Most of my paternal family are a mix of ranchers, farmers and a coal miner or two, and they’re not known for running off at the mouth. I think there’s a type of man who delights in using as few words as possible. And as much as I love loud, take-no-prisoner type women, I also love a still-waters-run-deep sort of fella.
Sweet Abuelita, an illustration in the book.
Henry “Hank” Burnett, from the book cover
In my second novel, Bitter Springs, an historical Western set in Del Rio, Texas in the 1870s, I had a lot of fun with Henry “Hank” Burnett, the freed slave turned mesteñeros, stepping in as the quintessential cowboy. (And for more on how he absolutely was the quintessential cowboy–most likely not straight nor white–click here.) In the following excerpts, Renaldo is a young, coming of age horse-trainer (21) the baby of a boisterous, loving Texican family. He’s made a faux pas and… well, maybe it’s best you read it. (And get a glass of water, ’cause brother, Hank is dry.)
From Perryavenue on Tumblr:
Why didn’t Renaldo and Hank carry guns with them for protection? Eduardo had a gun when he was at his parents’ home, wouldn’t Renaldo and Hank carry guns when they’re traveling along open and rough terrain with potential predators (both animal and human)?
Fun (and probably shocking) fact, most cowboys didn’t carry guns! Turns out that’s a Hollywood fabrication. Guns were expensive, hard to maintain, and cumbersome as a guy on a horse. Six shooters? Super pricey. You had a rifle if you were a frontiersman (bear, wolves), and you had a handgun if you were a man of the law, but cowboys? They were the bottom of the barrel.
I cannot stress enough how low on the totem pole cowboys were at this time. Cowboy = guy who literally rode next to or behind a herd of cattle on a cattle drive for very little pay. They didn’t have the funds or need for such hardware. It was considered a dangerous practice to carry a pistol, and wasn’t something that was looked upon with positivity. (Not to mention that handguns were considered a luxury item.)
A dispatch from the Texas Live Stock Journal dated June 5, 1884, 14 years after Bitter Springs is set:
The six-shooter loaded with deadly cartridges is a dangerous companion for any man, especially if he should unfortunately be primed with whiskey. Cattlemen should unite in aiding the enforcement of the law against carrying of deadly weapons.”
This dashing gent (this is done in pencil, can you stand it?) is Renaldo Valle Santos, youngest son of Estebán Santos. Like most kids who come tail end in a large family, he hasn’t had expectations put on his shoulders aside from watching out for his twin sister Canadaría and doing what his brothers tell him.
Life is pretty easy when that’s all you have to think about. And given the isolated nature of the family’s ranch out in San Felipe Del Rio, Texas, he doesn’t have to worry much about things like finding himself a wife. (Which is good, because that’s the last thing he wants.)
A wrench gets tossed in the works in the form of that handsome fellow in the bottom left corner, Henry “Hank” Burnett.
Turns out there’s a reason why Renaldo didn’t want a wife: He’d much rather have a husband. But seeing as this is a much different time than today, (1870, to be exact) how would that even work? Continue reading
As they crested a small butte, Renaldo could see another stream below, the ground fecund with growth and trees. Up here, they were at the edge of the tablelands, near where the land drove up sharply into the mountains of New Mexico. As they carefully picked their way down the side, the horses managing to avoid the scree and slippery portions with grace, Renaldo could see a solitary figure below. He looked to Hank to see what he made of this and made himself relax at the sight of the huge smile blooming on his companion’s face.
“Didn’t think he’d…” Hank cut himself off, shaking his head in what looked to be happy disbelief.
“Do you know him?” Renaldo asked.
“Very well,”Hank replied, his face splitting with a wide grin. He put his fingers to his mouth and gave three sharp whistles. The man in the distance replied with a high-pitched cry.
Meet Tsá-Cho, a.k.a. The Wrench in the Love Works. (Not what the name means.)
