How Does One Become a Writer?

 

 

The Thing About Galway

Even on the best of days, when the weather is temperate and the sky soft and cloudless, Galway City has a worn, secondhand feel to it: an historic, pensive, erudite quality everywhere you roam down its serpentine streets. But there’s also an energetic undercurrent to Galway that seems to thrive on the idea of opposites, which lends the atmosphere a certain air of unpredictability. In many ways, Galway seems like a lively college town, bordered on one side by the dark gray patina of Galway Cathedral, and the ever turbulent River Corrib on the other, which flows straight to Galway Bay on its way through the Claddagh. It’s an undefinable, mood-setting, soul-stirring town with a split personality; it is vividly animated by its youthful culture, yet deeply haunted by its storied past.

To Debra Wallace, who was born and reared in Letterfrack, 50 miles north in rural Connemara, Galway was the pinnacle of urban grandeur. At the age of 27, she’d blown into town carrying her dreams and her guitar to set up house in a two-story rental, on the edge of lower Galway’s Henry Street. She was an accomplished musician with a whisky-edged singing voice, and her dreams involved joining Galway’s vibrant music scene. The second I met her, I thought she embodied everything it meant to be Irish: She was big eyed, russet-haired, quick-witted, nobody’s fool, howlingly funny, and spiritually attuned. She gave our friendship no probation period when we first met at The Galway Music Centre, for there was nothing suspicious or cynical about her, though she was disarmingly shrewd. Upon learning that I am an American, she put her hand on her hip, narrowed her eyes to a slit, and give me the once over. Then she set her guitar case down and invited me to call out to her house for a cup of tea.

I had no idea what to expect as I made my way to Debra Wallace’s blue-painted door. It rose up from the sidewalk, sandwiched in a row of matching gray structures, each with a pitched roof emitting turf smoke that permeated the residential area in an aroma so redolent it made my eyes water. I rapped thrice on the door, and it swung wide immediately. Stepping onto the uneven cobbled brick floor, it took a minute for my eyes to adjust in the shadowy room, for it had only one window and it seemed the haphazardly arranged turf in the fireplace had reached its crescendo and now glowed in a burnt orange aftermath. The heat in the small room was stifling. I took off my raincoat and made to set it aside on the folded futon against the wall, just as I brought the four chairs before it into focus, where three figures looked up at me expectantly. Debra lowered herself onto the fourth chair and motioned for me to take the futon as a voice disrupted the damp air.

“Well, you weren’t telling a tale about that blonde hair of hers, God bless it; must have taken ages to grow,” the voice said.

“Claire, this is my mother; Da sits there, and this is my sister Breda,” Debra introduced, handing me a cup of tea.
“Nice to meet you,” I said. It was then I recognized where Debra had acquired her penchant for the once over, for all three Wallace’s studied me head to foot.

“You’re an American,” Mr. Wallace stated. He was short and stout and leaned forward in his chair, with his hands on his knees and his steady stare beaming beneath his tweed flat cap.

“Yes, I’m from Memphis, Tennessee,” I confirmed.

“Ah, Elvis and all that,” Mrs. Wallace said, who looked to be, in tandem with her husband, the second installment of a pair of square, blue-eyed bookends.

“That’s right,” I said, then I searched for a way to escape their scrutiny. I knew I could turn the tables if I could use the standard Irish conversational stand-by. “It looks like it’ll rain any minute,” I said, looking at Mr. Wallace.

“It does, yah. We brought the weather with us all the way from Letterfrack, so we did. If you haven’t been there, you should come see us. It’s God’s country up there; not much chance for the young ones to run the streets.”

“So I moved here,” Debra said with a wink.”

“Speaking of streets, we should get going,” Breda said. “We’ve only come to town for the one day.”

We all stood simultaneously, making our farewells, and after Debra closed the door behind her family, she asked me if I wanted to accompany her to the epicenter of Galway City, which is an area known as Eyre Square.

“There’s a card reader up there, her name is Harriet,” she said. “As long as you’re one of us now, I think you should see her.”

“Don’t you have to make an appointment?” I asked.

“For what?” Debra said. “Don’t be so American. Let’s just walk up the road and call out.”

What could have been a 10-minute walk up Shop Street took 45 minutes, for such is the nature of Galway. There is no way to set out from point A to point B within the confines of scheduled time because there are too many people milling around, everybody knows everybody, and it is a crime against Irish society not to stop and chat to the point of exhaustion. I stood idly by as Debra engaged in Irish banter time and again, which is to say that each exchange felt like joining a running joke that had been going on for a while, and we had simply stumbled into its midst. It is a game of wit-topping one-upmanship, this business of Irish banter, and as we made our way to Eyre Square, I was starting to catch the rhythm.

