ON WRITING

“It’s very easy to quit during the first ten years of writing. Nobody cares whether you write or not, and it’s very hard to write when nobody cares one way or the other. You can’t get fired if you don’t write, and most of the time you don’t get rewarded if you do. But don’t quit.” Andre Dubus

Monday, 27 May 2013

LOCALE AS SETTING - KITTIE HOWARD LOVES LOUISIANA


Thank you, Denise, for letting me share a slice of Louisiana that's always in my heart. And, speaking of hearts -- yours is as big and warm as the Outback! The gracious and generous manner in which you open your blog to others brings smiles around the world. It's nice, really nice how you bring us together. Thank you!

When I started blogging, I had no idea the path would lead to writing novellas. But, little by little, my Louisiana stories seeped out. First came "Remy Broussard's Christmas," a fictional story with a very real setting. I sat where Remy sat in that rural, three-room schoolhouse with two grades to a room. Then came "Rings of Trust," a fictional story with a very real setting. The Ku Klux Klan had ridden against my grandfather to force him to sell off part of our farm. He didn't sell!

This September, "Bayou Princess" will follow, a light-hearted story about a young girl coming into her own. I'll then combine the three into a trilogy: "Remy's Bayou Road."

Everyone has stories. We were all kids who rushed home from grade school eager to tell our parents what had happened that day. Our eyes were wide. Our faces were flushed. We were excited.

Then, life being life, we got older -- and, little by little, we learned to control emotions. Perhaps we learned to see what others saw and not what we saw. Perhaps we got busy and no longer heard the train's whistle on a foggy day. Perhaps . . . oh, life's 'perhaps' is endless.

But the stories never died for any of us. Touch them, and they will jump to life.

Because my husband and I moved so much, both within the States and overseas, I had to keep touching my stories. Yes, we lived in some exotic places. But, still, outside of one's culture and one's language and away from one's friends and family, there were times, especially when dusk approached, when I needed to touch my stories. Without television, sometimes without a telephone (if so, no one to call), I needed to feel where I came from in order to grasp where I was. When I could hear myself giggle in my mind's ear, I knew the little girl in me was safe, and the bomb that exploded on the bus across the street the first time I went to Jerusalem hadn't injured her. Or the riots in Nairobi. Or . . . well . . . one learns that stuff happens. Life isn't always pretty. Imperfect people (that's all of us) have a way of messing things up now and then. And when that happened, I pulled from the stories I always carried with me in my heart.

Some snippets of what influenced my stories:

A dormant winter pasture on our family farm. When I was a kid, pecan trees and cattle were the main crops. But, little by little, hurricanes uprooted the trees. My brother didn't want to raise cattle, so some pecan pastures were cleared for crops, usually rotating corn and soybeans. When spring comes and there are fresh furrows, it's pure bliss to wiggle one's toes in the fresh earth.

Look closely. See those itty-bitty 'leaves' darker than the flatter grass? Those are stickers! When the weeds (for that's what stickers are) mature, little pointy things will stick into the bottoms of your bare feet. And you'll hop around to pull them out. We kids used to have fun, seeing who could run across a patch of stickers without hopping around. Stickers toughen you up in other ways -- no life is without stickers, mine included. I've learned there are times when one has to suck it up, do what one has to do, and get on with it.

My grandparents rest here, to the far left, in the lower middle.  More than any other single event, the years I spent on their farm (while my father commuted from LSU's Law School) influenced me the most. The setting is simple, uncluttered. But the stories on the stoop in the evenings ranged from silly kids' stuff to complicated issues of the day. And this is where my stories come from -- simple settings with the day's issues.

This was my father's first law office, located in a small town about 25 miles from the farm. (It's now a real estate agency). He later got a larger office, even dabbled in politics. Much to my surprise, politicians who 'attacked' each other in public were good friends behind the scenes. And few politicians practiced what they preached. (HA!) Anyway, the office is a tiny shotgun house minus a window on either side and so called because one could fire a shotgun from the front and the bullet would go out the back door. Shotgun houses in historic districts can be very expensive these days, especially in New Orleans.

Louisiana's water-logged. Bayous. Swamps. Rivers. Streams. Visitors fuss about the humidity all this water  helps create. But I miss it! I love the feeling of perspiration dripping down my neck and then a breeze comes along and ahhh! In all fairness, though, I think one has to be born into Louisiana's hot weather, especially what August brings.

