Claire Fullerton's Blog: A Writing Life

July 3, 2018

Nothing is more pleasing to an author with a new book release as seeing the list of their Goodreads Giveaway entrants grow! I wrote my coming of age, Southern family saga, Mourning Dove, with an eye to telling the story of a family dynamic I thought would resonate with everyone. Though family dynamics are peculiar and specific to each family, it is my belief they do have common threads, most of which are rarely discussed outside of the family. But what happens in a family in one’s formative years sets the foundation for the rest of one’s life. In writing Mourning Dove, I had an eye to the concept of cause and effect, and my aim was to portray its arch in a way that the reader will divine their own understanding. Readers are intelligent creatures, and it is for this reason that I wanted to give away ten copies of Mourning Dove. My gratitude to all entrants in this giveaway, which ended on Mourning Dove’s release day, June 29. I am grateful for your interest and hope you all get around to reading the book. Thank you to Goodreads for providing such a delightful, user-friendly forum. Here are the ten winners of an author signed print version of Mourning Dove:

Donna Jordan
Cherie Gravette
Kathy Wiederkehr
Tom Tamir
Tina M Mol
Heather Ellner
Susan Homan
Cindy Hipolito
Patty Fite
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Published on July 03, 2018 14:25 • 25 views • Tags: give-away-winners, mourning-dove, southern-fiction, winners

June 20, 2018

Book review
Mourning Dove
Claire Fullerton
Forthcoming June 29, 2018
Firefly Southern Fiction, 234 pp., $9.95
Parallel universes exist all around us. One person chucks trash for another to call a treasure. Claire Fullerton’s novel Mourning Dove explores this concept with indulgent detail through a cast of characters manifesting such existences like fraternal twins. North meets South. Gritty, lower-income streets cross into rich, well-to-do avenues. The old gives way to youth in an almost forgotten silence. The harsh reality of here and now crashes unforgivingly into wistful nostalgic ideations of what might have been. Fullerton delivers a punch that impacts the reader in a vein similar to To Kill a Mockingbird—even the coming-of-age protagonists and titles align to a degree.
Told through the perspective of Millie, the younger child between she and her wunderkind brother Finley, the novel oscillates between worlds of breathless memory and the tattered edges of the present. Fullerton plops Millie into uptown Memphis, Tennessee during the 60s and 70s. It’s a world away from her native Minnesota and the divorce between Posey, her well-heeled mother, and Sean, her wayward alcoholic father. From there, Millie and Finley are lurched into maturity all too soon, with their environment ever shifting between hopeful wishes and severe thoughts grounded in a cold reality.
Like To Kill a Mockingbird, Mourning Dove examines the social mores of masculinity versus. femininity, rich versus poor, life versus death, and maturity versus youth. Unlike Lee’s classic, Fullerton uses these themes in a painfully intimate way with her central characters unapologetically tasked with navigating between these worlds. Where Scout and Jem experience these from a protected and privileged distance in To Kill a Mockingbird, Millie and Finley are more often than not left to their own devices. The siblings maneuver across both literal and figurative borders with no guidance from the adults in their lives—who admittedly seem less prepared or willing to manage these borders for themselves.
Posey, living the life typical of Southern elites, flits in and out the scene with an elegant remoteness similar to that of a wild bird, present yet untouchable. Sean’s exits and entrances come with a stronger weight until his untimely and lonely death, hermited away in his lower-income apartment. Even Gaga, Millie’s fragile grandmother, exists on her own, separate plane of reality until death. While all characters inhabit the same stage, their performances create a collage of alternate spaces, with each operating in entire separation from the others. The chilled distance between child and adult creates an unnerving atmosphere for the audience watching the protagonists grow up with little guidance.
More to the point, Millie and Finley act more as spectators in their own show. They observe from a distance, save for the here-and-there snippets of conversation with their family members. Their existence is an insular one where their presence is solely delegated by beck and call for strictly Norman Rockwell purposes of creating the perfect, Southern gatherings of “knee-high to a grasshopper” conversations with adults that Posey wishes to impress. As children, they are often the perfect picture of “seen and not heard”conversation starters over cocktails in the card room. The closest, warmest relationship in the book is between Millie and Finley alone.
But even this relationship meets an unfortunate end, and everything the now adult Millie thought was set in stone is turned upside down. Players in the dramatic tragedy switch roles faster than your favorite daytime soap opera. Fullerton beautifully sums up the lessons from this novel with a single line: “Perhaps we’ll discover great meaning as we look back and realize we handled the same history in two different ways.” The single grain of hopeful truth Mourning Dove offers at its bitter end is this: the truth is multidimensional. Even two people with twin experiences will come to forks in the road and separate into paralleled experiences.
Fullerton’s novel will transcend generations for this reason. It speaks to readers across different barriers in the same way that her novel oscillates. North to South. Baby Boomer, Gen X, Millennial. The hard-learned lessons she captures know no boundaries and have no mercies. Mourning Dove is a novel we not only read, but listen to as we would a teacher filled hard won wisdom.
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Published on June 20, 2018 17:09 • 40 views • Tags: coming-of-age, review, southern-fiction

