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I wish you'd been there!

Well, it's that time of year again. I've just returned home from three glorious days in the small town of Jefferson, Texas, ground zero for the Pulpwood Queens. The event: the annual extravaganza,Girlfriend Weekend. I stayed at the beautiful Alley-McKay house, and I had a blast.

It all started Thursday evening, with a dinner where the authors, including moi, waited on the PQs who gathered at the Jefferson Convention Center. The amazing Kathy L. Patrick, founder of this mushrooming book club (400 chapters and growing), fed the authors first, then we each claimed a table. I served dinner to the fine ladies from Southwest Louisiana's chapter. Wonderful women with ready smiles and good hearts who put up with my well-meaning if rather inept attempts at serving sweet and unsweetened tea, a barbecue dinner followed by yummy bread pudding. There were free autographed books and everyone went to their hotel or B&B with a smile.

On Friday, we were all back early, and the weekend kicked into gear with Kathy and her co host, the superb Robert Leleux (author of The Memoirs of a Beautiful Boy) front and center. For the next two days, they moderated the panels, asking questions and keeping us all laughing. That morning, Mark Childress (Crazy in Alabama) was the keynote speaker, and he was so funny. I loved the reading from his new book, Georgia Bottoms. Lucky for all of us he gave everyone copies.

I won't attempt to list all the authors who spoke on Friday. There are simply too many, but here are a few: Helen Simonson (Major Pettigrew's Last Stand), Judy Christie (Goodness Gracious Green), Denise Hildreth Jones (Hurricane in Paradise), Janis Owens (Cracker Kitchen), Kathy Appelt (Keeper) and Melissa Conroy (Poppy's Pants). If I'm counting right, there were about 20 discussing their work and their lives on the stage that first day.

The talent show that night was great fun. So many imaginative acts. I heard Nashville's Marshall Chapman sing and play her guitar for the first time and loved it so much I sprung for a CD. Marshall also has a new book out: They Came to Nashville.

The following morning, Saturday, the great Fannie Flagg began the day with a rousing talk about dyslexia, writing, and the surprises live brings. She was charming and heart-warming, detailing the process that began imagining the ghosts that inhabited her family's dilapidated and abandoned homestead and ended in a beloved book: "Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe."

Two more panels, including mine, followed her. Wouldn't you know that Kathy would name my panel "Stories that are Killer?" On the stage, I was a bit nervous. (There were lots of folks there. At least 300, my guess.) But BobKat(Robert and Kathy) put us all at ease, giving us the opportunity to discuss our books and answer questions. I read a short passage from THE KILLING STORM, the Pulpwood Queens' main selection for July 2010.

It turned out that my panel was the opening act for the inimitable Pat Conroyand his BFF Bernie Schein. Our entertainment as we lunched, these two old friends didn't hold back, shooting barbs at one another. I would have felt sorry for them if they hadn't looked like they were having so much fun.

I bet you think that's about it? Not a chance. That afternoon, three more panels and awards were handed out. In between listening to the other authors, I circulated around the tables meeting old friends and making new ones, talking to the PQs who'd traveled from across the country to attend and authors like Jamie Ford (Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet), Shellie Rushing Tomlinson (Suck in Your Stomach and Put Some Color On), and Karen Harrington (Janeology).

That night, I did something I never would have predicted. All I can say is that Marsha Toy Engstrom (The Bookclub Cheerleader) can be pretty convincing. What did I do? Well, I dressed up as the Cheshire Cat and did a dance routine with authors and friends dressed as characters from "Alice in Wonderland" to Jefferson Airplane's classic "White Rabbit." It was wild! (If anyone has a video, please don't YouTube it.)

The beauty of all this is that it was incredible fun and all for a great cause. Kathy Patrick and the PQs are champions for literacy, and the money raised in a silent auction, more than $6,000 and counting, will go to the Dolly Parton Imagination Library Literacy Project.

The bottom line (as my character Sarah Armstrong loves to say): I had an outstanding time. I drove home on Sunday singing along to my new Marshall Chapman CD and smiling all the way. You know, I can't wait for next year!
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