Authors’ Notes

Exchanging first novels with Daren Wang at Burke's Books in Memphis on September 20.

Exchanging first novels with Daren Wang at Burke’s Books in Memphis on September 20.

 

Wednesday night I went to a reading at Burke’s Books here in Memphis for Daren Wang, who was reading and signing his first novel, The Hidden Light of Northern Fires. It was a joy to listen to him relate his very personal story of researching the history behind his childhood home in Town Line, New York, the only secessionist town north of the Mason-Dixon Line. Turns out his family’s house and barn were used by members of the underground railroad, so he spun a tale of an escaped slave named Joe Bell and a female abolitionist named Mary Willis. Daren didn’t explain much of this in his Prologue, and as I listened to him talk about his family’s home, I wish he had written an Author’s Note so that all of his readers would know this amazing connection.

Cage MakerI’m currently reading Nicole Seitz’s wonderful new novel The Cage-Maker, which is set in New Orleans in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and also in the twenty-first century through the eyes of a blogger. But it was her Author’s Note (at the end) that endeared me more to the book, as she explains that she was researching her own family history and wanted to know if her ancestor, Ferdinand, was involved in any of the intrigue she uncovered in her research.

Almost a year ago I did a post about the information B. A. Shapiro shared in her Author’s Note and disclaimer for her novel The Muralist. You can read that here.

Her words inspired me to write an extensive explanation in my novel.

So, in addition to a short disclaimer in the front of CHERRY BOMB, I also wrote a longer Author’s Note, to explain which parts of the book were based on real people, places, and events, and which parts were totally fiction. I’m going to share my Author’s Note here. It’s at the end of the book, but it doesn’t really contain spoilers, so whether or not you’ve read the book, you might enjoy this explanation.

Author’s Note (from CHERRY BOMB)

A work of historical fiction is sometimes described as a narrative that takes place in the past in which historical events and people are reconstructed to enhance the story. Cherry Bomb isn’t strictly a work of historical fiction, for several reasons.  For one thing, I have fictionalized the lives of several abstract expressionist artists, especially Elaine de Kooning , who plays a major role in the book. While many of the scenarios in which de Kooning appears in the book were taken from her actual life—her relationship from childhood with her eccentric mother; her early art education in New York; her marriage to Willem de Kooning; and even some of her travels—I have also fictionalized many aspects of her real life. Perhaps the greatest liberty I took was giving her a child, when in fact she never had children of her own.

            While Elaine de Kooning did paint a presidential portrait of John F. Kennedy, as I describe in the book, she was never a visiting professor at Southern College of Art and Design, although she did serve this post at the University of Georgia. She did spend a summer painting in Black Mountain North Carolina, and produced a collection of work from that experience, although in reality Willem was there with her, whereas she goes there without him in the book. These are examples of ways in which I fictionalized her life for the sake of the story line.

            The photographer Anne Louise Lieberman (“Lou”) and Margaret Adams, the newspaper reporter, are both completely fictional characters, as are the graffiti writers Mare meets in Atlanta. But the scenes in the MTV video with Blondie actually did show the work of graffiti artists Lee Quinones and Jean-Michael Basquiat, who inspire Mare to begin doing graffiti.

blondie w graffiti

           

          I set Cherry Bomb mostly in the 1980s, with flashbacks to de Kooning’s childhood in the 1930s and to the childhood of the fictional protagonist, Mary Catherine Henry (“Mare”), in the 1970s. Mare is a completely fictional character, as is Sister Susannah, an Orthodox nun and iconographer who also plays a major role in the story. Both priests—Father Joseph and Father Mark—are completely fictional, as are all the nuns and participants at the icon workshop at Saint Mary of Egypt Monastery, also a fictional place.

           

"Weeping" icon of Saint Mary of Egypt. Original icon was written by me. My daughter-in-law See Cushman used Photo Shop to add the tears, and my publisher's graphic designer added the gold frame.

“Weeping” icon of Saint Mary of Egypt. Original icon was written by me. My daughter-in-law See Cushman used Photo Shop to add the tears, and my publisher’s graphic designer added the gold frame.

Saint Mary of Egypt is an actual historical figure, and I have kept close to the facts of her life as the Orthodox priest, Father Mark, tells them in the book. The verses chanted by the nuns at the monastery are closely drawn from her life as documented by Saint Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem (634-638).  It might be of interest to the reader that Sir John Tavener did write an opera about Mary of Egypt, although he wrote it in 1991, a little later than its placement in the book. The description of the opera in the book is taken from a program from one of its performances. While I haven’t seen the opera in person, I do have Tavener’s CD, Mary of Egypt, which I have listened to many times.

