In 1870s Texas, Renaldo Valle Santos, the youngest son of a large and traditional family, has been sent to train with Henry “Hank” Burnett, a freed slave and talented mesteñero—or horse- catcher—so he may continue the family horse trade. Bitter Springs is a sweeping epic that takes themes from traditional Mexican literature and Old Westerns to tell the story of a man coming into his own and realizing his destiny lies in the wild open spaces with the man who loves him, far from expectations of society.
The day before the wedding, a visitor arrived at Vista Verde an entire week early. Renaldo, ready to wash up and eat dinner after a long, hard day—his side ached from roping cattle as a part of Paloma's training, his hands were full of bits of raw hemp from the stock lassos, and one of the calves had kicked him high on the thigh—walked back from the barn using his hat to slap at the dust on his chest and thighs. He noticed a tall, striking young black man standing at the door to their home speaking with their father. They didn't see many black men this far from civilization—with the Civil War ending so recently, many were staying close to where they'd been forced to live, were heading far out west where there were more opportunities to make a new life or were going north seeking less hostile society. Who he could be?
He was about as tall as Renaldo, maybe an inch or two more, broad-shouldered and whip-thin, dressed in well-worn, simple clothes. He had a close-cropped beard, but instead of hiding the shape of his jaw, it accented its sharpness. His light eyes, almost luminescent even at this distance and glowing like amber, were ringed with thick lashes, nearly to the point of being girlish, but there was nothing feminine about the man. With his lean but strong-looking chest, muscular arms and curved backside, he managed to carry himself with a confident air while standing idly; his body was still, but in a way that made Renaldo think of a raptor sitting on an abutment, watching and waiting.
“Oh, here he is,” Estebán said, motioning for Renaldo to join them, saying, “Señor Burnett, allow me to introduce to you my son, Renaldo.”
This? This was the legendary mesteñero, Henry Burnett? He couldn't be much older than Renaldo, who realized his jaw had dropped. He closed his mouth quickly and moved toward them as if drawn like metal shavings to a magnet.
Burnett, however, looked amused, as the edge of his mouth quirked up. “Pleased to meet you,” he said, his voice deep and husky.
Renaldo couldn't look away, shocked that his expectations couldn't have been more wrong. This was a vibrant young man. But... this was the man he would be alone with on the prairie for months? His stomach twisted at that thought, and at how unexpected it all was, causing his heart to race and face flush. Yes, it was unexpected. That Burnett had come so much sooner than they'd expected had to be why Renaldo couldn't find his voice and felt so upended.
“Mijo,” his father said sharply.
Renaldo shook himself slightly, and then nodded, saying, “Señor Burnett, it's very good to meet you, finally. Please forgive my shock, as I don't believe we expected you so soon.”
Burnett laughed, a rolling, melodious sound, and replied, “Well, then just imagine my shock when I come here all the way from Nacogdoches expecting one Valle man, only to find him gone and you in his place.” He smiled. “Your padre seems to think you're a better match, so that works for me.”
That smile, bright teeth framed by full lips, eyes crinkled at the corners, helped lessen some of Renaldo's shock and, if he was being honest, some of the worry that he carried about spending a lot of time with a hard, taciturn man Renaldo knew he would be unable to please. At the realization that this was who he would be with on the plains, just the two of them with no one else for weeks on end, Renaldo became excited, finally looking forward to this task. A young man with an infectious grin wouldn't be such a chore to be stuck with after all.
Laura Stone is a born and bred Texan, but don't hold that against her. She's a former comedian, actress and Master Gardener, and currently keeps busy as a media blogger, ghostwriter and novelist when not busy raising her three children. They're not fully raised, but then, neither is she.
She lives in Texas as proof that it's not completely populated by hard-line right-wingers. And because that's where the good tamales are. Her first novel, The Bones of You, was published by Interlude Press in 2014 and was named a finalist for two Foreword Reviews IndieFab Book of the Year Award. Laura Stone at Laura-Stone.com and on Facebook at facebook.com/9LauraStone
Where to find the author:
Goodreads Link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/26223113-bitter-springs
Today I’m very lucky to be interviewing LAURA STONE author of BITTER SPRINGS.
Hi Laura, thank you for agreeing to this interview. Tell us a little about yourself, your background, and your current book.
Hello! Thanks for the invitation to come talk with you and your readers! I'm a full time Texan, mom, and nacho enthusiast (it's totally a thing), and once upon a time I was an actor and comedian. I'm incredibly fortunate to be able to make a living writing now, and it's a dream come true, honestly. Bitter Springs is a book I didn't even know I had in me, and honestly, I didn't want to let that world—or the family!—go when I finished. It was so much fun to be able to write about these men in a traditionally masculine world and give them license to feel and act upon those feelings. Plus: horses.
What is the most satisfying thing about being a writer?
I want to say finding the right way of expressing a thought, because when you can't find the right way to say something, it's pure agony. But honestly, hearing back from people who either laughed at a moment or connected emotionally with a character is pretty much the greatest thing there is.
Do your characters ever take over your writing and make the story go somewhere you hadn’t originally planned?
Oh, without question! I had a completely different story mapped out for Bitter Springs initially, and I can bet that people would be very glad I didn't go that route. (It involved a shootout and both fellas dying. See?? It's a good thing Renaldo and Hank took the reins.) It's a wonderful thing to have the story sort of “take over” and pour out of you onto the page. I think a lot of writer's block is when the characters or the story aren't speaking to you. I tend to stop trying to force things and go back, re-reading what's happened up to the point of the block, and let the story show me where I went off track whenever that happens.
How did you celebrate the release of your book?
Champagne and good friends! I'm so fortunate to have such lovely, supportive friends, especially ones with great taste in hootch. Ha! My dear friend Frances and her husband go above and beyond supportive by having a mini-celebration for me. Hmm, I guess if I'd wanted to be thematic, I should have had everyone drink mescal? My publisher did send me a pretty stellar bottle of tequila...
How did you come up with the idea for this book?
This is one of my favorite questions. I was on a road trip out west and had the chance to stop in all the hokey little touristy-spots that I hadn't seen before, so I made a 20 mile detour into Tombstone, Arizona. At Boothill Cemetery (it's on the National Register and really interesting!), I noticed that out of all the different plots—mothers and children, prostitutes, business owners, gunslingers—there was one plot that had two people buried together. “The best of friends” the tour guide says. Now, no one else was buried with anyone, just these two cowboys who died together. That got me thinking about who they must have been, and that led to a landslide of research. It was delightfully eye opening to realize just how common it was for men to be in romantic, long-term relationships with one another (same goes for women) back in the day. People genuinely didn't bat an eye at it. It wasn't until Prohibition when people began to publicly decry such things, which was a fact I'd had no idea about. That just means the “moralists” did their job very well. It's time to remind the world that LGBTQ folks have been here living and proud all along!
Have you ever written naked?
I bare my soul every time I write.
...that's what you meant, right?
Tour Dates & Stops:
3-Dec: MM Good Book Reviews, Scattered Thoughts & Rogue Words, Velvet Panic, It’s Raining Men, Hearts on Fire
7-Dec: Two Chicks Obsessed With Books and Eye Candy, Unquietly Me, Elisa - My Reviews and Ramblings, Bayou Book Junkie
Rafflecopter Prize: Grand Prize: $25 Interlude Press Gift Card, First Prize: One of five e-copies of 'Bitter Springs'