Category Archives: Personal Information

I’m Back Online!

We made some changes to the website and, due to some of the changes, lost some posts. If there is something you remember being on here but don't see it now (and would like to again) please let me know and we'll look for that specifically.

In the meantime, I'll be posting new things while my writing continues. As some of you know, I have been having shoulder issues for a couple of years due to the amount of time I was putting in at the computer. I finally got those issues resolved in April after a great deal of massage therapy (Thanks Joleen!) and a couple of months of physical therapy (Thanks Mary Margaret and Marquita!).

Unfortunately, I then went on one of our normal beach vacations and tripped over a step and fractured the same shoulder in two places. This means that my writing was again restricted to almost zero because the fractures caused intense pain when my hand was held in the typing position. I tried using voice recognition software and dictating what I would normally type but as many writers know, dictation can result in an awkward document which doesn't sound natural so I decided to wait until I could type again.

This will be a gradual process because I am having to gradually build up my typing time and retrain those muscles so I hope my readers will bear with me.

I'll post more on the projects over the next few weeks but, as usual, I have a number of them going. I have several fiction novels I am working on as well as another ghost writing gig on a non-fiction "how to" book.

More to come on the projects but if anyone has anything they'd like to send me or they've heard me mention a project in the past and they'd like to know what stage it is at, just drop me a line, I always love to hear from my readers!

Aren’t You Glad…

First, I want to say that I love being a writer. Except when I don’t. 

Right now I’m working a couple of novels and a true crime book that is kicking my…well, you know. I’m 40+ pages into the true crime book, am pretty comfortable with all of the material (that’s where my time as a trial lawyer is proving helpful) but I can’t get an outline completed that I like and don’t really want to just do the thing in a linear fashion. Plus, unlike my usual stuff, when the facts don’t cooperate I can’t just make stuff up and trudge on.

I’m not a big fan of silence when I write although I don’t really want to talk, I usually play movies or music videos on one of the computer screens and work on the other and that’s what I’m doing today as I try to break my writer’s block and wait for my muse to show up.

My video playlist is extremely varied, as are my musical tastes. One video mght be Blue Oyster Cult and the next one a tune by Ma Rainey (blues artist from the 30s). The Sex Pistols are on there as is N.W.A. 

On this particular day Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night” popped up (I don’t care, it’s a funny video, I’ll insert it below) and there’s a stanza in there that I just love:

Pictures of last night

Ended up online

I’m screwed

Oh well.

It’s a blacked out blur

But I’m pretty sure

It ruled

Damn!

It was particularly interesting because last night Karren and I watched Terminator Genisys, which is about how Skynet takes over and destroys the world because of everybody wanting to be online all the time.

Social media is great in a lot of ways. It allows me to unilaterally talk to my fans, to friends, and to meet new people all over the world. I’ve got several writer “friends” across the world that I likely would have never had the chance to interact with absent Facebook. There are others who aren’t writers but are friends because I asked or they asked and they seemed interesting (and it turns out they are!).

But I am so, so glad social media didn’t exist during those years before I settled down and particularly in high school. I have to temper what I put on my blog and elsewhere because I know my Mom and my kids read it. Mom would probably still have a stroke if she knew all of the misadventures I’d pursued and the kids (adults now) would regard it either as permission or hypocrisy that what I did and what I told them not to do are polar opposites.

 But the good thing about being a writer is that I can stick some of the memories into a book somewhere and people (at least the ones who weren’t there) won’t know if I made it up or if it is a bit of personal history.

I can’t fathom why so many people, my age and younger, have the inclination and want to take the time and effort to put their entire lives online for others to see.

I know I wouldn’t have done it but I also know I probably had some acquaintances who would have and likely my endeavors would have been chronicled just because I was there. There was one party where friends woke up in the front yard the next day, plus the dog had vomit all over him and even he looked ashamed (the dog, not the friend).

The thought of having all of that preserved for posterity anywhere other than my mind just makes me shiver.

 

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.

Johnny Robinson and The Bottle Tree

Many of those who are reading this post have read The Bottle Tree and may already know the story of Johnny Robinson but I'm going to repeat it here anyway and then discuss what the post is really about.

