Southern Heat and the Making of a Book Trailer

While I researched my novel, Little Tea, I visited three locations in the Deep South: Greer’s Ferry Lake in Heber Springs, Arkansas; Memphis, Tennesse, where I grew up; and Como, Mississippi, which is 45 miles south of Memphis. It was the month of July, in the high heat of summer, and if you’ve ever been to the Deep South in the month of July, you know the gauze-like, humidity is part and parcel to the experience.

I embraced it all from the second my plane from Southern California landed. Through the automatic, sliding glass doors, the humidity hit me with the life force of a raging inferno and followed me all the way to my friend’s waiting car.

In the Deep South, much thought goes into escaping the heat. People live in air-conditioned wind tunnels that drown out all sound and wear cotton sweaters inside, which seems, to me, utterly ironic, but there you have it.

There’s a specific character to the Deep South in the summertime that has much to do with the climate, a weighted sultriness that eases on the skin and slows everything down to the point that most things seem nice and easy. Nobody complains about the heat because it’s a regional given. Southerners live in harmony with the heat, build their houses with verandahs, put ceiling fans above, screens before their front doors, and rocking chairs out front because channeling the slightest of breeze is a cultural pastime.

It’d been a long time since I’d been to the South in the dead of summer, but I wanted to photograph Little Tea’s setting in the region’s full, resplendent nuance. I wanted the setting of the Little Tea to depict the South as character, and for that, I needed the trees in their fullness, the flowers in bloom, the sun’s glaring halo over Greer’s Ferry Lake, and the dirt roads fully shaded yet dry as a bone.

Photographing the setting of Little Tea, I knew, would anchor me to the South as I wrote the story, back home at my desk in California, but what I had in mind all along was a series of moving images with which I could gift the reader. After all, a picture tells a thousand words when it comes to a lasting impression. Included, here, is the book trailer of Little Tea I created. My hope is it will give Little Tea’s readers a good sense of place.

 

 

https://www.clairefullerton.com

In Praise of Independent Book Stores

There’s nothing like times of disconnection to get you thinking about connections.

With worldwide activity essentially on pause, you’d think it’d be optimistic to take advantage of downtime. Typically, in the middle of the day, I’m at my desk working on something. Right now, I could be investing in my own long game, using time productively, filling in this unscheduled time with my self-appointed curriculum geared toward my May book release, or something along those lines.

Instead, I’m sitting outside holding Taylor Brown’s new book, Pride of Eden and thinking about connections. It’s 2:00 in the afternoon in Malibu, California. 75 degrees and the sun is shining through cirrus clouds with the ocean breeze just enough to make sitting outside pleasurable.

I can’t recall the last time I sat outside reading a book in the middle of the day. There’s a shade of guilt involved, but rather than calling it playing hooky, I’ll call it a guilty pleasure. I’ve never met Taylor Brown. I haven’t read the four books he wrote before Pride of Eden came out five days ago, but I got on board because of connections—the first being that this author posted a video of himself on Instagram, standing before pink, flowering shrubbery wearing a black mustache and beard, his baseball cap shading his black-framed glasses, his blue jean vest unbuttoned over his black t-shirt. When I pressed play, his Southern accent sprang like music to my ears, for I’ve been long in the wilds of California, and whenever I hear my own tongue, it sings like a siren call. I next did what any Southern author would do, upon realizing they’re egregiously unfamiliar with one of their own: I went straight to Taylor Brown’s website, unsurprised to learn we have people in common, authors Michael Farris Smith and Patti Callahan Henry to name just two.

The beginning of Pride of Eden’s book description reads: “Retired racehorse jockey and Vietnam veteran Anse Caulfield rescues exotic big cats, elephants, and other creatures for Little Eden, a wildlife sanctuary near the abandoned ruins of a failed development on the Georgia coast. But when Anse’s prized lion escapes, he becomes obsessed with replacing her—even if the means of rescue aren’t exactly legal.” Here’s what grabbed me about the back cover of Pride of Eden: Author Ron Rash writes: “Pride of Eden is a beautifully written, visionary novel of scarred souls seeking redemption not only for themselves but, in their limited way, for us all. Taylor Brown is clearly one of the best American writers of his generation.”

Let’s just say when Ron Rash speaks, I listen.

But back to connections during this disconnected downtime, and here’s where I show my true colors as a transplanted Memphian living in Southern California ( which natives call SoCal, but I digress.) Because the most salient characteristic of all Southerners is loyalty, I picked up the phone and called Novel Book Store in Memphis and ordered Taylor Brown’s book to be shipped to me “out here.” Believe me, if I’m going to buy a book, hometown girl is going to give hometown the business. But then I started thinking about Memphis’s other independent bookstore, Burke’s Books, and that fine figure of an erudite man, Corey Mesler, who not only owns Burke’s Book Store but recently had his novel, Camel’s Bastard Son, published by Cabal Books, which I’m itching to read. Two beats after calling Novel Book Store, I called Burke’s Book Store and ordered Camel’s Bastard Son, with the latest from John Grisham for good measure. Now, I’m thinking the good thing about Southern loyalty is that it’s not divided.

In this time of disconnection, I think it’s only reasonable to honor one’s connections, and the connections I’m thinking of now are those I have with independent bookstores. At the moment, they may not be immediately accessible, but I want to do my part in helping them thrive. Because the first thing I’m going to do once the worst is behind us is head to Memphis. And the second thing I’m going to do is visit both of Memphis’s independent book stores.

https://www.burkesbooks.com/

https://www.novelmemphis.com/

Book Review: Memphis Movie by Corey Mesler.

I had the great pleasure of coming across this delightful, wonderfully creative novel about the making of an Indie film. Anyone passionate about film-making will love it! Corey Mesler is its author, and I take my hat off to him!  Here’s my review of a book that should be widely read!

 

Memphis Movie

That Memphis Movie drops the reader smack in the middle of this one-of-a-kind story by opening with an interview of indie film maker, Eric Warberg, was a stroke of genius. It set the stage, mood, and tone for this down-on-his-heels filmmaker’s background and tells the reader that the stakes are high in this modern-day story. The book comes out swinging, with dialogue so engagingly sardonic it transcends any necessity for knowledge of a film’s production. And yet, in Memphis Movie the reader receives the minutia of what goes into making a movie, and as this fabulous story unfurls, the savvy reader can’t help but think the chaos is a lot like any other line of work taking over someone’s life. Eric Warberg’s identity is at issue. He’s a washed-up fish-out-of-water dragging his tail in the pond he comes from, trying to pull himself up by his bootstraps but not convinced he can. His is the voice of reason, while one of the more cacophonous cast of characters ever assembled spins out around him, each delightfully drawn player with their own agenda. If there’s any prayer of cohesiveness in this dysfunctional crew, it’s all in Eric’s shaky hands. Sisyphus had an easier time of it, and this is what makes this character intensive story so funny. The book speaks in jargon so spot-on it lends ambience, and the characters sputter and sway in a setting only the infinitely hip know of in Memphis. They are all likable underdogs looking for a center. They are scratching around in the underbelly of an historic southern town, trying to make this thing work. Memphis Movie is a blend of satire, humor, and irony driven by sheer intelligence. Only a gifted writer can peg the nuances of human nature to the point where the reader says of each character, “I know that guy!” All praise author Corey Mesler. I’m so atwitter over Memphis Movie, I’m telling all my friends that this book about the making of an indie film is so good, it should be made into its own movie!

