Tell Me a Story: My Life with Pat Conroy

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Tell Me a Story: My Life with Pat Conroy is a gift from the heart. Popular author, Cassandra King Conroy must have intuited that legions of her husband’s devotees wanted his wife to speak. Many of us had incorporated Pat Conroy into our lives. We were on an intimate level with the author who bared his soul through story, so when he died, we were blindsided. We hadn’t been given enough time to wrap our minds around a Conroyless world and were totally unprepared. So, Cassandra King Conroy stepped up. In the age-old tradition of a dyed-in-the-wool Southerner, she put her own grief aside and did for others in the only way Southerners know of: she told the entire story with endless detail and heartfelt panache. She gave us exactly what we wanted.

What strikes me about this memoir is its similarity in spirit to all things Pat Conroy wrote. Many of us heard Conroy explain the magic behind his writing by saying he wanted to explain his life to himself in hopes that readers would understand theirs. He unfurled his life on the pages in an artfully veiled manner, and it worked. In Tell Me a Story, Cassandra King Conroy removed the veil completely. With an honesty that can only be described as sheer bravery, she gave us the unvarnished truth, revealing the humanness of not only Pat, but of herself and those lucky enough to be a part of his orbit. The memoir is spellbinding, engaging, heart-tugging, and hilarious. Parts of it read like a madcap ride through a comedy of errors, for how best to describe a union forged later in life, replete with two cause and effect, complicated backstories seeking a semblance of harmony. And yet harmony was achieved, and that bird of a different feather soared. Cassandra King Conroy’s memoir is the construction of a life cobbled together by two world-class authors. It is deeply confessional and told in a voice you’ll never want to quit.

https://www.clairefullerton.com

Sisters of the Undertow by Johnnie Bernhard

Sisters of the Undertow is the third book by Johnnie Bernhard I’ve read, and I loved every line of it for the same reason I’ve loved Bernhard’s other books ( A Good Girl, and How We Came to Be): she’s a master of deep motivational subtext.

In Sisters of the Undertow, author Johnnie Bernhard takes the complicated underpinnings of sibling rivalry, gives it breath, and sets it to wings through the power of a seemingly ordinary story. What makes it extraordinary is that narrator Kimberly Ann has emotional baggage against her younger sister and knows it. She is cynical, jaded, and resentful to such an edge that the story is fueled by her bone marrow.

Kathy Renee is oblivious to her elder sister’s resentment. She was born to this world prematurely and shoulders the burden of life-long special needs. And yet she is disarmingly cheery, resilient, and God-fearing, giving Kimberly Ann one more reason to rail against their relationship—on top of her put-upon, self-appointed victimhood, she is simultaneously riddled with guilt.

Narrator Kimberly Ann explains it as this: “We were born sixteen months apart, of the same mother and father, yet our lives would become as different as two planets orbiting around the sun, never to fully understand each other, despite our years of circling.”

It’s one’s attitude that seals the deal of how one’s life will be experienced, and author Johnnie Bernhard depicts this principle by giving us sisters from middle-class, Houston, Texas with differing realities, in a deeply introspective story that builds in three, well-crafted parts. It takes a gifted author with the use of a subtle hand to suggest we create our own reality. We may see parts of ourselves in both sisters. We may deny it, rail against it, or see it as a vehicle to self-examination that just might encourage change.

I read Sisters of the Undertow twice, which should tell you something. There’s so much to glean from the intelligent story, told in one of the more refreshingly real, first-person voices I’ve ever read. I read it twice because—dare I say it—this fathoms-deep tour de force of riveting upmarket fiction has the double blessing of a page-turning story and the repercussion of an undertow that won’t quit.

 

https://www.clairefullerton.com

A Girl Like You: Book 1 Henrietta and Inspector Howard Mystery Series by Michelle Cox

It is 1935 Chicago, after the big crash, and desperate times lead to desperate measures. Young, beautiful, and seductively innocent Henrietta Von Harmon fends for her fatherless siblings and withdrawn, bitter mother by taking her good intentions to support her family, only to be led to disreputable places with unforeseen double-dealings. With verve and resourcefulness, Henrietta soon becomes involved in shady doings on the wrong side of town, and when she meets the enigmatic Inspector Clive Howard, wheels are unwittingly set in motion for navigating a Chicago crime syndicate.
A Girl Like You, (Book 1 in the Henrietta and Inspector Howard Mystery Series by Michelle Cox) is one of those rare gems so chock-full of charm and personality; so captivating and delightful in its vivid narration that readers feel intimately tied to the characters and invested in the action-packed story. A Girl Like You has it all: mystery, intrigue, conflict, unpredictability, unique setting, believable motivations from fabulous characters, secrets, hidden agendas, and the lure of budding romance.
Author Michelle Cox begins her wildly popular mystery series in A Girl Like You with such page-turning, off-kilter charm, you won’t be able to resist reading the whole series. The memorable Henrietta and Inspector Howard are likable, fully realized characters from disparate backgrounds who balance each other with perfect pitch in the midst of an edge-of-your-seat joyride.

