Women on Writing Author Interview

 

Meet Fall Flash Fiction Contest Runner Up Claire Fullerton, Author of “Metal Gray”

Claire Fullerton is a runner up in the WOW! Women on Writing Fall Flash Fiction Contest with the very beautiful story Metal Gray. She is the author of contemporary fiction, Dancing to an Irish Reel, set on the west coast of Ireland, and paranormal mystery, in two time frames, A Portal in Time, set in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. Both books published by Vinspire Publishing. Claire’s third novel, Mourning Dove, is a Southern Family saga, set in Memphis, Tennessee, where Claire grew up. It will be published in June of 2018 by Firefly Southern Fiction. Claire has been published in multiple magazines, including Celtic Life International, Southern Writers Magazine, and The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature. Her essays have appeared in five of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Currently, Claire is writing her fourth novel. She lives in Malibu, California with her husband, two German shepherds, and one black cat.

Find out more about Claire by visiting her website www.clairefullerton.com, her blog, Writing Notes, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter @cfullerton3.

Interview by Crystal J. Casavant-Otto

WOW!: Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule for today’s interview. Congratulations again on your many accomplishments but most recently as a runner up in the WOW! Fall Flash Fiction Contest! So now down to business: where did you get the idea for the character of Ella in Metal Gray? You describe her so well it seems she must be part of your personal story as well? Please tell us more.

CLAIRE: I would love to tell you about Ella, thank you for asking. Ella is a significant character in my forthcoming novel, Mourning Dove, which is a southern family saga, set in Memphis, where I grew up. The book will be published by Firefly Southern Fiction in June of 2018. The background of Ella and this book is that I entered a 3,000 word piece in The 2013, San Francisco Writer’s Conferences’ contest, in the narrative nonfiction category. The piece came in as the runner up, and I will tell you now that when I entered the piece, it occurred to me that should anything in the slightest happen, I’d turn the piece into a novel, which I did. To clarify the obvious, a novel, of course, is fiction, yet I knew with my nonfiction piece that there was an entire world already there to work with, as long as I changed names, created scenes and other characters that contributed to the momentum of the story. I can report that Mourning Dove is fiction, but that the character of Ella as she appears in the book as well as in the flash-fiction piece I sent to WOW! is a composite of many women who populated my life while growing up in Memphis. Ella represents the voice of brass tacks reason, wherever she appears, in that she sees all, knows all, and keeps her lips tight. Ella is in it, but not of it, which provides fabulous objectivity. What I did when I entered WOW!’s flash fiction contest was give the description of Ella, then made up the ending to fit the 750 word guidelines, which means it needed to be unique, self-contained, and brief!

WOW!: So clearly, you are no stranger to Ella and no stranger to writing contests. What role do flash fiction pieces play in your writing life? Do you have advice for other authors as far as contests and flash fiction pieces are concerned?

CLAIRE: Yes, I love entering flash fiction contests, for it is a way of fine-tuning one’s craft. The art of brevity should be in each writer’s tool-kit, and I was thrilled when I discovered WOW!’s contest. To answer your question about advice I’d give to any author, I’d say getting in the traffic and staying in the traffic is very important. I’ll give you a personal example: Vinspire Publishing honored me and basically started my career by publishing my first two books back-to-back. My third novel, Mourning Dove, will not be out until 2018, so I have a gap, with regard to staying engaged with my readership. By entering contests, and hopefully placing somewhere, it gives me the opportunity to share my work as it is published. This, along with staying engaged with social media is the life-force of an author’s career. It also gives authors the opportunity to meet nice people like Crystal with WOW!

WOW!: Now I’m blushing – thank you so much! It certainly is sound advice about staying in the traffic. Wally Lamb is one of my favorite authors and I didn’t realize he had released a new book because he had such a gap and even though I’m an avid reader, he really fell off my map. I hope other authors take your advice and stay in the traffic (not to be confused with playing in traffic…giggle).

You recently wrote “I tend to be a stream of consciousness writer, in that I write whatever it is I’m thinking.”

Can you give us an example of when that wasn’t such a great idea or when it served you well?

CLAIRE: I think it has always served me well, and I’ll tell you why by answering this generally: I prefer writing in the first person. I think it lends immediate intimacy, and gives the reader the complete idea of who it is they’re listening to. I say I am a stream of consciousness writer because writing comes to me easily. I write the story from the voice within me, and very rarely labor. I think if a writer decides who the narrator is, with whatever nuances or backstory they may have, then they can assume the narrator’s voice, and write from there. Before I begin a novel, I know the story I want to tell. I know the beginning, middle and end, and let the rest create itself, though I do take notes along the way, when something comes to me that I think I should include, in order to drive the story forward by illustrating a point, or perhaps it is something wittily said that will lend flavor and help the reader better understand the narrator or other characters. Summarily, I think that, when writing, it is best to trust one’s own thoughts. I’d rather risk writing from an authentic place and having it misunderstood, than constructing something inauthentic only to realize it sounded contrived.

WOW!: I’m going to repeat what you just said because it’s worth repeating: “I’d rather risk writing from an authentic place and having it misunderstood, than constructing something inauthentic only to realize it sounded contrived.”

This is a quote to remember fellow writers. Thank you Claire for sharing this insight and truth.

Dancing to an Irish Reel will now be available in all the South Dublin Libraries and I’m curious
what part you played in making that happen? What advice can you give to other authors as far as getting their books into more libraries (in the states or outside the states)?

CLAIRE: I give full credit to the unlimited creativity and enthusiasm of Dancing to an Irish Reel’s publisher, Dawn Carrington of Vinspire Publishing. Dawn was well aware that I once lived in Ireland, and that Dancing to an Irish Reel is set on Ireland’s west coast. She wrote to many Irish library’s and simply introduced the book: it’s blurb, its cover, and much about me as its author. She embraced this book and got it out in the world, as she educated me on exactly how to be involved in the promotional process. I have learned that the promotional process is unending, and to me, it is actually fun. The process starts out in a small arena, by aligning with the obvious social media outlets ( FB, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads, etc.) but the thing is, once you’re aligned, it gets bigger! You end up meeting other authors through social media and by watching where they are and what they do, it triggers unending possibilities. I can tell you that after two novels that have been out in the world for a while, I am still discovering new places to promote because it is essentially a domino effect. But yes, library’s are a great avenue to explore, so I recommend that authors start locally, then get creative on the locations of libraries that may embrace the book, due to the book’s setting or subject matter.

WOW!: It’s nice to meet up with others who enjoy social media networking and all the endless possibilities!

I love your position of staying out of politics on social media (I too would rather talk about what unites us instead of what divides us). Have you ever approached a friend or colleague suggesting they tone down their political posts? How can we help spread the social media mentality of “See no evil…Hear no evil…Speak no evil” like Confucius

CLAIRE: Great question. I assume you saw the Word Press blog post I delicately wrote and hesitantly posted on this subject! I was torn over whether to post the piece or not! The impetus behind this came from too many months of vitriolic posts on Facebook during America’s recent presidential election. So many friends I’d been aligned with for years used Facebook as a forum to post their political views, and many of these friends are authors. I spoke to one author friend who was dismayed because one of her readers had taken her to task on something she posted concerning the election, and had declared she would unfollow her. I have pledged to never comment politically because I think it is polarizing. This isn’t to say that there is anything wrong with someone who chooses to do so, it’s just that many are so heated over the issues that a difference of political opinion can have unintended consequences for an author. I adore meeting readers and other authors via social media, but am clear why it is that they’re my friends, and what it is that brought us together. My overarching respect for books, authors, and readers makes it easy for me to leave politics alone.

WOW: That’s a good way to look at it – it’s out of respect! I love that!

Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Claire! Congratulations again on Metal Gray and best wishes to you all your future projects!

