An Honest “Royalty Statement”
Updated: Jan 29, 2021
By Suzanne Hudson
Photo (above): Artist Tamela Maxim's painting of THE International Pulpwood Queen, Kathy L. Murphy, Queen Mother to creative souls
If I told you that we were hosting royalty here on The Branch, you might expect the Duke and the Dauphin, of Huck Finn fame and shame. Although we did host those two feckless flim-flammers in recent years, we are well shed of them now, well rid of their conniving, cluster-flocking approach to the written word and the peddling thereof. Not to mention their thievery (of both creative and real properties), vandalism (of both creative and real properties), and the general tainting of The Branch with the toxic spirits of ego, opportunism, jealousy, greed, and triangulation.
Once purged of such bile, the ether was bound to change. Call it Karma. Call it Kathy.
Yes, the object of our affection and appreciation on this fine day is one Kathy L. Murphy, she of Pulpwood Queen fame, an East Texas resident whose enthusiastic support is genuine, effective, and untainted by avarice, base ambition, or jaded gamesmanship. I think I met her way, way back in the day when she was a rep for Southern Territory Associates, traveling from book fest to conference to consortium to expo, recommending titles to booksellers, making connections with authors, providing the supportive kind of network that was in place, back in that day, the kind of network that has all but disappeared in the past decade or so. When she was laid off, post-recession, her fall back position was to set up shop and practice her studied and credentialed trade, “doing hair,” in the refreshingly eccentric little town of Jefferson, Texas. But she could not, would not, let go of her inherent love of books, and the salon soon morphed into a quirky little thing called “Beauty and the Book,” a combo book store/hair salon. Patrons quickly joined in the fun, creating satellite book clubs, calling themselves “Pulpwood Queens,” a nod to the piney woods (and paper-making ingredients, as in, um, books) of the region.
And the whole notion of it caught fire--in an organic, genuine, rare kind of way, as Pulpwood Queen book clubs began to spring up across Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana. Joe and I, roaming the Southeast (a la Loretta and Doolittle Lynn) on our improvised “Sex and Diamonds” book tour of 2005, wandered into Kathy’s shop, completely unexpected, cold; we were no better than party-crashers, “photo bombers” in the parlance of now. Yet we were warmly embraced, given the traditional “author makeover/haircut,” and joined Kathy and the kind, gracious Ron Rash on a mini-tour that included visits to area Pulpwood Queen book clubs and a Public Radio gig. Both Kathy and Ron insisted that we join in on the interview. Their generosity stood head and shoulders above so much of Book World, and we were delighted, touched, and grateful.
Within a decade, she had 750-plus chapters of Pulpwood Queens’ Book Clubs, from California to New York to Alaska and beyond, currently in fifteen foreign countries. National media took notice, and she was featured in major newspapers, on Oprah’s Oxygen Network, in publications like Parade, and on ABC’s Good Morning America. Whereupon the nudges and downright shoves of the middle men commenced. But those materialistic mongrels found themselves in the presence of a rare soul who is not interested in “ka-ching.” You see, Kathy has always prided herself on selecting titles she loves, whether they are two weeks old, two years old, two decades old, or two centuries old, preferably from obscure, unknown, or under-appreciated authors. She has seen, up close and personal, how next to impossible it is for truly good books to break through because of the arbitrary codes of the business world of book selling, the purchasing of book store “real estate,” the questionably acquired reviews, the short-lived (currently as little as two weeks!?) windows of promotion, the publicists, wanna-be publicists, and downright carney-barking shills, who nibble around the edges of profits like minnowing piranha. She simply was not having it, national coverage be damned. And what was to be a regular, monthly gig on GMA became a two-time only appearance, because she stuck by her ethics and said they had to be her selected books and not those “suggested” by the powers that be. But “Diane Sawyer was a lovely and supportive person,” Kathy affirms.
It’s called principles, people. Scruples. It’s a big bad middle finger to the status quo, which I do love so!
And in spite of--I say because of her fierce independence and refusal to cozy up to the corporate rules of the game, she’s still going strong, albeit in a somewhat different direction. After a blindsiding divorce five years ago, she blew her nose, pulled up her socks, and went back to college, to finish up a longed-for degree in art. Mission accomplished, and now commissions accepted. She’s doing portraits of many of the authors who have attended her famous “Girlfriends’ Weekend” event held every January. Of course, Joe and I are all in. It’s a perfect fit for Waterhole Branch Productions. No brainer.
Her book clubs are still going strong, even expanding. And we’ll be at Girlfriends’ Weekend this January, Joe with Waffle House Rules and me with In the Dark of the Moon, along with a new/revised/updated/once-sabotaged book, Shoe Burnin’ Season: A Womanifesto. Part memoir, part social commentary, part fiction, part self help, all “out there” and kind of crazy (like Kathy) my Womanifesto is a cautionary tale and a guide to navigating oneself back to life, rising from the ashes, once one has been emotionally crushed, spiritually decimated, beaten down by whatever lying man, cheating business partner, or (fill in the blank that applies to you) who took you down to your knees in the first place. We all go through such trials, and hopefully we learn, although for some of us it takes a mighty amount of repetition before we achieve the glorious and glimmering insight it takes to keep a-steppin’ forward. Kathy gets it. We certainly do, too. Most fully-growed humans do.
We’ve written a mighty amount, in these “Notes,” about the underbelly of the biz. We’ve purged some anger and bitterness, hopefully with literary value paired with a valuable warning for those who dip toes into these waters. And with Queen Mother Kathy’s arrival and her positive, vibrant, energy a-buzzing upon The Branch, it is downright exhilarating, uplifting, and soul-affirming to know that all roads have led us here. To this magical place, this soaring of spirit, this royal reality.
Long live the Queen!