 

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https://www.clairefullerton.com

 

The 2020 Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend.

Friday, February 7, 2020

The Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend

By Claire Fullerton   @cfullerton3

There’s a come-down phase after an author attends a book conference—an adjustment period that has something to do with going back to the real world through the logistics of travel. My last trip back from a book related weekend involved a mini-van ride from Jefferson, Texas to Shreveport, Louisiana; a flight to Dallas; another flight to Los Angeles; and a one-hour car ride to the loving arms of my husband and three German Shepherds. Under usual circumstances, somewhere along the journey back home, I manage to switch channels, but for days after the The Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend in mid-January, the energy lingered like a good kind of hang-over.

If you’re going to get out of your daily routine and travel half-way across the country, then let it be for a three-day combined book and love fest. It’s the only way to describe the Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend, which takes place annually in Jefferson, Texas, the weekend before Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. It’s unlike any other assembly generated by the book world; different than other conferences because there are no agent pitches; no tutorials on book marketing; no instructional workshops, nor panels geared toward the how-to of writing. What makes Girlfriend Weekend unique is that it’s predicated on the 765 international book club chapters under the banner of The Pulpwood Queens and Timber Guys, who show up in Jefferson, Texas en masse, dressed in leopard-print costumes—the more outrageous, the better. They settle in for three days to listen to authors talk about whatever comes to mind, be it their books, their writing process, or how they find inspiration. That the last evening of Girlfriend Weekend is a closing-night party billed as the Big Hair Ball ( the higher the hair, the closer to God) charges the entire weekend with electrical anticipation.

There’s a visceral magic that comes from spirits colliding in a room full of people who share the same passion. It’s like a country with its own language, a secret society whose membership is granted by the simple fact that you’re there. This year’s Girl Friend Weekend was the very definition of the book community in action: authors congregating within the scrum of each other with the unified intent of fraternizing with readers, and readers in attendance because those who write books light their fire.

Have you ever stood back and watched the dynamic of a crowd when everyone in it is thrilled to be there? Dress three-hundred literary lovers up in leopard-print, balance a tiara on their heads, show them the way across the railroad tracks at the tail-end of Jefferson, Texas, and believe me, anything can and does happen. What stood out for me the most during 2020’s Girlfriend weekend was the scene between the scenes of the scheduled panel discussions. It was clear to me that authors and readers alike were there for the right reasons, which is to say they were there for the love of books. Nobody there was selling anything; working an angle; on the take; stacking their mailing-list, staging a hustle; or there “to network.” The 2020 Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend was basically a celebration of the book club’s 20-year anniversary, where authors came from all over to give from their literary hearts, so that readers received every ounce of gratitude they have for them. The atmosphere was joyous. The mood was infectious. The well-written story was honored as a high art, and the release of the 58, first-person essays in the book, The Pulpwood Queens Celebrate 20 Years, was featured to prove it.

There are photographs with this piece as it appears in Southern Writers Magazine February 7 edition of Suite T online because every picture tells a story about the Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend. Let’s just say had the convention center in Jefferson, Texas been outfitted with chandeliers, you would have seen tiara-topped women swinging from them.

Full confession here, because now it strikes me as funny: I remember packing my carry-on for Texas, thinking any interruption of my work in progress was a hassle. I obsessed over securing the four corners of my desk, so it’d be just as I left it when I returned. Don’t get me wrong.

Although I looked forward to going to Girlfriend Weekend, a part of me felt like I had to press pause on my life. Now I’m realizing that was the good news, because pressing pause on my life is precisely what happened. Summarily, I left my writer’s cave and went to the Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend and found myself rejuvenated in a jury of my peers.

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The Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend Claire Fullerton (click to tweet)

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Claire Fullerton is from Memphis, TN., and now lives in Malibu, CA. Her latest book, Little Tea is in pre release on Amazon. She is the author of Mourning Dove, a Southern family saga set in the genteel side of Memphis. Mourning Dove is the 2018 Literary Classics Words on Wings award winner for Book of the Year. It is the 2018 bronze medal winner for Southern Fiction by Readers’ Favorite, a finalist in the 2018 Independent Authors Network Book of the Year, and was listed in the International Faulkner Society’s 2018 William Wisdom competition in the novel category. Claire is the author of Kindle Book Review’s 2016 award for Cultural Fiction, Dancing to an Irish Reel, and paranormal mystery, A Portal in Time. She contributed to the book, A Southern Season: Four Stories from a Front Porch Swing, with her novella, Through an Autumn Window. Her work has appeared in Southern Writers Magazine, and was listed in 2017 and 2018 in their Top Ten Short Stories of the Year. Claire’s work has appeared in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature; Celtic Life International; The Wild Geese, and The Glorious Table. The manuscript for her next novel, Little Tea, is a finalist in the 2018 Faulkner Society’s William Wisdom competition.  She is represented by Julie

Trouble the Water by Rebecca Dwight Bruff.

