Thy Will Be Done

This morning I read a quote by Evagrius the Solitary with my morning prayers. Here’s part of it:

Pray not to this end, that your own desires be fulfilled. You can be sure they do not fully accord with the will of God. Once you have learned to accept this point, pray instead that “Thy will be done” in me. In every matter ask Him in this way for what is good and for what confers profit on your soul, for you yourself do not seek this so completely as He does.

17332278I’ve been praying for success. For each of my books to find publishers (which they have) and now for Cherry Bomb to become a success. To sell well. And my most recent prayer is that the agent I queried for my new book will sign me. All of this is about me asking for my will to be done, right? But isn’t it natural for a child to ask these things of her father? Even Flannery O’Connor prayed this way:

I want very much to success in the world with what I want to do…. Please help me dear God to be a good writer and to get something else accepted…. Oh dear God I want to write a novel, a good novel. I want to do this for a good feeling and for a bad one. The bad one is uppermost. The psychologists say it is the natural one…. (A Prayer Journal)

A good feeling and a bad one. I wonder what the bad one was. Was it pride she was worried about? Another place in the same prayer journal she says this:

Portrait Of Flannery O'ConnorI want so to love God all the way. At the same time I want all the things that seem opposed to it—I want to be a fine writer. Any success will tend to swell my head—unconsciously even. If I ever do get to be a fine writer, it will not be because I am a fine writer but because God has given me credit for a few of the things He kindly wrote for me.

I also want to love God “all the way,” and I wonder if wanting success as a writer is really “opposed to it,” as O’Connor suggests here. Maybe humility is the key. She does credit God for her success in the same paragraph.

Saint Mary of Egypt, detail

Saint Mary of Egypt, detail

At any rate, this morning I found myself releasing the tension a bit as I stood before my icons in prayer after reading Evagrius’ words. I felt my shoulders relaxing and a slight smile crossed my lips—especially as I looked at the icon of Saint Mary of Egypt, to whom I have been praying for success for Cherry Bomb. I was reminded of a conversation I had with a writer friend back in May—one who is a strong Christian—and her words about trusting God with her work. She has several successful novels and is coming out with another one in a week or two. But her countenance is peaceful, unlike my natural state of anxiety. She encouraged me to trust God with my work, which seems like an obvious thing for someone claiming to be a Christian, or a person of any faith, right?

nuns chanting at Holy Dormition Monastery, Rives Junction, Michigan

nuns chanting at Holy Dormition Monastery, Rives Junction, Michigan

It’s been several years since I visited the monastery in Michigan where I spent many weeks over a decade or so as a pilgrim and also studying iconography. The abbess there was somewhat of a spiritual mother to me during those years. The most striking thing about her wasn’t her wisdom, although she was very wise. It was her abiding peace. There’s a Psalm (I can’t find it right now) I remember the nuns chanting that said something about how “God arranges everything” for our good. He gives us what we need. But I wonder if prayer doesn’t change our desires, so that we eventually learn to ask for what we need. So that our will and His become more aligned? At some point, will it be okay to do what Jesus said in Matthew 21:22:

And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.

MOG TendernessBelieving. Today I ask for faith to believe that His will is best for me.

Taking a deep breath, I look at the icon of Christ and His Mother, “Mother of God, Tenderness,” (who often seems more accessible) and say aloud, “Thy will be done.”

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!

A Piece of the (Art) World

a-piece-of-the-world-by-christina-baker-klineI love books about art and artists—obviously—since my novel Cherry Bomb features a graffiti writer, an abstract expressionist artist (or several) and weeping icons. I’m always entertained and inspired by stories about famous (or even not-so-famous) works of art. Some of my favorites include:

 

Girl With a Pearl Earring and The Virgin Blue by Tracy Chevalier

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

The Forest Lover, Girl in Hyacinth Blue, Clara and Mr. Tiffany, and The Passion of Artemisia by Susan Vreeland

Strapless: John Singer Sargent and the Fall of Madame X by Deborah Davis

The Muralist by B. A. Shapiro

The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean

The Raphael Affair by Iain Pears

The Hare With Amber Eyes by Edmund De Waal

The Lost Painting by Jonathan Harr

 

Last week I read Christina Baker Kline’s (author of Orphan Train) A Piece of the World. It was wonderful. Rich prose with beautifully descriptive settings and characters. It’s an “imagined fictional memoir” (according to Erik Larson) of the woman in the famous Andrew Wyeth painting, Christina’s World.

 

Christina's World by Andrew Wyeth

Christina’s World by Andrew Wyeth

There are so many things to love about this book. Kline’s descriptions of life in the small coastal town of Cushing, Maine, carries the reader into the world of Christina Olson, who ends up being Wyeth’s hostess in the summer months for several years, serving as his muse and also the subject of Christina’s World. I couldn’t help but love Christina, as the book takes us back to her heartbreaking childhood and then moves back and forth between the nineteen-teens and the 1940s.

It’s fascinating to me that Kline’s connection to the painting began in her own childhood, growing up in Bangor, Maine, where her father gave her a woodcut by a local artist inspired by Wyeth’s painting when she was eight years old. She made up stories about the girl in the painting throughout her childhood, and years later realized she was meant to write a book about it.

This is exactly the kind of experience I keep hoping to have—I’m looking for a subject for another novel, and I’m hoping to find either a piece of art or an artist that inspires a story. I know I’ve mentioned that I started one a couple of years ago about Jackson Pollack’s last painting, “Red, Black, and Silver,” but I haven’t been able to love it enough to continue. When I visited Paris for the first time in May of 2016, I hoped that the time I spent in art galleries might lead to a discovery, but nothing grabbed my attention long enough to inspire a book.

Meanwhile I keep reading. My current read is Joshilyn Jackson’s latest novel The Almost Sisters. The protagonist is a comic book artist. I think I’m drawn to contemporary art and edgy stuff more than to the classics, although I also love anything about icons. I’d love to hear any suggestions for a painting or artist to write about… just leave me a comment here or on Facebook, or email me at sjcushman@gmail.com. Thanks!

Returning to the Mississippi Delta

I grew up in Jackson, Mississippi, coming of age in the 1950s and ’60s. It wasn’t until my freshman year at Ole Miss (1969-70) that I met people who lived in the Mississippi Delta. Several of my sorority sisters in Delta Delta Delta, as well as a close friend who lived in my dorm, were from Greenwood, Greenville, Indianola, and other small towns in this mystical part of our state. I say “mystical” because it always held a certain sway over my imagination. Going home with a girl from my pledge class to visit her family one weekend confirmed what I thought—her family’s stately homestead harked back to an era I had only read about.

contUp-img5Also during that year at Ole Miss I remember driving over to Greenville with my fiancé and some friends to eat at Doe’s Eat Place, famous for their steaks and down home atmosphere.

During the 1980s, my best friend in Jackson took me home with her to visit her family in Indianola. That was only the second time I spent the night in a Delta home. Her parents weren’t part of the “landed gentry.” They were hard-working middle class folks who owned and managed a sandwich business—rising early to prepare hundreds of fresh sandwiches for local schools and convenience stores. I watched this production one morning with much respect for their work ethic. They were such gracious people.

 

The beautiful interior at Turnrow Books in Greenwood, Mississippi

The beautiful interior at Turnrow Books in Greenwood, Mississippi

Fast forward about thirty years to my next trip to the Delta, around 2010. My husband was invited to speak to a group of physicians, who put the two of us up at the Alluvian Hotel in Greenwood. What a fun experience! Viking was just putting in their cooking school and retail store, which wasn’t open yet, so I wandered around town and found Turnrow Books. What a magical place! Situated in a beautiful two-story historic building downtown, it had been restored and filled with literary treasures, as well as a lovely upstairs café.

A couple of years later, some time in 2012, I drove down from Memphis to hear my friend Joshilyn Jackson read from her new novel, A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty, at Turnrow. I had met Joshilyn five years earlier at the first ever Mississippi Writers Guild Conference in Clinton, Mississippi. Her writing style, rich, quirky characters, and clear grasp of the human condition drew me to her, and inspired me to start a novel. Finally—ten years later—my first novel Cherry Bomb is born, and I’ll be returning to Turnrow for a reading at 12 p.m. on August 26!

CB cover FINALCherry Bomb is set mostly in Georgia, rather than my home state of Mississippi. I wanted to put some distance between my personal life and the fictional life of the characters in the book, although many of my experiences fed the story. When people ask me what it’s about, I start with the short answer:

Cherry Bomb is about a graffiti writer, an abstract expressionist painter, and a nun, set mostly in Georgia in the 1970s and ’80s. It’s got weeping icons, art, and a bit of mystery, all in the Christ-haunted South.”

If they want to know more:

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 converge around a weeping icon of St. Mary of Egypt, a 5th century prostitute whose awakening to grace leads her to ultimate salvation.

 I’m looking forward to returning to the Mississippi Delta on August 26, and I hope that people in the area who love literature will join me at Turnrow Books in Greenwood at 12 p.m.

Book Festivals and the Pulpwood Queens

homepage_gallery_day_after__large

 

I’m gearing up for an exciting book tour for Cherry Bomb, with thirteen events now scheduled in six states, and more in the making. Several festivals and conventions are on the list, including a few I’d like to mention here today.

