Today Claire Fullerton is visiting Ascroft, eh? to tell us about Little Tea, her novel of female friendship.
Welcome, Claire. Let’s get started, shall we?
Tell us about your novel. Is it part of a series?
Little Tea ( named after a character whose real name is Thelonia Winfrey) is a stand-alone story of those long-lasting female friendships that see you through a lifetime, wherein there’s shared history; language; and sense of humor. The narrator, Celia Wakefield spent part of her childhood at her family’s 3rd generation land in Como, Mississippi, where the cultural social mores concerning racial integration had yet to fully evolve. This premise sets the dynamic of a trajectory of events that impact her friendship with Little Tea and haunt Celia Wakefield decades later. When Celia reunites with two childhood friends at Greer’s Ferry Lake in Heber Springs, Arkansas, Celia’s past resurfaces for long-overdue resolution.
Where did the idea for the mystery that is central to the story come from?
In telling the story of three childhood friends who reunite after many years from the point of view of narrator, Celia Wakefield, who grew up in the Deep South but now lives in California, I wrote in the opening pages that she was hesitant to fly back home, yet the lure of friendship prompted her to brave her reservation. Twenty-five pages into Little Tea, I realized I had to answer to Celia’s hesitancy, so I began writing Celia Wakefield’s Back-story. I wanted to write about “the South as place” as accurately as possible to set the backstory and tell the reader about a tragedy that happened in her family’s history that Celia has yet to fully reconcile. Because Little Tea is told in two timeframes, the tragedy in Celia’s backstory is a build that unfolds, and I believe the reader will find it suspenseful.
Is there a theme or subject that underlies the story?
The unique ties that bind in long friendships and the idea of reconciling one’s own history in the interest of closure.
If so, what prompted you to write about it?
My desire to capture female friendships spawned Little Tea. I’ve always thought that when women friends get together to discuss the plight of one, the problems of the world are solved! Women have such intuitive insight and ability to conceptualize. The sage advice and profound wisdom of women that comes from what can only be called commiserative compassion is something I’ve always seen as uncanny. The way friends speak to each other when they’re uncensored has its own language, and typically there’s a shared sense of humor. All of this amazes me, so as a writer, my aim was to tell about that!
How do you create your characters?
In the case of Little Tea, I wanted to have one of the women have a problem. Ava Cameron is approaching fifty and in a marital crisis. And she’s drinking too much because a part of her can’t let go of her youth. I put this dilemma square in the center of Little Tea and created two friends so that the reader could have one problem seen through the eyes of three women. I loved the idea of one problem in the hands of three different women because of the differing vantage points.
How do you bring to life the place you are writing about?
I am partial to writing about the way an environment feels, and for this, it’s best to write about what makes it unique. In the Deep South, the oppressive humidity affects everything from how one dresses to how one spends the day. In Little Tea, the three friends spend a long weekend at Greer’s Ferry Lake in Heber Springs, Arkansas—340 lakefront miles with sycamore, pin oak, and pine trees all around. They spend much time in a boat on the water, and water, as an element, is suggestive of fluidity and changing emotions.
What research do you do to provide background information to help you write the novel?
I’m so glad you asked! Because Little Tea takes place in part in Como, Mississippi, I flew to Memphis and drove 45 miles South to see Como for myself. I spent five hours with a fifth generation “gentleman farmer” named Sledge Taylor, whose forebears were integral to the development of the area. Let’s just say that the stain glass windows in Como’s Holy Innocence Church are dedicated to his ancestors. Sledge Taylor is an historian, artist, scientist, botanist, and owner of hundreds of acres of cotton and soybean fields. He was my tour guide in Como, and driving through town and Como’s wooded outskirts while he gave a running monologue only interrupted by my questions was one of the finer days I’ve ever spent. I took notes all the while, and all of the information I received from Sledge Taylor found its way into Little Tea’s story.
Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
Little Tea is the story of female friendships and how one reconciles one’s familial history, but it is also a story that is attendant to Southern culture in terms of cause and effect. The three women friends reunite in modern time, but Celia Wakefield’s backstory is set in the 1980’s. There are cultural repercussions having to do with 1980’s, regional social mores, and they figure into the story. The ending of Little Tea lays bare what I see as a satisfying ending.
Thanks for answering my questions, Claire, and good luck with your new novel, Little Tea.
The novel is available online at Amazon
About Claire Fullerton: Claire hails from Memphis, TN. and now lives in Malibu, CA. with her husband and 3 German shepherds. She is the author of Mourning Dove, a coming of age, Southern family saga set in 1970’s Memphis. Mourning Dove is a five-time award winner, including the Literary Classics Words on Wings for Book of the Year, and the Ippy Award silver medal in regional fiction (Southeast.) Claire is also the author of Dancing to an Irish Reel, a Kindle Book Review and Readers’ Favorite award winner that is set on the west coast of Ireland, where she once lived. Claire’s first novel is a paranormal mystery set in two time periods titled, A Portal in Time, set in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. She is a contributor to the book, A Southern Season with her novella, Through an Autumn Window, set at a Memphis funeral (because something always goes wrong at a Southern funeral.) Little Tea is Claire’s 4th novel and is set in the Deep South. It is the story of the bonds of female friendship, healing the past, and outdated racial relations. Little Tea is the August selection of the Pulpwood Queens, a Faulkner Society finalist in the William Wisdom international competition, and on the short list of the Chanticleer Review’s Somerset award. She is represented by Julie Gwinn of the Seymour Literary.