Courage… and Hunger

In my first post of 2018, “Don’t Look Back,” I shared two more wonderful quotes from the Bright Ideas quotes and A Woman’s Book of Inspiration, two wonderful Christmas gifts from my daughter and daughter-in-law. I’d like to share two more today. (I shared my first quotes selections on December 28, “Bright Ideas and Inspirational Quotes.”)

quote

And from A Woman’s Book of Inspiration:

“Women have to summon up courage to fulfill dormant dreams.”–Alice Walker

cover-hungerOne woman who has certainly summoned up a tremendous amount of courage in her personal life and in the literary world is Roxane Gay. I just finished reading her memoir HUNGER yesterday… my seond book to read in 2018. (If you’re not familiar with Gay, some of her other books, short fiction, and essays are listed here.) The author Ann Patchett sums up how I feel about the book:

It turns out that when a wrenching past is confronted with wisdom and bravery, the outcome can be compassion and enlightenment—both for the reader who has lived through this kind of unimaginable pain and for the reader who knows nothing of it. Roxane Gay shows us how to be decent to ourselves, and decent to one another. HUNGER is an amazing achievement in more ways than I can count.

If you’re a regular reader of my blog you know that since I quit drinking (on September 8, 2017) I’ve struggled more than ever with food issues, which is why I picked up Gay’s book. It’s not a “how-to” or a “I did it!” book. At all. But it’s so candid and full of compassion… and courage. Gay was raped as a young girl, and this is a testimony to the way that experience has shaped her life. Like Robert Goolrick’s powerful memoir, THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT, it’s a tragic but beautifully written description of what childhood sexual abuse does to a person. I did a guest blog post for Writer’s Digest in 2011 about Goolrick’s book and its affect on me and my writing here:

Writing Memoir: Art vs. Confessional

My essay, “Eat, Drink, Repeat: One Woman’s Three-Day Search for Everything,” was published in the anthology THE SHOE BURNIN’: STORIES OF SOUTHERN SOUL in 2013. It’s really a look inside my own disordered eating. I think Roxane Gay would understand. As would Robert Goolrick. Here’s an excerpt from Gay’s book that reminded me of what I felt writing my essay:

When I am eating a meal, I have no sense of portion control. I am a completist. If the food is on my plate, I must finish it…. At first it feels good, savoring each bite, the world falling away. I forget aout my stresses, my sadness. All I care about are the flavors in my mouth, the extraordinary pleasure of the act of eating. I start to feel full but I ignore that fullness and then that sense of fullness goes away and all I feel is sick, but still, I eat. When there is nothing left, I no longer feel comfort. What I feel is guilt and uncontrollable self-loathing, and oftentimes, I find something else to eat, to soothe those feelings and, strangely, to punish myself, to make myself feel sicker so that the next time, I might remember how low I feel when I overindulge. I never remember. This is to say, I know what it means to hunger without being hungry.

And so as I continue my personal and writing journey in 2018, I’m inspired by Gay’s courage, and by her art. And by Alice Walker’s inspirational words.

End of Year Book List

With just over two weeks left in 2017, I decided to put together my “end of year book list” and share it with my readers. I also decided to try and construct a “book tree” to celebrate the season, using all the books I’ve read and published this year. I think I made the base too wide, so the tree isn’t as tall or shapely as I hoped, but after two attempts, I gave up and snapped a picture of my best effort. Now I’ve got to figure out where to put these books, since all my book shelves are full!

Book tree

 

What an amazing year it’s been! Publishing three books—Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s, A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be, and Cherry Bomb—and having an essay published in another anthology (Take Care: Tales, Tips, and Love From Women Caregivers, edited by Elayne Clift) have made for an exciting year. As I mentioned in a previous post, I have driven 9,800 miles (in 8 states) for readings, signings, salons, book club meetings, library events, and literary festivals from March through December. My final two events for the year are coming up this week: Thursday night I’m reading CHERRY BOMB at Novel bookstore in Memphis, and Saturday I’m signing CHERRY BOMB at Books-A-Million in Southaven, Mississippi. I’ve got six more events scheduled for CHERRY BOMB in 2018, and then my fourth book will be released in May: Southern Writers on Writing—another anthology I edited.

