Events for All Three Books This Week and Next!

I’m excited to kick off the fall with events for all three of my books, in Mississippi, Georgia, and Tennessee:

 BookClub

 

Tuesday, August 29, 2 p.m. – Reading Roundtable at Northwest Mississippi Community College’s R.C. Pugh Library in Senatobia, Mississippi, where I’ll meet with 25-30 book club members to discuss Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s.

 DBF paper

 

Sunday, September 3, 3:45 p.m. – Decatur Book Festival (Atlanta) panel for A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be, where I’ll be joined by A Second Blooming contributor Jessica Handler.

Corey Susan Cheryl

With Burke’s Book Store owners Corey and Cheryl Mesler, awesome booksellers and friends!

Thursday, September 7, 5:30 p.m. – Burke’s Books in Memphis, where I’ll be reading and signing my novel, Cherry Bomb.

Stay tuned for more events this fall and winter, as I’ll be traveling to fifteen or more bookstores and book clubs in Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, and Texas!

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CHERRY BOMB Sneak Preview!

CB cover FINALAs we head into the weekend (and I head to Turnrow Book Company in Greenwood, Mississippi tomorrow for another event for my novel CHERRY BOMB, at 12 p.m. in the cafe, where lunch will be served!) I’ve decided to share a “teaser” with my readers. I hope it will lead you to your favorite indie bookstore (or Amazon) to buy a copy and read Mare’s story. Enjoy!

Cherry Bomb

by Susan Cushman

Prologue -1981

Mare’s backpack clinked as she ducked in and out of the pre-dawn shadows. An unusually cool summer breeze rustled the low-hanging crape myrtle branches along the sidewalk. Pausing to rearrange the aerosol cans and wrap them with t-shirts to silence them, she pulled up her hood and looked down the street. No one there. Storefronts were still dark in this Southern city of a quarter million people. Macon, Georgia, felt big compared to the smaller towns of Mare’s childhood. But not so big that she couldn’t find her way through the mostly abandoned city streets on her clandestine missions.

            Rounding a corner, she heard scuffling and discovered a homeless man huddled behind a dumpster, the contents of his life stuffed into a shopping cart. His cough disturbed a sleeping cat that sprung from underneath his frayed blanket. An empty bottle rolled onto the sidewalk. Mare hurried by as a light came on in a nearby window.           

            Taking a nervous breath of the crisp morning air, Mare breathed in the aroma of cinnamon rolls from the bakery across the street. When had she eaten last? She put the thought out of her mind and found her target a few blocks away: Family and Children Services. The parking lot was empty. She moved quickly, choosing a spot near the entrance. She broke the lights on either side of the doorway with one of her cans. She worked swiftly but with deliberation, needing the protection of the quickly fading darkness. She opened a can of black spray paint and stared at the brick wall in front of her.            

            What a rush.

She shook the can vigorously and felt the familiar jolt of electricity as she heard the metal ball bouncing around inside. The feeling was akin, she felt, to her lungs finally opening after being clamped shut for years. Removing the cap, she approached the wall, took aim, and pressed the valve, releasing a fine spray mist with all the skill of a trained artist.

            For the last few weeks, most of her pieces had been simple designs or just tags. Today’s message would be more complex. She had spent months working it out; now she would share it with the world. Well, at least with Macon. The reporter for the Macon News would take care of the rest. After Mare had come to town and started throwing up her graffiti, Margaret Adams had launched her own personal quest—not only to expose Mare’s work, but also to expose Mare. Mare had evaded her grasp so far, moving from one part of town to another, sleeping here and there, always carrying her backpack with her and leaving nothing at the scene except the art itself. Adams had featured several of Mare’s pieces in the News, complete with photographs. Graffiti was not common in the Southeast; the reporter couldn’t leave it alone. Who is this tagger, and where does he live? Adams opined in print. It amused Mare that the reporter thought the artist was a guy.

