Claire Fullerton is the multiple award winning author of 4 traditionally published novels and one novella. Her work has appeared in numerous magazines, including Celtic Life International, and The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature. Website: https://www.clairefullerton.com/
Me: Tell us about Little Tea.
Claire: Little Tea concerns Southern culture, female friendships, family tragedy, and healing the past. Little Tea is actually the nickname of a character because Southerners are fond of nicknames! The story is a celebration of those deep friendships that last a lifetime–their shared history, loyalty, unconditional acceptance, and the importance of a sense of humor.
Me: Which scene was the most difficult to write and why?
Claire: There’s a particular scene in Little Tea that is pivotal in the story. I’d never had such an experience, so I used my imagination and employed all senses. The scene came together for me when I incorporated how the atmosphere sounded.
Me: How does the Southern setting influence your story?
Claire: Southern culture is part and parcel to Little Tea. I’ll go as far to say had the story been set anywhere else, the events couldn’t have happened as they did.
Me: Describe your journey to becoming an author.
Claire: It began for me with keeping a daily journal from a very young age. I kept a journal when I lived on the west coast of Ireland. When I returned to America, I wrote the book that became Dancing to an Irish Reel from what was in my journal. It’s been a steady build from there that includes 4 novels, one novella, and a recently completed manuscript.
Me: Who has been your greatest influence in becoming a writer?
Claire: All the fearless writers who dare to write in the first person! Beyond that, I admire Donna Tartt, Pat Conroy, Ron Rash, Anne Rivers Siddons, Billy O’Callaghan, and many of the Irish authors.
Eve Prince is done—with college, with her mom, with guys, and with her dream of fashion design. But when her best friend goes MIA, Eve must gather together the broken threads of her life in order to search for her.
When Eve’s grandmother, Boop, a retiree dripping with Southern charm, finds out about the trip, she—desperate to see her sister, and also hoping to alleviate Eve’s growing depression—hijacks her granddaughter’s road trip. Boop knows from experience that healing Eve will require more than flirting lessons and a Garlic Festival makeover. Nevertheless, Boop is frustrated when her feeble efforts yield the same failure that her sulfur-laced sip from the Fountain of Youth wrought on her age. She knows that sharing the secret that’s haunted her for sixty years might be the one thing that will lessen Eve’s growing depression—but she also fears that if she reveals it, she’ll lose her family and her own hard-won happiness.
2020 American Fiction Awards Winner in Coming of Age 2021 Eric Hoffer Montaigne Medal Finalist 2021 Eric Hoffer Category Finalist Buzzfeed’s 12 Most Anticipated Books of Fall Popsugar’s “The 21 Most Exciting New Releases Hitting Bookshelves Throughout October” Parade’s “Highly Anticipated Books of Fall” Frolic’s “Ten Books Perfect for Your Book Club”
“A touching intergenerational romp through the coastal South.” —Kirkus Reviews“
Boop and Eve’s Road Trip will touch your heart. A beautiful and emotional story of sisterhood, family, and friendship. From the first page, Mary Helen Sheriff’s lush and lyrical writing draws you in. Fans of Patti Callahan Henry and Kristy Woodson Harvey will adore this debut.”
–Kerry Lonsdale, Wall Street Journal bestselling author of Last Summer“
Boop and Eve’s Road Trip is warm, witty, and wise, with characters I loved and characters I loved to hate. Filled with twists and turns and many a bump in the road, this trip is a delight from beginning to end.” –Han Nolan, National Book Award-winning author of Dancing on the Edge
MeetMary Helen Sheriff
When I was a kid I wanted to be a model, an actress, a teacher, and a writer. Lack of height, smoking good looks, and talent lost the first two of those professions for me, but I’ve had the pleasure of exploring the latter two.
I’ve spent 14 years in classrooms teaching elementary school, middle school, college, and professionals.
During this time, I’ve also had the pleasure of dabbling in writing for children, teenagers, and adults in a variety of forms including fiction, poetry, blogs, and nonfiction. I even spent several summers immersed in an MFA program in children’s literature at Hollins University (which I suppose isn’t exactly dabbling).
