Taking Joyous Note of Each Moment

Pat Conroy and me in 2010.

Pat Conroy and me in 2010.

Tomorrow is the one year anniversary of Pat Conroy’s death (March 4, 2016). Pat was my favorite author. I read all his books and saw all the movies based on his books. He was a master of literary fiction and packed a big emotional punch in all his work. Beautifully crafted sentences, paragraphs, and pages that I just kept turning. My favorite of his novels is Prince of Tides, but recently I have loved the collection of his blog posts and presentations in A Lowcountry Heart. Magic. Just magic. We all miss you, Pat!

I love these words from Pat’s Facebook page:

“Why do they not teach you that time is a finger snap and an eye blink, and that you should not allow a moment to pass you by without taking joyous, ecstatic note of it, not wasting a single moment of its swift, breakneck circuit?”

Pat was just 70 when he left us… only four years older than I will be on my birthday next Wednesday. His words make me want to be more alert to life moment by moment.

Pat loved his readers, and spent lots of time with them at book signings, listening to their stories. Last night I had my first reading/signing for Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s, at Burke’s Books in Memphis. Corey and Cheryl Mesler, owners, are dear friends and stalwart supporters of books and authors and readers. Corey is also an accomplished poet and novelist. I tried to remember to ask each person as I signed their books if they had an Alzheimer’s story, or if they were a caregiver. I don’t think I did a very good job of this, but I will try to do better as I continue on my “book tour”… to Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi, at 5 p.m. tonight, and Lemuria in Jackson, Mississippi, at 3 p.m. on Saturday.

I’ll close with a few photos from last night’s event at Burke’s Books. Have a great weekend everyone!

 

With Corey Mesler, owner of Burke's Books

With Corey Mesler, owner of Burke’s Books

Fr Alex Susan Fr Philip

signing for Pamela

Daphne and Sarah

Susan reading closeup

Tammy Susan Sarah

Susan with Sandy and Bill

Kay with Susan

Mansours

Madeleine, Daphne, Sue, Judy

books

End of Year Book List

2016 has been an industrial year for me, as I finished querying presses and signed 4 book deals. And now here at the end of the year, those 4 books are in various stages of organization, editing, pre-publication, and marketing. As a writer, I feed my creative spirit on the works of other authors. Often I read more than one book at a time, usually a novel and a nonfiction book. I rarely read short stories (although there’s one excellent collection in this list) or mysteries, but I love poetry, memoir, literary novels, books about spirituality and art, books about courageous and interesting women, and some “self-help” books.

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I read 38 books in 2016. Fifteen are by authors I know personally. I would love to meet the other 22 one day, although a couple of them are no longer living. Here they are in alphabetical order. If you click on the links, you can read my blog posts on any of them you are interested in.

A Charmed Life by Mary McCarthy

A Lowcountry Heart by Pat Conroy

A Summons to Memphis by Peter Taylor

All the Way to Memphis by Suzanne Hudson

Almost Famous Women by Megan Mayhew Bergman

American Happiness (poetry) by Jacqueline Allen Trimble

Circling the Sun by Paula McLain

Delta Rainbow: The Irrepressible Betty Bobo Pearson by Sally Palmer Thomason

Dimestore: A Writer’s Life by Lee Smith

Dispatches From Pluto by Richard Grant

Drifting Too Far From the Shore by Niles Reddick

Forever Chic: Frenchwomen’s Secrets for Timeless Beauty, Style, and Substance by Tish Jett

Gift From the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

God For Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of  Lent and Easter Edited by Greg Pennoyer and Gregory Wolfe

Guests on Earth by Lee Smith

How Does That Make You Feel? True Confessions From Both Sides of the Therapy Couch edited by Sherry Amatenstein

Inside the Dementia Epidemic: A Daughter’s Memoir by Martha Stettinius

Journeying Through Grief by Kenneth C. Hauck

Lines Were Drawn: Remembering Court-Ordered Integration at a Mississippi High School edited by Teena F. Horn, Alan Huffman, and John Griffin Jones

Woman_reading_a_book_(3588551767)Lisette’s List by Susan Vreeland

Little Wanderer (poetry) by Jennifer Horne

My Southern Journey by Rick Bragg

Not a Place on Any Map by Alexis Paige

Pray and Color by Sybil McBeth

Robert Walker, a novel by Corey Mesler

Still Life: A Memoir of Living Fully With Depression by Gillian Marchenko

The Confessions of X by Suzanne M. Wolfe (winner 2017 Christianity Today Book of the Year Award for Fiction)

The Courage to Grow Old by Barbara Cawthorne Crafton

The Feathered Bone by Julie Cantrell

The Gift of Years by Joan Chittister

The Headmaster’s Darlings by Katherine Clark

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

The Muralist by B. A. Shapiro

The Sanctum by Pamela Cable

Waffle House Rules by Joe Formichella

West With the Night by Beryl Markham

Why We Write About Ourselves edited by Mereditih Maran

Books for 2017What’s in the queue for 2017? (also in alphabetical order) Watch for reviews on my blog next year!

*Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

Garden in the East by Angela Carlson

The Dream Lover by Elizabeth Berg

The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race edited by Jesmyn Ward

The Opposite of Everyone by Joshilyn Jackson

The Statue and the Fury by Jim Dees

*When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

*On Barnes & Noble’s list of the Top 100 bestselling books of 2016

Happy reading, everyone! I’d love to hear what your favorite books from 2016 were!

Why Binge-Watching a TV Series is Like Reading a Novel

Cast of The Newsroom

Cast of The Newsroom

I miss Will, MacKenzie, Charlie, Jim, Maggie, Sloan, Don and Neal! This weekend I finished binge-watching the HBO series (three seasons) “The Newsroom” on Amazon Prime Video (using Roku). This wasn’t my first time at binge-watching. A couple of years ago I did two posts about this activity:

The Anatomy of a Binge

Binge-Watching Continued

The shows I have binge-watched so far include: House of Cards, Breaking Bad, Orange is the New Black, Rectify, and recently Switched at Birth and The Newsroom.

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So this morning I woke up thinking about how binge-watching a TV series is like reading a novel. When you watch a TV show as it comes out—one episode each week—you can sometimes lose momentum. Sure, you look forward to the next show, but 7 days later you might have lost some of the immediacy of the plot. You probably haven’t even thought about the characters since the last episode.
But when you watch three years’ worth in a few days (or even a week or two) it’s so much more like reading a good novel. That feeling that you can’t put it down. That you have to know what happens next. (Although this article says that binge-watching just might be changing out brains!)

Yesterday afternoon when I watched the finale of the final season of “The Newsroom,” I found myself sad to be saying goodbye to these characters I had come to care so much about. Will and MacKenzie got married and they’re having a baby! How will that affect MacKenzie’s new position as network president? Maggie and Jim are together but she’s interviewing for a field producer position in DC and Jim just got promoted at ACN in Atlanta! How will their long-distance relationship work out? And Charlie (Sam Waterston) died.  For me he was the glue for the show, so maybe it helped to have him die as the series ended. But I have to admit that I cried. 

Switched at Birth cast

Switched at Birth cast

I recently also binge-watched another series on Netflix, “Switched at Birth.” Not nearly as well written or acted as “The Newsroom,” but the story-line was unique and I was sucked in. Again, when it ended, I found myself wondering what would happen next for Bay, Daphne, Emmett, Toby, and their families? I was fascinated by the partly deaf cast and the ASL (American Sign Language), which I realized I was learning a bit as I watched each episode. I’m excited that they plan to air 10 new episodes beginning in January 2017 (ABC Family) but now I’m wondering if I’ll watch one each week, or wait until they’re over and binge-watch all 10 of them?

Now I find myself wondering also what I’m going to read next. Having just finished a wonderful (nonfiction) book, Dispatches From Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta, by Richard Grant, I also didn’t want it to end! I’m looking at three books next to my “reading chair” in my office and considering how well it will work to read all three at once: Robert Walker (a novel about a homeless man in Memphis)by Corey Mesler, A Lowcountry Heart: Reflections on a Writing Life (Pat Conroy); and A Charmed Life, the 1955 novel by Mary McCarthy, author of The Group. I’ve already read parts of the Conroy book, and I’m excited to see his wife, Cassandra King, who wrote the introduction, this Thursday night at the Thacker Mountain Radio Show at Off Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi. It’s the two novels that I might have to read one at a time. Here goes. Have a great week, everyone!

