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!
This post is in celebration of the surprising connections made from years of being a writer. I have four books and one novella out in the world, and another–fingers crossed- hopefully, making its way through the labyrinthian path from my computer to bookstores, but that’s another subject!
I’m thinking about the countless, sung and unsung heroes with whom I’ve had the pleasure to align over the years. “Book people” are passionate people committed to staying the course of what can only be described as an incremental growth pattern fueled by perseverance and dedication to the love of reading and writing. I’ve found the two arenas are tightly woven. You simply cannot have one without the other. It’s a particular breed of cat who knows this, and they are the breed who derive great satisfaction and personal fulfillment in centering their days on the written word.
Writers, and, readers, and bloggers, and book promoters breathe the very life force into the existence of a writer. They are the stalwart citizens of the literary world who take a writer’s work and magnify it, launching it into a wider sphere by ripple effect, creating attenuation by virtue of the fact that they have an audience of like-minded fellows. My gratitude for these passionate people is endless. They understand the solitary creation of writing as an art, and their support is humbling, sustaining, and imperative.
It’s fair to say that authors spend just as much time promoting their books as they do writing them. On average, each of my books took two years to produce, and that’s about the same amount of time I’ve dedicated to book promotion. It takes time to get the word out that a book exists in the first place, and getting to readers is not something that happens overnight; it’s a process, a build that feels like an uphill climb with countless stops along the way. One cannot do it alone. It takes a village, and much is furthered when an author takes the time to compare notes with those who have gone before them.
Which brings me back to the connections worth celebrating made from being a writer. I will now combine a radio host, an author, and a particular outfit dedicated to championing the literary arts to illustrate a case in point:
Bobbie Jean Bell has enjoyed a long career as the co-host of The Writers Block show on LA Talk Radio, which you can access from their online website. It has been a high honor, over the years, for me to appear on the show three times. Sadly, Jim Christina, Bobbie Jean’s charismatic, one-of a kind co-host of many years, died this past year. With continued commitment and touching sensitivity, Bobbie Jean Bell took the show into her own hands in honor of Jim, and rebranded the show, Rendezvous with a Writer, which airs every Thursday night on LA Talk-Radio. https://www.latalkradio.com/content/rendezvous-writer
Johnnie Berhard is the author of four gorgeous novels. She currently lives in Mississippi, and maintains a strong rapport with her native Texas. Looking back now, I cannot recall how I first crossed paths with this extraordinary writer, but I can report I met her in person at The Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend in Jefferson, Texas in 2020– or was it 2018? I think it was both, but I digress. Let’s just say the fruits of coming to know Johnnie Bernhard are endless. It has been my pleasure to feature Johnnie’s work here on my blogsite. In a minute, I’ll tell you how Johnnie fits into this, but while I’ve got you, look into Johnnie Here: http://johnniebernhardauthor.com/bio
The Catholic Literary Arts is an outfit that conducts itself in the highest manner. Their mission, as stated on their website ( https://www.catholicliteraryarts.org/) is this: “Catholic Literary Arts exists to provide a welcoming home for people of all faiths and goodwill to learn, to improve writing skills, to meet fellow writers and publishers, and to enjoy spiritual and intellectual formation in the great literary traditions of Western civilization.”
How the aforementioned entities collided with yours truly now delighted to be right in the middle is this: I had the pleasure of watching author Johnnie Bernhard teach a virtual class on the mechanics of writing fiction for The Catholic Literary Arts, and in later talking with her about the endless merits of such an important forum, Johnnie introduced me to Sarah Cortez, in the hope she and I would explore common ground. We did. Our common ground is this: Sarah Cortez is the president and founder of The Catholic Literary Arts, and I have much to say about the art of launching a book! Ms. Cortez took me seriously when I told her it would be my honor to teach a class for her noble organization. I am enthusiastic to report I will do just this on Tuesday, September 27th at 7:00 CST. Here is the link to register: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/363439757097
And because Bobbie Jean Bell invited me to be a guest on Rendezvous with a Writer from 6:00PM to 6:50 PST on Thursday, September 15, to talk about books and writing, we will also be talking about my virtual class on Preparing to Launch a Book!
This is what I meant when I said I celebrate the surprising connections made from years of being a writer. The magical alchemy that results from staying the course is the gift that keeps on giving!
