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Blog Tour and Book Excerpt for "Dude or Die"

Book Title: Dude or Die

Series: H Double Bar Dude Ranch series

Author: Lynn Downey

Publication Date: October 15, 2023

Publisher: Pronghorn Press

Page Length: 328

Genre: Historical Fiction

Dude or Die

by Lynn Downey




It’s 1954, and San Francisco writer Phoebe Kelley is enjoying the success of her first novel, Lady in the Desert. When Phoebe’s sister-in-law asks her to return to Tribulation, Arizona to help run the H Double Bar Dude Ranch, she doesn’t hesitate. There’s competition from a new dude ranch this year, so the H Double Bar puts on a rodeo featuring a trick rider with a mysterious past. When accidents begin to happen around the ranch, Phoebe jumps in to figure out why, and confronts an unexpected foe. And a man from her own past forces her to confront feelings long buried. Dude or Die is the second book in the award-winning H Double Bar Dude Ranch series.


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Author Bio:


Lynn Downey is an award-winning novelist, short story writer, historian of the West, and native Californian.


She was the Historian for Levi Strauss & Co. in San Francisco for 25 years. Her adventures as ambassador for company history took her around the world, where she spoke to television audiences, magazine editors, and university students, appeared in numerous documentaries, and on The Oprah Winfrey Show. She wrote many books and articles about the history of the company and the jeans, and her biography, Levi Strauss: The Man Who Gave Blue Jeans to the World, won the Foreword Reviews silver INDIE award.


Lynn got interested in dude ranches during her time at Levi’s. Her debut historical novel, Dudes Rush In, is set on an Arizona dude ranch in the 1950s; Arizona because she’s a desert rat at heart, and the 1950s because the clothes were fabulous.


Dudes Rush In won a Will Rogers Medallion Award, and placed first in Arizona Historical Fiction at the New Mexico-Arizona book awards. The next book in this series, Dude or Die, was released in 2023. And just for fun, Lynn wrote a screenplay based on Dudes Rush In, which is currently making the rounds of reviewers and competitions.


She pens short stories, as well. “The Wind and the Widow” took Honorable Mention in the History Through Fiction story contest, and “Incident at the Circle H” was a Finalist for the Longhorn Prize from Saddlebag Dispatches. The story “Goldie Hawn at the Good Karma Café,” won second place in The LAURA Short Fiction contest from Women Writing the West, and is based on her experiences in a San Francisco religious cult in the 1970s. (That will be another book one of these days.)  


Lynn’s latest nonfiction book is American Dude Ranch: A Touch of the Cowboy and the Thrill of the West, a cultural history of the dude ranch. It was reviewed in The Wall Street Journal, True West, Cowgirl, and The Denver Post, and was a Finalist for the Next Generation INDIE Award in Nonfiction. Kirkus Reviews said the book is “…deeply engaging and balances accessible writing style with solid research.”


When she’s not writing, Lynn works as a consulting archivist and historian for museums, libraries, cultural institutions, and businesses. She is the past president of Women Writing the West, a member of the Western Writers of America, and is on numerous boards devoted to archives and historic preservation.


Lynn lives in Sonoma, California, where she sometimes makes wine from the Pinot Noir grapes in her back yard vineyard.


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Website: [My site is being redesigned and will be live in another week or so.]

Book Excerpt:

Synopsis: It’s 1954, and San Francisco writer Phoebe Kelley returns to the H Double Bar dude ranch in Tribulation, Arizona to help her late husband’s sister Mary, her husband Sam, and their young son Joe run the ranch for the fall season. Phoebe and the ranch were introduced in the first book in this series, Dudes Rush In. There’s stiff competition from a new guest ranch in town called the Desert Grande, run by a powerful woman named Thelma Powell who seems determined to put other ranches out of business. Phoebe and Mary decide to put on a “dudeo,” a rodeo for both the ranch’s wranglers and the visiting dudes, to thwart Thelma’s efforts. They bring in a trick rider from California with a mysterious past named Eden Williams, and a man from Phoebe’s past also reappears. When accidents happen around the ranch, Phoebe must confront an unexpected foe.

Excerpt from Chapter 4: Phoebe, Mary, and Sam attend the Open House at the Desert Grande and chat with other ranchers in the cocktail lounge. Thelma Powell then enters the room.

The three women immediately sized her up. She was thinner than that newspaper photograph, and taller. She was probably about forty, and had short, curly dark hair that was almost black but did not look like a dye job. She was wearing tight black western slacks with pearl snaps on the pockets and tucked into black Acme boots with silver stitching. Her shirt was silver satin with black piping and green sequined cactus embroidery above the pockets. The final touch was a wide black belt with a shiny silver buckle shaped into the letters DG. At the shirt’s open neck were the four strands of pearls Phoebe remembered from the photo.

Phoebe glanced at Mary, who returned a look with an expression that said, I don’t want to be impressed, but I’m impressed.

