VOTE for a Book Cover for FRIENDS OF THE LIBRARY! And . . . Herding Cats . . . again!

For those of you who know me, you know that I like to have several balls in the air at once. I get bored—or even depressed—if I don’t have an active creative project in the works at all times. Which is why I am in various stages of pre-production for TWO MORE BOOKS to be published this year. That will mean I will have published 6 books in 3 years. With 6 different publishers. In 4 different genres: 1 memoir, 1 novel, 3 anthologies, and 1 collection of linked short stories. Here’s the status of those next two books.

FRIENDS OF THE LIBRARY will be published in August by Koehler Books. Just TODAY I finished proofing the galleys (the text of the book). Please follow this link and VOTE FOR YOUR FAVORITE COVER design!

 

 

THE PULPWOOD QUEENS CELEBRATE 20 YEARS! is the third anthology I’ve edited. My experience working with 20 authors as editor for A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be (Mercer University Press, 2017) and then with 26 authors for Southern Writers on Writing (University Press of Mississippi, 2018) should have prepared me for this new project. And in many ways, of course, it did. But here’s the thing. This time I’m working with over 70 contributors. Yes. 48 authors and over 20 folks who are either members of Pulpwood Queens book clubs, friends and family of Kathy L. Murphy, the Pulpwood Queens founder and director, or folks who work closely with her—think journalists, webmasters, interns, magazine editors, librarians, etc. We’re aiming at December for publication, so stay tuned for updates!

 

Celebrate National Library Week with these Words of Advance Praise for FRIENDS OF THE LIBRARY

 

Today I’m celebrating National Library Week by sharing advance praise from eleven authors for my short story collection, FRIENDS OF THE LIBRARY, coming in August from Koehler Books. I finished drafting the collection about this time last year and did a post about it to celebrate this national day to recognize the importance of libraries. I hope these blurbs will wet your appetite for the book, and at the same time remind you to give some love to your local libraries, join a Friends of the Library group, or start one! I am so grateful to these amazing, busy, successful authors who took time out from working on their own books to read and blurb this book! This year’s theme for National Library Week is “Libraries make Strong Communities.” That’s exactly what this book is about. Can’t wait to share it with you!

Friends of the Library is the book I have long hoped that someone would write—a beautifully wrought hymn of praise to readers and book-lovers in the most sacred of places, the libraries where we find both. Rich in character, keen insight and local color, this heartwarming collection celebrates the surprising power of story to bring us together.—Cassandra King, author of the best-selling novels The Sunday Wife and The Same Sweet Girls and the upcoming memoir Tell Me a Stor

Susan Cushman’s new book Friends of the Library ties the geography of community to the geography of the human heart and adds destiny’s arrow, leading to a renewed romance, a published manuscript, hearts and diseases healed, and a home for the homeless. I loved the sense of community reflected in the stories, the deep love for literature, and the compassion of the characters as they championed all that was good in the world down to the tiniest crumb of kindness. When I finished the book I immediately joined Friends of the Library in my own city.—River Jordan, Clearstory Radio host and author of Praying for Strangers and Confessions of a Christian Mystic (coming in April 2019) 

A love letter to big lives found in small southern towns, Friends of the Library reminds us of the affecting, empowering ways libraries serve as safe havens for the stories and storytellers in our communities. Susan Cushman deftly braids together a tapestry of connected lives on the cusp of discovery and change. . . . May all who enter these pages leave as friends.—Jonathan Haupt, executive director of the Pat Conroy Literary Center and coeditor with Nicole Seitz of Our Prince of Scribes: Writers Remember Pat Conroy

Susan Cushman’s latest book is clever and pioneering. She creates a collection of fiction stories that unmask real-world problems through an author’s visit to Friends of the Library meetings, and then becomes a pivotal force in helping the characters resolve crises—cancer, homelessness, domestic violence, and much more. Another work by Susan Cushman I couldn’t put down.—Niles Reddick, Pulitzer Prize, PEN-Faulkner, and Pushcart Prize nominee

Readers already know Susan Cushman as a talented novelist and nonfiction author.  This time she uses short stories to take us on a fictional tour of Mississippi, giving us a delightful peek inside the “Friends” library groups of ten real cities and towns.  Anyone who knows the South and its quirky residents will love this entertaining and insightful collection of stories.—John Floyd, Edgar Award nominee, three-time Derringer Award winner, and 2018 Edward D. Hoch Memorial Golden Derringer Award winner, a lifetime achievement award. 

Susan Cushman has crafted a set of delightful short stories that will make everyone want to be an author visiting Friends of the Library groups like her main character Adele Covington, who finds herself involved in difficult problems in the lives of those coming to hear her talks. Adoption, domestic violence, homelessness, and other hard issues are addressed and resolved as Adele comes to care for those she meets along the way. I hope that as Susan continues to publish, she adds to these stories, creating an ongoing series. Ellen Morris Prewitt—editor of Writing Our Way Home: A Group Journey Out of Homelessness.

