Tuesday, November 24, 2009
The Song that started the Book
When you open the first page of A Good Place, the page above is what you'll see. (If it's not autographed as shown above, I can send a personalized book plate to you via mail absolutely free. (See below)
As I wrote about the hard times piney woods families had during the Civil War, I went back to one of my favorite songs, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down. It always touches me as I hear "Virgil Cain"* (the song's narrator) tell about the loss and destruction he and his family experienced.
* Various spellings of the narrator are Cain/Caine/Kane. Notice Robertson's use of the "Cain and Abel" link as the brother-against-brother part of the Civil War. I had people on both sides of the conflict.
The verse above isn't just referring to the taking of the trees, it relates also to the taking of young men, many who never returned. The song's final verse tells of this.
"The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" was written by Robbie Robertson, guitar player for The Band. It's more than ironic that what many call "The greatest song ever about the American Civil War" was written by a Canadian of Cree Indian ancestry.
I have many versions of this song on my iPod. Click on links below for my favorite three YouTube versions. I'd like readers to vote on their favorite and why.
The Band at their Farewell Concert, "The Last Waltz" Lead singer: Levon Helm 1977
Joan Baez's acoustic version circa 1971.
A recent version by the Georgia-based band, The Black Crows.
Click here to read song lyrics.
Mick Gold: "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down is not a song about the Confederacy, it is a song of the Confederacy." Click here to read entire website dedicated to the song.
Vote for your favorite in the comment section at the bottom of this post or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Autographed Copies: If you'd like an personally autographed adhesive book plate for your copy of A Good Place, email me at email@example.com with: Your name/How you'd like the plate inscribed/mailing address.
Thursday, November 5, 2009
Simply send your mailing address/number of books and how you want them signed. We'll invoice you with the order. Books are $15.00 each with $5.00 shipping per order.)
Chapter 1 A Good Place.
WHEN Daddy shoved me under the table, I knew this wasn’t
just any storm.
As the crow flies, our Louisiana log cabin was a hundred miles
from the Gulf of Mexico. When this day had quietly begun, no
one had any idea a hurricane was churning ashore. Here we were
less than twelve hours later, however, riding it out under our
Watching Momma trying in vain to keep the lantern lit,
a knot of fear as big as a turnip formed in my throat. Giving
up on the lantern, she turned to Daddy. “This ain’t no normal
thunderstorm. Do you think . . .?”
She couldn’t, or wouldn’t, say the word. In her eyes was
something I’d never seen before—raw fear. Her hand trembled as
she placed it on my knee. Momma’s obvious alarm moved Daddy
into action, and he said the word she’d couldn’t. “Hurricane—this
has to be a hurricane.”
Crawling from under the table, he said to her, “Eliza, get the
windows covered best you can.” Then he grabbed me. “Mayo,
come with me to get the animals in.”
On that August evening in 1862, I was nearly 12 and didn’t
have enough sense to realize the danger, so I eagerly joined him.
As soon as we cleared the lee of the house, the wind whipped
us, tearing Daddy’s hat right off his head. He ran toward the barn,
not even looking back as the lightning outlined his silhouette
with each strike. Reaching the building and pulling me inside, he
said, “Pen the animals, and throw some hay in their troughs.”
He hurried out, leaving me alone in the building’s growing
darkness with only whimpering animals. I found our horse,
Dallas, and began stroking his mane. He was snorting, pawing,
and shaking as bad as Momma, sensing some kind of evil blowing
in that howling wind.
Daddy stuck his head back in, “Hurry, it ain’t safe. Let’s git.”
Hunkered down, we ran by our outbuildings, stopping only to
bolt the smokehouse and adjacent kitchen.
I cowered under the walkway that connected our kitchen and
house, holding onto a post. With my other hand, I covered my
head as debris whizzed by.
A flying object struck Daddy square in the back, causing
him to stumble. He turned and shouted, “Whoa! Let’s go.”
Scampering onto the porch, I heard the first tree crash, causing
both the house and my heart to shudder.
As we went through the door, my dog, Bo, brushed straight
past me and hunkered down under the table with my mother and
sister, Colleen. Momma, who was in the family way, squatted on
the dirt floor, still fiddling with the flickering lantern.
