I LOVE TELEVISION

1950s family of four watching black and white television program of a cowboy riding a horse

 

There. I’ve said it. I know there are lots of writers who don’t “waste time” watching television, but I love it. I’ve loved it since my family got our first black and white set when I was five years old. I loved watching Perry Mason and Bonanza with my grandmother when she lived with us when I was in elementary and junior high school. She had the “mother-in-law suite” in the house my parents built in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1957. My brother and I would crawl up onto her four-poster bed while she relaxed in her recliner chair and lose ourselves in the latest courtroom drama or exciting shoot ’em up.

By the time I was in high school, my mother and I had begun to bond watching late night shows, especially the Tonight Show. My brother went to bed early because of his 4 a.m. paper route, and my dad usually fell asleep in his bed watching the 10 o’clock news. So Mom and I ended up in the den with a bowl of popcorn and Johnny Carson.

I missed a year of television when I was a freshman at Ole Miss. No one had TVs in their dorm rooms in 1969-70, and this was before computers. And for a few of the early years of my marriage, I continued my media drought, when my husband and I were part of a radical religious group that eschewed such secular activities. The first shows I remember watching when we got a new set in the mid ’70s were mostly sports. I especially loved watching Chris Evert play tennis.

Fast forward to the 1980s when we were raising three kids and being very (over?) protective about what they could watch. Fortunately our kids were so busy with sports and school they didn’t really have time to get hooked into too much bad television in those days. They still kid us for not letting them watch The Simpsons (I still don’t like the attitudes in that show) and later for boycotting Friends and other such “worldly” shows. But by the time our kids were in high school, we were all hooked on ER, which we often watched together.

In the mid ’90s I went through another radical spiritual phase and once again removed myself from watching TV for a couple of years. (I also quit listening to secular music and only read spiritual books during that time.) But once I returned to the secular world, I got hooked on television dramas.

I’ve never liked comedy, so I began following lots of drama that some people call night-time soaps. I still love to watch tennis, as well as golf and the Olympics. And my husband and I enjoy watching some singing reality shows, like The Voice, together. He doesn’t have time for dramas (he works all the time) so I record my favorites and watch them when he’s working on a paper for a medical journal or preparing slides for a lecture. So, I thought maybe I’d do a “top 10” list of my favorite television shows. Here goes.

This-Is-UsThis is Us  The writing and acting are superb, and the main topics—especially weight and food issues, mixed-race families, and adoption—hit close to home for me.

Law & Order SVU  Again, terrific writing and acting, and I’m into stories about rape, probably because of my history of sexual abuse, although I was never actually raped. Mariska Hargitay is one of my favorite actresses.

Scandal  Maybe I just love the name “Olivia,” since Kerry Washington and Mariska Hargitay’s characters in Law & Order SVU and Scandal share these names. I will say that I have to fast forward through the torture scenes. The show does get a little too dark at times.

The Brave A new show this season, which I’m really enjoying. I’ve always liked war shows, and this one harks back to a show I watched a few years ago, The Unit. Anne Heche is terrific, and I’m also enjoying watching an actress I’d never seen before, Natacha Karam, who plays Jasmine.

The Handmaid’s Tale  I actually binge-watched all of Season 1 on Amazon fairly recently. As dark as it gets, I couldn’t quit watching it. The Guardian says it’s “too disturbing, even for Margaret Atwood.”

Grey’s Anatomy  It’s not as good as ER was back in the 1980s (okay, sure, I had a huge crush on George Clooney), but I do love a good medical drama.

 

The Good Doctor  A new show this season, it features Dr. Shaun Murphy, an autistic surgical resident, played beautifully by Freddie Highmore (Bates Motel) with one of my favorites, Richard Schiff as Dr. Aaron Glassman.

 

 

Madam Secretary  A much lighter drama than many I enjoy, but there’s something about Téa Leoni. Maybe it’s her hair. I’m drawn to strong female protagonists, as you can tell from my list. (I miss The Good Wife!)

