Little Tea!

I woke up this morning to the surprise of this on Goodreads.

This, I think, is proof of the scales balancing in that Little Tea was released at the beginning of the pandemic, which meant the book tour primarily in the Deep South that I had scheduled was canceled. I had ten events scheduled, back-to-back, in three Southern states including radio, bookstores, and television. The cancelation left me, as well as legions of authors, not only disappointed, but baffled about how to get the word out about our books. I owe endless gratitude to WordPress Bloggers, book clubs, podcasts, libraries, Facebook book pages and book groups. ZOOM and StreamYard have been phenomenal venues.

Below is Landis Wade of the Charlotte Reader’s Podcast.

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.

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Little Tea: Book of the Year by the Independent Authors Network: 2nd Place
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Reader’s Favorite: Gold Medal in Southern Fiction
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Summer Reading List: Deep South Magazine
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Top Shelf Magazine Award Winner
Contemporary & Literary  Novel Writing Contest | Chanticleer Book Reviews
First Place in the Somerset Awards
Zoom Meeting with The Pulpwood Queens Book Club of Jackson, Mississippi . Little Tea was the August, 2020 Selection of the Pulpwood Queens Book Club!
And, if you want to hear my Southern accent, here is the video of the Beaufort, South Carolina Chapter of the Pulpwood Queens, who had me as a guest after they read Little Tea! The Pulpwood Queens Host Novelist Claire Fullerton, author of Little Tea – YouTube

Meggie Daly

5.0 out of 5 stars Great book
Reviewed in the United States on June 16, 2021 Verified Purchase
Gosh, there were so many wonderful things about this book! I loved the protagonist’s voice, the sassy banter among the girlfriends, tackling hard family, marriage, and race issues. A subtle wisdom fanned out from the pages. Fullerton is an expert in backstory integration! Needless to say I went into mourning for a day or so after I finished the book–as I always do when I have to say goodbye to characters that I have loved!

Little Tea is available at online book outlets and book stores!

Little Tea (bookshop.org)

https://amzn.to/3hemNqD

The Last Blue by Isla Morley

My Review: 5 Stars!

From the first page, you know you’re reading the words of a masterful storyteller. Isla Morley’s The Last Blue is written from a unique perspective on the Blue’s of Kentucky: a small, secluded culture of people only recently come to light in wider awareness. What is different about this compelling book is that it is a profoundly riveting love story told from many angels, addressing family loyalty, love of one’s homeland, and the triumph of romantic love against all odds. The characters in this story are fully realized to the point where the reader intuits their plausible hubris. The main character’s drive towards the pursuit of happiness chafes against small-minded culture, social mores, and multiple signs of the times. In The Last Blue, we are given a beautiful, unique soul in young Jubilee, who has a genetic skin aberration that’s misunderstood and subjects her to being a community outcast in a small, mountainous region. Superstition, racism, and the worst in human nature confront her, yet through it all, nothing affects the spirit of this child of nature, who has a gift for healing birds. When photographer Havens discovers Jubilee by a creek in the sylvan woods, he is awestruck and captivated, and the high-stakes drama becomes something deeply personal along an unpredictable path where love conquers all. Engrossing, great world-building, compassionate, and poignant, The Last Blue is a memorable, ageless story with a timely message and a satisfying ending.

Book Description:

In this luminous narrative inspired by the fascinating real case of “the Blue People of Kentucky,” Isla Morley probes questions of identity, love, and family in her breathtaking new novel.

In 1937, there are recesses in Appalachia no outsiders have ever explored. Two government-sponsored documentarians from Cincinnati, Ohio—a writer and photographer—are dispatched to penetrate this wilderness and record what they find for President Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration. For photographer Clay Havens, the assignment is his last chance to reboot his flagging career. So when he and his journalist partner are warned away from the remote Spooklight Holler outside of town, they set off eagerly in search of a headline story. What they see will haunt Clay into his old age: Jubilee Buford, a woman whose skin is a shocking and unmistakable shade of blue. From this happenstance meeting between a woman isolated from society and persecuted her whole life, and a man accustomed to keeping himself at lens distance from others, comes a mesmerizing story in which the dark shades of betrayal, prejudice, fear, and guilt, are refracted along with the incandescent hues of passion and courage. Panning across the rich rural aesthetic of eastern Kentucky, The Last Blue is a captivating love story and an intimate portrait of what it is like to be truly one of a kind.

