Bayou Battle with Witch Captures the Imagination of Young Audiences
When Laraine Elizabeth Turner sitsdown for a personal appearance reading from her debut book, "The Rise and Fall of the Witch on the Bayou" (AmErica House, $17.95), she goes all out. Whether holding forth in an elementary school or a bookstore, the Downey resident, who's a third-grade magnet drama teacher at Bell's Nueva Vista Elementary School, sets a Big Easy tone with Cajun music, vibrant hand gestures and character-specific dialects. On three separate occasions, Turner ahs read for an hour in front of 35 sixth graders at Downey's Sussman Middle School. "She told us about it, but we didn't know what to expect until we saw the presentation. It was excellent. The kids like it," says Andre Castillo, an official at Sussman Middle School. "One of the kids stepped up and started dancing with her and a conga line of four or five kids formed." A Cajun conga line? That doesn't bother Turner. "I like dramatics, and I'm very expressive. I like to make the audience think they're really there in the bayou," says Turner, who will bring her bayou book reading to Cerritos' Borders' Books, Music & Cafe on Saturday, Feb. 23. "Sometimes it's a lot of work to get everything set up and the music time, but it's exciting for me, too. I'm getting more into what I'm reading." Adult auidences also get into it. In early November, Turner attended a writer's workshop and booksigning in Costa Mesa at the Barnes & Noble at Metro Pointe. "A lot of authors will just read straight out, but she did a very theatrical reading," says Leah Crocker, the store's community relations manager. "She knew her material. She knew to do dramatic pauses and different voices for each character. "Anytime an author puts a theatrical spin on a reading, it draws the audience into the reading and makes them want to learn more about (the story)." The 138-page fiction thriller, which is sprinkled with Cajun-Creole culture, language, and history, chronicles the life of Stephanie Anne Josephine LeBeque, from age 7 to 18, and her triumph over constant adversity, including several family deaths. She winds up raising her baby brother, who has been threatened with l'ouanga (a witch's spell), and enters a battle of good vs. evil. It's a story Turner has had on her mind since she was 12 years old growing up in Fort Wayne, Ind. At the time, Turner had the basic notion of a teen-ager trying to protect her baby brother from a witch, but didn't pursue it. The idea sat on a bookshelf until 2000 when Turner began extensive Internet research on Cajun language and culture. Once she started writing, Turner says it was a "spiritual experience." "As I wrote, I could see myself in the character, even though I'm not from Louisiana and didn't go through all those experiences," Turner says. "I could see my personality in her that I didn't see before. She was easily intimidated by this witch, and I could see some of myself in that. "Her mother told her to stand on her own and be her own person, and as I wrote it, I could see it speaking to me. Sometimes, especially when I was younger, I would let other people influence me about what to do. I ahd a hard time making my own decisions and being my own person." It also sounds like writing cast a spell over her. "What I'm experiencing is the power of words, entertaining people, exciting people, inspiring people," Turner says. "It's exciting to me."