The Southern Literary Review!

JASON KINGRY INTERVIEWS CLAIRE FULLERTON, AUTHOR OF “LITTLE TEA”

SEPTEMBER 15, 2020 BY JASON KINGRYLEAVE A COMMENT

JK:  Thank you for doing this interview about your new novel, Little Tea.  I’ve read that you’ve lived in Minnesota, Memphis, Ireland, and now in California. What were these transitions like, and how have they affected your writing?

Claire Fullerton

CF: The transitions ushered in forward momentum, in that living in different locations expanded my understanding of the world. The insights were cumulative as opposed to immediate and mostly having to do with an ephemeral sense of things pertaining to a combination of the environment and its people. I suppose the idea of cultures is best perceived from the outside looking in, so to speak. Being in it but not of it gave me an objective view that continues to affect my writing.

JK:  What would you call “home” about each of these places?

CF: The idea of home is tied to the way I feel centered in an environment and has everything to do with harmonizing with a frame of reference. Nature affects everything about a location and I’m a great walker. I think the best way to get the feel of a place is on foot. I believe people create their idea of home through their relationship to the environment and their loved ones in it. My idea of home has to do with long-term investment and an anchored compatibility that operates on many levels.

JK:  Did being an “avid journal-keeper” help you to become an avid novelist?

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CF: Definitely. Keeping a journal for as many decades as I have woke me up to the fact that I’ve been a writer by nature all along. Writing has been part and parcel to my way of being in the world. I interpret the world by writing, and the practice has spawned an intimacy that  translates to the nuts and bolts of how I write novels. 

JK:  I’ve always lived in the South. I’ve always been a large, bearded man, and I’ve always had to excuse the fact that I’m a “cat person.” I see in your bio that you live with one black cat. Are you superstitious? Do you consider the cat yours or your husband’s, or does the cat belong to you both?  Are you a cat person as well? Tell me more about the cat.

CF: I live with one black cat named Le Chat and three German shepherds! La Chatte is definitely my cat because she chose me as her center of gravity. She is a medium-length haired, solid black, yellow-eyed bundle of communicative joy who gets pushy when it’s time for me to brush her, which is every evening before I go to bed. It is a two-brush ritual: one for her body and one for her kitten face, which she presents side after side with such rapturous, princess preening that I laugh every time. La Chatte has the run of the house yet chooses to camp out on the daybed in my office. Our shepherds never tire of investigating La Chatte, but by all appearances, the shepherds bore her. And I wouldn’t say I’m particularly superstitious as much as I’m aware of the mysterious unknowable that walks hand-in-hand with my ever-changing assumptions of reality.  As for cats, I’ve always thought if you’re going to be a cat, then there’s something perfect about being a black one.

JK:  You thank a lot of southerners at the opening to Little Tea. Do you have an affinity for Southern culture, especially as it pertains to the outdoors?

CF: I appreciate Southern culture and am forever trying to define it, which is ridiculous because it’s made up of nuance. I recently had a conversation with a Hollywood actress who prepared to play a Southerner by studying my Southern accent. I was patient with the process until it occurred to me to cut to the chase. “What you have to understand,” I said, “is that it’s not about mimicry; being Southern is an attitude, so let’s start there.”  So, an emphatic yes, I have an affinity for Southern culture, and as it pertains to the outdoors in Little Tea, I wanted to capture Southern boys in the prime of their swaggering youth who know how to hunt and fish in the Delta. There’s an art to this, a science, a way of awe-struck communing in the region with a type of reverence seen not so much as sport as the exhilarating pursuit of challenge. I’ve always respected this about Southern men who hunt. They have an admirable relationship with the great outdoors.

JK:  Having written your entire life, more or less, did you ever think that you would have such a following as you do?

CF: From my perspective, writing is a search for similarities. In my own way, I am comparing notes on this business of life with my readers. I’m aware that my novels are open for interpretation, but therein is my humble gift to the reader. Readers are intelligent creatures and it is my great honor to earn their attention. There’s no way to accurately gage the number in whatever following I have, but suffice it to say, I am grateful for each.

JK:  It seems that you started your writing career with poetry. Was there a natural progression into writing novels?

