Starry Montana Sky, Book Two in my Montana Sky Series, is an Amazon Top 50 Love Stories pick!!! I’m over the moon, disbelieving, humbled by being included in such impressive company, and very, very grateful. Amazon picked a book per state, and Starry obviously represents Montana. Wow! What a wonderful early Valentine’s Day present!
The top 50 picks are love stories, not necessarily romances. Many, such as Gone With the Wind, or My Antonia, are classics.
Today, as I reflect on Starry Montana Sky’s journey, I realized the book has lessons to offer authors and readers about the value of collaboration, persistence, and of following your intuition.
The germ of the idea for Starry Montana Sky came about when I attended the Rose Parade--probably back in 2001. I saw a tiny buggy pulled by miniature horses, and immediately thought, I want miniature horses in my next Montana Sky book!
For the next hour, I divided my attention between watching the parade and thinking about a story. I wanted to have the miniature horses save the day in a way a horse couldn’t. By the end of the parade, I had the idea of someone being injured in a cave system, and only a little horse could pull him through the tunnel. I scribbled notes all over my parade program. The only possible stumbling block was not knowing if miniature horses existed in the 1890s.
When I returned home, I researched miniature horses, and to my relief found Falabellas existed in Argentina in the 1890s, although they weren’t officially recognized as a breed until the 1930s. So I knew my heroine or hero had to be from Argentina and bring Falabellas to Sweetwater Springs, Montana.
In a an informal plotting group with the fabulous author, Leanne Banks, organized by my local Romance Writers of America (RWA) chapter of Orange County, Leanne mentioned that she’d recently read an article titled, “Last Chance Ranch,” about an organization that rehabilitates wayward youth and suggested that might be something interesting for the book. I liked the idea, and started toying with my own version of Louisa May Alcott’s book, Jo’s Boys, a little known sequel to Little Women and Little Men.
For my heroine, I chose widowed Samantha Rodriguez, an American who’d married an Argentine rancher. Samantha inherits her uncle’s dilapidated ranch in Sweetwater Springs. I gave the book a working title of Sam’s Boys. It wasn’t until two thirds into the book, when the hero, Wyatt Thompson is driving to Samantha’s ranch and admires the night sky, that the title, Starry Montana Sky came to me.
In Starry for the first time I allowed a secondary character a point of view. I LOVED writing the POV of Jack Cassidy, one of the orphaned boys adopted by Samantha. His “voice” flowed out of my fingers, unique and so very him. My writing teacher and editor, Louella Nelson, warned me that he was in danger of taking over the book, and said that I needed to make the rest of my writing match the quality of Jack’s scenes. To this day, those scenes I wrote for Jack are among my favorites.
Once I finished Starry, I entered it in the Orange Rose contest where it took second place. My agent at the time loved the book. But because it was the second in a series, Starry wasn’t submitted to editors. The first in the series, Wild Montana Sky, was the book garnering the stack of rejection letters for not being the type of book the editors were looking for—meaning it wasn’t sexy nor a contemporary Western Romance.
Finally my agent received an offer (with an advance) for Wild Montana Sky. BUT the publisher wasn’t interested in a series. That meant no sale for Starry. Going with my intuition, I turned the offer down. My agent was NOT pleased. She lost interest in me and within a few months she dropped me.
With a pile of rejection letters for all my novels, I turned to writing nonfiction, which I knew I could self-publish and sell in the back of the room when I gave talks. At the time I made that decision, Kindles didn’t yet exist, and self-published novels were considered the bottom of the barrel.
I finally received my first contract for The Essential Guide to Grief and Grieving AND a five month deadline. While in the middle of writing the book, author Delle Jacobs sent me an email about how well she was doing with her self-published books. I made up my mind to self-publish Wild and Starry as soon as I turned in the grief book.
While still on the deadline, I commissioned Delle to design my covers. I knew exactly what I wanted for both books. Wild’s cover took us some time as we went back and forth in choosing the elements. Delle sent me dozens of photos of ranch houses, and when I saw the one for Starry, I emailed her to hang onto that photo for book two. Luckily we found the ranch house for Wild soon after.
The process of creating Starry’s cover was much easier. I told Delle I wanted a starry night sky with a full moon, the ranch house I’d already chosen, and a solitary horse. Delle nailed the beautiful cover on her first design, although we made a few small changes. I think the covers are a big reason for the success of the books, and one of my stipulations for going with Montlake as a publisher was that I’d keep my covers, although they could be polished up.
The sales of Starry always lagged behind Wild. Wild Montana Sky served to weed out the people who didn’t like my type of stories, and the book’s lower review average reflects that--4.2 versus Starry's 4.4. People who bought Starry were predisposed to like the book because they already like my writing style, my voice, and the time and place of my stories.
In November, after an intense Amazon promotion of Wild Montana Sky, the sales of Starry overtook book one. The people who bought and loved book one had jumped to book two, floating the sales and the rank. For the first time, Starry started to outshine, USA Today bestselling Wild Montana Sky.
Amazon chose Starry as the Kindle Daily Deal for January 1, 2013, and I sold the most books I ever had in one day. Starry quickly reached the top 100 Kindle list and dropped lower in rank than the two times Wild Montana Sky made the list. Midway through the month of January, the books flipped in sales and readers who first bought and read Starry returned to buy Wild.
Today, I started to think about why Starry Montana Sky was chosen as a to 50 love story instead of Wild Montana Sky. I don’t know that it’s a better book, but perhaps it’s a more “classic” read, and I believe that’s because of Jack’s POV.
I’ve learned from Jack. Since his creation, I’ve added the POV of children to my subsequent Montana Sky stories, and I believe the stories are richer for it. I've found I have a knack for getting into the characters of children.
I can’t help but reflect with humility and awe on my journey for the last year and nine months since I first self-published the Montana Sky series, ten years after Wild Montana Sky won the RWA Golden Heart. After years of rejections, I thought my dreams for writing fiction had died, and I never dreamed they’d rise from the ashes and flame into an amazing blaze. I still see the books as simple, old-fashioned romances and am sort of bewildered by the reader response to them. I try to make my stories reflect my own values of love, family, kindness, and helping others because I believe that’s what’s important in life.
So that’s Starry Montana Sky’s journey. Thanks to all who made it possible, especially my readers.