CHERRY BOMB Book Tour Continues: ALABAMA and FLORIDA!

What a great time I had last weekend on the Mississippi Gulf Coast! It started with a live interview on WLOX Biloxi TV (for CHERRY BOMB) on Friday afternoon (October 20) followed by a reading/signing at Pass Christian Books and Cat Island Coffee House right on the beach at Pass Christian, Mississippi on Saturday afternoon, October 21. The weekend was enhanced by a visit from our oldest son, Jon, my hosts Hardy and Katherine Thames (she’s my Goddaughter), and a lovely after-party at the home and interior design studio of Al and Cathy Lawson in Bay St. Louis, and an early dinner (royal reds for me!) at The Blind Tiger on the water in Bay St. Louis. Oh, and Sunday morning’s 16th birthday breakfast for Mary Thames and family at the Harbor View Café in Long Beach, Mississippi. (See more photos at the end of this post.)

Group Pass Books

Laura Beth Hebbler (Ocean Springs), Hardy and Katherine Thames (Gulfport), me, Jon Cushman (our oldest son, who lives in New Orleans), and Cathy Lawson (Bay St.Louis)

 

I’m having a great time touring the South to share my joy over my novel CHERRY BOMB. Having already been to 7 venues in Tennessee and Mississippi (with 7 more events scheduled in Mississippi in November and December and 2 more scheduled in Memphis so far) I’m off on a fun road trip with my husband tomorrow. We’re combining his career and mine, starting with two days in Franklin, Tennessee, where he’s speaking at a medical meeting, and we’re having dinner with one of our nephews, and I’m having lunch with a writer friend. Then we’re combining a fall beach vacation with three book events for me. Here’s the schedule for my appearances along the Florida Gulf Coast and the Eastern Shore of the Mobile Bay:

Saturday, October 28 (2-5:30 p.m.)—“Choose Your Own Cover” music and literary event at the Capitol Oyster Bar in Montgomery, Alabama. Patrons will pay $15 cover charge for some great music and will choose from five authors’ books. I’m so excited to be joining Alabama authors Suzanne Hudson, Joe Formichella, Marlin Barton, Loretta Cobb, and William Cobb. And we’ll all be enjoining the musical talents of Chris Clifton and Gove Scrivenor. My husband and I visited the Oyster Bar last April and enjoyed some of the best oyster and Argentine shrimp (yes!) ever. Can’t wait to be back there on Saturday!

Monday, October 30 (4-6 p.m.)Sundog Books, Seaside, Florida, where I’ll be signing copies of CHERRY BOMB on the front porch of this terrific bookstore in a legendary town. (And meeting up with old Memphis friends afterwards at the Great Southern Café next door!)

Wednesday, November 1 (4-5:30 p.m.)—The Hidden Lantern Bookstore in scenic Rosemary Beach, Florida. After my book signing, I hope to head across 30-A to one of my favorite places, La Crema

Thursday, November 2 (2-3 p.m.)Page & Palette in Fairhope, Alabama. This will be my second event at this wonderful bookstore, which hosted me back in April for my first book, Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s.  Can’t wait to read and sign CHERRY BOMB for the good (and very literary) people of Fairhope. And many thanks to my friend Ren Hinote, who is hosting an after-party in her home in nearby Montrose.

Watch for pictures on Facebook, and thanks, always, for reading. I hope to see some of you along the tour!

Susan at register Pass Books

Beautiful views at the Cat Island Coffee Shop inside Pass Christian Books!

Beautiful views at the Cat Island Coffee Shop inside Pass Christian Books!

Hugging my son, Jon, whom I hadn't seen in six months.

Hugging my son, Jon, whom I hadn’t seen in six months.

Ten Favorite Things about the Southern Festival of Books

Thanks to Parnassus Books of Nashville for selling our books at the festival!

Thanks to Parnassus Books of Nashville for selling our books at the festival!

This past weekend I traveled to Nashville, Tennessee, for the 29th Annual Southern Festival of Books. The only other time I had been was in 2012, when I was on a panel with Jennifer Horne, Wendy Reed, Marshall Chapman, and Rheta Grimsley Johnson for the anthology, Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality. It was great to return as an author for my novel Cherry Bomb.

Nashville is a great city, and I always enjoy my visits. This time I wasn’t able to take in any of the sites and sounds (I love country music!) other than those happening at the Festival itself. Back in 2012 one of my favorite things was an evening “in the round” (literary readings and music) at the Blue Bird Café. Didn’t make it to the Blue Bird this trip, so I’ll share my “10 favorite things” about the Festival itself.

panel with Jamie Logan James Cherry Jordan Evans

Jamie Logan (moderator), authors Susan Cushman and James Cherry, and moderator Jordan Renee Evans

 

1. Being on a panel for CHERRY BOMB, with fellow Tennessee author James E. Cherry (funny that his name is Cherry, right?) Our panel was titled “The Path to Publishing: Tennessee Debut Novelists,” although James’s novel EDGE OF THE WIND is actually his second. He and I both have published in other genres, including poetry and short stories (for James) and memoir and anthologies (for me). We also have both been published in a variety of independent presses, so we were asked to talk about our journeys to publishing, which was lots of fun. There were quite a few writers in the audience, who were seeking information about how to get their work published, so it was a very interactive session. Our moderators are both graduate students in the MFA Creative Writing program at the University of Memphis—Jamie Logan and Jordan Renee Evans—and they did a terrific job.

with Karissa Sorrell2. Signing copies of CHERRY BOMB for readers who purchased them. And getting to know them, if only briefly, and why they are interested in my book. It is so humbling and gratifying after working for years on the book, to finally see others appreciate it! It was great to see my old high school classmate (from Jackson, Mississippi) Cecil Ross. Some of those readers are friends I’ve known in Nashville for a few years, and it was great to see them again, like the talented poet and author Karissa Knox Sorrell, whom I actually met in person at the 2012 festival. Karissa, as well as others who came to my panel, like Bertie Hamilton DeWane and Marianne Robbins, are Orthodox Christians like me, so they have a special interest in some of the spiritual themes in the book, including the weeping icon of Saint Mary of Egypt.

River gives good hugs!

River gives good hugs!

3. My live interview with author and radio host River Jordan on Clearstory Radio. Jordan and I have been friends for about ten years, and we recently did a signing together at Barnes and Noble in Brentwood, Tennessee with local author Kathy Rhodes. River and Kathy had both contributed essays to an anthology I edited, A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be. And River has also contributed an essay to another anthology I’m editing, Southern Writers on Writing (coming from University Press of Mississippi in 2018). In 2010 we traveled together to the Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend in Texas, where she was a featured author and I was her guest. I’m so excited to be returning to that amazing event this January as an author. River and I talked about my banner year of publishing three books, and a little bit about each of them. She asked about my experience working with different publishers and editors, like Joe Lee of Dogwood Press, who published CHERRY BOMB. CLICK HERE TO LISTEN to the interview—it’s about 15 minutes long.

It's so much fun being interviewed by Clearstory Radio host River Jordan!

It’s so much fun being interviewed by Clearstory Radio host River Jordan!

 

Kathy Susan4. Visiting with fellow authors from all around the South that I rarely get to see. And even to meet a couple of them in person for the first time, although we’ve been chatting on Facebook for several years! Kathy Rhodes was anchoring a tent for Middle Tennessee Authors. We’ve been friends since about 2008, and we co-directed the 2010 and 2013 Creative Nonfiction Conferences in Oxford, Mississippi (with Neil White). Kathy is a terrific author and workshop leader and friend. I especially loved her 2013 memoir Remember the Dragonflies: A Memoir of Grief and Healing.

5. The next fellow author I ran into was Brenda McClain, who was enjoying some fine tunes at the outdoor music tent when I found her Saturday morning. Her novel One Good Mama Bone was released by Story River Press, an imprint of the University of South Carolina Press founded by Pat Conroy. Brenda is a South Carolina native, and I’m looking forward to being with her again in January at (you guessed it) the Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend.