I’m taking a break from the classroom to concentrate on my writing. My debut southern women’s fiction, Boop and Eve’s Road Trip, was published on October 6, 2020
Great E-Book Deal!
Ebook on sale for the first time ever! Boop and Eve’s Road Trip was just nominated for a Zibby Award for best opening sentence: “Boop loved her daughter to the moon and back, but Justine had a way of sucking the joy out of a room faster than a vampire bat.”
It won’t surprise you to learn that the author of Boop and Eve’s Road (that’s me for the uninitiated) loves herself a smashing southern story. I’ve put together a refreshingly diverse list here–all southern, all sensational, but so very, very different. Do yourself a favor and pick up one (or heck y’all, all three of these reads).
Purple Lotus by Veena Rao is the story of Tara who immigrates from India to Atlanta, Georgia to be with her husband Sanjay. Theirs is a horribly ill-suited arranged marriage. Tara finds herself lost in a new country with an abusive husband and an unfortunate lack of self confidence. Eventually, she makes friends in her new community giving her the courage to leave her husband and make her own life in her new country. Some might argue that Purple Lotus is more of an immigrant story than a southern story, but I’d point out that Rao beautifully captures the experience of someone fresh to the South, that the south is more than its traditions, that the South with its world renown hospitality has room for all. Tara’s story of empowerment will steal your heart. Don’t miss it.
Sharp as a Serpent’s Tooths the best collection of short stories I have ever read. The characters, like June Bug and Eva, are delightful, quirky, and engaging. The plots are mesmerizing, unique, and page-turning. The southern country setting adds texture and delight with its Pentecostal Preachers, snakes, and speaking in tongues. Mandy Haynes has put together a beautiful collection with a southern voice that drawls off the page.
Little Tea by Claire Fullerton explores some of the more traditional southern motifs, complete with plantation homes and racial tension. Three childhood friends come together at a lake in Arkansas where an old boyfriend forces them to face the past. Through the voice of the main character, Celia Wakefield, Fullerton explores the evolution of racial relations in Mississippi. White daughter of a wealthy old southern family, Celia befriends the daughter of the black couple who runs her family’s plantation. Tucked away in the country in 1980s, their friendship flourishes. However, once the friends leave the plantation behind it becomes more difficult to navigate a mixed-race friendship in a world not quite ready for such things.
If you are a fan of all things Southern, you might also enjoy these posts:
I’m Claire Fullerton, the traditionally published author of Little Tea, Mourning Dove, Dancing to an Irish Reel, and A Portal in Time. I also have a novella titled, Through an Autumn Window, which is included in the book, A Southern Season: Scenes from a Front Porch Swing. I grew up in Memphis, Tennessee and now live in Malibu, California.
# What is/are the real-life story(ies) behind your book(s)?
There are no “real-life” stories in my novels, though I draw from a strong sense of place and am inspired by people and events I know.
# What inspires/inspired your creativity?
People are always my inspiration, My last two novels are set in the Deep South, and the South has such wonderfully colorful characters that are part and parcel to the Southern culture. I think all stories happen because of the people involved, so my inspiration comes from simply paying attention to people’s mannerisms, the stories they tell, and their way with words.
In Mandy Haynes’s collection of Southern tinged short stories, Sharp as a Serpent’s Tooth, characters are as different as Jayhawks and Starlings, they grin like possums, and, if in need while in someone’s bad graces, are told they can go get what they want “their own dang self.” Throughout the assembly of Haynes’s five, compelling stories, her character-intensive narrative is urgent and breathless, so regionally pitch-perfect as to feel indiscreet:
“Now don’t roll your eyes at me,” the narrator of short story, Junebug Fischer says. “You know dang good and well Rita’s daughter did not get pregnant on her honeymoon. And you know same as me that she shouldn’t have married that no count Tucker, pregnant or not.”
