Category Archives: Louisiana

My Journey of Re-evaluation

It's really strange how things, good and bad, always seem to happen for a reason. I've also noticed time and time again that God, Fate, Gaia, the Cosmos, or sheer, dumb coincidence, depending on your belief system, tends to remind us some things need to be addressed or taken care of at different times in our life.

If you're reading this post, then there's a 99% chance you already know I'm a writer and have been writing to some degree since I was in junior high school. I don't profess to be a great writer or a gifted writer, just a writer.

But there are a lot of writers out there and there are various levels to being a writer, not only levels of talent but also levels of willingness. These include a willingness to write about things which make us uncomfortable, a willingness to try and write a short story (because those are hard),  or the willingness to devote enough AIC (Ass in Chair) time to finish writing a book and then the willingness to either seek a publisher or spend extra time and effort self-publishing, which comes with its own challenges and rewards.

In another post I'll discuss a trip I took to Natchitoches on June 6, and finding a patch of low bush huckleberries with my Uncle Mike in Kisatchie National Forest. For those of you who read my book, The Bottle Tree, you'll remember huckleberries played a part in the story.

Not long after, I was writing at my desk when my Jack Russell Terrier 'Sup began barking and having a fit on my desk, his usual resting place when my wife isn't home. I looked out the window to see a raccoon in the front yard, calmly eating something she was picking from the ground. While I live in a small East Texas town, I do live in the city limits and  this is the first raccoon I have ever seen in the area but she has apparently taken up residence here now. Again, raccoons and 'coon hunting play a part in The Bottle Tree.

Other things kept happening to remind me of my book, the first one I published although not the first one I'd written but those are enough examples for me to share and, as I said, sometimes things happen to get our attention for a reason.  

On June 17, 2015, 21 year old Dylann Roof, a white supremacist, sat through a church service at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and then, after discussing Scriptures,  pulled a Glock .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol from a fanny pack and shot ten African American members of the congregation, nine of whom died. While shooting them he is reported to have shouted racial epithets and said, "Y'all want something to pray about? I'll give you something to pray about." He also reloaded his pistol five times. The victims ranged in age from 26 to 87.

The book description of The Bottle Tree on Amazon and other sites is:

Deep within the piney forests of central Louisiana, three children learn that life amid the turpentine and lumber camps they call home is not what defines who they are, or who they will become as adults. In the early 1900s, Louisiana’s forests were home to hard working men who made turpentine from the piney lumber by day, and then went home to the clapboard houses in company camps set up around the sawmills. If they were lucky, they had families waiting for them when they got there. The Bottle Tree is a gripping account of life in a turpentine camp for 3 resilient families and their children, who must face this harsh environment in order to survive. Leesie, Johnny, and Caleb endure many of the same hardships as their parents, but once their bond is forged, the trio takes a stand against one of the camp’s most common problems: the struggle with racism. While the segregated camp feeds adult insecurities, Leesie and Caleb befriend Johnny and begin teaching each other that racial divides are fabricated by ignorance and fear; 2 qualities each child refuses to possess. The Bottle Tree will make you laugh and cry and leave you entertained.

At its core The Bottle Tree is about racism and hate for no reason other than the color of a person's skin.

Many of you know that the Johnny Robinson in the story  was named after a friend of mine I went to school with in Provencal, Louisiana. Although he was the first black person I knew, I never really thought of his or his family's skin color. He was always just a nice kid that I wish I'd kept in touch with when I'd moved away. I still saw him when I'd come back to the school to visit, just as I'd see the other people I'd known, but anytime I saw racial issues pop up wherever I was my mind would always snap back to Johnny and how race had never really been an issue in that small, Louisiana school way out in the country.

As I mentioned in the prior post, I had always been "proud of my southern heritage" based on oral family traditions and was surprised to learn from my research that my family had actually owned slaves. Not only slaves but teenaged slaves.

Once I learned that, all the crap about Southern Heritage goes out the window. While my forefathers may have believed in state's rights, etc., the simple fact is that if they owned a slave, even one, at the time of the Civil War then the presumption must be that they were fighting to preserve the right to own that human being and, I'm sorry, say what you will but only an uneducated fool can call that something of which to be proud.

Not only that, but the simple fact is that many of the black (or African American, whichever term you prefer) families that live in the rural south are direct descendants of the slaves who were freed in that area.

For me, what that means is the kids I went to school with, Johnny and others, could very well have been descended from or relatives of the very people my ancestors once owned.

I'm all for learning about your ancestors. Studying history, good or bad, is important because as philosopher George Santayana said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it".

I'm not getting into a discussion of the Confederate Flag here, this isn't a political website, although I'll be glad to discuss my views one on one if anyone wants to talk to me about it but what I will say is that between 1900 and the segregation years of 1950s-1960s the flag wasn't being used or flown anywhere on a regular basis and the talk of it representing "Southern Heritage" simply didn't exist in any resources I've been able to find other than those dedicated to the history of the confederacy.