How to Get Away With Murder Also a bit dark/violent, but again, it’s the strong female protag who draws me in. Viola Davis can flat out act. I enjoyed the scenes at the law school in early episodes (remember The Paper Chase?) but recent episodes have really gotten dark.

Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders  This is fairly new, but I’m already drawn in.  Edie Falco is excellent, and I’m always interested in how people (like the Menendez brothers) react to abuse.

Jaimie Alexander in Blindspot

Jaimie Alexander in Blindspot

So, that’s 10, but coming in as a close #11 is Blindspot. New season starts October 27!

And two shows that I really miss are Parenthood and Nashville.

And in a different category than these dramas, I also love The Voice and So You Think You Can Dance.

If you’re wondering how I find time to watch so much TV and also write (I published three books this year, remember?) and read (so far I’ve read 33 books this year)… I record all my favorite shows and don’t watch commercials, for one thing. This saves 20 minutes for each 60-minute show. I also watch while I’m on the elliptical. And after spending most of my days working (writing, editing, marketing, social media) I watch TV at night. Hope you enjoyed my list. What are your favorite shows?

Ten Favorite Things about the Southern Festival of Books

Thanks to Parnassus Books of Nashville for selling our books at the festival!

Thanks to Parnassus Books of Nashville for selling our books at the festival!

This past weekend I traveled to Nashville, Tennessee, for the 29th Annual Southern Festival of Books. The only other time I had been was in 2012, when I was on a panel with Jennifer Horne, Wendy Reed, Marshall Chapman, and Rheta Grimsley Johnson for the anthology, Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality. It was great to return as an author for my novel Cherry Bomb.

Nashville is a great city, and I always enjoy my visits. This time I wasn’t able to take in any of the sites and sounds (I love country music!) other than those happening at the Festival itself. Back in 2012 one of my favorite things was an evening “in the round” (literary readings and music) at the Blue Bird Café. Didn’t make it to the Blue Bird this trip, so I’ll share my “10 favorite things” about the Festival itself.

panel with Jamie Logan James Cherry Jordan Evans

Jamie Logan (moderator), authors Susan Cushman and James Cherry, and moderator Jordan Renee Evans

 

1. Being on a panel for CHERRY BOMB, with fellow Tennessee author James E. Cherry (funny that his name is Cherry, right?) Our panel was titled “The Path to Publishing: Tennessee Debut Novelists,” although James’s novel EDGE OF THE WIND is actually his second. He and I both have published in other genres, including poetry and short stories (for James) and memoir and anthologies (for me). We also have both been published in a variety of independent presses, so we were asked to talk about our journeys to publishing, which was lots of fun. There were quite a few writers in the audience, who were seeking information about how to get their work published, so it was a very interactive session. Our moderators are both graduate students in the MFA Creative Writing program at the University of Memphis—Jamie Logan and Jordan Renee Evans—and they did a terrific job.

with Karissa Sorrell2. Signing copies of CHERRY BOMB for readers who purchased them. And getting to know them, if only briefly, and why they are interested in my book. It is so humbling and gratifying after working for years on the book, to finally see others appreciate it! It was great to see my old high school classmate (from Jackson, Mississippi) Cecil Ross. Some of those readers are friends I’ve known in Nashville for a few years, and it was great to see them again, like the talented poet and author Karissa Knox Sorrell, whom I actually met in person at the 2012 festival. Karissa, as well as others who came to my panel, like Bertie Hamilton DeWane and Marianne Robbins, are Orthodox Christians like me, so they have a special interest in some of the spiritual themes in the book, including the weeping icon of Saint Mary of Egypt.

River gives good hugs!

River gives good hugs!

