Since writing THE SPARROW, I’ve attended a number of science fiction conventions and enjoyed them hugely, but I’ve never been one to wear Spock ears or dress up as an Imperial Stormtrooper. This reluctance to live out fantasies in public could be a sign of dignity and reserve; more likely, it’s clear-eyed realism about how easy it is for a little old lady with poor bone structure to look ridiculous. That said — and God help me — I just ordered a cowboy hat.

The occasion for this spasm of uncharacteristic behavior is signing up for a five-day horseback trek in October. The ride is led by Steve Shaw of Great American Adventures, and it winds through the Chiricahua,Dragoon and Whetstone Mountains and the high country around Tombstone, Arizona, visiting the sites of the 1882 Earp Vendetta Ride. (Should anyone from the IRS be reading this, I assure you that this entire trip is totally research for my next novel, and I’ll keep very good records of that.) I’ll be staying on for the Helldorado Days festival (Tombstone, Oct. 21-23).

Most participants wear full western costume for these events. I told Mr. Shaw that the best I could do was jeans and a plaid shirt. There is no way on God’s green earth that I’m dressing up as a cowboy, a gambler or a dance hall girl, thanks all the same. He said that was fine, but predicted that I’d change my mind when I got down to Tombstone and saw all the cool stuff in the stores.

I caved in, 12 hours later, and bought a hat. Because I’ll need sun protection, right? I mean, I burn easily and the thin mountain air won’t provide much of a UV barrier, so it’s only sensible to have a broad-brimmed hat to shade my face. Right? And the hat may as well be black, because all my plaid flannel shirts have a black ground to them. And my glasses have black rims, too. So a black hat would go, right?

But that’s it. Not one step further into Fantasy Land. Because I already have cowboy boots from when I was down at the K.D. Guest Ranch in Adamsville, Ohio, brushing up on my horseback riding skills. (Note to IRS guy: it was research for DOC, and I can prove it). If you’re going to pen cattle, you have to have cowboy boots, or your heel might slip through the stirrup. You could get hurt. Honest. It’s practically required.

But that’s it. Cowboy boots and a hat. With jeans and plaid shirts.

Maybe a jacket, though. It’ll be cold in the mountains. And I really do need a jacket… And gloves, maybe. Leather ones, because I can’t wear my purple knit gloves — those are for winter in Ohio, and they’re pretty worn out anyway. I could used leather gloves in the garden, afterward.

No chaps. Or spurs. Chaps and spurs are absolutely out. Seriously. I mean it.