Small Mississippi Towns and the Characters That (Might) Live There!

John Floyd's latest short story collection, THE BARRENS, coming in October!

John Floyd’s latest short story collection, THE BARRENS, coming in October!

Eleven years ago this August I went to the first Mississippi Writers Guild Conference in Clinton, Mississippi. It was pivotal for me in several ways—especially meeting Joshilyn Jackson, who inspired me to start a blog (√) and write a novel (√). I also met prolific short story author John Floyd, who critiqued the story I turned in ahead of time, “The Yellow Rose of Texas.” It was pretty awful, but he was kind and gentle with my soul in his critique. What I learned from the experience was that I just wasn’t in love with the genre. I liked the length—the average popular short story is 3500 words—but I preferred nonfiction if I was going to write short form. I went on to publish essays in a dozen or more journals and magazines and four anthologies. And then I edited two anthologies. It was so much fun putting together these collections of 20 and 26 essays by other writers.

atwtm_cover_FINAL-e1420661990558For fiction, I preferred novels. I rarely even read short stories, except for Flannery O’Conner. And then two of my friends published collections of short stories. Suzanne Hudson—who got first place in a Penthouse Magazine short story contest when she was young—came out with All the Way to Memphis in April of 2014, which I loved. These stories are southern to their core, border on gothic, and deal with abusive family members and other issues that dive into the human psyche and land in the heart. When I read them a few years ago, I mused—if only for a moment—on whether or not I could write short stories.

Wildflower.jpgThree months later my friend Jennifer Horne, who happens to be the Poet Laureate of Alabama, published a collection of “linked” short stories, Tell the World You’re a Wildflower. Jennifer already had published several volumes of poetry and had edited three anthologies, so this was a new genre for her, too. Jennifer’s stories encompass plastic surgery and white supremacists, family secrets and family trees, the United Daughters of the Confederacy and a young writer who describes her work in progress as “the bastard love-child of William Faulkner and Alice Walker.” Like Suzanne’s work, these felt like mini-novels, and I loved them.

So here I am, four years later, trying my hand at writing a collection of linked short stories! FRIENDS OF THE LIBRARY was inspired by my visits to libraries in eight small towns in Mississippi (seven of those visits in 2017 and one this year) to speak to the Friends of the Library groups. I spoke to seven groups about my novel CHERRY BOMB, and to one group about my memoir TANGLES AND PLAQUES: A MOTHER AND DAUGHTER FACE ALZHEIMER’S. These road trips into rural areas and small towns of my home state made an impression on me in ways I wasn’t expecting. I read the histories of each town, took in the landscape, and loved meeting the people, who ultimately inspired the characters in my short story collection, although my stories and the characters are completely fictional.

Aberdeen, Mississippi

Aberdeen, Mississippi

I’ve finished drafting seven of the stories, and I’m up to 34,267 words. And here’s the fun part. I’ve heard lots of writers say that when they are writing, their characters “take on a life of their own” and that they don’t know what they’re going to do next. They talk as if they’re just writing down what they see happening, rather than controlling the plot. I always rolled my eyes when I heard them say things like that. (Queue Twilight Zone music, right?) But guess what? That’s exactly what’s happening as I draft these stories! I did create a rough one-paragraph description of each of the stories before I started writing, but the characters’ lives are, indeed, taking off in all sorts of directions I wasn’t expecting. I’ve never had so much fun writing!

But just because I’m having fun doesn’t mean the stories are funny. They are heavy-hitting, dealing with Alzheimer’s, alcohol, cancer, domestic abuse, adoption, race, homelessness, childhood sexual abuse, and eating disorders. So far. (My final two stories might deal with suicide and/or schizophrenia, and one might even include a kidnapping.) The towns I visited, where the stories are set, include Eupora, West Point, Aberdeen, Starkville, Southaven, Oxford, Senatobia, and Pontotoc. It’s interesting, when I look at a map, that none of the towns are in the Mississippi Delta or the Mississippi Gulf Coast, where I have given readings at bookstores but haven’t visited libraries. That might be something to explore in the future.

I’m off to Pontotoc—in my mind—to finish the story I set there. I can’t wait to see what Robert Earl does next. I’m just trying to keep up!

Book Clubs, Continued, and Working Title Reveal

Library Sign STOP ABERDEEN

Aberdeen, Mississippi

Ironincally, today I find myself visiting book clubs and even doing video chats via Skype and Face Time with clubs in other cities and states to discuss books that I have written. Most of the clubs I have spoken with are reading a lot of contemporary books, which I enjoy more than the classics. A couple of weeks ago I met with a group in my own neighborhood, here in Harbor Town on the Mississippi River in downtown Memphis. There were about eighteen women there, ranging in age from their thirties to their seventies (my guess) from all walks of life. Some were retired or stay-at-home moms. Others were still involved in busy careers at colleges and hospitals and other pursuits. They all read voraciously, and sixteen of the eighteen who were present at the meeting had read my novel Cherry Bomb. (The other two bought a copy of it from me after the meeting!) The discussion was intelligent—one woman even asked a question about a choice I made to introduce two characters by name early in the book and then never return to them later—a mistake I wish I could correct. They were enthusiastic about the book, which was rewarding for me as an author.

Friends of Library STARKVILLE

Friends of the Library, Starkville, Mississippi

 

ASB and CB w crownOf course the most exciting experience I’ve had with book clubs was speaking on two panels at the annual Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend in Nacogdoches, Texas last month. There are over 700 chapters of PQ book clubs all over the world, and their found, Kathy Murphy, reads a couple of hundred books a year to choose their monthly selections for the coming year. The anthology I edited, A Second Blooming, was chosen as their selection for February this year, and Cherry Bomb was chosen to be a “bonus book” for March. So hopefully there are lots of women reading these two books right now! I’ve already had two phone-chat meetings via Face Time with two of those book clubs (both in Texas) already, and I’ve got another one scheduled for next week with a group in Nevada! Gotta’ love technology.

At the library in Oxford, Mississippi: Ed Croom, Neil White, Gayle Henry, and Mary Ann Bowen

At the library in Oxford, Mississippi: Ed Croom, Neil White, Gayle Henry, and Mary Ann Bowen

I know I’ve blogged about my trips to the six Friends of the Library groups in small towns all over Mississippi last year (and I’ve got another one coming up on March 8 in Pontotoc and then one more on March 20 at the main library here in Memphis). They operate pretty much like most traditional book clubs, although they try to bring in speakers as often as possible, and they don’t always read the same book each month.
As much as I enjoy giving reads at bookstores and being on panels at literary festivals and conferences (and I LOVE doing both!), there’s something very intimate about being welcomed by a group of people who meet monthly to discuss books.

 

All this to say that although I haven’t been in a book club in many years, I am so thrilled to see this format for social and literary fellowship is thriving. Here’s what my schedule of meeting with book clubs in 2017 and 2018 looks like, so far. And I’m hoping to get invitations from more clubs as the year progresses! Contact me at sjcushman@gmail.com about visiting your book club in person or by Face Time!

August 29, 2017: Senatobia Library/Senatobia, MS

October 9, 2017: Friends of the Library/Eupora, MS

November 6, 1027: Women of St. John Orthodox Church/Memphis, TN

November 9, 2017: Friends of the Library/Starkville, MS

November 13, 2017: Book Club in Sugarland, TX (Face Time)

November 14, 2017: Friends of the Library/Oxford, MS

November 15, 2017: Friends of the Library/Aberdeen, MS

December 7, 2017: Friends of the Library/West Point, MS

January 4, 2018: Friends of the Library/Southaven, MS

February 6, 2018: Harbor Town Book Club/Memphis, TN

February 14, 2018: Rosemary Book Club/Ripley, TN

March 8, 2018: Friends of the Library/Pontotoc, MS

March 20, 2018: Books and Beyond, main library/Memphis, TN

October 1, 2018: Women of St. John Orthodox Church/Memphis, TN

And now for the “working title big reveal” …. My new work-in-progress is a collection of four to six (more or less) novellas or long short stories inspired by my visits to those small towns in Mississippi. Working title? FRIENDS OF THE LIBRARY! Stay tuned….

Prayer Beads and Weeping Icons

ASB CoverI’m off to Nacogdoches, Texas, on Thursday for the 2018 Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend, where as many as several hundred members of Pulpwood Queens book clubs from all over the country gather every year, along with several dozen authors. I’m on two panels:

Thursday, 7 p.m. A SECOND BLOOMING: BECOMING THE WOMEN WE ARE MEANT TO BE. This is the anthology I edited, published last March, and it has been chosen as the book club selection for February by the Pulpwood Queens. Several contributors will be joining me on the panel: Julie Cantrell, River Jordan, NancyKay Wessman, and Susan Marquez. Memphis author Suzanne Henley won’t be there, but she will be there in spirit. Suzanne’s essay, “Beyond This Point There Be Dragons,” is included in the collection. And she has a book coming out this March: BEAD BY BEAD: THE ANCIENT WAY OF PRAYING MADE NEW. It’s part memoir, part spiritual journal, part “how to pray with Protestant prayer beads.”

Bead by Bead FULLCover_need Spine

 

Prayer BeadsThere’s an auction during the weekend to raise money for the Pat Conroy Literary Center in Beaufort, South Carolina. Suzanne has contributed a hand-made set of her prayer beads, which I’ll be taking with me to the auction on Thursday. The beads she uses are from all over the world, some as ancient as 200 B.C. She includes a beautifully written description and inspirational note to go with each set. She has dedicated this set to author Julie Cantrell, who has inspired Suzanne, and who also wrote a wonderful blurb for BEAD BY BEAD. Julie is also on a panel for her novel PERENNIALS during the weekend.

Prayer Beads notes

On Saturday afternoon at 2:12 I’ll be on a panel for my novel CHERRY BOMB, which is one of the Pulpwood Queens book club selections for March. And I’m contributing an item for the auction, as well. It’s an 8 X 8 inch canvas print of the “weeping” icon of Saint Mary of Egypt that I painted… the one that appears on the back cover of the book. CB cover FINALIn CHERRY BOMB, the icon is weeping for women who have been abused (including the three main characters in the book). The icon I painted isn’t actually weeping, but my daughter-in-law See Cushman added the “tears” using Photoshop. I hope that it will be a blessing to whoever buys it during the auction.

 

Mary of Egypt weeping

 

 

I can’t wait to spend the weekend with these amazing women, sharing our love for books! The theme this year is “Bohemian Rhapsody,” so watch for some pictures on Facebook with lots of fun costumes!

Don’t Look Back (My first post of 2018!)

Jan 1 quoteThis morning I’m sharing another card from the Bright Ideas quote cards my daughter-in-law See Cushman put in my Christmas stocking this year… and another wonderful quote from the book A Woman’s Book of Inspiration that my daughter Beth Cushman Davis gave me. Here’s the quote from A Woman’s Book:

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.—Eleanor Roosevelt

2 calendarsIt felt really good to set aside my 2017 desk calendar this morning, as I’ve been using both that one and the 2018 calendar for several months now. How much simpler to only have to keep up with one year for a while! January looks promising, with three events scheduled for my novel CHERRY BOMB—in Mississippi, Texas, and back home in Memphis. Also a fun weekend in Little Rock, co-hosting a wedding shower for my friend Daphne’s daughter, Hallie. Somehow, in between those engagements, I hope to get started on my next book, as I had set January as the time I would begin a new project. 2017 was such a banner year for me, with three books published…. But I can’t just look back and rest on those achievements. I hope to continue to believe in the beauty of my dreams.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

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

9,806 Miles

Susan signs Pass Books

Signing CHERRY BOMB at Pass Books in Pass Christian, Mississippi (with a view of the ocean)

 

As we near the end of 2017, I thought it would be fun to take a look back at my book tour travels this year. It was incredible to have three books published within six months (February, March, and August) but it did present a marketing challenge. I am so thankful to the bookstores (independents and big box stores) who welcomed me for 2-3 visits during the year to read from my books. And to the Friends of the Library groups, book clubs, and friends who hosted me for private salons in their homes. I’ve already added the miles I’ll be driving in December (I have 6 more events in December for Cherry Bomb), and the total for the year will be 9,806 miles (in ten months, March through December). That’s an average of 980 miles/month that I drove for book tours this year! Here’s a recap of those events:

With my author friend River Jordan, just before she interviewed me at the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville for Clearstory Radio

With my author friend River Jordan, just before she interviewed me at the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville for Clearstory Radio

21 events for Cherry Bomb

12 events for Tangles and Plaques

9 events for A Second Blooming

 

At the Pat Conroy Literary Center in Beaufort, South Carolina, just before a reading of A SECOND BLOOMING with Cassandra King, NancyKay Wessman, and Susan Marquez at Nevermore Books

At the Pat Conroy Literary Center in Beaufort, South Carolina, just before a reading of A SECOND BLOOMING with Cassandra King, NancyKay Wessman, and Susan Marquez at Nevermore Books

Visited 16 cities/towns and 9 states

 

Skyped with a book club in Texas

 

Types of events/venues:

 

Bookstores:  18

 

Libraries (Friends of the Library groups and/or book clubs): 6

 

Book clubs in homes: 4

 

Celebrating with Beth Ann Fennelly (Poet Laureate of Mississippi) at the Mississippi Book Festival

Celebrating with Beth Ann Fennelly (Poet Laureate of Mississippi) at the Mississippi Book Festival

Book Festivals (in 3 states): 3

 

Private salons in homes: 2

 

Community College Women’s Conference: 1

 

Alzheimer’s Support Group: 1

 

Music & Books event at bar/restaurant: 1

 

Memphis Botanic Gardens: 1

 

With Memphis contributors to A SECOND BLOOMING at our launch at the Memphis Botanic Gardens: me, Jen Bradner, Ellen Morris Prewitt, Sally Thomason, and Susan Henley

With Memphis contributors to A SECOND BLOOMING at our launch at the Memphis Botanic Gardens: me, Jen Bradner, Ellen Morris Prewitt, Sally Thomason, and Susan Henley

In 2018 I’m looking forward to adding to those miles and events as I travel to Nacogdoches, Texas for the Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend in January—where I’m on panels for both Cherry Bomb and A Second Blooming—and then finish up my Cherry Bomb tour at a few more events in Memphis and Mississippi.

In 1988, as I was leaving my home town of Jackson, Mississippi, to move to Memphis—and especially as I was leaving the aerobic dance business that I directed for several years in my thirties—the song that brought tears to my eyes most often was “I’ve Had the Time of My Life.” It might sound silly, but running that aerobic dance business was one of the first things I ever did that made me feel really good about myself, so it was difficult to leave it. The lyrics are running through my head this morning as I think about how wonderful this year has been, and I’m so thankful to have realized this part of my dream as a writer.

Wooden Sidewalks (Eupora, Mississippi)

Mr. Carl Ray, Murrah High School, Jackson, Mississippi, 1969

Mr. Carl Ray, Murrah High School, Jackson, Mississippi, 1969

When I was a student at Murrah High School in Jackson, Mississippi (1966-1969) I had a guidance counselor named Carl Ray. Mr. Ray was very formal in his speech and demeanor—even a bit stuffy. And we were an odd pairing, since I was an academic “rebel” of sorts. It’s not that I was a complete slouch—I finished 67th in a class of 407. But there were quite a few National Merit finalists and scholars ahead of me on that list, and frankly, I didn’t really care. I wasn’t on the fast track to academic excellence. I was more interested in other things.

Feature writer, Murrah "Hoofbeat," 1966-67

Feature writer, Murrah “Hoofbeat,” 1966-67

Beginning with my sophomore year (first year for our high school) when I got a part in the school’s production of “Our Town,” and also nabbed a position as feature writer on the school newspaper, “The Hoofbeat.” During my junior and senior years I majored in the arts, painting stage scenery for our musical production of “L’il Abner” while continuing with the newspaper, as advertising manager and finally business manager. Did I mention that I made it all the way through high school without taking any classes in science or languages? And only minimal mathematics courses? I loved English, and my senior year I had a terrific teacher who focused on composition and taught me to revise my work. So how did my path put me at odds with my guidance counselor?

A scene from "Our Town," in which I played "Rebecca," younger sister of "George," played by my brother Mike. Murrah High School 1966.

A scene from “Our Town,” in which I played “Rebecca,” younger sister of “George,” played by my brother Mike. Murrah High School 1966.

I remember being called into Mr. Ray’s office once (well, more than once) to talk about my schedule for the following year, which would have been my senior year. He expressed concern because I didn’t have any science courses. I reminded him that I took biology in the 9th grade, and that was the last year of science that was required to graduate. He was miffed because most students who skip 9th grade science in order to take biology are on the advanced route—they do this in order to take three advanced science courses in high school. I did it to get out of one year of science. He couldn’t make me take more. But what about language and accelerated math? I wasn’t interested in either. I padded my schedule with advanced art, journalism, and home economics, which I scheduled during lunch so I could take my own food and warm it up in the classroom’s kitchen. Poor Mr. Ray was frustrated with my lack of academic motivation.

Some of the students in our school made fun of Mr. Ray for being from the small town of Eupora, Mississippi. I remember hearing them ask him if they had wooden sidewalks in Eupora. I never gave it another thought until October 9, when I drove down to Webster County to speak to the Friends of the Library group there.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEupora has a population of about 2500 people, living on 5.6 square miles of land. It’s amazing that they even have a library, although it’s only open three days a week and has one part-time employee and a couple of volunteers. I wasn’t sure what to expect as I drove through this tiny town and found the library. The drive itself was easy—straight down I-55 from Memphis to Winona, and then a few miles east on Highway 82. Cotton fields popped up on both sides of the highway as I gradually stepped back in time. Eupora was designated a Historic District on the National Register in 2011. The railroad depot, built in 1885, is the oldest surviving building in the town. And yes, there are wooden sidewalks.

wooden sidewalks

But there are also a number of avid readers, including some retired school teachers, in the very active Webster County Friends of the Library group. 14 of them showed up for my reading. Before the meeting started, I asked a couple of the ladies if they knew a man named Carl Ray. They immediately lit up and began telling me his story. He was Superintendent of Education in Eupora before he moved to Jackson to work with the public schools there. They adored him. Eventually he retired back home in Eupora, and had only passed away a couple of years ago. One woman had visited his 90-something-year-old widow in the nursing home just the day before I arrived in Eupora. I told them he had been my guidance counselor in high school, and they all said how lucky I was to have had him. I just smiled and agreed with their assessment of him.

Meanwhile we gathered in a tiny room in the back of the library where three tables were decorated with fall and Halloween décor. I was set up with a podium from which I gave a reading and led a discussion about my novel CHERRY BOMB. They asked very informed questions and several folks purchased copies of the book and asked me to sign them. The group even bought a copy for the library. “Miss Betty” had prepared our lunch, which was served on paper plates at our tables—ham and cheese and pimento cheese sandwiches on white bread with the crust cut off, potato chips, soft drinks, and homemade pies for dessert. As I visited with these folks I thought about how far removed their lives were from “Mare,”the young run-away graffiti artist in CHERRY BOMB, Elaine deKooning, the famous abstract expressionist painter, the Orthodox nuns and the weeping icons. Maybe I brought a little bit of color into their lives with the stories I shared. They certainly enriched my life that day in Eupora, Mississippi, and I gained a greater appreciation for Mr. Carl Ray. May he rest in peace.

Book Tour, the Beach and Praying With Icons

On the porch at Sundog Books in Seaside

On the porch at Sundog Books in Seaside

Good morning from Seagrove Beach, Florida… my favorite place on earth! My husband and I are here in the middle of my Alabama/Florida books tour for CHERRY BOMB, as well as a little fall vacation time. The high today is 77 and it’s sunny all week. Yesterday I signed copies of CHERRY BOMB on the front porch at Sundog Books in Seaside, and tomorrow I’ll be signing at The Hidden Lantern in Rosemary Beach. Thursday we’ll head over to Fairhope, Alabama, for my reading at 2 p.m. at Page and Palette, and an after-party thrown by my friend Ren Hinote. Meanwhile we’re enjoying walks on the beach and lots of good seafood. (We also had a great time at a “choose your own cover” event at the Capitol Oyster Bar in Montgomery, Alabama, on Saturday afternoon, with music, great oysters and shrimp, and customers got to choose one of our books with the price of their cover charge for the event.)

My friend from Little Rock—Joanna Seibert—is “blogging a book,” and invited me to contribute two guest posts on her blog as part of her project. Joanna was inducted in to the Arkansas Hall of Fame in August. She asked me to start with a quote, add an image, and write a short reflection on the quote. She also asked if I would write about praying with icons, which I did. I hope you enjoy both of these posts:

PRAYING WITH ICONS

MORE ICONS: SANCTIFYING THE SENSE OF SIGHT

I’ll close with a few pics. I have to go now… the beach is calling!

Authors and musicians at the Capitol Oyster Bar in Montgomery, Alabama

Authors and musicians at the Capitol Oyster Bar in Montgomery, Alabama

 

Susan 30A yoga

CHERRY BOMB Book Tour Continues: ALABAMA and FLORIDA!

What a great time I had last weekend on the Mississippi Gulf Coast! It started with a live interview on WLOX Biloxi TV (for CHERRY BOMB) on Friday afternoon (October 20) followed by a reading/signing at Pass Christian Books and Cat Island Coffee House right on the beach at Pass Christian, Mississippi on Saturday afternoon, October 21. The weekend was enhanced by a visit from our oldest son, Jon, my hosts Hardy and Katherine Thames (she’s my Goddaughter), and a lovely after-party at the home and interior design studio of Al and Cathy Lawson in Bay St. Louis, and an early dinner (royal reds for me!) at The Blind Tiger on the water in Bay St. Louis. Oh, and Sunday morning’s 16th birthday breakfast for Mary Thames and family at the Harbor View Café in Long Beach, Mississippi. (See more photos at the end of this post.)

Group Pass Books

Laura Beth Hebbler (Ocean Springs), Hardy and Katherine Thames (Gulfport), me, Jon Cushman (our oldest son, who lives in New Orleans), and Cathy Lawson (Bay St.Louis)

 

I’m having a great time touring the South to share my joy over my novel CHERRY BOMB. Having already been to 7 venues in Tennessee and Mississippi (with 7 more events scheduled in Mississippi in November and December and 2 more scheduled in Memphis so far) I’m off on a fun road trip with my husband tomorrow. We’re combining his career and mine, starting with two days in Franklin, Tennessee, where he’s speaking at a medical meeting, and we’re having dinner with one of our nephews, and I’m having lunch with a writer friend. Then we’re combining a fall beach vacation with three book events for me. Here’s the schedule for my appearances along the Florida Gulf Coast and the Eastern Shore of the Mobile Bay:

Saturday, October 28 (2-5:30 p.m.)—“Choose Your Own Cover” music and literary event at the Capitol Oyster Bar in Montgomery, Alabama. Patrons will pay $15 cover charge for some great music and will choose from five authors’ books. I’m so excited to be joining Alabama authors Suzanne Hudson, Joe Formichella, Marlin Barton, Loretta Cobb, and William Cobb. And we’ll all be enjoining the musical talents of Chris Clifton and Gove Scrivenor. My husband and I visited the Oyster Bar last April and enjoyed some of the best oyster and Argentine shrimp (yes!) ever. Can’t wait to be back there on Saturday!

Monday, October 30 (4-6 p.m.)Sundog Books, Seaside, Florida, where I’ll be signing copies of CHERRY BOMB on the front porch of this terrific bookstore in a legendary town. (And meeting up with old Memphis friends afterwards at the Great Southern Café next door!)

Wednesday, November 1 (4-5:30 p.m.)—The Hidden Lantern Bookstore in scenic Rosemary Beach, Florida. After my book signing, I hope to head across 30-A to one of my favorite places, La Crema

Thursday, November 2 (2-3 p.m.)Page & Palette in Fairhope, Alabama. This will be my second event at this wonderful bookstore, which hosted me back in April for my first book, Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s.  Can’t wait to read and sign CHERRY BOMB for the good (and very literary) people of Fairhope. And many thanks to my friend Ren Hinote, who is hosting an after-party in her home in nearby Montrose.

Watch for pictures on Facebook, and thanks, always, for reading. I hope to see some of you along the tour!

Susan at register Pass Books

Beautiful views at the Cat Island Coffee Shop inside Pass Christian Books!

Beautiful views at the Cat Island Coffee Shop inside Pass Christian Books!

Hugging my son, Jon, whom I hadn't seen in six months.

Hugging my son, Jon, whom I hadn’t seen in six months.

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