“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.

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!

Pilgrim Interrupted

SusanwMoOlympiaI’m putting together a collection of personal essays with the working title, Pilgrim Interrupted. Many of the essays have been previously published, and as I’ve been going through them again, I’ve pulled out a few representative quotes. I’ll share them here, as teasers for what I hope will become my next book. (I’m querying literary agents for this one.) The essays are grouped into six sections: “Icons, Orthodoxy, and Spirituality,” “Writing, Editing, and Publishing,” “Alzheimer’s, Caregiving, Death, and Dying,” “Family and Adoption,” “Place,” and “Mental Health, Addiction, and Sexual Abuse.”

Thirty essays. Four poems. Numerous icons and other pieces of original art. I hope there’s something here for everyone to reflect on, and that my readers will find some measure of joy or inspiration from the journeys I’ve shared. My pilgrimage—mostly in the “Christ-haunted South”—has definitely been interrupted over the decades of my life, but hopefully the prose, poetry, and art that litter the pathway are of some value.

Here are some samples:

“Maybe my brokenness, like the egg yolks that I use to make tempera paint for my icons—themselves a form of life interrupted—is part of my offering to God.”—Susan Cushman, from “Chiaroscuro: Shimmer and Shadow” (published in Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality, University of Alabama Press, 2012)

“Sometimes I stop and look at the unfinished images with a melancholy longing. The other day I paused before the icon of Christ, fingering a soft sable brush and scanning the jars of pigments on the nearby shelves. There are eggs in the refrigerator, waiting to be broken for Him. Their yolks, themselves a type of life interrupted, are ready to bind the dry pigments and fill my palette with a range of ochres and siennas for the face of Christ. Everything I need is here, waiting for my touch.”—Susan Cushman, from “Blocked” (published in the Santa Fe Writers Project, literary awards finalist, July 2, 2008)

“Sobriety—it’s about more than not being drunk. It’s clear-eyed brush strokes and poetry that knocks your socks off and page-turning prose. It’s Iris Dement singing, “I choose to take my sorrow straight,” and Natalie Maines (of the Dixie Chicks) turning a personal affront into a hit song with, “I’m Not Ready to Make Nice.” It’s Mary Chapin Carpenter singing, “forgiveness doesn’t come with a debt.”  But it’s also allowing yourself to be human, and turning that broken humanity into something redemptive with every stroke of your pen or brush or keyboard.”—Susan Cushman, from “Blocked” (published in the Santa Fe Writers Project, literary awards finalist, July 2, 2008)

“The distinctive chug chug chug of the wine filling the glass. It’s not really a cork—it’s a rubber wine stopper (from Rabbit) and its phallic shape and texture is tempting. I place it in my mouth and suck the last drops of wine from its surface as I slowly pull it away and push it back into the bottle. The first swallow is always the best, bringing instant gratification, holding promises of relief, of edges softening, jaws relaxing, mind slowing down, dark clouds abating. And sometimes it makes good on those promises, but the relief is only temporary.”—Susan Cushman, from “Eat, Drink, Repeat: One Woman’s Three-Day- Search for Everything,” published in The Shoe Burnin’: Stories of Southern Soul (Rivers Edge Media, 2015)

“After binging all day on chips and grilled cheese and sausage biscuit and wine, the self-hatred drives me to my knees once again. But not in prayer. My reflection in the bottom of the toilet bowl—and a fetid memory long ago encoded in my frontal lobe—are enough to trigger my seasoned gag reflex. This ritual takes less than a minute. I puke up most of what I’ve eaten in the past couple of hours. It brings relief, but not without more self-loathing. I cannot, as James Baldwin urged, “vomit the anguish up.”—Susan Cushman, from “Eat, Drink, Repeat: One Woman’s Three-Day- Search for Everything,” published in The Shoe Burnin’: Stories of Southern Soul (Rivers Edge Media, 2015)

“It was surreal— like an invasion of the profane into the sacred— and it continued for about forty-five minutes. They would enter to the right of us, in their khaki shorts, fanny packs, and white Keds and cameras (which weren’t allowed inside the cave) and move slowly along the wall where Saint John had once sat, dictating to his scribe, Prochorus. The tour guide alternately pointed to the hole in the wall where the disciple pulled himself up after sitting for hours on end, and the crack in the ceiling where he heard the voice of God. Their mouths formed large, silent “O”s as they crept along, nodding at one another. Then the guide would wave the tourists through the tiny chapel, and they would walk in front of us as they exited.”—from “Pilgrim Interrupted” by Susan Cushman

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.

Four Book Deals in One Year: A Journey in Independent Publishing

Just a quick note to say I’m excited to have a short piece in the July/August issue of Southern Writers’s Magazine:

“Four Book Deals in One Year: A Journey in Independent Publishing”

4 Book Deals teaser

Click here to subscribe and read the full article.