Trouble the Water is warmhearted, even-tempered, biographical fiction told with such delicacy that the reader drifts from its true-to-life scaffolding. In this captivating novel, Author Rebecca Dwight Bruff fearlessly takes on an era in American history a lesser writer wouldn’t touch, and she does so with admirable confidence while reaching the heart of what is essentially a human-interest story.
Trouble the Water is a soulful story populated with racially divided, interdependent characters in the midst of the South’s changing times. It is pre-Civil War in Beaufort, South Carolina, a hotbed of beneath-the-surface discontent set against the facade of waterfront civility. It is the historically significant, Robert Small’s, first-person story: he was born into slavery when there was nothing to be done about it, not yet. In an equanimous voice that makes us care from the onset, the story carries the reader through vividly drawn Low Country settings that are part and parcel to the flow of the chronicle. With a steady hand, Rebecca Dwight Bruff presents a ringside seat through the personal stages of Robert Small’s hard-won achievements. He is Horatio Alger guided by spirit on a hero’s journey, a dauntless man with a mission whose triumphant act becomes a turning point in the Civil War and impacts the ages.
I recommend Trouble the Water to those who love well-rooted historical fiction, biographical fiction, and a beautifully told story with a satisfying sense of redemption. All praise for author Rebecca Dwight Bruff. I understand she moved from Texas to South Carolina to research and write this gorgeous novel. In this humble reader’s opinion, the move was worth it.

https://www.clairefullerton.com

Falling up in the City of Angels by Connor Judson Garrett Book Review

Connor Garrett’s Falling Up in The City of Angels sings like a manifesto of youth seen through the eyes of one who misses nothing. It’s a travelogue through the spinning vortex of LA, written from the edge of innocence by an author whose voice is so personal, you want to reach out and hold his hand.

Fresh from college graduation, in a time when the sky is the limit, narrator Tony leaves his Georgia home with little to recommend him than his dream of being a writer. Thinking magic can happen with little in his pocket in a town where anything goes, blind optimism leads Tony from one eye-opening episode to the next as he hits all the highpoints in the City of Angels. The reader visits the Venice Canals, meets posers, and actors, and spiritual seekers; commiserates with Tony through the laws of romantic attraction, pauses at his insights on the back end.

Like a fledgling meeting chance in an odyssey of discovery, Tony’s beginner’s luck navigates west LA without a filter. He is young, resourceful, adventurous, and optimistic. He is resilient, insightful, surefooted, and not a quitter.

Falling up in the City of Angels is a fresh take on an age-old experience. It reads like a roadmap of a young man’s coming into being while avoiding the campy pitfalls of a fish-out-of-water story. With language both accessible and profoundly sophisticated, author Connor Garrett depicts the blossoming of youth in all its first-impression, awestruck wonder.

https://clairefullerton.com

Life’s Rich Tapestry by Sally Cronin

Life’s Rich Tapestry by Sally Cronin

We come to know a person’s mind through the words they speak; their personality through what they create, and their heart through what they write. Put this all together and you’ve been gifted a glimpse into an artist’s soul. This is how Life’s Rich Tapestry Woven in Words impressed me. Author Sally Cronin’s precious gem of a book is nothing short of fluid insight into all that it means to be human in a round-robin way as to address the entire sphere in bits and pieces that leave a lasting impression. These are musings delivered artfully, the perfect melding of heart, mind, and soul. In sharing her personal views, the author invites us to examine our own impressions of the day-today by shining light on life’s rich nuance. There is something profound in these meditative pages, something joyous and real that takes nothing for granted by sheer virtue of the fact that Sally Cronin has called them by name. In addressing the natural world, celebrating pets, seasons of the year, and random thoughts, Cronin speaks to the reader conversationally in such a manner that told me I’d revisit the pages. Her flash fiction, speculative fiction, and short stories are vignettes to savor—all told, this book is a work of art at its finest. All praise to author Sally Cronin, who has earned a constant and significant place in the blogging world by selflessly serving as the fulcrum of focus for so very many. That she has stepped forth by assembling and publishing this collection of letters has gifted us all with the awe-striking opportunity to see a writer’s career shine at its brightest.

Visit Sally Cronin on Word Press, Smorgasbord!