About the Author:

See the source image

Isla Morley grew up in South Africa during apartheid, the child of a British father and fourth-generation South African mother.  During the country’s State of Emergency, she graduated from Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth with a degree in English Literature.

By 1994 she was one of the youngest magazine editors in South Africa, but left career, country and kin when she married an American and moved to California.  For more than a decade she pursued a career in non-profit work, focusing on the needs of women and children. 

Her debut novel, Come Sunday, won the Janet Heidinger Prize for fiction and was a finalist for the Commonwealth Prize.  It has been translated into seven languages.  Her novel, Above was an IndieNext Pick, a Best Buzz Book and a Publishers Weekly Best New Book.  The Last Blue is her third novel.

She has lived in some of the most culturally diverse places of the world, including Johannesburg, London and Honolulu.  Now in Los Angeles, she shares a home with her husband, daughter, three cats and five tortoises.

Isla Morley’s Website: Media (islamorley.com)

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Peace Like A River by Leif Enger

Brilliant, evocative, and written in a clear-sighted adolescent’s voice that verges on stream of consciousness and flows magically with the surrealism of this astounding story. Narrator Reuben Land tells this remarkable story of a motherless family’s journey through the winter flatlands of North Dakota, on the trail of his elder brother, Davy, who’s convicted of a crime done in defense of the family.

Reuben’s engaging, first person voice is a metaphor for the malady he was born with: his damaged lungs are commiserate with the breathless tone that lures the reader into siding whole heartedly with the brother he idolizes, while his precocious younger sister, Swede, pens a western based on an outlaw’s hero’s journey, and incrementally interprets the family’s quest to save Davy, who broke out of jail and is on the run.

Father Jeremiah Land has a humble essence that hints at sainthood. An intelligent and pious widower, he works a job beneath his station and is prone to covert, timely gestures that verge on the miraculous, each convenient, pivotal episode manifesting in such a way as to seem like coincidence. “The fact is, the miracles that sometimes flowed from my father’s fingertips had few witnesses but me,” Davy says, and throughout this multi-layered, faith in motion story, there are plenty. When Jeremiah is asked by a concerned friend how the family plans to track Davy, he answers: “I have the substance of things hoped for. I have the anticipation of things unseen.”

On the road to North Dakota, the family is trailed by Martin Andreeson, a federal employee tasked to find the escaped Davy, who suspects the family knows more than they let on. He birddogs the family like a shadow, yet changes from nemesis to friend as the story leads fatefully into the arms of Roxanna, who lives right outside the town where Davy was last seen. When Davy appears to Reuben, he asks Reuben to keep the secret of where he’s living and with whom, for what turns out to be good reason.
Family dynamics tinged with the spiritual and questions of right versus wrong as seen through the eyes of young Reuben are at the heart of this unique story. The writing is so compelling, you’ll be riveted throughout a book you’ll never forget.
5 stars and high praise to author Leif Enger. Peace Like a River has made me Enger’s fan.

Ron Rash Releases In the Valley!

I, along with legions of others, have waited for months for In the Valley to release.  Everything you’d hope for from Ron Rash is within this collection of short stories– his trademark, laser-sharp realism, poetic prose, and fully realized Appalachian vignettes of life wrapped in tight construction. All short stories are hymns to the art of world-building, rich in visceral setting and written with vernacular that sets the mood and tone. Simply put, Ron Rash is a league of his own, and this highly anticipated, critically acclaimed book is on par with all others in his stellar body of work.

