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.
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
I tend to be a stream of consciousness writer, in that I write whatever it is I’m thinking. I don’t labor as long as I’m putting ideas on paper, and there’s a quiet ease that ensues from not looking over my own shoulder. This is how I began writing in the first place. I began by keeping a journal I knew nobody would ever see. No one suggested I keep a journal; I simply felt compelled at a young age from the resounding depth of that interior chamber that tells a person who they are. In truth, I have a running inner monologue that deciphers the world, and it is this I call upon when writing. There has never been a time when I didn’t write. I’ve used it as a way of interpreting the world for as long as I remember. What began as a desire to understand myself evolved into a daily habit, then one bright day, I turned through my journals and discovered, not only had I been documenting my life, I had a particular way of experiencing its vagaries. Once I realized this, my writing came into focus. I thought maybe I could forge a career. I sought to articulate at such a pitch that there would be no misunderstanding. I began paying scrutinous attention to word usage, craft, and flow, reasoning that the more clarity I brought to language, the better the chance for a reader’s understanding. Here’s what happened as I stayed the course: I fell in love with the act of writing. I learned it is a deepening process predicated upon development, with no there to get to, only the experience of the personal path.
There was a time when I was confused by this. I thought calling myself a writer meant I had to achieve a sanctioned plateau that gave me permission to continue writing. I was wrong about this, and have only recently figured out why. The world didn’t have to tell me I am a writer before I became one. I didn’t recognize I became one the day I followed the call by putting pen to paper in my journal. No number of published books or lack thereof will alter this salient truth; not for me or anyone else. Being a writer begins with giving yourself permission to be one. However you choose to experience it is ultimately in your own hands.
I believe all writers care about writing for the same reason, which has something to do with the desire to compare notes in this business of living. Whether we’re published, or by whom is not the point, the point is all writers are on the same path, propelled by an inexplicable urge to communicate, however or wherever it is they tell their story. It is enough, to me, for its own sake. The real merits of writing lie intrinsically in its pursuit. For a writer, there is no there to get to, there is only the fulfilling, soul-driven act.
A Southern Voice
The first voice to caress my infant ears rolled with such lyrical beauty that I’m offended by other accents to this day. It soothed in its quicksilver fluidity, lacked hard edges, and whispered in promises so compelling it could turn the most resistant of souls into a willing adherent. I know now that sound travels queerly and can double back upon itself in time. I often hear the voice of my Southern mother when I least expect it; it comes to me more as reminder than recollection, and carries a way of being in the world along a template so firmly etched that its resonance is guiding and indelible.
For Complete Piece:
I’m partial to the west coast of Ireland for its myriad wonders, which appear in small towns that are hidden like gemstones in neat grids of logic separated by rambling, idle roads. There are worlds within worlds in these Irish small towns: history and lineage and myth and folklore; meaning so resonate and full of discovery the very act of rounding a corner can haunt a person to the bone marrow. I’m a firm believer that the way to the soul of a place is best found on foot; it’s easier to raise your antennae to the uncanny when your feet are grounded, and this is just what I was thinking as I navigated the sidewalk in Kinvara, down to the docks on the water’s edge. There across the bay, deep on the horizon, County Galway stretched in all its heavenly promise. The next day, we’d be driving our rented car the forty five minutes it takes to get to Galway City, but for now there was the lure of County Clare in the opposite direction. My friend and I had decided to make a day of it; we’d make our way slowly to the Cliffs of Moher, for no other reason than it seemed the thing to do, and we’d park the car and explore wherever the fancy struck, along the forty nine kilometer route it takes to get to what seems the edge of the known world.
In the town of Kinvara, life teemed around us in all its natural rhythm: pub doors opened to the early fall sunlight, children roamed the streets in navy blue school uniforms, in pairs and in packs. A man ahead walked two border collies off-leash; they tacked side to side, noses sniffing, rounding back to me for a pet. Up from the docks, as the sidewalk rode the incline, art galleries and shops with T-shirts in their glass fronts reading “I’m a Galway Hooker” beckoned in praise of the town’s claim to fame. In the village center café, two men played vocal one-upmanship in guttural accents that dripped soggy with Guinness. We’d parked the car earlier, across from Dunghaire Castle; we’d already gone a few rounds with our cameras as we stood in the driveway of the accessible fortress, rising from a knoll abutted by water so tranquil it took calisthenics to consider who thought what, when positioning it just so.
Through the burren, we might have been on the other side of the moon, for all its otherworldly weariness. Though I’d read much of what has been written of the area, I’d never seen it, and its gray desperation felt so inhospitable as to be hospitable, so repellant as to be attractive, so world without end, amen. In the carpark of Poulnabrone dolmen, a disheveled man stood bearded behind a card table selling his jewelry. Were it not for the distraction of the couple behind us, my friend and I would probably still be standing there listening to this proud Irishman wax erudite rhapsody on the dolmen’s history and why we had to have one of his handmade commemorative pieces for ourselves. Up the windswept tor, we took turns standing in front of the dolmen while the other took a picture, until the couple behind us snapped us together, freezing us in a time where I can still feel the wind in my hair, the rock beneath my feet, the magic in the air.