At the Mississippi Book Festival, August 19 in Jackson, Mississippi, I’ll be on a fiction panel for Cherry Bomb, and also moderating a panel for women authors. “Her Story,” the panel I’m moderating at 12 p.m., features the following panelists:

Mary Ann Connell, An Unforesen Life: A Memoir

Jessica B. Harris, My Soul Looks Back

Suzanne Marrs, Meanwhile There Are Letters: The Correspondence of Eudora Welty and Ross Macdonald

Norma Watkins, That Woman From Mississippi

At 4 p.m. I’ll be on a panel, “Voices of Home,” moderated by Tracy Carr, director of the Mississippi Center for the Book, for a discussion of Mississippi writing from four current Mississippi writers:

Tracy Carr, Mississippi Center for the Book Director and the Library Services Director at the Mississippi Library Commission, MODERATOR

Julie Cantrell, Perennials

Susan Cushman, Cherry Bomb

John Floyd, Dreamland

Johnnie Bernhard, A Good Girl

I’m already friends with Julie Cantrell and John Floyd, and I’m looking forward to meeting Johnnie Bernhard and Tracy Carr. Book festivals are such a great opportunity to get to know others in the literary world!

 

In September I’ll be on a panel for A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be, at the Decatur Book Festival. The schedule isn’t set yet… stay tuned!

October 13-15 is the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville, where I’ll be on a panel for Cherry Bomb. Again, the schedule isn’t published yet, but you know I’ll keep you in the loop!

CL.PulpwoodQueenLogoAnd my latest news (drum roll, please) is that both Cherry Bomb and A Second Blooming have been chosen as book selections for the Pulpwood Queens Book Clubs (over 700 clubs internationally)! A Second Blooming is the pick for February, 2018, and Cherry Bomb is a bonus book for March of 2018. I’ll be traveling to Nacogdoches, Texas for their annual Girlfriend Weekend, January 11-15, 2018. Several hundred Pulpwood Queens Book Club members will be there, along with several dozen authors. This amazing book club and annual event are organized by Kathy L. Murphy, author of The Pulpwood Queens’ Tiara-Wearing, Book-Sharing Guide to Life.

It’s (almost) HERE!

Yesterday my publisher, Joe Lee (Dogwood Press, Brandon, Mississippi) sent me this picture. HOT OFF THE PRESS and coming to a bookstore near you SOON!

CB copies

 

Next Friday, July 14, we’ll be delivering copies of Cherry Bomb to Burke’s Books in Memphis, and shortly thereafter they will be available at Lemuria in Jackson, Mississippi, Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi, and TurnRow in Greenwood, Mississippi.

If you don’t live near one of these wonderful independent bookstores, please ask your local shop to order Cherry Bomb for you. It will also be available soon from Amazon.

MARK YOUR CALENDARS for events in five states starting with the launch at Lemuria in Jackson, Mississippi on August 8! Click on the EVENTS button at the top of my web site for all dates and locations through December.

 

First up:

 

August 8 – 5 p.m. – Lemuria/Jackson, Mississippi

August 19 – 4 p.m. – Mississippi Book Festival/Jackson, Mississippi (Festival runs all day. My fiction panel is at 4 p.m. in State Capitol Room A.)

August 26 – 12 p.m. – TurnRow Books/Greenwood, Mississippi

September 7 – 5:30 p.m. – Burke’s Books/Memphis, Tennessee

 

Did I mention I’m a little bit excited? I can’t wait to hold a copy of Cherry Bomb in my hands and smell the ink!

Inspiration

Camino Island coverIt’s not surprising to get inspiration for writing a new book while reading a successful author’s work. This happened to me over the weekend, when I read John Grisham’s novel, Camino Island. I couldn’t put it down! But it wasn’t the novel’s prose itself that inspired—although it was inspiring—it was something that happens in the plot itself. One of the characters owns a bookstore, and at one point he is encouraging a novelist to consider historical fiction for her next book. He encourages her to fictionalize a famous person and/or event, which is exactly what I did with the well-known abstract expressionist painter Elaine de Kooning in my novel Cherry Bomb.

Mercer, the novelist character in Camino Island, expresses concern to the bookseller about the ethical aspects of his suggestion, but he assures her it’s done all the time. I’ve argued both sides of this several times in the past here on my blog, and at this point I’m pretty comfortable with the concept. Reading this suggestion gave me pause to reconsider a novel I started a couple of years ago about Jackson Pollack’s final painting, “Red, Black, and Silver.” I wrote the first chapter, which received good reviews from an MFA-led workshop I attended in June of 2015, but mixed reviews from a local writing group, so I abandoned it at the time. I just read it again and am considering picking it back up. We’ll see….

