Claire Fullerton's Blog: A Writing Life

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

July 19, 2020

Book Review: Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry

Hannah Coulter is a lyrical study in nostalgia, meandering, at times, just as life itself meanders in seeming slipshod episodes that seem incohesive until viewed in hindsight. But the telling of a life can bring it into focus, and the voice of Hannah Coulter, as she explains her life is the voice of gratitude as she builds linear connections with the full awareness that it is the seeming inconsequential, day to day gestures that make up a life.
I loved this book for its intimate introspection. The story is judicious in dialogue, preferring, instead, to gift the reader with the hidden heartbeat of Hannah Coulter, whom we meet as a callow girl and accompany as she grows wise and world-weary, deepens in self-possession, and all this without traveling far afield from the small rural farming community of Port William, Kentucky, whose sphere of activity is an agrarian culture with a network of neighbors who work together in perpetuating a salt-of-the earth livelihood.
The characters in Hannah Coulter are simply dignified. They are subtle souls, reverent of life’s small purposes. They are commonplace characters with depth and an eye to future generations. They are accepting people, tolerant of changing times even as they hold true to maintaining a less convenient way of life in the name of what they know and treat with the sanctity of tradition.
Hannah Coulter lives beneath the layers of plot and resides in the realm of character study. It is a slow growth story of the life of one woman the reader will come to know and cherish, for all her hard-won wisdom.
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Published on July 19, 2020 09:07

June 28, 2020

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?

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Published on June 28, 2020 14:01 Tags: book-clubs, books-to-discuss, reader-participation, southern-fiction, women-s-fiction

June 14, 2020

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 an impression. On my Goodreads Profile Page is the book trailer of Little Tea that I created. My hope is it will give Little Tea’s readers a good impression of Little Tea's setting.

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Published on June 14, 2020 16:17 Tags: book-trailer, littl-tea, southern-fiction, women-s-fiction

May 12, 2020

Writing About Friendship

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 are 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 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. I set it in Heber Springs because of its close proximity to Memphis, where the girls 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. Water is alive and emotional. We sit near it and reflect and sometimes we dive right in it. For Renny, Ava, and Celia in Little Tea, Heber Springs Lake is neutral ground.
Little Tea is the story of three friends who reconvene because one of them is in trouble. If you take one problem and put it in the hands of three 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 is borne from the heart and souls of women, and it is this I wanted to capture in the story.
I like the idea 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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Published on May 12, 2020 12:52 Tags: childhood-friendship, coming-of-age, female-friendship, friendship

May 10, 2020

Gratitude to Book Bloggers ( from my WordPress blog Post)

