Every issue is packed with great books to add to your to be read list, interesting articles, recipes, art, and surprises. What makes this magazine unique is that every author you’ll find on the pages inside is a member of The International Pulpwood Queen and Timber Guy Book Club – the largest meeting and discussing book club in the nation.
Kathy L. Murphy started this book club over twenty years ago in her hair salon. Her salon soon became the only book store/beauty salon – Beauty and The Book. The rest, as they say, is history.
Y’all, her story is amazing. You’ll find out more about her, her art, her books, and her journey in every edition. – because she is THE Pulpwood Queen – and it’s all about the story!
The Pulpwood Queens: 800 International book club chapters !
The Pulpwood Queens is a meet-and-greet book club founded in early 2000 in Jefferson, Texas, by Kathy L. Patrick in a combined beauty salon and bookstore, Beauty and the Book. In a joint effort with Random House, the club spawned an Internet book club show that began in January 2011, Beauty and the Book: Where Reading is Always in Style.
I submitted an essay to the outfit, Scare Your Soul, who issued a callout to writers to submit an essay on what they’d lost and what they’d found during the world-wide pandemic. My essay is one of ten, chosen to be narrated by a New York City based actor. For ten weeks, the selected essays were feature, one at a time, on Scare Your Soul’s Podcast.
My essay appears this week. Here is the essay, and below it is the Podcast link where you can hear actor, Keith White – Georgia and California raised, now living in NYC, with a host of Broadway credentials, narrate. I loved hearing his interpretation of my essay!
I lost my eldest brother right before the pandemic. Grief is no fit master when the world is on pause, and oh, how the mind rankles when enclosed in four walls—one has little recourse but to climb them. There by the grace of God go I, and what could I have done to prevent this collided. I had no distractions because the rules of the pandemic are such that there’s nowhere to run.
I’m the last in my family standing. Because my brother died unexpectedly, it was as if he threw the ball of his life in the air, and it was incumbent upon me to catch it. When I got out of shock, I had his worldly goods sent from Chicago to a storage unit near me in Southern California. I was so overwhelmed that when the deed was done, I adopted an out of sight, out of mind approach and tucked away the key. But one can only procrastinate for so long. As the shut-down dragged on, I was shorn of excuses for not addressing the unit’s 74 boxes. In the interest of closure, I prioritized the task and stepped up.
A large envelope was at the bottom of a box marked papers. When I opened it, out slid a nine-page document titled, “Notes on Father Fullerton as told by him to his daughter, Ora.” I’d never heard of Ora Fullerton. What’s more, I’d never heard the name Ora, but it turns out it’s not unusual in Ireland’s Isle Magee, County Antrim.
The document was a Xerox copy, a rag to riches chronicle of my great grandfather and his siblings that began in 1876, and led them, one after another, from famine-ravaged Ireland in search of the American dream. The eldest sibling arrived in America first, with twenty-five dollars. He took a look around and discovered, instead of brick and stone, everything in America was built with lumber. After apprenticing as a carpenter, he worked for a man who owned a sawmill. When he became co-owner of that sawmill, he sent for his ten Irish brothers and expanded the business. By the time the full story was told, the immigrants owned a total of eighty American lumber yards. At the helm of it all was one Samuel Holmes Fullerton, whose photograph I found on the last page of the document as he appeared in a 1906 edition of American Lumberman’s Magazine, and whom the town of Fullerton, south of Baton Rouge, Louisiana was named, which is now on the National Historic Register.
Because I knew none of this, I’m researching my Irish lineage. I sense there’s a triumphant story in my forebears finding the American dream. It’s affirming to realize the pandemic hasn’t changed my optimistic belief in the possibilities of human existence. I began the pandemic grieving the loss of my brother, but I’ve found my paternal lineage. This seems to me beautiful testimony to one door opening as another closes.
Scare Your Soul is a volunteer-led, science-based movement that inspires people to ignite their best selves through living a courageous life.
Here is Keith White’s Narration:
Keith White is an NYC based actor/singer/writer. He’s been seen performing on Broadway, in National Tours, on Cruise Ships, eating at Vegan brunches, dancing at hiphop concerts, celebrating his friends and family, and most recently lounging in sweatpants at home in his apartment spending time with his love Erin Kommor and their dog Bear as the world slows down in the middle of a pandemic. If you want to know more, visit Keith’s instagram @ItsyaboyKeithWhite.
Here are the other writer’s essays that were recorded for the podcast:
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!
When we publish a book, we want it to be read. Obviously. But what else do we want?
At the most concrete level, we want our book to be bought, liked, recommended, and reviewed. We want to see it on lists; we want lots of reviews (and stars) on Goodreads and Amazon. But we want something else, too—that connection with specific human beings who’ve been touched and changed by what we wrote.
When I published Queen of the Owls, I wanted all of those things, and I got many of them. The book earned awards, made it onto several “best of” lists. And yet, the most important outcomes are ones I never could have foreseen. They’re what I’m calling “unexpected, long-tail gifts”—responses from readers, often months later, that let me know how much my story meant to them.
My experience isn’t unique. When I reached out to other authors I knew, I found that all of them had a story (or two) about an encounter with a reader that left them humbled, honored, even moved to tears. Pondering what they told me, I’ve identified several themes that I’d like to share with you, along with some of their stories, as this year-to-end-all-years draws to a close. My hope is that these examples will help to remind us how much our writing really does matter and why it’s so deeply needed—especially now.
Finding the strength to go on
Therese Walsh tells how her novel, The Moon Sisters, found its way to a woman whose son had taken his own life. Though hesitant to read the book since she knew it was framed around a death in the family, the woman did read it and then reached out to let Therese know that it helped her to see a path forward for herself. She wrote: “What my heart appreciated the most was that the search eventually morphs into what the quest must be when answers remain elusive: Where do we go from here?” For Therese, “the book was written exactly for a person who needed hope after loss. That it found her, and that it resonated for her and hopefully brought some measure of comfort—helped her to find hope, despite the absurdity and sometimes even the brutality of life— well, gratified isn’t the right word for what I felt. It’s so much bigger than that.”
I’d venture to say that Therese is talking about the feeling of purpose, and of awe. There’s a sense of being of service—of playing a role in something that was meant to be—as someone picks up our book at just the moment when it’s needed most. As Caroline Leavitt, author of With You or Without You, said to me: “I got this astonishing email from a stranger who told me that she’d been going through a really hard time. She was stuck in a bad marriage and thought her life was over, but she read my book and told me, ‘I swear there was magic in that novel of yours’ because she suddenly felt that there might still be possibilities for her.”
Several authors told of equally extraordinary moments, when a reader shared how knowing that someone else—even if it was “just” a character in her book—had not only survived, but found a path forward, helped them find a freedom and a hope that had seemed unattainable. Kathryn Craft, author of The Far Side of Happy, told me: “The most touching comments I received were from people who had survived family suicides that no one ever spoke about, or had attempted suicide themselves. One young woman admitted to attempting suicide more than once—and then, after my event, she posted about our interaction on her Facebook page, amazed that I had held up the signing line to come around the table and hug her, and how this simple act had meant the world to her.”
Validating their own experience
When a reader bonds with one of our characters—feels that the character is not only credible and alive, but is someone just like me—it can bring a powerful sense of not being alone, not being the only one who’s gone through something painful and difficult. Randy Susan Meyers shared her experience after publishing her debut novel, The Murderer’s Daughters. “So many people wrote that they’d never told anyone about the domestic violence in their family, the murder of their mother, sister, daughter. Wherever I went, once people heard about my novel and the story behind it, family stories that broke my heart rushed at me. I learned that the only thing required of me was listening, bearing witness, and always giving the message that they were not alone, and the shame was not theirs to bear.”
So too, Barbara Claypole White, who writes about mental illness in families, told me: “I’ve received incredible messages from readers that often start, ‘I’ve never told anyone this before, but …’ Sometimes they see family members in my characters, or they’re in a dark place themselves and find connection and hope.”
This sense of validation can also help someone take an important step. Barbara related the story of an email she received shortly after The Promise Between Us was published. “A reader stumbled on a copy of the book. Through my heroine’s journey, the reader realized that she wasn’t crazy; she was suffering from postpartum OCD. My novel led her to a therapist. That’s a pretty amazing feeling, to see that fiction can and really does make a difference.”
Similarly, Randy Susan Meyers tells of an encounter when she was a keynote speaker at an event. “Afterward, a couple asked to talk to me as I signed books. They told the story of how they lost their daughter when her husband killed her, a story they had never shared before. They wanted to know how they could help to prevent other deaths.”