            Of course readers often ask whether a work of fiction is in any way autobiographical. While it is true that I share a number of life experiences with Mare—including time spent with a cult-like group, sexual abuse, and studying iconography at an Orthodox monastery—I have only allowed those experiences to inform the narrative, which is not a fictionalized memoir. I have never lived in a foster home, thrown up graffiti in public places, studied at SCAD, or met Elaine de Kooning. But I am happy for my readers to know that I am a convert to Orthodox Christianity, I have personally witnessed weeping icons, and Mary of Egypt is my patron saint. Holy Mother Mary, pray to God for us.

How (and Why) to Leave a Book Review on Goodreads and Amazon

I have published three books in 2017, and all three have been reviewed on Amazon and Goodreads, mostly with 5 STAR reviews. My novel, CHERRY BOMB, has several excellent reviews on both sites, but it needs many more to help it become a “better seller.” Several people have mentioned to me that they don’t know how to leave reviews on these sites, so I’m going to tell you how. Right here. Right now.

GOODREADS

Goodreads review button

 

Sign into Goodreads (it’s easy to join if you’re not already a member) and search for CHERRY BOMB by Susan Cushman. (There are numerous books by the same title, so you must include the author’s name.) You can CLICK here to go directly there. Once the page for CHERRY BOMB comes up, scroll down to the section that begins with “My Activity.” The fifth item in that section says “Add a review.” Click on those words. When the next screen appears, the first thing you do is click on the number of stars you want to give the book (hopefully 5!). The next line says bookshelves/tags… choose shelves… choose “read” if you have read the book. (I assume you’ve read it if you’re going to leave a review.) Then write your review in the box provided.

Goodreads review box

 

You can skip the next section (dates read) but be sure and click on SAVE at the bottom left to save your review. It might not show up right away, but it will soon. It doesn’t need to be long, just a few words about why you liked the book and how you would recommend it to other readers. That’s it!

AMAZON

Amazon review button

 

Sign into Amazon and go to the page for CHERRY BOMB by Susan Cushman. (Just CLICK HERE to get there quickly.) Scroll down to CUSTOMER REVIEWS and click on “Write a customer review.” Just like with Goodreads, click on the number of stars you want to give CHERRY BOMB (5 being the highest) and proceed to write a review. You can give the review a title if you’d like (look at other reviews for ideas) but you don’t have to.

amazonreviews

 

Both of these processes are easy and quick, but can do a lot to help an author’s books sell, so please take a few minutes to help!

Thanks soooooo much!

The Last Lecture and Another Special Anniversary

the-last-lecture-randy-pauschTen years ago today—September 18, 2007—Randy Pausch gave his “last lecture” at Carnegie Mellon. He was a computer science professor who was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Unlike most professors who are asked to imagine their demise when giving their last lecture, Pausch didn’t have to imagine his—it was right before him. He was given a few months to live.

His lecture, Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams,” was about overcoming obstacles, enabling the dreams of others, seizing every moment, and not knowing how many moments you might have. You can watch it here.

The lecture, and the book, The Last Lecture, were more than a legacy for his students and colleagues and friends. They were Pausch’s gift to his three children, who were too young to understand the life lessons he wanted to teach them. The book was a great blessing to me, and I plan to give it as gifts to my children. My favorite quote from his lecture and book:

“We can’t change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.”

Mary Allison CallawayThis day—September 18—is also the nineteenth anniversary of the death of my precious Goddaughter, Mary Allison Callaway (d. 9.18.1998). I wrote about it on the tenth anniversary of her death here.

Mary Allison wasn’t given the opportunity that Randy Pausch was given—to prepare for his death. She was killed instantly by a drunk driver. But she was prepared by the way she was living her life. She was a shining light to all who knew her, and an enormous blessing to me and my family. I still miss her. Memory eternal, Mary Allison.

Moments of Happiness

The-Happiness-Project-Book-Review-Gretchen-Rubin

 

I recently ran across Gretchen Rubin’s website, and read about her new book The Four Tendencies.  Then yesterday at the Atlanta airport, we were having lunch inat the Intermezzo Café/Buckhood Books, and right by our table, The Four Tendencies was on a shelf looking at me. After taking her quiz to discover which “tendency” was dominant in my own personality, I was fascinated and subscribed to her daily quotes. This one from September 7 was especially meaningful to me:

“What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.”
- Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

And this one from September 12:

“Finally I am coming to the conclusion that my highest ambition is to be what I already am.”
- Thomas Merton, Journal

Okay, here’s one more from September 13:

“Of all the tasks which are set before man in life, the education and management of his character is the most important, and . . . it is necessary that he should make a calm and careful survey of his own tendencies, unblinded either by the self-deception which conceals errors and magnifies excellences, or by the indiscriminate pessimism which refuses to recognise his powers for good. He must avoid the fatalism which would persuade him that he has no power over his nature, and he must also clearly recognise that this power is not unlimited.”
- William Edward Hartpole Lecky, The Map of Life

If you haven’t discovered Gretchen Rubin yet, maybe you’ll check out her website, books, or subscribe to her daily quotes. As a person who has focused on a lot of darkness in my life, I’m happy to be finding some points of light.

