Claire Fullerton is that rare breed of cat known as a Southern transplant. Having grown up in Memphis, the crowning jewel of the Mississippi Delta, she now lives by the ocean in Malibu, California, where she is a full-time writer and spends much time playing with her 3 German shepherds ( yes, 3! ) all of whom have Irish names, because Claire once lived in Galway, Ireland. https://clairefullerton.com has all you need to know about her 4 traditionally published novels. As a writer, she is drawn to the complicated subject of family dynamics and the process of finding one's place in the world. And she is in love with language as high art, which is apparent in her shepherds, for they each understand the King's English! Contact Claire at email@example.com or Julie Gwinn at the Seymour Literary Agency.
I’m Claire Fullerton, the traditionally published author of Little Tea, Mourning Dove, Dancing to an Irish Reel, and A Portal in Time. I also have a novella titled, Through an Autumn Window, which is included in the book, A Southern Season: Scenes from a Front Porch Swing. I grew up in Memphis, Tennessee and now live in Malibu, California.
# What is/are the real-life story(ies) behind your book(s)?
There are no “real-life” stories in my novels, though I draw from a strong sense of place and am inspired by people and events I know.
# What inspires/inspired your creativity?
People are always my inspiration, My last two novels are set in the Deep South, and the South has such wonderfully colorful characters that are part and parcel to the Southern culture. I think all stories happen because of the people involved, so my inspiration comes from simply paying attention to people’s mannerisms, the stories they tell, and their way with words.
In the colorful artistic underworld off-Broadway, Cammie, a dancer in her mid-thirties, has just landed her first part in a show since coming to New York City. Yet the tug of familial obligation and the guilt of what she sacrificed to be there weigh down her dancing feet. Her lover, Tom, an older piano player, came to the city as a young man in the 1980s with a story eerily in tune with Cammie’s own. Through their triumphs and failures, both learn the fleeting nature of glory, the sweetness of new love, and how a dream come true isn’t cherished until it passes. The bright lights of the stage intoxicate, while degradation and despair lurk close behind the curtain. Their sagas are marred by two pandemics, AIDS in the 1980s and COVID-19 today, which ravaged the performing arts community, leaving a permanent scar on those who lived through them. The poignant intersection of their stories reveals a love affair unbound by time, reaching across decades through the notes of a piano’s remembered song.
My Book Review:
In Gregory Phillips dynamic novel, A Season in Lights, the city of New York is in a constant state of becoming as seen from the perspective of two artists: a stary-eyed dancer named Cammie, come to the city from Lancaster, Pennsylvania in search of Broadway, and Tom, a black piano player from the mean streets of the Bronx, seeking a career as a classical pianist against all odds.
In language as fluid and graceful as the performers portrayed in alternating chapters, A Season in Lights beckons the reader to New York City’s inner sanctum. The atmosphere is electric, it glows and pulses with vibrancy, and Cammie, a ballet dancer and divorcee in her mid-thirties, sees the opportunity to dance on Broadway as her life’s second chance. Through a Times Square cab window, Cammie remarks, “I eagerly looked out at the neon glow and bustle of activity. The lights! Their glow had lured me here. The stage lights made me feel alive again.”
Tom, grounded and practical, knows a bit about life’s underbelly having witnessed the mistakes his hoodlum brother made. He takes a job as a ballet studio’s accompanist and plays it safe while keeping his eye out for classical opportunities. The ballet master takes Tom aside and insightfully says of New York City, “You get to choose your class here. It’s not determined by your upbringing. It doesn’t matter that you’re black or that I’m gay. It doesn’t even matter how much money you have. All you’ve got to do is convince people that you belong. You’ve got to tell them who you are before they tell you.”
A Season in Lights is a layered story. As the main characters struggle to actualize their dreams, each has a backstory to surmount. Small town girl Cammie feels guilty about moving to New York and abandoning her younger sister. She is prone to depression and torn over family obligations, on the fence about where to plant her roots. Of New York’s many merits, Cammie, on a visit back home, says to her sister, “What’s so wonderful about people in New York is that they’re all doing something. Nobody’s in New York by accident, not even people who were born there. Being there takes effort and purpose.” In considering her options of whether to stay in the city or move back home, Cammie realizes, “Ultimately, a good life for a dancer in New York would amount to scraping by and enjoying it.”