CF: I wrote poetry and kept a daily journal up to and through the time I lived on the west coast of Ireland. I lived in Connemara, which is delightfully rural, and when I returned to the United States, I revisited my journal and realized I had a unique story. It was the year 2000, and although I’d never attempted even a short-story, I burned with passion to depict Ireland as I found it. It seemed to me many Americans had a romanticized impression of Ireland, and it was important to me to share that I found the people of that storied island magnificently salt-of-the earth and wary, suspicious of outsiders but able to mask this by appearing to be the friendliest lot on earth. I wanted to tell about it, and in so doing, I realized that writing poetry was my foundation. I can’t say it was a progression because to this day, I keep both balls in play.

JK:  You’re involved with so many publications—I don’t think people view authors in general as particularly “busy.” Would you like to correct that notion?

CF: I love this question. I’ll begin my answer by saying I consider everything having to do with being an author a labor of love. That’s the good news. I do it because I love to and am fond of saying with writing, there is no there to get to; only the process in and of itself. That said, once one is in the game, so to speak, the arena expands. I liken my writing life to being a many spoke wheel wherein the spokes aid and abet the hub, daily. If I’m not in the process of writing a novel, I’m promoting one that’s out, and let me say now, the best part of it all is answering questions such as the ones you’ve asked here because I actually stop and think it all through. Thank you for the joy of this interview and let me debunk the myth: I’m thrilled to report I’m busy!

JK:  There’s something very specific about the canon of Southern literature that is wholesome, haunted, antiquated and compelling. Do you have a theory of what that might be?

CF: It’d be so satisfying to say something brilliant here, but let’s leave that to Michael Farris Smith and Ron Rash. I love both Southern authors so much I can’t even speak. My answer can be found somewhere between Southern heritage and the South’s sultry climate. It’s that and what I love most about Southerners: they definitely know who they are. Southerners wear their identity like a badge of honor, and rightfully so.

JK:  You draw exquisitely on your tendency to “see the world from the outside in.” At what point did you recognize this as an ability?

CF: This circles us back to your first poignant question. It was moving at age ten from Minnesota to Memphis—disparate cultures, I think, that gave me my first taste of being an outsider. It was an indelible experience, profound to the point that I think it impacted my character. I will tell you that considering yourself an outsider isn’t a bad thing at all. To me, it’s a vantage point from which to celebrate, a perch from an aerial view to intuit all that’s unique in people, places, and things. This, in a nutshell, is why I write!

JK:  Thank you very much for this interview!

CF:  Fabulous questions! Thank you.

Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry

I just finished Wendell Berry’s 6th novel, Hannah Coulter, as recommended by Sara Steger, whom I met on the Goodreads group, On the Southern Literary Trail, which is a dedicated, enthusiastic reading group in tune with those great Southern writers worth knowing about.

If you’re unfamiliar with American author, Wendell Berry, here’s an introduction:

Wendell Erdman Berry (born August 5, 1934) is an American novelist, poet, essayist, environmental activistcultural critic, and farmer. He is an elected member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers, a recipient of The National Humanities Medal, and the Jefferson Lecturer for 2012. He is also a 2013 Fellow of The American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Berry was named the recipient of the 2013 Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award. On January 28, 2015, he became the first living writer to be inducted into the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Hannah Coulter and am sharing my book review:

Hannah Coulter is a lyrical study in nostalgia, meandering, at times, just as life itself meanders in seeming slipshod episodes that seem incohesive until viewed in hindsight. But the telling of a life can bring it into focus, and the voice of Hannah Coulter, as she explains her life is the voice of gratitude as she builds linear connections with the full awareness that it is the seeming inconsequential, day to day gestures that make up a life.
I loved this book for its intimate introspection. The story is judicious in dialogue, preferring, instead, to gift the reader with the hidden heartbeat of Hannah Coulter, whom we meet as a callow girl and accompany as she grows wise and world-weary, deepens in self-possession, and all this without traveling far afield from the small rural farming community of Port William, Kentucky, whose sphere of activity is an agrarian culture with a network of neighbors who work together in perpetuating a salt-of-the earth livelihood.
The characters in Hannah Coulter are simply dignified. They are subtle souls, reverent of life’s small purposes. They are commonplace characters with depth and an eye to future generations. They are accepting people, tolerant of changing times even as they hold true to maintaining a less convenient way of life in the name of what they know and treat with the sanctity of tradition.
Hannah Coulter lives beneath the layers of plot and resides in the realm of character study. It is a slow growth story of the life of one woman the reader will come to know and cherish, for all her hard-won wisdom.

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https://linktr.ee/cffullerton

 

Little Tea Reader and Book Club Questions.

