Tag Archives: NSU

Still Writing…Sometimes and Getting the Machinery Ready for Heavy Lifting

The shoulder is still recovering, I can get about two or three good hours of typing each day before it just hurts too badly to continue. I’m 1/3 to 1/2 the way through three books and just getting started on one of the most exciting writing projects I’ve ever done (more about that at another time).

I had to miss the Natchitoches – NSU Folklife Festival in July because it was still in pretty bad shape. I couldn’t autograph books at that point and, even more importantly, I couldn’t carry the boxes of them into the facility. 

In the meantime, Karren has dragged me all over the US in August to see the total eclipse. Apparently to a science geek it is worth the 14+ hours of driving and the heat so you could get an extra 30 seconds of a total eclipse.

Without question it was cool, and it was a “check off” of her bucket list, so it was worth it.

Over the next few weeks I’m going to be posting about some trips we’ve taken, things I remember from the kids growing up, and anything else I can think of to help loosen the writing muscles up again. I was afraid the concussion might have been worse than I originally thought because I lost most of about two or three weeks there and have little gaps still, but I’m back into being able to recover minute trivia quickly and I’m sure I’ll be okay.

So, please bear with me as I get rolling again. I’ll try not to bore you and if you have anything you would like to har about, just let me know!

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. 

The Louisiana Studies Conference at NSU – Natchitoches

For the third year I was invited to, and did, speak at the Louisiana Studies Conference at my undergraduate alma mater Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, La.

Before I discuss it I wanted to give a big thanks to all of the people involved in putting on the conference. Dr. Shane Rasmussen, the Director of the Louisiana Folklife Center, has made great efforts in developing the Folklife Center and is responsible not only for this conference but also the Folklife Festival held each summer. Although he will be the first to admit that he couldn't do it without the assistance of many others including Shelia Thompson from the Folklife Center. Dr. Lisa Abney, the Vice President of Academic and Student Affairs as well as a Professor of English at NSU is also a co-chair of the seminar and a frequent speaker and/or moderator at the conference. There are many, many more people involved than I have mentioned but I wanted to be sure and name these three.

I've been to a number of legal continuing education seminars and writers conferences and have never seen one where things go as smoothly as the Louisiana Studies Conference.

The conference seems to be growing in size as well but I would really like to see more of the public turn out for this. The topics are always interesting, you can see this year's program brochure and topics at this link, and since it is free to the general public it is an opportunity that is being missed by many.

If any of my readers are interested in the conference or any other information please feel free to email me and I will be glad to discuss it with them and I'll even send them a reminder next year when the info for the conference is released.  In addition to the conference being great it is held on the Northwestern State University campus so those people attending can also take the opportunity to visit Natchitoches, the oldest city in the Louisiana Purchase (300 years old this year) and a city founded by an ancestor of mine, Louis Juchereau de St. Denis.

Dr. Rasmussen announced that the theme for next year's conference is "Louisiana: A Cultural Crossroads", paying homage to the El Camino Real as well as the Mississippi and Red Rivers which provided water passages from the northern areas to the Gulf of Mexico.

As soon as he announced the theme an idea for my talk next year, as well as a paper for the Louisiana Folklife Journal, popped into my head.  So next year the tentative title for my presentation will be  "Voodoo, Hoodoo and the Blues", which should be very interesting to research and write and, since I'll have a lot of blues music as a part of the presentation, should be fun for the people who attend. 

A Great Movie – Winter’s Bone

Winter's Bone

Last week I was in Natchitoches for the NSU Louisiana Folklife Studies Conference and the storms rolled through on Friday night and knocked out the power for several hours. I had my Kindle Fire with me and had downloaded a movie, Winter's Bone, onto it and so I decided to watch it while the power was out.

I first started watching the movie last year on Netflix but I only watched a few minutes and Netflix pulled it before I had a chance to finish watching. I bought it on Amazon Instant Video and had just never gotten around to finishing it. I was absolutely blown away by the story and the actors.

Jennifer Lawrence got an Oscar nomination for her role as Ree Dolly and this movie, more than anything else she has played in shows what kind of acting chops she has. John Hawkes, who is one of the most underrated actors around, plays her uncle Teardrop and is phenomenal.