Down from the burren, on the road to Doolin, an unmarked tower called my name, and I mean this literally. Were my mother alive, God rest her, she’d tell you she named me after her mother, Claire Crossan, whose family hailed from County Clare. But what she wouldn’t tell you is why she nick-named me Doona, and my thought has always been she thought Claire was too unwieldy, until I reached a certain age. When pressed, which I did repeatedly, my mother only confessed to making up a baby rhyme with the name Doona, which somehow became my moniker. But my mother was a dyed in the wool American Southerner, which is a breed of cat not in the habit of explaining themselves, ever. So you can imagine the enlightenment and sense of inevitability that descended in a road-side shop later, after we’d stopped the car and traipsed the hillside, coastal property of that crowned tower, which loomed sentry behind a walled enclosure overlooking Doolin Point. There on an aluminum stand beside the cash register, postcards of Doonagore Castle rested at eye-level. My friend took one in hand and said, “You’re not going to believe this.” We turned over the uncanniness, all the way to Lisdoonvarna then into Doolin, where the road flowed to a gray-stone bridge over water, and signs on hand-painted easels announced which traditional musicians would be playing that night, in one of the pastel colored thatched pubs that stand sandwiched together like ducks in a row set in an Irish Disneyland. Walking down the street, there wasn’t a soul who didn’t make eye-contact and extend a “hi-ya,” for such is the way of it on Ireland’s western shore. One aproned woman swept the sidewalk in front of a restaurant and called out, “If you’re on your way to the Cliffs of Moher, you’d be wanting to get a move on. The wind’s rising now; you’ll be wanting to beat it.” “Forewarned is forearmed,” I said to my friend. We got back in the car and went on our way, but it wasn’t without its obstruction. On the side of the road, in front of a cream colored house, an elderly, yellow retriever lumbered perilously close to the traffic. It took a few blinks for me to register that it wore a long linked chain, tethered to a post too close to the road. I pulled the car in the resident driveway, assessed the problem and knocked on the house door. When no joy came, I called the dog to me and wrapped its leash around the front door, spied a water bowl on the front porch, found a yard hose, and filled the bowl with water.
It was late in the afternoon, by the time we reached the Cliffs of Moher. We climbed the steep, paved road from the carpark to the visitor’s center, took an obligatory circle around inside then out to O’Brien’s Tower, from which we gazed south and stood in awe-struck wonder, for nothing prepares you for the sheer scale of size, nor the towering majesty of this world’s natural wonder.
“I’m never getting over this,” my friend said. ‘I can’t believe I’m standing here.”
“I can’t either,” I said, “though it occurs to me today has been just as much about the journey as it has been the end.”
For more Irish Stories: http://www.clairefullerton.com
In Louisiana, they use the phonetically pleasing word lagniappe to denote a little something extra. Typically, a lagniappe is a small gift given with a purchase to a customer, by way of compliment or for good measure as a way of saying thank you. I’ve been so enamored with this word that it’s found its way into my psyche and influenced my behavior, where it prompts me to go the extra mile, when in deep gratitude. And deep gratitude I have for those generous souls who have posted reviews, written me, and recommended my second novel, Dancing to an Irish Reel. Some have done as I suspected; they’ve written me to ask how much of the book is true, for I made no secret in sharing that I actually lived on the western coast of Ireland, where the book is set, and most readers know that writers pull from their own life to one degree or another.
I’m a fan of the first person essay. I consider it the art of brevity whose aspiration is to create a whole world around a case in point. I could wax loquacious on how the pursuit thrills me, how the challenge ignites the deep-seated, smoldering embers of why I write in the first place, which is to say I experience life as a witness and write to decipher its nuances in a manner that seeks to compare notes.
Sometimes life itself will hand you a lagniappe when you’re not looking. This was the case for me when I came across the Irish on-line community, The Wild Geese. There lies a compatible fraternity of like-minded souls, who can never get enough of their favorite subject, which is themselves. Proudly, I say, I am one of them; I am one of the island folk by lineage, and I flew into formation the second I found the flock. I brought much of who I am to this union: a writer, a shanachie, a child of Eire. I started writing the stories behind the stories that were my inspiration in the crafting of Dancing to an Irish Reel and as time stretched on, I realized I’d created my own lagniappe to give to those who read my book.
On my website http://www.clairefullerton.com/, there are three tabs on the homepage titled “Dancing Companion,” where a collection of my first person Irish essays can be found along with attended photographs.
Please accept them as my lagniappe!