When the Stars Go Dark by Paula McClain

When the Stars Go Dark: A Novel

Image of When the Stars Go Dark: A Novel
Paula McLain is the author of the New York Times bestselling novels, The Paris Wife, Circling the Sun and Love and Ruin. On April 13th, 2021 she introduces her latest title, When the Stars Go Dark.

Anna Hart is a seasoned missing persons detective in San Francisco with far too much knowledge of the darkest side of human nature. When overwhelming tragedy strikes her personal life, Anna, desperate and numb, flees to the Northern California village of Mendocino to grieve. She lived there as a child with her beloved foster parents, and now she believes it might be the only place left for her. Yet the day she arrives, she learns a local teenage girl has gone missing. The crime feels frighteningly reminiscent of the most crucial time in Anna’s childhood, when the unsolved murder of a young girl touched Mendocino and changed the community forever. As past and present collide, Anna realizes that she has been led to this moment. The most difficult lessons of her life have given her insight into how victims come into contact with violent predators. As Anna becomes obsessed with the missing girl, she must accept that true courage means getting out of her own way and learning to let others in.

Weaving together actual cases of missing persons, trauma theory, and a hint of the metaphysical, this propulsive and deeply affecting novel tells a story of fate, necessary redemption, and what it takes, when the worst happens, to reclaim our lives–and our faith in one another.

Release Date: April 13, 2021Publisher/Imprint: Ballantine BooksPages: 336 Buy on Amazon Reviewed by: Claire Fullerton

When the Stars Go Dark is an intriguing, harrowing story that suggests we should never grow comfortable in a false sense of security . . . It’s a masterfully written story of resolution and reconciliation that operates on multiple levels of time, mind, and spirit.”

Paula McClain’s When the Stars Go Dark lures you into engaging with the story lest you miss a moment of its well-wrought beats. This is a haunting, intelligent novel for the discerning reader; the thinking man’s page-turner; a riveting crime-detective story seen through the wounded soul of 35-year old narrator Anna Hart whose life comes full circle as she tries to outrun her past.

See My Full Review in the New York Journal of Books here: a book review by Claire Fullerton: When the Stars Go Dark: A Novel (nyjournalofbooks.com)

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Author’s Website: Paula McLain – New York Times bestselling author | New York Times bestselling author

Biography

Paula McLain is the author of the the New York Times bestselling novels The Paris Wife, Circling the Sun, and Love and Ruin. Now she introduces When the Stars Go Dark, an atmospheric tale of intertwined destinies and heart-wrenching suspense. McLain was born in Fresno, California in 1965. After being abandoned by both parents, she and her two sisters became wards of the California Court System, moving in and out of various foster homes for the next fourteen years. When she aged out of the system, she supported herself by working as a nurses aid in a convalescent hospital, a pizza delivery girl, an auto-plant worker, a cocktail waitress–before discovering she could (and very much wanted to) write. She received her MFA in poetry from the University of Michigan in 1996, and is the author of two collections of poetry, a memoir, Like Family: Growing Up in Other People’s Houses, and the debut novel, A Ticket to Ride. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, O: the Oprah Magazine, Good Housekeeping, Real Simple, Huffington Post, the Guardian and elsewhere. She lives with her family in Cleveland.

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https://linktr.ee/cffullerton

Mourning Dove

 

I want to share my latest news with you about my third traditionally published novel,  Mourning Dove, whose release date was June 29, 2018.  I am happy to share the news that just yesterday, Mourning Dove won its 7th book award. Above is a Mourning Dove video to show you sliding images of those 7 awards.

I went into the writing of Mourning Dove wanting to write about two subjects: the social mores of the Deep South as exemplified in the setting of the old guard, as its known, and the dynamic between siblings. What fascinates me the most about siblings is the idea that they come from the same history, are cut from the same cloth, yet often turn out differently. The question of why this is led me through the writing of Mourning Dove, and although I have never said this publically ( and probably never will) I wrote down three themes to guide me through the book, otherwise written without an outline. The themes were this: the search for home, the search for identity, and, very loosely, the search for God, as in finding some semblance of understanding as to who’s really in charge, along with the question of what it is that shapes a person; whether it’s nature or nurture?

And with regard to the South with all its traditions, history, and rife population of characters peacock proud to call themselves “Southern,” I thought it best to show the South through the eyes of two siblings named Millie and Finley Crossan, who were born in the North, and come to the South as outsiders during the formative stage of adolescence so they could view their environment without a filter while trying to fit into  the culture.