            She always tossed her empty cans into random dumpsters after each hit, careful not to leave a trail. She must not be arrested—it absolutely couldn’t happen—and she had to throw up these next two pieces. Blue lights and sirens approached just as she was getting started, though. Diving behind some shrubs that bordered the parking lot, she held her breath. Two squad cars flew through the blinking orange lights at a nearby intersection, oblivious to her crime. Wiping the sweat from her brow with her sleeve, she crawled out from behind the shrubs and quickened her pace as the sun began to light the wall and wake the town.

            Her signature character—a little girl with big, empty eyes and no mouth—would be featured in this piece. She outlined the image with black, painted the hair yellow, and overlaid the face with orange. Bloody drops fell from the red heart painted on the character’s chest. The child’s eyes gazed upward to a large shadow-like creature. The character soon took shape; it was a man, hovering over the girl. The image of the girl faded below her heart, as if her lower body was disappearing.

She’s been disappearing for years, hasn’t she?

Mare felt tears as she viewed the image, biting her lower lip. “Screw you,” she hissed, flipping off the shadow-man.

            She heard a car engine and looked at her watch. Almost 6:30. Just enough time for her tag—a red cherry with yellow rays emanating from a black stem and the word BOMB in red bubble letters, outlined with black. She could imagine tomorrow’s headline in the News:

CHERRY DROPS ANOTHER BOMB!

Book Proposal and Queries for PILGRIM INTERRUPTED

A few weeks ago I did a post about my latest project, an essay collection/memoir called PILGRIM INTERRUPTED. You can read the excerpts here.

Illustration by Tim Foley: http://www.timfoley.com/

Illustration by Tim Foley: http://www.timfoley.com/

 

This week I’ve put together an 18-page nonfiction book proposal, following Brian Klems’ “8 Essential Elements of a Nonfiction Book Proposal” from the Writers Digest blog. I’ve written several versions of a query letter—including a long one to send to agents who don’t request a book proposal, and this shorter one (below) to send when they request a book proposal. Of course I personalize each query to the agent with introductory comments about why I believe they would be a good fit for my book, how I found them, etc. So far I’ve selected and queried five agents, and I plan to continue sending out queries until I get a positive response. Stay tuned for results, although it might be a few weeks or longer before I hear back from any of them!

Here’s the sample short query letter I sent out with the book proposal:

Dear ___________,

[Personal comments about why I chose to query them, etc., here.]

At just under 55,000 words, PILGRIM INTERRUPTED is a decade-long memoir—a collection of thirty essays (twenty-six are previously published), four poems, numerous icons and other pieces of original art. (I can send artwork at your request.) Inspired by Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem and more recently Anne Lamott’s Hallelujah Anyway, PILGRIM INTERRUPTED takes the reader on a journey of self-discovery through the Christ-haunted South.

My novel CHERRY BOMB launched on August 8, and was #2 in Mississippi Reads (sales at Mississippi book stores) last week, and I was on two panels at the Mississippi Book Festival on August 19. It has received numerous 5 star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.

I have traveled to 6 states for 18 events for my first two books this spring and summer.

I am scheduled to visit 5 states for 14 events (so far) for my novel CHERRY BOMB this fall and winter, and have been invited to serve as a panelist at three book festivals in Mississippi, Tennessee, and Georgia.

My guest blog post for WritersDigest.com tells the story of how I got 4 book deals in one year, without an agent. But I would love to have agent representation moving forward with my next book. I have attached a complete book proposal for PILGRIM INTERRUPTED.

Thanks so much for reading!

CHERRY BOMB: Successful Launch and Early Reviews!

Celebrating with high school friend Corabel Shofner at the author reception.

Celebrating with high school friend Corabel Shofner at the author reception.

My novel CHERRY BOMB launched at Lemuria Books in Jackson, Mississippi on August 8. The following week, on August 19, I was on two panels at the Mississippi Book Festival, also in Jackson. Although I’ve lived in Memphis since 1988, it was fun and fitting for my novel’s first steps out into the world to be back in my home town. My third event is coming up this Saturday, August 26, at Turnrow Book Company in Greenwood, Mississippi, at 12 p.m.

