Talking to Cool People w/ Jason Frazell

Susan Cushman - Author, John and Mary Margaret

September 01, 2021 Season 2 Episode 35
Talking to Cool People w/ Jason Frazell
Susan Cushman - Author, John and Mary Margaret
Show Notes Transcript

Susan and Jason explore Susan's journey from being born in the deep south to adopting two Korean children and having multiracial grandchildren, Susan's least favorite part of the writing process and Jason shares his childhood dream that became a reality at a much smaller scale.

"Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world would do this, it would change the earth." - William Faulkner by way of Susan Cushman

Born in Jackson, Mississippi and educated at the University of Mississippi, author Susan Cushman moved to Memphis in 1988 where she and her husband raised three children. Fast forward thirty-two years --- and they have four granddaughters!

Her seventh novel, “John and Mary Margaret” (Koehler Books, June 2021) is a rare insider’s look into the white privilege bubble of a young girl growing up in Jackson, Mississippi and participating in sorority life on the Ole Miss campus in the late 1960s. But it’s also a candid portrayal of a young Black boy from Memphis who follows his dream to study law at the predominantly white university. What happens when their shared love for literature blossoms into an ill-fated romance? Spanning five decades of historical civil rights events in Mississippi and Memphis, John and Mary Margaret’s story will challenge the status quo and give us another opportunity to examine our history and our hearts.

In addition to “John and Mary Margaret,” her published books include three she has written: Friends of the Library (short stories), Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s (a memoir), and Cherry Bomb (a novel).  She has edited three collections of essays: A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be, Southern Writers Writing, and The Pulpwood Queens Celebrate 20 Years! In addition, she has over a dozen essays published in four anthologies and various journals and magazines.
Susan was co-director of the 2013 and 2010 Oxford (Mississippi) Creative Nonfiction Conferences.  She was director of the 2011 Memphis Creative Nonfiction Workshop. She was a panelist at the 2017 Decatur Book Festival, the 2012, 2017, and 2018 Southern Festival of Books, the 2017 and 2018 Mississippi Book Festival, the 2013, 2017, 2018 and 2019 Louisiana Book Festival, the 2018 Mississippi Writers Guild Conference, the 2018 Alabama Writers Conclave Conference, the 2018 Pat Conroy Literary Center Visiting Author Series, the 2019 Southern Literary Festival, and the 2020 AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Professionals) annual conference.

https://susancushman.com/
https://www.facebook.com/sjcushman
https://twitter.com/SusanCushman
https://www.linkedin.com/in/susan-cushman-41884034/
https://www.instagram.com/sjcushman/


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Jason Frazell:

My guest today is Susan Cushman, who is a native of Jackson, Mississippi, currently living in Memphis. She's an author of seven books. The latest available now is john and Mary Margaret. Welcome, Susan. Hi, Jason. It's great to be here. Thank you. Yeah, absolutely. I'm so glad you're here with us today. And I know we have a lot to talk about. So we're just gonna get right into it. So weren't for you. Yeah, dad. Oh, man. Excellent. So Susan,

Susan Cushman:

I always like to ask this question to kick off going away to get to know each other since we don't know each other. Right. I like to ask this question. It's a little bit of icebreaker. What's something that you nerd out about?

Jason Frazell:

I love that nerd out. I stole it from I stole it from another podcast. I'll admit it. My friends podcast,

Susan Cushman:

especially love it because of the name of your podcast is talking to cool people. And I think nerds are the coolest of all people. Great. I've got some engineers and it kids in my family. Yeah, but for me, it's books. It's got to be books. I love contemporary Southern fiction, but also memoirs about famous people, or people who struggle with mental health issues. Favorite book was Pat Conroy's Prince of Tides, which inspired me to write because he used his dysfunctional family to inform his fiction. Yeah. Mary Carr's memoir, so especially lit. And this celebrity man was by Diane Keaton, and Demi Moore, and Robin Roberts. I guess that's my, what I nerd out about. Yeah. The Prince of Tides was a movie with Nick nulty and Barbra Streisand, wasn't it? Right? Yeah. Pat Conroy's book. And I met Pat before he died, and his wife and our friends and they're just great people. I recently spoke at the Pat Conroy literary center, in Buford, South Carolina, which is an amazing place. Yeah.

Jason Frazell:

What is your your love of books was something that you've always had, like was a growing up? Were you attracted to books and writing specifically at a young age?

