Chris Fontenot signs a copy of one of his recent books at the Library Fest held on the grounds of the main branch of the Evangeline Parish Library in Ville Platte. (Gazette photo by Nancy Duplechain)
Putting pen to paper
The Evangeline Parish Library held its Library Fest on Saturday, November 7, on the grounds of the main branch in Ville Platte. The event featured three state grant-funded performers who delighted kids and adults alike: Storyteller Sylvia Davis, Magician Mitch Richard and Musician/Storyteller Brian Sivils. These performers were supported by a grant from the Louisiana Division of the Arts, Office of Cultural Development, Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism in cooperation with the Louisiana State Arts Council as administered by the Acadiana Center for the Arts.
Special features included Antique appraiser Michael Wynn, Vitalant (United Blood Services) for blood donors, a treat from the Louisiana Seafood Marketing and Promotion commission through the office of the Lt. Governor Nungesser, and KVPI was live from 10 a.m. – noon. Participants were Authors - Debbie Lawson, Chris Fontenot, Rhonda LeJeune, Bill Sumrall, Larry Jorgensen and Jessica West. Cooks - T’Nay Arvie and Cafe Evangeline. Crafters and Vendors - Pat Fontenot, Toni Lowrey, Evangeline Arts Council, P.J.’s Crafts by Lisa Roberie, Mary Anne Shakesnider, Sharon Lowrey, Montez Estes, Anding Honey Products, Ginni’s General Store, Rural African American Museum, Catholic Daughters, Total Outlook Hair Salon and Cazan Crime Fighters.
One of the authors, Chris Fontenot, has released the latest story in his saga chronicling the history of an Acadian Prairie family. The author recently sat down with the Ville Platte Gazette for a question-and-answer interview to explore his new book and give a sneak peek at his new science fiction series Haven.
Q. What’s the latest novel The Acadian Prairie: Octave about?
A. Octave concerns another member of the Dupré family living in the area south of Chataignier. Technically, it should be two stories, since the first half describes the coming of age of the main characters, Octave and Avalon, and happens around the year 1901. The second half of the novel occurs in the years 1916 through the fall of 1920. In the first half we find Octave and Avalon, friends since they had been children, struggling with their desire to wed, but are caught up in the feud with two other families on the Prairie. Some of that story was told in Amelie. The second half, fifteen years after their marriage, we find them struggling with the harsh realities of life and concludes with the aftermath of the Great Dancehall Fire of 1919. The theme that carries through, although originally intended to be the great love between the two main characters, was the darker theme of revenge. Four characters, initially introduced in the previous novel, Amelie have unresolved issues and are compelled to return to those earlier complaints.
Q. Why did you chose to jump fifteen years halfway through the story?
A. After teaching nearly 40 years, mostly American History, I couldn’t help including the great events as a backdrop for my stories. One of the characters in Theodule goes off to Texas to get land to bring his new wife but instead finds himself in the Texas Revolt serving under Sam Houston. Later, I could not tell a story of farmers and cattlemen in the area of Chataignier and not include some mention to the Vigilante-Anti-Vigilante War of 1959 and the effects of the Civil War on the Acadian Prairie. Maius had to include the sad shift toward Jim Crow in the Prairie. But to be able to include the more powerful moments in our history, I had to jump ten or fifteen years and keep the focus on the most important periods of my characters’ lives. I jumped from the crisis that nearly ended Octave’s life months before he married Avalon to the point in 1916 when the Lee brothers and George Pitre returned from prison and began their efforts to get revenge on the people who sent them there. The years between, which would have made a fascinating story had I decided to go there, simply had nothing to do with the theme of revenge that surrounded the Lees, Pitres, and the main characters Octave and Avalon.
Q. Is there any truth to any of the events you describe in Octave” or is it entirely fictional?
A. The main characters are all fictional, of course, though I did manage to weave into the plot some of the lesser events that actually happened at the time. Family lore manages to pop in here and there. As to the events in Ville Platte, most of the older buildings that were characteristic of the town are there, although the names have been changed. The Buller Building, which housed the dancehall, was the actual name of the building. The restaurant on the ground floor, Martin’s Restaurant, was where the fire began that night. As described in the story, it was a fuel oil explosion in the kitchen. There was a cinema in the center of the building on the first floor and Ludeau’s Dress Shop was on the other side of the cinema. The other landmark buildings, the Opera House, and several other buildings were real, though perhaps named differently.
Some of the names of people who played a heroic part in the chaos of that night I kept: the doctor who prevented panic in the cinema and got everyone to leave quietly; the city marshal who tried to save those in the stairwell and who eventually thought to hack through the side wall to help most of the dancers escape were mentioned by name. The numbers upstairs varied from one article to the next, but it was likely that more than 70 people were saved while 28, some as young as 14 years old, died there that night or succumbed at home from their injuries. Sadly, it was true that had the dancers simply gone out of the windows onto the overhang roof and jumped to the ground, they could have all been saved.
Q. So, that was your fourth Acadian Prairie novel. What is next?
A. Book five, Joel has already been written and awaits only a final fact check, particularly the events that occur when he is in Parris Island as a Marine Corps recruit. Joel, the son of Octave and the fourth generation Dupré in the saga, picks up the story from around 1930 and takes it to about 1960. I track the main characters through the Great Depression and World War II. Several of the characters serve in the military during the war. By the end of “Joel,” all the main characters of my original story (“Class of 69,” written 10 years ago) are now in place. The “Class of ’69,” follows the children (generation 5) as they attend a parochial school in Ville Platte through their 4 years of high school and includes the events (a few fictional, but most of them the actual events) of those years between the fall of 1965 and the spring of 1970.
When I get the last Acadian Prairie volume finished I will start on the “Class of 69” and that will begin the Pointe aux Pain Series that follows my main characters through high school, Junior college, LSU, and half a dozen stories set in the Baton Rouge area before getting everyone home to the Prairie again. Who knows? Maybe I will be ready to start a new Joe Dupré series as he begins his life teaching in the old high school from which he graduated.
Q. It has been said writing is the easy part, and editing is where the real writing begins. Do you find that to be true?
A. The writing is the fun part. All of my stories came quickly. Some took a few weeks, others more like a month-and-a- half. That was just the rough draft stage. The editing lasted for weeks more. Editing is worse than a toothache and I always miss something (thus the constant re-reading and revising — a tooth canal!).
Q. Can you tell us about your science fiction series?
A. After the publication of the first of my sci-fi series using KDP: Haven-The Purpose, I have continued to develop that story line. The Purpose describes events that occur in the spring and summer of 1912 in the community named Haven. The next several novels in the series are in their rough draft form and after a little polishing, and settling on appropriate cover art, Planning Heaven, Building Heaven, and Paradise Saved will be published. This series concerns efforts in the future after political weakness and catastrophic disasters allow religious fanaticism (think ISIS and Al Qaeda) to gain control of most of the world and manage to massacre more than half of the world’s population. There is a brief touch of time travel and some cool new “toys” to help small groups survive in the last enclaves of free people on Earth. The original story was to have been a trilogy, but then became four, then five, and now has grown to eleven completed stories and at least one more on the way.