Slavery, Civil Rights, and Self Discovery While Being a Writer

I'm very proud of the fact that, unlike many people I know, knew, like and dislike, I am a liberal/progressive at heart, I think we can and should do better than what we have done in almost all areas of our lives and our history, and that we must know our history so we can learn from it.

Born in Louisiana and raised there and in Texas, I consider myself a Louisianaian and a Southerner, and a Texan to a lesser extent. However, I do not like the direction my states have taken. Rather than the genteel (yes, genteel not gentle) outlooks on life and others I think the states and many of the more vocal residents have taken a turn for the worse, choosing rhetoric over action and choosing a viewpoint that dooms our region to take steps backward instead of forward.

I don't get into political discussions on my author website simply because this isn't the place for them. Sometimes the positions I take in my writings aren't my personal positions, the outlooks or sentiments are those necessary to advance the story. Certainly, you can often read between the lines and could likely discern my attitude on certain political points or, if you want to know, just ask me and I'll give you a personal response, but the author blog is where I share stuff about my books.

Over the years I've had to examine myself and my viewpoints on several occasions. When working on the first Noah Chance book, I was forced to consider the word of those born with Down's Syndrome and the people who love them and I quickly found that not only were my views outdated but they were also wrong in many ways because the information which caused me to form those views was incorrect. 

When writing The Bottle Tree I examined racism, the black and white divide, and why it seemed to be getting worse rather than getting better. My books are, so far, fiction and so it's incumbent upon me not to get too preachy in my novels and to try and keep them interesting while at the same time addressing issues that appear as the book develops. Johnny Robinson allowed me to do that in The Bottle Tree since I knew Johnny back when we were children and since he had appeared in my memories throughout my life. I only wish I had taken the opportunity to contact him again before he passed away and renewed the friendship which I hope would have rekindled. 

For the last year or so I've been working on a historical novel about Louisiana and, as a part of my research, spent a lot of time doing genealogical work tracking how my family came to be in Louisiana and why that is where I identify as "home" no matter where I travel or actually live. 

A number of my ancestors fought in the Civil War on the side of the Conferacy and, until recently, I could say they must have been fighting for the idea of the South since the census records didn't indicate any of them had owned slaves. I'm not ashamed of them fighting for the Rebels and anyone who says people should be ashamed of that fact simply don't understand the concepts which governed life back then or at least life the way they wrote about it in their diaries and journals.

However, in the research I did find that one of my ancestors did own slaves. Not one who was involved in the Civil War but rather one who has a more prominent place in history. Louis Juscheareau de St. Denis, the explorer who founded Natchitoches, the oldest settlement in the Louisiana Purchase, owned a number of slaves.

What is particularly interesting is that the daugther of the slaves he owned was Marie Therese Coincoin (Metoyer), whose freedom was later purchased by Claude Thomas Pierre Métoyer, with whom she had ten children. She and her descendants established the Creole community along the Cane River in Natchitoches Parish, including what is said to be the first church founded by free people of color for their own use, St. Augustine Parish (Isle Brevelle) Church, in Natchez, Louisiana.

So while slavery itself was wrong, the fact that St. Denis brought slaves to Natchitoches with him when he founded the settlement allowed for the creation of what is a phenomenal piece of history, the Creoles of Cane River. The direct descendants of Metoyer and Marie Coincoin still live along Cane River today and their culture and heritage is a vital part of Natchitoches.

As a side note, many people know my hometown of Natchitoches due to its most famous food Natchitoches Meat Pies which were once sold by cart vendors in town and which are still available throughout the area. The best I have ever eaten are made by the ladies at the very church mentioned earlier. St. Augustine Parish (Isle Brevelle) Church who sell them at booths at the Christmas Festival in December. Some even credit the creation of the meat pie to the Creole community although I haven't looked into the history of that yet.

All that to say that our history shouldn't necessarily make us ashamed, even when it is something that by modern standards isn't aceptable. Instead, it should be embraced and learned from, building on the good and avoiding the repetition of the bad.

Now, since many of you have mentioned that you like the recipes I post, a meat pie recipe that's sure to beat those frozen ones. This recipe is from www.Natchitoches.net.

Meat Pie Recipe

Meat Pie Filling

  • 1 teaspoon shortening
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 pound ground pork meat
  • 1 bunch green onions, chopped
  • 1 pod garlic, minced
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped          
  • Salt, black pepper and red pepper to taste               
  • 1 tablespoon flour

Meat Pie Crust

  • 1 quart plain flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup shortening + 1 T
  • 1 cup milk

Instructions

Melt shortening in heavy pot.  Add meat. Cook until pink is gone.

Add vegetables and season to taste.  (Season well, as meat will lose seasoning during frying.)  When meat is completely done and vegetables glazed, remove from heat and drain excess liquid. 

Stir in 1 tablespoon flour.

Sift dry ingredients together.  Cut in shortening.  Beat egg and add to milk.  Work gradually into dry ingredients until proper consistency to roll. 

Break into small pieces and roll very thin.  Cut into rounds using a saucer as a guide.

To assemble:

Place a large tablespoon of prepared meat along edge and halfway in the center of round dough. 

Fold the other half over, making edges meet and seal with water. 

Form edges with fork. 

Drop in deep fat and  cook until golden brown. 

Drain and serve hot. 

Makes approximately  18.

Meat Pie

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.

