Author-Bookseller Interview: Kathy L. Patrick, The Pulpwood Queen

Learn more about Kathy L. Patrick.

Could you please begin by telling us the story behind your story?

My story really begins when I was downsized from my dream job. I was book publisher’s representative, and as I was the last hired, I was the first let go.

When independent bookstores started closing in my territory due to the influx of big-box chains, I lost my territory base.

That’s how my memoir begins, my first book, The Pulpwood Queens’ Tiara Wearing, Book Sharing Guide to Life (Grand Central Publishing, 2008), with the first chapter titled, “When life hands you a lemon, make margaritas!”

Yes, one door was firmly shut, but another window of opportunity flew open and I jumped right in.

How did you come to launch Beauty & The Book?

Beauty and the Book, “the Only Hair Salon/Book Store in the country,” perhaps the world, began because of something my sister said.

I called her when I lost my job–whining to her about “now what in the world was I supposed to do?”–when she told me, “Open up your hair salon again, you always did well doing hair.”

You see, I put myself through college doing hair, but for me, it was always a means to and end. I never thought it would be my life’s profession.

I told my sister doing hair would probably bore me to death. I had done everything you could do doing hair, and besides, I could not imagine my life without talking books.

She then told me, matter of fact, “Well, do the book thing, too!”

Beauty and the Book was born Jan. 18, 2000, and this year, we celebrate our 10th anniversary!

I have found that combining my two passions of creating beauty and talking books has helped me find my life’s true purpose, promoting literacy! There is great beauty in books, so I am now all about helping people find their beauty without and within!

What makes the place special?

Beauty and the Book is not just a Hair Salon/Book Store, it is a community center. Not a day goes by that some girl group, book club, or group of individuals don’t come by just to have an experience, whether getting a beauty service, talking and shopping for books, or just hanging out! Nobody stops by for just a minute as, the next thing you know, the morning or afternoon is gone. I want people to know that Beauty and the Book is their home away from home.

I always tell folks, “I’ll leave the hair dryer on for ya!”

Talk to us about tiaras!

Shortly after I started Beauty and the Book, I was asked to come join the local book club. I was ecstatic! I had always wanted to be in a book club as there is nothing more in the world I love to discuss more than a good story.

At the end of the meeting, I gushed, “Thank you, thank you so much for inviting me to your book club,” when the hostess grabbed me by the elbow and pulled me into the galley of her lovely antebellum home.

She proceeded to tell me, whispering, that all though they had invited me to join their club, that the invitation was for only as a guest. There were eight members in their book club period.

Unless someone moved away or died, that was it!

Horrified, I begged their pardon and quickly excused myself.

As I drove home, I was mortified that I had obviously invited myself into a private club. But the more I thought about it, the more I thought, if there is ever going to be a book club that I would want to be a part of, I guess I will have to start it myself.

So I did. The Pulpwood Queens of East Texas were born March 2000 with the motto, “where tiaras are mandatory and reading good books is the rule.”

We would not be an exclusive book club but an inclusive one. The tiaras came about because, as a child, I dreamed of wearing the crown like Miss America. But as I grew from child to teen, I soon learned that there are certain physical attributes that you have to have in order to be in the competition. One of them was a waistline and of that I was sorely lacking.

I felt it completely unfair that I, a product of the no-waistline gene, would not be able to compete in the Miss America pageant no matter how hard I tried. So I decided as a middle-aged woman, that I would crown all women queens, if they would only be readers.

We would be the beauty “within” queens, as we all know true beauty comes from within!

What kind of programs do you sponsor?

I tell everybody I sponsor our annual Pulpwood Queen and Timber Guys Book Club convention, which we call our Girlfriend Weekend, always held the third weekend in January, but really this is just my way of saying that I work all year for free to make this event happen.

We now have currently 265 chapters of The Pulpwood Queens and Timber Guys Book Clubs that run from Alaska to Florida, New York to California, and everywhere in between nationwide. Also, we are now an international book club as we have members and chapters in nine foreign countries.

We are the largest meeting-and-discussing book club in the world, which means we all read and meet in our own chapters to discuss the books that I select.

What makes our book club so inviting is I also arrange for teleconferences with the authors, if their schedules permit, and/or arrange visits with the authors if they are in the vicinity.

Each chapter takes on its own literacy endeavors, and I encourage them to do so. My chapter in Anchorage, Alaska; flew me up for their first anniversary and to help them start the first ever Pulpwood Queen chapter in a women’s prison.

I myself lead a chapter at a local homeless shelter where I lead a life-writing class.

I have a chapter is South Louisiana that funds and entire school in Nicaragua with textbooks and Bibles.

