Southern Writers on Writing: Sneak Previews 4

SouthernWritersOnWritingCOVERI hope you’ve been following my series of excerpts from SOUTHERN WRITERS ON WRITING (coming from University Press of Mississippi in May), but if you’ve missed them and would like to catch up, here they are:

Sneak Previews 1 (featuring Neil White, Alan Lightman, Jim Dees, and Joe Formichella)

Sneak Previews 2 (featuring Harrison Scott Key, Cassandra King, Corey Mesler, and Patti Callahan Henry)

Sneak Previews 3 (featuring Sonja Livingston, Sally Palmer Thomason, Julie Cantrell, and Katherine Clark)

This week I’ll bring you a few delicious bites from several more authors whose essays are featured in Section III of the anthology, “Place, Politics, People.” If you like these excerpts, click on the authors’ names to read more about them and their books.

John FloydPerhaps the biggest reason for the abundance of authors from the South, however, is this: Southern kids grew up listening to a lot of different people tell stories…. I can recall sitting at their feet beside the bench in front of my grandfather’s gas station in Sallis, Mississippi, wide-eyed and gullible and marveling at their tales while they munched Nabs and Tom’s Toasted Peanuts and sipped RC Colas bought for them by my granddad from the Coke machine inside the hot but shaded office…. Did those stories influence me to later tell my own tall tales? Of course they did—especially my short small-town mysteries and their laid-back style. Did they make me a good  storyteller? Maybe not. But they made me want to be a good storyteller. And the odds are with me. My native Mississippi is the birthplace of more published authors per capita than any other state, and the Delta town of Greenville has produced more published authors than any other city in the nation…. I also know this: In my travels I’ve been inside bookstores all across the nation, and I have yet to see a section labeled ‘Northern Fiction.’ Maybe that in itself, is revealing.—John Floyd, from “In the Land of Cotton”

Jennifer HorneMy study is geographically located in Alabama but psychologically apart from its churches on every corner, its conservative politics, its fascination with football, its pressure to conform as it pretends to treasure its eccentrics. As a writer I am in and of the South but also apart from it, more or less passing as I go about my daily life….  I have such ambivalence about this region that I write from. How do I critique with a loyal heart? How do I claim this ambivalence? Or as people sometimes ask me when I complain, which I do, why stay?…. Oh, I could move to a liberal enclave in the no-nonsense North, but I like a bit of nonsense, the playful linguistic meander down a silly conversational byway that can happen with stranger or friend alike, the shared acknowledgment of the perplexing absurdity of life that seems a lot more likely to happy here than elsewhere.—Jennifer Horne, Poet Laureate of Alabama, from “Where I Write”

Suzanne HudsonThe best advice I could give an aspiring writer at this particular and disorienting moment in publishing history is: just do it yourself, by gum—with a couple of very reliable readers who won’t lie to you (your mother is out, for example), a damn good editor, and a goddamn good line editor. Pay your editor well and your line editor even better, don’t quibble over every little change to make, and do everything else on social media…. Which brings me back around to Cris Mazza’s delightfully middle-fingered question: “What does one ‘win’ in art?” A better contract? A big advance? A growing fan base? Am I impractical and naïve to scorn the greed that is baked in to most business ventures? When I take pride in the fact that I suck at capitalism do I worry about alienating potential investors? What if I never get picked up by a big publishing house?… I have ceased to give a good goddamn.—Suzanne Hudson, from “The Sordid Business of Writing”

River JordanWhen I read a southern writer I can feel their heart beating. That’s how I know it’s southern. By the heartbeat…. Southerners draw from a well that is a mystical blend of raw earth and our peopled history. From the storytellers that bore us because all those that came before us were storytellers. And yes, the dirt. It always comes back to the dirt…. We came from the earth. Dirt beneath our druthers. Spit and venom, a whip of intention unleashed on page and pronoun. Turn the page of any story where southern meets you and there you feel it, the unmistakable heartbeat that will not be denied. What spins beneath us remains no mystery but courses through our veins. The earth beats and we feel it. The earth bleeds and we mourn it. Seed falls on good ground and we reap a harvest of words…. Cut us and we bleed story.—River Jordan, from “Dirt, Death, and the Divine: The Roots of Southern Writing”

Lee SmithWriting is also my addiction, for the moment when I am writing fiction is that moment when I am most intensely alive…. For me, writing is a physical joy. It is almost sexual—not the moment of fulfillment, but the moment when you open the door to the room where your lover is waiting, and everything else falls away…. The most thrilling, of course, is when it is a first-person voice telling a story of real urgency. At these times, all I have to do is keep up; I become a stenographer, a court secretary, a tape recorder. My biggest job is making sure I have several uninterrupted hours whenever I sit down to write, so this can happen…. Of course writing is an escape, but it is a source of nourishment and strength, too…. Whether we are writing fiction or nonfiction, journaling or writing for publication, writing itself is an inherently therapeutic activity. Simply to line up words one after another upon a page is to create some order where it did not exist, to give a recognizable shape to the chaos of our lives.—Lee Smith, from “A Life in Books”

M. O. WalshFlannery O’Connor, Barry Hannah—if you dig enough, you could probably find that every southern writer, present or past, has said something about the importance of place in her or his work. I have to admit, growing up in Louisiana and being inundated in that tradition, I got a little tired of it. I believed, instead, the great promise of fiction is that it is boundless, limited only by the writer’s imagination. I set my earliest stories in Ohio, Montana, Detroit—all places I’d never been. I felt pretty good crossing the Mason-Dixon in my head. That was two decades ago. Those early stories remain with me still, keeping each other good company in a folder on my computer called REJECTED…. Our best writers have a way of articulating the South so that it feels, at the same time, always alive and already past…. I wonder if we live, at all times, in the half-gone.—M. O. Walsh, from “On the Baton Rouge Floods of 2016 and My Nostalgia for the Half-gone”

Southern Writers on Writing: Sneak Previews 3

SouthernWritersOnWritingCOVERLast week I shared excerpts from essays by four of the twenty-six contributors to SOUTHERN WRITERS ON WRITING (coming from University Press of Mississippi in May): Harrison Scott Key, Cassandra King, Corey Mesler, and Patti Callahan Henry. And if you missed it, the week before I featured Neil White’s enticing blurb, excerpts from Alan Lightman’s Foreword, and essays by Jim Dees and Joe Formichella.

This week I have four more sneak previews to share. Grab some popcorn and Coke (or whatever) and enjoy:

 

Sonja LivingstonWe have to remind ourselves of our riches. Of the importance of what we have within us—all that we’ve seen and heard and stored away. We have an obligation to our words, to the people who said them, and to what we know to be real in the world. Your particular stories and the beautiful sounds that only you can make is what will save us during troubled times. When we let ourselves sing—really sing—what comes from within us belongs not just to you or me, but to all of us. This never stops amazing me. One true voice. Nothing less than stardust.—Sonja Livingston, from “Stardust: An Essay on Voice in Four Parts”

 

Sally ThomasonStories about and by southerners have shown me that good people, in spite of seemingly insurmountable problems and personal pain, spiritually, or perhaps organically, survive and grow through heart-to-heart connections—care and love for one’s family; care and love for one’s community, care and love for one’s land, care and love for one’s self, and care and love for the other, regardless of race or life station…. The more I read and deeply listened to the writings of southerners about the South, who so often express my thoughts better than I could express them myself, I realized, I am indeed a southerner—the South is where I belong.—Sally Palmer Thomason, from “How I Became a Southerner”

 