Mescalero Apache actor/model Rick Mora, aka my choice in casting for Tsa-Cho, should HBO come knocking. 😉
You simply can’t tell a story about Texas in the 19th Century without Native Americans (or N’Dee, Nde, or The People as they would refer to themselves) in the story. Unfortunately, Native Americans have often been cast as savages, as dutiful side-kicks, or as set dressing. The European immigrants almost destroyed them and the Nde are still feeling the devastating effects, part of which is the consistent “othering” and dehumanizing Hollywood continues with respect to these people. They’re either your spiritual guide–an object to help the white person “learn something about themselves”–or they’re illiterate, ignorant simpletons, all of which is grossly insulting. Their rich history, their massive contributions to the Americas, and their incredibly diverse and accepting cultures are often left by the wayside, or worse, aren’t even known by the general public. Continue reading
One question I’ve often been asked (and I love it!) is, “Where do the ideas for your stories come from? What’s the kernel? The 4-1-1, as the kids say (if the kids are 33).” For Bitter Springs, I stumbled across something that led me to months of research into actual LGBT history and a proper education of our past, and not the straight-washed “everyone was murderered if they were even kind of homo back in the day” mindset most people hold.
It is my utter delight to show all the ways in which that mindset is incorrect, this idea that every single LGBT person was shunned, that they were hidden away inside attics and broken down sheds at the edge of their family’s farms or basically forced to live their lives in misery until dying from their ‘gayness’, not unlike consumption. Turns out, that’s not true. LGBT people lived long, happy lives with their partners, and often. Not everyone did, religion always messes things up, but enough folks did to make it a Real Thing.
I’d like you to meet, as I call them, “The Fellas.” Bobby Jackson, Frank Hart. Boothill Cemetery, Tombstone, AZ
But back to these gay gunslingers who couldn’t bear to be separated even in death… Continue reading
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,” Esteban 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?
~From Bitter Springs
Yeah, Renaldo. Not all legends are old men. Henry Burnett was not an easy man to get to know, not for me, and certainly not for Renaldo. I had to unlearn a lot of false history to allow his creation to happen, first off. The sheer lack of information readily available about black cowboys in the 19th Century is staggering. Continue reading
“So often, queer stories set in the past, and even the present, are stories about pain and rejection, violence and untimely death. From a certain perspective Bitter Springs serves as a thesis statement, a way to change the conversation. There is a way to tell queer stories, our stories, in a way that shows the light at the end of the rainbow. It is possible that the story that we’ve been told over and over, that the queer journey is a journey of tragedy and loss, is somewhat like the titular springs, a story told so often, it appears to obscure all other possibilities, but just one story.
With Bitter Springs, Laura Stone is changing the conversation. We have had happy endings, we do have happy endings, and we will continue to have happy endings.”
It’s important to me, to my children, and to our fellow LGBTQ friends that a positive message replaces the sheer damage done by the sexual prohibition movement at the turn of the 20th Century, a message that continues to undermine progress.
For every “but that isn’t realistic” comment or review I see historical LGBT books receive, a part of me crumples in frustration. It is. It is realistic. It is real. LGBT people had happy, long, loving lives, and it’s important that we stop erasing that. It’s important that we put a message of love and hope out in the world. It’s important that we remember that the lies we’ve been told for 100 years, lies that at best pushed people back into the closet and at worst have led to awful, ugly deaths at the hands of bigots and zealots, it’s important we remember that LGBT people have had opportunities in the past to lead happy, loving lives, accepted by their families.
Thank you so much for this beautiful review, and for adding a message of hope out into the world.
(And there’s a reason why all of the queer stories of the 20th century ended in suffering and tragedy, but that’s a conversation for a different day. Today: let’s remember all the queer couples who were able to love each other and go to bed every night content in that love.)
Just guys being dudes. Dudes being guys.
More on the straight-washing (and white-washing) of the Old West, including a bibliography
It’s time! Release Day! To go along with Bitter Springs hitting bookshelves around the globe, I’ll be traveling along this series of tubes and cat memes we call the “inter-net” at various book blogs to talk about the book, the proper way to make nachos, why Haas avocados are essential for the very best guacamole, and why dudes on horseback are basically the best dudes.
THIS IS GREAT FOR YOU, AND I’LL TELL YOU WHY: every blog stop on my tour means a chance for you to laugh (I seriously try to make it as fun and entertaining as possible) and every comment left at every stop is automatically entered to win a copy of my book!
Multiple stops every day. MULTIPLE CHANCES TO WIN. EVERY DAY. ALL DAY ERR-DAY. Okay, until the 16th, when my stops end, but YOU can keep on entering if you missed a stop until the 23rd of December. PRETTY COOL.
I’ll keep the schedule updated as the stops happen, so bookmark this post and check back daily for where cool people are talking about books (mine in particular). You can also track where I am at my official Tumblr. Just look for Paloma-she’ll keep us on the trail. (Oh god, I am sorry. But not?)