I hope you’ll join me on Rendezvous with a Writer on Thursday, September 15th ( link above) and that you’ll register for the class and tell your friends about my virtual class with The Catholic Literary Arts where I share all I know about preparing to launch a book!~
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.
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.
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 Bernhard pierces the soul of sisterhood, revealing the poignant paradox that familial love does not always come naturally, but it always comes. Sisters is a heart-wrenching yet triumphant story about conquering your fate and learning to play the cards you were dealt.” –Galveston Monthly
“Johnnie Bernhard has become one of the South’s finest writers. Sisters of the Undertow is a book you can’t and won’t put down, a story of sisterhood, love, and loss.” –Allen Mendenhall, Southern Literary Review
HOW WE CAME TO BE
“In How We Came to Be, Bernhard delivers a poignant exploration of life as a modern American woman. This complex story examines the many emotional layers of relationships, mothering, sisterhood, and the eternal search for self-worth in a society obsessed with the superficial. Within these pages, readers will experience love and loss, grace and redemption, forgiveness and faith. A heartwarming read that proves family comes in many forms.”
–Julie Cantrell, New York Times and USA TODAY Bestselling Author of Perennials
A GOOD GIRL
“One of the great pleasures of reviewing books is that of discovering rare jewels, especially those written by up-and-coming Mississippi writers. One of 2017’s best will surely be A Good Girl by author Johnnie Bernhard, who as much as any writer since Flannery O’Connor and Walker Percy, offers a breathtaking tour of the human heart in conflict with itself, desperately searching for grace and redemption in the face of unremitting loss.”
–Jim Frazier, The Sun Herald
“A Good Girl is a raw, real and relatable gift to the soul on every level. Ms. Bernhard’s writing is so descriptive, reading this book is truly a visceral experience. One can not help but reflect on their own family legacy and life journey. Prepare to be rivetted by this heart- breaking, yet healing story about family, self discovery and learning how to love.”
–Eva Steortz, Vita Creative and The Walt Disney Company
Smith’s debut collection consists of 80 poems and several short stories. It is a meditation on miscommunication, childhood, Northeastern vs. Southern American culture, family, nature vs. technology, and the imagination of the introvert.
“From sonnets to somnambulance, from algae to oxytocin, from manatees to Manhattan, Smith rides the riptides of memory’s fictions and frictions in this prolific debut. The Butterfly Bruises is a gem mine of poems and stories that write through grief and growing up, personal and planetary survival, with words rugged and glistening like seashell shards.”
-Poetry Critic and Scholar, Professor Robert Dewhurst
An assembly of deep probing, masterfully crafted prose and poetry for the discerning reader. The tone is insightful, the use of language impressively beyond the pale. Thought provoking and at times seemingly personal and confessional, the contents of Palmer Smith’s The Butterfly Bruises is breathtaking as her subjects range from a mirror reflection to the death of the family dog to musings on how butterflies survive in winter. This is a book to savor; extraordinary, creative writing that reads as a series of vignettes written from a fresh perspective. A list of eleven discussion questions at the book’s end for book clubs and readers will prompt your powers of reflection, and there is much to reflect upon in this resonant, meditative book! I thoroughly enjoyed it and will certainly revisit its pages.
Meet Palmer Smith
Passionate about writing and poetry, Palmer
is a current English MA student.
Her poetry and short stories have appeared in:
The Crime Yard
Newark Library Literary Journal
The Online Journal for Person-Centered Dermatology
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.