Two heavy wooden doors led the way into the back of an atrium on the north side of Eyre Square. Debra heaved the doors apart and ushered me inside to where a canvas marquee had a chalkboard before it, which read, “Readings with Harriet: 12 euros.”

What happened next is another story.

But the thing about that day is that it was exemplary of the spirit of Galway, where anything can and does happen, on any given day. This wasn’t the first or last time I’d slid into the day thinking it would go one way only to discover it had segued into quite another. Because there’s an energy to Galway that will catch the unsuspecting unaware. It emanates from the dichotomy of its nature, its marriage of opposites, its union of past and present, and at its foundation are the fluid Irish people, who know a thing or two about embracing the flow.

Claire is the author of contemporary fiction set in Connemara, “Dancing to an Irish Reel”  Http://www.clairefullerton.com

 

What Price an Author’s Politics?

 

I don’t believe I’m the only one disenchanted with the current state of affairs on FaceBook. Rather than launching a campaign in broad strokes of generalities from a supercilious pulpit, I will keep things simple and try my best to articulate where I’m coming from as an artist, for writing, to me, is a high art.

 

Like legions the world over, I joined FaceBook to stay connected with many people I’d lost touch with over the years. I grew up in Memphis, which means I’m a Southerner, and Southerners are raised in packs attendant to other packs. The domino effect of this reaches into the hundreds. And I care about all my pack members, so I considered the advent of FaceBook a gift that kept me connected, now that I’m a transplanted Southerner living in California.

 

And then I cultivated a writing career. I, like other writers, was therefore obligated to do my share of marketing and promotion for my books, and Facebook is, perhaps, the most viable avenue to do so. In short order, my list of “friends” grew longer, and I, wanting to help my fellow writers, turned around one day to discover I was connected to unfathomable numbers of authors I would have never known otherwise. And it thrilled me. I will always be fascinated by those who create, be they a writer, musician, dancer or painter. Give me your art, says I; it softens the blow of the human experience. In my opinion, there is such beauty in this world, and it is the artist’s God-given aptitude that points this out. It has been my pleasure and honor to help promote other authors, and there is safety in numbers in this business of living, if one is lucky enough to come across others of their ilk. Like begets like, or so it seemed to me, but lately I’ve become soul-sick and heart-confused while looking at FaceBook, and I’m trying to get to the bottom of why.

 

I feel hoodwinked, led into the miasma of a bait and switch. I came to Facebook because of friendship and art, but now it seems I’m being held prisoner for political ransom. I know the arguments: freedom of speech, a forum for “voice,” and all the other rights people stand up for. I’m not suggesting any of this is wrong, but I do question its appropriateness. Just because one can doesn’t mean one should, and the irony for an author is pontificating politically automatically polarizes their followers. There’s no sense in not admitting this, and those that don’t might be assuming their followers completely agree with their views, yet if this is the case, then why preach to the choir?

 

I think authors should seriously think through posting their political view on FaceBook, and weigh it for the potential ramifications to their career. After all, the way an author shows up in the world begins with deciding how they want to be perceived. I had this question posited to me recently, when my literary agent asked me to articulate “my brand.” It’s going to matter when my next two novels come out, and currently there is wisdom in establishing and investing in my base. I’m thinking the more streamlined and specific I can be, the better.

 

Readers align with us for stories. Reading stories gives many suspended quarter in a hectic world. Readers don’t necessarily need to know who the person is behind the story. If an author is doing it right, their stories will speak volumes to answer the question, without detracting from the author’s mystique.

 

I’m not saying I long to be seen as mysterious, only that I like the idea of my stories speaking for themselves. As for who I am, I’ll let the readers decide, and willingly leave politics to the political pundits.

 

 

 

Whistlin’ Dixie

I stood at the counter of my local grocery store exchanging pleasantries with the cashier, as I am wont to do, and this time it only took twenty seconds for the nice lady to ask what I’m always asked out here in Southern California, “Where are you from? Are you from Texas?” You have to pity the poor people in California; they don’t know any better than to assume if someone has a Southern accent, they’re from Texas ( as if the state of Texas counts as a Southern state, which I say is questionable because everyone knows Texas is its own animal.)
I’m a transplanted Southerner who hails from the Mississippi Delta, and although I am now long in another region, it is no influence on the armor I wear around my Southern DNA. It is its own protective shield, a source of self-identification, and I see the world and its people through the focused lens of my Southerness, which couldn’t be more convenient, for it simplifies everything.