Virtual Book Tour Stops:
- Divine Magazine – chance to enter and win!
- Gay Books – link to a thoughtful 4 star review, too (aww! THANK YOU!)
- Books 4 Ever – Fun interview where you might learn some new things about me 😉
- Bayou Book Junkie, where they very thoughtfully gave me a 4.5 Star review! <3
- Reviews and Ramblings, where I talk about former (and present) pets on top of other things
- Unquietly Me, where I give some writing advice
- And the wonderfully named, Two Chicks Obsessed, where there’s a fun, lengthy interview and I have to say that I love their blog layout a LOT. (That’s a thing for me.)
- Book Reviews Rants And Raves, where I talk about this book being a way to show my dad that yeah, Badger Clark DID have gay cowboy poems, because he’s of the generation where if something is in print, it’s Truth. (omg. I mean, it is true, but you feel me.)
- My Fiction Nook, and this is the one with the To Do List. 😀 (I liked that so much that I’ll add it to my Official Site soon with the other short story tie-ins that are going up this month.)
- Not officially on my tour, but Jude Sierra shared such a lovely review, and I was so touched that I’m linking it here. When a wonderful writer pays you a compliment, it’s just freaking awesome.
- The very delightful Elin Gregory, where she and I gushed over pretty book cover art in comments (it’s like old school days of LJ where the best things happen in comments! /nostalgia)
- And Books and More, where I was asked about the inspiration for the book (it’s a good story) and if I write while naked. And I answered. [kitten purr while stroking my throat]
(Apparently I want to be Madame. Someone bring me my diamond choker and bejeweled turban. WOW I JUST DATED MYSELF THERE.)
- Dawn’s Reading Nook There’s a nice interview here that ends in me sharing recipes for the best pizza toppings (after talking about how fun conventions are!)
- Happily Ever After (FB page) with a SURPRISE excerpt from my next book, And It Came To Pass
- QUEERcentric Books Where during the course of the interview I reiterate how awesome supportive friends can be, as well as a book recommendation. (Spoiler alert: Something Like A Love Song. Good lord, I can’t recommend that enough. GO GET IT.)
- CheekyPee BooksandReviews where I’m interviewed after the blurb, and it contains nuggets like who I love to write with and some word association.
- And Elizabeth Noble, a fellow M/M writer kind enough to host a Raffle Widget ALL FOR YOU. SHE IS DOING IT FOR YOU. (And you get 20 chances to enter!!)
- BFD Books and Reviews, which I assumed meant “Big F*cking Deal” because they have the best banner and lots of awesome books, but apparently stands for Books, Friends and Drinks, which happen to be three things I love more than anything else. Yeah, they went with the right one there.
- And last but certainly not least, the Mack Daddy of book blogs, Prism Book Alliance, and here I got to relive the glory days of the @okaybutlistenpodcast and talk about the TV show I’d love to bring back and why.
You have 20 chances to enter to win, so stop at each place and get your entry in!
Introducing Abuelita, a gentle Tobiano with pretty rounded white splotches and a tender heart. But more importantly, I want y’all to meet Doc, the Wonderhorse on whom she’s based.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Artwork by Colleen M. Good
“Abuelita is a good choice,”Francisco said to Burnett, nodding toward the horse. “Gentle, good instincts.”
“Abuelita?” Burnett asked, looking between the two brothers.
“Little grandmother,”Renaldo said, grinning and running his hand along Abuelita’s copper flank. “She mothers the other horses and watches out for the foals. Gracias, Francisco.”
Francisco nodded and gave his brother’s shoulder a squeeze.
“That’s good thinking,” Burnett said. “Could help us out there. Gracias.”
The brothers looked at each other, amused at Burnett’s American-South accent as he attempted to pronounce Spanish. Burnett caught that, rolled his eyes and took the lead, walking Abuelita to where she could join his horses in one of the corrals.
“Be good, eh?” Francisco said quietly, ruffling Renaldo’s hair.
Under the cut is Real Life Abuelito, aka, Doc, the best quarter horse ever.
As we get close to December 3rd, I thought it might be fun for you guys to get to know the various characters in Bitter Springs. And while this isn’t a book where the animals have dialog, the horses are still an integral part of the story. All of the horses, by the way, are based on real people.*
Pencil artwork by Colleen M. Good, cover artist for Bitter Springs.
*horse folk know that animals are people, too.