Tag Archives: bottle tree

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.

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.”

Turpentine Blues

As those of you who have purchased my novel,  The Bottle Tree , know the setting for it is a turpentine (pronounced turp-m-time by the black workers) camp in the early part of the 20th century.

Working and living in a turpentine camps was a hard way to live and a harder way to make a living. The work was hot and brutal and the workers stayed in debt to the "company store" never making enough to pay the bill and live on for long enough to find other work.

While I was getting ready for my table at the Natchitoches-NSU Louisiana Folklife Festival this weekend I came across a couple of blues songs about life in the "turpmtime" forest.

This song by legendary bluesman Tampa Red  will be playing while the PowerPoint presentation runs showing pictures from that life.

Enjoy!

My Book – The Bottle Tree

 

A couple of people have asked me about the book The Bottle Tree and how I came to write it. Since it is about to be available in print (fingers crossed) I thought this might be a good time to address it.

A long time ago in a land far, far away (Louisiana) I was out with my uncle looking for a cave back in the Kisatchie National Forest. The cave was rumored to have once been the hideout of the outlaw John Murrell during his days when that stretch of Louisiana was claimed by both (and neither) the Spanish and the Americans. It was known as "No Man's Land" or the "Neutral Strip". Since neither side policed it and the major east-west trail, the El Camino Real, ran through it outlaws were having a field day.

The cave was supposed to have horse troughs carved out of the rock and legends of hidden gold are rampant. During my days off I'd take my metal detector and a shovel and we'd wander the hills. If you know me then you know, obviously, I never found the hidden gold but one day while crossing a creek I used the shovel to steady myself and banged it down on what I thought was a rock. A piece of it chipped away and the rich scent of pine wafted forth.

A few minutes later I began finding rusted and, with the exception of a piece off of a wagon, unidentifiable iron parts in the area. We had no idea what the mass in the creek was and mentioned it later to my great aunt. She told us we had found the site of an old turpentine camp that she had lived at when she was a little girl.

There are excellent articles describing the turpentine camps in Texas, Louisiana and Florida here and here.

That is when my imagination kicked in and the result was "The Bottle Tree".

The name itself has been in the back of my mind as a great title for a book for 20 years or so and one day the story just fell into place.

The Bottle Tree is about a simple life and friendship. It also addresses head on the issues of race.

Leesie, the character in the book, was very loosely based on my great-aunt, Thelma Leach, who was a teacher in the Kisatchie area for all of her life. The "colored boy", Johnny Robinson, was named after a childhood friend of mine who attended Provencal School. Provencal is a very, very small town in Natchitoches Parish and when I was a kid had about 300 students, total, in grades from Kindergarten through 12th grade. The kids were bussed in from a huge area spread across Kisatchie Forest.

What is a bottle tree? If you've driven through the south then you've probably seen one. It's a tree or pole with bottles stuck all over it. There are a lot of legends surrounding them, but one in particular is prominent in this story.

The book is a little shorter than I would have liked because I really, really liked writing it. I wanted to stretch it out more but, believe it or not, the book didn't want me to and evaded my doing that at every turn.

I hope you'll get a copy and read it. The story has both funny and sad parts and even though I wrote it and have read it a number of times, I still love it.

You can buy the book at Amazon.com and BarnesAndNoble.com.