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

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Balance in A Writer’s Life

I exchanged messages this morning with Michelle James, whom I had the pleasure of meeting online years ago, when Dancing to an Irish Reel came out. This shows me the beauty of WordPress—there are wonderful friends here, and I’ve found the community to be extraordinarily engaging and supportive. And it’s not just about books that we talk about. Books may be the reason why we’re drawn to the page in the first place, but typically exchanges lead into other places, and this morning Michelle and I talked about Pilates.
Michelle and I both incorporate Pilates into our weekly schedule, and it caused me to think about why I do it. It’s because I spend so much time at this computer, and it occurred to me that a writer needs balance. In order to find balance, it takes the realization that balance is a requirement of a writer’s life.
I have a wheeled chair on a hardwood floor that fits up tightly under my desk. I am a little-bitty ol’ thing, and I’m in the habit of sitting Indian style (can I say this in this PC world? Apologies for any offense) for hours at a time. I go through phases when a project is pressing, even if the immediacy is of my own making. Looking back at the past five and a half years, it’s staggering to realize that I produced four novels, but part of the explanation is I got myself into it because one door opened then things happened at once, in a flurry that felt like putting out fires.
Which brings me back to the subject of Pilates. I’ll add ballet because I still go to class. I’m a believer in the adage that the mind and the body are one, and I’ve found that without finding a balance, I suffer. Without reading and writing, I am aimless, and without tempering the way I sit at my desk, there are particular areas in my lower back that tighten to the point where my whole body locks up. Basically, I have to undo what I create, after I spend so much times sitting in the form of a pretzel. But it’s more than that, really. It has something to do with needing to get out of my head and into my body, and I think it matters, with respect to grounding myself on God’s green earth.
I’m going to take this subject further and talk about a decision I made once I came up for air after completing the edits for my next book, which I wrote after Mourning Dove (This book is another Southern novel in the capable hands of my agent, and hopefully it will be signed somewhere!) Because I spent so much time during the week and then some in self-enforced isolation, save for the occasional social outing or doing whatever it takes to tend to home and hearth, I decided to switch priorities. I know a group of wonderful women who live near me in this seaside community, and every morning they meet to walk the beach. I had to wrestle with the hour of joining this group. 8:00 in the morning is a questionable hour to be up and out of the house, and I have a bad habit of getting coffee then going to my computer the second my feet hit the floor. Once at my computer, away I go.
My commitment to leaving the house was made in favor of physical and psychological balance. Once the decision was made, the effort was easy because I knew the stakes, otherwise. If I start the day by getting outside and walking by the ocean, it gives me a certain perspective. The enormity of the ocean; the people out walking their dogs; the surfers sizing up the waves; the conversation of friends; and the simple act of movement reminds me there’s a big world outside of my office, before it’s time to close myself off when I return to my desk.
I think balance is imperative in a writer’s life, and writer’s need to aim for it. It takes commitment to write, especially when one writes novels, but it also takes commitment to lead a well-balanced life.

Author Interview on The Reading List

Claire Fullerton is an author who was born in Wayzata, Minnesota and transplanted at the age of ten to Memphis, Tennessee. Although Claire Fullerton now lives in Malibu, California, she says that she’ll always consider herself a Southerner. Claire first found her niche in music radio as a member of the on-air staff of five different stations, during a nine-year career. Music radio led Claire to the music business, and the music business led her to Los Angeles, where she worked for three years as an artist’s representative, securing record deals for bands. Claire Fullerton would go on to write a creative, weekly column for The Malibu Surfside News, and submitted to writing contests and magazines as she focused on developing her craft. Claire Fullerton then wrote a paranormal mystery about a woman who suspects she has lived before, and titled it A Portal in Time. Vinspire Publishing published the book, so she decided to show them the manuscript of a novel she had written in previous years, which they also published under the title Dancing to an Irish Reel the following year. Her third novel is titled, Mourning Dove. It’s a sins-of-the-father, Southern Family Saga, set in 1970’s and 1980’s Memphis, and it will be released in June of 2018. Please enjoy my interview with Claire Fullerton.

