Thursday, March 8, 2012

Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality

by Susan Cushman

The best piece of writing advice (the theme for this round of posts) I’ve ever received actually has two parts:

1.     Nothing is wasted, and
2.     Be patient.

Writing is hard work, as everyone knows who actually sits with their butt in the chair and waits—sometimes for hours, days, and years—for just the right words to tell the story they’re trying to tell. And even if you find the right words, you might discover that you’ve been trying to tell the wrong story. That has happened to me three times since I began writing seriously in 2006.

My first novel, The Sweet Carolines, is still in a box in the closet of my office. I think of it fondly, the way one remembers her first training bra, or maybe her first kiss. But the time I spent writing that novel was definitely not wasted. One of the minor characters later became the inspiration for the protagonist in my current novel-in-progress. And the feedback I got from two freelance editors at the time was much like what one might learn in an MFA creative writing program.

The next two books I wrote are both memoirs, also in the closet, but not because the writing isn’t good, or at least better than the first novel, but because I decided not to publish them. A New York agent was interested in one of them, but I had to apologize when I realized I really didn’t want to go public with some of the story, and couldn’t figure out how to edit out the parts I didn’t want to share without destroying the story. This is where Part 1 of the writing advice comes in.

In 2010 I pulled together an essay inspired by one of those memoirs, “Jesus Freaks, Belly Dancers and Nuns,” for inclusion in an anthology from the University of Alabama Press—Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality. This venue allows me to give a glimpse of that story without publishing things I don’t want to share. I’m so excited about Circling Faith, which just came out! I’m honored that my essay—“Chiaroscuro: Shimmer and Shadow”– is included with essays by Mary Karr, Beth Ann Fennelly, Alice Walker and a dozen other amazing women authors writing about spirituality. You can read more about this anthology on the site created by its editors, Wendy Reed and Jennifer Horne.

Part 2 is the hard part. I turned in my essay for this anthology almost two years ago. It’s sooooo hard to wait for that first book, or in my case, even the first essay to appear between the covers of a real book. These past two years have felt like an eternity! But I’ve been using them to write a novel, which I hope to complete in the next few weeks, actually. It was two years ago this month when I wrote my first post for A Good Blog, “A Novel Idea,” announcing that I was writing this book. And now Cherry Bomb is hopefully coming to completion soon. I know I’m going to have to strap my patience on for what could be a lengthy process of securing an agent, getting a book deal, working on revisions and eventually (hopefully) publication of Cherry Bomb. I’m glad for the experience I’ve had with Wendy and Jennifer working on Circling Faith.

(Wendy and Jennifer's first anthology, All Out of Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality, includes essays by Sue Monk Kidd, Cassandra King Conroy, Lee Smith, Frances Mayes, and others. I met several of those ladies and fell in love with their writing at the 2006 Southern Festival of Books. All Out of Faith is available in hardback and paperback. The cover art on both anthologies is by Birmingham Artist, Bethanne Hill.)

Susan Cushman has ten published essays. She was Director of the 2011 Memphis Creative Nonfiction Workshop, Co-Director of the 2010 Oxford Creative Nonfiction Conference, and she is again working with Neil White and Kathy Rhodes to organize the 2013 Oxford Creative Nonfiction Conference. An excerpt from her novel-in-progress, Cherry Bomb, made the short list for the 2011 Faulkner-Wisdom Creative Writing Competition, which is associated with the annual New Orleans Words and Music Festival. A native of Jackson, Mississippi, she lives in Memphis and blogs at “Pen and Palette.” 


Anonymous said...

Hi Susan!
So nice to meet you. I live just across the stateline from you...Southaven. :)

Karen Harrington said...


What an inspiring post. All writers know this is a journey of patience and faith. That anthology sounds terrific. Congrats on your own essay! I'm going to follow your link and check it out.


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andrea chiu said...

If we have faith , we trust God and if we trust God we have everything in life. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and words of wisdom.