Writing on Wednesday: A Trip to Small Town America

Drifing coverThat’s what Winston Groom, author of Forrest Gump, says it feels like to read Niles Reddick’s new novel, Drifting Too Far From the Shore:

Readers will come to love feisty Charlotte “Muddy” Rewis who, despite the bad news in the world, triumphs by making a difference in her own way. Chock full of humor, Drifting Too Far From the Shore is a beautiful story that makes you feel like you have been transported back to small town America.

I agree. And I agreed to read and review the book, which was sent to me by the director of Summertime Publications earlier this summer

I love the main character’s voice: 70-something “Muddy” reflects on the latest news of the day—everything from abused boys at a school in Florida to tornadoes, Jonestown, and 9/11. Reddick places Muddy in the position of learning about, and often acting on, serious events, but without losing her sense of humor, a tricky balance. And the reader never loses sight of Muddy’s point of view, and her strong Christian conservative values. I think my mother, who grew up in Mississippi in the 1930s and ‘40s and lived there until her death at age eighty-eight this past May, would have really enjoyed this book. One of her favorite authors was the Mississippi writer, Willie Morris, whom Reddick must have read.

Reddick’s tone also reminds me a bit of Jan Karon in her Mitford series, also set in a small town, and with a touch of mystery and romance amongst the older set. Karon places her colorful cast of characters in North Carolina, while Reddick chooses Georgia as the setting for his stories, but the South itself often appears as an additional character in these types of books. Setting—and sense of place—are everything in the Southern novel.

You can read a sample of Drifting Too Far From the Shore here, in Southern Reader.

Niles and I “met” online a few years ago when we both participated in “A Good Blog is Hard To Find”—a Southern writers blog featuring over fifty authors. Here’s a sample post of his from 2012: “Sweet Music Man.” (And not to toot my own horn, but here’s a post I did for A Good Blog back in 2010 that relates to my review of Niles’ book: “The Crossroads of Circumstance: Setting in Southern Literature.”)

Niles Reddick

Niles Reddick

I’ll close with a bit more information about the author:

Niles Reddick’s collection Road Kill Art and Other Oddities was a finalist for an Eppie award, his novel Lead Me Home was a national finalist for a ForeWord Award, a finalist in the Georgia Author of the Year award in the fiction category, and a nominee for an IPPY award. His work has appeared in anthologies Southern Voices in Every Direction and Unusual Circumstances and has been featured in many journals including “The Arkansas Review: a Journal of Delta Studies,” “Southern Reader,” “Like the Dew,” “The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature,” “The Pomanok Review,” “Corner Club Press,” “Slice of Life,” “Deep South Review,” “The Red Dirt Review,” “Faircloth Review,” “New Southerner,” and many others. He works for the University of Memphis at Lambuth in Jackson, Tennessee, where he lives with his wife Michelle, two children, Audrey and Nicholas.

You can purchase Drifting Too Far From the Shore at your local independent bookstore (please do!). Sorry I didn’t get this review out in July, when there was a book giveaway on Goodreads (913 people entered, and the contest was over July 31) but it’s in paperback so it won’t bust your budget. Enjoy!

Writing on Wednesday: My Interview on Pamela Cable Blog

Pamela-King-CableLast week I was interviewed on Pamela Cable’s blog. You can read it here:

INTERVIEW: SUSAN CUSHMAN

Pamela and I met at the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville in 2012 and instantly hit it off. We’ve stayed in touch through Facebook, and I was thrilled when she asked me to write a blurb for her soon-to-be-released novel, The Sanctum. (Watch for a review here soon.) She is also the author of Televenge and Southern Fried Women. Here’s the blurb I wrote for The Sanctum:

Pamela Cable has crafted a mystical coming of age story with The Sanctum that reminds one of Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees. Set just north of Kidd’s story, in the mountains of North Carolina, but with similar trappings—a young protagonist escapes an abusive upbringing and finds herself in a surprising Native American setting where family secrets are revealed and a lifetime of suffering is avenged. Cable’s Neeley also takes the reader back to Harper Lee’s “Scout” in To Kill a Mockingbird. Beautiful prose dotted with colorful dialogue and panoramic scenery enriches this page-turning Southern mystery.