Little Tea Reader and Book Club Questions

An author’s intention is telling, when they reach out to readers with questions to consider after reading their book. Because my 4th novel, Little Tea’s, themes are universal– the strong ties of long lasting female friendship, the search for home, and the power of resiliency after weathering family tragedy, my hope is the reader will view these topics through their own lens. And because Little Tea explores the racial divide in the 1980’s Deep South and packs a surprise ending, there is is much for readers and book clubs to discuss!

Here are 12 topics for readers and book clubs to discuss, as they appear on the last page of Little Tea:

1. Celia, Renny, and Ava have a friendship that spans decades. What is it that keeps their friendship thriving? Do you have similar ties with your childhood friends?

2. Ava’s marriage hangs in the balance at the center of this story. Do you find Ava’s reasoning understandable?

3. Can you discuss how it might be that Celia and Renny have different views of Ava’s marital predicament? What is it about their personalities and life experiences that shape their opinion?

4. What do you think about the appearance of Ava’s ex-boyfriend, Mark Clayton in the story? Is Ava trying to avoid her marriage by revisiting her lost youth? Can you relate?

5. What are Celia’s feelings for Tate Foley during this story? Does she experience resolution at the end?

6. Discuss Celia and Little Tea’s relationship. What are their differences? What is their common ground?

7. Celia has left the South to start anew in California. Do you find this reasonable? Can anyone ever outrun their past?

8. Celia’s backstory is set in the 1980’s South. What were the racial attitudes in the 1980’s? How have they changed now?

9. Discuss the nuances of the relationship between Hayward and Little Tea? What draws them together? Why, do you suppose, did they keep their relationship under wraps from Celia and others?

10. How do the members of Celia’s family shape the dynamic to this story?

11. Were you surprised by the ending?

12. What do you consider to be the point of the ending?

Little Tea without preorder

A Week of Zoom Meetings for Little Tea

When your publisher finally gives you the release date for your novel, you start planning. You’ve been through multiple rounds of edits, decided on the book cover, have the book’s final PDF, ordered the advance review copies in print, devised a list of to whom the ARC will be sent after emailing those in the media asking for permission to send, created a folder on your computer delineating with whom you’re in correspondence,  contacted book-bloggers, and organized a schedule on social media that walks the fine line of pre-release promotion and too much grandstanding, and, in my case, created a book tour that involves travelling to the Deep South from California.

I had my book tour for Little Tea planned so seamlessly, even I was impressed. I’d leave for Memphis on June 14 and stay in the Mid-South for ten days. I knew where I was going to stay, had scheduled a rented car for pick-up, an itinerary that included nine events, and embraced the logistics of running from pillar to post because it was going to be worth it. I’ve always said the best way to promote a book is to show up in person. Memphis is a long way from Malibu, but I grew up there, Little Tea is set in the region, people know me in Memphis, and the way I saw it, hustling down there would be a wise move. I did this on a small scale with my third novel, Mourning Dove, and it went so well, I figured I’d widen the parameters with Little Tea to include Lemuria Book Store in Jackson, Mississippi, and the Blytheville Book Company in Blytheville, Arkansas. The planning for Little Tea’s book tour took weeks, but I was all set to go!

Then the pandemic hit, and for months, I waited for the jury to come in on how big the impact would be. It seemed many of my scheduled tour stops held onto hope until its last gasping breath before they conceded defeat.

In stages, venues that had never thought about restructuring their business operation found a way around closing their doors. Book stores started curb-side service, looked at their in-store author event schedule and decided to hold the events via Zoom. Then libraries got on board, as did radio and TV stations. It took a while for everyone to adjust to the new normal, but by Little Tea’s May 1st release date, everyone had switched to Plan B.

I spent a week canceling everything that had gone into my trip and emailing back and forth with my book tour hosts about how to proceed. The result is that I never left my office. My husband, as luck has it, is an audio engineer and knows his way around sound and lighting.

Last week, I did my Little Tea book tour virtually, and I had a blast.

I prepared by drawing the curtains to a close behind my desk, which I hadn’t done once, in all my years of living by the ocean in Malibu, California. I had to clip them together so my desk’s monitor could see me. The overhead lighting above my desk was muted, a lamp was staged behind my 27 inch monitor, and a scarf was wrapped around the shade of my standing desk lamp. My monitor doesn’t have a microphone, but my laptop does, so I steadied it on a stack of books until the devise was close to eye-level. I replaced the wheeled swivel chair before my desk with the hardback chair from my husband’s office. Because I wanted what would appear behind me on-camera to look pretty, I put my mask on, drove down the road, and came home with this:

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Here is how my office lighting turned out, as photographed as a screen-shot of my laptop:

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My first Zoom meeting was with The Memphis Public Library. Fourteen avid readers joined and the meeting lasted for an hour. I did a thirty minute presentation concerning Little Tea’s premise, characters, and setting, along with how I arrived at the book’s idea. A question and answer exchange ensued next, which, for me, was the best part.

