When Kathy Patrick invited me to attend the Pulpwood Queens 10th Annual Girlfriends Weekends, I was thrilled to take her up on the offer. I’d heard it would be an entertaining weekend, but little did I know you really have to live it to know how very much fun it is.
It was my first time in Texas (apart from flight delays in DFW airport, which definitely don’t count) and what a place in which to be initiated, suthuhn stahl, y’all: Jefferson, Texas, a lovely little town rich in history with a cache of fabulous shops and antiques stores that could keep you busy for weeks (more on that later). The town—affectionately dubbed Mayberry on the Bayou-–boasts a bevy stunning historic homes converted into bed and breakfasts. I enjoyed a delightful stay at the Hale House Inn, thanks to my lovely hosts Timm and Karen Jackson, who provided sumptuous meals each morning for both me and my new author friend Mary Kay Andrews, who is a stitch.
The weekend commenced Thursday evening with an author dinner in which the 30 or so guest authors served and bussed a mouthwatering meal prepared by author chefs Debbie Thornton (Any Blonde Can Cook), Janis Owens (The Cracker Kitchen), and Lynn Frederickson (Lynn’s Specialities of the House). The keynote speaker for the weekend was an author who has held a place in the pantheon of Great Southern Writers, Pat Conroy (The Great Santini, Beach Music, Prince of Tides, South of Broad and others).
Pat has long been one of my favorite authors, and I was hoping to possibly get a glimpse of him maybe from the back row in the auditorium while he spoke to the group on Saturday (it ended up being a lovely little room, no inhospitable auditorium at all). Little did I know that Pat fully intended to get his hands dirty, however, and he did indeed roll up his sleeves, don his apron (signed by all attending authors), and graciously pour wine and serve up gumbo to the Pulpwood Queen Book Club members in attendance.
Prior to our serving the Pulpwood Queens, we got to enjoy the meal ourselves (I’m buying their cookbooks; it was that good), while Pat regaled us with tales of his youth. He’s quite the raconteur, and held all authors—many of whom are highly regarded NY Times bestsellers in their own right—rapt in his spell. Pat had accompanied his sweet daughter Melissa, who has a most charming children’s book out titled Poppy’s Pants.
Meanwhile, having been a waitress in my heyday, I enjoyed taking up the tray again (well, not really a tray, I just carried plates), and was thrilled I didn’t drop food on anyone (college dining hall flashbacks, anyone?). Our evening ended at the bar in town, Skinner’s, a honkey-tonk speakeasy sort of bar you wish every town had (with a fabulous waitress who even remembered my drink two days later!).
Friday we all convened at the visitor’s center for two days of panel discussions led by Kathy and the hilarious and debonair author Robert Leleux with a host of amazingly talented and interesting authors, including: Ad Hudler, John Pritchard, Jamie Ford, River Jordan, Shellie Rushing Tomlinson, Kathi Kamen Goldmark, Sam Barry, Tracy Lea Carnes, Karen Harrington, Kerry Madden, Judy Christie, Mary Kay Andrews, Kathryn Casey, Nicole Seitz, M. L. Malcolm, Lauretta Hannon, Ron Hall, Patti Callahan Henry, Janis Owens,and Hester Bass, among others.
Friday night was a Happy Birthday Barbie! party, with authors strolling the “catwalk” posing as their favorite Barbie. Mary Kay Andrews dressed as Bitter First Wife Barbie; Ad Hudler was Obsessive Compulsive Ken; I forget the other costumes. Pulpwood Queens’ costumes were incredible–ranging from the Threesome Barbie to a svelte gal doing an exact replica of The Original Barbie. Since Parrot Barbie didn’t seem to be a viable option, I went instead with June Cleaver Barbie. I forgot to pack a dress however, and my signature rubber gloves I take to signings got signed by authors the previous night, so I spent a short while in an amazing vault-from-the-past antiques shop across the street from the visitors center, a store with five city blocks worth of vintage everything. I was able to accessorize after finding a slightly musty black dress, adding in white gloves, a clutch purse and perfect June Cleaver velvet hat (complete with netting) and chandelier earrings, all for under $20. My bargain of the day. I was pressed for time or I’d have spent all week in this store–as I wandered around I found several things that we had in our house growing up–books, toys, even a dress I swear my mother owned. Talk about blast from the past.
