Julie Benson talks Cowboys

Julie BensonHey Bandits and Bandit Buddies, I’m delighted to welcome back my friend and American Romance author, Julie Benson today. Julie writes contemporary romances with modern day cowboy heroes and is here to share with us her newest book, Roping The Rancher.

Pull up a barstool, Julie, and Sven will mix us up some delicious peach margaritas.

Suz: Roping The Rancher is your fourth book for Harlequin American Romance set in Estes Park, Colorado. Give our readers a little background about EstesPark and the series.

Julie: I went to EstesPark years ago for a wedding and fell in love with the town ofRoping the Rancher Front Cover around eight thousand people settled in the Rocky Mountains. The Stanley Hotel is there, and yes, it’s as impressive as everyone thinks. Stephen King used it as his inspiration for the hotel in The Shining and the miniseries was filmed there. It’s rumored to have a couple of haunted rooms, one of which has supposedly scared off more than a few guests. The scenery is absolutely beautiful in EstesPark. Something about being there calms my soul and clears my head. It’s as if my body heaves a huge sigh of relief and starts to unwind. Most of my heroines have been city gals and have the same reaction when they arrive in EstesPark.



Roping the Rancher is the fourth book I’ve set in EstesPark. The first three were about the McAlister siblings, Rory, Griffin and Avery. Readers met Colt, my latest hero, in my last book which was Avery’s story. That book open with Colt calling his younger brother, Reed. Colt had been deployed to Afghanistan. He needed Reed to return to EstesPark to stay with his daughter and run the ranch. From the moment Colt stepped onto the page I knew he needed his own story, and I’m thrilled to share it with readers.

Suz: What a beautiful setting. I can see why you’d want to put your books there! Stacey Michaels is the heroine in Roping The Rancher. It’s not her first appearance in one of your books, is it? How did you transform her for this book?

BetOnACowboyCover-page-001a Julie: Stacy was one of the finalists on a dating reality show in my second book Bet On a Cowboy. In that story, I’ve got to admit, she wasn’t very nice. She was a schemer and made a deal with the hero—if he’d select her as the winner and propose they’d make the most of the free publicity, and then quietly break up. When he doesn’t honor their bargain she threatens to sue him. She was desperate for publicity and thought winning the bachelor competition would revive her career.

When I sent the first three chapters to my editor, she didn’t like Stacy. She said Stacy was still too Hollywood and too self-centered. My editor was right, and her comments forced me I to dig deep to come up with a reason for Stacy’s desperation. I knew something important had to be behind her need to revive her career, more than recapturing her former fame. For a while, I thought I might dig to China before I found the answer, but eventually it occurred to me that her motivation had to be about someone else. 

I gave her a mother who was self-absorbed, and honestly, almost worthless as a parent. Since her father was killed in a movie they were filming when Stacy was a child, Stacy became the family bread winner, like a lot of child stars. Then I turned to her current situation. Stacy had recently become guardian to her brother who was having physical problems because of a car accident. Having readers see her connection with her brother, how she wanted him to have a security she’d never had, allowed me to show Stacy’s softer side, something I wasn’t able to do when readers first met her. For me the scene that made me connect with Stacy occurs when she slips and falls in a cow pie. She’s sitting in the middle of manure and her brother asks her if she’s okay. She tells him she’s fine. What she really thinks is how tired she is of being strong. She realizes she’s sick of smiling for the world when all she wants to say is to hell with it. From that point on I knew everything I needed to know about Stacy and I couldn’t help but root for her.

Suz: Colt Montgomery runs an equine therapy program on his ranch. How did you come across this idea and did you do any special research for it?

Equest 5Julie: I was talking with my dear friend and beta reader, Jennifer Jacobson. She’s great about listening to me as I try to work out my plots. We were talking about the fact that Colt was a veteran and we got on the subject of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. (Jennifer has two sons-in-law who’ve been in the military.) She brought up the idea of how equine therapy is helping veterans struggling with issues when they return home and it just clicked. Colt had a horse ranch already. I knew he wanted to do something meaningful with his life after leaving the military and converting the ranch for equine therapy seemed a good fit.

