End of Year Book List

With just over two weeks left in 2017, I decided to put together my “end of year book list” and share it with my readers. I also decided to try and construct a “book tree” to celebrate the season, using all the books I’ve read and published this year. I think I made the base too wide, so the tree isn’t as tall or shapely as I hoped, but after two attempts, I gave up and snapped a picture of my best effort. Now I’ve got to figure out where to put these books, since all my book shelves are full!

Book tree

 

What an amazing year it’s been! Publishing three books—Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s, A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be, and Cherry Bomb—and having an essay published in another anthology (Take Care: Tales, Tips, and Love From Women Caregivers, edited by Elayne Clift) have made for an exciting year. As I mentioned in a previous post, I have driven 9,800 miles (in 8 states) for readings, signings, salons, book club meetings, library events, and literary festivals from March through December. My final two events for the year are coming up this week: Thursday night I’m reading CHERRY BOMB at Novel bookstore in Memphis, and Saturday I’m signing CHERRY BOMB at Books-A-Million in Southaven, Mississippi. I’ve got six more events scheduled for CHERRY BOMB in 2018, and then my fourth book will be released in May: Southern Writers on Writing—another anthology I edited.

As a writer, I find that reading is not only enjoyable but crucial to my growth. I read a wide variety of books, from poetry and spirituality to self-help/psychology and other nonfiction, books about art, essay anthologies, memoir, and fiction (mostly novels.) As of today, I’ve read 46 books in 2017, and hope to finish one to two more before the end of the year. I read 38 books in 2016… you can read that list here if you’re curious.

I know 18 of the authors of these books personally, and would love to meet many of the others some day, especially Anne Lamott, Joan Didion, and Ann Patchett. If I had to choose a favorite book from 2017, it would be Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate. It’s the book I wish I had written.

What’s up for 2018? I’m currently reading Gold Dust Woman: The Biography of Stevie Nicks by Stephen Davis. This is a real departure for me, as I rarely read biographies, but this one really captures the culture and music of much of my life, and I’m really enjoying it. And on the top of my “to read” stack are three novels:

Love and Other Consolation Prizes by Jamie Ford

Secrets of the Devil Vine by Faith Kaiser

Little Broken Things by Nicole Baart

So, here’s my list. It’s pretty much in the order in which I read the books. I’d love to know what you read this year. If you publish a year-end list, please leave me a link as a comment here or on Facebook. Happy holiday reading!!!

 

The Opposite of Everyone by Joshilyn Jackson

A Southern Girl by John Warley

Time Was Soft There by Jeremy Mercer

Garden in the East: The Spiritual Life of the Body by Angela Doll Carlson

The Statue and the Fury: A Year of Art, Race, Music, and Cocktails by Jim Dees

This Close to Happy: A Reckoning With Depression by Daphne Merkin

Heartbreak Hotel by Anne Rivers Siddons

The Girls of August by Anne Rivers Siddons

Unspeakable Things, a novel by Jackie Warren Tatum

Hallelujah Anyway by Anne Lamott

Truly Human: Recovering Your Humanity in a Broken World by Kevin Scherer

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

South and West by Joan Didion

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

Wolf Whistle by Lewis Nordan

Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

Desperation Road by Michael Farris Smith

The Cement Garden by Ian McEwen

Belles’ Letters II edited by Jennifer Horne and Don Noble

The Pen and the Brush: How Passion for Art Shaped Nineteenth-Century French Novels by Anka Muhlstein

Camino Island by John Grisham

Sycamore Row by John Grisham

A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline

The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson

Perennials by Julie Cantrell

An Unforseen Life by Mary Ann Connell

My Soul Looks Back by Jessica B. Harris

That Woman From Mississippi by Norma Watkins

The Bookshop at Water’s End by Patti Callahan Henry

This Naked Mind by Annie Grace

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

The Cage-Maker by Nicole Seitz

The Address by Fiona Davis

Among the Mensans by Corey Mesler

Drinking: A Love Story by Carolyn Knapp (re-read)

Lit by Mary Karr (re-read)

The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett

Heating & Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs by Beth Ann Fennelly

The Rooster Bar by John Grisham

Far From the Tree by Robin Benway

Dancing With My Father by Leif Anderson

Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong

Cherry Bomb, St. Mary of Egypt, and Redemption (a review)

Mary of Egypt weepingI woke up this morning wondering what I was going to write about for today’s blog post. And then I read Ellen Morris Prewitt’s review of CHERRY BOMB and I knew I wanted to share it:

 

“Cherry Bomb, St. Mary of Egypt, and Redemption”

 

wowh-aGroupJourney

 

 

Ellen’s words mean so much to me, especially her praise for my depiction of Mare’s (the protagonist) days of living on the streets, where she went to escape the abuse she suffered first at the hands of her father and then from her foster father. Ellen spent seven years leading a writing group for homeless and formerly homeless people in Memphis, and then published a collection of their stories in 2014:

 

Writing Our Way Home: A Group Journey Out of Homelessness

 

Both of these books are full of hope and would make excellent Christmas gifts!

