Saturday, February 15, 2014

Story Stew
It’s rodeo time in San Antonio. City slickers are polishing their boots, hiking their jeans and donning fringed jackets. My nephew, seen in this picture, has to tighten  his suspenders to get ready for action. He’s a bullfighter (rodeo clown) and protects the riders when they’re thrown. Crazy, but someone’s got to do the job. 

In the stock barns, rows and rows and rows of animals are in stalls waiting to show. Kids have worked all year fattening those pigs or steers or chickens anticipating that magic moment in the ring when the judge gives the nod—and you’re handed a blue ribbon! My daughter competed with her lambs when she was in high school. Who knew I would ever learn to shear a sheep! (Did you know we washed them in Woolite before she showed them? Fact!)

As a kid, I yearned for the cowboy life. My cousins owned a ranch and I learned to ride a horse under tutelage from Uncle Voss, a stern taskmaster. He allowed me to tag along behind a trail ride and eat from a chuckwagon, though I admit sleeping on the packed earth wasn’t for me. Alas, once my feet hit the ground, my aching legs and sunburned face let me know right quick I wasn’t cut out to be a cowgirl. I’d rather read Loretta Rogers books nowadays.

So what’s rodeo time have to do with the writing life? Experiences! There’s an old adage that states write what you know. Well, I have a plethora of life experiences now that I’ve— ahem— aged a bit.  My genre is cozy mystery and sweet romance. And there the game begins!

Look at the vast arena of characters and situations I can choose from within just this rodeo season. Cowboys with spurs, rodeo clowns, riders, city slickers, regular folks. I’ve met all of them. Add the smell of the arena, the carnival and funnel cakes on the midway...... With all of those ingredients you can stir up a Story Stew:

WHAT IF—a cowgirl roped a steer and couldn’t handle it.
WHAT IF—an accountant moseyed his way down the aisle admiring the stock in the barns.
WHAT IF—that steer got loose and charged out the gate.
WHAT IF—someone was found dead behind the chutes.
WHAT IF—the accountant found a rope.
WHAT IF—the rope was bloodied.

Well, we can either bring in a detective, kill someone else or we can have the cowgirl and the accountant live happily ever after.

In my cozy mystery Dog Gone, a cleaning lady becomes aware of a dog-napping ring and ends up being kidnapped!  To research this story, I attended the River City dog show. And watched a psychic and a masseuse work with dogs. For real.

See you don’t have to reach far to find fodder for a story. That’s how we do it, Radical Readers. We spot a unique situation and mutter “WHAT IF…..” then let the characters take the lead.Come along with us, pardners. We'd love to have you!


Eileen Key retired after teaching school for thirty years. She is a freelance writer and editor, with two mysteries and three novellas published. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers.  Mother of three, grandmother of four, Eileen resides in San Antonio, Texas.


  1. Yeehaw Eileen. You have me ready yo buy your book so you better write it.
    Those what is's come in handy

    1. I had a release yesterday: Threads of Time, Kindled on Amazon.

  2. I don't think I've ever met someone who's related to a rodeo clown. Great photo too! (Is that a real person falling on their head in the background? Hope they're alright!)
    Story Stew. Love it.

    1. A very real person. Another unique personality for sure.

  3. "What if?" = a writer's best friend. Love this post, Eileen.

  4. I recently read a rodeo romance by Roxanne Rustand that included two rodeo clown characters. I really enjoyed it. Guess I'd better go look your titles up. :)

  5. Eileen, aaaw, thanks for reading my Westerns and giving me a big "Yee-Haw" in your article. At a rodeo in Lakeland, FL, hubby and I experienced one of your "What-if's." After a bull dumped his rider, the bull decided to jump the barrier separating the audience from the arena. That dang critter trotted right up the steps, blowing snot all over panicked spectators. Thank goodness for cowboys and rodeo bull-fighters, and thank goodness no one was hurt. Enjoyed your post.

  6. It's nice to step out of our comfort zone when doing research for a book. What would we do without, "What- If"?

  7. I'm looking forward to my visit to San Antonio, even more than before. I'm a believer in What if - makes a good story possible. Thank you, Eileen.