Johnny was a young man I went to school with at Provencal School in Louisiana. I went there from Kindergarten through Second Grade and then went back to visit anytime I was in Louisiana and school was in session. 

Johnny was my first African American friend and I'm pretty sure that the friendship with him when I was young made race much less of an issue with me than it was with many of my peers.

I hadn't seen him in years but when I started writing The Bottle Tree I named one of the main characters after Johnny. Last year when the book was published I started looking for him so I could let him know what I'd done and just to reconnect.

Unfortunately, another childhood friend of mine let me know that Johnny had passed away from cancer the year before.

This trip in for the Natchitoches-NSU Folk Festival, I came in early so I'd have a chance to go by and take a copy of the book to his mother. Doris Robinson.

Ms. Doris still lives in the same house where Johnny was raised and I made the trip today to visit with her for a little while. She told me all about Johnny's life since he'd graduated and about his last days. I also learned it was her birthday today. I was happy to present her a copy of The Bottle Tree and will make it a point to go back and see her when I come back "home" to Natchitoches.

Below is a picture of Ms. Doris Robinson and me, sitting on her front porch and she has her copy of The Bottle Tree in her hand. The other picture is the memorial handout from Johnny's funeral.

This comes the week after the verdict in the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin case and I can't help but think maybe things would have been different if Mr. Zimmerman and/or Mr. Martin would have had the chance to get to know each other in a situation like Johnny and I did.

 

Doris Robinson and Robert D. Bennett johnny robinson

A Goodbye to Two Friends

Just this week the world suffered a loss when Jordan Sanders, a 19 year old young man, lost his essentially life long fight with cancer. Jordan was a good friend of the twins and often visited and stayed at our house. It seems like almost every time we talked he was in another battle with a new bout but despite this and all the hardships the disease and the treatments caused he always had a smile and a joke.

When we did our book signing at this year's Folk Festival in Natchitoches ,Jordan even rode down there with my sons to see the town and to support me. It is so hard to see such a remarkable young man go through what he did and it really emphasizes how life is not fair or just.

He was an incredible person and has had, and will continue to have, a tremendous effect on anyone who knew him.

I also learned recently that a childhood friend of mine passed away a couple of years ago.

Johnny Robinson was the first black person that I knew and I considered him a friend. My interaction with him likely set the boundaries for my racial views throughout my life, allowing me to realize that color isn't the issue, the person inside is.

Many of my readers will recognize Johnny's name as one of the characters in The Bottle Tree, and he definitely provided the inspiration. I hadn't spoken to Johnny since high school, but occasionally thought about him and wondered what his life was like. I decided to contact him not long ago and put the word out through the social media world that I was trying to find him only to learn that he had died of cancer about two years ago, another example of why we shouldn't lose touch with old friends or why we shouldn't "put off until tomorrow" when we decide to reconnect with them.

Goodbye to both of you.

My Favorite Book I Have Written

One of the questions i get asked a lot is "Which one of your books is your favorite?"

That is an extremely hard question to answer because the simple fact is that I have written a couple of books that I will likely never publish because I don't like them that much so, inherently, when I publish a book I like it.

I absolutely love both Junebug and The Body and  No' Chance. Each of them have such unique characters, settings that I love, and they have so much potential for the future. I still laugh every time I read portions of  Junebug  and still get anxious at certain scenes in  No' Chance.

But, I guess I would have to say my favorite is also the book that I wrote the fastest, The Bottle Tree.

If I had to pick a reason I guess it would be because while it was the last book I wrote, it is also one of the oldest ideas I had. The turpentine and logging camp was real, and I can still remember when my Uncle Mike and I found the big resin pile that juts into the creek. Not long after that I found out from my Great Aunt that she had actually lived there as a child, and the story was greatly influenced by what she told me of her life in the camp.

There is also a lot of emotion in The Bottle Tree, probably because the characters in there are so real to me.  Junebug  and  Noah  and his friends are real too, but the characters in The Bottle Tree are all modeled on people that I know rather than being characters created with bits and pieces of different people.