Bobbie Jean Bell is an avid reader and stalwart champion of authors. In a conversational forum, she asks questions of her guests that delve down to the very essence of the writing process, and it was my great pleasure to be the guest of Bobbie and Jim Bell on their show, Rendezvous with a writer, which was simulcast on LA Talk Radio. I had a great time answer questions such as what constitutes a Southern Writer, which point of view I prefer to write in, and why, then reading two excerpts from my latest novel, Little Tea, which concerns life long female friendships, Southern culture, and healing the past, in the Deep South.
A little about the show, RENDEZVOUS WITH A WRITER
Hosts OutWest Shop’s Bobbi Jean Bell and Jim Bell chat LIVE with creators of the Written Word. Unscripted. Entertaining. Informative. Tune in to enjoy live conversation with our guest about their latest project and the creative process. The guest may be an author, poet, songwriter, screenwriter or blogger. Those that support the wordsmith are included too like literary agents, publicists, publishers, editors and more!
My gratitude to Bobbie Jean and Jim Bell for being so wonderful!
Fans of Christopher Swann know Susannah Faulkner has baggage. In his wildly popular 2020 thriller, Never Turn Back ( A Faulkner Family Thriller Book 1,) Swann details her backstory: that her parents were murdered before her 10-year-old eyes, that she and her elder brother, Ethan, were raised by their Irish Uncle Gavin who owns an Atlanta bar named Ronan’s that’s probably used as a front, that their shared tragedy caused the siblings to turn out differently, yet their bond remains indelible.
Christopher Swann is a novelist and high school English teacher. A graduate of Woodberry Forest School in Virginia, he earned his Ph.D. in creative writing from Georgia State University. He has been a Townsend Prize finalist, longlisted for the Southern Book Prize, and a winner of the Georgia Author of the Year award. He lives with his wife and two sons in Atlanta, where he is the English department chair at Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School.
A resonate, heart wrenching story in the best of ways, written with nostalgic subtlety detailing eighty-year-old Sam Peek’s remaining years as he adjusts to being a widower. It is 1960’s rural Georgia, and life as Sam Peek has known it is changed when his beloved wife of 57 years dies, and his five, well-meaning children begin to hover. Alone in his house, Sam is now a focus of concern as his children strategize at keeping their father company, all within Sam’s hearing range. A kind and patient man, Sam handles his grief with a brave face, and tries to placate his children while holding fast to the last curve of independence in a manner that won’t offend. With pitch-perfect, Southern nuance and vernacular, author Terry Kay spins a tale from the multiple points of view of well-rounded characters that reads like a round-robin treatise detailing the push and pull of aging. It is an uncertain road navigated by the small details of day-to-day living, where Sam’s memory is a sustaining thing in a small-town environment where little has changed though his life is forever altered. In the midst of remarkable scene setting, delightful dialogue, and wonderful pacing, a white dog enters the story and the reader questions whether it is real or due to the lonely heart of Sam Peek’s imagination. That the angelic white dog avoids the detection of all but Sam lends the story a mystical, magical air, as the “ghost dog” appears and disappears, while Sam’s children fear he might be losing his grip on reality, and the reader hopes Sam has found a faithful companion. To Dance with the White Dog is deceptively deep in its use of clear language and resoundingly poignant. It’s a story to last the test of time, beautifully told and indelibly memorable, the kind of fully realized story that hits an existential bullseye and deserves the status of American classic.
Terry Winter Kay (February 10, 1938 – December 12, 2020) was an American author, whose novels examined life in the American South. His most well-known book, To Dance with the White Dog, was made into a Hallmark Hall of Fame television movie starring Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy. Three of Kay’s books became movies. TERRY KAY, was a 2006 inductee into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame . Kay was a sportswriter and film/theater reviewer (Atlanta Journal-Constitution), a public relations executive, and a corporate officer. He was the author of nine other published novels, including The Valley of Light, Taking Lottie Home, The Kidnapping of Aaron Greene, Shadow Song, The Runaway, Dark Thirty, After Eli, and The Year the Lights Came On, as well as a book of essays (Special K) and a childrens book (To Whom the Angel Spoke).”
A collection of Essays by one of The South’s favorite Writers!