The sibling dynamic is a significant one to those of us lucky enough to be born to it. We learn who we are in relation to those closest to us, and when it comes to siblings, I believe there is a certain type of mirror imaging at play that helps to define us. I’ll say this about siblings: they never let you forget where you came from.

Mourning Dove’s book description says this:

“An accurate and heart-wrenching picture of the sensibilities of the American South.” Kirkus Book Reviews

The heart has a home when it has an ally.
If Millie Crossan doesn’t know anything else, she knows this one truth simply because her brother Finley grew up beside her. Charismatic Finley, eighteen months her senior, becomes Millie’s guide when their mother Posey leaves their father and moves her children from Minnesota to Memphis shortly after Millie’s tenth birthday.

Memphis is a world foreign to Millie and Finley. This is the 1970s Memphis, the genteel world of their mother’s upbringing and vastly different from anything they’ve ever known. Here they are the outsiders. Here, they only have each other. And here, as the years fold over themselves, they mature in a manicured Southern culture where they learn firsthand that much of what glitters isn’t gold. Nuance, tradition, and Southern eccentrics flavor Millie and Finley’s world as they find their way to belonging.

But what hidden variables take their shared history to leave both brother and sister at such disparate ends?

Here is one poignant reader review of Mourning Dove:

“Style and substance are the two necessary ingredients any book must have. This book exemplifies both. I was charmed and delighted by the author’s descriptive abilities. Her use of language, metaphors, turns of phrase kept me turning each page. She can make a table sound interesting.

 

I made this book trailer to give the reader an idea of the setting of Mourning Dove.

I hope you enjoy watching the Deep South as I know it!

 

 

https://www.clairefullerton.com

 

 

 

 

 

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/

Image may contain: 2 people, including Renea Winchester, people sitting, tree and outdoor

~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/

Book Review: Saints in Limbo by River Jordan

In Saints in Limbo, author River Jordan’s immediate establishment of the incredible as credible serves as the foundation of this wonderfully unique novel, which takes nostalgia and wishful thinking and makes it the undercurrent of a now plausible story involving an old woman in possession of a supernaturally empowered rock that enables her to revisit her past. Saints in Limbo transcends a neat, paranormal story by gifting the reader with a cast of characters imbued with nuanced layers: they have character defects, unrealized dreams, and unfulfilled potential even as they seek a meaningful life. An enthralling page-turner written in poetic language, I found this riveting book an insightful commentary on the power of perception and the importance of longing and connection. I recommend this book to those who love to read literary fiction tinged with an intelligent use of the uncanny. Rich in setting, character, and prose, Saints in Limbo will make every reader a fan of the author River Jordan.

 

Saints in Limbo Book Description:

Ever since her husband, Joe, died, Velma True’s world has been limited to what she can see while clinging to one of the multicolored threads tied to the porch railing of her rural home outside Echo, Florida.

Then one day a stranger appears at her door. Without knowing why, the agoraphobic widow welcomes him into her kitchen for coffee while she tells him stories of how life used to be, before her purposes were “all dried up.” Just before disappearing as suddenly as he came, the man presents Velma with a special gift, one that allows her to literally step back into the past through her own memories to a place where Joe still lives and the beginning is closer than the end.

While Velma is consumed with the man’s gift, her son Rudy is also being presented with a challenge to his self-centered beer drinking, skirt chasing ways, while his memories unravel like the webs that haunt him.

winds her way to Echo, determined to unravel the mysteries her dead mother left behind. As secrets old and new come to light, Velma finds herself unmoored from the fears of the past and feeling her way toward freedom.

This lyrical, Southern novel weaves mystical elements with tangible touches of God’s redemptive grace to reveal a pattern of irresistible hope

Look into River Jordan at:  http://www.riverjordanink.com/

Author Interview on The Reading List

Claire Fullerton is an author who was born in Wayzata, Minnesota and transplanted at the age of ten to Memphis, Tennessee. Although Claire Fullerton now lives in Malibu, California, she says that she’ll always consider herself a Southerner. Claire first found her niche in music radio as a member of the on-air staff of five different stations, during a nine-year career. Music radio led Claire to the music business, and the music business led her to Los Angeles, where she worked for three years as an artist’s representative, securing record deals for bands. Claire Fullerton would go on to write a creative, weekly column for The Malibu Surfside News, and submitted to writing contests and magazines as she focused on developing her craft. Claire Fullerton then wrote a paranormal mystery about a woman who suspects she has lived before, and titled it A Portal in Time. Vinspire Publishing published the book, so she decided to show them the manuscript of a novel she had written in previous years, which they also published under the title Dancing to an Irish Reel the following year. Her third novel is titled, Mourning Dove. It’s a sins-of-the-father, Southern Family Saga, set in 1970’s and 1980’s Memphis, and it will be released in June of 2018. Please enjoy my interview with Claire Fullerton.