How do you describe your occupation?
I am a full-time writer.
What is something about you that people might find surprising?
On the side, to keep myself engaged in humanity (because writers spend much time in isolation,) I teach ballet and Pilates. I’ve been doing this for years.
What are you reading at the moment and what made you want to read it?
I have a friendship with the most artistically, off-beat woman I’ve ever had the good fortune to come across. She is fifteen years my elder, from New York City, and erudite at an impressive pitch. Out of nowhere, she brought me Nutshell by Ian McEwan. Since I’m a Southerner from Memphis, now living in Southern California, I’ve been on a Southern writer kick for a long time now. Southern writers write in a language I’m comfortable with, but I was starting to feel myopic. When I read the Washington Post’s blurb on Nutshell (“No one now writing in the English language surpasses Ian McEwan) I dove right in and was enthralled by this author’s genius.
What was your favourite book as a child and why?
Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown as read to me by my father. I can still hear his voice reading this classic. The book gave me a sense of connection to everything around me and taught me about the importance of interacting in the world from a premise of awe-struck wonder.
Can you remember the first story you ever wrote?
I wrote a first-person story for my college English class based on personal experience. It was about two young girls on a beach in California, suffering the unwanted attention of a strange man. Unbeknownst to the girls, a local surfer watched from the water. He rose like Poseidon from the waves and placed his surfboard between the man and the girls as a blockade. The moral of the story was chivalry isn’t dead. The teacher read my story aloud in class and gave me an A.

What was the last book you purchased, and why did you buy it?
I bought An American Marriage by Tayari Jones because of the hype. It deserves every bit of praise it’s been given.
For someone starting out in your career, which three books would you make required reading and why?
A Separate Peace by John Knowles for its character-driven, coming of age elements, which plummet the very heart of human, baser instincts, such as jealousy and feelings of inferiority. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, for its narrative, atmospheric suspense, and The Ron Rash Reader by Ron Rash, because this book has short stories, novel excerpts, and poetry by the man many call the most gifted and accomplished poet and storyteller of our time, or any time.
What book have you found most inspiring, what effect did it have on you?
The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy. Conroy was a master story-teller who made a forty-year career out of his own personal narrative. In writing The Prince of Tides, Conroy gave all writers the keys to the kingdom. He showed us how to take pain and turn it into art. What I learned from this book is that there is great beauty in the scars of the most dysfunctional family. In reading this book, it occurred to me that a writer need not look further than their own life for inspiration.
What’s the most obscure book you own; how did you discover it?
The Dead House by Billy O’Callaghan. I have an author crush on this forty-something-year-old man, who lives in the wilds outside of Cork, Ireland. Talk about a unique voice and uncanny turn of phrase. I think this author is the best writer to come out of Ireland since Clare Keegan. He floors me, and my suspicion is this book is only obscure for now, as it was recently licensed in America. I came across O’Callaghan accidently on LinkedIn. It was the incongruous look of this quintessential looking, rural Irishman packed into a tuxedo at an awards ceremony that caught my eye. I once lived in the west of Ireland, so I didn’t miss the irony. Upon looking into O’Callaghan, I discovered he had three short story collections published. I bought each one and ordered The Dead House straight from the press.
What’s the best book you’ve read in the last 6 months?
Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate.
What is your proudest achievement?
That I’ve stayed the course of a creative life. I believe there are many incarnations in an artist’s life. My path has seen me, in one form or another, in the communicative arts. I worked on-air in Memphis radio for nine years and loved every minute of it. I was an artist and repertoire representative in the Los Angeles music business, which basically meant I discovered bands and took them to record companies. Ballet is a communicative art. All the while, I’ve engaged in writing because it comes to me as second nature. And the thing with an artistic life is there is no “there” to get to. There is only the process of living it.
Can you talk us through your writing process, from the first spark of an idea, to having your first completed draft?
Thus far, I’ve written the stories I had to tell, as opposed to manufacturing something out of thin air for the sake of writing something/anything. Always, there is a point I want to make. I have a reason for wanting to tell the story, usually, it is to make some comment on this business of living as I experience and interpret it. I write to compare notes, so to speak. I always know the beginning, middle, and end of a novel, and I typically make an outline after I’ve started. Because I know the ending, I ask myself where my novel should go next as I’m writing. I’m mindful of what will be a case in point along the way to the bigger point. It helps that I write in scenes. I can “see” the story as if it were on screen. When I think I’ve told the story, I walk away for a week, then revisit. I read it all and look to see if it’s balanced, then re-read to look at dialogue and continuity. When I believe I’ve finished, I send the manuscript to my editor.
If you were trying to impress a visitor, which book that you own would you leave on the coffee table?
I have this on my coffee table now: Huger Foote, My Friend from Memphis. Huger (pronounced yoo-gee; soft G) is the son of author and Civil War historian, Shelby Foote, whom all of us who come from Memphis revere. Huger’s nickname is Huggie, and he is now a world-renowned photographer of the most creative, beautiful shots of what many would consider common objects. His photographs are sheer poetry.
What two pieces of advice would you give a young aspiring writer?
Never compare yourself with another writer and resist the temptation to look over your own shoulder as you write.
If an alien landed in your garden; which three books would you gift them to showcase humanity in the best possible way?
Peachtree Road by Anne Rivers Siddons, The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy, and The Mermaids Singing by Lisa Carey. I wouldn’t say they showcase humanity in the best possible way, only that they, indeed, showcase humanity!

