Christopher Cook: I've been to a couple of your meetings, and one thing I noticed is Pulpwood Queens sure like to party. Always laughing, eating, drinking, talking about music, movies, and pop culture. Plus the Queens are LOUD. It's a unique kind of book club! When do you actually read?
Kathy Patrick: Though it does appear at first glance that all these loud, boisterous, book club women would never actually read, in fact we do—and we take it very seriously. I cannot speak for other book club members, but when I get home it's quiet time and reading for the Kat. I usually read for awhile when I first get home, to wind down from the day's work, then read again when I go to bed. If it's a really great book, I'll read until late, then get up early to read some more—like anywhere from 3:30 to 4:30 a.m. I always read in the morning before I go to work, too.
Reading relaxes me. Sometimes I read the Bible, and I usually have about four or five books going at the same time in all genres. I also keep a book in the car for when I have to stop and wait at the railroad tracks for the train to cross. Another book is kept in my purse for those long waits in line at Brookshire's grocery store or those arduous treks to Wal-Mart. If I am waiting, I'm reading. Or I should say, if I am still, I'm more than likely reading a book. I usually read four to six books a week.
Christopher: My mother didn't approve of my first novel, Robbers. The characters in it have sex and they cuss a lot. But she didn't actively try to STOP its publication. Which your mother did try to do with your book. What gives?
Kathy: It's very simple, my mother did not like what I said about her in my book. She asked me if I could please just take her out of the book. I asked her, "How could I take out my mother? Your mother is the most important person in our life." She then called the publisher to ask for the book to be stopped. Now all of this happened only after the book was completely finished. She knew I was working on the book, in fact, for years. But never once did she inquire, in all those many years of drafts and rewrites, what I was writing about. So I decided to send her an advance copy of my book prior to publication. I thought maybe when she read it, it would help her understand me and my life. Maybe my book would help reconnect us as mother and daughter. Maybe it would be the catalyst to having the real relationship that we haven't had for most of my adult life.
So you simply can't imagine how shocked I was to find out she had called my publisher to ask for the book not to be published. I have spent most of my life trying to receive her approval. I know now that it may never happen. How do I deal with this? I talk to my friends and I pray. I read and write. Fortunately for me, books have always been my psychiatrist's couch—my escape route when life just becomes too unbearable!
Christopher: Truth is, we've become a culture of digital consumers. Computers, cell phones, iPods. And with digital content, we watch and listen, we don't read. By comparison, reading a book is a very slow, demanding process. Honestly, do we really need books anymore?
Kathy: My background is not in education. My major areas of study in college were art and geology. But I've always considered myself a life-long learner because I'm a reader. And I do know that kids who read succeed. After years of helping children in my bookstore and raising two of my own, I've noticed they just do better when they are read to when small. As they get older and begin reading themselves, their attention span becomes longer, so they have better concentration skills during school. Their vocabulary increases, too, and they seem to have a better understanding of other subjects besides reading.
Letting some technological device entertain your child tends to make them dumb down in my opinion. Their reflexes may get better from playing video games, but there has to be some kind of balance. I guess it's like the difference between eating sugar all day or just having dessert every once in a while, as a treat. I'd prefer my children—and really all children—to develop good reading skills much the same way we teach the food triangle. Find a balance. For me that balance tends to lean towards fruits, vegetables and meats, and less towards the sugar. My children prefer reading over other outside interference because they believe their imaginations create something way cooler than any graphic on a screen.
Christopher: Where'd the name Pulpwood Queens come from? And what's this about Timber Guys? Is that some sort of men's auxiliary?
Kathy: The Pulpwood Queens name comes in part from pulpwood, which is the main industry in this area of East Texas. We grow super seedling pine trees here for paper and fiber products. Pulpwood is made into paper, and paper is made into books. But we don't read pulp fiction! We read books that I deem exceptional reads. Actually, there is pulpwood production in every state of the United States, including Hawaii and Alaska, according to my sources at International Paper. So that part of the book club name works everywhere.
As for the "Queens" part... well, I thought it extremely unfair that only "beauty queens" get to wear tiaras. How can we be judged only for the way we look when we have no control over that when we're born? We are a product of our parents' genes. So I have crowned us Queens because we are "beauty within queens". And that's because we are readers!
