Here, Llama, Llama: Hilary Fields on Writing Last Chance Llama Ranch

Writers! Sometimes it seems like they have the funnest job on earth. Which is why we were intrigued when we heard about Hilary Fields's RT Top Pick! Last Chance Llama Ranch. She said she spent some time with the adorable beasts and we said: Pics or it didn't happen. 

Behold! 

We obviously wanted to know more. Take it away, Hilary!

It all started with a Groupon…

“Lunch with the llamas!” it said.

“Huh?” I said.

Soon I was trekking into the wilderness with a nature guide and a giant fluffy Shmoo at my side. Up mountains and down valleys we went, adventuring like explorers of old.

I was entranced.  Llamas are not only adorable, they’re amiable, they’re hardy and they’ve been part of human civilization for centuries. Along with their alpaca cousins (even cuter, but shh, don’t say that to a llama), they seemed like an irresistible subject for a novel. I wondered, what would it be like to work day-in, day-out with these magical creatures? Being a writer, not a rancher, I decided that rather than scoop llama beans myself, I’d put the adventure in the hands of my newest heroine, an Olympic athlete-turned-travel writer, Merry Manning. How would she handle llama loogies, rustic ranch life and one really, really grouchy cowboy host? With a lot of grit, determination, and a whole lot of humor.

And that’s how Last Chance Llama Ranch was conceived.

So what did I do to learn more about these animals? Fortunately, I was living in New Mexico, which boasts a surprising number of fiber farms. In fact, the first one I visited was less than five miles from my house! Turns out camelids (the class to which llamas and alpacas belong) flourish in the high desert, with proper love and care. I spent several hours at my local ranch petting sweet beasties, learning from the owner about their care and history, alpaca yarn, carding wool, etc. I watched spinning demonstrations, learned to dodge loogies and fed them grain from my palm. And I have the pics to prove it!

I’d always loved yarn and crocheting, but now that I’d seen where my favorite fibers came from, I was (forgive the pun) hooked!

To learn more, I went to Victory Ranch about an hour northeast of Santa Fe, for the annual shearing event held each spring. OMG! By spring, alpacas, which feature prominently in my story, are hugely round and dense with fleece. I was squeamish, but shearing doesn’t hurt the animals, it just leaves them looking really, really undignified.

By the time my book was well under way, friends were constantly sending me links to llamas in the news (remember the escaped llamas on the lam in Sun City last year?), and I’d accrued at least seven llama or alpaca-themed tee shirts, which I wear with pride. I won’t claim to be an expert, but any time your book research involves doing an image search and squealing from the ensuing cuteness (Google “alpaca haircuts” if you want to know what I mean), you gotta be thankful for your job. 

Last Chance Llama Ranch is out this week! You can preorder a copy on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo or iBooks. You can also find a copy at your neighborhood bookstore on IndieBound. For more mainstream stories, be sure to visit our Everything Mainstream page!

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