Last spring, hub and I were leaving Avery Island, home of that Tabasco Sauce even Queen Elizabeth II loves,  and decided to stop and walk around a bit. This fisherman was happy to pose with the catfish he'd just caught. My grandfather taught me how to fish. In the beginning he'd cut and string my bamboo pole, but I always had to put the worm (or cricket) on the hook. Eventually I learned how to adjust the cork for a particular fish and so on. Now, fast forward -- hub and I are in the Okavango Delta in Botswana, Africa, at a safari camp. One of the excursions offered was a morning (fly) fishing trip. Hub and I signed up, as did others. And, yes, the fish god was with me! I cast my line out, and, well, within minutes pulled in four gorgeous perch, the only fish caught that morning. The camp staff grilled them around the campfire that evening with "When the Saints Go Marchin' In" blasting from somewhere. Well, okay, we'd all had a few glasses of wine and were doing the conga line around the campfire.
This is False River, about 35 miles north of Baton Rouge and Louisiana State University. We'd pile into cars and head for False River on Saturdays to go skiing. Way Back When, the Mississippi River cut a new path and left this oxbow lake behind. It's about five miles long and a mile wide. This photo was taken in December. During the spring/summer, the water's smooth and warm. Nice!
Although Morel's restaurant is somewhat new, it's typical of the eateries around False River. See the kid fishing on the pier? He can sell his catch to Morel's. One of its signature dishes is red beans and rice with a filet of fried catfish on top.  But LA cooking travels with me. We had stuffed eggplant tonight (here in Virginia). It's really easy to make and is even better the next night.

Houmas House isn't far from Baton Rouge, Louisiana's capital, and is one of many plantation homes that grace the area and are open to the public (admission charged). Others are family-occupied. My sister's godmother's family occupies Parlange Plantation, a working plantation, for example. I have fond memories of visiting friends and sitting with them on verandahs, like the one pictured above, and laughing and giggling, as kids do. We were too young to comprehend how old old really was, but we weren't too young to feel how the grace and elegance of old can soothe, sitting in a rocker and rocking away the afternoon with our chatter. Old was good, a part of our heritage that seeped in.

Christmas morning last year. Yep, I'm a Geaux Tigers diehard. My nephew sent me this LSU Tigers knit cap for Christmas. Hub and I were staying at the Bourbon Orleans Hotel, two floors down from where my great-grandmother lived after her parents died in a Yellow Fever epidemic and the hotel was an orphanage. We've stayed in the same room three years in a row. Each year there has been what the staff calls a 'sighting' or an 'occurrence' on my great-grandmother's floor. Some are convinced it's because I'm there, the closest known relative of any orphan to stay in the hotel. Ummm, don't know.

But here's a photo of the 'sighting' (on the left) someone took last Christmas.

What can I say? It's Louisiana.


Thank you so much Kittie, for such an informative post on your settings for your writing.  Your stories throb with realism due to your incorporation of your known setting and characters. Here is a link to Kittie's blog if you want to know more...or to see her books. 

  • How about you? Do you like to make your local setting real for your readers? Or do you like to read stories with setting as character?
  • Currently my blog posts are not being updated for those following via Google Friend Connect. I'm working on the problem. Meanwhile, I hope if you've come by today you will remember to come back until I'm on the blogroll again. I post Mondays and Fridays usually...








32 comments:

  1. Nope, didn't show up in my blog roll either. How extremely annoying!

    This is a great series you're doing. I have written a few stories set in my hometown as well, but with one major series I was using 'fake names' for cities. I couldn't decide if I wanted to do that or not, and kept changing my mind. Now I've gone with keeping it with real names. ;)

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    1. Thanks Trisha for letting me know it doesn't show up on your blogroll. Seems it is the case with everyone. Annoying all right. If I click the old link from my last post that shows up it does connect to the latest post, so strange.

      I'm glad you enjoy this series.

      Denise

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  2. Wow, except for the ocean waters, Kittie's home and setting could be Yass, my previous home and the setting for my kids mystery -- where the main character is named Kitty. I love finding connections in life, even if they make no sense to anyone but me :)

    Shaking my fist at Blogger. This stinks of government conspiracy or alien invasion. I'll look into it. xx

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    1. Louisiana reminds me of Queensland too especially the humidity.

      Thanks bud. I hope you find something that explains what's happened. Meanwhile it's a quiet life on my blog. xx

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  3. I can't imagine a place with more rich detail than Louisiana. What can compete with elegant plantation houses surrounded by bayous filled with creepy-crawlies? I adore settings with atmosphere and find it very annoying that the new popularity of 1st person narration often ignores it, focusing too much on inner thoughts. I write about Egypt, so I definitely use setting!
    Great post, Kittie. Thanks! :-)

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    1. Glad you enjoyed Kittie's post Lexa.

