In A Cowboy Never Quits, Jess Dawson is at her wits end. A single mother who gave birth to her daughter, Chloe, when she was 16, Jess is desperate to keep Chloe from going down the same path that she did. When Chloe’s increasingly reckless behavior lands her in jail, Jess takes her to Turn Around Ranch, a rehab ranch for teenagers, where she meets slightly grumpy cowboy Wade. In this essay, Madsen tells us how she drew on her own experiences to create Jess and Chloe’s close relationship, and why writing this book felt like coming home.
I grew up on a cattle ranch in Colorado, so in a lot of ways, this novel felt like coming home. I’m a big believer in the sort of therapy that comes from nature, animals and people who genuinely care. I think everyone needs time to unplug for a while as well. As a mother of teens, I’ve talked to other mothers about some of the issues our kids are facing today, namely anxiety and depression. When my oldest daughter started having panic attacks and not sleeping, I was lost on how to help her. One of the worst feelings as a parent is helplessness. I knew I had to call on people more qualified, and that was how she and I could fight to remain mentally healthy together. With the help of an amazing counselor, my daughter not only learned coping skills for herself, but also has helped talk down friends and classmates she barely knows from their panic attacks.
Honestly, I’m a bit fascinated with psychology in general, and the power of the mind. Which led me to the idea for this book. I thought about a young mother who’d worked like crazy since she was 16 to give her daughter the best possible life. The pair has a close “Gilmore Girls”-like relationship. Or they did, anyway, until Chloe starts dating a guy that reminds Jess too much of the boy who got her pregnant in high school and then wanted nothing to do with her. And then the unhealthy coping mechanisms Chloe has used to deal with her undiagnosed anxiety land her in jail. Desperate to stop Chloe from following in her footsteps, Jess takes action and drives her daughter to a ranch for teens.
The magic of books is that we get to hope, experience, laugh, cry and fall in love along with the characters.
Since I did draw on a lot of my daughter’s and my own experiences and emotions, this was one of the most emotional books I’ve ever written. I couldn’t help putting myself in Jessica’s position. I think a lot of parents have experience with not being sure what’s going on with our children and how to best help them. The magic of books is that we get to hope, experience, laugh, cry and fall in love along with the characters. We get to see parts of ourselves in books, and because this is a romance novel, it’s guaranteed to have a happy ending.
As mental health is a very important subject—and one I happen to be passionate about—I wanted to make sure to portray it correctly. My research included a visit to a teen treatment facility called Fire Mountain Residential Treatment Center. Aaron Huey, who founded the center with his wife, Chris, gave me a tour. They let me ask a ton of questions, introduced me to their wonderful team of people, and let me sit and have lunch with the teens in the program. Some were new to the program and one teenager was headed home. I talked to them about their feelings and experiences throughout, how they’d changed, and had an enjoyable time getting to know them a bit. They told me a funny story about what they called an “aggressive dance party” and asked me to add it to my book, so it’s in there as well. Visiting the place really cemented what I wanted Turn Around Ranch to look like, and who I wanted working there.
In addition to the tour, Aaron also has a podcast, where he often has former students speak. I listened to several episodes. One thing that struck me is how young a lot of the anxiety starts, and how many times, kids take so long to talk about it with their parents that they’ve already developed a lot of bad coping mechanisms, including addiction.
While there are a few heavy issues in the book, my goal is always to make people laugh and swoon. I sprinkled in a lot of comedy, some of which comes from trial and error learning on the ranch. As most of my most of my Facebook followers know, I also struggle in the kitchen, so I was able to put a lot of my own cooking disasters on the page and then find a way to write Jessica out of the trouble she’d landed herself in.
Second chances make up the core of the Turn Around Ranch Series, along with forged friendships, learning how to be healthy and happy and how to accept yourself for who you are. And when it comes down to it, isn’t that what life is all about?
Author photo by Teal Lemon Photography.