Monday, July 27, 2009

The Day was Bovine, Dahling

By Deborah Sharp

The audience at my reading was rapt. Only the occasional snort broke the spell. Maybe a moo or two. Welcome to the National Day of the American Cowboy, Okeechobee, Fla-style.

''MAMA'' Goes to the Rodeo.

The photo above, taken by my friend and fellow author Jan Day, proves the two of us were getting a bit punchy by day's end. It was so steamy hot, even in our shady location, sitting by a fan, that the giveaway Hershey's kisses I had left over from a signing the night before melted in their little bowl into a brown liquid goo. In fact, they looked a bit like the punctuation the cattle in the pen behind us squirted out at regular intervals. Still, what author wouldn't love a cowptive audience for a reading?

My funny Mace Bauer Mystery series is set in the cattle-ranching slice of Florida (bet you didn't know we had one, right? There's no ride at Disney.) And the latest, Mama Rides Shotgun, takes place on the Cracker Trail, an annual cross-state horseback ride that commemorates Florida's cattle traditions. Insanely, I rode the six-day, 120 mile ride in 2007 for research. My hindquarters haven't been the same since. So, the Agri-Civic Center and rodeo grounds in Okeechobee seemed like a pretty good spot for a signing. Besides, when you've set your book in a section of the state with more cows than people, any opportunity for a crowd is a good thing.

Okeechobee, center of the state, right on top of the namesake lake, shares nothing in common with the better-known, densely populated coastal regions. It's an hour-and-a-half's drive from the nearest ocean breeze. The accents are Southern. Churches out-number bars. Iced sweet tea is the beverage of choice, and there's not a Starbucks in sight. I love it. But there is a certain culture shock to being out there, especially when the signing I did the night before took place at Murder on the Beach bookstore, in swanky Delray Beach.

Country music sounded from the speakers. Spurs jingle-jangled. The Rodeo Queen wore a glittering tiara attached to her cowboy hat. The scent of swamp cabbage and smoky brisket filled the air. Right before the start of the Okeechobee Cattlemens Ranch Rodeo, heads bowed in prayer. ''Please keep us safe, and keep our horses safe,'' the announcer intoned. Amen.

Toto, we're not in Delray anymore.

I met some great folks, sold some books, experienced an incredible part of my native state that not too many people take the trouble to find. And I had an epiphany sitting there in the sweltering heat: A big part part of the writer's life is being able to roll with the contrasts (not to mention the odor of manure) while taking your show on the road. Reading to wine-sipping, oceanfront condo-dwellers one day, to rodeo livestock the next. It was a mooving moment, I can tell you that. Or maybe it was just a sugar high from all that sweet tea.

How about you, authors? What's the craziest contrast you've encountered? Reading at a rave one day; an old folks' home the next? Or, readers, from four-star hotel to pup tent during the space of one vacation? Do you roll with the contrasts?


Keith Raffel said...

At least you had cows to listen to you. I've done a few appearances where that would have been an improvement.

Deborah Sharp said...

yep, I may bring them along from now on. Excellent audience. And none asked ''Where do you get your ideas???''

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Great picture!

Florida is almost like 5 different states rolled into one.

Mystery Writing is Murder

G.M. Malliet said...

I've been at signings where there were more people on the panel than in the audience, even tho my husband was swelling the numbers of the audience. It might have been better if we'd all changed places so the authors could ask where they all got the idea to come to the signing.

I've not done a panel before any representatives of the animal kingdom, but it's early days yet.

Terri Tiffany said...

I wondered where that town was --notice I won't try to spell it Ok---.
Contrasts? I prefer even sailing usually but have learned to roll if needed.

Alan Orloff said...

Wow, Deb. Six straight days on a horse? If you can handle that kind of pain in your hindquarters, you can handle anything.