http://www.clairefullerton.com

The Inspiration For Mourning Dove

I’m taking the opportunity to share why I wrote Mourning Dove. Plain and simply, I grew up in Memphis, in an era that I think was run by the last of the great Southern belles. Most of them are gone from the South, now, as am I, for I now live in Malibu, California. I have a conflicted relationship with the South. It’s a strange mixture of gratitude for having outgrown it and weepy nostalgia for the place in which I came of age. I can’t say if I’m nostalgic for the actual place or if it’s nostalgia for the innocence and endless possibilities that one carries in youth, but emotionally, I think they’re tied together. It’s the people of Memphis I miss the most, and when I think of Memphis, I think of its women. Never was there a cast of more glittering woman than those who populated my youth. They were fun, dynamic, refined, and rarely serious. They walked like queens and spoke in lyrical tones so compelling that I’m offended by other accents to this day. I set Mourning Dove in 1970’s and 1980’s Memphis because, back then, the particular Southern, social milieu was rife with nuance and tradition anchored by southern matriarchs who ran the social strata. I did not write about the side of the South where people drive pick-up trucks down dirt roads to the family farm while dodging a coon dog or two, I wanted to write about that side of the South that was coiffed and manicured; where people had an innate elegance that mattered. There is much to be drawn in a setting such as this, and what fascinated me most growing up was the cultural way of denial. In the Memphis I knew, they kept things light and airy. If something was unpleasant or unseemly, it simply wasn’t discussed. But what of two siblings born up north who come to the Deep South as outsiders? And how can they share the same history yet come to disparate ends? What unhinging happens in the delicate wiring of one but somehow misses the other? Is it nature or nurture, and how are we to ever know? In the end, all one is left with is the story. This was my aim in writing Mourning Dove. Always and forever, it will all come down to the story.

