Sometimes It’s Hard to Break a Bad Habit

There's been an article floating around Facebook the last few days and it prompted me to write this post. The article is at this link and is the response of a Special Olympian to one of the nasty social media posts by Ann Coulter. 

I try not to get too political on my own author blog, I do write for political blogs and those who know me know my political leanings. If you want to know I'm more than happy to discuss them with you but unless it has something to do with my writing, this website wasn't built to be a political site and really isn't the place for me to discuss these matters.

I do think Ann Coulter is a vile person and, even worse, a horrible writer who makes up facts to fit her viewpoint in the supposedly non-fiction books she writes. To me, this is unforgivable just from the intellectual honesty point of view.

But I digress once again.

The young man, John Franklin Stephens, saw a post where Coulter used the term "retard" when referring to someone. John has Down (or Down's) Syndrome and responded in a way that was as classy as it was possible to be. 

As my readers know, Noah Chance, of my books series of the same name, has Down's Syndrome and exhibits many of the same characteristics of John Franklin Stephens. As I've mentioned before, Noah was loosely based on a client I once represented and the first person with Down's Syndrome I had the good fortune to actually get to know.

Unfortunately, I still find myself using the term "retard" or "retarded", when referring to the actions of someone, without thinking about it. I do my best not to use it and I don't actually refer to people with Down's Syndrome that way but the term is still one I wish I could strike from my vocabulary. 

But it's hard to do.  If only good habits were as easy to develop as bad habits are hard to break.

If you get a minute, read the article and see how class really works.

City of Irving, Texas Must Think We’re Stupid

They arrest a student for a homemade clock but then tell us his race had nothing to do with it? Particularly after the remarks their officers made?

We have an old saying in Texas, or we did before the state lost its collective mind:

"Don't piss on my leg and tell me it's raining."

Read more at:

http://www.texastribune.org/2015/09/16/irving-police-drop-charges-against-muslim-student/

and

http://crooksandliars.com/2015/09/texas-ninth-grader-arrested-project-looked

Northwestern State University to Host the 7th Annual Louisiana Studies Conference September 11-12

LA Studies Conference Poster-2015NATCHITOCHES – Northwestern State University will host the Sixth Annual Louisiana Studies Conference September 11-12 in the Creative and Performing Arts Complex. The conference opens at 2:30 PM on September 11, and presentations start at 3:15 PM Scholars from throughout Louisiana and eight other states and the United Kingdom will make presentations on aspects of  Louisiana art, history, culture, and literature. Admission to the conference is free and open to the public.

This year’s conference theme is Louisiana Cultural Crossroads. Throughout the two days numerous scholars and creative writers will make presentations. Some of the many topics to be discussed include Louisiana literature, film, and TV, Solomon Northrup, discrimination, vernacular medicine, Choctaw-Apache foodways, voodoo and hoodoo, the blues, the African American experience along the Cane River, archival research and practice, the New Orleans Photo Alliance, oral history collection, the Civil Rights movement, the New Orleans Athletic Club, Buddhism in Louisiana, Creole interior design, colonial Louisiana architecture, the restoration of the African House at Melrose Plantation, mounds in Louisiana, post-Katrina regional competitiveness in New Orleans, traditional occupations, Louisiana wetlands, heritage education, cemeteries, cowboy and cowgirl culture, and language teaching, acquisition, and change. Also included will be panels on the Neutral Strip and professional wrestling in Louisiana. Several creative writers will also address the conference theme, including poets Nina Adel, John P. Doucet, and David Middleton. Also featured will be a dance performance by the Tekrema Center of Art and Culture, and an interactive hambone demonstration and performance with Ed Huey.

The Friday evening keynote, “The Crossroads of a Genre: Exploring the Innovation of Hurricane  Katrina Literature and Popular Culture,” will be given by Dr. Lisa Kirby, director of the Texas Center for Working-Class Studies and Professor of English at Collin College in Spring Creek, Texas, at 6 PM in the Magale Recital Hall.

The Saturday morning keynote, “The Louisiana World Tour: A Photographic & Philosophical Road Trip through the State of My World,” will be given by performance artist and photographer Natasha Sanchez, at 10:30 AM Magale Recital Hall. An exhibit of Sanchez’s photographs will be open for conference participants.

Ms. Sanchez’s address will be followed by the presentation of the winning essays from the 7th Annual NSU Louisiana High School Essay Contest. For this year’s Contest theme, “Louisiana Time Machine!” students addressed the prompt “If you could meet and talk with any Louisianan from the past, present, or future for one hour, who would you choose and why?” The winning essays will be presented at the conference and will also be published in the Louisiana Folklife Journal, the Louisiana Folklife Center’s scholarly journal. This year’s Contest winners are Brant Guerin from Redemptorist High School in Greenwell Springs, for his first place essay, “‘Pistol’ Pete Maravich,” Chelsea Franklin from Crowley High School in Crowley, with her second place essay “The Mysteries of Huey Long,” and Andrea Bradley of Westminster Christian Academy in Ville Platte, for her third place essay “A Talk with the Madam.”

“The essays by this year’s contest winners are magnificent,” said Dr. Shane Rasmussen, director of the Louisiana Folklife Center at NSU and co-chair of both the conference and the essay contest. “These young writers have managed to capture in words just what makes the historical figures they imagine meeting both interesting and significant.”

“Louisiana is one of those places with great diversity,” said conference participant Dr. Hiram “Pete” Gregory, Professor of Anthropology at NSU. “They come down the rivers, they come along the roads, and they all get together here.”

“This year’s conference theme will highlight some of the many ways that folks in Louisiana have influenced each other at a variety of cultural crossroads,” said Rasmussen. “The significance of these influences upon Louisiana culture cannot be overestimated. Louisianans are stronger and better because of our diversity. I am excited to hear and see what this year’s conference participants will tell us. The conference is free and open to the public, and we want to invite anyone who is interested in how Louisiana has become the state that it is to join us and to take part in these conversations.

A complete conference schedule can be found on the Louisiana Folklife Center’s website at https://louisianafolklife.nsula.edu/. For more information call the Folklife Center at (318) 357-4332.

The Conference is co-sponsored by the NSU Department of English, Foreign Languages, and Cultural Studies, the Friends of the Hanchey Gallery, the Louisiana Folklife Center, the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training, the NSU College of Arts and Sciences, the NSU Department of Fine + Graphic Arts, the NSU Writing Project, the NSU Office of the President, and the NSU Office of the Provost.

 

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.

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.

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.