Enjoying the breeze at the outdoor music venue with South Carolina author Brenda McClain

Enjoying the breeze at the outdoor music venue with South Carolina author Brenda McClain

 

6. Later I met Georgia native and fellow author Karen Spears Zacharias. Karen and I share a publisher—Mercer University Press published her recent novel Christian Bend, and also my anthology A Second Blooming. We visited briefly between my interview and hers with River at the Clearstory Radio venue at the top of the colonnade, overlooking some of the festival tents. What a joyful spirit she has!

Karen Spears Zacharias and I share a publisher: Mercer Universitiy Press!

Karen Spears Zacharias and I share a publisher: Mercer University Press. It was windy up on those Collonade steps!

 

7. I didn’t have photo ops with everyone, but it was also great to see fellow Jackson, Mississippi native (we were in high school together in the 1960s!) Corabel Shofner at the authors’ reception. Bel was on a panel for her middle grade novel Almost Paradise. Also shared a brief hug with my friend Beth Ann Fennelly (Poet Laureate of Mississippi) who was at the festival to talk about her latest book Heating & Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs. Oh, and finally meeting festival director Serenity Gerbman! And a short visit in the authors’ hospitality lounge with North Carolina native Shari Smith, a fellow contributor to the anthology The Shoe Burnin’: Stories of Southern Soul (River Edge Media 2013). Shari is the creator of Trio, a traveling exhibit of art and songs inspired by books. Speaking of which….

8. “The Conroy Center Porch Talk” (a live podcast) was great fun. Moderated by Jonathan Haupt, director of the Pat Conroy Literary Center in Beaufort, South Carolina, Jonathan welcomed author Wiley Cash, talking about his recent book The Last Ballad, and singer-songwriter Radney Foster, who performed an original song he wrote about The Last Ballad for the Trio project. 

Jonathan Haupt introducing Wiley Cash

Jonathan Haupt introducing Wiley Cash

 

Singer-songwriter Radney Foster

Singer-songwriter Radney Foster

th9. Javaka Steptoe, artist and author of award-winning children’s books, gave a wonderful talk about his latest work Radiant Child, about Jean-Michel Basquiat, who  actually makes a cameo appearance in my novel CHERRY BOMB! There’s a scene where Mare, the young protagonist, is watching an MTV video of Blondie and Fab Five Freddy, and Basquiat is in the background throwing up graffiti. Steptoe was a great presenter and I love the book.

10. My “parting shot” for the Festival is a group of street dancers I enjoyed watching as I walked from my panel in the Nashville Public Library to the author signing tent, which was right next to the Parnassus book tent. (Thanks to Parnassus for selling our books!) I missed the start of their dance, so I didn’t quite get the significance of the articles of clothing strewn across the pavement, which they picked up at the end of the dance. But the music was haunting and I always enjoy dance.

That’s a wrap for the 29th Annual Southern Festival of Books. Hope to return next year for their 30th year celebration!

Advance Praise for Cherry Bomb!

I’m pinching myself so I’ll know this is real. These six AMAZING literary rock stars have written blurbs for my novel, Cherry Bomb, which releases in August. This has been a six year (plus) project, and I couldn’t be more excited about it. Or more pleased with Joe Lee at Dogwood Press for being such a great publisher. Thanks so much to these very busy, successful authors whom I’m honored to call my friends. I can’t believe they said things like, “deft narrative control,” “rising star in southern literary circles,” “beautifully written, thoughtfully conceived,” and “rendered with passion, acumen and concision.” Cherry Bomb launches on August 8 (just three months away!) at Lemuria Books in Jackson, Mississippi (my home town). Here they are!!!

Cassandra King

Cassandra King

“In CHERRY BOMB, a troubled young artist finds a way to heal a horrific past in the intriguing world of street art, graffiti, iconography, and abstract expressionism. With deft narrative control, Susan Cushman weaves an unforgettable story of triumph and redemption that will linger long after the final page is turned. An impressive debut by a rising star in southern literary circles!”

Cassandra King, author of The Sunday Wife

Joshilyn Jackson

Joshilyn Jackson

Using the life of real abstract expressionist artist Elaine de Kooning as a jumping off point, CHERRY BOMB fearlessly explores the intersection between art and spirituality, creating it as a palpable place where healing can occur. This is a bold, frank book, and Susan Cushman is a brave and talented writer.

