Little Tea Reader and Book Club Questions.

Little Tea Reader and Book Club Questions

An author’s intention is telling, when they reach out to readers with questions to consider after reading their book. Because my 4th novel, Little Tea’s, themes are universal– the strong ties of long lasting female friendship, the search for home, and the power of resiliency after weathering family tragedy, my hope is the reader will view these topics through their own lens. And because Little Tea explores the racial divide in the 1980’s Deep South and packs a surprise ending, there is is much for readers and book clubs to discuss!

Here are 12 topics for readers and book clubs to discuss, as they appear on the last page of Little Tea:

1. Celia, Renny, and Ava have a friendship that spans decades. What is it that keeps their friendship thriving? Do you have similar ties with your childhood friends?

2. Ava’s marriage hangs in the balance at the center of this story. Do you find Ava’s reasoning understandable?

3. Can you discuss how it might be that Celia and Renny have different views of Ava’s marital predicament? What is it about their personalities and life experiences that shape their opinion?

4. What do you think about the appearance of Ava’s ex-boyfriend, Mark Clayton in the story? Is Ava trying to avoid her marriage by revisiting her lost youth? Can you relate?

5. What are Celia’s feelings for Tate Foley during this story? Does she experience resolution at the end?

6. Discuss Celia and Little Tea’s relationship. What are their differences? What is their common ground?

7. Celia has left the South to start anew in California. Do you find this reasonable? Can anyone ever outrun their past?

8. Celia’s backstory is set in the 1980’s South. What were the racial attitudes in the 1980’s? How have they changed now?

9. Discuss the nuances of the relationship between Hayward and Little Tea? What draws them together? Why, do you suppose, did they keep their relationship under wraps from Celia and others?

10. How do the members of Celia’s family shape the dynamic to this story?

11. Were you surprised by the ending?

12. What do you consider to be the point of the ending?

Little Tea without preorder

The Spirit Behind Little Tea

I’m forever pondering the magic of life-long female friendships, the kind formed in childhood, or perhaps early high school that, for whatever reason, stay. On one hand, when we’re young, we’re in a state of becoming, but on the other, our early years are the set-in-stone template of who we actually are. We grow from there. We build our lives. We add and subtract what is and is not working. We shape and adjust and mold our lives as best we see fit but, in my mind, we never fundamentally change our core essence. We can move far from home, forge brilliant careers, marry, have children, divorce, witness sorrow and tragedy, and death, and it shapes our experience, perhaps informs our wary attitude, but the vagaries of life don’t re-define us. In a matter of speaking what happens in our lives refines us.
At the beginning of Little Tea, I said it this way: “There’s a side to the unions made in high school that has perpetual resonance, a side that remains in arrested development that will never let you forget who you essentially are.”
Our friends anchor us. They keep us on center page. They’re the ones who know our history, the characters in our dramas of cause and effect, and they never forget. This keeps us honest. Our friends are a touchpoint to see us through the ages.
I went into the writing of Little Tea wanting to make this point through the power of story. I began with three women friends who reunite after many years at Greer’s Ferry Lake in Heber Springs, Arkansas.

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I set Little Tea in Heber Springs because of its close proximity to Memphis, where the characters, Renny, Ava, and Celia grew up. They each live in another location and had to travel to the lake, and the thing I liked about setting the story near water is the idea of fluidity and fluctuating tides. Such is life, and the element of water is alive, ever-changing, and emotional. Sometimes we sit near water and reflect, other times we dive right in it. For the three childhood friends in Little Tea, Heber Springs Lake is a neutral ground.
Little Tea is the story of three women friends who reconvene because one of them is in trouble. If you take one problem and put it in the hands of three different women, you’ll receive three different solutions, each based according to who the woman is—her background, her history, her perception of the world. Great wisdom and sage advice are borne from the heart and souls of women, and it is this I wanted to capture in the story.
I like the idea of a group of women friends as an insular, secret society. This subject was the entire impetus behind my writing Little Tea, and I hope readers relate to it in the spirit I intended, which is to say there is great value in friendship.

Let’s vow to never take it for granted.

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https://www.clairefullerton.com

“One of us has Breast Cancer”

I am one of the many women who have been touched by breast cancer through the diagnosis of a dear friend. In this case, by my childhood friend in Memphis, whose name is Tama. I wrote a 1st person narrative about what it means to support a friend going through breast cancer treatment, and it appears on Shirley Kiger Connolly’s blog on breast cancer ( she, herself, is a survivor.) The piece appears after Shirley’s own post. I thought I’d share this with you all.