Another Zoom meeting was with WREG TV’s Live at 9 morning show with Memphis’s beloved Marybeth Conley. Let me say that 9 AM Memphis time translates to 7:00 AM in California, but the early rise was worth it!

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Later that day, I had the best time, ever, as the guest of Memphis’s iconic broadcaster, Earle Farrell. We had so much fun naming our mutual acquaintances that talking about Little Tea took a back seat! Earle Farrell has had an illustrious career in media. He’s worn every shoe from reporter to anchor, and his Earle Farrell 4 Memphis show has the benefit of Facebook streaming.

Earl Farrell Show

I met with book clubs last week and was thrilled Last Sunday, when a Memphis friend texted me this, which kicked off the week with high-coverage of my local Zoom appearances.

Commercial Appeal Little Tea

 

The highlight of my week was a sold-out author webinar, hosted by the wildly popular Novel Book Store and moderated by fellow author, Susan Cushman, who did a first-rate job asking me questions and fielding reader’s comments. Susan Cushman is an adored author in South, and that she agreed to moderate the event was a gift beyond reason. For one author to interview another guarantees all bases will be covered! I cannot thank Susan Cushman and Novel Book Store enough. 100 attendees joined and the experience exceeded my expectations.

Susan Cushman and me at Novel

I have a few more Zoom meetings schedule before my Little Tea tour concludes. The great thing about doing a Zoom event is that those who missed it can watch it at their convenience on my YouTube Channel, which can be found by going to YouTube and typing in Claire Fullerton!

YouTube Screen Shot

All told, it was a great week, and although the pandemic precluded in-person appearances, I am infinitely grateful to all who made adjustments and accommodated my schedule.

Isn’t technology wonderful?

 

https://www.clairefullerton.com

Southern Heat and the Making of a Book Trailer

While I researched my novel, Little Tea, I visited three locations in the Deep South: Greer’s Ferry Lake in Heber Springs, Arkansas; Memphis, Tennesse, where I grew up; and Como, Mississippi, which is 45 miles south of Memphis. It was the month of July, in the high heat of summer, and if you’ve ever been to the Deep South in the month of July, you know the gauze-like, humidity is part and parcel to the experience.

I embraced it all from the second my plane from Southern California landed. Through the automatic, sliding glass doors, the humidity hit me with the life force of a raging inferno and followed me all the way to my friend’s waiting car.

In the Deep South, much thought goes into escaping the heat. People live in air-conditioned wind tunnels that drown out all sound and wear cotton sweaters inside, which seems, to me, utterly ironic, but there you have it.

There’s a specific character to the Deep South in the summertime that has much to do with the climate, a weighted sultriness that eases on the skin and slows everything down to the point that most things seem nice and easy. Nobody complains about the heat because it’s a regional given. Southerners live in harmony with the heat, build their houses with verandahs, put ceiling fans above, screens before their front doors, and rocking chairs out front because channeling the slightest of breeze is a cultural pastime.

It’d been a long time since I’d been to the South in the dead of summer, but I wanted to photograph Little Tea’s setting in the region’s full, resplendent nuance. I wanted the setting of the Little Tea to depict the South as character, and for that, I needed the trees in their fullness, the flowers in bloom, the sun’s glaring halo over Greer’s Ferry Lake, and the dirt roads fully shaded yet dry as a bone.

Photographing the setting of Little Tea, I knew, would anchor me to the South as I wrote the story, back home at my desk in California, but what I had in mind all along was a series of moving images with which I could gift the reader. After all, a picture tells a thousand words when it comes to a lasting impression. Included, here, is the book trailer of Little Tea I created. My hope is it will give Little Tea’s readers a good sense of place.

 

 

https://www.clairefullerton.com

Southern Family Saga, Mourning Dove

As I count the days to the release of Little Tea, lo and behold, this review of my last novel, Mourning Dove was just sent to me by the Chanticleer Reviews. Thought I’d share it here.

