Monday, December 26, 2011


Christmas Eve, I received a book entitled Princess Ruth: Love and Tragedy in Hawaii by Jo Ann Lordahl. Jo Ann, an author friend of 34 years, now lives on Kaua'i Island in Hawaii and has been resident there for ten years. Years ago, she spent several months in New Iberia, Louisiana working on one of her novels, and I wrote a feature story about her for The Daily Iberian. She has visited here many times since she began her career as a writer, sometimes spending months in isolation, doing extensive researching and writing. In fact, she's one of the hardest working writers I know – she once lived two months in the apartment attached to my home, and our visits were short and infrequent because she worked day and night.

Jo Ann writes in many genres and has published over twenty books, but this last novel is her piece de resistance. It’s a saga about a protagonist named Samantha whose husband Thomas dies in a tragic accident, and she moves from southern California to Keaha, Kaua'i, the oldest in the Hawaiian chain of islands, where she begins working on genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

In Hawaii, Samantha discovers that islands resemble her native Alabama – “the red dirt of Kauai is exactly like my old red hills of Alabama…magical, the sparkle and mystery of childhood come home again…its tranquil touch reaches out like clouds over Kahili Mountain luring me to accept its generosity…” After checking out a book in the Hanapepe library about Princess Ruth, a woman “ugly as sin on the cover of the High Chiefess: Ruth Keelikolani,” Samantha dreams about the Princess speaking to her, asking her to tell the story of her reign as a royal Hawaiian figure and to relate those tales about others of old Hawaii that were formerly only told in spoken genealogy.

Meanwhile, Samantha’s work involves making comparative analyses of the gene expression between normal and tumor tissues. But in her spare time, she studies the history of Hawaii and researches the story of Princess Ruth. Her studies reveal how colonialism involved the seizure of lands and governments and how giant corporations began to control all the resources of Hawaii. She also discovers that until very recently natives were only educated to be servants and plantation workers, and that missionaries, instead of seeking to understand the Hawaiians culture which produced the natives’ power, tried to destroy the rich culture.

Jo Ann arrived on the island as a “haole” (a Hawaiian word which formerly meant foreigners; today it means any white person. The word accurately translated means “no breath.” At one time, Hawaiians could not believe how shallowly the missionaries breathed, and so they called them” no-breathers”). An example of an arresting passage in which Samantha hears Princess Ruth’s voice whispering to her incited me to read further: “I felt you looking at my picture on the cover of that book… felt your compassion and understanding. You searched for me, young and beautiful, and found that later picture at my second marriage to Isaac Davis. Evil, ignorant, easily led. There’s a story I will tell you later…way beyond anything you’ll find elsewhere. Ignorant haoles. Perfect name for them. No breathers. No breath. No understanding. Ha, breath, is how you grow and collect mana. How you connect with the land, aina, with spirit, soul, with your ancestral beginnings. Your aumakua…”

Jo Ann writes that at first her interest in Hawaii was personal and pragmatic, while she attempted to get along in a new place. But slowly, as a writer who became more engrossed, a sense of justice stirred within her and she developed the desire to tell the authentic story of Hawaii. “The Hawaiian people are so battered and unfairly treated. It’s all there in the right books, easy to read. Fascinated and protected by history’s distance, I want to cry—how could they? How could these newcomers to the Islands just come in and take over? How could they treat the indigenous Hawaiian people so badly?”…And therein lies the tale.

Princess Ruth is a unique example of non-fiction/fiction that reflects Jo Ann’s appreciation for ancient Hawaiian customs, native foods, the beauty and grace of older Hawaiian women, and the exotic terrain of the Islands. It rivals James Michener’s Hawaii and brings readers up to date on the takeover of the “Big Five” companies that were called the Invisible Government behind the scenes of the Republican Party which dominated Hawaiian government and politics. It also focuses the spotlight on GMO foods and adverse health effects.

Two hundred and seventy-two end notes, an extensive book list, and a chronology of Hawaiian rulers, including Princess Ruth, complete this volume and enkindle further reading about the historic figure of Princess Ruth and the invasion of a Paradise that Jo Ann chose as her dream home. This is a BIG read!

Friday, December 23, 2011


Several of my books were published in 2011, and the last novel written this year goes on Kindle today. Redeemed by Blood becomes my thirtieth book, but it isn’t my final one as I have in the writing mill another book of poetry, Breakthrough, now competing in a contest, which will eventually be published, and a non-fiction book about Rip Van Winkle Gardens that I was commissioned to do. 2012 promises to yield more writing activity – and more reading!

