Category Archives: My Books

New Books Coming Soon!

I’ve gotten a few communications on my annual appearance at the Natchitoches/NSU Folklife Festival and whether I will have any new books there and I thought I’d do a short post.

We have an anthology we have put together of some older (pre-1920s) pieces concerning Louisiana as well as the poems from the collection I’m still working on. Also included in the anthology will be the full version of The Bottle Tree, which will also be available as a standalone book. 

In addition, we are working to get a couple of other books together using pre-1920s works which we thought were interesting. Karren is coming across these while helping me do research for my novel, Louisiana, which is still a ways off.

Hopefully, I’ll also have the second book in the Junebug series completed. The title is Junebug and the Monkey. I’m about 25,000+ words into it (100 pages or so) but that’s only about a third finished. For some reason this books is fighting me as hard as I’m fighting it. As many of you know, I’ve always felt that the characters in my book come to visit and sit with me to tell their story but in this case they just won’t come to visit. Still, with any luck it’ll be ready for the festival which is July 15-16, 2016.

I hope to see all of you there!

Help! Need Reviews – Amazon Strikes Again!

I noticed a couple of weeks ago that Amazon seems to have, once again, removed a number of reviews even though I don't use paid reviewers for my products and so I'd ask anyone who has read any of my books to take a minute, if it isn't too much trouble, and head on over to Amazon.com and GoodReads.com and leave a review on any of my books they have read.

Apparently, Amazon has now initiated a policy where on some occasions they remove reviews from people who are your social media contacts. Since I do my best to interact with readers as much as possible, both in person and online, and have accounts on almost all of the social media sites I can only assume this is why some of the reviews were removed.

This happened last year (I think it was last year) when I lost a number of reviews with no explanation from Amazon (who also owns Goodreads) despite a request for them to explain what happened. As I said, I don't use paid reviews, unlike some other authors from the large publishing houses, and I can't tell why these were targeted but I know it happened to a number of independent writers all within a few days of each other. I applaud Amazon's attempts to make sure people aren't just buying reviews and are doing their best to police this practice but there appears to be some issues with their algorithms and if they actually are removing those of people who have "liked" a Faceboo page or interacted with a social media site then it does a great disservice to both independent authors and their readers, both of whom are Amazon customers.

In the online world of book sales, you live or die based on your reviews since people tend to buy what other people have liked and I can only ask those of you who have read my works to take a minute and leave a few words at these two sites or any others you go to.

I hate to impose on anyone but it would be much appreciated.

Big Thanks to the Folks at Kisatchie National Forest and the US Forest Service

Kisatchie National Forest-2As anyone who reads my books, my website, or knows me personally, my family has been "inextricably intertwined" (a legal term that applies in other situations) with Natchitoches Parish and the Kisatchie National Forest area in Louisiana since settlers began appearing in the area. I kicked around an idea for a book for years before choosing to set The Bottle Tree in a turpentine camp that actually existed in Kisatchie in the early 1900s.

Every time I visit Natchitoches I can feel the woods/forest calling and I love hitting the back trails and roads in there, walking occasionally and riding the rest, and visiting place I've been going to since I was old enough to walk for a while and then be carried by my grandfather or uncle the rest of the way.

On my last visit, my Uncle Mike and I were driving the back roads and a turkey suddenly darted out of the woods and then slowed to amble across the dirt road in front of us. He stopped the car and I shot a short video of the hen while waiting for others to appear since she acted like she might have been a part of a larger flock following her. We didn't see any more but did get to watch her for several minutes (video coming soon!).

I had heard the wild turkeys were making a comeback in the forest and then I spoke to my uncle again last week and he said he had seen a Bobwhite Quail not far from there just a few days before. I remember when I was a kid, many, many years ago, and we'd go out there with a relative of ours, Bud Gandy, who loved quail hunting and he'd always find plenty. It wasn't unusual for us to bust a covey during our walks through the woods (and when you're always expecting rattlesnakes, a covey of quail busting out from under your feet is a truly exhilarating experience) but over the years the Bobwhite and the turkeys had virtually disappeared. 