My Review :
You’ll savor every essay in Susan Cushman’s Pilgrim Interrupted. The essays are wise, beautiful, soulful, insightful, as opposed to confessional. They strike the perfect pitch that hooks the reader’s attention, lures them in, and keeps them authentically engaged. What strikes me most about Pilgrim Interrupted is its lack of pomposity. These are thoughts spun to gold in a manner so artfully subtle as to make the reader care about the writer, even as they are prompted to reflect on their own interpretations of existential concerns such as commitment, perseverance, spiritual meaning, and the beauty to be found in life’s seeming little things. This is a collection of essays to read slowly– many you’ll want to return to again. Author Susan Cushman shares a piece of her intelligent, soft-spoken heart in Pilgrim Interrupted, and you’ll be grateful that she has done so, for all the impactful resonance of what adds up to a series of deeply moving experiences.
The title essay in this collection, “Pilgrim Interrupted,” is set on the island of Patmos, Greece, during one of Susan’s pilgrimages with her husband, Father Basil Cushman, an Orthodox priest. Pilgrimages. Orthodoxy. Icons. Monasteries. It’s all in here. But so are stories about mental health, caregiving, death, family, and writing, including a section on “place,” a key element in Southern literature. And how is Susan’s pilgrimage “interrupted”?
By life itself.
Pilgrim Interrupted is a collection of 35 essays, 3 poems, and 5 excerpts from Susan’s novels and short stories. Coming of age during the turbulent 1960s in Jackson, Mississippi; marrying young and adopting three children; leaving the Presbyterian Church of her childhood for the Eastern Orthodox Christian faith in 1987; Susan finally began to chronicle her journey in the early 2000s. Pilgrim Interrupted is her eighth book.
Susan was born in Jackson, Mississippi and went to school at the University of Mississippi. She moved to Memphis in 1988 where she and her husband continued to raise their three children.
Her published books include five she has written: Pilgrim Interrupted (essay collection), John and Mary Margaret (novel), Friends of the Library (short stories), Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s (a memoir), and Cherry Bomb (a novel). She has edited three collections of essays: A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be, Southern Writers Writing, and The Pulpwood Queens Celebrate 20 Years! In addition she has over a dozen essays published in five anthologies and various journals and magazines.
Much of Susan’s writing is infused with elements of her own life, including the very mystical spirituality of her Orthodox Christian faith and the personal demons she has been chasing since childhood. Her essays, short stories, memoir, and novels all reflect what she has learned through many dark nights of the soul, but also contain elements of hope and healing and honor her Southern roots.
I was late to the reading of this novel, having read author James Wade’s extraordinary book, River, Sing Out, first, which made me immediately turn to this compelling debut novel.
All Things Left Wild is the ultimate “Road Trip” story, made all the better for being on horseback through the wilds of 1910 East Texas. It grips the reader from the start, with a sense of building urgency spawned from two horse thieving brothers on the run– one with a conscience; the other a loose cannon verging on sociopathic– who become entangled with disreputable characters hiding questionable agendas, while the erudite, gentleman the boys wronged is completely out of his comfort zone but has something pressing to prove by giving the brothers chase, on what becomes his life-altering, personal odyssey.
A gripping story written from two points of view, in intriguing, thought-provoking language that soars like poetry, and realistic dialogue that keeps you steeped in the moment. The story is set in the raw American West and has it all: cowboys, Indians, thieving, murder, and characters with such heart and soul as to make the whole page-turning story utterly plausible.
An action-packed, character driven, viscerally atmospheric, and stirringly beautiful story, All Things Left Wild seals the deal for me: I’ll be reading all of James Wade’s future books!
An Added Bonus is to tell you that Author James Wade does a weekly video he calls Sunday Sessions, where he reads inspiring sentences from books he admires and breaks the sentences down to discuss precisely why he likes them. Interesting and informative, the videos remain up after they debut, and I recommend you follow James Wade on Instagram and Facebook to see them!
Even though eleven-year old Olivia is raised in a southern Baptist church she likes to cover all her bases when asking for a favor. Unlike her brother Oliver, she struggles with keeping her temper and staying out of trouble. But Oliver is special in more ways than one, and in the summer of ’72 he shows Olivia that there’s magic all around us. It’s up to us to see it.
On author, Mandy Haynes:
Author Mandy Haynes has a wide reputation for being one of the most authentic voices of modern-day America’s Deep South. Set in the complex rural South, her stories are alive with spot-on vernacular, her character’s are self-assured and quirky, and the predicaments they find themselves in are quintessentially Southern experiences. Reading Mandy Haynes work is an education in all that goes into the cultural hotbed of the romantic South. Her work takes you down long country roads where anything can and does happen.
My Endorsement of the delightful novella, Oliver !
“A small-town story of childhood innocence, sibling admiration, blind optimism, and plenty of shenanigans, author Mandy Haynes has penned an incomparable narrator in Sissy, who tells a multifaceted story highlighting the altruistic plans of her remarkable brother, Oliver. The Southern jargon in this charming novella is character defining, the precocious mood insightful. Oliver is about bringing out the goodness in people, even if it takes a bit of magic.”
Claire Fullerton, Author.
Other Praise for Oliver:
“Mandy Haynes takes me on a memory journey to the last great childhood of the South, a time when bicycles were a magic carpet that could take a child wherever she wanted to go. The joy of this novella is how easily I slip between the pages and live the adventures with Oliver and Olivia. Sibling love. Kindness. Good intentions gone awry and good deeds fraught with danger. This story echos with my past, and the past of many now homeless Southerners. Once you start reading, you won’t be able to put it down.”
Carolyn Haines, USA Today bestseller, is the author of over 80 books in multiple genres
“Mandy Haynes effortlessly and brilliantly writes children, a feat at which many writers struggle and fail. In Oliver, her uniquely, lyrical voice sings the reader smack dab into this heartwarming story inhabited by Oliver and Olivia, a brother and sister whose special bond is symbiotically balanced upon the other’s abilities and perspectives. I dare you to not fall immediately in love with these characters, and fret over them as I did as they make their journey through this poignant summer from long ago.”
I decided to self-publish mainly because I am too impatient to do all the things you need to do to sell yourself to an agent, and three different indie publishers I’d corresponded with weren’t the right fit. Then it hit me – I could publish them myself. I’d already spent the money on editors. I’d had the book critiqued by one of my heroes, Suzanne Hudson, and I had a group of readers asking, “When can I get your book?” So, I started a publishing company, titled, Three Dogs Write Press and got busy. It’s been a great learning experience.
I have two collections of short stories published now, one novel in the first draft stages, and a second novel in its rough draft stage.
I do write about some heavy subjects. But to me, those stories are important. I hope that I give the reader a satisfying ending and if they’ve struggled with some of the issues my characters face, I hope I give them closure. At least a feeling of hope and the knowledge that they aren’t alone.
As my review appears in The New York Journal of Books:
The Lost Book of Eleanor Dare is historical fiction based on a true story with legendary status having to do with a mystery beginning in 1585 concerning the Lost Colony of Roanoke, whose citizens vanished without a trace during the perilous times of America’s early settlement. It’s a multigenerational story haunting Alice Merely Young, a WWII widow in her late thirties, and mother to 13-year-old daughter, Pennilyn.
It is the spring of 1945 when Alice’s small-business owning father dies in Helen, Georgia, and Alice returns to the deep roots she tried to outrun on her family’s neglected, vast acreage farm, six miles from Savannah. On riverside grounds sits a dilapidated mansion named Evertell, which Alice inherited. The house has suffered since she’s last seen it, and in Alice’s absence the secrets of her lineage once whispered by forebears, from one generation of women to the next are now silent.
Across the river by the family graveyard, in the small chapel on Bell Island, a treasured commonplace book is housed, which the mother of Alice’s ancestor, Eleanor Dare, began in England, and which Eleanor safeguarded as a Roanoke colonist with an eye
toward passing down to future generations. In the commonplace book, Eleanor Dare scratched a secret: “Every woman in Eleanor’s mother’s line waited for the day when her heart would be ready and she would have a vision, her Evertell, a sign she’d come of age and with it the gift of guidance from her forebears. . . . This is what passed from mother to daughter—a book of women’s wisdom and mysteries.”
It is now 15 generations down Eleanor Dare’s line, and Alice knows the commonplace book rightly belongs in the hands of her daughter, yet the bravery required to confess her role in one tragic night holds Alice back as she summons the memory of the last time she saw her troubled mother. Alice thinks, “My mother taught me that a story matters, not because it is true, but because it’s been told.”
Alice carries the burden of guilt over a failed familial rite of passage involving her mother and the legacy of a stone now lying sacrosanct deep in Evertell’s woods, thought to be inscribed by Eleanor Dare’s own hand. The memory of that night haunts Alice, who stands before the Evertell woods and thinks, “Until now, I’d tried to forget what happened. I’d never planned to go back to that place. But that was before I had a daughter of my own. Now she looks at me with the question all daughters are bound to ask their mothers: Who are you?”
Sonder Holloway has kept Evertell’s grounds for 23 years, ever since Alice and her father fled to the town of Helen after the death of Alice’s mother. Taciturn, reliable, and four years Alice’s elder, he’s a devoted man who has Alice’s best interest at heart, but the unreconciled shame Alice carries makes the reunion of the childhood friends awkward, and when Alice reports her intention of selling Evertell to finance Penn’s education, Sonder is sensitive to Alice’s past and patient.
He, and a handful of other wonderfully drawn local characters know well of Evertell’s secrets, for the tightly woven threads of Evertell’s storied fabric include many in the nearby village. All know the legend of the Dare stone connecting Alice’s family with a dark history, and though it’s of historical significance, Alice suspects that stone is the source of a family curse.
The Lost Book of Eleanor Dare is an intriguing, dreamy story about the impact of one unhealed woman who has yet to reconcile her past in such a way that lends itself to transparency with her young daughter, who, by birthright, wants to know and deserves to know about her own lineage. Author Kimberly Brock delicately balances mystery, family lore, and honoring one’s forebears in sonorous language throughout a sweeping story with three points of view, two timeframes, and remarkably steady pacing. Weaving myth and legend with historical fact pertaining to an age-old American mystery, The Lost Book of Eleanor Dare is a spellbinding, beautiful story written by a graceful hand with just the right amount of mysticism.
Claire Fullerton’s most recent novels are Little Tea and multiple award winner, Mourning Dove. Honors include the Independent Book Publishers Book Award Silver Medal for Regional Fiction, the Reader’s Favorite for Southern Fiction Bronze Medal and various other literary awards.
Her debut was an Amazon bestseller featured by both national and international book clubs and included in multiple reading lists. Praised by RT Reviews and Huffington Post as a “solemn journey of redemption, enlightenment and love,” and evocative of “the stories of Flannery O’Connor and Carson McCullers,” Kimberly’s debut novel was honored with the prestigious Georgia Author of the Year Award in 2013, by the Georgia Writer’s Association.
A former actor and special needs educator, Kimberly received her bachelor’s degree from the University of West Georgia in 1996. In 2014, Kimberly founded Tinderbox Writer’s Workshop, a transformative creative experience for women in the arts. Kimberly has served as a guest lecturer for many regional and national groups, including The Women’s Fiction Writer’s annual conference and The Pat Conroy Literary Center. She lives near Atlanta with her husband and three children.
In immediate, accessible writing, author Laura Whitfield’s starkly confessional memoir, Untethered, begins when tragedy strikes the heart of her tightly knit, Southern family. At fourteen years old, the author’s world is shattered by the death of her beloved older brother, leaving Laura to find her way in the world without the brother she relied upon as a compass.
Throughout the mid-1970’s and into the 1980’s, Laura embarks on a promising modeling career in New York city, and the reader is taken into NYC’s inner sanctum, where the sky is the limit for this young, and beautiful woman from North Carolina. But a series of disastrous love affairs cause the author an overwhelming sense of disillusionment, and, after fleeing back home for safety, it is many years before she realizes the mistakes she made were an unconscious attempt at filling the void over the significant loss of her brother.
Untethered reads as an unfiltered testimony to coming of age concerns during the simple times of the 1970’s and 80’s. Issues of familial and societal expectations collide with a world newly accommodating to women in the work place, and all the while the author tries to reconcile a past riddled with wrong choices and blind mistakes.
With an unstoppable spirit and belief in herself and better days, Laura Whitfield navigates the minefield of adulthood as she returns to school, becomes employed, and assists her parents in their declining years. With one failed marriage behind her, she finds her way to God, a love that endures, and, wiser now, sets out on a path to a bright future.
An engaging, confessional memoir both heart wrenching and inspirational, Laura Whitfield’s Untethered is fascinating reading sure to delight readers who enjoy a multilevel, thoroughly realized memoir.
About the Author:
Laura grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina, the daughter of a journalist and a teacher. She has been an advertising copywriter, newspaper columnist, staff writer for an international relief agency, travel writer, blogger, teacher, communications director for several nonprofits, and personal assistant to a New York Times bestselling author.
Her coming-of-age memoir, Untethered: Faith, Failure, and Finding Solid Ground (She Writes Press) is now available from your favorite independent bookstore or wherever books are sold.
