Michael Hoard hails from Lafayette, Louisiana, but he currently lives in Middletown, New York, occasionally traveling home to work offshore. He’s published a haunting novella titled “A Forsaken Soul” about a teenager who makes an error in judgment, is convicted of a felony crime and ends up in the brutal world of prison life. If you’ve seen the recent mini-series “The Night Of” on HBO, you’ll relate to the impact of this story and what young innocents must do to survive prison life.
On the flip side, Hoard has published a charming novel appealing to young and old alike in “The Mystery of the Rougarou: A Nick Landry and Billy Boudreaux Adventure.”
Q: What made you write a story about a compassionate young man who’s thrown into prison and must become hardened and sometimes cruel to survive in such a dark world?
A: I wrote this story while serving time in a Louisiana state prison. I remember my writing started in the form of a long seven-page letter that I wrote and rewrote over 400 times. I purchased rolls of stamps and stacks of envelopes from the jail store and mailed these letters to over half the middle and high schools in the state in an attempt to help kids see how life can change in the blink of an eye. That was during my first year, which was served in the parish jail. I was desperate to not give in to the jail house mentality and it worked, until I was transferred to a state prison. Things were different there. I learned quickly not to become friends with anyone. There is always an alternative motive when someone approaches you with kind words. Usually they just want free cigarettes or snacks, but occasionally, it becomes violent, like in (character) Mike Crawford’s case. I began to change and the outside world began to fade in my mind.
In a birthday card I received from my dad he finished it with a birthday wish that struck me deeply, “May you always choose happiness over sorrow.” I started writing this book soon after to remind myself that happiness will be offered to me again. I just had to stay strong and repeat that quote when I was having a bad day. I saw good people change on the inside; I saw some go nuts; I saw people abused by not only other inmates, but guards as well; and I saw my release date shining brightly in my future.
Q: Your "Rougarou" novel is quite the opposite, following 12-year-old Cajun boys Billy Boudreaux and Nick Landry at their “Swamp Camp” who try to solve the mystery of a Cajun legend. What was your inspiration for this tale?
A: I remember back to when I was a Boy Scout and our Scout leader told us this story by the campfire. It scared the bejesus out of me and I wasn’t able to enjoy our game of spot light, which went by the same rules as tag but the person who was “it” had a spot light to look for you. I stayed very close to the campfire that night, and as a result, I was “it” quite often!
Q: The camp and the swamp environment in “Mystery of the Rougarou” is described in rich detail. Is this based on your own experiences?
A: “Swamp Camp” was in fact the camp we had as kids. Like Nick, I would spend hours out there alone watching and learning. The swamp was always my private sanctuary and it will always be thought of as such by me. The trail leading from Nick’s house to the camp is the same trail that led from my back yard. The transition from field grass, to willow trees, to swamp is exactly as how I remember it and the trancelike state that Nick falls into as he follows behind Billy is exactly how I felt when walking out there. This story was easy to write for me – I just had to put on paper exactly what I remember seeing as a boy and how it made me feel.
Q: What was life like when you were 12 growing up in Acadiana?
A: We moved from Melrose, Florida, to Pierre Part (Louisiana) when I was 12. I quickly acquired two best friends that I still keep in touch with occasionally, 36 years after moving from there. I loved the crawfish boils, the team sports, the hardworking, God-fearing people, and the abundant wildlife and beautiful scenery that surrounded my community. Most of all, I loved the adventure that was never lacking with so much untamed wilderness to explore. I still remember my mom’s hollering from our back yard that it was time to come home – unlike Nick and Billy, I was sometimes late coming in from Swamp Camp, haha. I only wish that every boy had the opportunity to grow up in such a rich environment to learn the good things not taught in school.
Q: You work in the oil and gas business. Was writing something you always wanted to do?
A: Haha, I never knew I could! It wasn’t until I saw an old friend from college on Facebook and learned that her hobby is editing for her sister who has published several books on Acadian history. I mentioned “A Forsaken Soul” to her and she insisted I send it. After reading it she said, “This is a powerful story and you gotta get it published!” Going through the publishing phase of this book lit a fire in my belly. I wanted to write another one and since I always liked “The Hardy Boys” and “Tom Sawyer,” I decided on an adventure.
Q: And what new books will we have to look forward to?
A: Well, let me just say this, Nick and Billy are currently at a birthday party discussing the campout they will be going out on tomorrow night.
Q: And….any book events coming up?
A: Sadly, my books do not pay my bills and with my work schedule it is very difficult to plan in advance. However, I do have a tentative date set for late November or early December for my first book signing!. This will take place at the Montgomery Book Exchange in Montgomery, New York. I would love to start book signings in Louisiana but have not had a chance to get out and meet the people I want to. With winter comes a slowdown in offshore construction work so you can bet I’ll be out there mingling with others that love literature soon.
Cheré Dastugue Coen is the author of several Louisiana romances under the pen name of Cherie Claire. She is also the author of “Forest Hill, Louisiana: A Bloom Town History,” “Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana” and “Exploring Cajun Country: A Historic Guide to Acadiana” and co-author of “Magic’s in the Bag: Creating Spellbinding Gris Gris Bags and Sachets.” Write her at firstname.lastname@example.org.