Confessions of a Christian Mystic by River Jordan

Bold, daring, and yes, confessional, River Jordan’s collection of personal essays warns you going into it that you’re in for something unique. After all, what is the art of writing, if not a venue to compare notes on this business of life? Only a master can make this plain through the power of fifty delightful stories. This is a writer who asks the big questions for us; who owns a steady faith base yet thinks outside the box. Confessions of a Christian Mystic is devout and dauntless. It is sonorous, beautiful, soul-deep, and fearless. And it is sardonically funny in its skirt-lifted vulnerability. The chapter titled, “Sometimes Good Girls Get Naked” is a case in point. With a deft hold on sentiment without being overly sentimental, I won’t cheapen this important book by suggesting it’s a page-turner—it is better. Confessions of a Christian Mystic is something to savor. You’ll want to pause and ponder at the end of each chapter.
I applaud every essay in this gorgeous gift of a book. River Jordan has woven vignettes of her personal narrative at such an engaging, introspective pitch that I defy every reader not to see themselves in its pages.

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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

Gifting the Readers

It was an unusual path that led to the creation of my third novel, Mourning Dove, and the thought that spurred me on was gifting the reader with something to ponder.
Mourning Dove started as a poem, written rather cathartically, in verse that sought to put into words the repercussions of a personal experience. I wrote the poem but never shared it, thinking it would be enough to write it and leave it in my journal. Then, in 2013, I saw a call for submissions in the San Francisco Writers Conferences’ contest. In looking at the categories, I decided to tell the abbreviated story behind the poem in the requisite 3,000-word limit and enter it as narrative nonfiction. Because I liked the images and rhythm of the poem, I began my piece with the poem’s first stanza. As I wrote the nonfiction story, I remained true to the feel and flow of the poem. I reached the word limit swiftly and submitted it to the contest, under the title Mastering Ambiguity (there’s a good reason for that title.)
Three months later, I received notice that Mastering Ambiguity was a finalist in the contest, and, as I live in Malibu, I decided to make the trip to the 2013, San Francisco Writers Conference and attend the luncheon where the winner would be announced.
Entering the auditorium, I saw thirty-five, eight seated tables spaced on the floor before a stage. As I found a seat, I told myself that if anything ever came of Mastering Ambiguity, I’d turn it into a full-length novel. Mastering Ambiguity wasn’t pronounced the winner at that luncheon, but it came in as the runner-up. Knowing I had a good story, I kept my pledge and set to work turning Mastering Ambiguity into a novel.
But how to turn a 3,000-word, nonfiction piece into a novel that is essentially a coming- of -age and then some, Southern family saga? It occurred to me that if I focused on a sense of place, in this case, the genteel side of 1970’s and 1980’s Memphis, replete with characters exemplary of old-world social mores, I’d have a solid foundation for a cause and effect story.
I began by defining the aim of Mourning Dove, which would help me suggest its point. Once I had what I wanted to say in hand, I settled upon Mourning Dove’s themes, knowing, if I let them lead, I could write the novel in scenes that would lead to gifting the reader with an overarching point.
When a writer settles upon a theme, or themes in a novel, the idea is to make them universal, so that the reader will identify from the vantage point of their own life. In Mourning Dove’s case, I wanted to expand upon the idea of a search, for I believe all of us are searching for something, be it a daily search or over a lifetime.
Once I knew the beginning and end of Mourning Dove, I wrote the following in a composition book I keep by my keyboard, and allowed it to guide me:
A search for place/home
A search for identity
A search for meaning/God.

From there, I wrote the story of two siblings who were born in Minnesota but moved abruptly during their formative years to the Deep South, where they entered the traditionally Southern environment as outsiders. From here, the novel took on a life of its own and became not only about discovery, but about displacement and the navigational tools one employs, while trying to fit into a culture.
For the most part, writers write from what they know. They use their own impressions and experiences as fodder to one degree or another, in the process of telling a story. I believe this is inevitable and inescapable, and in writing Mourning Dove, I portrayed Memphis as I experienced it. Because I now live in California, the geographical distance afforded an objective eye with a sense of nostalgia for an era now gone by. Late 1970’s through 1980’s Memphis was well worth writing about because I am of a generation raised by those many call “the old guard.” These were the people born to a culture steeped in Southern social mores and tradition, who held to its ways as if manners and form were the template to society, so much so that it verged on stifling.
My aim in writing Mourning Dove was along the lines of depicting the culture the siblings came to as outsiders to show how its influence contributed to their psychological wiring. Because we are all products of our upbringing, it raises the question of nature versus nurture in influencing how a life turns out. It’s a complicated amalgam that contributes to how individuals end up as they do, and in writing Mourning Dove, I wanted to tell the story of siblings who share the same history but come to disparate ends.
Because readers are intelligent beings, I wanted to take the reader through a series of one telling scene to the next, so that they could divine for themselves how what happened in the end came to be.
It’s a give and take in being a writer. If a writer gifts a reader with something to ponder, the reader will take away their own conclusion.

