Authors’ Notes

Exchanging first novels with Daren Wang at Burke's Books in Memphis on September 20.

Exchanging first novels with Daren Wang at Burke’s Books in Memphis on September 20.

 

Wednesday night I went to a reading at Burke’s Books here in Memphis for Daren Wang, who was reading and signing his first novel, The Hidden Light of Northern Fires. It was a joy to listen to him relate his very personal story of researching the history behind his childhood home in Town Line, New York, the only secessionist town north of the Mason-Dixon Line. Turns out his family’s house and barn were used by members of the underground railroad, so he spun a tale of an escaped slave named Joe Bell and a female abolitionist named Mary Willis. Daren didn’t explain much of this in his Prologue, and as I listened to him talk about his family’s home, I wish he had written an Author’s Note so that all of his readers would know this amazing connection.

Cage MakerI’m currently reading Nicole Seitz’s wonderful new novel The Cage-Maker, which is set in New Orleans in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and also in the twenty-first century through the eyes of a blogger. But it was her Author’s Note (at the end) that endeared me more to the book, as she explains that she was researching her own family history and wanted to know if her ancestor, Ferdinand, was involved in any of the intrigue she uncovered in her research.

Almost a year ago I did a post about the information B. A. Shapiro shared in her Author’s Note and disclaimer for her novel The Muralist. You can read that here.

Her words inspired me to write an extensive explanation in my novel.

So, in addition to a short disclaimer in the front of CHERRY BOMB, I also wrote a longer Author’s Note, to explain which parts of the book were based on real people, places, and events, and which parts were totally fiction. I’m going to share my Author’s Note here. It’s at the end of the book, but it doesn’t really contain spoilers, so whether or not you’ve read the book, you might enjoy this explanation.

Author’s Note (from CHERRY BOMB)

A work of historical fiction is sometimes described as a narrative that takes place in the past in which historical events and people are reconstructed to enhance the story. Cherry Bomb isn’t strictly a work of historical fiction, for several reasons.  For one thing, I have fictionalized the lives of several abstract expressionist artists, especially Elaine de Kooning , who plays a major role in the book. While many of the scenarios in which de Kooning appears in the book were taken from her actual life—her relationship from childhood with her eccentric mother; her early art education in New York; her marriage to Willem de Kooning; and even some of her travels—I have also fictionalized many aspects of her real life. Perhaps the greatest liberty I took was giving her a child, when in fact she never had children of her own.

            While Elaine de Kooning did paint a presidential portrait of John F. Kennedy, as I describe in the book, she was never a visiting professor at Southern College of Art and Design, although she did serve this post at the University of Georgia. She did spend a summer painting in Black Mountain North Carolina, and produced a collection of work from that experience, although in reality Willem was there with her, whereas she goes there without him in the book. These are examples of ways in which I fictionalized her life for the sake of the story line.

            The photographer Anne Louise Lieberman (“Lou”) and Margaret Adams, the newspaper reporter, are both completely fictional characters, as are the graffiti writers Mare meets in Atlanta. But the scenes in the MTV video with Blondie actually did show the work of graffiti artists Lee Quinones and Jean-Michael Basquiat, who inspire Mare to begin doing graffiti.

blondie w graffiti

           

          I set Cherry Bomb mostly in the 1980s, with flashbacks to de Kooning’s childhood in the 1930s and to the childhood of the fictional protagonist, Mary Catherine Henry (“Mare”), in the 1970s. Mare is a completely fictional character, as is Sister Susannah, an Orthodox nun and iconographer who also plays a major role in the story. Both priests—Father Joseph and Father Mark—are completely fictional, as are all the nuns and participants at the icon workshop at Saint Mary of Egypt Monastery, also a fictional place.

           

"Weeping" icon of Saint Mary of Egypt. Original icon was written by me. My daughter-in-law See Cushman used Photo Shop to add the tears, and my publisher's graphic designer added the gold frame.

