When I think of the Pulpwood Queens, I think of books, girlfriends, and road trips.
I knew I wanted to attend Kathy L. Murphy’s next Girlfriends’ Weekend the minute I met her at New Orleans’ Words and Music Festival. Kathy was impressive, a storyteller herself. I could feel her passion for books and the authors who birthed them. Her bright wit and big heart made me want to spend time with her. I was giving book talks in the East when the next one rolled around. So I figured I’d get there as soon as I could.
I went to Jefferson, Texas right before covid began. It was my last and only trip 2020-present. But that’s not why I remember it.
Getting from Washington, DC to East Texas is a trip for me that involves planes, subway trains, and automobiles, so I began planning early. I decided to make it work, I needed a day on either side of the plane flights. I took a big breath of courage and decided it was fine if all the writers knew each other and I stood by the frig in the corner like I used to when I was a young writer for National Geographic. I assumed it would be an event much like those in the DC area. You get to meet the authors, even greet them, tell them you loved their book, get their autograph, get to ask one question if you’re lucky. I knew a few of the authors already from phone and online lively conversations, but I wasn’t sure they’d have time for me.
Girlfriends and Boyfriends, let me tell you, was I ever wrong!
And it all began with a road trip…
To tell you the truth, I was concerned about even getting to and from Jefferson, Texas. I’m Phi Beta Kappa, was in international senior management, and I can burp a baby, write a story, and sing a song. But I’m not equipped with a GPS in my brain. I’ve been known to end up in a completely different country using GPS. (I promise, this is true!) So imagine my surprised delight when national magazine journalist and award-winning novelist Kathleen M. Rodgers invited me to join her and author Joy Ross Davis, a professor with a doctorate and gold medal novelist, on their trek from Dallas to Jefferson. I was, and still am, overwhelmed with gratitude.
It wasn’t exactly like “Thelma and Louise” because we weren’t out to end our lives, but we were out to change them. Everything else that happened reminds me of that movie. Girlfriend power is like that. It has the power to catalyze transformation.
Kathleen picked me up and made me feel right at home. She gave me a personal tour of the historic grid of Texas that she now calls home (she hails from New Mexico), which inspired her Seven Wings to Glory and Johnnie Come Lately. We dined at the Main Street Bakery in Grapevine, recently restored to its glory days. Ummmm. Southern Food. In Kathleen’s words, “It felt like a reunion of old friends. Like we’d known each other forever. Like I hadn’t seen you in forever.” Yes, it did.
After our long lunch, we headed out to pick up Joy at the Dallas Fort Worth Airport. What I knew: Kathleen is a pilot’s wife. Tom flew routinely to and from the DFW hub for two decades. What I didn’t know: Kathleen’s got a creative brain just like yours truly. Maybe she has a GPS there, but it glitches.
With a big adventure…
We ended up in a dark garage, not once but twice, loop-dee-looping around, trying to find the terminal the plane was supposed to be landing in. If we hadn’t bonded before, Kathleen and I bonded as we navigated our way out. Or tried to.
The first time we got stuck in the garage. The second time, we found our way out much faster. Only to have a text from Joy: “I’m at another terminal. They had to land here because all the gates were closed. The plane was late due to inclement weather.”
We found the second terminal, by the way, with ease. Because it wasn’t near that dang garage. Joy did look relieved when we pulled up.
That’s when the raindrops began to plunk down. As we hit the highway, I was certain the rain had a little ice mixed in. The clouds were low, like when Harry Potter and his friends get stuck in the tree going back to school in The Chamber of Secrets.
“Joy and I’ve met in person,” Kathleen told me, by way of introduction. I felt a tinge of confidence leave me. I was expecting to be odd author out. I wasn’t a featured author (yet), nor had I published anywhere near the number of novels that they had. They were prolific, experienced novelists. I needn’t have felt that way. Because we shared stories.
“Normally, I’m a quiet person. I’m uncomfortable around new people,” Joy tells me now. “Yet our road trip gave me the courage and pleasure to open up a little. The trip with you and Kathleen helped me see that side of me who loves to bond with people. It proved to be an enlightening experience.”
