Tag Archives: louisiana

New Books Coming Soon!

I’ve gotten a few communications on my annual appearance at the Natchitoches/NSU Folklife Festival and whether I will have any new books there and I thought I’d do a short post.

We have an anthology we have put together of some older (pre-1920s) pieces concerning Louisiana as well as the poems from the collection I’m still working on. Also included in the anthology will be the full version of The Bottle Tree, which will also be available as a standalone book. 

In addition, we are working to get a couple of other books together using pre-1920s works which we thought were interesting. Karren is coming across these while helping me do research for my novel, Louisiana, which is still a ways off.

Hopefully, I’ll also have the second book in the Junebug series completed. The title is Junebug and the Monkey. I’m about 25,000+ words into it (100 pages or so) but that’s only about a third finished. For some reason this books is fighting me as hard as I’m fighting it. As many of you know, I’ve always felt that the characters in my book come to visit and sit with me to tell their story but in this case they just won’t come to visit. Still, with any luck it’ll be ready for the festival which is July 15-16, 2016.

I hope to see all of you there!

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.

 

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.

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. 

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