Tom, dutiful to his mother, is entrusted with his unpredictable brother’s safe keeping, even as his sibling plays too close to the edge. When push comes to shove, Tom prioritizes, and eventually finds the courage to save himself by walking away from his brother’s drug-related troubles.
What’s so compelling about this well-written New York set story is how well the author knows the city. The reader is taken to restaurants via hidden alleys, guided down side streets for late-night jazz, and taken into celebrated theatres both on Broadway and off. Author Gregory Phillips knows ballet positions and accurately speaks the language. When it comes to music, the writing is such that you can hear the compositions.
A Season in Lights is a modern day, tightly crafted story concerning artists living in the heartbeat of the fabled Big Apple. It’s a human story about passion and ambition; a fantastic foray that explores the myth and magic of New York City.
The author, Gregory Phillips
From a prolific literary family, Gregory Erich Phillips tells aspirational stories through strong, relatable characters that transcend time and place. Living in Seattle, Washington, he is also an accomplished tango dancer and musician.
I submitted an essay to the outfit, Scare Your Soul, who issued a callout to writers to submit an essay on what they’d lost and what they’d found during the world-wide pandemic. My essay is one of ten, chosen to be narrated by a New York City based actor. For ten weeks, the selected essays were feature, one at a time, on Scare Your Soul’s Podcast.
My essay appears this week. Here is the essay, and below it is the Podcast link where you can hear actor, Keith White – Georgia and California raised, now living in NYC, with a host of Broadway credentials, narrate. I loved hearing his interpretation of my essay!
I lost my eldest brother right before the pandemic. Grief is no fit master when the world is on pause, and oh, how the mind rankles when enclosed in four walls—one has little recourse but to climb them. There by the grace of God go I, and what could I have done to prevent this collided. I had no distractions because the rules of the pandemic are such that there’s nowhere to run.
I’m the last in my family standing. Because my brother died unexpectedly, it was as if he threw the ball of his life in the air, and it was incumbent upon me to catch it. When I got out of shock, I had his worldly goods sent from Chicago to a storage unit near me in Southern California. I was so overwhelmed that when the deed was done, I adopted an out of sight, out of mind approach and tucked away the key. But one can only procrastinate for so long. As the shut-down dragged on, I was shorn of excuses for not addressing the unit’s 74 boxes. In the interest of closure, I prioritized the task and stepped up.
A large envelope was at the bottom of a box marked papers. When I opened it, out slid a nine-page document titled, “Notes on Father Fullerton as told by him to his daughter, Ora.” I’d never heard of Ora Fullerton. What’s more, I’d never heard the name Ora, but it turns out it’s not unusual in Ireland’s Isle Magee, County Antrim.
The document was a Xerox copy, a rag to riches chronicle of my great grandfather and his siblings that began in 1876, and led them, one after another, from famine-ravaged Ireland in search of the American dream. The eldest sibling arrived in America first, with twenty-five dollars. He took a look around and discovered, instead of brick and stone, everything in America was built with lumber. After apprenticing as a carpenter, he worked for a man who owned a sawmill. When he became co-owner of that sawmill, he sent for his ten Irish brothers and expanded the business. By the time the full story was told, the immigrants owned a total of eighty American lumber yards. At the helm of it all was one Samuel Holmes Fullerton, whose photograph I found on the last page of the document as he appeared in a 1906 edition of American Lumberman’s Magazine, and whom the town of Fullerton, south of Baton Rouge, Louisiana was named, which is now on the National Historic Register.
Because I knew none of this, I’m researching my Irish lineage. I sense there’s a triumphant story in my forebears finding the American dream. It’s affirming to realize the pandemic hasn’t changed my optimistic belief in the possibilities of human existence. I began the pandemic grieving the loss of my brother, but I’ve found my paternal lineage. This seems to me beautiful testimony to one door opening as another closes.
Scare Your Soul is a volunteer-led, science-based movement that inspires people to ignite their best selves through living a courageous life.