I researched therapeutic horsemanship programs on the Internet and thought I was all set to go, but the book wasn’t coming together. I’m so visual that even though I’d studied the programs, I couldn’t see how the volunteers, horse and client worked together in therapy sessions. I couldn’t see the scenes I needed to write. I was talking with another friend, Sue Casteel, about how worried I was about getting this book done. Turned out Sue volunteers at a program Equest in Wylie, Texas and it’s exactly like the one I wanted to create at Colt’s ranch. Sue invited me to Equest’s open house, acted as my tour guide and answered all of my questions. Sue showed me an outside arena and explained what would occur during a session. She even obtained permission for me to look over her volunteer instruction manual. I can’t tell you how many times I referred to that to check my facts. It was important to me that I get the aspects of the therapy program right. I’d never have been able to write Roping the Rancher without visiting Equest and talking with Sue.Equest 7

The work programs like Equest do to help veterans suffering from PTSD and other disabled individuals is amazing. The stories I heard about how the program has changed clients’ lives inspired me. Because of that I realized how Colt’s therapy program could change my characters’ lives as well. If you want to read some of those remarkable stories, check out Equest’s website www.equest.org.

Suz: You have modern day cowboys as heroes for your books. What do you think is their appeal for readers? What are the challenges you find in bringing the cowboy persona into modern day books?

Julie: I think cowboys have a strength mixed with a core set of values that appeals to readers. They’re independent and accustomed to stepping up and taking care of business. Think of the saying cowboy up. They do what needs to be done. Through the tough times in life, that’s the kind of man I want around. I think that’s why they appeal to me.

Equest 19But it’s more than that. In my first book I wanted my cowboy hero to have no choice but to go to New York to model because he needed money, but I wanted to use something other than the save the ranch story line. I thought about what a cowboy loves more than his land, and an answer popped into my head. His mom. So, a cowboy’s tough, but he has a good heart. He has a connection to the land and the animals around him. He’s been raised to treat a woman right. He respects women. I like that.

I think the challenges with having a cowboy hero in modern day stories is keeping the stories fresh and giving it a modern twist. I don’t want my heroes to come off as old fashioned or as hicks. 

Suz: So, what’s your favorite country song and how would you fit it into a book?

Julie: I guess I’d have to say “Sounds Like Life to Me” by Darryl Worely. The song reminds me that things like the washer breaking and problems at work are just a part of life. We need to accept it and move on. I love the line, “The only thing for certain is uncertainty.” Boy is that true! As one who struggles with accepting what I can’t control, the song’s a good reminder that I shouldn’t blow things out of proportion. When times get tough, I need to hold on until things get better and not give up. It’s like the Texas weather. Give it five minutes and it’ll change. Life is the same way. I think that’s a pretty good life lesson.

As to how I’d use the song in a book, well, Suz, that’s a great question and as I’m sitting here writing this answer, I can see a scene in my current work in progress. I’ve got a hero right now who works really hard to be in control all the time. He’s a planner. He likes life to be neat and tidy. (I can hear all my friends laughing right now thinking this sounds like someone they know. Not mentioning any names of course, but her initials are JB.) The heroine, a fly by the seat of her pants gal, drives him crazy. They’re forced to work together because she’s the guardian to her six year-old niece and the hero’s the financial guardian. I could see one of the hero’s friends telling him, “As Darryl Worley says, ‘Sounds like life to me.’ Better hold on tight and enjoy the ride.” Thanks for the idea. That’s definitely going in the next book!TheRancherAndTheVet

Suz: You’re welcome. I live to serve! Is there another Modern Cowboy book coming up next for you?

Julie: I’ve got a little twist on the cowboy hero in my next book for Harlequin, Cowboy in the Making, which comes out in September. A pair of old Vietnam War buddies play matchmakers for their grandchildren Jamie and Emma. Readers met Emma Donovan in Avery story. She’s Avery’s best friend who dreams of a career in country music and is the lead singer of the band Maroon Peak Pass. Jamie Westland was raised in the east by adoptive parents and didn’t connect with his cowboy roots until he was eighteen when he met his birth grandfather. When the story opens, Jamie’s been let go from his position as violinist with the Philharmonic because of a hand injury. Needing to get away and clear his head, he goes to Estes Park to visit his grandfather and reconnects with Emma.

