In The Devil in the Saddle (Berkley, Nov., reviewed on the page), love blossoms between a wealthy rancher’s daughter and the son of the ranch’s majordomo.

One of the main conflicts between Hallie Prince and Rafe Fontana is their social status: his family is employed by hers. How do you address that?

Rafe and his family are Hispanic, and Rafe’s father, Martin, is about my age; they were viewed as second-class citizens when he was younger, and I think in his head he keeps feeling that. Martin says to Rafe, “You know she’s never going to be interested in somebody like you.” Also, the Fontanas are not as rich as the Princes. It’s been drummed into Rafe from an early age: you don’t really measure up to them, they’re better than you. For Hallie, she took her wealth and privilege for granted. I would hope at the end of the book that she’s looked back at that and realized that people are just people and class doesn’t matter.

Hallie longs to be a ballerina but has no talent for it. What inspired that aspect of her character?

I think it’s fascinating to be so in love with something and to want to do it so much, but you just can’t get there. You’re not going to be the best. I used to play a lot of tennis and I was pretty good on the club circuit, but as much as I loved it, I was never going to graduate past that. There wasn’t enough physical prowess in my body to be a great tennis player. But everybody wants to be something. And in Hallie’s case, she wanted it so bad. I wrote this book before the college scandal came out, but Hallie’s father bought her a spot at the University of Texas’s dance program, and she didn’t realize until much later that she’d taken somebody else’s spot. She just had to recognize that she didn’t have the talent, and her privilege got her there.

Grandma Dolly’s a hoot. What makes a comic relief character like her work in a narrative with serious themes?

You just need some of that, I think. I have had female relatives that were very irreverent. There was one, she died when I was really young, so I don’t remember much about her, but what I do recall is that she was so funny. She could break tension with just a couple of quips. Her name was Aunty Clyde. She must’ve been in her 70s or 80s, and she had jet black hair and ruby red lips, and she kind of stood out in my mind. Sunday dinners at my grandmother’s, somebody would be fighting, and Aunty Clyde would be zinging and everybody would be laughing on the sidelines. I just like it as a writer, to have somebody yucking it up on the sidelines.