Returning to the Mississippi Delta

I grew up in Jackson, Mississippi, coming of age in the 1950s and ’60s. It wasn’t until my freshman year at Ole Miss (1969-70) that I met people who lived in the Mississippi Delta. Several of my sorority sisters in Delta Delta Delta, as well as a close friend who lived in my dorm, were from Greenwood, Greenville, Indianola, and other small towns in this mystical part of our state. I say “mystical” because it always held a certain sway over my imagination. Going home with a girl from my pledge class to visit her family one weekend confirmed what I thought—her family’s stately homestead harked back to an era I had only read about.

contUp-img5Also during that year at Ole Miss I remember driving over to Greenville with my fiancé and some friends to eat at Doe’s Eat Place, famous for their steaks and down home atmosphere.

During the 1980s, my best friend in Jackson took me home with her to visit her family in Indianola. That was only the second time I spent the night in a Delta home. Her parents weren’t part of the “landed gentry.” They were hard-working middle class folks who owned and managed a sandwich business—rising early to prepare hundreds of fresh sandwiches for local schools and convenience stores. I watched this production one morning with much respect for their work ethic. They were such gracious people.

 

The beautiful interior at Turnrow Books in Greenwood, Mississippi

The beautiful interior at Turnrow Books in Greenwood, Mississippi

Fast forward about thirty years to my next trip to the Delta, around 2010. My husband was invited to speak to a group of physicians, who put the two of us up at the Alluvian Hotel in Greenwood. What a fun experience! Viking was just putting in their cooking school and retail store, which wasn’t open yet, so I wandered around town and found Turnrow Books. What a magical place! Situated in a beautiful two-story historic building downtown, it had been restored and filled with literary treasures, as well as a lovely upstairs café.

A couple of years later, some time in 2012, I drove down from Memphis to hear my friend Joshilyn Jackson read from her new novel, A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty, at Turnrow. I had met Joshilyn five years earlier at the first ever Mississippi Writers Guild Conference in Clinton, Mississippi. Her writing style, rich, quirky characters, and clear grasp of the human condition drew me to her, and inspired me to start a novel. Finally—ten years later—my first novel Cherry Bomb is born, and I’ll be returning to Turnrow for a reading at 12 p.m. on August 26!

CB cover FINALCherry Bomb is set mostly in Georgia, rather than my home state of Mississippi. I wanted to put some distance between my personal life and the fictional life of the characters in the book, although many of my experiences fed the story. When people ask me what it’s about, I start with the short answer:

Cherry Bomb is about a graffiti writer, an abstract expressionist painter, and a nun, set mostly in Georgia in the 1970s and ’80s. It’s got weeping icons, art, and a bit of mystery, all in the Christ-haunted South.”

If they want to know more:

CHERRY BOMB chronicles the lives and suffering of three women whose fates are unexpectedly intertwined: MARE, a teen graffiti artist emerging from a lifetime of abuse at the hands of her cult-leading father and foster parents; ELAINE de KOONING, an Abstract Expressionist artist whose interactions with Mare dredge up painful memories of a shameful past; and SISTER SUSANNAH, an artist and nun whose reclusive tendencies belie her deep connection to the world around her. All three women converge around a weeping icon of St. Mary of Egypt, a 5th century prostitute whose awakening to grace leads her to ultimate salvation.

 I’m looking forward to returning to the Mississippi Delta on August 26, and I hope that people in the area who love literature will join me at Turnrow Books in Greenwood at 12 p.m.

The Blessing Basket

On Sunday afternoon when I dropped into my local boutique grocery store, Miss Cordelia’s (in Harbor Town, on the Mississippi River in Memphis) I was stopped in my tracks by this beautiful display of colorful hand-woven baskets in the front of the store. They are part of The Blessing Basket project, which helps end poverty in Bangladesh, Ghana, Madagasgar, and Uganda. My basket came from Uganda.

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When I registered my basket on the web site, I “met” my artisan, Nsoh Adogyoo.

 

Here’s how she’s uses her wages from making baskets and other items:

 

 

I have used my Prosperity Wages to provide food for the family and register for national health insurance scheme for the family members to access health care when one falls sick. I have also used my wages to pay admission fees for my daughter who has gained admission to Senior High School this year.

The changes I have seen in the community are that now our children are in school and we can feed them as well. I have also seen that now our children are entering into higher institutions like universities, polytechnics, and colleges of education because of the inception of BBP in the community.

Thank you very much for giving us hope for our future of our children. You buy our baskets and now we are happy with each other. Thank you and May God bless you.

 Blessing Basket w books

 

The web site has a place where you can write a letter to your artisan, so I just sent one to Nsoh. They will read it to her. I told her that I am a writer and that I am using the basket to carry books to deliver to people and to put in the mail. The basket she made is so sturdy—it can easily carry 8-10 hardback books.

