The Fighter by Michael Farris Smith

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The most salient aspect of this compelling story is author Michael Farris Smith’s economic, straight-forward writing. The Fighter is a tight, gritty story written in pitch-perfect Delta colloquialisms that hand the reader an attitude as a working frame of reference. From the get-go, the reader knows the main character, Jack Boucher, was dealt a raw deal. Unceremoniously abandoned by his parents while still in diapers, any reader with a beating heart is immediately invested in Jack’s unfortunate origins. When he is fostered by a single mother with her own cross to bear, the reader is lured page-by-turning-page, in the underbelly of a Deep South setting, hoping to see Jack take what little stability he has and scratch his way to better circumstances. That Jack Boucher grows up to be a fighter is a construct that operates in multiple layers, within a life built much by his own design. A through line of conscionable humanness staggers Jack onward, and there is much in this hubris suggested story to which the reader can relate. For all the reasons I love the author Ron Rash, I applaud Michael Farris Smith for deftly weaving a handful of character intensive threads into a deceivingly simple story. The Fighter is a book that packs a punch of resonance. Though its impact is immediate, its aftermath grows.

https://www.clairefullerton.com

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The Pulpwood Queens Girlfriends Weekend in Jefferson Texas

For the uninitiated, first I’ll answer the question, “What in the world is meant by the Pulpwood Queens?” Thank you for asking. The Pulpwood Queens is a book club. It is the brain-child of one fabulous woman from Texas, Kathy L. Murphy, a painter and hair stylist who owned a salon in Jefferson, Texas, worked as a publisher’s rep until she lost the job, and, rather than lying down, bounced back by consolidating her talents. She opened Beauty and the Book, the world’s only combined hair salon and bookstore. From there, she founded The Pulpwood Queens of East Texas Book Club, which exploded into a nation-wide success. Today, The Pulpwood Queens has 765 book club chapters comprised of the most enthusiastically dedicated readers under the sun. I know this because many of the book club members showed up last weekend in Jefferson, Texas for the annual Pulpwood Queens Girlfriends Weekend. They brought their giddy-up in their get-along, wore tiaras and full costume for 2019’s How the West was Won theme, and, for the first time, I was there as a featured author. I will tell you in no uncertain terms that the weekend was the Mardi Gras of the book world. Three days of back-to-back panels comprised of authors introducing themselves and their latest work to a rapt audience of readers eager to discover new books. And in the middle of it, Kathy Murphy: the hub of the wheel, the Pulpwood Queen herself, her magnanimous heart on her sleeve in the middle of her mother-hen joy.
The Pulpwood Queens Girlfriends Weekend was an organized, over-the-top, combined book and love-fest. It’s not so easy to corral unbridled enthusiasm into a manageable space, though we all made the trip to Texas for the same reason. We came to fraternize with each other in an arena without hierarchy. We were there because we love books, the people who write them, and all those who read. All this reported, there was a plan. There was structure, lest the two hundred or more participants melt into a fawning, neck-hugging puddle of ecstasy over meeting a long-admired author in person for the first time, or someone known only through Facebook, now within arm’s reach. For months prior, Kathy Murphy’s right-hand administrator, Tiajuana Anderson Neel, sent notice via social media about what to expect from the weekend and when. She posted a list of recommended lodging, suggested costumes, and shared the weekend’s schedule of events on the Pulpwood Queens Website, where she instructed all authors on how to donate an item pertaining to their book, for silent auction, whose proceeds were to benefit everyone’s favorite non-profit, The Pat Conroy Literary Center, in Beaufort, South Carolina.
On a personal note, I wasn’t going to miss this. No fire, torrential rain, nor threat of mudslide could keep me from leaving Malibu, California and making my way to LAX. I was going to Jefferson, Texas on January 17, if I had to walk, spurred by the fire of anticipation over a three-day book festival aimed at mingling authors and readers. Every second it took to get from Malibu to Atlanta to Shreveport then make the forty-nine- minute drive into Jefferson, Texas was worth it, and I knew it for what it was when I checked into the Excelsior House Hotel.
I’d be hard-pressed to envision a better backdrop for a book festival than Jefferson, Texas. Everything in the historic town was within walking distance to the convention center, where the party was held. Ambling down the spacious sidewalk on my way to the opening ceremony, I passed restaurants, a coffee shop, and the fully-realized General Store, which had a sign out front reading, “Welcome to the Pulpwood Queens.” It seemed the entire town was behind Girlfriends Weekend. So much so, that even Jefferson’s mayor showed up. Local shops contributed discount codes to the weekend’s attendees, and area restaurants remained open long past their closing schedule because word of the weekend’s festivities was all over the streets.
One foot inside the convention center, and the party was in full-swing. People milled about in cowboy hats and tiaras, smiling ear-to-ear, wearing boots. It was like being in a bee-hive holding the reins of a live wire, until the introduction of each featured author ensued, and the eight Southern Writers on Writing panelists took the stage, then the entire room suddenly felt like being in church. The audience was riveted as each of the panelists shared their thoughts on what it means to be a writer—a Southern writer, certainly, yet the breadth and scope of the discussion was also far-reaching, setting the tone for the following two days.

