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Looking at the calendar, I realize that since 1998 I have written seventeen books, all of them filled with true stories such as the ones you will see in my new book, The Black Leopard.
The Black Leopard will be my eighteenth book.
That’s a lot of books!
It all started simply enough. One day, I decided to write something for my children to read that would give them a glimpse into parts of my life they knew nothing about. Oh, I had written books and articles before, but these were for technical journals and books. My oceanographic atlases of the world’s ocean temperature and salinity are standard references that can be found in almost any ocean science library. But they were all written as part of my professional work and for a non-ocean science person they are pretty tedious reading; besides, some because of recent discoveries, may actually be outdated today. However, in gathering the field data for these works, there have been moments that have been fun or, to put a better word for it, adventuresome. Certainly the times I flew aboard a plane over the North Pole at a thousand feet, adventuresome is a nice word to use, but I never mentioned these happenings in any of the technical works.
These book is mostly about such events.
Please remember as you read the stories that they are all true. I have tried not to include in any of them the technical jargon I used in my oceanographic works. But I should warn you that by training, I am a marine scientist and living as my wife and I did for most of our lives on the beach on the Mississippi Sound, my earlier non-scientific books were heavily influenced by this. One Christmas in the late ‘90’s, I assembled thirty or so of my shorter true stories in book form and gave them out at Christmas; not only to my children but to friends that I thought would enjoy them. In no time, the copies were gone and, after Christmas, I forgot about them.
But for some reason, they seemed to have assumed a life of their own and I became deluged by friends who wanted to have their own copies of the book. I began to write more stories, mostly about living on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi and the people like me who lived there.
Also, you should remember that I lived in a coastal town and everyone who read these stories worked on the water in some way. When these people read my stories that Christmas, they didn’t hear me but felt they were reading stories about themselves. I finally got a local printer to put the stories in an edition of 3,000 soft cover copies. That edition sold out in less than a year. I was surprised, it seemed that people liked what I wrote, so I began to write more.
My wife, Stella, and I no longer live in Mississippi. The ravages wrought by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005 were devastating. It destroyed our house, the street we lived on, as well as the small Mississippi town in which we lived. Stella and I had wisely fled the coast hours before the storm hit. We were penniless (the banks were under water); we wandered for a month from southern state to southern state. We finally decide to go to a deserted farm Stella had inherited from her parents. We had rented it out to people who had moved after buying a home in nearby Blairsville. The farm had been vacant for several months. We had no choice; we decided to drive north to live on that derelict farm.
We found out when we got there that our tenants had left the farm a wreck, but it was all we had and we stayed. Winter came and we found ourselves snowbound in a place where we knew very few people. As the winter winds and fierce snows blew that cold year, I borrowed a card table and using my old laptop, started to write about our new life. Instead of the beach, I began writing about something I knew very little about, the hard life of a southwestern Pennsylvania vegetable farmer. As with my Mississippi books, my new books sold surprisingly well.
Three years ago, while clearing brush near the creek with our tractor, a wild grape vine grabbed and hurled me some thirty feet from the tractor. Stella saw the tractor moving with no one on the seat and called 911. The medical team that found me found that all but two of my seven neck bones were crushed; I had broken five bones in my back, and had suffered a severe concussion. I was essentially a cripple. Years were to pass before I could feel in any way “normal.” What was amazing was the help given to us by our surrounding farmers. Stella, with their aid, made the small farm slowly become a thing of beauty and although physically helpless, I watched the seasons come and go for the next three years. Driving a car or truck was out of the question for me. I was told a full recovery from the injuries would take another few years. I wait helplessly for the time when I can help Stella return things to the way she remembered them as a young girl.
Now after years of pain, I have started to write again. At first I found that mentally, because of the concussion, I could no longer write as I once did. It was not just writer’s block, but something more serious due to the concussion. My doctor assigned me to write these stories as one of my therapeutic chores.
The stories in The Black Leopard book are the result. “One Fine Day” had me almost in tears.
I’ve worked hard on that book. It has not been easy. Stella reads my day’s work and the next day I read her corrections and tried harder. Sometimes the results are only fit for the trash basket. Occasionally, a true story from my past comes forward and I would work to write it down. Then other stories would come to me as wonderful memories come back!
And so let me close these remarks with the statement that my life has not been just about the Pennsylvania farm or the long since gone Mississippi beaches. Although many of the books among the eighteen that are about Mississippi and Pennsylvania, the stories you read will be of other places that I can truthfully write about and say, “I remember, I remember.” I think you will enjoy them.
Paul Estronza La Violette
Stone Hill Farm,