 

Blessing Basket If you’re interested in purchasing items (they’re gorgeous) from the Prosperity Shop, just click here.

 

I’m so thankful to have discovered Blessing Baskets. Maybe a good “Christmas in July” idea….

Book Festivals and the Pulpwood Queens

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I’m gearing up for an exciting book tour for Cherry Bomb, with thirteen events now scheduled in six states, and more in the making. Several festivals and conventions are on the list, including a few I’d like to mention here today.

At the Mississippi Book Festival, August 19 in Jackson, Mississippi, I’ll be on a fiction panel for Cherry Bomb, and also moderating a panel for women authors. “Her Story,” the panel I’m moderating at 12 p.m., features the following panelists:

Mary Ann Connell, An Unforesen Life: A Memoir

Jessica B. Harris, My Soul Looks Back

Suzanne Marrs, Meanwhile There Are Letters: The Correspondence of Eudora Welty and Ross Macdonald

Norma Watkins, That Woman From Mississippi

At 4 p.m. I’ll be on a panel, “Voices of Home,” moderated by Tracy Carr, director of the Mississippi Center for the Book, for a discussion of Mississippi writing from four current Mississippi writers:

Tracy Carr, Mississippi Center for the Book Director and the Library Services Director at the Mississippi Library Commission, MODERATOR

Julie Cantrell, Perennials

Susan Cushman, Cherry Bomb

John Floyd, Dreamland

Johnnie Bernhard, A Good Girl

I’m already friends with Julie Cantrell and John Floyd, and I’m looking forward to meeting Johnnie Bernhard and Tracy Carr. Book festivals are such a great opportunity to get to know others in the literary world!

 

In September I’ll be on a panel for A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be, at the Decatur Book Festival. The schedule isn’t set yet… stay tuned!

October 13-15 is the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville, where I’ll be on a panel for Cherry Bomb. Again, the schedule isn’t published yet, but you know I’ll keep you in the loop!

CL.PulpwoodQueenLogoAnd my latest news (drum roll, please) is that both Cherry Bomb and A Second Blooming have been chosen as book selections for the Pulpwood Queens Book Clubs (over 700 clubs internationally)! A Second Blooming is the pick for February, 2018, and Cherry Bomb is a bonus book for March of 2018. I’ll be traveling to Nacogdoches, Texas for their annual Girlfriend Weekend, January 11-15, 2018. Several hundred Pulpwood Queens Book Club members will be there, along with several dozen authors. This amazing book club and annual event are organized by Kathy L. Murphy, author of The Pulpwood Queens’ Tiara-Wearing, Book-Sharing Guide to Life.

Silver Linings Playbook Part II: Hope Revisited

SuSuat-Campbell-Clinic-180x300Four years ago this past weekendI was in a near-fatal car wreck just outside Fairhope, Alabama. July 7, just before midnight. I was taken by ambulance to a hospital in Pensacola, Florida, where surgeries were performed on my (broken) neck, right leg, and ankle. I left there four days later with lots of hardware from the surgeries, much of which is still in my body. My first blog post three weeks later tells a bit about what happened: “Silver Linings Playbook Part I: Hope.”

Here I am four years later and while I still see the silver lining in what happened to me, I’ve had increasing pain and stiffness in my neck for the past few months. So, I decided to go for a follow up at the neurology office where I was seen for my neck four years ago. They did an x-ray, said that nothing had changed, and to come back in a year for another x-ray. I had done several weeks of physical therapy four years earlier, but they never asked me to come back for follow up after that. When I asked the doctor about doing some stretching exercises or more PT for the pain and stiffness he said not to. Just leave it alone.

I left the office disheartened. I understand that I’ll have to live with some stiffness and lack of mobility in my neck, but the increase in pain—and regular headaches—doesn’t seem that something that should be ignored. I felt like I had just been dismissed.

My massage therapist has also been concerned, and so I talked with a physical therapist/friend this weekend, who encouraged me to see a pain specialist at the orthopedic clinic where he works. This morning I called to make an appointment, and they put me in touch with their “spinal liaison” who asked for surgical records from the surgery that had been done in 2013 in Florida, so that their physicians could review it and determine whether I needed more diagnostic tests done, or whether their pain specialist could help me. I’m waiting on their review now.

Caught me without my neck brace, which I wore for six months, but took off at times.

Caught me without my neck brace, which I wore for six months, but took off at times.

I’m sure that the hours I spend at the computer and also poring over books doesn’t help. Most evenings I have pain trying to sit up and watch TV or read, and I’m always relieved when I can finally go to bed and lay my head down flat. I feel immediate relief. The human head weighs between 10 and 12 pounds, which might not sound like much until you think about a neck full of metal screws is holding it up. And waking up with a headache every day isn’t fun.

So now I’m revisiting “hope” for some relief as I wait to hear back from the clinic. Hope that physical therapy and/or some other non-surgical relief will be coming soon. Thanks for reading… I don’t mean to complain, as I have so much to be thankful for. Every time I feel the pain, I’m reminded that I could have died or been paralyzed.