Susan Cushman takes us on an emotional journey, down Mississippi’s back roads and up its express lanes, to libraries and the readers who love them, who revel in the camaraderie found in books. This book is a love letter to librarians, readers, and the characters who speak to them. Cushman’s fiction is the catalyst that draws from them their individual, unique, and poignant stories.—Suzanne Hudson, author of All the Way to Memphis (short stories)

Friends of the Library depicts a delightful author as she introduces her novel at library events and then adds more to the equation by illustrating how, when it comes to authors and readers, the gift of the relationship is mutually beneficial.—Claire Fullerton, author of Mourning Dove, Dancing to an Irish Reel and A Portal in Time

Friends of the Library is a love letter to southern readers and writers that also manages to tackle serious social issues. In a world of Twitter and twaddle, Susan Cushman gives us a timely reminder of the simple pleasures of your local library. Find this book and check it out!—Jim Dees, author of The Statue and the Fury, and host of the Thacker Mountain Radio Show

Susan Cushman gives readers the grand tour of Mississippi, introducing us to recognizable characters and covering every topic from alcoholism to faith, domestic violence to Southern cooking. This book could only have been written by someone who loves our great state and who longs to celebrate both the writers and readers who call it home.—Julie Cantrell, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of Into the Free

Who says happy endings no longer exist? Susan Cushman’s Friends of the Library doesn’t shy away from the ugliness of the world and the missteps we often take on our journeys through it, but redemption is always within reach. These stories provide hope in what can often seem like a hopeless world. Adele Covington, who stands at the center of each story, is an angel, and the people in the small towns of Mississippi won’t soon forget her, nor will those who read this book.—Lee Martin, author of The Mutual UFO Network

Southern Literary Festival—April 11-13, 2019

One week from tomorrow—on April 13, 2019—I’ll be teaching a fiction writing workshop from 10:30-11:45 a.m. as part of the 2019 Southern Literary Festival.We’ll be inside the Rosa Deal School of Arts.

Founded in 1937 (yes!) by representatives from ten southern colleges, the festival rotates around the south, and thankfully for Memphis and the surrounding area, it has landed here this year.

Please spread the word and JOIN US for lots of panels Thursday through Saturday, and for Chris Offut’s keynote on Friday night from 7-9 p.m.

My workshop is for fiction writers (or wanna be writers) of all levels, although I will be covering some fairly basic stuff. It will include a sneak peak at one of the stories in my upcoming short story collection, FRIENDS OF THE LIBRARY (coming from Koehler Books in August) and an opportunity to do some “flash fiction” writing.

Hope to see lots of folks from the midsouth and beyond at this wonderful festival, hosted by Christian Brothers University. REGISTER HERE.

Only In a Mississippi Book Club . . .

with Karen Hatch, who invited me to her book club

So this happened. In August of 2017 I met Karen Hatch at the Mississippi Book Festival in Jackson, Mississippi. It was Karen’s first time at the Festival, and she found my novel CHERRY BOMB and asked me to sign it for her. I was in the authors’ signing tent at the same time that Angie Thomas was signing her book THE HATE YOU GIVE. The line to Angie’s table wrapped around the tent and through the grass. There was no line at my table. I was thrilled to meet Karen and sign my book for her.

Fast-forward to March of 2019. Turns out Karen is the librarian at Southaven High School, and she’s in a book club with a bunch of women who teach school, work in libraries, or serve as principals in the Desoto County Schools of North Mississippi. She recommended CHERRY BOMB to her book club and they invited me to come and speak to them at their March meeting, this past Tuesday night.

 

I was actually a little nervous driving thirty miles down to Hernando, Mississippi on Tuesday night. Not because I was driving alone into a rural area, but because Karen had told me so many of her book club members were in education. I was feeling a little intimidated before I even arrived. When I pulled up to this lovely home on what looked like several acres of land, I took a deep breath and walked towards the front door. Before I could even ring the bell, the hostess, Emily Ballard, opened the door and welcomed me. Karen was right beside her.

As I stepped inside Emily’s home—ten or fifteen minutes earlier than the meeting was to begin—and looked to my left into her living room, there was a circle of over a dozen women, already seated (most with a glass of wine in their hands) waiting for me! “Oh, dear, am I late?” I asked, feeling a bit flustered.

“Oh, no,” Karen answered. “I just asked everyone to come early so we’d be ready for you when you arrived.”

I felt like a rock star, which is how these women treated me during the next couple of hours. They went on and on about how honored they were to have the author in their midst. You’d think that would have reassured me, but I was even more nervous, feeling that they had me on a pedestal I didn’t deserve. I asked if everyone would introduce themselves and tell me what they did, and indeed, almost everyone of them worked at a school in one capacity or another.

After everyone had a plate of (delicious southern) finger food and were once again seated in a circle, the discussion began. I asked what books they had read and loved, and I recommended a few for their upcoming meetings. And then we started talking about CHERRY BOMB. It was humbling to hear how much they liked the book, and I relaxed into their questions about my own life and how my experiences fueled the story line of the novel. Their questions about the structure, characters, and plot were, of course, educated, and I began to relax a bit. That’s when this happened.

With Mary Heather Gibbs

Someone said, “Mary Heather, tell Susan what happened to you when you first started reading Cherry Bomb.” There were giggles all around the room and all eyes were on Mary Heather, a pretty and energetic brunette.

“Are y’all sure it’s okay to tell her?” Mary Heather asked.

“Sure!” a chorus of voices replied. And so she began.