Julie CantrellMany in life say the earth is our mother. If that’s the case, then the South is the lap into which we all crawl to hear her story. It is the place where we learn a language of folklore and fairytales, happy-ever-afters and made-up myths. Here, swaddled in kudzu beneath the bower of magnolias, we nurse from the bosom of the universe’s bard. We nestle snug in her arms, sipping on fables. We cut our teeth on plotlines, believing that we are the hero of her tales. The South is nothing less than a sanctuary for story. It is the porch swing, the rocking chair, the barstool, the back pew. It is everything that made me and shaped me and saved me. As a southern writer, I aim only to invite my readers to enter this sacred space. So to all I say, Welcome, welcome home. Life is hard and your soul is weary. Come in, kick off your shoes. You are safe here. Let me tell you a story.—Julie Cantrell, from “Southern Fiction”

 

Katherine ClarkWhereas 100 years ago, writers had to learn to embrace the differences of the South, nowadays the tendency can be to positively wallow in the eccentricities and grotesqueries of the southern experience, usually of an earlier era. This is what the southern novel needs to save itself from…. This epiphany also involved an awareness that self-conscious southernism is a recipe for cliché and bad writing. I put myself on the path to writing a decent southern novel only when I stopped trying to write a “southern novel” and was simply trying to write an original novel set in the South. This is the main lesson I learned from years of struggling to be a southern writer, and the main pearl of wisdom I have for anyone engaged in the same struggle.—Katherine Clark, from “The Burden of Southern Literature”

 

Stay tuned for more previews next week. And thanks always for reading! I’ll be posting a schedule of events in a few weeks, sharing dates and places to catch groups of these amazing writers in person for readings.

Young Adult (YA) and New Adult (NA)

A Sharpie sketch I did when I was writing CHERRY BOMB.

A Sharpie sketch I did when I was writing CHERRY BOMB.

Last year when my novel CHERRY BOMB came out, one reviewer on Goodreads opened her review with these words:

This is being marketed as southern literary fiction, and it’s that, certainly. But if that’s not your genre, think of it as gritty YA and read it anyway. The young protagonist, Mare, is struggling with the effects of years of abuse, first in a religious cult, and then in a foster home. She runs away, takes to the streets, and finds the voice that her abusers had taken from her in spray paint and blank walls.

Mare closeup

 

Gritty YA. I actually queried several agents who represent Young Adult fiction a few years ago for CHERRY BOMB, but I wasn’t completely settled on that market in my mind. YA readers seem to have gotten younger than the 12-18-year-old bracket traditionally thought of as Young Adult readers. There were fairly graphic scenes of sexual abuse and strong adult themes in the book, as well as a strong emphasis on religion and art. But the run-away orphan who throws up graffiti? Definitely a YA protagonist.

 

 

This morning I read an article in the balance, “Young Adult and New Adult Book Markets,” by Valerie Peterson that was interesting. Peterson’s research shows that although these books might be aimed at a younger audience, 70% of all YA titles are read by people ages 18-64. So even if CHERRY BOMB had been marketed as YA, hopefully my target audience would still be reading it.  But it was Peterson’s take on a newer genre that caught my attention—the growing NA (New Adult) books. Here’s some of what she has to say about NA:

A relatively new genre of fiction, New Adult emerged as a term in a 2009 contest by St. Martin’s. Filling the gap between Young Adult and Adult Fiction, NA’s target readers are between the ages of 18 and the mid-20s, times when new adults are first feeling independence and finding their place in the world…. New Adult subject matter is adult in theme but geared toward readers who (like the books’ protagonists) are encountering adult situations for the first time…. Often the setting for contemporary New Adult books is a college campus. Like those who read the books, the protagonists are away from home and the strictures of parents for the first time. They are exploring, testing their values, losing and trying on boundaries and stretching to discover themselves, their limits.

"Weeping" icon of Saint Mary of Egypt, similar to the one Mare encountered at the monastery.

“Weeping” icon of Saint Mary of Egypt, similar to the one Mare encountered at the monastery.