“Weeping” icon of Saint Mary of Egypt. Original icon was written by me. My daughter-in-law See Cushman used Photo Shop to add the tears, and my publisher’s graphic designer added the gold frame.

Saint Mary of Egypt is an actual historical figure, and I have kept close to the facts of her life as the Orthodox priest, Father Mark, tells them in the book. The verses chanted by the nuns at the monastery are closely drawn from her life as documented by Saint Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem (634-638).  It might be of interest to the reader that Sir John Tavener did write an opera about Mary of Egypt, although he wrote it in 1991, a little later than its placement in the book. The description of the opera in the book is taken from a program from one of its performances. While I haven’t seen the opera in person, I do have Tavener’s CD, Mary of Egypt, which I have listened to many times.

            Of course readers often ask whether a work of fiction is in any way autobiographical. While it is true that I share a number of life experiences with Mare—including time spent with a cult-like group, sexual abuse, and studying iconography at an Orthodox monastery—I have only allowed those experiences to inform the narrative, which is not a fictionalized memoir. I have never lived in a foster home, thrown up graffiti in public places, studied at SCAD, or met Elaine de Kooning. But I am happy for my readers to know that I am a convert to Orthodox Christianity, I have personally witnessed weeping icons, and Mary of Egypt is my patron saint. Holy Mother Mary, pray to God for us.

How (and Why) to Leave a Book Review on Goodreads and Amazon

I have published three books in 2017, and all three have been reviewed on Amazon and Goodreads, mostly with 5 STAR reviews. My novel, CHERRY BOMB, has several excellent reviews on both sites, but it needs many more to help it become a “better seller.” Several people have mentioned to me that they don’t know how to leave reviews on these sites, so I’m going to tell you how. Right here. Right now.

GOODREADS

Goodreads review button

 

Sign into Goodreads (it’s easy to join if you’re not already a member) and search for CHERRY BOMB by Susan Cushman. (There are numerous books by the same title, so you must include the author’s name.) You can CLICK here to go directly there. Once the page for CHERRY BOMB comes up, scroll down to the section that begins with “My Activity.” The fifth item in that section says “Add a review.” Click on those words. When the next screen appears, the first thing you do is click on the number of stars you want to give the book (hopefully 5!). The next line says bookshelves/tags… choose shelves… choose “read” if you have read the book. (I assume you’ve read it if you’re going to leave a review.) Then write your review in the box provided.

Goodreads review box

 

You can skip the next section (dates read) but be sure and click on SAVE at the bottom left to save your review. It might not show up right away, but it will soon. It doesn’t need to be long, just a few words about why you liked the book and how you would recommend it to other readers. That’s it!

AMAZON

Amazon review button

 

Sign into Amazon and go to the page for CHERRY BOMB by Susan Cushman. (Just CLICK HERE to get there quickly.) Scroll down to CUSTOMER REVIEWS and click on “Write a customer review.” Just like with Goodreads, click on the number of stars you want to give CHERRY BOMB (5 being the highest) and proceed to write a review. You can give the review a title if you’d like (look at other reviews for ideas) but you don’t have to.

amazonreviews

 

Both of these processes are easy and quick, but can do a lot to help an author’s books sell, so please take a few minutes to help!

Thanks soooooo much!

“VOICES OF HOME” at the Mississippi Book Festival

On August 19 I was on two panels at the 2017 Mississippi Book Festival. I moderated one panel, “Her Story,” and I was a panelist, along with fellow authors Julie Cantrell, Johnnie Bernhard, and John Floyd, for “Voices of Home,” moderated by Tracy Carr. Click on the title to watch a video of the panel, on which I talked about my novel CHERRY BOMB:

VOICES OF HOME

Voices-From-Home-panel-1024x768

 

Last night was my “Memphis launch” for CHERRY BOMB, at Burke’s Books. Lots of friends showed up to celebrate with me, and I had a great time reading excerpts and talking about this novel, which was six plus years in the making. Thanks so much to Corey and Cheryl Mesler for hosting me, and to everyone who came out to celebrate with me! Have a great weekend!

