Frequently Asked Question: Have you ever slipped any of your personal information into your characters, either by accident or on purpose?

faq-2027970_1280Today’s question comes from the Insecure Writer’s Support Group newsletter, and it’s a good one.

Authors are always admonished to write what we know.  This means research, one way or the other … because it’s about your experiences.  You either already know about something or you need to go learn it.

The answer to this question, in my case, is that I’ve included some of my personal experiences, but not necessarily my personal information.  Does that make sense?

25908261I was still an active equestrian athlete when I wrote In The Eye of The Beholder … which features a woman whose job at the Opèra Garnier was to ride horses in some of the mid-show spectaculars that composers put in their productions.  They were desperate to get opera-goers to look at the stage and not one another; in the late 19th Century, people went to the opera to see and be seen, not so much for the performance.  My experience in dressage allowed me to write intelligently about what those performances might look like, what kind of equipment was used, etc.

M&M frt Verson 1Another great example is Bayou Fire.  I love to travel, so I was able to incorporate notes about some of the places I’d been into Diana Corbett’s work as a travel writer.  My love affair with New Orleans stands out loud and proud, too.  One of the decisions I made early on, given my determination to put atypical characters front and center in my work, was to give Diana the same autoimmune disease with which I’ve made no secret that I live:  Hashimoto’s disease, which creates antibodies that destroy the thyroid.  It gave me an opportunity to put a real-world problem into my character’s life, which would affect many aspects of her work and behavior.  Thyroid disease affects approximately 60 percent of the population, so it wouldn’t be surprising to have a given character live with it from a statistical perspective alone.

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Sample Saturday: Bayou Fire … with Bonus Photograph

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Elvis Presley’s Pantera.  Photo by Sharon E. Cathcart

Amos was leaning on a sleek black car outside of Louis Armstrong Park when Diana finished her tour and reading. She couldn’t help appreciating his good looks as she walked over to meet him. He wore a classic tan raincoat over his shirt and jeans, and managed to look both casual and dressy at the same time.

M&M frt Verson 1“I’ve never seen a car like this,” she said by way of greeting. “What is it?” She mentally compared its low-slung, sporty lines to her sensible Toyota sedan back in Seattle. Her own car came up wanting by quite a long chalk.

“It’s a Detomaso Pantera; this black beauty was my gift to myself after I passed the bar exam. My oldest brother gave me a Matchbox Pantera when I was a little kid, and I always told people I’d have a real one someday. And I’m here to tell you that it is about the most temperamental machine I’ve ever come across. I’m always fixing some damn thing in that engine. Hop in,” he said, holding the passenger door open for her. “We’ll get down someplace special for lunch. I want you to meet Miss Leah.”


As you know, I spent most of the past week in Memphis, Tenn.  One of the places I visited was Graceland, along with the newly-opened Elvis Presley’s Memphis complex.  The latter includes 20,000 feet of museum space and really must be seen to be appreciated.

One of the items that was just put on display last week, for the first time ever, was Elvis’ Pantera (I didn’t even know he’d owned one).  As testament to the temperamental nature of the car, Elvis’ automobile has a bullet hole (not visible in my photo) in it from where he shot the engine block.

If you read Bayou Fire and wondered what Amos’ car looked like, now you know!

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Cypress Neighbors

One of my favorite parts of researching “Bayou Fire” was my time spent out on an actual bayou, Bayou Bœuf. The variety of wildlife was amazing. I was there during brumation season, so did not see any alligators … but I surely did see a lot of other things. I was surprised by how beautiful and peaceful it was Great photographs here.

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If you have visited a swamp or lake in Louisiana you have likely seen the showy white great egrets and blue herons. Many though, have never seen other friends that live amongst the cypress trees.

Alligators, of course, can be found in nearly every Louisiana waterway. I have been told that if their belly is off the ground and they are on all four feet, you are already too late to run! They are more scared of us than aggressive towards us.

There are plenty of varieties of frogs, and reptiles. I try to stay well away from snakes!

Fish, of course, and CRAWFISH! The fourth photo is a crawfish “chimney”.  This isn’t a very tall one, but you can definitely see the definition in each of the balls that the crawfish rolled to the top to make room for his water-filled silo, in preparation for dry times.

I love…

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The French in the Spanish Borderlands: Part II

The French in the Spanish Borderlands: Part II

This article summarizes some of the deep background information I studied when researching Bayou Fire. Enjoy!

History Imagined

Prologue

THIS is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,
Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight,
Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic,
Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms……

Ye who believe in the beauty and strength of woman’s devotion,
List to the mournful tradition still sung by the pines of the forest;
List to a Tale of Love in Acadie, home of the happy.

Evangeline

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Boston: Ticknor & Company, 1847

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The poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was so enthralled with the story of Louisiana’s Acadian people that he penned his epic poem Evangeline, a story of exile, loss, and enduring love. It was an instant hit in 1847 due in large part to its imminently sympathetic main character.

There is a longstanding argument as to whether Evangeline, “a maiden of seventeen summers” at the…

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Blogging from A to Z: Z is for Zydeco

zCan you believe it?  We’re on the last day of #atozchallenge!  I’ll talk more about my experience in a reflections post tomorrow.  For now, let’s get to the business at hand.

Zydeco is a genre of music with its roots in southern Louisiana.  A lot of people think it’s the same thing as Cajun music, but it really isn’t.  Cajun music primarily consists of waltzes and two-steps that came from Acadia — what we now call Nova Scotia.  It came primarily out of white communities.  Zydeco is a little bit more like rhythm and blues, and it came primarily from the people of color.  Another difference is that zydeco is primarily sung in Louisiana Creole, or kouri-vini.  The outside influences are similar, in that both genres feature accordion (button or piano), violin, and rhythm.  The latter is a good way to tell the difference if you’re unsure; Cajun music uses a triangle, and zydeco uses a frottoir, or rub board.

So, where did the term come from?  According to Lee Benoit, a Cajun musician from Rayne, Louisiana, a music journalist had been listening to Clifton Chenier perform a song called “Les Haricots Ne Pas Salé” and asked what the music was called.  Chenier’s Creole accent was so heavy that the journalist wrote down what he thought he heard: zydeco.  Some of the big names in zydeco are the late Boozoo Chavis, Rockin’ Dopsie, the late Buckwheat Zydeco and, of course, Chenier.

I’m delighted to present two zydeco greats today.  The first track is Clifton Chenier’s “M’appel Fou” (They Call Me Crazy), and the second is a fun video featuring Boozoo Chavis’ “Motor Dude Special” — a song named after Chavis’ horse.  Laissez les bontemps rouler!