Writing on Wednesday: Buy a Short Story and Keep the Lights On!

WalkingI received a message today from author Renea Winchester:

Today is release-day for my short story, “Walking in the Rain: A Short Story About a Sacred Place.” I have written this story to raise money for a small business, Bare Bulb Coffee.

Bare Bulb is the heartbeat of the community and hosts author readings, craft sessions, group meetings, as well as being an overall awesome place.

Join me in supporting Bare Bulb Coffee (in Kathleen, Georgia.) Proceeds from the sale of Renea’s e-story will go to keeping the lights on in this charming business. I’ve already purchased a copy for myself and can’t wait to read it!

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CLICK HERE to purchase “Walking in the Rain” and help keep the lights on at Bare Bulb Coffee.

Writing on Wednesday: Katrina Mississippi—Book Launch in Gulfport July 24!

Katrina coverI’m excited about the launch of Katrina Mississippi: Voices From Ground Zero, (Triton/Nautilus Press, 2015) by my friend NancyKay Wessman. Can you believe it’s been almost 10 years since Hurricane Katrina tore through the Gulf coast in August of 2005? And while others (including Mississippi’s governor, Haley Barbour, with whom Wessman will be speaking at Milsaps College’s lecture series on September 15, “Katrina 10 Years Later”) have books out about Katrina, Wessman’s brings a new perspective to the event.

The book includes individual stories from first responders and critically important volunteers in Mississippi as well as the accounts of state and federal governments.

NancyKayNancyKay Wessman is a public health communications and public relations expert who writes, edits, reads and tells stories. As a nationally known and respected PR director, she helped create and lead organizations that attracted other public health communicators.  

Check out the schedule for events on Wessman’s website, here.

And if you’re near the Gulf Coast this Friday night, come to the Gulfport Galleria of Fine Art at 1300 24th Avenue from 5-7:30 p.m. to meet the author, get a signed copy of the book, and enjoy some informed conversations and free wine. Oh, and I’ll be there, along with Neil White, author of In the Sanctuary of Outcasts and Director of Triton/Nautilus Press, and other friends from Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama, all eager to raise our glasses to NancyKay and get our hands on a signed copy of the book!

 

 

Writing on Wednesday: What the Cool Kids are Reading This Summer

a-condition-of-freedom-bookcoverThe dog days of summer are here. Racial tensions are as hot as a July afternoon in the South. The Braves are playing the Brewers this afternoon… thankfully the game is in Milwaukee, where it will be 76° and not in Atlanta, where folks expect a high of 90° today. Me? I’m pretty much house-bound and thankful for air conditioning that works this time of the year.

Need a great mid-summer read that celebrates America’s favorite pastime and helps heal the racial divide at the same time? Joe Formichella—prize-winning author of two novels, Waffle House Rules and The Wreck of the Twilight Limited, three books of nonfiction, and editor of The Shoe Burnin’: Stories of Southern Soul—has recently republished one of his nonfiction books (formerly titled Here’s To You Jackie Robinson) with a new title of Joe’s choosing: A Condition of Freedom. An emotionally charged story of Jesse Norwood and his African American team, the Mohawks, in the segregated South of the 1950s. Here’s what a couple of celebrated authors have to say about the book:

There are deep, social, philosophical reasons to love Joe Formichella’s story of the Mohawks, and of a place where the very sand seemed to grow baseball men … I think books on baseball should let you feel the sun on your skin, no matter what color it is. This one does that. —Rick Bragg, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of All Over but the Shoutin’ and Ava’s Man

Written with the intensity and narrative tension of a great novel, this story of how the hopes and dreams of a small group of African-American boys and their legendary coach Jesse Norwood mirrors the Great American Dream itself is strong stuff. A terrific read and a powerful, unforgettable book!  —William Cobb, author of A Walk Through Fire

Susan Joe CouchWhether you need a beach read or a couch read, this one won’t disappoint. You can purchase it from River’s Edge Media (CLICK HERE) or a local independent bookstore (CLICK HERE)… or if you must, you can get it from Amazon.