First Chapter of Mourning Dove

I used to go home every Christmas to the house I grew up in, and Finley would be there—eventually, anyway. He’d come swaggering in, all blue-eyed, gray three-quarter coat swinging. In from Virginia. The educated man. All beaming, charismatic six-foot-two of him, setting the stage in that rambling Southern house, simply by virtue of his presence. It was that way every year because Finley was the kind of guy who could enter a room and take over completely. My brother was that magnetic. Finley was born eighteen months ahead of me, so I came into the world following his lead. Mom told me, in one of her rare confessional moments, that Finley was an accidental pregnancy, but that I had been planned. I remember furrowing my brow and thinking it odd. If anybody has a God-given, significant purpose for being on earth, it’s Finley. Compared to him, everyone else is a random afterthought. Including me. Finley fascinated me. I used to study him—the way he walked, the way he talked, the way the air changed around him. He was absolutely something. But here’s what bothers me—Finley’s in heaven, and I don’t know why. When we were young, people thought Finley and I were twins. We were both delicately built, with that streaky red-blond hair genetically bestowed upon the Scots-Irish, and we both had huge, light-colored eyes that were disproportionate in scale to the size of our heads. Finley’s eyes were a hypnotic blue, mine are a serious green. Beyond that, few people could tell us apart. When Mom moved us without warning from Minnesota to the Deep South— the summer she decided she’d had enough of my father’s alcoholism and was going back home—I didn’t mind because Finley was beside me. His presence was one-part security blanket, one part safety net, and two parts old familiar coat conformed to fit my size after years of wear.
My love for Finley was complicated—a love devoid of envy, tied up in shared survival and my inability to see myself as anything more than the larger than-life Finley’s little sister. I’m thirty-six now and still feel this way. Finley was easy to admire, for he excelled at everything he did, and the template of this pattern was evident from the time he was in kindergarten. His reading skills were fully realized, his teachers claimed he had a photographic memory, and the sum of the variables that made up the young Finley was such a quandary that his primary school teacher arrived at the exhaustive conclusion he should skip grades one and two altogether and enter the third. After we moved down South, the issue of Finley’s education continued to stymie everybody. For at the precarious age of twelve, Finley was in a scholastic league of his own. My mother’s response to Finley’s brilliance was feigned resignation. She’d wave her graceful hand and sigh. “Well, I just don’t know where he came from,” she’d say, as if she’d woken up one morning to the great surprise of Finley at the breakfast table in the stone-floored kitchen of the house she’d grown up in in midtown Memphis’ Kensington Park and subsequently inherited. By anybody’s standards, 79 Kensington Park was not a kid-friendly house. Fashioned in the style of a stucco French chateau, it was sprawling, it was formal, and most everything in it was breakable. It was the antithesis of the bucolic comfort we’d left behind in Minnesota and being dropped into its clutching embrace felt like being jolted from a dream into disparate circumstances. But my genteel mother was back where she belonged. It was only Finley and me who had to get used to the idea of being displaced Yankee children deposited into a culture whose history and social mores don’t take kindly to outsiders. We were suspects from the very start. We had Minnesota accents, we were white as the driven snow, and we both had a painfully difficult time deciphering the Southern dialect, which operates at lightning speed and doesn’t feel the need for enunciation. Instead, it trips along the lines of implication. Although I wasn’t aware of it at the time, my mother’s plan was pin-point specific. She simply picked up in Memphis where she’d left off before marrying my father, as if she’d changed her mind over which cocktail dress to wear to a party. The dress would look good on her, she’d make sure of it, and it’d show off her curves and float lightly above her delicate knees with airborne fragility from every step of her enviable narrow, size-seven feet.
My mother didn’t walk into a room, she sashayed, borne from the swivel of her twenty-four-inch waist. Her name was Posey, and although there was a lot more to her than she ever let on, by all appearances, the name suited her perfectly. At the end of the summer of 1970, when my mother reconciled herself to the idea of divorcing my father, she needed to devise a long-range plan. She wanted to keep up appearances, my father had lost all our money, which left her with four years until she could access the money her father left her in trust. After uncharacteristically humbling herself for financial assistance from my father’s wealthy relatives, she packed Finley and me in the car and drove with steel determination to Memphis. She’d left my father standing drunk and hopeless in the driveway, watching his family evaporate in the distance, wondering how his life had come to this. Her mother, senile and incapacitated in Memphis’ Rosewood Nursing Home, barely clung to life. Although the house at 79 Kensington Park was in Gaga’s name, my mother had power of attorney. So, first things first, my mother moved her mother from Rosewood to the guest house in Kensington Park and solicited the services of one Rosa Mae Jones to tend to her needs. After moving all of us into the big house, Mom set about the business of doing the two most important things: invigorating her social standing in Memphis and finding an escort, preferably a rich one looking for marriage. She set those wheels in motion after she tackled the problem of where to send Finley and me to school. According to the dictum of Memphis society, there was only one acceptable answer to the question of where to educate a girl—the private Miss Hutchison School for Girls, and it had been that way since 1902. My mother told me she’d made no leeway from calling the school’s administrator, so without skipping a beat, she slid on her stockings, zipped up her Lilly Pulitzer dress, stepped into her Pappagallo shoes, and—because a lady never steps a toe in public without it—smoothed on her pale-pink lipstick, and drove to East Memphis, where Hutchison sat regal and tree-lined, overlooking a serene lake. She marched the two of us unannounced and entitled into the ground-floor office of the school’s headmistress and seated herself cross-legged upon an upholstered chair while I found a seat on a chintz-covered sofa and wondered what to do with my hands.