This sense of validation can also come from “finding one’s tribe” in the story world—reading a novel set in a place, culture, or social environment that rings familiar and true. Author Claire Fullerton set her book Mourning Dove “on the genteel side” of Memphis in the 1970’s. As Claire told me: “I wanted to depict a particular milieu and the price one pays for living in a culture where bad things are not discussed. Because I laid bare that side of Memphis, I couldn’t help wondering about the book’s Memphis reception.” Would it feel authentic?
Her concern abated when she received an email from someone she’d known decades earlier, asking if she had time to speak with him about the book. Claire wrote to me: “We had what turned into an hour-long conversation about the Memphis we knew in our coming of age. He said that my depiction of the social and economic strata we were raised in was as accurately described as anything he’d ever read and thanked me profusely for putting it into words.”
Bringing a new understanding and appreciation
Certainly, there are books that open us to cultures and eras we know nothing about, enriching us by showing other ways of living. At their best, these books do two things at the same time: they show us something new and different, while also helping us to see and feel that these “different” people are very much like us in their struggles and joys. Ellen Notbohm’s The River by Starlight, for example, shines a light of understanding and social justice on how the human experience in another era—the American West of a century ago— both differs from and mirrors our own. Ellen told me that at nearly every reading she’s done, someone has approached her with tears in their eyes, thanking her “for telling my mother’s story, my grandmother’s story—finally.” Through Ellen’s novel, they understood, at last, what the women who came before them had gone through.
Debra Thomas also relates how this “new understanding and appreciation” can be deeply personal. The most moving response she received to her novel Luz was from a young Latina woman who saw herself and her mother in the characters of Luz and Alma. As Debra writes: “Reading Luz prompted a discussion with her mother about her crossing, and for the first time, my reader learned intimate details of her mother’s difficult journey from El Salvador, along the length of Mexico, and then through a desert crossing at the border—including being lost in the desert for ten days. She came away with a renewed respect for her mother and an appreciation for the struggle she endured so she could provide her daughter—herself—with a better life. “
Literally, saving a life
I end with my own story, which is what prompted me to reach out to these authors.
In my debut novel, Queen of the Owls, the “bookworm” protagonist reveals, sees, and comes to claim her body through studying—and re-enacting—the nude photos that Stieglitz took of artist Georgia O’Keeffe.
I’ve received many messages from people who found the book to be deeply liberating, but an email from a woman I’ll call Cynthia was by far the most important. Cynthia won a copy of Queen of the Owls in a Facebook giveaway. Weeks later, she sent me an email.
“My connection to your novel is so surprising and totally unexpected … I’m uncomfortable looking at nude photos of women and reading descriptions of them. Nevertheless, I did quickly look up the photos of Georgia O’Keeffe that you mentioned in the book. The bigger deal is the book prompted me to do a breast examination of myself, which I know I’m supposed to do monthly, but don’t usually do. I found a small bluish-purple discoloration and a slight indentation. I called and had the physician’s assistant check me last week. She said it was not my imagination and scheduled me for a mammogram. They will also do a biopsy, if necessary. I am extremely grateful that I won a copy of your book and it prompted me to do this.”
Indeed, the doctors found a lump, and Cynthia was able to receive early treatment, including chemotherapy. She wrote again, later, to tell me she would never have had this early detection, and subsequent life-saving treatment, if she hadn’t read my book and been open to what it offered her.
Her story brought me to tears, reminding me that what we do through our writing has far more important consequences than how many stars, awards, reviews, or sales our books might collect. There are profound purposes we serve, as authors.
Cynthia’s is one story that I learned about. There may be other stories that I’ll never hear.
Our work as writers really matters. It might even save someone’s life.
What about you? If you’re an author, was there an unexpected gift you received from a reader? If you’re a reader, was there an unexpected gift you received from a book?
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 tackles southern culture & race in LITTLE TEA
September 4, 2020|Authors, Book Reviews, Novelists, Novels, Readers, Women’s contemporary fiction
2020 Gold Medal Winner in Southern Fiction in the International Reader’s Favorite Book Awards. Southern culture, old friendship, family tragedy, and healing the racial divide.
“Claire Fullerton once again delivers an emotional, lyrical tale and proves she’s a writer to watch.”
–Julie Cantrell, New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author of Perennials
“Claire Fullerton has an enviably light touch, a lilting style that carries shades of Pat Conroy and tinges of Anne Tyler while managing to be wonderfully of itself. Little Tea is a triumph .”