3. My live interview with author and radio host River Jordan on Clearstory Radio. Jordan and I have been friends for about ten years, and we recently did a signing together at Barnes and Noble in Brentwood, Tennessee with local author Kathy Rhodes. River and Kathy had both contributed essays to an anthology I edited, A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be. And River has also contributed an essay to another anthology I’m editing, Southern Writers on Writing (coming from University Press of Mississippi in 2018). In 2010 we traveled together to the Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend in Texas, where she was a featured author and I was her guest. I’m so excited to be returning to that amazing event this January as an author. River and I talked about my banner year of publishing three books, and a little bit about each of them. She asked about my experience working with different publishers and editors, like Joe Lee of Dogwood Press, who published CHERRY BOMB. CLICK HERE TO LISTEN to the interview—it’s about 15 minutes long.

It's so much fun being interviewed by Clearstory Radio host River Jordan!

It’s so much fun being interviewed by Clearstory Radio host River Jordan!

 

Kathy Susan4. Visiting with fellow authors from all around the South that I rarely get to see. And even to meet a couple of them in person for the first time, although we’ve been chatting on Facebook for several years! Kathy Rhodes was anchoring a tent for Middle Tennessee Authors. We’ve been friends since about 2008, and we co-directed the 2010 and 2013 Creative Nonfiction Conferences in Oxford, Mississippi (with Neil White). Kathy is a terrific author and workshop leader and friend. I especially loved her 2013 memoir Remember the Dragonflies: A Memoir of Grief and Healing.

5. The next fellow author I ran into was Brenda McClain, who was enjoying some fine tunes at the outdoor music tent when I found her Saturday morning. Her novel One Good Mama Bone was released by Story River Press, an imprint of the University of South Carolina Press founded by Pat Conroy. Brenda is a South Carolina native, and I’m looking forward to being with her again in January at (you guessed it) the Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend.

Enjoying the breeze at the outdoor music venue with South Carolina author Brenda McClain

Enjoying the breeze at the outdoor music venue with South Carolina author Brenda McClain

 

6. Later I met Georgia native and fellow author Karen Spears Zacharias. Karen and I share a publisher—Mercer University Press published her recent novel Christian Bend, and also my anthology A Second Blooming. We visited briefly between my interview and hers with River at the Clearstory Radio venue at the top of the colonnade, overlooking some of the festival tents. What a joyful spirit she has!

Karen Spears Zacharias and I share a publisher: Mercer Universitiy Press!

Karen Spears Zacharias and I share a publisher: Mercer University Press. It was windy up on those Collonade steps!

 

7. I didn’t have photo ops with everyone, but it was also great to see fellow Jackson, Mississippi native (we were in high school together in the 1960s!) Corabel Shofner at the authors’ reception. Bel was on a panel for her middle grade novel Almost Paradise. Also shared a brief hug with my friend Beth Ann Fennelly (Poet Laureate of Mississippi) who was at the festival to talk about her latest book Heating & Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs. Oh, and finally meeting festival director Serenity Gerbman! And a short visit in the authors’ hospitality lounge with North Carolina native Shari Smith, a fellow contributor to the anthology The Shoe Burnin’: Stories of Southern Soul (River Edge Media 2013). Shari is the creator of Trio, a traveling exhibit of art and songs inspired by books. Speaking of which….

8. “The Conroy Center Porch Talk” (a live podcast) was great fun. Moderated by Jonathan Haupt, director of the Pat Conroy Literary Center in Beaufort, South Carolina, Jonathan welcomed author Wiley Cash, talking about his recent book The Last Ballad, and singer-songwriter Radney Foster, who performed an original song he wrote about The Last Ballad for the Trio project. 

Jonathan Haupt introducing Wiley Cash

Jonathan Haupt introducing Wiley Cash

 

Singer-songwriter Radney Foster

Singer-songwriter Radney Foster

th9. Javaka Steptoe, artist and author of award-winning children’s books, gave a wonderful talk about his latest work Radiant Child, about Jean-Michel Basquiat, who  actually makes a cameo appearance in my novel CHERRY BOMB! There’s a scene where Mare, the young protagonist, is watching an MTV video of Blondie and Fab Five Freddy, and Basquiat is in the background throwing up graffiti. Steptoe was a great presenter and I love the book.