Sharp as a Serpent’s Tooth is laser-sharp, finely wrought fiction in each stand alone story. In “Eva,” the abused daughter of a con-artist preacher is depicted with such Southern Gothic surrealism as to make her seem other-worldly. In “Plans for Sweet Lorraine,” a fearlessly headstrong mother is led by gut-intuition to rescue her innocent daughter from the clutches of a smooth-talking charlatan posing as a man of God.
In each story, the narrator’s voice is chock full of gumption– the sure-footed kind grown and fostered in the hollows of the rural South. They are all unique, memorable narrators. In “The Day I threw the Rock,” the young, red-haired narrator prefers to go barefoot in overalls, in whose pocket she keeps a garden snake as she unfurls the high-drama of events that lead to her throwing the eponymous rock. In “Cussing Snakes and Candy Cigarettes,” a young girl defies common, local opinion of her dead mother’s twin sister, in an eye-opening summer that impacts her coming of age.
Author Mandy Haynes approaches her craft with an uncanny grasp on pace in perfect measure. Her authentic voice is beyond comparison. Her high-stakes stories are layered with utter unpredictability. I cannot recommend this Southern to the core collection of short stories emphatically enough. Each of the five stories in Sharp as a Serpent’s Tooth is the perfect combination of riveting story and character as place.
Mandy Haynes has spent hours on barstools, at backstage venues, and riding in vans listening to some of the best songwriters and storytellers in Nashville, Tennessee. She now lives in Fernandina Beach, Florida with her three dogs, one turtle, and a grateful liver. Her first collection, Walking the Wrong Way Home was a finalist for the Tartt Fiction Award, and selected as a bonus pick for The Pulpwood Queens’ 2020 Reading List.
“The Fortunate Ones is a fathoms-deep exploration of love, loyalty, and the ties that bind, written masterfully from all angles. It’s a laser-sharp look at the underbelly of power and privilege’s repercussions as told through the power of story.”
A gorgeous, deep probing treatise on the myriad manifestations of love, envy, privilege, and longing, The Fortunate Ones by Ed Tarkington begins by holding a mirror to coming of age concerns in light of two young men from disparate backgrounds who overlap in a setting where all that glitters isn’t gold.
Ed Tarkington’s debut novel Only Love Can Break Your Heart was an ABA Indies Introduce selection, an Indie Next pick, a Book of the Month Club Main Selection, and a Southern Independent Booksellers Association bestseller. A regular contributor to Chapter16.org, his articles, essays, and stories have appeared in a variety of publications including the Nashville Scene, Memphis Commercial Appeal, Knoxville News-Sentinel, and Lit Hub. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee.
Praise for The Fortunate Ones
“Ed Tarkington’s wonderful second novel, The Fortunate Ones, feels like a fresh and remarkably sure-footed take on The Great Gatsby, examining the complex costs of attempting to transcend or exchange your given class for a more gilded one…As a novelist, he is the real deal. I can’t wait to see this story reach a wide audience, and to see what he does next. ”
— Paula McLain, author of The Paris Wife and Love and Ruin
“To the great literature of anointment, of the young person plucked from obscurity and given a place at the glittering table, we can now add Ed Tarkington’s lovely novel of a young man mystified by his good fortune until the reasons behind it are revealed and the cost is extracted. A beautiful read.“
— Ann Packer, author of The Dive from Clausen’s Pier
“Ed Tarkington perfectly captures the heady, conflicted emotions that come with proximity to privilege — both the irresistible longing and the heartbreaking disillusionment. I’m recommending The Fortunate Ones to every book club I know.”
— Mary Laura Philpott, author of I Miss You When I Blink
Happy Release day to author Michael Farris Smith! I enjoyed Nick immensely!
“The story of Nick is the story of one lost soul on automatic pilot written in four compelling parts that dovetail to weave a psychic template of a WWI survivor. Its impact is profound, its resonance subterranean.”
