Prism Book Alliance would like to thank Brandon Witt for taking the time to talk with us today.
Title: Then the Stars Fall
Author: Brandon Witt
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Cover Artist: Anne Cain
Then the Stars Fall was, hand’s down, the most intense writing experience of my life. To the point that I sort of lost track of my own life for a couple of months. (Judge away, judge away.) It was an experience I wasn’t expecting considering the storyline emerged from Dunkyn and Dolan’s personalities. Yes, the story came to life due to my two corgis. You heard that right. Even so, Dunkyn and Dolan are not the center of the story, it truly is about Travis Bennett’s family and how Wesley Ryan discovers his strength and the ability to be fully who he is. For a book that began as something I thought was going to be light, cute, and a simple romance, there was seldom a writing session that didn’t end in tears. Not because the book or story is a sad one—just because there is so much emotion and (hopefully) real life bled onto every page. The story is simple and grows at a leisurely, peaceful pace. I hope it offers the readers a sense of beauty and hope.
The night was a wash of deep blue, the edges of the sky nearly purple. The hue spread over the newly fallen snow. Only the thick masses of stars in the crystalline sky broke through the cool air, their swirls of bright white lighting up the silent world. Just outside the dark expanse of trees, the small herd of buffalo slept in a spread-out oval, each a mound of snow, occasional twitches of shaggy hide causing small avalanches to careen down their muscular sides.
Only Jarrod, the bull and ruler of the herd, lifted his horned head and met Travis’s gaze as he and Dunkyn quietly exited the truck and took their place by the wooden fence. Even across the stretch of snowy field, Travis could see the intelligence in the creature’s eyes, the question, the challenge.
Twin rushes of steam exited the bull’s nostrils, and Jarrod turned away, satisfied, lowering his head back down to rest in the dense fluff.
After dusting the snow off the top rail, Travis folded his arms and rested his weight against the fence. At his feet, Dunkyn let out a whimper. Travis looked down, grinning at the dog. “Not yet, bud. Later this week. I think you’re well enough.”
Dunkyn let out a huff, gave another longing glance toward the resting herd, then plopped down in the snow, his back resting against the side of Travis’s leg.
Travis returned his attention to the herd. Outside of Shannon’s grave, this was the place he felt the most at peace. The place where the world was quiet. Actually his favorite time here was anything but quiet. He loved standing in this exact spot in the late evenings of summer, with sunset newly dead and the Missouri humidity starting to break. The lazy croaking of toads and frogs on the edge of the pond mixing with the frantic electronic buzz of the cicadas made it nearly impossible to think. If he closed his eyes and gave himself over to the sound, it brought him to the edge of enlightenment and insanity. Not a clear thought could get through. It was deafening. It was perfect.
This kind of night was nearly as good, the flawless silence as riotous in its own right as the chaos of summer. It was moments like these, though, that Travis wanted to escape the town that held so many memories, that he couldn’t imagine leaving. Maybe the bustling noise of a city, the crash of ocean tides, the bugling of mountain elk, maybe those could silence the clamor in a man’s head and heart. Maybe. But not like this place did for him. This was his haven. With Mr. Walker’s huge house, dark and invisible at the top of the hill, the small forest of trees in the middle of the field gave the illusion that a soul could wander in and never worry about being found. The pond, calm and flat, steamed in the newly frozen night. Creatures of myth and magic slept only steps away. Snow crunched as it settled under his cowboy boots. His dog’s warmth against his leg radiated through the worn denim. This solace was similar to what endless cans of beer offered, but it wouldn’t steal a part of him away.
Shannon’s pregnancy with Caleb had been rough. Strangely it was more fraught with complications than that of the twins so many years later. They’d been so terrified of another miscarriage. If they’d only known. When the twins were conceived, the nine months went without a glitch. They’d finally figured out how to have children. They’d been wrong, it turned out. As agonizing as Caleb’s pregnancy had been, the silent killer that grew alongside the twins had been what they should have feared.
Hindsight and all. It was a bitch.
Neither of them slept for nine solid months as Caleb grew in Shannon’s womb. At least that’s what it had felt like. Turned out, they discovered what no sleep actually felt like for the next year, as the boy never seemed to close his eyes. Caleb had been so much like his boisterous little sister—how Shannon’s departure had changed him.
