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It has long been my opinion that the sharing of knowledge is its own reward, particularly with regard to Cajun/Zydeco music. Yet it is my sad duty to report that some, it would seem, need encouragement in the manner of prizes. Thus, to each of the three winners of this small contest I offer this choice: you may ask me to come out of retirement to provide a professional assessment of the marketability of either a short story or non-fiction book proposal you have written; you may ask me to come out of retirement to solve a particularly puzzling murder (or series of murders); or you may have candy. Either way, you must write me here to claim your prize. If you are not one of these three, you may also write to me here to pose a question, which I will be happy to answer, though perhaps not as speedily as you would like. Your question may be on any subject, including the making of ultra-hot hot sauce and the definition of the Scoville unit.

One question you may ask is this: what happened to the contest to Best Explain the Difference Between Cajun Cuisine and Creole Cuisine? I simply am not yet satisfied with the answers I have received, and so that contest, like American history, goes on.

Here, then, are the results of the current Contest to Best Explain the Difference Between Cajun Music and Zydeco Music.

In the category of “Briefest,” the winner is JS Van Buskirk, an actual person, for the following analogical entry, which, though somewhat vague, is, you will agree, certainly brief:

“zydeco:cajun music::rhumba:latin music::two-step:country”

In the category of “Most Savory,” the winner is Ronnie Ivey, an actual person, for the following savory entry:

“Zydeco music comes from the Island of Beirut, where the indigenous children celebrate the Hanukah with a flaxen broom doll and feast on spicy cattle meats. There will be much drinking in the name of Santa! The Creole people, on the contrary, speak a language not unlike ‘French,’ practice the wicked arts, and eat a diet consisting of baguettes. The grandmothers marry cheerful, loud men for their money, and the mothers do the opposite.”

And finally, in the category of “Most Correct,” the actual David Hansen is our winner:

“The main differences between Cajun music and Zydeco are small but distinctive. Cajun music evolved from French folk songs from medieval France, which were first brought to Acadia (in Nova Scotia) and later to Louisiana in the mid 1700’s when the Acadians were expelled from their new home by the British.

“In the late 1940s some musicians, such as Boozoo Chavis and Clifton Chenier, had already began incorporating aspects of jure (with an accent on the “e”: a style of syncopated hand clapping a foot stomping practiced by many field workers). They tossed out the fiddle (essential to Cajun music) and added a rub board, as well as the blues and jazz of urban blacks to create the “syncopated sounds of zydeco.” Zydeco is believed to have gotten its name from one of the first popular songs “Les Haricots Sont Pas Salés” or “The Snap Beans Aren’t Salty.” “Les Haricots” or “Snap Beans” is pronounced “lay zarico” which wound its way into zydeco not long after.

“The accordion is common to both Cajun and Zydeco music, starting in the late 1800’s when German settlers introduced affordable accordions to the area. Starting in 1928, with the influx of country and western music loving oil-workers, through 1935, there was a wane in accordion use. It was all but completely absent until 1950 when post-WWII nostalgia produced a yearning for “old time” music which revived the accordions use in Cajun and Zydeco alike."

Honorable Mention in the category of “Nearly Most Correct:” Zachary Rodgers.

My congratulations and thanks go to all who participated and sought to untie this complex and strange-looking knot, one tied by an angry sailor on a ship of treachery afloat on an ocean of lies.

Now here are your precious questions:

Sarah asks: I recently joined a writers’ group. Twelve aspiring novelists, short story writers, and essayists meet biweekly to discuss our works in progress. During our meetings, I tend to shut myself off from the rest of the group and fester in a homicidal rage during which I imagine using my pen to stab each of my peers in the jugular. In the movie “Casino,” Joe Pesci uses a pen successfully to do just that. Is my aggression a worn out cliche produced by viewing too many Scorsese movies? Which pens work best for you?

John Kellogg Hodgman, Former Professional Literary Agent: Writers groups are a wonderful way for a writer to meet and learn from his fellow artists, determine that he is smarter than them, form silent alliances against one or two especially hated colleagues, seek to become the most popular in the group, nurse a silent crush on another, prettier writer, and have his work reviewed by a collection of bitter amateurs who wish him only the worst. But I have also wondered: why should someone join an informal writing workshop when they could instead pay perfectly good money for the exact same experience at any one of hundreds of university creative writing programs across the country? But that is my question. To yours, I have no answer, as I advocate murder only rarely.

Craig Kittles asks: Pretend that you’re still an agent, and that two manuscripts come across your desk, neither of them ever having been published: one is The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the other is The Sound and The Fury. From a purely commercial standpoint, which would be an easier “sell” in this market, if both works were first introduced today? I ask because I’m wondering what direction to take with my own next book.

JKH, FPLA: I will say this only once more: The Lord of the Rings is not a trilogy. It is, however, the more marketable of the two works for many reasons. If you had won the contest mentioned above, I would happily provide you with a detailed analysis of why The Sound and The Fury, while not intrinsically an inferior work, certainly does have fewer hobbits. But to maintain the integrity of the hard-earned prize of the winners, I must be brief and say only this: hobbits.

Rick M asks: Are three kittens too many and are five enough?

JKH, FPLA: It does not matter how many kittens you have. What matters is that you name them. The crime of unnamed kittens is not something we should tolerate in our society any longer. I recommend these names, regardless of gender: Alan, Carl, Dick, Eleanor, and Doctor Theopolis. Also, have you considered writing a series of mysteries in which someone is murdered, and the cats solve the crime? Or a series of science fiction novels in which we are contacted by an alien race of large, bi-pedal, super intelligent cats whose natural grace and lithe self-licking abilities teach humanity a valuable lesson? Those are the best.

Jeremy C asks: A few weeks ago I was staying in Copenhagen with my Danish friend, Kristina. She proudly showed me an essay she had written on “The Simpsons” that had been published in one of Denmark’s national newspapers. I very much wanted to read this article, both out of pride for my friend’s accomplishment and because, as you’ve no doubt noticed, Danish people have a tendency to make quite cogent observations about the world around us. However, the article was in Danish, which I do not speak or read. I’m now considering asking Kristina to translate the article into English, but I’m wondering if I should offer her remuneration of some sort for this job. What sort of payment/barter would be appropriate in this case?

JKH, FPLA: I am reminded of the old Danish saying, “Laissez les bons temps roulez,” which translates (roughly) to “To be or not to be.” But that is the only Danish that I know, so I can’t help you much there. Looks like this Kristina is your only hope.

Now, only an evil person would not offer to pay his Danish friend to translate her own article into English. So if you are not evil, it is lucky for you that the Danes recently rejected the adoption of the euro and instead have kept the krone as their national currency: you will get a much better value for your dollar.

But I know that you are evil. For we all know that there are no newspapers in Denmark, national or otherwise, as Denmark has no trees to with which to make them: it is a “Dane-mark” or “treeless land.” What’s more, if you truly do not speak or read Danish, how do you know that your friend’s article is about The Simpsons at all? It seems I have snared you in your own web of deceit, and this is why I am constantly being asked by the police to come out of retirement and solve crimes.

But I never will.

Instead, and by your leave, dear readers, I will answer more questions.

That is my meager contribution.

That is all.

John Hodgman
Former Professional Literary Agent