Sooner swooner

She applies that precision to the “where” part of her stories. Johnson wants the settings to stand out to the reader, to bring readers into the world alongside the characters. So when the New York native decided to write her newest series about Oklahoma, she recruited some local help to make sure she got all the details correct.

“These are important things to the characters in the book,” she said. “And if I’m going to embrace writing that, I’m going to do it right.”

Johnson already had a few sources from several years earlier, when her research into the world of professional rodeos led her to Oklahoma State University’s bull-riding team. Using those existing contacts, and new sources from her Sooner fan base, she gathered insights that she hoped would give her novel an authentic feel.

When the first book in her Oklahoma Nights series, One Night with a Cowboy, debuted in February, she knew she had done her job. The book, which takes place partly at Oklahoma State University, drew comments from readers who recognized familiar landmarks appearing in the story.

Johnson’s readers and residents of Drumright will recognize Joseph’s Fine Foods, home of the now-famous fried bologna sandwich. While looking for a restaurant for a date-night scene, Johnson happened across Joseph’s website through one of her Twitter followers.

“At first, I joked how I didn’t think I could write a love scene or a sexy book with fried bologna,” she said. “Then the responses from readers started, saying, ‘You can do it!’ and I accepted the challenge.”

After the book came out, she received messages from fans who were pleasantly surprised to discover that Joseph’s Fine Foods actually existed outside the world of the story. For Johnson, writing in local flavor just seemed like the natural thing to do. She plans to place a reference to the restaurant in each of the following Oklahoma Nights books, including Two Times as Hot, which was released in September.

Two Times returns to Oklahoma — specifically, Stillwater. OSU fans may be happy to see their college take a starring role, as several of the lead characters are educators there. Heroine Becca Hart is a New Yorker like Johnson.

The story begins when Becca makes a sojourn to the Sooner state for her sister’s wedding. Two men — professional bull rider Jace and career soldier Logan — catch her eye, but there’s competition to see who can capture her heart, and this in a state renowned for its tenacity.

Johnson is already writing a third book for the series, as well as planning a spinoff series. Oklahoma, it seems, is all set to be the hot new scene for romance. After all, Johnson says, when it comes to literature, cowboys are the new vampires.

Sarah Lobban

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