If you’ve never read anything by Ron Rash, his collections of short stories are a great place to start, as is his poetry, which is starkly real yet emotional to the point of being visually panoramic. Two of his novels have been made into movies: The World Made Straight, and Serena. Serena seems to be his most widely read book. It’s title character is   one of the more diabolical, female characters ever written! In his new release, Rash continued the story of Serena by including a novella among the short stories.

Here are a few book blurbs for In the Valley. I’ve included more to whet your whistle for a taste of the American writer referred to as the Appalachian Shakespeare.

 

“Mesmerizing…He’s one of the best living American writers.”–Janet Maslin, New York Times Book Review

From bestselling and award-winning writer Ron Rash (“One of the great American authors at work today.”–The New York Times) comes a collection of ten searing stories and the return of the villainess who propelled Serena to national acclaim, in a long-awaited novella.

Ron Rash has long been a revered presence in the landscape of American letters. A virtuosic novelist, poet, and story writer, he evokes the beauty and brutality of the land, the relentless tension between past and present, and the unquenchable human desire to be a little bit better than circumstances would seem to allow (to paraphrase Faulkner).

In these ten stories, Rash spins a haunting allegory of the times we live in–rampant capitalism, the severing of ties to the natural world in the relentless hunt for profit, the destruction of body and soul with pills meant to mute our pain–and yet within this world he illuminates acts of extraordinary decency and heroism. Two of the stories have already been singled out for accolades: “Baptism” was chosen by Roxane Gay for inclusion in The Best American Short Stories 2018, and “Neighbors” was selected by Jonathan Lethem for The Best American Mystery Stories 2019. And in revisiting Serena Pemberton, Rash updates his bestselling parable of greed run amok as his deliciously vindictive heroine returns to the North Carolina wilderness she left scarred and desecrated to make one final effort to kill the child that threatens all she has accomplished.

I’ve  had the pleasure of crossing paths with Ron Rash in person a few times, over the years. You’ll never meet a more humble guy! It was my complete honor to introduce him to the audience at the Pat Conroy Literary Festival in 2017, in Beaufort, South Carolina, when he was the festival’s key note speaker.

Claire Ron two

More written about this world-renowned writer:

“A gorgeous, brutal writer” (Richard Price) working at the height of his powers, Ron Rash has created another mesmerizing look at the imperfect world around us.

Rash’s poems and stories have appeared in more than 100 magazines and journals. Serena received enthusiastic reviews across and beyond the United States and was a 2009 PEN/Faulkner Award Finalist.

In addition to being a bestselling novelist, Rash has achieved international acclaim as a short story author,[3] winning the Frank O’Connor Award in 2010 for Burning Bright. [4] Recent work such as The Outlaws (Oxford American, Summer, 2013) focused on ordinary lives in southern Appalachia. Scholars have praised his ability to find the universal within the particulars of place, citing his writing’s “universal appeal, lyrical grace, and narrative efficiency.” [5] Jim Coby examined Rash’s use of mystery thriller tropes in One Foot in Eden.[6]

Ron Rash holds the John and Dorothy Parris Professorship in Appalachian Cultural Studies at Western Carolina University, where he teaches poetry and fiction-writing in the Department of English.

To familiarize you with his body of work before the release of In the Valley, here is a list that excludes his poetry, which I highly recommend!

Publication Order of Standalone Novels

One Foot in Eden (2002) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
Saints at the River (2004) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
The World Made Straight (2006) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
Serena (2008) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
The Cove (2012) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
Above the Waterfall (2015) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
The Risen (2016) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle

Publication Order of Short Story Collections

The Night the New Jesus Fell to Earth and Other Stories from Cliffside, North Carolina (1994) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
Eureka Mill (1998) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
Among the Believers (2000) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
Casualities (2000) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
Raising the Dead (2002) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
Chemistry and Other Stories (2007) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
Burning Bright (2010) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
Waking (2011) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
My Father Like a River (2013) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
Nothing Gold Can Stay (2013) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
The Ron Rash Reader (2014) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
Something Rich and Strange (2014) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
Poems: New and Selected (2016)

To read Ron Rash is to engage in a memorable experience!