It will take hours to wipe the awestruck look off your face after reading the last line of the anxiously anticipated Nick by Michael Farris Smith, a writer with a wildly enthusiastic fan base that fancies itself insiders to Farris Smith’s gritty esotericism. You’re cool if you follow this Oxford, Mississippi author. You are in-crowd if you’re hip to this writer who seemed to inherit the tool kit of the great Southern writers before him. Referred to as MFS by those who take his work personally because his stories do the talking for a certain strata of a particular region, in some ways Farris Smith’s clear, direct, and economic voice is an acquired taste even as his career prospers. But the publication of Nick will change all that, and wider readership will understand the attraction of this fearless writer who transcends literary limits and boundaries and plays by his own rules.
Michael Farris Smith is the author of Blackwood, The Fighter, Desperation Road, Rivers, and The Hands of Strangers. His novels have appeared on Best of the Year lists with Esquire, Southern Living, Book Riot, and numerous others, and have been named Indie Next List, Barnes & Noble Discover, and Amazon Best of the Month selections. He has been a finalist for the Southern Book Prize, the Gold Dagger Award in the UK, and the Grand Prix des Lectrices in France. He lives in Oxford, Mississippi, with his wife and daughters.
When I sat down to give it a revision last year, the thing that really struck me and surprised me about it was how timely the novel felt. … I mean, it’s a country that was coming off World War I. It was a country in a great state of transition — which is what we are fully immersed in right now, the greedy and the rich getting richer. … [There are] characters in the novel who are coming off the war, who are very disillusioned with their own country. And it’s a country coming off a pandemic. I mean, I was just blown away like how strangely timely the novel feels now compared to, you know, 100 years ago. And if this novel would have been published in 2015, that would have all been lost. But here we are now.
A former teacher and journalist, Johnnie Bernhard’s passion is reading and writing. Her work(s) have appeared in national and international publications, including: University of Michigan Graduate Studies Publications, Southern Literary Review, Houston Style Magazine, The Mississippi Press, the international Word Among Us, and the Cowbird-NPR production on small town America. Her entry, “The Last Mayberry,” received over 7,500 views, nationally and internationally.
Her first novel, A Good Girl, is a 2017 finalist in the national Kindle Book Awards, a Pen/Bingham nominee, and shortlisted for the 2015 Wisdom-Faulkner international Writing Competition. It was chosen for panel discussion at both the 2017 Louisiana and Mississippi Book Festivals.
In 2018, A Good Girl was nominated by the Institute of Mississippi Arts and Letters for Fiction of the Year and accepted into the Texas Center for the Book permanent collection.
Her second novel, How We Came to Be, was released in 2018. It is a finalist in the 2017 Wisdom-Faulkner international Writing Competition. Chosen for panel discussion by the 2018 Louisiana Book Festival and the Mississippi Book Festival, it has received stellar reviews, including being named a “Must Read” by Southern Writers Magazine and listed as a 2018 Summer Reading List choice by Deep South Magazine. It was awarded the Summerall Book Prize by Lamar University in 2019.
Johnnie’s third novel, Sister of the Undertow was named a book of the month by the international book club, The Pulpwood Queens. It was a featured novel for panel discussion at the 2020 AWP and chosen as Best of the University Presses, 100 Books by Literary Hub and the Association of University Presses.
Johnnie was selected to be a speaker for the TEDWomen 2020: Fearless series.
Johnnie’s Third Novel, Sisters of the Undertow is making waves in the literary world,
Sisters Kim and Kathy Hodges are born sixteen months apart in a middle-class existence parented by Linda and David Hodges of Houston, Texas. The happy couple welcomes their “lucky daughter” Kim, who is physically and mentally advanced. Following several miscarriages, Linda delivers “unlucky” Kathy at twenty-nine weeks, ensuring a life of cognitive and physical disabilities. Kathy enters public school as a special education student, while Kim is recognized as gifted.
Both sisters face life and death decisions as Houston is caught in the rip current of Hurricane Harvey. Kim learns the capricious nature of luck, while Kathy continues to make her own luck, surviving Hurricane Harvey, as she has survived all undertows with the ethereal courage of the resolute.
