I am so excited to share the cover for my second book to be published in 2017—A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be (Mercer University Press, March 2017). This is an anthology I edited, with essays by twenty wonderful authors and a foreword from Anne Lamott. Can’t wait to see it!
Isn’t it beautiful?
If it feels like I’m bombing you with book news, just wait until 2017! I can’t help myself… JOY JOY JOY!
And here’s the entry for the Mercer University Press spring/summer catalog. Watch for a listing of events where I’ll be reading/signing next spring. If you can’t make it to an event, please ask your local indie booksellers to order the book for you! (Of course you can get it online if you must.)
… my true love gave to me: four calling birds! In the Church’s tradition, those birds represent the four gospel writers—the holy apostles Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John (seen in these icons). They are “calling” to the world to hear the message of Christ’s incarnation.
So how am I celebrating the fourth day of Christmas? We just got home last night from spending a wonderful Christmas in Denver with two of our kids and all four of our grandchildren. So we are tired but happy. Of course I’m unpacking, doing laundry, and grocery shopping today (and starting back on exercising on the elliptical)… but it’s also a day for opening more Christmas cards and reading through so many wonderful Christmas letters from friends and family near and far. Sending Christmas cards is one of my favorite traditions, and receiving them is such a treat.
This year I didn’t come up with a creative way to display them, so I just spread them out on our dining room table as they arrived. This morning I captured them in photos, then I took down last year’s photo cards from the bulletin board in the kitchen and replaced them with this year’s. Well, some of them. (They don’t all fit!)
It was fun to group some of them:
Thanks so much to everyone who was thoughtful enough to send us a card and/or a Christmas letter this year. I hope you are enjoying this tradition as much as we are!
I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas! I’ve shared lots of pictures on Facebook, so I’m not going to bomb my blog with our family Christmas images, but we are having a wonderful time in Denver with two of our three “kids” and their families, including our four granddaughters (which is why I didn’t do a blog post on Friday). We’ll head back to Memphis tomorrow where I’ll continue work on all four books in their various stages of editing, production, and marketing.
I’m excited to share this wonderful blurb written by my publisher, Joe Lee, for the front inside cover of my novel Cherry Bomb. It appeared on the Dogwood Press blog, Friday, December 23, 2016. Check out the other authors featured there, including my friend John Floyd who is a wizard with short stories. His latest book is Dreamland.
Thanks for this wonderful blurb, Joe! (This will be a hardback book with a dust jacket cover. We’re working on cover art now, so stay tuned!)
In the same way that a good bookseller can get you excited about reading a book (as our Mississippi booksellers do so well), good dust jacket copy does the same thing — how often have you read the flap cover and said, “Gosh, I’ve GOT to get this!” With that in mind, here’s the dust jacket copy for Susan Cushman’s debut novel, Cherry Bomb, which I can’t wait for us to roll out next October:
By the tender age of sixteen, Mary Catherine Henry has lived through enough horror to last a lifetime. Sexual abuse at the hands of her cult-leading father, abandonment by her drug-addicted mother (who nicknamed her Mare), and several spirit-crushing years with a dysfunctional foster family convince her that life on the streets will be easier, somehow, than what she’s always known.
What keeps Mare going is the budding artist inside her, and the sleepy Southern town of Macon, Georgia, doesn’t know what hit them when colorful graffiti “bombs” begin appearing on abandoned buildings—Mare even dares to decorate a Catholic church with a highly provocative message. The young runaway signs her work CHERRY BOMB, attracts the attention of the local media, and is soon caught—but not by police.
A photographer for Rolling Stone learns of Mare while on assignment, finds her, and befriends her. So does a reporter for The Macon News and, eventually, the priest of the parish whose walls Mare defaced so angrily. Their efforts help earn her a scholarship at prestigious Savannah College of Art & Design, where she studies under legendary Abstract Expressionist painter Elaine de Kooning. It’s a wonderful mentoring relationship … until Mare and Elaine discover they have much more in common than a love of art. And that bond, which forces both women to deal with pain and anger from their repressed pasts, threatens to tear them apart.