How do you describe your occupation?
I am a full-time writer.
What is something about you that people might find surprising?
On the side, to keep myself engaged in humanity (because writers spend much time in isolation,) I teach ballet and Pilates. I’ve been doing this for years.
What are you reading at the moment and what made you want to read it?
I have a friendship with the most artistically, off-beat woman I’ve ever had the good fortune to come across. She is fifteen years my elder, from New York City, and erudite at an impressive pitch. Out of nowhere, she brought me Nutshell by Ian McEwan. Since I’m a Southerner from Memphis, now living in Southern California, I’ve been on a Southern writer kick for a long time now. Southern writers write in a language I’m comfortable with, but I was starting to feel myopic. When I read the Washington Post’s blurb on Nutshell (“No one now writing in the English language surpasses Ian McEwan) I dove right in and was enthralled by this author’s genius.
What was your favourite book as a child and why?
Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown as read to me by my father. I can still hear his voice reading this classic. The book gave me a sense of connection to everything around me and taught me about the importance of interacting in the world from a premise of awe-struck wonder.
Can you remember the first story you ever wrote?
I wrote a first-person story for my college English class based on personal experience. It was about two young girls on a beach in California, suffering the unwanted attention of a strange man. Unbeknownst to the girls, a local surfer watched from the water. He rose like Poseidon from the waves and placed his surfboard between the man and the girls as a blockade. The moral of the story was chivalry isn’t dead. The teacher read my story aloud in class and gave me an A.

What was the last book you purchased, and why did you buy it?
I bought An American Marriage by Tayari Jones because of the hype. It deserves every bit of praise it’s been given.
For someone starting out in your career, which three books would you make required reading and why?
A Separate Peace by John Knowles for its character-driven, coming of age elements, which plummet the very heart of human, baser instincts, such as jealousy and feelings of inferiority. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, for its narrative, atmospheric suspense, and The Ron Rash Reader by Ron Rash, because this book has short stories, novel excerpts, and poetry by the man many call the most gifted and accomplished poet and storyteller of our time, or any time.
What book have you found most inspiring, what effect did it have on you?
The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy. Conroy was a master story-teller who made a forty-year career out of his own personal narrative. In writing The Prince of Tides, Conroy gave all writers the keys to the kingdom. He showed us how to take pain and turn it into art. What I learned from this book is that there is great beauty in the scars of the most dysfunctional family. In reading this book, it occurred to me that a writer need not look further than their own life for inspiration.
What’s the most obscure book you own; how did you discover it?
The Dead House by Billy O’Callaghan. I have an author crush on this forty-something-year-old man, who lives in the wilds outside of Cork, Ireland. Talk about a unique voice and uncanny turn of phrase. I think this author is the best writer to come out of Ireland since Clare Keegan. He floors me, and my suspicion is this book is only obscure for now, as it was recently licensed in America. I came across O’Callaghan accidently on LinkedIn. It was the incongruous look of this quintessential looking, rural Irishman packed into a tuxedo at an awards ceremony that caught my eye. I once lived in the west of Ireland, so I didn’t miss the irony. Upon looking into O’Callaghan, I discovered he had three short story collections published. I bought each one and ordered The Dead House straight from the press.
What’s the best book you’ve read in the last 6 months?
Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate.
What is your proudest achievement?
That I’ve stayed the course of a creative life. I believe there are many incarnations in an artist’s life. My path has seen me, in one form or another, in the communicative arts. I worked on-air in Memphis radio for nine years and loved every minute of it. I was an artist and repertoire representative in the Los Angeles music business, which basically meant I discovered bands and took them to record companies. Ballet is a communicative art. All the while, I’ve engaged in writing because it comes to me as second nature. And the thing with an artistic life is there is no “there” to get to. There is only the process of living it.
Can you talk us through your writing process, from the first spark of an idea, to having your first completed draft?
Thus far, I’ve written the stories I had to tell, as opposed to manufacturing something out of thin air for the sake of writing something/anything. Always, there is a point I want to make. I have a reason for wanting to tell the story, usually, it is to make some comment on this business of living as I experience and interpret it. I write to compare notes, so to speak. I always know the beginning, middle, and end of a novel, and I typically make an outline after I’ve started. Because I know the ending, I ask myself where my novel should go next as I’m writing. I’m mindful of what will be a case in point along the way to the bigger point. It helps that I write in scenes. I can “see” the story as if it were on screen. When I think I’ve told the story, I walk away for a week, then revisit. I read it all and look to see if it’s balanced, then re-read to look at dialogue and continuity. When I believe I’ve finished, I send the manuscript to my editor.
If you were trying to impress a visitor, which book that you own would you leave on the coffee table?
I have this on my coffee table now: Huger Foote, My Friend from Memphis. Huger (pronounced yoo-gee; soft G) is the son of author and Civil War historian, Shelby Foote, whom all of us who come from Memphis revere. Huger’s nickname is Huggie, and he is now a world-renowned photographer of the most creative, beautiful shots of what many would consider common objects. His photographs are sheer poetry.
What two pieces of advice would you give a young aspiring writer?
Never compare yourself with another writer and resist the temptation to look over your own shoulder as you write.
If an alien landed in your garden; which three books would you gift them to showcase humanity in the best possible way?
Peachtree Road by Anne Rivers Siddons, The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy, and The Mermaids Singing by Lisa Carey. I wouldn’t say they showcase humanity in the best possible way, only that they, indeed, showcase humanity!