Here is Keith White’s Narration:
Keith White is an NYC based actor/singer/writer. He’s been seen performing on Broadway, in National Tours, on Cruise Ships, eating at Vegan brunches, dancing at hiphop concerts, celebrating his friends and family, and most recently lounging in sweatpants at home in his apartment spending time with his love Erin Kommor and their dog Bear as the world slows down in the middle of a pandemic. If you want to know more, visit Keith’s instagram @ItsyaboyKeithWhite.
Here are the other writer’s essays that were recorded for the podcast:
My favorite Podcast is Charlotte Readers Podcast, hosted by Landis Wade, an author himself and “a recovering trial lawyer” who encourages authors to read and talk about their award-winning, published, and emerging works. This is the show where host, Landis Wade, visits with local, regional, national and international authors who read and discuss their work. The Charlotte Readers Podcast mission is to help authors give voice to their written words for listeners who love good books.
Host Landis Wade of The Charlotte Readers Podcast
The podcast’s community blog is populated with readerly and writerly content offered by talented writers. It contains nuggets of wisdom for readers and writers.
This week, I contribute to their Community Voices Blog with a short post about how I became a writer, and the link to the blog post, titled, There Is no There to Get to, is here:
Charlotte Readers Podcast wants to hear YOUR voice! Charlotte Readers Podcast is so grateful for the love writers are showing our blog, Community Voices, where we invite writers to submit their readerly and writerly voices to be featured on our website. The submission guidelines are simple, but must be followed for consideration. Read our latest posts, learn more about what we’re looking for, and submit your writing for consideration on our website: https://linktr.ee/CharlotteReadersPodcast
Here’s the Link to The Charlotte Readers Podcast Website:
Tina invited her friend Erica to attend a popular Tchaikovsky’s Spectacular concert on a summer evening with her parents. During the intermission, her dad left the seat to buy some snacks. Tina and Erica followed him wanting to use the restroom. The shoving crowd pushed them away, and they lost sight of him. It would be impossible to fight through the 18,000 people to find him or go back to Tina’s mom. This story tells about what happened to Tina and Erica after they got lost. Children can adapt to the learning from different situations they may observe or encounter. Adults could have discussions with the children about the situations to help them develop problem-solving skills.
My review of this delightful children’s book:
Third grader, Tina Tyler, looks forward to summer. It is the last day of classes, and she has had such a great school year that she hopes the next year will pair her with her teacher, Mrs. Jackson, who stands outside smiling and waving goodbye to her students and reminds Tina that the fourth grade will be a new adventure, a prospect that Tina readily embraces.
Tina is the exuberant sort, and when her mother takes her home to officially begin summer break, the two sit down at the kitchen table and prepare a ten-point list of best case scenario summer activities, and thus the merits of planning are demonstrated to the reader. Tina is excited by the prospects of swimming and asks her mother if she can host a sleepover party for her friends, which her mother encourages because it is important to be appreciative of one’s friends.
In a delightful surprise for Tina, Mrs. Tyler tells her daughter there will be an outdoor concert at the Hollywood Bowl where an orchestra will play Tina’s favorite music: Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake. Tina, wanting to include her best friend, asks if she may invite Erica, and when her mother says yes, Tina jumps for joy and claps her hands.
There is much to look forward to at the concert, and Tina’s parents take her and Erica on a two hour train ride to the outdoor event, which will include a picnic and culminate in a fireworks display more resplendent than any Tina has seen prior.
But one has to be prepared for the unexpected, and when in dire circumstances, a child does well to remember the wise counsel of their parents, so when Tina and Erica discover they are lost in a crowd of thousands of people, Erica despairs, until Tina says, “We should stay here. I remember Mom told me a long time ago that if I could not see her, stay where I am, and she would come to find me.”
Miriam Hurdle’s Tina Lost in a Crowd is a joyous, vibrantly illustrated parable designed to depict the safety and security that comes from listening to and trusting one’s parents. In seamless companionship with the gorgeous artwork of Victoria Skakandi, it demonstrates that having a plan to resort to when in the grips of uncertainty will lead to a certain solution where all will be well.
Meet author Miriam Hurdle:
Miriam Hurdle is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). She published four children’s books at twenty-six years old. Her poetry collection received the Solo “Medalist Winner” for the New Apple Summer eBook Award and achieved bestseller status on Amazon.