— Multiple award- winning Irish author, Billy O’Callaghan.
One phone call from Renny to come home and “see about” the capricious Ava and Celia Wakefield decides to overlook her distressful past in the name of friendship.
For three reflective days at Renny’s lake house in Heber Springs, Arkansas, the three childhood friends reunite and examine life, love, marriage, and the ties that bind, even though Celia’s personal story has yet to be healed. When the past arrives at the lake house door in the form of her old boyfriend, Celia must revisit the life she’d tried to outrun.
As her idyllic coming of age alongside her best friend, Little Tea, on her family’s ancestral grounds in bucolic Como, Mississippi unfolds, Celia realizes there is no better place to accept her own story than in this circle of friends who have remained beside her throughout the years. Theirs is a friendship that can talk any life sorrow into a comic tragedy, and now that the racial divide in the Deep South has evolved, Celia wonders if friendship can triumph over history.
Publisher: Firefly Southern Fiction
May 1, 2020
ISBN-13 : 978-1645262596
My thoughts on Claire’s new book:
Stunned, and with emotions charging through me, I looked up from reading the final lines of Claire Fullerton’s fourth novel as my heart and mind absorbed everything that happened in this narrative that alternates between the 1980s and present. In an ending I didn’t see coming, I blinked back tears as I pondered over how the author brought the story full circle.
For this reader, the imagery flowed over me like a healing. All the joys and sorrows of the story melded together into one satisfying grand finale.
At the heart of the novel is narrator Celia Wakefield who spent her childhood and youth navigating back and forth between her family’s Southern Colonial house in an affluent Central Gardens neighborhood in Memphis, TN and the family’s sprawling Wakefield Plantation in Como, MS. Until the age of ten, Celia only knew life in the bucolic surroundings of the large working farm where she lived with her father, a gentleman cotton farmer, her beautiful mother, and two older brothers, John, who carried an air of superiority, and Hayward, gifted and a kindhearted golden boy. Celia’s best friend is a black girl nicknamed Little Tea. Little Tea lives with her father and mother, Thelonious and Elvita Winfrey, in a small cottage on the plantation grounds. Thelonious overseas the crops and Elvita keeps things running smoothly at the big house. In some ways, Little Tea and her parents feel like an extension of the Wakefield family. A white family and a black family working in harmony to keep the farm running.
The story opens with a grownup Celia living in Malibu, CA. One phone call finds her on a flight back to Memphis where she eventually meets up with her best friends from Memphis days, Ava and Renny. While there are several storylines going between past and present, I found myself drawn to those scenes from the past, especially when they involved Celia and her immediate family along with Little Tea and her mom and dad. With a deft hand, the author has created complex characters I was totally invested in.
My favorite characters were Hayward, Little Tea, and Celia. And because I’m a dog lover, I fell in love with Hayward’s loyal pup, Rufus. At times I found Celia’s brother, John, unlikeable, not to mention the heavy-handed patriarch and matriarch, Celia’s wealthy grandparents who occasionally dropped by the family farm to check on things and see about their “investment.”
While much of the story revolves around Celia spending a weekend with Ava and Renny at Renny’s lake house in Heber Springs, AR, these present-day scenes are important as these two friends are key to bringing Celia back to the south to face her past. Two of my favorite lines from the novel occur in these sections. From page fifty-one: “I’d forgotten that after you manage to outrun something, there are those in your life who can call you back at the drop of a hat.” And, “There are some parts of your history your friends won’t let you outrun.”
Pat Conroy’s widow, Cassandra King Conroy, a noted novelist in her own right, says this about the novel: “Claire Fullerton skillfully draws us into a lost world of Southern traditions and norms where past tragedies cast long, dark shadows on present-day lives, and no one ever truly escapes.”
The tragedy that unfolds in the novel got me to thinking. Anytime there’s trouble that breaks out at a gathering, there’s always that one instigator, that one person who sets off a chain of events and gets away with it. In this case, it’s a loss so tragic it emotionally cripples several families as they cope or don’t cope with the aftermath. The story also deals with the struggle of going along with family expectations and social norms or what can happen if you buck the system. The author tackles these tough subjects with courage and aplomb. Claire Fullerton is at her best when writing about family dynamics and southern culture.
The story explores interracial friendships and relationships at a time when society in general didn’t welcome such mingling. Even today there are those who want to separate the races. This is a timely story about race, family, friendship, betrayal, loss, and redemption.
