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Oprah of the Piney Woods

Kathy Patrick wields some hefty clout out of her beauty shop/book store

By then, everyone was jumping on the television book club bandwagon. More offers started rolling in. In 2002, Good Morning America asked her to film a segment where she recommended a book called The Absence of Nectar by Texas author Kathy Hepinstall, a frequent Pulpwood Queen staple.

"I announced it and it went out of print. Fifteen thousand copies just went shwoop!"

"Kathy's what we call 'an industry big mouth,'" said Avideh Bashirrad, director of marketing at Random House. "Kathy's a great advocate for our books, especially those that appeal to book clubs. She's very active in promoting books and has taken up the literacy cause in a big way."

Kathy Patrick washes the hair of Jenny Wingfield, author of The Homecoming of Samuel Lake, in Patrick's hair salon/bookstore, Beauty and the Book.
Chris Curry
Kathy Patrick washes the hair of Jenny Wingfield, author of The Homecoming of Samuel Lake, in Patrick's hair salon/bookstore, Beauty and the Book.
Books hand-picked by Kathy Patrick line one-half of Beauty and the Book, which she calls the only combination bookstore and beauty salon in the world.
Chris Curry
Books hand-picked by Kathy Patrick line one-half of Beauty and the Book, which she calls the only combination bookstore and beauty salon in the world.

The response was so good that GMA producers decided to make the Pulpwood Queens part of their regular Read This! segment. Patrick and friends would recommend books to other book clubs across the country. In the first episode, the Pulpwood Queens were paired up with a book club in Bernardsville, New Jersey, to recommend Ann Packer's book The Dive From Clausen's Pier, which has now sold over a million copies.

"(The book) was recommended to me by my mentor bookseller, Mary Gay Shipley at That Bookstore in Blytheville, Arkansas. Since I don't have any reps calling on me, I rely on my friends to tell me what books are good. GMA, they really wanted me to pick from one of their books but I stuck to my guns. My book club, we're not serious about much, but we are serious about our books. Part of my credibility is the books we pick."

"It was so funny because they filmed it here live. Right before we went on the air that dang cameraman goes, 'You know 5 million people will be watching.'"

"I don't have big hair. But they wanted us to have big hair. So I said okay. Super Texan, big hair, beauty queen, so we glammed it up. The first thing that happened was the Bernardsville girl turned to Charlie Gibson — he asked, 'What do you think of Kathy's selection' — and she said, 'I dunno... Big hair, hairdresser, Southern...' Like, 'What would you know?'"

"God bless Charlie Gibson because he said, 'I'm gonna tell you something,' to that girl. He was talking right into the camera. 'I've read that book, and Kathy picked a very good read that will be perfect for a book club.'"

And the author of that book, Ann Packer, is forever grateful. "The Pulpwood Queens' selection of The Dive from Clausen's Pier propelled the book onto bestseller lists, with an extra boost coming from the fact that it was Good Morning America's first book club pick," Packer said. "The result for me was a wider readership than I ever could have imagined."

After that appearance, the club exploded, as Patrick was inundated with calls asking how one could become a member.

"I think every Southern woman e-mailed me and said, 'How dare they slam us like we don't know how to read just because you girls are from a little town in Texas?' Besides doing the book club, we decided, hey, we're also changing people's opinions on what a book club is and who is a reader. I mean why couldn't a Southern hairdresser be a reader? And there's nothing wrong with reading romance novels at the same time, too, as long as we're being entertained, enlightened and educated. What's wrong with that?"

Pulpwood Queens now has chapters as far away as Scotland, New Zealand, Japan and Thailand, some founded by Texas members who have moved away, and some founded by readers who've never even been to the States.

Diane Blanco, who runs the Web site LipstickDigest.com, became a Pulpwood Queen last year, after her friend Twila Ilgen read and recommended Patrick's memoir. Together, Ilgen and Blanco founded The Pulpwood Queens of Lake Houston, which in one year has grown to 50 members.

"We didn't want the most serious book club where people were chastised for not reading the book," Blanco said. "When I realized she lived in Jefferson I said, 'We have to go meet this woman.'"

"Besides us changing stereotypes is it's also giving us women kind of a voice, and a community."

Part of that community includes access to the authors whose works the Pulpwood Queens love. Even in the early days of the club, Patrick was never shy about calling an author up and asking him or her to come to the shop for a reading.

In her memoir, Patrick writes about the time author Prill Boyle visited Jefferson and the two made a trip across the Louisiana border for to-go Mudslides from a drive-thru shack in the woods. In one episode of her Web series, Patrick interviews author Janelle Brown while cutting and styling her hair.

"She cleverly invited Cassandra King to come to her store to sign copies of her first novel, Making Waves in Zion, which is set in a small southern town, largely in a beauty parlor," said Rusoff. "I think she wooed her with promises of a new hairdo and makeover."

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8 comments
Bill Torgerson
Bill Torgerson

Fun read! Nice background for me as I try to tell a story around the video I shot at Girlfriend Weekend 2012.

Writecarolodell
Writecarolodell

The comparison to Oprah is not an exaggeration--Kathy Patrick is fierce, fun, and has a genuine passion for books and people. Her devotion to her fans, to literacy, and to her community is the glue to her "queendom." Her book clubs are not just in name only--her clubs read and discuss and are a driving force in the publishing world--and you don't know what fun is until you experience one of her Girlfriend Weekends--held each January--those folks know how to party--with some of the well-loved and well-loved authors as guests. Kathy lives a big life in a small town! She's an example of what one person can do. ~Carol O'Dellwww.caroldodell.com

Carrifrederick
Carrifrederick

I was one of the many people that made the pilgrimage to Jefferson, Texas after reading her book! Let me say, Kathy Patrick is one of the sweetest people showing true southern hospitality that there ever was! There were eight of us that made the trip and the day ended up being magical! She is definitely kind and generous. She is genuinely the Pulpwood Queen! All she gushes about is books and books and more books. We loved it, where some people stalk after movie stars and athletes we do the same with authors!! LOL She needs her own reality show for sure! I remember when we were visiting Jefferson and we went into one of the little shops there, I ask the store owner, "Do you know who Kathy Patrick is?". He said, "Oh yeah, shes crazy isnt she?"..we all laughed and said, "She seems pretty normal to us!"

Brookebivey
Brookebivey

Wonderful article! Love, love, love Kathy Patrick and the Pulpwood Queens!

Twila Carter Ilgen
Twila Carter Ilgen

What a wonderful article! Great story, Kathy's a real jewel of the Piney Woods! Keep up the good work!

West7t4
West7t4

This is probably the most interesting and well written story I have read in the Press in years. Keep it up and I will become a regular reader again.

Kathleenkaska
Kathleenkaska

What an incredible article! This is the best one ever (including what I wrote). Oprah of the Piney Woods, Kingmaker, great names. And I love the photo of Kathy and Pat Conroy. Kathy is truly a jewel of the literary world and I'm delighted to know her.

Kay Huck
Kay Huck

Kathy Patrick is a one woman show who is all about the other person. Fabulously intelligent, sensitive and creative. Once I met her I ran home and started a PQ book club! It wasn't long before others wanted to join. Her book selections always stimulate discussion and most of the authors have either phoned in or used skype for video calls. Bowing at the foot of The Queen!

 
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