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!

Pilgrim Interrupted

SusanwMoOlympiaI’m putting together a collection of personal essays with the working title, Pilgrim Interrupted. Many of the essays have been previously published, and as I’ve been going through them again, I’ve pulled out a few representative quotes. I’ll share them here, as teasers for what I hope will become my next book. (I’m querying literary agents for this one.) The essays are grouped into six sections: “Icons, Orthodoxy, and Spirituality,” “Writing, Editing, and Publishing,” “Alzheimer’s, Caregiving, Death, and Dying,” “Family and Adoption,” “Place,” and “Mental Health, Addiction, and Sexual Abuse.”

Thirty essays. Four poems. Numerous icons and other pieces of original art. I hope there’s something here for everyone to reflect on, and that my readers will find some measure of joy or inspiration from the journeys I’ve shared. My pilgrimage—mostly in the “Christ-haunted South”—has definitely been interrupted over the decades of my life, but hopefully the prose, poetry, and art that litter the pathway are of some value.

Here are some samples:

“Maybe my brokenness, like the egg yolks that I use to make tempera paint for my icons—themselves a form of life interrupted—is part of my offering to God.”—Susan Cushman, from “Chiaroscuro: Shimmer and Shadow” (published in Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality, University of Alabama Press, 2012)

“Sometimes I stop and look at the unfinished images with a melancholy longing. The other day I paused before the icon of Christ, fingering a soft sable brush and scanning the jars of pigments on the nearby shelves. There are eggs in the refrigerator, waiting to be broken for Him. Their yolks, themselves a type of life interrupted, are ready to bind the dry pigments and fill my palette with a range of ochres and siennas for the face of Christ. Everything I need is here, waiting for my touch.”—Susan Cushman, from “Blocked” (published in the Santa Fe Writers Project, literary awards finalist, July 2, 2008)

“Sobriety—it’s about more than not being drunk. It’s clear-eyed brush strokes and poetry that knocks your socks off and page-turning prose. It’s Iris Dement singing, “I choose to take my sorrow straight,” and Natalie Maines (of the Dixie Chicks) turning a personal affront into a hit song with, “I’m Not Ready to Make Nice.” It’s Mary Chapin Carpenter singing, “forgiveness doesn’t come with a debt.”  But it’s also allowing yourself to be human, and turning that broken humanity into something redemptive with every stroke of your pen or brush or keyboard.”—Susan Cushman, from “Blocked” (published in the Santa Fe Writers Project, literary awards finalist, July 2, 2008)

“The distinctive chug chug chug of the wine filling the glass. It’s not really a cork—it’s a rubber wine stopper (from Rabbit) and its phallic shape and texture is tempting. I place it in my mouth and suck the last drops of wine from its surface as I slowly pull it away and push it back into the bottle. The first swallow is always the best, bringing instant gratification, holding promises of relief, of edges softening, jaws relaxing, mind slowing down, dark clouds abating. And sometimes it makes good on those promises, but the relief is only temporary.”—Susan Cushman, from “Eat, Drink, Repeat: One Woman’s Three-Day- Search for Everything,” published in The Shoe Burnin’: Stories of Southern Soul (Rivers Edge Media, 2015)

“After binging all day on chips and grilled cheese and sausage biscuit and wine, the self-hatred drives me to my knees once again. But not in prayer. My reflection in the bottom of the toilet bowl—and a fetid memory long ago encoded in my frontal lobe—are enough to trigger my seasoned gag reflex. This ritual takes less than a minute. I puke up most of what I’ve eaten in the past couple of hours. It brings relief, but not without more self-loathing. I cannot, as James Baldwin urged, “vomit the anguish up.”—Susan Cushman, from “Eat, Drink, Repeat: One Woman’s Three-Day- Search for Everything,” published in The Shoe Burnin’: Stories of Southern Soul (Rivers Edge Media, 2015)