Are there any books you haven’t mentioned that you feel would make your reading list?
I am satisfied that I’ve mentioned the books that stand out for me, and I did mention Shelby Foote, but I’m going to go deeper with him. I recently read Foote’s book, Follow Me Down and I startled to realize what an incredible fiction writer he was. I, like many, equated Shelby Foote with his three volumes on the Civil War and had yet to read his fiction. Follow Me Down is a Southern classic about the murder trial of a white man in 1960’s Mississippi, who has already confessed to the crime. The book’s language thrilled me!
Which book sat on your shelf are you most excited about reading next and why?
I am looking forward to reading A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. I loved his novel, The Rules of Civility.
If you’d like to learn more, you can find Claire Fullerton on her website, Facebook and Twitter.

Roundabout way to Publication: Gratitude to Chris, The Story Reading Ape for this!

Like a sailboat tacking obliquely through opaque mists with little to guide the course beyond hope and blind faith, my third novel,Mourning Dove, will be released at the end of June. It has been unequivocally the most roundabout way to publication I’ve ever heard of, and therefore I want to share my story. Let this […]

via Mourning Dove – Guest Post by Claire Fullerton… — Chris The Story Reading Ape’s Blog

First Chapter of Mourning Dove

I used to go home every Christmas to the house I grew up in, and Finley would be there—eventually, anyway. He’d come swaggering in, all blue-eyed, gray three-quarter coat swinging. In from Virginia. The educated man. All beaming, charismatic six-foot-two of him, setting the stage in that rambling Southern house, simply by virtue of his presence. It was that way every year because Finley was the kind of guy who could enter a room and take over completely. My brother was that magnetic. Finley was born eighteen months ahead of me, so I came into the world following his lead. Mom told me, in one of her rare confessional moments, that Finley was an accidental pregnancy, but that I had been planned. I remember furrowing my brow and thinking it odd. If anybody has a God-given, significant purpose for being on earth, it’s Finley. Compared to him, everyone else is a random afterthought. Including me. Finley fascinated me. I used to study him—the way he walked, the way he talked, the way the air changed around him. He was absolutely something. But here’s what bothers me—Finley’s in heaven, and I don’t know why. When we were young, people thought Finley and I were twins. We were both delicately built, with that streaky red-blond hair genetically bestowed upon the Scots-Irish, and we both had huge, light-colored eyes that were disproportionate in scale to the size of our heads. Finley’s eyes were a hypnotic blue, mine are a serious green. Beyond that, few people could tell us apart. When Mom moved us without warning from Minnesota to the Deep South— the summer she decided she’d had enough of my father’s alcoholism and was going back home—I didn’t mind because Finley was beside me. His presence was one-part security blanket, one part safety net, and two parts old familiar coat conformed to fit my size after years of wear.
My love for Finley was complicated—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. I’m thirty-six now and still feel this way. Finley was easy to admire, for he excelled at everything he did, and the template of this pattern was evident from the time he was in kindergarten. His reading skills were fully realized, his teachers claimed he had a photographic memory, and the sum of the variables that made up the young Finley was such a quandary that his primary school teacher arrived at the exhaustive conclusion he should skip grades one and two altogether and enter the third. After we moved down South, the issue of Finley’s education continued to stymie everybody. For at the precarious age of twelve, Finley was in a scholastic league of his own. My mother’s response to Finley’s brilliance was feigned resignation. She’d wave her graceful hand and sigh. “Well, I just don’t know where he came from,” she’d say, as if she’d woken up one morning to the great surprise of Finley at the breakfast table in the stone-floored kitchen of the house she’d grown up in in midtown Memphis’ Kensington Park and subsequently inherited. By anybody’s standards, 79 Kensington Park was not a kid-friendly house. Fashioned in the style of a stucco French chateau, it was sprawling, it was formal, and most everything in it was breakable. It was the antithesis of the bucolic comfort we’d left behind in Minnesota and being dropped into its clutching embrace felt like being jolted from a dream into disparate circumstances. But my genteel mother was back where she belonged. It was only Finley and me who had to get used to the idea of being displaced Yankee children deposited into a culture whose history and social mores don’t take kindly to outsiders. We were suspects from the very start. We had Minnesota accents, we were white as the driven snow, and we both had a painfully difficult time deciphering the Southern dialect, which operates at lightning speed and doesn’t feel the need for enunciation. Instead, it trips along the lines of implication. Although I wasn’t aware of it at the time, my mother’s plan was pin-point specific. She simply picked up in Memphis where she’d left off before marrying my father, as if she’d changed her mind over which cocktail dress to wear to a party. The dress would look good on her, she’d make sure of it, and it’d show off her curves and float lightly above her delicate knees with airborne fragility from every step of her enviable narrow, size-seven feet.
