Early last year, I was reading a list of these lost songs. At some point they were registered for copyright, so only the titles remain—the music and lyrics were never found. One of these titles caught my eye in passing: “The Ranch Next Door.” I remember thinking that it sounded like a good title for a story.
And my incorrigible imagination started saying, “I wonder what it would be about…?”
For some reason that title stuck in my head. I couldn’t help thinking about it over the next few days, and mechanically started to put the story together in my mind. I envisioned two ranches side by side, but with something that separated them so effectively that their near neighbors might as well not have existed. A feud, of course! From there it was an easy step to the classic cattleman vs. sheep rancher conflict, and then to the romance that threatens to break the long silence.
In the end, I just gave in and wrote the story.
Having done so, I still needed to reassure myself about “borrowing” the title before pursuing publication. So I contacted archivist Elizabeth Drake McDonald, who has researched and collected all of Bob Nolan’s surviving music, and asked her if it was all right to use the song title. She shared my request with Nolan’s grandson, Calin Coburn, and they both encouraged me to go ahead with it.
That was back when I was still thinking along the lines of submitting my short stories to magazines. But I used to daydream sometimes about what it would be like to publish a collection of stories. I always pictured “The Ranch Next Door” as the title story of the collection, whether because I had written it first, or because the title had so captured my imagination, or maybe because the barbed-wire fence dividing the feuding families seemed the strongest metaphorical and visual image to emerge from the seven stories. And here I am, a year and a half after putting the first words of the story on paper, and that old daydream has actually come true!