DENHAM SPRINGS – First-time author Kay Street wanted to tell a love story, and she did it by letting her Cajun characters tell their story.
“I wanted to show the love of the people, the love of their faith, their family and friends,” Street said of her novel “La Rajeanne.”
Street paused in her plans to promote her novel to present a copy to the Denham Springs-Walker Branch of the Livingston Parish Library.
“It’s a remarkable story,” said Oreda Hogue, reference librarian.
“Oreda got me started,” Street said, when she went to the library looking for information on Cajun music from the 1950s.
Information on that time period was scarce, Street said, “So I had to ad-lib,” creating a Cajun and English mixture.
But Street had a goal for her first novel.
“The book is about love. Not romance, but true love,” she said. “That’s what I like about a fictitious novel.”
“It gave me a lot of freedom,” said the Walker resident. Readers will “never find Saint Mark, except in my mind.”
Saint Mark is a blending of several towns Street and her husband, Ray, visited, although Lafayette, Baton Rouge, and even Pierre Part, are mentioned.
Street also created her own guidelines for her novel.
“No one is in the book but the Cajuns,” she said.
Street said she has seen several movies depicting the Cajun culture, such as “Belizaire the Cajun,” “Shy People,” “The Big Easy,” and “Thunder Bay.”
“But they are told from an outside view of the Cajuns,” she said. Non-Cajuns are on the edges of her novel.
And then, “The Cajuns talk a lot,” Street said. “Now that is a no-no in novels, but Cajuns talk, so I let them go.”
The novel is set from June 1956 to October 1957, a 14-month period in the lives of the main characters, newlyweds Raleigh D’Armand and Jeanelle Lejuene.
They build their Acadian-style home on Teche Levee and name it LaRajeanne, using the first two letters of their first names, hence the novel’s title.
Street says the opening paragraph of her novel – as the newlyweds spread a quilt on the bank of the Teche under an ages-old oak – creates the setting of the novel.
Street, a native of Oklahoma, came to Louisiana as a young girl when her father was transferred by Shell Oil.
“I did not know the Cajun culture until I married,” she said.
Her husband, Ray, from Lafayette, played football at Tulane University. His ancestors on his father’s side came to Louisiana from France in the 1800s; his great-grandfather was the mayor of Breaux Bridge, she said.
On his mother’s side were the Cajuns, the Acadians expelled from Canada by the British during Le Grand Dérangement.
La Rajeanne is dedicated to her husband, Street said. “He inspired me to write. He was interested in anything I wanted to do. He loved the Cajun culture and so did I.”
After Ray passed away, Street said she busied herself with buying a home, getting things settled and making new friends. She moved to Walker in 2004.
Street decided to write her novel, but says Raleigh D’Armand is not her husband, although she borrowed the color of her husband’s eyes, “but that’s where the similarity ends.”
“And the girl certainly is not me,” she added with a laugh.
Street’s only experience in getting a book printed was a family cookbook in the 1980s. It took 27 months to complete her novel.
“I didn’t know anything about computers,” Street said, beginning her novel writing it longhand. She then bought a typewriter.
When Street went to the Denham Springs-Walker Library Branch to do some research, she met Hogue.
Hogue also teaches classes on how to use a computer and Street enrolled in her class.
That led to Street getting her first computer, which she used to complete and edit her novel, she said.
“I’m grateful to all the help (the library) gave me,” Street said.
Street found a publisher in CreateSpace Independent Publishing, of North Charleston, S.C. She was assigned an editor, but never met nor spoke directly to her, she said.
“She had lived in Louisiana at one time and had been to some of the small towns and said I captured the complexity and energy of the area,” Street said.
“She gave me good pointers,” on how to improve the novel, Street added.
For the cover, Street told the graphic artist, “I wanted a Cajun scene,” she recalled, “and he called back and said 'I think I found the perfect picture to work with.'”
“The first time I saw it was on a computer and it looks like the ’50s with the length of her dress and it looks like the Teche with the oaks,” she said.
The novel includes a glossary of Cajun words and expressions to help readers not familiar with the language.
LaRajeanne came out Nov. 29 and Street is preparing to promote her book now. Her nieces also created a Facebook page for her.
“The Cajuns made a name for themselves,” according to Street, “by being silent.”
Instead of promoting or advertising themselves, the Cajuns developed their own culture and let others discover them, she said.
“It can be found in the food, music and lifestyle of the Cajuns,” Street said. “Their strength is their love. I wanted (the novel) to be their voice.”
Street warns if any reader goes looking for Saint Mark, he or she won’t find it, but she said she hopes they enjoy the Cajun culture they will find in south Louisiana.
“If you go to Lafayette, Breaux Bridge, New Iberia or St. Martinville, you will be seeing and living what you will feel in the book,” Street said.