 

Mourning Dove by Claire Fullerton is a Faulkner Society listed, and winner of the Bronze medal for Southern Fiction by Reader’s Favorite.

Enter to win the audiobook of Mourning Dove: https://audiobookwormpromotions.com/mourning-dove/

https//www.clairefullerton.com

Book Review: Bead by Bead: The Ancient Way of Praying Made New

I came across this book through my fellow author, Susan Cushman’s, blog, who has a wonderful thing going as an author, editor, and champion of great books: http://susancushman.com/about/.  Susan’s engaging Facebook presence called my attention to author Suzanne Smith Henley’s book, which concerns a labor-of-love she engages in making stunning prayer beads. An impressive amount of acclimating research into ancient, religious practices went into this book, then the author brings it all home to modern day with inspiration and sheer delight! I am marveling at the connections that can be made through social media! Below is my review of Bead-by-Bead. If you’re interested in exploring the centering intent of prayer, this book is for you!

 

I am savoring this beautiful book, and turning to it nightly as a touchstone at my day’s end. Written in accessible language so compelling and engaging, Suzanne Smith Henley’s voice is like listening to a friend so rife with personality, I want to hear everything she has to say! There is a wealth of information regarding historical use of prayer practice with the use of beads. I am learning much about various religious practices, and the common thread of a physical ornament to ground one into prayer is something I find reverent in its intent and focus. This is a book for everybody: the devout, the spiritual, the artistic, the seeker. It is a manual of fine balance mixed with humor and intelligence, and its specific aim is something I find admirable as it unites. I recommend this book as a call to worship, no matter one’s proclivity or denomination. It is thought-provoking in its invitation to deepen one’s relationship with prayer, and I am so pleased to have found this book!

 

Book Review: Memphis Movie by Corey Mesler.

I had the great pleasure of coming across this delightful, wonderfully creative novel about the making of an Indie film. Anyone passionate about film-making will love it! Corey Mesler is its author, and I take my hat off to him!  Here’s my review of a book that should be widely read!

 

Memphis Movie

That Memphis Movie drops the reader smack in the middle of this one-of-a-kind story by opening with an interview of indie film maker, Eric Warberg, was a stroke of genius. It set the stage, mood, and tone for this down-on-his-heels filmmaker’s background and tells the reader that the stakes are high in this modern-day story. The book comes out swinging, with dialogue so engagingly sardonic it transcends any necessity for knowledge of a film’s production. And yet, in Memphis Movie the reader receives the minutia of what goes into making a movie, and as this fabulous story unfurls, the savvy reader can’t help but think the chaos is a lot like any other line of work taking over someone’s life. Eric Warberg’s identity is at issue. He’s a washed-up fish-out-of-water dragging his tail in the pond he comes from, trying to pull himself up by his bootstraps but not convinced he can. His is the voice of reason, while one of the more cacophonous cast of characters ever assembled spins out around him, each delightfully drawn player with their own agenda. If there’s any prayer of cohesiveness in this dysfunctional crew, it’s all in Eric’s shaky hands. Sisyphus had an easier time of it, and this is what makes this character intensive story so funny. The book speaks in jargon so spot-on it lends ambience, and the characters sputter and sway in a setting only the infinitely hip know of in Memphis. They are all likable underdogs looking for a center. They are scratching around in the underbelly of an historic southern town, trying to make this thing work. Memphis Movie is a blend of satire, humor, and irony driven by sheer intelligence. Only a gifted writer can peg the nuances of human nature to the point where the reader says of each character, “I know that guy!” All praise author Corey Mesler. I’m so atwitter over Memphis Movie, I’m telling all my friends that this book about the making of an indie film is so good, it should be made into its own movie!

http://www.clairefullerton.com

The New Southern Fugitives Review of Mourning Dove

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.

Southern Writers on Writing

The easiest way to portray how much I loved Southern Writers on Writing is to tell the truth as it happened: After reading each moving essay, I sighed and thought, “This one is my favorite.” Apart from the fact that I’m a lover of the first-person narrative, these confessional essays held me at every turn. What they all have in common is an honesty not easily revealed unless the recipient has earned complete trust. These essays are more than Southern writers pontificating on their “process.” These essays are personal—sometimes painfully so. As an assembly, they are variations of a truth that seeks to put into words the profound impact of what it means to be part and parcel of a storied land, more than the sum of its disharmonious parts. A sense of nostalgia runs through Southern Writers on Writing, and what strikes me most is its unified theme. Task a Southern writer with writing about craft, and invariably, all roads lead back home. Southern Writers on Writing is a treasure for both readers and writers. Each essay contains the intrigue of a gripping short story, and each compelling voice allures the reader’s undivided attention. Thank you, Susan Cushman, for gifting us with this book. And to each author who contributed to this gem, thank you for sharing your story.