Review: The Bookshop at Water’s End

Every line in The Bookshop at Water’s End is soulfully written in seamlessly crafted chapters. Beginning in the emergency room of a Charleston, South Carolina hospital, this enchanting story never loses its page-turning sense of urgency, and yet it is delivered softly, as a deeply insightful, thought provoking character study on two women, whose lives are significantly entwined. Author Patti Callahan Henry knows her way around the nuances of women, and writes with uncommon fearlessness, as she tells the story of Bonny and Lainey, in their mid-forties now, who formed a life-long friendship at the age of thirteen while on family vacation in the small South Carolina coastal town of Watersend. Then and there, the wheels were set in motion of a dynamic that resonated forward with such resounding effect that even they were not aware of its repercussions. But there is no running from cause and effect, and when Bonny and Lainey have cause to return to Watersend,  the threads of this story reverberate in love and longing, mystery and self-discovery, all woven together in one plausible tapestry.

Bonny Blankenship’s life and identity is centered upon her medical profession, whose seeds were planted at thirteen by uttering a fateful wish in one magical, belief-driven moment alongside Lainey, as the two swam in the river at Watersend. That her wish came true sets the foundation for Bonnie’s side of the story, just as Lainey’s simultaneous wish materializes, in what is ultimately an outgrowth from her anguished childhood. Lainey is an acclaimed artist, whose medium involves creating visual stories by piecing them together, an act, the reader suspects, that has much to do with piecing together the unresolved mystery around the disappearance of her mother. It is this singular, cataclysmic event that shapes the future for Lainey and her older brother, Owen, whom Bonnie secretly loves. It is the fear of friendship’s betrayal and Owen’s mercurial nature that keeps Bonny’s love for Owen in arrested development. It is the longing of the heart and the reasoning of the mind that burdens her with the push and pull of love’s unrealized potential, even as her life path finds her married to another and raising a daughter named Piper.

The character, Piper Blankenship, seems to me the conscience of this story. She is nineteen, maladjusted, and written with such accurate sensitivity that I repeatedly pictured her at the heart of a great YA story. Her perspective gifts the reader with a view from the edge, and her pivotal placement in the story shows us unflinchingly who each of the adult characters are, as they try to find their footing amidst shifting tides.

The Bookshop at Water’s End is a story that never stops searching, and that many of its events are tied to Watersend’s local bookshop is brilliantly symbolic. The bookshop is an anchor in full possession of the past’s facts, and its proprietress, Mimi, plays her cards close to the vest as she faithfully waits for the players in this story to discover the clues that will allow the looming puzzle affecting them all to fall into proper place.

Three cheers for author Patti Callahan Henry. She has given us a heart-wrenching, mesmerizing story of characters beautifully flawed and made them beautifully human.

 

Note: I won the ARC of this book in a Goodreads giveaway! The Bookshop at Water’s End will be released on July 11, 2017.

On Writer’s Block

I don’t believe in writer’s block, because I believe everyone has their own writing process. The task is to honor whatever it is. When I begin a novel, I have a story to tell, and my aim is not so much to entertain as to say something about the complexities of living through the art of story. I’m fascinated in the deep-seated emotional life within all of us. I firmly believe most people hide a significant part of who they are, and in my mind, there are many possibilities for why this is so: fear of not fitting in; of being misunderstood; unreasonable expectations from someone close and domineering; or perhaps the weight of psychic and emotional baggage accrued from any number of avenues. It’s our emotional life that shapes much of our fate, and I never underestimate its motivational significance. Because this is a subject that intrigues me, I weave it into all of my books, for I want to tell more than a story; I like to give the reader suggestions on how the story came to be because I think we are all subject to cause and effect.

When I have a novel in mind, I know its beginning, middle, and end, which gives me a story line, yet I’m more concerned with the book’s message. I go into writing a book with both considerations in play, and allow the book to breathe and grow. Because I realize that most of us play out our lives in contrast and comparison to other people, and that our lives are somehow reflective of the people, places and things around us, I use characters as triggers for cause and effect within the story. It is the interplay, the exchange between characters that gives a story meaning, and I’ll go one further to say it’s the characters in a book that show us who we are.