So Bandit Buddies: Studies are showing animals have an incredible ability to help us heal and cope with the world. We’re now realizing dogs can sense when someone is going to have a seizure or has low blood sugar. In Roping the Rancher, Colt has an equestrian therapy program to help veterans suffering from PTSD and others with disabilities. Has there been an animal in your life that’s made a difference?

Julie will be giving away one signed copy of ROPING THE RANCHER away to a lucky commentor.


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  • Cathy P says:

    I have had a lot of wonderful dogs in my life. I can’t think of just one that was special to me. I have loved them all. They all have been very sensitive, loving, and seem to know when you are sad or ill.

    • Caren Crane says:

      Cathy P, I hope the Golden Rooster doesn’t upset any dogs currently residing with you. He does love to torment a dog! 🙁

    • Julie Benson says:

      Good morning everyone! I’m sitting here where I usually write at Starbucks with my tea and I’m all set to go. Cathy, I’m amazed how dogs can sense when we’re upset or sick. When I had my breast cancer surgery, my dog stayed by my side for a couple of days.

    • Good morning, Cathy!

      Sounds like you’ve had lots of wonderful dogs over the years! It’s amazing how sensitive they can be to our moods, isn’t it?

  • Helen says:

    Hi Julie and Suz

    I do love a cowboy and these sound wonderful throw in som animals and you have me 🙂

    I have had amny pets over the years and they love unconditionally they are there when you need them a hug and some fun the best

    Have Fun

  • Amy Conley says:

    My cat, Merlin. He just showed up, almost dead really. Wouldn’t let anyone touch him or come near him. We started feeding him, we had to put the food in the middle of our driveway and come inside before he’d show up to eat it. Slowly he started showing up before we put the food out and by the end of the summer he was sitting in my swing with me. He showed up just as some terrible things were going on around me and our family. And as Merlin got to know us, and we got to know him, he stayed. It’s been almost 11 years now we’ve had him and he’s getting old. But we still love him, even when he is the cat he is and does things he shouldn’t. 🙂

    • Julie Benson says:

      My friend Lori is the director of an animals shelter in Hinsdale, Illinois and shelters have something they say. Who rescues who? It’s funny how sometimes the animals pick us. My son’s dog did that. We were at the shelter, my oldest son, youngest one, my husband and I. This puppy barked like crazy. All of us but my youngest came back and nothing. The pup was quiet. Oldest son said he wanted to do an experiment. He got his brother and then he popped in front of the window. He called to the puppy. Nothing. My youngest stepped out and the dog barked like crazy. They’ve been best pals ever since.

    • Hey Amy!

      I’m thinking you don’t have Merlin. It sounds like HE has you! Love when animals do that.

  • Mary Preston says:

    I love cowboy stories – historical & contemporary.

    I have had pets on & off all my life. Always great to walk through the front door & be with the loving.

    • Julie Benson says:

      I’m like you. I couldn’t imagine coming home to a completely empty house. I need a living creature to greet me. I love how my dogs get excited to see me even if I’ve only gone to check for mail. It doesn’t matter to them. It’s like, “You were gone and we missed you! We’re so glad you came back.”

    • Hey Mary!

      I’m with you. A good cowboy story gets me, whether historical or modern day. It’s something about a cowboy and how he sees the world.

      We’ve had a dog for the past 14 years or so, before that I haven’t had one since I moved out of my parents house, but Chip was with me for the better part of 15 years at that time.

  • Shannon says:

    I have a friend who is suffering PTSD from her time in Iraq and Afghanistan. She’s doing much better now that she has “Tucker,” a working dog (Name change to protect her privacy.) It is wonderful to see the two together–it is a special type of love.

    I miss my cats Julie and Bobbie, but I have to move soon, and I can find a lot more place to rent if I’m petless.

    • Julie Benson says:

      I’m so glad your friend is finding some help with her PTSD. I’m hoping pets will be accepted more places. I think they’ll have to be because of disability issues. Science is finding dogs can sense when a diabetic’s sugar is low. They can sense when a person is going to have a seizure. There’s also cases like your friends where an animals is helping a person cope with debilitating emotional issues. I heard this week on the news that dogs are being trained by Arizona (I think) prisoners to help children with autism. They talked about one boy who was having a terrible time in school, but he now has a dog that’s with him in class. The dog senses when he’s getting too tense and nudges the boy. Then they take a break.

