Lana Laws Downing
A boy named Jon Teel stepped off a bus and into a Life Writing class at UL-Lafayette where Lana Laws Downing brought him, and his story, to life.
“We were to write the first paragraph of a novel,” Downing recalls of the Life Writing class, under the auspices of ULL, that meets weekly at the New Iberia Library. “The germ of an idea came to me, I wrote the opening paragraph, and Jon Teel was born. I worked on various sketches for scenes in the book, outlined the plot, did the character development, but never really got it going until I had foot surgery in 2016.
Confined to bed for two months, Downing opened her laptop and “began writing like a demon, finishing the rough draft during that time. I gave it to several writing buddies to read and critique. That can be painful, but it is part of the process.”
She received the feedback and “mulled it over for several months. Then I had to have another surgery and another (shorter) time in bed, and that is when I did the revisions, following some but not all of the suggestions I had gotten. I sent it off to the publisher and got that ball rolling. The editing process was lengthy, as I did not want mistakes in the final version.”
Jon Teel is the story of an abused, abandoned child who shows up in the Lafayette bus station on a bus coming from Houston. A note pinned to his clothing reads, “Take me to Auntie Jones, Bakerville, La.”
Downing says Bakerville is loosely based on Franklin, and the mansion in the story is loosely based on Shadowlawn home, although she has taken liberties with the plan of the house. Jon Teel attracts the attention of a wealthy, lonely widow who lives in the mansion, and the story takes off from there.
“I visualize Jon Teel on two levels,” Downing explains. “The first level is the literal story; the second is the universal level, the Good versus Evil idea. Jon Teel represents all the innocent children (and adults) who suffer abuse of any kind at the hands of evil people. In this story, Good is in the form of all the characters who help Jon Teel: Julia, J-Max, Judge Green, the doctor and the sheriff, among others.”
Jon Teel signed copies are available at shops on Main Street and on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and iTunes. The digital version will be available soon. A short promotional video is available on YouTube.
There was inspiration from the work Lana and her husband Trent did with CASA, the Court Appointed Special Advocate organization. “Trent and I were CASA volunteers for several years,” she said. “While the story I have written is in no way like the children we worked with, our training under Jan Supple and our experiences in Judge Charles Porter’s courtroom gave me great insight into the plight of children affected by drug-addicted parents. Judge Porter’s philosophy, his no-nonsense approach, and his general demeanor in court gave me a model for Judge Green in my story. He is not Judge Porter, because I don’t really know Judge Porter except in court, but I have great admiration for him in the way he does his job. The people at the state department of Children and Family Services, especially the woman we worked with most of the time, also do a wonderful, thankless job. This all gave me background in my writing.”
Downing is also the author of Heaven and High Water: Fictional stories based on the early life of Alfreda Felterman Laws in 2012 based on interviews with her mother. “I had transcribed all the notes, what she said about her early life,” Downing said. “It was only about 10 pages, and it wasn’t a story, it was just facts. I thought, how can I do this? I thought, I don’t know what was said, but I can make it up, so I used her words and I wrote little stories. Most of them were factual, but some of them are fiction. I was thinking, my grandchildren need to know all this.”
There was a tangible leap from Heaven and High Water to a novel. “My training was journalism and English, I was not a fiction writer, and I didn’t think I could write fiction,” she said. “But anybody can write fiction. It started out in class about three years ago when instructor Kim Graham said, ‘I want you to write an opening paragraph for a novel.’ And you know how sometimes things just leap into your mind? This leaped into my mind.”
Even a group of card-playing ladies and her mother-in-law found their way into the book.
A pre-reader suggested Downing’s characters have inherent flaws, but “I wanted the evil people to be evil, there was no mistake about it, evil is evil and I didn’t give any ‘well maybe they’re good, too,” but it’s my book, so I didn’t do it!”
Christian Faith Publishing published the book. When asked what the most gratifying aspect of writing the book was, Downing replied, “Finishing it,” with a laugh. “You could go on into infinity and never have it perfect, but you just reach a point and say, okay, it’s done.”
“I don’t want to give away too much of the story for those who haven’t read it, but I really tried to make the point of how Jon Teel has carried his cross of suffering—to the point of having his wrists bound to a cross during some of the torment he was subjected to,” she confided.
There will be a book-signing for Jon Teel Tuesday at Shadowlawn from 6-8 p.m.
She’s already working on a new novel, based in Grand Isle, in the 1920s, about a boy and his grandmother, before there was a bridge or even electrical service.