May 27, 2018

I feel funny writing a review about my own book, and yet I'll take 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 nature, 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.
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Published on May 27, 2018 15:45 • 45 views • Tags: author-confession, bookrelease, family-saga, review, southern-fiction, upmarketfiction

May 21, 2018

Reviews are coming in for Mourning Dove, a coming-of-age Southern family saga set in 1970's and 1980's Memphis, which has a release date of June 29, and is now on Amazon for pre-order. Mourning Dove will be available in print, audiobook and e-book. What makes Mourning Dove different is that it is set in the Deep South-- not the shanty side of the South, where people drive pick-up trucks on dirt roads, but the opulent side of the South, the side that's manicured and glitters in illusory gold, where all is not as it seems! Millie Crossan tells the story of growing up with her charismatic brother, Finley. They are outsiders to the South, and therefore their viewpoint is reliable as the siblings find their way to belonging in a nuanced society steeped in tradition and social mores rife with eccentricities. But what hidden variables arise to see the siblings come to such desperate ends?

Here's what author Johnnie Bernhard had to say:

With a strong sense of place and an authentic voice, Claire Fullerton captures the longing and angst of an aristocratic Southern family. The narrator Millie and her brother, Finley will stay with readers long after this novel is read. Mourning Dove is smart, well-written Southern Fiction.

Pat Conroy's assistant editor, Margaret Shinn Evans wrote: "Set against the backdrop of a complicated 1970s South – one both forward-looking and still in love with the past – and seen through the eyes of a Minnesota girl struggling to flourish in Memphis society, ‘Mourning Dove’ is the story of two unforgettable siblings with a bond so strong even death can’t break it. Claire Fullerton has given us a wise, relatable narrator in Millie. Like a trusted friend, she guides us through the confounding tale of her dazzling brother Finley, their beguiling mother Posey, and a town where shiny surfaces often belie reality. Like those surfaces, Fullerton’s prose sparkles even as she leads us into dark places, posing profound questions without any easy answers."

Author Laura Lane McNeal, who wrote the bestseller, Dollbaby says: In Mourning Dove, Claire Fullerton deftly weaves the story of a Memphis family into a fine fabric laden with delicious intricacy and heart. A true Southern storyteller.

Read more on Mourning Dove's Good Reads page.
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Published on May 21, 2018 18:27 • 27 views • Tags: memphis, new-release, reviews, southern-family-saga, southern-fiction