“Well, when Karen sent out a link to the book, I immediately ordered it on Audible so I could listen to it while working out at the gym. Once I got on the treadmill, put my earplugs in and started listening, I was a bit shocked at what I heard. I looked around the gym to see if anyone could hear the words I was hearing through my ear buds.”

the OTHER Cherry Bomb!

Mary Heather paused for a minute, looked around at several women in the room with an expression that begged for support. Then she continued.

“I heard what sounded like a women with a husky voice that said something like—is it okay for me to say this?”

Women around the room nodded and said yes. Mary Heather took a deep breath and said,

“The voice said, ‘Chapter One: Pussy Trouble’.”

The whole room of (conservative southern schoolmarms) about fell out of their chairs laughing, as did I. Karen had accidentally sent a link to the wrong Cherry Bomb out to the book club members. The one that Mary Heather had begun listening to, by author Kathleen Tierney, is book 3 in a series of lesbian vampire erotica. Yep. The first two paragraphs alone feature a cult of Cthulhu-workshipping alligator women in post-Katrina New Orleans, demon whoremongers from an alternate reality, and a magical dildo carved out of a unicorn’s horn. Yes. I was over being nervous at this point in the evening, and I told those lovely bookclub ladies that I was going to write a blog post about this!

After the discussion was over, my rock-star status was confirmed as most of the women asked me to sign their book and pose for pictures with them. The hostess asked her daughter to take a group photo. By the next morning I was Facebook friends with several of these delightful women and we were sharing pictures and comments. I have to say the whole event made me proud to be from Mississippi. And don’t ever believe someone when they say, “What happens in book club stays in book club.” It might end up on someone’s blog . . . .

Q & A With Author PAULA McLAIN (yes!)

Three years ago I was reading Circling the Sun, and did a blog post about the use of facts vs. fiction in historical fiction:

Circling the Roman à Clef

Since then I’ve continued to be a huge fan of Paula McLain, having read three of her novels (and with plans to read Ticket to Ride) most recently Love and Ruin, the story of Martha Gelhorn and her tumultuous relationship with Ernest Hemingway. Since my husband and I will be visiting Key West for the first time in April, I’ve been especially interested in all things Hemingway. I loved Paula’s book, The Paris Wife, and also books by other authors about Hemingway’s relationships, like Hemingway’s Girl by Erika Robuck. But today’s post is all about Paula McLain. The author. The woman.

I met Paula in January at the annual Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend in Jefferson, Texas. I was moderating a panel and she was a keynote speaker. I was a bit star-struck when we first met, but as the weekend progressed, she disarmed

With Paula at the Pulpwood Queens’ Girlfriend Weekend in January. Theme was “How the West was Won.”

me with her approachability. There was something about her—something magnetic—that I couldn’t put my finger on.

In one conversation I had with Paula and with my dear friend and author Nicole Seitz, we were talking about what’s next in our writing projects. Or maybe I was babbling on about how I couldn’t settle on a subject for my next novel. When I mentioned the months I spent alone writing at the beach a few years ago—my first time to be away from my husband of now almost 50 years—Nicole and Paula looked at each other and then at me and said, “That’s your book!” I came home from the weekend and started the novel. So thank you, Paula and Nicole, for your encouragement.

As I was starting the novel, I kept thinking about Paula, and what it was about her personality that drew me so strongly. I Googled her and found that in addition to her historic fiction novels I love so much, she had also written a memoir, Like Family: Growing Up in Other People’s Houses. I bought the book and read it immediately. My love and admiration for Paula grew as her story unfolded on the pages in front of me. Her hard-scrabble childhood reminded me of Mary Karr’s life and writing (especially her early works, like The Liar’s Club and Cherry) with a dose of Haven Kimmel (A Girl Named Zippy and She Got Up Off the Couch) and more recently some Tara Westover (Educated).

So I asked Paula if she would do a Q & A with me for my blog, and I was thrilled when she agreed. He we go:

Susan: First of all, Paula, I am blown away by your literary talent. Your elevated prose, your strong sense of place and your multi-layered characters—both in your historical novels and in this memoir—are outstanding. How much of your style and voice as a writer to you contribute to your personal history, which you share in your memoir, and to your education—especially your MFA in poetry from the University of Michigan? I can hear your poet’s voice in your prose.

Paula: That’s so kind of you, Susan. And thank you for invitation to have this conversation. Language has always been important to me. I love the power of a sentence or a passage to touch us, move us, make us think and feel and imagine. My childhood in foster care was incredibly chaotic, and concentrating at school was difficult. But I read my way through a lot of that turmoil and displacement, finding whole worlds at my fingertips. I didn’t know then that I was training to be a writer as well as “escaping” into books, but I’m quite sure of it now.

My creative writing degree is in poetry, yes, and that was my start as a writer. Recently a reader asked me if I still wrote poetry. I smiled and said yes, but that I was currently doing it as a novelist!

Susan: I have three adopted (now grown) children, two of whom were in orphanages until they were almost three years old. So I understand some of the wounds of a childhood apart from one’s birth parents, as my own children experience those wounds. Did writing and publishing Like Family help heal those wounds for you? And if so, how?

Paula: I admire you for having the courage, wherewithal and compassion to adopt children from an institutional setting, knowing they’d have significant baggage. Though I also believe that anyone who’s lived through foster care or adoption has wounds, large or small, fluid or permanent, but there. Writing Like Family was cathartic in a way, though instead of helping me “move past” those years and traumatic experiences, it brought them closer. Integrated them more fully into my story. That was a powerful outcome, and I didn’t expect or predict that. I began to own it. My life.