An important book not to be missed!
Pour your favorite beverage and settle in with Little Tea. You won’t be disappointed! I hope you love the ending as much as I did.
Little Tea is a 2020 Pulpwood Queens Book Club read.
Claire Fullerton hails from Memphis, TN. and now lives in Malibu, CA. with her husband and 3 German shepherds. She is the author ofLittle Tea, a Somerset Award Finalist and Faulkner Society finalist. Mourning Dove, Claire’s Southern family saga set in 1970’s Memphis, is a a 9 time award winner, including the Ippy silver medal for regional fiction and the Literary Classic’s Words on Wings for Book of the Year. Claire is the author of Dancing to an Irish Reel, a Kindle Book Review and Readers’ Favorite award winner set on the west coast of Ireland, where she once lived. Claire’s first novel is a paranormal mystery set-in two-time periods titled, A Portal in Time, set in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. She is a contributor to the book, A Southern Season with her novella, Through an Autumn Window, set at a Memphis funeral. Little Tea and Mourning Dove are book of the month selections of the Pulpwood Queens Book Club, of which there are 800 chapters. Claire is represented by Julie Gwinn of the Seymour Literary Agency.
If you love Claire’s writing, do yourself a favor and read her third novel, Mourning Dove. It’s garnered at least nine awards to date.
The Madwoman of Preachers Cove made such a splash, pre-release, by winning the Grand Prize in Paranormal Fiction at The Chanticleer Reviews Conference in Bellingham, Washington that I begged author Joy Ross Davis for an advance review copy! I read the book raptly, marveling at it’s unusual setting in a fictitious town named Preacher’s Cove in the mountain foothills of Alabama. This book has everything: a journalist with hidden ties to Preacher’s Cove comes to town on assignment to cover paranormal activity and oddly, incrementally, characters come to the fore and jog his memory! I knew I was in for something big when I met doll-maker, Lucy, who has method to her creative madness. Unsettling atmospheric activity, the lure of attraction, town secrets, quirky characters, and hidden connections comprise this page-turner that will top the list of favorites for paranormal readers!
Here is The Madwoman of Preacher’s Cove book description:
The Madwoman of Preacher’s Cove tells the story of Lucy Addams, a woman who was horribly disfigured in a fire that claimed the lives of her husband and children. After the tragic loss of her beauty, her voice, and her family, Lucy became an artistic genius, sculpting lifelike dolls—replicas of the children of Preacher’s Cove.
Lucy, and her workshop, are hidden in the back of the local resort—a hotel and restaurant complex owned and operated by her sister, Libby.
Following a series of deaths by lightning strike in Preacher’s Cove, a handsome investigative reporter arrives to solve the mystery of the coincidental accidents. Lucy and Libby find themselves facing yet another enemy. As keepers of an ancient treasure—a secret that binds them—they alone know why the deaths have occurred, and more importantly, how to stop them.
With the eventual help of Libby and Lucy, the reporter finds a sacred place in the woods called The Hallows—where Druids once roamed, and where his answers are deeply buried.
After months of investigating, the death toll rising, a bit of romance, and otherwordly harbingers of Lucy’s dolls, the mystery of Preacher’s Cove begins to unravel.
“Joy Ross Davis proves with The Madwoman of Preacher’s Cove that she’s one of the South’s most creative minds. This novel is fantastic—in every sense of that term!”Allen Mendenhall, Editor, Southern Literary Review
Book Reviewer Carla Suto writes this:
THE MADWOMAN OF PREACHER’S COVE by Joy Ross Davis is an atmospheric and intriguing story of deeply held secrets and an ancient mystery set in Preachers’ Cove, Alabama where Druids once worshipped. Lucy Addams lost everything when a tragic fire killed her husband and children and left her terribly disfigured and unable to speak. She lives as a recluse with her sister, Libby who runs a local resort in Preacher’s Cove. Lucy spends her days in a secluded workroom crafting beautiful and haunting dolls called the Firelight Angels that are detailed replicas of the children of Preacher’s Cove. When a seemingly coincidental series of deadly lightning strikes hits Preacher’s Cove, investigative reporter, Hap returns to Preacher’s Cove to look into the mysterious deaths. As Hap delves deeper into the unusual occurrences, long-buried secrets come to light and the mystery of The Hallows is gradually revealed. Filled with history, suspense and even a little romance, this enchanting book held me captive from beginning to end. I always enjoy Joy Ross Davis’ stories and this one was no exception. I highly recommend it.