Redeemed by Blood isn’t in print version yet because most of my books have graduated to Kindle by this time (except for the poetry) and are enjoying wider readership. Redeemed is a multigenerational epic novel that begins when the idyllic life of young Dade Green changes with his parents’ deaths. He enrolls in Virginia Military Institute and joins the Confederate Army to fight a war against slavery even though his slave, Ebenezer, is his best friend. He’s forced to sell his slave and later meets up with him, only to witness his horrible death by hanging. Dade loses a leg during the war, endures life in an abusive Union Camp called Fort Delaware but survives, marries Sarah, a Mississippi journalist, and bears several children.

As if in recapitulation about wartime horrors and Dade’s ambivalence toward slavery, his son, Ellis Paul, becomes involved with the Ku Klux Klan. Dade witnesses another innocent black man‘s death, and his killers go unpunished. Dade dies feeling guilt so terrible that his ghost haunts the family and his old home for several generations. Attempts at exorcism fail, until his “sins” are redeemed and his soul is released by a transforming event involving his great-great-great grandson.

This novel is a fictional memoir set in Virginia, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana. It contains glimmers of truth about a dysfunctional family through five generations, vivids scenes of Civil War battles, brief excerpts from Civil War memorabilia, and the fictitious diary of a rebellious teenager. It’s the longest novel that I’ve written, and readers of Civil War books, memoirs, and novels about racial relations might enjoy it, especially during these sesquicentennial commemorative years of the Civil War.

Merry Christmas and happy reading in the New Year!

P.S. For non-Kindle readers, the print version of Redeemed by Blood is forthcoming.

Saturday, December 17, 2011


Gray squirrel taken through a glass darkly.
You’d think that they’d have eaten their fill, their bushy tails shaking in the fork of the gray oak in my backyard as they peel acorns and toss their shells onto the patio, feasting on the bitter meat that fuels their acrobatics. No wonder they leap about and run as if their tails were on fire–the tannin they consume is as strong as the over-steeped tea that my Iranian houseboy, Jabar, once served me. It was a brew so potent that after I had downed two cups of the dark liquid, I’d see swirling spots before me and would feel as though I was poised to levitate. Perhaps the meat of the acorns helps these creatures to levitate? And how do they keep their white fronts so pristine as they gnaw and grind nuts without dribbling a crumb, their thoughts focused on “eating is all” … that is, except in winter when mating begins and they’re distracted from eating by engaging in the chase! Then they put on an acrobatic show to rival Cirque du Soleil, making these strange chirping noises which can be translated as laughter…or alarm…and sometimes communicating with tail gestures that could only be interpreted as flirting!

No matter how many times I view them in the newly-trimmed live oak outside my window, they remind me of how difficult it must have been for our ancestors to forage for food. I’m writing about squirrels, one of the largest families of mammals in the world, pesky, pesty squirrels that are oblivious to watchers observing them on a day filled with dull clouds, threatening rain. (As I’ve written before, Louisiana’s weather can be described as “always threatening,” but the squirrels seem unperturbed about the darkening sky). They’ve been around for forty million years, and I’ve read that they can survive in any climate except that of the polar region. They don’t have any difficulty surviving in Louisiana climes, and I don’t mind playing hostess to them, but I do wish they’d become as fond of the mosquitoes swarming outside as they are of the acorns that drop on the patio floor. Although they leave a mess of broken shells on the painted red floor, they’re reputed to be the cleanest animal in the rodent family–so why don’t they clean up their rooms? Or become nocturnal instead of diurnal so that I don’t have to watch them litter?

Would that I had the artistic ability of Beatrix Potter so that I could better relate the antics of my resident rodents. Potter immortalized this creature in her story about Squirrel Nutkin, a red squirrel who narrowly escaped the claws of an owl called Old Brown. This beautifully-illustrated children’s book was published in 1903 by Frederick Warne and Company. The tale concerns Squirrel Nutkin, his brother Twinkleberry, and their cousins who sail to Owl Island on small rafts they’ve made of twigs. They get permission from Old Brown to collect nuts on his island, but Nutkin taunts the owl with foolish riddles for six days until he causes Old Brown to become enraged, and the owl attempts to skin Nutkin alive. Nutkin escapes, but he loses most of his tail during the confrontation.

Potter sketched squirrels near the landscape around Lingholm and St. Herbert’s Island in the UK, naming the locale Owl’s Island in her book. She also built a squirrel house of a soapbox so she could observe the animal while she sketched at home, and visited London Zoological Gardens to sketch the owls at that location. Critics wrote that Potter achieved excellent natural history writing in Squirrel Nutkin, even to the point of depicting violence in the natural world, and the book became an immediate best seller–actually, it became an all-time seller as copies of this classic are still selling throughout the world.