About the men... yes, we do have men in our book clubs. We've had male members since the beginning. We call them Timber Guys. But I have to tell you, they rarely show up, and only then if given the right incentive—like an incredible author! Mostly they're husbands of Pulpwood Queens who appear at our annual Christmas party or Hair Ball. I suppose if they showed up more, we would be called The Pulpwood Queens and Timber Guys Book Clubs. I can tell you that a ton of these guys plan to attend our next Girlfriend Weekend because supermodel Paulina Porizkova is coming to talk about her book A Model Summer, and actress-turned-author Adrienne Baribeau will talk about her book There Are Worse Things I Could Do. Like I said, it seems that certain authors bring the men in to the club! But we do our best to keep everyone excited and motivated about coming to the meetings and about reading!
Christopher: Your bookstore, Beauty and the Book—surely the first (and only?) hair salon/bookstore in the USA, if not the planet—is located in a renovated Gulf service station in Jefferson, Texas, a town of about 2,500 people. That's a long way from national exposure on "Oprah" and "Good Morning, America". How'd that happen?
Kathy: Well, Jefferson has a population of 2,199 to be exact according to the latest census. And basically, the media exposure started when Oxford American Magazine covered my Grand Opening on January 18, 2000. I have never been shy when it comes to alerting the media and I send some pretty interesting press releases. I also follow up with phone calls and emails. I get the information out there and try to be intriguing enough for those in the media to contact me. Remember, the world is flat when it comes to the Internet. I just think to myself, "now why would I want to go to this shop?" And I try to think of something to do that is different than what everybody else is doing. So after that feature in OA, the media immediately started contacting me.
I think word travels pretty fast when you do things a little bit different. No, make that a lot different. I mean, a hairdresser talking books or a bookseller doing hair? Most people think those statements are oxymorons. Fortunately, the media finds that a story—and one they want to share with their readership or viewership! I continue to be amazed by that fact. I am also so thankful to everybody who has done a feature that has helped me get the word out that reading is important.
Christopher: Are you really a hair stylist? I mean, do you really do hair, or is that just a front?
Kathy: Yes, I really am a licensed cosmetologist and take my job as seriously as I do my reading. I continue to educate myself on product knowledge and trends in cuts and color. I do hair every day. I also happen to take very seriously my job of selling books. Whoever said you can only be one thing in life is limiting their possibilities. People ask me this question all the time and all I can say is, Please come to my shop and experience it all for yourself. You can get a great haircut and a great book all at the same time. How cool is that? Most customers say to me, "Besides all the books and great hair services, you all are just so entertaining!" My answer to that is, "On with the show!"
Christopher: That is very cool. How much for a perm?
Kathy: We hardly do perms anymore at the salon. But if we did one, we would charge the same as for any other basic chemical service, $90.00.
Christopher: Okay, back to the Pulpwood Queens. If I wanted to go to a Pulpwood Queens book club meeting—or start a club chapter—how would I do that?
Kathy: Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or to read more about it, go to my official website at www.beautyandthebook.com. We have first-time guests when we meet every month, and I'm continually starting more chapters. I started three new chapters just this past week. Word-of-mouth travels fast when it comes to the Pulpwood Queens.
Christopher: Your new book tells the story behind the origins of Beauty and the Book, and later the Pulpwood Queens. What else is in there? Why should folks read it?
Kathy: Do you remember in the book The Secret Garden, how the hidden door was found to the garden, and then the key? I like to think that the reader is going to find out exactly what is so magical in that place—and for me the key is reading. Behind that door are some of the best reads you'll ever find. And the stories! Oh the stories, ones that will make you laugh and make you cry!
I wrote this book hoping that someone would feel just like I did while reading the first book that turned me on to reading, Honestly Katie John by Mary Calhoun. That book gave me hope.
When I read that book at 10 years old, I felt for the first time that I was not alone. There were others like me. That book turned me on to reading. It showed me that through reading I could find my place and discover where I fit into this big, wide world. That book changed my life. And I hope when others read my book, it will change theirs for the better, too.
Christopher: You lead a very busy life. A lovely family, a ton of friends, a business, a noble cause—promoting literacy—and now you've written a book. What else do you want to do before you die?
Kathy: Yikes, before I die! Honey, I have no time for those kind of dire thoughts. I have so much I want to do, sometimes I'm overwhelmed. Right now, this minute, today, my mission is to help my daughter's friend, who dropped out of school in the 7th grade, to study and pass the GED. She'll be 17 in January and all of her friends will be graduating from high school soon. "Leave no child behind" means more to me than just a school sanction. I imagine I'll learn quite a bit along the way.
