I had an extraordinary time talking about writing, Southern Culture, Inspiration, and the writing life on the Storytellers Podcast with Grace Sammon, and I’m sharing the link for you here!
The Storytellers Radio Show and Podcast, hosted by Grace Sammon, focuses on individuals who choose to leave their mark on the world through the art of story. Each episode engages guests and listeners in the story behind the story of authors, artists, reporters and others who leave a legacy of storytelling. Applying her years of experience as an educator, entrepreneur, author, and storyteller herself, Grace brings to listeners an intimate one-on-one experience with her guests. The Storytellers is heard in over 150 countries. Each episode airs twice weekly on The Radio Ear Network subsidiaries of SOB Radio Network and Society Bytes Radio. Shows then become available at the links below and on SOB Radio at and Society Bytes Radio To contact Grace about being a guest on the show, email her here.
Claire Fullerton has always known she’s a storyteller. She was born in Wayzata, Minnesota (the homeland of her father) and transplanted at the age of ten to Memphis, Tennessee (the homeland of her mother). She learned early that the art of observation can be an acclimating lifesaver. Her mother told her that as a child, she would sit and watch people. Claire was thirty years old the first time her mother said this, then her mother added: “You still do.” It is what is known as “the writer’s eye,” the ability to see the world from the outside in. If that is true, Claire admits, she is happily guilty.
Claire currently lives in Malibu, California, but will always consider herself a Southerner: a card-carrying member of the last romantic culture on earth. She found her niche in music radio as a member of the on-air staff of five different stations, during a nine-year career. Three weeks after her return to the United States from a year-long trip to Ireland, she reviewed the journal she kept while living abroad and knew then that she had a good story to tell. Today, she is the author of eight traditionally published books and multiple essays. Claire is a much sought-after speaker and radio guest with a strong voice for women’s fiction and the voice of the American South. Listen
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.
All hail The Pulpwood Queens, the largest book club in the world! The International Pulpwood Queens and Timber Guys Book Club is more than its 800 book club chapters, it’s a literary culture populated by avid readers and enthusiastic authors who fraternize under the Pulpwood Queens literary umbrella to share the love of books!
In existence for more than twenty years, The Pulpwood Queens hold an annual, book club conference experienced more like a party. Featured authors and attendees dress up in the Pulpwood Queens’ signature leopard print and tiaras for three days, in what becomes the ultimate meet and greet between authors and readers. Featured authors are panel guests in the most unique forum imaginable. Nothing staid and stuffy about the proceedings, rather, the panels are conducted as a celebration, where authors share more than the synopsis of the books they’ve written– they tell their background story: where they’re from, their writing process, and what inspired them to embark upon the craft of writing in the first place.
Since a picture tells a thousand words, here are some photographs from the Pulpwood Queens previous, annual event billed as Girlfriend Weekend:
This past Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend was different. What made the January 14-17th’s Girlfriend Weekend unique was that it was a Zoomathon fueled by the power of its good intention! Hundreds of us fretted over a possible Girlfriend Weekend cancellation due to Covid restrictions, but Kathy L. Murphy, the Pulpwood Queen herself, the visionary mastermind and rallying point of the largest book club in the world fit the needs to the moment and conducted the entire weekend on line! It was billed as The Pulpwood Queen and Timber Guy’s Reading Nation Slumber Party, and its aim was all about connections. Authors met readers, readers watched authors introduce themselves and their books, panel discussions were followed by keynote speakers, a popular audiobook narrator with a gorgeous British accent read excerpts from featured books and there was great audience participation! You can see a little about it here:
Here are highlights from the Pulpwood Queens January 14-17 Zoomathon:
I had the immense pleasure of being a part of the Pulpwood Queens’s Virtual Weekend by interviewing illustrious literary agent, Marly Rusoff, who shed light on the mysteries of the publishing world, past, present and future. Marly was fascinating, and we all were honored by her presence!
All told, the 2021 Pulpwood Queens Book Club Zoomathon was a rollicking success and an enthralling series of firsts, in that it essentially set the standard of excellence for online, book-related events!
Some say your novel The Shores Of Our Souls is a romance. Do you consider it such? What genre did you intend it to fall under when you wrote it?
I believe my novel falls on a literary fiction shelf, or an upmarket women’s fiction shelf. I wrote it to open a conversation, so it’s great for book clubs. It’s cross-genre for sure, if you’re trying to label it. It’s about war, love, and international intrigue. It’s a bildungsroman for the female character, and parts of it are historical fiction.
What do reviewers miss about your novel?
My novel is a love story, not a romance in the strict sense of the genre. It’s about why and how we love. It differs from many other love stories in that it’s told from two points of view. It was a risk on my part, but I did it to give my readers a better understanding of Arab culture, religion, experience, and values. That’s what drives any relationship – perspective and values.