River Jordan: A Florida Girl’s Take on Irma

6662217All day today I’ve been trying to decide what to write about here on my blog. It’s as close to “writer’s block” as I ever come. It’s not that I don’t have anything to say… it’s that I don’t have anything important to say in light of the disaster happening in Florida and South Carolina. For that I’ll offer the words of someone who DOES have something important to say, and who says it beautifully.

My friend River Jordan is a native of Florida and a beautiful writer. So today I’ll simply share her blog post from a few days ago:

“Florida On My Mind: A Native Girl’s Take On Irma.”

Thanks for reading.

“VOICES OF HOME” at the Mississippi Book Festival

On August 19 I was on two panels at the 2017 Mississippi Book Festival. I moderated one panel, “Her Story,” and I was a panelist, along with fellow authors Julie Cantrell, Johnnie Bernhard, and John Floyd, for “Voices of Home,” moderated by Tracy Carr. Click on the title to watch a video of the panel, on which I talked about my novel CHERRY BOMB:

VOICES OF HOME

Voices-From-Home-panel-1024x768

 

Last night was my “Memphis launch” for CHERRY BOMB, at Burke’s Books. Lots of friends showed up to celebrate with me, and I had a great time reading excerpts and talking about this novel, which was six plus years in the making. Thanks so much to Corey and Cheryl Mesler for hosting me, and to everyone who came out to celebrate with me! Have a great weekend!

Finding Home: The Bookshop at Water’s End

The-Bookshop-at-Waters-End-624x936This morning I finished reading my 29th book of 2017, New York Times Bestselling Author Patti Callahan Henry’s latest novel, The Bookshop at Water’s End.

I met Patti back in 2010 at the Girlfriend Weekend, the annual conference of the Pulpwood Queens Books Clubs. This is Patti’s 13th novel, and she’s won lots of awards for her work over the years.

The Bookshop at Water’s End has all the hallmarks of a classic Patti Callahan Henry novel… old friends returning to a place that holds special memories, helping each other heal from life’s wounds; towns with a strong sense of place, and strong women struggling to find themselves. As Patti writes in “The Story Behind the Story”:

And I wanted the same geography for my characters in The Bookshop At Water’s End, for women who were coming home to themselves. So I offered them a summer-home that echoed their life destinies, conflicts, secrets and tragedies.

I asked: When things don’t work out the way we desire, when our life is upended and change is forced upon us, where do we turn? Hopefully to a sense of home within, to that soul-place that is immovable and strong and waiting for us.

Patti’s writing reminds me of my friend Julie Cantrell’s books. Both women dive deeply into the psyches of their characters—often sharing insights into the damage done by abuse, abandonment, bad choices, and bad luck, but also the importance of relationships in healing that damage. I also see similarities of style with some of the works of another friend, Nicole Seitz, whom I also met back at the Girlfriend Weekend in 2010 and visited this past May when I was in Charleston. (Nicole’s latest book, The Cage Maker, is on my to-read stack now!) I’m excited that all three of these wonderful southern authors have contributed essays to the anthology I’m editing, Southern Writers on Writing (University Press of Mississippi) coming in 2018. And I can’t wait to be with all of them in January at the 2018 Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend, where I’ll be on panels for my novel Cherry Bomb and the anthology A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be. I’m honored to hang out around the edges of the circle of great writers that they are!

I’m not in a book club, but I enjoyed the “questions for discussion” at the end of Patti’s book. Question Number 11 was especially thought-provoking for me:

Home. All of these characters are trying to identify and find “home.” Is this a place? A house? A group of people? A feeling? A town?

I think I’ve been looking for this my whole life. Probably because my family of origin was very dysfunctional, and so I looked for that feeling of comfort elsewhere. I think it can be a place, or a group of people—what Patti calls a “tribe”—or maybe a feeling. I looked for it but never found it in high school. I looked for it again in my sorority at Ole Miss in 1969, but I left college after one year for an early marriage. Then I looked for it with a group of people who started a church in our apartment when we were newlyweds, and I found it for awhile, but with it came more dysfunction, as is often true in these cult-like groups. I looked for it in my marriage, and now after 47 years, I’m finding my “tribe of two” is growing stronger. I looked for it in cities and towns, and have envied what looks like such a strong presence of community in places like Seaside, Florida and Fairhope, Alabama. My little neighborhood on the Mississippi River in downtown Memphis—“Harbor Town”—has come closer to feeling like home than anywhere I’ve ever lived, and for that I’m thankful. I’ve looked for it in friendships and writing groups and churches, and some of it is there in each of these places. But I think I’m finding “home” in my own writing, and most of all within myself as I grow older and become more comfortable in my own skin. In that sense, Patti, maybe “home” really is a feeling.

