Then Again

I’m almost finished reading Diane Keaton’s new memoir, Then Again.  Don’t have time for a full review here (still at family reunion in the Bahamas) but just wanted to give the book a plug here. It’s a great read… especially if you’re interested in:



Bulimia/eating disorders

Body image obsession


Mother-Daughter relationships

 And on a lighter note:


Movies/movie stars


Keaton is my favorite film actress, so I’m loving the book. But mainly because of how she sets aside her star status and writes as a daughter, a mother, and a woman who struggles with universal issues.

Be sure and buy the physical book, not the eBook… the photo inserts are great. And speaking of great photos, don’t you love this one, from the cover of Vogue? It’s by Annie Leibovitz.


Family Reunion: Club Med Bahamas!

My husband has eight first cousins. One of them, David Wright, who lives in California, is a very successful businessman who generously shares his wealth to bring family together. The first time was about eight years ago. Dave invited the family for a week-long cruise to Alaska—his treat. Over seventy of us went, including our daughter, Beth. Jon and Jason couldn’t go due to Jon’s deployment to Iraq and Jason’s Air Force training at the time. So glad Jon could come this time, but wish Jason and Beth were here with their families! (This Club Med doesn’t allow children under age two….)



So, when David and his new wife, Zofia, invited us for a week at Club Med in the Bahamas, as many accepted his generous gift again. We arrived on Saturday, in the rain, and have already enjoyed two glorious days… lots of clouds which brings a bit of coolness (which I appreciate!). Sailing, snorkeling, water skiing, deep see fishing, tennis, swimming, and delicious food all day. We have an area of the outdoor dining deck for our group at lunch and dinner. It’s awesome getting together with all these wonderful folks in such a beautiful environment.


I don’t think I could find 70 relatives on my side of the family, and we’re never had a family reunion. I love watching these people who live from California to South Carolina and Virginia, down to Georgia and Tennessee, instantly connecting and sharing memories.


I’ll share a few pictures here… (watch for more on Facebook) from the sailing regatta (Bill and I placed 4th out of 10 teams, and we hadn’t sailed in about 40 years!) and the cocktail reception… More later. VERY BAD INTERNET CONNECTION HERE, so I’m going back off the grid for more family bonding. Hugs from the Bahamas!

Cushman-Alexander crew

Cousin David (left) and Zofia Wright (right)… our hosts.

With our son, Jon, getting ready for khaki and white photo shoot

Keri and Paul Nimitz, who won the sailing regatta!



Jon meets cousins

Working Towards the Aha! Moment

It’s always a treat when Poets & Writers Magazine arrives in my mailbox. The July/August issue is full of yummy stuff… including an inside look at life inside Folio Literary Agency (where my friend, Jeff Kleinman, is an agent) and some great new fiction. But the piece that caught my attention in this issue is Michael Bourne’s short article, “The Aha! Moment.” Bourne interviewed literary agent Ellen Levine, the executive vice president of Trident Media Group, about her response to Ayana Mathis’s first novel, The Twelve Tribes of Hattie (coming in January 2013).

 Levine fell in love with Mathis’s work on the first page. But six pages in she gives us a sentence-by-sentence analysis of 7 strong points she discovered in just one scene: Mathis’s command of the scene, the psychological tension, the desperation of the protagonist, vivid prose, strong characters and narrative power.


There’s a whole writing lesson in these two pages. As I continue the hard work of revising my novel, this article helps me see the importance of putting in the hours in order to hopefully create an “Aha! Moment” for a literary agent when I begin queries.

 It’s a slow process and I’m not a patient person. But I’m learning.

Semi-Postal Stamp to Fight Alzheimer’s

Remember this poignant stamp issued by the U.S. Post Office a few years ago? It was only a commemorative stamp, but I used it on most of my correspondence at the time.

Turns out that didn’t help raise money to fight Alzheimer’s Disease, and it’s no longer available.






Whereas this familiar Breast Cancer Research Stamp has raised $80 million. What’s the difference? It’s a semi-postal stamp. It sells for a little more than the going rate for postage, and the extra funds support whichever charity it represents.

Linda Everman, whose husband died in March after living with Alzheimer’s for 14 years, has made a personal campaign of writing letters, urging lawmakers and other advocates to join her in asking the postal service to reissue the stamp, as a semipostal. Paula Spencer Scott, Senior Editor at, wrote this article in April: “Time for Another Alzheimer’s Stamp?”

This morning I took a few minutes to send email letters to my Congressmen. It’s pretty easy to do. Simply look up their contact information here, and write a short paragraph asking them to support the bills that would re-issue the stamp and start to raise money for Alzheimer’s research. I’ll make it easy for you. Feel free to cut and paste my letters into the forms for your own Representatives and Senators, deleting or changing the highlighted lines of personal information.