 

To continue:

Claire Fullerton: Whistlin’ Dixie

The Pat Conroy Literary Festival

Because one has to follow what has resonance in life, I wound up on a plane, crossing the country from Los Angeles to Beaufort, South Carolina. I did this because the author Pat Conroy has always been my idea of the personification of what it means to be a writer. In life, he was the embodiment of language in its highest form. Pat Conroy took this business of being human, with all its frailties, heartbreaks, and nuances, and wrestled it into art. He was strong enough, brave enough, trusting enough to share his stories, and in so doing, he gave us all the gift of options by using writing as saving grace along life’s riddled path. That he wrote in the first person spoke to me, for I knew exactly to whom I was listening. I understood Pat Conroy, cared about him, identified with his human predicament, and applauded his uncanny ability to lift himself out of his own confusion by putting his tumultuous life into words.

And so I flew to South Carolina this past weekend to attend the inaugural Pat Conroy Literary Festival, in Conroy’s beautiful, lowcountry hometown. Just last year, I’d done the same to attend the celebration around his 70th birthday, which turned out to be the smartest move I made in 2015. Meeting Pat Conroy in person and watching him navigate the throngs of peers and readers humanized the diaphanous mystery of those lofty souls set upon this earth to interpret it for the rest of us. He walked among us, humble and smiling, posing for photographs and shaking hands like an overwhelmed child, grateful and surprised that so many had turned out for his party. His sincere, wide-eyed comportment shook me to my core and stayed with me long thereafter. I was well aware at the time that I was witnessing exactly what it means to be a celebrated writer and not have it go to your head.

I will digress here to say that In March of 2016, in a crisis that blindsided the literary world, Pat Conroy died of pancreatic cancer. It was such a profound loss, with baffled legions asking how this could possibly be that the outpouring of love continues to this day. My belief is it will go on forever, for Pat was so beloved that people will always be uneasy with the metal glare of letting him go.

 And so the town of Beaufort rebounded after Pat Conroy’s death. The fact that Hurricane Matthew blew through the region the week before deterred them not one iota. They assembled en masse to rise up and fuel the fire that Pat Conroy set. The inaugural Pat Conroy Literary Festival had the same tone and tenor of Pat Conroy’s 70th birthday; it carried on for him, because of him, in honor of his name. I had a feeling this would be the case, when the festival was announced, and did not hesitate to make arrangements to attend. To not have done so after being there last year seemed unthinkable; it would have flown in the face of all things Pat, and I wanted to uphold my end.

I’m going to go on and say it: It’s liberating to be a writer without personal agenda. Six years of promoting my books, myself, and everything all about me is exhausting, and frankly goes against my nature. This is why I took a big exhale when I got to The Pat Conroy Literary Festival in Beaufort. For four days, I was in witness of writers and readers assembled for all the right reasons: love of story. We all knew that Pat Conroy was the pivotal point, yet his absence did not overshadow the celebratory spirit of the weekend. The reason why is because Pat Conroy had shown us, the year before, how to dive right in and revel in the company of those who contribute to our chosen field. There seemed no hierarchy of value in those gathered for the weekend, just the impression that we are all on the same path; some ahead, others a few paces behind. For me, it was like visiting a foreign country and discovering that everybody spoke my first language. I sat in the audience of one panel discussion after another and was invigorated and informed by what the participating authors had to share. The thing about being a writer is there is no there to get to; there is only the process of personal growth, and what is invaluable to the momentum is allowing yourself to remain a student. This is what Pat Conroy did last year, and I say this because I could feel it. I’m pretty sure he was in the audience of every event of the Pat Conroy at 70 Festival, with his pen and paper in hand, for every time I turned around, I saw him, eyes focused on the stage with glee and rapt attention. I cannot adequately articulate what watching this world-renowned author taught me, except to say that it taught me everything. It has much to do with decency and camaraderie, and the willingness to celebrate those who create through the written word.

The Pat Conroy Literary Festival was like being in a bee-hive of literary heroes.  It was a four day celebration orchestrated “for the love of words and story,” which is a phrase Pat Conroy used, whenever he signed his books.  There was something so heartwarming and ceremonious about the entire weekend. It was a literary festival put on by those who loved Pat Conroy for those who loved Pat Conroy, and the overall feeling was that the celebration will never end.   

 

 

 

A Southern Voice

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:

Claire Fullerton: A Southern Voice

The Man from Derry

His name was Eoghan, and I never did catch his last name. A solid year spent with the desultory coming and going of this enigmatic man through the door of The Galway Music Center, and I came to accept him as Kieran’s friend from Derry. Kieran rarely explained himself, much less anyone attendant, and because he was the head of The Center, the rest of us were not in the habit of asking. They talked alike, Kieran and Eoghan, but half of the time I couldn’t discern what they were saying. In each other’s company, neither enunciated; they’d slip into a flat, guttural diction that lacked the singing high notes of the west of Ireland’s accent, and I confess it took too much effort to attune my ear to their patois. On Kieran’s lips, the name Eoghan was levelled to the convenience of “Own.” I figured it was a linguistic vortex from there, so I settled with gathering the essence.

