New children’s book illustrates a sweet, salt-of-the-earth story about a Cajun boy’s journey to become whole again
NEW ORLEANS, La. — Salty is a divine Cajun boy created from the salt of the earth — literally. Dwelling deep within the hidden caverns of South Louisiana’s ancient salt domes, Salty spent his days cooking and caring for the critters of the Cajun swamp. Salty’s life was one of mineral harmony.
But when a crew of burly salt miners arrive, Salty’s ordinary world suddenly changes forever. When the miners crush poor Salty’s body into a witty, gritty pile of granules, his strong Cajun spirit is bottled up in a tiny salt shaker bound for the dining tables of New Orleans’ lively French Quarter.
Finding himself in the kitchen of a cranky chef, Salty strikes up a friendship with a timid girl made of peppercorns encased in a glass pepper grinder, named Pep. Hailing from Southern India, Pep shares her native culture with Salty and he teaches her about life in Cajun country. Together, they help each other endure being crushed and bottled up during their quest to become whole again.
“Salty Strong: The ‘Whole’ Cajun Story” (May 2020, Archway Publishing) is a beautifully illustrated, uplifting children’s tale about the joys of learning about new cultures, having different experiences, and the unlimited power of friendship and giving.
“SALTY STRONG: THE ‘WHOLE’ CAJUN STORY”
Chris Whitson | May 2020 | Archway Publishers | Children’s, Picture Books
Hardcover | 978-1480888647 | $23.95
Paperback | 9781480888661 | $13.95
Ebook | 9781480888654 | $3.99
Chris Whitson was born and raised in New Orleans and now lives in Orlando, Fl. He and his wife have four children and six fun loving, high energy, grandchildren.
“Salty Strong” is Chris’s first children’s book and is inspired by his love for his grandchildren and his own struggles with sobriety and journey to becoming “whole” again. Never a strong reader himself, Chris wants “Salty Strong” to inspire children to overcome their insecurities, give of themselves, and to stay strong and have Faith in the face of adversity.
“Change starts from within.”
Chris Whitson is a proud LSU Tiger fan and member of the Who Dat’ nation who loves Cajun Cuisine and the New Orleans “Jambalaya” culture. When he’s not spending time with his grandchildren, Chris can be found enjoying his Cajun and New Orleans cuisine favorites such as, crawfish, muffulettas, and fried soft shell crab po-boys — dressed, of course!
Where are you from? Tell us a little about yourself!
I’m blessed to have been born and raised in a large, Catholic, New Orleans family. We didn’t have name brand tennis shoes, the coolest toys, and soft drinks were a rare treat, but we had lots of love, and people! And with nine family members sharing two bathrooms, we were very close.
Our neighborhood was filled with kids, sports, and fun. I played outside and hung out at the playground with my friends whenever possible. However, I best be home not a minute past 5:30. That’s when we ate dinner each evening as a family.
I never liked school and always struggled with reading. The classroom was a test of will over anxiety. It showed in my lack of focus and disruptive behavior. I don’t think my teachers ever considered me one of their pets.
I enjoyed picture books, but once I was too old for them, I stopped reading for pleasure. I have never read a novel, and I’m still a poor reader today.
As a teen and young adult, I loved the New Orleans culture, cuisine, and was always all in for “party time”….. Sometimes too much. When it came to fun, moderation was not my strong suit.
I moved to Orlando, Florida when I was 21 to continue working for a company that was owned by my friend’s father, who had relocated from New Orleans. That move changed my life for the better, forever! I fell in love with and married the boss’s daughter, Susan, whom I knew since early childhood. Susan was my good friend’s sister, and was a cheerleader for my Pop Warner football team. I always thought she was out of my league. It’s not a stretch to say, “I totally out-kicked my coverage!”
Susan blessed me with four wonderful children, who blessed me with six amazing grandchildren!
After a total of 45 years in that same family business, I retired. Apparently, retired means I still work, I just don’t get paid.