Sample Letter to your Representatives:

Please consider co-sponsoring House Resolution 351, which would reissue the Alzheimer’s stamp issued by the U.S. Postal Service in October 2008. The Breast Cancer research stamp (semipostal) has raised $80 million. Designed by Maryland art director Ethel Kessler, who designed the Breast Cancer Research stamp, and illustrator Matt Mahurin, the stamp pays tribute to some 11 million American caregivers, featuring an elderly woman in silhouette, a comforting hand on her shoulder. Resolutions for a fundraising stamp have been introduced in the House (Res. 351) and the Senate (Res. 176), but if they don’t get enough co-sponsors, they will die in committee. This is the fourth time we have gotten this far since 1999, and still no stamp. Each time it gets harder to accomplish even the introduction. My mother has Alzheimer’s, as did her mother, so I’m “third generation” in line for this dreaded disease. Please help get this bill passed. It’s too late for my grandmother and my mother, but maybe not too late for my children, who may be caring for me in a few years. Thank you.

Sample Letter to your Senators:

Please consider co-sponsoring Senate Resolution 176, which would reissue the Alzheimer’s stamp issued by the U.S. Postal Service in October 2008. The Breast Cancer research stamp (semipostal) has raised $80 million. Designed by Maryland art director Ethel Kessler, who designed the Breast Cancer Research stamp, and illustrator Matt Mahurin, the stamp pays tribute to some 11 million American caregivers, featuring an elderly woman in silhouette, a comforting hand on her shoulder. Resolutions for a fundraising stamp have been introduced in the House (Res. 351) and the Senate (Res. 176), but if they don’t get enough co-sponsors, they will die in committee. This is the fourth time we have gotten this far since 1999, and still no stamp. Each time it gets harder to accomplish even the introduction. My mother has Alzheimer’s, as did her mother, so I’m “third generation” in line for this dreaded disease. Please help get this bill passed. It’s too late for my grandmother and my mother, but maybe not too late for my children, who may be caring for me in a few years. Thank you.

The Popsicle Lady

What I didn’t see coming at this past weekend’s Murrah High School mega-reunion in Jackson, Mississippi (classes of 1968, 69 and 70) was the joy of sharing childhood memories. It seemed that most people were (finally) over needing to talk about how successful we are (10th reunion), how great our children are (20th reunion), how great our grandchildren are (30th reunion), and the latest surgery we had or were planning to have (40th reunion). Sure, there was some talk of those things this year (*guilty*) but my favorite stories were those shared from our Mississippi childhoods.


Like Sally McClintock, who lived on my street in first grade. I think she’s the person I’ve known the longest of anyone from my senior class in high school. Sally reminded me of some funny things that happened back in 1956-7 on Belvedere Street in the Broadmoor neighborhood. Most of us didn’t have air conditioning yet, so we spent a lot of time outdoors, looking for shade trees and sneaking out of the neighborhood to get ice cream at Seale-Lily, which was dangerous because we had to cross the railroad tracks. Can you imagine letting your 6-year-old walk a half mile and cross train tracks without any adults? (Of course our parents never knew, and thankfully we lived to enjoy those memories.) The air-conditioning was on full power at Seale-Lily. We sat at those tall bar stools with the plastic covers, which felt cool on the backs of our legs. They served ice water in little paper cones that sat inside aluminum holders. We drank and ate slowly, not wanting to leave the comfort of the air-cooled building.


Seems like lots of our memories from the 1950s involve ice cream. Or Popsicles. The heat plays a huge role in our memories growing up in Mississippi. Another of my classmates, whom I knew not only from school but also from church, told me about going to visit the Popsicle Lady, who lived near her family in the Belhaven neighborhood. The Popsicle Lady lived alone in a big Tudor house, and had lovely gardens.  She was always surprised when she would invite her in for a popsicle and let her eat it inside the house, something our mothers never did back then.


One day she noticed that the Popsicle Lady was often sitting at a typewriter when she was there, so she asked what she was doing. I’m writing stories—would you like to read one? And then she would let her read one of her freshly typed stories. It would be many years before my friend would realize that she had been reading the unpublished manuscripts of Eudora Welty.

Mega Reunion: Murrah High School Classes of ’68, ’69 and ‘70 gather in Jackson, Mississippi


Susan Johnson (Junior Year)

I’m packing for another high school reunion this weekend. The class of 1969 (Murrah High School—Jackson, Mississippi) held its 40th reunion three summers ago. (My reflections on that reunion are here: “Be Young, Be Foolish, Be Happy.”) But lots of folks in our class had good friends in the classes above and below us, so we’re having a mega-reunion tonight and tomorrow. Reasons floating around the emails included things like, “we’re losing friends” and “let’s do it while we still can.” But I think it’s just because these people like to party.