 

https://www.clairefullerton.com

Paying it Forward

I have a newly released novel titled, Little Tea, but that’s not my focus here.  My focus is on sharing an incredible experience I had on Facebook because it’s a case in point of what can transpire through the magnanimous efforts of one fellow author during these unusual times.

Those of us who released a book during the pandemic were blindsided as to how to proceed with promotion. In my case, I had a book tour of the South scheduled to promote Little Tea, only to discover each event was canceled. The good news is most of my events were rescheduled virtually, though in many ways, I swam in smaller waters. I stayed tethered to my desk bereft of the gift of personal contact and although I’m not taking the merit out of it, in most ways I preached to a Zoom choir. But an uncanny domino effect ensued that came through the power of connections, and although it’s not a complete surprise, I have Facebook to thank for a great time promoting Little Tea.

My good fortune began with the moderator of a Facebook book group who interviews authors via StreamYard on a nightly basis. I was a guest on her live show and was grateful beyond measure to answer questions about Little Tea. In thanking my hostess profusely, I said, “If there’s anything I can do for you, it would be my great pleasure.”

The first step along the chain of events came when the aforementioned moderator asked me to talk to a debut author she admires, who had questions about the publishing business. I issued the caveat that I’m no expert, but I’ve been in the business long enough to have an opinion. I’ll say here that my policy as an author has always been to pay it forward. Authors work in a common arena, and few of us would get very far were it not for the opportunity to compare notes. And so, I got on the phone with a complete stranger and talked about navigating the book world and am happy to report that by the time we hung up, I’d made a new friend. An hour later, my new friend messaged me via Facebook messaging and invited me to come to her Facebook group page to do an “author takeover.” I said yes before I fully understood the set-up, so, I’ll explain it now that I understand. This debut author had the foresight to create a private book launch group on Facebook. She issued a call-out six months before her book release and created a Facebook “street team” by offering incentives that simply boiled down to the joy of being involved. This street team was gifted with insider information about her debut novel. She gave her private group book swag, played games, and shared pictures pertaining to her life and her book that the general public wasn’t privy to, so by the time her book was released, roughly a thousand readers were ready to shout from the rooftops because suffice it to say, they felt personally tied to the book’s launch.

My invitation to come to her private Facebook group and do an all-day take over essentially sounded like this: “I know of a thousand people who’ve never heard of you, so come on over, I’ll introduce you, and you can post as much about your book as you want to.”

You better believe I came ready! I prepared with photographs of Little Tea’s setting in the Deep South (Como, Mississippi; Greer’s Ferry Lake in Heber Springs, Arkansas; and my home town, Memphis) two book trailers, a dozen memes, Little Tea reviews, and, knowing that a picture tells a thousand words about an author’s life, photographs of ocean waves taken where I now live in Malibu, California and endless un-staged photographs of my three photogenic dogs. It was my dogs that got the ball rolling. It’s astounding how many people have “a German shepherd story.” The sharing of dog stories led to an enthusiastic kind of bonding. Soon enough, there was a vibrant thread in the private group of dog pictures that dovetailed to include the posting of pet cats.

Ceili Little Tea

Little Tea’s premise is built on the power of female friendships—the anchoring, long-lasting kind that see a woman through a lifetime. These friendships tend to have their own language, often times there’s a shared sense of humor spawned from shared history, and what comes from shared history is an arsenal of stories. In Little Tea’s case, much of the bi-racial relationship story is due to the setting, which is to say the story wouldn’t have happened as it did were it not set in the South with its attendant social mores set amidst the roiling cauldron of the cultural racial divide. There’s a line from Little Tea, when narrator Celia Wakefield describes her Southern upbringing by saying, “The thing about being a Southern girl is they let you run loose until the time comes to shape you.” I posted a meme with this quote during my author take over and it led to a riotous discussion about the South and the power of female friendships, which is part and parcel to the story of Little Tea—Little Tea being the nickname of the main character, who is Celia Wakefield’s childhood best friend.