It also doesn’t fall into a traditional romance trope of “Happily Ever After.” Instead, it shows what two people, damaged and alone, can do to heal and catalyze each other if they share love, even if it’s short-lived. I don’t like tied-up-with-a-bow finales, although readers who want one may like my sequel better. My sequel A Thousand Flying Things opens a decade later, and my my protagonists Dianna and Qasim have had time and space to heal inside, come into their own, before they reunite again. We’ll see if their love survives the separation. (Hint: There are some surprises that even Dianna doesn’t know about in their decade of separation.)
Call it what you will, love conquers all, especially division. It can also lead to mutual understanding. The connection and empathy it evokes can resolve conflict. Every conflict we face teaches us about each other and the world we live in, but only if we feel enough compassion for others to walk in their shoes. Rarely, love leads to a lifetime partnership. Often, it teaches us who we are.
If there was one thing you’d like to tell your readers about Shores, what would it be?
If people read only the first few scenes, they won’t understand that these two characters have been broken. They want to love, but societal wounds have rendered them incapable of it until they heal. Damaged people don’t make the best decisions. If readers stay with the story, they will watch both characters heal, and heal each other. And as they heal themselves, they widen their hearts.
If they read on, they’ll discover the potential of love to heal and transform. Yet before that point, they’ll also see how secrets lead to distrust, cause love to recede and characters (and real relationships) to backtrack. Miscommunication leads to misunderstanding, but the love endures. And it’s the love that keeps both characters moving on their Life Paths.
What themes and questions did you want to explore in your series?
Love conquers all.
How to love during conflict, be it a marital separation or a world war. (A lot of my coaching practice is about resolving conflict.)
How parental love, familial love, friendship love differ from romantic love.
And the questions I pose:
Do we choose who we love, or does love choose us?
Can we love all those who injure us? Can we forgive?
How does fleeting love change us? Catalyze us?
Can unconditional love awaken us to who we really are and thus empower us?
How did you write from a male POV so vividly?
I wrote Qasim’s POV as backstory first, to better understand him. Then my beta readers fell in love with him.
I realize it’s controversial to write in a POV different from one’s own these days. Yet I think it’s what writers do, put themselves in a situation or a point of view to better understand it, and to show others how to understand. I was trained as a child and as a writing student to put myself in another’s shoes. I may make mistakes, but I tried to portray every character authentically, and especially Qasim, as a full, complex character, who has successes and makes mistakes. Just like we all do, if we are alive.
Yet I didn’t find his voice in a vacuum. I’ve lived and worked in Africa and traveled through the Middle East. And most importantly, I had a relationship with a Middle Eastern man long ago, although the true story, the true human I loved, is nothing like Qasim and his story. Yet that person created a launching place for voice and story.
Do you consider Dianna a strong protagonist, a strong female role model?
Absolutely, although she’s young, naive and head-strong in the first novel. She’s left home and family to go seek a career in order to send money home. She hasn’t rented a brownstone with a bunch of friends and partied every night. She’s on her own. She’s striding forth in a male-dominated world and work force, and she holds her own. She holds her own when Qasim patronizes her. And I believe she evolves into a self-empowered hero, someone who paved the way for the women who came after her.
She, like Qasim, is a woman of her time. Women were just coming into their own. The employment rate for women rose from 38 percent in 1960, to 43 percent in 1970, to 52 percent in 1980, and finally reached 60 percent by 2000. Yet these stats don’t say where the women worked, or their entry annual salaries (mine was $10,600 before taxes), or the challenges they met in the workplace, or how much they earned to a man’s dollar. In 1980, women had a career map, maybe even a role model, but they faced a lot of hurdles. I asked for a raise after two years on the job, and my boss told me that the raise had to go to the man because “his wife had just had a baby.”
I’ve heard readers ask about an audible edition of both your novels? Are those forthcoming?
A strong maybe. Stay tuned.
Your book is full of visual and sensory imagery. Is that how you usually write a scene?
I start with a memory, an interesting person from my life or from history, and a question I want to figure out myself. Then I close my eyes and a story plays out in front of my eyes like a movie. I used to think that most people wrote that way.
And how do you write? Do you ever use an outline?
I write most scenes with incredible speed. Most of my language and voice comes from that very first draft, even if it does have a bad plot.
Then I outline.
Then I make sure I’ve written and approve of my beginning, middle, and end, that both the narrative and character arcs are solid.
Then I revise to the middle, then to the end.
And then revise until someone tells me I have to stop.
How much research did you do for your novels? How much comes from your life experience?