10. My “parting shot” for the Festival is a group of street dancers I enjoyed watching as I walked from my panel in the Nashville Public Library to the author signing tent, which was right next to the Parnassus book tent. (Thanks to Parnassus for selling our books!) I missed the start of their dance, so I didn’t quite get the significance of the articles of clothing strewn across the pavement, which they picked up at the end of the dance. But the music was haunting and I always enjoy dance.

That’s a wrap for the 29th Annual Southern Festival of Books. Hope to return next year for their 30th year celebration!

Southern Festival of Books: Saturday Schedule

SFB Final Update RESIZED FOR WEBThe 29th annual Southern Festival of Books kicked off in Nashville today! I’m heading over early tomorrow morning (sad to miss some great panels today, including my friend Beth Ann Fennelly talking about her new book Heating and Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs at 1 p.m. today) where I’ll be on a panel for my novel CHERRY BOMB, and also hope to make it to several others. It’s been five years since my first panel at the Festival, back in 2012, for Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality, with Wendy Reed, Jennifer Horne, Marshall Chapman, and Rheta Grimsley Johnson. Can’t wait to get back there!

Here’s my tentative schedule for Saturday afternoon and evening: (full schedule for the festival on Saturday is HERE)

12:30 p.m. – 1:30 p.m. – “Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat” (Basquiat is featured briefly in an MTV video I reference in my novel CHERRY BOMB, since my protag is a graffiti artist). I’d love to hear this panel and buy the book….

1:30 p.m. – Conroy Center Porch Talk – live podcast taping with Wiley Cash

3:00 p.m. – Youth in Search of Hope: Two Middle Grade Novels features my fellow highschool friend (from Jackson, Mississippi) Corabel Shofner and her book, Almost Paradise. I’m hoping to be there for the first half of the panel, before heading to my panel:

4:00 p.m. – The Path to Publishing: Tennessee Debut Novelists (Susan Cushman and  James E. Cherry) where I’ll be talking about my novel CHERRY BOMB, as well as my journey to publishing three books in one year, with three different indie publishers. We’ll be in the Special Collections Room of the Nashville Public Library.

5:00 p.m. – I’ll be signing copies of CHERRY BOMB at the signing venue.

6:30 p.m. – Authors’ reception!

8:30 p.m. – Literary Death Match (Beth Ann Fennelly is a contestant!)

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Mississippi’s Poet Laureate Waxes Eloquent on Poetry and Prose

In lieu of an original blog post today, I encourage you to read this wonderful post by my friend Beth Ann Fennelly, the Poet Laureate of Mississippi, over at the Brevity blog:

“My Affair With the Sentence.”

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Kudos to Beth Ann for her newly released book, Heating & Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs. I missed her launch at Square Books in Oxford last night, but I’m looking forward to seeing her and hearing her read at Burke’s Books in Memphis on November 7.

It’ Not Just About the Building

Susan-wheelchair-955x675

 

A few months ago I was invited to write a guest blog post for Charli Riggle’s blog, which features articles and information about disabilities, as well as children’s books, and spirituality. (Charli is a diverse and brilliant woman. Check out her new web site.) The post is up now:

“It’s Not Just About the Building”

I hope you’ll click on the link and read it and leave a comment.

Today I’m off to Eupora, Mississippi, to the Webster County Friends of the Library group to talk with them about my novel CHERRY BOMB. And on Saturday I’ll be in Nashville at the Southern Festival of Books, where I’m on a panel at 4 p.m., also talking about my novel CHERRY BOMB. To keep up with where I’ll be when, visit my EVENTS page on my web site.

Have a great week!