I guess the most exciting news about the launch came from Jackson’s Clarion Ledger newspaper yesterday: CHERRY BOMB is #2 in Mississippi Reads, just under John Grisham’s CAMINO ISLAND, which was #1! See the list here. Congrats also to my friend from Murrah High School, Corabel Shofner, whose novel ALMOST PARADISE is #2 in the children and young adult list! It was fun seeing Bel at the author reception for the book festival on Friday night at the Old Capitol Museum.

With Beth Ann Fennelly at the author reception

With Beth Ann Fennelly at the author reception

I’ve bombed Facebook with lots of pictures from the Mississippi Book Festival, so I’ll only include a few here, at the end of the post. KUDOS to the festival committee and volunteers for a fabulous event! I started the day at an early morning POETRY panel, moderated by my friend Beth Ann Fennelly, Poet Laureate of Mississippi. It reminded me why I want to get back to reading poetry first thing every morning! And I loved moderating the panel, “Her Story,” and then being a panelist (for CHERRY BOMB) on “Voices From Home.” The after party at Duling Hall, which included a Thacker Mountain Radio show, was also terrific.

In addition to several gracious emails and Facebook messages from folks who have already read CHERRY BOMB, it’s received quite a few reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, mostly 5 STARS! You can read them here:

AMAZON REVIEWS:

“This is a beautifully written book that is both real and redemptive (5 STARS)

“Rich story of redemption and expression” (4 STARS) This also appeared in the Jackson, Mississippi Clarion Ledger on August 7, 2017

“Great debut novel” (5 STARS)

“I loved it” (5 STARS)

“From the darkest childhood in a cult….” (5 STARS)

 There are 7 reviews on Goodreads (6 are 5 STAR reviews)

This comment on Facebook from Janet Smith, who was my cheerleader sponsor at Chastain Junior High School in Jackson in 1963-1966, really made my day:

I could hardly put Cherry Bomb down. You write really well, Susan. I was completely enthralled in the plot. Your references to the Icons and other parts of Greek Orthodox worship though out the story line were very vivid and capturing.

Thanks to everyone for the “likes” and encouraging words on Facebook. It’s been a long journey and it’s so rewarding to see CHERRY BOMB being well received. So, here are those pics from the festival.

 

Inside the Lemuria Bookstore tent, where all three of my books were for sale!

Inside the Lemuria Bookstore tent, where all three of my books were for sale!

Outside my window at the Hilton Garden Inn hotel in downtown Jackson. "Mare" would have loved this!

Outside my window at the Hilton Garden Inn hotel in downtown Jackson. “Mare” would have loved this!

Voices From Home panel

Voices From Home panel, with Tracy Carr, Johnnie Bernhard, Julie Cantrell, and John Floyd

Moderating the "Her Story" panel

Moderating the “Her Story” panel

with fellow "Voices From Home" panelist John Floyd at the author reception

with fellow “Voices From Home” panelist John Floyd at the author reception

with my publisher Joe Lee and fellow Dogwood Press authors

with my publisher Joe Lee and fellow Dogwood Press authors

Workshop Speaker, Writer’s Digest Guest Blog Post, and PERENNIALS!

I’ve got lots of NEWS today!

 Workshop

 

First of all, I’ll be speaking at Neil White’s Write & Publish Workshop in Oxford, Missisisppi on September 22-23. It’s a two-day workshop (8:30-4:30 each day) and I’ll be speaking on Day 2, the Publishing part of the workshop. You can REGISTER for one or two days. Neil always gathers terrific industry professionals for these workshops, and I’m honored to take part in this one. Here’s more information:

WRITE & PUBLISH YOUR BOOK: A Two-Day Workshop with Neil White

Next up, my guest blog post was published Monday at the Writers Digest’s editors’ blog, “There Are No Rules.” You can read it here:

“I Landed 4 Book Deals in 1 Year With No Agent: Here’s How I Did It”

PerennialsAnd finally, I just finished reading PERENNIALS, Julie Cantrell’s latest novel (to be released in November—I’ve got an advance reader’s copy) and was so blessed by it, as I always am by Julie’s writing.