So much of this is true of CHERRY BOMB and its protagonist, Mare. Mare is a 12-year-old runaway at the beginning of the book, a 16-year-old living on the streets and throwing up graffiti and then attending the Southern College of Art and Design in the middle of the book, and 21 in the final chapter. There are sections that are rich with spiritual imagery and religious experiences—like when Mare goes to a monastery to learn to paint icons and encounters a miraculous weeping icon—and also scenes set in the world of abstract expressionist art. Whenever I give readings at bookstores, conferences, bookclubs, and library events, I take a quick scan of the audience to determine whether I should read scenes where Mare is sexually abused, where she is throwing up graffiti, in the classroom at SCAD, or in the chapel at the monastery. If the audience is older, I tend to read the sections at the monastery. If my listeners are younger, I go for the graffiti and ab ex scenes.

I got into Mare's head a bit by throwing up a CHERRY BOMB tag while writing the novel.

I got into Mare’s head a bit by throwing up a CHERRY BOMB tag while writing the novel.

 

All of that to say that a new friend (Claire Fullerton, a Memphis native whose third book, MOURNING DOVE will be released soon) is helping me find my way through the nuances of Instagram and has encouraged me to look at CHERRY BOMB through the lens of YA readers. As soon as I tagged a recent post with #graffiti #YA #NA #YoungAdult I got a flurry of “likes” and new followers. Hopefully CHERRY BOMB will gain a bunch of new readers as a result! The people I know personally who have given it 5 STAR reviews on Amazon or Goodreads are between the ages of 36 and 83. Maybe I’ll start hearing from the younger crowd soon!

Oh, and speaking of Instagram, please drop in and follow me. I’m having fun checking out everyone’s photographs and making new friends over there, and I promise to follow you back! #writersofinstagram #authorsofinstagram #CherryBomb #graffiti #YA #NA

Southern Writers on Writing: Sneak Previews 2

SouthernWritersOnWritingCOVERLast week I shared some sneak previews from a new anthology I edited, SOUTHERN WRITERS ON WRITING, coming from University Press of Mississippi in May. Today I’ll continue with quotes from a few more authors who contributed essays to the collection. Enjoy!

 

Harrison Scott KeyI mean, who did I think I was? Who would want to read about me? The only real answer I could come up with: my mother. The other answer: this is a dumb question. Because everybody’s boring, and everybody’s interesting…. The better question: how do I map the expressionist strangeness of my inner life in a way that invites others to sit in the cockpit of my soul and soar through the atmosphere of me, which is the only me I’ve ever been and the only unique thing I possess anyway?—Harrison Scott Key, from “The Meek Shall Inherit the Memoir: Then and Now”

Cassandra KingSo I write for all the usual reasons—can’t do anything but; have an over-active imagination; was raised in the South around great storytellers; have always loved books and reading; and am happier when writing than anything else in the world. But there’s another reason that’s become pretty obvious to me. Writing is in my blood. Somehow, of all the descendants of Josiah King, I was the one to inherit the genetic disposition, a great-granddaughter that he barely knew. I’m certainly a dreamer, and admit to being a bit of a fool. No other occupation but writing holds any interest for me. Grandpa King, it seems that a part of you is still alive in me.—Cassandra King, from “The Ghost of Josiah King”

Corey Mesler

 

Writing is a very real lifeline for me. I am standing on the island and I am saved by a line I throw out to myself. It might be grandiose to say that writing saved my life—certainly it did not in the dramatic fashion of poor Janet Frame, who was about to be lobotomized before her work was discovered—but without my little literary envois my life would be a diminished thing.—Corey Mesler, from “The Agoraphobic Writer”

Patti Callahan Henry

I create a world and then toss into that world a conundrum. Then I watch as I try to write my way out of it. I can ask: If I set this character up for a fall, what will they do? What will occur to save or harm them? I ask a question and then take it to the far extreme, watch it unfold into the future. Embedded within the inquiry, ‘What happens next?’ I believe there exists a hidden seed of hope, because no matter where we are (or where our character is), or how bad it is, something always happens next. This isn’t merely a question to spur the writing forward, but to enliven our days, to allow hope to infuse some of the darker times.—Patti Callahan Henry, from “What Happens Next”

Click on each author’s name to go to his or her web site and learn more about their books, which I hope you will buy and read! They are all amazing writers. And come back next week for more sneak previews!