As a writer, I find that reading is not only enjoyable but crucial to my growth. I read a wide variety of books, from poetry and spirituality to self-help/psychology and other nonfiction, books about art, essay anthologies, memoir, and fiction (mostly novels.) As of today, I’ve read 46 books in 2017, and hope to finish one to two more before the end of the year. I read 38 books in 2016… you can read that list here if you’re curious.

I know 18 of the authors of these books personally, and would love to meet many of the others some day, especially Anne Lamott, Joan Didion, and Ann Patchett. If I had to choose a favorite book from 2017, it would be Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate. It’s the book I wish I had written.

What’s up for 2018? I’m currently reading Gold Dust Woman: The Biography of Stevie Nicks by Stephen Davis. This is a real departure for me, as I rarely read biographies, but this one really captures the culture and music of much of my life, and I’m really enjoying it. And on the top of my “to read” stack are three novels:

Love and Other Consolation Prizes by Jamie Ford

Secrets of the Devil Vine by Faith Kaiser

Little Broken Things by Nicole Baart

So, here’s my list. It’s pretty much in the order in which I read the books. I’d love to know what you read this year. If you publish a year-end list, please leave me a link as a comment here or on Facebook. Happy holiday reading!!!

 

The Opposite of Everyone by Joshilyn Jackson

A Southern Girl by John Warley

Time Was Soft There by Jeremy Mercer

Garden in the East: The Spiritual Life of the Body by Angela Doll Carlson

The Statue and the Fury: A Year of Art, Race, Music, and Cocktails by Jim Dees

This Close to Happy: A Reckoning With Depression by Daphne Merkin

Heartbreak Hotel by Anne Rivers Siddons

The Girls of August by Anne Rivers Siddons

Unspeakable Things, a novel by Jackie Warren Tatum

Hallelujah Anyway by Anne Lamott

Truly Human: Recovering Your Humanity in a Broken World by Kevin Scherer

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

South and West by Joan Didion

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

Wolf Whistle by Lewis Nordan

Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

Desperation Road by Michael Farris Smith

The Cement Garden by Ian McEwen

Belles’ Letters II edited by Jennifer Horne and Don Noble

The Pen and the Brush: How Passion for Art Shaped Nineteenth-Century French Novels by Anka Muhlstein

Camino Island by John Grisham

Sycamore Row by John Grisham

A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline

The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson

Perennials by Julie Cantrell

An Unforseen Life by Mary Ann Connell

My Soul Looks Back by Jessica B. Harris

That Woman From Mississippi by Norma Watkins

The Bookshop at Water’s End by Patti Callahan Henry

This Naked Mind by Annie Grace

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

The Cage-Maker by Nicole Seitz

The Address by Fiona Davis

Among the Mensans by Corey Mesler

Drinking: A Love Story by Carolyn Knapp (re-read)

Lit by Mary Karr (re-read)

The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett

Heating & Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs by Beth Ann Fennelly

The Rooster Bar by John Grisham

Far From the Tree by Robin Benway

Dancing With My Father by Leif Anderson

Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong

Mississippi’s Poet Laureate Waxes Eloquent on Poetry and Prose

In lieu of an original blog post today, I encourage you to read this wonderful post by my friend Beth Ann Fennelly, the Poet Laureate of Mississippi, over at the Brevity blog:

“My Affair With the Sentence.”

22282109_359766681112308_5299649755912659950_n1
Kudos to Beth Ann for her newly released book, Heating & Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs. I missed her launch at Square Books in Oxford last night, but I’m looking forward to seeing her and hearing her read at Burke’s Books in Memphis on November 7.

Events for All Three Books This Week and Next!

I’m excited to kick off the fall with events for all three of my books, in Mississippi, Georgia, and Tennessee:

 BookClub

 

Tuesday, August 29, 2 p.m. – Reading Roundtable at Northwest Mississippi Community College’s R.C. Pugh Library in Senatobia, Mississippi, where I’ll meet with 25-30 book club members to discuss Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s.

 DBF paper

 

Sunday, September 3, 3:45 p.m. – Decatur Book Festival (Atlanta) panel for A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be, where I’ll be joined by A Second Blooming contributor Jessica Handler.

Corey Susan Cheryl

With Burke’s Book Store owners Corey and Cheryl Mesler, awesome booksellers and friends!

