Please say hello to Laura Stone and
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.
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Hi Laura, thank you for joining us today. Tell us a little about yourself, your background, and your current book.
Hello! It's a real treat to have been invited, so thank you for the opportunity! I'm a pretty simple gal from a big, noisy family—I have 167 first cousins, to give you an idea of what I mean by a big family—and miss living out in the middle of nowhere. The city has its benefits, to be sure, but I miss being able to go out in the desert and just get lost for a few days. The life goal, once my youngest graduates in a few years, is that I'll be able to get back to the wilderness again. Less distractions to enable more writing!
Bitter Springs was a sort of love letter to the prairie and wilderness, honestly, and since I can't be out in it for now, may as well write about it, eh? It was a so much fun to write men who just love the quiet, solitude, and each other. There's such a sense of peace of being with the person you love and in a place where it's just the two of you, a private little world all of your own.
When I was in college, I worked for the National Park Services and was always shocked by how disconnected from nature most people are. While obviously that's a situational thing—we can't all live in the middle of nowhere by virtue of its definition—it was always so gratifying to see just how many people had a longing in their blood to let go modern trappings and allow themselves to enjoy the scenery, the clean air, the feel of crisp mountain air on their faces. Watching someone see their first wild animal is so tremendous—from a safe distance, of course! Boy, could I tell you some hair-raising stories...
I highly recommend for everyone to even just take a day trip out to a national or state park and let yourself enjoy the solitude. It's just good for your soul to reset and recharge.
Give us a to-do list for one of your characters.
Oh, this is fun! Hank's awful particular about things, so if he was of a mind to write down what needed doing, I suppose it would be something like this:
- Go hide Renaldo's boots before he wakes up. He does have awful handsome feet, come to think of it.
- Stop in and tell Juana Maria good morning.
- Check and see if she needs anything. She don't need to be lifting those heavy pans all the time.
- Take a breakfast plate back to Ren after washing up the rest for Juana Maria. (She did go to all the trouble of cooking something for me, after all.)
- Tell Ren where you hid his boots (after he earns it)
- Give Cecilia a good rub down
- Check Puerco's back leg. He's been favoring it.
- Sneak Paloma some of them prickly pear fruits.
- Catch that squeak in the kitchen door hinge that Juana Maria mentioned last night at supper
- Remind Eduardo that it's no trouble at all for little Pedro to come along with me while I work with the ladies and Puerco in the north corral
- Show Pedro how to whistle on a blade of grass
- Remind him not to make his mama crazy whistling all the durn time
- Hide Ren's boots for teasing me about carrying Pedro all morning on my shoulders
- Make Ren earn his boots back
- Nap (With Ren)
- Make Ren go get some of them molasses cookies Juana Maria said she'd make me for fixing the kitchen door
- Tell Juana Maria thank you myself because Ren probably won't let her know just how much I like her cooking, and it's important
- Sneak Cecelia some of them prickly pear fruits she's so fond of
- Help Hortensia fix the water pump out by her place
- Remind Eduardo that no, it's no trouble at all
- Hide Ren's boots for teasing me about being a sucker for all the ladies at Valle Verde
- Don't let him earn his boots back because he ought to know better
- Well.... maybe he can earn them back if he keeps doing that one thing
- Make supper – that fatback and bean dish Ren's partial to
- Spring a 'warm summer night bedroll under the stars' surprise on Ren just because
- Be grateful (Make sure Ren knows just how much)
About the author:
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.
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