Congratulations to Joy Ross Davis on the release of The Madwoman of Preacher’s Cove!
I have a newly released novel titled, Little Tea, but that’s not my focus here. My focus is on sharing an incredible experience I had on Facebook because it’s a case in point of what can transpire through the magnanimous efforts of one fellow author during these unusual times.
Those of us who released a book during the pandemic were blindsided as to how to proceed with promotion. In my case, I had a book tour of the South scheduled to promote Little Tea, only to discover each event was canceled. The good news is most of my events were rescheduled virtually, though in many ways, I swam in smaller waters. I stayed tethered to my desk bereft of the gift of personal contact and although I’m not taking the merit out of it, in most ways I preached to a Zoom choir. But an uncanny domino effect ensued that came through the power of connections, and although it’s not a complete surprise, I have Facebook to thank for a great time promoting Little Tea.
My good fortune began with the moderator of a Facebook book group who interviews authors via StreamYard on a nightly basis. I was a guest on her live show and was grateful beyond measure to answer questions about Little Tea. In thanking my hostess profusely, I said, “If there’s anything I can do for you, it would be my great pleasure.”
The first step along the chain of events came when the aforementioned moderator asked me to talk to a debut author she admires, who had questions about the publishing business. I issued the caveat that I’m no expert, but I’ve been in the business long enough to have an opinion. I’ll say here that my policy as an author has always been to pay it forward. Authors work in a common arena, and few of us would get very far were it not for the opportunity to compare notes. And so, I got on the phone with a complete stranger and talked about navigating the book world and am happy to report that by the time we hung up, I’d made a new friend. An hour later, my new friend messaged me via Facebook messaging and invited me to come to her Facebook group page to do an “author takeover.” I said yes before I fully understood the set-up, so, I’ll explain it now that I understand. This debut author had the foresight to create a private book launch group on Facebook. She issued a call-out six months before her book release and created a Facebook “street team” by offering incentives that simply boiled down to the joy of being involved. This street team was gifted with insider information about her debut novel. She gave her private group book swag, played games, and shared pictures pertaining to her life and her book that the general public wasn’t privy to, so by the time her book was released, roughly a thousand readers were ready to shout from the rooftops because suffice it to say, they felt personally tied to the book’s launch.
My invitation to come to her private Facebook group and do an all-day take over essentially sounded like this: “I know of a thousand people who’ve never heard of you, so come on over, I’ll introduce you, and you can post as much about your book as you want to.”
You better believe I came ready! I prepared with photographs of Little Tea’s setting in the Deep South (Como, Mississippi; Greer’s Ferry Lake in Heber Springs, Arkansas; and my home town, Memphis) two book trailers, a dozen memes, Little Tea reviews, and, knowing that a picture tells a thousand words about an author’s life, photographs of ocean waves taken where I now live in Malibu, California and endless un-staged photographs of my three photogenic dogs. It was my dogs that got the ball rolling. It’s astounding how many people have “a German shepherd story.” The sharing of dog stories led to an enthusiastic kind of bonding. Soon enough, there was a vibrant thread in the private group of dog pictures that dovetailed to include the posting of pet cats.
Little Tea’s premise is built on the power of female friendships—the anchoring, long-lasting kind that see a woman through a lifetime. These friendships tend to have their own language, often times there’s a shared sense of humor spawned from shared history, and what comes from shared history is an arsenal of stories. In Little Tea’s case, much of the bi-racial relationship story is due to the setting, which is to say the story wouldn’t have happened as it did were it not set in the South with its attendant social mores set amidst the roiling cauldron of the cultural racial divide. There’s a line from Little Tea, when narrator Celia Wakefield describes her Southern upbringing by saying, “The thing about being a Southern girl is they let you run loose until the time comes to shape you.” I posted a meme with this quote during my author take over and it led to a riotous discussion about the South and the power of female friendships, which is part and parcel to the story of Little Tea—Little Tea being the nickname of the main character, who is Celia Wakefield’s childhood best friend.
