Two weird things happened in Fairhope, Alabama on August 9, 2019. One of them would change my life. The other, well, not so much—as you will see.
A little background first. I wasn’t even supposed to be hanging around the Page & Palette bookstore in Fairhope that day. It’s a quirky shop that has been around for over forty years, and it not only sells books, it is also a café, an art supply store, a live music venue, and most importantly, a wine bar. I was in town to deliver my art to a local shop that was next door to the bookstore. I finished my errand in the late afternoon and was walking back to my car when I spotted a flyer posted on the bookstore door. It advertised live music by a band named Blue Bicycle that evening at five o’clock in the wine bar. Did I mention they served wine? It was almost four-thirty now. The flyer also advertised a talk that night by Kathy L. Murphy, The Pulpwood Queen.
“The What Queen?” was my first thought. I had no idea what that meant, but I was curious.
More importantly at the time, my second thought was, “There’s a wine bar in a bookstore!”
The thing is, I hadn’t planned on spending the night in town which makes this whole experience serendipitous. I was just going to drop off my order and scoot back home to Covington, LA. But I was tempted by what sounded like an easy, fun evening out. “Let me see if I can get a room at the hotel across the street,” I thought. One phone call later, that was done, and I was heading on into the bookstore.
The Blue Bicycle played at five, and the singer had a sweet, breathy voice that was balm to my tired spirit. And oh that first sip of red wine tasted so good! I’d been painting constantly and working hard that week and was so ready for a little one-night vacation.
OK, that’s all the background you need.
Now here’s the first weird thing to happen. A handsome, blue-eyed man named Stan asked me to dance and flirted with me during my entire stay at the bookstore that night. This might not seem unusual to you, but you see, I’m over sixty. It was weird as hell for me.
And here’s the second weird thing. While all that Stan-flirting was happening, the band took a break, and Kathy L. Murphy, the Pulpwood Queen, got up to speak. She walked on stage with blue hair, flowing clothes, confidence, and buckets of charisma. I was still talking to Stan when she started to speak, but Kathy is a hard woman to ignore.
I listened politely at first, but she started talking about her life and I heard her say things like: she ran a beauty and book shop (how unusual!), she started the biggest book club in the world (are you kidding me?), she’d written a book about her life—The Pulpwood Queens’ Tiara Wearing, Book Sharing Guide to Life (I’m a big reader; I gotta get one!), and that Oprah had called her for an interview (Screeeech – what did she say?!!!)
I was fascinated. I’ve always admired entrepreneurial women, especially the ones who march to their own drummers. Kathy obviously had a whole bugle corps. So at this point, I was sitting up straight, leaning forward with eyes and ears trained on Kathy—Stan be damned.
Listening to Kathy’s enthusiasm and life-long love of books reminded me of my half-written book that had been in the works for some time. It’s called The Gumbeaux Sistahs and was inspired by 1. Some paintings I did by the same name and 2. My crazy, out-of-control collection of southern women friends. I suddenly felt inspiration buzzing through my body right along with my second glass of wine.
When Kathy finished, I jumped to my feet clapping and went right up to her (Stan following like some sort of puppy) and introduced myself. I told her how much I had enjoyed her talk and that she had just inspired me to go ahead and finish my book. She was friendly and gracious about my gushing. I asked if I could get her card and that maybe she could take a look at the book when it was done. I know—some nerve, right? But she didn’t bat an eye and gave me her card. It felt like Willy Wonka’s golden ticket that I slipped into my purse.
I intended to buy Kathy’s book that night, but Stan was picking up on the fact that he was not going to get to first base or even into the ballpark with me and started making a pest of himself. I actually ended up sneaking out a side door to get rid of him.
But first thing the next morning, I was back at the bookstore and bought a copy of the book. I sat right down at the bookstore café with a pistachio muffin and started devouring both pastry and book. What a story! What a life! I was inspired all over again.
Two months later my book The Gumbeaux Sistahs was finished, and I published it on October 1, 2019. I immediately emailed Kathy about it. I held my breath for two days and then her name appeared in my inbox. She wrote, “Send the book, and I’ll read it.” I was so excited. It felt like someone had just delivered a bag of Oreos on a diet binge night.
So, off the book went to Kathy, and after some time passed, I got an email saying that The Gumbeaux Sistahs was chosen as an Official 2020 Pulpwood Queens Book Club selection. Holy Moly! It was all I could do not to skip down the street singing the theme to Happy Days.
I don’t think Kathy knows how she affected my life. I’m still an artist and always will be, but now I’m an author too with a second Gumbeaux Sisters novel out in October 2020 called Gumbeaux Love. Kathy unknowingly inspired and nudged me into another chapter of my life. And, dear Lord, I can’t say thank you enough. The Gumbeaux Sistahs have brought me hours of creative joy. I just wish I could get those Sistahs to stop waking me up in the middle of the night with all their crazy book ideas.
As for Stan—he’s probably still skulking around the bookstore. It might not have happened for him that significant night in August, but at least one of us got lucky!
Jax Frey, Artist and Author of The Gumbeaux Sistahs novels.
www.gumbeauxsistahs.com – Sign up for all Gumbeaux Sistahs news here.
www.artbyjax.com – Jax’s art website
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