Tag Archives: texas

A Teen Memory and a Song

I was looking through old pictures online the other day and came across a set someone had posted from Astroworld in Houston.

While I’m from Louisiana, we lived back and forth between there and the Houston area all of my life. When I was in 8th grade and the first year of high school, I’d wash cars and mow lawns around my neighborhood to make enough money to hang out on the weekend. At that time I lived in Pasadena and there really wasn’t a great spot to hang out there so my Mom would drop a couple of us off at Astroworld on Saturday morning and come back and pick us up just as it was closing Saturday night.

Back in those times, 1976 or so, no one worried about their kids being at a place like that so it was one of the spots to mingle and meet new people, with a minimal chance of getting in trouble.

I graduated high school when I was 17, so that would have made me around 12-13 when I was a regular at the park. I would have been about 5’10, with another inch or two of hair, and weighed about 140# tops.

The best part was as some parents were dropping off carloads of boys, other cars were dropping off carloads of girls and, with any luck, by 1 or 2 in the afternoon, you’d found someone with whom you could share the rest of the day.

At some point, Astroworld picked up on the disco craze and added an open-air dance floor with the panels that change color, the disco ball hanging from the ceiling, and music of all kinds, not just disco, blasting away so when the sun dropped, everybody made their way there for at least a couple of hours.

I remember several of the songs they played since they are now considered classic rock but I’m putting the video below of a band that kind of bridged the gap between rock and disco and was really more of a “funk” sound so us non-disco long hairs could justify dancing to it (or, honestly, trying to dance).

Here it is, directly from the Midnight Special (who remembers watching that and Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert waaaaay before MTV came along?)

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.

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

The Story of Junebug and the Body

While I had written a couple of books before  Junebug , this is the first novel that I liked enough to pursue publishing. I started it almost 18 years ago, and mostly finished it back in 2006, but then kept messing with it until last year.

The book was represented by a couple of agents at different times, but they were never able to sell it without the publisher wanting me to "update" it to the current time, which I actually did at one point but in my mind the story lost a lot of its character being set in the 21st century as opposed to the early 1970s.

Junebug and The Body involves two friends, Joe Ben and Junebug, who live in the small east Texas town of St. John. While the setting in the book is ostensibly Texas, in reality it is based on what I remember of my hometown, Natchitoches, La.

Junebug and The Body actually started as a couple of pages written about a person that I knew, a local reporter who could often be seen walking around town scribbling in a little notebook he carried with him. For some reason, while at work one day, I wrote a paragraph about "Scoop", as the local newspaper reporter was jokingly referred to by the townspeople. The character seemed to take over and before I realized it I had written two full pages, including the character sketch that eventually made it into  Junebug and The Body . However, for some reason Scoop quickly became a secondary character as Joe Ben, Junebug, and Uncle Jasper appeared.

Unlike many writers I have an absolute inability to outline a story or book, even the non-fiction ones that I occasionally write. Instead, I find that the books take on their own life and the story kind of writes itself. I may make a note or two about something I eventually want to add, but usually the end result of the book was nothing like I thought it was going to be.

I knew from the beginning that  Junebug and The Body would be the first in a series and that it would be both a comedy and a murder mystery, but  other than that  I didn't know anything about the book. I had the book almost completed at one point and had written the lead in to an ending that I didn't like, I now don't even remember what it was, but for some reason the creative juices just stopped flowing. I had the dreaded writers block.

I started on a couple of other books, but Junebug was sitting there in the back of my mind, 95% completed and a book which I not only enjoyed writing but also one which I enjoyed reading. It cruised along like that for several months, percolating in the back of my mind but still unfinished. 

One day we were driving back home from a visit to my mother's house in Natchitoches. Karren was driving and I was semi-dozing in the passenger's seat, the kids in the back of the min-van asleep (all three of them would instantly fall asleep when we started driving, a trait their mother and I greatly appreciated. My daughter's now-husband says she still does that, and the boys are the same.) We were almost to the Marshall exit off of I-20 when I suddenly came awake, the ending for the book having popped into my mind and tying up all the loose ends I had created and loved in the novel.

I had to go back and do a little rewriting, changing things here and there to make it fit, but the essential parts of the book were finished in a couple of days.

That seems to be the way it works in most of my writings, I don't actually put a lot of thought into what happens. Instead I just start writing and see what develops. In some, I have a general idea of what I want to put in there, like in book two of the Junebug Series, Junebug and the Monkey, I knew there was going to be a monkey and voodoo, but other than that the story is once again writing itself.

I just wish it would write a little faster!