The movie is bleak and depressing, mostly because it is such an accurate portrayal of the life many "poor folks" lead and particularly now that meth has seized control of rural America. I was especially struck by film because I had just been reading about several arrests that had taken place in a very, very small country town where I had went to school.

Jennifer Lawrence's character is forceful and determined, looking out for her family and their home at the risk of her own well being.

The movie was a very low grossing film, one of the lowest grossing ever to be nominated for Best Picture. I can see why it wasn't a box office hit. I can also see why some people don't care for it but if you truly like good writing and a good movie then Winter's Bone is for you.

Johnny Robinson and The Bottle Tree

Many of those who are reading this post have read The Bottle Tree and may already know the story of Johnny Robinson but I'm going to repeat it here anyway and then discuss what the post is really about.

Johnny was a young man I went to school with at Provencal School in Louisiana. I went there from Kindergarten through Second Grade and then went back to visit anytime I was in Louisiana and school was in session. 

Johnny was my first African American friend and I'm pretty sure that the friendship with him when I was young made race much less of an issue with me than it was with many of my peers.

I hadn't seen him in years but when I started writing The Bottle Tree I named one of the main characters after Johnny. Last year when the book was published I started looking for him so I could let him know what I'd done and just to reconnect.

Unfortunately, another childhood friend of mine let me know that Johnny had passed away from cancer the year before.

This trip in for the Natchitoches-NSU Folk Festival, I came in early so I'd have a chance to go by and take a copy of the book to his mother. Doris Robinson.

Ms. Doris still lives in the same house where Johnny was raised and I made the trip today to visit with her for a little while. She told me all about Johnny's life since he'd graduated and about his last days. I also learned it was her birthday today. I was happy to present her a copy of The Bottle Tree and will make it a point to go back and see her when I come back "home" to Natchitoches.

Below is a picture of Ms. Doris Robinson and me, sitting on her front porch and she has her copy of The Bottle Tree in her hand. The other picture is the memorial handout from Johnny's funeral.

This comes the week after the verdict in the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin case and I can't help but think maybe things would have been different if Mr. Zimmerman and/or Mr. Martin would have had the chance to get to know each other in a situation like Johnny and I did.

 

Doris Robinson and Robert D. Bennett johnny robinson

The Birth of Characters

Most people who don't write tend to believe that the hardest thing about writing a book is coming up with the story, but that's really not true. I, like most writers, have tons of notes about book plots, stories, or just smidgens of ideas. Actually the hardest part is naming the characters after you come up with them. 

In most books, the names are just randomly chosen to reflect average, everyday people. One notable exception to this rule are the Harry Potter books. J.K. Rowling does a masterful job of naming things, places, and people in a way that fits them perfectly.

However, what I wanted to talk about here is the characters in books and where writers get their ideas.

I can't speak for everyone but most of my characters are based on bits and pieces of people I have known throughout my life.

In The Bottle Tree, one of the characters is named Johnny Robinson, which was the name of a black friend of mine from elementary school in Louisiana. The character himself is not a lot like Johnny, but I remember one occasion when we were kids and my great grandmother either hired Johnny's mother to help her pick peas or agreed to let her take a share if she helped pick.

Johnny and I hung out that morning and there was a little awkwardness as we engaged socially, which was rare in Central Louisiana in those days. Some of that awkwardness is shown in the book although the real Johnny was nowhere near as shy as the Johnny from the book.

I took a little different approach with No' Chance. I needed a female character who was likable yet tough, so Jennifer Johnson is an amalgamation of a few different girls/women I've known. Her name was taken from a Robert Earl Keen song, Jennifer Johnson and Me, about a man who finds a strip of those photo booth pictures that you used to be able to take for a quarter. When he finds them in his jacket pocket it immediately brings back memories of one of his loves from his teenage years.

Although I realize that the reference will be lost on many/most people, to me Jennifer's name and character brings back those reasonably carefree days when I was a teenage boy chasing girls, being grown up still a distant prospect.

Writers take characters from people they meet. If you ever have a chance to interact with a writer there's a reasonable chance that one day you or some part of you will make it into a character in a book. Several people I met recently at the Natchitoches NSU Folk Festival are in line to make their appearance once day when the right story presents itself.