Laura is passionate about her faith, books, travel, nature (especially the beach), social justice, and her family. She lives in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, with her husband, Stephen.
I’m the multiple, award-winning author of 4 novels and one novella, raised in Memphis, Tennessee, and now living in Southern California. The geographical distance gives me a laser-sharp, appreciative perspective of the South, and I celebrate the literary greats from the region. The South is known as the last romantic place in America, and I believe this to be true. The South’s culture, history, and social mores are part and parcel to its fascinating characters, and nothing is more important in the South than the telling of a good story. As a writer, I’m in love with language. I love Southern turns of phrase and applaud those writers who capture Southern nuance. It is well worth writing about Southern sensibilities.
By Claire Fullerton
What is my book about?
An accurate and heart-wrenching picture of the sensibilities of the American South. Millie and Finley Crossan move from Minnesota to their mother’s genteel world of 1970’s Memphis and learn to navigate the social mores of the Deep South, where all that glitters is not gold. Southern nuance, charismatic characters, a sibling relationship, and an opulent setting underlie this 13-time book award winner that asks how it is that two siblings who share the same history can turn out so differently.
When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.
The Books I Picked & Why
The Prince of Tides
By Pat Conroy
Why this book?
A resounding Southern family saga. A sins-of-the-father story told in the first person by one of the South’s most revered authors. The Prince of Tides is set on a barrier island off the coast of South Carolina and depicts the haunting secrets of the working class Wingo family in a multi-generational story rife with Southern nuance and now considered a literary classic. The story opens when narrator Tom Wingo flies from the South to New York to meet with his sister’s psychiatrist, and the astounding family saga unfolds from there.
When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.
By Anne Rivers Siddons
Why this book?
Peachtree Road is considered a modern-day Gone with The Wind, in that it is set in the pivotal, changing times of 1960’s Atlanta, and concerns the opulent area of Buckhead, where the privileged who built modern-day Atlanta live. The story is narrated in lyrical language by Shep Bondurant, an insightful young man born to privilege, who tells the coming-of-age story of Southern traditions and hypocrisy, and the impact of growing up alongside his troubled cousin, Lucy. A deeply probing story on multiple levels concerning society and the impact of family.
When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.
Something Rich and Strange: Selected Stories
By Ron Rash
Why this book?
Ron Rash is a national, literary treasure. The author of multiple award-winning novels, this book is an assembly of 34 short stories, most set in Appalachia, and depicting the social nuances and landscape of the American rural South. I recommend this because it will provide a great introduction to the incomparable author known as The Appalachian Shakespeare. As a writer, Ron Rash epitomizes the idea of landscape as destiny, and his well-drawn characters come to life from his flawless use of regional language.
When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.
All Over But the Shoutin’
By Rick Bragg
Why this book?
Pulitzer prize-winning and best-selling author Rick Bragg depicts hardscrabble, family life in rural Alabama, with a bad-tempered, hard-drinking father and a mother who won’t see her children go without. Bragg’s honest voice is immediate and compelling, and the visceral feel of the setting is the perfect backdrop for this rags to riches story of a man who triumphs over adversity to become a widely acclaimed writer. Bragg’s use of Southern vernacular is what makes this story.
When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.
By Michael Farris Smith
Why this book?
The Fighter is Southern noir at its best, and the spare, economic voice of the narrator adds to the guttural bleakness of a man down on his luck but willing to persevere against all odds. Set in the sultry Delta, Jack Boucher has put behind him 25 years of bare-knuckle fighting but is given cause to step into the ring one more time. A dark desperation colors this popular novel, and readers will be shown why Michael Farris Smith is considered one of the finest writers now on the American literary landscape.
I had the immense pleasure of narrating the audiobook of my novel, Mourning Dove, which is set on the genteel side of 1970’s Memphis, and concerns two siblings who come to the Deep South as outsiders and learn to navigate the customs and social mores of what is, to them, a foreign land. Mourning Dove is the recipient of 13 book awards and is classified as upmarket fiction, meaning that which bridges the genres of commercial and literary fiction, and to that I’ll add that lovers of Southern fiction have embraced this book as well.
Since I narrated the audiobook, I’m sharing a bit of video as well to give you a more immersive experience, which will hopefully parlay the full intention of Mourning Dove’s mood and feel. The audiobook is available on Audible! http://bitly.ws/jdX4