Like me, Julie is a Christian who is also a writer, not a “Christian writer.” Her fiction is beautiful literary prose with strong spiritual elements, but not “Christian fiction.” (I wrote a bit about Julie’s last novel, The Feathered Bone, back in January of 2016.)

As the title suggests, Perennials is all about flowers, but also full of wonderful “floral” metaphors. Julie gives her readers much to ponder about our own lives through the stories she tells. She’s not only a wonderful storyteller, but also a wise woman who bravely shares her insights for everyone who is willing to receive them. Not only in the book itself, but at the end, where she has included discussion questions and “Activity Sparks.” My favorite one:

At one point Lovey considers the timeline of her life. Make a timeline of your life. What key moments have you included? Notice the high points and the low points. Do you notice “seasons” in your own life: growth, bloom, loss, ruin, rebirth?

I actually did a similar timeline/list a few months ago, and found it helpful. But I wasn’t looking for those “seasons” and the wonderful comparisons to the timelines of things like flowers in the natural world. Julie truly has a gift, and I hope you will buy PERENNIALS and enjoy her art and her compassionate wisdom.

The Glass Castle

Sunday night my husband and I went to see “The Glass Castle.” What a terrific movie! Here’s a wonderful interview with Jeanette Walls, who wrote the memoir on which the movie is based.

 The-Glass-Castle

 

Jeanette Walls reading at Lemuria Books in Jackson, Mississippi, in 2011

Jeanette Walls reading at Lemuria Books in Jackson, Mississippi, in 2011

I read the book when it came out back in 2005, and I met Jeanette Walls in 2011 at Lemuria Books in Jackson, Mississippi. She was there for a reading/signing of her next book, Half Broke Horses.

 

Since I went to the movie with my husband, who had not read the book, I was eager to ask another reader what they thought. I found one while standing in line in the ladies’ room, where she and another woman agreed that both the book AND the movie were excellent. I would have loved to chat longer with this like-minded soul!

 

So, I give it 5 STARS. Walls doesn’t have a victim mentality, and doesn’t hate her parents. The best part of the movie—and this stood out more than it did in the book—was seeing Walls come to understand that the abuse her father suffered from his mother was probably responsible for much of his dysfunctional behavior. I was writing memoir at the time I read the book, and I was struggling with writing from a place of forgiveness and not from anger. Walls (and the movie) achieved this brilliantly.

CHERRY BOMB Launch! AND Tools of the (Marketing) Trade at Suite T

I’m home from Jackson (Mississippi) where CHERRY BOMB launched last night at Lemuria Books. I had a wonderful time with friends and family who came out to support me—some of whom had also come to my first two events at Lemuria this past spring.

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Signing copies of CHERRY BOMB with my publisher, Joe Lee, of Dogwood Press, at Lemuria Books in Jackson, Mississippi.

 

It’s a lot to ask of my readers, and I talk a bit about what’s involved in marketing three books at once in today’s post over at the Southern Writers Magazine’s blog, SUITE T:

 

Tools of the (Marketing) Trade

 Suite T header 2017 910 x 148

 

Just click on the link to read the post. Thanks, always, for reading!

The Almost Sisters and Pen & Palette’s 10-Year Anniversary!

biopic-13

I’ve been a fan of Joshilyn Jackson since I first met her back in August of 2007 (hard to believe that was 10 years ago!) at the first ever Mississippi Writers Guild Conference in Clinton, Mississippi. I know I’ve said this several times on this blog, but I always have to give Joshilyn a big nod because she is the person who encouraged me to start a blog, which I did, exactly ten years ago!

At that point she had two novels out: gods in Alabama and Between, Georgia. I loved them both.

I fell in love with her voice, and she has continued to pen amazing stories. I have reviewed (or at least blogged about) several of them:

 

 

The Girl Who Stopped Swimming (2008)

Backseat Saints (2010)

A Grownup Kind of Pretty (2012)
The Opposite of Everyone (2016)

almost300x453This weekend I finished reading Joshilyn’s recent novel, The Almost Sisters. Joshilyn has knocked it out of the park again. I love the way she always finds the best and worst of humanity in her characters. She puts them up against almost impossible odds and watches them find their best selves in the process of overcoming those odds. And she chooses such mystical, artsy, edgy (okay too many adjectives?) characters to live these difficult lives.