So, we all three felt the same way. Reader, please note, writers are people, too. Many authors are introverts. I’m no exception. But just ask us to tell a story, and we will for hours on end. We did talk books, of course. We also talked travel. Joy lived in Ireland. Kathleen lived in Alaska. We talked about houses and ghosts. We talked of the friends we’d met. The families we’d raised. Our furry animal loves. People and pets we’d loved and lost.
Any reserve in us had evaporated into the low clouds. But then the downpour really began. It was tough to see as we drove toward the darkness. As we exited the highway, darkness enfolded us. If I’d been a kid, I would’ve asked “Are we there yet?” Instead, we cheered on a determined Kathleen as driver of her little car that could and dug into Kathleen’s cooler of staples and nutrition.
A Weekend of Books, Story, and Hugs…
And then we arrived! We had a warm welcome in Kathy Murphy’s sister’s restaurant, and Joy and Kathleen dropped me off at my B&B and went to theirs (Jefferson is the B&B capital), but they were always there, texting me, seeing if I needed a ride to and from, just in case. I felt them with me even when they weren’t beside me.
And the festivities! Such cool tiaras! Phenomenal swag! Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes and leopard skin coats. And the finale, The Hair Ball, has to be experienced to be believed. I took an entire journal of notes. It was like going to book camp all grown up.
Pulpwood Queen Claire Fullerton, whom I got to meet face to face after a year or two of authorly bonding on the phone, put it best: “It took a celebration of books, and turned it into a celebration about life.”
And then Monday was upon us. In high contrast, the sun shone bright as we made our way back to Dallas.
I knew a lot about the books Joy and Kathleen wrote, but what I got on the road trip was Kathleen’s and Joy’s stories. The stories behind those stories. The stories of their lives.
We shared every hard-earned step toward publication in that story in our car ride back to Dallas, health challenges that strengthened our resolve to write, and obviously, the challenge of our rejections. And our resolve. We shared a lot of laughter and a few tears, but Kathleen always kept her eye on the road, even as she pointed out the shining dome of the school where she began her second book, or the building where she was nanny to her cousins as she wrote, as we rolled back into Dallas. “I attended the public school of hard knocks. I broke a lot of bones in my soul, but I learned to turn weaknesses into strengths,” Kathleen says. Writing and publishing books is not for the faint of heart because it will give you the rollercoaster ride of your life. Every. Single. Time.
We three also shared our triumphs, our gratitude for ideal readers who gave us feedback. One of those triumphs, we all agreed, was attending Pulpwood Queens’ Girlfriends’ Weekend, full of authors we knew and authors we didn’t yet know, all of whom treated us like old friends.
Travel plus Sharing Story equals Lifelong Connection…
That’s what makes Kathy L. Murphy’s International Book Club different from any of the others. You feel seen, appreciated, included. That’s why I’ll return year after year. Next time, I’ll bring an outrageous costume for The Great Hair Ball. I’ll bring questions for authors I haven’t yet met. I’ll bring my own stories to share (because I’ll be a featured author next year!). But it’s not about what I’ll be bringing back, it’ll be the memories I’m making with my Girlfriends. That’s what road trips, B&Bs, Hairballs, and the love of writing and great books can do for you that sitting alone in front of a computer screen can’t. What a phone call doesn’t quite achieve. What an email or text never accomplishes.
As we bear-hugged each other goodbye in front of the correct terminal of DFW, we were forever transformed. To Joy, you are an Earth Angel, whose stories leave me with pins and needles…leave me hanging on your every word. To Kathleen, our intrepid driver and literary explorer, you are A Living Story.
I went to Pulpwood Queens Girlfriends’ Weekend expecting to discuss some excellent books with some amazing authors. And that I did. I went to Jefferson hoping to find connection with a few. I did. And yet, and here’s the magic of story: I felt that same connection with every single author I met. We had fun, y’all. We told stories. We made stories. We embodied our stories.
And we gave a lot of loving hugs knowing that we’d return for more. “The more Pulpwood Queens I’ve met, writers and readers who all share the love of story, the more I realize it’s about spending time with one another, appreciating each other, seeing each other,” says Kathleen.
In other words, it’s about coming together for that hug at the end of each weekend.
Thank you, Kathy L. Murphy, for providing a place and a space and an amazingly big heart full of talent to allow us all to do just that.
Join us now. Connect with us now. Come along with us next year.