April 29, 2018

The title Whiskey and Ribbons is derived from a toast delivered by Eamon, one of three narrators in this psychological treatment of love spun unexpectedly and repercussively awry. “Women, you are sleek and gorgeous. You hold us together, you’re the ribbons,” Eamon says, yet we hear this speech as his brother, Dalton’s, memory, for the reader learns at the start that the toast maker is dead. Eamon and Dalton have grown up together as brothers, yet the ties that bind are unusual and not honestly revealed for what they are until well into the story. Author Leesa Cross-Smith holds the reader captive in language so creative and au currant that we identify with both well-drawn characters and readily understand why Eamon’s wife, Evangeline, weighs issues of loyalty between the two charismatic young men, though one is alive and the other is dead. That Evangeline is a new mother, having given birth to Eamon’s son after his death as an officer in the line of duty is the dilemma, for who is she to turn to in her prostrate grief but a brother-in-law who equally grieves? Three vantage points are entwined to tell this one story of familial connections, in a seamlessly crafted, roiling momentum that will have you thinking they each have a justifiable point. All praise this spell-binding debut author. Leesa Cross-Smith has penned an uncommon novel in a voice you won’t easily forget.
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Published on April 29, 2018 16:41 • 52 views • Tags: book-review, southern-fiction

April 22, 2018

How We Came to Be is a triumph of order from chaos as told in the most accessible first-person voice I’ve had the good fortune to come across in ages. I was under narrator Karen Anders’ spell from the first because author Johnnie Bernhard came out swinging by gifting the reader with this engaging novel’s premise by the third page. Karen doesn’t look good on paper. She is a fifty-year-old, high school English teacher living in Houston; a divorced, single mother facing empty-nest syndrome, well aware of her dependency on alcohol, but nowhere near ready to quit. Why should she? Karen’s life is a mess. One would think this is a recipe for a down on its heels story, but the reader is captivated by Karen’s tell-it-as-it-is persona and—dare I say it, identifies when Karen summarizes her circumstances by confessing, “I’m hating every moment, but pretending I’m having the time of my life.” When I got to this line, I knew I was hooked.
We all have that sardonic friend who manages to smile through the egg on her face. This is Karen in a nutshell, and she keeps on keeping on, trying for the upper hand, while her adopted daughter, Tiffany’s first three months away at college become a study in bad choices, of which Karen has no say beyond putting out the fires. Karen’s dilemma is a common one and raises the question of how to be an effective single parent without chasing her daughter away.
In the meantime, back at the empty nest, Karen knows she must forge a life beyond the rat-wheel of predictable sameness centered on her Houston high school’s schedule. In an uncanny act of timing, Karen’s world is widened when she is befriended by WW11 Hungarian refugee, Leona Supak from across the street, and an unlikely alliance is formed that challenges Karen to grow. Having been single for decades and barely hanging on, it probably isn’t the best time for a man to come into Karen’s life, yet when Matt Broussard pursues the surprised Karen in an Austin bar, she thinks, maybe?
How We Came to Be is a brass-tacks, contemporary story without a moment of campy pretention. The events are cause and effect, but the story is what goes on in the likable Karen’s head. She is not so much a victim of circumstances as she is a neophyte at growing into her own. How We Came to Be is the story of a woman drowning in deep waters, who has the sense to learn how to swim.
I applaud author Johnnie Bernhard for her wizardry in crafting this perfectly paced story in a voice so unique and compelling. This is a book to read and return to. It is perfect for book clubs because there is so much in it to discuss!
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Published on April 22, 2018 17:06 • 64 views • Tags: greatfiction-recommended-reading, houston, just-released, tx

