Tag Archives: Janis Owens

JANIS OWENS TALKS ABOUT AMERICAN GHOST AND WRITING

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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.

Janis Owens feels what she says.

Janis Owens feels what she says.

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.

Thank you Friends of the Flagler Library.

Thank you Friends of the Flagler Library.

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.

The gracious author with one of her fans.

The gracious author with one of her fans.

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.

FLORIDA ADVENTURES

American Ghost: A Novel
Author: Janis Owens
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Scribner
Paperback Edition: 278 pages
Source: Personal Copy

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Ms. Owens authentic tale plunges the reader into mystery, romance, local violence and cultural lessons in a fictional Florida community. The author’s Florida roots show. Blessed with an ear for dialect and dialogue, she is a born story-teller.

Her compelling story tells of a young woman in love with her home territory and at war with it, hoping to escape it, and not sure that is possible. When Jolie Hoyt falls for a visiting anthropology student Sam Lense, who is digging into a long ago murder and hanging as well as ethnic and tribal connections, factions of this isolated community in the interior of the West Panhandle near the Apalachicola River erupt in surprising violence.

Over time fantastic events unfold in an exciting and believable sequence. Ms. Owens knows her territory. She is a small-town West Florida local. She juggles the intricate connections of small town life with the outside world like a pro. Plot, language, characterizations and southern history come together and create an excellent and exciting read.

Jolie Hoyt is a loveable and gutsy heroine. If you like stories about family and community with the added excitement of love and mystery, this is a must read. I haven’t enjoyed a book this much in quite a while. I, too, was raised in a small town.

And, as Ms. Owens’ fellow author Bernie Schein said recently when he and Ms. Owens appeared alongside Pat Conroy at the Florida Heritage Book Festival in St. Augustine: “there are no secrets in small towns and then again there are. Everyone knows everything and there are some things only a few really know.” (something to that effect, anyway.) Few communities these days are as isolated as the one in Ms. Owens story, but they do exist and are part of the fabric of the South as well as other areas of the country.

If the background of this story grabs you as it did me, there are interesting extras in the paperback edition. These include: A Reading Group Guide, An Author’s Note about the story behind American Ghost, and southern recipes from the author’s cookbook, The Cracker Kitchen. Visit the author’s website at www.janisowens.com I love her blog. I hope to meet her in person at the Flagler Reads Together Kick-off on March 7 at the Flagler Library in Palm Coast.

I call the book an amazing read: mystery, history, romance and a bit of sociology thrown in to spice it up. But not for a moment, does this story ever slow down. Even after the reader has finished the last page, these characters and their home places continue to run through the readers consciousness.

Apalachicola Forest

Apalachicola Forest

FOUR AUTHORS BRING THOUGHTS ON SOUTHERN LITERATURE TO THE FLORIDA HERITAGE BOOK FESTIVAL

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Readers packed Lewis Auditorium at Flagler College in St. Augustine this week to hear well-known author Pat Conroy along with Janis Owens, Bernie Schein, and Mark Powell. There were plenty of laughs as well as insights into the world of writing and publishing at this event sponsored by The Florida Heritage Book Festival.

Conroy is an accomplished storyteller whether writing a novel or relating an anecdote to a live audience. His most recent book is The Death of Santini: A Story of A Father and His Son. He’s proud to be known as a southern author, and in his work he unites people and place in a unique way.

Not long ago he was named editor-at-large with Story River Books, an imprint of South Carolina Press. This strengthens the university press commitment to publishing outstanding regional fiction. Conroy mentors and spotlights emerging writers. Learn more at www.sc.edu/uscpress/microsites/storyriver.

Three authors of note, friends and colleagues of Conroy, shared the stage with him.

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Janis Owens is the author of the popular book The Cracker Kitchen: a Cookbook in Celebration of Cornbread-Fed, Down Home Family Stories and Cuisine. She also talked about her book American Ghost: A Novel. She lives in Newberry, Florida and knows small-town life, Alachua County and the Panhandle. I can’t wait to read these two books because of the excitement of her story and her pride in her home place.

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Bernie Schein is a long time friend of Conroy. Both had early life experiences in South Carolina. Bernie’s remarks on small-town life were illuminating and funny. He has written a novel, Famous All Over Town, and now is writing a memoir. His Jewish heritage made him stand out in his hometown in South Carolina. He skillfully blends both the dark and the light sides of living into his story mix.

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Mark Powell read a powerful and touching excerpt from his novel The Sheltering, just out this year from Story River Press. This story of a drone pilot and the contradictions of his life has received excellent reviews. It sounds like a gripping tale.

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The banter among these four authors generated lots of fun. They talked about how ideas for stories start and about small town life, especially in the south. One insight concerning writing about community caught my attention, the idea that in a small town or tight-knit community everyone knows everyone in many different ways: whose car is parked behind the minister’s house, whose shoes are showing beneath the white sheet of a Klan member, whose mother used to be married to …… At the same time, there are secrets, things nobody knows or maybe only one or two people know. Those secrets often drive people’s lives and lead to more stories. This group knows how to tell those stories.

I’m off to the library to pick up some new books based on what I heard from these authors. Then, the bookstore. I’ll keep searching and learning more about the books this group has written. Small-town life is a particular interest of mine. I know Conroy’s work and now he is introducing us to other writers through public appearances and his work with Story River Books.

If Pat Conroy or any other of these authors is already a favorite of yours, let us know. Do you enjoy regional literature? Most of us like a good read no matter if it might be called regional literature or not. But a writer who knows how to make place come alive, how to make place the major character, how to make us feel like we’ve lived in that place and can see it’s beauty and its sorrow, that is special indeed.

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