Miriam writes poetry, short stories, memoir, and children’s books. She earned a Doctor of Education from the University of La Verne in California. After two years of rehabilitation counseling, fifteen years of public-school teaching and ten years in school district administration, she retired and enjoys life with her husband in southern California, and the visits to her daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughters in Oregon. When not writing, she engages in blogging, gardening, photography, and traveling.
Writer, Carla the Reader, writes this in her book review of Tina Lost in the Crowd:
“I read this book to my two oldest grandchildren (5 and 7) and we had some wonderful discussions. We read it straight through the first time, but on the second reading, boy did they open up. We talked about school ending and things they like to do in the summer. Fireworks are a favorite summer activity during the first weekend in July and as a family we go and watch them as well as have a BBQ. Swimming is another wonderful activity and then we talked about outdoor concerts. After all that, I brought them around to discussing what to do if they get lost. The oldest had a lot of ideas involving finding someone in a uniform, finding a mommy or daddy with kids to ask for help and find someone with a ph0ne to call their parents. We discussed what Tina and Erica did and decided that would also work well if mommy and daddy knew what direction they were heading. Even if they chose other options when they get lost, it opened up some great learning moments.”
Congratulations to author Miriam Hurdle on the April 15, 2021 release of this wonderful children’s book, which is available on Amazon!
“The Invisible Husband of Frick Island links the modern world with the past on a small island struggling to stay afloat literally and figuratively. It’s a lively, heartwarming story with eccentric characters depicting the lengths a small community will go to in support of one of its own.”
Piper Parrish lives on Frick Island and works at the local deli. At the end of every afternoon, she waits on the marina’s dock for Tom’s boat to come puffing into the harbor after “squeezing in every minute of the government-allotted eight hours of crabbing per day.” Piper and Tom are newlywed, childhood sweethearts, and Piper is patient for her husband’s return. “Time on the rustic Frick Island had always been more of a theoretical concept measured in jiffies or whiles or later ons,” so she is used to delays. When a boat captain tells her Tom radioed for help during a storm earlier that morning, and that his boat is now missing, Piper holds out hope for Tom’s return, even when his boat is found at the bottom of the sea four days later.
Colleen Oakley is the USA Today bestselling author of You Were There Too, Close Enough to Touch,Before I Go, and the forthcoming The Invisible Husband of Frick Island (May 2021). Colleen’s novels have been longlisted for the Southern Book Prize twice and Close Enough to Touch won the French Reader’s Prize. Her books have been translated into 21 languages, optioned for film and have received numerous accolades including:
A former magazine editor for Marie Claire and Women’s Health & Fitness, Colleen’s articles and essays have been featured in The New York Times, Ladies’ Home Journal, Women’s Health, Redbook, Parade, Woman’s Day, Fitness, Health, Marie Claire and Martha Stewart Weddings. A proud graduate of the University of Georgia’s school of journalism, Colleen currently lives in Atlanta with her husband, four kids, four chickens, two guinea pigs, and one fish.
Book Description: THE INVISIBLE HUSBAND OF FRICK ISLAND
Sometimes all you need is one person to really see you.
Piper Parrish’s life on Frick Island—a tiny, remote town smack in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay—is nearly perfect. Well, aside from one pesky detail: Her darling husband, Tom, is dead. When Tom’s crab boat capsized and his body wasn’t recovered, Piper, rocked to the core, did a most peculiar thing: carried on as if her husband was not only still alive, but right there beside her, cooking him breakfast, walking him to the docks each morning, meeting him for their standard Friday night dinner date at the One-Eyed Crab. And what were the townspeople to do but go along with their beloved widowed Piper?
Anders Caldwell’s career is not going well. A young ambitious journalist, he’d rather hoped he’d be a national award-winning podcaster by now, rather than writing fluff pieces for a small town newspaper. But when he gets an assignment to travel to the remote Frick Island and cover their boring annual Cake Walk fundraiser, he stumbles upon a much more fascinating tale: an entire town pretending to see and interact with a man who does not actually exist. Determined it’s the career-making story he’s been needing for his podcast, Anders returns to the island to begin covert research and spend more time with the enigmatic Piper—but he has no idea out of all the lives he’s about to upend, it’s his that will change the most.
