Multiple Award-Winning, Little Tea is set in the Deep South. Little Tea ( named after a character whose real name is Thelonia Winfrey) is the story of those long-lasting female friendships that see you through a lifetime, wherein there’s shared history; language; and sense of humor. The narrator, Celia Wakefield spent part of her childhood at her family’s 3rd generation land in Como, Mississippi, where the cultural social mores concerning racial integration had yet to fully evolve. This premise sets the dynamic of a trajectory of events that impact her friendship with Little Tea and haunt Celia Wakefield decades later. When Celia reunites with two childhood friends at Greer’s Ferry Lake in Heber Springs, Arkansas, Celia’s past resurfaces for long-overdue resolution.
Targeted Age Group:: 25 and up
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
The sustaining power of female friendships that begin in childhood and last a life time, with their own language, sense of humor, and depth of feeling, when two friends come to the aid of another. One friend's dilemma, when in the hands of herself and 2 good friends will illicit 3 different perspectives. I set Little Tea in the Deep South so that the cultural influences could affect the story.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Renny, Ava, and Celia are three close friends with totally different personalities. They care about each other deeply, but have different perspectives on life, marriage, and the meaning of happiness. Ava wants to leave her marriage, Renny thinks she should, and Celia thinks she shouldn't. All 3 friends have their individual reasons.
In high school, our group called it “The Bridge,” even though it was one
of three straddling the Mississippi River. When our group spoke of it,
we didn’t mean the obvious bridge—that modern, eye-catching, steel arch
that takes off from the riverfront cobblestones, soars over the water in a
cursive letter M, and touches down in West Memphis, Arkansas. We had
no interest in its predecessor either: The Memphis-Arkansas Bridge. To us,
there was only one bridge worth talking about—the cantilevered Harahan
Bridge, the old train bridge with verboten cache, for all its looming black,
historic elegance. In an overgrown part of the wooded bluffs, the base of
the bridge was where our group convened when we sought the underbelly
of our insulated lives. We were on the cusp of adulthood now that we
each had a driver’s license. We were at that time in our lives where we
thought we were more than we were: smarter than our parents, qualified
to forge beyond the shackles of their supervision, and to be in a part of
Memphis there was no good reason to be gave us a sense of walking the
prohibited. It’s not that we tried to get away with something for its own
sake. There were simply some things we thought our parents didn’t know
that we did. Under most circumstances, to be down by the river at night
was unthinkable. In the eighties, downtown’s historic Beale Street was in
the process of redevelopment and had yet to grow into the full potential of
the three vibrant blocks of restaurants and nightclubs it eventually became.
Back then, the shady, unkempt area of the bluffs near the Harahan Bridge
was left to its own dodgy devices, fair game to anyone and anything in
need of the veil of night. And we thought we were untouchable, that
the shimmer of our starry-eyed youth protected us by sheer force of our
specialness. The truth is, we’d been treated as such all our lives. Whatever
it was our parents had gone through to achieve their standing in Memphis
was something we never considered. We’d arrived on the scene privileged
from birth and simply took it for granted that we’d be shielded all our lives.
What I remember most about that Saturday night was the full moon.
Were it not for the luminous orb suspended over the scenery, the rest of
the night wouldn’t have happened as it did. But there’s no fighting the
black art of bad timing. When pitted against youth and optimism, bad
timing will win every time.
We’d gone down to the bridge that night in three cars: Tate and I,
Mark and Ava, and Renny and a guy named Hunter Phillips, whom she
dated every now and again. Though Tate brought a fifth of Wild Turkey,
Mark had a half keg of beer in the trunk and handed out paper cups
stamped with the Budweiser logo. He’d angled his ’73 Ford Falcon near
the southeast end of the Harahan Bridge in a patch of clover before the
cracked, weathered asphalt, where shrubbery, tallgrass, and river cane
bordered the incline. His car doors were open, and Al Green’s honeyed
and soulful voice spilled out of a cassette. I unfurled the blanket Tate kept
in his flatbed and swayed to the Memphis-classic beat of Take Me to the
River. Ava burned bright and ethereal, more so than usual on this early
June night. She was in the rapturous, first flush of love with Mark Clayton,
which Renny said kept her outside her better senses. But I understood the
unbalancing quality of new love, how overwhelming and consuming it
could be. I’d been dating Tate exclusively for well past a year and had yet
to arrive at my footing.