Susan: I was abused by my grandfather in my early childhood, and others in my young adulthood. But when I wrote a memoir about it, I couldn’t get up and above the trauma and make it art, which is what writing, what a book, should ultimately be. So I let the abuse fuel my novel Cherry Bomb, which was extremely cathartic. Did you ever consider writing your story as fiction, or did you determine to write it as memoir from the beginning? What was that process like?

Paula: I’m very sorry to know about your childhood trauma, Susan. How difficult that must have been for you. It’s funny, but no. I never did think of giving myself some remove and writing it as fiction. Perhaps it’s because memoir was very much in style when I began my book in the late 1990’s. Tobias Wolff and Mary Karr helped elevate the genre, and they inspired me to try to make beautiful sentences and scenes as I told my story. I plunged into the craft of it, and gave the book everything I had. Interestingly, I was so focused on the scenes, pages and images—the art—that it took me aback when I went on book tour and every question was about the abuse I’d suffered, not what it took to write the memoir.

Susan: You published Like Family in 2003, six years before your first novel, A Ticket to Ride, and a decade before your three historic novels came out. What fueled your move from memoir to fiction, and how, if at all, did writing the memoir embolden you to write your novels?

Paula: I’d always secretly wanted to write a novel though I was terrified to begin. The memoir helped me cut my teeth on structure and dialogue, scene work and character development. But it didn’t at all prepare me for plot! That was a rude awakening, but ultimately a very rewarding one.

Susan: Have you read Kim Michelle Richardson’s memoir The Unbreakable Child? She and her sister lived in a Catholic orphanage in Kentucky where they were abused. It was interesting to me how differently Kim and her sister dealt with the trauma. How did your sisters feel about the book?

Paula: I haven’t read The Unbreakable Child, but it sounds fascinating. My sisters were extremely supportive of my writing the book, though they never would have chosen to have their lives revealed in such a way. They’re both private people, and not all that interested in unpacking the past. And yet they understood my need. I’m so grateful to have them in my corner. They mean the world to me.

I’m so grateful to Paul for taking the time to share these thoughts—both personal and professional—and to give us more insight into the life of such a gifted writer and courageous person. Now you’ve all got more books to add to your “to read” list!

Exciting News: My Second Book Deal of 2019!

Well, in my late-life literary career, it seems that good news keeps coming in multiples, or at least in pairs. In 2016 I signed 3 book contracts, and all 3 were published in 2017. In 2018 my fourth book was published. As I faced 2019, I wondered what I was going to do for excitement. Just as I was getting my butt securely glued to my chair and started writing another novel, I was saved. First by a phone call from Kathy Murphy, asking me to edit an anthology to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Pulpwood Queens next year. We signed a contract with Brother Mockingbird Publishers and hope to see the book in print by the end of 2019. Yay! I had a project! I immediately set about with the fun and busy work of editing and organizing another anthology.

So, why was I still restless? I was remembering what happened one year ago, when I returned from the 2018 Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend with an idea for another book. I sat down and wrote ten short stories—in about three months—and had more fun than I can ever remember having while writing. Friends of the Library was inspired by my visits to speak at libraries in small towns in Mississippi in 2017 and 2018. I filled each story with a genre-bending combination of historical facts about the town itself—and even some of its famous residents—and a cast of completely fictional characters.

I had been waiting to hear back from a publisher who had the manuscript since last August. When I finally contacted him, again, pushing for a definitive answer, he bowed out, saying something about the press “not having an imprint in place for that kind of book.” I’m not sure what that means, but I didn’t waste any time after hearing that news. (And I tried not to waste any energy wondering why he didn’t tell me that six months ago.) I immediately queried another press—one that was recommended to me by two authors I love and respect. I sent the manuscript off, and the next day I heard from them. They LOVED the book! So this past week, I signed my second book contract this year (and this month), this time with Koehler Books in Virginia Beach, Virginia. I’m so excited, especially since the press will turn this book around by August, making it my 5th published book (and moving The Pulpwood Queens anthology into position as book number 6). Six books in three years. To say I’m over the moon with happiness isn’t an overstatement. Maybe I’m making up for lost time, since I didn’t get started with this career until I was in my sixties.

Want to know more about Friends of the Library? Here’s a draft of the text I wrote for the back cover of the book:

Adele Covington becomes an author in her sixties. When her novel and memoir are published, she goes on a book tour to speak to the Friends of the Library groups in ten small towns in her home state of Mississippi. Chasing her personal demons through the Christ-haunted south of her childhood, Adele befriends an eclectic group of wounded people. The cast of characters in Friends of the Library could have stepped off the pages of a book of Welty stories.

As she visits towns like Eudora, Aberdeen, Oxford, Senatobia, and Southaven, she meets a homeless man and a recovered alcoholic; a budding artist with an abusive husband; a part-time librarian who is writing a dystopian fantasy novel that explores his own ache for the birth mother he never knew; a bi-racial couple caring for their spouses who have Alzheimer’s; and a seven-year-old girl with a rare form of cancer.

