Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Guest Blogger: Susan Cushman

Raise Your Hand if You Suck at Math (or “If I Only Had a Brain”)

By Susan Cushman

One of the many wonderful authors I met at the “10th Anniversary Girlfriend Weekend Author Extravaganza Beauty and the Book” in Jefferson, Texas, was Jenny Gardiner (Winging It, Sleeping With Ward Cleaver). When Jenny spoke at career day at a local school recently, the first thing she said was, “Raise your hand if you suck at math.” I love it. I definitely suck at math, and if someone like Jenny had come to my school, maybe I wouldn’t have waited 50 years to start writing seriously. Sometimes we just need someone to tell us we’re SMART, even if only half of our brain works. Like the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz.

And sometimes, like the Tin Man, we need someone to tell us we have a HEART. Or, if we’re like the Cowardly Lion, we need someone to show us that we have COURAGE. We need the Wizard. And boy did I find him at the Girlfriend Weekend. His name is Legion, for there were many Wizards at the “Over the Rainbow” ball, and all throughout the weekend. Ad Hudler (Man of the House) might have been the only one in an actual Wizard costume Saturday night, but the brilliant juices were flowing every day.

I’m sad that I missed the two-day writing workshop led by Linda Busby Parker (Seven Laurels) that preceded the “main events” of the weekend. And I’m also disappointed that I couldn’t get there in time for Thursday night’s “Moveable Feast” with dinner prepared by four author chefs, and other authors serving as wait staff. Later in the weekend I heard a woman from California sharing her star struck story of looking up from the table to find Pat Conroy serving her sweet tea, and I thought, “sweet!”

But Friday and Saturday’s events were a feast in themselves, including nine author panels, two luncheon speakers (Ron Hall and Pat Conroy); two more keynote speakers (Elizabeth Berg and Jamie Ford), musical entertainment, award presentations, and two crazy parties. Masters for the ceremonies were event organizer Kathy Patrick and Robert Leleur, whose comic timing was spot on all weekend long. As I write this post, I’m aware that seven regular bloggers for A Good Blog were at the event, and Shellie Rushing Tomlinson has already done an excellent post, “The Future of Publishing As I See It,” on Monday, January 18. So what would an unknown, “emerging writer” like me have to add?

One of my published essays is titled, “Are These My People?” After a bumpy childhood in Mississippi, I tried to run away (all the way to Memphis—what was I thinking?) but my roots were always showing. As Elizabeth Berg spoke so eloquently on Saturday morning about what she called “the notion of home,” I was on the edge of my seat. Berg said that home is a spiritual place as well as a physical place. “We find a home in our books—we have a lonely and guarded place in our hearts, but we sometimes let books in.” Her words gave me COURAGE to continue to write personal essays and draft chapters of my memoir. Now, whenever I hear the phrase, “There’s no place like home” instead of wincing, I’ll think of Kathy Patrick and the Pulpwood Queens, who say, “There’s no place like books!”

I’m not the only one who needs COURAGE. All writers need a hefty dose of it these days, with the future of publishing hanging in the balance. During his talk at Saturday’s luncheon, Pat Conroy said that women like Kathy Patrick could save the publishing industry. And later, he presented the Doug Marlette Award for a Lifetime Achievement of Promoting Literacy to Mary Gay Shipley, owner of That Bookstore in Blytheville, Arkansas (see photo). We all stood up and cheered for Mary Gay and Kathy. The future of publishing is in good hands with these brave independent bookstore owners and literature promoters at the helm.
The photos of the weekend festivities that have exploded all over Facebook might look like sheer insanity, but as Nietzsche said, “One must have chaos in oneself to give birth to a dancing star.” There were definitely some dancing stars at the “Happy 50th Birthday, Barbie” party Friday night (like Nicole Seitz as “Cicada Barbie” in the photo with me as “Mod Barbie”) and the “Over the Rainbow” ball on Saturday night. Vincent van Gogh said, “In order to write a book, do a deed, make a picture with some life in it, one has to be alive oneself.” One has to have HEART. And boy did I see lots of it in the numerous “Pulpwood Queens” book clubs who came to the weekend from as far away as California, with costumes, skits, and table decorations in tow. Their love for the written word was evident all weekend.