Meanwhile, this morning I took a pair of my husband’s shoes to a shoe repair store. It’s a tiny mom-and-pop type place. When I walked in, I was immediately hit with the lovely aroma of leather and shoe polish. It was almost intoxicating. Looking around the small one-room shop, I saw tons of old shoes, lots of black rags and tools that I assume are used in cobbling. The two older gentlemen working there both wore black aprons over their ragged pants and shirts. The aprons had a sheen to them, probably from years of rubbing up against shoe polish and other elements in the shop. At first I didn’t even notice the older woman in the corner, also in a black apron and ragged clothes, polishing shoes. It wasn’t until I was leaving when she chimed in a pleasant voice, “Thanks for coming in. You have a nice day, now.”

Peabody Shoe Repair in Nashville, Tennessee (not the shop I visited today in Memphis, but this is what it looked like!) photographed by Jerry Park Photography. http://jerryparkphotography.com/peabody-shoe-repair/

Peabody Shoe Repair in Nashville, Tennessee (not the shop I visited today in Memphis, but this is what it looked like!) photographed by Jerry Park Photography. http://jerryparkphotography.com/peabody-shoe-repair/

As I drove away, I realized that my brief visit to the shop was like a scene from a novel, with rich characters and a setting that aroused all the senses. I do worry a bit about the place being a fire hazard, and can’t imagine how it passes inspection, if there are inspections at places like that. Whatever I write next, I’m inspired to use words that will show my readers the sights, sounds, smells, and textures of my settings.

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

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

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

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

4 Book Deals teaser

Click here to subscribe and read the full article.

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

SWMag sm ad

 

 

 

“Slow Art” and the Marriage of Art and Literature

Young Lady in 1866 by Edouard Manet

Young Lady in 1866 by Edouard Manet

This weekend I delved into the book section of the Saturday Wall Street Journal (a favorite activity) and discovered “The Image as Event,” Ann Landi’s review of Arden Reed’s book, Slow Art. Reed’s passion for “slow art” began with his repeated viewing of Edouard Manet’s “Young Lady in 1866” at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. He defines “slow art” as “a prolonged encounter between object and observer.” He contrasts this activity with the average time an American museumgoer spends with any work of art—about 6 to 10 seconds.

Reed also writes about “tableaux vivants,” which he describes as “living pictures” in which actors hold theatrical poses for 90 seconds or so, often as recreations of well-known masterpieces like Leonardo’s “Last Supper.” This art form gained popularity around 1760, waned in the 1910s, and seems to have regained steam around 1960.

But before these modern-day examples of slow art presented themselves for viewers seeking (or just needing) an opportunity to slow down and have a serious encounter with art, early Christian icons “demanded slow looking and veneration from viewers.” Later, religious processions with floats featuring tableaux vivants acting out Biblical scenes appeared. Reed ties all these into a genre he calls slow art, taking us from Malevich to Serra, and even into the fiction writing of Don DeLillo.

The-Pen-and-the-Brush-260x381Which brings me to my second “treasure” of the weekend. I started reading the book I purchased at Ernest & Hadley Books in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, when I was there for a reading/signing for A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be. And what a treasure—Anka Muhlstein’s wonderful book The Pen and the Brush: How Passion for Art Shaped Nineteenth-Century French Novels (translated from the French by Adriana Hunter) explores the relationship between art and literature with specific examples from Balzac, Zola, Huysmans, Maupassant, and Proust. Muhlstein chose these five authors because “each in his own way truly invented a visual style of writing.”
Balzac referred to himself as a “literary painter” rather than a writer. He enjoyed including Italian Renaissance art and Flemish painters as well as contemporary painting in his writing. He spent a lot of time at the Louvre, and his knowledge of art fed his writing. An example:

Another illustration of this genuine knowledge of paintings appears in The Peasants: as a finishing touch in describing a horrible old woman, “a hideous black parchment, endowed with movement” he adds, “her likeness is found only in David’s painting of the Sabine women,” which does indeed feature a wizened old woman as a second character.

Balzac often gave fictional characters more credibility by using a known painter’s name. Not that I’m in his league, but I chose to do this with my novel Cherry Bomb (which releases in August) by having the well known abstract expressionist painter Elaine de Kooning appear as a major character, although I fictionalized much of her story in the book.

Balzac’s ambitions include one to “paint a Delacroix in words,” and he writes at length about colors and their symbolism, especially in The Girl With the Golden Eyes, in which “Paquita’s room is bathed in red, gold, and white tones which, in Balzac’s mind, suggest inexpressible desire: “the soul has an indefinable connection with white, love is happiest in red, and gold puts passions to their best advantage.”

Muhlstein says that “Opening a Balzac novel is like walking into a museum, but a museum where the artists (and sometimes even their models) often step out of their frames to come into the story. Balzac would not be the powerful novelist he is had he settled for describing paintings and not created his own huge gallery of painters.”

I’m just now getting to the sections on Zola, Huysmans, Maupassant, and Proust, so this isn’t a complete book review. Just a preview. I can’t wait to see where these next four writers take me in their journey into the art world. I have a feeling I’ll be reading some of their novels soon….

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