I’d like to adequately express how much the WordPress book blogging community means to me, so suffer me while I warm up to it. I readily admit I’m the long-winded sort, even when I have an important point.
In this day and age of social media at the center of an author’s career, there is much to reconcile, and there are times I wrestle with keeping a proper perspective. On the one hand–and you’d think this to meet me in person–I am ridiculously extroverted; I have what author, Pat Conroy, labeled the “Southern sickness” of assuming everyone I meet is my best friend, yet on the other, I am intensely private. I don’t like showcasing myself because it feels like grandstanding, and quite frankly I’m not impressed with myself to the point that I think I have anything of significance going over any other writer. We are all of us playing a long-game, making our own way in our chosen field. But sometimes it seems that one has to have an elevated sense of oneself in order to promote one’s work as an author. There’s a fine line these days, and it’s the one thing I didn’t realize going into “being” a writer. I’m probably like many people in their 50’s. We were the generation who woke up one day to discover the entire world was online and all over social media. When that realization dawned on me, it was a major hustle to catch up.
Then there is the concern of reconciling novel-writing as art and publishing a novel as a business. Once upon a time–as little as twenty years ago–authors wrote books and turned them over to their publishing house to promote. If they had an audience to justify a book tour, the publisher paid for an author to travel from book store to library to book club to meet readers in person. This is still done, but on a small, discerning scale primarily intended for authors who have wide name recognition. As for authors with a small or independent press, when it comes to a book tour, it’s all out of pocket because they’re essentially on their own. Because book publishing options have opened up and there are now thousands upon thousands of authors in the race, the effort is geared toward keeping abreast of the tide and waving one’s hand above the noise. What’s more, in this day and age, the lion’s share of promotion falls to the author and is not only about promoting a book; authors have to promote themselves.
I’ve been torn over this for a while, now. I’ve limited myself in self-promotion by only going so far. I’ll take the opportunity here to add to Conroy’s definition of Southern sickness: friendly as we are, Southerners are an unflashy lot given to personal discretion. Too much going on about oneself is succinctly considered bad form.
I see it all on social media. People post all sorts of personal information from their family to their lifestyle to their political views. I’m not passing judgment, just making an observation, but I do know that too much online, personal information can put one in a vulnerable position and lead to an unintended consequence. It’s the downside of social media and it’s a struggle to strike a manageable balance.
So, how does an author effectively promote their book while striking a healthy balance? And whom should an author trust?
Which brings me to another consideration: There are the legions of online, profiteering book promotion businesses that have cropped up as a result of the book publishing boom. It’s staggering to me and hard to wade through the miasma to discern who is and is not reputable, while an author is hustling for literary recognition and book reviews. Authors need exposure for their releases, but who to choose within a reasonable budget?
Which brings me around to the WordPress book blogging community ( I told you I’d work my way to my point.)
I am humbled and proud to have aligned with the book bloggers here. I believe the book bloggers I’ve met on WordPress are as fine as they come. I stand in awe of Sally Cronin of Smorgasbord. Through Sally, I’ve met Olga Nunez, Michelle James, Robbie Cheadle, Teagan Geneviene, Rosie Amber, DG Kaye, and Chris the Story Reading Ape to name but a few. I stand in awe of each bloggers’ deft handling of content, organizational skills, dedication, professionalism, and magnanimous spirit. I recognize you all as passionate people involved in the book world for all the right reasons. Your impact upon many authors’ careers is nothing short of significant.
At long last, here is my point:
I thank each of you who has featured my books on your blog for including me in your esteemed fold. Your support of my career is a force that sustains me, and I remain so very grateful.

My WordPress blog link can be acessed:
https:www.clairefullerton.com
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Published on May 10, 2020 15:34 Tags: blog, book-bloggers, publicity

May 1, 2020

Little Tea Review

Review of Little Tea by BookTrib's Judy Moreno: Every so often you read a novel so intricately and exquisitely crafted that it reaffirms an admiration for the whole art of writing. Little Tea by Claire Fullerton (Firefly Southern Fiction) accomplishes this considerable feat with a sensitivity as graceful as Southern charm. But not everything about the tradition-steeped culture of the past is as pleasant as it looks on the surface. The reader, through the intelligent and reserved perspective of protagonist Celia Wakefield, steadily discovers these alarming discrepancies while attempting to both discern the present and understand what came before. As flashbacks clarify Celia’s context, the supporting characters take on fully-fledged lives of their own, practically dancing out of hers and into their own rich narratives. The conclusion binds their stories together with some utterly satisfying twists and revelations.
Celia Wakefield is a mature married woman with a stable job living in California, now far removed from her Southern roots. She is, however, still quite close to two childhood friends, so when down-to-earth Renny expresses concerns about ethereal Ava, the three meet up at Renny’s lake house in Arkansas in an attempt to set a few things straight. It’s easier said than done; Celia has to confront a nuanced personal history which she’d much rather keep internalized. A palatial ancestral plantation in Mississippi provides the setting for most of the flashbacks, with familial relationships taking center stage in a drama that plays out as her narrative unfolds. Her father, mother, two brothers, and grandparents all have crucial roles, as well as her old love Tate and her two aforementioned friends, but the bond she shares with “Little Tea” outshines all the others. Little Tea, the daughter of Celia’s family’s black housekeeper, is the heart and soul of the novel, the lynchpin around which the drama revolves.
Little Tea has many strong points thanks to the adept Claire Fullerton. She clearly thrives when employing her métier. Themes and motifs including illuminating the complexities of Southern culture, delving into gritty yet convincing family dynamics, examining racial tensions, wrestling with mental illnesses and addictions, and, above all, proving the tenacity of enduring love between friends, all are handled with tremendous skill yet a delicate touch that keeps the prose elegant and highly readable. Fullerton has great fun when setting the stage for a scene, painting a vivid image with lush language such as, “In the air, a vibrato of cicadas pulsed so discordantly as to be concordant, like one wall of sound that tricked the ear until I could feel its heartbeat.” As the reader jumps back and forth between the past and the present, it never feels jarring or incongruent when the author can create a sense of place this deftly. Every character is complete and complex, hiding profound secrets under their Southern guise of composure, and it is a joy to understand them better with every memory that Celia invokes.
Though gorgeously penned and sometimes as dainty as a fine cup of the title beverage, Little Tea also manages to raise profound questions and demand critical reflection upon some challenging truths. Celia’s bond with Little Tea faces many obstacles and pressures, with the ugliness of prejudice twisting an apparently compassionate cultural climate into something destructive and disturbing. Some characters have moved forward from old sins while others have not, wrenching families apart. While racism underscores the narrative, its presence doesn’t, unfortunately, mean that the characters avoid life’s other misfortunes. Marital dissatisfaction, identity crises, battles with depression and addiction, and death itself still haunt the pages of the novel. In spite of all this, or perhaps because of it, there is a persistent sense of hope and joy illuminating the pages; it inspires Celia, Ava, and Renny to come out of this trip with a better understanding of their lives through the lens of their friendships. Love runs deeper than hate, and that reassuring truth is the real crux of Little Tea.
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Published on May 01, 2020 08:51 Tags: book-review, southern-family-saga, womens-fiction

