Claire Fullerton: Remaining Engaged In Humanity
Interview by Phil Treagus - The Reading Lists
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.
My name is Phil Treagus and I am the founder of The Reading Lists. I'm a self-confessed book nerd and now I'm on a mission to uncover the world's most inspiring and important books by interviewing some of the world's most awesome people.
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.
Interview with Award Winning Author Claire Fullerton
LIT WORLD INTERVIEWS with Ronovan Writes
Unless you’ve been hiding under a CPU and working on your own book, then you know how much I’ve enjoyed a book called Dancing to an Irish Reel by Award Winning author Claire Fullerton. But I made a mistake with that book review. And I want to correct that up front. I wrote the review too soon after reading the book and failed to give time for reflection and full comprehension to take place. I didn’t take it all in and examine all the nuances hidden within the story. Every day since then I’ve been working on some aspect of the Claire Fullerton Experience. Yes, I call time spent working with an author an Experience like that because it does not normally end with a review and/or an interview. There is a lot more going on in the background than anyone other than one of my authors knows.
During the Experience I realized just how much Claire put in her book and how much she put in to her book. The more I think about it, the more I love the book. I don’t normally dwell very long after a review and interview, I always have the next to go to and I have since. But this would had a truth about it, a realness that one connects with and it stays with you. But before I get too carried away, unless I’m already too late, let’s get to my discussion with Claire Fullerton, Award Winning author and #1 GoodReads Irish Romance.
Claire, for a book that finds itself at times falling into the category of Romance, I have to say I was surprised by what I found with keeping that genre in mind. Did you set out to write a Romance? Was that your goal?
I’m so glad you asked this question, Ronovan. Actually, “Dancing to an Irish Reel” is literary fiction, which is a genre that means true to life. It’s a story about those near misses people experience on the road to a love that endures. I can’t think of anyone I know who hasn’t been in this situation before; where all the variables of attraction are in play, while two people are coming to know each other, yet for one reason or another, they can’t seem to get it together. But there is always such hope, and I think new love is typically replete with uncertainty. There is excitement and high hopes, yet on the flip side there is unpredictability and attendant fears. Extending oneself in new love can be risky and can leave one feeling vulnerable. It’s my belief that most people experience uncertainty and doubt when in the throes of new love, it’s just a question of to what degree they’re going to admit it! This is what “Dancing to an Irish Reel” is about. This is also why this book does not fall into the romance genre, but it does explore the subject.
Actually when I was thinking about this interview and the book I thought of real life with those moments of almost romance, or more relationship to tell the truth.
I think so as well. This is why I gave the reader Hailey’s thoughts throughout this book. I’m fascinated by the way people will say and do things in order to project a certain appearance, while thinking something completely at variance with their words and actions. I wanted the reader to know Hailey’s personality as she made her way in rural Ireland; that she saw things from an American frame of reference for much of this book, yet as the story progresses, that frame of reference was changed as she came to understand the Irish culture. I think this is what people do in life: they tend to resist what is new because their mind is already made up, but if one allows themselves to be influenced, there is much to learn!
The role of Hailey Crossan is a strong woman who knows who she is and what she wants. Where did those characteristics come from, as far as a model for her?
I love your use of the word role! I, too, see this book as a movie! You’ve just made my day! But seriously, and to your astute point, I know more women like Hailey Crossan than otherwise. When I consider all the close girlfriends, with whom I was lucky enough to grow up in Memphis, I realize they are all nobody’s fool. My mother was the same way. The women in my life have always been self-confident and self-reliant. They have a savvy, keen eye with regard to sizing people up. And the thing I’ve found with many of my friends is they rarely let on. They prefer to keep things close to the vest, so you have to know them for a while before you realize how aware they really are. This is how I wanted to write the character of Hailey. It was necessary that she was self- sufficient and sure of herself in order to move to another country without fear. She had to be able to hold her own in her new environment because she was a fish-out-of-water, so to speak.
I think your description of close to the vest fits Hailey well, now that I think about her. Cautious is another word that comes to mind. Recently I became a fan of a young man named Hozier, an Irish blues singer/musician/songwriter of about 26. I couldn’t help but picture him during my reading of Dancing to an Irish Reel. Did you have any images in mind, anyone in particular when you were writing Liam Hennessey?
Generally yes, but no one specifically. But I’ll use Hozier to make a point because the look of him is a good example; it is common in Ireland. There are many with dark hair and fair skin. And having lived in Ireland myself, I found the men to be subtle and beautiful, almost with a graceful, feminine quality. And those artistically attuned are the sensitive sort. This is what I had in mind when I created Liam Hennessey.
Oh, and one other thing before we move on, why that name, why Dancing to an Irish Reel?
In Irish traditional music, a reel is a tune that is circular; it goes back and forth and in and out in its execution, and to the listener it may seem unstable, but it is not. A reel has a plan! The title “Dancing to an Irish Reel” is meant to evoke this concept. It refers to the push and pull of the story and the search for stability. Hailey’s navigation of Ireland as an outsider and her sometimes off, sometimes on relationship with Liam Hennessey left her in the position of having to artfully manage a shifting tide, so to speak. She had to learn the ways of the Irish culture in order to live there inconspicuously, and the unpredictability of Liam Hennessey’s actions left her constantly searching for solid ground!