“There ain’t no use fooling with that thing,” Daddy said,
“There’s too much wind blowing through the cracks for it to stay
Holding out the cypress shingle that’d struck him in the back,
he knelt by Momma. Frowning and rubbing the whelp on his
back, he whispered, “It’s real bad out there.”
“Honey, are—are you all right?” she asked.
Before he could answer, another crashing tree jarred our
house and Colleen cried, “Daddy, wh—what’s happening? Is
this the war?” Colleen, half my age, had a fear that the ongoing
War Between the States was coming to kill us. The noise
outside assured her that its cannons had finally reached Western
Another crashing tree, this one even closer, caused her to
scream, “It’s a big gun.”
“No, Child, that was a tree falling.” Momma said as she
watched Daddy at the window peering out. I was watching him
too, and knew one thing for sure, my father would get us through
“Eliza, kids, listen to me,” Daddy said in a steady voice. With
the howling wind outside, we had to lean in real close, but when
he spoke, his words seemed to drown out the storm. “Now, this
has gotta be a hurricane. I don’t know how long it’ll last, but we’re
gonna be all right ‘cause we’re together. We’ll trust the Lord to
get us through. This may’ve caught us flat-footed, but we’ll get
through it together.”
We’ll get through it together. That was all I wanted to hear,
and it was what I needed to hear: Together.
“Daddy, are we gonna blow away?” Colleen asked. I glanced
up at our creaking roof, wondering the same thing.
Before he could answer, Momma pulled my sister closer,
“Baby, this house was built ‘horse high, bull tough, and pig tight,’
by your daddy and it’ll stand up to anything any storm throws at
Colleen nervously burst out giggling at Momma’s saying,
causing us all to laugh in spite of our fear. However, our smiles
soon faded as the storm intensified and the rafters lifted and
shuddered with every strong gust.
“I feel—I feel so helpless,” Momma said, holding Colleen
Daddy repeated, “We will get through this. Together, we can
At that moment, I hoped he was right.
Sitting under the table as the wind howled, it was hard to
believe this day had started so quietly. Looking back over it, we’d
missed several signs—omens of the approaching storm.
The coming storm’s first clue had occurred earlier that
morning when Daddy had met me at the barn for chores. “Listen,
“It’s too quiet—even the crickets have stopped chirping.”
Daddy was almost whispering.
Later, as daylight appeared, he’d nodded toward the rising sun
before saying, Chomh deargle le fuil.
“What?” I asked.
“It’s Irish for ‘Red as blood.’ Look at the sun—where I grew
up along the Irish coast, the sailors always said, ‘Red sun at night,
sailor’s delight. Red sun at mornin’, sailor take warnin’.”
Shrugging his shoulders, he sniffed the air and added, “Air
even smells funny. Gives me the doggone willies.”
As we’d returned to the house for breakfast, I’d noticed Bo
under the steps and called him out. He wouldn’t budge, even
when I whistled and hollered, “Hunt ‘em up, Bo.”
Another omen missed.
By midday, the morning’s clear weather was long gone—
replaced by dark clouds rolling northward on a gusty wind.
Darkness came early, seemingly snuffed out by the rising wind,
which began driving the rain through the cracks in the walls.
So, less than twelve hours after a clear sunrise and promising
day, we were huddled under the table as our whole lives were
being blown away.
From time to time, Daddy crawled out and peered out the
window. Flashes of lightning lit the worry on his face as he
whispered, “Well, this ain’t my first storm.”
I knew he was right. He’d come to Louisiana fourteen years
ago as a lonely teenager at the end of a long journey, from another
land of storms—Ireland.
Here in this area called “No Man’s Land,” he’d grown into a
man, met and married my part-Indian mother, and made these
piney woods his home. He even named the hill where he built
our house “Westport” after his hometown in Ireland, laughingly
saying, “This spot’s the closest thing I’ve seen to a mountain in
Daddy loved Louisiana’s clear creeks, tall trees, and the
freedom it offered—and, until the day he died, referred to it as “a
good place to be.”
Watching him made me wonder if he thought of it as a good
place at this moment. Another crash outside jolted the whole
house, prompting Momma’s warning, “Joe Moore, get back under
He hadn’t been back under the table ten seconds, when a
huge oak tree smashed through the cabin wall right where he’d
stood. As wood splintered and contents of the shelves crashed to
the floor, we hunkered tighter under the table.
“Lord, have mercy! It’s the end of the world,” Momma said.
