Tag Archives: author

Calling All Book Clubs!

Calling all book clubs

One of the things I enjoy most about being a writer is interacting with readers and potential readers. I always learn something new about them, the subject of my book, or, just as often, about myself. As a matter of fact, the only thing I don’t like about doing book signings is that often it gets so hectic I don’t get to spend as much time interacting with individuals as I would like.

Unfortunately, it seems as if reading is becoming a lost art and I would love to do anything I can to help keep it stay alive.

If there are any book clubs out there looking for a writer to speak to their group, either in person or via Skype, or to help them with some type of promotion drop me an email and let me know. I’ve donated autographed books or collections of books in the past and have also agreed to let readers name characters in future books as a way to help clubs.

My schedule is pretty flexible and I’m willing to drive to meetings in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, or Louisiana (or maybe further!) and Skype is always a possibility. I don’t ask for expenses since I’m always doing research on different parts of the country and the chances are good that no matter where you are located I’ve got a project being researched near you.

The offer applies to libraries and schools as well. Last year I was honored to be asked to accompany Dr. Shane Rasmussen, the head of the Louisiana Folklife Center at Northwestern State University, to a storytelling session at the Coushatta Elementary School (in Louisiana) and had a tremendous time talking to several classes of students there. I was even luckier since the older of my twin sons, Robert Michael Bennett, went with me and the students got to hear a little about his backpacking trip across Europe from which he’d just returned.

So…drop me a line if I can be of any help. I’m always happy to add dates to my calendar.

2015 Natchitoches-NSU Louisiana Folklife Festival

2015-Folk Life Festival

Summer is here and everyone is looking for something fun to do. I'd like to suggest that you consider visiting the 2015 Natchitoches-NSU Louisiana Folklife Festival held in beautiful and historic Natchitoches, Louisiana at the Prather Coliseum on the campus of Northwestern State University. Most of the exhibits (including my booth) are inside the air conditioned coliseum so you can escape the heat and see some great craftsmen, hear good music and try Louisiana foods.

The Folklife Festival is set for July 17th-18th, 2015, and the theme this year is Backroads and Bayous: Celebrating Louisiana's Rural Folklife.

The link to the festival website with the schedule and bands is here.

My wife and I used to visit this every year from when we were first married continuing through when we moved away and then we were lucky enough to be invited to start attending as exhibitors when I started publishing books a number of years ago. The festival is put on by the folks at the Northwestern State University Folklife Center and they do a great job every year. The cost is low and it is well worth the expense plus, if you've never been to Natchitoches, it's a great time to visit my hometown.

Natchitoches is the oldest settlement in the Louisiana Purchase, founded in 1714, just a short distance from the location of the festival.

If you do decide to attend be sure and stop by my booth and visit with me. I'll have books there for sale but I like to visit with everyone whether they purchase or not and my family has lived in the Natchitoches are since its founding. I've actually been learning about its history since I was a very, very small child through the stories my relatives told in addition to the enormous number of hours I've spent doing formal research so I can probably point you to some interesting places that most people don't know about as well as the more touristy ones. My kids can tell you that no matter where you are in Natchitoches Parish I can probably point in a direction and tell you something fun or historic not far away (much to their boredom at times).

Anyway, it really is a great festival and Dr. Shane Rasmussen and his staff are working hard to preserve the Louisiana culture and heritage, focusing on not just the bayous and swamps of the southern part of the state or New Orleans. 

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. 

Another Poem Published, First You Make a Roux

Deep South Magazine has just published another of the poems from my work in progress collection, Always the Heat.

This poem is titled First You Make a Roux. It was inspired by a painting I bought some years ago on a trip to New Orleans with my best friend.

All good Louisiana cooking starts with a roux, and it's something I stessed to my kids when I started teaching them how to cook.

Look for the poem at http://deepsouthmag.com/2013/11/first-you-make-a-roux/ and I hope you like it.

Making a Roux

The Bottle Tree – Where I Got the Name

Bottle Tree

Each time I do a book signing or have a table at an event I always spend a little time talking to someone about bottle trees. Invariably a person walking by will stop to look at the books and then we'll discuss how bottle trees used to be prevalent in the rural south, how you rarely see them now, and how they are making a come back as a kind of art form made by local artisans.

I thought I'd share a few of my thoughts on the topic here on my author website so my fans and readers know a little about the subject and the way I work.

I remember when I was a little kid and we would go to my great grandparent's house in Bellwood, La. On the way there, on one of the back roads, was an old house with a bottle tree in the front yard. I didn't know the story about them but I always thought it was neat and would look for it on each trip.

Some years later I saw one and jotted the name down in a notebook I kept with ideas for stories, names, titles, etc. The name sat there for years and suddenly, one day, an idea popped into my head that was almost the complete story that I eventually published as  The Bottle Tree. Literally, the idea was not there one minute and the next it was there in my mind, almost in the final form that was published.

Bottle trees were a unique part of the culture of the rural South. Several sources that I looked through state that the concept dates as far back as the 9th century in the African Congo.  Originally, the people would lay plates around the graves of deceased family members. The practice changed to hanging bottles on a tree when the practice came to America with the slaves. The bottles were supposed to scare off bad spirits due to the sound that they made when the wind whistled across their open mouths and it was also thought that spirits would be curious about the bottles and get caught in them when they came to investigate.

In my book, The Bottle Tree, the characters discuss the bottle tree which plays a part in the book and that one of them has in his yard:

            “What is it?” Leesie asked, walking around the tree and examining it from all angles. Caleb and Johnny did the same.

            Ukiah had decorated a tree with bottles. Some were tied on with string, some were stuck on the end of cut off branches. The bottles were a mixture of sizes, shapes, and colors. Some blue, some clear, some brown. On one side of the small tree sitting on the ground was a solitary, bright red one.

            “Y’all ain’t never seen one of these?”

            “I have,” Johnny volunteered, surprising both Caleb and Leesie.

            “You have? Where at?” Ukiah asked.

            “My Uncle Franklin used to have one in his yard. Not as big or pretty as yours though. He called it his ‘bottle tree’”.

            “And that’s exactly what it is. Did he tell you what it was for?”

            “He said it kept the spirits away.”

            “It does that, plus more. You see these bottles here?” Ukiah pointed to the clear, blue, and brown ones on the tree. “The bad spirits hear the wind whistling through these and it scares them off. If’n they do come around, the wind pushes them into the bottles and they’re trapped there and can’t bother you.”

            “What about that one? It’s pretty,” Leesie pointed to the red one on the ground.

            “Oooo, you got a good eye, Leesie. That’s the one that makes my bottle tree special. Most of them are just to take care of bad spirits but that red one is the cat’s meow. It’s for good spirits.”

            “Good spirits?” Johnny asked. “I ain’t never heerd of no good spirits.”

            “That old voodoo woman who taught me how to make that peanut candy told me a real bottle tree has to have a special red bottle. According to her, and I ‘spect she’s right, sometimes people die and their bodies can’t be given a proper church burial so they can’t go straight to heaven. Their spirit wanders around until it finds the red bottle and it stays inside it until somebody they love dies and their spirit comes looking for them and helps them get to heaven. Don’t that sound nice?”

            “Yes sir. It’d sure be lonely just to wander around by your lonesome,” Caleb said.

            “It sure would. That’s why everyone ought to know where there’s a bottle tree like mine. Just in case.”