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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Christmas Bonfires on the Levee ~guest post by Suzanne Johnson

Today, it's wonderful to have Suzanne Johnson return to my blog, this time with a fun guest post about one of her favorite Christmas traditions and her new paranormal romance release, Christmas in Dogtown.

Christmas Bonfires on the Levee

Suzanne Johnson

One of the greatest things fiction authors get to do is write about favorite places and traditions, and weave them into our stories. In my novelette “Christmas in Dogtown,” I was able to not only explore the close-knit communities of one of Louisiana’s river parishes but talk about one of my favorite traditions, the Christmas bonfires.

There are lots of explanations of how the tradition of burning bonfires along the river levees on Christmas Eve got started; truth is, no one really knows. The real story’s probably a lot more boring than the legends.

My favorite legend is that the tradition stemmed from the Cajuns who live in the countryside along the Mississippi River, and it’s this legend I drew on for “Dogtown,” specifically the stories about the Cajun version of Santa, Papa Noel.

Instead of a sleigh and reindeer (a citified concept, for sure), Papa Noel arrives by river in the flat-bottomed boat called a pirogue, pulled by eight alligators named Gaston, Tiboy, Pierre, Alcee, Ninette, Suzette, Celeste and Rene (who might or might not have a shiny red snout).

Papa Noel and his leathery entourage sail down the Mississippi River, delivering his presents to children on Christmas Eve. But unlike in the big cities, with all their lights, the river land and bayous and swamps are dark. What’s to make sure Papa Noel doesn’t lose his way?

That’s where the bonfires come in, of course.

So weeks before Christmas Eve arrives, local families and businesses stake out their claim on the big earthen levees along the river in St. James, St. Charles, and St. John the Baptist parishes (what the rest of the U.S. calls counties). On both sides of the river, they build big teepee-shaped wooden structures filled with kindling, boxes, or paper—whatever will burn. At the appointed time on Christmas Eve, everyone lights their bonfires and Papa Noel and his gators have a path lit all along the river with beautiful flaming tree-shaped bonfires.

It has become quite a tourist attraction now, of course, and people like me drive out from New Orleans or Baton Rouge or points beyond to line up along the Great River Road and see the sights. There’s also an annual Festival of the Bonfires held a couple of weeks before (because in Louisiana, we can turn ANYTHING into a party).

In “Christmas in Dogtown,” Teresa Madere is forced by circumstances to return to her small hometown community in St. James Parish for the month of December, and she ends up helping build the Madere family bonfire…and maybe learning a lot of about love and family and home than she ever expected. And yeah, there might be a paranormal element as well!

What’s your favorite winter holiday tradition? One commenter will win a copy of the awesome Cajun Night Before Christmas, with Papa Noel and his eight gators featured in illustrations by James Rice. Sure, it would also make a good gift for a book-loving child!

Christmas in Dogtown
Suzanne Johnson

Genre: Sweet Paranormal Romance
Publisher: Story Vault
Date of Publication: December 2012
Number of pages: 30
Word Count: approx. 11,000

Book Description:

A woman who spent years escaping her rural past learns that Dogtown, Louisiana, hides more family secrets than just the recipe for boudin blanc..

Resa Madere’s on the verge of losing it all. The boyfriend’s gone. The job’s history. Her beloved house is on the brink of foreclosure. She’ll do anything to save it—even spend a long Christmas holiday working in St. James Parish, Louisiana, helping her uncle run the family meat business. But the community of Dogtown, which has been home for seven generations of the Madere and Caillou families, has deep roots and deeper secrets. For Resa, going home is one thing.
Getting out might not be so easy. 

Short Excerpt:

          “You are stupid,” Resa told her reflection in the tiny, scratched mirror of the White Castle’s rose-pink bathroom. “Stupid, ridiculous, and absurd.”
          She’d been wrestling with her curly black hair for a half hour, and the brown eyes that stared back at her from beneath freshly plucked brows and carefully applied eyeliner looked more jittery than sexy. “And idiotic.”
          First, it had been almost a week since Chan had asked her to the Saturday night community dance, popping the question almost shyly as they hacked at the bodies of gigantic dead fish. They’d both been covered in blood and smelled like they’d been rolling in bait, which should have tipped her off that anything in Dogtown reeking of romance, well, reeked.
          Second, her potential date had left immediately after asking her out so he could catch an alligator that had eaten somebody’s poodle in one of those backwater houses near the swamp. He burned rubber out of the Madere’s driveway after making sure he had enough duct tape to wrap around the gator’s jaws. Adequate duct tape was not an attribute she’d ever sought in a man.

About the Author: 

Suzanne Johnson writes urban fantasy and paranormal romance (under the name Susannah Sandlin) from Auburn, Alabama, on top of a career in educational publishing that has thus far spanned five states and six universities—including both Alabama and Auburn, which makes her bilingual. She grew up in Winfield, Alabama, halfway between the Bear Bryant Museum and Elvis' birthplace, but was also a longtime resident of New Orleans, so she has a highly refined sense of the absurd and an ingrained love of SEC football, cheap Mardi Gras trinkets, and fried gator on a stick. She’s the author of the Sentinels of New Orleans urban fantasy series and, as Susannah Sandlin, the Penton Legacy paranormal romance series.

Marsha A. Moore is a writer of fantasy romance. The magic of art and nature spark life into her writing. Read her ENCHANTED BOOKSTORE LEGENDS for adventurous epic fantasy romance. For a FREE ebook download, read her historic fantasy, LE CIRQUE DE MAGIE, available at Amazon and Smashwords.


Roger said...

Christmas in Dogtown is a wonderful read. Suzanne really teaches us a lot about southern traditions in her writing. Thanks for your post Marsha.

SandyG265 said...

I like tree lightings.

Suzanne Johnson said...

Thanks for stopping by, guys, and thanks to Marsha for hosting me today! The sight of all those fires burning alongside the river for miles is pretty amazing!

Marsha A. Moore said...

What a wonderful tradition! I'd love to see that. So glad to have you as my guest today, Suzanne.

miki said...

Suzanne really knows how to make you want to visit Luisiana^^
i loved Christmas in dogtown ALOT

now a winter my country we have Saint Nicolas who comes for the children on the 6th december he is giving good child a gift ( in teh past it was a "clementine") with him is "pere fouettard" who give bad children a piece of coal..... now since Saint Nicolas has it's time we must wait after the 6th to put our christmas tree and in my family we have the tradition that while decorating it we share memories of those not with us anymore and the ornaments they left they stay with us in a way and we don't forget

Liz S. said...

I loved the story of Pap Noel and his alligators! Never heard it before. What a great tradition with the bonfires on th levee. In our house, we celebrate St. Nicholas Day which is December 6th. You out your shoe by the door the night before, and St. Nicholas leaves you a small treat like chocolate and a book.

Eva Millien said...

South Louisiana traditions are awesome and the bonfires are cool. Thanks for sharing them with everyone. Can't wait to read Christmas in Dogtown. Wishing everyone a wonderful and magical holiday season.

bn100 said...

Nice traditions