One spring night in 2002, I walked out on a New York stage without a clue that the evening would include a life-changing moment. Sure, it was exciting: the Rock Bottom Remainders, an all-author band I’d started on a whim ten years before, was about to play a sold-out anniversary show at Webster Hall. This event was extra special for me because my debut novel was being promoted at BEA (the huge publishing trade show sponsoring our performance). But life-changing? We’d done this show so many times I wasn’t thinking that way.
The whole band was there: Steve, Dave, Amy, Ridley, Scott, Mitch, Greg, James, Roy; others sitting in (was that Neil Gaiman shouting “Louie Louie” into my ear?) The moment came for me to step up to the microphone for my featured solo, an original ditty I like to call “The Slut Song.” Looking over the sea of upturned faces, an amazing hairdo—topped by a glittering tiara—caught my eye.
The publishing executives and booksellers who attend BEA are smart (often brilliant), hardworking (one might say obsessive), professionals who LOVE our band. But they don’t usually show up in rhinestone tiaras, let alone fabulous big blonde Texas hair. So I dedicated my song to the “rhinestone queen” in the audience, and that was my introduction to the Pulpwood Queens of East Texas and Beauty and the Book, the only (as far as I know) combination beauty parlor and bookstore in the USA.
The blonde turned out to be Kathy Patrick, and when she invited me to be a featured author at her 2003 Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend I cashed in all my frequent flyer miles to go. Jefferson is a quaint town in East Texas timber country, where you meet toddlers with names like Harper and Atticus. The event was smallish but lovely. Kathy met me at the airport with the words “Do you like pa?” and, when I looked mystified, drove me right to a café that makes the best pie in Texas. Onward to a bed and breakfast inn, where I was hosted by a woman named Dona Reed in a room apparently made entirely of pink lace. I met some wonderful women, and I sat still for a “Pulpwood Queen Makeover” that sent me home with my very own tiara, false eyelashes, and several yards of fake hair—the perfect look for your DFW flight connection. By the time the weekend was over, I was hooked on the Pulpwood Queens, not to mention the “pa.”
I’ve gone back most years since, watching Kathy’s event grow from an intimate book club gathering to an extravaganza. Last weekend Sam and I were honored to be invited as guest authors. We joined a couple of hundred avid readers as they listened, rapt, to keynote speaker Pat Conroy (who later bought both our books). Pulpwood Queen chapters from all over the country gathered for Kathy’s “Hair Ball,” a combination dance party and costume parade in which prizes are given for “best table design,” “best girl group,” and “best hair (extra points if it’s real).” This year’s theme was The Wizard of Oz, so there were ruby-slippered Dorothys, avuncular lions, munchkins and witches everywhere you looked. One group came as “Happy Little Bluebirds”; another as a gaggle of Glindas: a dozen women in white gowns with sparkling inverted glitter-gunned wastebaskets on their heads draped their table in glittery white with a centerpiece that—could it be?—looked like a working decorative fountain. Closer examination revealed that the fountain was not only working; but spurting Mojitos instead of water. What kind of amazing person thinks of that?
The thing is, Girlfriend Weekend can’t be described—you really do have to be there. Go for the books, stay for the pa. What happens in Jefferson stays in Jefferson, except for your hairdo which, if you let Kathy have her way with you, will hold still in a hurricane for weeks to come.
Causes Kathi Goldmark Supports
Support for Families of Children with Disabilities Friends of the San Francisco Public Library National Kidney Foundation of Northern California Litquake...