My mother didn’t walk into a room, she sashayed, borne from the swivel of her twenty-four-inch waist. Her name was Posey, and although there was a lot more to her than she ever let on, by all appearances, the name suited her perfectly. At the end of the summer of 1970, when my mother reconciled herself to the idea of divorcing my father, she needed to devise a long-range plan. She wanted to keep up appearances, my father had lost all our money, which left her with four years until she could access the money her father left her in trust. After uncharacteristically humbling herself for financial assistance from my father’s wealthy relatives, she packed Finley and me in the car and drove with steel determination to Memphis. She’d left my father standing drunk and hopeless in the driveway, watching his family evaporate in the distance, wondering how his life had come to this. Her mother, senile and incapacitated in Memphis’ Rosewood Nursing Home, barely clung to life. Although the house at 79 Kensington Park was in Gaga’s name, my mother had power of attorney. So, first things first, my mother moved her mother from Rosewood to the guest house in Kensington Park and solicited the services of one Rosa Mae Jones to tend to her needs. After moving all of us into the big house, Mom set about the business of doing the two most important things: invigorating her social standing in Memphis and finding an escort, preferably a rich one looking for marriage. She set those wheels in motion after she tackled the problem of where to send Finley and me to school. According to the dictum of Memphis society, there was only one acceptable answer to the question of where to educate a girl—the private Miss Hutchison School for Girls, and it had been that way since 1902. My mother told me she’d made no leeway from calling the school’s administrator, so without skipping a beat, she slid on her stockings, zipped up her Lilly Pulitzer dress, stepped into her Pappagallo shoes, and—because a lady never steps a toe in public without it—smoothed on her pale-pink lipstick, and drove to East Memphis, where Hutchison sat regal and tree-lined, overlooking a serene lake. She marched the two of us unannounced and entitled into the ground-floor office of the school’s headmistress and seated herself cross-legged upon an upholstered chair while I found a seat on a chintz-covered sofa and wondered what to do with my hands.
When Miss Millicent Mycroft appeared, my mother stood and welcomed her into her own office, disarming her with her cultured charm and spilling forth from her cup of Southern gentility. “Miss Mycroft, I hope you don’t mind our dropping in like this,” Mom lilted, “it’s just so wonderful to see the school grounds. You know, when I went to Miss Hutchison, back when it was on Union Avenue, it was never as grand as all this. I’m Posey Crossan.” She offered her slender hand. “I’m a good friend of Mrs. Winston Phillips and Mrs. John Turner. We all went to Hutchison together. I believe you have both of their girls here now.” “Yes, I have both girls,” Miss Mycroft answered. Miss Mycroft, practiced at the art of quick discernment, sat behind her desk and studied my mother, arriving at the accurate conclusion that she was society-born and wanted something from her. “Please sit down. What can I do for you, Mrs. Crossan?” she asked. Mom perched lightly and launched her campaign. “I just don’t know how I could have missed the enrollment deadline for my daughter, who’ll be going into the fifth grade this year. I can’t tell you how much I apologize for this, but you see, there simply is no other school I would consider sending her to. I’m hoping you’ll make an exception and let her attend?” “Mrs. Crossan, not only have you missed the deadline, the first trimester began last week,” Miss Mycroft remonstrated, giving me a slight glance. “We’ve already been through orientation.” “Miss Mycroft, now I realize school has started, but what’s a week to a fifth grader? My daughter, Camille, is bright. She belongs in the same school I attended. I want her in an environment that’ll give her advantages and would hate to see her compromised because of my bad timing. But you see, none of it could be helped, so here we are. Since I won’t change my mind, what can I do to persuade you to make an exception?” After achieving her objective, my mother and I got back in her car and drove two miles to the neighboring campus of Memphis University School, where she waged a similar performance on Finley’s behalf, tailor-made to accommodate the fact that her audience was now a man. With iron conviction, she first stepped—heels clicking through the white marble foyer—and entered the boys’ lounge, where a handful of students draped languidly in overstuffed chairs, waiting for their next class to begin.
Uncertain of the way to the headmaster’s office, my mother leaned down to a conservatively dressed boy and asked for directions. With the facts in hand, she crossed the lounge and made it all the way to the hallway, before a thought came to her that wheeled her around and nearly into me. Retracing her steps, she marched into the middle of the lounge and raised her voice to a pitch accessible to all. “Boys, a lady has just entered this room,” she announced. “Where are your manners? I expect every one of you to leap to your feet.” My mother was a woman who knew the game rules of life, and she wielded them to expert proportion. The Memphis Finley and I landed in was my mother’s Memphis. It was magnolia-lined and manicured, black-tailed and bow-tied. It glittered in illusory gold and tinkled in sing-song voices. It was cloistered, segregated, and well-appointed, the kind of place where everyone monogrammed their initials on everything from hand towels to silver because nothing mattered more than one’s family and to whom they were connected by lineage that traced through the fertile fields of the Mississippi Delta. My mother’s friends had known each other from birth and coexisted like threads in a fabric. They started families together, sent their children to the same schools they attended, and set up their cloisonné lives in congruent patterns of neat inclusivity. They threw dinner parties in stately homes, on tables set with inherited Francis I, polished to a shine by the help. In my mother’s Memphis, the conversation stayed pleasant and light over lingering cocktails, until dinner was served by a staff that dropped their own lives in deference to their employers. At an age where many women have seen their crescendo, my mother had only started to come into her beauty. She had the kind of looks that waited in arrested development during her youth, then pounced like a cat around the time she turned forty. With the passage of time followed by motherhood, her long limbs, flat chest, and slightly recessive chin filled out to capacity. Her face displayed sharp cheekbones that balanced her chin to a perfect heart-shape and earned her a self-confidence she wore with sparkling alacrity. But a woman in possession of unique beauty and charm was in a precarious predicament in 1970s Memphis. There was always the dilemma of where to seat her at a dinner party, and without an escort to take the edge off of feminine rivalry, she was easily held in contempt.
No, that position was not for her, and my mother—as a master of networking—knew exactly what to do. She acclimated herself to the women in town, joined the Garden Club and the Junior League, lunched at the Memphis Country Club, played bridge, and hosted sip-n-sees. It wasn’t long before the dates started rolling in, though she should have issued a red-flag warning that read: Ladies, hide your husbands. Posey’s back in town.