To bare witness to authors, nationally known and otherwise, talking about the premise of their books was a study in the passionate fires that lead a writer to pick up a pen in the first place. Throughout the weekend, there were key-note speakers that brought down the house: Revis Wortham, Paula McClain, Ann Weisgarber, Ann Wertz Garvin, Lisa Wingate, River Jordan, and we were all thrilled by the repeated participation of author Patti Callahan Henry, who appeared wearing a black, bouffant wig as the singer, June Carter Cash. One after another, Kathy Murphy moderated panels, giving a forum to authors who introduced themselves and their books in what seemed an intimate setting. Primarily, the Pulpwood Queens Girlfriends Weekend is geared toward readers; it was to them that each author gave their all, before taking a position at a table to shake hands and sign their book.
A highlight of Girlfriends Weekend was the group that came from Beaufort, South Carolina to share the stories about beloved author, Pat Conroy, who was written about in a series of essays assembled in the engaging book, Our Prince of Scribes. Pat Conroy, many knew, was a proponent of and participant in Girlfriends weekend. On the last day of the weekend, the pillars of The Pat Conroy Literary Center gave a talk about Conroy, with an attendant video that touched the hearts of everyone in the room.
Girlfriends Weekend concluded with a party unlike any other. Billed as The Big Hair Ball, it was all that and more. I’ve never seen such thought go into a bevy of costumes aimed at a western theme: cows, Indians, a pioneer woman, Annie Oakley, outrageous wigs, studded cowboy hats, and a mustache to rival actor Sam Elliot’s swirled on the dance floor in a celebratory vortex to the beats ranging from country to disco to pop.
The Pulpwood Queens Girlfriends Weekend was simultaneously an education and a blast. I’m thinking I made life-long friends there, in a jury of my peers. Three days in a weekend that felt too short by half, the first thing I did when I got home was mark my calendar for next year’s Pulpwood Queens Girlfriends Weekend.
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Claire Fullerton is from Memphis, TN., and now lives in Malibu, CA. 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 Gwinn of The Seymour Literary Agency.

