HAMMOND — The Hammond Regional Arts Center focused its spotlight on 18 south Louisiana authors who have published books in a variety of genres recently at its third annual Celebration of the Written Word Literary Festival.
Principal presenters at the March 12 event were Erica Spindler, of Mandeville, whose novels have made the New York Times Bestseller List, and Louisiana’s Poet Laureate Peter Cooley, of New Orleans. Spindler delivered her remarks at the opening session of the festival; Cooley was the featured speaker at the day’s concluding session.
Cooley, professor of English and creative writing at Tulane University for more than 40 years, has published 10 books of poetry in his long writing career. His poems also have appeared in The New Yorker magazine, the Atlantic, Poetry and in other literary periodicals.
Describing how his craft developed as he moved from Minnesota to New Orleans, he said his early works, written “up North,” were cold and hard, reflecting the environment in which he was writing. “When I arrived in New Orleans, I learned that I couldn’t write poetry anymore. The heat, the bugs but, above all, the happy, laughing, smiling people were a brand-new experience,” Cooley said.
He again found his muse, Cooley said, when he decided to start writing about the bugs and bamboo he found in his New Orleans backyard.
Among his many published books are “A Place Made of Starlight,” “The Astonished Hour,” “Devine Markings” and “Night Season.”
Another book, “Night Bus to the Afterlife,” distributed by University Press of New England, is his response to Hurricane Katrina.
Even though his family’s home was largely spared, Cooley said, the destruction of his adopted city was an indescribable catastrophe. “There is no way to adequately describe Katrina’s effect on New Orleans. ... I could only turn to poetry to try and explain this tragedy. How do you describe a great city that all of a sudden is silent. There were no birds, no roaches, no rats, no feral cats, no squirrels after Katrina,” he said.
Cooley said he makes himself write something every day to keep his creative instincts alive. “For the artist, the quest for creativity is never over. … I’m still searching; I’m still looking.”
Spindler said her love of words began at an early age. “I was the kid who stayed inside and read books instead of going outside to play. … I’d sneak a flashlight under the blanket to keep reading at night. I read the ‘Amityville Horror’ in high school and knew that I wanted to be a writer. It was a long journey, but I finally saw my work in print,” she said.
Spindler said her first novel, which was rejected by a publisher, “was just awful. … It’s buried in a drawer. Writing successfully is tough. … I didn’t get a book published until my third try,” she added.
Her professional life began as a graphic artist, and she taught parttime at Southeastern Louisiana University for several years.
By chance, she was given a free copy of a romance novel, something she had never read before. “I was hooked! I wound up writing 13 romance novels,” she said.
She began writing suspense novels, a pursuit she still continues. “Things that scare me, inspire me. I grew up a ‘girlie girl,’ and now I am writing about violence, blood and grit. … So I had to learn about those things to write about them. We think everyone is just like us, but it’s not true. ... Everyone has their own moral compass, and there are wolves in sheep clothes out there, and that’s what I like to write about,” she said.
Spindler said print media is still strong and healthy despite the trend of electronic devices becoming part of the publishing landscape. “It’s a great time to be an aspiring author. There’s a lot of freedom in publishing now, and that bodes well for the future,” she said.
Her latest books, which were available for sale and her personal signing, were “The First Wife,” set in the horse country of Folsom, and “The Final Seven,” a book in her Lightkeepers Series set in New Orleans.
Other writers making presentations were: Deborah Burst, Kurt Amaker, Pamela Cali Bankston, Barry Bradford, Mary Katherine Callaway, Lyn Gibson, Barry Hebert, Eric W. Johnson, Howard Nichols, Matthew Sigur, Randolph Thomas, Cathy H. Tijerino, Kim Vaz-Deville, Katie Wainwright, Kent Wascom and Wendy Duhe Woods.