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.
Author Name: Laura Stone
Book Name: Bitter Springs
Release Date: December 3, 2015
Publisher: Interlude Press
Cover Artist: Collen M. Good
Pages or Words: 302 pages
Categories: Fiction, Gay Fiction, Historical, M/M Romance, Romance, Western/Cowboy
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.
I’m delighted to have been invited, thank you for having me! I’m Texan, I’m a mom, I’m a writer, and I’m a Master Gardener. I’m also an excellent snack wrangler. (I take pride in my cheeseboards.) Now that I’ve written that out, I just realized that I managed to incorporate all of that in Bitter Springs. I’m not saying that I over identify with Juana Maria de Santos Valle, but I’m not not saying that, either. Also, are you hungry? You look hungry. I can just get you a little something, it’s no trouble, sit, sit!
Why do you write?
I have to write. I have to get the stories that are always bouncing around in my noodle down on paper, or I get… I just have to. Even if people stopped reading my books (oh my gosh, my stomach just sank) I would still be writing stories. I’ve always written, and I can’t imagine a time when I no longer feel inspired to keep writing.
Which of your books was the most difficult to write?
I think this one was, and for a few reasons. First, I was in the process of an absolutely horrible divorce (they’re all horrible, let’s not kid ourselves) and was trying to hold things together for the sake of the kids and meet a deadline, knowing that the chance to be able to focus solely on writing was coming to an end. I wanted to put everything I could in this story. Second, it was so important for me to make sure I didn’t write any stereotypes, that I didn’t get lazy on who these men and their families were. I spent months researching the families who lived in what is now West Texas—I had to get help from a Mexican friend of mine, since it required me using documents and census records that were in Spanish. For Hank, I didn’t want to rely on things I’d seen in movies or popular media about life on a plantation. Listening to actual former slaves recount their lives in online archives was both harrowing and enlightening. I now have an amazingly broad library of Queer American history, and dispelling the myth that we’re just now accepting LGBT folks is a new goal of mine, given the fact that it just wasn’t viewed the same way as it has been the past 100 years or so. There’s so much information out there about subjects I think we often take for granted, and I just didn’t want to take any easy steps.
Give us an insight into your main character. What does he do that is so special?
What I love most about Renaldo is that no matter what the situation he’s focused on, he’s giving it his all. When we meet him, he’s completely focused on his job and doing his family proud. He then wants to be the best apprentice he can be to Hank. He’s completely focused on the task in front of him and isn’t easily distracted. He has that sort of single-minded dedication that makes for a successful business man, family man, and I imagine his long-term partner is going to be incredibly grateful for those qualities. His romantic streak is by far my most favorite of his qualities.
How much research do you do for your books?
Hahaha. Um. A lot. A ridiculous amount. Probably too much, but it’s vital that I immerse myself in whatever place I’m writing. I don’t always get it right, but I certainly try. I basically live in libraries (both physical and the wonder archives on online libraries) while I’m preparing to write. For this book, I spent months learning everything I could, and then sat down and wrote uninterrupted until I had a first draft.
Who designs your covers?
Colleen Good is the artist who conceptualized and designed the cover to this book. Interlude Press has a design team who reads early drafts and then come up with ideas for what they feel best captures the theme or ideas of the book. There’s an early meeting with the writer (me!) to get a feel for what I would love to be focused on, and that would have been the Llano Estacado, the beautiful high prairie I love so much. Colleen has a gift with pencil. Yeah, this cover is pencil. Her talent is gobsmaking.
Thank you so much, Laura!!!
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.
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
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