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.

Ten Favorite Things about the Southern Festival of Books

Thanks to Parnassus Books of Nashville for selling our books at the festival!

Thanks to Parnassus Books of Nashville for selling our books at the festival!

This past weekend I traveled to Nashville, Tennessee, for the 29th Annual Southern Festival of Books. The only other time I had been was in 2012, when I was on a panel with Jennifer Horne, Wendy Reed, Marshall Chapman, and Rheta Grimsley Johnson for the anthology, Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality. It was great to return as an author for my novel Cherry Bomb.

Nashville is a great city, and I always enjoy my visits. This time I wasn’t able to take in any of the sites and sounds (I love country music!) other than those happening at the Festival itself. Back in 2012 one of my favorite things was an evening “in the round” (literary readings and music) at the Blue Bird Café. Didn’t make it to the Blue Bird this trip, so I’ll share my “10 favorite things” about the Festival itself.

panel with Jamie Logan James Cherry Jordan Evans

Jamie Logan (moderator), authors Susan Cushman and James Cherry, and moderator Jordan Renee Evans

 

1. Being on a panel for CHERRY BOMB, with fellow Tennessee author James E. Cherry (funny that his name is Cherry, right?) Our panel was titled “The Path to Publishing: Tennessee Debut Novelists,” although James’s novel EDGE OF THE WIND is actually his second. He and I both have published in other genres, including poetry and short stories (for James) and memoir and anthologies (for me). We also have both been published in a variety of independent presses, so we were asked to talk about our journeys to publishing, which was lots of fun. There were quite a few writers in the audience, who were seeking information about how to get their work published, so it was a very interactive session. Our moderators are both graduate students in the MFA Creative Writing program at the University of Memphis—Jamie Logan and Jordan Renee Evans—and they did a terrific job.

with Karissa Sorrell2. Signing copies of CHERRY BOMB for readers who purchased them. And getting to know them, if only briefly, and why they are interested in my book. It is so humbling and gratifying after working for years on the book, to finally see others appreciate it! It was great to see my old high school classmate (from Jackson, Mississippi) Cecil Ross. Some of those readers are friends I’ve known in Nashville for a few years, and it was great to see them again, like the talented poet and author Karissa Knox Sorrell, whom I actually met in person at the 2012 festival. Karissa, as well as others who came to my panel, like Bertie Hamilton DeWane and Marianne Robbins, are Orthodox Christians like me, so they have a special interest in some of the spiritual themes in the book, including the weeping icon of Saint Mary of Egypt.

River gives good hugs!

River gives good hugs!

3. My live interview with author and radio host River Jordan on Clearstory Radio. Jordan and I have been friends for about ten years, and we recently did a signing together at Barnes and Noble in Brentwood, Tennessee with local author Kathy Rhodes. River and Kathy had both contributed essays to an anthology I edited, A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be. And River has also contributed an essay to another anthology I’m editing, Southern Writers on Writing (coming from University Press of Mississippi in 2018). In 2010 we traveled together to the Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend in Texas, where she was a featured author and I was her guest. I’m so excited to be returning to that amazing event this January as an author. River and I talked about my banner year of publishing three books, and a little bit about each of them. She asked about my experience working with different publishers and editors, like Joe Lee of Dogwood Press, who published CHERRY BOMB. CLICK HERE TO LISTEN to the interview—it’s about 15 minutes long.

It's so much fun being interviewed by Clearstory Radio host River Jordan!

It’s so much fun being interviewed by Clearstory Radio host River Jordan!

 

Kathy Susan4. Visiting with fellow authors from all around the South that I rarely get to see. And even to meet a couple of them in person for the first time, although we’ve been chatting on Facebook for several years! Kathy Rhodes was anchoring a tent for Middle Tennessee Authors. We’ve been friends since about 2008, and we co-directed the 2010 and 2013 Creative Nonfiction Conferences in Oxford, Mississippi (with Neil White). Kathy is a terrific author and workshop leader and friend. I especially loved her 2013 memoir Remember the Dragonflies: A Memoir of Grief and Healing.

5. The next fellow author I ran into was Brenda McClain, who was enjoying some fine tunes at the outdoor music tent when I found her Saturday morning. Her novel One Good Mama Bone was released by Story River Press, an imprint of the University of South Carolina Press founded by Pat Conroy. Brenda is a South Carolina native, and I’m looking forward to being with her again in January at (you guessed it) the Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend.

Enjoying the breeze at the outdoor music venue with South Carolina author Brenda McClain

Enjoying the breeze at the outdoor music venue with South Carolina author Brenda McClain

 

6. Later I met Georgia native and fellow author Karen Spears Zacharias. Karen and I share a publisher—Mercer University Press published her recent novel Christian Bend, and also my anthology A Second Blooming. We visited briefly between my interview and hers with River at the Clearstory Radio venue at the top of the colonnade, overlooking some of the festival tents. What a joyful spirit she has!

Karen Spears Zacharias and I share a publisher: Mercer Universitiy Press!

Karen Spears Zacharias and I share a publisher: Mercer University Press. It was windy up on those Collonade steps!

 

7. I didn’t have photo ops with everyone, but it was also great to see fellow Jackson, Mississippi native (we were in high school together in the 1960s!) Corabel Shofner at the authors’ reception. Bel was on a panel for her middle grade novel Almost Paradise. Also shared a brief hug with my friend Beth Ann Fennelly (Poet Laureate of Mississippi) who was at the festival to talk about her latest book Heating & Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs. Oh, and finally meeting festival director Serenity Gerbman! And a short visit in the authors’ hospitality lounge with North Carolina native Shari Smith, a fellow contributor to the anthology The Shoe Burnin’: Stories of Southern Soul (River Edge Media 2013). Shari is the creator of Trio, a traveling exhibit of art and songs inspired by books. Speaking of which….

8. “The Conroy Center Porch Talk” (a live podcast) was great fun. Moderated by Jonathan Haupt, director of the Pat Conroy Literary Center in Beaufort, South Carolina, Jonathan welcomed author Wiley Cash, talking about his recent book The Last Ballad, and singer-songwriter Radney Foster, who performed an original song he wrote about The Last Ballad for the Trio project. 

Jonathan Haupt introducing Wiley Cash

Jonathan Haupt introducing Wiley Cash

 

Singer-songwriter Radney Foster

Singer-songwriter Radney Foster

th9. Javaka Steptoe, artist and author of award-winning children’s books, gave a wonderful talk about his latest work Radiant Child, about Jean-Michel Basquiat, who  actually makes a cameo appearance in my novel CHERRY BOMB! There’s a scene where Mare, the young protagonist, is watching an MTV video of Blondie and Fab Five Freddy, and Basquiat is in the background throwing up graffiti. Steptoe was a great presenter and I love the book.

10. My “parting shot” for the Festival is a group of street dancers I enjoyed watching as I walked from my panel in the Nashville Public Library to the author signing tent, which was right next to the Parnassus book tent. (Thanks to Parnassus for selling our books!) I missed the start of their dance, so I didn’t quite get the significance of the articles of clothing strewn across the pavement, which they picked up at the end of the dance. But the music was haunting and I always enjoy dance.

That’s a wrap for the 29th Annual Southern Festival of Books. Hope to return next year for their 30th year celebration!

Southern Festival of Books: Saturday Schedule

SFB Final Update RESIZED FOR WEBThe 29th annual Southern Festival of Books kicked off in Nashville today! I’m heading over early tomorrow morning (sad to miss some great panels today, including my friend Beth Ann Fennelly talking about her new book Heating and Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs at 1 p.m. today) where I’ll be on a panel for my novel CHERRY BOMB, and also hope to make it to several others. It’s been five years since my first panel at the Festival, back in 2012, for Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality, with Wendy Reed, Jennifer Horne, Marshall Chapman, and Rheta Grimsley Johnson. Can’t wait to get back there!

Here’s my tentative schedule for Saturday afternoon and evening: (full schedule for the festival on Saturday is HERE)

12:30 p.m. – 1:30 p.m. – “Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat” (Basquiat is featured briefly in an MTV video I reference in my novel CHERRY BOMB, since my protag is a graffiti artist). I’d love to hear this panel and buy the book….

1:30 p.m. – Conroy Center Porch Talk – live podcast taping with Wiley Cash

3:00 p.m. – Youth in Search of Hope: Two Middle Grade Novels features my fellow highschool friend (from Jackson, Mississippi) Corabel Shofner and her book, Almost Paradise. I’m hoping to be there for the first half of the panel, before heading to my panel:

4:00 p.m. – The Path to Publishing: Tennessee Debut Novelists (Susan Cushman and  James E. Cherry) where I’ll be talking about my novel CHERRY BOMB, as well as my journey to publishing three books in one year, with three different indie publishers. We’ll be in the Special Collections Room of the Nashville Public Library.

5:00 p.m. – I’ll be signing copies of CHERRY BOMB at the signing venue.

6:30 p.m. – Authors’ reception!

8:30 p.m. – Literary Death Match (Beth Ann Fennelly is a contestant!)

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Mississippi’s Poet Laureate Waxes Eloquent on Poetry and Prose

In lieu of an original blog post today, I encourage you to read this wonderful post by my friend Beth Ann Fennelly, the Poet Laureate of Mississippi, over at the Brevity blog:

“My Affair With the Sentence.”

22282109_359766681112308_5299649755912659950_n1
Kudos to Beth Ann for her newly released book, Heating & Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs. I missed her launch at Square Books in Oxford last night, but I’m looking forward to seeing her and hearing her read at Burke’s Books in Memphis on November 7.

Inside Me

Corey Mesler reading from AMONG THE MENSANS

Corey Mesler reading from AMONG THE MENSANS

Last Thursday night I had the wonderful blessing of hearing Corey Mesler read from his latest poetry collection, Among the Mensans, at Burke’s Books here in Memphis. (Corey and his wife Cheryl own Burke’s.) Garrison Keillor read one of Corey’s poems, “Last Night I Was a Child Again in Raleigh,” on his nationally syndicated radio show, Writer’s Almanac, on September 12th.

My favorite poem that Corey read that night was “This is My Body.”

But when I got home and read the rest of the collection, I got a new favorite. I asked Corey’s permission to reprint it here. I think you’ll see why I like it so much.

Have a great week everyone!

 

among-the-mensans-finished-coverInside Me

 

By Corey Mesler

 

Inside me

there is a tiny woman

made of glass

climbing the architecture

of my bones.

When I laugh

she tinkles like a chime.

when I cry

she hides in the shadow

of my heart.

Once, on a night when
I almost lost myself,

she spoke for me.

She said, gather all the unused

words. I am about to be me.

“VOICES OF HOME” at the Mississippi Book Festival

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

VOICES OF HOME

Voices-From-Home-panel-1024x768

 

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

“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.

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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