American College of Physicians on Gun Control

thI know there’s a lot out there to read about what happened in Las Vegas, and what keeps happening in our country, and the ongoing issue of gun control. I rarely weigh in on such issues, but this week I read two things that I feel are worth sharing.

First, this article Monday in The Hill:

The American College of Physicians issued a statement Monday labeling mass shootings a “serious public health issue” and calling for a ban on automatic and semi-automatic weapons in the wake of the mass shooting in Las Vegas:

“We must acknowledge that lack of a U.S. policy to address gun violence is the reason we have much higher rates of injuries and deaths from firearms violence than other countries,” the group said in a statement. “Specifically, we call for a ban on the sale and ownership of automatic and semiautomatic weapons.” 

And speaking of other countries, my friend (and New York Times best-selling author) Virginia Morrell posted this on Facebook this week:

In Australia, the citizens have a social contract that considers the lives of the country’s citizens “as precious,” and so people voted for gun control. I am envious.
Editorial, from the Sydney Morning Herald:
“It is incomprehensible to us, as Australians, that a country so proud and great can allow itself to be savaged again and again by its own citizens. We cannot understand how the long years of senseless murder, the Sandy Hooks and Orlandos and Columbines, have not proved to Americans that the gun is not a precious symbol of freedom, but a deadly cancer on their society.
We point over and over to our own success with gun control in the wake of the Port Arthur massacre, that Australia has not seen a mass shooting since and that we are still a free and open society. We have not bought our security at the price of liberty; we have instead consented to a social contract that states lives are precious, and not to be casually ended by lone madmen. But it is a message that means nothing to those whose ideology is impervious to evidence.”

And here’s another article from the Sydney Morning Herald:

“How Australia beat the gun lobby and passed gun control”

 As the “greatest” country in the world, we need to learn from Australia. We need to prove we are great by protecting our most precious resource—our people.

Saint Francis (the Peacemaker) and the Wolf

Never has the world needed a peacemaker more than today. We need a peacemaker to settle the wars in the Middle East. We need a peacemaker to keep us from a new war with North Korea. We need a peacemaker in our cities and communities to help prevent the growing mass murders and acts of terrorism. We need a peacemaker to help families mend and prevent domestic violence. We need a peacemaker to tame the wolf.

9f03a897af0c9727569cdf6f6c164315--st-francis-san-francesco

 

 

4525287889_e0bd25fbe9This morning I read the following excerpt on Facebook. It’s from Jim Forest’s book, The Ladder of the Beatitudes. I haven’t read this book, but I loved his book Praying With Icons. I’m reprinting the excerpt about St. Francis here with the author’s permission. I hope lots of people read this and share St. Francis’ message of peace, courage, faith, hope, and love.

Today is the feast of St Francis. He was born in Assisi, in central Italy, in 1182. He started out as a wealthy man-about-town until he fell into a serious illness in his 19th year. He was praying in the dilapidated Church of St. Damiano one day in 1206, and he heard the voice of Christ saying, “Go, Francis, and repair my house which, as you see, is fallen into ruin.”

One of the stories of his many efforts as a peacemaker comes toward the end of his life and concerns Gubbio, a town north of Assisi. The people of Gubbio were troubled by a huge wolf that attacked not only animals but people, so that the men had to arm themselves before going outside the town walls. They felt as if Gubbio were under siege.

Francis decided to help, though the local people, fearing for his life, tried to dissuade him. What chance could an unarmed man have against a wild animal with no conscience? But according to the Fioretti, the principal collection of stories of the saint’s life,

“Francis placed his hope in the Lord Jesus Christ, master of all creatures. Protected neither by shield or helmet, only arming himself with the sign of the Cross, he bravely set out of the town with his companion, putting his faith in the Lord who makes those who believe in him walk without injury on an asp … and trample not merely on a wolf but even a lion and a dragon.”

