I just finished reading my fifth book of 2017—Jim Dees’ wonderful memoir The Statue and the Fury: A Year of Art, Race, Music and Cocktails (Nautilus Publishing, 2016).
Jim is perhaps best known as the MC for the radio show, “Thacker Mountain Radio Hour,” (since 2000) which is broadcast live on Thursday nights for about nine months of the year at Off Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi. The show features an author reading from a book, a featured musical performance, and the house band. I’ve been to several of these over the years, and I’ve always admired Dees’ humor and professionalism at the helm. So when I heard about his book, I had to have it. He inscribed it for me following the last show I attended, back on November 3 when Cassandra King was the author guest.
Four of the six blurbs on the back cover are from well-known authors who live in Oxford, including New York Times bestselling author Ace Atkins, who called the book “A truly unique reflection on a storied Southern town at a turning point.” And Jack Pendarvis says, “It’s funny, violent, serene and surprising—a living thing, like a tree.” Tom Franklin writes that it’s “a loving look at small-town life, journalism and politics… this is the book I’ve been waiting for.” And Beth Ann Fennelly says it “provides so much entertainment that we might not notice how much we’re learning. This is a thoroughly necessary book.”
I’ve spent enough time in Oxford to recognize many of the locals Dees writes about, and I came of age in the turbulent 1960s, so I’m right there with him as he delves into Oxford’s (and Mississippi and the country’s) history of racial unrest. Taking one year—1997—and one event—the controversy over the installation of a statue of William Faulkner outside Town Hall to commemorate his 100th birthday—Dees covers a multitude of famous (and infamous) people’s influence on the life of Oxford. The resulting saga reminds me of Forrest Gump, the way he tells a story within a larger story.
Drawing from his years as a reporter for the Oxford Eagle, Dees has a brilliant journalist’s eye for details, as well as an intuition about people that comes through in his interviews and reflections. I’m thrilled to have him among the 26 contributors to an anthology I’m editing right now—So Y’all Think You Can Write: Southern Writers on Writing (University Press of Mississippi, 2018). His essay, “Off the Deep End,” is a candid story of learning to overcome fear—first of the high dive, and later of “flinging himself at the universe as a writer.” His voice in the essay is unique and genuine, just as it is in The Statue and the Fury. BUY THIS BOOK AND READ IT!
Last week I received a copy of the 2017 Spring/Summer catalog from Mercer University Press. Although I had already seen a PDF of the page with my anthology on it, it was so exciting to see it in this prestigious collection—on the third page!
The catalog leads with Steve Oney’s A Man’s World: Portraits—A Gallery of Fighters, Creators, Actors, and Desperadoes. Sounds like a great book:
A Man’s World is a collection of 20 profiles of fascinating men by author and magazine writer Steve Oney, written over a 40-year period for various publications. As the catalog page says of Oney’s book:
… he realized early that he was interested in how men face challenges and cope with success—and failure…. His agent, an ardent feminist, urged him to collect the best of his article in a book. “A Man’s World” is the result.
Turn the page and you’ll see a collection of essays by Stephen Cory, editor of The Georgia Review—Startled at the Big Sound: Essays Personal, Literary, and Cultural.
And then your eyes will land on page 3: A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be:
“A Second Blooming” is a collection of essays by twenty-one authors who are emerging from the chrysalis they built for their younger selves and transforming into the women they are meant to be. They are not all elders, but all have embraced the second half of their lives with a generative spirit.
The catalog continues with more wonderful books from Mercer University Press coming out this spring and summer. Click here to see the catalog… I’m sure you’ll find something you’ll want to buy!
2016 has been an industrial year for me, as I finished querying presses and signed 4 book deals. And now here at the end of the year, those 4 books are in various stages of organization, editing, pre-publication, and marketing. As a writer, I feed my creative spirit on the works of other authors. Often I read more than one book at a time, usually a novel and a nonfiction book. I rarely read short stories (although there’s one excellent collection in this list) or mysteries, but I love poetry, memoir, literary novels, books about spirituality and art, books about courageous and interesting women, and some “self-help” books.
I read 38 books in 2016. Fifteen are by authors I know personally. I would love to meet the other 22 one day, although a couple of them are no longer living. Here they are in alphabetical order. If you click on the links, you can read my blog posts on any of them you are interested in.
A Charmed Life by Mary McCarthy
A Lowcountry Heart by Pat Conroy
A Summons to Memphis by Peter Taylor
All the Way to Memphis by Suzanne Hudson
Almost Famous Women by Megan Mayhew Bergman
American Happiness (poetry) by Jacqueline Allen Trimble
Circling the Sun by Paula McLain
Delta Rainbow: The Irrepressible Betty Bobo Pearson by Sally Palmer Thomason
Dimestore: A Writer’s Life by Lee Smith
Dispatches From Pluto by Richard Grant
Drifting Too Far From the Shore by Niles Reddick
Gift From the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh
God For Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Lent and Easter Edited by Greg Pennoyer and Gregory Wolfe
Guests on Earth by Lee Smith
How Does That Make You Feel? True Confessions From Both Sides of the Therapy Couch edited by Sherry Amatenstein
Inside the Dementia Epidemic: A Daughter’s Memoir by Martha Stettinius
Journeying Through Grief by Kenneth C. Hauck
Lines Were Drawn: Remembering Court-Ordered Integration at a Mississippi High School edited by Teena F. Horn, Alan Huffman, and John Griffin Jones
Lisette’s List by Susan Vreeland
Little Wanderer (poetry) by Jennifer Horne
My Southern Journey by Rick Bragg
Not a Place on Any Map by Alexis Paige
Pray and Color by Sybil McBeth
Robert Walker, a novel by Corey Mesler
Still Life: A Memoir of Living Fully With Depression by Gillian Marchenko
The Confessions of X by Suzanne M. Wolfe (winner 2017 Christianity Today Book of the Year Award for Fiction)
The Courage to Grow Old by Barbara Cawthorne Crafton
The Feathered Bone by Julie Cantrell
The Gift of Years by Joan Chittister
The Headmaster’s Darlings by Katherine Clark
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
The Muralist by B. A. Shapiro
The Sanctum by Pamela Cable
Waffle House Rules by Joe Formichella
West With the Night by Beryl Markham
Why We Write About Ourselves edited by Mereditih Maran
What’s in the queue for 2017? (also in alphabetical order) Watch for reviews on my blog next year!
*Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
Garden in the East by Angela Carlson
The Dream Lover by Elizabeth Berg
The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race edited by Jesmyn Ward
The Opposite of Everyone by Joshilyn Jackson
The Statue and the Fury by Jim Dees
*When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
Happy reading, everyone! I’d love to hear what your favorite books from 2016 were!
This morning I was interviewed on Behind the Scenes with Richelle Putnam on Meridian, Mississippi’s 103.3 Supertalk Mississippi radio station about my upcoming book, Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s. You can listen to the 16-minute interview here.
When you click on the link, fast-forward to 5:15 minutes in to listen to the interview, which ends 21:35 minutes into the one-hour show.
Richelle and I met almost ten years ago at the first Mississippi Writers’ Guild Conference in Clinton, Mississippi, (August 2007) and we’ve been keeping up with each other Facebook. She’s not only a radio show host, she’s also a musician, songwriter, and author. I’m looking forward to being with her again in person some time this spring, when I’ll be in Meridian for another interview as well as a literary/musical event with Richelle.
My particular interest in Meridian stems from the fact that my mother was from Meridian, and I lived there for a couple of years when I was 3-5 years old (1954-56). And some of my favorite childhood memories are of summer vacations spent with my grandmother (my mother’s mother) who sewed all my clothes for the coming school year while I was with her each summer. For many of those summers my parents would come over (from Jackson, Mississippi, where we lived then) for a few days for Dad to play in the Northwood Country Club golf invitational tournament. As I got older my pre-teen and teenage memories include hanging out at the swimming pool with friends I made in Meridian—including Carol Pigford and Missy McWilliams—while Dad played in the tournament. And I loved following him around the course each year that he was in the final round of the championship flight.
I haven’t been back to Meridian since the last trip I made there with my mother about fifteen years ago. We visited the cemetery where my grandparents are buried, and old neighborhoods and homesteads. I look forward to returning in the spring for an event for Tangles and Plaques. Stay tuned for more information. Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy the interview.
What 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.
I met Alexis Paige in 2011 at the Memphis Creative Nonfiction Workshop I organized that year. We had an immediate connection, and she’s a brilliant writer. We connected again at the 2013 Creative Nonfiction Conference in Oxford, where I also fell in love with another Vermont writer Nina Gaby.
I’m excited to have them both contribute essays for the anthology I edited, A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be (Mercer University Press March 2017).
And now I’m reading Alexis’s first book, Not a Place On Any Map, which was the Grand Finalist of the 2016 Vine Leaves Vignette Collection Award. One of the lyric essays included in the collection, “Entropy As Islands As Stars,” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. I’m so proud of Alexis!
Her book is full of short vignettes—some might call them lyric prose—which are each examples of brilliant writing. Altogether they reveal her journey from a difficult childhood through rape, incarceration for drunk driving, recovery, sobriety, and more. Not a light read, but one that will surely touch many hearts. I love all of them, but something about her “Composite Sketch” touched me the most. If you know Alexis, you can see her in this sketch. If you don’t know her, you will feel like you do after you read it:
I am a creosotic whiff of Phoenix… I am peelings of rattlesnakes and sunburns…. I am a purple polyester accordion cheerleading skirt for the Catholic Youth Organization…. I am the cream-swipe of tawny lipstick and wood-smoked flannel and Doc Martens.
And then she comes up with what she calls “orphaned chapter titles” for herself, including:
“Revelations of a Wet Brain in Stilettos” and “Does My Hair Smell Like Fried Calamari?”
Treat yourself to this short but powerful book.
In lieu of writing a post today, I’m going to share a personal essay by a friend, the excellent writer and teacher Lee Martin. “This October Sunday,” published in The Rumpus, is the personal essay at its best—filled with intimate truths and universal pathos.
I knew that Lee had a difficult childhood. I had read about it in his wonderful memoir, Such a Life. His personal struggles along with his excellent writing skills led me to ask him to write a blurb for my book, Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s, which is coming out in February. Lee’s words were encouraging and humbling:
Susan Cushman writes with clarity and grace about the gnarled pathways between her and her mother, and about the terrible disease that holds a surprising grace within its irrevocable sadness. Tangles and Plaques has the courage to see it all. This is a memoir about caretaking and taking care. It’s a book that will touch your heart.
—Lee Martin, author of From Our House and Such a Life
Thanks for sharing your story with us, Lee. In your memoir. In your novels. And in such a fine personal essay.
Rumpus original art by Liam Golden.
Did you know that the practice of using blurbs (quotes by other authors to help promote one’s book) dates to 1907, when one first appeared on a book distributed to attendees of a publishing conference? The convention quickly caught on, and now it is routine to use such quotes on book covers and in advertising materials. According to an article (which actually isn’t very favorable towards the whole blurb thing) in Salon.com:
One British publisher claims to have seen research showing that as many as 62 percent of book buyers choose titles on the basis of blurbs.
So whether or not you like the process, it seems to be here to stay, and so most of us continue to embrace it.
I’m thrilled to have six wonderful authors who took the time to read an early manuscript of my book, Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s (coming in February from eLectio Publishing) and write these wonderful blurbs for me. I share them here to ignite some pre-publication excitement for the book, of course, and to say thank you to each of them for their generosity! I hope that my readers will check each of these wonderful authors out and buy and read their books! THANK YOU, Neil White, Jessica Handler, Lee Martin, Sally Palmer Thomason, Kathy Rhodes, and Niles Reddick!
So, here they are (she said, blushing)…
Susan Cushman is not only an accomplished writer, but she tackles a brutal topic with candor and honesty. Madness awaits us all. I pray I can confront it with equal faith and vulnerability.—Neil White, author of In the Sanctuary of Outcasts.
Cushman has written a new kind of love story, one that speaks to the very real concerns of a generation. In this true story of a daughter’s love for her aging mother within the daily trials of caregiving, we read ourselves, our families, and the ways that our losses shape who we become and how we choose to remember.—Jessica Handler, author of Invisible Sisters: A Memoir, and Braving the Fire: A Guide to Writing About Grief and Loss.
Susan Cushman writes with clarity and grace about the gnarled pathways between her and her mother, and about the terrible disease that holds a surprising grace within its irrevocable sadness. Tangles and Plaques has the courage to see it all. This is a memoir about caretaking and taking care. It’s a book that will touch your heart.—Lee Martin, Pulitzer-Prize nominee and author of From Our House and Such a Life
An honest, open account of the personal challenges, wrenching heart aches, spiritual questions, and practical concerns one faces in caring at a distance for a loved one with Alzheimer’s. Cushman provides intimate, detailed descriptions of her constant doubts, emotional upheavals, hard decisions, and frustrating encounters with professional caregivers during the decade of the unrelenting progression of her mother’s mental and physical deterioration. — Sally Palmer Thomason, author of The Living Spirit of the Crone: Turning Aging Inside Out, The Topaz Brooch, and Delta Rainbow-the Irrepressible Betty Bobo Pearson.
Susan Cushman writes a profoundly personal and honest portrait of her eight-year journey with her mother suffering from Alzheimer’s. She brings her talent for story, scene, and character to bear in the unfolding of real-time moments that show disease progression and the ensuing softening in a challenged relationship. Cushman sees and feels things deeply and finds in each encounter a nugget of wisdom that fortifies her with focus, peace, and faith. Her stories give inspiration and insight to others who face this journey. — Kathy Rhodes, author of Remember the Dragonflies: A Memoir of Grief and Healing
Tangles and Plaques is a beautiful and moving memoir and one that chronicles the journey of Alzheimer’s. Through the tangles and plaques associated with the disease, however, Cushman finds a way to heal and set her sight on the good. Readers, too, get a lesson in how to live better.—Niles Reddick, Vice Provost, The University of Memphis-Lambuth, and author of Drifting Too Far from the Shore.
I just drove home from Atlanta today, excited to be greeted by a package from Mercer University Press—“Second Pages” (also known as galleys) for the anthology I’m editing, A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be!
It looks like a book!!! (Can you tell I’m excited? I rarely ever use more than one exclamation mark at a time.)
And it has an ISBN Number, so it’s official! (using more reserve with the exclamation marks now)
About a month ago I wrote a post about the terrific job the press’s copy editor did with “First Pages.” Previously I wrote about the publishing process and defined a few terms, so if you missed that post, it’s here. And now, this is my last chance to go over every word with a fine tooth comb. I’ve got two weeks to proof it.
The writing/publishing business is a bit like the military. Many stages of the process feel like “hurry up and wait.” I’ve been through weeks and months at a time with no deadlines on any projects, and now I’ve got three projects working at once and I’m in heaven. On the 400-mile drive home from Atlanta today I brain-stormed on my next project, which I’ve been doing for several weeks now. I might have hit on something exciting—more will be revealed. I guess this is just how my brain works—the busier I am the more energetic and productive I become. Boredom isn’t an option.
Just had to share the news. Stay tuned as the journey continues!
In the September 2016 (yes, it’s out in June) issue of Writer’s Digest, there’s an interesting “inkwell” column called “Scout’s Honor: What is a literary scout, anyway?” by Stephanie Stokes Oliver. Got my attention right away.
Evidently these literary scouts act as liaisons between authors and literary agents, editors, and publishers. I know, right away you’re thinking, “oh, no, another middle man.” Since I’ve been querying agents for my novel for several years now, and directly querying independent presses for several months for my essay collection (and now for my novel), I share your pain. What can a scout do for me? Who do they work for?
In addition to scouts who work for literary agencies and Amazon’s Kindle Scout program, there are also scouts who work directly for publishing houses, like Oliver, who wrote this article in WD. She works for Simon & Schuster’s Atria Books. You can read her submission guidelines here.
Oliver’s submission process for nonfiction books (she doesn’t work with fiction) is very similar to many agents’ guidelines—she requests a book proposal and sample pages. It would only take me about ten minutes to whip these off to her via email, and maybe I will. Or maybe I’ll wait until I hear back from a couple of small presses who are currently reading my essay collection. It’s definitely something to consider.
If you’re interested in finding a literary scout, how do you go about it? That seems to be the tricky part. They seem to be “out there” looking for good writing, so watch what you put on your personal blog, and keep submitting essays to journals, which they might be reading in search of a new author. New York-based Maria B. Campbell Associates (MBCA) Inc. has scouts working for publishing houses in 19 countries but their website says they don’t accept unsolicited proposals or manuscripts, so it seems that their scouts have to find us, rather than the other way around. I hadn’t even heard of literary scouts until I read this article, but they’ve been out there for quite a few years, as evidenced by this 2009 article by Emily Williams, who used to be a scout for MBCA.
Just when you thought the publishing business couldn’t get more complicated, you discover a “secret world” of people competing for a piece of the pie. I’m just trying to keep up.