March 30, 2018

Oh, the gift of this delightful book. The thing about Pat Conroy is those who get him really get him and can never get enough. It has been repeatedly written that readers feel as if they know him. That he wrote in the first person was part of what spawned the relationship between Conroy and his readers, the rest of it is that he had an uncanny way of unabashedly calling things by name and spoke for us. And any Conroy devotee knew he was healing his shattered history by veiling it in fiction. We knew it and didn’t care because not only was he charming, he was a master storyteller. Conroy wrote from the center of his sardonic personality. Once he had you, he dove down to universal truth and brought you to your knees. This business of life is not for the meek, he suggested, but there is rhyme to it, poetry, in fact, and in his fiction, he figured out how to survive it.
My Exaggerated Life gives us the man behind the curtain. On its cover is Conroy wearing his infamous flight jacket and Citadel ring, which his fans will recognize as symbols of his personal narrative. Conroy was that kind of writer. His books were mind-altering drugs and his readers were addicts who had to have more. Katherine Clark has given us more in what seems to me a labor of love. That she spent two hundred hours listening to Conroy spill out his life over the telephone to assemble this book makes me jealous, but I’ll overlook that in favor of the resounding result.
What struck me most in reading My Exaggerated Life was the realization that there was no separating the man from his craft. It’s Conroy’s voice that does it. In these pages speaks a storyteller of the highest order telling an incredibly entertaining story, it just so happens to be culled from a series of events in his life. You can intuit the haphazard way he stumbled from cause to effect as his writing career took shape. Reading Conroy’s books always made me feel they were born without effort, so to discover in this riveting book just where the struggle had been hit me as staggering—not because parts were painful to read, but because he framed it in such a human way that readers will think, you too?
At the end of My Exaggerated Life, Katherine Clark shares the speech Pat Conroy delivered spontaneously before a crowd of adoring fans in Beaufort, South Carolina at his 70th birthday celebration. In it, Conroy claims “What I wanted to be as a writer, I wanted to be a complete brave man that I am not in my real life.” He did just this in My Exaggerated Life. In an act of bravery, Pat Conroy told his story, and author Katherine Clark captured it in a book that is one for the archives.
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Published on March 30, 2018 22:07 • 46 views • Tags: patconroy

March 19, 2018

Stark, vivid, real, and gritty, these are the words that spring to mind upon reflecting on An American Marriage. Author Tayari Jones takes the premise of an unjust, nightmarish turn of fate and unfurls a novel length treatise on a budding marriage systematically derailed, when a year and a half into marriage, Roy is incarcerated for a crime he didn’t commit. It is a modern marriage, and newlyweds Roy Jr. and Celestial have promising careers on the rise. Roy is a young business executive, who aspires to setting his artisan wife up in business as the maker of novelty dolls in her own Atlanta shop. The couple is in the exhilarating throes of reconciling their fiercely independent natures with their unified plans for the future. They are ambitious, deeply in love, and navigating their marital positions, when an insignificant tiff arises while on vacation, and their life is irrevocably changed outside their hotel room from their mutually declared, fifteen-minute time-out.
Whether it is the bad luck of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or the suspicions levied on Roy as a black man in the South, justice is not immediately served when Roy is falsely accused of a crime. As time ekes by during Roy’s twelve-year sentence, Celestial gets her career off the ground, while Roy remains stuck behind bars. Issues of commitment and fidelity under duress evolve, as Celestial finds comfort in the arms of her and Roy’s mutual friend, Andre, then reasonable expectations are called to the fore when a love triangle unwittingly grows. When Roy is released five years into his sentence, the three main characters in An American Marriage take stock of their current standing. They are individuals with differing vantage points within the confines of a tribal whole.
With laser sharp insight into human nature, Tayari Jones gifts the reader with three plausible, first person narratives in this intertwined story of cause and effect set upon the fertile ground of modern day black culture. Her language is paradoxically direct and textured as she probes the innerworkings of characters wrestling with issues of appropriate placement, under the weight of delineating sacrificial right from self-serving wrong.
An American Marriage is a gripping story, disquieting in its tenable premise and gripping with tense urgency on every page during its search for apportioned equilibrium. It is a powerfully written, brilliantly crafted novel for the discerning reader, and a thought provoking treasure for book club discussions.
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Published on March 19, 2018 17:17 • 38 views • Tags: great-fiction, novel-review, recommend, review

