After practicing law in Lake Charles for 26 years, Andy Johnson now lives in Baton Rouge. Johnson’s making his first foray into publishing at the age of 63 with his new novel The Otis Ring, which was published in December, 2019, by Deadpan Press.
The book tells the story of a Louisiana lawyer who is newly sober and has been cut off from his family life. Forced to deal with an uneasy solitude, the protagonist finds himself contemplating “failure, despair, perseverance and acceptance.” Although the basic tale sounds glum, the book is punctuated with a great deal of humor. Consider that the characters include a hearing-impaired psychotherapist, a ghost, talking lizards and a “wise yard gnome.” Promotional copy describes the book as “two jiggers dry wit and a splash of cheap melancholy.”
You can find this wit in Johnson’s online biography (andyjohnsonbook.com). Addressing the question of his major goal in life, he says, “I hope to break even.”
Reviewers compare the book to works by the Southern masters of dark humor John Kennedy Toole and Walker Percy. Kurt Vonnegut scholar Rodney Allen calls the book a “unique genre collage of biography, magical realism, satire and existential black humor.” Another reader felt that Johnson “always finds new ways to express our common suffering and our occasional, hard-won approximations of fulfillment.”
As far as I know, Johnson is not doing any readings or signings right now. But any future events of this nature will be posted on the book’s website at andyjohnsonbook.com. Visitors to the site can read reviews and purchase the book.
Johnson is retired now, but he’s still active in Baton Rouge, where he serves on the board of Keep Louisiana Beautiful and teaches reading as a Volunteer in Public Schools.
James Marcantel Benefit
Krazy Larry’s Auto Show and Swap Meet and the Boundless Pennies Ministry are joining forces to host a benefit for James Marcantel. The show will be held March 6 through 7 at the South Beauregard Recreation Center, located at 6719 La. Highway 12 in Ragley.
Trophies will be awarded for the Top Ten Autos, People’s Choice and Best Unfinished. DJ Earl LaPointe will provide music; Dennis Soileau will provide additional entertainment. There will also be an Elvis impersonator and a drama team lead by Leu Thompson.
The event will include vendors, games, contests, food and various activities. For more information, call Larry DeFries at 337-884-6586.
Bold Choice By Bayou Players
In the past few years, the Up Fronter has noted that the McNeese State University’s Bayou Players have been bringing some very challenging plays to Lake Charles. The latest is Neil LaBute’s play The Shape Of Things.
Paul Rudd and Rachel Weisz starred in both the stage and film versions of the play. Rudd (true to type) played a nerdy English major named Adam who’s had very little luck with women. He’s smitten when attractive art major Evelyn Ann takes an interest in him.
Evelyn aims to improve her nerdy beau’s life. She gets him to exchange his glasses for contacts, get an appealing hair style, learn how to dress fashionably. She puts him on a healthy diet and exercise regimen. She even goes so far as to arrange for him to make his face more handsome with plastic surgery.
All this time, she pledges undying love to Adam. Soon, she’s bolstering the former wallflower by accepting an engagement ring from him and making wedding plans.
But, as they say in the movie ads, things aren’t what they appear to be. Audiences will be on pins and needles as the very dark secret behind this storybook romance is revealed.
The Shape of Things will be staged at Tritico Theatre, McNeese State University, Feb. 12 through 15, 7:30 pm each night. Tickets start at $10.
SWLA Master Naturalists
The Southwest Louisiana Master Naturalists are a highly motivated group of students, retired professionals, teachers and others who are interested in learning about nature and contributing to conservation. It might be a good group for you if you love the outdoors and want to learn more about nature and your local environment.
The group is starting a special Master Naturalist course series. Participants will learn how to experience the natural world as they learn about various plant and animal species, their ecosystems and ways to conserve their environment. The sessions are led by Certified Master Naturalists and experts from our area.
Participants are encouraged to enter the Southwest Louisiana Master Naturalist program to expand their knowledge of Louisiana’s natural history and contribute to the well-being of Louisiana’s environments. Master Naturalist volunteers participate in educational activities, projects and outreach activities in their communities.
The Southwest Master Naturalist Program will hold Nature Training Classes starting Jan. 30. The training workshops will focus on Louisiana’s geology, reptiles, amphibians, birds and fish, as well as the ecology of rivers, forests and prairies. The training will be limited to 20 people. To apply, visit swlamasternaturalists.org/apply.html.
Visit the Southwest Louisiana Master Naturalists’ Facebook page to learn more about the chapter and stay informed about the progress of the course. To receive an application to become a Master Naturalist, email the chapter at email@example.com or call the president at 225-206-0400.
Mardi Gras Hand Towels
Since my shopping these days is pretty much confined to the discount section in Dollar Tree, I can’t really tell you what the area has to offer in the way of Mardi Gras goods. But if you happen to be in the market for Mardi Gras hand towels, Louisiana Cookin’ can help you out.
The hand towels were created by Sydney and Will Hewitt, who founded Coast and Cotton in 2014 to make highly functional home products designed specifically for the Gulf Coast home. The towels have at least two designs; one is decorated with fleur de lis and the other with Mardi Gras masks. Each hand-drawn design is printed on heavyweight, 100 percent cotton flour sack material. They’re made with eco-friendly, water-based dyes. The entire production process for each towel takes place in the United States. The towels go for $20 each.
Other items of interest in the Louisiana Cookin’ shop right now are the slice wedge cast iron skillet ($22.99) and pre-seasoned 12-inch cast iron wok ($21.95). Locals may find these items especially attractive since it’s going to be harder to buy your cast-iron pots and pans around here now that Gayle’s Hardware is closed.
On the day I wrote this, recipes on the home page of Louisiana Cookin’ included Salted Caramel and Chocolate King Cake and Crawfish and Goat Cheese King Cake. Learn more at louisianacookin.com.
New Book On Warren Storm
In a recent press release for the St. Landry Sounds program of the Opelousas Visitor Center, I learned that singer-songwriter Yvette Landry had written a biography of SWLA musical legend Warren Storm, who’s sometimes called the Godfather of Swamp Pop.
In Taking the World by Storm, Landry tells the story of how Storm grew up in Vermillion Parish, got his early musical training and eventually met both Hank Williams and Elvis. Later, he would perform on stage with such figures as Fats Domino and Robert Plant. For more than 60 years now, Storm has been playing Swamp Pop on the stage. He still performs fairly often in Lake Charles, often accompanied by Willie Tee and Cypress.
The real buzz seems to be about the new CD that was recorded to go with the book. It appears to be a sort of collaboration between Landry and Storm. Other guests include Creedence Clearwater Revival head man John Fogerty, Sonny Landreth and Marc Broussard.
The paperback book, which was published by the UL-Lafayette press, retails for $30. The recording is priced at $30 for vinyl or $20 for a CD. Visit yvettelandry.com or Amazon to purchase.