Are there any books you haven’t mentioned that you feel would make your reading list?
I am satisfied that I’ve mentioned the books that stand out for me, and I did mention Shelby Foote, but I’m going to go deeper with him. I recently read Foote’s book, Follow Me Down and I startled to realize what an incredible fiction writer he was. I, like many, equated Shelby Foote with his three volumes on the Civil War and had yet to read his fiction. Follow Me Down is a Southern classic about the murder trial of a white man in 1960’s Mississippi, who has already confessed to the crime. The book’s language thrilled me!
Which book sat on your shelf are you most excited about reading next and why?
I am looking forward to reading A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. I loved his novel, The Rules of Civility.
If you’d like to learn more, you can find Claire Fullerton on her website, Facebook and Twitter.

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.

The Inspiration For Mourning Dove

I’m taking the opportunity to share why I wrote Mourning Dove. Plain and simply, I grew up in Memphis, in an era that I think was run by the last of the great Southern belles. Most of them are gone from the South, now, as am I, for I now live in Malibu, California. I have a conflicted relationship with the South. It’s a strange mixture of gratitude for having outgrown it and weepy nostalgia for the place in which I came of age. I can’t say if I’m nostalgic for the actual place or if it’s nostalgia for the innocence and endless possibilities that one carries in youth, but emotionally, I think they’re tied together. It’s the people of Memphis I miss the most, and when I think of Memphis, I think of its women. Never was there a cast of more glittering woman than those who populated my youth. They were fun, dynamic, refined, and rarely serious. They walked like queens and spoke in lyrical tones so compelling that I’m offended by other accents to this day. I set Mourning Dove in 1970’s and 1980’s Memphis because, back then, the particular Southern, social milieu was rife with nuance and tradition anchored by southern matriarchs who ran the social strata. I did not write about the side of the South where people drive pick-up trucks down dirt roads to the family farm while dodging a coon dog or two, I wanted to write about that side of the South that was coiffed and manicured; where people had an innate elegance that mattered. There is much to be drawn in a setting such as this, and what fascinated me most growing up was the cultural way of denial. In the Memphis I knew, they kept things light and airy. If something was unpleasant or unseemly, it simply wasn’t discussed. But what of two siblings born up north who come to the Deep South as outsiders? And how can they share the same history yet come to disparate ends? What unhinging happens in the delicate wiring of one but somehow misses the other? Is it nature or nurture, and how are we to ever know? In the end, all one is left with is the story. This was my aim in writing Mourning Dove. Always and forever, it will all come down to the story.