Saturday found us back for panel discussions, the first one showcasing an author whose writing informed my own, Elizabeth Berg. Her bestselling novel, Open House, was one of the first books I read after having abandoned reading anything more mentally taxing than People Magazine when my kids were little. She tackles relationships in a very different way than I do in books, but I love how evocative her writing is and that taught me a good lesson in how to write to draw in the reader’s emotions. I was lucky enough to have my picture taken with Ms. Berg before she departed for the airport—a picture I’ll be thrilled to add to the photo album (as soon as I get that copy!).
Pat Conroy spoke to the group during a fabulous locally-catered Texas brisket lunch on Saturday, again holding us all spellbound with his tales. Other compelling speakers of the day included Jamie Ford (Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet), Ad Hudler (Househusband), River Jordan (Saints in Limbo) and the hilarious Shellie Rushing Tomlinson (Suck Your Stomach in and Put Some Color On). I had the pleasure of sharing a delightful lunch with Kathi Kamen Goldmark (founder of the literary rock band the Rock Bottom Remainders and author of My Shoes Keep Walking Back to You) and her new husband Sam Barry (talented and funny harmonica player and author of How to Play the Harmonica: And Other Life Lessons, and also brother of Dave), along with M.L. and Tracy.
During the entire event Pat Conroy was entirely approachable and hugely supportive. He thoughtfully and generously made sure to purchase (and have signed) books from every author in attendance. He was indeed the anti-Diva author, a sheer delight and an example to all authors of how not to let success get to your head.
Throughout both days Patti Ramey, a manager with Barnes & Noble in Tyler, TX, worked tirelessly to sell-sell-sell authors’ books to a very enthusiastic and generous audience of Pulpwood Queens, all of whom clearly have a passion and abiding respect for the written word. I don’t think Patti sat down the entire weekend. I enjoyed visiting with her during my frequent forays into the makeshift bookstore for yet one more book acquisition. Later Saturday afternoon, there were also awards handed out to those working hard to advance literacy, and Kathy, so generous in spirit, ensured that local organizations got in on the act by selling concessions to benefit local organizations. Each author supplied a silent auction item, the proceeds of which went toward providing books for the Dolly Parton Imagination Library Project to promote literacy in an area of the country (East Texas) with a high illiteracy rate.
Saturday night was the infamous Great Big Ball of Hair, with this year’s theme being Over the Rainbow. And what a ball it was…The lengths to which the Pulpwood Queens went to outdo one another in spectacular costuming was mind-boggling. Each time I saw a stunning Wizard of Oz-themed outfit I thought I’d seen the best of them, until I witnessed yet another. One group came garbed in ethereal white gowns as Glinda the good Witches, complete with white wastebasket-turned-jeweled crowns atop their heads, wired with glowing lights. Their coordinated table was topped off with a mojito-flowing fountain (a very popular destination that evening) served in neon-flashing shot glasses. Another group dressed as singing bluebells. Another still, Wizard of Oz in hot pink (and anyone who knows me knows my affinity for all things hot pink, so I did love their costumes). I could even get used to a hot pink flying monkey—far less creepy that way.
The best costume prize was awarded to a hilarious mother/daughter team who dressed as munchkins and they really could have walked right off the set of the movie, they were so authentic. (Oh, and my costume? I went with the easy-to-pack Judy Garland: the Dark Years and simply tied my hair in a scarf, strung a host of pill bottles around my neck, and sucked on a cigarette holder while toting a wine bottle all night. Judy Garland, Liza Minelli, I felt very interchangeable).
I can’t talk about a trip to Jefferson, Texas without mentioning incredible pie. I knew I had to stop on my way out of town Sunday for a slice of the Hamburger Store’s famous pie. I was yearning for something meringue but knew it wouldn’t travel well, so instead opted for triple berry, which was the perfect layover dinner in the Houston airport later that day. Those who know me know I am a pie snob, and I wouldn’t lie and tell you the pie was good if I didn’t believe it. Trust me, the pie alone is worth the trip to Jefferson.
I swear, y’all, I came home with a thicker accent. Having lived in Virginia for more than half my life, I have co-opted the word y’all, much to my kids’ chagrin; but for the most part I don’t usually sound like much of a Southerner. But for one weekend this January, I couldn’t help but feel as if I was part of the Deep South, heritage be damned.
***I had planned to put a whole host more pictures up here (including White Trash Dorothy and Auntie Em, the ethereal Glindas, and more) but I had such problems uploading images that I finally had to give up and leave it as is. Maybe if I have time I’ll try to add some more, but I have many of them posted here if you’re interested (and will put up the rest of them there as soon as I can).