All eyes followed Miss Powell as she moved smoothly through the crowd, shaking a few hands and exchanging pleasantries, mostly with the men. Phoebe saw her turn toward where she stood with Mary and the Stevensons, and Powell’s eyes seemed to harden as they lighted on Mary.

She walked up to Mary, smiled, and put out her hand. Phoebe noted her eyes were an unusual light hazel color, which seemed almost yellow in the artificial light.

“Mrs. Watts, isn’t it? From the H Double Bar? It’s such a pleasure to meet you.”

Mary smiled back and returned the handshake.

“Yes, it’s also a pleasure to meet you, Miss Powell. This is my sister-in-law, Phoebe Kelley. And Jim and Laura Stevenson…”

Powell finished her sentence.

“Of the Bar K. It’s lovely to meet all of you.”

Sam and Joe joined them, and Mary made the introductions.

“I hope you will all take the tour, and please enjoy the drinks and hors d’oeuvres. We have drinks for the kids, too,” Powell said.

“Thank you,” said Mary, and watched Joe take off toward the bar, followed by his father.

“Well, I must make the rounds, and I see that Hank is ready to take more people on the tour, so feel free to join the group.”

With that, Powell left them, after giving them another smile and Mary one last look.

When she was out of earshot, Phoebe said, “What was that about?”

“What?” said Mary.

“The way she kept looking at you,” said Laura. “She obviously knew who you were.”

“She knows who everyone is,” said Mary.

“But she seemed to be especially interested in you,” said Phoebe.

“I don’t know why.”

“Oh, Mary. It’s because you are a force in town and in the world of dude ranching, everybody knows that. You have done so much work to get publicity for ranchers,” said Laura.

“That’s just good business.”

“And that’s what scares her, I’ll bet,” said Jim, as Laura nodded.

A deep voice then penetrated the conversations in the crowded bar.

“Next tour leaves in one minute! Please meet in front of the reception desk.”

All three women put their drinks down on a nearby table.

“Let’s go,” said Phoebe.

An hour later the friends said goodbye to each other, and Phoebe got into the car with Mary, Joe, and Sam. She could tell Mary was thinking hard about what she’d seen, and as soon as the door closed she let go.

“Well, they sure look good on the surface,” she said.


“Yes, everything was pretty shiny,” said Phoebe.

Joe questioned the word “shiny.”

“I mean, everything was brand-new, it wasn’t used or hadn’t gotten dirt all over it yet,” said Phoebe.

“Their Jeeps were shiny,” said Joe.

Mary laughed grimly. “They won’t be for long. The horses sure looked beautiful, though they only have twelve of them, and I counted rooms enough for sixty people.”

“That’s because the guests will be riding around in Jeeps, or swimming, shooting skeet, and drinking,” Phoebe said with a laugh.

“Then they shouldn’t even call themselves a guest ranch, much less a dude ranch. They are really a resort, but they are trading on the name. As big as they are, they don’t even have a chuck wagon for desert lunches. They just take people out in the Jeeps for rides. And speaking of vehicles, did you see those two brand-new Chrysler New Yorker station wagons? I heard someone say they drive all the way out to the Phoenix airport to pick people up.”


“It’s just a novelty, Mary. They’ll get a lot of people at first, and then only rich people who don’t ride will stay there.”


“Well, that Thelma Powell looks like the well-paid secretary of a millionaire business mogul. You have to like people to be a dude rancher. And I don’t care how much she smiles, that woman does not like people. She’s the manager, but not the owner. I wonder who she works for? Did you hear anyone mention who that might be?”


“No, but I wasn’t really listening to all the chatter in the bar,” said Phoebe.


“And what’s with all the logs everywhere? Are they trying to look like a Wyoming dude ranch?”


“They have their Arizona touches too,” said Sam. “Those were some very expensive Navajo rugs on the wall in the bar.”


“That’s even worse. They’re trying to be all kinds of dude ranch at once. I don’t know what it is, but there’s something fishy about that place.”


“Her clothes were gorgeous,” said Phoebe.


“That shirt did not come off the rack,” said Mary. “I’ll bet she commissioned it directly from Nathan Turk in Los Angeles.”


“And I’ll bet that it cost a bundle,” Phoebe said with a shake of her head.


“It did. I wonder who paid for it?” said Mary.


“Whoever does own the ranch probably wants her to look as expensive as the décor,” said Phoebe.


“She has that new Italian haircut,” Mary grumbled.




“The short, curly hair. That Italian actress, what’s her name...Gina Lollobrigida, that’s how she wears her hair. You see it in all the magazines.”


“The men sure thought Miss Powell looked good,” said Sam with a laugh.


“I’ll bet they did,” said Mary.


“The snacks were good,” said Joe.

Follow the Blog Tour:


Thanks so much for hosting Lynn Downey today, with an intriguing excerpt from Dude or Die!

Take care,

Cathie xo

The Coffee Pot Book Club


Loved this book for its authentic western lingo, the intriguing mystery set in and around a dude ranch, and Downey’s knowledge of all things 1954. Great read.

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