 

 

Seawall Scene in Second Chance

Jordan Sander's Entry Form

I was digging around on my workspace and came across the paper shown in the picture. That's from a drawing that was done a few years ago at the NSU-Natchitoches Folk Festival.

My kids and their assorted friends, girlfriends and future son in law attended as well. One of these was a good friend of my sons', Jordan Sanders.

Jordan was a great kid who often hung out at our house even after our sons had moved away to college. It wasn't unusual for him to drop by when he needed a break from school and hang out here, watching TV, napping or visiting.

Unfortunately, the world lost Jordan way too young when his cancer popped up again.

I'd chosen Jordan's name out of the slips people had dropped into the box purely by luck and he didn't make it long enough to see the final result. The drawing was actually going to be for a character in the Junebug series but I wrote Second Chance when Junebug and the Monkey stalled out (I still need to get back to it) and Jordan has a small but prominent place in Second Chance.

Look for him skateboarding with the twins on the Seawall in the book. Jennifer and Spencer can't see him, but Noah can.

We miss you Jordan.

Words Have Power – More Power If You Forbid Them

I am absolutely tired of being told you can't use this word or that word as you're writing. 

The simple fact is that a word alone is nothing. It doesn't call down Satan, start Ragnarok (South park reference here), or mean that you subscribe to the meaning someone else assigns to that word.

My book, The Bottle Tree, is rife with the use of the word "nigger". Why? Because it is the word used in the time period and with the people who are the subject of the story. The book has an object lesson involving the term, unintentional though it was, and to use any other word would have been the equivalent of what the courts do when they want to rule a certain way, intellectual dishonesty.

The griping about the word "thug" has my dander up now. Many people's ire was raised after Seattle won their Super Bowl and Richard Sherman went on his rant, causing many people to call him a thug. I personally thought that was an appropriate description of his behavior. Not because he was black but because he acted like a thug.

Recently I saw an op-ed on Huffington Post written by a college student expressing her awe at Richard Sherman and Marshawn Lynch, espousing how they were heroes, and then denigrating the use of the word. 

B.S.

Slapping down footballs, running with a football and being able to throw a football don't make someone a hero. It may make them an overpaid athlete, but performance on the field alone has nothing to do with whether someone is a hero or not. At least not to me.

But whether she regard various football players as heroes isn't my real beef, she, nor anyone else, has any right to say I can't use a word because their interpretation of it insults them.

I can understand it with the word "nigger". That is a word which is and always has been a derogatory term aimed at someone with a particular ancestry. However, as Whoopi Goldberg said when comparing that word to the current politically correct term "n-word", "this idea that taking it out makes it somehow better is ridiculous. It’s a part of the culture. Let us speak on it…the word is real, and if it makes people uncomfortable you have to deal with why it makes you uncomfortable." 

Before anyone gets all huffy or boycotts me, I'm not saying you should use racial slurs to refer to people. I'm just saying first, that censoring something gives it more power, and, second, you don't get to take words that are not racist and turn them into something racist.

Another Great Bit of Storytelling – American Horror Story

I've been writing away on my true crime book…well…researching a lot and writing a little (writing is hard work and this is even harder than usual).

Unlike many writers I prefer to listen to the television or movies playing while I work. Even though I am a music nut (Ha! A prophetic pun!) I find it easier to write with that in the background, probably because music always awakens strong memories and I get distracted.

But I digress.

Several years ago I watched the first season of American Horror Story and thought it was one of the greatest television shows ever made, limited as it is by the fact it is on a network as opposed to cable. I'd put off watching the next seasons because I missed the first few shows and knew I'd catch them when they were released online.

Recently Netflix added Season 3 so I thought I'd get started again and have been listening and semi watching Season 2 before advancing on to the next. Season 2 is set in an asylum and is good, not quite as much as Season 1 in my opinion but still very good. I listening to Episode 10 when the scene in the video I've posted below began to play. The utter incongruity of this song popping into this show makes it an absolutely fantastic piece of writing/setting.

I would have already recommended Season 2 if you're into these kinds of things but with this addition I now ENTHUSIASTICALLY recommend it.

I now present The Name Game:

 

Funny How Your Philosophy of Life Changes (and Some Music Videos)

So much of my high school life seems to bring back memories of music. Like I mentioned in an earlier post (also with a music video) the song Brandy by Looking Glass always brings back memories of summer and the vision of a deep tan, the smell of coconut oil and a strawberry scented shampoo one young lady used that was kind enough to let me snuggle up against her and sniff her hair (and we'll stop that thread right there).

I remember Neil Young and Crazy Horse released the album Live Rust and one of the songs, Hey Hey, My My, got a lot of airplay. I loved the one line from it, "It's better to burn out, than it is to rust" and for a long time that seemed to be my philosophy of life, despite at least one person telling me that as far as a credo went, they didn't think much of it (and if you're reading this you know who you are).

As an older man now, and one who has a great deal of rust developing from the early years, I find that my philosophy has changed quite a bit.

I bought a Warren Zevon MP3 album (Life'll Kill You) not too long ago, one I had when I was a long time ago, and was amazed to find a song on it that I didn't remember and that seemed more fitting now that the rust has set in. It brings to mind not so much a rebellious young life but rather one that has resulted in a lot of experiences and wrecks (in a lot of ways) and facing getting old and things not working the same as they used to. I'm putting the YouTube video below but it is NSFW as far as sound so if you're listening to it around a bunch of prudes, turn it down or slip in the earbuds.