March 4, 2018

In Macon, Georgia, a young orphan named Mare gives voice to her childhood trauma by spray painting graffiti on public buildings and signing each piece with the tag Cherry Bomb. Having been born to a cult, on a farm called Heaven’s Gate, twelve-year-old Mare and her mother escape the scene before tragedy hits, yet there is no haven for Mare, when her mother leaves her at an orphanage and never comes back. Placed with a foster family, things turn so badly that Mare runs away and takes refuge on the streets. This is the background of the novel Cherry Bomb; the story takes off with what Mare does next.
Armed with an artistic talent she is seemingly born with, Mare feels most alive when venting her angst by defacing public property, where her graffiti becomes the stuff of legends. A famous photographer for Rolling Stone Magazine wants to discover the culprit, and soon a local newspaper reporter and a parish priest join in the search. When Mare is caught out, it is the combined force of all three that hatches a plan to set Mare on a more productive path, and Mare is helped to acquire a scholarship to Savannah’s College of Art and Design. It is here Mare meets professor, Elaine de Kooning, an abstract expressionist painter of world-wide repute with a haunted backstory. Unbeknownst to both, they share a common denominator as the pair establish a student/mentor relationship. As Mare studies her craft, she is intuitively drawn to the painting of icons, leading her to enroll in an acclaimed weekend workshop at a North Carolina monastery, where a mysterious series of events unfolds. Past and present collide in this cloistered setting, and the uncanny threads of Mare and Elaine’s common story are woven together to reveal their startling connection.
There are strong themes of perseverance and search for identity in this modern day, plausible story. It is a story for art lovers, in that the reader is led through the minutia of the art world and comes away fascinated with the art of iconography as it evolves from an edgy youth’s street graffiti. In pitch-perfect dialogue, refreshingly au courant, this unique story has tinges of religious themes as seen through the eyes of Mare, the young sceptic. Growth, accountability, and the quest for redemption artfully culminate in a satisfying ending.
There’s a lot going on in this fast paced, gripping story, but in the hands of author Susan Cushman, never once is the story of Cherry Bomb overwrought. Cushman hooks the reader from the start with the likable, streetwise Mare, and gifts us with a story of survival, in a creative book both YA and cross-over readers will love.
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Published on March 04, 2018 08:09 • 42 views • Tags: recommend, review, ya

February 21, 2018

I loved everything about this luring story, which unfolds from a present tense haunted by the resonance of a deep-rooted family saga. A Good Girl, by Johnnie Bernhard, opens on the highway from Mississippi to Texas, as fifty-year-old Gracey Reiter returns to her childhood hometown to stand vigil at her dying father’s bedside. Memories flood unbidden, while Gracey, a middle child, takes responsibility for her father, Henry Mueller’s, exit from this earth. On the surface, Henry Mueller was a hard man who unwittingly left many scars. Beneath the surface, a road twists through all the reasons why.
It is Gracey’s aim to do the right thing, even if it is from a sense of perfunctory obligation. Fighting a nagging resentment, she goes through the motions of tending to her father, while her older brother nurses his childhood wounds, and her younger sister seems to have gotten off scot-free. Birth order matters—it spawns separate experiences, yet Gracey achieves an aerial view as she reflects upon a generational line tethered with the common thread of hard knocks, desperate circumstances, and the will to survive for one’s children.
Only a profoundly sensitive, deep thinking writer could compose a novel with such breathtaking, well-crafted acumen. More than a pleasing story, A Good Girl makes a humanistic point that isn’t cheapened with a convenient moral. It’s a big subject, this business of the sins of the father. Author Johnnie Bernhard handles it deftly, and touches on the redemptive powers of unselfishness, when one puts aside their self-oriented feelings to seek a compassionate, wider understanding of cause and effect in a family dynamic reaching three generations back to Galway, Ireland.
I was invested in each character throughout this story. Those in the past were equally as vibrant as those present tense, and the way in which Bernhard wove this epic saga to come home to an uncanny full circle was heart-warming and emotionally satisfying, when Gracey’s daughter, Theresa, marries a man from Ireland.
A Good Girl is a story of personal growth on the inner plane; a story of faith and hope and the ties that bind. It is universal in theme, in that it is the kind of story that compels one to pause and reflect upon their own familial history. All praise to author, Johnnie Bernhard. I loved this novel and look forward to her next release.
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Published on February 21, 2018 11:21 • 19 views • Tags: book-review, southern-fiction

A Writing Life

Claire Fullerton
A blog dedicated to what's on my mind.
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