Cancer is too real to be ignored

 
I am a breast cancer survivor. It’s been eighteen years since the day of that discovery when I found myself having to take it all in, then to find myself in the midst of a number of surgeries, radiation treatments,a prolonged chemotherapy  regime, hair loss, nausea, and a plethora of diagnostic tests and biopsies to follow with the threat that my invasive cancer would not stay away but would rather return with a vengeance. I also came to realize we don’t go through these times alone, for everything about our lives affect others. 
Even with all the years that have passed since my first cancer revelation, it has not been an easy time for me, for my husband, or for my family, who I know continue to live with the possibility that mom and wife might once again have to go through the difficult experience.  That maybe one of the kids might end up going through the same thing. If it wasn’t for God and His grace I know it would have been much more difficult for us all. 
Recently, I discovered I am also a BRCA 1+ mutant.  It suggests to me that because of the numerous other members of my family both near and far who have gone through their own cancer experiences, I am not the  only one who carries this gene mutation. It appears to be rampant in my family’s history.
We all carry the BRCA gene, I don’t know if you knew. The gene itself is a normal thing, but the BRCA 1+ and 2+ mutations are not. These particular ones run in high risk families, in my own. The mutation along with a list of others that surround it puts a woman and a man at very high risk for future cancers —  breast cancers, ovarian cancers, pancreatic cancers, several other forms of cancer. 
Learning of this has made me realize I have more likely than not passed along this mutation to my children, who in turn could have passed it along to theirs. I’ve put my children and children’s children at the same risk as me. i have put my daughter at risk since she, too, has recently discovered she has joined the BRCA1+ family.
Because I carry the BRCA mutation, I recently made a choice I thought I would never have to make. After going through my last open biopsy this previous Summer (Perhaps this would be the tenth or maybe the eleventh, I’ve lost count of how many I’ve gone through over the last eighteen years.) I finally decided enough was enough. It was then I decided to be tested; it was then I chose to get a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction as well as the prophylactic hysterectomy that would be necessary regardless of the difficulties i might have by going through the experiences.  
I knew this wouldn’t be easy for me or for my husband. I knew there might be difficulties for me during this process, and indeed I was correct about that. I’m no spring chicken anymore. I also have this uncanny way of catching all the side effects one might catch in the process of cancer elimination, but that’s another story.
I will get through this and I am blessed to have a husband whose care for me has shown itself in the ways he’s cared for me through this trying time. And for the sake oft my family  I know this is right. At least this can be one area of my life that will remove the fear of Mom and wife getting breast cancer again or ovarian cancer as has happened to so many others in this family of mine through the last several decades. This experience will take one step of worry off the family table. 
With the prayers of loved ones, God can deal with the rest as it comes. He always has and always will.
For my family and likely for yours, I’m sure you will agree, cancer is too real to be ignored. 
*****
My author friend Claire Fullerton has written a timely feature which deals with the very cancer of which I speak. I believe her feature is appropriate for anyone reading this now  who’ve experienced cancer in their families. I hope it will minister to you as it has today to me. 
 
One of Us Has Breast Cancer
by Claire Fullerton
 
After a year and three months, we’re just now coming up for air.  Surprisingly, it has taken this long to rise to the top, for we have been overwhelmed ever since we got the news that one of us has breast cancer.  I come from the south and grew up in a tight-knit circle of friends that can best be likened to the workings of a bee hive, so when something happens to one of us, in many ways, it happens to us all. 
 
It’s funny the way the unexpected presents itself, how you never see it coming and how you can be going along with your life, making your plans and assume that they’re going to be a certainty by virtue of the fact that you’ve made them.  That’s exactly where things stood when we got the news about Tama.
 
One of us from our enclave in the South now lives in Sun Valley, Idaho.  Her name is Louise and she’s the larger than life, funny one.  Louise has a sense of humor that literally reduces her to tears, and it tends to be contagious. She’s also the organizer and plan maker who got it in her head one day to have Tama and me fly out to her home in the mountains for an extended weekend.  Tama and I immediately fell in line: our husbands were alerted, our dates were set, and our plane tickets were secured. Tama and I were on our way; she from her home in Memphis and I from mine in L.A.  Eight days before our scheduled departure, my phone rang.  I looked at the display illuminating Louise’s name and thought, “No doubt some sort of instruction is coming,” but it turned out that wasn’t the case.  When I picked up the phone, Louise was crying.
 
 “What is it?” I asked. 
 
“Tama has breast cancer,” Louise said without preamble.
 