Thursday, September 7, 5:30 p.m. – Burke’s Books in Memphis, where I’ll be reading and signing my novel, Cherry Bomb.

Stay tuned for more events this fall and winter, as I’ll be traveling to fifteen or more bookstores and book clubs in Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, and Texas!

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Book Proposal and Queries for PILGRIM INTERRUPTED

A few weeks ago I did a post about my latest project, an essay collection/memoir called PILGRIM INTERRUPTED. You can read the excerpts here.

Illustration by Tim Foley: http://www.timfoley.com/

Illustration by Tim Foley: http://www.timfoley.com/

 

This week I’ve put together an 18-page nonfiction book proposal, following Brian Klems’ “8 Essential Elements of a Nonfiction Book Proposal” from the Writers Digest blog. I’ve written several versions of a query letter—including a long one to send to agents who don’t request a book proposal, and this shorter one (below) to send when they request a book proposal. Of course I personalize each query to the agent with introductory comments about why I believe they would be a good fit for my book, how I found them, etc. So far I’ve selected and queried five agents, and I plan to continue sending out queries until I get a positive response. Stay tuned for results, although it might be a few weeks or longer before I hear back from any of them!

Here’s the sample short query letter I sent out with the book proposal:

Dear ___________,

[Personal comments about why I chose to query them, etc., here.]

At just under 55,000 words, PILGRIM INTERRUPTED is a decade-long memoir—a collection of thirty essays (twenty-six are previously published), four poems, numerous icons and other pieces of original art. (I can send artwork at your request.) Inspired by Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem and more recently Anne Lamott’s Hallelujah Anyway, PILGRIM INTERRUPTED takes the reader on a journey of self-discovery through the Christ-haunted South.

My novel CHERRY BOMB launched on August 8, and was #2 in Mississippi Reads (sales at Mississippi book stores) last week, and I was on two panels at the Mississippi Book Festival on August 19. It has received numerous 5 star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.

I have traveled to 6 states for 18 events for my first two books this spring and summer.

I am scheduled to visit 5 states for 14 events (so far) for my novel CHERRY BOMB this fall and winter, and have been invited to serve as a panelist at three book festivals in Mississippi, Tennessee, and Georgia.

My guest blog post for WritersDigest.com tells the story of how I got 4 book deals in one year, without an agent. But I would love to have agent representation moving forward with my next book. I have attached a complete book proposal for PILGRIM INTERRUPTED.

Thanks so much for reading!

The Glass Castle

Sunday night my husband and I went to see “The Glass Castle.” What a terrific movie! Here’s a wonderful interview with Jeanette Walls, who wrote the memoir on which the movie is based.

 The-Glass-Castle

 

Jeanette Walls reading at Lemuria Books in Jackson, Mississippi, in 2011

Jeanette Walls reading at Lemuria Books in Jackson, Mississippi, in 2011

I read the book when it came out back in 2005, and I met Jeanette Walls in 2011 at Lemuria Books in Jackson, Mississippi. She was there for a reading/signing of her next book, Half Broke Horses.

 

Since I went to the movie with my husband, who had not read the book, I was eager to ask another reader what they thought. I found one while standing in line in the ladies’ room, where she and another woman agreed that both the book AND the movie were excellent. I would have loved to chat longer with this like-minded soul!

 

So, I give it 5 STARS. Walls doesn’t have a victim mentality, and doesn’t hate her parents. The best part of the movie—and this stood out more than it did in the book—was seeing Walls come to understand that the abuse her father suffered from his mother was probably responsible for much of his dysfunctional behavior. I was writing memoir at the time I read the book, and I was struggling with writing from a place of forgiveness and not from anger. Walls (and the movie) achieved this brilliantly.

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!

Book Tour Continues: Nashville, Charleston, Beaufort, Memphis, and Oxford

My book tour in May is turning out to be as busy as April, and I’m loving it. Ater a signing for Tangles and Plaques at Barnes and Noble in Collierville last weekend, I just got home from two events in Nashville (actually Thompson’s Square and Brentwood) on Saturday (one for Tangles and Plaques and one for A Second Blooming) and this week I’m off to Charleston and Beaufort, South Carolina for two more readings:

ASB NeverMore flierFriday night (May 19) I’ll be at Buxton Books in Charleston, for Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s. I can’t wait to meet Polly and Julien Buxton, the newest independent booksellers in the area. (My husband is speaking at the Medical University of South Carolina while we’re there, so it’s a two-fer! Also looking forward to dinner with friends from his high school days in Marietta, Georgia, a close friend who used to live in Memphis, and lunch with another author friend. I love Charleston!)