    • Oh Shannon, I’m so sorry to hear you have to give up your cats just for a move! That would feel like giving up one of your children. 🙁

      Did Tucker have to go through special training to help with your friend’s PTSD?

      • Shannon says:

        Yes, “Tucker” went to school for six weeks.

        Actually, I didn’t give up Julia and Bobby. Julia died on 4 July last year, Bobbie a couple of years earlier. There was a cat, Asher, in Spokane, WA at the vets I fell in love with, but my home is in the metro DC area. It was hard not to adopt her, she came to love me. (My Mon’s dog was at the vets for treatment until we found out she was terminally ill. The only good part is that she had been with Mom for 20 good years.)

  • Caren Crane says:

    My current cat, Kimba, was dumped on us (ok, he was an adorable 4-week-old kitten, but still) only 2 months after our beloved renegade cat, Chaps, died. It was too soon, I thought. But having such a very needy kitten was probably a good thing. Kimba is very high energy and requires about 10 times more attention than Chaps did.

    Of course, he requires active play, not petting. No lap kitty nonsense for that one. He wants to wrestle and gnaw! He’s funny and lots of fun, but he needs ninja training and I’m not qualified to provide that. 😀

    • Julie Benson says:

      How wonderful that you opened your heart to Kimba. I’m amazed how having a kitten or puppy is so like having a baby in the house. I remember having your exact thought when my youngest got his puppy. I wanted an older dog for just the reasons you described. I wasn’t ready for the activity either. We’re slowly getting used to it, too.

    • LOL, Okay Caren…I’m now picturing a school for cats and they’re all dressed in black ninja outfits and going through drills on how to pounce and attack without warning!!!

      When we got Rusty back in November, I quickly remembered what it was like to have a new puppy to train. (Right now he’s asleep under my desk, on my feet, terrified of the cleaners working on the house!!)

  • Jeanne Adams says:

    Hey Julie!! Welcome!! I love the sound of your books. :>

    I love all my pets, but have to say there was one dog who got me through the end of my first marriage….she was so fabulous!! She was one of my Dalmatians. :>

    Now I have three rescue dogs and they’re all fabulous!

    • Hey Jeanne!

      Now I know why dalmations are special to you. Having that special four-legged friend had to have eased some of the pain in the divorce.

      Like me, you like big dogs! (Rusty’s up to 46# and still growing!!)

  • Julie Benson says:

    I’m so glad your Dalmatian was there for you when you needed her. We have a running joke in our house. Whenever someone’s stressed we say, “Got pet one of the dogs and lower your blood pressure.” And ours are all rescue dogs, too. It sad how many fantastic dogs end up in shelters.

  • Mozette says:

    My little bird, Little Miss Stevie, made a huge difference in my life. At first, she was just going to be a companion for when I got home… nothing more. Then, when she stopped biting me and acting as though I was trying to poison her and kill her (yes, she really did think this of me), she and I actually got to know each other quite well, and a trust formed between us.
    This trust became so strong that when I took her to the vets, the doctor asked me to assist most times just so Little Miss Stevie would sit still for her. And when I was involved in the tests, and Stevie saw how I was so good with her and she knew I was there to help her (even if she did puke on me after having something stuffed down her throat), she knew I’d be there for her the whole time… no matter what.

    But then, she was always there for me too. Whenever a friend died or I just needed a snuggle from my favourite little fluffly friend, she was there to give it to me… but if I had a cough, that was a different story. She’d let me know if I was in any way contagious by bolting away from me! Yep, she was good at that.
    She even saved my life once. One time I lit the gas stove top and she went nuts! She ran around the cage, screeching and flapping her wings, acting up in the most alarming way! I looked over at her asking her what hell was wrong with her? Then, the smell struck my nostrils… OMG! GAS! I switched off all the burners and opened up the whole house, taking her cage outside! Then, I phoned my landlord (Dad) who told me I’ll be okay to cook on the stove until the next week… um… no! Mum then offered for me to come over and eat dinner with them, and stay the night. So, I packed up my food and put it away in the fridge and spent the weekend at my folks’ place. Not long after, a new stove was put in. Yep, my little budgie save my life with her very sensitive little nose… what a sweetie.