Girlfriend Weekend Take-Aways (New Friends, Original Art, Inspiration, and Books!)

Authors at Girlfriend Weekend.

Authors at Girlfriend Weekend.

 

Dressed as Joan Didion (those are some of her books in my necklace) for the final party, with River Jordan in her Bohemian chic outfit

Dressed as Joan Didion (those are some of her books in my necklace) for the final party, with River Jordan in her Bohemian chic outfit

If you’re on Facebook, you’ve already seen how I photo-bombed the place all weekend with pictures from the 2018 Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend in Nacodoches, Texas. And here’s a fun blog from River Jordan about the event: “Leaving Nacodoches.” It was a treat to have River spend the night with us in Memphis last night on her way home to Nashville, so we could rehash the weekend a bit. By the way, Nacodoches is the oldest town in Texas, and a lovely, quaint, artsy, little town. Wish I had had more time to explore while I was there. Maybe next time!

There’s so much I could say about the weekend… a wonderful time to get to know other authors and to visit with the ones I know and rarely get to see. Also great to meet so many enthusiastic book club members and readers, all lovers of good books. The theme was “Bohemian Rhapsody” so there were lots of costumes, as we dressed as hippies, gypsies, anything Bohemian, and favorite authors.

I was blessed to be on two panels during the weekend:

Thursday night: As editor for A SECOND BLOOMING: BECOMING THE WOMEN WE ARE MEANT TO BE (with contributors River Jordan, Julie Cantrell, Susan Marquez, and NancyKay Wessman.)

Panel for A SECOND BLOOMING: Susan Marquez, River Jordan, Julie Cantrell, me, and NancyKay Wessman

Panel for A SECOND BLOOMING: Susan Marquez, River Jordan, Julie Cantrell, me, and NancyKay Wessman

Saturday afternoon: For my novel CHERRY BOMB, I shared a panel with three other authors whom I had never met: Deborah Rodriguez, Patricia V. Davis, and Stephanie Chance. Pulpwood Queens Founder Kathy Murphy moderated the panel.

Kathy Murphy moderated the panel I was on for CHERRY BOMB, with authors Stephanie Chance, Patricia V. Davis, and Deborah Rodriquez.

Kathy Murphy moderated the panel I was on for CHERRY BOMB, with authors Stephanie Chance, Patricia V. Davis, and Deborah Rodriquez.

With author Shellie Tomlinson Rushing at the dinner where the authors served the book club members.

With author Shellie Rushing Tomlinson at the dinner where the authors served the book club members.

After each panel, the authors went to the signing tables, where readers brought books they purchased from Murder By the Book, who were the book vendors for the weekend. All of this was pretty typical of a book festival. What wasn’t typical was the amount of time the authors and readers had to really hang out together and get to know one another. On Friday night the authors served the tables at the barbeque dinner for the readers. And all during the weekend there were opportunities to eat together or just visit over car or a drink at the bar. It’s a pretty magical event.

Something I loved was the silent auction. Authors brought items—often related to their books—for sale to benefit the Pat Conroy Literary Center. I was happy to sell a canvas print of the “weeping” icon of Saint Mary of Egypt that I painted, which is featured in my novel CHERRY BOMB. And I made two purchases (of course): a set of Mexican pottery from Deborah Rodriguez, and a painting by Nicole Seitz called “Setting Free,” which has layers of meaning for me.

With Nicole Seitz and her original painting which I bought at the silent auction.

With Nicole Seitz and her original painting which I bought at the silent auction.