Literary Awards (Submissions)

stack_of_books

 

Now that CHERRY BOMB has been out for a few weeks, and my book tour has begun, I’ve been researching literary awards. That might sound egotistical, but if I had a literary agent or a publicist, submissions to these awards might be done for me. I look at this as marketing, not “bragging” or assuming my book could win. But it could.

The two I’ve just submitted CHERRY BOMB for are:

Willie Morris AwardThe Willie Morris Award for Southern Fiction. In the description, I read these words:

The selected book may contain violence and despair, and feature terrible events, but in the final analysis must be uplifting, and suggest hope and optimism.

CHERRY BOMB does all of that, and hopefully, does it well. I read on:

The winning book is chosen for the quality of its prose, its originality, its sense of place and period, and the authenticity and appeal of its characters.

Of course the quality of its prose will be judged against hundreds (or thousands?) of other entries, but it’s definitely original, has a strong sense of place and period, and its characters are authentic. Some of them are even real.

In 2015 Katherine Clark won for her wonderful novel THE HEADMASTER’S DARLINGS, which I loved. Katherine contributed an essay to the anthology I’m editing right now, SOUTHERN WRITERS ON WRITING (University Press of Mississippi 2018) and I’m very impressed with all of her work.

The Willie Morris Award carries a $10,000 prize—which would be wonderful of course—but I would be more excited to receive the recognition. No fee to enter, just a copy of your book, which I mailed off yesterday. May it be blessed!

PENfaulknerThe Pen/Faulkner Award for Fiction carries a $15,000 prize—again, I would be thrilled, but the award itself would be amazing. I think this one is a much longer shot, as it isn’t just for southern authors, and there was no description as to what kind of book they are interested in. When I looked at lists of past winners and those who placed, the names are big. But there’s no fee to enter, so I sent off four copies of CHERRY BOMB with a kiss and a prayer that the judges will love it!

These awards will be announced in 2018… with trips to New York City and Washington, DC involved. Again, I know these are long shots, but nothing ventured, nothing gained! Thanks, always, for reading.

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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CHERRY BOMB Sneak Preview!

CB cover FINALAs we head into the weekend (and I head to Turnrow Book Company in Greenwood, Mississippi tomorrow for another event for my novel CHERRY BOMB, at 12 p.m. in the cafe, where lunch will be served!) I’ve decided to share a “teaser” with my readers. I hope it will lead you to your favorite indie bookstore (or Amazon) to buy a copy and read Mare’s story. Enjoy!

Cherry Bomb

by Susan Cushman

Prologue -1981

Mare’s backpack clinked as she ducked in and out of the pre-dawn shadows. An unusually cool summer breeze rustled the low-hanging crape myrtle branches along the sidewalk. Pausing to rearrange the aerosol cans and wrap them with t-shirts to silence them, she pulled up her hood and looked down the street. No one there. Storefronts were still dark in this Southern city of a quarter million people. Macon, Georgia, felt big compared to the smaller towns of Mare’s childhood. But not so big that she couldn’t find her way through the mostly abandoned city streets on her clandestine missions.

            Rounding a corner, she heard scuffling and discovered a homeless man huddled behind a dumpster, the contents of his life stuffed into a shopping cart. His cough disturbed a sleeping cat that sprung from underneath his frayed blanket. An empty bottle rolled onto the sidewalk. Mare hurried by as a light came on in a nearby window.           

            Taking a nervous breath of the crisp morning air, Mare breathed in the aroma of cinnamon rolls from the bakery across the street. When had she eaten last? She put the thought out of her mind and found her target a few blocks away: Family and Children Services. The parking lot was empty. She moved quickly, choosing a spot near the entrance. She broke the lights on either side of the doorway with one of her cans. She worked swiftly but with deliberation, needing the protection of the quickly fading darkness. She opened a can of black spray paint and stared at the brick wall in front of her.            

            What a rush.