With a mix of remarkably visual characters and an intricate, compelling plot rich with intriguing religious imagery, Mississippi author Susan Cushman has penned a powerful debut novel that will stay with you long after you’ve turned the final page. You’ll never forget Mare and Elaine … and you’ll never look at religious icons—and street graffiti—the same way.
Wow! Doesn’t that make you want to read the book? And you can support Susan before then by picking up a copy of Tangles and Plaques (A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s), which will be released in several weeks by eLectio Publishing.
A couple of weeks ago I did a post about a favorite Christmas hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” This morning I woke up thinking about another favorite, “O Holy Night.”
O Holy Night wasn’t traditionally sung in the Presbyterian church of my childhood. It was saved for special solos and performances outside the regular church service. At least in my experience. But my favorite memory of this hymn is from Christmas gatherings (and also Thanksgiving gatherings) at my aunt and uncle’s house in Jackson, Mississippi, in the 1950s through the 1980s. Aunt Barbara Jo was the “glue” in our extended family. Ten years younger than her older brother—my father—Barbara Jo was always more like an older sister to me. She loved family and she loved having us all in her home. Uncle Dan was a military man with a career in the Mississippi National Guard. But he had a softer side, and the most beautiful tenor voice I’ve ever heard. My father was also a tenor. When my Aunt Joy was visiting from Texas, she would play the piano (by ear) and we’d all gather around and sing Christmas carols. At some point everyone would get quiet and we’d know it was time for O Holy Night. As Joy played, my father and Uncle Dan sang the most beautiful duet, always moving me to tears.
So, this morning I did a little research, learning something of the song’s history. It was written in 1847. In light of our country’s (and the world’s) current political unrest, I found it interesting that the history of this beloved Christmas song is also filled with politics and war. Here’s more of the story, from a post by Tsh Oxenreider at (in)courage:
A parish priest in a small French town commissioned a local poet and wine commissionaire, Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure, to write a poem for the village’s Christmas Eve mass. Cappeau read through the birth of Christ in the gospel of Luke en route to Paris, and finished the poem O Holy Night by the time he reached the city.
Cappeau turned to his friend, Adolphe Charles Adams, to compose the music to the poem, and three weeks later, the song was sung in the village on Christmas Eve. Initially, Cantique de Noel (the song’s French name) was widely loved by the Church in France, but when leaders learned that Cappeau was a socialist and Adams a Jew, the song was uniformly denounced as unfit for church services. But the common French people loved it so much, they continued to sing it.
The song came to the U.S. via John Sullival Dwight, an abolitionist during the Civil War. Moved by the line in the third verse, “Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother, and in His Name all oppression shall cease,” he published it in his magazine and quickly found favor in the north during the war.
Even though it was banned in France, the song was still popular among the people. On Christmas Eve in 1871, in the midst of fierce fighting between France and Germany during the Franco-Prussian War, a unarmed French soldier jumped out of the trenches, walked into the battlefield, and started singing, “Minuit, Chretiens, c’est l’heure solennelle ou L’Homme Dieu descendit jusqu’a nous,” the song’s first line in French.
After singing all three verses, a German solider emerged and started singing, “Vom Himmel noch, da komm’ ich her. Ich bring’ euch gute neue Mar, Der guten Mar bring’ ich so viel, Davon ich sing’n und sagen will,” the beginning of a popular hymn by Martin Luther.
Fighting stopped for the next 24 hours in honor of Christmas Day. Soon after, the French Church re-embraced O Holy Night.
My wish these days leading up to Christmas is that we would embrace one another, and that the fighting would stop.
Click here to enjoy Jordan Smith’s wonderful tenor voice in this arrangement of O Holy Night.