USA Today bestselling author Colleen Oakley delivers an unforgettable love story about an eccentric community, a grieving widow, and an outsider who slowly learns that sometimes faith is more important than the facts.
WHAT PEOPLE ARE SAYING ABOUT THE INVISIBLE HUSBAND OF FRICK ISLAND:
“An utterly charming story brimming with heart and humanity. This is the hopeful book we all need right now. I loved it!” —Emily Giffin, #1 New York Times bestselling author
“Sweet, quirky, surprising, and altogether lovely, The Invisible Husband of Frick Island is everything I long for in a book. I fell in love with Oakley’s sparkling prose, charming characters, and quaint island setting. This is a story I can’t wait to revisit, again and again. A must read.”—Emily Henry, New York Times bestselling author of Beach Read
“What’s a town to do when a recent widow keeps talking to her husband that no one else can see? Follow along, of course. Colleen Oakley’s captivating The Invisible Husband of Frick Island is populated with quirky characters that stole my heart. Make this your summer read and discover the joys of a delicious Frick Island cake, the sanctuary of a tight-knit community, and the hope of second chances.”—Amy E. Reichert, author of The Coincidence of Coconut Cake
“A gently told story of grief, community and ambition, The Invisible Husband of Frick Island is imaginative, lovely and full of surprises.”—Kristan Higgins, New York Times bestselling author of Always the Last to Know
“This twisty, never-predictable novel is exactly what we’ve come to expect by Oakley—a romantic mystery with a hopeful message and wonderful characters. I was surprised on every page!”–W. Bruce Cameron, #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Dog’s Purpose
Firefly Southern Fiction is running an e-book promotion this week, so if you haven’t read Little tea, for this week only, you can acquire Little Tea for .99 cents!
Here’s what you need to know about Little Tea:
Southern Culture … Old Friendships … Family Tragedy
One phone call from Renny to come home and “see about” the capricious Ava and Celia Wakefield decides to overlook her distressful past in the name of friendship.
For three reflective days at Renny’s lake house in Heber Springs, Arkansas, the three childhood friends reunite and examine life, love, marriage, and the ties that bind, even though Celia’s personal story has yet to be healed. When the past arrives at the lake house door in the form of her old boyfriend, Celia must revisit the life she’d tried to outrun.
As her idyllic coming of age alongside her best friend, Little Tea, on her family’s ancestral grounds in bucolic Como, Mississippi unfolds, Celia realizes there is no better place to accept her own story than in this circle of friends who have remained beside her throughout the years. Theirs is a friendship that can talk any life sorrow into a comic tragedy, and now that the racial divide in the Deep South has evolved, Celia wonders if friendship can triumph over history.
Women’s Fiction Momma5.0 out of 5 stars Highly Recommended Reviewed in the United States. Verified Purchase Claire Fullerton has stolen my heart with lyrical prose and a deep understanding of family, friendship, and how history shapes us in Little Tea. Through the story of Celia and Little Tea, two incredible young women who dare to defy convention, readers are quickly swept up in a story of a 1980’s South that is hanging on to its roots by a thread. At times, the story made me feel the deep friendships similar to those in The Divine Secrets of the YaYa Sisterhood, but at others the tension resting just below the surface of this original story kept me turning the pages to learn what would happen. Fullerton’s depth of understanding when it comes to the relationships between Celia’s and Little Tea’s family ties will break your heart, and then all at once make it sing. Highly recommended.
5.0 out of 5 stars Southern Fiction at its BestReviewed in the United States. Southern fiction has always fascinated me for its evocation of that culture and language, the iconic characters and descriptions of environments. Claire Fullerton’s Little Tea more than satisfies a reader’s fascination with world she creates in Tennessee, Arkansas, and Mississippi. In the way we all try to look back to make sense of how we’ve gotten to where we are approaching middle age, three childhood BFF gather and move forward the narrative of their connections. Race, family ties, mental illness and ambition are the themes that bind and inform this story with conflict, history and ultimately love. A wonderful story beautifully told.