Pre-order Mourning Dove: https://amzn.to/2I7NZUd

Audiobook clip on http://www.clairefullerton.com

Mourning Dove

It’s been a long process to this announcement: My Southern family saga, Mourning Dove, which is set in Memphis, is now available for pre-order on Amazon, with the scheduled release date of  June 29, 2018 for the print, ebook, and audiobook, which I had a blast narrating. My publisher, Firefly Southern Fiction, did the unusual and let me narrate Mourning Dove because I kept saying the book needed a Memphis accent.  I have that in spades, and the good news is I have a nine year radio career behind me, so wearing headphones in a recording studio felt like putting on my favorite hat.

It’s been a year and two months from the day I signed the contract with Firefly Southern Fiction. I believe I’ve told this story before, but it verges on the miraculous on how I came to align with the imprint of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolina’s, dedicated to Southern fiction.  I did everything wrong. I missed the fine print and submitted without an agent. The acquisitions editor, Eva Marie Everson, is the compassionate sort. She thought she’d write to tell me to come back with an agent, but first she wanted to get a handle on to whom she was writing. The story, as Eva tells it, is that she read a few lines then couldn’t quit reading. Ten AM on a Saturday morning, and this Southern belle called me all atwitter. The upshot is that she called the inimitable Julie Gwinn of the Seymour Literary Agency, read her the first three pages over the phone, and we’ve been a team ever since. I couldn’t be more grateful.