“It was surreal— like an invasion of the profane into the sacred— and it continued for about forty-five minutes. They would enter to the right of us, in their khaki shorts, fanny packs, and white Keds and cameras (which weren’t allowed inside the cave) and move slowly along the wall where Saint John had once sat, dictating to his scribe, Prochorus. The tour guide alternately pointed to the hole in the wall where the disciple pulled himself up after sitting for hours on end, and the crack in the ceiling where he heard the voice of God. Their mouths formed large, silent “O”s as they crept along, nodding at one another. Then the guide would wave the tourists through the tiny chapel, and they would walk in front of us as they exited.”—from “Pilgrim Interrupted” by Susan Cushman

Four Book Deals in One Year: A Journey in Independent Publishing

Just a quick note to say I’m excited to have a short piece in the July/August issue of Southern Writers’s Magazine:

“Four Book Deals in One Year: A Journey in Independent Publishing”

4 Book Deals teaser

Click here to subscribe and read the full article.

I’m still doing lots of reading, watching movies, and searching for what the muse has in store for me next… please stay tuned!
And thanks always for reading!

SWMag sm ad

 

 

 

I Love Stories

BellesLettersIICov2And essays. Which is why I love anthologies. The first anthology in which I was published was Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality (University of Alabama press 2012). The editors were Jennifer Horne and Wendy Reed. And now Jennifer has just edited (with her husband Don Noble) a collection of short stories (these are all fiction) by 37 Alabama women writers called Belles’ Letters II (Livingston Press: The University of West Alabama).  Belles’ Letters I was published in 1999.

I got a signed copy of Belles’ Letters II this weekend at Ernest & Hadley Books in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. I was there for a reading and signing for A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be. The two Alabama authors who contributed to this book were there to read and sign at the event—Jennifer Horne and Wendy Reed. It felt like we had come full circle, with me as editor and

Susan Cushman, Jennifer Horne, and Wendy Reed in front of Ernest & Hadley Books, Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Susan Cushman, Jennifer Horne, and Wendy Reed in front of Ernest & Hadley Books, Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Jennifer and Wendy as contributors. I couldn’t be more proud of this book, and of them. Or more thankful for our friendship. We spent the weekend talking shop over coffee at Wendy’s kitchen table, another visit around Jennifer’s table, and a stroll in her backyard overlooking a lake in Tuscaloosa, drinks and dinner at local bars and restaurants, and I returned to Memphis on Sunday feeling revived.

Back home today I am diving into this new collection with much appetite and enjoyment. It’s fun to read stories by three of the contributors to A Second Blooming and six contributors to Southern Writers on Writing, the anthology I’m currently editing (coming from University Press of Mississippi in 2018). It’s so encouraging to see all these gifted writers taking time to contribute short pieces to anthologies. As Madeleine L’Engle said, “We all feed the lake.” And these authors are feeding an important lake—one that I believe will become historic. A lake filling regularly with contemporary Southern literature.

Anthologies aren’t just for breakfast any more. They aren’t just something to keep on a table in the living room and pick up when you only have a few minutes to read and don’t want to dive into a longer book. They can be as satisfying as any main course. As I was beginning to read from Belles’ Letters today, I found that it didn’t matter that the stories weren’t connected. That they didn’t have a theme. It only mattered that they were well written, excellent samples of the fine craft readers have come to expect from such authors as Pulitzer Prize winner Shirley Ann Grau, Harper Lee Award winners Fannie Flagg, Carolyn Haines, and Sena Jeter Neslund, and best-selling authors such as Gail Godwin, and Lee Smith. Each story left me wanting more—and scrolling down the table of contents like a kid in a candy store, selecting my next treat.

The-Pen-and-the-Brush-260x381My spring/early summer book tour is over, and I’ve got about six weeks to regroup before events for Cherry Bomb (my novel) start up on August 8. I had initially planned to get lots of words on the page for my new novel during this break from marketing, and maybe I will, but for now I’m content to slow down and read. To refuel. I couldn’t be happier with my “to read” stack in my office. I added another interesting book to the pile, another one I picked up at Ernest & Hadley this weekend: The Pen and the Brush: How Passion for Art Shaped Nineteen-Century French Novels by Anka Muhlstein (translated from French by Adriana Hunter).