As I said at the beginning, this is my journey of re-evaluation, so make of it what you will and choose to stand pat on your own views or re-examine them as your conscience sees fit. It's not my duty to judge you.

It is, however, the duty of history and future generations to judge us.

Heritage and Facts – This Will FORCE Me to Re-evaluate

The kick in the teeth came today while I was looking over the internet and all of the discussion regarding the church shooting in Charleston, SC, and, by the way, the number of idiots posting on the internet about this is astounding.

As you know, a little while back I wrote a piece on my journey of self discovery as it regards family history, slavery, and civil rights.

I knew that several of my ancestors had fought on the Confederate side in the Civil War and I was proud of the fact, just as I'm proud of the ones who fought in all the other wars and the ones who didn't serve in the military at all. 

When you are judging what your ancestors did, to a certain extent you have to judge it in the climate and the circumstances of that time. It doesn't necessarily excuse "bad" behavior, but it may make their actions less reprehensible or make it more understandable that they did such things than the same actions (or omissions) would today.

I had always assumed that my ancestors fought on the side of the Confederacy because they lived in the South, they viewed the attitudes and actions of the North as offensive, and because, at one point, their homeland was "invaded" (for more information on that topic see the Red River Campaign of 1864).

The oral family history indicated we'd always been "dirt poor farmers" (my words) and I'd looked at census records when I started doing genealogical research (I am an absolute novice at this) and had never seen any indication that the farmers had slaves at all, just a bunch of children which I'm quite sure had been put to work in the fields at as early an age as possible.

However, I wondered if I had the whole story and so, on a whim, I decided to dig a little deeper and do some research on how to find out if someone owned slaves right before the Civil War. What I discovered was unsettling in a number of ways.

In 1860, the US census was a little different than some of the others, which listed slaves on the same pages as the other members of the household. This particular year, the slaves were listed on a separate document called a "slave schedule" which lists the slave owners by name and then the slaves they owned by gender and age.

I'm researching the maternal side of my family at this moment and so I chose one ancestor that I knew who was alive in 1860, had been in the Civil War (he died of Typhus or Typhoid in 1862), and who owned land. I looked up his name on the slave schedule.

In 1860 he owned two slaves, one 16 year old male and one 14 year old female.

Admittedly, I was a little shaken. I chose to look up another ancestor, one who isn't listed in the official records as having served in the war.

In 1860 he owned one slave, a 14 year old male.

I stopped my research at that point. I'll go back to it later, because ignoring history doesn't change it or make it go away.

To those claiming the right to fly the Confederate flag is a matter of heritage and that it wasn't about slavery, it may be time for you to go back and do a little digging in your family tree. I thought my ancestors were fighting for an "ideal" and now I have to acknowledge that at least a portion of those principles were that they wanted to own another human, in the limited research essentially three kids, to make it easier on themselves. Not something I particularly want to celebrate.

What's particularly troubling to me about this isn't that I was operating under erroneous facts, that happens to everyone occasionally, it's not really that my ancestors owned slaves because while that was wrong, there is really nothing I can do about that. What is really troubling is that there is a good chance that I may know the descendants of these slaves quite well.

This all plays into the real characters that influenced my first published book, The Bottle Tree, and I must say it has really, really had a deep and, I suspect, a lasting effect on me.

More on that at another time, when I've had the chance to reflect and consider.

2015 Natchitoches-NSU Louisiana Folklife Festival

2015-Folk Life Festival

Summer is here and everyone is looking for something fun to do. I'd like to suggest that you consider visiting the 2015 Natchitoches-NSU Louisiana Folklife Festival held in beautiful and historic Natchitoches, Louisiana at the Prather Coliseum on the campus of Northwestern State University. Most of the exhibits (including my booth) are inside the air conditioned coliseum so you can escape the heat and see some great craftsmen, hear good music and try Louisiana foods.

The Folklife Festival is set for July 17th-18th, 2015, and the theme this year is Backroads and Bayous: Celebrating Louisiana's Rural Folklife.

The link to the festival website with the schedule and bands is here.

My wife and I used to visit this every year from when we were first married continuing through when we moved away and then we were lucky enough to be invited to start attending as exhibitors when I started publishing books a number of years ago. The festival is put on by the folks at the Northwestern State University Folklife Center and they do a great job every year. The cost is low and it is well worth the expense plus, if you've never been to Natchitoches, it's a great time to visit my hometown.

Natchitoches is the oldest settlement in the Louisiana Purchase, founded in 1714, just a short distance from the location of the festival.