 

Happy reading!

 

Happy 100th Anniversary, Books-A-Million!

BAM Hburg exteriorI wasn’t excited when my publisher asked me to drive 300 miles to a Books-A-Million store in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, to sign copies of CHERRY BOMB for three hours on Saturday. I’ve done lots of readings at independent bookstores all over the South, which I always enjoy. Readers come to not only meet the author and potentially purchase a signed copy, but also to hear a reading and participate in a Q & A. At the BAM (Books-A-Million) store, I was just supposed to sit at a table in the front of the store and greet customers and tell them about my book, hoping they will buy a copy. And also to wander around the store giving out fliers and encouraging customers to buy my book. Could I do that without seeming creepy?

First I did a little research. Turns out BAM is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year! Founded in 1917 in Florence, Alabama, Books-A-Million, Inc. has grown to become the premier book retailing chain in the Southeastern United States, and the second largest book retailer in the nation. Based in Birmingham, Alabama, the company currently operates more than 260 stores in 32 states and the District of Columbia. BAM also has an internet development and services company, NetCentral, in Nashville, Tennessee.

Next, I talked with another Dogwood Press author, John Floyd (from Brandon, Mississippi), about his experience signing books at BAM stores, which he’s done many times, promoting and selling his short story anthologies. He gave me a few tips, and when I arrived at the Hattiesburg store on Saturday, the store manager, Erika, immediately started telling me about John Floyd’s success there! I was both encouraged and nervous—he’s a hard act to follow. (He’s also over 6 feet tall, handsome, and charming, and since more women than men buy books, he’s got a distinct advantage!)

signing at Hburg BAM

 

It was a beautiful day in south Mississippi, and lots of shoppers were in the store, which felt very festive. I got set up at my table and immediately a woman bought three copies to give as Christmas gifts! I was amazed and grateful. I asked if they were in a book club together and she said no, but they all love to read. My next customer, “Johnathan,” was a very articulate young Baylor University graduate who works for a newspaper in Laurel, Mississippi. Johnathan is writing a “historic fantasy” novel, and we enjoyed talking shop for a while before I signed his copy of CHERRY BOMB. When there was a lull in customers stopping by my table, I wandered around the store handing out fliers and then went back to my table. One woman who read the flier while shopping came back up to my table to get a copy. She’s flying to Australia and needed something to read on the plane. Perfect. A cute young nurse who lives in Laurel bought a copy next. Turns out she’s also an artist and was interested in all the art in the novel.

It’s easy to “profile” people as they walk in the store—I found myself sizing people up and deciding which ones might be interested in my book. But I learned on Saturday that people surprise you. It’s not just sophisticated, artistic, spiritual women who are interested in CHERRY BOMB, and not just people of a certain age. The book appeals to everyone from young adults to baby boomers, and even to men. One 50-something man in jeans and a plaid flannel shirt and baseball cap said the book was “just up his alley” and was excited to have me sign a copy. The afternoon flew by quickly, and my final customer—a woman in her sixties—grabbed a copy as I was walking out the door. I learned a lot about people from south Mississippi on Saturday. And people in general. And yes, about myself.

gb_badgeSo now I’m actually looking to driving down to the BAM store in Meridian, Mississippi, this coming Saturday. I actually know two people in Meridian, and both are coming by to see me, so that will be fun. These stores are gold mines in towns like Hattiesburg and Meridian that don’t have independent book stores. And on the 16th I’ll be signing copies at the BAM store in Southaven, Mississippi, which is much closer to home. Stay tuned for more stories! And happy holiday shopping!!!

 

’Tis the Season, Y’all!