Unlike the little man pretending to be a wizard in Oz, the authors didn’t hide behind a green curtain at this event. They gave generously of their time as they mixed with the Pulpwood Queens book club members and emerging writers who came to celebrate with their heroes. I came home with fourteen (yes) books autographed by authors I met during the weekend, many new friends I look forward to keeping up with, and ideas for two books I want to write, thanks to the generous insights offered by several authors. Kudos to Kathy, all the authors, musicians, and book club “queens” for a weekend I won’t soon forget.

Susan Cushman has published eight creative nonfiction essays in sfwp Journal, First Things: The Journal of Religion, Culture and Public Life, Mom Writers Literary Magazine, Muscadine Lines, A Southern Journal, and skirt! Magazine. She served as a panelist at the 2009 Southern Women Writers Conference at Berry College. Susan is from Jackson, Mississippi, and lives in Memphis where she is currently working on a memoir, a novel, and a book of essays. She blogs at http://wwwpenandpalette-susancushman.blogspot.com/ .


River Jordan said...

Great Job Susan in the post. I love your writing and so happy to see you at A Good Blog Is Hard To Find!

Jenny Gardiner said...

I second hats off to Kathy. What a positive, uplifting weekend it was and I"m so grateful I was invited to join along! Great meeting you!

Shelby said...

oh my.. my my my. pat conroy serving tea. I'd a just died myself if that'd happened ta me.

enjoyed this so much.

Ad Hudler said...

Well put, Susan ... we writers and readers need each other.

That said, you're pretty scary on the dance floor, girl.

Scobberlotcher said...

Thanks for letting me re-live the weekend through your words! Looking forward to reading more of them in the future.

k. harrington

Kristy Kiernan said...

I was so bummed to miss it (scheduling conflicts), but hope for another invite next year! Sounds like it was a great time for everyone.

The Pulpwood Queen said...

Thanks for the kind words Susan Cushman. This 10th year celebration just about killed me but all who attended will forever remember all the incredible events. My favs were the Pulpwood Queens of Woodlands, California singing their version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" to me, Pat Conroy and ALL THE AUTHORS serving us as waiters at the Moveable Feast, Pat and the "Woo", his daughter's, Melissa Conroy panel, singing harmony with Kathi Kamen Goldmark and her husband, Sam Barry, the author group hug and incredible gift, oh I could go on and on! The good news is my family survived, Pat wants to come back next year, and Random House wants to send in more New York Times Bestselling Authors. But more importantly, my book festival is the sharing of great reads with people who love good books! We have created an alternate universe where authors and books RULE! Now somebody help me and Robert Leleux get our own television show because we want to show the world that authors, books, reading, and literacy is not only important, it's BIG TIME FUN!
Your Pulpwood Queen,
Kathy L. Patrick

Jenny Gardiner said...

you two would be fabulous with your own show! "Hello, PBS?!"

Book Club Cheerleader said...

Best Party I've been to. EVER. Great Blog, as well.

So glad you found the Mod Barbie costume--it was the grooviest!

andrea said...

You took the words right out of my brain. Your vivid recreation was amazing I have to admit. I have to say it was an amazing experience one I will not soon forget. And as a vertically challenged member of the OZ realm it was a blast parting with such great authors. Not to mention the fact that I have had lots of compliments on the T-shirt Ad signed. I hope to see the gang next year and maybe some day in the future be a member of the writers not just the queens.

hard drive recovery said...

I am glad to see Susan here and I must feel that we would have opportunity to read her blogs

Dorcas said...

It's all erroneous the thing you are saying.