By Shelley Koppel
ROCKLEDGE - Two years ago, Leigh Duncan had her first release for Harlequin's "American Romance" line. That book, "The Officer's Girl," was set in Florida during a hurricane. Now, the Florida native has turned her attention to another aspect of Florida life, the cattle industry and rodeos.
"Rodeo Daughter," out this month, is the story of Amanda Markette, a former rodeo star turned family law attorney. She comes up against a childhood sweetheart, Mitch Goodwin, when she represents his former wife, Karen, in a custody battle.
The book, named a "Top Pick" by Romantic Times magazine, has twists and turns as Karen Goodwin, who gave up custody of her daughter, decides she wants it back. Allegations of abuse bring in social worker Sarah Magarity, but in true Harlequin fashion, all works out in the end. The characters are not all good or all bad, and this, Ms. Duncan said, is by design.
"I could have made Karen a terrible person," she said. "I like the way she redeemed herself. I loved the scene where she wanted Hailey to know that her mama loved her. I cried when I wrote it. I try to create flawed characters. They're not perfect, but they're not evil."
Ms. Duncan said her editor is a help with that.
"If the hero pushes past likeability, she asks if I could dial that back. You have to keep in mind the one promise a romance writer makes, that there will be a happily ever after. Then I've done my job."
The writer said that this book about cowboys and the law took a lot of research.
"You have to have your facts correct," she said. "With contemporary romance, you can make up situations, but you have to have your facts right."
Ms. Duncan's next book, "Rancher's Son," will be out at Christmas and will tell the story of Sarah Magarity, the social worker from "Rodeo Daughter." It's about a family of ranchers recreating cattle drives for tourists.
Why cowboys are so popular in romantic fiction is a bit of a mystery.
"I really don't understand why everyone loves cowboys," Ms. Duncan said. "We do have a lot of overseas sales, and there is a huge love affair with the American West.
"People think of the cowboy era as an idyllic time, with John Wayne. They think of it as a simpler time when people knew what was right and wrong."
Ms. Duncan is a member of the Space Coast Authors of Romance, a group that meets monthly at the West Melbourne Library. Several times a week, a small group of writers, including Ms. Duncan, Roxanne St. Claire, Kristen Painter and Lara Santiago, meet for "Writers' Camps," which are day-long writing sessions.
Working with other writers is a big help for Ms. Duncan.
"When I got the call about 'Rodeo Daughter' and 'Rancher's Son,' they gave me a short deadline," she said. "Having the support of fellow writers in a boot camp environment is how I got it done. I usually find it works best if I say I am going to write 'x' number of words a day and a keep a chart to keep on track."
At the moment, Ms. Duncan has a proposal for a new book at the publisher. It's another subject close to her heart.
"It's a baseball book," she said. "My son played baseball through college at Florida Tech. We grew up on ball fields, and several of his friends played in the minor leagues. I'm eager to get started."
For more information about Leigh Duncan, visit www.leighduncan.com.
For more information about the Space Coast Authors of Romance, visit www.authorsofromance.com.