Eoghan was older than the rest of us by a good 10 years, but this wasn’t what gave him his arresting gravitas. He had a way of standing that meant business: feet planted, weight centered, eyes with an unambiguous stare. And although I’m an innocuous little thing in stature, no threat to anybody in any conceivable way, the day I met Eoghan, he took his time looking me over. There was a nerve-wracking tenor to his streetwise swagger that seemed crouched and coiled between fight and flight. Kieran once hinted that Eoghan had, and I quote, “Northern Irish connections,” but I paid it no heed because Eoghan’s blue eyes settled the score between his tough-guy countenance and his poetic mind. His eyes were the color of liquid innocence, round and clear and all-knowing; the kind of eyes that saw between layers; the kind of eyes you knew you could trust.

And so it evolved that on a windswept, December’s Saturday, I took the bus into Galway and followed the directions Eoghan had given me to Scoil Lan-Ghaeilge. It was there I found him in the back of the room, wearing a Santa Claus costume and speaking to a passel of fresh-faced children in the Irish language, while a pack of smiling mothers stood by, cameras in hand. It was a scene so incongruous to everything I knew of Eoghan that I had to study it for a moment because he’d never bothered to tell me he taught the Irish language in his spare time. It turned out this was just the beginning of Eoghan’s love for all things Irish. He took a warrior’s pride in his country and possessed a knowledge so deep in its history you would have thought he’d been personally involved at every turn of Ireland’s storied past. Which is why he took it upon himself to invite me to the gentle fields of Oughterard, on the shores of Lough Corrib. He hadn’t divulged our destination; he simply told me to get in his blue Honda Civic, then sped out of Galway on the Headford Road. Twenty six cork-screw miles and 45 minutes later, Eoghan stopped the car on an uneven dirt road. A cattle grate lay before a rusted gate with a padlock, and climbing over it, we stood at the mouth of an unkempt field.

In my mind’s eye, I can still see it: the unfathomable immensity of winter-torn acreage, its wooded grassland beaten to a faded ochre beneath an overcast sky.  The earth was sodden beneath my boots as we trudged through the unmarked expanse. Blackbirds and hawks swooped above watching; they sailed in a majestic current with the rights of jurisdiction, and I knew myself to be an interloper in this dreary landscape, where the wind pitched and rolled with a chill that touched bone. Eoghan roved forward in his loose, ambling stride. He held his head with fierce intention, his eyes on the horizon between earth and sky. It was there beyond the rise that I saw it. It rose out of the earth and spread ominously, a thunderous ancient castle, in parts without a roof. A grey stone wall stacked around the manse declaring its prominence. At one time it must have been impressive, but now shrubbery defaced the castle walls, and tangled ivy and moss ravaged through the windows. But still, she upheld her imperious grandeur. There was something queenly in her stately elegance; safe in her desolation, and validating to the soul as we walked her interior then circled her venerable grounds. You simply cannot walk grounds such as this with any amount of Irish blood in your veins without it speaking to you. Something longing and haunting descends like the call of atavistic memory. Something turns in your blood that is probably DNA. I don’t think you can be Irish without Ireland’s history being part of your personal story. I started to say something to Eoghan about this, but from the way he was looking at me, he already knew. And the thing about that day was I half expected Eoghan to hold forth in erudite commentary, but he didn’t. There are some moments so sacred they require no words, and to share them with someone creates an unnamable intimacy best not disturbed. In that moment, I knew something, though I couldn’t tell you what I knew; I just knew. I was there and experienced something ineffably integral to being of Irish descent, and from the manner of his quietude, I thought Eoghan did, too. I suspected it was why he’d brought me here, to this place without a name. It was Eoghan’s way of sharing his homeland, and I am warmed to this day by the gesture. I took the above photograph as we walked towards the castle. It’s unfortunately small and lacks the impact the structure made, but I keep it in a standing frame just the same. It doesn’t capture much of what I saw that day, yet every time I look at it, it brings to mind the most important memory: a peacock proud Irishman in love with his country, that swashbuckling Derry man named Eoghan, whom I’ll never forget.

Claire Fullerton is the author of A Portal in Time and the 2016, Readers’ Favorite award winner for cultural fiction, Dancing to an Irish Reel.

http://www.clairefullerton.com