 

9781524741723The other treasures I acquired at this wonderful new bookstore in Tuscaloosa, Alabama were two copies of Chelsea Clinton’s children’s book, She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World. (I’ll be sending those to my four granddaughters in Denver soon.)

Meanwhile, I’ll get back to my stories. And I don’t mean soap operas.

Take Care

clift cover v6b- approved cover.inddSome time last year Elayne Clift invited me to contribute an essay to an anthology she was putting together. It was going to be about women caregivers. Ironically, I was already working on my book, Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s. I thought about contributing an excerpt, but I chose something different. I sent her a shorter version of an essay I had published in the Saint Katherine Review (Volume I, Number 2, 2012) about my last days with two people I loved dearly, both dying from cancer. “Watching” now appears as one of twenty-six essays in the collection, Take Care: Tales, Tips, and Love From Women Caregivers, edited by Clift. I’m so pleased to see this essay get new life in this book, and hopefully find many new readers. It’s a story that’s very close to my heart, and as I read it again now—nine years after I wrote it and five years after it was first published—memories of those precious but difficult days with my father, and then with a dear friend, as they were dying, seem as vivid as if they were happening today.

Clift is the perfect editor for this collection, as she learned early in her life what it meant to be a caregiver, as she explains in the preface to Take Care:

My own experience with caregiving began at an early age. My parents had married late, and while my two siblings and I were still young, both our father and mother suffered from chronic and often debilitating conditions: asthma and depression respectively. By the time I was in high school and my older sister had married, I had taken on may of the demanding tasks of caregiving, including carrying out the responsibilities that keep a home going and take care of (and worrying about) my younger brother. After our father’s death, looking out for my mother’s best interests and ensuring her care became paramount tasks that went on for many years until she died at the age of 86.

Clift did all of this while being married, raising two children, completing a graduate degree and doing volunteer work with underprivileged women. A Vermont Humanities Council Scholar, she is an award-winning writer, journalist and workshop leader, a book reviewer for the New York Journal of Books, and a regular columnist for the Keene Sentinel and the Brattleboro Commons. Her work has appeared in The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, The Christian Science Monitor, and The Chronicle of Higher Education, among other publications.

I wasn’t familiar with the other contributors but as I read their bios and essays, I quickly realized what good company I am in. I’m honored to be part of this collection. I especially love Patti See’s “Joyful Mystery.” Her blog, “Our Long Goodbye: One Family’s Experiences with Alzheimer’s,” has been read in over 90 countries. Helen Dening gives us five helpful tips for communicating with someone who has Alzheimer’s in her essay, “Lessons from My Mother: Communicating with Someone You Love Who has Alzheimer’s Disease.” Deborah Marshall, an art therapist who works with grieving hospice families, contributes three wonderful poems. Karen Clark, who received her MFA at the City College of New York once owned a bookshop in New York and now edits, proofreads, is a contributing editor for two anthologies and is at work on a novel. Her essay, “Roar Above the Hum,” made me laugh out loud and clap my hands, as she tells the story of accompanying “Corine” to dialysis and hearing her stories of her life as a civil rights activist in the sixties, founding a school in Africa, and eventually becoming the principal of a failing Harlem school and turning it into a showpiece. I could go on and on, but I hope you will get this book and read these inspirational stories for yourself!

You can purchase Take Care HERE, or on Amazon.

Synchronicity at a Book Signing for A Second Blooming

Kathy Susan RiverSo, I was in Nashville (Brentwood, actually) Saturday at a book event for A Second Blooming at Barnes and Noble, with local authors/contributors River Jordan and Kathy Rhodes. We had a good turnout, a great time, and then on Monday A Second Blooming contributor Wendy Reed posted this story on Facebook:

A friend from high school—whom I wish I saw more—texted me: “I have a story for you.”

The last time I saw her was Christmas before last. She’d completed chemo; I was facing an essay deadline. She drank water and listened. I drank a beer and complained. Though I didn’t use her name, I wound up writing that scene into my essay and so sent it to her to make sure I, who don’t perceive straight lines, hadn’t crossed one. True to her generous and kind nature, she thought it was fine.

Her text had piqued my interest, so I immediately dialed her number, and after catching up—she is doing well, feeling strong, and still upbeat and grateful, while I am cursing another deadline—the story she wanted to tell me was about Mother’s Day. In addition to graduating from the same high school, she and I have lost and become mothers, and enjoy reading books, which is what her husband and son went to Barnes and Noble to buy her for Mother’s Day, which good soul that she is, she spent driving to her father’s in Birmingham to go to a jazz concert with him. I think her husband and son had planned to buy her CS Lewis, but in the front of the store two women were signing a book, A SECOND BLOOMING.

“It’s about strong women by strong women,” the women said. Strong women: 1; CS Lewis 0 (okay, not the total all-time sales score, but just wait.) My friend thanked them for her present, vowed to read it when she returned, and headed to her father’s . It had been a year and a half since I’d sent her the essay, but somewhere outside of Nashville a little bell went off.

“Honey,” she said when her husband answered the phone (Actually I’m pretty sure she doesn’t call her husband “honey,” but I am pretty sure she pulls off the road to make calls), “Will you open the book and see if my friend’s listed as one of the authors?”

He found my name.

“I might be in there,” she said, directing him to turn to the last part of the essay. “I was originally, but it might have gotten cut.”

I wanted to tell her how essential she had been to the story, but I was too stunned. Her husband, whom I’ve only met once and who had no idea about the essay, wandered into a store with thousands of other books and walked out with the one book that not only has an essay by his wife’s old friend but also inspired in part by his wife. Is it just me, or is the Twilight Zone theme playing? Some use the word ‘coincidence.’ Others invoke the divine. I call such synchronicity. My grandmother called them signs.

My essay “Woman on a Half Shell” does not trade on faith, hope or coincidences, but it does meander aimlessly, and way more than I’d intended (I dream of writing tight, well-structure prose someday), but maybe, just maybe, there’s something to unstructured winding, to going forward anyway, to losing sight of our destination, to enjoying being lost so that we may find surprise. (Or maybe it’s my idealism showing again.) But I do know that I am delighted to have met Marcella Brehmer Tudeen so many years ago, to hear that her story is going so well, and I especially enjoy the part of her story where she unwraps A SECOND BLOOMING, a gift, and quite the surprise.

ASB CoverI remember the man and his son who purchased the book from us at the bookstore on Saturday. If you have a copy of A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be, look at page 150, where two paragraphs in Wendy’s essay, “Woman On a Half Shell,” are about this man’s wife! How’s that for synchronicity?

And that Wendy can sure tell a good story.

So can the other 19 women who contributed essays to the collection, so if you haven’t read it yet, BUY IT NOW and dive in!

Discovering Elizabeth Strout; More From Joan Didion; DeSoto Magazine

static1.squarespace.comI never read Elizabeth Strout’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Olive Kitteridge. I did see the movie, and thought it was good, but a little slow or depressing or something I can’t quite put my finger on. I probably should have read the book first, because the movie dissuaded me from reading it.
But then a writer friend encouraged me to read Strout’s book, My Name is Lucy Barton, and I just finished it at the beach. It’s terrific. The prose, the phrasing, the pacing, the style, the voice—all combine in an unusual novel that reads more like a memoir to me. The immediacy of this first-person-narrated novel is what stands out to me the strongest about the book. My friend wanted me to read it, I think, to help me as I’m starting out to draft my second novel. It’s not that the subject matter is similar, because it’s not, but I think this book serves as a mini-MFA course in capturing dysfunctional families without the rage and hatred which often accompanies them. In that way it reminds me a bit of Jeanette Walls’ memoir The Glass Castle. In both cases the narrator—one fictional and one real—were neglected and/or abused as children but remember their parents with great love, and an unending need for that love to be returned. Lucy Barton is definitely worth the read, and I’m inspired to keep working on that second novel. Eventually.

9781524732790My other “beach read” (although I did very little reading at the beach with my four grandchildren there!) is Joan Didion’s South and West—a collection of vignettes from a notebook she kept back in 1970 on a trip through the South (Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama) and also from an assignment for Rolling Stone on the Patty Hearst trial of 1976, a piece she never wrote. I love the section on the South. I pictured her staying at the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Biloxi in the summer of 1970,  as my newly-wedded husband and I were just down the street at the Broadwater Beach Hotel on our honeymoon! She captures so many things about “my” South that I can appreciate, even visiting my mother’s hometown of Meridian, Mississippi and mentioning places I recognize. And like Richard Gilbert’s Dispatches From Pluto (about the Mississippi Delta) Didion captures these things as an outsider (Gilbert is from Great Britain; Didion from California) and tries to put aside preconceived ideas as she engages people she meets with questions and records their candid responses. And as she says:

 The isolation of these people from the currents of American life in 1970 was startling and bewildering to behold. All their information was fifth-hand, and mythicized in the handing down.

My favorite of her observations were at the Mississippi Broadcasters’ Convention in Biloxi, and in a private home in the Garden District of New Orleans. I won’t quote them here… it’s much more fun to read them in the book!

Cover DeSoto Mag MayI’m happy to share that I have a short piece in the May issue of DeSoto Magazine, “Tangles and Plaques.” You can read it online, subscribe for a hard copy, or pick one up if you live in Mississippi or Memphis! The article is really a short excerpt from the introduction and one of the posts (“Effie and the M&Ms”) from my memoir, Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s.

article DeSoto mag

 

 

 

So, last week was a blog-free week for me (first one in a looooong time) as I was at Seagrove Beach, Florida, with my husband, and our kids and grands. Seagrove is my favorite place on earth, and even though it was a bit windy and almost chilly a couple of days, there was plenty of sunshine, and of course the magic of the waves hitting the shore as four little girls giggles and jumped up and down, returning again and again to the construction of a sand castle on shore by their parents or to help Pops fly a kite. It’s all magical to me. This year we hired a professional photographer (for the first time) to take some pictures, so I’ll share them in a future post once I get them downloaded. Thanks, always, for reading!

 

 

Southern Writers On Writing: Peer Review

peer-reviewIt’s so much fun editing an anthology. I had a great time last year editing A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be (Mercer University Press). And now I’m in the throes of editing Southern Writers On Writing (University Press of Mississippi, 2018) and the fun never ends! Especially when working with another wonderful university press. So here’s where we are:

A few months ago I invited the contributors and received 26 wonderful essays and a foreword. I worked with each author on edits, grouped the essays into sections by themes, found quotes to head up each section, wrote an introduction, acknowledgements, and table of contents, and sent the manuscript off to the press in March.

Next the press sent the manuscript to “outside readers” for “peer review.” The readers they selected for this work were given specific questions to answer as they reviewed the manuscript. Here are some examples (with excerpts from the readers’ responses):

Does the manuscript make a significant contribution to this field of study and/or the general market for this type of book?

Yes, I believe the manuscript does make a significant contribution to the field of southern literature…. I think this book will appeal to academics, particularly those teaching creative writing, southern and contemporary literature, and it will also appeal to up-and-coming writers who are looking for experienced direction, inspiration, support, and a reason to believe in themselves and keep putting their own words and stories on paper!

Yes! Just what I was hoping for! Here’s another one:

Please evaluate the author’s style of writing and organization of material:

All the essays in this collection are strong and well-written and I enjoyed reading every one of them…. The styles vary, but I consider this variety a huge plus offering would-be writers an opportunity to experience different writing styles and voices, and hopefully find a voice, story, and approach to writing that speaks a little louder to the reader and his/her own unique experience.

Again, I am so happy with these readers’ responses! One reader made very specific suggestions as to the organization of the essays, and even did line editing throughout the entire manuscript, which I’m using now as I make revisions and corrections before returning the manuscript to the press for their editorial work to begin. Here’s another one:

To your knowledge, is the information in this proposal available in published form elsewhere?

I’m not aware of any such book. Some individual southern (and non-southern) authors have published books that talk about their own writing, but there’s not to my knowledge a collection of essays such as this. I find that pretty amazing!

I found it amazing, too, when I researched the topic before starting work on this book.  Another reader said,

… young writers are most interested in learning from writers who aren’t necessarily big names, but who are successful in publishing now… as opposed to writers like Faulkner, Welty, Tennessee Williams, etc. This book is a solid response to that need.

MS Logo 300There are a total of ten questions on the readers’ questionnaires, and I found most of their observations and suggestions extremely helpful. I’m even strongly considering changing the title from So Y’all Think You Can Write: Southern Writers on Writing, to simply Southern Writers on Writing. The original (longer) title was inspired by the TV show, “So You Think You Can Dance,” but not everyone will get that, and as one reader pointed out, some people might think it’s the writers in the book thumbing their noses at the readers, which isn’t the case at all! If you’re reading this and have a different idea for a title, please let me know!

Of course the proof of the pudding was that all readers strongly recommend that the book be published. I did a peer review for another university press a year or so ago, and was sad to have to say “no” to this question in response to the manuscript I reviewed, knowing that the author would be disappointed to be turned down by the press. But that’s what peer review is for.

So now you know more about what goes on “behind the scenes” when a university press publishes a book. The peer review process is an important step in protecting the integrity of the press, and in helping make the books they publish excellent. I’m so thankful to be on this journey! Stay tuned….

DeSoto Magazine and Southern Writers: Two Upcoming Articles

In the midst of a busy and wonderful book tour, I’ve been invited to contribute articles to two wonderful magazines.

April17FC-4small-460x610“Tangles and Plaques” will appear in the May issue of DeSoto Magazine. Just in time for Mother’s Day, my short piece will be part Polaroid, part cautionary tale, about the changing relationship between my mother and me during the last eight years of her life. She died on May 22, 2016 of Alzheimer’s Disease. I’m so thankful to my friend Karen Ott Mayer, DeSoto’s editor, for this opportunity. You can subscribe to the magazine, read it online, or pick up a copy at many places in Mississippi and surrounding areas, like Memphis.

A second article, “Four Book Deals in One Year: A Journey in Independent Publishing” will appear in the September issue of Southern Writers: The Author’s Magazine. I discovered the magazine when my friend (and fellow Dogwood Press author) John Floyd was featured in an interview in their January/February 2017 issue.

six-covers-w-shadow-jan-2017_1_origAnother short piece (750 words), this one details my journey through writing and finding publishers for four books within one year. (Three are being published in 2017 and one in 2018.) I share my struggles querying literary agents and finally working with one for many months before parting ways due to our different visions for the book. There’s lots of “how to” in this short piece, including researching and querying academic and independent presses, working with editors on revisions, marketing, and more. Again, many thanks to Susan Reichert, editor-in-chief of Southern Writers, for this opportunity. A great magazine for writers and readers alike, you can subscribe to the print, online, and digital formats here.

So, it’s Holy Friday and I’ve already been to three services during Holy Week at St. John Orthodox Church here in Memphis. I’ll be at two more today, two tomorrow, and one on Sunday. It’s a beautiful marathon, where we walk through Christ’s passion, and celebrate His resurrection. Thanks, always, for reading. Have a beautiful Pascha/Easter weekend (I’m so glad the East and West are celebrating on the same date this year) and I’ll be back on Monday.

Rediscovering Mercy: Anne Lamott, King David, and Holy Week

books from Lemuria

 

When I was in Jackson, Mississippi, on Monday (my husband had a medical meeting there) I stopped in at Lemuria Books (where I had a reading/signing last Thursday) to visit with bookstore owner John Evans. We discussed this summer’s Mississippi Book Festival and other literary and publishing topics. As I was speaking with one of the booksellers who works there, I discovered these two books at the counter: Joan Didion’s South and West, in which she brings notes from a 1970s road trip journal she took with her husband through Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama into the present cultural and political milieu; and Anne Lamott’s latest book, Allelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy. I love Didion and look forward to diving into her essays, especially since they are about the South, but it was the subtitle of Lamott’s book that drew me in immediately: “Rediscovering Mercy.”

As an Orthodox Christian, I am half way through Holy Week, which follows our forty-day spiritual journey known as Great Lent. It’s a “school of repentance” we enter as we walk through Christ’s death and resurrection, but it’s also a time to rejoice in His great MERCY.

This past Sunday our pastor, Father Phillip Rogers, talked about mercy in his homily. I love that both he and our young assistant pastor, Father Alex Mackoul, have kept such a positive, upbeat focus during Lent, rather than overwhelming us with too-heavy burdens for our already difficult ascetic struggles. Instead of reminding us of our shortcomings (don’t we all feel the weight of them without others pointing them out?) Father Phillip reminds us of God’s mercy. He did this with me in a very personal way when he heard my confession a couple of weeks ago. And then he encouraged all of us to discover this afresh in his homily by challenging us to read Psalm 117 every day during Holy Week. He said it would change us. I believed him.

My husband and I love this Psalm, especially verse 24, which we say to each other as greeting and response first thing every morning (a tradition we learned from my parents): “This is the day the Lord has made; Let us greatly rejoice, and be glad therein.” But I hadn’t read the entire Psalm (29 verses) all at once in quite some time. We hear much of it during the services in the Orthodox Church, so the verses were familiar as my husband and I read them together on Monday, and I read them again with my morning prayers yesterday and today. Here are a few verses:

 

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good;

For His mercy endures forever.

Let the house of Israel say that He is good,

For His mercy endures forever….

 

The Lord is my strength and my song,

And He became my salvation.

The sound of exceeding joy and salvation

            Is in the tents of the righteous;

The right hand of the Lord exalted me;

The right hand of the Lord worked its power….

 Palm_Sunday-200x300

Appoint a feast for yourselves, decked

            with branches,*

Even to the horns of the altar.

You are my God, and I will thanks to You;

You are my God, and I shall exalt you….

 

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good;

For His mercy endures forever.

 

*We were celebrating the Feast of Palm Sunday, raising our palm branches as we processed outside the church remembering Christ’s victorious entry into Jerusalem.

At this time in our country, in our world, we need God’s mercy more than ever. How wonderful to rediscover it this week, both in Anne Lamott’s book, and in Psalm 117. As Lamott says:

I’m not sure I even recognize the ever-presence of mercy anymore, the divine and the human; the messy, crippled, transforming, heartbreaking, lovely, devastating presence of mercy. But I have come to believe that I am starving to death for it, and my world is, too.

But what does Lamott mean when she writes of mercy?

Mercy is radical kindness. Mercy means offering or being offered aid in desperate straits. Mercy is not deserved. It involves absolving the unabsolvable, forgiving the unforgivable. Mercy brings us to the miracle of apology, given and accepted, to unashamed humility when we have erred or forgotten…. The idea of accepting life as it presents itself and doing goodness anyway…. Yes, because in the words of Candi Staton’s great gospel song, “hallelujah anyway.” Hallelujah that in spite of it all, there is love, there is singing, nature, laughing, mercy.

 

Father John Troy Mashburn annointing parishioners with holy oil during Unction at St. John Orthodox Church.

Father John Troy Mashburn annointing parishioners with holy oil during Unction at St. John Orthodox Church.

 

I am so thankful to King David (who wrote Psalm 117), Anne Lamott, and Father Phillip Rogers for helping me rediscover mercy during this beautiful Holy Week. Tonight I will experience another taste of that mercy at the sacrament of Holy Unction at St. John Orthodox Church. When the holy oil is placed on our heads and hands, the priest will ask God to heal the disorders of our souls and bodies. That healing—which each of us will experience in a personal way, according to our own physical, mental, and spiritual brokenness—will indeed be an outpouring of God’s mercy. I hope I will go forth from this sacrament with the familiar words, “Lord, have mercy,” on my lips and in my heart.

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