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 . . . .

Still Blooming . . . .

I’m still processing what happened at last weekend’s “A Second Blooming Retreat,” at the lovely Homestead Education Center in Starkville, Mississippi. After writing about Nina Gaby’s wonderful workshop during the retreat—and my discovery of my spirit animal—in my last post, and also about the drum circle led by Jeri Mangum, I’d like to share a bit about the rest of the retreat.

Ellen, Kathy, Jennifer, Susan and Nina, retreat leaders

About twenty women from Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, and Vermont (yes, Nina flew down to lead a workshop for the retreat) gathered in jeans and yoga pants, most not worrying about makeup and jewelry, for a weekend of inspiration and growth. And delicious food prepared by an excellent cook who used locally sourced organic produce for our meals. We sat around a large, comfortable living area with several couches and chairs, overlooking a lake, some woods, and a few pens full of chickens.

My “keynote” talk on Friday night would serve as an introduction to the weekend and would hopefully set the stage for all the creative magic that would follow. I had never given such an extensive talk about the anthology I edited, the one that that retreat was inspired by—A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be. As I developed notes for my talk, I created a little booklet to hand out for the women to use. You can see it here: ASB Retreat Workbook I had an hour and a half to talk, and I certainly didn’t want these women to have to sit and listen to me talk for that long, so I injected some interactive elements into my talk. At one point each woman was asked to write a “word portrait” of themselves—describing their physical, emotional, mental, and intellectual selves. This idea wasn’t original with me. It came from Sally Palmer Thomason’s wonderful book The Living Spirit of the Crone: Turning Aging Inside Out. (Sally also has an essay in A Second Blooming, and was a big part of the inspiration for the book.)

Much of my talk was an expansion of the Introduction I wrote for the anthology, which included lots of quotes from others who inspired—and continue to inspire—me on this journey. People like Richard Rohr, and Anne Lamott. I also read excerpts from essays in the book by a few women who weren’t on the panel of workshop leaders at the retreat, like Emma Connolly, Suzanne Henley, and Cassandra King.

Later in the talk each of us filled two containers with descriptions of things we had put into our “old containers” (ourselves) the first half of our lives—some helpful, others not so helpful—and then the things we want to put into our “new container.” The idea for the containers came from Richard Rohr, especially this quote:

“Life is much more spacious now the boundaries of the container having been enlarged by the constant addition of new experiences and relationships. You are like an expandable suitcase, and you become so almost without your noticing. Now you are just here, and here holds more than enough.”

His “expandable suitcase” analogy reminded me of the scriptural metaphor of the “new wineskins,” and I talked about how we needed to either expand our old wineskins (containers we had built for our lives) or get new ones, as Cassandra King wrote about in her essay for the anthology, “Something Has to Die.”

I even shared my containers so that the women would perhaps feel more emboldened to be candid in their entries. (See image.) After both of these activities there was time for others to share if they wanted to, and I was so moved and encouraged by the candor and courage of these lovely women.

The next morning Ellen Morris Prewitt led a wonderful workshop about “Creating In Groups.” Our hands-on activity was making a small book, which we sewed together and decorated with glitter paint, and in which we wrote our ideas based on Ellen’s talk about the importance of guidance, quiet, and sharing.

 

And then we did an exercise in which we wrote a spontaneous piece about one of three prompts:

My best surprise

Something I’ve grown

My favorite delicate thing.

I chose “Something I’ve Grown,” which inspired the title on the cover of my little hand-made book, “Roots, Leaves & Blooms: How I Grew a Marriage.”

Nina Gaby led the next workshop, “Little Altars Everywhere,” which I wrote about in my last post.

Jennifer Horne (who happends to be the current Poet Laureate of Alabama) led our evening session, “How Our Stories Shape Us.” She led us in several exercises in journaling, which she said is wonderful for those who want “self-directed healing and growth.” Some of the prompts we wrote from were:

“Change came when . . . .”

“I’m feel . . .”

“I’m like a seed because . . .”

After some excellent and candid group discussions about these things in our lives, she had us “flip the story,” (a phrase that Alison Buehler, our retreat hostess, came up with on the spot!) and write:

“I used to . . . but now . . . .”

I’m still thinking of ways to “flip my story,” and I think that will stick with me for a long time.

On Sunday Morning Kathy Rhodes led us through the final workshop of the weekend, “Pushing Up the Sun,” which was the title of her essay in the anthology. Kathy lost her husband suddenly a number of years ago, and writes powerfully about grief and healing. As it turned out (of course) there were several other women at the retreat who also lost their husbands—several of them in the same year, 2012—and they all had powerful things to share as well. I think they would all agree that at first they felt like Kathy, who wrote in her essay:

“I didn’t want to start over. I was not in the building phase of life. In my fifties, I should be basking in the easy warmth of love, on the cusp of twilight years with my mate.”

But she did start over—selling the business she owned with her husband and starting a new one. Building a new home, and eventually getting a new pet. She continues to bloom, and her experience and wisdom brought enlightenment to all of us at the retreat that Sunday morning.

I found myself wishing that Michelle Obama could have been there with us, as I shared this excerpt (and a longer one, actually) from her wonderful memoir, Becoming:

“Becoming is never giving up on the idea that there’s more growing to be done . . . . It’s not about where you get yourself in the end. There’s power in allowing yourself to be known and heard in owning your unique story, in using your authentic voice. And there’s grace in being willing to know and hear others.”

That’s exactly what I believe happened at the Second Blooming retreat, and I’m so grateful to Alison for organizing the retreat and hosting us, to the four gifted authors who came and led the workshops, and to the amazing women who came and shared their stories with all of us.

Here are what a few of the retreat-goers and leaders had to say about the weekend:

I was hooked when I arrived at The Homestead Education Center and saw the goats and the lake and the chickens! I was met at the door by Kathie, a most beautiful and sweet and welcoming woman, and then one by one, I met the others…strong women in their roles and struggles and wisdom and power and all looking to become and to bloom. I presented, but I also participated in creative and interactive workshops by Ellen, Nina, and Jennifer. I made a reliquary that held seashells reminiscent of the ebb and flow of life, titled a book about self “Waterfalls of White,” saw how stories shape us, shared my own journaling experience, participated in a drum circle for the first time ever, and was challenged: DO EPIC SHIT! I went to talk, but I went home thinking all the way on the five-hour drive, “I’m not where I’m supposed to be.” I feel lifted up ten feet taller now. It’s almost spring; it’s time to bloom!—Kathy Rhodes, Spring Hill, Tennessee, author of Remember the Dragonflies, and an essay in A Second Blooming: “Pushing Up the Sun.”

Susan Cushman conjured up 22 writers who shared savory stories in the book A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be. From that book the workshop birthed by Allison Buehler was hosted at an oasis in the Starkville woods complete with chickens, goats, and a cray cray red cardinal in a holly bush that hurled himself against a picture window wanting to join our group. Susan encouraged us to not put new wine in old skins. Ellen Prewitt told us to put the date on anything so we can remember when present was.   Jennifer Horne showed up how to see, record, and respond to life experiences. Flip that thing like a Patty Duke hairstyle. The elfin Nina Gaby offered us sacred crafts to inspire us when we find ourselves stuck. Kathy Rhodes reminded us that loss can be the seed growing in shit that blooms into something wonderful.   We had chair yoga, healthy meals, and incredible sharing from a collage of wonderful women. And when all the women were drummers, we were there, playing musical chairs with percussion instruments brought by Jeri Mangum. I am at my computer today roaming around past writing efforts. Inspired to keep it going. Thank you, ladies, for the gift of gathering with you!—Susan Hogan Schepens, Tuscaloosa, Alabama

When asked to write an essay for Susan Cushman’s anthology A Second Blooming: Becoming The Women We Are Meant to Be, I had just gone through a second blooming that was, for me, of epic proportions. I felt that I was an expert on the subject. But when I got the finished product and read the other essays, I realized that we all have second bloomings in our lives. Many women go on to bloom over and over again, reinventing themselves and experiencing life to the fullest. Some of the essays resonated with me deep in my soul, and when I saw that Susan was planning a retreat based on Second Bloomings, and the authors that wrote some of the the very essays that were especially powerful to me were going to be presenting, I believe I may have been the first to register for the event. I did it without thought or hesitation. I knew I wanted to be sequestered at the Homestead Education Center for a weekend with those women. I knew I could learn from them and gain insight from them, and I did. I also got more than I bargained for in almost instant friendships. Honestly, I had not factored in the other women who would be attending. They were each powerful in their own way, overcoming hardships and heartbreak, some even in the midst of their struggle. The level of trust and confidence each woman had in the group was so special. I loved the group of women from Starkville and the group from Hattiesburg. Each of those groups have such a strong bond and support and love one another. They opened their arms to all who came on their own, independent of a group. I have been to many retreats over the years, but this one was especially special. There was a sort of magic there that only happens when good things converge. There were plenty of good things over the weekend that soothed my soul, gave me clarity and direction and warmed my heart. I left with great memories and new friends. I’m grateful I had that knee-jerk reaction to register when I first read about the retreat. I’ve learned to trust my gut and do it! Thank you to all who presented such a meaningful and memorable weekend. I love you all. Now go out and bang your own drum!—Susan Marquez, Madison, Mississippi, whose essay, “A Second Chance at Empty-Nesting,” appeared in A Second Blooming

I’ll close with a link to Nina Gaby’s blog post about the retreat, which is wonderful!

“Not Bad For a Yankee.”

And also Ellen Morris Prewitt’s blog post, which is also wonderful!

“I Second a Blooming.”

Several women have asked if there will be another “Blooming” retreat. The fact that they are asking speaks volumes, and all I can see is, “We’ll see!”

Tiaras, Leopard-Prints, and Literacy. Yes.

Pulpwood Queens Book Club of Jackson, Mississippi

Remember that time you were reading a book and thought, “Wow, that character is just like my mother!”

Or maybe, “I understand exactly how that character feels.”

And especially, “I feel like the author has been eavesdropping on my life!”

At those times you—the reader—are experiencing something every author hopes for: universal appeal. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the book will appeal to everyone, but that it will have a large reach in the book’s target audience, and that many of its readers will relate on a very deep and personal level to the author’s words. If the book is fiction, and if the author has done her job well, you will care deeply about the characters, whether you love them or loathe them.

This actually happens to me more often when I read nonfiction. So far all six of the books I’ve read in 2019 have been nonfiction. Four are memoirs. I’m not sure where that trend is coming from, since I read 24 novels and only 19 nonfiction books in 2018. There’s a saying among writers: “Write what you know.” I wonder if there’s a parallel saying among readers: “Read what you know.” Take me, as a reader, for example—here’s what I know:

I know I was molested by my grandfather when I was a little girl and by others in my early 20s.

I know I have struggled with eating disorders my entire life.

I know that my mother was verbally and emotionally abusive to me.

I know that my mother and my grandmother died from Alzheimer’s disease.

I know I struggled with alcohol for years and I quit drinking in September of 2017.

And then there are the things I believe:

I believe in a triune God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

I believe in salvation by grace.

I believe in the sacraments of the Orthodox Church.

I believe in miracles.

I believe that icons can be sacred art and can also work miracles.

I believe that God forgives all sins, and that if I forgive myself and others, I will live a more peaceful life.

I believe that God loves me (most of the time, although I struggle with this one) and that accepting His love will help me love others.

So, when I choose to read spiritual or religious books—books about the lives of the saints, or theology, or church history, for example—I bring those beliefs to the materials I am reading. My response to those books is very much affected by my beliefs.

When I choose to read self-help, psychology, or memoirs about abuse, addiction, and healing, I bring my self-knowledge and my beliefs with me as I explore those books.

All of these thoughts are in my head as I reflect on the book I just finished reading—my 6th nonfiction book of 2019—Kathy L. Murphy’s book, The Pulpwood Queens’ Tiara Wearing, Book Sharing Guide to Life. This book was first published in 2008, but Kathy re-issued it in 2018, publishing it herself this time. I have to agree with Pat Conroy’s blurb from the first edition:

“Kathy L. Murphy is a natural born storyteller and the best friend a writer and a reader could have.”

For those of my readers who don’t know who Kathy is, she is the founder and director of the Pulpwood Queens Book Clubs, which boasts over 700 clubs all over the US and in 15 foreign countries. As you can read in this article from Parade Magazine, Kathy is also an artist, and possibly the greatest supporter of the literary arts and literacy around. (Read more about that here in this piece from The Faulkner Society.)

I’ve been to Kathy’s annual book conference in east Texas three times: first in 2010, when I went as a guest of my author friend River Jordan; and then in 2018 and 2019 when I was on panels for several of my books that had been chosen by Kathy as official selections for her Pulpwood Queens book clubs. And now I have the honor of working with Kathy as editor of a new anthology, The Pulpwood Queens Celebrate 20 Years! Coming out later this year from Brother Mockingbird Publishing. As I read the essays that I’m receiving from the authors and book club members and others who are contributing to the book, I am seeing the world of this amazing woman through the eyes of many writers and readers whose lives have been touched by her. And so I finally got around to reading Kathy’s book.

And yes—her mother reminded me so much of mine! And although many things about our childhoods were very different, there were also many commonalities. But it’s Kathy’s energy and perseverance that impress me the most. And her JOY for life and LOVE for people . . . and for books! Read about how she started the first combination beauty parlor/book store—Beauty and the Book—and then how she started the Pulpwood Queens book clubs. Learn about her relationships with so many amazing authors—some more famous than others—and how she brings us all together through stories. Through books.

One thing I loved about the book was how she listed a group of her favorite books at the end of each chapter—books that were related somehow to the theme of the chapter. She even encourages her readers to make lists like this, to explore which books have been instrumental in our lives at various times. (I haven’t done this yet, but I plan to.)

My favorite story in the book is about Kathy’s experience as a publisher’s representative reading early manuscripts by Rebecca Wells. When her books, Little Altars Everywhere and Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood—two of my all-time favorite books—went out of print, Kathy pushed for a sales rep to get them back in print, and she did. Later, when the books were made into a movie, the director called Kathy from Los Angeles and invited her to the premiere. Kathy immediately asked, “Can I bring the Pulpwood Queens?” Fifteen members of the Pulpwood Queens of East Texas joined Kathy at that screening of Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood in Metairie Louisiana, dressed in “pearls, pumps, and tiaras.”

What more can I say? If you love books, book clubs, and stories about women with a passion for life, you’ll enjoy this. I’ll close with these words from another favorite author and friend, Cassandra King:

“Reading this book is like sitting down with a best girlfriend who loves books but also loves telling a good yarn. This is a book you’ll want to share.”

Part of the Symphony

Joanna Siebert’s wonderful “Daily Somethings” always brighten my day. Today’s post reminded me that as a writer, I’m part of a symphony of writers who are making music on the page to fill the universe with beauty. Sometimes an author gets to have a solo, like the cellist in Joanna’s story, if her book becomes a best-seller or wins an award. But it’s important to remember, whether we are writers, artists, musicians, or whatever our work, we are all part of the symphony. Or, as Madeleine L’Engle said, “We all feed the lake.” Enjoy Joanna’s words, and subscribe to her blog if you want to receive her Daily Somethings.

 

Read the post here:

Part of the Symphony.

 

Joanna Seibert

 

 

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.

Book Deal #5: The Pulpwood Queens Celebrate 20 Years!

News flash for any of my readers who aren’t on Facebook or Instagram:

I have a book deal for my 5th book, coming out late 2019 or early 2020! I will be editing another anthology:

The Pulpwood Queens Celebrate 20 Years!

 

Collaborating with the Pulpwood Queens founder, Kathy L. Murphy, and Brother Mockingbird Publishing, this anthology will have essays by authors, book club members, journalists, and others involved in the world of books and publishing who have participated in the annual event held every January in East Texas known as Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend.

Obviously, all of the members of the more than 700 Pulpwood Queens book clubs will want to read this book, but what about everyone else? Why would YOU want to read this, if you’re not a member of the Pulpwood Queens and you’ve never been to Girlfriend Weekend? If you love to read, this book will be a valuable resource in which you will discover dozens of authors whose books you will want to explore. And if you’re in a book club at all, you’ll enjoy the anecdotes and tributes in the book. It might even inspire you to read more (our hope), or join a book club yourself.

Stay tuned for pub dates, so you’ll know when the book will be available in book stores and online.

 

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.

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