All the cool kids are reading A Condition of Freedom this summer. Be cool.

(Left: Me and Joe being cool down at Waterhole Branch, outside Fairhope, Alabama, in February of 2013, where I participated in a “shoe burnin’” at a bonfire under the stars and the live oak trees, heavy with hanging moss. We told stories and tossed shoes into the fire. It was cool.)

Writing on Wednesday: Evening Body

I love the cover. The photograph reveals the author's arm.

I love the cover. The photograph reveals the author’s arm.

My friend Karissa Knox Sorrell has a new chapbook—Evening Body—coming out from Finishing Line Press soon. I was honored with a sneak preview, and just as I was choosing my favorite poem from the collection, Karissa unknowingly sent me this link to the same poem, which was originally published at Silver Birch Press. It’s called “Chrysalis.”
Several things strike me about Karissa’s work. The first is how sensual it is. I can see, feel, smell and hear the images she captures in verse. My second impression is the strong emotions she pulls from the reader as she opens her heart on the page, as she does so beautifully in “Chrysalis,” where the reader joins her as she is waiting “to feel… to shout… to hope… to birth….”

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image24790131Karissa is hosting a giveaway contest at her blog for anyone who pre-orders Evening Body. If you pre-order a copy, you will be in the running to win a Booklover’s Gift Pack! The Gift Pack includes:

A copy of Thirst by Mary Oliver (poetry)

A copy of Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (fiction)

A copy of Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans (memoir)

A $5 Starbucks gift card.

The only thing you have to do to enter your name in the drawing is let Karissa know you pre-ordered Evening Body (comment on her blog, email, Facebook or Twitter). The winner will be announced on August 1st. Find more info about the giveaway over at Karissa’s blog.  

Click here to order the chapbook Evening Body from Finishing Line Press. 

At the 2012 Southern Festival of Books in Nashville.

At the 2012 Southern Festival of Books in Nashville.

Karissa and I were Facebook friends before we finally met in person at the 2012 Southern Festival of Books in Nashville. Hers is one of a very few blogs which I read on a regular basis, and I’m thankful to call her my friend. I know you’ll enjoy her chapbook… and GOOD LUCK winning the Booklover’s Gift Pack!

Writing on Wednesday: Kindle is Watching You (and Counting Your Pages)

KDPbannerMost of you probably saw Anita Singh’s article in yesterday’s The Telegraph (UK) or other articles on the subject, or at least some posts about it on Facebook:

 “Amazon to pay Kindle authors only for pages read”

There are so many things wrong with this that I hardly know where to begin. First—in case you don’t click on the link and read the article—the gist of it is that authors who self-publish with Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing Select will be paid  based on the number of pages read rather than the number of books downloaded.

Book-machines-before-Kindle-Holloway-Reading-Stand-picture-1If warning lights aren’t going off in your head right now you must be taking a noonday nap to escape the heat. My first reaction was, “How do they know how many pages I’ve read?” The whole Big Brother thing just keeps getting creepier. And how does that affect those of us who like to read more than one book at a time? When you stop reading one and don’t pick it up back for several days, does the Kindle-counter think you gave up on the book?

But beyond that, the obvious arguments are being batted about all over social media today, this one being a favorite:

So, at a restaurant I should only pay for the food I eat, not the food I order?

There are endless applications to this argument:

Should the price of clothes be dependent on the number of times we wear them?

Should the price of a CD be determined by how often we listen to it?

Should the mortgage (or rent) on our living spaces be defined by how many hours a day we spend there?

Book-machines-before-Kindle-Holloway-Reading-Stand-picture-5-540x348The new system begins on July 1. I wonder how it will affect Kindle users. I don’t have any self-published books on my Kindle, so it won’t affect my reading. (I actually haven’t read a book on my Kindle in many months.)

“Advances” in the world of technology always bring new challenges. This one will be interesting to watch.

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