Johnsons Christmas 1959We just watched three Christmas specials on TV this week, which always adds to my nostalgia for Christmas past. Growing up in a “dysfunctional” (I’m tired of that word, but it fits) family, I always loved holidays. My mother made each of them special—Christmas, Easter, even Halloween and Valentine’s Day. She would decorate the house and cook special treats and for a few days during each holiday season, all would feel right with the world. Even with our family. I know I’ve posted this before, but here’s my favorite Christmas photo—Christmas eve in Jackson, Mississippi, around 1959. I think we had been to church (or maybe Mom and Dad had been to a Christmas eve party?) and everyone but Mom had already changed into our jammies. Today is my brother Mike’s birthday. He died in 2007 (ten years ago, wow) when he was only 58. Memory eternal, Mike!

gift wrap 4A favorite Christmas memory for me is wrapping gifts. Mother would set up a gift-wrapping station—usually a long table—with lots of wonderful paper and ribbon and special crafty items. After watching her work her magic for several years, I was finally given the reins and allowed to wrap all the presents for our family (except for mine, of course). I would play Christmas music on the stereo and make a cup of hot chocolate and immerse myself in the world of gift-wrapping.

gift wrap 1That’s what I’ve been doing this week. My creations aren’t as fancy as the ones Mom and I used to make, mainly because I have to mail most of them and big bows don’t survive shipping very well. But I still love choosing paper and ribbons every year—this year I’m into red, black, and white, with lots of reindeer and Santas. And beyond the joy of doing something creative, I love imagining each friend or child or grandchild or Godchild opening their gifts, and it fills me with joy.

xmas cardsYesterday I mailed 8 Christmas gifts to 6 different states. I also mailed 100 Christmas cards—another tradition I treasure. I often address and stamp my cards while watching those Christmas specials on TV, chasing that elusive Christmas atmosphere I am craving. We’ve been empty-nesters for sixteen years (hard to believe our youngest turned 35 yesterday!) and it seems I have to work harder to create that festive spirit without children in the house.

The granddaughters always get books, in addition to a special toy and Christmas jammies.

The granddaughters always get books, in addition to a special toy and Christmas jammies.

And speaking of atmosphere, although I do most of my Christmas shopping online, I do enjoy being in stores at this time of the year—especially festive ones like Pier 1 and Macy’s. I participated whole-heartedly in Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday, ignoring the nay-sayers on Facebook who feel that these events tend to overly commercialize Christmas. I think they just make shopping more fun! I’ve only got two more people to shop for, and several more packages to mail before our annual trip to Denver to spend Christmas (hopefully a white one!) with two of our kids and our four granddaughters.

gift wrap 2

 

If it seems that I’m finishing up “early,” that’s intentional. Shipping gets more expensive (and the lines are longer) closer to Christmas. Also, I’ve got six book signings for Cherry Bomb this month (one in Memphis and five in different cities and towns in Mississippi) so I’m pacing myself. Tomorrow I’m off to Hattiesburg, Mississippi, to sign books at Books-a-Million, something I’ve never done. Afterwards, I’ll drive to Jackson to spend the night with friends who are hosting a literary salon for me Saturday night. I’ll drive home Sunday in time for a friend’s book reading at Novel in Memphis, and for our neighborhood’s annual Christmas parade and tree-lighting, which happens right in front of our house, which faces “Christmas Tree Park” in Harbor Town. Enjoy the pictures from the park, our house, and a couple of neighbors’ homes at the end of this post.

’Tis the season, y’all! I hope you are enjoying it! Stay tuned for posts of a more spiritual nature, as I write about our church’s annual St. Nicholas play, toys for the MIFA (Memphis Inter Faith Association) Christmas store, and Christmas caroling at a local nursing home.

our tree

our angel

Christmas Tree Park

Martinez house

Walker house

The Big Reveal (for 2018)

After such a banner year (publishing 3 books in 2017) I’m excited to say that my fourth book will be out in May of 2018:

Southern Writers on Writing, an anthology I edited, coming from University Press of Mississippi.

With a foreword by Alan Lightman (a Memphis native known mostly for his brilliant science writing) and essays by twenty-six southern authors (13 women and 13 men), this is a collection the literary world has been waiting for. Last week I read this wonderful guest post on Jane Friedman’s blog, “How and Why to Edit an Anthology,” by Margot Kahn, which was encouraging, as I’ve had such a positive experience putting together this collection.

Just got the official COVER to share! Thanks to Oxford (Mississippi) photographer Ed Croom for this wonderful image. Ed read the essays in the collection first, and drew inspiration from them for his photo shoot at Rowan Oak, the historic home of William Faulkner. You can read more about the photograph in my Author’s Note when the book comes out!

SouthernWritersOnWritingCOVER

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