Sisters of the Undertow examines the connotations of lucky and unlucky, the complexities of sibling rivalry, and the hand fate delivers without reason.
Fans of audiobooks! Johnnie Bernhard’s latest novel is out today for your listening pleasure. Narrated by Emmy Award winning book narrator, Theresa Bakken, Sisters of the Undertow will appeal to those who love stories about sisters, families, and the human struggle to fit in. Theresa’s voice is smooth and carries you right into the story. Come download your copy. A 2020 Pulpwood Queens Book Club selection and published by Texas Review Press.
SISTERS OF THE UNDERTOW has been chosen for the Texas Center for the Book Collection, State Library Austin.
Below: Ginger Smith, Johnnie Bernhard, Yours Truly, Kim Moon at The 2020 Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend in Jefferson, Texas.
Johnnie’s 2nd, world-class novel: How We Came to Be
Here’s my book review of How We Came to Be:
How We Came to Be is a triumph of order from chaos as told in the most accessible first-person voice I’ve had the good fortune to come across in ages. I was under narrator Karen Anders’ spell from the first because author Johnnie Bernhard came out swinging by gifting the reader with this engaging novel’s premise by the third page. Karen doesn’t look good on paper. She is a fifty-year-old, high school English teacher living in Houston; a divorced, single mother facing empty-nest syndrome, well aware of her dependency on alcohol, but nowhere near ready to quit. Why should she? Karen’s life is a mess. One would think this is a recipe for a down on its heels story, but the reader is captivated by Karen’s tell-it-as-it-is persona and—dare I say it, identifies when Karen summarizes her circumstances by confessing, “I’m hating every moment, but pretending I’m having the time of my life.” When I got to this line, I knew I was hooked. We all have that sardonic friend who manages to smile through the egg on her face. This is Karen in a nutshell, and she keeps on keeping on, trying for the upper hand, while her adopted daughter, Tiffany’s first three months away at college become a study in bad choices, of which Karen has no say beyond putting out the fires. Karen’s dilemma is a common one and raises the question of how to be an effective single parent without chasing her daughter away. In the meantime, back at the empty nest, Karen knows she must forge a life beyond the rat-wheel of predictable sameness centered on her Houston high school’s schedule. In an uncanny act of timing, Karen’s world is widened when she is befriended by WW11 Hungarian refugee, Leona Supak from across the street, and an unlikely alliance is formed that challenges Karen to grow. Having been single for decades and barely hanging on, it probably isn’t the best time for a man to come into Karen’s life, yet when Matt Broussard pursues the surprised Karen in an Austin bar, she thinks, maybe? How We Came to Be is a brass-tacks, contemporary story without a moment of campy pretention. The events are cause and effect, but the story is what goes on in the likable Karen’s head. She is not so much a victim of circumstances as she is a neophyte at growing into her own. How We Came to Be is the story of a woman drowning in deep waters, who has the sense to learn how to swim. I applaud author Johnnie Bernhard for her wizardry in crafting this perfectly paced story in a voice so unique and compelling. This is a book to read and return to. It is perfect for book clubs because there is so much in it to discuss!
And Johnnie’s first novel, A Good Girl:
A Bible’s family tree and an embroidered handkerchief hold the key to understanding the past as six generation Texan, Gracey Reiter prepares to say goodbye to her dying father, the last surviving member of the Walsh-Mueller family. The present holds the answer, and the last opportunity for Gracey to understand her father’s anger, her mother’s guilt, and her siblings’ version of the truth.
The Walsh-Mueller family begins in Texas when Patricia Walsh leaves the famine of nineteenth century Ireland, losing her parents and siblings along the way. She finds a home, love, and security with Emil Mueller in a German settlement near Indianola on the Texas Gulf Coast. They begin their lives on a small cotton farm, raising six sons. From the coastal plains of Texas, five generations survive hurricanes, wars, The Great Depression, and life, itself.