In the late 1980s through the mid 1990s, I wrote and directed the annual Christmas pageant at our church here in Memphis, St. John Orthodox. Our own kids were in elementary and middle school during those years. The participants in the play each year were between three and about twelve—sixth graders being the oldest. (The high school kids did a different play each year—one about Saint Nicholas.) I have such wonderful memories of those pageants and the children who brought them to life each year. One little boy was a trouble-maker during practices, but always came through with a great performance in the end. What I didn’t recognize at the time was his higher intelligence… he was bored at practice and didn’t see a need to put forth any effort or follow any rules. Today he’s happily married with a creative and successful career. And one year one of the mothers of several children in the play gave me a copy of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever and I read it every year for a while…. Wish I could find it again.
And then there was the year I almost (or did this really happen?) caught Sarah Mashburn’s hair on fire. She was playing the part of Saint Lucia, who had a crown of candles on her head. One year we had musical instruments—the three wise men played their recorders (plastic tonette flutes they learned to play in school) and two girls who were studying ballet did a lovely pas de deux as Mary and the Angel Gabriel. I remember each of these events with less clarity about the details but great emotional imprint. And of course there were often moments of humor. But none so funny as what happened yesterday
So, yesterday at St. John, a different generation of children offered the Christmas pageant to a packed house in the nave (sanctuary). Terrific costumes. Booming, clear voices reciting their parts. Lovely choir of angels singing both Orthodox and traditional Western Christmas carols. And then there was drama over Baby Jesus.
Claire, the director of the play, cast her oldest daughter, Zoe as Mary, and her younger daughter, Audrey, was one of the little lambs. Zoe was a terrific Mary, saying her lines clearly, remembering her movements as she entered and exited the solea (stage area) several times, first when she was greeted by the Angel Gabriel, later greeted by her cousin Elizabeth, and finally journeying with her husband Joseph to Bethlehem, looking for shelter.
Once Mary and Joseph arrived at the stable and Jesus was born, the excitement began. Baby Jesus was placed in the manger, and the wise men and shepherds and animals came to worship him. The youngest children were the animals. So when little Audrey came in with the sheep, she hurried to the manger where she tried to grab baby Jesus. Mary (her big sister) had to struggle with her, swatting her hand away from Baby Jesus as Audrey tried to climb up on the chair with Zoe and tugged at the Baby until Claire (her mother) finally had to come up on the stage and take Audrey out. The cause of the ruckus? One of Audrey’s dolls had been cast as Baby Jesus. Later Claire recounted the story on Facebook and said that all the way home in the car after church Audrey kept saying, “That is NOT my sister’s baby!”
Humor is always a welcome element in any drama. And the shining faces of the children as they brought their gifts to Jesus in their acting and singing reminded all of us that He really is the reason for the season. I hope you and your family are catching this joyful spirit as you prepare to celebrate His birth.
Much love to all.
2016 has been an industrial year for me, as I finished querying presses and signed 4 book deals. And now here at the end of the year, those 4 books are in various stages of organization, editing, pre-publication, and marketing. As a writer, I feed my creative spirit on the works of other authors. Often I read more than one book at a time, usually a novel and a nonfiction book. I rarely read short stories (although there’s one excellent collection in this list) or mysteries, but I love poetry, memoir, literary novels, books about spirituality and art, books about courageous and interesting women, and some “self-help” books.
I read 38 books in 2016. Fifteen are by authors I know personally. I would love to meet the other 22 one day, although a couple of them are no longer living. Here they are in alphabetical order. If you click on the links, you can read my blog posts on any of them you are interested in.