I’m still doing lots of reading, watching movies, and searching for what the muse has in store for me next… please stay tuned!
And thanks always for reading!

SWMag sm ad

 

 

 

Dear Diary,

teenager-diary-50sI kept a diary when I was a little girl. It had a little lock and key and I kept it hidden. I remember once when my brother found it and threatened to read it… not sure how I got out of that one. And here I am many decades later with a very public diary. Most of the time I write things here about books, writing, editing, publishing, art, spirituality, etc. But sometimes I write about more personal things like depression, eating, drinking, addiction, and grief. Today is one of those days.

Today’s post is in place of yesterday’s and tomorrow’s… because I’m feeling pretty empty right now. Just running on zero. My three-month book tour is over (until I start back up for Cherry Bomb in about six weeks) and it will be a few weeks until I get the galleys to proof for the anthology I’m editing, so I’m in a lull. I hate lulls. I tend to get a bit stir-crazy if I don’t have a project. I’m even considering starting to clean out the storage bins in the garage.
As I wrote here a couple of weeks ago, I had originally planned to use these weeks to get started on a new novel. But after one false start, and reconsidering a novel I started a few years ago and put down, I’m just not feeling inspired about either of those. So I’m “researching” a bit… and reading… and even watching some old movies on TV. And I’m thinking, what on earth do people do when they “retire”? At 66, I feel like I’m just getting started, and yet my vehicle seems to run out of gas more easily lately.

A-writer-never-has-a-vacation-for-a-writer-life-consists-of-either-writing-or-thinking-about-writing

So, if you’re reading this and you have a brilliant idea for my next novel, please send it my way. Especially if you know of a historic heroine I could fictionalize. Or something fascinating in the field of art. (One of the two novel ideas I’m considering involves Jackson Pollack and Lee Krasner.) I’m still thinking about Rill, the river gypsy orphan child in Lisa Wingate’s Before We Were Yours, and I’m still wishing I had written that book.  She and Mare (my protagonist in Cherry Bomb) could be such good friends.

Meanwhile I’ll try to exercise more, eat and drink less, and get plenty of sleep. And hope to hear some brilliant ideas from my readers!

I Love Stories

BellesLettersIICov2And essays. Which is why I love anthologies. The first anthology in which I was published was Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality (University of Alabama press 2012). The editors were Jennifer Horne and Wendy Reed. And now Jennifer has just edited (with her husband Don Noble) a collection of short stories (these are all fiction) by 37 Alabama women writers called Belles’ Letters II (Livingston Press: The University of West Alabama).  Belles’ Letters I was published in 1999.

I got a signed copy of Belles’ Letters II this weekend at Ernest & Hadley Books in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. I was there for a reading and signing for A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be. The two Alabama authors who contributed to this book were there to read and sign at the event—Jennifer Horne and Wendy Reed. It felt like we had come full circle, with me as editor and

Susan Cushman, Jennifer Horne, and Wendy Reed in front of Ernest & Hadley Books, Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Susan Cushman, Jennifer Horne, and Wendy Reed in front of Ernest & Hadley Books, Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Jennifer and Wendy as contributors. I couldn’t be more proud of this book, and of them. Or more thankful for our friendship. We spent the weekend talking shop over coffee at Wendy’s kitchen table, another visit around Jennifer’s table, and a stroll in her backyard overlooking a lake in Tuscaloosa, drinks and dinner at local bars and restaurants, and I returned to Memphis on Sunday feeling revived.

Back home today I am diving into this new collection with much appetite and enjoyment. It’s fun to read stories by three of the contributors to A Second Blooming and six contributors to Southern Writers on Writing, the anthology I’m currently editing (coming from University Press of Mississippi in 2018). It’s so encouraging to see all these gifted writers taking time to contribute short pieces to anthologies. As Madeleine L’Engle said, “We all feed the lake.” And these authors are feeding an important lake—one that I believe will become historic. A lake filling regularly with contemporary Southern literature.

Anthologies aren’t just for breakfast any more. They aren’t just something to keep on a table in the living room and pick up when you only have a few minutes to read and don’t want to dive into a longer book. They can be as satisfying as any main course. As I was beginning to read from Belles’ Letters today, I found that it didn’t matter that the stories weren’t connected. That they didn’t have a theme. It only mattered that they were well written, excellent samples of the fine craft readers have come to expect from such authors as Pulitzer Prize winner Shirley Ann Grau, Harper Lee Award winners Fannie Flagg, Carolyn Haines, and Sena Jeter Neslund, and best-selling authors such as Gail Godwin, and Lee Smith. Each story left me wanting more—and scrolling down the table of contents like a kid in a candy store, selecting my next treat.

