Tag Archives: writing

Aren’t You Glad…

First, I want to say that I love being a writer. Except when I don’t. 

Right now I’m working a couple of novels and a true crime book that is kicking my…well, you know. I’m 40+ pages into the true crime book, am pretty comfortable with all of the material (that’s where my time as a trial lawyer is proving helpful) but I can’t get an outline completed that I like and don’t really want to just do the thing in a linear fashion. Plus, unlike my usual stuff, when the facts don’t cooperate I can’t just make stuff up and trudge on.

I’m not a big fan of silence when I write although I don’t really want to talk, I usually play movies or music videos on one of the computer screens and work on the other and that’s what I’m doing today as I try to break my writer’s block and wait for my muse to show up.

My video playlist is extremely varied, as are my musical tastes. One video mght be Blue Oyster Cult and the next one a tune by Ma Rainey (blues artist from the 30s). The Sex Pistols are on there as is N.W.A. 

On this particular day Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night” popped up (I don’t care, it’s a funny video, I’ll insert it below) and there’s a stanza in there that I just love:

Pictures of last night

Ended up online

I’m screwed

Oh well.

It’s a blacked out blur

But I’m pretty sure

It ruled

Damn!

It was particularly interesting because last night Karren and I watched Terminator Genisys, which is about how Skynet takes over and destroys the world because of everybody wanting to be online all the time.

Social media is great in a lot of ways. It allows me to unilaterally talk to my fans, to friends, and to meet new people all over the world. I’ve got several writer “friends” across the world that I likely would have never had the chance to interact with absent Facebook. There are others who aren’t writers but are friends because I asked or they asked and they seemed interesting (and it turns out they are!).

But I am so, so glad social media didn’t exist during those years before I settled down and particularly in high school. I have to temper what I put on my blog and elsewhere because I know my Mom and my kids read it. Mom would probably still have a stroke if she knew all of the misadventures I’d pursued and the kids (adults now) would regard it either as permission or hypocrisy that what I did and what I told them not to do are polar opposites.

 But the good thing about being a writer is that I can stick some of the memories into a book somewhere and people (at least the ones who weren’t there) won’t know if I made it up or if it is a bit of personal history.

I can’t fathom why so many people, my age and younger, have the inclination and want to take the time and effort to put their entire lives online for others to see.

I know I wouldn’t have done it but I also know I probably had some acquaintances who would have and likely my endeavors would have been chronicled just because I was there. There was one party where friends woke up in the front yard the next day, plus the dog had vomit all over him and even he looked ashamed (the dog, not the friend).

The thought of having all of that preserved for posterity anywhere other than my mind just makes me shiver.

 

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.

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.

Fixin’ to Get Writing Again

Leaving out the discussion concerning "fixin' to" being a renowned Southern colloquialism which often draws curious looks from people around the world (and up north and out west, North being anywhere above Shreveport, Louisiana to me) I recently noticed the majority of my writing gets done during the fall and winter months for some reason.

I finish books in the Spring and Summer but write the majority of the pages during the cooler months (again, cooler being a relative term since we're often in short sleeves in the middle of winter). Maybe it has something to do with that being the time of the year I used to hunt and my body is just inclined to be doing something when the leaves fall.

In anticipation of that I obtained the Southern Writer's Kit, pictured below. I actually got one in this flavor and one in Apple Pie flavor but apparently my better half believed the latter was actually liquid apple pie of some kind because I've only had a few sips but the bottle is about 3/4 gone. And she's not a drinker. 

moonshine-1The Apple Pie version is 20% alcohol (40 proof if I have my math right) while the original version pictured here is 50% alcohol (100 proof) which is more my style. I am under the firm belief that a cocktail means you put ice in the glass with the Bourbon and anything more than that is approaching a sin. This particular beverage is best sipped straight from the jar.

As a side note, one of my great grandfather's brothers was a moonshiner in Louisiana back in the day so my taste for the mash drippings may be hereditary. In addition, My great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, Louis Juchereau de St. Denis, the founder of my home town Natchitoches, La., cited the number of wild grapes growing in that area and their potential for winemaking as one of the reason he chose to place the fort and settlement at that location.

So with all that being said, I'm about to put my nose to the grindstone and start spinning the tales again.

My Hero Has Down’s Syndrome

I have two series of books that I write. Well, since you have to have more than one book connected together to have a series I actually have one series and the aspirations (and a half written follow up) for a second.

The first series is the Junebug series based around the protagonist Junebug Walker. If you've read Junebug and the Body you know it is a nostalgic mystery with a lot of humor. It's set in the South, has a distinct southern slant, and I am working on the second book, Junebug and the Monkey, as the mood strikes me.

However, it's the Noah Chance series that I am blogging about today

Noah Chance is a young man in his early 20s who has Down's Syndrome and can see and talk to ghosts. He is the hero in both No' Chance and Second Chance, and hopefully we'll be seeing and hearing more from him as the books continue. 

I don't even remember now how Noah got his start, other than one day he and his two compadres were there in my mind, almost fully developed and just as you read about them in No' Chance. I didn't decide I wanted to write a book with a character who has Down's Syndrome, the character has it…because Noah has it.

I do know I was greatly influenced in my depiction of Noah by a woman I knew, let's call her Kay.

Kay was in her early 40s and had lived with her mother until the mother passed away, at which time she was placed in a group home by the state. In my other life I was hired by Kay's sister to file for guardianship over her, a guardianship which was opposed by the company who ran the group home and who, incidentally, received funds every month for providing Kay a place to live.

I had the opportunity to meet with Kay on one occasion with only her and the attorney (appointed by the court to represent her in the case). The other attorney was a friend of mine and sat in the corner and allowed me to talk with Kay for almost an hour. The meeting that day started when Kay entered my office wearing a bright floral design dress and a huge, wide brimmed hat with flowers on it. When she saw me for the first time she broke into a huge smile and rushed over to give me a big hug and thank me for trying to help her get to live with her older sister.

It was my first time interacting on an extended basis with someone who has Trisomy 21, the genetic condition commonly referred to as Down's and I left that day with the certainty that meeting Kay had benefited me much more than it had benefited her. I had never, ever met someone who I could say had no ulterior motives, hidden agendas, or anything other than an open and loving heart.

We did win her case and the last I heard, Kay was living in Portland, Oregon with her sister. For a while I received a card from her at least once a year and it always made me smile.

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.”