Chanticleer Book Reviews & Media

Camille Crossan appears to be living an idyllic life in Claire Fullerton poignant, evocative novel, MOURNING DOVE. Living in a superbly appointed mansion in “magnolia-lined and manicured” Memphis during the 1960s and 1970s, Camille’s family life shimmers with Southern charm. Beautifully penned #SouthernNovels with all the trimmings. One of our favorites. Highly recommended. #SouthernLiterature #PulpwoodQueens #CIBAs

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Review:

Camille Crossan appears to be living an idyllic life in Claire Fullerton’s poignant, evocative novel, Mourning Dove. Living in a superbly appointed mansion in “magnolia-lined and manicured” Memphis during the 1960s and 1970s, Camille’s family life shimmers with Southern charm. Her mother, Posey, usually outfitted in a Lily Pulitzer shift, Pappagallo shoes, and a signature shade of pink lipstick, is a beauty with the wryest sense of humor and steel determination.
As a young girl, Camille, known as Millie, sees how those in her mother’s social orbit are captivated by her aura, how men are easily seduced by her flirtatious charm. Society is a game played by those who know its rules, and Posey means to win. Every time. She, however, isn’t even the charismatic one in the family – that’s Finley, Millie’s older brother, who brims with intelligence, startling good looks, and messianic magnetism. A peek beneath the shiny surface of gracious Southern living, however, reveals enormous cracks in the foundation of the Crossan family. One of the first things the adult Millie tells us about her brother is that he is dead. She takes the reader back, though, to their childhood and coming of age, a tumultuous journey that both binds and separates the siblings.
During her first decade, Millie’s family was living in Minneapolis with her tender-hearted, intellectual father who succumbed to alcoholism. Loss of money and, worse, the accompanying loss of social status, motivates Posey to uproot her children and move them to her childhood home in Memphis, a palatial mansion filled with antiques and portraits of forebears. It’s a volatile time, inside and outside the house, as centuries-old Southern traditions clash with the youth counterculture.
Millie watches as her mother holds court during daily cocktail hours, a prospective second husband soon on the reel, and Finley, a gifted guitarist, plunges into the local music scene. But what role will she play? It’s difficult for her to see herself entirely separate from her brother for whom she has, “…a love devoid of envy, tied up in shared survival and my inability to see myself as anything more than the larger-than-life Finley’s little sister.” Millie will grapple with her identity and question her destiny, whether she’ll be a bride in the Southern belle mode of her mother or if she’ll be the blossom that falls far from the magnolia tree. Meanwhile, Finley’s charisma both explodes and implodes in shocking and dangerous ways as he becomes revered by a group of people with no connection to the gentrified life. Like Millie, the reader is transfixed and apprehensive about where this less-traveled road will take Finley. Although the reader knows his grim fate from the outset of the book, his storyline is so engrossing that no drama is lost.
Author, Claire Fullerton, is an enchantress with prose. The writing in this novel will cause you to stop, reread sentences, savor them, and note their architecture. Scenes sparkle as she masterfully summons moods and atmosphere. The reader can see Millie’s lovely but haunting home, and smell the rich fragrance of dogwood on a soft spring day. Fullerton has a keen ear for witty, authentic dialogue, and she deftly reveals much about personalities via conversation. It’s difficult to take leave of such a vivid, fully realized world. Fortunately for readers, Fullerton has written several books, opportunities to spend more time in her richly crafted worlds.

 

https://www.clairefullerton.com

 

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Universal link for Little Tea:  https://books2read.com/u/3nvz0R

 

 

Outbound Train by Renea Winchester

Congratulations to Renea Winchester! Today is release-day of her wonderful novel, Outbound Train, a novel with such visceral, Southern nuance and depth; the characters seem to embody the rural South.

In 1976, memories from a night near the railroad tracks, sixteen years earlier, haunt Barbara Parker. She wrestles with past demons every night, then wakes to the train’s five-thirty whistle. Exhausted and dreading the day, she keeps her hands busy working in Bryson City’s textile plant, known as the “blue jean plant,” all the while worrying about her teenage daughter, Carole Anne. The whistle of the train, the hum of those machines, and the struggle to survive drives Barbara. When an unexpected layoff creates a financial emergency, the desperate pressure of poverty is overwhelming.
Unbeknownst to Barbara, Carole Anne sneaks out at night to walk the tracks so she can work at Hubert’s Bar. She’s hoarding money with plans to drive her mother’s rusty, unused Oldsmobile out of Bryson City, and never return. She only needs one opportunity … if she can just find it.
When Carole Anne goes missing, Barbara finds herself at a crossroad—she must put aside old memories and past hurts to rely on a classmate for help finding her daughter. But this is the same man she blames for the incident years ago. Is she strong enough—or desperate enough—to do anything to keep her daughter safe?
In Outbound Train, the Parker women struggle to make frayed ends meet in a town where they never quite do … at least, not without expert weaving and a bit of brute force.
I read the ARC of Outbound Train and recommend this gorgeously written, starkly real Southern set story that will play on your heartstrings all the way through. Author Renea Winchester writes with a clear-sighted, compassionate eye about women in hard times. They are the blue-collar, Parker women, one haunted by her past; the other, her daughter, who plans to escape the poverty of Bryson City, North Carolina at any cost. With twists and turns and secrets that come full-circle, Outbound Train is an engaging story, Southern to its core in setting and character, and captivating to its last page.