Still, they hadn’t known things would get so much worse. Many late nights, he and Shannon had stood watching the buffalo, just as he and his dog did now, Shannon’s hand resting on her twisting child inside, and Travis’s arms wrapped over her shoulders as she rested her back against his solid chest and stomach.
At the time, Jarrod had just reached his maturity, only having one breeding season behind him. They both would become fathers around the same time.
Like him, Shannon found comfort in the late-night serenity of the land. They hadn’t come to the buffalo during the twin’s pregnancy, not with an eight-year-old boy asleep at home, and not when the pregnancy seemed so easy in comparison. Maybe if they had—if they’d stood by the sparkling pond, made eye contact with the mystic native animals, breathed deeply of the clean Midwest air—maybe that would have been her cure. All would have been well.
Travis didn’t really believe that. He’d never been religious or spiritual in the slightest. Life was what it was. He was a true child of the Show-Me state. If you could touch it, see it, master it, then it was real. Everything else was just fluff and lies.
Still, what if there were more?
What if there had been a God watching them, waiting for Travis to trust in him?
What if there was magic in Jarrod’s huge beastly eyes?
What if the cicadas’ call brought healing?
If so, they’d missed it, he and his Shannon.
That was stupid, of course. There was no truth in any of it. They could have stood by the field every night as the twins’ cells split, divided, grew, and made two beautiful copper-headed babies. They could have prayed louder than the amphibian’s mating calls by the pond. Hell, they could have waded into its cool depths and baptized themselves in its pure density, even caught a catfish for breakfast while they were at it.
She’d known. His Shannon had known, even when he hadn’t.
There wasn’t magic in the buffalo, but she’d seen the future revealed in Jarrod’s dark eyes.
There was no power in the screams of the cicadas, but she’d heard what would arrive sung from their frantic wings.
There was no eternal being, but she’d felt the whispered truth from God’s lips next to her ear.
Promises to be strong. Brave.
He wasn’t those things. He’d thought he was. Before he found out what life was, Travis Bennett had thought he was strong and brave.
Hindsight. That bitch.
No, he wasn’t strong. She had been. Shannon had been strong in her love and her willingness to see and accept everything the way it was.
The promises she’d elicited had been strong.
Even her whispers to him, loud against the blue frozen night, were strong. Her warmth seeping into his skin through the dog’s touch was strong. She was still strong and brave.
He would be too.
“Fine, my love. Fine. Only because you ask it of me.” No tear fell, but his heart ached. “Fine.”
Though Jarrod could not have heard his whispered resignation, the buffalo lifted his head once more and met Travis’s gaze.
Travis nodded toward the beast. Far from strong, his whisper was nothing more than a cracked submission. “Fine.”
Though there were no sounds or movements over the snowy surface, there was a reply.
The purple edges of the sky began to lighten, the death of moon and the birth of sun commencing. A star fell. One solitary star streaked across the night and disappeared into the horizon.
The death of his wife four years earlier left Travis Bennett a shell of the man he used to be. With his dog by his side, Travis raises his three children, manages his business, and works as a ranch hand. But every day, every minute, is an aching emptiness.
Wesley Ryan has fond memories of the small Ozark town of El Dorado. Seeing it as a safe place to put his failed relationships behind him, Wesley moves into his grandparents’ old home and takes over the local veterinary clinic. An early morning visit from Travis and his dog stirs feelings that Wesley seeks to push away—the last thing he needs is to fall for a man with baggage and three kids as part of the package.
Life, it seems, has other plans.
Brandon Witt is one of the Prism Outside the Margins authors. You may read his August column here.
About the Author:
Brandon Witt resides in Denver, Colorado. When not snuggled on the couch with his two Corgis, Dunkyn and Dolan, he can be found tucked away in his favorite coffee shop, nose inches away from the computer screen, fingers pounding the keys. When he manages to tear himself away from the coffee shop addiction, he passionately takes on the role as a special education teacher during the daylight hours.
Find Brandon on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/
Brandon Witt has kindly offered one lucky commenter their choice of Brandon Witt title – Shattered Door, Submerging Inferno, Rising Frenzy, Clashing Tempest, or the forthcoming Then the Stars Fall.
Contest will end 7 days from original posting date at 8pm CDT. Must be 18 or older to enter, void where prohibited.
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.
Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,
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