All this said, I take my time writing a novel, for I believe it has its own life force.  I have yet to write anything wherein I did not pause and reflect in the process, which is exactly why I’m not a believer in writer’s block. I believe the story is within me, flying around on the wings of inspiration, and my job is to let it make itself known, in its own terms then put it into words in my own timeframe.

I’ve heard it said by some writers that even when they’re not writing, they’re writing in their head. This makes perfect sense to me, and it takes mineral patience and iron trust to fenagle the weight. If a writer can do this, then it allows for a living, breathing work in progress to create itself. As for writer’s block, I never claim it. When in downtime, I tell myself I’m only taking a breath.

How Does One Become a Writer?

 

 

The Thing About Galway

Even on the best of days, when the weather is temperate and the sky soft and cloudless, Galway City has a worn, secondhand feel to it: an historic, pensive, erudite quality everywhere you roam down its serpentine streets. But there’s also an energetic undercurrent to Galway that seems to thrive on the idea of opposites, which lends the atmosphere a certain air of unpredictability. In many ways, Galway seems like a lively college town, bordered on one side by the dark gray patina of Galway Cathedral, and the ever turbulent River Corrib on the other, which flows straight to Galway Bay on its way through the Claddagh. It’s an undefinable, mood-setting, soul-stirring town with a split personality; it is vividly animated by its youthful culture, yet deeply haunted by its storied past.

To Debra Wallace, who was born and reared in Letterfrack, 50 miles north in rural Connemara, Galway was the pinnacle of urban grandeur. At the age of 27, she’d blown into town carrying her dreams and her guitar to set up house in a two-story rental, on the edge of lower Galway’s Henry Street. She was an accomplished musician with a whisky-edged singing voice, and her dreams involved joining Galway’s vibrant music scene. The second I met her, I thought she embodied everything it meant to be Irish: She was big eyed, russet-haired, quick-witted, nobody’s fool, howlingly funny, and spiritually attuned. She gave our friendship no probation period when we first met at The Galway Music Centre, for there was nothing suspicious or cynical about her, though she was disarmingly shrewd. Upon learning that I am an American, she put her hand on her hip, narrowed her eyes to a slit, and give me the once over. Then she set her guitar case down and invited me to call out to her house for a cup of tea.

I had no idea what to expect as I made my way to Debra Wallace’s blue-painted door. It rose up from the sidewalk, sandwiched in a row of matching gray structures, each with a pitched roof emitting turf smoke that permeated the residential area in an aroma so redolent it made my eyes water. I rapped thrice on the door, and it swung wide immediately. Stepping onto the uneven cobbled brick floor, it took a minute for my eyes to adjust in the shadowy room, for it had only one window and it seemed the haphazardly arranged turf in the fireplace had reached its crescendo and now glowed in a burnt orange aftermath. The heat in the small room was stifling. I took off my raincoat and made to set it aside on the folded futon against the wall, just as I brought the four chairs before it into focus, where three figures looked up at me expectantly. Debra lowered herself onto the fourth chair and motioned for me to take the futon as a voice disrupted the damp air.

“Well, you weren’t telling a tale about that blonde hair of hers, God bless it; must have taken ages to grow,” the voice said.

“Claire, this is my mother; Da sits there, and this is my sister Breda,” Debra introduced, handing me a cup of tea.
“Nice to meet you,” I said. It was then I recognized where Debra had acquired her penchant for the once over, for all three Wallace’s studied me head to foot.

“You’re an American,” Mr. Wallace stated. He was short and stout and leaned forward in his chair, with his hands on his knees and his steady stare beaming beneath his tweed flat cap.

“Yes, I’m from Memphis, Tennessee,” I confirmed.

“Ah, Elvis and all that,” Mrs. Wallace said, who looked to be, in tandem with her husband, the second installment of a pair of square, blue-eyed bookends.

“That’s right,” I said, then I searched for a way to escape their scrutiny. I knew I could turn the tables if I could use the standard Irish conversational stand-by. “It looks like it’ll rain any minute,” I said, looking at Mr. Wallace.

