Randi Samuelson-Brown is originally from Golden, Colorado, but now lives in Denver. Her father instilled a passion for Colorado history early on, and she latched on to the more notorious aspects of life in Colorado and the West. She has won multiple awards, including Best Western from Equus Films for “Brand Chaser” in 2023. “Branded Graves” was a Colorado Author’s League finalist in the Thriller category in 2023.

SunLit: Tell us this book’s backstory. What inspired you to write it? Where did the story/theme originate? 

Samuelson-Brown: This is the second installment in the Dark Range Series — “Branded Graves.” The story centers around the daughter of a legacy ranch in a make-believe Colorado town called Stampede. Emory Cross is a Brand Inspector walking a tightrope between the lawless Wild West and contemporary issues facing rural Colorado. 

I was inspired to write this book as a response to how Colorado is changing, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. The basic premise is that if someone scratches the surface of Colorado — the Wild West is still there, just lurking beneath the surface.

SunLit: Place this excerpt in context. How does it fit into the book as a whole? Why did you select it? 

Samuelson-Brown: This is the beginning of the book – a cross between Western Noir and Contemporary Western. I selected this excerpt to set the tone of the story that follows.

SunLit: Tell us about creating this book. What influences and/or experiences informed the project before you sat down to write? 

Samuelson-Brown: I wanted a strong female lead who wasn’t afraid to take matters into her own hands and embodied a lot of the characteristics of the people who ranched in Colorado.


Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit.

I met with the Colorado brand inspector commissioner and some brand inspectors. All were very gracious in answering questions and talking about some of the problems they face. Brand inspection started in the 1860s in Colorado, and continues on to this day — providing a very strong link between the old and the new.

SunLit: What did the process of writing this book add to your knowledge and understanding of your craft and/or the subject matter?

Samuelson-Brown: I go out into the state (off the beaten path) and talk to Coloradans. I love meeting readers and hearing their stories. People will share…if they understand what you are doing, and why. I ask them about their lives, and what they worry about and what they like. What they remember about their grandparents and their ancestors. Not in a barrage of questions, of course. Just chatting.

SunLit: What were the biggest challenges you faced in writing this book?

Samuelson-Brown: This is a new genre for me…so pacing remained foremost in my mind.

SunLit: If you could pick just one thing – a theme, lesson, emotion or realization — that readers would take from this book, what would that be? 

Samuelson-Brown: Resilience and a respect and love for the West, her people and its ways. 

SunLit: In a highly politicized atmosphere where books, and people’s access to them, has become increasingly contentious, what would you add to the conversation about books, libraries and generally the availability of literature in the public sphere?

Samuelson-Brown: My local Golden library — where I grew up and spend most of my summers — can be credited with a lot in my life. I was probably reading things not “age appropriate” in fact, I know I was…but it made me a writer, a reader, and an empathetic person.

“Branded Graves”

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SunLit: Walk us through your writing process: Where and how do you write? 

Samuelson-Brown: I write at home whenever the spirit strikes — especially during the weekends. Some people do have a whole process. I think a lot when I drive about plots, and when I get home and have time, I write.

SunLit: Tell us about your next project. 

Samuelson-Brown: “The Western Horse: A Popular History of the Wild and Working Animal.” It is non-fiction about horse history. I’m excited about this book and have enjoyed working on it. It covered the reintroduction of horses in North America through the cavalry to wild mustangs and their origins. It will be released in November 2024 by Two Dot.

A few more quick questions

SunLit: Which do you enjoy more as you work on a book – writing or editing? 

Samuelson-Brown: Editing! I figure that I can always make my writing better. I love writing scenery, and it takes time and a few passes to create word descriptions that convey what I see in my mind’s eye.

SunLit: What’s the first piece of writing – at any age – that you remember being proud of? 

Samuelson-Brown: I must have been about seven and I tried to write a “covered wagon” story, a la Laura Ingalls Wilder. I laugh when I write this, but it is true. No one asked me to write it. I just did.

SunLit: What three writers, from any era, would you invite over for a great discussion about literature and writing? 

Samuelson-Brown: I would invite Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Emily Bronte and Mari Sandoz.

SunLit: Do you have a favorite quote about writing?

Samuelson-Brown: “Your subconscious knows the story.” Bill Haywood Henderson, Lighthouse Writers.

SunLit: What does the current collection of books on your home shelves tell visitors about you? 

Samuelson-Brown: That I am a completely eclectic reader. I seem to go through phases regarding themes. Right now, I have a lot of horse books and English literature around the house.

SunLit: Soundtrack or silence? What’s the audio background that helps you write? 

Samuelson-Brown: Silence. However, I think some movie theme songs might help. I ought to give that a try!

SunLit: What music do you listen to for sheer enjoyment? 

Samuelson-Brown: Once again eclectic. It depends on my mood and location.

SunLit: What event, and at what age, convinced you that you wanted to be a writer? 

Samuelson-Brown: I believe I was probably 32…and I had run out of books that I wanted to read. I decided to write something that I would like to read…and I just kept going.

SunLit: As a writer, what do you fear most? 

Samuelson-Brown: Getting “stuck” when a deadline is looming.

SunLit: Also as a writer, what brings you the greatest satisfaction?

Samuelson-Brown: Having someone tell me that they loved what I wrote.

This byline is used for articles and guides written collaboratively by The Colorado Sun reporters, editors and producers.