Mourning Dove sings the praises of the bond between siblings growing up in a Southern culture they came to as outsiders. It started as a poem and turned into a short story awarded the runner-up position in the San Francisco Writers Conference’s 2013 contest. At the time I told myself that if anything ever came of the story, I’d buckle down and turn it into a novel.

Here is Mourning Dove’s book description:

The heart has a home when it has an ally– If Millie Crossan doesn’t know anything else, she knows this one truth simply because her brother Finley grew up beside her. Charismatic Finley, eighteen months her senior, becomes Millie’s guide when their mother Posey leaves their father and moves her children from Minnesota to Memphis shortly after Millie’s tenth birthday.

Memphis is a world foreign to Millie and Finley. This is the 1970s Memphis, the genteel world of their mother’s upbringing and vastly different from anything they’ve ever known. Here they are the outsiders. Here, they only have each other. And here, as the years fold over themselves, they mature in a manicured Southern culture where they learn firsthand that much of what glitters isn’t gold. Nuance, tradition, and Southern eccentrics flavor Millie and Finley’s world as they find their way to belonging.

But what hidden variables take their shared history to leave both brother and sister at such disparate ends?

Here is a very brief excerpt to give you a sense of its tone:

My mother’s friends had known each other from birth and coexisted like threads in a fabric. They started families together, sent their children to the same schools they attended, and set up their Cloisonné lives in congruent patterns of neat inclusivity. They threw dinner parties in stately homes, on tables set with inherited Francis I, polished to a shine by the help. In my mother’s Memphis, the conversation stayed pleasant and light over lingering cocktails, until dinner was served by a staff that dropped their own lives in deference to their employers. At an age where many women have seen their crescendo, my mother had only started to come into her beauty. She had the kind of looks that waited in arrested development during her youth, then pounced like a cat around the time she turned forty. With the passage of time followed by motherhood, her long limbs, flat chest, and slightly recessive chin filled out to capacity. Her face displayed sharp cheekbones that balanced her chin to a perfect heart-shape, and earned her a self-confidence she wore with sparkling alacrity. But a woman in possession of unique beauty and charm was in a precarious predicament in 1970s Memphis. There was always the dilemma of where to seat her at a dinner party, and without an escort to take the edge off of feminine rivalry, she was easily held in contempt.

No, that position was not for her, and my mother—as a master of networking—knew exactly what to do. She acclimated herself to the women in town, joined the Garden Club and the Junior League, lunched at the Memphis Country Club, played bridge, and hosted sip-n-sees. It wasn’t long before the dates started rolling in, though she should have issued a red-flag warning that read: Ladies, hide your husbands. Posey’s back in town.

Here are Mourning Dove’s back cover blurbs:

“Like sitting in a parlor and catching up on the trials and tragedies of the reader’s own extended Southern family.”
– Kirkus Review

“A wise and brilliantly evocative Southern tale enhanced by Claire Fullerton’s inimitable wit. Indulge in this eloquent exploration of colorful and complex family dynamics.”

Gary Fearon
Creative Director of Southern Writers Magazine

“Set against the backdrop of a complicated 1970s South – one both forward-looking and still in love with the past – and seen through the eyes of a Minnesota girl struggling to flourish in Memphis society, ‘Mourning Dove’ is the story of two unforgettable siblings with a bond so strong even death can’t break it. Claire Fullerton has given us a wise, relatable narrator in Millie. Like a trusted friend, she guides us through the confounding tale of her dazzling brother Finley, their beguiling mother Posey, and a town where shiny surfaces often belie reality. Like those surfaces, Fullerton’s prose sparkles even as she leads us into dark places, posing profound questions without any easy answers.”
Margaret Evans

Editor, Lowcountry Weekly
Former Assistant Editor of Pat Conroy

“Claire Fullerton knows how to get a voice going. I’m talking distinctive, authoritative, original as all get out. Narrator Millie Crossan will grab you by your high-ball-holding hand and set you down in privileged Memphis with her family and not let you go. Get ready for the Crossan layers to be peeled back and universal struggles exposed.”

Bren McClain
Author of One Good Mama Bone

“Every sentence tells a complete story in and of itself. A rare accomplishment by any writer! What an excellent novel — put it on your Must Read List for 2018! Millie tells the story of her brother Finley, life in the South and the anguish and joy of growing up in an eclectic and ever-changing household with rare poetic prose. Such a wonderful book.”

Valerie MacEwan, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature

“In Mourning Dove, Claire Fullerton deftly weaves the story of a Memphis family into a fine fabric laden with delicious intricacy and heart. A true Southern storyteller.”
–Laura Lane McNeal, Bestselling author of DOLLBABY

With a June 29 release, Mourning Dove is available for Pre-Order in Print and on Kindle:

Southern Literary Review : Review of Dancing to an Irish Reel.