I’m including an informal bibliography in my next novel, because I’ve received this question a lot. I was a researcher for five years for National Geographic, so deep research is part of me. Also, I have a personality like a scientist’s, in that I’m incredibly curious and want to get the heart of things, to as near “truth” as I can. Shores is well-researched. I can provide a bibilography to anyone who requests it. Just sign up for my newsletter at https://shoresofoursouls.com, and I’ll send you a complete bibliography.
Yet I didn’t find the The Shores Of Our Souls story in a library. I was a humanitarian worker for nearly two decades, with a work focus in the Middle East, Africa, and Eastern Europe. I spent this time meeting and interviewing immigrants, displaced people, people in war, both civilian and military. I was an international humanitarian law instructor for the Red Cross (ie, Geneva Conventions). I witnessed these people’s life stories and I shared them with the world. I’ve spent time in Beirut, the last time in 2006, six weeks before the last war, with bombing raids already happening up the coast.
So that’s why you chose to write about Lebanon?
Not entirely. My initial protagonist hailed from Alexandria, Egypt. Every country in the world has its unique sensibilities, though. Egypt is completely different than Lebanon. Qasim fit in Lebanon, not Egypt. By the way, the man I dated was not Lebanese. But Qasim just had to be.
Do you have a favorite line in Shores?
The lines most readers love just came to me one day. “We often lose ourselves in love. Rarely do we find ourselves there. Never do we see it coming.” They open the novel.
But my favorite lines are at the book’s end. They’re an homage to E.M. Forster’s A Passage To India. The last lines of all my novels in this series will be a tribute to him. He was one of the first to write about the divide between East and West. I also added a falling feather in the scene because my BFF Laura Schmidt, an amazing writer with an amazing life, passed when I was writing the first draft of this novel. She sends me blue feathers as signs that she’s still with me, and she whispers inspiration in my ear on a regular basis.
Who are your favorite authors? Your favorite children’s authors?
My all-time favorite book is John Steinbeck’s East of Eden.
My all-time favorite books on writing are by Eudora Welty: One Writer’s Beginnings and The Eye of the Story.
I’m an avid reader of fairy tales and myths from all over the world, and my very first book was The Three Little Horses, by Piet Worm, given to me by a neighbor when I was 2 years old. I knew I’d found the man I would marry when he introduced himself as a modern-day Druid, and told me he loved Tolkien.
I also loved C.S. Lewis’ The Narnia Chronicles, and E. L. Konigsberg’s The Crazy Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler changed my life – made me want to write about the world, cultures, history, and how my world related to it all. And it made me start running away from home, much to my mother’s chagrin.
My favorite contemporary authors are Isabelle Allende, Alice Hoffman, and Barbara Kingsolver.
But I almost always fall in love with any book that gets me past the second chapter with its voice and craft. Once I’m immersed in story, it’s tough for me to come out again.
What’s next for author Kathryn Brown Ramsperger?
The sequel to Shores, called A Thousand Flying Things, will be published next year. I’m working on the book cover right now. Then I hope to publish a memoir about adoption, teen suicide, and the mother-daughter bond. I have many books that are still works in progress, including a weird funny memoir on death.
I also host a Facebook Live called Story Hour most every Thursday @ 4 pm EDT on my Facebook Author page, with replays available on You Tube. I also am an intuitive coach at Ground One LLC, and a book coach with my own process. Most of my writing clients are memoirists. My method is called Step Into Your Story! (TM)
I love speaking anywhere, online or off, about story, the writing craft, global citizenship and peace.
Author Bio: Kathryn Ramsperger’s literary voice is rooted in the Southern tradition of storytelling and is informed by her South Carolina lineage. She began her career writing for The Roanoke Times and The Gazette newspapers and later managed publications for the Red Cross and Red Crescent in Geneva, Switzerland. She has contributed articles to National Geographic and Kiplinger magazines.
Writing from a global perspective, her themes are universal yet intensely personal and authentic.
A graduate of Hollins University (Roanoke, Va.), Kathryn studied under several esteemed writers including—Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Eudora Welty; her mentor Richard Henry Wilde Dillard and Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Henry Taylor. She holds a graduate degree from George Washington University.
Winner of the Hollins University Fiction Award, Kathryn is also a finalist in novel, novel-in-progress, short story, and poetry categories in the Faulkner-Wisdom literary competition. The Shores of Our Souls won the 2017 Foreword Indies award for multicultural fiction and also won an America’s Best Book Award.
Kathryn is a mezzo-soprano, has dined with artists ranging from author Marita Golden to musician and writer Kinky Friedman, and has traveled to every continent except Antarctica and Australia. She’s worked in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. She currently lives in Maryland with her husband and two children.
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?
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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!
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.
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