If you do decide to attend be sure and stop by my booth and visit with me. I'll have books there for sale but I like to visit with everyone whether they purchase or not and my family has lived in the Natchitoches are since its founding. I've actually been learning about its history since I was a very, very small child through the stories my relatives told in addition to the enormous number of hours I've spent doing formal research so I can probably point you to some interesting places that most people don't know about as well as the more touristy ones. My kids can tell you that no matter where you are in Natchitoches Parish I can probably point in a direction and tell you something fun or historic not far away (much to their boredom at times).

Anyway, it really is a great festival and Dr. Shane Rasmussen and his staff are working hard to preserve the Louisiana culture and heritage, focusing on not just the bayous and swamps of the southern part of the state or New Orleans. 

36th Annual Natchitoches-NSU Folk Festival

2015-Folk Life FestivalI've been invited back to participate in the 36th Annual Natchiotches-NSU Folk Festival this year.

The 2015 NSU Folk Festival will be held July 17-18, 2015 at Prather Coliseum on the campus of Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana.  The festival hours for Friday are 4:30 p.m. until 11:15 p.m. and Saturday from 8:00 a.m. until 11:00 p.m.

The festival theme is "Backroads and Bayous: Celebrating Louisiana's Rural Folklife." There will be great music, food, crafts, learning sessions and the State Fiddle Championship.

Come visit my booth at the festival, say hi and check out my books.

 

 

The Louisiana Studies Conference at NSU – Natchitoches

For the third year I was invited to, and did, speak at the Louisiana Studies Conference at my undergraduate alma mater Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, La.

Before I discuss it I wanted to give a big thanks to all of the people involved in putting on the conference. Dr. Shane Rasmussen, the Director of the Louisiana Folklife Center, has made great efforts in developing the Folklife Center and is responsible not only for this conference but also the Folklife Festival held each summer. Although he will be the first to admit that he couldn't do it without the assistance of many others including Shelia Thompson from the Folklife Center. Dr. Lisa Abney, the Vice President of Academic and Student Affairs as well as a Professor of English at NSU is also a co-chair of the seminar and a frequent speaker and/or moderator at the conference. There are many, many more people involved than I have mentioned but I wanted to be sure and name these three.

I've been to a number of legal continuing education seminars and writers conferences and have never seen one where things go as smoothly as the Louisiana Studies Conference.

The conference seems to be growing in size as well but I would really like to see more of the public turn out for this. The topics are always interesting, you can see this year's program brochure and topics at this link, and since it is free to the general public it is an opportunity that is being missed by many.

If any of my readers are interested in the conference or any other information please feel free to email me and I will be glad to discuss it with them and I'll even send them a reminder next year when the info for the conference is released.  In addition to the conference being great it is held on the Northwestern State University campus so those people attending can also take the opportunity to visit Natchitoches, the oldest city in the Louisiana Purchase (300 years old this year) and a city founded by an ancestor of mine, Louis Juchereau de St. Denis.

Dr. Rasmussen announced that the theme for next year's conference is "Louisiana: A Cultural Crossroads", paying homage to the El Camino Real as well as the Mississippi and Red Rivers which provided water passages from the northern areas to the Gulf of Mexico.

As soon as he announced the theme an idea for my talk next year, as well as a paper for the Louisiana Folklife Journal, popped into my head.  So next year the tentative title for my presentation will be  "Voodoo, Hoodoo and the Blues", which should be very interesting to research and write and, since I'll have a lot of blues music as a part of the presentation, should be fun for the people who attend. 

Oh Muse, Where Are Thou?

I saw one of my Facebook friends, an English writer named Ian Woodhead (great horror stories) mention the other day how grateful he was that his muse had returned and I knew exactly what he was talking about.

Sometimes when you write it is easy. When I'm working on my Noah Chance series I always refer to it as Noah, Spencer and Jennifer coming to visit, and when they do the words just flow. The story goes in directions I didn't anticipate and when finish for the day I'm always surprised at how much I've done.

At other times I know it is me writing because each word is forcibly pulled from my mind and placed onto the screen. I find myself distracted easily, getting up to make multiple trips around the house, checking the mail, making a snack or something to drink, anything to keep from having to put the next word/sentence/chapter into the program.

It's not that I don't like writing when it's like that, it's just that it isn't as much fun! I find myself having to think about things, plot out what's going to happen, what my characters are going to say, and what to name the new guy in the book. Not so when the muse is present, everything just leaps forth.

The book I am working on now (mostly) Louisiana, should be easy for me because I love the topic, love my home state, and have read and studied it so much I shouldn't have any problems.

I think one issue is that when you're writing a novel that spans several hundred years and spread out across an entire state, you just start getting to know a character when it's time to leave them and move on so they never really get to do the writing for you.

Lesson learned!

I'll put an ad on Craiglist for any unemployed muses and hopefully one will show up. A good one, not prone to disappearing for weeks at a time and one that likes my topics and doesn't try to distract me into writing something else.

Hope it works! My self imposed middle of May deadline for this book is rapidly approaching.