Here is my favorite photograph of Renea with her goat!

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I asked Renea Winchester the following questions about Outbound Train.

Q: Are any characters based on or named after friends? If so, have you told them?

Full disclosure, the character Doretta is a combination of Loretta Hannon, the funniest woman in the South, and my sister, Doretta McCammon. Both of these ladies are unpredictable, fearless, and funny as all get out. There’s a reason we live so far apart because together we have entirely too much fun. Secretly Carole Anne wants to be like Doretta. She covets Doretta’s life, her house, and the freedom Doretta has. However, Doretta wishes she were more like Carole Anne. I haven’t told my friends that I based my character on them, until now.
Q: Did you write outside? Do you have a soundtrack?
What an excellent question. I have carried this novel with me, in written form, for years. Jotting down notes, scenes, and sometimes a single saying in notebooks, receipts and napkins whenever a character whispers in my ear. I do not have a soundtrack. Music is a big part of my life, but I find it distracting when writing.

Q: How did you capture the ideas as they came to you?
I write everything by hand because, for me, the first draft comes easier through the tip of a pen. While writing Outbound Train, I voiced to my dear friend, Terry Kay, the troubles I had with a particularly elusive character. The scene simply would not flow no matter how hard I tried to manipulate the story. Terry, in his wisdom, said, “Now dear, you cannot chase characters down the hall. You cannot force them to do your bidding. You are not in control. They are in control. You have two jobs. Observe your characters and write what you observe. Pondering his words, I realized he was correct. The next day I put his advice into action and finished the scene.

Q. You wrote about secrets. Can you tell us a little about the cause and effects of secrets in the story?
Both Barbara and Carole Anne have secrets. Barbara won’t reveal the name of Carole Anne’s father, so young Carole Anne – who is hungry for a positive male role model-picks her own; except the person she picks is a man her mother blames for a traumatic event from her childhood. Carole Anne has had her fill of poverty. She wishes to escape, by any means necessary, even when it means taking a job that breaks the law. A job that ultimately leads to her kidnapping.
I think we all have secrets. Whether we are hiding a past trauma, or hunger for something more in life, I believe the secrets we carry motivates us to change.

Q: Was the North Carolina setting important to the story?
During the first draft, I set Outbound Train in a fictionalized town, but it felt disingenuous. I knew readers couldn’t connect with the characters without experiencing what we call a “sense of place.” Honestly, the story lacked heart. I simply could not convey the emotion necessary to touch readers unless I set the story in my hometown. I needed readers to walk the rails with Carole Anne, and hear the hum of sewing machines inside the textile mill. I needed to show them this part of Bryson City because the setting made me who I am today. In order to honor the women who raised me, the setting needed to be real. The same is happening with The Mountains Remember, my work in progress. The story occurs on Indian Creek, in the community where my people once lived before being displaced to form the National Park.

Here’s what others say about Outbound Train:
“Renea Winchester’s storytelling is as real and authentically Southern as the clear water music of an Appalachian creek and the song of Cicadas on a front porch summer evening.” ~ Lisa Wingate,
#1 New York Times Bestselling author of Before We Were Yours and Before and After.

“I fell in love with the smart, strong, funny characters in this community of make-do women, and I predict you will, too.” ~ Pamela Duncan, Author of Plant Life

“With pitch-perfect dialogue and believable characters, Winchester has crafted a story that will make readers stand up and cheer.” ~Michael Morris, Man in the Blue Moon, A Place Called Wiregrass

