Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Terri Dunham: The Legend of Papa Noel
"Around the world, Santa Claus has many names, but in the deep, swampy bayou of Louisiana, he's known as Papa Noel. In such a hot and humid place, there can be no sleds or reindeer, so Papa Noel rides the river in a pirogue that's pulled by eight alligators with a snowy white one named Nicollette in the lead. On this particular Christmas Eve, it's so foggy on the river that even Nicollette's magical glowing green eyes may not be enough to guide Papa Noel. The alligators are tired, grumpy and bruised from banging into cypress trees, and Papa is desperate to get all the gifts to the little children. Well, "quicker than a snake shimmies down the river," the clever Cajun people come up with a solution that saves the day."
The Legend of Papa Noel: A Cajun Christmas Story by Terri Dunham is a children's book that offers "a lesson in fast thinking, as well as a witty introduction to a part of America that's rich in folklore and legend."
A native of Baton Rouge, Terri continues to live in the Greenwell Springs area. While her first book was published at the age of fifty, her first memories included making up stories even before being able to write. Since the second grade, she's written poems but didn't pen her first story until a fifth grade class assignment.
"It was Halloween and my teacher, Ms. Barbara Vernon, assigned us to write a Halloween story. I'd never written a story before, and not realizing that I'd been making up stories all that time but just never written them down, I thought I couldn't do it. I gave it a try, and the words just flowed. I don't remember the whole story, but it was about two witches. For some reason, they got into a fight and started throwing pumpkins, which they were carving, at each other. Later that day, the teacher said she wanted to read the story she liked best, and she read mine, of course without saying who wrote it. My face must have turned beet red, because it felt like it was on fire. After that, I knew I could write stories. Thank you, Mrs. Vernon. I've always wanted to thank her for showing me that I had some writing chops."
Terri's Cajun heritage (from her mother's side) definitely influenced many of her stories. "Our unique culture and our beautiful state are great backdrops in many books and movies. Why wouldn't I want to write about such a wonderful place?
While it took seventeen years before The Legend of Papa Noel was published, many of Terri's essays, poetry and book reviews have appeared in newspapers and magazine (local and national) for around twenty-five years. She doesn't adhere to any writing rituals, admitting that her best writing is done in her pj's. Seeing herself as a "pantser" (writer's who write off the top of their head versus plotting it out), she does admit that most of the time she usually has "the skeleton of the story" in her head before she starts the actual writing. When writer's block attacks her, she sets the story aside and works on mundane tasks like doing the dishes or weeding the garden. Sometimes, she'll discuss the problem with one of her writer friends.
"I belong to a great critique group, which is immensely helpful. Once a month, each member of my critique group emails the picture book or chapter of a middle grade or Young Adult which they are currently working on, to the rest of the members. Each member then prints the stories and chapters and critiques them. Then we get together a week later, over a brown bag lunch, and take turns reading our stories or chapters aloud, getting feedback from the other members. I've been a member of this critique group for several years."
Her advise to other aspiring authors - "If you put your heart and soul into your writing, success will follow." Terri belongs to the SCBWI (The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, www.scbwi.org), a national group with local chapters
( http://members.cox.net/scbwi-no/ ) encompassing all of Louisiana and includes a few members from Hattiesburg, Mississippi. "Joining the SCBWI is one of the best things I've done to further my career as a children's book author."
Terri's favorites include Dr. Seuss' books. "They are so much fun to read that children don't realize there's a message." She cherishes The Cat in the Hat, Charlie and the Chocolate Factor and Because of Winn Dixie. Her favorite adult book is The Bean Trees and Pigs in Heaven by Barbara Kingsolver.
Other favorites: the original Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, Because of Winn Dixie, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, Romancing the Stone, and Drop Dead Fred. The music she enjoys is mellow, like Norah Jones, but when the mood decrees, she will listen to more upbeat songs. "My taste in music is eclectic - Rock, R&B, classical ... of course, being a teen in the seventies, I'm drawn to the music of that time period." Her hobbies include gardening, painting, cross stitching, drawing, crocheting and reading, of course!
The Legend of Papa Noel is available at many online retailers as well as at Borders, Barnes and Nobles, and the Cavalier House Books in Denham Springs. Terri also has a few book signings:
12/4/10 (Saturday) The Little Toy Shop, 513 St. Ann St., New Orleans (French Quarter) (time TBA on Terri's website at www.terrisbooks.com )
12/11/10 (Saturday ) Barnes and Noble in Mandeville - story time and book signing at 1 pm
12/17/10 (Friday) Barnes and Noble on Bluebonnet - story time and book signing at 6:30 pm
12/18/10 (Saturday) Barnes and Noble on Citiplace - story time and book signing at 2:00 pm
Stay tuned to the Events tab on her website ( www.terrisbooks.com) for more events.
Feel free to contact Josephine with any questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website at www.josephinetempleton.com .