Well, I don’t intend to skin my resident squirrels or clip their bushy tails, but I have threatened to cut down the oak if they don’t stop littering acorn shells. And as I write this, one of my rodent friends looks up from his lunch of acorns, regards me with his large shoe button eyes, and flips his tail in defiance, chirping some kind of ancient riddle in a language only Beatrix Potter would understand.

Sunday, December 11, 2011


Gary Entsminger, publisher, Pinyon Publishing, and Garcia.
 When Pinyon Publishers published Chant of Death, a mystery by me and Isabel Anders, I posted a long interview for this blog about publisher Gary Entsminger and another one about Susan Elliott, the gifted artist and writer on Gary’s staff. Both of these talented artists have one distinguishing feature in common: versatility—and this characteristic becomes more and more evident to me when I read about the range of books they’ve been producing at Pinyon.

Although WriteItNow 4 Creative Writing Software wasn’t published by Pinyon, Gary takes pride in the recent honor garnered by this software produced by Ravenshead Services because Pinyon Publishing is its major distributor in the United States. For the second year, running, WriteItNow 4 was awarded the TopTen Reviews Gold Award. Gary and Susan sent me a copy of the software for Christmas, and I have been attempting to use it.  The software is touted for helping writers generate characters, contains a thesaurus, word counter, spell checker, and other features that fledgling and experienced writers will find useful. Gary and Susan have created a guide entitled Making the Most of WriteItNow 4 for making the most efficient use of the software that features step-by-step examples and screenshots of all the major features of the program. Their guide shows writers how to manipulate the software to help them write, organize, and store complete novels, to generate names, ideas, timelines, and notes, and how to graphically visualize layout and organization with a story board.

WriteItNow 4 is a fascinating writing tool, and I was intrigued by the idea that I could have a name for a character and with the aid of the software, could develop this character, accessing the Myers-Brigg personality types, and using a timeline that specifies a time period and the year of the character’s birth, then pulling up a list of historical events from the character’s lifetime. Gary and Susan use WriteItNow 4 for their creative work, including the writing of their novel, Ophelia’s Ghost, which they co-authored a few years ago.

A day after I received a copy of WriteItNow 4, I logged into Pinyon’s website and found that Gary and Nick Gotelli have produced another piece of software called EcoSim Professional that allows users to test for community patterns with non-experimental data. According to Gary, EcoSim “performs Monte Carlo randomizations to create ‘pseudo-communities,’ then statistically compares the patterns in the randomized communities with those in the real data matrix. These null model tests have wide applicability in both applied and basic ecology…” From the description, readers can see that Gary has extensive experience as a naturalist, computer programmer, and creator of software that helps scientists understand patterns of biodiversity. His range is amazing. Then there’s Susan who studied botany and French at Humboldt State University, has a Ph.D. in biology from Dartmouth College, co-authored the software guide, and who renders fantastical drawings of wildlife and the natural environment.

No, I’m not conversant with the latest offerings of Pinyon, but after reading about the products developed and distributed by them, you can envision the word “versatility” as it applies to the duet who operate this Indie press tucked away in the Rocky Mountains on a plateau near Montrose, Colorado. This past year, Pinyon also published a gracious plenty of books by excellent poets; e.g., Luci Shaw and Martha McFerren. Their publication, You Who Make the Sky Bend by Lisa Sandlin and Catherine Ferguson garnered the New Mexico Book Award, and Victoria Sullivan, Pinyon author of Adoption, a book of speculative fiction in which she used her research about polyploidy plants that have multiple sets of chromosomes, recently received the honor of a plant belonging to the genus Eupatorium (E. sullivaniae) being named after her because her extensive work has led to significant advances in understanding of Eupatorium.
Susan Elliott, artist, Pinyon Publishing

Many of the poetry books on Pinyon’s list have been written by award-winning poets who enjoy the attention and care shown them and their work by the staff at this outstanding Indie press. Gary and Susan’s next project: an online literary journal called The Pinyon Review that will feature poems, essays, short stories…and in light of Gary’s other publications, the range of subjects should be highly eclectic. Also forthcoming is a book about aquatic plants authored by Victoria Sullivan, Why Water Plants Don’t Drown, with paintings by Susan Elliott.