A Charmed Life by Mary McCarthy
A Lowcountry Heart by Pat Conroy
A Summons to Memphis by Peter Taylor
All the Way to Memphis by Suzanne Hudson
Almost Famous Women by Megan Mayhew Bergman
American Happiness (poetry) by Jacqueline Allen Trimble
Circling the Sun by Paula McLain
Delta Rainbow: The Irrepressible Betty Bobo Pearson by Sally Palmer Thomason
Dimestore: A Writer’s Life by Lee Smith
Dispatches From Pluto by Richard Grant
Drifting Too Far From the Shore by Niles Reddick
Gift From the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh
God For Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Lent and Easter Edited by Greg Pennoyer and Gregory Wolfe
Guests on Earth by Lee Smith
How Does That Make You Feel? True Confessions From Both Sides of the Therapy Couch edited by Sherry Amatenstein
Inside the Dementia Epidemic: A Daughter’s Memoir by Martha Stettinius
Journeying Through Grief by Kenneth C. Hauck
Lines Were Drawn: Remembering Court-Ordered Integration at a Mississippi High School edited by Teena F. Horn, Alan Huffman, and John Griffin Jones
Lisette’s List by Susan Vreeland
Little Wanderer (poetry) by Jennifer Horne
My Southern Journey by Rick Bragg
Not a Place on Any Map by Alexis Paige
Pray and Color by Sybil McBeth
Robert Walker, a novel by Corey Mesler
Still Life: A Memoir of Living Fully With Depression by Gillian Marchenko
The Confessions of X by Suzanne M. Wolfe (winner 2017 Christianity Today Book of the Year Award for Fiction)
The Courage to Grow Old by Barbara Cawthorne Crafton
The Feathered Bone by Julie Cantrell
The Gift of Years by Joan Chittister
The Headmaster’s Darlings by Katherine Clark
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
The Muralist by B. A. Shapiro
The Sanctum by Pamela Cable
Waffle House Rules by Joe Formichella
West With the Night by Beryl Markham
Why We Write About Ourselves edited by Mereditih Maran
What’s in the queue for 2017? (also in alphabetical order) Watch for reviews on my blog next year!
*Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
Garden in the East by Angela Carlson
The Dream Lover by Elizabeth Berg
The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race edited by Jesmyn Ward
The Opposite of Everyone by Joshilyn Jackson
The Statue and the Fury by Jim Dees
*When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
Happy reading, everyone! I’d love to hear what your favorite books from 2016 were!
This morning I was interviewed on Behind the Scenes with Richelle Putnam on Meridian, Mississippi’s 103.3 Supertalk Mississippi radio station about my upcoming book, Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s. You can listen to the 16-minute interview here.
When you click on the link, fast-forward to 5:15 minutes in to listen to the interview, which ends 21:35 minutes into the one-hour show.
Richelle and I met almost ten years ago at the first Mississippi Writers’ Guild Conference in Clinton, Mississippi, (August 2007) and we’ve been keeping up with each other Facebook. She’s not only a radio show host, she’s also a musician, songwriter, and author. I’m looking forward to being with her again in person some time this spring, when I’ll be in Meridian for another interview as well as a literary/musical event with Richelle.
My particular interest in Meridian stems from the fact that my mother was from Meridian, and I lived there for a couple of years when I was 3-5 years old (1954-56). And some of my favorite childhood memories are of summer vacations spent with my grandmother (my mother’s mother) who sewed all my clothes for the coming school year while I was with her each summer. For many of those summers my parents would come over (from Jackson, Mississippi, where we lived then) for a few days for Dad to play in the Northwood Country Club golf invitational tournament. As I got older my pre-teen and teenage memories include hanging out at the swimming pool with friends I made in Meridian—including Carol Pigford and Missy McWilliams—while Dad played in the tournament. And I loved following him around the course each year that he was in the final round of the championship flight.
I haven’t been back to Meridian since the last trip I made there with my mother about fifteen years ago. We visited the cemetery where my grandparents are buried, and old neighborhoods and homesteads. I look forward to returning in the spring for an event for Tangles and Plaques. Stay tuned for more information. Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy the interview.
I just finished reading what will probably be the last book I read in 2016. Book number 27 (I’ll publish my list soon.) In many ways I feel like I saved the best for last.