Reviewed by Johnnie Bernhard
Hans Christian Anderson wrote, “To travel is to live.” His words suggest the underlying theme of Dancing to an Irish Reel by Claire Fullerton. Living, instead of existing, is exactly what protagonist Hailey Crossan does on the west coast of Ireland. Leaving the “soullessness of Los Angeles” and her job in the record industry for Ireland, she discovers a culture and its people far removed from the American lifestyle managed by time and money.
Life in Ireland brings an ethereal dimension to Hailey’s self-discovery, as she dances to reels and waltzes in the unpredictability of a new job and relationship with an Irish musician.
Dancing to an Irish Reel is not a novel of the romance genre. The characters and situations they encounter are more reflective of upmarket fiction. The author has poignantly made a statement on cultural differences, language, and life choices in this novel. There is no formulaic pattern to the plot, particularly the last chapter.
In an interview, author Claire Fullerton explains:
The road to enduring love is never linear. We hit many road blocks and speed bumps on the way to what’s ours, but we always have such hope along the way. I call Dancing to an Irish Reel an anti-romance, in that it is true to how love often goes, before we find the one that stays. It’s the push and pull of relationships that intrigues me.
Hailey is not the typical female protagonist. Like the Irish weather, she is fierce. As a single American female living in Inverin, a village in rural Ireland, she relies on public transportation and yes, the kindness of strangers. Her solitary walks in a graveyard or along the sea create interest among the people of Inverin. She is not a typical tourist. The stares and sidelong glances she receives from them are met with confidence and charm. She wins the respect and friendship of those strangers and the heart of Liam Hennessey.
There are many scenes of fortuity within this novel. Hailey finds a job supporting musicians in the Galway Music Centre, propelling her into a world of characters and situations unlike those found in the village. Those moments are also found in the unfolding relationship with Liam, particularly when Hailey discovers how the Irish love.
The sense of place within the novel is authentic. Fullerton knows what she is writing about. It is best illustrated in the commanding first-person narration. There are no trite descriptions of the setting and the people of Ireland. Readers familiar with the west coast of Ireland will readily recognize it. Fullerton’s sincere admiration for Irish musicians and poets is captured in Hailey’s voice.
Dancing to an Irish Reel is a comfortable, satisfying read. It is a poignant reminder of the differences between living in the moment or being managed by time and the making of money. It is what Hailey Crossan discovers on a trip to Ireland. It is what Claire Fullerton invites us to learn.

 

 

An American Marriage: Book Review

Stark, vivid, real, and gritty, these are the words that spring to mind upon reflecting on An American Marriage. Author Tayari Jones takes the premise of an unjust, nightmarish turn of fate and unfurls a novel length treatise on a budding marriage systematically derailed, when a year and a half into marriage, Roy is incarcerated for a crime he didn’t commit. It is a modern marriage, and newlyweds Roy Jr. and Celestial have promising careers on the rise. Roy is a young business executive, who aspires to setting his artisan wife up in business as the maker of novelty dolls in her own Atlanta shop. The couple is in the exhilarating throes of reconciling their fiercely independent natures with their unified plans for the future. They are ambitious, deeply in love, and navigating their marital positions, when an insignificant tiff arises while on vacation, and their life is irrevocably changed outside their hotel room from their mutually declared, fifteen-minute time-out.
Whether it is the bad luck of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or the suspicions levied on Roy as a black man in the South, justice is not immediately served when Roy is falsely accused of a crime. As time ekes by during Roy’s twelve-year sentence, Celestial gets her career off the ground, while Roy remains stuck behind bars. Issues of commitment and fidelity under duress evolve, as Celestial finds comfort in the arms of her and Roy’s mutual friend, Andre, then reasonable expectations are called to the fore when a love triangle unwittingly grows. When Roy is released five years into his sentence, the three main characters in An American Marriage take stock of their current standing. They are individuals with differing vantage points within the confines of a tribal whole.
With laser sharp insight into human nature, Tayari Jones gifts the reader with three plausible, first person narratives in this intertwined story of cause and effect set upon the fertile ground of modern day black culture. Her language is paradoxically direct and textured as she probes the innerworkings of characters wrestling with issues of appropriate placement, under the weight of delineating sacrificial right from self-serving wrong.
An American Marriage is a gripping story, disquieting in its tenable premise and gripping with tense urgency on every page during its search for apportioned equilibrium. It is a powerfully written, brilliantly crafted novel for the discerning reader, and a thought provoking treasure for book club discussions.