Renea was born and raised in Bryson City, North Carolina. She began her writing career in Georgia where she penned several non-fiction works including Farming, Friends & Fried Bologna Sandwiches which was nominated for the prestigious SIBA award, earned Renea a nomination for Georgia Author of the Year, and received the endorsement from The Pulpwood Queens, the largest book club in the country. After winning the Wilma Dykeman Award for Essay and the Appalachian Writer’s Award, Renea focused on transitioning to fiction. Renea has served on the Atlanta Writers Board, Georgia Writers Association, and judges multiple literary awards. In April 2020, Firefly Southern Fiction released Outbound Train. Set in her hometown of Bryson City, North Carolina, in 1976, Outbound Train is a triumphant story of perseverance and hope despite the harshness of poverty. Renea is passionate about literacy, Appalachian Heritage, preserving rare seeds, cultivating endangered plants and meeting new friends. Outbound Train is her debut Novel. Contact Renea through her Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/Renea-Winchester-Author-162590877104288/

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~Outbound Train releases today. It’s available at your favorite book store as well as book sellers online.
You can find Renea Winchester of WordPress ~ https://reneawinchester.wordpress.com/

Sisters of the Undertow by Johnnie Bernhard

Sisters of the Undertow is the third book by Johnnie Bernhard I’ve read, and I loved every line of it for the same reason I’ve loved Bernhard’s other books ( A Good Girl, and How We Came to Be): she’s a master of deep motivational subtext.

In Sisters of the Undertow, author Johnnie Bernhard takes the complicated underpinnings of sibling rivalry, gives it breath, and sets it to wings through the power of a seemingly ordinary story. What makes it extraordinary is that narrator Kimberly Ann has emotional baggage against her younger sister and knows it. She is cynical, jaded, and resentful to such an edge that the story is fueled by her bone marrow.

Kathy Renee is oblivious to her elder sister’s resentment. She was born to this world prematurely and shoulders the burden of life-long special needs. And yet she is disarmingly cheery, resilient, and God-fearing, giving Kimberly Ann one more reason to rail against their relationship—on top of her put-upon, self-appointed victimhood, she is simultaneously riddled with guilt.

Narrator Kimberly Ann explains it as this: “We were born sixteen months apart, of the same mother and father, yet our lives would become as different as two planets orbiting around the sun, never to fully understand each other, despite our years of circling.”

It’s one’s attitude that seals the deal of how one’s life will be experienced, and author Johnnie Bernhard depicts this principle by giving us sisters from middle-class, Houston, Texas with differing realities, in a deeply introspective story that builds in three, well-crafted parts. It takes a gifted author with the use of a subtle hand to suggest we create our own reality. We may see parts of ourselves in both sisters. We may deny it, rail against it, or see it as a vehicle to self-examination that just might encourage change.

I read Sisters of the Undertow twice, which should tell you something. There’s so much to glean from the intelligent story, told in one of the more refreshingly real, first-person voices I’ve ever read. I read it twice because—dare I say it—this fathoms-deep tour de force of riveting upmarket fiction has the double blessing of a page-turning story and the repercussion of an undertow that won’t quit.

 

https://www.clairefullerton.com

A Girl Like You: Book 1 Henrietta and Inspector Howard Mystery Series by Michelle Cox

It is 1935 Chicago, after the big crash, and desperate times lead to desperate measures. Young, beautiful, and seductively innocent Henrietta Von Harmon fends for her fatherless siblings and withdrawn, bitter mother by taking her good intentions to support her family, only to be led to disreputable places with unforeseen double-dealings. With verve and resourcefulness, Henrietta soon becomes involved in shady doings on the wrong side of town, and when she meets the enigmatic Inspector Clive Howard, wheels are unwittingly set in motion for navigating a Chicago crime syndicate.
A Girl Like You, (Book 1 in the Henrietta and Inspector Howard Mystery Series by Michelle Cox) is one of those rare gems so chock-full of charm and personality; so captivating and delightful in its vivid narration that readers feel intimately tied to the characters and invested in the action-packed story. A Girl Like You has it all: mystery, intrigue, conflict, unpredictability, unique setting, believable motivations from fabulous characters, secrets, hidden agendas, and the lure of budding romance.
Author Michelle Cox begins her wildly popular mystery series in A Girl Like You with such page-turning, off-kilter charm, you won’t be able to resist reading the whole series. The memorable Henrietta and Inspector Howard are likable, fully realized characters from disparate backgrounds who balance each other with perfect pitch in the midst of an edge-of-your-seat joyride.

 

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The 2020 Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend.