On Saturday (May 20) I’ll be at Nevermore Books in Beaufort, South Carolina with local author Cassandra King, and Mississippi contributors NancyKay Wessman and Susan Marquez for a reading/signing for A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be.  Cassandra arranged this event, and I’m looking forward to meeting her friends, the booksellers at Nevermore, Lorrie and David Anderson.

ASB Square Bks flierNext Wednesday (May 24) I’ve been invited to be the monthly author-speaker at Trezevant Manor (senior living) in Memphis for Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s.

And my final event for May will be on Thursday, May 25, at Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi, where I’ll join local authors/contributors Beth Ann Fennelly and Julie Cantrell for a reading and signing for A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be.

TidesOn a different note, it’s always fun to see other work by the contributors to A Second Blooming. This week I found a fun piece by Cassandra King in Coastal Living magazine’s June issue: “The Tides That Bind.” A perfect article for Father’s Day, Cassandra “returns to the waters of her childhood, where harvesting oysters made delicious memories for a father and his girls.”

So when does a busy author get to read? I make time to read every day. Not only because I love it, but because the words of other authors feed my soul and my craft. Yesterday I spent a leisurely Mother’s Day afternoon finishing my latest read, Kristin Hannah’s wonderful historic fiction novel from 2015, The Nightingale. Powerful images of World War II in German-occupied France, with characters so real you are tempted to Google them! I especially loved how Hannah brought to life some of the women who fought so bravely for the resistance, and to save children orphaned by the war.

Next up? I’m trying to decide whether to dive into Lewis Nordan’s novel, Wolf Whistle (highly recommended by a couple of friends with excellent literary tastes) or Anything is Possible, Elizabeth Strout’s followup to her book, My Name is Lucy Barton, which I read recently and loved. Which one will I take on my trip to South Carolina this week? Stay tuned….

Sometimes This Happens . . .

Susan signing 2I have heard stories from best-selling authors about having only one or two people show up for a reading/signing at a bookstore. Or about sitting at a signing table at Books-a-Million or Barnes and Noble and having no one or only a couple of people even make eye contact or stop to ask about your book. Now I know what that feels like. I drove out to Collierville yesterday afternoon for a signing and reading for Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s.

It wasn’t the fault of the good people at Barnes and Noble at Carriage Crossing in Collierville, Tennessee. They did a great job of promoting the event:

Listing on the EVENT page of their web site for several weeks prior

Large sign on the front door for several days prior to the event

Nice signing table right inside the front door with another sign and copies of the book

Announcements over the PA system inside the store before the signing, and again before the reading/discussion session

Set up a dozen nice chairs in a sunny area by the windows, right next to the Starbucks Café inside the store

Table and signAnd so how many people showed up? ONE! Cheryl Wright Watkins, a writer friend who lives in the area, who had already bought the book at another event, came just to show moral support. If she hadn’t been there, I wouldn’t have had anyone to talk to for the thirty minutes I sat at the signing table and then the thirty minutes I waited for folks to show up for the reading/discussion. We had a great visit, enjoying our Starbucks drinks and catching up on our busy lives. And I was happy to see that this lovely bookstore seemed to be doing well, at least based on the foot traffic on a beautiful Sunday afternoon when people tend to be at outdoor events.

I knew it was a risk scheduling an event in Collierville, since I only know a couple of people who live in the area. But I thought I’d give it a try, and the booksellers who organized it for me were so encouraging. I’m sorry they now have so many books to return. Hopefully they’ll keep a few in stock.

Door signThe experience was humbling and also gave me a great appreciation for all the other events I’ve participated in this spring with wonderful turnouts. Whenever anyone takes time from their busy life to go to a bookstore and meet an author and buy her book, it’s a victory for the literary world.

Thanks so much to the wonderful booksellers at Barnes and Noble in Collierville for hosting me. I wish you much continued success!

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!

 

 

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