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.

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https//www.clairefullerton.com

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On an Irish Bus/ Dancing to an Irish Reel Kindle Giveaway!

reworked Galway image

He would have stood out anywhere, and standing in front of the entrance to a boutique hotel in Spiddal, wielding a black walking cane with an ivory handle two paces before made him glaringly incongruous to everything I’d come to know about the western coast of Ireland. He wore a three piece suit on his gentle frame: black, with gray stripes the width of angel’s hair, with a fitted vest, tailored trousers, complementary cravat, and a black Fedora angled just so.

I looked out from my window seat on the bus from Carraroe to Galway. It was one of those old kinds that looked as if it once had a life as an elementary school bus, now put out to pasture. With aluminum rails on the seats before, the bus would take off noisily, gravel scattering beneath its wheels before I had a chance to sit down. The bus driver greeted me in awkward English. It took a few rounds of greeting me in Irish before he finally realized I am an American, and his guttural salutation now came out sounding like something a little to the left of “Hiya.”
The bus rolled to its customary stop on the coast road that runs through the heart of Spiddal. There is no sign there; the stop is force of habit because years of driving this rolling route through Connemara told the driver where travelers would be standing, shielded from the vagaries of Irish weather.
Heads turned as the dapper, elderly man mounted the bus. He steadied his gait with his cane and favored his right foot up the three steps then halted beside the bus driver to beam his greeting. Out of the corner of my eye, trying not to stare, I saw the man tip his hat repeatedly to the right and left as he made his way down the aisle to the vacant seat beside me.

“Nice day,” he said to me as he took off his hat and placed it on his lap. “Going into town, is it? Where you go every day?”
“Yes,” I said caught by surprise and thinking nothing gets by anybody around here.

“Kearney’s the name, Seamus Kearney,” he offered himself. “You’re an American, yah?” he asked in that way the Irish have of answering their own question.

“Yes,” I answered.

“From the South, is it?” he continued.

“That’s a good ear you have. Yes, I’m from Memphis, Tennessee, but I spent the last five years living in Los Angeles,” I clarified.

“God helps us all,” he said with a wink. “And what is your name, then?” he prodded.

“Claire Fullerton.” I shook his offered hand.

“And your middle name then? Have you Irish connections?”

“Yes, I have Irish connections on both sides. My middle name is Ford,” I said.

“Ford,” he considered, wrinkling his brow. “That’s an odd middle name for a girl.”

“Yes, perhaps,” I said. “But I’m not an odd girl; I promise.”

“Now the Fords, they’re from around these parts. They’re old as the hills and Irish as the soil. Many are up the road in that old graveyard by The Centra,” Seamus Kearney said. “So they called you here, they did,” he said in more of a statement than a question.

“No, actually it was a whim that brought me here. I never knew any of my Ford relatives. Most of them died before I was born.”

Seamus drew in his breath in that audible sigh the Irish do, when they’re getting ready to say something poignant. It is a sound with a world of understanding contained: one part camaraderie, the other commiseration. “So, they called you here, they did,” he reiterated patiently. His white eyebrows raised encouragingly, as if leading a child along the road to good reason.

“Yes, definitely,” I complied.

“Ah then, there it is, so. We in Connemara don’t see the need in being parted by a little thing like death,” he said.

I couldn’t wait a second longer; I couldn’t help but ask, “Do you always dress like this?”

“Like what?” he asked genuinely unaware, which made me wonder if I’d put my foot in my mouth.

“You look so nice; I was only thinking that,” I said, the heat rising to my face.

“Pride of person’s not an unpardonable sin,” he said. “Now let me ask you what it is you do in town.”

The next thing I knew, I was explaining everything I did at my job in Galway, while Seamus gave me his rapt attention, with a pleased look on his face. Had I still been living in Los Angeles, a conversation like this one would have never taken place. One simply did not divulge personal information to a stranger in Los Angeles without thinking it would come back to haunt. But this was Connemara, and the Irish have a way of exchanging pleasantries in a manner that is somewhere between an exploration of and commentary on this business of living. It is an art so subtle you have to narrow your eyes or you’ll miss it; it comes creeping softly wearing white cotton socks and sensible shoes.

The bus rolled to a stop at the Spanish Arch, down by the quays in Galway. I stood up to disembark. “Nice to meet you, Mr. Kearney,” I said.
“Call me Seamus, please,” he returned. “I live just by the church there in Spiddal. I’d love for you to call out any time for a cup of tea,” he said, with his blue eyes smiling.

“Thank you so much, I will,” I returned, and as I got off the bus to head over the River Corrib’s bridge, I turned to wave to Seamus Kearney, and knew without question I would.

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