Kit (Whitsett) Fields, Sharon (Scott) VanDeburgh, Sandra (Kerr) Jarrett, Me

Since that last reunion, I’ve had several good visits with friends I hadn’t seen in years, so these gatherings definitely encourage friendship re-building. At one lunch gathering at Mint in Ridgeland a couple of years ago, Kit (Whitsett) Fields, Sharon (Scott) VanDeburgh, Sandra (Kerr) Jarrett and I got a little crazy with the 3-D glasses Kit gave us….

So, I got out my old yearbooks again—especially the one from 1968 since it has all three classes in it—and smiled a lot as I glanced through them. I love this picture of Bob Wright (’68) injecting mice with blue ink—he set 50 of them lose on the football field during the Murrah vs. Central game that year.  Our colors were blue and silver. (I dated Bob for several months my junior year and have other memories, like climbing the radio tower by the University Medical Center in the middle of the night so he could take pictures. We’re both lucky to be alive.)

Bob Wright (Class of ’68)


I always enjoy a couple of the early pages in the 1969 album, where the captions read, “Today it seems so natural to be standing here beside you… and tomorrow just as natural to be gone.” Those lines have grown in meaning as we’ve gotten older and we’ve lost a number of our classmates. I’m looking forward to seeing lots of old friends tonight! There MIGHT be photos next week… we’ll see how badly everyone behaves. Have a great weekend!






Wordless Wednesday: Web Site Under Construction and New Link for Pen & Palette

As you can see, since you are here, my web site is up and working, although still very much under construction. Since I imported my Blogger blog into WordPress, please take a minute to put your email into the spot on the right to receive notices each time I do a new blog post. I’ll continue to make changes as I learn my way around here, and any suggestions are welcome!

For “Wordless Wednesday,” I’ll leave you with a little blog humor from “Baby Blues”…

>The Sucker, the Situation and the Shit


During his craft talk on PLOT at the 2012 Yoknapatawpha Summer Writers Workshop in Oxford (Mississippi) this past weekend, author Tom Franklin (Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter) gave us a great visual for remembering the three things all stories need. He started out with the 3 Ps (augmented by the 3 Cs):

People (Characters)

Place (Context)

Problem (Conflict)

And then to make it even clearer, he added the 3 Ss that every good story has:

the SUCKER, the SITUATION, and the SHIT.

How the person/character/sucker in the place/context/situation negotiates the problem/conflict/shit = the PLOT.

Of course Tom’s talk was peppered with great illustrations, from his own work and others’ writing.

Creative nonfiction author, Sonja Livingston (Ghostbread) talked to us about “Writing Your Life One Snapshot at a Time.” Her wisdom can also apply to fiction writing, although the samples she shared with us were mostly memoir and essay. She talked about structure—writing little pieces that are like tiles in a mosaic—and then tying them together to form the essay or book. And about SEEDS—moments that are broken open so you can get to the heart of the matter. Good stuff.

Scott Morris (Waiting For April, The Total View of Taftly) deviated a bit from his usual philosophical address to give a practical talk on the CRAFT of writing. Perfect timing for me, since I had my second meeting with my freelance editor that same day. Between the two of them I think there’s hope for my novel! This seemed to be the year for lists. Scott explored 5 basic elements of writing and how to use them (or not) in our writing:

1. Dialogue (including interior monologue)

2. Descriptive Writing (relating things in terms of the 5 senses)

3. Expository (explaining)

4. Commentary (opinion—the author’s or a character’s)

5. Action (what’s happening)

Modern American realists use only 1, 2, and 5, leaving expository and commentary out of their work. Lots of editors in New York City don’t want 3 or 4. But Scott points out that’s not how the real world is. I was so glad to hear him talk about how to use expository and commentary WELL in our writing, especially since my editor was telling me to quit using dialogue to explain things. Like Scott said, we talk in code. It’s unnatural to have our characters explain things through dialogue. Are there exceptions? Sure. One of my main characters is a teacher, so she sometimes explains things in dialogue in my novel. It was good to be reminded that the rules are just a starting place. We need to know them—just like a good jazz master who bends those rules and creates improvisational music.

It seems that every writing workshop eventually gets around to a discussion on this whole “show, don’t tell” mantra. Workshop Director, M. O. “Neal” Walsh (The Prospect of Magic) (left, sporting his YOK tattoo) reminded us of something he learned from Richard Bausch: “It’s not show OR tell, it’s show AND tell.” Neal did a fabulous job coordinating the weekend, hosting the Open Mic events, and even took time to do written critiques of our work.

