Anyway, I went back [to El Paso] and..the first thing I did was to go across the river and make myself known to Roberto Gonzàlez, who was the impresario there in the bullring in Juàrez….My dad had taken me to the bullfights and I had read Death in the Afternoon and so I began to follow the bulls…I got to meet some of these young, want-to-be-bullfighters and it just enchanted me, the whole thing…and I thought, well, there's no way I can put what I feel about bullfighting into any kind of an illustrated book about fighting bulls. I'll write a novel. So that was my occupation…I started writing The Brave Bulls about March of 47. I rewrote Chapter One fourteen times. Anyway , by the fall of 47 I sent the first four chapters up to Boston and, by golly, they said, "we want to give you an advance. You stay right with it, we're hanging on, looking at what you're doing." I think they gave me $6,000. or something like that.
I sent them a little outline; I had the chapters all figured out and just like a muralist, I knew the first line and the last line but I had to study the design in between. It was a hard thing to learn to make people talk because before, I'd only shown their faces. They encouraged me on those first four chapters, and I really went at it and finished it…
…And then I said, "I want to make illustrations." …The editor up there…was a little bit puzzled about a novel with illustrations. You know, that just wasn't done. They didn't have novels with illustrations since Victorian times. And I did the illustrations and took great joy in them because I hadn't done any real art work for all that time. And they were very well received and they said, "We think we can really go to town selling this thing and [make it] a best seller." Which they did.
I got them a fighting cape and some banderillas with all the fancy paper frills on them and a muleta but I couldn't get them a sword. Those guys [the bullfighters] were pretty tough about giving up a good sword. But they made quite an exhibit at Scribner's, that bookstore on Fifth Avenue in New York. In those days it was quite a place for best-selling books and all of that.
Anyway, it turned out to be a great success and I remember the editor sent a telegram that said, "Count your chickens. We've just sold The Brave Bulls to Hollywood." So that was good. Hollywood paid a lump sum for the rights to make a movie. And I said, "Now, I don't want that money, I want you to keep it up there in the bank and I want you to send a monthly stipend for Sarah and me and Jim to live on." Which they did, and The Brave Bulls financed the three of us for six or seven years. That's why I have that bull, Don Juliàn Llaguno's, hanging there in the entrance way to our little house here. I did extra things of course, commercial art and sold a few paintings and so on, but The Brave Bulls paid our expenses.
Tom Lea talking to Adair Margo in Tom Lea, An Oral History, El Paso: Texas Western Press, 1995, pps. 103-104.