Now, that's my short-term goal. As far as my long-term plans? I see many literary projects in the future, and hopefully much travel. I have always been a life-long learner, and to learn you must also get your nose up out of the book and live.
I plan on taking all my daughters' friends to Europe next summer. Some of them have never been out of the county, let alone the state. I want them to experience everything—the people, the cultures, the food, the places, the history—so they can begin to dream of something bigger than working at the local Dairy Queen. I guess the first half of my life I spent taking and now during the second half of my life, I am hoping to give back. Playing it forward and being a mentor. I like to think God is my co-pilot on this big adventure and I'm ready for the ride. It has been a bit bumpy, and I've had quite a few wrecks, but the road looks smoother ahead. Who knows what may be over the next hill?
Christopher: Okay, this interview was supposed to be just 10 questions. But you get a Miss America bonus question! If you had a magic wand that could change one thing about the world, what would you change?
Kathy: Holy moley, that caught me by surprise! My first thought—since I do wear a tiara!—is "WORLD PEACE," and I ain't lying. But now as I really reflect on this miraculous magic wand, I would say, "For all people to treat our children as we would our most precious possessions, with great care, and make sure they have the best in education." If we want to change the world, then we all better start with adopting every single child and raising them with love, kindness, and understanding. God made each child and each child is special. They are the reflections of our actions. They hold our future in their hands. They are our little miracles, born everyday with a purpose. So my magic wand has been waved. Now I'm passing it on to all of you!
Christopher Cook is the author of two award-winning books, the novel Robbers and the short story collection Screen Door Jesus & Other Stories. Both books appear in international translations and have been adapted to film. A native of Texas, Cook has lived in France, Mexico, and now the Czech Republic. He resides in Prague.
I believe in spreading the word about good books and promoting literacy, but I also strongly believe in eating. In fact, a covered dish is just about mandatory for our monthly Pulpwood Queens book club meetings. We mean business when it comes to books but also when it comes to eating good food.
Here in the south we prefer fried food or any sort of anything smothered in cheese, butter, or chocolate. What first comes to mind is fried chicken, which is great finger food. (It's hard to juggle silverware of any sort when you're busy balancing a plate on your lap with a drink in hand). Make sure you pick foods that don't require utensils - a simple toothpick will suffice. Just stab those little suckers!
Thematic treats rule! For example, bacon-wrapped anything is perfect for discussions about Charlotte's Web by E.B. White, or Chocolate Spiders (chocolate covered Chinese noodles) work great while discussing this classic, too.
In our group, when we read Down from the Dog Star by Daniel Glover, whose book was set in Alabama, the author told me nothing else should be served but Moon Pies and RC colas. (A staple here in the south and dee-lish!).
Reading Look Homeward Angel by Thomas Wolfe? Have angel food cake. School of Dreams by Edward Hume? Serve your food on borrowed cafeteria trays!
Serving food for The Tender Bar by J.R. Moehringer is easy as a to-go box from your local dive bar (ours is Auntie Skinner's Riverboat Club). Have popcorn chicken with honey mustard sauce, deep fried pickles, Armadillo eggs (jalapeños stuffed with cream cheese, breaded and fried), Onion Blossoms with horseradish ranch sauce, hot chicken wings, peanuts in the shell, and every kind of beer you could ever dream of, imported and domestic.
That's the fun thing about food for book club meetings. It does not need to require loads of effort and preparation. All my book club members applaud when I serve my Turtle Cheesecake from Brookshire's grocery store. Somehow I can always make it fit into any book theme.
Now you're getting the idea!
What not to eat at book club meetings? Rice cakes, protein bars, protein shakes, anything South Beach diet, Weight Watchers, or anything made with Splenda (unless your book club selection is The Ultimate Weight Loss Solution). The list could go on! So use this as a rule: "If it doesn't taste good, don't bring it to a book club meeting."
Tomorrow, after your book club meeting, you can go on that Atkins diet, or hit the treadmill, but tonight at book club, you are given a "Get out of Jail" food free card. Enjoy your next meeting with all your senses. Spread the word, thicker than cream cheese on a homemade piece of pumpkin bread, that reading is fun when you leave your diets at the door. And just remember to wear your elastic waist pants!