“What?” I questioned again, only this time, with an entirely different inflection.  This time, I meant two things: Did I hear you correctly?  How in the world could this possibly be true?
 
I’ll say this about all of us reared in the South: we know how to do. We know how to step up, we know the perfect gesture for everything, no matter what you’re talking about, and we know how to meet all of life’s emergencies. We pretty much slide into an automated code of proper behavior because that’s what our Southern mothers passed down to us. We don’t talk about it amongst ourselves, it’s all just the way things are because it was expected of us while growing up, and now we expect it from each other.
 
“What should we do? “I asked Louise, because it was the first thing that sprang to mind.
 
“I think we should call off ya’ll coming out here,” Louise said.
 
“Alright, is that what Tama wants to do?” I asked.
 
“Tama doesn’t know what she wants to do. Her family is freaking out,” Louise reported.
 
“I’m not going to call her today- when did she find out?”
 
“Yesterday,” Louise interjected. “They called with her mammogram results, said they found a mass and wanted to do a biopsy, which Tama didn’t bother to tell us, and now they’re telling her it’s cancer. Now she’s telling us.”
 
“I don’t even know what to say,” I exhaled.
 
“Call Tama tomorrow anyway,” Louise directed. 
 
You have to know Tama. I spent many years thinking Tama was the quiet sort but now I know better; Tama just doesn’t let on.  What she is, is a woman of few words.  She’s not one of those superfluous talkers; she simply contributes to a conversation with as few words as possible and leaves the floor to everybody else.  She doesn’t feel the need to position herself front and center, and this is exactly why Louise and I have always deferred to her. 
 
“Hey Tama, Louise called me,” I said to her on the phone the next day.
 
“It’s always something,” Tama said. 
 
“Seriously, is there anything I can do?”


“Yes, come over here and tell my kids I’m not dead yet,” Tama said, deflecting the gravity of the moment. 

The three of us went on that way for days, backing and forthing over the telephone, vacillating between drama and sarcasm, comparing thoughts and notes and ideas and stories of who has gone through something similar and achieved a happy outcome, until Tama’s doctors presented her with a concrete, step-by-step agenda that would begin within the month.
 
For somebody handed a rule book on conduct at birth, I was still uncertain of what to say or do for my childhood friend. One has to have a frame of reference in some things and I just didn’t have one for breast cancer, or any other serious illness that came down the pike for one of us. 
 
“We need to get a plan,” Louise declared over the phone.
 
“Good idea,” I said.
 
“I think ya’ll should still come out here,” she said. “Tama says she may as well wait out here for the inevitable.”
 
“Alright, let’s airlift Tama on outta there, we may as well,” I agreed.
 
I’ve found out that it’s the little things you do in support of a friend who has breast cancer that end up truly mattering.  For four unscheduled days, we followed Tama’s lead, monitoring the understandable, yet unpredictable fluidity of her emotions and finding the delicate balance between activity and restorative reprieve.   We had lunch with Louise’s friends in Sun Valley, went shopping and took long walks on the mountain trails. When Tama teared up, we teared up ( Ya’ll, let me cry now because I’m not going to cry in front of my husband or my kids when I get home,” Tama said) and when the look on her otherwise stoic face suggested she was overwhelmed, we simply retreated to Louise’s house and took a nap, no matter the time of day.  We spent a lot of time talking about our intertwined childhoods, our histories and our families, yet oddly enough, we didn’t spend a lot of time dwelling on what was to come for Tama in the following months.  For whatever reason, Tama just wanted to be, and Louise and I had the unspoken graciousness to just be right alongside her. 
It’s been a year and three months now, and in that time, the harrowing, incremental dynamic of Tama’s breast cancer has included multiple surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation, hair loss, on-going hives and reconstructive surgery.  As friends in support, Louise and I kept vigil by demanding blow-by-blow details, sending presents, making phone calls and hanging on every twist and turn of her progress.  It appears that the worst is behind her, as there is no sign of the cancer’s return, Tama’s hair has grown back beautifully and she looks and feels like a glowing million dollars.  
 
In my heart of hearts, I believe that Tama will forever be one of the fortunate breast cancer survivors, and although there were times during her travails when I questioned whether anything I could do would ever be enough, since then I have realized that it is enough just to try and it is enough just to be there in support and camaraderie alongside your friend.
 
******
 
With God’s grace, we can survive these difficult times with the help of one another. How important it is to be an encouragement to a friend or loved one when he or she needs it most. I hope you will make yourself available to those you care about when they need you the most.  i pray they will be there for you.