“I know what I want to do, y’all,” Ava purred. “I want to get in the
“Don’t be insane,” Tate said. “There’s all kinds of crap in that muddy
water, not to mention the undertow. Bulrush, snakes … you don’t know
what all’s in there.”
Ava glided to the river’s edge. “I’m not going in all the way, I’m just
going to put my feet in the water.”
Mark sprang from the blanket. “Wait a minute, Ava, come on back
here, honey. It’s too dark to see what’s ahead of you.”
Hunter Phillips was a clean-cut guy, steady and mature beyond his
youth. There was something gangly in his whippet-thin stature, nerdy in
his horn-rimmed spectacles, but his face was chiseled and defined. And
although he was awkward, you could tell that, in a decade or so, he’d grow
into something impressive.
Hunter was a classmate of Tate and Mark’s, the son of a fowl-hunting
buddy of Tate’s father. Hunter had his turkey call with him that night and
thrilled us by pulling the little black- and-yellow diaphragm from his pocket
and putting it on top of his tongue. Pushing it to the roof of his mouth, he
dropped his chin and emitted notes from high to low, the perfectly pitched
yelp of a hen. We all got such a kick out of the sound, that we begged him
to do it repeatedly. Which is why Hunter was demonstrating the turkey
call the entire time he and Renny waded through the brush and climbed
up to the train tracks. They stood beneath the moon glow, looking down
at Mark and Ava at the river’s edge, while Tate and I stayed on the bluff.
Ava had her skirt off and wriggled in her white cotton underwear. She was
making toward the water when flashing red lights whirred from two police
cars patrolling Riverside Drive. Within seconds, doors clapped, and two
officers appeared, sweeping flashlights too quick to avoid.
“Thanks for calling the cops, Hunter,” Tate shouted, and I could
hear Ava’s laughter bubbling ahead. Turning from the water, she slipped
into her skirt, stepped into her flats, and seemed unconcerned over the
flashlights lighting her every move. Sashaying forward, she patted her hair
and smiled as though she’d been expecting these uniformed men. Holding
up her hand, Ava said, “Now, I know what this looks like, officers. It looks
like we’re up to no good. But, you see, today is my sixteenth birthday. This
is my fault. I insisted we all come down to the river to celebrate, so if y’all
wanna get mad, get mad at me.”
The officers exchanged a wary look as though they’d seen Ava’s like
before. One started to speak, but Ava kept going. “My uncle is a police
officer in St. Louis,” she chattered. “So I have the greatest respect for the
law. Seriously, officers, we don’t mean any harm. If you want us to leave,
we’ll pack up now and won’t come down here again.” As the officers studied
Ava, we all knew we were off the hook. There’d be no checking of IDs, no
calling dispatch, and no further involvement because Ava had performed
the tactical maneuver of getting to them before they could get to us.
“Bad part of town, wrong time of night to be down here,” one of
them said, and that was the worst that came of it. It was the first time I’d
heard one of Ava’s bald-face lies, when she’d made mention of her fictitious
uncle. But because she was adept at spinning what people wanted to hear,
in Ava’s mind, her lies were little and white.
I figured Ava would use one of her little white lies when she talked to
Stan, or at the least, a lie by omission. She had a circuitous way of talking
as it was, a desultory way of stringing together non sequiturs that I could
only characterize as classically Ava, in that there was a musing quality to her
way of talking, as though the rapid succession of thoughts that ricocheted
inside her head bounced at such a speed, it was all she could do to grasp
the half of them. There was no taking anything Ava said literally. When it
came to Ava, I was in the habit of simply following her general drift.
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