On the Road Again #ILoveWillie

I recently watched an old Willie Nelson movie, “Honeysuckle Rose,” about Willie’s infamous road trips he took with his band. They kept playing his song, “On the Road Again,” and I can’t get it out of my head. I’ll probably be singing it next week when I get on the road again for another leg of my spring book tour. Where to this time?

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Next Tuesday I’ll be headed down to Fairhope, Alabama, where I’ll have a reading/signing at Page & Palette (4 p.m. April 4) for Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s. My hosts will be my author friends, Suzanne Hudson and Joe Formichella. I love Fairhope and April will be a beautiful time of the year to be there!

Emma w ASB and customerWednesday I’ll drive from Fairhope to New Orleans for an event at Garden District Book Shop for A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be (6 p.m. on April 5). I’ll be joined by my hostess, New Orleans resident and contributor to A Second Blooming, Emma Connolly, and two contributors from Jackson, Mississippi—Susan Marquez and NancyKay Wessman. Emma’s essay is about her “second blooming” as a shopkeeper on Magazine Street, where she owns Uptown Needle and Craftworks. Here’s Emma (on the left)  selling a copy of A Second Blooming to one of her customers in the shop. (Can you tell this was during Mardi Gras?)

Thursday I’ll head back up I-55 to Jackson, Mississippi, for another event for A Second Blooming, again at Lemuria (5 p.m. on April 6). I’ll be joined by Jackson residents Susan Marquez and NancyKay Wessman, who will be sharing their stories of second bloomings after loss.

Two weeks from tomorrow I’ll drive up to Dyersburg (Tennessee) for the Dyersburg State Community College Women’s Conference (April 18) where I’ve been invited to speak about my journey as an author. I’ll talk about my writing and publishing career, and have an opportunity to sell copies of both Tangles and Plaques and A Second Blooming. This event usually attracts about 80-100 women from the Dyersburg area, and includes a luncheon and fashion show. I’m so happy to be included!

And that will wrap up my April book tour. Stay tuned next month to hear about the five events I have planned in May, with travels to Charleston and Beaufort, South Carolina, another event in Oxford (Mississippi), and two local events in the Memphis area. I’ll keep all of these posted on my EVENTS page (just click the link at the top of the home page of my web site) so you’ll know when I’ll be in your area.

I’ll close with a picture of me with the Memphis contributors to A Second Blooming, at our event at Memphis Botanic Garden yesterday. It was a beautiful day and lots of folks came out for the event (we sold 50 books!) and we had a great time. Thanks so much to everyone who came and purchased a book. I hope you LOVE it! And thanks to Chapter 16 for getting a review into the Commercial Appeal yesterday morning, just in time to bring in some more readers.

Susan Cushman, Jen Bradner, Ellen Morris Prewitt, Sally Palmer Thomason, and Suzanne Henley

Susan Cushman, Jen Bradner, Ellen Morris Prewitt, Sally Palmer Thomason, and Suzanne Henley

As always, thanks for reading. I can hear Willie strumming that guitar again….

Rolling a Joint on the Square in Oxford, Mississippi

rolling a jointSomeone sent me this hilarious sign they saw on Facebook. He sent it because this past Friday night I rolled a joint on the square in Oxford, Mississippi, following my reading of Tangles and Plaques at Square Books. The joint was my left ankle.  I had gone to dinner with a group of folks following the reading (with over 80 in attendance at Square Books!) and was walking back to my car when I missed the edge of a curb and fell. Thankfully I didn’t break a hip or hurt my neck or back or something more serious than my ankle.

And also thankfully it’s not broken. This morning’s x-ray shows some torn ligaments that should heal in a few weeks. Back in 2013 when I broke my other ankle and leg in a car wreck, I had two surgeries, wore a cast, then a walking boot. The walking boot was uncomfortable because Even Upsit made my stride uneven, I didn’t have any safe, flat shoes that were high enough. Now they ‘ve got this cool new thing called an “Even Up” that you put on the bottom of your shoe to make your feet at even heights. What a difference that makes!

I posted lots of pictures on Facebook from the event at Square Books Friday night, and also at Lemuria in Jackson on Saturday, so I’ll only repost one here. It was so much fun seeing several of my Tri Delt sorority sisters in Oxford (including my “big sister” whom I hadn’t seen since my wedding in 1970!) and several high school classmates and other friends and family in Jackson. Great reception at both Mississippi events. Thanks to everyone who helped organize them, and to everyone who came to the readings and bought books! Next event for Tangles and Plaques is a salon in a private home here in Memphis, then on to WordsWorth Books in Little Rock, Arkansas on the 18th. What a ride!

 

Ole Miss Tri Delt sisters: Julia Thornton, Gayle Gresham Henry, Susan Cushman, Jan Champion

Ole Miss Tri Delt sisters at Square Books in Oxford: Julia Thornton, Gayle Gresham Henry, Susan Cushman, Jan Champion

Gearing Up for Reviews: Maintaining a Dignified Silence

Yesterday was release day for my first book, Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s. After 24 hours of emotional celebration, I woke up today thinking, “and now the reviews will begin.” A few months ago I clipped this cartoon from the newspaper, hoping that one day I might get a 5 star review.

five star review

 

My book has been sent to several professional reviewers, and then of course there are readers who might review it on Goodreads or Amazon or their personal blogs. I’ve reviewed many books on my blog over the years, so I know what it’s like to be on the other side of the experience. But how should I gear up for reading other people’s reviews of my book?

This article by James Parker and Zoe Heller from a few years ago in the New York Times has some good advice. First from Parker:

A writer should not respond to his or her critics. A writer should rise above in radiant aloofness.

I don’t know about the “radiant aloofness” part, but I can see the wisdom in not responding to reviews, whether they are good or bad. I don’t plan to argue with someone who gives a bad review or bubble over with thanks for a good review. They are just doing their jobs, right? (Unless it’s a friend praising me out of the goodness of their heart.)

Heller’s advice also sounds good:

Art is long, and life is quite long too. There will be other books, other nasty critics, and with them, a myriad of other opportunities to maintain a dignified silence.

I imagine that my little book won’t garnish reviews in either extreme, but who knows? At this point, I think I will welcome any words from someone who takes the time to read the book and respond in print. Of course I’ll post links to the good ones. We’ll see how I respond if there are any bad ones. Holding my breath….

Books I Did NOT Write About Alzheimer’s

top-alzheimers-and-dementia-books-for-caregiversSince my first book, Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s, is coming out soon (release date is January 31!) and I have numerous events at which I’ll be reading and discussing the book in the coming months, I’ve begun preparing for those events a bit. I’ve chosen which excerpts from the book I might like to read at various events, but I’ve also been thinking about how much is NOT included in the book. About the questions I might be asked during discussion times—including questions for which I might not have answers.

To that end, I’ve created a list of books I DID NOT WRITE about Alzheimer’s, which might serve as resources for those wanting to read/learn more. I’m going to print the list off and give out copies at readings. This is a very short list. If you Google the topic, you’ll find dozens, possibly hundreds of other books and articles. And while you might wonder why I have not read more widely on the subject, all I can see is that I was too busy living the very personal journey with my mother.

Memoirs:

Inside the Dementia Epidemic: A Daughter’s Memoir by Martha Stettinius

The Living End: A Memoir of Forgiving and Forgetting by Robert Leleux

Tangles: A Story About Alzheimer’s, My Mother, and Me (an illustrated/graphic memoir) by Sarah Leavitt
Novels:

Still Alice by Lisa Genova (movie starring Julianne Moore) “Alice” is a cognitive psychology professor at Harvard who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s….

Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante (New York Times bestseller about a retired orthopedic surgeon suffering from dementia.)

Academic:

Families Caregiving for an Aging America

Follow this link to purchase the report or download a free (PDF) copy of the report:

https://www.nap.edu/catalog/23606/families-caring-for-an-aging-america?gclid=COHjg46mptECFQ6BaQodq34A1g

 

The books on my short list aren’t included in other lists I found online, like these (for those who want to read more widely):

Top 5 Books on Alzheimer’s Disease

Recommended Reading from the Alzheimer’s Association

Top Alzheimer’s and Dementia Books for Caregivers (from the senior living blog, “A Place For Mom”

Tangles and Plaques COVER ART!!!

Tangles and Plaques cover artWhat a journey this is—working with four publishers at various stages for four different books being published in 2017 and 2018. I’m so thankful for these opportunities, and I’m learning a lot about the business as I continue in the editing phase for some and enter the pre-publishing and marketing phase for others.

Today I received cover art from eLectio Publishing for Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s. I love the way the tangled yarn fades from bright colors to almost black and white below the title line… just as memories fade for those suffering this disease. Good job, eLectio!

I appreciate each person involved in this complex process—editors, publishers, graphic designers, and marketing professionals. Although I chose not to work with literary agents (after an unsatisfactory experience) I’m learning my way without them. What that means is that I’m giving up on book deals from the big houses, like Penguin Random House, Harper and Collins, and Simon and Schuster (and big money) but what I’m gaining is more control, and more personal involvement in the process. So, if an agent sees one of my books and wants to take me on, I’ll listen to her pitch. But for now, I’m a happy camper.

 
Watch for more news about Tangles and Plaques in February.

 

Cheers!

A Time to Grieve: Part III

51P21tvRLRL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_It’s been almost six months since my mother’s death on May 24. I wrote about my grief process back in July initially, and then again in August. Both of those posts included reflections on the series of booklets by Kenneth C. Haugk, Journeying through Grief. This week I received the third of the four books in the series, from Mary Lewis, the Stephen Minister and Grief Ministry Coordinator at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Mississippi—the church my parents helped establish in the 1950s. The church in which I was confirmed as a communing member when I was twelve. The church in which I was married in 1970.

This third booklet is titled Finding Hope and Healing. I found two sections to be especially helpful. The first is “Talking Is Healing.” Haugk encourages those of us who have lost a loved one to talk about it—to share our feelings:

Talking is healing. Talking helps you locate your pain, bring it to the surface, and let it go. And because your grief doesn’t suddenly go away, the pain recurs, and you need to talk about it again an again and again. That’s why grieving people need to talk about the same feeling or memory over and over.

I remember one night a few weeks ago when I was a bit depressed and my husband asked me what was wrong. I simply answered, “My mother died.” He smiled gently and embraced me, making himself available for my words. Talking helps. And for a writer, that often means writing. It’s almost ironic that just before my mother died I finished writing a book about my years of caregiving with her. Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s will be published in February. But this summer I read all the way through the manuscript again, not only proof-reading for errors but also letting my words into places where my heart needed healing. I read parts of it aloud, which felt like sharing those words with a friend, or maybe with the little girl inside who had lost her mother to Alzheimer’s years ago—the little girl who had always been grieving for a different kind of mother, for one who could love her unconditionally.

Another section in the booklet spoke to me—“Letting Go of Guilt.” I’m sure my feelings of guilt are shared by everyone who has ever been the caregiver for an aging parent. It’s that feeling that you can never do enough—that you could have been a better daughter. One thing that I found helpful in this section was this:

View your guilt as someone else might. It may be helpful to look at yourself as if you were a third person. You may see how unrealistic your expectations are. If you wouldn’t blame another person, why are you blaming yourself? If you’d have compassion on another person who is grieving, why wouldn’t you have compassion on yourself?

I actually experienced this from real, living “third persons”—close friends who reminded me not to blame myself. Friends and family who told me that I had been a good daughter. That what I had done was enough. Again, Haugk says:

Remember the good that you did…. Take a fresh look at your relationship with your loved one and recognize the good things you did as well. Commend yourself for those.

EFfieSusanhandsOne of my favorite memories of “good things I did with Mom” is from six years ago. I wrote about it here: “Coloring Violets With Effie.” Mother was very artistic, but I couldn’t get her to draw or paint in her latter years. So I took a coloring book and crayons to the nursing home and we colored together. At first she was shy about it—perhaps she was thinking it was childish. But once she got into it with me, she started remembering things she loved and talking about them—her favorite color (purple); how much she loved flowers and making flower arrangements. It was one of my favorite visits with my mother.

February 2010, around Mother's 82nd birthday

February 2010, around Mother’s 82nd birthday

 

So today I’m again thankful to the folks with the Stephen Ministry at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Jackson for this gift, and I look forward to the fourth and final booklet in the series when they send it. What a blessing for my grieving heart, which is healing.

Quadfecta!

Today I’m feeling incredibly blessed. Yesterday morning I signed a contract for my novel, Cherry Bomb! My publisher is Joe Lee at Dogwood Press in Brandon, Mississippi. Not only is Joe a publisher, he’s a journalist, author, and editor. He has guided me through the manuscript with great care and understanding and I’m thrilled with the book it is becoming.

beer pongSo why “quadfecta”? I was checking to be sure that’s the word I’m looking for when I came upon this hilarious definition:

A legendary beer pong shot that lands on the tops of four cups simultaneously. Considered the rarest shot in the game, topping even the trifecta 2-cup knockover-and-sink, and simultaneous 6-cup game-ending double bounce-in. Counts as 4 cups and has never happened in recorded history of the game, despite being theoretically possible.

Okay, so this isn’t about beer pong, but it’s about my publishing news, which now includes 4 book deals!

Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s (eLectio Publishing, February 2017) is a collection of essays culled from sixty posts covering almost a decade of long-distance caregiving for my mother, who died from Alzheikmer’s this past May. The book will show that the tangles and plaques aren’t only in our brains, but often in our relationships.

A Second Blooming the Women We Are Meant to Be (Mercer University Press, March 2017) is also a collection of essays, but this time I’m the editor. Twenty women authors write about second bloomings in their lives. For some it’s second marriages, or second careers. Others write about physical or mental trauma, loss of a loved one, incarceration, rape, and a difficult journey to sobriety.

Cherry Bomb (Dogwood Press, October 2017) is my novel. 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’s lives converge around a weeping icon of St. Mary of Egypt, a 5th century prostitute whose awakening to grace leads her to ultimate salvation.

So Y’all Think You Can Write: Southern Writers on Writing (University Press of Mississippi, 2018). I am editing this collection of essays by Southern authors (men and women) writing about their craft. With a Foreword by Alan Lightman and previously published material by Pat Conroy and Lee Smith, the anthology will include over twenty five new essays by some of the South’s best (well-known and lesser-known) writers.

Cassandra and Susan Sq Bks Nov 2016I had a great time celebrating last night with my husband in Oxford. First we toasted my news with martinis on the balcony at the City Grocery Bar. Then we went to the Thacker Mountain Radio show at Off Square Books. It was an awesome show featuring great music and authors Cassandra King (reading from A Lowcountry Heart, a collection of Pat Conroy‘s words on Writing) and George Plasketes. Jim Dees did a great job hosting, as usual, and I was happy to get a copy of his new book, The Statue and the Fury – A Year of Art, Race, Music and Cocktails(Nautilus Press). We had a wonderful time visiting with Cassandra and George and others at the after party, before heading over to the Inn at Ole Miss for a weeknight sleepover.

This afternoon I’m driving back to Memphis with my spirits lifted by time spent with these creative people. And of course, the news of my quadfecta. So here’s a question: If you don’t like beer, can you play with vodka or tequila?
Have a great weekend, everyone!

Families Caring for an Aging America

Families Caring report coverMy book, Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s, will be out in February. I’ve been researching ideas for marketing, and I’m especially interested in speaking to groups who have a special interest in Alzheimer’s, like caregivers.

My husband, who is a physician, just sent me this link to a report called “Families Caring for an Aging America,” from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (from September 13). The report was written by Richard Schulz and Jill Eden, Editors; Committee on Family Caregiving for Older Adults; Board on Health Care Services; Health and Medicine Division; National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

You can download a PDF of the full report here.

Here’s a summery of the report from the National Academies:

At least 17.7 million individuals in the United States are providing care and support to an older parent, spouse, friend, or neighbor who needs help because of a limitation in their physical, mental, or cognitive functioning. The circumstances of individual caregivers are extremely varied. They may live with, nearby, or far away from the person receiving care. The care they provide may be episodic, daily, occasional, or of short or long duration. The caregiver may help with household tasks or self-care activities, such as getting in and out of bed, bathing, dressing, eating, or toileting, or may provide complex medical care tasks, such as managing medications and giving injections. The older adult may have dementia and require a caregiver’s constant supervision. Or, the caregiver may be responsible for all of these activities.  With support from 15 sponsors, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine convened an expert committee to examine what is known about the nation’s family caregivers of older adults and to recommend policies to address their needs and help to minimize the barriers they encounter in acting on behalf of an older adult. The resulting report, Families Caring for an Aging America, provides an overview of the prevalence and nature of family caregiving of older adults as well as its personal impact on caregivers’ health, economic security, and overall well-being. The report also examines the available evidence on the effectiveness of programs and interventions designed to support family caregivers. It concludes with recommendations for developing a national strategy to effectively engage and support them.

On the one hand, it’s sad that we need a national strategy to support caregivers—which speaks to the fact that so many people are living longer and therefore need help, whether they have Alzheimer’s or other issues. On the other hand, I’m glad to see the National Academies focusing on developing the support so many caregivers need now, and will continue to need in the future.

In Appendix G of the report, “Caregiving Stories,” one daughter expresses frustration about issues similar to what I faced when Mom broke her hip:

I am so angry that my head might explode. At about 5:30, I was handed a bunch of papers by the head of the rehab department at the hospital where my mom has started physical therapy. We all thought this was a great idea. But apparently her Medigap policy denied this coverage. I have requested a ‘fast track’ appeal. She has already started the rehab work 2x a day. I hope they keep going with the treatment while this nightmare unfolds. I hate this.

And later, the same daughter deals with her mother’s risk of falling since she ignores the alarm on her bed and wheelchair (which I also went through with my mother):

Mom did well in physical therapy, on her second day. She walked up and down the hall with a walker, according to her roommate, a former home health aide herself. I have one question. She keeps getting up out of bed, even though her bed and wheelchair are alarmed. The alarms don’t phase her. It doesn’t seem to stick when she is told to stay in bed, or not to stand up…. The staff come in to help, but a momentary delay could produce another fall (god forbid) …

I’m so glad this report is coming out, and hope that it will be helpful to many people. My mother’s journey is over (she died in May) but millions of others can benefit, and I can’t help but wonder if I—and other caregivers—will be the on the receiving end of this care one day.

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