Thanks to Tiajuana Anderson Neel who bought the "weeping" icon of Saint Mary of Egypt that I contributed.

Thanks to Tiajuana Anderson Neel who bought the “weeping” icon of Saint Mary of Egypt that I contributed.

I’ve shared a few photos (lots more are on Facebook, as I mentioned) but I’d also like to share something about the 6 books I purchased from authors I met this weekend. I’m sure some of these will show up as book reviews here on my blog in the future. Although there were several New York Times best-selling authors at the event, some of the books that caught my attention were by lesser-known writers, and I can’t wait to read them:

books from PQ Wknd

 

GRADLE BIRD is J. C. Sasser’s first novel. I’m intrigued by the protagonist, sixteen-year-old Gradle Bird, who lives with her grandpa in a seedy motel and truck stop in Georgia. I think that she and Mare—the protagonist in my novel CHERRY BOMB (a sixteen-year-old runaway orphan who becomes a graffiti artist)—would be best friends! At one point during the panel that J.C. shared with Nicole Seitz and Bren McClain, J.C. mentioned that Gradle Bird and the other nobels on the panel were considered “Southern Gothic.” As she described the term, I wondered if CHERRY BOMB might also fit into that genre…. although I marketed it as Southern literary fiction. Anyway, GRADLE BIRD is on top of my “to read” stack from the weekend!

THE VELVETEEN DAUGHTER is Laurel Davis Huber’s first novel. I enjoyed getting to know Laurel during the weekend, and learning that we are the same age and on a similar trajectory in our writing careers. We also learned that we both love art and it plays a major role in both of our debut novels. Can’t wait to read THE VELVETEEN DAUGHTER, which is about Margery Williams Biano, the author of The Velveteen Rabbit, and her daughter Pamela, a world-renowned child prodigy artist

TO THE STARS THROUGH DIFFICULTIES by Romalyn Tilghman caught my interest because it features women who are descendants of the women who built fifty-nine Carnegie libraries in Kansas a century earlier. It’s about the importance of art and literature, and especially libraries, in our lives. Having visited six Friends of the Library groups in small towns all over Mississippi to talk about my novel CHERRY BOMB this past fall and winter, my interest in libraries has grown, and I can’t wait to read this book. And… a conversation I had with Romalyn this weekend sparked an idea for my next novel. Stay tuned!

WALKING ON BROKEN GLASS isn’t Christa Allan’s latest book, but it’s the one I bought after visiting with Christa this weekend. The subtitle for the books is FACING SOBRIETY WITH SOUTHERN CHARM. It’s about a southern socialist who goes to rehab. As Publisher Weekly says: “This nonformulaic look at the spiritual redemption of a life is a bright start; debut novelist Allan is one to watch.” Christa’s recent novel, which she spoke about on her panel Saturday afternoon, is BECAUSE YOU LOVED ME.

THE MARRIAGE OF OPPOSITES also isn’t the novel that Alice Hoffman came to talk about this weekend. Hoffman is the author of Practical Magic, which was made into a movie. And about 30 other books! As a New York Times best-selling author, she was a keynote speaker on Saturday morning. She talked about how “writing is the most interactive of all the arts,” and “why reading is better than sex.” And she talked about “inside and outside stories in a novel—inside being what’s happening emotionally.” Lots of inspiration for authors and readers alike. But I was drawn to THE MARRIAGE OF OPPOSITES because it’s about a famous artist and takes place in France… a favorite topic and location for me!

STEP OUT STEP UP: LESSONS FROM LIFETIME OF TRANSITIONS AND MILITARY SERVICE by Mark E. Green, Lt. Col., U.S. Army Retired (co-written with Echo Montgomery Garrett) is a book I bought for my oldest son Jonathan, who is a retired Army helicopter pilot. I enjoyed visiting with Mark and Echo, especially learning about Mark’s experiences with the 82nd Airborne and his service in Afghanistan. In his retirement Mark helps those in military service, veterans, and their families with resiliency and transition. I look forward to hearing what our son thinks of the book.