The Pulpwood Queens of East Texas partnered with our local Rotary Club to help start the Dolly Parton Imagination Library literacy project here in Marion County. Now for every child born in my county, a book is sent every month free to that child until they start kindergarten. That is 60 books, a library free to get them reading ready for school.

I am encouraging all my chapters to help initiate this incredible literacy project. I myself volunteer to read at schools, assisted living facilities, nursing homes, wherever, because in order to lead, you must set an example. People learn most by actions not just words.

So we not only talk the talk for literacy, we do walk the walk and literally–most of my chapters do in the American Cancer Association Relay for Life.

How about programs specifically tailored to young readers and/or involving children’s-teen authors?

Yes, a couple of years ago I started Pinecone chapters for younger readers and the Splinters chapters for teens and college age. This began with my two daughters, and I encourage other chapters to lead by example and get their children involved in reading together and out loud to smaller children.

How do you choose books for Splinters and Pinecones?

Most of the books are sent to me by the authors or recommended to me by fellow independent booksellers and bookstores.

What are some recent choices?

Last year’s Pulpwood Queen Children’s Book of the year, The Underneath by Kathi Appelt (Atheneum, 2008), went on to be a finalist for the National Book Award and a Newbery Honor Book.

This year’s winner was Melissa Conroy (Poppy’s Pants (Blue Apple, 2009)), who we were fortunate to have on a panel with her father, New York Times Bestseller Pat Conroy at our Girlfriend Weekend.

The “Poppy’ of her book is based on her father Pat Conroy and the relationship with his granddaughter, “Penelope” in the book. It was a real treat to have them both speak of her outstanding children’s book.

[Above, authors from left to right, Melissa Conroy, Pat Conroy, and Janis Owens at Beauty and the Book Girlfriend Weekend 2010.]

Who are some of the folks (authors or otherwise) that have visited over the years?

My book club prides itself on helping undiscovered authors get discovered in a big way. Some of the authors we have selected have then gone on to super-stardom including: Jeannette Walls of The Glass Castle (Scribner, 2009), Charles Martin of Where the River Ends (Broadway/Random House, 2008), Michael Morris of Slow Way Home (HarperOne, 2003), Ron Hall of Same Kind of Different as Me: A Modern-Day Slave, an International Art Dealer, and the Unlikely Woman Who Bound Them Together (Thomas Nelson, 2008), and Cassandra King of Queen of Broken Hearts (Hyperion, 2007).

Many other authors we have selected (but yet not had grace our doors) have too gone on to superstar status, including: Ann Packer of The Dive From Clausen’s Pier (Vintage, 2003), Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love (Viking, 2006), and most recently, Kathryn Stockett of The Help (Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam, 2009).

Then because our book club has received so much media attention and great features, such as, “Good Morning America,” “Oprah,” Newsweek, Time, The Wall Street Journal, and The Los Angeles Times, we have been fortunate to have some real celebrities and New York Times best-selling authors grace our doors including: Linda Bloodworth Thomason, Rue McClanahan, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, Kinky Friedman (who was running for governor at the time), Kelly Corrigan, Elizabeth Berg, and my all-time favorite author in the whole wide world, Pat Conroy.

Would you like to share any favorite memories?

One of my favorite memories was riding in my mini-van with the late, great, Pulitzer Prize winning political cartoonist and author Doug Marlette.

Doug had written his first book, The Bridge (HarperCollins, 2001), and I was taking him around to all my book clubs in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas.

As we were driving down I-20 from Choudrant, Louisiana; headed home, Doug turned to me and said, “Kathy, do you always have paparazzi trail you on the road?”

When I inquired what in the world was he talked about, he told me, “Look to your left!”

I turned to see a little white compact car driving right beside me with the driver leaning across the passenger seat madly clicking photos of us in the van while he was driving.

He passed us, honking, and I turned to Doug, dumbfounded.

He continued, “Well, I knew you were becoming famous, but that takes the cake.”

I am paraphrasing here as it is very doubtful that Doug would say “take the cake,” but you get the idea. We laughed about it all the way home.

Later, when I got on my computer to check my emails, it was photographer Shane Bevel, a friend that worked for the Shreveport Times. He emailed me that when he saw my mini-van, he knew I must have had an author on board with me so he decided to have some fun with it!

To this day, I would give anything for those photographs as that was the last time I was with Doug in person. He was killed a couple of summers ago in a tragic hydroplaning car accident. He was only 57, and I will miss him dearly.

I created The Doug Marlette Award, given each year to a person for a lifetime of promoting literacy so that author and friend would never be forgotten. This year, that award was given by his best friend and author Pat Conroy to Arkansas bookseller, my mentor, Mary Gay Shipley.

Not a day goes by that I don’t think of him, his distorted sense of humor, which was the same as mine, and his intelligence and grace. Yes, that was a memory I will cherish forever!