Reaching out in the dark, I grasped onto a dripping wet limb,
thinking It may not be the end of the world, but it’s sure gonna
be a long night.
Sunday, April 26, 2009
Chapter by Chapter Commentary
A Good Place begins with a hurricane.
My experience with riding out Hurricane Rita in September 2005 led to the writing of this chapter. I was in charge of a camp full of 300 evacuees on the night Rita moved in from the Gulf. Even though Dry Creek is nearly 100 miles inland, the storm was fierce. Just like Mayo and his family, the storm during the night only seemed to intensify the feeling of dread and destruction.
This "Landmark Pine" on the Longville Gravel Pit road lost limbs during Hurricane Rita but still stands tall and proud. It is symbolic of the family strength of the Moore family during the hurricane and in the hard days and years that followed.
I'll never forget driving through our community the next morning and viewing the destruction: leaves and debris piled on the roads, downed trees and power lines everywhere. It is still something that folks in our neck of the woods discuss often. A true life changing event.
I thought about the surprise of a hurricane in the 19th century. No way to know that the first raindrops and wind are part of a destructive storm moving inland.
Two surprise storms have always intrigued me. The Galveston Texas storm of 1900 killed over 6000 people on the island. The legend tells of a doctor who drove up and down the crowded beaches in his carriage, warning of a coming storm. (He had a barometer and knew from the steady drop in air pressure that a storm was afoot.)
In 1918 a surprise storm blew in over SW Louisiana taking probably the same path as our fictitious 1852 storm does in A Good Place. The 1918 storm destroyed Lake Charles as well as a nearby Army Air Base. Dry Creek historian Frank Miller related of the miles of virgin longleaf pine laid flat by the hurricane. (This was the decade before all of the pines were cut in the timber boom that changed the face of our area.)
Even though it wasn't a total surprise, Hurricane Audry (June 1957) intensified quickly and sped up as it came ashore, trapping thousands of people in Cameron Parish, south of Lake Charles. Hundreds died and it still affects the psyche of folks in South Louisiana. I have many friends whose families lost loved ones in Audry.
I was one year old when Audry hit and my mother evacuated (with me) to Shreveport. Daddy stayed in Dry Creek and rode it out at the Old House. He said the eye of the storm came over that day and the skies cleared before the storm resumed. That's where I get the part of Chapter 1 where the storm calms before catching Mayo in the open.
The Old House, built in 1892, has been through all of the storms mentioned above. The log room shifted during Audry and this resulted in the floor being slanted to this day.
The Old House in Dry Creek circa 1892. It's where I write and dream and is the most precious piece of real estate on earth for me. Built by my great great grandparents when they homesteaded this land, it still belongs to our family. One of my joys is showing readers around this special house. You're welcome to a tour if you're in the Dry Creek area.
The log room in Chapter 1 of A Good Place is patterned after the log chimney room shown in the picture..
The fun of writing fiction is taking true stories and weaving them into a narrative. It's what I do and what I enjoy.
Did a hurricane really occur in 1862?
To my knowledge and research, there is no record of an actual storm in August 1862. Newspaper records from that time are very sketchy, especially about western Louisiana which was still literally a "No Man's Land."
Thoughts on historical accuracy- In writing historical fiction, I strive to be accurate and relevant. This doesn't mean that every event happened when mentioned. It means that it could have and if it did, this is how it would have been.
I will confess to one part of the hurricane that is inaccurate (on purpose) It's lightning. In spite of the ferocity of hurricanes, they don't feature lightning and thunder. I have studied this as well as experienced it. (Rita, Gustav, and Ike are all recent storms that affected our area. None had lightning or thunder.)
However, for the dramatic effect of the storm hitting Ten Mile Community at night, I included lightning. The main sound I recall from Rita was the sound and crash of trees falling. It is a a feeling not easily forgotten!
I tried to blend the thunder of the storm, crashing of the trees, howling of the wind, and imagery of distant cannons of war into an audio setting to carry the reader into that one room log cabin under the table with Joe and Eliza, Mayo, Colleen, and a dog named Bo.
Your comments on chapter one and the storm are welcome.
Saturday, April 25, 2009
Readers: How you can help.
Part of the joy of writing is working with friends and readers to improve our stories.
I need your help on the name of one character.