I have to say I’ve always known that readers are discerning people. They’re interested in learning about a book, but they’re equally interested in learning about the author. The beauty of my all-day, author take-over was that it afforded the latitude of an unfolding. One subject led to another with regard to Little Tea, but what warmed my heart the most was the participants who shared their own stories in what became a delightful, even exchange. I came away from the event knowing I’d represented Little Tea and introduced myself as accurately as I could, but the real gift to me came from getting to know those who love reading as much as I do. I went into the author take-over hoping to reach readers, but as I learned about them, it turned into the thrill of finding common ground.
I’m still marveling at the fun I had in the midst of a fortuitous opportunity. It’s not every author who invites another to take over their page and meet their followers. When you’re lucky enough to meet the kind of author who realizes we’re all in this together, it serves as an exemplary reminder of the impact of paying it forward.
Claire Fullerton hails from Memphis, TN. and now lives in Malibu, CA. with her husband and 3 German shepherds. She is the author of 7- time award winner, Mourning Dove, a coming of age, Southern family saga set in 1970’s Memphis. Claire is the author of Dancing to an Irish Reel, a 2-time award winner set on the west coast of Ireland, where she once lived. Claire’s first novel is a paranormal mystery set in two, time periods titled, A Portal in Time, set in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. She is a contributor to the book, A Southern Season, with her novella, Through an Autumn Window, set at a Memphis funeral ( because something always goes wrong at a Southern funeral.) Little Tea is Claire’s 4th novel. Little Tea is a Faulkner Society William Wisdom Competition finalist, a finalist for the Chanticleer Review’s Somerset Awards, and the August selection of the Pulpwood Queens Book Club. She is represented by Julie Gwinn of the Seymour Literary Agency.
I just finished the delightful book, Evening in the Yellow Wood by Laura Kemp (TouchPoint Press.) It’s an action-packed, fast-paced story about an immediately likable, twenty-something year old woman on a quest to find her missing father, who disappeared without explanation, which leaves narrator, Justine Cook, and her mother jumping to worst-case conclusions. But a chance occurrence changes all that!
Here is the book’s description:
Abandoned by an eccentric father on the eve of her twelfth birthday, Justine Cook has lived with her fair share of unanswered questions. Now, ten years later she leaves her life in southern Michigan and heads north to the mysterious town of Lantern Creek after seeing his picture in a local newspaper. Once there, she discovers her father had been leading a double life and meets the autistic brother she never knew—a young man who is mute but able to read her mind.
When a local girl who looks like Justine is mysteriously murdered, she joins forces with sheriff’s deputy Dylan Locke to capture the killer. But the more they dig for clues to the past, the closer they come to discovering a secret someone will kill to protect. Justine begins to show signs of supernatural power and eventually must stop an immortal enemy that has hunted her family for generations.
( My 11 month old, GSD named Sorcha is always in the picture!)
When I finished Evening in the Yellow Wood, I wrote and posted this book review on Amazon, Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, and Book Bub. I love to support my fellow authors!
All I knew going into author Laura Kemp’s highly praised Evening in the Yellow Wood is that I loved the title. It’s phonetically pleasing, lyrical, and balanced. Give me a title that sings on a haunting book cover and you have my attention. Hand me a dilemma that yearns on the second page and I’m thoroughly roped in.
In an au currant voice so accessible you think you know the narrator, Evening in the Yellow Wood exemplifies the term “page turner.” It’s an off-kilter, rollicking ride on a hero’s journey; an edge-of-your-seat through-line chock-full of forward momentum in a cauldron of delectable genres that has something for every discerning reader.
Recent college graduate Justine Cook doesn’t know her genetic history. She’s on course of a promising journalism career when one glance at the local newspaper derails her plans. Through the glass window of a hardware store in another town stares her lost father’s photograph. The mystery begins with Justine’s caution to the wind move, and the game begins.
More than a mystery, Evening in the Yellow Wood is commercial fiction walking the high wire of romance strung up by the paranormal. Its personality shimmers, its pacing is breathtaking. It’s the rare writer who makes the unusual plausible, and Laura Kemp does so by anchoring her charming novel in the small-town Midwest. In the name of covert operation, Narrator Justine Cook takes a bartending job and drives “the heap.” She shares an apartment with a delightfully disreputable local and falls in love with a cop– who, it unfolds, is uncannily part and parcel to the whirlwind story, as Justine adheres to the task of finding her father.
Immortality, mind reading, totems, and visions fuel the fire of this spellbinding book. Evening in the Yellow Wood by Laura Kemp is absolutely unforgettable.