You’re also an author in your own right! Congratulations! Can you tell us more about The Pulpwood Queens’ Tiara-Wearing, Book-Sharing Guide to Life?

I have dreamed of being an author my whole life as there is nobody I admire more than those who can take a great story and put it to paper for print. Never though in a million years would I have dreamed that this would come into fruition because I guess I thought you had to be born somewhere other than a small town in Kansas. I thought you had to have a better education than me, though I continue to be a life-long learner.

It seemed a dream way out of my reach, but in fact, I got a call from a publisher asking me to write my story.

To make a long story short, then I had an agent call me to represent me, which led to me then taking my book proposal to New York to shop to major publishing houses.

This did not happen overnight. From start to finish, it took six years. But I am proud to say that my life story in books was published by Grand Central Publishing, formerly Warner Books. It is my story on how books saved me and how I am on a mission to promote literacy one book, one author, one book club chapter at a time.

But that’s not all. My book is a resource book for anyone who has an interest in reading. I have had almost a dozen state library associations endorse me by having me come and speak to their organizations and continue to do so.

At the end of each chapter, I tell the reader, if you like this story, perhaps you would like these books and list them. I give advice on how to start a book club and what to do and not to do.

I also listed all of my book club selections from inception to publication date.

There are recipes as each month our book club prepares a meal to go along with our read and so much, much more.

It’s kind of one-stop shop for readers, and I think you will find my story so inspiring, you too will be able to find your life’s purpose through reading great books!

What do directions do you foresee in your future?

Of course, I want the Pulpwood Queen Book Club program to continue forever, long after I am gone. I kind of see myself as this trailblazing woman–like Juliet Low of the Girl Scouts meets Mary Kay of Mary Kay cosmetics! Like Miss America, who is always touting “world peace,” I do believe that that can happen if we become a more literate and reading world!

My book has been sent forth out into the world kind of like The Little Engine that Could. It’s a book to show that I think I can, I think I can, I know I can create a better world through reading. My book is helping me get the message out in a bigger way, but when I dream, I dream big!

I want my own talk show! Yes, I want it to be called “Beauty and the Book,” and I have the perfect co-host, author, Robert Leleux of The Memoirs of a Beautiful Boy (St. Martin’s, 2008)!

A former East Texan and the most wonderful literate, witty, brilliant man I know to do this show where we show people that reading is not only important, it’s big-time fun!

For the last couple of years, Robert and I, dubbed BOBKAT, have been running our Girlfriend Weekend like a talk show!

We have taped these and are willing to show the world that Reading Is The Best Entertainment in the Whole World!

Most films these days are based on books, and we have a really quirky and fun way that is different, but in order to understand, you just have to see it to believe it!

Oh, and if my book were made into film, of course, I would choose Meryl Streep to play me as like Barbie, she can really portray anybody. I told you I dream big!

So I invite everyone to come on board our “Little Engine That Could” Pulpwood Queen Program to promote authors, books, literacy, and reading!

Joining forces with people such as Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, connecting people in a book club (who may have never had that relationship if it wasn’t for sharing a good read) is my goal!

I just want to shout it from the mountaintops, but I have to admit a television show would be a whole heck a lot easier; don’t you think?

[Kathy L. Patrick shown as as Tippi Hedren Barbie from Alfred Hitchcock‘s “The Birds” at Happy 50th Birthday Barbie Party Girlfriend Weekend 2010]

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Yes, for anyone reading this, no matter what you have been made to believe, you can make a difference!

If a small-town Kansas girl with big dreams and at times big hair can do it, so can you!

I may not take myself very seriously–I mean who does when you are over 50?–but I do take the importance of literacy and reading very much so.

Won’t you all join me on this wonderful road to reading?! It all begins with one word, one sentence, one paragraph, one page! Then once I get you reading, I am going to have you writing too.

I never knew who I really was until I wrote my book. I have come full circle and found myself and my purpose in life through reading and writing.

And just remember, that writing your story does not have to be for publication, it can be just for you and your family and friends.

Besides, a story not written is a library lost to your family and friends.

Nobody can tell your story better than you, and it’s just like my favorite quote says, “The world is made up of stories, not atoms” (Muriel Rukheyser).

Life is all about the story, our relationships with others and how we connect. And now my friends, that is my story and I’m sticking to it!

Tiara Wearing and Book Sharing,

Kathy L. Patrick
The Pulpwood Queen

[The Pulpwood Queens of East Texas as Wizard of Oz characters at Somewhere Over the Rainbow Great Big Ball of Hair Ball Girlfriend Weekend 2010.]

Learn more about the Pulpwood Queens, and read Kathy’s blog.

Pretend you’re Oprah, and check out this awesome video: