A Southern Season

A year ago, I was asked by Eva Marie Everson, the acquisitions editor for Firefly Southern Fiction (an imprint of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas, which published my 3rd novel, Mourning Dove) to contribute a novella to a book she had in mind that would consist of four novellas, each set in the South and penned by a writer who hails from the region. Eva’s idea was to capture the 4 seasons as they played out on a Southern stage through the art of setting and story. At the time she asked me to contribute, Eva and I had just finished three exhillerating rounds of edits for Mourning Dove. I knew there would be a long wait ahead before Mourning Dove’s release, and although I’d never written a novella, I figured I might as well try my hand.  It was that, and what self-respecting writer would say no to an editor with whom they’d just had a wonderful experience, who gave the added incentive of A Southern Season’s assigned publication date!

Upon learning the scant guidelines of 20,000 words set in the South during the season of my choosing, I knew right away I’d write a story set in a Memphis fall.  Fall has always been my favorite time of year, for all her eerily suggestive, mood-enhancing promises. As for my hometown of Memphis: I’ll never tire of wrangling her peculiar nuances and charms, which, I’m convinced, are spawned from her proud cultural heritage.

In the days preceding the drafting of my story, I tried on many Memphis hats. There’s much to choose from in that historic, musical mecca on the Mighty Mississippi; it’s seen more than its share of changing times yet still boasts of its past. And the way I see it, a good story always comes down to the characters. How they greet the common place in the every day is where I find the heart of the story. In the Memphis in which I grew up, the particular milieu I come from was rife with story-tellers. As I pondered the subject of my novella, luck had it that one of them called me on the phone.

In the interest of discretion and not wanting to blow my source for all of its future gems, I’ll keep it cryptic by sharing I have the great largess of maintaining a friendship with a certain octogenarian who hails from the genteel side of the Delta and keep it there. Let’s just say it’s not what you say in life, it’s how you say it, and if you asked this particular Southerner for directions to downtown Memphis, they’d take that straight shoot down Poplar and purr it to spun-gold. And I couldn’t tell you now how it was we got on the subject of funerals, but when we did this refined, effusive character unwittingly coined a classic line. ” I know one thing about a Southern funeral,” this nameless person sighed, “you can bet your last dollar that something will go wrong.”

I knew right then that I had my story. I framed my novella within the rites of a three-day, Memphis funeral and titled it Through an Autumn Window. In it, I explored the unspoken complications and attendant guilt and nostalgia of a mother-daughter relationship, and paired it with the festering of unhealed sibling rivalry. I Set this mixed bag of a premise in a Southern culture where everyone tip-toed around iron-clad social mores then I let the games begin!

I am one of four authors who contributed to the book, A Southern Season, and I’m thrilled to announce the book was released on November 1st by Firefly Southern Fiction. There are four different voices depicting the South in this collection of novellas. I believe you’ll find each inspirational !

 

 

 

 

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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

When an Author Narrates their Book’s Audiobook.