“It does, yah. We brought the weather with us all the way from Letterfrack, so we did. If you haven’t been there, you should come see us. It’s God’s country up there; not much chance for the young ones to run the streets.”

“So I moved here,” Debra said with a wink.”

“Speaking of streets, we should get going,” Breda said. “We’ve only come to town for the one day.”

We all stood simultaneously, making our farewells, and after Debra closed the door behind her family, she asked me if I wanted to accompany her to the epicenter of Galway City, which is an area known as Eyre Square.

“There’s a card reader up there, her name is Harriet,” she said. “As long as you’re one of us now, I think you should see her.”

“Don’t you have to make an appointment?” I asked.

“For what?” Debra said. “Don’t be so American. Let’s just walk up the road and call out.”

What could have been a 10-minute walk up Shop Street took 45 minutes, for such is the nature of Galway. There is no way to set out from point A to point B within the confines of scheduled time because there are too many people milling around, everybody knows everybody, and it is a crime against Irish society not to stop and chat to the point of exhaustion. I stood idly by as Debra engaged in Irish banter time and again, which is to say that each exchange felt like joining a running joke that had been going on for a while, and we had simply stumbled into its midst. It is a game of wit-topping one-upmanship, this business of Irish banter, and as we made our way to Eyre Square, I was starting to catch the rhythm.

Two heavy wooden doors led the way into the back of an atrium on the north side of Eyre Square. Debra heaved the doors apart and ushered me inside to where a canvas marquee had a chalkboard before it, which read, “Readings with Harriet: 12 euros.”

What happened next is another story.

But the thing about that day is that it was exemplary of the spirit of Galway, where anything can and does happen, on any given day. This wasn’t the first or last time I’d slid into the day thinking it would go one way only to discover it had segued into quite another. Because there’s an energy to Galway that will catch the unsuspecting unaware. It emanates from the dichotomy of its nature, its marriage of opposites, its union of past and present, and at its foundation are the fluid Irish people, who know a thing or two about embracing the flow.

Claire is the author of contemporary fiction set in Connemara, “Dancing to an Irish Reel”  Http://www.clairefullerton.com

 

The Here and Now

It took me years to call myself a writer. For a long time, I thought in order to call myself a writer, I’d have to be making a living at writing; that many people had to know I exist. This is nowhere near the current case for me, and who’s to say if it ever will be? What’s on my mind in this moment is that twice, in the last month, I’ve read posts tap-dancing around the question of “When does a writer quit?” Quit because of what? I asked myself. The question sounded to me like a temper tantrum, like a challenge to the Gods to take our toys and go home should we not receive the gifts we expected in our timeframe. Who are writers trying to appeal to, and further, why? I think writers should ask themselves these questions so they don’t get frustrated, should it come down to the meager fruits of their labor. I use these questions as a reality check every so often, because I recall years ago thinking all I wanted was to be in the game; have a book available in the world; that it would be enough. And in this moment of blog post confession, I can honestly say having two books out in the world is enough, and what happens from here is not my business. Except that it is a business. I have to acknowledge that, having chosen the traditionally published route, with contracted books is responsibility. I have to do my part in joining the grid of how the game is played by engaging in social media, looking for public appearance opportunities and basically being creative in shouting from the rooftops that my books are out in the competitive field. These things are a given when a writer aligns with people who have a vested interest, and for me it comes down to upholding my end of the bargain. But recently, I’ve had an epiphany: enlightenment descended with the awareness that I truly love the writing lifestyle, even though by many people’s standards, I’m experiencing downtime. My second novel was released two years ago, and my third won’t be out for more than a year. There’s a good reason for this, which I’ll get to in another post, but I’ve asked myself a few times if I shot myself in the foot, with regard to momentum. I’ve seen a few authors I admire disappear for years then emerge apologetically for creating the gap. But the thing is I’m not a prominent enough writer for anyone to miss me, and I’m thinking my recent epiphany answers the question some writers ask of when to quit. My personal answer is never, and here’s why:  I love the writer’s lifestyle, and the proof is I’m spending my alleged downtime writing another book. Plainly and simply, writing is what I love to do. I’m also having a blast sharing what I’ve learned over the past few years with other writers. It’s a pay-it-forward- labor- of -love for me to help new authors in any way I can. And I’m just as enthusiastic over books my fellow authors are getting out in the world as I ever was for my own work. I love to watch some of the friends I’ve made through writing prosper, and it is my honor to share their work on all the social media outlets I established for my own books. Frankly, the writing lifestyle is my idea of fun, and I love everything about the arena. There are fascinating, talented authors out there generating the kind of work that inspires me. There are also authors now long deceased who set the bar for the rest of us, and the luxury of reading their work gives me something to aim for as I study what and how they write.