The bottom line? Scott said it well, “Tell a story that creates a level of excitement in yourself and don’t worry about the rules.”

What a great weekend. One of my personal highlights was Saturday night. Tom Franklin gave a reading for the workshop participants at Off Square Books. When we arrived there was a table set up with books by the workshop faculty. And right there at the end—rubbing elbows with one of Scott’s books, was Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality.

Since I contributed an essay, a number of folks (about eight, but who’s counting, right?) purchased the book and asked me to sign it for them. Thanks so much, everyone! (That’s Vaughan Dickson and me at left.) I was very humbled and gratified by their support. I loved signing the books during the workshop weekend, since the faculty and participants at the past six years of Yoknapatawpha helped shape the words in that essay, just as they did the novel I’m trying to finish now. I can’t wait to buy your books and have you inscribe them for me!

And kudos to third-time YOK participant, Michael Risely, for the success of his self-published crime drama, Through These Eyes. I enjoyed reading it on Kindle a few months ago and appreciate the paperback Michael gave me as a gift this weekend. (Michael and me, on the square, right.)

Enjoy these parting shots… all taken with my cell phone. Watch for some better quality photos from Doug McLain on Facebook! Hugs out.


>Wordless Wednesday: Silence in the Workshop, Please!

This Friday I’m headed back to Oxford (Mississippi) for the 2012 Yoknapatawpha Summer Writer’s Workshop. The workshop organizer, Neal (M.O.) Walsh, sent out an email to all the participants yesterday. He mentioned that you can either bring a (physical) notebook for taking notes during the workshop, or you can bring your laptop… but not if you type too loudly.

I hadn’t considered that some people might type more loudly than others, but I guess it depends upon your intensity. And maybe your keyboard.

So I Googled it and discovered this convenient Soundproof Keyboard Cover Silencer, which you can purchase for only $36.

Being a polite, Southern Lady, I always use an old-fashioned notebook and pen for taking notes during the workshop. But I thought I’d share my find with all the LOUD typists out there. You know who you are.


>The Spirit of Truth


Today is Holy Spirit Day… the day following the Feast of Pentecost in the Orthodox Church. I wrote about this day back in 2008:

“The Church Goes Green.”

(photo is from 2008)

Father Stephen Freeman wrote about “The Trees of Pentecost” in his blog a few days ago:

The Jewish feast of Pentecost (fifty days after the Passover) marks the beginning of the harvest feast. The first-fruits of the harvest are brought to the temple to be blessed of God. For Christians the harvest that is sought is the harvest of a renewed humanity and the renewal of creation. Thus the trees are a representation of the created order, assembled together with the people of God, awaiting and receiving the gift of the Spirit through whom everything is made new.”

The Church is decorated with greenery to remind us of everything being made new. As I look out my windows today, I see GREEN everywhere. This wondrous rain we’ve received the past few days (it’s raining as I write these words) feeds that new life and adds to the beauty of creation around me.

Our pastor gave a wonderful homily at St. John Orthodox Church yesterday morning during the celebration of the Feast of Pentecost. There was much to take in, but the main thing for me (and this probably wasn’t even one of his main points) was the reminder that I have two spirits. Why does that matter so much?

My own spirit—given to me at conception—is important to who I am as a person.

God’s Holy Spirit—given to the Church at Pentecost, and to me at Baptism—enables me to heal the injuries that happen to my person because of my sin.

The following is a prayer to the Holy Spirit, which is part of my regular Morning Prayers, when I’m not too lazy to pray them:

O Heavenly King, O Comforter,
The Spirit of Truth,
Who art in all
places and fillest all things;
The treasury of good things and giver of life,
Come and abide in us,
Cleanse us from every stain
And save our souls, O Good One.

As I prayed this prayer this morning, I thought about how rarely I ask the Spirit of Truth to abide in me when I’m writing. I just finished writing a guest editorial for the religion column in the Commercial Appeal (Memphis’s paper) that will be out later this month. It’s about my spiritual journey. As I did final edits on the piece yesterday afternoon, I finally remembered to ask the Holy Spirit to help me.

I’m also in the middle of heavy revisions on my novel, with help from a gifted editor. It’s harder work than I anticipated, and sometimes my spirit gets weary. Today I will try to remember to ask God’s Spirit to abide in me as I’m working.

The difference, I think, is that when we ask the Holy Spirit’s help, our own spirit quits warring with Him so much.

I’m tired of fighting.

O Heavenly King.

O Comforter.

Come and abide in me…

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