             —Joshilyn Jackson, New York Times bestselling author of gods in Alabama and The Almost Sisters

Harrison Scott Key

Harrison Scott Key

“Any book that opens with a young woman painting graffiti across the steeple-ridden town of Macon, Georgia, is my kind of story. Cushman depicts the South as it is, not the sentimental claptrap some people want it to be. No cliches to be found here, just God and art and beauty and pain—just like sitting in church.”

Harrison Scott Key, author of The World’s Largest Man

Beth Ann Fennelly

Beth Ann Fennelly

“How does Susan Cushman do it?  Out of the most unlikely materials—a teenage graffiti artist, an abstract expressionist painting teacher running from her past, and a reclusive nun who paints icons—she weaves an intricate tale that teases us with surprising connections.  This generous first novel is a tale of family and resilience and the healing power of art.  Beautifully written, thoughtfully conceived, CHERRY BOMB surprises and redeems.”

Beth Ann Fennelly, Poet Laureate of Mississippi

Julie Cantrell

Julie Cantrell

“By mixing the work of historical creatives with the risqué endeavors of a modern graffiti artist, Cushman takes a unique approach to examining the experiences of a young girl who turns to art while finding her way in life.”

Julie Cantrell, New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author of Perennials

 

Corey Mesler

Corey Mesler

“Susan Cushman, in her marvelous first novel, tells the touching, parallel stories of two female artists, one famous, one not. The intersection of their lives, rendered with passion, acumen and concision, will entertain and enlighten you. The story moves as quickly as running paint, and, in the accumulation of detail, becomes a canny meditation on art and individuality, on spirituality and hope. Its indelible characters, especially its young graffiti artist, will take up residence inside you alongside Scout Finch and Frankie Addams.”

            —Corey Mesler, author of Memphis Movie and Robert Walker

Dust Jacket Copy for Cherry Bomb!!!

Dust-jacketI hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas! I’ve shared lots of pictures on Facebook, so I’m not going to bomb my blog with our family Christmas images, but we are having a wonderful time in Denver with two of our three “kids” and their families, including our four granddaughters (which is why I didn’t do a blog post on Friday). We’ll head back to Memphis tomorrow where I’ll continue work on all four books in their various stages of editing, production, and marketing.

I’m excited to share this wonderful blurb written by my publisher, Joe Lee, for the front inside cover of my novel Cherry Bomb. It appeared on the Dogwood Press blog, Friday, December 23, 2016. Check out the other authors featured there, including my friend John Floyd who is a wizard with short stories. His latest book is Dreamland.

Thanks for this wonderful blurb, Joe! (This will be a hardback book with a dust jacket cover. We’re working on cover art now, so stay tuned!)

In the same way that a good bookseller can get you excited about reading a book (as our Mississippi booksellers do so well), good dust jacket copy does the same thing — how often have you read the flap cover and said, “Gosh, I’ve GOT to get this!” With that in mind, here’s the dust jacket copy for Susan Cushman’s debut novel, Cherry Bomb, which I can’t wait for us to roll out next October:

            By the tender age of sixteen, Mary Catherine Henry has lived through enough horror to last a lifetime. Sexual abuse at the hands of her cult-leading father, abandonment by her drug-addicted mother (who nicknamed her Mare), and several spirit-crushing years with a dysfunctional foster family convince her that life on the streets will be easier, somehow, than what she’s always known.

What keeps Mare going is the budding artist inside her, and the sleepy Southern town of Macon, Georgia, doesn’t know what hit them when colorful graffiti “bombs” begin appearing on abandoned buildings—Mare even dares to decorate a Catholic church with a highly provocative message. The young runaway signs her work CHERRY BOMB, attracts the attention of the local media, and is soon caught—but not by police.

 A photographer for Rolling Stone learns of Mare while on assignment, finds her, and befriends her. So does a reporter for The Macon News and, eventually, the priest of the parish whose walls Mare defaced so angrily. Their efforts help earn her a scholarship at prestigious Savannah College of Art & Design, where she studies under legendary Abstract Expressionist painter Elaine de Kooning. It’s a wonderful mentoring relationship … until Mare and Elaine discover they have much more in common than a love of art. And that bond, which forces both women to deal with pain and anger from their repressed pasts, threatens to tear them apart.