Little Tea Book Awards:
1st Place Outstanding Literary/General Fiction The Independent Authors Network
2nd place Book of the Year: The Independent Authors Network
Gold Medal Winner in Southern Fiction: Readers’ Favorite
1st Place in the Chanticleer Reviews Somerset Awards for Literary Fiction
The Pulpwood Queens August Book Club Selection
Deep South Magazine’s 2020 Summer Reading list
Featured in Mississippi Magazine
Finalist in the International Book Awards
Finalist in the 2020 Kindle Book Awards.
Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader rated it it was amazingI just click with author Claire Fullerton’s writing. I loved Little Tea just as much as Mourning Dove. She knows how to weave a southern tale.
Renny, Ava, and Celia have been friends since childhood, but they haven’t seen each other in ten years. They reunite at Renny’s lake house in Arkansas with much-needed time together commiserating and catching up.
Something happens that changes the tone of the weekend. Celia’s old boyfriend visits the lake house and causes the women to address the past.
Told in two timelines, the present and the 1980s, the story begins for these three friends. The deep south in which they grew up is not as pretty as it appears. Race and class issues are addressed with a profound but gentle hand.
Bottom line, I absolutely adored this story of friendship and how the remarkable bond of these strong women persevered over a long period of time.
Billy O’Callaghan rated it it was amazing “There’s a damp, verdant feel to Olive Branch, Mississippi, in the summertime. From the side of the road, everything is a chiaroscuro of overgrown, tangled green. Moss drips sultry from kudzu-covered oaks, shading twists of the road in canopies of diamond-dappled sunlight. The world there is flat, expansive, and quiet, evoking a mood both eerie and somber.” (from Little Tea) Claire Fullerton has an enviably light touch, a lilting style that carries shades of Pat Conroy and tinges of Anne Tyler while managing to be be wonderfully of itself. Little Tea is a triumph – a meditation on friendship that’s gentle, emotive and, above all, wise. This is a writer who knows the heart, and the world around it, and most importantly, knows how to tell a good story.
“In lively, descriptive language, Dianna Rostad has penned a heart-warming, epic story built on the premise of a search for belonging that reads as an odyssey in all that it takes to find the heart of one’s family.”
A sweeping, atmospheric story set in cattle country, Bull Mountain, Montana, You Belong Here Now is a heart-tugging, home on the range story told through a wide-view lens with panoramic perfection.
Author Dianna Rostad gives context for this enthralling story in her author’s note on page one: “From 1853 through the early 1900’s, The Children’s Aid Society in New York rescued over 120,000 orphans living on the city streets in the aftermath of war, Spanish Flu, and immigration. The orphan train carried them out to the rick soils of farms and ranches.”
Dianna Rostad was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. Her parents and extended family come from the ranches of Montana and the farms of Arkansas. Dianna raised three kind, human beings, and when they began to test their wings, she took to writing with a passion, completing Southern Methodist University Writer’s Path program in 2009. A favorite task of her creative endeavors is the discovery and research of people and places where her novels are set. She has traveled extensively to pursue the last artifacts of our shared history and breathe life, truth, and hope into her novels. Now living in Florida, Dianna continues to write big-hearted novels for wide audiences everywhere.
In this brilliant debut, three children take the orphan train from New York City to the Big Sky Country of Montana, hoping for a better life where beautiful wild horses roam free.
Montana: 1925. An Irish boy orphaned by Spanish flu, a tiny girl who won’t speak, and a volatile young man who lies about his age to escape Hell’s Kitchen, are paraded on train platforms across the Midwest to work-worn folks. They journey countless miles, racing the sun westward.
Before they reach the last rejection and stop, the oldest, Charles, comes up with a daring plan, and alone, they set off toward the Yellowstone River and grassy mountains where the wild horses roam.
Fate guides them toward the ranch of a family stricken by loss. Nara, the daughter of a successful cattleman, has grown into a brusque spinster who refuses the kids on sight. She’s worked hard to gain her father’s respect and hopes to run their operation, but if the kids stay, she’ll be stuck in the kitchen.
Nara works them without mercy, hoping they’ll run off, but they buck up and show spirit, and though Nara will never be motherly, she begins to take to them. So, when Charles is jailed for freeing wild horses that were rounded up for slaughter, and an abusive mother from New York shows up to take the youngest, Nara does the unthinkable, risking everything she holds dear to change their lives forever.
