It’s no secret to readers of this blog that I was pretty clueless about rural life when I met the cowboy a little more than a year ago.
That doesn’t mean I wasn’t trying, though. I’d written a novel called THE TEMPTATION that I hoped was sort of like a ghost version of Twilight, featuring a dead teen cowboy and his living prep school girl soulmate. I thought I was doing something pretty awesome by featuring a rural cowboy kid in my book.
Anyway, along came the cowboy love of my life — after I’d written and sold (but not yet seen published) this book. We were like night and day, the cowboy and I. I was a liberal city woman, he was a rural conservative man. But we had lots in common in spite of these surface differences, chemistry I can only describe as fire-starting, and soon we found ourselves falling in love with one another.
I let my cowboy read the cowboy ghost manuscript, which was just heading off to my editor in New York City at the time. I did this to show him how enlightened I was — you know, for “reaching out” to rural teens.
It had sort of the opposite effect, however.
While the cowboy was pleased at how I was trying to break out of my city snobbery and ignorance, he found lots and lots of problems with what I’d written, because I didn’t know what the bleep I was talking about. Among those problems was the way I’d presented hunters and hunting — which is to say I’d shown hunting to be brutal, barbaric and stupid.
The cowboy patiently explained to me that I had it all wrong. The motives? I got wrong. The guns? I got wrong. The times of year? Wrong. The method and management? Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.
My cowboy told me that hunting wasn’t usually done out of bloodlust, as I and my progressive faux-vegan buddies obnoxiously assumed. It was often done because families needed food, he told me. There was no better feeling in the world for many families than “bagging” a deer and knowing that there would be meat enough in the freezer for a while.
Hunting (and fishing), he showed me, was also done as a tradition, a way to bond fathers to sons (and sometimes daughters and moms) and it was a tradition thousands and thousands of years old, tying human beings to the earth and its cycles.
I’d naturally known none of this, because I had been raised to mock and misunderstand hunters by my own urban academic semi-socialist culture, which was more than happy to eat meat — so long as they bought it sanitized and without eyes, at the local Whole Foods or hippie co-op.
In a detailed, beautifully written email the cowboy gently but firmly called me on my crap. He showed me a side of rural life I’d never been exposed to other than in crummy movies, and pulled back the curtain on a way of life I not only knew zero about but was also stereotyping in the most offensive ways.
I was embarrassed by my own assumptions and ignorance, but as so often happens when we feel shame for our wrongdoings, I learned and grew.
Because of the cowboy, I rewrote the book. I got to know hunters. I came to understand the tradition and sport in a way I never had before. It was humbling, and educational for me — and it saved the book.
Unless the cowboy had come into my life, the cowboy ghost novel would never have rung true for actual rural youth and their families.
The book in question was published this week, and already I am getting wonderful supportive feedback from rural teens who are finding a bit of themselves and their families reflected back at them in its pages.
I am grateful to my cowboy for opening my eyes, and my heart, to a new way of life, and for helping me to expand the limits of my own experiences as a writer so that I can more fully incorporate rural experiences into my work.
And I’m grateful to young people like Brett and Clancy, for reading the book and letting me know they liked it.
Now, for a bit of schooling for y’all. LOL
The city chick version of “cowboy kid”:
The real version: