Claire Fullerton's Blog: A Writing Life

September 11, 2022

How to Launch a Book!

It’s fair to say that authors spend just as much time promoting their books as they do writing them. It takes time to get the word out that a book exists in the first place, and getting to readers is not something that happens overnight; it’s a process, a build that feels like an uphill climb with countless stops along the way. One cannot do it alone. It takes a village, and much is furthered when an author takes the time to compare notes with those who have gone before them.

This is why I'm excited to tell you that on Tuesday, September 27 at 7PM CST, I'll be giving an online talk and detailing exactly how I prepare to launch a novel, beginning 6 months before the release date. I'll talk about laying the foundation for your book, and then carrying forth with your book promotion from that foundation!

The Catholic Literary Arts is my host, and catholicliteraryarts.org will take you to their website. Under the tab Events and Classes, you can find how to register for my class which I hope will be fun and informative. There will be a question and answer segment at the end, and my hope is this will all be informative and helpful! I am looking forward to seeing you on September 27th!
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Published on September 11, 2022 16:46 Tags: class, launching-a-book-talk, virtual-class-for-authors

July 11, 2022

To Dance with the White Dog

A resonate, heart wrenching story in the best of ways, written with nostalgic subtlety detailing eighty-year-old Sam Peek’s remaining years as he adjusts to being a widower.
It is 1960’s rural Georgia, and life as Sam Peek has known it is changed when his beloved wife of 57 years dies, and his five, well-meaning children begin to hover. Alone in his house, Sam is now a focus of concern as his children strategize at keeping their father company, all within Sam’s hearing range.
A kind and patient man, Sam handles his grief with a brave face, and tries to placate his children while holding fast to the last curve of independence in a manner that won’t offend.
With pitch-perfect, Southern nuance and vernacular, author Terry Kay spins a tale from the multiple points of view of well-rounded characters that reads like a round-robin treatise detailing the push and pull of aging. It is an uncertain road navigated by the small details of day-to-day living, where Sam’s memory is a sustaining thing in a small-town environment where little has changed though his life is forever altered.
In the midst of remarkable scene setting, delightful dialogue, and wonderful pacing, a white dog enters the story and the reader questions whether it is real or due to the lonely heart of Sam Peek’s imagination. That the angelic white dog avoids the detection of all but Sam lends the story a mystical, magical air, as the “ghost dog” appears and disappears, while Sam’s children fear he might be losing his grip on reality, and the reader hopes Sam has found a faithful companion.
To Dance with the White Dog is deceptively deep in its use of clear language and resoundingly poignant. It’s a story to last the test of time, beautifully told and indelibly memorable, the kind of fully realized story that hits an existential bullseye and deserves the status of American classic.
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Published on July 11, 2022 19:02 Tags: book-review, classic, southern

June 16, 2022

Essay Prompt: If I knew then what I now know.

As it appears of Sally Cronin's Smorgasbord on WordPress:

The house in which I grew up anchors me in the larger world as a frame of reference, although while I was growing up, this was an unrecognized fact. Youth takes given things for granted. I had no way of perceiving the snail-pace of change, that one day I’d walk out the door of the place I’d always called home and close it behind me forever.

The house had familial history. Built in 1901, it had eclectic features— intricate wrought-iron over a series of cathedral doors, a black-and-white tile entrance hall, a lattice-roof gazebo accessed by throwing open the doors of the card room. People in Memphis are mindful of the extreme summers, and fashion their homes accordingly. In the winter, area rugs ran throughout the house, and in the summer they were put away in storage.

Family lore is my mother’s parents went for a Sunday drive and left my then seven-year-old mother with her nanny. Pulling in the driveway of 79 Morningside Park, my general physician grandfather turned towards the passenger seat and said, “I hope you like this house because it’s yours.”

My mother, an only child, grew up in that Midtown, Memphis, four-bedroom house. She kept a Shetland pony in the backyard and rode it along the wooded trails of East Parkway. It was the home she returned to whilst away at boarding school in Simsbury, Connecticut. When she became engaged to my father, it was the setting of their lavishly orchestrated engagement party.

As a child, I visited the house every summer, when my mother took us home to see her mother. We lived up North in those days, my father being from the lake area outside of Minneapolis, Minnesota. The yearly trip my brothers and I took to Memphis opened our eyes to a disparate culture. To my young eyes, there was an austere tenor to my grandparent’s Southern home, an all-encompassing, echoing formality anchored by serious gravity. Because my grandmother, whom I am named for, loved collecting antiques, my brothers and I minded our footfalls when we visited, well aware that most things in the house were breakable.

I was ten years old when my family moved permanently into that house in Memphis, Tennessee. When my grandparents went to heaven, my mother inherited the house and everything in it. It was as if someone flipped a switch during that first year of occupancy, threw the doors open wide and ushered in new energy. My brother, Haines, played guitar and added weekly to his record collection. My brother, Joe, practiced every game ever played with a ball. And even though we had two Scottish terriers, six months into our residency, I waged a full-frontal campaign and ultimately acquired a cat.

My mother, taking the house’s new dynamic in stride, rolled with the changes, but then again, she was conveniently blessed with a delightful sense of humor. I look back now and realize the finesse she brought to the act of balancing the small details of domestication. Through the years, 79 Morningside Park retained a certain antiquated elegance, but throughout my youth, the energy within remained abundantly and vibrantly alive.



One counts on a place they’ve lived in for years. Adolescents put down roots and mark their turf in the interest of security, and much of my coming-of-age security came as a byproduct of knowing my homes’ history, in tandem with whom I could rely on that lived down the hall. Family is the nucleus of a home’s identity. With enough years strung together, they become one and the same to the point where location is an overarching sense of belonging made of complimentary elements. Where one begins, and the other ends is all but immaterial, when it comes to the concept of home.

Which is why I felt like the rug had been pulled out from beneath me when my mother called me with the news she’d be selling the house in which I grew up. I was thirty-six years old, living in California with no plan of ever returning to Memphis but that wasn’t the point. Only one of my siblings lived in Memphis at the time, and I clutched the phone, fighting back immediate tears as my mother explained the house was too big for her to live in alone as she rattled towards her dotage. She had a good point when she declared she wouldn’t be one of those poor unfortunates having to make a bedroom downstairs in their infirmity, having lost the mobility to navigate the stairs. She’d found a charming, one level, zero lot-line house in East Memphis and was excited about her new lease on life. And of course, I supported her, even as I wrestled with my own fear of change.

It’s been many years since my mother sold the house in which I grew up. Most in my family have passed on, and I’ve long lived in the wilds of California. They say home is where the heart is, and what I now know is how well the heart stores memory. When I think of home, my heart leaps to that 3rd generation house in Memphis, which will serve as my home’s frame of reference for all the days of my life.

©Claire Fullerton 2022

My thanks to Claire for sharing this wonderful trip down memory lane through her memories of the home that meant so much to her.
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Published on June 16, 2022 08:26 Tags: essay, memphis, writing-prompt

September 26, 2021

A Fire in the Night by Christopher Swann

A fateful phone call from a brother not heard from in twenty years is the catalyst of author Christopher Swann’s spellbinding novel, A Fire in the Night, but it isn’t discovered until later in this action-packed thriller set in the mountainous region of Cashiers, North Carolina, that unfolds in riveting, oscillating layers of past and present tense.

Nick Anthony is an intentional loner. A retired college professor of medieval studies, he is a grieving widow living in an isolated lakeside cabin without a landline, so he is startled one morning to discover the uniformed Deputy Joshua Sams standing on his front porch.

It is bad news from the deputy. There has been a house fire in Tampa, his estranged brother is dead, and the sixteen-year-old niece named Annalise, whom he’s never heard of, is missing. Nick is found by Deputy Sams because his brother, Jay, told his lawyer that Nick is his next of kin.

At the unexpected news, Nick “was too weary to cry. Over the past year he had cried enough over Ellie for a lifetime,” but “Something shifted in his heart, rode beneath his skin,” and “He was angry. At Sams, for disturbing his morning. At Jay for not telling him about his niece—for dying.” The stunned Nick processes the news, and “Something circled at the back of Nick’s mind like an errant bat.” Nick, in considering Annalise, concludes, “If the police were looking for her, it was because she was a suspect.”

Annalise is in fear for her life and suspects her parents were murdered. While staying overnight at her boyfriend’s Tampa house, she saw the flames of the fire and, upon investigation, spied the men who apparently set it. Taking two days to flee to her uncle Nick’s North Carolina cabin, she arrives at night, exhausted and feverish, armed with a map her father had given her to give to Nick, though she is uncertain of Nick’s true identity until she puts him to her question-and-answer test. In time, Nick and Annalise vet each other and realize they are in it together, and the pair set out to unravel the mystery of what really happened to Jay.

Cole is ex-military and hired by a man named Mr. Kobayashi to track down Annalise, in hopes of acquiring sensitive information Jay had that’s thought to be on a flash drive. With a handful of hired hands, each paid a thousand dollars a day by Mr. Kobayashi, Cole and his cohorts track Annalise from Tampa to Atlanta to Cashiers reconnaissance style. They act as a gaggle of

hardened criminals with do-or-die motivation, which heightens the story’s gripping, on-the-chase suspense.

Because Nick’s family has ties in Afghanistan, Nick suspects his brother acted as a contractor in the Middle East, in a dubious manner that either involved privileged information or arms. When the map Annalise gives Nick turns out to be a geological survey of a Middle Eastern oil field, the pair are led to a private investigator in Charlotte, North Carolina, who was entrusted by Jay, and in turn, Nick is tasked with locating proper means to decipher encrypted information on the flash drive his brother left in the PI’s care, while simultaneously protecting Annalise from Cole and his men as they get closer and closer.

Twists and surprises abound as the story unfurls, and Nick’s past experience as a CIA operative comes to light and is put to use in a way that counters Nick’s sedate life. Nick realizes, “He had stepped away from that life, with fewer regrets than he had felt later upon leaving academia to care for Ellie. But there were moments, when he had been in his office grading papers or sitting in a faculty meeting or even watching Ellie sleep that he found himself bored and restless, longing for something, that old shot of adrenaline that sent the pulse racing and the senses on high alert.”

A Fire in the Night folds mystery and suspense into a psychological thriller in a setting that lives as breathes as a character. The remote, mountain woods of Cashiers, North Carolina, are multilayered and foreboding. They are the beautifully described, perfect backdrop for this finely wrought story sure to enthrall the most discerning reader.
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Published on September 26, 2021 14:59 Tags: mystery, regional-fiction, suspense

February 11, 2021

Life Sentences by Billy O'Callaghan

“Written with harrowing intimacy in cadence and phrasing so poetically elegant as to be breathtaking, it sings of perseverance in the face of adversity . . .”

A thoroughly realized treatise on the familial ramifications that haunt us, the beauty in Life Sentences comes from Billy O’Callaghan’s deep-probing gift for nuance. Wielding confessional monologues, O’Callaghan unfurls an epic story woven in three compelling parts that could justifiably stand-alone, yet from the sturdy threads of O’Callaghan’s deft crafting, the reader is invested from the start in this multi-generational story.

Read my full review in the New York Journal of Books:
https://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book...
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Published on February 11, 2021 18:30 Tags: ireland, literary-fiction

January 3, 2021

Happy New Year

Happy New Year!

I start every January 1st by walking with burning sage through every room in my house, doors open to let the new year in as I clear out the old with my sage. It seems especially poignant this morning because it is an extremely windy day. I live in what is primarily a glass house with sliding glass doors everywhere, which means this morning I have to be careful I don’t create a wind tunnel inside lest things within topple over!

I like the idea of action as ceremony when coupled with good intention. It has something to do with focusing one’s belief and walking around in its center. After all, we choose our attitude on any given day in any given moment. It’s not that the vagaries of life don’t come to us all, it’s about how we consider them.

I like the idea of a clean slate for all its possibilities. It gifts me with a heightened state of expectation, and when put together with good intentions, I can’t help but think something good will come of it.

People have used sage for its cleansing and medicinal properties since the beginning of time. Many believe the smoke purifies a space and clears out negative energy. Sage has a therapeutic aroma when burned, but the scent doesn’t linger if there’s ventilation. It’s a woodsy scent with a sweet high note to the white smoke, and if you prefer, you can chase it with incense.

Happy New Year everyone. May it be your best year yet!

Photograph here:

https://clairefullertonauthor.wordpre...
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Published on January 03, 2021 09:21 Tags: ceremony, happy-new-year, tradition

November 4, 2020

Little Tea Reader Highlighted Quotes

Thank you to reader Kay T. for using Kindle Notes and Highlights to highlight Little Tea 20 times and sharing on Goodreads!
1. In a world where people are trying to find themselves, Renny Thornton was born to this world knowing exactly who she is
2.Some people are so much a part of your day-to-day psyche that their physical absence means very little
3.Nostalgia has selective memory; it softens the heart and strips the details to leave you with what should have been instead of what was
4.But then the passage of time can blur a friendship's edges to the point where you feels its essence but forget the logistics
5.Combined, we were a girl complete. Separately, we were inchoate and in need of each other like solitary pieces of a clock that were useless until assembled, but once assembled, kept perfect time.
6.We both had a mother born and loyal to old Southern ways, which is to say the less you talked about something, the less real it became.
7. She had a knack for reaching into the potential of a moment and slamming it to solid ground
8. I've never known where any of it was going while I was in the middle of what seemed inconsequential; it was only in hindsight that I saw the snail's-paced build.
9. Happiness seemed to me to be little more than intermittent highlights that faded to memory like the light of a burned-out star.
10.There are some parts of your history your friends won't let you outrun
11. People always have to have something to look down on. From her scratching-poor mountain view, Black people are it.
12. I was just telling Celia not to let it bother her, Hayward said. Grandmother comes from a region where people don't know any better
13. It's not that I can't read the writing on the wall, it's that I don't notice the wall in the first place.
14. There is dignity in silence, and wisdom in holding one's tongue.
15.Because it takes me a while to process things. I find it hard to live in the moment.
16. I tend to register events in my own time
17 It has always brought an awareness of my own impermanence to be passing through something so eternal
18.The only was to move past a hindrance in life is to face it head-on.
19.Vulnerability comes from emotionally investing in another person.
20...an exalted joy the likes of which breaks the heart open and coaxes the soul out to play.
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Published on November 04, 2020 11:04 Tags: book-quotes, kindle-highlights, quotes, reader-highlights, southern

October 2, 2020

The Southern Literary Review

JASON KINGRY INTERVIEWS CLAIRE FULLERTON, AUTHOR OF “LITTLE TEA”
SEPTEMBER 15, 2020 BY JASON KINGRY LEAVE A COMMENT
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?


Claire Fullerton

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!

JK: Thank you very much for this interview!

CF: Fabulous questions! Thank you.
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Published on October 02, 2020 08:10 Tags: author-interview, journals, on-writing, southern

August 29, 2020

Little Tea Excerpt!

“Hey, Little Tea,” Hayward called as she and I sat crossed-legged on the north side of the verandah. “I bet I can beat you to the mailbox and back.” It was a Saturday afternoon in early June, and we’d spread the church section of the Como Panolian beneath us and positioned ourselves beneath one of the pair of box windows gracing either side of the front door. The front door was fully open, but its screen was latched to keep the bugs from funneling into the entrance hall. They’d be borne from the current of the verandah ceiling fans that stirred a humidity so pervasive and wilting, there was no escaping until the weather cooled in early November. The glass pitcher of sweet tea Elvita gave us sat opaque and sweating, reducing crescents of ice to weak bobbing smiles around a flaccid slice of lemon.



Little Tea stood to her full height at Hayward’s challenge, her hand on her hip, her oval eyes narrowed. “Go on with yourself,” she said to Hayward, which was Little Tea’s standard way of dismissal.



“I bet I can,” Hayward pressed, standing alongside Rufus, his two-year-old Redbone coonhound who shadowed him everywhere.



Little Tea took a mighty step forward. “And you best get that dog outta here ’fore he upends this here paint. Miss Shirley gone be pitching a fit you get paint on her verandah.”



“Then come race me,” Hayward persisted. “Rufus will follow me down the driveway. You just don’t want to race because I beat you the last time.”



“You beat me because you a cheat,” Little Tea snapped.



“She’s right, Hayward,” I said. “You took off first, I saw you.”



“It’s not my fault she’s slow on the trigger,” Hayward responded. “Little Tea hesitated, I just took the advantage.”



“I’ll be taking advantage now,” she stated, walking down the four brick steps to where Hayward and Rufus stood.



At ten years old, Little Tea was taller than me and almost as tall as Hayward. She had long, wire-thin limbs whose elegance belied their dependable strength, and a way of walking from an exaggerated lift of her knees that never disturbed her steady carriage. She was regal at every well-defined angle, with shoulders spanning twice the width of her tapered waist and a swan neck that pronounced her determined jaw.



Smiling, Hayward bounced on the balls of his feet, every inch of his lithe body coiled and ready to spring. There was no refusing Hayward’s smile, and he knew it. It was a thousand-watt pirate smile whose influence could create a domino effect through a crowd. I’d seen Hayward’s smile buckle the most resistant of moods; there was no turning away from its white-toothed, winsome source. When my brother smiled, he issued an invitation to the world to get the joke.

Typically, the whole world would.



“Celia, run fetch us a stick,” Little Tea directed, her feet scratching on the gravel driveway as she marched to the dusty quarter-mile stretch from our house to the mailbox on Old Panola road. I sprang from the verandah to the grass on the other side of the driveway and broke a long, sturdy twig from an oak branch. “Set it right here,” Little Tea pointed, and I placed it horizontally before her. But Rufus rushed upon the stick and brought it straight to Hayward, who rubbed his russet head and praised, “Good boy.”



“Even that dog of yours a cheat,” Little Tea said, but she, too, rubbed his head then replaced the stick on the ground. “Now come stand behind here. Celia’s going to give us a fair shake. We’ll run when she says run.” Her hands went to her hips. “Now what you gonna give me when I win?”

“The reward of pride and satisfaction,” Hayward said, and just then the screen door on the verandah flew wide and my brother John came sauntering out.



“On go,” I called from my position on the side of the driveway, where I hawkishly monitored the stick to catch a foot creeping forward. Looking from Hayward to Little Tea to make sure I had their attention, I used a steady cadence announcing, “Ready … set … go.”



Off the pair flew, dust scattering, arms flailing; off in airborne flight, side by side, until Little Tea broke loose and left Hayward paces behind. I could see their progression until the bend in the driveway obstructed my vision but had little doubt about what was happening. Little Tea was an anomaly in Como, Mississippi. She was the undisputed champion in our age group of the region’s track and field competition and was considered by everyone an athlete to watch, which is why Hayward continuously challenged her to practice. Presently, I saw the two walking toward me. Hayward had his arm around Little Tea’s shoulder, and I could see her head poised, listening as he chattered with vivid animation.



“You should have seen it,” Hayward breathlessly said when they reached me. “She beat me easily by three seconds—I looked at my watch.”



“Three seconds? That doesn’t seem like much,” I said.



“Listen Celia, a second is as good as a mile when you’re talking time. I’m two years older and a boy, so believe me, Little Tea’s already got the makings of a star athlete.” He grinned. “But we already knew this.”



John called from the verandah, “Celia, Mother’s looking for you.” I turned to see John walking to the front steps in his pressed khaki pants and leather loafers, his hand near his forehead shading his eyes.



“Where is she?” I returned.



“Inside, obviously. Last I saw her, she was in your room.”



For some odd reason, whenever my brother John had anything to say to me, he said it with condescension. His was a sneering, disapproving tone for no justification I could discern, beyond our six-year age difference. He was as hard on Hayward as he was on me, but Hayward never took John’s snide remarks personally, nor did he invest in what he called his holier-than-thou demeanor.



It didn’t take much to figure it out. From a young age, Hayward and I both knew he and John were two different kinds of men. Hayward once said to me, “John’s just a mama’s boy, which is why he calls Mom ‘Mother’ as if we’re living in Victorian England instead of Como, Mississippi. Don’t let him bother you. He has his own reality, that’s all.”



I skipped up the verandah’s steps and put my hand on the flimsy screen door.



“You should take that pitcher inside before you forget it,” John dictated, “and y’all need to pick up that paint.”



“I’ll get it in a minute,” I said, just to spite him as I stepped into the entrance hall. I couldn’t help it, it was my natural reflex in our ongoing contest of wills.



The light was always dim in the entrance hall, irrespective of the time of day. The carved crown molding on its high ceiling matched the dark walnut wood of the floor and door casings, which glowed in polished rosettes above the opening to the formal dining room on the right and the ample living room on the left, with the green-tiled solarium behind it. The entrance hall had a central catacomb feel and was always the coolest area of the house. In its cavernous elegance, footsteps were amplified on the maple floors during the months of June through September, then fell to a muted padding when Mom had Thelonious haul the crimson-and-navy runner from the attic and place it beneath the foyer’s round, centered table. At the end of the hall, behind the stairs, was my father’s den and attendant screened porch, but rarely did I visit the interior. My father was a private man, reclusive and solitary by nature, and whether he was in the library or not, the door was always shut. I had to skirt the gladiola arrangement on the entrance hall table. The floral design reached wide with flourishing arms toward the French credenzas against both sides of the walls. My reflection flashed in the ormolu mirror as I ran toward the stairs to find my mother. My hair crowned me with the color of night’s crescendo, dashing so dark it almost looked purple. I am 100 percent Wakefield in all that distinguishes the lineage, from the dark eyes and hair to the contrasting fair skin. There has never been a Wakefield to escape the familial nose; it is severe in impression, unambiguous in projection, straight as a line, and slightly flared. John and I are mirror images of each other, the yin and yang of the Wakefield, English bloodline. But Hayward was born golden, just like our mother, who comes from the Scottish Montgomerys, whose birthplace is Ayrshire. John and I possess an unfortunate atavistic Wakefield trait, though on me the black shadow is a ready silence, but on him it plays out as something sinister. John and I are individual variations of our father’s dark countenance, which is to say in our own way we are loners. People slightly removed. But Hayward got lucky, in possessing our mother’s shining essence. I could always see an internal light in their green eyes that set off their amber-colored hair.



