Author Janis Owens, known for her bestselling cookbook Cracker Kitchen and a new novel American Ghost stood behind the podium at the Flagler Palm Coast Library to introduce Flagler Reads Together 2015 before a good-sized audience on March 7, 2015. The book the community will read is American Ghost. What an excellent choice! This book has humor, mystery, history and romance told in a rollicking page-turning style. It is a story immersed in the folklore of North Florida. I was on the edge of my seat and most of the audience looked equally interested in what Ms. Owens had to say.
As an experienced speaker with solid North Florida credentials in living (born in Mariana and raised in Ocala) and writing, she kicked off the event in fine style. She told us she had always been a lover of books and reading. She discussed the background story of her book and some of the challenges faced in researching and writing this story.
She reminded us of how writers often write what they don’t understand, searching the truth, trying to figure things out. She had known something of horrific past crimes in Florida, traumatizing her own community and others. Secrets swirled around these crimes. Some might describe life in parts of the South as continuing guerilla warfare from the end of the Civil War until 1965 as people fought over power.
Ms. Owens undertook research into the local history of different events and considered themes that would become part of her novel. She developed a deeper understand of how tightly a community often keeps its secrets. She listened to people’s stories, when they would talk, and poked into sources. It was not an easy journey. There is a history written in books and history erased from record books, or never entered, a ghost history, if you will. Family ties are tight. Memories purposely fade. The story of how this novel came to be with varied ethnicities, plot strands and characters was intensely interesting to those of us in her audience.
She talked too about her book Cracker Kitchen, full of recipes and stories about Florida. It honors her mother and the local culture. This was a more acceptable subject in her family and community than digging around in the history and trauma of past lynchings and other deeds of violence. After the publication of this book, some relatives and neighbors became a bit more open in talking to her about life in an isolated North Florida community. She describes the cracker culture as the idea “you can’t do enough for people.”
She was raised by parents very much a part of that culture. Her mother was a lover of books and reading. One thing she and I have in common is the fact our mothers did not censor our reading. Though her mother suffered from depression at times, she was happy in the library among the books. That’s a trait I share with her mother. Ms. Owens knows how to connect with her audience.
This successful event featured friendly greetings from Friends of the Library members and beautiful refreshments. The pleasant atmosphere of the library, adequate seating and friendly faces created a welcoming event for all who attended.
Ms Owens signed and sold books and talked graciously with her readers. I so enjoyed meeting her. I’m an unqualified fan. I could listen to her for hours and was impressed with how she answered readers’ questions about her books and about writing books.
Learn more about Ms. Owens and her writing at her website. www.janisowens.com
See a review of American Ghost on this blog posted on the home page on February 17 under the title Florida Adventures. I’m grateful that Ms. Owens and her books have been part of my 2015 Florida Adventures.