During one of our exploring trips last year we'd walked up on a section of the forest where there were a number of pine trees with large white painted sections on them, metal strips nailed around the tree (to prevent climbing animals) and holes drilled a ways up the tree with sap running down. Not far from those we found what we originally thought might have been a small trap on the ground with fencing running in four directions leading into it. We thought it might have been a quail trap so someone could take a count of the numbers.

What we found out was that the trap was actually one designed not for quail but for "America's Rarest Snake", Louisiana's Pine Snake, a number of which were released back into its natural range there in Kisatchie by the Forest Service (for more info on this see this article).

Red-cockaded Woodpecker NCM11002

The holes in the trees were part of an effort to improve habitat for the Red Cockaded Woodpeckers in the area (see article here). Interestingly, the Red Cockaded Woodpecker has significantly less red on their head than the other species in the area but to anyone who sees one flying, they still fly in the distinctive up and down woodpecker flight motion.

Those are just a few of the huge number of animals the good folks at the forest service are doing such a great job of protecting.

As I stop by various lookout points and springs, many of which most people don't know anything about, I was struck by the fact that I could have been standing on an area that my grandfather worked on when he was living at the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp located near where the Kisatchie visitor's center is now located since many of the roads, trails, and other feature were created by those men trying to work their way out of the Great Depression.

I'll be back in Natchitoches for the NSU Folklife Festival on July 17-18 (if you're in the area stop by the festival and say hello), but I suspect that I'll either get there a day early or stay a day or two afterwards to hit the woods again. I'm a lot older, a lot fatter, my back hurts, and my knees ache from all the motorcycle wrecks I had back in my youth (many of them in Kisatchie) but I always feel a little better no matter how tired I am, how out of shape, or how hot it gets when I get back to my roots.

I want to thank the US Forest Service and particularly those people who work out in the Kisatchie National Forest area for what they are doing there. I know that when I have grand-children I'll be able to take them to the same trails, eat huckleberries off of the same huckleberry bushes, and fish in the same fishing holes as my family has been doing for two hundred or more years. The turkeys I see, the Bobwhite Quail I hear whistling, and the rattlesnakes I watch out for, will likely be the descendants of the same ones that roamed the woods and my ancestors saw. 

Without people choosing to be the stewards for the rest of us, working hard, not making enough money, but caring about the area and the environment all of those things might not be here now or might not be here in the future.

Thanks.

My Newest Project – True Crime Book About the Cameron Todd Willingham Case

crime scene tapeI'm still writing on my novels but I have wanted to do a non-fiction book of my own, as opposed to those I have ghost written, and decided to make the first one about the Cameron Todd Willingham case here in Texas.

For those of you who are unaware of the case, Mr. Willingham was executed in 2004 after a 1992 trial in which he was convicted of Capital Murder. The allegations were that he had set a fire in his house with the intention of killing his three children.

The case is extremely controversial for a number of reasons, including the fact that the "science" used by the arson investigator has been completely discredited with a number of prominent fire experts coming forward and publicly stating there was no credible evidence to suggest that the fire was arson and that the indicators the expert for the state relied on were actually not indicators at all but rather common findings due to the actual fire as opposed to what started the fire. By this, I'm not commenting on whether or not I think Mr. Willingham was innocent at this point or anything along those lines. I think nearly evreyone who is not a prosecutor or involved in the case agrees that the expert testimony was, at best, flawed.

This one is going to take a while as I already have thousands of pages of transcripts, evidence, and other research materials to pore over but it will certainly be an experience sifting through all of this. I'm trying to approach this analytically and using my legal background and trial experience.

What makes this particularly interesting is that I know several of the people invovled in the case.

I'll keep you informed as I go but this one is going to take a while.