Curt Iles' new novel, A Good Place, follows the story of Joe and Eliza Moore. Moving ahead ten years from their story in The Wayfaring Stranger, the new novel tells of the Moore family's challenges during the difficult Civil War years.
Set in Louisiana's No Man's Land, A Good Place, is narrated by Mayo Moore, oldest child of the couple.
The theme of the book is simple yet timely: Families stick together through the storms.
Coming soon: You'll be able to view the video book trailer for A Good Place.
To read sample chapters, scroll down.
As in all of Curt's novels, he has collected a sound track of the songs that influenced the writing of this book.
The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
Lakes of Ponchartrain http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OKOLgenOHF0&feature=related
Let Nature Sing
Title: A Good Place
Sub-title: Louisiana Journey Series
Trade Paperback 85,000 words
Back cover copy:
Families stick together,
survive the storms,
and come out stronger.
Mayo Moore is familiar with storms. Whether it is a devastating
he has seen trouble and storms up close.
In this coming of age story, Mayo, now an old man, recounts
his twelfth year of life when a series of storms swept through western
with a load of logs down the flooded
a deadly encounter with Jayhawkers, Mayo’s stories are spellbinding.
However, behind the retelling of these adventures are stories of the
heart—lessons that can only be learned through difficulty, sorrow,
destruction, and loss.
The real storm in Mayo’s young life is the American Civil War.
Viewed only as a “rich man’s war” by the piney woods settlers,
the Union invasion of western
the settlers and threatens to tear apart their world and family.
Through the inspiration of his parents, the Irishman Joe Moore
and his Indian wife Eliza, Mayo learns of the strength found in
family, faith, and the woods.
In the warm and humorous story-telling style loved by his readers,
author Curt Iles takes readers into Mayo Moore’s world—into this
good place to be—the wild and untamed piney woods of
No Man’s Land.
If you have any ideas for the front cover, send an e-mail.
Tentative release date: Fall 2009 or beyond
To learn more: Stay tuned to www.creekbank.net
A Good Place
by Curt Iles
“Now I don’t mind choppin’ wood,
And I don’t care that the money’s no good.
You take what you need and leave the rest,
But they should never have taken the very best.”
“The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.”
When Daddy shoved me under our kitchen table, I knew this wasn’t just any storm—it had to be a hurricane.
As the crow flies, our Louisiana log cabin was about a hundred miles from the Gulf of Mexico. When this day quietly began, we had no idea a hurricane was churning ashore. However, here we were, less than twelve hours later, riding it out under the table in the dark.
Watching Momma vainly trying to keep the lantern lit, a knot of fear as big as a turnip grew in my stomach, and when I swallowed, it lodged in my throat.
Giving up on the lantern, she turned to Daddy. “This ain’t no normal August thunderstorm. Do you think . . .?”
It was as if she couldn’t—or wouldn’t—say the word. In her eyes was something I’d never seen—a look of raw fear. Her trembling hand on my knee reinforced the depth of this fear. Momma’s obvious alarm moved Daddy into action as he said, “This has got to be a hurricane.” Crawling from under the table, he said to her, “Eliza, get the windows covered best you can.” Then he grabbed me, “Mayo, come with me, and we’ll get the animals in.”
On that August day in 1862, I was only twelve and didn’t have enough sense to realize the danger outside, so I eagerly joined him, ready to venture out into the storm.
As soon as we cleared the lee of the house, the wind whipped us, tearing Daddy’s hat right off his head. He didn’t even look back, but ran on toward the barn, the lightning outlining his silhouette with each strike. Reaching the building, he pushed me inside. “Pen the animals. Put hay in their troughs.”
He hurried out, leaving me in the building’s darkness with only the whimpering animals. I tried calming them—something I’m normally good at—but it was futile. I found our horse, Dallas, and stroked his mane. He was shaking just like Momma, maybe like me, sensing something evil was blowing in the wind.
Daddy stuck his head in, “Hurry, it ain’t safe. Let’s git.” Hunkered down, we ran by our outbuildings, stopping only to bolt the smokehouse and the adjacent kitchen.
I stood under the covered walkway that connected our kitchen and house, holding onto a post. With my other hand, I covered my head as debris whizzed by.
A flying object hit Daddy square in the back. He stumbled before turning to me. “Whoa. Let’s go.” Scampering onto the porch, I heard the first tree fall, shaking both the house and my heart.
