Review: The Bookshop at Water’s End

Every line in The Bookshop at Water’s End is soulfully written in seamlessly crafted chapters. Beginning in the emergency room of a Charleston, South Carolina hospital, this enchanting story never loses its page-turning sense of urgency, and yet it is delivered softly, as a deeply insightful, thought provoking character study on two women, whose lives are significantly entwined. Author Patti Callahan Henry knows her way around the nuances of women, and writes with uncommon fearlessness, as she tells the story of Bonny and Lainey, in their mid-forties now, who formed a life-long friendship at the age of thirteen while on family vacation in the small South Carolina coastal town of Watersend. Then and there, the wheels were set in motion of a dynamic that resonated forward with such resounding effect that even they were not aware of its repercussions. But there is no running from cause and effect, and when Bonny and Lainey have cause to return to Watersend,  the threads of this story reverberate in love and longing, mystery and self-discovery, all woven together in one plausible tapestry.

Bonny Blankenship’s life and identity is centered upon her medical profession, whose seeds were planted at thirteen by uttering a fateful wish in one magical, belief-driven moment alongside Lainey, as the two swam in the river at Watersend. That her wish came true sets the foundation for Bonnie’s side of the story, just as Lainey’s simultaneous wish materializes, in what is ultimately an outgrowth from her anguished childhood. Lainey is an acclaimed artist, whose medium involves creating visual stories by piecing them together, an act, the reader suspects, that has much to do with piecing together the unresolved mystery around the disappearance of her mother. It is this singular, cataclysmic event that shapes the future for Lainey and her older brother, Owen, whom Bonnie secretly loves. It is the fear of friendship’s betrayal and Owen’s mercurial nature that keeps Bonny’s love for Owen in arrested development. It is the longing of the heart and the reasoning of the mind that burdens her with the push and pull of love’s unrealized potential, even as her life path finds her married to another and raising a daughter named Piper.

The character, Piper Blankenship, seems to me the conscience of this story. She is nineteen, maladjusted, and written with such accurate sensitivity that I repeatedly pictured her at the heart of a great YA story. Her perspective gifts the reader with a view from the edge, and her pivotal placement in the story shows us unflinchingly who each of the adult characters are, as they try to find their footing amidst shifting tides.

The Bookshop at Water’s End is a story that never stops searching, and that many of its events are tied to Watersend’s local bookshop is brilliantly symbolic. The bookshop is an anchor in full possession of the past’s facts, and its proprietress, Mimi, plays her cards close to the vest as she faithfully waits for the players in this story to discover the clues that will allow the looming puzzle affecting them all to fall into proper place.

Three cheers for author Patti Callahan Henry. She has given us a heart-wrenching, mesmerizing story of characters beautifully flawed and made them beautifully human.

 

Note: I won the ARC of this book in a Goodreads giveaway! The Bookshop at Water’s End will be released on July 11, 2017.

On Writer’s Block

I don’t believe in writer’s block, because I believe everyone has their own writing process. The task is to honor whatever it is. When I begin a novel, I have a story to tell, and my aim is not so much to entertain as to say something about the complexities of living through the art of story. I’m fascinated in the deep-seated emotional life within all of us. I firmly believe most people hide a significant part of who they are, and in my mind, there are many possibilities for why this is so: fear of not fitting in; of being misunderstood; unreasonable expectations from someone close and domineering; or perhaps the weight of psychic and emotional baggage accrued from any number of avenues. It’s our emotional life that shapes much of our fate, and I never underestimate its motivational significance. Because this is a subject that intrigues me, I weave it into all of my books, for I want to tell more than a story; I like to give the reader suggestions on how the story came to be because I think we are all subject to cause and effect.

When I have a novel in mind, I know its beginning, middle, and end, which gives me a story line, yet I’m more concerned with the book’s message. I go into writing a book with both considerations in play, and allow the book to breathe and grow. Because I realize that most of us play out our lives in contrast and comparison to other people, and that our lives are somehow reflective of the people, places and things around us, I use characters as triggers for cause and effect within the story. It is the interplay, the exchange between characters that gives a story meaning, and I’ll go one further to say it’s the characters in a book that show us who we are.

All this said, I take my time writing a novel, for I believe it has its own life force.  I have yet to write anything wherein I did not pause and reflect in the process, which is exactly why I’m not a believer in writer’s block. I believe the story is within me, flying around on the wings of inspiration, and my job is to let it make itself known, in its own terms then put it into words in my own timeframe.

I’ve heard it said by some writers that even when they’re not writing, they’re writing in their head. This makes perfect sense to me, and it takes mineral patience and iron trust to fenagle the weight. If a writer can do this, then it allows for a living, breathing work in progress to create itself. As for writer’s block, I never claim it. When in downtime, I tell myself I’m only taking a breath.

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

 