Look for this rising publisher online at

P.S.  As you can see from the picture above, Susan and Gary also compose and play blue grass music in their spare time.  Here's to more of their versatility!!

Thursday, December 8, 2011


Poet Darrell Bourque in his citrus grove.
Earlier this week, we had dinner in the home of Dr. Mary Ann Wilson, a distinguished professor of English at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette who initiated the Women’s Studies program at this university. We shared this meal with the former poet laureate of Louisiana, Darrell Bourque, and his wife Karen, a glass artist. Mary Ann, who is of Italian descent, serves dinners, a la Italian style, that are always sumptuous, and we enjoyed pasta and Torta Di Noci (Italian Walnut Cake) in a splendid dining room decorated in gold and earth tones reminiscent of Italy. We left her with the dishes after four hours of a steady flow of conversation about writers, artists, botanists, musicians… and the books, paintings, plant finds, and music of those mentioned. It was a rich evening, orchestrated by an engaging woman who knows how to get together with people who care about and enjoy one another.

The following day, we received word that Darrell had been honored by the poet and writer Luis Alberto Urrea in the “Entertainment” column of Time magazine. Urrea had been asked by Time to name five things he was really “digging on right now,” and Darrell Bourque claimed the No. 1 spot. Urrea paid tribute to both Darrell and Louisiana, saying that Darrell had “unleashed a gorgeous and powerful New and Selected Poems entitled In Ordinary Light.” He added, “There is nothing ordinary about it. If you love that mythical, shadowy, musical place, that means you are a person of good taste and a deep soul. Louisiana is all about soul. And Bourque’s new book will lift yours and, oh yeah, mon ami, it’s gonna’ kiss you real good.”

I’m glad that Urrea recognizes our premier Louisiana poet, and I agree with his praise of Darrell who served the State as poet, teacher, and mentor for so many poets throughout Louisiana. I think Darrell is at his zenith as a poet and have often said that he's slated to become the Poet Laureate of the U.S. soon. He’s now working on an intriguing book of poetry centered on the exodus of the Acadians in the Grand Derangement, featuring poems about the characters in this deportation and their coming to Acadiana. When he talked about the poetry, I was reminded of the mural which Robert Dafford rendered in the Acadian Memorial in St. Martinville, Louisiana – a painting including the portraits of the Acadians arriving in southwest Louisiana under the leadership of Beau Soleil. In fact, Beau Soleil will be featured in one of Darrell’s poems. For those of us in Louisiana who had ancestors that survived the Grand Derangement and settled in south Louisiana, this is an exciting project. Darrell is the poet who can “speak to this condition,” and we‘re excited about the publication of more of his work that can “kiss you real good,” as Urrea said.

Gertie, dancing on roof.
I’ve written several blogs about Darrell’s diverse talents and recently came upon a NOMA (New Orleans Museum of Art) interview in which he talked about his love of Ekphrastic poetry or poetry devoted to another art form. Last Spring, at a workshop for students of the Lusher Charter School Writing Program, he talked about Ekphrastic poems and asked the participants to write their own versions of this type of poetry. The students chose to write about works ranging from contemporary canvases to a Renaissance miniature portrait. Darrell says that he responds naturally to works of art through poetry, and I remember his response to the painting of a Haitian orphan child which a friend of mine, Barbara Hughes, painted a few years ago. The painting of the child, Gertie, dressed in white tap shoes without shoe laces, enchanted Darrell, and he composed a poem that he read at a poetry reading in New Iberia where we appeared together. When the paintings were shown on a screen, he read his poem about Gertie and I read mine about Lorenzo, a Haitian child dying of AIDS. The privilege of reading alongside this gifted poet remains a high point in my life as a poet.

Darrell and Karen's home.
Darrell has been commissioned to do many Ekphrastic poetry projects; e.g., the poem for the dedication of the Ernest Gaines Center at ULL, five sonnets for an art book by ULL Professor Linda Frieze, and one for the Lake Charles Humanities Council on a painting for the Vision in Verse project. Visitors to Darrell’s home in Church Point, Louisiana enjoy touring his personal gallery of art that includes the works of Louisianians Clementine Hunter, Dr. Gloria Fiero, and Dennis Williams. Darrell claims that had he not been a poet and English professor, he’d have been an art historian…or (in my opinion) a professional horticulturist…or a painter...or an opera singer…or a Buddhist priest…he has the creative capabilities for all of these vocations.

However, we’re glad Darrell Bourque became a poet whose poems "will kiss you real good" and salute him for his recent recognition by Luis Alberto Urrea and Time magazine. Another bravo for you, mon ami Darrell!