As we went through the door, my leopard cur dog, Bo, brushed past and went straight under the table with my mother and sister. Momma, who was in the family way, squatted on the dirt floor, still fiddling with the lantern.
“There ain’t no use fooling with that.” Daddy said. “There’s too much wind blowing through the cracks for it to stay lit.”
Holding out the cypress shingle that’d struck him in the back, he knelt by Momma. Grimacing and rubbing his back, he handed it to her. “It’s bad out there.”
I glanced up at our roof, wondering if it’d hold together.
“Honey, are—are you all right?” She asked.
Before he could answer, another crashing tree jarred our house and my younger sister Colleen cried, “Daddy, wh—what’s happening? Is this the war?”
Colleen, half my age, had an ongoing fear that the War Between the States would come and kill us all. From the stories she’d heard, she was sure its cannons had finally reached our area of western Louisiana.
Another crashing tree, this one even closer, caused her to scream. “It’s a big gun.”
“No, child that was a tree falling.” Momma said as she turned to watch Daddy, who was at the window peering out. My eyes were on him too, and I knew one thing: my father would get us through this.
“Eliza, kids, listen to me.”
With the shrieking wind and flying objects striking the house, we leaned closer, our ears and hearts focused on him.
When Daddy spoke, his voice drowned out all of those noises. “Now, this has gotta be a hurricane. I don’t know how long it’ll last, but we’re gonna be all right 'cause we’re together. We’ll trust the Lord to get us through this. This may’ve caught us flat-footed, but we’ll git through it together.”
We’ll get through it together. That was all I needed to hear.
“Daddy, is our house gonna blow away?” Colleen asked.
Before he could answer, Momma pulled my sister into her arms, “Baby, this house was built ‘horse high, bull tough, and pig tight,’ by your daddy, and will stand up to anything any storm throws at it.”
Colleen nervously burst out giggling at Momma’s saying, and that caused us all to laugh in spite of our predicament.
However, Momma’s smile soon faltered and faded as the storm continued. “I feel—I feel so helpless.” She pulled Colleen closer to her and they both began crying.
Daddy repeated. “We’ll get through this together. Together, we can do it.”
And I knew he was right. .
Sitting under the table as the wind roared, it was hard to believe this day had started so quietly.
Looking back over it, we missed several obvious omens.
It began early that morning when Daddy met me at the barn and said, “Listen.”
“It’s too quiet. Not even the crickets are chirping.”
Later as daylight appeared, he nodded toward the rising sun. “Chomh deargle le fuil: Red as blood. Look at it—where I grew up along the Irish coast, the sailors said, ‘Red sun at night—sailor’s delight. Red sun at mornin’—sailor take warnin.’”
Shrugging his shoulders as he sniffed the air, he added, “It even smells funny. Gives me the doggone willies.”
As we returned to the house for breakfast, I’d noticed Bo under the steps. He wouldn’t come out even when I whistled and hollered, “Hunt ‘em up, Bo.”
By midday, the morning’s clear weather was long gone—replaced by dark clouds rushing northward, followed by bands of wind-driven rain. Darkness came early, and then the storm really cut loose, driving the rain through the cracks around the door and in the walls.
Here we were, after a clear sunrise and promising day, four of us huddled under the table with a terrified dog, all fearful that our whole life was being blown away.
From time to time, Daddy crawled out and checked at the window. Watching him there, the flashes of lightning revealed the lines of worry on his face.
Daddy had come to Louisiana’s “No Man’s Land,” fourteen years ago as a lonely Irish teenager. Here he’d met and married my mother, who was part Indian, and made these piney woods his home. He loved its clear creeks, tall trees, and the freedom it offered—and ‘til the day he died, called it “A good place to be.”
Watching him, I wondered, I doubt if he thinks of it as a good place right now. Another crash outside jolted the house and he said, “Hey. There went another tree.”
“Joe, get back under here with us.” Momma said and he obeyed, scampering back under.
It wasn’t ten seconds later that a huge tree smashed through the cabin wall. As wood splintered and contents of the shelves crashed to the floor, we hunkered down together under the table.
“Lord, have mercy. It’s the end of the world.” Momma said.
Reaching out in the dark, I grasped a tree limb, and thought, It may not be the end of the world, but it’s gonna be a long night.
We'll be adding chapters and sections as time goes on. Your comments and input are always welcome.