She shook the can vigorously and felt the familiar jolt of electricity as she heard the metal ball bouncing around inside. The feeling was akin, she felt, to her lungs finally opening after being clamped shut for years. Removing the cap, she approached the wall, took aim, and pressed the valve, releasing a fine spray mist with all the skill of a trained artist.

            For the last few weeks, most of her pieces had been simple designs or just tags. Today’s message would be more complex. She had spent months working it out; now she would share it with the world. Well, at least with Macon. The reporter for the Macon News would take care of the rest. After Mare had come to town and started throwing up her graffiti, Margaret Adams had launched her own personal quest—not only to expose Mare’s work, but also to expose Mare. Mare had evaded her grasp so far, moving from one part of town to another, sleeping here and there, always carrying her backpack with her and leaving nothing at the scene except the art itself. Adams had featured several of Mare’s pieces in the News, complete with photographs. Graffiti was not common in the Southeast; the reporter couldn’t leave it alone. Who is this tagger, and where does he live? Adams opined in print. It amused Mare that the reporter thought the artist was a guy.

            She always tossed her empty cans into random dumpsters after each hit, careful not to leave a trail. She must not be arrested—it absolutely couldn’t happen—and she had to throw up these next two pieces. Blue lights and sirens approached just as she was getting started, though. Diving behind some shrubs that bordered the parking lot, she held her breath. Two squad cars flew through the blinking orange lights at a nearby intersection, oblivious to her crime. Wiping the sweat from her brow with her sleeve, she crawled out from behind the shrubs and quickened her pace as the sun began to light the wall and wake the town.

            Her signature character—a little girl with big, empty eyes and no mouth—would be featured in this piece. She outlined the image with black, painted the hair yellow, and overlaid the face with orange. Bloody drops fell from the red heart painted on the character’s chest. The child’s eyes gazed upward to a large shadow-like creature. The character soon took shape; it was a man, hovering over the girl. The image of the girl faded below her heart, as if her lower body was disappearing.

She’s been disappearing for years, hasn’t she?

Mare felt tears as she viewed the image, biting her lower lip. “Screw you,” she hissed, flipping off the shadow-man.

            She heard a car engine and looked at her watch. Almost 6:30. Just enough time for her tag—a red cherry with yellow rays emanating from a black stem and the word BOMB in red bubble letters, outlined with black. She could imagine tomorrow’s headline in the News:

CHERRY DROPS ANOTHER BOMB!

CHERRY BOMB: Successful Launch and Early Reviews!

Celebrating with high school friend Corabel Shofner at the author reception.

Celebrating with high school friend Corabel Shofner at the author reception.

My novel CHERRY BOMB launched at Lemuria Books in Jackson, Mississippi on August 8. The following week, on August 19, I was on two panels at the Mississippi Book Festival, also in Jackson. Although I’ve lived in Memphis since 1988, it was fun and fitting for my novel’s first steps out into the world to be back in my home town. My third event is coming up this Saturday, August 26, at Turnrow Book Company in Greenwood, Mississippi, at 12 p.m.

I guess the most exciting news about the launch came from Jackson’s Clarion Ledger newspaper yesterday: CHERRY BOMB is #2 in Mississippi Reads, just under John Grisham’s CAMINO ISLAND, which was #1! See the list here. Congrats also to my friend from Murrah High School, Corabel Shofner, whose novel ALMOST PARADISE is #2 in the children and young adult list! It was fun seeing Bel at the author reception for the book festival on Friday night at the Old Capitol Museum.

With Beth Ann Fennelly at the author reception

With Beth Ann Fennelly at the author reception

I’ve bombed Facebook with lots of pictures from the Mississippi Book Festival, so I’ll only include a few here, at the end of the post. KUDOS to the festival committee and volunteers for a fabulous event! I started the day at an early morning POETRY panel, moderated by my friend Beth Ann Fennelly, Poet Laureate of Mississippi. It reminded me why I want to get back to reading poetry first thing every morning! And I loved moderating the panel, “Her Story,” and then being a panelist (for CHERRY BOMB) on “Voices From Home.” The after party at Duling Hall, which included a Thacker Mountain Radio show, was also terrific.