Tell us about your book? How did it get started?
About eleven years ago, as New Orleans was experiencing its rebirth after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, my first grandchild was born. About a year later, I experienced somewhat of a rebirth of my own through sobriety.
For these wonderful gifts, I was filled with gratitude. So, I did something I don’t think anyone expected, including myself. I decided to write a book. Since my fondest memories of reading came from children’s books, I decided to write a meaningful book for my grandchild, and those to follow. I wanted the book to be unique, timeless, and include all of the mos important lessons that so many good people tried to beat into my hard head, but I had to question and put to the test myself. As I started writing, something intriguing happened. The book began to mirror my own life. It came together like a gumbo loaded with chunks of experiences from my childhood and flavored with tasty tidbits of knowledge from my adult life.
… And ten long years later, it is finally ready to serve.
Salty Strong, The “Whole” Cajun Story, is a story of a Divine Cajun boy, “made purely from the salt of the earth,” who lives secretly in the salt domes and swamps of Louisiana. His experiences of joy with his critters, are accompanied by the fear and anxiety of trying to avoid the burly salt minors. He has Faith, but not a complete understanding of God. He’s creative and loves to cook Cajun cuisine and feed the hungry critters of the caverns. Salty dreams of one day meeting a friend and sharing his cooking talents with hungry folks.
When the salt dome comes crashing down around him, Salty is “crushed” along with his dreams.
(At some point in everyone’s life they feel “crushed”. It could be illness, bullying, separation, addiction, depression… How do we become “whole” again?)
What Salty went through and did next is based on what I’ve learned throughout my life and especially on my journey of sobriety.
How do you create your characters?
There was no special recipe for creating the characters in Salty Strong. As I started writing they took on their own qualities which resembled people I’ve met, heard about, feared, loved…
Chef Burns: There was a rather run down elementary school in our neighborhood. Kids used to tell scary stories about the janitor punishing kids and leaving them in his broom closet for days. They called him Mr. Burns.
Pep: She is the opposite of Salty. If Salty is rough around the edges, Pep is a little more refined. If Salty is bold, Pep is a bit timid. Pep is “crushed” too. They share the desire to become “whole” again.
Critters: The critters resemble friends and family. The joy of having their company, but sadness of being separated from them.
Salty: He’s a bit like me. He’s witty, creative, and relies on instinct, life experience, and survival skills, more so than higher education and scholastic intellect. He has faith, but doesn’t know everything about it.
… And unintentionally, but perhaps not coincidentally, Salty was “crushed” and trapped in a bottle. Hmmm, sounds familiar.
What inspires and what got you started in writing?
I’m inspired by ordinary people proving their ability to overcome challenges and do extraordinary things. Especially as it relates to helping others.
Where do you write? Is there something you need in order to write (music, drinks?)
While writing Salty Strong, I didn’t have a set time or place to write. When an idea hit me, I had to write it down. Then I had to figure out how to apply it to the story.
Typically, one idea would lead to another, and the next thing I knew, I was writing, revising, creating, researching…for hours.
Did I mention revising, revising, and more revising?
What do you like to read?
I still struggle with reading, but I enjoy reading Salty Strong, The “Whole” Cajun Story, with my grandchildren.
I tell them, “Poppa wrote one more book than he ever read!”
I may not always be the best example, but I think they love me. I know I love them!
What would your advice to be for authors or aspiring in regards to writing?
I’m in no position to give technical writing advice. But, it’s like anything, if you’re doing it just for money, and without passion and purpose, you will not be fulfilled.
Anything you do with the end goal of helping someone else will always be the most rewarding. It’s another step to becoming “whole”!
Anything else you’d like to share? Just a big “Thank You” for this opportunity to share my story. I hope others can benefit from my struggles and triumphs!
P.S. If any of my teachers lived long enough to read my book, Thank you…and no, it’s not a cold day in hell.