Like Leia Birch Briggs, a comic book artist who gets knocked up by “Batman” at a comic book convention. And her grandmother back in Birchville, Alabama has Lewy Body Dementia—something I had never heard of until a close friend (who is younger than I am) was diagnosed with it a few years ago. Of course “Batman” is black, so Leia’s baby will be biracial, and she’s struggling with whether or not a small southern town in Alabama is the best place to raise him. She captures the cultural and social milieu perfectly, talking about the “Second South.” No spoilers here, but the racial tension is intensified by her grandmother’s relationship with a black companion she’s known all her life.

In Leia’s comic books, the main character is Violet, and her alter ego is Violence. When she starts on a sequel, she draws in her yet-to-be-born son, whom she’s been calling Digby, as a character. At one point Digby finds himself orphaned after genocide, and he’s searching for his sister’s body in the carnage. Joshilyn takes us inside our broken humanity with these powerful words:

He’s looking for her, and Violence-in-Violet goes along; tough as he is, he’s too small to survive alone. Digby will come to love the double woman he calls Vi. He knows that she is beauty and the beast all in one package just like most of us.

I love how she writes about our shadows with such creative description. I found myself reading that last sentence over and over.

Like Joshilyn, I’m drawn to the edge, and had a great time learning about graffiti artists when researching for my novel CHERRY BOMB. I think Mare (my protag) would really like Leia, and it’s fun to imagine them meeting.
I can’t wait to see what Joshilyn does next, and I’m so thankful that we met ten years ago. She’s been an inspiration ever since. I’m also so grateful to her for the wonderful blurb she wrote for my novel:

“Using the life of real abstract expressionist artist Elaine de Kooning as a jumping off point, CHERRY BOMB fearlessly explores the intersection between art and spirituality, creating it as a palpable place where healing can occur. This is a bold, frank book, and Susan Cushman is a brave and talented writer. ”

High praise from a priestess of fiction! Thanks so much, Joshilyn!

BUY THE ALMOST SISTERS AND READ IT NOW!!!

Thy Will Be Done

This morning I read a quote by Evagrius the Solitary with my morning prayers. Here’s part of it:

Pray not to this end, that your own desires be fulfilled. You can be sure they do not fully accord with the will of God. Once you have learned to accept this point, pray instead that “Thy will be done” in me. In every matter ask Him in this way for what is good and for what confers profit on your soul, for you yourself do not seek this so completely as He does.

17332278I’ve been praying for success. For each of my books to find publishers (which they have) and now for Cherry Bomb to become a success. To sell well. And my most recent prayer is that the agent I queried for my new book will sign me. All of this is about me asking for my will to be done, right? But isn’t it natural for a child to ask these things of her father? Even Flannery O’Connor prayed this way:

I want very much to success in the world with what I want to do…. Please help me dear God to be a good writer and to get something else accepted…. Oh dear God I want to write a novel, a good novel. I want to do this for a good feeling and for a bad one. The bad one is uppermost. The psychologists say it is the natural one…. (A Prayer Journal)

A good feeling and a bad one. I wonder what the bad one was. Was it pride she was worried about? Another place in the same prayer journal she says this:

Portrait Of Flannery O'ConnorI want so to love God all the way. At the same time I want all the things that seem opposed to it—I want to be a fine writer. Any success will tend to swell my head—unconsciously even. If I ever do get to be a fine writer, it will not be because I am a fine writer but because God has given me credit for a few of the things He kindly wrote for me.

I also want to love God “all the way,” and I wonder if wanting success as a writer is really “opposed to it,” as O’Connor suggests here. Maybe humility is the key. She does credit God for her success in the same paragraph.