When Miss Millicent Mycroft appeared, my mother stood and welcomed her into her own office, disarming her with her cultured charm and spilling forth from her cup of Southern gentility. “Miss Mycroft, I hope you don’t mind our dropping in like this,” Mom lilted, “it’s just so wonderful to see the school grounds. You know, when I went to Miss Hutchison, back when it was on Union Avenue, it was never as grand as all this. I’m Posey Crossan.” She offered her slender hand. “I’m a good friend of Mrs. Winston Phillips and Mrs. John Turner. We all went to Hutchison together. I believe you have both of their girls here now.” “Yes, I have both girls,” Miss Mycroft answered. Miss Mycroft, practiced at the art of quick discernment, sat behind her desk and studied my mother, arriving at the accurate conclusion that she was society-born and wanted something from her. “Please sit down. What can I do for you, Mrs. Crossan?” she asked. Mom perched lightly and launched her campaign. “I just don’t know how I could have missed the enrollment deadline for my daughter, who’ll be going into the fifth grade this year. I can’t tell you how much I apologize for this, but you see, there simply is no other school I would consider sending her to. I’m hoping you’ll make an exception and let her attend?” “Mrs. Crossan, not only have you missed the deadline, the first trimester began last week,” Miss Mycroft remonstrated, giving me a slight glance. “We’ve already been through orientation.” “Miss Mycroft, now I realize school has started, but what’s a week to a fifth grader? My daughter, Camille, is bright. She belongs in the same school I attended. I want her in an environment that’ll give her advantages and would hate to see her compromised because of my bad timing. But you see, none of it could be helped, so here we are. Since I won’t change my mind, what can I do to persuade you to make an exception?” After achieving her objective, my mother and I got back in her car and drove two miles to the neighboring campus of Memphis University School, where she waged a similar performance on Finley’s behalf, tailor-made to accommodate the fact that her audience was now a man. With iron conviction, she first stepped—heels clicking through the white marble foyer—and entered the boys’ lounge, where a handful of students draped languidly in overstuffed chairs, waiting for their next class to begin.
Uncertain of the way to the headmaster’s office, my mother leaned down to a conservatively dressed boy and asked for directions. With the facts in hand, she crossed the lounge and made it all the way to the hallway, before a thought came to her that wheeled her around and nearly into me. Retracing her steps, she marched into the middle of the lounge and raised her voice to a pitch accessible to all. “Boys, a lady has just entered this room,” she announced. “Where are your manners? I expect every one of you to leap to your feet.” My mother was a woman who knew the game rules of life, and she wielded them to expert proportion. The Memphis Finley and I landed in was my mother’s Memphis. It was magnolia-lined and manicured, black-tailed and bow-tied. It glittered in illusory gold and tinkled in sing-song voices. It was cloistered, segregated, and well-appointed, the kind of place where everyone monogrammed their initials on everything from hand towels to silver because nothing mattered more than one’s family and to whom they were connected by lineage that traced through the fertile fields of the Mississippi Delta. My mother’s friends had known each other from birth and coexisted like threads in a fabric. They started families together, sent their children to the same schools they attended, and set up their cloisonné lives in congruent patterns of neat inclusivity. They threw dinner parties in stately homes, on tables set with inherited Francis I, polished to a shine by the help. In my mother’s Memphis, the conversation stayed pleasant and light over lingering cocktails, until dinner was served by a staff that dropped their own lives in deference to their employers. At an age where many women have seen their crescendo, my mother had only started to come into her beauty. She had the kind of looks that waited in arrested development during her youth, then pounced like a cat around the time she turned forty. With the passage of time followed by motherhood, her long limbs, flat chest, and slightly recessive chin filled out to capacity. Her face displayed sharp cheekbones that balanced her chin to a perfect heart-shape and earned her a self-confidence she wore with sparkling alacrity. But a woman in possession of unique beauty and charm was in a precarious predicament in 1970s Memphis. There was always the dilemma of where to seat her at a dinner party, and without an escort to take the edge off of feminine rivalry, she was easily held in contempt.
No, that position was not for her, and my mother—as a master of networking—knew exactly what to do. She acclimated herself to the women in town, joined the Garden Club and the Junior League, lunched at the Memphis Country Club, played bridge, and hosted sip-n-sees. It wasn’t long before the dates started rolling in, though she should have issued a red-flag warning that read: Ladies, hide your husbands. Posey’s back in town.

Pre-order Mourning Dove: https://amzn.to/2I7NZUd

Audiobook clip on http://www.clairefullerton.com