    She’s gone now… suffered a huge stroke on 8th, December 2012; and stayed with me for a week and died of heart failure in my hands in my backyard… exactly where she’d want to – not in a cage… out in the fresh air with her birdy friends at sunset. It was so sad, and I didn’t want to be on my own for a long time. And here’s a picture of her.


    It’s my favourite of her and me… as it’s one where she turned around at just the right time and we’re both in focus. It also shows a lot about her personality too. 😀

    • Julie Benson says:

      What a wonderful story and Miss Stevie certainly was quite a beauty. Thank goodness she was there to alert you to the problems with the stove!

      • Mozette says:

        Yeah, Julie, that was scary for that to happen. But birds are unique like that. They can smell gas leaks earlier than we can – how? I’m not sure.

    • Aw, Mozette, she’s a beautiful bird! I can tell by the photos how fun she was for you and how trusting she was of you!

      • Mozette says:

        I do miss her greatly… and have a good time remembering her funny times. I’ve spent some good times telling my folks of things Little Miss Stevie did when they weren’t around; and they’d sit there and laugh so much wondering what my bird was thinking… like the time she found herself behind the fridge, or wedged behind the china cabinet in mid-flight (the latter wasn’t as bad as it sounds, she kinda just slotted between the wall and the back of the cabinet and got stuck. I placed my hand under her body, shifted the cabinet forward a bit and she dropped those few inches into my waiting hand) or the umpteen times she’d miss-judge where the cage was, hit the curtain behind it (as the cage sat at the front window) and fall behind the credenza. Well! the first time, it happened, she didn’t know what to do… and I had to get a torch. But the next hundred times, I moved things out of the way, and called her name and called her stupid little dork, and she walked outa there looking all embarrassed covered in dust bunnies. 😀 Talk about funny! 😛

  • Julie Benson says:

    Now that’s Suz is here, I have to tell a story on her since she helped me become a published author. Suz once told me when she gets stuck in a story, she works on another one and that looses up her creativity on the first story. I was stuck in a romantic suspense I was writing, so I started working on the one cowboy hero idea I had, but had never tried writing because it was so different from anything else I’d done. That turned out to be the first book I sold and I never looked back. And that other book I was working on? Haven’t written a word on it since.

    • Hehehe…see, I live to serve! Sometimes switching gears helps you finish a project with fresh ideas. Sometimes it gets you on a new project that works out even better than the first!! I think you’ve found your stride with the Modern Day Cowboy theme.


  • Hi Julie and Suz!
    Great post. Very cool about the vets with PTSD getting equine therapy. Like the photos. Especially loved the picture of Estes Park, gorgeous place. Sigh. Such beautiful mountains.
    I’ve got your new book and look forward to reading it.
    Waving hello!

  • I am a big fan of equine therapy so your book just became a must read for me, Julie. And who doesn’t love a cowboy! So funny you should be in the Lair as a couple of days ago the wagon train was clopping down the road in front of me on my way to work. It comes through every year before the rodeo in Montgomery. It slows traffic, but nobody seems to mind and I love to see cars pulled over with the occupants standing on the side of the road, kids on dads’ shoulders to watch.

    My dogs are the reason I get up in the morning and drag myself to my day job! I even tell them when I leave “Mom’s off to make dog food money. Be good!”

    And I am certain some of the Banditas and Buddies saw my rant on Facebook last week or so about the woman who objected to a veteran bringing his therapy dog into Walmart because it wasn’t a German shepherd in a harness. As I said then – If a veteran needs a therapy elephant in order to have the freedom and peace of mind to leave his home and do the things we take for granted I will grab a shovel and a mop and say “Cleanup on Aisle 6” right before I tell him (or her) “THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE!”

    • Julie Benson says:

      I saw your post about the veteran and the therapy dog. I thought it was fabulous and I totally agree. Making allowances for a dog if that’s what it takes to help someone who served our country and has difficulties because of that is the least we can do. It’s hard to believe people think only a certain breed in a harness can be a service or therapy dog.

    • Louisa,

      I loved your rant on FB! Over the years I’ve had patients who were seperated from their dogs while in the hospital for weeks. Once or twice I encouraged the spouse to sneak them in if they were small enough. Always brightened the patient’s mood and relaxed them, probably extending their pregnancies since they weren’t fighting to get home to their pet.