Saint Mary of Egypt, detail

Saint Mary of Egypt, detail

At any rate, this morning I found myself releasing the tension a bit as I stood before my icons in prayer after reading Evagrius’ words. I felt my shoulders relaxing and a slight smile crossed my lips—especially as I looked at the icon of Saint Mary of Egypt, to whom I have been praying for success for Cherry Bomb. I was reminded of a conversation I had with a writer friend back in May—one who is a strong Christian—and her words about trusting God with her work. She has several successful novels and is coming out with another one in a week or two. But her countenance is peaceful, unlike my natural state of anxiety. She encouraged me to trust God with my work, which seems like an obvious thing for someone claiming to be a Christian, or a person of any faith, right?

nuns chanting at Holy Dormition Monastery, Rives Junction, Michigan

nuns chanting at Holy Dormition Monastery, Rives Junction, Michigan

It’s been several years since I visited the monastery in Michigan where I spent many weeks over a decade or so as a pilgrim and also studying iconography. The abbess there was somewhat of a spiritual mother to me during those years. The most striking thing about her wasn’t her wisdom, although she was very wise. It was her abiding peace. There’s a Psalm (I can’t find it right now) I remember the nuns chanting that said something about how “God arranges everything” for our good. He gives us what we need. But I wonder if prayer doesn’t change our desires, so that we eventually learn to ask for what we need. So that our will and His become more aligned? At some point, will it be okay to do what Jesus said in Matthew 21:22:

And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.

MOG TendernessBelieving. Today I ask for faith to believe that His will is best for me.

Taking a deep breath, I look at the icon of Christ and His Mother, “Mother of God, Tenderness,” (who often seems more accessible) and say aloud, “Thy will be done.”

Prepping

August is almost here. That means my book tour is about to begin, and I’m prepping. First I read through CHERRY BOMB again, and marked several short excerpts to read at various events. Then I made a few notes about things I want to say at each event. First one is August 8 at Lemuria in Jackson, Mississippi. I think I’m ready…. Only have to buy some wine to take for the wonderful folks who come out to the event!

 

Layout 1Next up is the Mississippi Book Festival on August 19. This will take lots more prepping. In addition to being on a panel for CHERRY BOMB (“Voices of Home” at 4 p.m. in the State Capitol Room A, with Johnnie Bernhard, Julie Cantrell, and John Floyd, moderated by Tracy Carr, director of the Mississippi Center for the Book) I am moderating a panel, which will take more prep.

 

my-soul-looks-back-9781501125904_lg“Her Story” is my panel at 12 p.m. (State Capitol Room A). The description says, “Five noted women authors discuss their most recent works, as well as the opportunities and challenges unique to women writers.” I just received copies of the other four women’s recent books in the mail so I can read up on them. I am honored to be moderating this panel, and hope I can ask intelligent questions of these amazing women:

Mary Ann Connell, An Unforseen Life: A Memoir

Jessica B. Harris, My Soul Looks Back

23130276Suzanne Marrs, Meanwhile There Are Letters: The Correspondence of Eudora Welty and Ross Macdonald

Norma Watkins: That Woman from Mississippi (coming in September)

 

Just Google these women to read about how outstanding their careers have been. And how many trials and struggles they have had to overcome along the way. Can’t wait to get to know them. I was glad to meet Mary Ann Connell in person at Ace Atkins’ reading at Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi, recently, but I haven’t met the others yet.

 

FullSizeRenderIn the midst of prepping for these and other upcoming events, I’m working with the copyeditor from University Press of Mississippi on the anthology I’m editing, Southern Writers on Writing. 26 southern authors contributed essays, and they are all amazing. Hoping to meet my editing deadline with the press while juggling these other events!

And… as I mentioned in on Friday, I’m putting together a collection of my own essays, Pilgrim Interrupted, and have already queried one agent. The introduction, table of contents, section divider quotes, and permissions page are done. I’m just doing some final edits on the complete manuscript while waiting to hear back from my first choice agent. Stay tuned!

 

Meanwhile, CHERRY BOMB has gotten numerous 5 STAR reviews on Goodreads and Amazon before my official launch next Tuesday!
Thanks, always, for reading. I love to hear from you here, or on Facebook!

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