The Here and Now

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

The Stolen Child by Lisa Carey

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Because I once lived on the western coast of Ireland, and because author Lisa Cary moved to the island of Inisbofin, off Ireland’s west coast to research her first book, I’ve been following her career for many years. I’ve loved each of her four Irish themed novels, and eagerly awaited the February 7th release of her latest, The Stolen Child. It is a story much like Ireland herself: deceptive in its riddled nuances, more than the sum of its parts. The soul of the story creeps up on you. It takes patience and willingness to allow the magic to take hold, and when it does, it is not by possession. The Stolen Child spins the kind of magic that lulls at the core of your being; affects your consciousness, waits for you to piece it together until you understand. There is little overt in this languid novel, which, again, is much like Ireland. It is a desperate story through and through, yet in the hands of author Lisa Carey, it resonates with mythical beauty, gives you a sense of timelessness, and holds you fast by its earthy, brass tacks.
In pitch-perfect language, Carey wields dialogue specific to the west coast of Ireland’s desolate environs. It is an understated language, upside down to outsiders, but once your ear attunes, you are affronted by the superfluousness of other tongues. All primary characters in The Stolen Child are women. They live cut-off from the mainland of Ireland’s west coast, twelve miles out, upon rocky, wind-swept, St. Brigid’s Island, during the one year time frame of May, 1959 to May, 1960. It is a timeframe fraught with the looming inevitability of the islanders’ evacuation from their homeland, with its generational customs and ties, to the stark reality of life on the mainland, with its glaring and soulless “mod-cons.” Most of the characters are conflicted about leaving the island, save for the sinister Emer, who has her own selfish agenda, centered upon her only child Niall. Her sister, Rose, is the sunny, earth-mother, unflappable sort, who only sees the buried good in Emer, whereas everyone one else on the island shuns her, for her malefic, dark ways, which they intuit as dark art. Emer has one foot on the island and the other in the recesses of the fairies’ manipulative underworld. It is the American “blow-in,” Brigid, the woman with a complicated past, who has her own ties to the island from her banished mother, that cracks the carapace of Emer’s guarded and angry countenance. Together, the pair explore an illicit relationship, but when it snaps back, Emer retaliates with a force that effects the entire island and twists her worst fears into fate.
The Stolen Child is magnificently crafted, for it is a sweeping story set on a cloistered island, which has nothing to recommend it save for its quays, its view, and its eponymous holy-well. This is a novel rife with character study that is quintessentially Irish, yet applicable far afield. In themes of motherhood, hope, desperation, and hopelessness, the characters take what little they have and wrestle it into making do. It is the power of steel intention that drives this story, and the reader receives it from all conceivable angles. I recommend The Stolen Child to all who love Ireland, to all who love an exceptional, creative story, and to all who love language used at its finest. All praise to the author Lisa Carey. I eagerly await the next book.

 

Claire Fullerton is the author of Dancing to an Irish Reel, and A Portal in Time. Her next book, Mourning Dove, will be released by Firefly Southern Fiction in 2018.

Rejection Before Your Open Door

I’m a woman of my word, and am therefore following through on a request from one of my WordPress friends to share a little something about the rejections I received, on the path that ultimately aligned me with my literary agent, concerning my third novel. I’m going to leave specific names out here, and know you’ll understand why.

The rejections I received were by and large voiceless, in that these days, most literary agents leave a qualifier on their submission page that simply says, “If I am interested in your query and want to request more, I will be in touch.” From this, one can safely assume if they don’t hear back from an agent, then the agent is not interested, for what could be many reasons ranging from the genre of the book, to its subject matter, to the possibility that the agency’s guidelines were not followed, or it could be the simple fact that the agent’s hands are full. And because my third novel is a Southern Family Saga set in 1970’s and 1980’s Memphis, the task, for me, became all about ferreting out exactly who is representing authors with books set in the South. But one has to cast wide, when looking for an agent. They have to get creative on where their book will fit. In the case of my third novel, I wrote to literary agents that represent Women’s Fiction, Literary Fiction, and commercial fiction, yet my focus was on those interested in or connected to the South. In reading the bio of each agent I queried, I read the fine print to ascertain which authors they represent, what their reading preference is, and paid close attention to those who revealed where they are from. Every time I discovered an agent either from the South or currently living in the South I took a chance; followed the submission guidelines to the letter; and e-mailed my query. If one keeps in mind that a query letter is basically a letter of introduction; that you are writing to say who you are, what your book is about, and where you have been published, then it is less daunting. Remember you, as the author, are also looking for a good fit!

And speaking of daunting, I’ll digress here to say that when I made the rounds with one of my first two books, I received a response from one agent, who wrote only this above my submission: “Show, don’t tell.” Ouch. At least that’s what I thought at the time. You should understand that I write in the first person, and am big on establishing the narrator’s voice, so after I got over the sting, I went to my bookshelf and revisited Anne Rivers Siddons “Peachtree Road,” which is roughly seventy-five percent of the most flawless narration ever written. I pressed on, and the book was published in 2015 as “Dancing to an Irish Reel.” This goes to show to each, their own, and again, you as the author are looking for a good fit.

And speaking of “Dancing to an Irish Reel,” all 54 of its reviews on Amazon are good ones, and I will always be proud of the book. It didn’t make an earth-shattering splash, but I am satisfied that it represents who I am as a writer, and remember, “A writer’s career is a marathon, not a sprint.” I’m mentioning this here because it ties in with another rejection I received for my third book, which is to report that an agent actually took the time to write me to say “You should have hired a publicist; your sales are anemic!” Ouch, again, but I pressed on, and I’ll tell you why: I think writers have a sense of the simple fact that they should be writing. I think this is the salient truth that spurs us on. And whatever one’s belief system is, regarding faith and luck and timing, to possess something of this, in whatever amount, is enough to foster the spirit of pressing on.

All told, I had three literary agents interested in the manuscript of my third book. Two of these agents were in the process of reading it, when joy of all joys, the agent, Julie Gwinn, of The Seymour Literary Agency, called me and offered me representation. Julie felt so right to me for many reasons. I’d done my homework on her, was awed by her background, learned that she lives in the South, and I happen to have a friend who is currently her happy client. The last agent called me after I signed with Julie Gwinn, and I am thrilled to report that I strongly believe the stars aligned with Julie, in the manner they should have all along.

In summation, if you embark upon the road to finding a literary agent, it helps to keep in mind that you are seeking a good fit. What you want to find is an agent who wants to work with you just as much as you want to work with them, for finding the right publisher is essentially a team effort.

To answer my WordPress friend’s request that I write about rejection, I will say it isn’t always easy to weather, but if you press on and keep the faith that the stars will align when and as they should, then one day you’ll come to see rejection as part of the process.