“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!

Finding Home: The Bookshop at Water’s End

The-Bookshop-at-Waters-End-624x936This morning I finished reading my 29th book of 2017, New York Times Bestselling Author Patti Callahan Henry’s latest novel, The Bookshop at Water’s End.

I met Patti back in 2010 at the Girlfriend Weekend, the annual conference of the Pulpwood Queens Books Clubs. This is Patti’s 13th novel, and she’s won lots of awards for her work over the years.

The Bookshop at Water’s End has all the hallmarks of a classic Patti Callahan Henry novel… old friends returning to a place that holds special memories, helping each other heal from life’s wounds; towns with a strong sense of place, and strong women struggling to find themselves. As Patti writes in “The Story Behind the Story”:

And I wanted the same geography for my characters in The Bookshop At Water’s End, for women who were coming home to themselves. So I offered them a summer-home that echoed their life destinies, conflicts, secrets and tragedies.

I asked: When things don’t work out the way we desire, when our life is upended and change is forced upon us, where do we turn? Hopefully to a sense of home within, to that soul-place that is immovable and strong and waiting for us.

Patti’s writing reminds me of my friend Julie Cantrell’s books. Both women dive deeply into the psyches of their characters—often sharing insights into the damage done by abuse, abandonment, bad choices, and bad luck, but also the importance of relationships in healing that damage. I also see similarities of style with some of the works of another friend, Nicole Seitz, whom I also met back at the Girlfriend Weekend in 2010 and visited this past May when I was in Charleston. (Nicole’s latest book, The Cage Maker, is on my to-read stack now!) I’m excited that all three of these wonderful southern authors have contributed essays to the anthology I’m editing, Southern Writers on Writing (University Press of Mississippi) coming in 2018. And I can’t wait to be with all of them in January at the 2018 Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend, where I’ll be on panels for my novel Cherry Bomb and the anthology A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be. I’m honored to hang out around the edges of the circle of great writers that they are!

I’m not in a book club, but I enjoyed the “questions for discussion” at the end of Patti’s book. Question Number 11 was especially thought-provoking for me:

Home. All of these characters are trying to identify and find “home.” Is this a place? A house? A group of people? A feeling? A town?

I think I’ve been looking for this my whole life. Probably because my family of origin was very dysfunctional, and so I looked for that feeling of comfort elsewhere. I think it can be a place, or a group of people—what Patti calls a “tribe”—or maybe a feeling. I looked for it but never found it in high school. I looked for it again in my sorority at Ole Miss in 1969, but I left college after one year for an early marriage. Then I looked for it with a group of people who started a church in our apartment when we were newlyweds, and I found it for awhile, but with it came more dysfunction, as is often true in these cult-like groups. I looked for it in my marriage, and now after 47 years, I’m finding my “tribe of two” is growing stronger. I looked for it in cities and towns, and have envied what looks like such a strong presence of community in places like Seaside, Florida and Fairhope, Alabama. My little neighborhood on the Mississippi River in downtown Memphis—“Harbor Town”—has come closer to feeling like home than anywhere I’ve ever lived, and for that I’m thankful. I’ve looked for it in friendships and writing groups and churches, and some of it is there in each of these places. But I think I’m finding “home” in my own writing, and most of all within myself as I grow older and become more comfortable in my own skin. In that sense, Patti, maybe “home” really is a feeling.

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!

FullSizeRender

CHERRY BOMB Sneak Preview!

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

Cherry Bomb

by Susan Cushman

Prologue -1981

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

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

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

            What a rush.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHERRY DROPS ANOTHER BOMB!

CHERRY BOMB: Successful Launch and Early Reviews!

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

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

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

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

With Beth Ann Fennelly at the author reception

With Beth Ann Fennelly at the author reception

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

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

AMAZON REVIEWS:

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

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

“Great debut novel” (5 STARS)

“I loved it” (5 STARS)

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Voices From Home panel

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

Moderating the "Her Story" panel

Moderating the “Her Story” panel

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

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

with my publisher Joe Lee and fellow Dogwood Press authors

with my publisher Joe Lee and fellow Dogwood Press authors

The Glass Castle

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

 The-Glass-Castle

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

Prepping

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

 

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

 

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

Mary Ann Connell, An Unforseen Life: A Memoir

Jessica B. Harris, My Soul Looks Back

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

Returning to the Mississippi Delta

I grew up in Jackson, Mississippi, coming of age in the 1950s and ’60s. It wasn’t until my freshman year at Ole Miss (1969-70) that I met people who lived in the Mississippi Delta. Several of my sorority sisters in Delta Delta Delta, as well as a close friend who lived in my dorm, were from Greenwood, Greenville, Indianola, and other small towns in this mystical part of our state. I say “mystical” because it always held a certain sway over my imagination. Going home with a girl from my pledge class to visit her family one weekend confirmed what I thought—her family’s stately homestead harked back to an era I had only read about.

contUp-img5Also during that year at Ole Miss I remember driving over to Greenville with my fiancé and some friends to eat at Doe’s Eat Place, famous for their steaks and down home atmosphere.

During the 1980s, my best friend in Jackson took me home with her to visit her family in Indianola. That was only the second time I spent the night in a Delta home. Her parents weren’t part of the “landed gentry.” They were hard-working middle class folks who owned and managed a sandwich business—rising early to prepare hundreds of fresh sandwiches for local schools and convenience stores. I watched this production one morning with much respect for their work ethic. They were such gracious people.

 

The beautiful interior at Turnrow Books in Greenwood, Mississippi

The beautiful interior at Turnrow Books in Greenwood, Mississippi

Fast forward about thirty years to my next trip to the Delta, around 2010. My husband was invited to speak to a group of physicians, who put the two of us up at the Alluvian Hotel in Greenwood. What a fun experience! Viking was just putting in their cooking school and retail store, which wasn’t open yet, so I wandered around town and found Turnrow Books. What a magical place! Situated in a beautiful two-story historic building downtown, it had been restored and filled with literary treasures, as well as a lovely upstairs café.

A couple of years later, some time in 2012, I drove down from Memphis to hear my friend Joshilyn Jackson read from her new novel, A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty, at Turnrow. I had met Joshilyn five years earlier at the first ever Mississippi Writers Guild Conference in Clinton, Mississippi. Her writing style, rich, quirky characters, and clear grasp of the human condition drew me to her, and inspired me to start a novel. Finally—ten years later—my first novel Cherry Bomb is born, and I’ll be returning to Turnrow for a reading at 12 p.m. on August 26!

CB cover FINALCherry Bomb is set mostly in Georgia, rather than my home state of Mississippi. I wanted to put some distance between my personal life and the fictional life of the characters in the book, although many of my experiences fed the story. When people ask me what it’s about, I start with the short answer:

Cherry Bomb is about a graffiti writer, an abstract expressionist painter, and a nun, set mostly in Georgia in the 1970s and ’80s. It’s got weeping icons, art, and a bit of mystery, all in the Christ-haunted South.”

If they want to know more:

CHERRY BOMB chronicles the lives and suffering of three women whose fates are unexpectedly intertwined: MARE, a teen graffiti artist emerging from a lifetime of abuse at the hands of her cult-leading father and foster parents; ELAINE de KOONING, an Abstract Expressionist artist whose interactions with Mare dredge up painful memories of a shameful past; and SISTER SUSANNAH, an artist and nun whose reclusive tendencies belie her deep connection to the world around her. All three women converge around a weeping icon of St. Mary of Egypt, a 5th century prostitute whose awakening to grace leads her to ultimate salvation.

 I’m looking forward to returning to the Mississippi Delta on August 26, and I hope that people in the area who love literature will join me at Turnrow Books in Greenwood at 12 p.m.

It’s (almost) HERE!

Yesterday my publisher, Joe Lee (Dogwood Press, Brandon, Mississippi) sent me this picture. HOT OFF THE PRESS and coming to a bookstore near you SOON!

CB copies

 

Next Friday, July 14, we’ll be delivering copies of Cherry Bomb to Burke’s Books in Memphis, and shortly thereafter they will be available at Lemuria in Jackson, Mississippi, Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi, and TurnRow in Greenwood, Mississippi.

If you don’t live near one of these wonderful independent bookstores, please ask your local shop to order Cherry Bomb for you. It will also be available soon from Amazon.

MARK YOUR CALENDARS for events in five states starting with the launch at Lemuria in Jackson, Mississippi on August 8! Click on the EVENTS button at the top of my web site for all dates and locations through December.

 

First up:

 

August 8 – 5 p.m. – Lemuria/Jackson, Mississippi

August 19 – 4 p.m. – Mississippi Book Festival/Jackson, Mississippi (Festival runs all day. My fiction panel is at 4 p.m. in State Capitol Room A.)

August 26 – 12 p.m. – TurnRow Books/Greenwood, Mississippi

September 7 – 5:30 p.m. – Burke’s Books/Memphis, Tennessee

 

Did I mention I’m a little bit excited? I can’t wait to hold a copy of Cherry Bomb in my hands and smell the ink!

CHERRY BOMB Launches in Mississippi on August 8!!!

I know I haven’t blogged in a few days… I’m in a tailspin of pre-marketing for my novel, Cherry Bomb, which launches at Lemuria Books in Jackson, Mississippi on August 8. (The book releases on August 1, so ask your independent booksellers if they have it or will order it for you!) My publisher, Joe Lee of Dogwood Press in Brandon, Mississippi, has been working hard to promote the book at various events, (click here for current schedule) so stay tuned for updates. For now, if you’re in or near Jackson, Mississippi, please mark your calendars for 5 pm on August 8!

Lemuria flier

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