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  4. What amazing inspiration and memories! I love the stickers hehehe.

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    1. We have a few different names for those suckers, don't we Lynda?

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    2. Bindis and ouch ouch ouch %$%#%! ;)

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  5. I think people sometimes forget that their own home towns can be as exotic to anyone else as other settings are to us. I know it took me a long time to recognize the beauty and history in my back yard.

    There was this road my husband and I traveled in Germany, between Kaiserslaughtern and Ekenbach-Eisenborn that looked so much like some ofe the back roads of home I could pretend we were there for half an hour.

    Settings have meanings, and when the author writes them true to their memories, they are beautiful and exotic to the rest of the world.

    Thanks for sharing your home Kitty :)

    ........dhole

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  6. Thank you, Denise, for giving me the opportunity to share what makes Kittie tick with your followers. And I thank the lovely commenters above. I think, at one time or another, we all take somewhat for granted what's in our own backyards. Look at the reverse rags-to-riches stories, where the beautiful princess, heiress (whatever) escapes the confines of a pampered life to experience a different slice of life.

    Anyway, blogging brings us so much together, I forgot about the Australia-U.S. time zone change, as in, which day was the 27th, so will post shortly that I'm hanging out with you today, Denise. Umm, just waking up now.

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    1. Sorry Kittie. So lovely to see your photos, especially the one of you. Thanks for sharing.

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  7. Kittie, I'm so glad you posted a pic of yourself -- I love it! This was a lovely post to get to know you so much more. Thank you for including the image of the cemetery, as well. Vital to honor our roots and how they have shaped the writers we are today.

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  8. Denise, nice to see Kittie here.

    Kittie, I remember your A to Z about Louisiana. I loved it. Thanks for sharing so much of your life in photos there.

    I've visited 2x. A good friend from grad school has lived there over 10 years and my cousin has lived there since she graduated college. They both love it there. I can't wait to go back.

    Have you read Kimberley Griffith Little's books? She has 2 set in the bayou.

    Good luck with your trilogy! Looks like you have ample inspiration!

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    1. Thanks for visiting Theresa! I love reading about the bayou too.

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  9. Hi Denise and Kittie - what great memories .. and I'd love to visit Louisiana one day .. it sounds incredible and always seems to resonate with so many stories ... would love to actually see it.

    I see you were in Botswana - has to be my favourite place - I was lucky enough to visit quite a few times .. it's a magical world ..

    Loved reading this - so much to think about .. and you and the ghost who appears at Christmas ... the family farm too ... so pleased you kept it ... fascinating reading .. cheers Hilary

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    1. Hi Hilary. Kittie weaves a magical story, doesn't she?

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  10. Kitty is a wonderful writer AND blogger :)

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  11. Kitty has a wealth of history in Louisiana. I remember sitting on my Aunt Velma's verandah in a porch swing. I still have fond memories of that. She lived in a small town in the south. Good luck Kittie. Those stories need to be told.

    I'm on Google connect, Denise, so hope you get things working. Don't want to miss your posts.

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    1. Kittie is certainly connected in a big way.

      I will find a solution DG but when I don't know.

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  12. That certainly is a small law office, Kittie. Thanks for sharing these memories!

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  13. No pictures of the Conga line?
    Some great photos and equally great experiences.
    And Denise, your blog isn't even updating in my blogroll, let alone Feedly or Bloglovin'.

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    1. Thanks for letting me know Alex. Hopefully I'll get it sorted.

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  14. Wow how cool is that ghostly pic??
    I love LA. It's such a beautiful state with ideal southern hospitality. I used to visit my cousin in Baton Rouge as a teen and adored it.
    Love all the travels you've had, Kittie!

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  15. This is so fun! I love to learn about places I don't know about. I do tend to put things I do know about in my writing...although I have fun switching the real thing up a bit.

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  16. Good to see Kittie here, Denise! I love to escape to places while I read so setting is important to me!
    Love reading about Kittie's memories and inspirations!

    Nas

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  17. Great post and I especially loved that pic of you in the Tiger's cap, Kittie! :) Having grown up on the bayou, I can so relate to your wonderful stories about Louisiana. Cheers, cher!

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  18. Hi, Denise,
    I only clicked through today and realized that you are, in fact, posting. Fascinating pictures from Kittie. My favourite is that colonial style house. Impressive.

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  19. So wonderful getting to know you more Kittie. You live well and that makes me happy.

    Thank you for inviting Kittie over, Ms. Denise.

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