Monthly Archives: August 2014

A Tribute to the Queen of Book Clubs

One of the most extraordinary and influential persons in book publishing today is a woman from Texas who thinks nothing of walking around Manhattan publishing circles with a tiara on her head.

If you see her, look out, that’s Kathy L. Murphy, founder of the Pulpwood Queens Book Club, the largest book club in the world with more than 600 chapters. She exudes a lovely combination of kindness, confidence (but never arrogance), and old fashioned American “can-do” optimism.

Since August 27 is her birthday, I thought I’d share a little story about the Queen.

The first time I ever laid eyes on her was at Book Expo America in New York City. The actress Kirstie Alley, with a new memoir coming out, was the center of attention that morning. You couldn’t help but stare at Miss Alley, especially her shoes with what had to be five-inch heels. (Myself, I would fall down, but that’s another story.)

I was standing to the side, chatting with members of the sales force for my publisher, Simon & Schuster’s Atria Books. The line snaked across the cavernous Jacob Javits conference center as everyone wanted to get a signed copy of Kirstie Alley’s new book. There is no question that she has star power.

But then another queen arrived. Guess who it was? Kathy L. Murphy, the Pulpwood Queen.

And, suddenly, the VIPs – the most important, high-falutin’ publishers in New York – well, their heads swiveled. Kirstie Alley may be Kirstie Alley, but in the minds of top publishers, there was only one Kathy L. Murphy.

About fifteen feet away from me was an oversized booth where one could ask for galleys of books that were about to be published. That is where The Lady with the Tiara (Kathy) was headed. I overheard her say to a sales rep, “The only thing I’m looking for here is a novel called Miss Dreamsville and the Collier County Women’s Literary Society.

“Not only do we have a copy,” the excited sales rep said, “but we have the actual author right here in the flesh!”

Next thing I knew, we were being introduced in the following fashion:

“Miss Dreamsville,” my publisher said. “Meet the Pulpwood Queen.”

Afterward, it was explained to me in whispered tones that “She’s from Texas and she has a huge book club and she’s very discerning. And if you’re really lucky she may like your book.”

As it turned out, the Pulpwood Queen did like my novel and chose it as her January 2013 selection. Texas was added to my book tour so that I could attend the Pulpwood Queen’s annual Girlfriend Weekend.

Because of that crazy-fun weekend – and thanks to the Pulpwood Queen herself, of course – I met many new people with whom I became friends. People I might never have met. That includes a boatload of readers, as well as Southern Belleview authors Julie Perkins Cantrell, Lisa Wingate, Kellie Coates Gilbert, and Shellie Rushing Tomlinson.

With Kathy L. Murphy, it’s not “just” about books. It’s about the community of books. And no one does it better, and in a more unique way. Happy Birthday to the Pulpwood Queen!

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Moonbeams, Rosy Cheeks and the Power of Folk Wisdom

Sunday night the moon was so huge and the sky so clear that if I’d kept the drapes open I could have read a book by moonlight. As the moon rose and a moonbeam began to cross the living room floor through a window above our front door, I paused to marvel at its intensity and beauty. Then I stepped back abruptly. Why? Because I remembered some old folk wisdom I learned from the Delany Sisters. When they were children in the 1890s, their father had warned them of the mythic dangers of moonlight. “Don’t let the moon shine on your face,” he told them. “It will warp your features!”

A hundred years later, when the centenarian sisters told me this story, they thought it was funny that this admonishment came from their beloved Papa, of all people. After all, their father was the Rev. Henry B. Delany, later to become the first black person elected Bishop in the Episcopal Church USA. He was, also, the vice-principal of St. Augustine’s School (now College) in Raleigh, North Carolina. Like everyone else who has ever lived, however, he was a product of his time and upbringing – in his case, a Georgia plantation where he was born into slavery in 1858. One never entirely lets go of folk wisdom learned as a child, no matter how much one achieves and even when it’s not in keeping with your true beliefs as an adult. I believe this tells us something about the power of stories, especially those passed on from one generation to the next.

Readers, did your family share folk wisdom when you were a child? Perhaps a story that may seem a little silly to you now? Were you told that eating an apple would make your cheeks rosy (something I was told all the time)? I love these stories! Please share.

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The Art of Communication

The note was attached to the front page of our morning newspaper. “Dear customer,” it read, “I am taking over my daughter’s route for the next few weeks. Getting up very early to drive the route is too hard for her at this time. She is expecting a baby in the next few weeks. She doesn’t want to give up the route because it is a steady source of income for her family. For this reason I will be doing her route for a while. I would appreciate your patience. If your paper is late, I hope you will forgive me.”

I smiled when I read it. I’m not one to complain about a late newspaper, anyway, but with a thoughtful, sweet note like that, I would have waited until Christmas.

Interacting successfully with other people, as we all know, is one of the great challenges of life. That is why I think this man’s note to his daughter’s customers was pure genius. The letter was written in a candid, open-hearted way. He had anticipated a problem and acted to prevent it. This is an example of communication at its best.

The word “communicate” to many people implies writing or speaking but it is much more than that. It is an art form.

We’ve all known people who are lonely and frustrated but they don’t understand why. In some cases, part of the problem is poor communication skills. Perhaps they don’t express themselves adequately. In other cases, they are unable to see how their words or actions impact others. Grudges, hurt feelings, and resentment can result. These individuals lack what my Native American friends, the Lenni-Lenape people, call “the Spirit of Awareness.”

Communicating in a way that brings out the best in ourselves as well as others is a worthy goal, one that we can all aspire to. It takes hard work and practice. I so admire those who do it well, like the man who took the time to write a note to his daughter’s paper-route customers. Kudos to him, whoever he is.

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