Women on Writing Author Interview

 

Meet Fall Flash Fiction Contest Runner Up Claire Fullerton, Author of “Metal Gray”

Claire Fullerton is a runner up in the WOW! Women on Writing Fall Flash Fiction Contest with the very beautiful story Metal Gray. She is the author of contemporary fiction, Dancing to an Irish Reel, set on the west coast of Ireland, and paranormal mystery, in two time frames, A Portal in Time, set in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. Both books published by Vinspire Publishing. Claire’s third novel, Mourning Dove, is a Southern Family saga, set in Memphis, Tennessee, where Claire grew up. It will be published in June of 2018 by Firefly Southern Fiction. Claire has been published in multiple magazines, including Celtic Life International, Southern Writers Magazine, and The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature. Her essays have appeared in five of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Currently, Claire is writing her fourth novel. She lives in Malibu, California with her husband, two German shepherds, and one black cat.

Find out more about Claire by visiting her website www.clairefullerton.com, her blog, Writing Notes, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter @cfullerton3.

Interview by Crystal J. Casavant-Otto

WOW!: Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule for today’s interview. Congratulations again on your many accomplishments but most recently as a runner up in the WOW! Fall Flash Fiction Contest! So now down to business: where did you get the idea for the character of Ella in Metal Gray? You describe her so well it seems she must be part of your personal story as well? Please tell us more.

CLAIRE: I would love to tell you about Ella, thank you for asking. Ella is a significant character in my forthcoming novel, Mourning Dove, which is a southern family saga, set in Memphis, where I grew up. The book will be published by Firefly Southern Fiction in June of 2018. The background of Ella and this book is that I entered a 3,000 word piece in The 2013, San Francisco Writer’s Conferences’ contest, in the narrative nonfiction category. The piece came in as the runner up, and I will tell you now that when I entered the piece, it occurred to me that should anything in the slightest happen, I’d turn the piece into a novel, which I did. To clarify the obvious, a novel, of course, is fiction, yet I knew with my nonfiction piece that there was an entire world already there to work with, as long as I changed names, created scenes and other characters that contributed to the momentum of the story. I can report that Mourning Dove is fiction, but that the character of Ella as she appears in the book as well as in the flash-fiction piece I sent to WOW! is a composite of many women who populated my life while growing up in Memphis. Ella represents the voice of brass tacks reason, wherever she appears, in that she sees all, knows all, and keeps her lips tight. Ella is in it, but not of it, which provides fabulous objectivity. What I did when I entered WOW!’s flash fiction contest was give the description of Ella, then made up the ending to fit the 750 word guidelines, which means it needed to be unique, self-contained, and brief!

WOW!: So clearly, you are no stranger to Ella and no stranger to writing contests. What role do flash fiction pieces play in your writing life? Do you have advice for other authors as far as contests and flash fiction pieces are concerned?

CLAIRE: Yes, I love entering flash fiction contests, for it is a way of fine-tuning one’s craft. The art of brevity should be in each writer’s tool-kit, and I was thrilled when I discovered WOW!’s contest. To answer your question about advice I’d give to any author, I’d say getting in the traffic and staying in the traffic is very important. I’ll give you a personal example: Vinspire Publishing honored me and basically started my career by publishing my first two books back-to-back. My third novel, Mourning Dove, will not be out until 2018, so I have a gap, with regard to staying engaged with my readership. By entering contests, and hopefully placing somewhere, it gives me the opportunity to share my work as it is published. This, along with staying engaged with social media is the life-force of an author’s career. It also gives authors the opportunity to meet nice people like Crystal with WOW!

WOW!: Now I’m blushing – thank you so much! It certainly is sound advice about staying in the traffic. Wally Lamb is one of my favorite authors and I didn’t realize he had released a new book because he had such a gap and even though I’m an avid reader, he really fell off my map. I hope other authors take your advice and stay in the traffic (not to be confused with playing in traffic…giggle).