John Grisham’s Sycamore Row – A Master at Work

sycamore rowFirst, writers are readers. Even though this is my author blog, anyone who tells you they are a writer but doesn't have time to read, will never be a good writer. In order to get better you have to learn and the best way to learn is by reading what other writers have done.

That doesn't always mean reading Shakespeare or even Faulkner. My favorite writers are Stephen King and John Grisham, although I don't read Grisham as much as I used to.

Sycamore Row is reminescent of Grisham's first, and in my opinion best, book so far A Time to Kill and also reads a lot like Playing for Pizza (his book about pro football, kind of).

In A Time to Kill, Grisham absolutely caught what it is like to be a lawyer in a small town. His hero, Jake Brigance, had the same problems, faced the same hard choices, and had good and bad days just like real lawyers do. Grisham writes about real people.

In Sycamore Row, Grisham returns to Ford County and writes about Jake Brigance, three years after the Carl Lee Hailey trial from A Time to Kill. All of the characters make a return including Lucius Wilbanks and Harry Rex Vonner.

The topic this time isn't a murder trial but rather a probate hearing aka a will contest. From experience I can tell you that probate work can be both the most boring and the most dangerous work a lawyer can do. Lay-people think that family law cases are the most antagonistic but they haven't seen anything until they see a family fight over a few dollars in an estate. The only time I ever felt like I needed a gun in court was in a will contest case that ended with an 80+ year old man using a walker pulling a pocketknife on a 40+ year old woman, who was scrambling to get a straight razor out of her purse when the bailiff broke it up.

Grisham does an absolutely masterful job in setting the scene and building his characters. I had forgotten just how good he was at this and how accurately he portrays lawyers, judges and clients in the book.

Sycamore Row gets a big thumbs up and a five star rating from me. 

My Hero Has Down’s Syndrome

I have two series of books that I write. Well, since you have to have more than one book connected together to have a series I actually have one series and the aspirations (and a half written follow up) for a second.

The first series is the Junebug series based around the protagonist Junebug Walker. If you've read Junebug and the Body you know it is a nostalgic mystery with a lot of humor. It's set in the South, has a distinct southern slant, and I am working on the second book, Junebug and the Monkey, as the mood strikes me.

However, it's the Noah Chance series that I am blogging about today

Noah Chance is a young man in his early 20s who has Down's Syndrome and can see and talk to ghosts. He is the hero in both No' Chance and Second Chance, and hopefully we'll be seeing and hearing more from him as the books continue. 

I don't even remember now how Noah got his start, other than one day he and his two compadres were there in my mind, almost fully developed and just as you read about them in No' Chance. I didn't decide I wanted to write a book with a character who has Down's Syndrome, the character has it…because Noah has it.

I do know I was greatly influenced in my depiction of Noah by a woman I knew, let's call her Kay.

Kay was in her early 40s and had lived with her mother until the mother passed away, at which time she was placed in a group home by the state. In my other life I was hired by Kay's sister to file for guardianship over her, a guardianship which was opposed by the company who ran the group home and who, incidentally, received funds every month for providing Kay a place to live.

I had the opportunity to meet with Kay on one occasion with only her and the attorney (appointed by the court to represent her in the case). The other attorney was a friend of mine and sat in the corner and allowed me to talk with Kay for almost an hour. The meeting that day started when Kay entered my office wearing a bright floral design dress and a huge, wide brimmed hat with flowers on it. When she saw me for the first time she broke into a huge smile and rushed over to give me a big hug and thank me for trying to help her get to live with her older sister.

It was my first time interacting on an extended basis with someone who has Trisomy 21, the genetic condition commonly referred to as Down's and I left that day with the certainty that meeting Kay had benefited me much more than it had benefited her. I had never, ever met someone who I could say had no ulterior motives, hidden agendas, or anything other than an open and loving heart.

We did win her case and the last I heard, Kay was living in Portland, Oregon with her sister. For a while I received a card from her at least once a year and it always made me smile.