Sunday, July 23, 2017

Louisiana is choke full of great writers

I recently had the pleasure of speaking at the eighth annual Berries, Bridges and Books Writers Conference in Ponchatoula, and it was there I was fortunate to meet several wonderful authors and get the literary lowdown.

Vicky Branton, Teche Life editor at the Daily Iberian in New Iberia, doubles as the town’s literary champion. She informed me that the Dave Robichaux Festival, which honors the main character of the James Lee Burke novels, has been renamed Books Along the Teche Literary Festival and will be held April 6-8 in New Iberia. She explained that some people who had never read Burke’s mysteries shied away from the literary event, even though there was always something for everyone. The festival still celebrates Dave Robicheaux and his home town, Branton insisted.

I got to meet Colleen Mooney and Mary Beth Magee, two authors who will be on the Louisiana Women of Mystery panel, of which I’m moderating, Oct. 28 at the Louisiana Book Festival in Baton Rouge. Mooney writes locally-set mysteries such as “New Orleans Go Cup” and “Drive Thru Murder.” Magee writes Christian cozy mysteries and her latest is “Ambush at the Arboretum.”

Linda Thurman spoke on filmmaking in Louisiana, pointing out locations for numerous films shot here, along with some fascinating facts about early cinema. She is the author of “Hollywood South: Glamour, Gumbo, and Greed,” which chronicles the state’s filmmaking industry since 1895. Yes, you heard right. Did you know that brief film clips were shown at West End Park on Lake Pontchartrain and that Vitascope Hall on Canal Street was the first motion picture theater in America? Her book is full of nuggets like these.

Kathleen Schrenk spoke on children’s books. Her middle grade novel, “A Dog Steals Home,” features 11-year-old Zach Stewart of New Orleans who explores the themes of family, friendship and animal welfare. Schrenk is a former middle school teacher, a volunteer reading tutor and Junior Great Books leader. She is also the founding member of Nola City Bark, the first off-leash dog park in New Orleans. You can read more about her books, plus invite her to speak at everything from schools to animal shelters at https://kathleenschrenk.com.

In the prolific category is Michael Verret of Morgan City and Bayou Vista, who told me he has authored and illustrated dozens and dozens of books — and all kinds too. He’s a retired homicide detective and currently works in the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security. He gives programs too, ones to inspire young people and keep them out of the system.

Jack Caldwell is no slacker either. Check out his lineup, everything from the historical “The Plains of Chalmette” and “Rosings Park” to the modern “Crescent City” trilogy.  You can read more about this “Cajun in Exile” — he now lives in Florida — at http://cajuncheesehead.com/.

There’s more to tell but I’ll have to save those authors for a future column.
           
Contest
The Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival annual writing contests are now on in several categories, including a new category in flash fiction. Here are the categories and deadlines: short stories of up to 1,000 words, due Nov. 8; one-act plays no longer than an hour, due Nov. 1; two to four poems with a combined length of up to 400 lines, due Nov. 15; and fiction up to 7,000 words, Nov. 30. For information, visit http://tennesseewilliams.net/contests/.

New releases
Dr. Scharmaine Baker, a nationally recognized and award-winning nurse practitioner in New Orleans, wanted to find books about nursing that were both culturally sensitive and featured African American characters. Finding the pickings sparse, she took it upon herself to fill the gap. The result is the “Nola the Nurse” children’s book series, stories that also encourage children to pursue careers in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields. Some of the books in the series are “Nola the Nurse, She’s on the Go” and “Nola the Nurse Remembers Hurricane Katrina.” In addition to her story books, Baker hopes to inspire little girls throughout New Orleans with her dolls, activity books and coloring books. For more information, to book engagements and to purchase books, visit http://www.nolathenurse.com.
 
Carroll Morgan of Crowley, who’s had an impressive 34 years of law enforcement experience, has recently published “The Memoirs of a Small Town Christian Police Officer,” released through Christian Faith Publishing. To watch a trailer for the book, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GvYvsbYsyq0.

Book news
South Arts, a Regional Arts Organization serving nine states in the Southeast, has announced grants to 24 arts organizations throughout the region, including The Festival of Words Cultural Arts Collective in Grand Coteau, which received a $1,730 grant to present writers Allison Joseph and Patricia Smith at this year’s November festival, and the McNeese Foundation in Lake Charles, which received a $2,041 grant to present Alina Fernandez in March 2018. These grants, made possible through funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, support organizations presenting out-of-state fiction, creative nonfiction and poetry authors for publicly accessible readings and educational activities.“Literary arts are profoundly important to the cultural identity of the south,” said Susie Surkamer, executive director of South Arts. Amen to that.

Book events
Sunday Salon: Four Poets will feature readings by Bessie Senette, Clare L. Martin, Debra McDonald Bailey and Gina Ferrara from 3-5 p.m. today at Artmosphere in Lafayette. All four women are contributors to MockingHeart Review, a Louisiana-based poetry magazine. 

Julia Glass is the author of five books of fiction, including the best-selling “Three Junes,” winner of the National Book Award, and “I See You Everywhere,” winner of the Binghamton University John Gardner Fiction Book Award. She’ll be discussing and signing “A House Among Trees” at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Octavia Books of New Orleans.

John Bicknell discusses and signs his book, “Lincoln's Pathfinder: John C. Fremont and the Violent Election of 1856,” at 2 p.m. Sunday, July 30, at Garden District Book Shop of New Orleans.

Cheré Coen is the author of “Forest Hill, Louisiana: A Bloom Town History,” “Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana” and “Exploring Cajun Country.” She writes Louisiana romances and mysteries under the pen name of Cherie Claire. Write her at cherecoen@gmail.com.