You recently wrote “I tend to be a stream of consciousness writer, in that I write whatever it is I’m thinking.”

Can you give us an example of when that wasn’t such a great idea or when it served you well?

CLAIRE: I think it has always served me well, and I’ll tell you why by answering this generally: I prefer writing in the first person. I think it lends immediate intimacy, and gives the reader the complete idea of who it is they’re listening to. I say I am a stream of consciousness writer because writing comes to me easily. I write the story from the voice within me, and very rarely labor. I think if a writer decides who the narrator is, with whatever nuances or backstory they may have, then they can assume the narrator’s voice, and write from there. Before I begin a novel, I know the story I want to tell. I know the beginning, middle and end, and let the rest create itself, though I do take notes along the way, when something comes to me that I think I should include, in order to drive the story forward by illustrating a point, or perhaps it is something wittily said that will lend flavor and help the reader better understand the narrator or other characters. Summarily, I think that, when writing, it is best to trust one’s own thoughts. I’d rather risk writing from an authentic place and having it misunderstood, than constructing something inauthentic only to realize it sounded contrived.

WOW!: I’m going to repeat what you just said because it’s worth repeating: “I’d rather risk writing from an authentic place and having it misunderstood, than constructing something inauthentic only to realize it sounded contrived.”

This is a quote to remember fellow writers. Thank you Claire for sharing this insight and truth.

Dancing to an Irish Reel will now be available in all the South Dublin Libraries and I’m curious
what part you played in making that happen? What advice can you give to other authors as far as getting their books into more libraries (in the states or outside the states)?

CLAIRE: I give full credit to the unlimited creativity and enthusiasm of Dancing to an Irish Reel’s publisher, Dawn Carrington of Vinspire Publishing. Dawn was well aware that I once lived in Ireland, and that Dancing to an Irish Reel is set on Ireland’s west coast. She wrote to many Irish library’s and simply introduced the book: it’s blurb, its cover, and much about me as its author. She embraced this book and got it out in the world, as she educated me on exactly how to be involved in the promotional process. I have learned that the promotional process is unending, and to me, it is actually fun. The process starts out in a small arena, by aligning with the obvious social media outlets ( FB, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads, etc.) but the thing is, once you’re aligned, it gets bigger! You end up meeting other authors through social media and by watching where they are and what they do, it triggers unending possibilities. I can tell you that after two novels that have been out in the world for a while, I am still discovering new places to promote because it is essentially a domino effect. But yes, library’s are a great avenue to explore, so I recommend that authors start locally, then get creative on the locations of libraries that may embrace the book, due to the book’s setting or subject matter.

WOW!: It’s nice to meet up with others who enjoy social media networking and all the endless possibilities!

I love your position of staying out of politics on social media (I too would rather talk about what unites us instead of what divides us). Have you ever approached a friend or colleague suggesting they tone down their political posts? How can we help spread the social media mentality of “See no evil…Hear no evil…Speak no evil” like Confucius

CLAIRE: Great question. I assume you saw the Word Press blog post I delicately wrote and hesitantly posted on this subject! I was torn over whether to post the piece or not! The impetus behind this came from too many months of vitriolic posts on Facebook during America’s recent presidential election. So many friends I’d been aligned with for years used Facebook as a forum to post their political views, and many of these friends are authors. I spoke to one author friend who was dismayed because one of her readers had taken her to task on something she posted concerning the election, and had declared she would unfollow her. I have pledged to never comment politically because I think it is polarizing. This isn’t to say that there is anything wrong with someone who chooses to do so, it’s just that many are so heated over the issues that a difference of political opinion can have unintended consequences for an author. I adore meeting readers and other authors via social media, but am clear why it is that they’re my friends, and what it is that brought us together. My overarching respect for books, authors, and readers makes it easy for me to leave politics alone.

WOW: That’s a good way to look at it – it’s out of respect! I love that!

Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Claire! Congratulations again on Metal Gray and best wishes to you all your future projects!

How Does One Become a Writer?