Only true Westerners and fashion models dress as confidently as Barbara Samuel, in a black suede jacket with carved silver concha buttons. A third generation southern Coloradan with more than 25 books published either under her romance novelist pseudonym (Ruth Wind) or in her own name, Samuel remains planted in the land that raised her, living the writer's life in a turn-of-the-century house in Pueblo.
"I write romances and I write women's fiction," said Samuel in a recent interview. "They are two very different things."
Samuel's most recent book, Lady Luck's Map of Vegas, published by Ballantine, falls into the latter category, exploring the dynamics of mother, daughter, sister and lover through the eyes of India, a 40-year-old successful single woman who leaves her apartment and her friends in Denver to return to Colorado Springs. India has promised Don, her recently deceased father, that she will look after Eldora, her glamorous and eccentric mother.
"Eldora is over the top a little bit, but I really love her," said Samuel of the vibrant redhead who drives a turquoise 1957 Thunderbird, drinks too much bourbon and convinces her daughter, India, to set off on a road trip with her down Route 66 through New Mexico to Las Vegas. Along the way, mother and daughter search for Grace, India's twin who suffers from schizophrenia and disappears periodically, but is also a talented artist.
Eldora, says Samuel, was inspired by an aunt who worked for many years at the MGM Grand in Vegas. "It was kind of exciting and glamorous to me as a kid," she said. "Eldora made me feel free when I wrote her." As the story progresses, the readers discovers that Eldora has secrets in her past that she will eventually reveal to India, risking everything but knowing that it's worth the risk to come clean.
"A lot of women have lots of things they're not really proud of in their lives," said Samuel, "but they're still living their lives and moving on and making the best of it. Eldora is one of them."
Strong female protagonists come naturally to Samuel. In her previous novel, The Goddesses of Kitchen Avenue, set in Pueblo, one of the main characters, Jade, is a woman caring for her aging grandmother while training to be a boxer.
"They just walk onscreen when it's their turn," said Samuel when asked how she finds her characters.
Also key to her fiction is a specific locale -- the New Mexico plateau from Santa Fe to Colorado Springs, Samuel's lifelong stomping ground. Lady Luck's Map of Vegas captures the Pleasant Valley neighborhood of Colorado Springs, next to Garden of the Gods, and naturally, Pikes Peak at sunset.
"Place is always another character to me," said Samuel, who attended Doherty and Wasson High Schools in the Springs, explaining that locale also influences how she develops her characters. "Women in the West are very different than women on the East Coast or women in the South. I think it would be hard [for me] to speak authentically about any other landscape."
Winner of numerous awards, including the 2004 Colorado Book Award, Samuel is currently at work on a novel set in Manitou Springs, about a woman adjusting to divorce by learning to make perfume. She will sign Lady Lucks's Map of Vegas at two different locations in the upcoming week.
-- Kathryn Eastburn
Barbara Samuel will sign and read from Lady Luck's Map of Vegas
Saturday, Feb. 12, 1-3 p.m.
Barnes & Noble, 4300 N. Freeway Road, Pueblo
Thursday, Feb. 17, 7-8:30 p.m.
Borders at Chapel Hills Mall, 1710 Briargate Blvd.