On her visits to Starkville, West Point, Pontotoc, Vicksburg, and Meridian, Adele encounters a woman suffering from childhood sexual abuse and years of eating disorders; a young girl who was a victim of a kidnapping; a seventy-something widower with memories of his former life as a musician; an aging beauty queen and former Miss Mississippi contestant; and a descendent from a Romani tribe who was abandoned as a child. “Gypsies, Orphans, and Ghosts” takes us to a historic graveyard where the gypsy queen—and Adele’s grandparents— are buried.

If these stories sound too dark, don’t worry, there are elements of hope and healing in each of them, even a miracle-working icon, some Mississippi blues and southern rock and roll, and a bit of late-life romance.

And what about Koehler Books? Check out their fun “Cover Polls,” where readers can choose between the final two cover designs for upcoming books! I’m already working with the press on ideas for the cover for Friends, and will let y’all know when the final two designs are up for voting.

And check out their published books, including my friend Jana Sasser’s wonderful debut southern noir novel, Gradle Bird. I met Jana at the 2018 Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend (notice a pattern here?) and she has a real gift for literary prose. (That’s us, at right.)

As I was sharing all this news with my two best friends on a text message, one of them replied, “We like it when you are ‘not bored’.” These women know me, and how easily I can slip into a dark place when I don’t have a creative project in hand. Now with two, I’m just hoping I won’t go crazy as edits and deadlines and marketing work for both books come criss-crossing on my computer. If you hear me complain, please remind me that I asked for this. Thank you, God.

The Pulpwood Queen’s List for 2019

SWW with PQ badgeKathy L. Murphy, founder of The Pulpwood Queens Book Clubs, has chosen the following books as the “books of the month” for 2019. She has also chosen “bonus books” for each month. Her 700+ book clubs internationally are encouraged to read the book of the month and discuss it at their monthly meetings. It was such a joy to meet and visit with many of these authors last weekend at the annual Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend in Jefferson, Texas, where I moderated a panel for Southern Writers on Writing. I’m honored that SOUTHERN WRITERS ON WRITING is the book Kathy chose for January! Looking for some great books to read in 2019?  Here is the Queen’s list:

JANUARYSouthern Writers on Southern Writing edited by Susan Cushman
Bonus Books:

Theologies of Terrain by Tim Conroy
In Pieces by Sally Field
Road Kill Art And Other Oddities by Niles Reddick
Reading the Coffee Grounds and Other Stories by Niles Reddick
The Draw of Broken Eyes & Whirling Metaphysics: Poems by Charles Clifford Brooks III

FEBRUARYLove & Ruin: A Novel by Paula McLain
Bonus Books:

The Birds of Opulence by Crystal Wilkinson
Edge of the Wind by James E. Cherry
A Celebration of Words: Volume One: Essays from Michael Connelly, James Lee Burke, Horton Foote, and Jeanette Walls by Kacey Kowars, Introduction by Kathy L. Murphy

MARCHNothing Is Forgotten: A Novel by Peter Golden
Bonus Books:

Haufraus Honeymoon: Lov,: Language, and other Misadventures in Germany by Beth M. Howard
The Lost Family: A Novel by Jenna Blum
Stand Forever, Yielding Never: The Citadel in the 21st Century by John Warley

APRILConfessions of a Christian Mystic by River Jordan (I read an ARC and can’t wait for this to come out. It’s awesome!)
Bonus Books:

Mourning Dove by Claire Fullerton
Workin’ Our Way Home: The Incredible True Story of a Homeless Ex-Con and a Grieving Millionaire Thrown Together To Save Each Other by Ron Hall
The Fighter: A Novel by Michael Farris Smith

MAYBecoming Mrs. Lewis: The Improbable Love Story of Joy Davidman and C.S. Lewis by Patti Callahan Henry
Bonus Books:

Ordinary Magic: Promises I Kept to My Mother Through Life, Illness, and a Very Long Walk On The Camino De Santiago by Cameron Powell
The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers by Maxwell King
The Unmade World by Steve Yarbrough

JUNEThe Glovemaker: A Novel by Ann Weisgarber
Bonus Books:

Beach Calling: A Devotional Journal of the Middle Years and Beyond by Missy Buchanan
How We Came to Be by Johnnie Bernhard
The Secrets of the Cormandel House by Jennifer Mueller

JULYThe Exile: A Novel by Gregory Erich Phillips
Bonus Books:

The Secret of Clouds by Alyson Richman
The Curiosities by Susan Gloss
Art Matters: Because Imagination Can Change the World by Neil Gaiman

AUGUSTThe Beautiful Strangers by Camille Di Maio
Bonus Books:

The Way of Beauty by Camille Di Maio
The Promise Between Us by Barbara Claypole White
How To Be A Good Creature: A Memoir of Thirteen Animals by Sy Montgomery

SEPTEMBERUnsheltered: A Novel by Barbara Kingsolver
Bonus Books:

Two Minus One: A Memoir by Kathryn Taylor
Shoe Burnin’ Season: A Womanifesto by R.P. Saffire a.k.a. Suzanne Hudson
Countenance by Joy Ross Davis
A Promise Given: A Henrietta and Inspector Howell Novel by Michelle Cox

OCTOBERWhen The Men Were Gone: A Novel by Marjorie Herrera Lewis
Bonus Books:

Warrior’s Code 001: 7 Vital Steps to Resiliency by Mark E. Green with Echo Montgomery Garrett
Waffle House Rules by Joe Formichella
A World of Hurt and Dead and Buried (Wilkie John Western Series) by Tim Bryant

NOVEMBERThe Widows: A Novel by Jess Montgomery
Bonus Books:

Life in Lyrics by Connor Garrett
Red Mountain and Red Mountain Rising by Boo Walker
Steal Away Home by Billy Coffey

DECEMBERThe Library Book by Susan Orlean
Bonus Books:

Uncommon Type: Some Stories by Tom Hanks
The Lost Words by Robert McFarland

Chalk by Grace Cushman (age 9)

 

Grace writing, May 2018

Grace writing, May 2018

There’s another writer in the Cushman family. Our son Jason, has always been a writer. Check out his blog, Harsh Reality. This morning he posted this short story by his nine-year-old daughter Grace on his blog. I asked his permission to share it here because I think it’s so wonderful. I’m so proud of all four of our granddaughters, ages 3, 6, 8, and 9, but today I’m featuring Grace. The writer.

I interviewed Grace on Facetime briefly last night to ask about her inspiration for the story. Turns out she does know a girl named Capriana (cool name, huh?) but her story is nothing like this one. I asked if she knew someone who had recently lost a parent and might be dealing with the kinds of emotions that are so evident in this story, and she didn’t. This just came from her imagination, and from a deep, caring, gifted soul. Please read and enjoy.

1-sidewalk-chalk-i-tom-mc-nemar

Chalk

by Grace Cushman

One breezy spring morning, a girl named Capriana woke up in her cotton bed. She could barely wake up for school. She hauled herself to her dresser and got dressed. Her mom forced her to wear her least favorite orange pants. Capriana HATED the color orange. She only liked the color red because red was the color emotion of anger. She stomped down the stairs with a handful of books that she’s already read twice, a white shirt, and her least favorite orange pants.

“Hey orange is a good color for you! You don’t always have to grumpy when you don’t get your way you know.” said Capriana’s mom as Capriana stomped to the kitchen.

Capriana had frizzy brown hair and eyes that were the color of an emerald. Capriana ignored her mother and sat down to eat breakfast. “YUCK! Mommy you know how much I hate oatmeal!” complained Capriana.

“Oh just eat it!” said Capriana’s mom as she pushed the lavender bowl.

Capriana did not like the color lavender either. To her it meant friendship. Capriana did not have any friends in her second grade classroom. Capriana picked up the silver spoon and took a big bite. “HOT!” yelled Capriana as she dropped her spoon that made a cling sound. Capriana’s mom sighed and knelt down to grab the spoon. Capriana came back in the kitchen hauling a bag full of books. “Come on mommy I’m gonna be late for school!”

”Ok! Coming!”  

When Capriana’s mom dropped off Capriana and said goodbye, Capriana stomped all the way to her classroom full of LITTLE SECOND GRADERS! When Capriana got to her classroom everyone stopped talking and looked at her. Then they all scooted one foot away from her desk. Capriana didn’t care. You get used to something when it’s happened to you for a year. But then Capriana saw a boy smiling at her. It was the new kid that had joined the classroom. Then a boy scooted to him and whispered something in his ear. Capriana waited for him to join the other. But suddenly he had a face that said, “So what?”

After math, which was the first subject of the day, Capriana got to know the boy more. She already knew he was really good at math. And she didn’t care that he was perfect all the time. Even his name was perfect for him! George. All she cared about was having a friend. A real friend. But deep down inside her she still felt like something bad was about to happen. Something terrible. During writing George and Capriana were sitting in the corner together having their clipboards clutched to their chests. “Hahaha!”

“SHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” shushed their teacher, Ms. Banana.

“HAHAHAHAHAHA! That’s so… HAHAHA! So funny! HAHAHAHAHA!” laughed George, tears in his eyes.

“SHUSH YOUR LITTLE MOUTHS!” hissed Ms. Banana as she closed shut a filling cabin.

Capriana and George started working quietly with their pencils. They both knew they had to start working faster for their writing celebration that was tomorrow. But suddenly, a boy dropped a book on George’s head! “ Owwww” said George while he rubbed his head. The book had dropped so quickly that it startled George and his hand struck out. And that had been a mistake. His perfectly sharpened pencil had ripped a hole in Capriana’s published writing. Gasp flooded the room with all eyes on George and Capriana. Capriana’s eyes felt hot. And so did her cheeks. George didn’t know what was coming for him. “Capriana I’m so sor-”

“GEORGE, YOU MADE A HOLE IN MY PAPER!” cried Capriana, bursting into tears.

George’s heart sank faster than the Titanic. “Capriana I said I’m sor-”

“I DON’T CARE IF YOU’RE SORRY, GEORGE! I WAS ABOUT TO FINISH MY WRITING!”

“Bu-bu-but”

“GEORGE I….I…HATE YOU!” yelled Capriana. George stood quiet with tears rolling down his cheeks. Capriana was so angry that she ripped all of his perfect handwriting to pieces.

When it was the next day Capriana and George missed out on their writing celebration. So instead of drinking strawberry lemonade and reading each other’s writing they just read in the corner of their classroom. Which was not a problem to Capriana because she loved to read a lot. So at recess she read by herself under a tree. But at a distance she could hear a bunch of girls singing “George and Capriana sitting in a tree K-I-S-S-I-N-G!” Capriana wanted to wipe the smiles off their faces. But instead she kept reading. Reading was what kept her anger down. But at art class she saw the same girls talking about her and George in the corner. That’s when she got so mad that when she heard them she actually punched one of the girls in the face.

“I’m so sorry about Capriana’s behavior. I’ll be sure to talk to her when we get home.” said Capriana’s mom. 

“Yes. Capriana just has to control her anger.” said Capriana’s principal.

“I don’t know why she is so angry all the time!” said Capriana’s mom.

“Can you tell me when she started acting like this?” asked the principal.

“Well she started ever since her father died.”

“Hmmmm I see. Go on.”

“She was so sad that she ran away from home and returned,” said Capriana’s mom.

“Well she’s lucky it only caused a nose bleed and a few tears. And since this is her 1st warning, she will only get expelled for three days,” said Capriana’s principal. Capriana’s mom nodded and walked out the door

When Capriana got home she ran up the stairs and slammed the door shut behind her. She grabbed a book from her shelf and started reading in her head on her bed. Tears rolled down her hot red cheeks. Suddenly the door opened. Capriana stopped reading at the word “chalk.” She looked up. It was her mom. Her mom gingerly creaked open the door. “Hey sweetie can we talk?” asked Capriana’s mom. Capriana ignored her and kept reading. Capriana’s mom frowned. She took the book from Capriana and put it on the floor. “I’ve decided for your punishment you will have no tv, no computer, and no reading for a week.”

“WHAT!?”

Capriana sat on her porch step with the sun burning her neck. Capriana had a small neighborhood. It was the shape of a circle. Suddenly Capriana saw something brown in the middle of their neighborhood under the slide in their park. She crossed the street and saw that it was a box. Capriana bent down and took the box out. She opened it and inside were different colored pieces of chalk. She took one piece out. Capriana didn’t think about drawing to calm her anger down. She used them on her hand and drew a circle. Then a heart then a square then a flower. Soon she was drawing monkeys and squirrels like the ones she had seen in her trees. And she even drew herself. Soon she had a city of colors and shapes. But then suddenly, something fell on Capriana’s head. She touched her head; it was wet. Then more raindrops fell from the sky! And soon her masterpiece was now just a flood of colors. Capriana’s face felt hot again. She got so mad that she broke every single piece of chalk in the box. Then Capriana started crying. But not because she was upset but because she knows how it feels for something that you’ve worked hard on go to waste.

When it was tomorrow Capriana walked into her classroom. George and everyone else scooted a foot to the left. Capriana wanted to cry but she walked to George. “George I’m sorry for what happened. Will you forgive me?” asked Capriana. George didn’t answer. Capriana sighed. Then she told him what had happened the other day. George then finally forgave her and they became friends again.

Anna (8) and Grace (9) when they visited us in October. Sister love.

Anna (8) and Grace (9) when they visited us in October. Sister love.

Grace on a frozen lake near her house outside Denver

Grace on a frozen lake near her house outside Denver

Grace, Anna, and SuSu visit one of the two Little Free Libraries in our neighborhood.

Grace, Anna, and SuSu visit one of the two Little Free Libraries in our neighborhood.

End of Year Book List for 2018

imageSo, last year I posted my book list, showing that I had read 44 books in 2017. Not sure what this says about me (I’m a slacker?) but in 2018 I only read 38 books—just over one book every two weeks. In comparing the two years, I can’t figure out how I read 18 fewer books this year than the previous, since in 2017 I published 3 books and traveled to over 40 events in 7 states for those books, whereas in 2018 I published 1 book and only traveled to about 25 events in 5 states. Where did my reading time go in 2018? A close examination of my life indicates that I probably spent those remaining reading hours watching television. Yes. I love to watch television. This might be unusual for a writer, but I grew up watching TV (starting in the mid 1950s when we got our first set) and didn’t become a reader until I was in my 50s! I wanted to be an actor before I wanted to be a writer, which explains a bit about my love for the screen.

In my (self) defense, I will say that in 2018 I WROTE another book—my linked short story collection FRIENDS OF THE LIBRARY—so there’s that. (Pats self on the back.) And I organized my personal essay collection, PILGRIM INTERRUPTED, into sections and wrote the introduction. And I spent a good deal of time querying literary agents and independent presses for both of these books. (Pats self on the back. Again.)

Meanwhile, it’s interesting to notice the types of books I read each of these years:

2017: 23 fiction (all novels); 20 nonfiction (9 memoirs, 1 collection of micro-memoirs, 2 spiritual/religious, 2 psychology/self-help, 5 inspiration/essays, 1 art/history); and 1 poetry collection. 18 of those 44 books were by authors I know personally.

2018: 19 fiction (16 novels, 2 short story collections, 1 book of 4 novellas); 15 nonfiction (5 memoirs, 4 spiritual/religious/inspirational books, 3 essay collections, 1 oral biography, 2 psychology/self help);4 poetry collections. 24 of the 28 books I read in 2018 were by authors I know personally.

So, here’s my list of books read in 2018, actually in the order in which I read them. I’m taking a risk of hurting my friends’ feelings, since I know 23 of these authors, but I’m going to put an asterisk by my favorites. Please keep in mind how very subjective this is—certain topics and stories resonate with people who have shared experiences and interests—and not always an indication of how excellent the prose is, although in some cases that’s the reason for the asterisk. I will also add that I read the first 100 pages or so of THE FRIEND, winner of the National Book Award, but lost interest. Maybe it’s just because I’m not a dog person? As a writer, I wanted to see what it was about the book that won it such a prestigious award. Just didn’t get it. See how subjective this is? (NOTE: THE FRIEND did make the New York Time’s list of 100 Notable Books of 2018. So did 2 books I read and liked very much, IN PIECES by Sally Field and EDUCATED by Tara Westover.
What’s up next for me in 2019? Michelle Obama’s BECOMING, Patti Reagan Davis’s memoir about her father’s journey with Alzheimer’s, THE LONG GOODBYE, and THE LETTERS OF FLANNERY O’CONNOR AND CAROLINE GORDON, edited b y Christine Flanagan, are on top of my stack (which is huge!) . . . but I’ll be going to the Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend in January again, where I’ll visit with over 50 fellow authors and lots of prolific readers, so no telling how many books I’ll come home with!

Mourning DoveHappy reading in 2019! Please leave a comment here or on Facebook and tell me YOUR favorites books read in 2018! HAPPY NEW YEAR

Little Broken Things by Nicole Baart

Hunger by Roxane Gay

*Gradle Bird by J.C. Sasser (my review is here)

Spells & Oregano by Patricia V. Davis

Bead by Bead by Suzanne Henley (my review is here)

*Mourning Dove by Claire Fullerton (my review is here)

My Exaggerated LifeThe Dollhouse by Fiona Davis

Time and Despondency: Regaining the Present in Faith and Life by Nicole Roccas (my post about this book is here)

*My Exaggerated Life: Pat Conroy as told to Katherine Clark (my Q & A with author Katherine Clark is here)

The Fighter by Michael Farris Smith

Mississippi by Ann Fisher-Wirth (poems) and Maude Schuyler Clay (photography)

*Confessions of a Christian Mystic by River Jordan

The Mutual UFO Network by Lee Martin (my review is here)

The MasterpieceIn Praise of Wasting Time by Alan Lightman

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Reading the Coffee Grounds and Other Stories by Niles Reddick (my review is here)

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

The Lewy Body Soldier by Norman McNamara

Tracking Happiness by Ellen Morris Prewitt (my review is here)

Our Prince of ScribesWhere the Creek Runs by Mary Abraham

*The Masterpiece by Fiona Davis (read my chat with Fiona Davis here)

Rush by Lisa Patton (read my interview with Lisa here)

*Our Prince of Scribes, edited by Nicole Seitz and Jonathan Haupt (my review here)

Love and Ruin by Paula McLain

A Southern Season: Four Stories from a Front Porch Swing (incl. Claire Fullerton)

Becoming Mrs. Lewis*Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan Henry

Becoming a Healing Presence by Albert S. Rossi

Almost Everything: Notes on Hope by Anne Lamott (a few words on this book here)

The Small Door of Your Death by Sheryl St. Germain

Navigating Disaster by Sheryl St. Germain (a few words about St. Germain here)

Madstones by Corey Mesler

*Congratulations, Who Are You Again? by Harrison Scott Key (my review here)Congratulations

All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung

*In Pieces by Sally Field (my review here)

*Educated by Tara Westover

Ya Yas in Bloom by Rebecca Wells

Next Year in Havana by Chanel CleetonEducated

In Pieces

Update on FRIENDS OF THE LIBRARY

It’s been a few months since I blogged about my short story collection, FRIENDS OF THE LIBRARY. Back in September I wrote about my journey up to that point:

“Warming Up To Adele (and Short Story Collections)”

Since that time one of the two university presses that was reading the collection has said no, and the other press is still reading. I also queried a small indie press, so they are also reading it now.

Meanwhile, I was looking at the contests listed in Poets & Writers Magazine and one caught my eye:

MagicTartt Fiction Award

This award is for an author’s first collection of short stories, so my book definitely qualifies. The winner receives $1000, publication by Livingston Press, and 100 copies of the book. I sent in the manuscript a few days ago.

I looked at the list of previous winners, and there I found my friend M. O. “Neal” Walsh, whose first short story collection THE PROSPECT OF MAGIC won the award the fifth year it was offered. I remember when Neal read from this collection at Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi when it first came out in 2010. (He was leading the annual Yoknapatawpha Summer Writers Workshop, which I attended for about seven years. It’s now known as The Yokshop, and it’s the best writing workshop ever. Ever.  I don’t think the date for next year’s workshop is set yet, but watch the website.) Neal went on to publish a novel MY SUNSHINE AWAY, which was a New York Times bestseller and winner of the Pat Conroy Southern Book Award for General Fiction.

So, my fingers are crossed that FRIENDS has a chance for this award.

And yet . . . if I hear back with an offer from one of the two presses currently reading the collection, I’ll have a (nice) quandary. So far none of the four books I have published have won any awards. It’s not the money I’m after, but the recognition, and the marketing benefit of having an “award-winning” book. I think more people would be inclined to purchase and read the book.

Stay tune . . .  you know I’ll keep you posted! Have a great weekend.

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