Little Tea without preorder

I have to say I’ve always known that readers are discerning people. They’re interested in learning about a book, but they’re equally interested in learning about the author. The beauty of my all-day, author take-over was that it afforded the latitude of an unfolding. One subject led to another with regard to Little Tea, but what warmed my heart the most was the participants who shared their own stories in what became a delightful, even exchange. I came away from the event knowing I’d represented Little Tea and introduced myself as accurately as I could, but the real gift to me came from getting to know those who love reading as much as I do. I went into the author take-over hoping to reach readers, but as I learned about them, it turned into the thrill of finding common ground.

I’m still marveling at the fun I had in the midst of a fortuitous opportunity. It’s not every author who invites another to take over their page and meet their followers. When you’re lucky enough to meet the kind of author who realizes we’re all in this together, it serves as an exemplary reminder of the impact of paying it forward.

 

Claire Fullerton hails from Memphis, TN. and now lives in Malibu, CA. with her husband and 3 German shepherds. She is the author of 7- time award winner, Mourning Dove, a coming of age, Southern family saga set in 1970’s Memphis. Claire is the author of Dancing to an Irish Reel, a 2-time award winner set on the west coast of Ireland, where she once lived. Claire’s first novel is a paranormal mystery set in two, time periods titled, A Portal in Time, set in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. She is a contributor to the book, A Southern Season, with her novella, Through an Autumn Window, set at a Memphis funeral ( because something always goes wrong at a Southern funeral.) Little Tea is Claire’s 4th novel. Little Tea is a Faulkner Society William Wisdom Competition finalist, a finalist for the Chanticleer Review’s Somerset Awards, and the August selection of the Pulpwood Queens Book Club. She is represented by Julie Gwinn of the Seymour Literary Agency.

https: //www.clairefullerton.com and/or https://linktr.ee/cffullerton

From SWM

Book Review: Evening in the Yellow Wood by Laura Kemp.

I just finished the delightful book, Evening in the Yellow Wood by Laura Kemp  (TouchPoint Press.) It’s an action-packed, fast-paced story about an immediately likable, twenty-something year old woman on a quest to find her missing father, who disappeared without explanation, which leaves narrator, Justine Cook, and her mother jumping to worst-case conclusions. But a chance occurrence changes all that!

Here is the book’s description:

Abandoned by an eccentric father on the eve of her twelfth birthday, Justine Cook has lived with her fair share of unanswered questions. Now, ten years later she leaves her life in southern Michigan and heads north to the mysterious town of Lantern Creek after seeing his picture in a local newspaper. Once there, she discovers her father had been leading a double life and meets the autistic brother she never knew—a young man who is mute but able to read her mind.

When a local girl who looks like Justine is mysteriously murdered, she joins forces with sheriff’s deputy Dylan Locke to capture the killer. But the more they dig for clues to the past, the closer they come to discovering a secret someone will kill to protect. Justine begins to show signs of supernatural power and eventually must stop an immortal enemy that has hunted her family for generations.

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( My 11 month old, GSD named Sorcha is always in the picture!)

 

When I finished Evening in the Yellow Wood, I wrote and posted this book review on Amazon, Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, and Book Bub. I love to support my fellow authors!