An all-encompassing novel that penetrates the core being of all who read it, A Good Girl pulls back the skin to reveal the raw actualities of life, love, and relationships. It is the ageless story of family.
One of the highlights of 2020 for many writers was watching this!
Christmas, in the house in which I grew up in Memphis’s Morningside Park, was a festive season. My mother, whose name was Shirley Crossan Francis, was a member of the tribe my contemporaries and I now consider the last of the true Southern belles. Were my mother alive, she’d be ninety. She didn’t believe in half-measures, and was a champion of tradition and perfect form. When I think of her now, I think of her many graceful gestures.
Lately, I’ve been going through what seems like endless mounds of scrapbooks my mother kept. They are huge volumes, all dated, and the space these forty-some-odd books take up is staggering. Organizing the scrapbooks has been one of the tasks I’ve put by the wayside “for another day,” but I’ve run out of excuses during the pandemic. Because we’re approaching Christmas Day, I’m sharing some of the photographs I’ve come across. It’s my way of saying happy holidays. May you all make the most of the holidays and create wonderful, new memories. Don’t forget to hold your memories of the past in your heart, and to build that foundation with joy!
The alcove at the end of the dining room.
Another angle of the dining room that goes into the parlor.
In speaking of my mother, above is a portrait Memphis artist, Charles Inzer, drew of her. She was never partial to this portrait, and I do have others, but I took the liberty of using it for a graphic for my novel, 12-time award winner, Mourning Dove. In seeing these photographs, it may be clear to you from where I drew inspiration for Mourning Dove, which I set “on the genteel side of 1970’s Memphis, where all that glitters isn’t gold.” When one writes a novel with a particular point in mind, one draws from what one knows!
JK: Thank you for doing this interview about your new novel, Little Tea. I’ve read that you’ve lived in Minnesota, Memphis, Ireland, and now in California. What were these transitions like, and how have they affected your writing?
CF: The transitions ushered in forward momentum, in that living in different locations expanded my understanding of the world. The insights were cumulative as opposed to immediate and mostly having to do with an ephemeral sense of things pertaining to a combination of the environment and its people. I suppose the idea of cultures is best perceived from the outside looking in, so to speak. Being in it but not of it gave me an objective view that continues to affect my writing.
JK: What would you call “home” about each of these places?
CF: The idea of home is tied to the way I feel centered in an environment and has everything to do with harmonizing with a frame of reference. Nature affects everything about a location and I’m a great walker. I think the best way to get the feel of a place is on foot. I believe people create their idea of home through their relationship to the environment and their loved ones in it. My idea of home has to do with long-term investment and an anchored compatibility that operates on many levels.
JK: Did being an “avid journal-keeper” help you to become an avid novelist?
Click here to purchase
CF: Definitely. Keeping a journal for as many decades as I have woke me up to the fact that I’ve been a writer by nature all along. Writing has been part and parcel to my way of being in the world. I interpret the world by writing, and the practice has spawned an intimacy that translates to the nuts and bolts of how I write novels.
JK: I’ve always lived in the South. I’ve always been a large, bearded man, and I’ve always had to excuse the fact that I’m a “cat person.” I see in your bio that you live with one black cat. Are you superstitious? Do you consider the cat yours or your husband’s, or does the cat belong to you both? Are you a cat person as well? Tell me more about the cat.
CF: I live with one black cat named Le Chat and three German shepherds! La Chatte is definitely my cat because she chose me as her center of gravity. She is a medium-length haired, solid black, yellow-eyed bundle of communicative joy who gets pushy when it’s time for me to brush her, which is every evening before I go to bed. It is a two-brush ritual: one for her body and one for her kitten face, which she presents side after side with such rapturous, princess preening that I laugh every time. La Chatte has the run of the house yet chooses to camp out on the daybed in my office. Our shepherds never tire of investigating La Chatte, but by all appearances, the shepherds bore her. And I wouldn’t say I’m particularly superstitious as much as I’m aware of the mysterious unknowable that walks hand-in-hand with my ever-changing assumptions of reality. As for cats, I’ve always thought if you’re going to be a cat, then there’s something perfect about being a black one.