In addition to several gracious emails and Facebook messages from folks who have already read CHERRY BOMB, it’s received quite a few reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, mostly 5 STARS! You can read them here:

AMAZON REVIEWS:

“This is a beautifully written book that is both real and redemptive (5 STARS)

“Rich story of redemption and expression” (4 STARS) This also appeared in the Jackson, Mississippi Clarion Ledger on August 7, 2017

“Great debut novel” (5 STARS)

“I loved it” (5 STARS)

“From the darkest childhood in a cult….” (5 STARS)

 There are 7 reviews on Goodreads (6 are 5 STAR reviews)

This comment on Facebook from Janet Smith, who was my cheerleader sponsor at Chastain Junior High School in Jackson in 1963-1966, really made my day:

I could hardly put Cherry Bomb down. You write really well, Susan. I was completely enthralled in the plot. Your references to the Icons and other parts of Greek Orthodox worship though out the story line were very vivid and capturing.

Thanks to everyone for the “likes” and encouraging words on Facebook. It’s been a long journey and it’s so rewarding to see CHERRY BOMB being well received. So, here are those pics from the festival.

 

Inside the Lemuria Bookstore tent, where all three of my books were for sale!

Inside the Lemuria Bookstore tent, where all three of my books were for sale!

Outside my window at the Hilton Garden Inn hotel in downtown Jackson. "Mare" would have loved this!

Outside my window at the Hilton Garden Inn hotel in downtown Jackson. “Mare” would have loved this!

Voices From Home panel

Voices From Home panel, with Tracy Carr, Johnnie Bernhard, Julie Cantrell, and John Floyd

Moderating the "Her Story" panel

Moderating the “Her Story” panel

with fellow "Voices From Home" panelist John Floyd at the author reception

with fellow “Voices From Home” panelist John Floyd at the author reception

with my publisher Joe Lee and fellow Dogwood Press authors

with my publisher Joe Lee and fellow Dogwood Press authors

Workshop Speaker, Writer’s Digest Guest Blog Post, and PERENNIALS!

I’ve got lots of NEWS today!

 Workshop

 

First of all, I’ll be speaking at Neil White’s Write & Publish Workshop in Oxford, Missisisppi on September 22-23. It’s a two-day workshop (8:30-4:30 each day) and I’ll be speaking on Day 2, the Publishing part of the workshop. You can REGISTER for one or two days. Neil always gathers terrific industry professionals for these workshops, and I’m honored to take part in this one. Here’s more information:

WRITE & PUBLISH YOUR BOOK: A Two-Day Workshop with Neil White

Next up, my guest blog post was published Monday at the Writers Digest’s editors’ blog, “There Are No Rules.” You can read it here:

“I Landed 4 Book Deals in 1 Year With No Agent: Here’s How I Did It”

PerennialsAnd finally, I just finished reading PERENNIALS, Julie Cantrell’s latest novel (to be released in November—I’ve got an advance reader’s copy) and was so blessed by it, as I always am by Julie’s writing.

Like me, Julie is a Christian who is also a writer, not a “Christian writer.” Her fiction is beautiful literary prose with strong spiritual elements, but not “Christian fiction.” (I wrote a bit about Julie’s last novel, The Feathered Bone, back in January of 2016.)

As the title suggests, Perennials is all about flowers, but also full of wonderful “floral” metaphors. Julie gives her readers much to ponder about our own lives through the stories she tells. She’s not only a wonderful storyteller, but also a wise woman who bravely shares her insights for everyone who is willing to receive them. Not only in the book itself, but at the end, where she has included discussion questions and “Activity Sparks.” My favorite one:

At one point Lovey considers the timeline of her life. Make a timeline of your life. What key moments have you included? Notice the high points and the low points. Do you notice “seasons” in your own life: growth, bloom, loss, ruin, rebirth?