All I knew going into author Laura Kemp’s highly praised Evening in the Yellow Wood is that I loved the title. It’s phonetically pleasing, lyrical, and balanced. Give me a title that sings on a haunting book cover and you have my attention. Hand me a dilemma that yearns on the second page and I’m thoroughly roped in.
In an au currant voice so accessible you think you know the narrator, Evening in the Yellow Wood exemplifies the term “page turner.” It’s an off-kilter, rollicking ride on a hero’s journey; an edge-of-your-seat through-line chock-full of forward momentum in a cauldron of delectable genres that has something for every discerning reader.
Recent college graduate Justine Cook doesn’t know her genetic history. She’s on course of a promising journalism career when one glance at the local newspaper derails her plans. Through the glass window of a hardware store in another town stares her lost father’s photograph. The mystery begins with Justine’s caution to the wind move, and the game begins.
More than a mystery, Evening in the Yellow Wood is commercial fiction walking the high wire of romance strung up by the paranormal. Its personality shimmers, its pacing is breathtaking. It’s the rare writer who makes the unusual plausible, and Laura Kemp does so by anchoring her charming novel in the small-town Midwest. In the name of covert operation, Narrator Justine Cook takes a bartending job and drives “the heap.” She shares an apartment with a delightfully disreputable local and falls in love with a cop– who, it unfolds, is uncannily part and parcel to the whirlwind story, as Justine adheres to the task of finding her father.
Immortality, mind reading, totems, and visions fuel the fire of this spellbinding book. Evening in the Yellow Wood by Laura Kemp is absolutely unforgettable.

Here is Laura Kemp’s bio as it appears online:

 

About the Author

Laura is a teacher who loves to write about her home state of Michigan. She has a B.A. in Creative Writing from Western Michigan University where she studied under Stuart Dybek, and has had her short fiction and poetry published in Chicken Soup for the Soul, Word Riot, Tonopalah Review, SaLit and SLAB: Sound and Literary Art Book. “The Pursuit of Happiness,” – a short story she wrote while at WMU, was chosen as a finalist in the Trial Balloon Fiction Contest. When not writing, Laura enjoys musical theatre, hiking, swimming, reading and performing with her Celtic band- Si Bhaeg Si Mohr. She also enjoys spending time with her husband and children as well as her dog, two hamsters, two gerbils, ten chickens, two horses and eight (and counting) cats. Laura loves to connect with readers on her blog: laurakempbooks.com/blog (Sea Legs on Land), as well as on Facebook, Twitter (@LKempWrites) and Instagram. (lkempwrites)
And here is the wonderful Laura!

 

Laura Kemp’s website is here: https://laurakempbooks.com/

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https:www.clairefullerton.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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/

Blackwood by Michael Farris Smith #Book Review.

Author Michael Farris Smith is one of those rare writers who uses language as setting. He opens his fifth novel, Blackwood, in the year 1975 with “The “foulrunning Cadillac arrived chugging into the town limits of Red Bluff, the car having struggled out of the Delta flatlands and into the Mississippi hill country, the ups and downs of the landscape pushing the roughriding vehicle beyond what was left of its capabilities.” Off the bat, the reader knows the stage is set for bad luck and hard times for the drifters come to town. Farris Smith doesn’t snow us with a glimmer of hope, he hands us the premise as a matter of fact. Then the story deepens. Blackwood is a story of loners and outsiders thrown together seemingly by chance. They’d like to connect but lack the fundamental knowledge of how, as each manages their individual vortex trying not to drown in their common sphere.

Red Bluff, Mississippi is lackluster to the point where the town gives away abandoned, downtown storefronts to anyone willing to maintain one. Colburn, haunted by his past, calls himself an industrial sculptor. He returns to the seat of his loveless childhood in his flatbed, looking for scrap metal and such to fashion into art in one of Main Street’s cast-offs. He is looking for something. He wants to confront the demons of his past, and in his search, reunites with a will-o-the-wisp bar owner named Celia, in an attraction so conflicted, it exhumes his childhood pain.

Myer wears his pantlegs tucked in his boots and walks with a limp. He is Red Bluff’s weary law enforcement who gives too little too late to the town’s drifters, who take to the kudzu tangled woods on the edge of town where something sinister lurks.

Rich in tenor, setting, metaphor, and dark imagery, Blackwood is an intricately woven, gritty story of disconnected lives unwittingly affecting each other in repercussive ways, written is language so bleakly mood-setting, reading its pages becomes a state of mind.

Many a luminous author has called Oxford, Mississippi’s Michael Farris Smith one of the best writers of his generation. And he is. And Blackwood proves it.

 

Blackwood Releases March 3rd at all book outlets

 

https:www.clairefullerton.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