I have always loved the solitary act of reading a good book. When I read, I want to be captivated. I want to immerse myself in the language and craft of a story. As a writer, part of me studies word choice and turn of a phrase as I read, but even as I do, I stay involved in the story. And I like the feel of a book: its tactile size and anchoring weight; the entire solidity of the reading experience. So, when my husband suggested I narrate the audiobook of my Southern family saga set in Memphis, Mourning Dove, I didn’t immediately jump. I had to think about it. I had to be convinced it would be worthwhile, shown the current marketplace of audiobooks, and basically set my book bias aside and expand my horizons.
Having grown up in Memphis, where Delta music is a religion, I know my way around many musical genres from the blues to rock-a-billy, to current day rock-n-roll. I had a brother who played the guitar and was as passionate as anyone I’d ever met about music as a language. Growing up with my brother, Haines, was like attending school in all things musical. When he wasn’t playing music, Haines was talking about it, and the very foundation of my teenage years were spent under Haines’s tutelage.
From my early twenties to my early thirties, I was on the radio. I began my disc-jockey career on a whim. I attended college at The University of Denver. There was a control room next to the cafeteria in my dorm’s building, and students could sign up for school credit to spin their favorite records over a building-wide PA system, on a schedule that worked with their classes. As a communications and fine arts major, I jumped when I heard I could do this. It seemed as natural to me as walking. After college, I returned to Memphis and embarked on what became a nine-year, on-air career in radio, beginning as a producer at WHBQ Talk Radio, and ending at the album-oriented rock station: WEGR, Rock-103, on Memphis’s infamous Beale Street. I loved every minute of it, but I got out of radio when I moved to California. I’d been offered a job in the L.A. music business as an A&R representative. Summarily, I took up-and-coming bands to record companies, looking for a record deal. I had luck with a band out of Louisiana named Better Than Ezra. While I was in Los Angeles’ music business, I never once pursued music radio, being, as it was and is that I’m possessed of a southern accent.
After four years, I left the music business, when it occurred to me that the music business wasn’t the profession I envisioned for myself in the long haul. I’d been writing poetry by then and arrived at the conclusion that I had wings because I was young and untethered. I thought long and hard about it, and decided, were I to have my druthers, I’d move to pastoral Ireland and become a writer. Far-fetched, I know, but the thing is I actually did this. I spent a year on the western coast of Ireland. I’ve been writing ever since.
As I prepared for the release of my third novel, Mourning Dove, it was my husband who asked if I would be recording the audiobook. At the time, there had been no mention of an audiobook of Mourning Dove from my publisher. I went to my computer and sent an e-mail asking my publisher if there were plans for a Mourning Dove audiobook in the works. The reply came quickly: there were no such plans. When I told this to my husband, he produced the statistics of audiobooks’ popularity in the current marketplace, then simply said, “Alright, let’s record it.” I sent an audition tape to my publisher. I was given the green light.
What I should say here is that my husband is “a sound guy.” What this means is he’s a composer and an audio engineer. He has a recording studio behind our house in Malibu, and when he’s in it, he’s like a pig in mud.
I spent close to a month in my husband’s recording studio; six hours a day, five days a week. The second I put on the headphones to read my work, every minute of my radio career flooded over me in full force. It was as comforting to me as putting on a forgotten favorite coat, and the sheer act of it felt somehow fated. I had a blast reading the 233 pages of Mourning Dove’s manuscript. It gave me the opportunity to read the lines in the exact voice I had in mind as I wrote the book, and the best part of it was acting out the southern characters. There’s something I call “the Southern sigh,” which can only be completely understood for its dramatic emphasis if you hear it. To write it, it comes across as, “Well,” she waved her hand and sighed, “I just don’t understand where Finley came from.” That’s one thing. I’ll tell you now that it’s better to hear it. To hear the Southern sigh in all its breathy concession sounds a lot like a balloon deflating. How it’s executed, quite frankly, says it all.
When an author narrates their own audiobook, they gift the reader with their full intention. They give the reader the mood and cadence in their narration, and when it comes to dialogue, they are able to share speech patterns, inflections, and accents. I think this gifts the reader with something the written word does not. Mourning Dove has been out in the world for two months, and I am happy to report that many who have read the book have written to me to say they also bought the audiobook on Audible.
I’m couldn’t be happier that the audiobook of Mourning Dove is out in the world.
From September 16-22, I’ll be doing an audiobook tour with this wonderful outfit: https://audiobookwormpromotions.com/mourning-dove/ I believe, if you’re so inclined, you can sign up for the tour. The tour includes a giveaway of Mourning Dove’s audiobook.

And here’s a sample of Mourning Dove’s audiobook.

I’ve recently become a fan of audiobooks. My hope is you are, too!

 

http://www.clairefullerton.com

Book Review: Bead by Bead: The Ancient Way of Praying Made New

I came across this book through my fellow author, Susan Cushman’s, blog, who has a wonderful thing going as an author, editor, and champion of great books: http://susancushman.com/about/.  Susan’s engaging Facebook presence called my attention to author Suzanne Smith Henley’s book, which concerns a labor-of-love she engages in making stunning prayer beads. An impressive amount of acclimating research into ancient, religious practices went into this book, then the author brings it all home to modern day with inspiration and sheer delight! I am marveling at the connections that can be made through social media! Below is my review of Bead-by-Bead. If you’re interested in exploring the centering intent of prayer, this book is for you!

 

I am savoring this beautiful book, and turning to it nightly as a touchstone at my day’s end. Written in accessible language so compelling and engaging, Suzanne Smith Henley’s voice is like listening to a friend so rife with personality, I want to hear everything she has to say! There is a wealth of information regarding historical use of prayer practice with the use of beads. I am learning much about various religious practices, and the common thread of a physical ornament to ground one into prayer is something I find reverent in its intent and focus. This is a book for everybody: the devout, the spiritual, the artistic, the seeker. It is a manual of fine balance mixed with humor and intelligence, and its specific aim is something I find admirable as it unites. I recommend this book as a call to worship, no matter one’s proclivity or denomination. It is thought-provoking in its invitation to deepen one’s relationship with prayer, and I am so pleased to have found this book!