Here is Laura Kemp’s bio as it appears online:
About the Author
Laura is a teacher who loves to write about her home state of Michigan. She has a B.A. in Creative Writing from Western Michigan University where she studied under Stuart Dybek, and has had her short fiction and poetry published in Chicken Soup for the Soul, Word Riot, Tonopalah Review, SaLit and SLAB: Sound and Literary Art Book. “The Pursuit of Happiness,” – a short story she wrote while at WMU, was chosen as a finalist in the Trial Balloon Fiction Contest. When not writing, Laura enjoys musical theatre, hiking, swimming, reading and performing with her Celtic band- Si Bhaeg Si Mohr. She also enjoys spending time with her husband and children as well as her dog, two hamsters, two gerbils, ten chickens, two horses and eight (and counting) cats. Laura loves to connect with readers on her blog: laurakempbooks.com/blog (Sea Legs on Land), as well as on Facebook, Twitter (@LKempWrites) and Instagram. (lkempwrites)
I want to share my latest news with you about my third traditionally published novel, Mourning Dove, whose release date was June 29, 2018. I am happy to share the news that just yesterday, Mourning Dove won its 7th book award. Above is a Mourning Dove video to show you sliding images of those 7 awards.
I went into the writing of Mourning Dove wanting to write about two subjects: the social mores of the Deep South as exemplified in the setting of the old guard, as its known, and the dynamic between siblings. What fascinates me the most about siblings is the idea that they come from the same history, are cut from the same cloth, yet often turn out differently. The question of why this is led me through the writing of Mourning Dove, and although I have never said this publically ( and probably never will) I wrote down three themes to guide me through the book, otherwise written without an outline. The themes were this: the search for home, the search for identity, and, very loosely, the search for God, as in finding some semblance of understanding as to who’s really in charge, along with the question of what it is that shapes a person; whether it’s nature or nurture?
And with regard to the South with all its traditions, history, and rife population of characters peacock proud to call themselves “Southern,” I thought it best to show the South through the eyes of two siblings named Millie and Finley Crossan, who were born in the North, and come to the South as outsiders during the formative stage of adolescence so they could view their environment without a filter while trying to fit into the culture.
The sibling dynamic is a significant one to those of us lucky enough to be born to it. We learn who we are in relation to those closest to us, and when it comes to siblings, I believe there is a certain type of mirror imaging at play that helps to define us. I’ll say this about siblings: they never let you forget where you came from.
Mourning Dove’s book description says this:
“An accurate and heart-wrenching picture of the sensibilities of the American South.” Kirkus Book Reviews
The heart has a home when it has an ally.
If Millie Crossan doesn’t know anything else, she knows this one truth simply because her brother Finley grew up beside her. Charismatic Finley, eighteen months her senior, becomes Millie’s guide when their mother Posey leaves their father and moves her children from Minnesota to Memphis shortly after Millie’s tenth birthday.
Memphis is a world foreign to Millie and Finley. This is the 1970s Memphis, the genteel world of their mother’s upbringing and vastly different from anything they’ve ever known. Here they are the outsiders. Here, they only have each other. And here, as the years fold over themselves, they mature in a manicured Southern culture where they learn firsthand that much of what glitters isn’t gold. Nuance, tradition, and Southern eccentrics flavor Millie and Finley’s world as they find their way to belonging.
But what hidden variables take their shared history to leave both brother and sister at such disparate ends?
Here is one poignant reader review of Mourning Dove:
“Style and substance are the two necessary ingredients any book must have. This book exemplifies both. I was charmed and delighted by the author’s descriptive abilities. Her use of language, metaphors, turns of phrase kept me turning each page. She can make a table sound interesting.
I now know what it was like to be a Southern Belle. There’s a lot going on more than meets the eye, which is why this is so engrossing. The reader is dropped into the life of the upper crust, replete with a big back story and complicated family life. What characters they are. Posey, the mother, is all about refinement and a survivor. Finley, the bother of narrator and protagonist Millie, is a compelling, complicated, charismatic, enigma, bearing a resemblance to Holden Caufield. Then there is the Colonel; let’s just say he doesn’t come across as a nice guy. There are other supporting characters and they all move the story along.
I enjoyed reading every sentence, and some of them are downright extraordinary and wise.
Claire Fullerton is a bright new star. I’ve read her last two books, and they are great, but this one is a masterpiece.”
I made this book trailer to give the reader an idea of the setting of Mourning Dove.
I hope you enjoy watching the Deep South as I know it!