talking to all of these people was transcendent for me.  When I wrote “Wildfire Sweethearts,” I ended up making it too gritty and realistic and my editor needed me to basically rewrite the entire book.  It has made this book both my most hated and my most favorite of all time, because I had to work so hard to write it.  If readers enjoy the story, then it was worth every moment of that work.

      Shannon: My heroine is a chef. And I hate to cook. At the dude ranch, Landry serves as chef, hostess, maid, lifeguard, and booking agent. I did lots of research online for restaurant codes and lifeguard certification. I also watched a couple of Hallmark movies featuring chefs and some cooking shows on TV to get a feel for food preparation. For the hospitality part, I picked the brain of a fellow writer who’s worked in hotels for years.

There are at least a dozen real dude ranches in Bandera. I visited one and researched the rest online, then took things I liked about several different ones to create my fictional ranch. I guess it turned out pretty good since my critique partner said she wanted to stay there.

The hero is an ex-hunting guide, dude ranch owner, trail guide. He doesn’t like all the day to day inside stuff, so he’s in charge of entertaining guests on outdoor expeditions like bonfires and fishing excursions. I know lots of people who go on trail rides, so I picked their brains. My husband’s brother’s father-in-law recently retired from being an exotic hunting guide, so I’d heard lots of his stories. And my son loves to fish, so he was helpful in that area. I also watched City Slickers, an old comedy about city folk staying at a dude ranch, but ended up turning it down due to language.

The main thing I had to research for this book was oak wilt. I’ve seen it’s effects during our Texas visits. My father-in-law’s ranch used to be very secluded and wooded with live oaks everywhere to the point you couldn’t see their house from the road. Oak wilt has killed almost all of the trees. And the spot I mention in the book on the way to Bandera used to be peppered with live oaks. They were twisted from wind and lack of rain, looked like they’d been there for centuries and would survive anything. They’re almost all dead now.

I had to research different treatments for oak wilt, government programs and incentives to rid trees of it, along with the cost. Thank goodness for the internet.

  • Both heroes are dealing with guilt. Give us insight into what they blame themselves for and why.
      Leigh:  As I’ve already mentioned, Sean Nash cannot accept that he couldn’t save the life of Zach, his best friend.  At the time, Sean was Zach’s squad leader and took him to work in a chimney area, which is not an ideal place to work because if the fire starts burning below them, the landscape can channel that fire right up toward them.  Unfortunately, they lost radio communication with base command and didn’t realize that a button-hook fire had worked its way over below them. 

By the time they realized the danger, Sean had just enough time to alert the rest of the crew to the danger.  He tried to take Zach into a previously burned area where they could deploy their fire shelters, but Zach panicked and refused to go with him.  Zach ran the wrong way.  Sean faced a moment of decision where he could have followed Zach and lost his life, or he could go into the previously burned out area and try to save his own life. 

Because he lived, he now blames himself for Zach’s death.  He can’t accept that there was nothing he could have done to save Zach and that he had to put his life in God’s hands.  Sometimes, we each face situations where we want to alter the outcome, but it is out of our hands.  We each have our own free agency to make choices for ourselves. 

When someone we care about makes choices that cause dramatic harm, we feel responsible for.  This is when we need to exercise faith and turn our angst over to the Lord.  There is no sin of commission or omission, no heartache or sadness that cannot be healed through the power of the atonement.  That’s the message I hope readers get from this book.

      Shannon: Chase feels guilty that he spent so many years away from the dude ranch and let the responsibility fall to his grandparents, parents, and sister. He only came back out of a sense of obligation after his grandmother died. He feels like he let his family down and should have been more responsible. But along with the guilt, he dreads getting tied down with the dude ranch and he’s itching to leave again. So the fact that he doesn’t really want to be there only adds to his guilt.

  • Where is the setting for your story?
     Leigh:  The Minoa Hotshots have their crew base in a fictitious town called Minoa, Nevada.  I named the town after the real towns of Minden and Genoa in northern Nevada (about 50 miles south of Reno).  But during the story, they serve several tours of duty as they fight wildfire in such diverse areas as the mountains and deserts.  Hotshots are prepared to be deployed with very little notice and they carry enough food and water to maintain themselves for 72 hours.  They tackle fires in some of the most remote locations in the world.  They’re an amazing group of men and women and I count them among my heroes.

      Shannon: Bandera, Texas known as the Cowboy Capitol of the World. Bandera is in Texas hill country, close to where the Texas branch of my husband’s family lives. I’ve been to the places I mention in the book. My father-in-law pastored the church there for several years. It’s over a hundred years old and I have good memories of listening to his sermons there when we visited. Of course my characters had to attend there also.