Corey Mesler’s novel, Robert Walker, blew me away on many levels.
The Prose. Always elegant, with a strong sense of place and characters so well-drawn you feel like you know them. You love them. Or hate them. In the case of the protagonist, Robert Walker, I definitely love him, and several other characters in the novel. But there are also some pretty unlovable folks in there, too.
Robert Walker is a homeless man living on the streets (and sleeping in the parks) in Memphis, Tennessee. Having lived in midtown Memphis for 25 years, I had the opportunity to meet quite a few homeless people. They enlarged my life—whether our brief exchanges were at an intersection where there was barely time to hand them some money before the light changed, on the streets, or even at our front door. Especially when we lived on Stonewall, which was a bit of a thoroughfare between North Parkway and Poplar Avenue. I remember one cold winter in the 1990s when several homeless folks actually rang our doorbell. That was the year I decided to make a large pot of hearty beef stew, freeze it in serving-size disposable containers, and microwave each serving for anyone who rang the door. That was also the year that my husband reached out to one of our regulars—who only worked for cash his whole life and therefore had no social security—and took him to meet with a Social Security counselor to try and get him signed up. And then there’s our church—Saint John Orthodox on the corner of Tutwiler and Dickinson—which has an active food pantry for the foot traffic we have always gotten there. During the years I worked as church secretary, I had the blessing of handing out that food on a regular basis. All of these experiences have helped me see homeless people as real people. Just as worthy of life’s blessings as I am, but somehow ending up on the short end of those blessings.
Maybe those personal experiences enhanced my love for the characters in Robert Walker. Each one of them drew strong emotional responses from me as I read about their lives. And I recognized all of the locations Mesler paints for us, which made the story have a more immediate feeling. It felt true. But this is more than a documentary. It’s a well-crafted piece of fiction. Once I started reading it this weekend I couldn’t put it down. I just finished it a little after noon today, Monday. And even though Mesler does an excellent job with his narrative arc—a plot that builds gradually, has plenty of conflict, and a satisfactory resolution—I still wanted more. Not more from the book itself, which had a poignant and powerful ending… but I was left with that great feeling of not wanting something to be over. Of not wanting to leave the people I had grown to love on the pages of the book.
(One of the characters in the book talks about the writers’ workshop she attends at Door of Hope, an actual real-life writing group led by my friend Ellen Morris Prewitt for seven years. With Ellen’s help, that group published a terrific collection of their writing last year, Writing Our Way Home: A Group Journey Out of Homelessness.)
Kudos to my friend Corey, a lover of good books, an encourager to writers, a friend and supporter of his community, an excellent poet, and a truly wonderful novelist. If you’re still Christmas shopping, add this to your list for your friends and yourself. If you live in Memphis, drop in to Burke’s Books and get an autographed copy and take a few minutes to speak to Corey and his wife Cheryl and the other great folks who work there. It will cheer your spirit. Happy Holidays!
Corey Mesler has been published in numerous anthologies and journals including Poetry, Gargoyle, Five Points, Good Poems American Places, and Esquire/Narrative. He has published 8 novels, 4 short story collections, and 5 full-length poetry collections. He is in discussion for a movie version of his last novel, Memphis Movie. He’s been nominated for the Pushcart many times, and 2 of his poems were chosen for Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac. With his wife he runs Burke’s Books, a 145 year-old bookstore in Memphis.
What a journey this is—working with four publishers at various stages for four different books being published in 2017 and 2018. I’m so thankful for these opportunities, and I’m learning a lot about the business as I continue in the editing phase for some and enter the pre-publishing and marketing phase for others.
Today I received cover art from eLectio Publishing for Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s. I love the way the tangled yarn fades from bright colors to almost black and white below the title line… just as memories fade for those suffering this disease. Good job, eLectio!