I put my hand on the thick banister and climbed the stairs to the first landing, where my parents’ bedroom and living quarters unfurled like wings. The bay window overlooking the garden had its draperies drawn against the searing, silver sun. Walking into the sitting room at the right, I called for my mother, thinking she may be in the adjoining master bedroom. “I’m upstairs,” her voice descended. “Celia, come up. I want to see you.”



I mounted the stairs to the third-floor landing and found my mother perched lightly on the sofa in the alcove that served as a central area for the other four bedrooms. Behind her, sunlight filtered through the organza window treatments, highlighting the red in her hair. Her slender hands held a three-ringed binder of fabric swatches, the swatch on top a cool, blue toile. She patted the seat beside her and I settled softly. My mother was cultivated, circumspect, and radiated a porcelain femininity. Always, in my mother’s presence, I gentled myself to her calm self-possession. In my heart of hearts, it was my hope that the apple didn’t fall far from the proverbial tree.



“Tell me,” she said, “what do you think of this fabric for your draperies? We could paint the walls a light robin’s egg and put white on the molding. I think it’d be divine.” She looked around the room as if seeing it for the first time. “It’s time we got rid of the wallpaper in there. You’re growing up.” She laid her ivory hand on my cheek. “You’ll want this eventually. I think now’s a good time.”



I knew enough of my mother’s ways to know she was engaged in preamble. She was practiced at the art of delivery by discreet maneuver, and I suspected her impulse to transform my room had hidden meaning. “Why is now a good time?”



My mother looked in my eyes and spoke softly. “Celia, I’m telling you before I tell Hayward because I don’t want this to come from him. Your father’s going to be taking a job in Memphis, so we’ll be moving.”



“We’re moving to Memphis?” I gasped.



“Yes, honey. You’ll be starting school at Immaculate Conception in September,” she answered. “You know the school; its attendant to the big cathedral on Central Avenue.”



“But that’s a Catholic school, Mom. I thought we were Episcopalian.”



“We are, honey, but it’s highly rated academically. Your father and I think being exposed to a different religion will broaden your mind and give you beautiful advantages. We can come back here any weekend we want, and you’ll have a brand-new room when we do. You’ll have the best of both worlds, you’ll see. You’ll make new friends in Memphis, and Little Tea will still be here. It won’t be a drastic change at all. Try to think of it as an addition. There now, sweetie, don’t make that face. It isn’t the end of the world.”



But it was for me; Memphis intimidated me. Memphis was the big city compared to Como, and I found it cacophonous and unpredictable in its patchwork design. There was a disjointed, disharmonious feel to the city, what with its delineated racial relations. Parts of town were autocratic in their mainstay of Caucasian imperiousness and there were dilapidated, unlucky parts of town considered dangerous, which a white person never chanced. This much I’d learned on my visits to my grandparents’ house near the lake in Central Gardens. Blacks and whites never comingled in Memphis, even though they did coexist. But there was an impenetrable wall that separated the races, and I’d been raised in a footloose environment where it didn’t matter so much.



I took my teary eyes and sinking stomach to my bedroom so my mother wouldn’t see me cry. Through the window over the driveway, I watched as Hayward and Little Tea threw a stick for Rufus. I hadn’t the heart to run tell them our lives were about to end.





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Published on August 29, 2020 11:50

July 23, 2020

Evening in the Yellow Wood by Laura Kemp

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 Woods 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 Woods by Laura Kemp is absolutely unforgettable.
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Published on July 23, 2020 10:02 Tags: mystery, paranormal, romance

A Writing Life

Claire Fullerton
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