That’s all for now. Stay tuned as I move forward with a new novel and get busy with pre-marketing for SOUTHERN WRITERS ON WRITING.

Prayer Beads and Weeping Icons

ASB CoverI’m off to Nacogdoches, Texas, on Thursday for the 2018 Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend, where as many as several hundred members of Pulpwood Queens book clubs from all over the country gather every year, along with several dozen authors. I’m on two panels:

Thursday, 7 p.m. A SECOND BLOOMING: BECOMING THE WOMEN WE ARE MEANT TO BE. This is the anthology I edited, published last March, and it has been chosen as the book club selection for February by the Pulpwood Queens. Several contributors will be joining me on the panel: Julie Cantrell, River Jordan, NancyKay Wessman, and Susan Marquez. Memphis author Suzanne Henley won’t be there, but she will be there in spirit. Suzanne’s essay, “Beyond This Point There Be Dragons,” is included in the collection. And she has a book coming out this March: BEAD BY BEAD: THE ANCIENT WAY OF PRAYING MADE NEW. It’s part memoir, part spiritual journal, part “how to pray with Protestant prayer beads.”

Bead by Bead FULLCover_need Spine

 

Prayer BeadsThere’s an auction during the weekend to raise money for the Pat Conroy Literary Center in Beaufort, South Carolina. Suzanne has contributed a hand-made set of her prayer beads, which I’ll be taking with me to the auction on Thursday. The beads she uses are from all over the world, some as ancient as 200 B.C. She includes a beautifully written description and inspirational note to go with each set. She has dedicated this set to author Julie Cantrell, who has inspired Suzanne, and who also wrote a wonderful blurb for BEAD BY BEAD. Julie is also on a panel for her novel PERENNIALS during the weekend.

Prayer Beads notes

On Saturday afternoon at 2:12 I’ll be on a panel for my novel CHERRY BOMB, which is one of the Pulpwood Queens book club selections for March. And I’m contributing an item for the auction, as well. It’s an 8 X 8 inch canvas print of the “weeping” icon of Saint Mary of Egypt that I painted… the one that appears on the back cover of the book. CB cover FINALIn CHERRY BOMB, the icon is weeping for women who have been abused (including the three main characters in the book). The icon I painted isn’t actually weeping, but my daughter-in-law See Cushman added the “tears” using Photoshop. I hope that it will be a blessing to whoever buys it during the auction.

 

Mary of Egypt weeping

 

 

I can’t wait to spend the weekend with these amazing women, sharing our love for books! The theme this year is “Bohemian Rhapsody,” so watch for some pictures on Facebook with lots of fun costumes!

The Big Reveal (for 2018)

After such a banner year (publishing 3 books in 2017) I’m excited to say that my fourth book will be out in May of 2018:

Southern Writers on Writing, an anthology I edited, coming from University Press of Mississippi.

With a foreword by Alan Lightman (a Memphis native known mostly for his brilliant science writing) and essays by twenty-six southern authors (13 women and 13 men), this is a collection the literary world has been waiting for. Last week I read this wonderful guest post on Jane Friedman’s blog, “How and Why to Edit an Anthology,” by Margot Kahn, which was encouraging, as I’ve had such a positive experience putting together this collection.

Just got the official COVER to share! Thanks to Oxford (Mississippi) photographer Ed Croom for this wonderful image. Ed read the essays in the collection first, and drew inspiration from them for his photo shoot at Rowan Oak, the historic home of William Faulkner. You can read more about the photograph in my Author’s Note when the book comes out!