PRAISE FOR YOU BELONG HERE NOW
“Dianna Rostad has written a story in a narrative voice so fine and true it settles over you like a warm comforter. Set against the harsh backdrop of western Montana, You Belong Here Now is a novel as straightforward and powerful as the characters who populate it. I love this book, and I guarantee you won’t find a finer debut work anywhere.” William Kent Krueger, New York Times bestselling author of This Tender Land
“From the moment the reader steps on the train with these orphaned children, You Belong Here Now shows how beauty can emerge from even the darkest places.” Erika Robuck, bestselling author of Hemingway’s Girl
“Rostad has successfully crafted a heartwarming, unflinching story of orphans, family, and horses, wrought in finely chiseled prose. Timeless, irresistible, You Belong Here Now, set in the wild grasslands of Montana, is for fans of Orphan Train and all of us who long for acceptance. A brilliant debut!” Weina Dai Randel, award-winning author of The Moon in the Palace
“Rostad’s bighearted debut is full of surprises, and warm with wisdom about what it means to be family.” Meg Waite Clayton, New York Times bestselling author of The Last Train to London
This Essay Appears in the May Issue of The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature: https://deadmule.com/
There’s a saying you hear bantered about the South: “The past is never,” the reference pertaining to the South’s storied history. I’ll add an amendment and take it a step further by including what’s implied: A Southerner never forgets.
We Southerners have deep roots and oral traditions that make us gifted story tellers. We’re big on family connections and boast pride of lineage, which we wear as a badge of honor. It’s touching, really. Our most salient characteristic is familial identification. I’ve always said this about Southerners: we definitely know who we are. We know our place in the world because we belong to something—people mostly, and a region so layered it lives and breathes its own character. Though some now see the historical narrative as shameful, many Southerners keep their aperture insularly focused. Which isn’t to say Southerners aren’t historically and globally conscious; as a generalization, we’re passionately attuned to the larger sphere. But lives are built in day-to-day increments the world over, and there’s nothing wrong with a world view that starts at home and hearth.
I’m thinking about all this because my mother’s antique cabinet recently arrived from my childhood home in Memphis. I now live in Southern California and inherited it, and having it shipped to me seemed the thing to do. My mother loved antiques; she was a collector. I grew up surrounded by antiques as a state of affairs, appreciative enough though the passion was hers; I was but an observer. The cabinet is monstrous by anyone’s standards, more decorative than functional. My mother anchored her world with art and made no apology for favoring beauty before practicality. Though I wasn’t looking for an oversized piece of furniture, my decision to have the cabinet shipped to me had something to do with loyalty. The thought of letting it go seemed like flying in the face of my mother, and I couldn’t bring myself to do that. I wouldn’t have thought so ten years ago, but things are different now that she’s gone.
The cabinet loomed in the house in which I grew up, as my mother had before me. Stationed beneath an arch in the breezeway between the parlor and card room, it stood sentry over everything happening in that French Provincial house. If inanimate objects retain memory then this cabinet holds plenty. It saw it all through three generations and never passed judgement. Through trial and tribulation, death, and divorce, that cabinet maintained its dignity and kept its mouth shut. The hand-built art piece meant something to my mother. With its delicate inlay, carved spindle legs, and series of brass handled drawers, she kept it in pride of place. As the last member of my family standing, it felt incumbent upon me to honor its history. Now that it’s in my California living room, there’s great satisfaction in thinking I’m keeping its lineage alive. I won’t deny that any self-respecting architect who walked in my house would wrinkle their purist nose. The glass walls of my modern house demand the streamlined effect of Meis van der Rohe furniture: minimalism, in a less is more kind of fashion, with respect to the ocean view. But I’m a transplanted Southerner living in Malibu, California, and Southerners don’t do minimalism. We cover surfaces with sit-outs, and to us, there’s no bigger crime than a vacant wall. Which brings me to a rhetorical question: Were a Southerner to allow a sparse interior, how in the world would they tell their stories? Most Southerners could keep you all day telling stories about everything in their house. I happen to be an animated case in point. I think having the cabinet pulled at the last minute from a Memphis estate sale, crated and shipped 2,000 miles, only to sit weeks in my driveway because of the Covid pandemic makes a great story. It’d still be sitting outside had my husband not opened the crate to discover the cabinet was in three portable pieces. Upon this discovery, I was so excited, I employed sheer force of will, to help finagle it up a flight of concrete stairs and into the house.