Hoping to get some relief before starting up my book tour for Cherry Bomb in August. Stay tuned!

It’s (almost) HERE!

Yesterday my publisher, Joe Lee (Dogwood Press, Brandon, Mississippi) sent me this picture. HOT OFF THE PRESS and coming to a bookstore near you SOON!

CB copies

 

Next Friday, July 14, we’ll be delivering copies of Cherry Bomb to Burke’s Books in Memphis, and shortly thereafter they will be available at Lemuria in Jackson, Mississippi, Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi, and TurnRow in Greenwood, Mississippi.

If you don’t live near one of these wonderful independent bookstores, please ask your local shop to order Cherry Bomb for you. It will also be available soon from Amazon.

MARK YOUR CALENDARS for events in five states starting with the launch at Lemuria in Jackson, Mississippi on August 8! Click on the EVENTS button at the top of my web site for all dates and locations through December.

 

First up:

 

August 8 – 5 p.m. – Lemuria/Jackson, Mississippi

August 19 – 4 p.m. – Mississippi Book Festival/Jackson, Mississippi (Festival runs all day. My fiction panel is at 4 p.m. in State Capitol Room A.)

August 26 – 12 p.m. – TurnRow Books/Greenwood, Mississippi

September 7 – 5:30 p.m. – Burke’s Books/Memphis, Tennessee

 

Did I mention I’m a little bit excited? I can’t wait to hold a copy of Cherry Bomb in my hands and smell the ink!

Inspiration

Camino Island coverIt’s not surprising to get inspiration for writing a new book while reading a successful author’s work. This happened to me over the weekend, when I read John Grisham’s novel, Camino Island. I couldn’t put it down! But it wasn’t the novel’s prose itself that inspired—although it was inspiring—it was something that happens in the plot itself. One of the characters owns a bookstore, and at one point he is encouraging a novelist to consider historical fiction for her next book. He encourages her to fictionalize a famous person and/or event, which is exactly what I did with the well-known abstract expressionist painter Elaine de Kooning in my novel Cherry Bomb.

Mercer, the novelist character in Camino Island, expresses concern to the bookseller about the ethical aspects of his suggestion, but he assures her it’s done all the time. I’ve argued both sides of this several times in the past here on my blog, and at this point I’m pretty comfortable with the concept. Reading this suggestion gave me pause to reconsider a novel I started a couple of years ago about Jackson Pollack’s final painting, “Red, Black, and Silver.” I wrote the first chapter, which received good reviews from an MFA-led workshop I attended in June of 2015, but mixed reviews from a local writing group, so I abandoned it at the time. I just read it again and am considering picking it back up. We’ll see….

Meanwhile, this morning I took a pair of my husband’s shoes to a shoe repair store. It’s a tiny mom-and-pop type place. When I walked in, I was immediately hit with the lovely aroma of leather and shoe polish. It was almost intoxicating. Looking around the small one-room shop, I saw tons of old shoes, lots of black rags and tools that I assume are used in cobbling. The two older gentlemen working there both wore black aprons over their ragged pants and shirts. The aprons had a sheen to them, probably from years of rubbing up against shoe polish and other elements in the shop. At first I didn’t even notice the older woman in the corner, also in a black apron and ragged clothes, polishing shoes. It wasn’t until I was leaving when she chimed in a pleasant voice, “Thanks for coming in. You have a nice day, now.”

Peabody Shoe Repair in Nashville, Tennessee (not the shop I visited today in Memphis, but this is what it looked like!) photographed by Jerry Park Photography. http://jerryparkphotography.com/peabody-shoe-repair/

Peabody Shoe Repair in Nashville, Tennessee (not the shop I visited today in Memphis, but this is what it looked like!) photographed by Jerry Park Photography. http://jerryparkphotography.com/peabody-shoe-repair/

As I drove away, I realized that my brief visit to the shop was like a scene from a novel, with rich characters and a setting that aroused all the senses. I do worry a bit about the place being a fire hazard, and can’t imagine how it passes inspection, if there are inspections at places like that. Whatever I write next, I’m inspired to use words that will show my readers the sights, sounds, smells, and textures of my settings.

CHERRY BOMB Launches in Mississippi on August 8!!!

I know I haven’t blogged in a few days… I’m in a tailspin of pre-marketing for my novel, Cherry Bomb, which launches at Lemuria Books in Jackson, Mississippi on August 8. (The book releases on August 1, so ask your independent booksellers if they have it or will order it for you!) My publisher, Joe Lee of Dogwood Press in Brandon, Mississippi, has been working hard to promote the book at various events, (click here for current schedule) so stay tuned for updates. For now, if you’re in or near Jackson, Mississippi, please mark your calendars for 5 pm on August 8!

Lemuria flier

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