April 25, 2020

Book Review: Mourning Dove

I just received this 5 Star Review for Mourning Dove from the Chanticleer Reviews.

Camille Crossan appears to be living an idyllic life in Claire Fullerton’s poignant, evocative novel, Mourning Dove. Living in a superbly appointed mansion in “magnolia-lined and manicured” Memphis during the 1960s and 1970s, Camille’s family life shimmers with Southern charm. Her mother, Posey, usually outfitted in a Lily Pulitzer shift, Pappagallo shoes, and a signature shade of pink lipstick, is a beauty with the wryest sense of humor and steel determination.
As a young girl, Camille, known as Millie, sees how those in her mother’s social orbit are captivated by her aura, how men are easily seduced by her flirtatious charm. Society is a game played by those who know its rules, and Posey means to win. Every time. She, however, isn’t even the charismatic one in the family – that’s Finley, Millie’s older brother, who brims with intelligence, startling good looks, and messianic magnetism. A peek beneath the shiny surface of gracious Southern living, however, reveals enormous cracks in the foundation of the Crossan family. One of the first things the adult Millie tells us about her brother is that he is dead. She takes the reader back, though, to their childhood and coming of age, a tumultuous journey that both binds and separates the siblings.
During her first decade, Millie’s family was living in Minneapolis with her tender-hearted, intellectual father who succumbed to alcoholism. Loss of money and, worse, the accompanying loss of social status, motivates Posey to uproot her children and move them to her childhood home in Memphis, a palatial mansion filled with antiques and portraits of forebears. It’s a volatile time, inside and outside the house, as centuries-old Southern traditions clash with the youth counterculture.
Millie watches as her mother holds court during daily cocktail hours, a prospective second husband soon on the reel, and Finley, a gifted guitarist, plunges into the local music scene. But what role will she play? It’s difficult for her to see herself entirely separate from her brother for whom she has, “…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.” Millie will grapple with her identity and question her destiny, whether she’ll be a bride in the Southern belle mode of her mother or if she’ll be the blossom that falls far from the magnolia tree. Meanwhile, Finley’s charisma both explodes and implodes in shocking and dangerous ways as he becomes revered by a group of people with no connection to the gentrified life. Like Millie, the reader is transfixed and apprehensive about where this less-traveled road will take Finley. Although the reader knows his grim fate from the outset of the book, his storyline is so engrossing that no drama is lost.
Author, Claire Fullerton, is an enchantress with prose. The writing in this novel will cause you to stop, reread sentences, savor them, and note their architecture. Scenes sparkle as she masterfully summons moods and atmosphere. The reader can see Millie’s lovely but haunting home, and smell the rich fragrance of dogwood on a soft spring day. Fullerton has a keen ear for witty, authentic dialogue, and she deftly reveals much about personalities via conversation. It’s difficult to take leave of such a vivid, fully realized world. Fortunately for readers, Fullerton has written several books, opportunities to spend more time in her richly crafted worlds.
Mourning Dove won First Place in the CIBA 2018 Somerset Awards for Literary Fiction.
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Published on April 25, 2020 18:41 Tags: deep-south, family-saga, literary-fiction, siblings, southern-fiction

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Claire Fullerton
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