“Prolific, Courageous, and Transparent”

I was recently interviewed by Dot Ainsworth Day for Mississippi Writers’ Pathways. When I saw the post this morning, I was a bit overwhelmed by her praise in the title:

“Susan Cushman: Prolific, Courageous, and Transparent”

CLICK ON THE TITLE TO READ THE INTERVIEW.

I’ve had a great Labor Day weekend in Atlanta, visiting with my husband’s wonderful family, and speaking on a panel at the Decatur Book Festival Sunday afternoon, to a packed house. We’re headed back to Memphis soon, so I’ll let the interview serve as today’s blog post.

HAPPY LABOR DAY everyone!

Speaking about A SECOND BLOOMING: BECOMING THE WOMEN WE ARE MEANT TO BE at the Decatur Book Festival

Speaking about A SECOND BLOOMING: BECOMING THE WOMEN WE ARE MEANT TO BE at the Decatur Book Festival

Before the room filled for my panel for A SECOND BLOOMING at the Decatur Book Festival on Sunday.

Before the room filled for my panel for A SECOND BLOOMING at the Decatur Book Festival on Sunday.

Empathy and Almsgiving

Like everyone else, I’ve been watching the horrific images of the devastation that Hurricane Harvey and the subsequent flooding are doing to the Houston area and be beyond. Before we had such immediate images available to us, tragedies that happened far away from our homes didn’t seem as real. Now we often feel that they are in our backyard, and we (hopefully) respond with greater empathy.

Of course the image of the people in the nursing home brought me to tears, especially since my mother was in a nursing home, helpless, in a wheelchair, for the last eight years of her life, so I could only imagine the emotional and physical toil it caused those elderly people to be trapped like that, watching the water rise up above their waists!

nursing home

I’m not in a position to go and help out physically, but my husband I decided to contribute financially. Of course there are many options for doing this, and sometimes it’s hard to know which ones to trust, and which ones will be most efficient in delivering  your contribution directly to the people who need it most.
We are Orthodox Christians, and we decided to contribute through an organization known as IOCC—International Orthodox Christian Charities. Here’s a link explaining how they plan to help, with a button you can push to donate.

I’m off to Atlanta for the weekend, where I’ll be on a panel at the Decatur Book Festival at 3:45 Sunday afternoon for the book I edited, A SECOND BLOOMING: BECOMING THE WOMEN WE ARE MEANT TO BE, along with contributor Jessica Handler. The weather report looks good, thankfully, since this is the largest independent book festival in the country. But I’ll continue to think about and pray for the people who are suffering in Texas. Please join me.

Literary Awards (Submissions)

stack_of_books

 

Now that CHERRY BOMB has been out for a few weeks, and my book tour has begun, I’ve been researching literary awards. That might sound egotistical, but if I had a literary agent or a publicist, submissions to these awards might be done for me. I look at this as marketing, not “bragging” or assuming my book could win. But it could.

The two I’ve just submitted CHERRY BOMB for are:

Willie Morris AwardThe Willie Morris Award for Southern Fiction. In the description, I read these words:

The selected book may contain violence and despair, and feature terrible events, but in the final analysis must be uplifting, and suggest hope and optimism.

CHERRY BOMB does all of that, and hopefully, does it well. I read on:

The winning book is chosen for the quality of its prose, its originality, its sense of place and period, and the authenticity and appeal of its characters.

Of course the quality of its prose will be judged against hundreds (or thousands?) of other entries, but it’s definitely original, has a strong sense of place and period, and its characters are authentic. Some of them are even real.

In 2015 Katherine Clark won for her wonderful novel THE HEADMASTER’S DARLINGS, which I loved. Katherine contributed an essay to the anthology I’m editing right now, SOUTHERN WRITERS ON WRITING (University Press of Mississippi 2018) and I’m very impressed with all of her work.

The Willie Morris Award carries a $10,000 prize—which would be wonderful of course—but I would be more excited to receive the recognition. No fee to enter, just a copy of your book, which I mailed off yesterday. May it be blessed!

PENfaulknerThe Pen/Faulkner Award for Fiction carries a $15,000 prize—again, I would be thrilled, but the award itself would be amazing. I think this one is a much longer shot, as it isn’t just for southern authors, and there was no description as to what kind of book they are interested in. When I looked at lists of past winners and those who placed, the names are big. But there’s no fee to enter, so I sent off four copies of CHERRY BOMB with a kiss and a prayer that the judges will love it!

These awards will be announced in 2018… with trips to New York City and Washington, DC involved. Again, I know these are long shots, but nothing ventured, nothing gained! Thanks, always, for reading.

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