Some local peasants followed the two brothers, keeping a safe distance. Finally the wolf saw Francis and came running as if to attack him. The story continues:

“The saint made the sign of the Cross, and the power of God . . . stopped the wolf, making it slow down and close its cruel mouth. Then Francis called to it, ‘Brother Wolf, in the name of Jesus Christ, I order you not to hurt me or anyone.”

The wolf then came close to Francis, lowered its head and then lay down at his feet as though it had become a lamb. Francis then censured the wolf for its former cruelties, especially for killing human beings made in the image of God, thus making a whole town into its deadly enemy.

“But, Brother Wolf, I want to make peace between you and them, so that they will not be harmed by you any more, and after they have forgiven you your past crimes, neither men nor dogs will pursue you anymore.”

The wolf responded with gestures of submission “showing that it willingly accepted what the saint had said and would observe it.”

Francis promised the wolf that the people of Gubbio would henceforth “give you food every day as long as you shall live, so that you will never again suffer hunger.” In return, the wolf had to give up attacking both animal and man. “And as Saint Francis held out his hand to receive the pledge, the wolf also raised its front paw and meekly and gently put it in Saint Francis’s hand as a sign that it had given its pledge.”

Francis led the wolf back into Gubbio, where the people of the town met them in the market square. Here Francis preached a sermon in which he said calamities were permitted by God because of our sins and that the fires of hell are far worse than the jaws of a wolf which can only kill the body. He called on the people to do penance in order to be “free from the wolf in this world and from the devouring fire of hell in the next world.” He assured them that the wolf standing at his side would now live in peace with them, but that they were now obliged to feed him every day. He pledged himself as “bondsman for Brother Wolf.”

After living peacefully within the walls of Gubbio for two years, “the wolf grew old and died, and the people were sorry, because whenever it went through the town, its peaceful kindness and patience reminded them of the virtues and holiness of Saint Francis.”

Is it possible that the story is true? Or is the wolf a storyteller’s metaphor for violent men? While the story works on both levels, there is reason to believe there was indeed a wolf of Gubbio. A Franciscan friend, Sister Rosemary Lynch, told me that during restoration work the bones of a wolf were found buried within the church in Gubbio.

Francis became, in a sense, the soldier he had dreamed of becoming as a boy; he was just as willing as the bravest soldier to lay down his life in defense of others. There was only this crucial difference. His purpose was not the defeat but the conversion of his adversary; this required refusing the use of weapons of war because no one has ever been converted by violence. He always regarded conversion as a realistic goal. After all, if God could convert Francis, anyone might be converted.

“They are truly peacemakers,” Saint Francis wrote in his Admonitions, “who are able to preserve their peace of mind and heart for love of our Lord Jesus Christ, despite all that they suffer in this world.”

Inside Me

Corey Mesler reading from AMONG THE MENSANS

Corey Mesler reading from AMONG THE MENSANS

Last Thursday night I had the wonderful blessing of hearing Corey Mesler read from his latest poetry collection, Among the Mensans, at Burke’s Books here in Memphis. (Corey and his wife Cheryl own Burke’s.) Garrison Keillor read one of Corey’s poems, “Last Night I Was a Child Again in Raleigh,” on his nationally syndicated radio show, Writer’s Almanac, on September 12th.

My favorite poem that Corey read that night was “This is My Body.”

But when I got home and read the rest of the collection, I got a new favorite. I asked Corey’s permission to reprint it here. I think you’ll see why I like it so much.

Have a great week everyone!

 

among-the-mensans-finished-coverInside Me

 

By Corey Mesler

 

Inside me

there is a tiny woman

made of glass

climbing the architecture

of my bones.

When I laugh

she tinkles like a chime.

when I cry

she hides in the shadow

of my heart.

Once, on a night when
I almost lost myself,

she spoke for me.

She said, gather all the unused

words. I am about to be me.

© Copyright SusanCushman.com