SouthernWritersOnWritingCOVER

Skyping, Book Clubs, Libraries, and Galleys

We’ve been home from our 9-day road trip/book tour since Friday night, but I’m just now catching my breath…. After unpacking, doing laundry, grocery shopping, and opening a week’s worth of mail, I finally got back to “work.”

book-club-book

Last night was my first time to be guest author at a book club. The members are all part of my church—St. John Orthodox—here in Memphis. This meeting was for my first book Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s. Three of the women in the group have already lost their mother’s—one to Alzheimer’s—and everyone had read the book, so we had a heart-felt discussion about our relationships with our mothers and our own outlook on aging. The group has invited me back in 2018 to meet with them when they read my novel Cherry Bomb. The atmosphere is different from a reading at a bookstore or library… a bit more intimate and interactive. I really enjoyed it.

"Skyping" with a Texas book club?

“Skyping” with a Texas book club?

Next Monday night I’ll have another “first”… I’m Skyping with a book club in Sugar Land, Texas! My high school classmate Stephanie Aucoin Davidson read Cherry Bomb and recommended it to her book club, then they invited me for a “virtual meeting” with them next week. I’ve downloaded the Skype app and practiced using it, so I hope it works out! I’m slowly joining the twenty-first century when it comes to technology. Here’s a funny (but true) story that my kids will laugh at. My 80-something neighbor called me yesterday morning and asked if I could come over and help him figure out some things on his iPhone. I walked across the street and sat down with him in his kitchen, and fortunately, I was able to answer his questions and teach him a few tricks—thanks to help I’ve received in the past from my kids! (A new take on paying it forward!)

I’m already scheduled for three book club meetings in 2018 to discuss Cherry Bomb, so it looks like I’ll have many opportunities for these up-close-and-personal discussions. What a joy!

Meanwhile, my other “project” this week was to finish proof-reading the galleys for the anthology I’m editing, Southern Writers on Writing (University Press of Mississippi 2018), which I finished today. I couldn’t figure out how to use the “sticky notes” on the PDF file, but the press was okay with my low-tech way of sending them corrections. I just wrote down the page numbers, paragraphs, etc., and what the correction was in a Word document and sent it to them. Fortunately there were only 4 corrections in the entire manuscript, which consists of twenty-six essays, a foreword and introduction—kudos to the press for great editing! So I sent off the edits, and the index, which I finished a couple of weeks ago, today.  Ahh.

friends-logoThis gives me a day to relax (tomorrow) before heading down to Starkville, Mississippi, on Thursday to meet with the Friends of the Library Group there. The good people from The Book Mart will be handling sales of Cherry Bomb, so I’ll be able to focus on some (hopefully) lively conversations about the book. Next week I’ll drive down to Oxford and Aberdeen (both also in Mississippi), for events for Cherry Bomb at both of their local libraries. Although I’m a native of Jackson, I rarely—if ever—visited these small towns in my home state, so I’m thankful for the opportunity this book tour gives me for getting to know more of “my people” and the places they call home.

The Index

My fourth book—Southern Writers on Writingwill be released by University Press of Mississippi next May. I’m editing this one, and also contributed an essay to the anthology. Last week I received the page proofs, which is always exciting. But I also received instructions on how to create an index, which I’ve never done. All books published by UPM (University Press of Mississippi) have indexes.

IMG_0210

 

ScanSo, I studied up on how to create one, following the Chicago Manual of Style (16th Edition). First I went through every page of the book and made an alphabetical list of all terms I felt were significant enough to be included in the index. This is a fairly subjective process, and it was actually kind of fun. But then the labor-intensive part started.

Going through the PDF of the manuscript, I did a search for each term, and wrote down all the page numbers on which the term appears in the book. This took a few hours (I broke it up over several days to take breaks from the computer) and it was interesting to see which terms appeared most often in a collection of essays by 26 southern authors. The most popular terms are:

Alabama

art

character

class

essay

Faulkner, William

God

lyrical

Memphis

Mississippi

music

New York

novel

O’Connor, Flannery

place

poet

poetry

soul

South

southern

voice

writer

 

Finally I typed the page numbers beside each term in the final draft of the index. Done.

I started proofing the galleys yesterday. I’m so excited about this book!

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!

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