Stuck in the Middle with You

A guest blog from Toby Leblanc, author of Dark Roux.

Hi friends. I’m proud to bring you a guest appearance from my new friend and emerging South Louisiana author, Toby Leblanc.

Jason P. Reed

My first memories of stories were not of their beginnings and endings, but the way they were told. My mother would read a certain Goldenbook to me as a child where the farmer’s animals made the wrong noises. Her animal noises are what I remember. I can’t tell you what happened to the farmer. When I first started learning Boudreaux and Thibodeaux jokes, I often forgot the punchline. This could have easily been due to a smaller memory back then, but I believe it was because I was trying so hard to mimic the middle development, the accents and the facial expressions, that I didn’t care as much about the end.

Seems to me there’s a metaphor about me somewhere in there. Could it be that I’m always in the moment and never stuck in the past or future? Ha ha. Nope. Is it that I get so caught up in the telling of a story that I disconnect from the beginning and lose the ending sometimes? My log of edits in my writing would point to that. But I really think my metaphor is the way we tell a story matters even more than the story itself. Back when Homer first told the Odyssey, poets like him passed along the same stories. All that changed was how it was told (thanks Classical Literature LSU 2002). Clearly people liked the way Homer wove that yarn if we are still reading it. It didn’t matter that Odysseus left home at the beginning and came back at the end. We cared about how he bested the cyclops and how he navigated the boat between Scylla and Charybdis.

I wrote Dark Roux about a Cajun family on the brink of falling apart. In the end, they find their way back to each other and understand more deeply what being Cajun means to each of them. I based the story in 1999. That was a year of transition for me for sure (goodbye Acadiana, hello LSU). But it was also an end to a millenia and a beginning to a century. It was just two years before 9/11 and a short 6 years before Hurricane Katrina. Moments like that tend to be marked by “before X event”, and “after X event”. The Moutons of Dark Roux will likely mark their lives by before and after Paw Paw died (will there be a sequel…stay tuned!). But my novel is about the story of that event. I didn’t give you a spoiler just now by telling you Paw Paw died no more than telling you Odysseus fought a Cyclops. How they learn to be a family, how they learn to make Cajun mean something to them, is what fills the pages.

My Odyssey has taken me to Texas (will I return to Louisiana…stay tuned!). In doing so I have gained new insight into the pieces of my which will always remain Cajun: I will feed you and help you catch a buzz if you set foot in my house, I break out in spontaneous dance parties, I put the word “mais” at the beginning of any statement that needs emphasis, I think swamps are beautiful, accordions are the voices of angels, and working in the earth brings me satisfaction I know comes from my ancestors. But that is not all of me, not by a long shot. I’ve found many pieces of myself since leaving Louisiana and stepping outside of Cajun culture. As who I am expands, I evolve into Cajun and… 

To me, this is where our story is in South Louisiana and its literature. We have a lot of folks who remember the befores. I grew up feeling that Louisiana was best understood through remembering. We have many folks looking for the afters. As I’ve aged, I wondered what the future will look like (Soaked, a short story collection about Louisiana post sea level rise, will come out in 2024). But we are all in the middle of our story. We are changing whether we notice it or not. Do we need to think more about it? Feel more of it? Pray more about it? Drink a little on it? You tell me. But make sure you tell me that story well. The beginning and the ending just mark which piece of middle you’re in.

Want to see more from Toby? Connect with him at @CajunCalico on Twitter and Toby LeBlanc Author on Facebook. Check out his blog and website at www.tobyleblancauthor.comDark Roux is available wherever you buy your books.

Published by New Bayou Books

JR Reed started New Bayou Books to spark a revolution in Louisiana literature. The goal of the company is simple: to great writers out of the shadows to carry on the Louisiana literary tradition.

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