With a mix of remarkably visual characters and an intricate, compelling plot rich with intriguing religious imagery, Mississippi author Susan Cushman has penned a powerful debut novel that will stay with you long after you’ve turned the final page. You’ll never forget Mare and Elaine … and you’ll never look at religious icons—and street graffiti—the same way.

 

Wow! Doesn’t that make you want to read the book? And you can support Susan before then by picking up a copy of Tangles and Plaques (A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s), which will be released in several weeks by eLectio Publishing.

Family on Friday: Badass Women… Leaning Into the Damage

15783116-injured-child-posing-as-victim-of-domestic-violenceOn page 4A of  today’s Memphis Commercial Appeal, there’s a shocking article about domestic violence written by Maria Chang, AP Medical Writer. In “WHO Study: Third of women suffer domestic violence,” Chang reveals this chilling statistic from the World Health Organization:

40 percent of women killed worldwide were slain by an intimate partner, and being assaulted by a partner was the most common kind of violence experienced by women.

While the article doesn’t define “partner” as always meaning a legal spouse, the use of the term “intimate” at least indicates a close if not familial relationship—one that should be safe. These statistics are from studies that took place between 1983 and 2010.

Two pages later in the same section of today’s CA (Section A, page 7) is a guest column by Karen Camper, a member of the Tennessee House of Representatives and the Women Legislator’s Lobby, titled, “Oppression of women fuels world’s unrest.” Rep. Camper’s focus is on the affect that issues surrounding women’s rights—especially in the Middle East—have on world peace, rather than the results of domestic violence on the individual. The article is worth a read. She sums up her thoughts with these words:

Respecting women and involving women in all aspects of society offer the only hope for achieving the transformational change that is so necessary for peace.

Whether or not that ever happens in our fractured world, Camper’s observations are astute, and I hope that enough people are listening to help make a difference.

rooney-mara-girl-with-dragon-tattoo-lisbethAnd this might seem an unusual segue, but Stieg Larsson uses facts about man-on-woman violence as section quotes in his novel, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, including this one:

Forty-six percent of the women in Sweden have been subjected to violence by a man.

Since the protag and two other supporting characters in my novel, Cherry Bomb, were all sexually abused, this is a topic that catches my eye wherever I see it. And the trained eye of the editor I’m working with right now on revisions for the novel. She’s the one who recommended I read The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, remember? For “an absolute master class in writing damaged women.” I’m finding my reading of Larsson’s work to be just that, especially where his protag, Lisbeth Salander is involved. As my editor says:

Lisbeth Salander never stops being a badass just because she gets wealthy enough to walk away from the hacker life—and that commitment to self preservation should also be strong in Mare (Cherry Bomb’s protag). No one gets away from a childhood like hers without some damage, and not all damage gets healed. Don’t be afraid of that—lean into it.

And so I proceed to live my own life—leaning into the damage I have personally suffered—while striving to bring that spirit of self preservation to the women I create on the written page. I have grown to love Mare over the past three years as I’ve written and revised her story. By the end of the novel, she’s no longer the frightened little girl who escapes from a cult and is then abused by her foster father. She’s no longer the angry teenager who sneaks around at night bombing buildings with graffiti. She has grown into a strong, compassionate, badass woman.

 

Faith on Friday: Graffiti Iconography?

graffiti-church-dome-2

 

I was so excited yesterday when my friend, Sheila Vamplin, sent me a link to this article in First Things about graffiti artists painting icons in the dome of a church in Spain. So intrigued that I clicked through to this expanded article in The World, “Spanish Priest Commissions Graffiti for Church.” And then I found this video, showing the artists at work. (Wish I understood Spanish so I could hear what the priest and the graf writers are saying.)

This makes me happy on so many levels.