Friday, February 7, 2020

The Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend

By Claire Fullerton   @cfullerton3

There’s a come-down phase after an author attends a book conference—an adjustment period that has something to do with going back to the real world through the logistics of travel. My last trip back from a book related weekend involved a mini-van ride from Jefferson, Texas to Shreveport, Louisiana; a flight to Dallas; another flight to Los Angeles; and a one-hour car ride to the loving arms of my husband and three German Shepherds. Under usual circumstances, somewhere along the journey back home, I manage to switch channels, but for days after the The Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend in mid-January, the energy lingered like a good kind of hang-over.

If you’re going to get out of your daily routine and travel half-way across the country, then let it be for a three-day combined book and love fest. It’s the only way to describe the Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend, which takes place annually in Jefferson, Texas, the weekend before Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. It’s unlike any other assembly generated by the book world; different than other conferences because there are no agent pitches; no tutorials on book marketing; no instructional workshops, nor panels geared toward the how-to of writing. What makes Girlfriend Weekend unique is that it’s predicated on the 765 international book club chapters under the banner of The Pulpwood Queens and Timber Guys, who show up in Jefferson, Texas en masse, dressed in leopard-print costumes—the more outrageous, the better. They settle in for three days to listen to authors talk about whatever comes to mind, be it their books, their writing process, or how they find inspiration. That the last evening of Girlfriend Weekend is a closing-night party billed as the Big Hair Ball ( the higher the hair, the closer to God) charges the entire weekend with electrical anticipation.

There’s a visceral magic that comes from spirits colliding in a room full of people who share the same passion. It’s like a country with its own language, a secret society whose membership is granted by the simple fact that you’re there. This year’s Girl Friend Weekend was the very definition of the book community in action: authors congregating within the scrum of each other with the unified intent of fraternizing with readers, and readers in attendance because those who write books light their fire.

Have you ever stood back and watched the dynamic of a crowd when everyone in it is thrilled to be there? Dress three-hundred literary lovers up in leopard-print, balance a tiara on their heads, show them the way across the railroad tracks at the tail-end of Jefferson, Texas, and believe me, anything can and does happen. What stood out for me the most during 2020’s Girlfriend weekend was the scene between the scenes of the scheduled panel discussions. It was clear to me that authors and readers alike were there for the right reasons, which is to say they were there for the love of books. Nobody there was selling anything; working an angle; on the take; stacking their mailing-list, staging a hustle; or there “to network.” The 2020 Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend was basically a celebration of the book club’s 20-year anniversary, where authors came from all over to give from their literary hearts, so that readers received every ounce of gratitude they have for them. The atmosphere was joyous. The mood was infectious. The well-written story was honored as a high art, and the release of the 58, first-person essays in the book, The Pulpwood Queens Celebrate 20 Years, was featured to prove it.

There are photographs with this piece as it appears in Southern Writers Magazine February 7 edition of Suite T online because every picture tells a story about the Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend. Let’s just say had the convention center in Jefferson, Texas been outfitted with chandeliers, you would have seen tiara-topped women swinging from them.

Full confession here, because now it strikes me as funny: I remember packing my carry-on for Texas, thinking any interruption of my work in progress was a hassle. I obsessed over securing the four corners of my desk, so it’d be just as I left it when I returned. Don’t get me wrong.

Although I looked forward to going to Girlfriend Weekend, a part of me felt like I had to press pause on my life. Now I’m realizing that was the good news, because pressing pause on my life is precisely what happened. Summarily, I left my writer’s cave and went to the Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend and found myself rejuvenated in a jury of my peers.

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The Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend Claire Fullerton (click to tweet)

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Claire Fullerton is from Memphis, TN., and now lives in Malibu, CA. Her latest book, Little Tea is in pre release on Amazon. She is the author of Mourning Dove, a Southern family saga set in the genteel side of Memphis. Mourning Dove is the 2018 Literary Classics Words on Wings award winner for Book of the Year. It is the 2018 bronze medal winner for Southern Fiction by Readers’ Favorite, a finalist in the 2018 Independent Authors Network Book of the Year, and was listed in the International Faulkner Society’s 2018 William Wisdom competition in the novel category. Claire is the author of Kindle Book Review’s 2016 award for Cultural Fiction, Dancing to an Irish Reel, and paranormal mystery, A Portal in Time. She contributed to the book, A Southern Season: Four Stories from a Front Porch Swing, with her novella, Through an Autumn Window. Her work has appeared in Southern Writers Magazine, and was listed in 2017 and 2018 in their Top Ten Short Stories of the Year. Claire’s work has appeared in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature; Celtic Life International; The Wild Geese, and The Glorious Table. The manuscript for her next novel, Little Tea, is a finalist in the 2018 Faulkner Society’s William Wisdom competition.  She is represented by Julie