A little over two weeks ago, I packed my pith helmet and headed to Texas for my first Pulpwood Queens experience—Girlfriend Weekend, an annual blowout that Jamie Ford (Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, and Songs of Willow Frost) has likened to “Coachella for book lovers, with a little bit of Spring Break and Burning Man thrown in.” I’d second that, and add Comic Con. Being a person who usually limits costumes to Halloween (and jingle bell socks at Christmas), I was flying out of my comfort zone, being asked to dress as either a pilot or flight attendant for the first evening’s dinner, and come as my favorite world or book-themed character for the weekend finale: The Great Big Ball of Hair Ball. (I was shooting for Karen Blixen in Out of Africa. Sadly, I fear I came closer to Dora the Explorer.)
The upshot? I had a blast. And I’m not sure words can do the experience justice.
Kathy Murphy, Pulpwood Queens founder and the owner of Beauty and the Book, is soda pop in human form. Effervescent, buoyant, and “pedal to the metal” in her support of literacy and books, she lavished Southern hospitality on everyone, newcomers and returnees alike. (It’s no surprise that her own book, The Pulpwood Queen’s Tiara-Wearing, Book-Sharing Guide to Life, is being made into a movie by DreamWorks.) Her co-host for this three-day extravaganza, the aforementioned Jamie Ford, was witty and warm, as was his wife, Leesha. It was a weekend packed to the gills with passionate readers, unbelievable costumes (Gabrielle Zevin as Wednesday Addams, Kristen Harnisch as Scarlett O’Hara, The Baytown Pulpwood Queens as characters from The Night Circus, and Carla Stewart as Miss Marple, right down to a traveling case filled with needles and balls of yarn), and stories that left my sides aching from laughing so hard.
Kathy’s motto is, “A good book is a good book,” and thanks to her, I discovered new authors I might have missed. Would I have found Ann Weisgarber and her amazing book The Promise? I’m so thankful I did. It’s historical fiction at its finest – an incredible story about a young woman, Catherine Wainwright, who leaves her home in Ohio and journeys to Galveston, Texas, arriving not long before the 1900 Galveston hurricane, still considered to be the deadliest in our country’s history. I finished the book two weeks ago, and still haven’t been able to shake off its characters. I’d heard about Bill Dedman’s bestseller, Empty Mansions, but after listening to his talk, I knew I had to find out everything he’d learned about Huguette Clark, the reclusive heiress who died in 2011 at age 104, choosing to spend her last years living at Beth Israel Medical Center. Next up to read are more Pulpwood Queen books: Karen Abbott’s Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War, followed by Kathy and Becky Hepinstall’s Sisters of Shiloh, the fictional account of two Southern sisters who join the Confederate Army disguised as men. After that, it’s Jamie Ford’s Songs of Willow Frost, Carla Stewart’s The Hatmaker’s Heart, Kathryn Casey’s Deliver Us, and so many more. (My bedside table is groaning under the weight. I’ll update this list as I read my way through the stack!)
But the best part of the weekend, if there really can be one “best” part, was getting to meet and talk with so many of the Pulpwood Queens themselves. Because what could possibly be better, or more uplifting, for an author than being surrounded by your “tribe” as Kathy Murphy refers to them—people who love reading every bit as much as you do. Thanks, Kathy Murphy. I can’t wait to come back.