Category Archives: Louisiana

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.

More Research Material!

LA papers

In addition to the twelve books I have scattered around the house and uncountable number of webpages saved on my computer I just received in another 175 pages from Mary Linn Wernet, Associate Professor, Head Archivist and University Records Officer at the Cammie G. Henry Research Center, Watson Library, at my alma mater Northwestern State University of Louisiana.

I've always found it fascinating how with just a quick email or phone calls dedicated intellectuals from around the world will offer you the benefit of their knowledge and their work on a specific topic if you just ask. Of course, I'll remember all of them in the acknowledgements to the book but when writing about a subject as monumental as Louisiana's history it's hard to express exactly how much help they've been. 

At the moment I'm trying to sort out a battle that the founder of Natchitoches, Louis Juchereau de St. Denis,was in. Legend has it the battle occurred on the banks of a now dry lake bed near Sang Pour Sang hill outside of Cloutierville. However, in speaking with numerous scholars on the topic they've opened my eyes to a new theory that the battle actually occurred much closer to Natchitoches.

Now to figure out which version to use!

Video of Kisatchie Falls, Kisatchie National Forest, Louisiana

 

Most of you know that my book, The Bottle Tree, is set in a turpentine camp which really existed just south of Bellwood, Louisiana in what is know the Kisatchie National Forest.

Many people believe that all of Lousiana looks like the area where Swamp People is filmed, but actually the northern part of the state is filled with hills and pine forests with just an occasional swamp thrown in.

This is a video I shot on my Droid smartphone of one part of Kistachie National Forest. This section of the creek is called Kisatchie Falls and consists of a sand and rock bottom with trees arching over the creek.

Unfortunately, many people who go there have still not learned that you should leave the place better than when you found it and so on this trip I picked pieces of broken beer bottles from the creek bottom and next time I'm going to take a trash bag to pick up some of the beer cans and cigarette butts that the asses leave there.

However, the place is still beautiful and here is a short video to enjoy.

Update on the Louisiana Novel

I had a reader ask about this the other day and recommend that I keep updating the posts to let people know how the work was coming.

The novel about Louisiana is progressing in spurts, still on track to be finished and in print in time for the Natchitoches NSU Folk Festival in July. 

I finished the chapters up through the explorations of DeSoto but to be honest, got a little burned out on writing about the explorers. The next chapter that I was going to do was going to be about Rene Robert LaSalle, but I couldn't get motivated to start moving on it. Writing historical fiction isn't as easy as a regular novel, not if you want to stay somewhat true to history. With a regular novel I can just sit at the computer and let the characters take over, but with historical fiction I have committed to sticking to historical timelines and facts, to some extent anyway.

What I finally realized is that with a historical novel like Louisiana, I don't have to write linearly. I can jump from the 1500s, to the 20th century, write a chapter or two there, then go back and write about another age. The timeline is laid out for me, so I don't have to worry about inconsistencies like I would in a regular novel.

With that said, I am about 16k words and about 60 pages into the book and have just started the section on Huey P. Long, one of the most interesting characters in Louisiana history. I actually have some Huey P. memorabilia so I'm going to dig that out and put it on my desk to keep me motivated through his life, then see what area comes next.

On another note, my mom told me that she saw that someone had just put up a new bottle tree there in Natchitoches. I don't know if they were one of the many people who purchased a copy of The Bottle Tree but if anyone has been inspired by the book to do a bottle tree I'd be honored if you could send me a picture or two to post on the website.

Lots of Stuff to Write About in Louisiana!

I'm still plugging along on the Louisiana book and what I am finding is that there is just so much history and so much material that the trick is going to be narrowing it down.

I'm a big believer in a book being the length it needs to be. For instance, The Bottle Tree is a fairly short book because…it is a fairly short book. Even when an agent told me they were interested if I would make the book longer I turned them down because the extra stuff I tried to write for it just didn't flow correctly.

I try to write the way people talk and I also try to not add anything into the writing that doesn't need to be there.

However, this is my first attempt to write a historical fiction book and I can tell right away that the hard part is going to be cutting back on what i write.

I've already decided that I'm going to mention the history of my hometown, Natchitoches,  in this book but I'm going to save the details for a book specifically on Natchitoches which I hope to finish in 2014 to coincide with the 300th anniversary of its founding. However, even knowing I am going to cut that back the amount of information is still daunting!

You guys keep an eye out here for more updates. The book should be finished by late spring or early summer and I may have another one finished before then.