The Best Book Fest in Deep East TX

I have this thing about Jefferson, Texas’ own version of Savannah. As I turned onto Broadway from Highway 59, I did my in-car happy dance. And I was even happier to pull up at the Pride House, my home-away-from-home for the weekend of Jan. 15-18. Jefferson is magical. It’s so steeped in leftover Southern Gothic vibe, with house after house dating back to the 1850s and 1860s, that whenever I turn a corner I think I’ll see a horse-drawn carriage –– wait! I saw horse-drawn carriages driving weekend tourists around the tiny town on Sunday!

After an absence of much too long (say, three years), I made a return trip to my favorite small Texas town for the annual Pulpwood Queens’ Girlfriend Weekend, the brainchild of Kathy Patrick, my literary soul sister. Kathy has run Beauty and the Book, the country’s only combination beauty salon and book store, since 2000. With her past as a book sales rep, she’d always been about books and reading. She got the bright idea of starting the Pulpwood Queens of East Texas book club, whose motto is “Where tiaras are mandatory and  reading good books is the rule.” (One might add that leopard print something or other is the perfect complement to the tiara!)

In 2003, I made my first trip to Jefferson to see for myself how tiaras intersected with books. I had the good fortune to go over Labor Day weekend, when Kathy didn’t have a lot going on, so I got the official guided tour in Kathy’s van with daughters Lainey and Madeleine. They introduced me to Auntie Skinner’s biker bar (home of all things fried and lots of beer), the Hamburger Store (home of amazing pies), the Carnegie Library, and of course Beauty and the Book. At that time B&B was in the basement of Kathy’s home, and she showed me tapes of the PQ’s Good Morning, America appearance (touting The Dive From Clausen’s Pier). As we talked, we realized that in addition to an obsession with books, we also share Kansas roots. We even lived in Lawrence, Kansas, at the same time in the 19––s (ahem!). After that, I simply had to go back for Girlfriend Weekend in 2004, and what an event that was!

Now, Kat has a book of her own, The Pulpwood Queen’s Tiara-Wearing, Book-Sharing Guide to Life, and some 30 Pulpwood Queens chapters all over the country.

Each January, the Queens put their big hair UP instead of down for a fabulous shindig known as Girlfriend Weekend. It’s not just a bunch of tiara-wearing women sitting around talking and eating chocolate. No, the magic happens when you combine the fun-loving, well-read Queens with authors of the books they’ve been reading. Each year, Kathy brings in 30 to 40 authors whose books are required reading for the Pulpwood Queens (or the Splinters teen chapter or the Pinecones children’s club or the Timber Guys), and the authors have just as much fun mingling with the queens as talking about their books. Take my first Girlfriend Weekend favorite memory as an example: In the middle of the dance floor at the Saturday night Hair Ball, grooving to “Blue Suede Shoes,” was Iris Rainer Dart, of Beaches fame and writer for Cher’s TV shows, among others.

I couldn’t miss the 10th anniversary Girlfriend Weekend Author Extravaganza this year. And what a weekend it was! About 250-300 Queens attended (I think there were at least 15-20 chapters represented), with chapters from Mississippi, northern California, and even Kathy’s hometown of Eureka, Kansas. The Eureka Queens adopted me for the weekend. Head Queen Heidi, one of Kat’s BFFs from high school, brought three of her daughters and her sister Erica brought her daughter.

I arrived just in time on Friday to catch the end of a panel with Jill S. Alexander, Heather Bass, and Heather Hepler. Kathy and Robert Leleux, author of Memoirs of a Beautiful Boy, presided over the stage from bright ’40s-style lawn chairs as “BobKat,” conducting a book and author talk show.  Jill’s debut novel, The Sweetheart of Prosper County, was one of my favorite Texas books from 2009. Heather of The Cupcake Queen was the 2006 winner of the Writers’ League of Texas Teddy Book Award. The other Heather, Heather Bass, received big news over the weekend: Her book The Secret World of Walter Anderson, was named the National Council of Teachers of English Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children.

Then we received one of the best literary treats of all time: Pat Conroy (yes, he of The Great Santini, The Prince of Tides, and the new South of Broad) and his daughter Melissa joined up to talk about Melissa’s picturebook, Poppy’s Pants, a story inspired by her father and his predilection for khaki pants. In fact, Melissa –– known in the family as Woo or even the Woo –– said she and her sisters always assumed their dad was poor because his closet had only one kind of pants –– khaki.

The book is based on a true story in which Melissa darned a hole in Pat’s pants with aquamarine thread. “The rumor in my sorry family is that I wore those pants for five years,” Pat said. “I hope that’s not true.” He did confess to being one proud papa: “I’m as proud of this as anything that’s come out of my family.” Pat also spoke at the luncheon on Saturday, where he had everyone laughing and then crying and then laughing again.

When it came time for the annual Pulpwood Queens Awards on Saturday, it was a Conroy double dip. Pat won the Pulpwood Queens’ Book of the Year for South of Broad and Melissa won the PQ Children’s Book of the Year. The PQ Bonus Book of the year went to Jamie Ford for Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. Jamie had snagged a standing ovation in the morning after reading a moving excerpt. A very special award, the Doug Marlette Award, went to legendary bookseller Mary Gay Shipley of That Bookstore in Blytheville in recognition of her contributions to literacy.

Other authors on the program included newlyweds Sam Barry and Kathi Kamen Goldmark, who penned the Pulpwood Queen song (“Kathy, get your hairspray and do me up just right / I want to be considered at the Pulpwood Ball tonight”), Elizabeth Berg, crowd favorite Shellie Rushing Tomlinson of Suck in Your Stomach and Put Some Color On; Ad Hudler (Househusband and Man of the House); still another fellow Kansan Suzanne Arruda (The Treasure of the Golden Cheetah); Deeanne Gist (Bride in the Bargain); and many, many more.

As was the case at past Girlfriend Weekends, the authors had just as much fun as the tiaraed Queens did –– maybe even more. For Friday nights Barbie party, the authors –– even the guys! –– put on some type of Barbie costume (my favorite: AlphaBitch Barbie!) and then topped that with spectacular costumes at the Great Big Ball of Hair Ball on Saturday, with the theme of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in celebration of the 70th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz (Kat’s a Kansas girl, after all).

During the Great Big Ball of Hair, I had a serious talk with author River Jordan (Saints in Limbo), discussing bringing her to Texas for the Writers’ League of Texas, what we can do to help promote books, what she does on her radio show, how much we LOVE Jefferson, and Girlfriend Weekend, etc.

It wasn’t until afterward that I realized that the entire time I was talking to River, she was doused in gold glitter (as the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow) and I was wearing blue hair as part of my costume titled “Dorothy goes to AUStin instead of Oz”!

And of course, I ate way too much pie over the weekend.

Magic, indeed.

For more highlights from Girlfriend Weekend, see Kathy’s Pulpwood Queen Blog (visual evidence!). I’m going to post some panel outtakes and photos in later posts.

1 Response to “The Best Book Fest in Deep East TX”

  1. 1 Jack L. Casner January 28, 2010 at 4:41 pm

    Hey! Pulpwood Queens!

    Expat Eurekans are behind you!

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