So it is the lifestyle that writing affords that is the gift to me. Many times on this blog I’ve written that the thing about writing is there is no there to get to. I’d like to go deeper with the message and offer another consideration: the “there” to get to with writing is the here and now. It is enough to love it, and if this is case, then why ever quit?

Claire Fullerton is the author of Contemporary Fiction Dancing to an Irish Reel, and paranormal mystery, A Portal in Time. http://www.clairefullerton.com

The Stolen Child by Lisa Carey

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Because I once lived on the western coast of Ireland, and because author Lisa Cary moved to the island of Inisbofin, off Ireland’s west coast to research her first book, I’ve been following her career for many years. I’ve loved each of her four Irish themed novels, and eagerly awaited the February 7th release of her latest, The Stolen Child. It is a story much like Ireland herself: deceptive in its riddled nuances, more than the sum of its parts. The soul of the story creeps up on you. It takes patience and willingness to allow the magic to take hold, and when it does, it is not by possession. The Stolen Child spins the kind of magic that lulls at the core of your being; affects your consciousness, waits for you to piece it together until you understand. There is little overt in this languid novel, which, again, is much like Ireland. It is a desperate story through and through, yet in the hands of author Lisa Carey, it resonates with mythical beauty, gives you a sense of timelessness, and holds you fast by its earthy, brass tacks.
In pitch-perfect language, Carey wields dialogue specific to the west coast of Ireland’s desolate environs. It is an understated language, upside down to outsiders, but once your ear attunes, you are affronted by the superfluousness of other tongues. All primary characters in The Stolen Child are women. They live cut-off from the mainland of Ireland’s west coast, twelve miles out, upon rocky, wind-swept, St. Brigid’s Island, during the one year time frame of May, 1959 to May, 1960. It is a timeframe fraught with the looming inevitability of the islanders’ evacuation from their homeland, with its generational customs and ties, to the stark reality of life on the mainland, with its glaring and soulless “mod-cons.” Most of the characters are conflicted about leaving the island, save for the sinister Emer, who has her own selfish agenda, centered upon her only child Niall. Her sister, Rose, is the sunny, earth-mother, unflappable sort, who only sees the buried good in Emer, whereas everyone one else on the island shuns her, for her malefic, dark ways, which they intuit as dark art. Emer has one foot on the island and the other in the recesses of the fairies’ manipulative underworld. It is the American “blow-in,” Brigid, the woman with a complicated past, who has her own ties to the island from her banished mother, that cracks the carapace of Emer’s guarded and angry countenance. Together, the pair explore an illicit relationship, but when it snaps back, Emer retaliates with a force that effects the entire island and twists her worst fears into fate.
The Stolen Child is magnificently crafted, for it is a sweeping story set on a cloistered island, which has nothing to recommend it save for its quays, its view, and its eponymous holy-well. This is a novel rife with character study that is quintessentially Irish, yet applicable far afield. In themes of motherhood, hope, desperation, and hopelessness, the characters take what little they have and wrestle it into making do. It is the power of steel intention that drives this story, and the reader receives it from all conceivable angles. I recommend The Stolen Child to all who love Ireland, to all who love an exceptional, creative story, and to all who love language used at its finest. All praise to the author Lisa Carey. I eagerly await the next book.

 

Claire Fullerton is the author of Dancing to an Irish Reel, and A Portal in Time. Her next book, Mourning Dove, will be released by Firefly Southern Fiction in 2018.