And every visit, we eat at least one meal at the Old Spanish Trail, known as OST, so it had to go in the book. They have a huge elk head mounted on the wall behind the breakfast bar. It’s so big, the servers have to duck back and forth underneath it to serve customers. As I mentioned, there are several dude ranches there, so it was the perfect setting for my fictional one and it was fun to write the story set there.

Wildfire Sweethearts by Leigh Bale

Reunion under fire ~ Eight months after their broken engagement, Tessa Carpenter is reunited with the man she can never forget—in the same wildfire-fighting unit and now as her boss. With the mystery of why he ended their relationship still between them, Tessa’s not looking forward to working under Sean Nash. Sean promised to take care of his late friend’s sister. That meant walking away, sparing Tessa from his guilt over the accident that killed her brother. But working beside Tessa reignites the embers of his memories, fanning them into love once more. And forcing Sean to decide if he should bolt again, or stay and fight for the woman of his dreams.

The Rancher Stakes His Claim 

When she inherits half a dude ranch after losing her best friend, Landry Malone is determined to see Eden's legacy flourish. That is if her friend's broad-shouldered cowboy brother will give her the chance. Chase Donovan isn't happy that his sister left their family business to an outsider—and he's determined to test Landry's mettle, hoping she'll give up her claim. Soon Chase is impressed by Landry's ability to rise to every challenge he puts in her way—and worried that his attraction to the perky spitfire seems to know no end. Finally working together to ensure the ranch's future, will their business partnership be the foundation for something more?

Leigh Bale is a Publisher’s Weekly bestselling author.  She is the winner of the prestigious Golden Heart and a finalist for the Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence and the Bookseller’s Best Award.  As the daughter of a retired U.S. forest ranger, Leigh holds a B.A. in History.  Married in 1981 to the love of her life, Leigh and her professor husband have two children and two grandkids.  You can reach her at www.LeighBale.com

Shannon Taylor Vannatter is a stay-at-home mom/pastor’s wife/award winning author. She once climbed a mountain wearing gold wedge-heeled sandals which became known as her hiking
boots. Shannon writes inspirational contemporary romance and it took her nine years to get published in the traditional market. 

Shannon hopes to entertain Christian women and plant seeds in the non-believer’s heart as her characters struggle with real-life issues. Their journeys, from ordinary lives to extraordinary romance through Christ-centered relationships, demonstrate that love doesn’t conquer all—Jesus does. In her spare time, she loves hanging out with her family, flea marketing, and doing craft projects. Learn more at www.shannontaylorvannatter.com


  1. Now I want to take a long road trip to Nevada and Texas! Fascinating post, ladies!

  2. Great post! Love the Hotshots. Sounds exciting and a great set up for conflict. Can't wait to read it! I live in Boerne Texas - just down the road from Bandera. If your familiar with the area you might know of Lightening Ranch. My mom had that for a while. My fictional town of Clear Water, Texas is a few miles northwest of Bandera. Excited to read it. :)

  3. Thanks, Shannon and Leigh. I enjoyed writing contemporary romances and exploring issues we deal with today.

  4. Wow, so much to learn about your books and you. Great way to get to know you. Thanks for all the insights.

  5. I loved learning more about the authors as well as your books. I've always been fascinated by hotshots. Thanks for the insights!

  6. Hotshots and cowboys...gotta love 'em, right? :)

  7. Love knowing the background of the characters. I'm going to the store to buy the books.

  8. Jolene, I've been to Boerne too - pronounced Birney. The first Love Inspireds I read were by Lenora Worth and then Deb Kastner. Fun to see you here, Deb.

  9. Such a great post! Thanks, ladies!!!

  10. Love the covers and the great info on the books.

  11. Great post, ladies!! These stories sound so good.

  12. The world does need more healthy romance. Great post.

  13. Thanks for visiting us, ladies. I love looking at the row of your cute pictures all lined up next to your posts. :)

  14. Thanks so much Shannon and Leigh. I loved reading your post and can't wait to read both stories.

  15. Leigh's comment about WHY she writes what she writes really speaks to me as a fellow author and sister in Christ. She nailed it. Having lived in Texas for 34 years --we're now in the Ozarks of NW Arkansas-- I love all things Texas, and Banderas is as Texas as it gets. Two really interesting books, and great dual post.


  16. What a fun post. It really made me want to travel more. I've been to both Texas and Nevada, but just big cities. Keep up the great work, ladies.

  17. Very nice, ladies!

    Shannon, I didn't realize you had a Hill Country connection! I'm a native Texan, and my brother has lived in that part of Texas since the 1950s. My next Love Inspired is set in a fictional Hill Country small town near Fredericksburg.

    BTW, I hate to cook, too! :)

  18. I loved this post--was fascinated particularly by the personal connections you have to these stories. And I can't wait to read both these books!!

  19. Hey Arlene,
    I'm in North Central AR. My husband has family in Medina. About 15 minutes from Bandera.


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