I’ve seen your handling of Ireland compared to that of one of Ireland’s most famous and beloved authors the late Maeve Binchy. When you see comparisons like that what comes to mind?
With regard to Maeve Binchy, because she was Irish, she handled Irish nuances effortlessly, as a matter of course. They were not unusual to her at all, but she reveled in their specific, unique quality. With regard to Ireland, she was in it as well as of it, yet able to stand back and observe the islands peculiarity in a way that celebrated its facets. I sought to do exactly this in “Dancing to an Irish Reel” because I carry a love and appreciation for the land and its culture. I find the Irish people earthy and authentic, unpretentious and in possession of a good perspective with regard to what is important in life. They place importance on quality of life and seem to me to accept life on life’s terms, as opposed to trying to manipulate their way through it.
When you were writing the book, was it an organic experience or did you have a specific outline in mind first? And whichever way, is that the same way you wrote A Portal in Time, your previous release?
For both books, I had a point to make, as in something to say. I started with a premise as a statement then set about getting there via a story that unfolded. As for an outline, my process is very loose. I leave room for the story to tell itself, which is something best exemplified as I write dialogue. I never know ahead of time what the dialogue will be, yet I aim for information to be revealed. We learn about characters through what they say and what other characters say about them. In both books, I was mindful of the spirit of intention and had a loose outline of what was going to happen with regard to turning points. I simply held a firm impression of who the characters were to make the events in both books plausible.
Reading your book and the description of A Portal in Time, I get the feeling of your enjoyment of writing about past lives, mystical and spiritual elements. Is this something that comes natural to you, I mean as in the aspects of writing?
My introspection must be showing! In truth, I’m not completely decisive on the subject of past lives one way or the other, but I do love the mystery. Perhaps the idea of past lives shares a blurred line with genetic memory, who’s to say? If you consider the idea of genetic memory, what it basically proposes is that we carry the impressions and experiences of our forebears because they are past down to us through genetics like imprints. This explains inherited talents and proclivities in an understandable way. And if you look at, say, the Druids, they didn’t believe so much in past lives as they did in the transmigration of the soul, meaning we are souls gathering wisdom in this business of living on earth, but it takes many incarnations to accumulate something with staying power. We can’t just get it all in one lifetime, if the aim is enlightenment, i.e, perfection. And because it is an ongoing endeavor, the idea is we return to this earthly plane repeatedly, where we try on different hats. I think there is confusion over the idea of past-lives because it places importance on the experience of the human as opposed to the experience of the soul as it seeks alignment with the divine, however you choose to define the divine. But this subject is important, and it’s enough for me to be mindful of the question. I think Sting touched upon something beautiful when he proclaimed we are spirits in the material world, and I know he wasn’t the first to posit this, but he did make a proclamation that brought it to the public fore.
Everyone that’s read my review of your book knows I loved it, and that I suggested a sequel. We’ve talked about it and it hadn’t come to you as an idea until then. But you set it up so well with the tarot card reading of Hailey. Do you think maybe some of those outside forces were guiding your story during certain parts? Maybe they want you to take another trip to Ireland.
Actually, I have been back to Ireland since I wrote “Dancing to an Irish Reel,” and I plan on going again! As for going back to Ireland in a sequel, I never thought along those lines because “Dancing to an Irish Reel” is a self-contained story with a point to it, which is to say we make our choices in life and from them our lives are set on a consequential course. As of this interview, I am not ruling a sequel out. I’ll let Hailey decide.
Now let's get to something a little more personal. We have a lot in common. Southern. Music business. Location of living for a time. How does your time in the South influence your writing, and is that part of your heritage something that might have drawn you to Ireland?
Ireland and the American South share something in common, but do keep in mind that much of the American South was settled by the Scotch-Irish, so perhaps it is something inherent in the area. Both areas spawn terrific communicators in possession of the gift of the entertaining story. It is a cultural way of being in the world, and therefore something passed down to each generation. In both the South and Ireland, I’ve found extremely colorful characters, completely unabashed in personality. As for the South influencing my writing, all I can say is that I write as I think, from the internal monologue I have in my head as well as how I see the world. The South has clearly influenced this as an environment because it is my frame of reference.
What’s the most satisfying thing that has happened to you so far while you’ve been an author?
The writer’s life style. I write daily for one reason or another. It has transpired that with two books in the world and the dynamic that promotion brings therefore, that I am always writing something, and this is due to the affiliations my books have given me. Take for instance the Irish online community “The Wild Geese.” They’re a group of the most erudite, Ireland loving writers I’ve ever come across, all with the desire to communicate and share their love of the island. I contribute to this community regularly by writing pieces that appear as blog posts, but what they really are is a way to celebrate the business of what it means to be Irish! So there is that gift, but I have also spent the last two years writing my third novel, which has been a joyous process. Then, of course, I contribute to magazines. It seems I’m always writing something and sharing it, which to me is simply the high art of communication for its own sake. All this is my idea of fulfilling days with a purpose. Can’t get more satisfying than this!
Do you have a favorite line in Dancing to an Irish Reel?
Yes, it is this: “There’s a feel about Galway that you can wear around your shoulders like a cloak.” It is very true.
Thank you, Ronovan. This has been big fun! Thank you for supporting writers through your exceptional blog.