The-Pen-and-the-Brush-260x381My spring/early summer book tour is over, and I’ve got about six weeks to regroup before events for Cherry Bomb (my novel) start up on August 8. I had initially planned to get lots of words on the page for my new novel during this break from marketing, and maybe I will, but for now I’m content to slow down and read. To refuel. I couldn’t be happier with my “to read” stack in my office. I added another interesting book to the pile, another one I picked up at Ernest & Hadley this weekend: The Pen and the Brush: How Passion for Art Shaped Nineteen-Century French Novels by Anka Muhlstein (translated from French by Adriana Hunter).

 

9781524741723The other treasures I acquired at this wonderful new bookstore in Tuscaloosa, Alabama were two copies of Chelsea Clinton’s children’s book, She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World. (I’ll be sending those to my four granddaughters in Denver soon.)

Meanwhile, I’ll get back to my stories. And I don’t mean soap operas.

Take Care

clift cover v6b- approved cover.inddSome time last year Elayne Clift invited me to contribute an essay to an anthology she was putting together. It was going to be about women caregivers. Ironically, I was already working on my book, Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s. I thought about contributing an excerpt, but I chose something different. I sent her a shorter version of an essay I had published in the Saint Katherine Review (Volume I, Number 2, 2012) about my last days with two people I loved dearly, both dying from cancer. “Watching” now appears as one of twenty-six essays in the collection, Take Care: Tales, Tips, and Love From Women Caregivers, edited by Clift. I’m so pleased to see this essay get new life in this book, and hopefully find many new readers. It’s a story that’s very close to my heart, and as I read it again now—nine years after I wrote it and five years after it was first published—memories of those precious but difficult days with my father, and then with a dear friend, as they were dying, seem as vivid as if they were happening today.

Clift is the perfect editor for this collection, as she learned early in her life what it meant to be a caregiver, as she explains in the preface to Take Care:

My own experience with caregiving began at an early age. My parents had married late, and while my two siblings and I were still young, both our father and mother suffered from chronic and often debilitating conditions: asthma and depression respectively. By the time I was in high school and my older sister had married, I had taken on may of the demanding tasks of caregiving, including carrying out the responsibilities that keep a home going and take care of (and worrying about) my younger brother. After our father’s death, looking out for my mother’s best interests and ensuring her care became paramount tasks that went on for many years until she died at the age of 86.

Clift did all of this while being married, raising two children, completing a graduate degree and doing volunteer work with underprivileged women. A Vermont Humanities Council Scholar, she is an award-winning writer, journalist and workshop leader, a book reviewer for the New York Journal of Books, and a regular columnist for the Keene Sentinel and the Brattleboro Commons. Her work has appeared in The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, The Christian Science Monitor, and The Chronicle of Higher Education, among other publications.

I wasn’t familiar with the other contributors but as I read their bios and essays, I quickly realized what good company I am in. I’m honored to be part of this collection. I especially love Patti See’s “Joyful Mystery.” Her blog, “Our Long Goodbye: One Family’s Experiences with Alzheimer’s,” has been read in over 90 countries. Helen Dening gives us five helpful tips for communicating with someone who has Alzheimer’s in her essay, “Lessons from My Mother: Communicating with Someone You Love Who has Alzheimer’s Disease.” Deborah Marshall, an art therapist who works with grieving hospice families, contributes three wonderful poems. Karen Clark, who received her MFA at the City College of New York once owned a bookshop in New York and now edits, proofreads, is a contributing editor for two anthologies and is at work on a novel. Her essay, “Roar Above the Hum,” made me laugh out loud and clap my hands, as she tells the story of accompanying “Corine” to dialysis and hearing her stories of her life as a civil rights activist in the sixties, founding a school in Africa, and eventually becoming the principal of a failing Harlem school and turning it into a showpiece. I could go on and on, but I hope you will get this book and read these inspirational stories for yourself!

You can purchase Take Care HERE, or on Amazon.

Indexing

IndexesI’m working on my fourth book, another anthology I’m editing: Southern Writers on Writing. The manuscript has been through the peer review process and I’ve responded to their reports. While waiting on the galleys, I’m working on something I’ve never done before. The University Press of Mississippi requires an INDEX for all of their books. You can pay someone else to do this for you, but I decided to tackle it myself. Not just to save money, but to gain the experience. And to search through the book in a different way, looking for important references that readers might look for.

First I asked the good people at the Press for guidance, and they directed me to the Chicago Manual of Style’s Chapter on Indexes. I had recently purchased the Sixteenth Edition of the manual, not realizing that I could access it online. I actually like having a hard copy of it to reference from time to time.
Next, I looked at two other books published by U Press of Mississippi in the past year or two, to get a feel for the types of people, places, and other terms that the authors included in their indexes. Then I started a Word document, with a new paragraph for each letter of the alphabet. Like this:

A
B
C

Etc.

Index Delta RainbowNext I started going through the manuscript, page by page, and selecting words that I felt were significant enough to be included in the index, and placing them under the correct letter, noting that names are listed like this: last name (comma) first name.

It’s actually kind of fun, seeing all the references to important people, places, and things in southern literature, and just in the lives of the authors who contributed the 26 essays that make up the anthology.

Once it’s complete, I’ll wait until I get the galleys to fill in the page numbers. Hopefully that will be easy enough, doing a search for each word. Although this author says he’ll never do it again, although he saved several hundred dollars by not hiring a professional indexer. (My friend who published last year with U Press of Mississippi tells me she had no problem doing her own index.)

This may not sound very creative, but in a way it is, and it’s not a bad way to spend Memorial Day when you don’t have (a) a swimming pool or (b) travel plans. When I need a break from the manuscript and from sitting at my computer, I’m cleaning out my closet. Again, not much fun but one of those tasks that feels great when you’re done. Kind of like creating an index, right?

 

Happy Memorial Day, everyone!

Magical Time in South Carolina

Susan Pat Conroy center signOur visit to Charleston and Beaufort, South Carolina, this past Wednesday-Sunday was nothing short of magical. In five days we ate meals at five amazing restaurants (and dinner at Cassandra Kings home in Beaufort Saturday night); did a walking tour of historic Charleston with Bill’s friend from high school who has lived in Charleston for over forty years; Bill gave two medical lectures; I had two book signings at terrific independent bookstores, Buxton Books in Charleston and Nevermore Books in Beaufort; we visited the Pat Conroy Literary Center (in Beaufort) and met Executive Director Jonathan Haupt; and I had the opportunity to meet several authors and a literary agent I admire greatly.

At Nevermore Books in Beaufort, I was joined for a reading and signing of A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be by contributors Cassandra King, Susan Marquez, and NancyKay Wessman. Owner Lorrie Anderson was a fabulous hostess!

Cassandra Susan Susan NK

My favorite restaurant was Fulton Five, in downtown Charleston. It has won the “Most Romantic Restaurant” award 17 years in a row, and the atmosphere, service, and food were amazing. We were the guests of Dan and Ilene Lackland. Dan invited Bill to Charleston to give two lectures at the Medical University of South Carolina, and they were delightful hosts.

oysters at AmenOutdoor dining on the front porch at Cru Café and the patio at Blossom, both also dowtown Charleston, were both wonderful. At Cru we dined with Bill’s high school friends, Bill and Sally Wallace. At Blossom we were joined by Julien and Polly Buxton, owners of Buxton Books in Charleston.

Lunch at Amen Street (just Bill and I) was another favorite outing, with She Crab Soup and East Coast Oysters on the Halfshell. Breakfast Saturday morning with our friend (from Memphis) Julia Alissandratos was at Café Framboise, a short walk from Julia’s house near downtown Charleston. And I had lunch with author friend Nicole Seitz at Napa in Mount Pleasant, where Nicole lives, on Friday.

The (surprising) good news is that I only gained ½ pound! Maybe the walking helped.

Meeting John Warley at Nevermore Books in Beaufort

Meeting John Warley at Nevermore Books in Beaufort

Among the authors I met in Beaufort was John Warley, who wrote A Southern Girl, which I read last year, and loved. John and his wife adopted a daughter from South Korea, and the book is about some of the events circling around the social milieu in Charleston. Wonderful book and a delightful man. I can’t wait to see what he writes next.

0cc6d8_6728dfa9946a4d518af1d73afe67813dA Southern Girl was published by Story River Books, an imprint of the University of South Carolina Press, which was started by Pat Conroy.

So, why do I say it was “magical”? The trip combined so many of my favorite things in five short days: coastal sunsets, delicious seafood, bookstores, writers, old and new friendships, and several stimulating conversations with people who are very much in tune with their spiritual lives. I came home refreshed and renewed, as though I had been on a retreat. And inspired to get back to work on my next novel (which is in my head but only a few pages are drafted so far).

With my spring book tour winding down this week (17 events in 6 states in 3 months) and only one event scheduled for June/July, my plan is to use those first hot months of summer to stay inside with butt in chair and get a good chunk of this next book written. This is the hard part, but books don’t write themselves while we’re out having fun on tour. Stay tuned….

With Polly Buxton at Buxton Books in Charleston, signing for Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer's

With Polly Buxton at Buxton Books in Charleston, signing for Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s AND A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be

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