JK: You thank a lot of southerners at the opening to Little Tea. Do you have an affinity for Southern culture, especially as it pertains to the outdoors?
CF: I appreciate Southern culture and am forever trying to define it, which is ridiculous because it’s made up of nuance. I recently had a conversation with a Hollywood actress who prepared to play a Southerner by studying my Southern accent. I was patient with the process until it occurred to me to cut to the chase. “What you have to understand,” I said, “is that it’s not about mimicry; being Southern is an attitude, so let’s start there.” So, an emphatic yes, I have an affinity for Southern culture, and as it pertains to the outdoors in Little Tea, I wanted to capture Southern boys in the prime of their swaggering youth who know how to hunt and fish in the Delta. There’s an art to this, a science, a way of awe-struck communing in the region with a type of reverence seen not so much as sport as the exhilarating pursuit of challenge. I’ve always respected this about Southern men who hunt. They have an admirable relationship with the great outdoors.
JK: Having written your entire life, more or less, did you ever think that you would have such a following as you do?
CF: From my perspective, writing is a search for similarities. In my own way, I am comparing notes on this business of life with my readers. I’m aware that my novels are open for interpretation, but therein is my humble gift to the reader. Readers are intelligent creatures and it is my great honor to earn their attention. There’s no way to accurately gage the number in whatever following I have, but suffice it to say, I am grateful for each.
JK: It seems that you started your writing career with poetry. Was there a natural progression into writing novels?
CF: I wrote poetry and kept a daily journal up to and through the time I lived on the west coast of Ireland. I lived in Connemara, which is delightfully rural, and when I returned to the United States, I revisited my journal and realized I had a unique story. It was the year 2000, and although I’d never attempted even a short-story, I burned with passion to depict Ireland as I found it. It seemed to me many Americans had a romanticized impression of Ireland, and it was important to me to share that I found the people of that storied island magnificently salt-of-the earth and wary, suspicious of outsiders but able to mask this by appearing to be the friendliest lot on earth. I wanted to tell about it, and in so doing, I realized that writing poetry was my foundation. I can’t say it was a progression because to this day, I keep both balls in play.
JK: You’re involved with so many publications—I don’t think people view authors in general as particularly “busy.” Would you like to correct that notion?
CF: I love this question. I’ll begin my answer by saying I consider everything having to do with being an author a labor of love. That’s the good news. I do it because I love to and am fond of saying with writing, there is no there to get to; only the process in and of itself. That said, once one is in the game, so to speak, the arena expands. I liken my writing life to being a many spoke wheel wherein the spokes aid and abet the hub, daily. If I’m not in the process of writing a novel, I’m promoting one that’s out, and let me say now, the best part of it all is answering questions such as the ones you’ve asked here because I actually stop and think it all through. Thank you for the joy of this interview and let me debunk the myth: I’m thrilled to report I’m busy!
JK: There’s something very specific about the canon of Southern literature that is wholesome, haunted, antiquated and compelling. Do you have a theory of what that might be?
CF: It’d be so satisfying to say something brilliant here, but let’s leave that to Michael Farris Smith and Ron Rash. I love both Southern authors so much I can’t even speak. My answer can be found somewhere between Southern heritage and the South’s sultry climate. It’s that and what I love most about Southerners: they definitely know who they are. Southerners wear their identity like a badge of honor, and rightfully so.
JK: You draw exquisitely on your tendency to “see the world from the outside in.” At what point did you recognize this as an ability?
CF: This circles us back to your first poignant question. It was moving at age ten from Minnesota to Memphis—disparate cultures, I think, that gave me my first taste of being an outsider. It was an indelible experience, profound to the point that I think it impacted my character. I will tell you that considering yourself an outsider isn’t a bad thing at all. To me, it’s a vantage point from which to celebrate, a perch from an aerial view to intuit all that’s unique in people, places, and things. This, in a nutshell, is why I write!