Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Ellen Feld is talking with Claire Fullerton, author of Little Tea
FQ: Tell our readers a little about yourself. Your background, your interests, and how this led to writing a book.
FULLERTON: I grew up in Memphis and loved every minute of it. Memphis is a musical mecca, and I worked in music radio. I now live by the ocean in Malibu, California with my husband and 3 German shepherds. I am a full-time writer and part-time ballet and Pilates teacher.
FQ: Have you always enjoyed writing or is it something you’ve discovered recently?
FULLERTON: I was naturally drawn to writing at an early age through consistently keeping journals. If one does so, they can look back later to discover their journals are comprised of stories. Publication came to me first with poetry. Short-stories came next, and from there I wrote a weekly, creative column for my local newspaper. I wrote my first novel after living on the west coast of Ireland. Writing is a growth process, and I've simply stayed the course.
FQ: Tell us a little about your book – a brief synopsis and what makes your book unique.
FULLERTON: The title, Little Tea, is after a significant character whose real name is Thelonia, whom the reader comes to know as the narrator reveals her backstory of growing up in the Deep South on her family's 3rd generation, ancestral grounds, once called the Wakefield Plantation, yet in later years was considered a family business, in that it was a working farm. The story of Little Tea is told in the first person, as the narrator, Celia Wakefield, returns to the South from California to reunite with her two childhood friends, one of which is in a marital crisis. The 3 friends spend a leisurely weekend at the lake in Heber Springs, Arkansas, where they discuss life, marriage, and their coming of age. The two storylines fit together as Celia examines her storied past and what came of her friendship with Little Tea as a result of a tragedy in the 1980s that had far-reaching repercussions. Theirs was a bi-racial friendship, subject to regional, social ramifications, and the reader comes to realize that now times have changed.
FQ: What was the impetus for writing your book?
FULLERTON: I began writing Little Tea with an eye toward depicting the magic of intimate, female friendship-- the kind that begins when young and lasts through a changing, evolving lifetime. Though lives take surprising directions among friends, some friendships remain as anchoring touchstones like a baseline, so that people never forget who they are, essentially. I wanted to write about how friends try to help each other out when there are doubts and confusion. They try to fix each other, and when a quandary is put before 3 friends, they arrive at different solutions. And in writing the backstory of Little Tea, the impetus was to depict the social mores of the Deep South in the 1980s. Times have changed, now. What was once unacceptable has become acceptable.
FQ: What genre would your book best fit? Why this genre?
FULLERTON: Little Tea straddles a few genres. It is upmarket fiction, in that it incorporates commercial fiction with a focus on language. Little Tea fits into the women's fiction category in that it is a story women will relate to. It could be considered Southern fiction in that its sense of place is a significant part of the story.
FQ: Who are your favorite authors?
FULLERTON: Pat Conroy, Anne Rivers Siddons, Ron Rash, Billy O'Callaghan from Cork, Ireland, and most writers who have a unique way of turning a phrase.
FQ: What is your all-time favorite book? Why? And did this book/author have any influence over your decision to become an author?
FULLERTON: The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy. In this brilliant story, Conroy artfully lays bare the family dynamic in such an astounding way as to turn pain into art. His use of language is lyrical and his setting of the South Carolina Lowcountry is rife with visceral imagery. The Prince of Tides is an emotional experience with such poignancy that it shows all writers endless possibilities.
FQ: Did the story change as you wrote the book?
FULLERTON: I will say Little Tea grew and achieved depth when I started writing the narrator's back story. Dimension was added when I answered my own question of why Celia Wakefield has hesitant to return to the South from California. As I wrote Celia's backstory, it was clear that she had yet to reconcile her past. With her unhealed past, Celia's present was affected, and the story took on life when Celia's past and present unwittingly met by the surprise entrance of her childhood boyfriend into the story, which set up her having to revisit what she'd tried to outrun.
FQ: Was the plot worked out completely before you started or did it evolve as you wrote?
FULLERTON: Little Tea's plot evolved as I explored the dynamic of friendships. Once I brought characters from the past into the story, there was the opportunity to write about cause and effect. I think our present frame of mind, attitudes, and general outlook on life is shaped cumulatively by what has happened to us in the past. We may soldier on through hard times, but eventually, realize that in order to move forward, we need to heal the past. This is what led me through the writing of Little Tea. It was an exploration through a tumultuous past that Celia Wakefield was subject to because of her family dynamic in the Deep South, where misguided regional attitudes came into play and charged the story. My task was to give Celia Wakefield a healed way of considering her personal history and give Little Tea a satisfying ending.
FQ: Was it important to you to have a plot that would keep readers guessing about the outcome?
FULLERTON: I wanted Little Tea's plot to be something all readers could relate to, and I kept that as my focus all the way through to an ending that completely surprised me!
For more information on Little Tea, please visit the author's website at: www.clairefullerton.com