I actually did a similar timeline/list a few months ago, and found it helpful. But I wasn’t looking for those “seasons” and the wonderful comparisons to the timelines of things like flowers in the natural world. Julie truly has a gift, and I hope you will buy PERENNIALS and enjoy her art and her compassionate wisdom.

CHERRY BOMB Launch! AND Tools of the (Marketing) Trade at Suite T

I’m home from Jackson (Mississippi) where CHERRY BOMB launched last night at Lemuria Books. I had a wonderful time with friends and family who came out to support me—some of whom had also come to my first two events at Lemuria this past spring.

IMG_2052

Signing copies of CHERRY BOMB with my publisher, Joe Lee, of Dogwood Press, at Lemuria Books in Jackson, Mississippi.

 

It’s a lot to ask of my readers, and I talk a bit about what’s involved in marketing three books at once in today’s post over at the Southern Writers Magazine’s blog, SUITE T:

 

Tools of the (Marketing) Trade

 Suite T header 2017 910 x 148

 

Just click on the link to read the post. Thanks, always, for reading!

The Almost Sisters and Pen & Palette’s 10-Year Anniversary!

biopic-13

I’ve been a fan of Joshilyn Jackson since I first met her back in August of 2007 (hard to believe that was 10 years ago!) at the first ever Mississippi Writers Guild Conference in Clinton, Mississippi. I know I’ve said this several times on this blog, but I always have to give Joshilyn a big nod because she is the person who encouraged me to start a blog, which I did, exactly ten years ago!

At that point she had two novels out: gods in Alabama and Between, Georgia. I loved them both.

I fell in love with her voice, and she has continued to pen amazing stories. I have reviewed (or at least blogged about) several of them:

 

 

The Girl Who Stopped Swimming (2008)

Backseat Saints (2010)

A Grownup Kind of Pretty (2012)
The Opposite of Everyone (2016)

almost300x453This weekend I finished reading Joshilyn’s recent novel, The Almost Sisters. Joshilyn has knocked it out of the park again. I love the way she always finds the best and worst of humanity in her characters. She puts them up against almost impossible odds and watches them find their best selves in the process of overcoming those odds. And she chooses such mystical, artsy, edgy (okay too many adjectives?) characters to live these difficult lives.

Like Leia Birch Briggs, a comic book artist who gets knocked up by “Batman” at a comic book convention. And her grandmother back in Birchville, Alabama has Lewy Body Dementia—something I had never heard of until a close friend (who is younger than I am) was diagnosed with it a few years ago. Of course “Batman” is black, so Leia’s baby will be biracial, and she’s struggling with whether or not a small southern town in Alabama is the best place to raise him. She captures the cultural and social milieu perfectly, talking about the “Second South.” No spoilers here, but the racial tension is intensified by her grandmother’s relationship with a black companion she’s known all her life.

In Leia’s comic books, the main character is Violet, and her alter ego is Violence. When she starts on a sequel, she draws in her yet-to-be-born son, whom she’s been calling Digby, as a character. At one point Digby finds himself orphaned after genocide, and he’s searching for his sister’s body in the carnage. Joshilyn takes us inside our broken humanity with these powerful words:

He’s looking for her, and Violence-in-Violet goes along; tough as he is, he’s too small to survive alone. Digby will come to love the double woman he calls Vi. He knows that she is beauty and the beast all in one package just like most of us.

I love how she writes about our shadows with such creative description. I found myself reading that last sentence over and over.

Like Joshilyn, I’m drawn to the edge, and had a great time learning about graffiti artists when researching for my novel CHERRY BOMB. I think Mare (my protag) would really like Leia, and it’s fun to imagine them meeting.
I can’t wait to see what Joshilyn does next, and I’m so thankful that we met ten years ago. She’s been an inspiration ever since. I’m also so grateful to her for the wonderful blurb she wrote for my novel:

“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. ”

High praise from a priestess of fiction! Thanks so much, Joshilyn!

BUY THE ALMOST SISTERS AND READ IT NOW!!!

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