It’s a strange feeling, seeing the cabinet in my living room. For some nostalgic reason, it has yet to feel like it’s mine, but perhaps I’ll grow into it. I think I feel this way because the cabinet was integral to not only the era in which I came of age, but it represents a way of life that is lost to me now—a way of life enjoyed by someone no longer here, a true Southern belle to whom art came before practicality. In my memory, it represents the beautiful woman before me—her taste and priority; her attention to detail in beautifying her surroundings. For some odd reason, I’ve looked at that cabinet in my living room sticking out like a sore thumb and thought surely there’ll come a day when I feel like I own it. But then again, maybe not. Perhaps I’ll always think of it as my mother’s. It really might remain a talisman, representative of where I came from.
I once defined adulthood as moving away to carve out my individuality. When I was young, I planned to leave the South, plant myself among the bright lights of Los Angeles where the rootless have cobbled a shifting society in a climate where anything goes. At one time, that seemed to me the ideal, my own brand of independence. But maturity has brought me full circle, and it humbles me to think I’ve learned something. My mother’s cabinet belongs in my living room no matter what. It will live there until it’s my time to pass it along. It may never compliment anything in my beach-side house, but I’m fine with that. It will remain where it is, lest I forget my roots.
Congratulations to Author/Artist G. Claire on Dreaming in a Time of Dragons!
-When is a dragon not a dragon?-When is a prince not a prince?-When do you burn evidence of your royalty and run, disguised as a boy? Eva finds her royal birthright has come at a high price, one that could cost her life. In the middle of dark intrigue, she must decide what to do: Trust the words of a mysterious traveler; or stay in the castle, hoping to restore the ruined Kingdom of Dunmoor. She knows one day she must face a danger sprung to life from the most frightening tale she knows . . . or forever be looking over her shoulder. Her choice means everything. For her. For the Kingdom. This story is stitched between the lines of supernatural realism, with medieval fairytale underpinnings.
I Love This Photograph of G. Claire at work!
Born and raised in Florida, I have loved writing and drawing since I held the first crayon and decorated our living room wall. My parents quickly realized I would need large paper and supervision – and lots of both.
I grew up, married, and moved to Atlanta. There, working as an artist/illustrator, my work was published and bought by private and corporate collectors.
Later, during my career as an art teacher for middle-grade and high school students, I felt the tug to write. After going to seminars and devouring books on the craft of writing, I took the plunge and joined a writers’ group. Creating new worlds and characters to inhabit them is now my place of bliss.
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Claire currently lives in the metro Atlanta area with her husband, and is working on Dreaming in a Time of Dragons, an epic adventure.
Reviews: I cannot remember my kids not I bring this enthralled in a book as much as we were this one. Ever. We struggled to stop reading every night and go to bed at a decent time, we couldn’t put it down. My daughter says she’s never envisioned anything in her imagination like she did while listening to me read this aloud. The author isn’t only an artist with images but also with words, invoking such beautiful imagery in the imagination. The good messages learned through this adventure are so beautifully and powerfully interwoven into the story. Learning to trust God, listen to intuition/the voice, bravery and forgiveness…there’s so much I could say but don’t want to spoil it. We are EAGERLY awaiting the next book and will probably reread this one while we wait. My daughter has been telling all her friends about it and how they HAVE to read it.
I loved this book! It was a great escape from all that’s going on in our world today. This book spans generations where pre-teen, teen, and adults alike will all enjoy this book! You can even read it to your children! It’s worth your time! Plus, I love the fact that the author also did the drawings and cover! She is multi-talented! Don’t hesitate to buy and read it!
I loved this book!! It was recommended to me, and now my niece is reading it. The chapters are short and story moves quickly. I liked the mystery and than the discovery of plot line. It was so clever. The drawings in it were also very well done. I could easily see this been made into a movie…I really look forward to that!