I appreciate each person involved in this complex process—editors, publishers, graphic designers, and marketing professionals. Although I chose not to work with literary agents (after an unsatisfactory experience) I’m learning my way without them. What that means is that I’m giving up on book deals from the big houses, like Penguin Random House, Harper and Collins, and Simon and Schuster (and big money) but what I’m gaining is more control, and more personal involvement in the process. So, if an agent sees one of my books and wants to take me on, I’ll listen to her pitch. But for now, I’m a happy camper.
Watch for more news about Tangles and Plaques in February.
My friend Julie Cantrell (who happens to be an award-winning author) has been posting Advent Journal Prompts on Facebook every day since December 1. When I first started trying to participate, I was a bit overwhelmed by the depth of Julie’s words. (She should hang a shingle.) I thought I would write from her daily prompts, but quickly realized it would take an hour or more each day, and I decided not to participate at that level. I have continued to read them every day, though, and even thinking through what I might write has been helpful.
Julie leads us through a journey back to our childhoods, to our happy memories, our sad memories, traumatic events, and victories. She asks us to remember who was at our side during all of these times—who cheered us on, but also who might have been jealous or not supportive at times. This might sound negative, but she goes on to encourage us to not only be thankful for the support we have received in our lives, but also to forgive those who haven’t been supportive, or who have hurt us. Although I’ve already worked through many of the “steps” she is suggesting, I did find it helpful to be reminded of my journey.
I love what Julie wrote on Day 1:
I believe every spirit was brought into this life for a reason. Your life is no accident. You are no mistake. Search your soul. Why has God really brought you here? What is your true purpose in this life? …. And then ask, am I on the right path to achieve that missions? If not, what steps can I take today to reach that goal?
I found this to be extremely helpful. Life offers so many options, including choices that can lead us off the best path for our lives. I’ve definitely strayed from that best path many times in my 65 years, and I’m sure I’ll continue to make some bad choices in the future. But focusing on what my “true purpose” in this life might be really helps.
For some people, their true purpose is revealed to them clearly—through a career, or being a parent, or a caregiver, or living a life that involves helping others. But for those of us who are artists—writers, musicians, painters, etc.—I think it’s harder to be clear about this. Making art can be a solitary pursuit, and it’s easy to feel selfish spending so many hours every week alone with our work. We don’t even have the opportunity to reach out to coworkers and maybe be the light they need in their lives, since we don’t go to an office and we don’t have coworkers. This is probably the thing I miss most about working alone. So I have to consciously reach out to find others with whom to interact. In my younger years I found these people through my children’s parents at school, soccer games, and other activities. As the children grew older and away from me, I found these people more through church activities. In recent years, I’ve found them right outside my door, in my neighbors. And also in my writing community, although we communicate more through emails and Facebook than in person. I am thankful that one of my neighbors is also a writer and has become a close friend. And I am thankful for my writing group that meets monthly, not only to critique one another’s work, but for that interaction we all crave.
In Julie’s Journal Prompt for today (December 7) she asks us to look back at challenges we have survived that we thought we wouldn’t be able to handle. And also:
What accomplishments have you achieved that you once believed were out of your reach?… Write an entry in honor of your beautiful, brave, survivor spirit. Celebrate the fact that you have already endured many of life’s greatest battles….
And then she asks, “What has kept you going through the hard times? When you felt most alone, most unloved, most afraid… what got you through to your next breath? Do you have a name for that? Would you call it God? Why or why not?”
I love that she points us in such a positive direction after a week of pretty heavy soul-searching (Journal Prompts 2-6, which I didn’t write about here). As a survivor of sexual abuse and cancer, and a daily struggler with eating disorders and depression, I can say that although sometimes it is a person—a friend, or my husband, or one of my children—who gets me through each of these hard times, at the end of the day it is God. The God of my childhood, my early adulthood, and now, of this later season of my life.
Thank you, Julie, for guiding us through what can often be a difficult season (Christmas holidays) with your wisdom and kindness. I look forward to continuing the journey.