As an Orthodox Christian and (retired) iconographer, I was taught to respect the rules that my faith sets down for liturgical art, including icons, music, and architecture. Without those guidelines, these ancient, traditional forms would gradually morph into something entirely different. Eastern (Byzantine) traditions would become “Americanized” over time. There was a time when I thought that was a bad thing. I no longer feel that way. After all, I live in America. I am an American. Its culture is my culture. It’s been very difficult to assimilate the culture of the Middle East into my religious experience as a convert to Orthodoxy.

 
When I was writing icons, I had a discussion with Mother Gabriella, a Romanian abbess at Holy Dormition (Orthodox) Monastery in Rives Junction, Michigan. I was struggling with the strictness of both the styles and techniques taught by the Russian iconographers at the classes hosted by the monastery. I had also studied under Greek, Romanian, Ukrainian and American instructors, and it seemed that each “school” of iconography had its own set of rules. Mother Gabriella encouraged me to just “pray and paint” and let the style develop organically. She didn’t believe there was anything more spiritual about one technique than another. Or that one medium is more spiritual than another. Some iconographers believe egg tempera is the only true spiritual medium for icons, looking down on those who paint with acrylics. I found great relief in the large berth she gave to liturgical art.

Rudi and House working on sketches for the frescos

Rudi and House working on sketches for the frescos

 

Rudi

Rudi

So when a Catholic priest in Spain reached out to two graffiti writers he found online (“Rudi” and “House”) and asked them to paint the iconographic images for the dome of his church last year, he incorporated yet another element of his culture—graf writers are counter-culture. (See “God’s Own Banksy.”) And they would be painting the icons with the only tool of their craft—spray paint. (Interesting note: both graffiti artists and iconographers use the term “write” when talking about painting graffiti or icons.)

 

Father Ramon

Father Ramon

L’Hospitalet’s Santa Eulalia church is neo-Romanesque in design, with a Catalan twist. Father Ramon Borr has this to say about his choice of “iconographers” for the dome of his church:

“Even though the press is scandalized by graffiti artists, for me graffiti is just another artistic technique.”

House on ladder painting the dome

House on ladder painting the dome

I would love to meet Father Ramon and thank him for this bold move on his part. And to see these icons in person. I’m amazed by the skill the graf writers showed in the precision of the lines they achieved with spray paint. Since I researched graffiti for my novel, Cherry Bomb, I learned just enough to respect how difficult it is to achieve such precision. The article in The World says:

One of the two ‘graffiteros’ was Raul Sanchez, who’s tag, or signature for street art, is House. House said that when Father Borr hired him he was surprised, and nervous, and thrilled.

“Only a graffiti artist can tell we used aerosol cans to do the work,” he said by telephone from Alicante. “We tried to conceal that. In the Roman period spray paint obviously didn’t exist.”

CloseupJust like acrylics didn’t exist during the Byzantine era. The graf writers studied the Romanesque style in Barcelona before they began painting in the church. They respected the liturgical guidelines, but they brought their own creativity to the work.

My favorite “style” of iconography is that used by the Coptics. The simple, primitive figures and the bold colors have a spiritual element that reaches my soul in a different way from the Byzantine icons. A few years ago I took a workshop at an Episcopal Church in Memphis during which we learned to do “reverse painting” on glass. We transferred Coptic images to the glass by tracing the outlines with Sharpie pens and then filled in the colors—from back to front—with acrylic paint. I gave my icon away as a gift, and I’m sorry that I don’t have any pictures of it.

Sophie, age 7, painting Ethiopian folk art

Sophie, age 7, painting Ethiopian folk art

But my Goddaughter, Sophie, and I had fun doing some Ethiopian folk art painting together on her birthday three years ago.  (She’ll be ten on February 25!) We used gouache—opaque water colors—on canvas, with pleasing results. Sophie was only seven at the time. This painting isn’t an icon, but you can see the primitive style of the symbolic images that also appear in Ethiopian icons.

I hope you enjoyed my peek into the diverse cultures of iconography and graffiti. I’ve only got a few days left here at my writing “retreat” on the beach. Can’t wait to see what the women in The Secret Book Club are reading next! Have a great weekend, and please come back on Monday for my mental health post.

 

SophiepaintingSophiewPainting

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