The Journey of Claire Fullerton from Memphis to Malibu
Thrive Global invites voices from many spheres to share their perspectives on our Community platform. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team, and opinions expressed by Community contributors do not reflect the opinions of Thrive Global or its employees. More information on our Community guidelines is available here. By Jose Angel Manaiza Jr, Tutor To The Stars at Malibu Education
Our Guest Expert is Author Claire Fullerton:
Claire Fullerton is the traditionally published author of four novels and one novella. Her twenty book awards include the Literary Classics Book of the Year, the Independent Authors Network Book of the Year, and the International Book Awards Gold medal for Literary Fiction. Her work has appeared in numerous magazines including Celtic Life International and Deep South Magazine. Claire is a book reviewer for The New York Journal of Books. She is represented by Julie Gwinn of the Seymour Literary Agency and has recently completed her fifth manuscript. She hails from Memphis, Tennessee, and has lived in Western Malibu for twenty years. Visit http://www.clairefullerton.com
Q: Tell me about your journey to your success as a writer:
A: A writer’s life is built incrementally. It begins by producing the work and submitting. I now look back and realize my career began with the discipline of keeping a journal from a very young age, which helped me develop as a writer. I’ve always submitted to magazines, and I’ll now credit Malibu’s Anne Sobel of the Malibu Surfside News for inviting me to write a weekly column for a full year about life in Malibu, titled, In First Person, from 2009 to 2010. The task taught me about the fine art of brevity and the precise use of language. I am a storyteller, in that I write fiction, and yet I love writing first person narratives. My first novel, A Portal in Time was published by a small press in 2013. That press published Dancing to an Irish Reel in 2016. In 2017, I signed with a literary agent, and my novel, Mourning Dove, a family saga, set on the genteel side of 1970’s Memphis, was published by Firefly Southern Fiction the following year. Mourning Dove helped me gain wider readership and went on to receive fifteen book awards. In May of 2020, Firefly Southern Fiction published my novel, Little Tea, whose title refers to one of its characters and which is about the power of female friendships, also set in the Deep South. I am now in the editing phase of my firth manuscript, and all told, I am grateful to do the work I love and am always thrilled to meet my readers!
Q: What advice would you give to young women and girls who’d like to follow in your writer footsteps?
A: The first thing I’d say to encourage a fiction writer is remain open to finding the story you’d like to tell. Commit to the work. An author’s career is all about balancing inspiration and discipline. Most of the work goes into revision. There is an adage that says, “Writing is re-writing,” and I’ve found that to be true. Submit your stories to magazines online, and in print. Build your resume. Confer with other writers, find your writing community, stay engaged. Establish an online presence. If you’d like to be traditionally published, do your homework on writing as a business. Learn how to look for a compatible literary agent and master the query letter. And once again, writers learn much from those who write as a career. It’s important for writers to find their tribe, on the way to finding their readership.
Q: What is your vision for the next five years?
A: I’d love the grace to continue doing what I love, day in and day out. What I’ve learned about writing is there is no “there” to get to. There is only the progress made as you stay the course of the path.
Former Child Star in La Ceiba, Honduras. Jose Angel Manaiza Jr. is known as “The Tutor to The Stars” from Malibu to Beverly Hills.Teaching the children of Hollywood celebrities to achieve success. Mr. Manaiza has helped over 1,200 students. Including NCAA student-athletes from schools such as UCLA, USC, and Pepperdine University.His patented speed-reading system is endorsed by three former U.S. presidents, and he has been honored in The White House.In 2018, Jose was knighted by the order of the OSJ in NYC. He was the first SAT Instructor to be published in The Huffington Post on the topic of “The New SAT Exam.” 58 of his students received an overall average score of 1456 on the SAT exam, and earned admissions with full scholarships.He has also been given a special recognition for his work from the City of Los Angeles, and the State Of California.Mr. Manaiza served as The Speaker Program Director for The California’s Women Conference in 2019, where past keynote speakers have included Oprah Winfrey, Norma T. Hollis, Michelle Obama, Dame Mabel Katz, Laura Bush and Arianna Huffington. He is official biographer of Garifuna Writer & Historian Santos Centeno Garcia. Mr. Manaiza is a professional speechwriter who has written over 6000 speech scripts to CEOs, world leaders, and professional speakers. His famous workshop entitled “Presidential Speechwrititng” has helped many on how to write speeches.Mr. Manaiza resides in Malibu, CA and enjoys his weekends sailing in Marina Del Rey. For more information, visit http://www.tinyurl.com/Malibu90265Style
Legions of authors adore Narrator Theresa Bakken, who produces and hosts The Desideratum Podcast. The ultimate in author-talk happens on Desideratum, and I’m excited to share that I just got booked to record for an appearance on this wonderful Podcast in late August. Watch this space! Desideratum is available now on Anchor, Spotify, Apple, Google and more! Now also carried by Authors on the Air Global Radio Network!
Desideratum is a Latin word meaning things that are desired as essential. Longing for stories to share and wishing for moments with gifted storytellers inspired this podcast. Each episode features a recorded short story or excerpt from an author’s latest book or audiobook, and a conversation with the writer about their craft and what they believe is essential. Tune in to hear an author you love, or to find your next favorite storyteller.
Meet Theresa Bakken, a multi-talented Podcast host and audiobook narrator!
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: