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

CHERRY BOMB Book Tour is Shaping Up!

cherry bombAfter a fun and busy spring book tour for Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s (11 events in five states) and A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be (7 events in four states, and one more coming up next week in a fifth state), I’m slowing down a bit in June and July. Doing lots of reading and “mental prep” for my new novel, which is I’ve started and stopped in order to refuel.

Cherry Bomb (my novel) launches August 8 at Lemuria Bookstore in Jackson, Mississippi, and my publisher, Joe Lee (Dogwood Press, Brandon, Mississippi) and I are cooking up some fun events for late summer and fall. These (and more to come) will be listed on my web site’s EVENTS page, so feel free to check in from time to time for updates. Meanwhile, here’s a preview of coming attractions in Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida:

August 8 (5 pm)            Lemuria Books/Jackson, Mississippi

 

 August 19                        Mississippi Book Festival/Jackson, Mississippi (panelist for

                                                Cherry Bomb; also moderating another panel)

 

August 26 (12 pm)            Turnrow Books/Greenwood, Mississippi

 

September 1-4            Decatur Book Festival/Decatur, Georgia (panelist for A

                                                      Second Blooming; possibly also for Cherry Bomb)

 

September 7 (5:30 pm)            Burke’s Books/Memphis, Tennessee

 

October 12-15            Southern Festival of Books/Nashville, Tennessee (panelist for

                                                A Second Blooming; possibly also for Cherry Bomb)

 

October 28 (time TBA)            Capitol Oyster Bar/Montgomery, Alabama

                                                (“Choose Your Own Cover” event with live music)

 

October 30 (4 pm)            Sundog Books/Seaside, Florida

 

More events are in the works for November…. We’re still nailing down details, so stay tuned.

Wealth, Health, and Wisdom

Still on the road a lot, and now it’s Holy Week, and I’m trying to balance busiest time ever for work with church services and finding some time for silence. I was traveling again today and didn’t have time to blog, so I’ll just share some more good news:

I’ve been invited to speak at the Dyersburg State Community College’s Third Annual Women’s Conference. The conference theme is “Cultivate Your Path to Wealth, Health, and Wisdom.” I don’t know if I’m supposed to be the “wisdom” part or what, but I’ll be speaking on  my later-life journey as an author. I’m excited for the opportunity.

I’ll try to write a real blog post on Wednesday!

Dyersburg poster

Book Tour Continues: Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi

Sorry I didn’t post on Wednesday or Friday… I was on the road (drove about 1000 miles in four days). This was a “mixed” book tour, with one event for Tangles and Plaques and two events for A Second Blooming. I’ll share the highlights, but one of my favorite things about the trip was visiting with my author friends in each city.

 

Great support from Joe Formichella and Suzanne Hudson. Photo at Page & Palette books in Fairhope, Alabama.

Great support from Joe Formichella and Suzanne Hudson. Photo at Page & Palette books in Fairhope, Alabama.

On Tuesday I drove from Memphis to Fairhope, Alabama, where my hosts were Suzanne Hudson and Joe Formichella. Suzanne and Joe are both brilliant writers and we’ve become good friends since we met about seven years ago. I loved staying with them at their “house in the woods” in Waterhole Branch, just outside Fairhope. They helped promote my event for Tangles and Plaques at Page & Palette Books in Fairhope. I always appreciate audience participation with this book, and was honored to have some heartfelt exchanges with several folks who are at various stages of caregiving for loved ones.

 

NancyKsy Wessman, Emma Connolly, Susan Marquez, Susan Cushman, reading and signing at Garden District Books in New Orleans

NancyKsy Wessman, Emma Connolly, Susan Marquez, Susan Cushman, reading and signing at Garden District Books in New Orleans

Wednesday I drove from Fairhope to New Orleans, where I stayed with my friend Emma Connolly (who used to live in Memphis) and her husband Robert. Emma’s essay in A Second Blooming is about her move to New Orleans at age 65 to open a new business, Uptown Needle and Craftworks. I had fun visiting her shop, and the folks at Garden District Books were wonderful hosts for our event, which included Jackson contributors NancyKay Wessman and Susan Marquez. Susan’s daughter Nicole lives in New Orleans, as does my oldest son Jonathan, and both of them were at our reading, which made it even more special. Dinner afterwards at Joey K’s made the visit even more fun.

 

A few more photos from New Orleans:

Emma Connolly at her shop on Magazine Street in New Orleans, Uptown Needle and Craftworks

Emma Connolly at her shop on Magazine Street in New Orleans, Uptown Needle and Craftworks

 

 

So happy to have my son, Jonathan, at the event in New Orleans where he lives and flies a med-evac helicopter.

So happy to have my son, Jonathan, at the event in New Orleans where he lives and flies a med-evac helicopter.

Thursday I headed up to Jackson, Mississippi, for a third event, this time at Lemuria Books. Jackson contributors to A Second Blooming, Susan Marquez and NancyKay Wessman joined me, and I was thrilled with the turnout from friends and family in my home town. Lemuria bookseller Kelly Pickerill was a terrific event host, and bookstore owner John Evans stopped by to cheer us on. Lemuria is one of the most supportive bookstores for authors, and I always love being there. Dinner afterwards at Bravo with NancyKay, Susan, and a new friend (for me) Janet Wagner. We closed out the evening with (the best ever) Willie Morris Old Fashioneds at the Library Lounge at the Fairview Inn.

 

Here are a few pictures:

Signing with Jackson residents Susan Marquez and NancyKay Wessman at Lemuria Books.

Signing with Jackson residents Susan Marquez and NancyKay Wessman at Lemuria Books.

Great to see Kathy Moore Kerr, friend from high school who was matron of honor in my wedding in 1970!

Great to see Kathy Moore Kerr, friend from high school who was matron of honor in my wedding in 1970!

 

Murrah High School classmates (1969) came out to support me: Sally McClintock Thompson, and AB Clark Nichols.

Murrah High School classmates (1969) came out to support me: Sally McClintock Thompson, and AB Clark Nichols.

Always love to see my niece, Aubrey Leigh Goodwin!

Always love to see my niece, Aubrey Leigh Goodwin!

 

 

 

 

My next event is April 18, when I’ll be a speaker at the Dyersburg State Community College’s 3rd annual women’s conference, where I’ll be talking about my journey as a “late life” author. I’ll be taking a break from the book circuit this next week as we enter Holy Week, with many services at our parish, culminating with Pascha (Easter). Thanks, always, for reading, and I love to hear from my readers. Please leave a comment here or on Facebook.

The Iris: Heralding the Transcendent Self

ASB CoverThis morning I’m reflecting a bit about the image of an iris on the cover of A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be. Sally Thomason, my neighbor, friend, and mentor, who has an essay in the collection, emailed me some information about the flower:

Iris was Zeus’ messenger who traveled to the underworld to gather water from the River Styx, the boundary between Earth and the Underworld (in Jungian and modern psychological understanding, between the conscious and the unconscious mind)—meaning that one must confront the unconscious demons in order to bring forth new or renewed life.

And this, from a book of symbols:

On a golden Japanese scree, the irises are perpetually alive, a vivid reminder of springtime’s renewal….the diverse exquisite hues of iris …represent the integration of all qualities in the Stone.  Just as Iris heralded the approach of the gods, so, psychologically, the show of many colors [within the blossom] heralds the transcendent self in which the many facets of the personality, once opposing each other, are brought into a unity.

irisHow wonderful that this meaningful image adorns a book about second bloomings, about women finding themselves as they move into (or continue in) the second half of their lives with newfound creativity, wisdom, and maturity. Most of these women have confronted demons (conscious or unconscious) in order to “bring forth new or renewed life.” They have also discovered their “transcendent self” and have in many cases brought the many facets of the personality into a unity. What a perfect image for this book!

I looked up more about irises and loved what I found on the Teleflora page:

The iris’s mythology dates back to Ancient Greece, when the goddess Iris, who personified the rainbow (the Greek word for iris), acted as the link between heaven and earth. It’s said that purple irises were planted over the graves of women to summon the goddess Iris to guide them in their journey to heaven. Irises became linked to the French monarchy during the Middle Ages, eventually being recognized as their national symbol, the fleur-de-lis.

The February birth flower, the 25th wedding anniversary flower and the state flower of Tennessee, the iris’s three upright petals are said to symbolize faith, valor and wisdom.

irisesIt’s like icing on the cake that the iris is the state flower of Tennessee, since four of the contributors and I (the editor) all live in Memphis.  Faith, valor, and wisdom. Yes, these women are models of these virtues, and I’m so proud to have them in this incredible book. The five of us (Tennessee authors) will be at Memphis Botanic Gardens(fitting, right?)  for an afternoon (3 p.m.) reading and signing on March 26. I’m thinking I need a vase of irises for the punch table….

Time Was Soft There—Literary Gossip and Catnip for Book Junkies

55008Flying to and from Austin (through Atlanta, of course) gave me several extra hours of reading time this weekend, so I finished my third book of 2017:

Time Was Soft There: A Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare & Co. by Jeremy Mercer

I had planned to write a book review today until I found a Kirkus Review that pretty much says what I would have said. I’ll add that when I was in Paris last May, I stopped into Shakespeare & Company right after visiting nearby Notre Dame Cathedral. Now I wish I had read this book before visiting the legendary store. I had no idea that people lived inside the store (for free) nor did I know any of the owner’s colorful history. Read the Kirkus Review for a quick summary. I’ll share the closing line here as a teaser:

Literary gossip, and catnip for book junkies.

Susan and JulieWe had a wonderful time in Austin at my first cousin, Julie Johnson’s wedding this weekend. What a beautiful city and surrounding areas—the wedding was held on a deck/patio high up at The Oasis at Lake Travis, with an incredible view of sailboats on the lake (temperatures in the 70s) and later, a windy and cloudy but powerful sunset. My husband and I also loved hanging out with two more of my first cousins (Jimmy and Johnny Jones from Jackson, Mississippi) during the weekend, so, as weddings often are, it was a fun reunion. Johnny remarked that it was great getting together for something other than a funeral, which is the main time we usually see each other! My husband and I had a great time shopping for his first pair of cowboy boots, and a new cowboy hat for me (I collect them from most cities I visit), which we wore to the wedding.

Now I’m back home in Memphis, enjoying editing the essays that are arriving in my inbox for next year’s anthology, So Y’all Think You Can Write: Southern Writers on Writing. I love my job. Have a great week!

 

me and Bill at sunset at The Oasis

me and Bill at sunset at The Oasis

First cousins: Johnny Jones, me, Jimmy Jones

First cousins: Johnny Jones, me, Jimmy Jones

The bride and groom: Julie and Blake Brice

The bride and groom: Julie and Blake Brice

Julie with her 19-year-old son, Colton, a rodeo-rider.

Julie with her 19-year-old son, Colton, a rodeo-rider.

Who Cares? (Me!)

A few years ago I was participating in a series of half-day writing workshops in Oxford, Mississippi, led by Barry Hannah. These were held on Wednesdays during the summer of 2009 (I think) and we met at a bar on the square in Oxford. Barry led the discussion, and he invited several MFA students and grads to join in. I remember one of those Wednesdays during which he pretty much dissed my submission, saying, “Who CARES?” (He might have said who the f*&#* cares.)

Of course my feelings were hurt. And then he explained what he meant. In my essay, I hadn’t given the reader enough reason to CARE about the main character. That doesn’t mean the reader has to love or even like the character—hate is acceptable. But not ambivalence.  Whether or not I agreed with him about that particular piece, I took his advice to heart as I continued to write.

Event+DetailsAnd so on this day of the inauguration of the 45th president of the United States, I struggle to come up with anything to say that my readers would CARE to hear. I’m pretty much an a-political person. Or I was, until Donald Trump ran for president. I was more than disturbed that he was taken seriously. And when he won the Republican primary, something shifted within me. I knew I could never vote for him, although I had voted Republican for almost five decades.

And so as the nation prepares for his inauguration, I’m glad to be distracted by a fun trip to Austin, Texas, for a cousin’s wedding. If I were younger and more independent, I might be making a trip to DC this weekend to join the Women’s March on Washington on Saturday. It’s not that I agree with all of their issues, but I strongly protest the inauguration of a president who has such great disrespect for women. Not to mention his strong narcissism. So yes, I CARE.

Whenever I fly, I always say a prayer asking for safe travels as the plane takes off. Today I will also ask for peace and safety during the inauguration today, as well as for the women marching tomorrow. May God bless the United States of America.

Literary Events in 2017: A Work in Progress

I’m excited to have 11 literary events scheduled for 2017 so far, in Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, and North Carolina. More events pending in Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina (and more in Tennessee and Mississippi). If you live in or near these cities, please COME and SPREAD THE WORD!

Click on the EVENTS button on my web site to see updated schedules, as I will be adding events regularly. As of today, January 11, here are the scheduled events:

 

Tangles and Plaques cover artMarch 2, 2017 (5:30 p.m.)

Burke’s Books/Memphis, TN

Tangles & Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s

 

March 3, 2017 (5:00 p.m.)

Square Books/Oxford, MS

Tangles & Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s

 

March 4, 2017 (3 p.m.)

Lemuria Books/Jackson, MS

Tangles & Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s

 

March 16, 2017 (6:30 p.m.)

Private Salon/Harbor town/Memphis, TN

Tangles & Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s

 

March 18, 2017 (10 a.m.)

Wordsworth Books, Little Rock Arkansas

Tangles & Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s

 

March 26, 2017 (3-5 p.m.)

Memphis Botanic Garden

A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be

Susan (editor) will be joined by Memphis contributors Jen Bradner, Suzanne Henley, Ellen Morris Prewitt, and Sally Palmer Thomason.

 

ASB CoverApril 5, 2017 (6 p.m.)

Garden District Books/New Orleans, LA

A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be

Susan Cushman (editor) will be joined by contributors Emma Connolly, Susan Marquez, and NancyKay Wessman.

 

April 6, 2017 (5 p.m.)

Lemuria Books/Jackson, MS

A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be

Susan (editor) will be joined by Jackson contributors Susan Marquez and NancyKay Wessman.

 

May 4, 2017

Lake Logan Retreat Center/Lake Logan, NC

Tangles & Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s

 

October ? (DATES and VENUES TBA)

Memphis, TN and Jackson, MS

Cherry Bomb (a novel)

 

October 13-15

Southern Festival of Books/Nashville, TN

Books/events TBA

 

November 6, 2017

Women of St. John Orthodox Church book club/Memphis, TN

Tangles & Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s

 

November 9, 2017

Friends of the Library/Starkville, MS

Cherry Bomb (a novel)
Thanks so much for your support!

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!

Southern Festival of Books: A Special Ten-Year Anniversary

SFB_2016This year’s Southern Festival of Books is this weekend in Nashville, Tennessee. I have several friends serving on panels or giving readings, including J. T. Ellison, Karen Harrington, Lee Martin, Jolina Petersheim, Sally Palmer Thomason, and Shellie Tomlinson. I’m also excited that my friends Joe Formichella and Suzanne Hudson, who will also be guest presenters at a literary salon I’m hosting tomorrow night in our home here in Memphis, will be presenters there this year.

SFB 2006But today I’m remembering festivals past—especially the first one I ever attended, the last year the festival venue was here in Memphis, October 13-15, 2006. Ten years ago tomorrow, my life was changed forever, as I met a number of authors who would become friends and mentors, including Lee Smith, Cassandra King, Jennifer Horne, Wendy Reed, and Beth Ann Fennelly. I wrote about this event in my essay, “Chiaroscuro: Shimmer and Shadow,” which was published in Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality (University of Alabama Press 2012) edited by Jennifer Horne and Wendy Reed. Here’s an excerpt:

In October of 2006 I attended the Southern Festival of Books at the Cook Convention Center, just a few minutes from my home in midtown Memphis. The program boasted a few of my favorite authors, especially Cassandra King, whose book, The Sunday Wife, had begun to soften the hard layers with which I had adorned my public persona. Meeting Cassandra, sharing my story with her, and having her write in my copy of her book, “To Susan, who knows what a Sunday wife is,” were defining moments for me. I loved her even more after I read her essay, “The Making of a Preacher’s Wife,” in the first volume of All Out of Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality. She described her struggle—“balancing a Southern Belle, good-little-girl persona with that of an artsy wannabe who smoked cigarettes and dreamed of being a writer.” And she wrote candidly about her years as a minister’s wife, during which she “wrote devotionals and religious poems and church pageants, not out of devotion or true piety, but to please and impress others.” Finally she “went underground” and wrote a novel about a preacher’s wife who questions her life on many levels, stating that “the writing of it was my salvation.”

As I listened to Cassandra and the other women on the panel for All Out of Faith, my heart was beating so loudly in my chest that I was afraid everyone in the room could hear it. On the inside flap of the book’s cover, I read these words: “The South is often considered patriarchal, but as these writers show, Southern culture has always reserved a special place for strong women of passion.” That’s me, I thought. And in the Afterword the book’s editors, Jennifer Horne and Wendy Reed, wrote about how “spirituality is not removed from ordinary life but infuses it,” and about the need to “go inside myself, below the roles I’d taken on as layers.” Yes.

During the festival I also met Lee Smith, who was reading from her latest work, On Agate Hill, and the poet Beth Ann Fennelly, who paints a vivid picture of her own take on womanhood and spirituality in her poetry. She was reading from her latest book of poems, Tender Hooks. My favorite poem in that book is “Waiting For the Heart to Moderate,” in which she describes what it feels like to be “all edges, on tender hooks” at every stage of a woman’s life, and to still feel the music “booming in her breastbone.” I’m much older than Beth Ann, but I still hear that music, and like her, in my own efforts “to free it,” I also worry that I “might do something stupid.” But maybe my middle-aged heart is finally learning to moderate. 

As the festival ended, I found myself thinking, where have these women been all my life? I hurried home with my autographed treasures and poured myself into the strong but tender female wisdom between the pages of their works. I rediscovered Sue Monk Kidd’s writing, especially The Dance of the Dissident Daughter. And while my Orthodox embrace of the Mother of God differs from Kidd’s approach to the “feminine imagery of the Divine,” I benefited greatly from her wisdom concerning Favored Daughters who “carry the wound of feminine inferiority,” trying to make up for it by setting “perfectionist standards . . . a thin body, happy children, an impressive speech, and a perfectly written article.”

Or maybe a perfectly crafted book. Three short months after my encounter with these strong women of faith, I completed a novel…. My current novel-in-progress features three strong women of passion as its protagonists. I don’t know if the writing of it will be my salvation, but it is, at a minimum, an effort towards wholeness.

As the late Madeleine L’Engle said: “Until we have been healed, we do not know what wholeness is: the discipline of creation, be it to paint, compose or write, is an effort towards wholeness. . . . The important thing is to remember that our gift, no matter what the size, is indeed something given us and which we must humbly serve, and in serving, learn more wholeness, be offered wondrous newness.”

Learning to serve the gift through writing and painting is bringing wondrous newness into my life every day. Once it surfaced in an essay about how anger blocked me from painting icons, and how the beach, a dream, and a soft-rock song helped me get unblocked. At other times that newness has shown up to cheer me on as I embrace the darker aspects of my Mississippi childhood by laying down difficult chapters of my novel-in-progress. Sometimes I feel its presence during the sacrament of confession, when I’ve been up all night facing down my demons as I write, often chasing them with vodka or wine. 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.

SFB 2012As I read those words and remember that festival from ten years ago this week, I am so thankful for the amazing friends I have found in my writing life. And for the folks who work hard to put on these literary festivals like the Southern Festival of Books. I returned to the festival in 2012 (when it was back in Nashville) to serve on a panel for Circling Faith. These event posters adorn a wall in my office, reminding me of the importance of gathering with fellow writers and readers to celebrate the written word. I’m hoping to participate in several of these in 2017 as I give birth to my first books. Stay tuned as the journey continues.

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