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A Funny Thing Happened at a Bookstore

Typically, I let a stranger’s rude behavior slide, but in this case, I’m thinking of options. I’m generally thinking of those bullying type personalities you find positioned before the public, and specifically, a certain independent bookstore owner I happened across yesterday. The question I’m turning over concerns calling this bookstore owner on his behavior, lest, in my negligence, he persists in his unseemly rapport with other authors. I’ll set the stage first then tell what transpired:

Because I am twenty-one days into evacuation, due to the fires in Malibu ( currently all power is off in my side of town), I have been staying in Santa Barbara, California. Never one to be completely deterred by unanticipated circumstances, and seeing as how it is a scant six months after the release of my 4X, award-winning novel, Mourning Dove, I decided to use my time wisely by visiting the Santa Barbara Public Library and all area bookstores in what was basically a cold call to introduce Mourning Dove. Authors do well in introducing themselves to bookstore owners if they’re prepared with their one-sheet; ISBN; book description; and distribution information. I’m happy to report I’ve had great luck in so doing. It’s led to scheduled events and my book on the shelves. After all, one hand shakes the other in the book business. We are nothing without each other. This is what I was thinking as I entered this particular bookstore, and discovered the owner standing behind the counter.

It was raining in Santa Barbara, which, in Southern California, is always a conversation starter, and which explained why my one-sheet was a bit damp. I told the owner I am a local, traditionally published author of three books, represented by Julie Gwinn of the Seymour Literary Agency. Having researched his bookstore online to discover he carries “new, used, and out-of-print books,” and that they carry books by local authors, I told him I wanted to introduce myself and Mourning Dove. For a few minutes, we discussed the weather, the fires in Malibu, the potential threat of mud-slides, then he cast his eyes on my one-sheet. “This book just won the Literary Classics Words on Wings Award for Book of the Year,” I added, to which he abruptly turned, squared his shoulders and looked me in the eyes. “I’ll stop you right here,” he barked. “I’m not going to buy your book.”

Now then, I’ll digress by mentioning I am a Southerner. We’re big on manners. To a Southerner, there is no more egregious sin than bad manners. And for some reason, I was so startled I reverted to my Southern upbringing and perfunctorily cushioned his blow, in an effort at not leaving on a bad note. “Perhaps I wasn’t clear on your bookstore’s policy,” I offered. “What kind of books do you carry?” His answer–and I’m paraphrasing, was along the lines of you better be Faulkner of a current NY Times bestseller. “You’ve explained yourself clearly,” I said. His reply? “I’ve been DEALING with authors for 40 years.”

I’m going to share a quote by Mya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

I’ve been thinking about this episode since it happened yesterday, wondering if I have the right take on it; if I’m too sensitive, judgemental, egoistic, and on and on, though I’m not one to second-guess myself. Plain and simple, when I left the bookstore, I felt diminished. Maybe I wouldn’t have thought twice about it, had he not issued the closing remark of “… dealing with authors for 40 years.”  What this tells me is this bookstore owner thinks its okay to treat authors with such a sorry case of bed-side manners. So much for one hand shaking the other in the book business… In weighing all this, I’ve examined a list of what he could have said, and the whole thing would have happened differently: “Thank you for coming in, this doesn’t sound like something I carry,” this kind of thing.

Now I’m wondering how many authors this man has similarly treated. I’m wondering if any author has ” called him on his stuff,” and concluding probably not.” What occurs to me is that, when in such a quandary, we always have options. In this case, is it better to leave the man to his own devices, or ” call him on his stuff?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When an Author Narrates their Book’s Audiobook.

I have always loved the solitary act of reading a good book. When I read, I want to be captivated. I want to immerse myself in the language and craft of a story. As a writer, part of me studies word choice and turn of a phrase as I read, but even as I do, I stay involved in the story. And I like the feel of a book: its tactile size and anchoring weight; the entire solidity of the reading experience. So, when my husband suggested I narrate the audiobook of my Southern family saga set in Memphis, Mourning Dove, I didn’t immediately jump. I had to think about it. I had to be convinced it would be worthwhile, shown the current marketplace of audiobooks, and basically set my book bias aside and expand my horizons.
Having grown up in Memphis, where Delta music is a religion, I know my way around many musical genres from the blues to rock-a-billy, to current day rock-n-roll. I had a brother who played the guitar and was as passionate as anyone I’d ever met about music as a language. Growing up with my brother, Haines, was like attending school in all things musical. When he wasn’t playing music, Haines was talking about it, and the very foundation of my teenage years were spent under Haines’s tutelage.
From my early twenties to my early thirties, I was on the radio. I began my disc-jockey career on a whim. I attended college at The University of Denver. There was a control room next to the cafeteria in my dorm’s building, and students could sign up for school credit to spin their favorite records over a building-wide PA system, on a schedule that worked with their classes. As a communications and fine arts major, I jumped when I heard I could do this. It seemed as natural to me as walking. After college, I returned to Memphis and embarked on what became a nine-year, on-air career in radio, beginning as a producer at WHBQ Talk Radio, and ending at the album-oriented rock station: WEGR, Rock-103, on Memphis’s infamous Beale Street. I loved every minute of it, but I got out of radio when I moved to California. I’d been offered a job in the L.A. music business as an A&R representative. Summarily, I took up-and-coming bands to record companies, looking for a record deal. I had luck with a band out of Louisiana named Better Than Ezra. While I was in Los Angeles’ music business, I never once pursued music radio, being, as it was and is that I’m possessed of a southern accent.
After four years, I left the music business, when it occurred to me that the music business wasn’t the profession I envisioned for myself in the long haul. I’d been writing poetry by then and arrived at the conclusion that I had wings because I was young and untethered. I thought long and hard about it, and decided, were I to have my druthers, I’d move to pastoral Ireland and become a writer. Far-fetched, I know, but the thing is I actually did this. I spent a year on the western coast of Ireland. I’ve been writing ever since.
As I prepared for the release of my third novel, Mourning Dove, it was my husband who asked if I would be recording the audiobook. At the time, there had been no mention of an audiobook of Mourning Dove from my publisher. I went to my computer and sent an e-mail asking my publisher if there were plans for a Mourning Dove audiobook in the works. The reply came quickly: there were no such plans. When I told this to my husband, he produced the statistics of audiobooks’ popularity in the current marketplace, then simply said, “Alright, let’s record it.” I sent an audition tape to my publisher. I was given the green light.
What I should say here is that my husband is “a sound guy.” What this means is he’s a composer and an audio engineer. He has a recording studio behind our house in Malibu, and when he’s in it, he’s like a pig in mud.
I spent close to a month in my husband’s recording studio; six hours a day, five days a week. The second I put on the headphones to read my work, every minute of my radio career flooded over me in full force. It was as comforting to me as putting on a forgotten favorite coat, and the sheer act of it felt somehow fated. I had a blast reading the 233 pages of Mourning Dove’s manuscript. It gave me the opportunity to read the lines in the exact voice I had in mind as I wrote the book, and the best part of it was acting out the southern characters. There’s something I call “the Southern sigh,” which can only be completely understood for its dramatic emphasis if you hear it. To write it, it comes across as, “Well,” she waved her hand and sighed, “I just don’t understand where Finley came from.” That’s one thing. I’ll tell you now that it’s better to hear it. To hear the Southern sigh in all its breathy concession sounds a lot like a balloon deflating. How it’s executed, quite frankly, says it all.
When an author narrates their own audiobook, they gift the reader with their full intention. They give the reader the mood and cadence in their narration, and when it comes to dialogue, they are able to share speech patterns, inflections, and accents. I think this gifts the reader with something the written word does not. Mourning Dove has been out in the world for two months, and I am happy to report that many who have read the book have written to me to say they also bought the audiobook on Audible.
I’m couldn’t be happier that the audiobook of Mourning Dove is out in the world.
From September 16-22, I’ll be doing an audiobook tour with this wonderful outfit: https://audiobookwormpromotions.com/mourning-dove/ I believe, if you’re so inclined, you can sign up for the tour. The tour includes a giveaway of Mourning Dove’s audiobook.

And here’s a sample of Mourning Dove’s audiobook.

I’ve recently become a fan of audiobooks. My hope is you are, too!

 

http://www.clairefullerton.com