      *yeah, I got called into the principal’s office each time. 3:) *

  • Debbie says:

    Through the years I’ve had many pets that just love you and make you happy. Just like my kids they can make you laugh and then turn around and drive you up the wall. I had a surprise a few weeks ago when I was having a melt down when too many problems hit at once, I started crying and look up and see my black and white furball cat coming running across the room and jumps up next to me on the couch, crawled into my lap and started rubbing against me purring. It totally shocked me because he’s not a snuggle type of cat, he definitely cheered me up that day.

    • Julie Benson says:

      Thanks for stopping by to chat. Pets are like kids in the way they can turn a day around, even one who’s not usually the snuggling type.

    • Hey Debbie!

      When I was growing up, our standard poodle used to do that. Especially when I had a bad day at school or something. He’d glue himself to my side the whole evening and night.

  • Julie Benson says:

    Sorry I was gone for a while guys. I’m on the road to Austin to meet my BFF. She’s the director of the Hinsdale Humane Society and is flying in to speak at a conference. I’m heading down there to spend some time with her this weekend. I’ll check in again along the way. Talk to you soon!

    • Hope you’ve had safe travels today, Julie!

      • Julie Benson says:

        I made it to the airport safely and have figured out how to connect to WiFi. So, I thought I’d check in with everyone while I’m waiting for the BFF. I’m so proud of myself. Navigated my way to a new airport. Granted Austin’s is small, but still. I also connected to the Internet. Another major accomplishment for me. Yipee!

  • sandyg265 says:

    When I was in high school and had a bad day I’d come home and my dog would always cheer me up.

    • Hey Sandy!

      See? That’s what truly great dogs do…they replace boyfriends who aren’t worthy of our time!! 🙂

    • Julie Benson says:

      I can always tell when my youngest son, a teenager’s had a rough day because he comes home and snuggles up with his dog instead of rough housing with him. 🙂 I think kids, especially young ones, or ones with disabilities will tell an animal things they wouldn’t share with an adult and it lightens their loads. We had a cat that one of my boys was really attached to. He lived to be almost 20. One day when my son was really having a tough day, I saw him in the backyard at the cat’s grave. Later he said, “I just wanted to talk to Moofer.”

  • bn100 says:


  • Laney4 says:

    Totally agree that dogs know SO MUCH! We are enjoying the company of a St. Bernard who lives behind our house. We hop the fence on a daily basis (with her owner’s permission, of course) so that we can visit her in her big enclosure. She loves to slobber … er … lick our faces over and over again, but even more so when we’re feeling down (not often, thankfully). She stares soulfully if we are crying (we are welling up right now because her owners have just put their house up for sale so they can return to their original home 19 hours away by car, now that their only child has graduated from a local college) and seems to understand every word, as she too looks sad in the eyes (and in her hesitation or delay in doing things with us).
    Until she came along, I didn’t realize how much better her sight is compared to ours, as she can see us walking in the dark in our kitchen far away, but when I visit her, all I see is the darkness and shadows. I just have to walk in my kitchen and she’ll go straight to her fence, sit down, and stare at our house. I go to my dining room window and nod yes or no, so she knows if I’m coming over to visit, and I swear she knows, as she walks away if it is no, but she wags her tail and waits if it is yes. Simply amazing animals….

    • Julie Benson says:

      I’m imagining you jumping the fence and pkaying with the St. Bernard. Thanks for the smile tonight!

      • Laney4 says:

        I confess. We have an old plastic chair on our side of the fence, and we place another one on the other side of the fence (and bring it back again when we’re back home). I used to slide under the fence (there’s a place with about an 8″ gap in height), but I knew I’d have to figure something else out before the snow came.

  • Julie, welcome back and congrats on your new release! I think the whole field of therapy-by-animal is fascinating. We’ve had dogs throughout our marriage, as my family always did when I was growing up. A house that doesn’t have a dog in it feels empty to me.

    After my dad’s stroke, he had trouble talking, but our two dogs didn’t care. They homed in on him whenever my parents were here. He always looked so happy to have them pushing up to him.

  • Julie Benson says:

    Thanks for the congratulations. I really enjoyed doing the research for this book.the difference equestrian therapy makes in people’s lives is amazing.