Susan Cushman:

You know, this is real unusual. Almost all my writer friends grew up loving books, and I did not. When I was five years old, we got our first television. And I grew up loving television and movies. And at one point, wanted to be an actor. And I loved this heart more. And I really didn't start loving books as much until I was an adult, which is a little odd for a writer. I did always like to write Yeah, it's weird to, to love to write more than you love to read. But now, now, I love both. Yeah.

Jason Frazell:

Did you growing up? Did you write for the school newspaper? Did you have any sort of writing hobbies?

Susan Cushman:

Yeah, well, let's see junior high. It was we had a literary journal. In high school, I wrote for the school newspaper, and was business and advertising manager of it two different years, which led into a lot of marketing that I did later in life. So I thought it might be a journalist or a might would be in advertising. I wasn't sure what I was gonna do at that point. But it was a great introduction. Yeah, school paper was really good.

Jason Frazell:

Yeah, I have a, I have an advertising degree from the school of journalism at the University of Minnesota. And I and I realized, I think I always knew this, but I was just talking to somebody, I do not like writing at all. I just don't like the process of it. Which is why I have a podcast because I like to talk to people and ask questions and communicate, I love communicating. I just don't like writing. So I'm always fascinated by the idea of sitting down writing one book, let alone seven just gives me like, I just wouldn't want to do it. Because I want I wouldn't know what to write. But to I just don't enjoy the process of writing like some, like some people really like love, like my dad likes to write. And he's like to sit down, put your word into either the keyboard or you know, like, write with an actual, like writing utensil, and that just does not excite me at all.

Susan Cushman:

Well, it's hard. You know, Elizabeth Berg is one of my favorite authors. And when asked if she likes to write, here's her answer. I love to have written. Yeah, really how I failed to. Yeah, once I finished with a good day's work, or a good chunk of a chapter or even 1000 words, then it's like, oh, now it's fun. But it's it's difficult in the process. Occasionally. It's fun. More often than not is just hard work.

Jason Frazell:

Yeah, I would imagine it's very fun to walk into the bookstore and see something you written with your name on it there. That must be the best. That is, that's awesome. That's very cool. All right. So we're gonna move Susan into we're gonna talk a little bit about comfort zone. And the way to define that is the thing that it's the thing that's easy for you to think you like doing the thing that I'd say, hey, Susan, will you go do this and you'd be like, yeah, that's easy for me. So what's something that is inside of your comfort zone that might be outside of some elss

Susan Cushman:

right off the bat, I think about talking and writing about religion, and spirituality. I'm a convert to Eastern Orthodox faith, and even studied iconography and learn to paint them and talk icon workshops. But often church and religion are difficult for some people to talk about. Also very easy to talk about things like sexual abuse and eating disorders have been part of my life. And I've read a ton of books that other people have been willing to write, to share their journeys with it. And so I'm pretty open to talk about those. And they appear in my blog, I haven't had a blog since 2012. Those issues appear in there. They also showed up in my first novel Cherry Bomb and some of my short story collections deal with difficult issues that I'm not, I'm not worried about talking about.

Jason Frazell:

Yeah, when you when you bring this to your work, and as a published author, do you get? Do you get negative feedback? You probably get feedback. Do you get negative feedback? Or is it generally like thank you for putting these issues out there so that we can have a conversation about them?

Susan Cushman:

It's been amazingly positive. Oh, but maybe the people who don't like it, either quit reading it, or just don't, don't bother to write a bad review. I've gotten so few bad reviews on Amazon and Goodreads for any of my books. I mean, some of them are kind of funny. I like to read them. I'm hoping for constructive criticism. But yeah, it's nothing. The my favorite bad review, short story collection Friends of the Library. This person's first one was I don't like short stories. Well, on the cover of the book, it says, Friends of the Library, short stories. I know I love that. And she goes on to talk about why she doesn't like short stories. And I'm like, Well, I can't believe you bothered to keep reading it. And to go on Goodreads and write on Amazon and give it a two or three stars when everybody else was given it four and five. Reviews don't bother me. No.

Jason Frazell:

Have you ever? Do you ever watch their watches tonight show now with Jimmy Fallon? Yeah. Have you ever seen when he does that? I think it's Jimmy Fallon. He does a thing where the celebrities will read like reviews about themselves on Twitter. Yeah, it's hilarious. They'll be like, I don't like your hair. Or it'll be like the thing like, Okay, what do you want me to do with that? Right, exactly. That's so funny. Yeah. It's I don't know how you feel about this. But I think that like the thing about like, I don't like short stories. There's just people that just want to be heard, and just want to complain. And it just so happens that Amazon's a great place to do that. I guess. So I guess. I was wondering like, Yeah, go ahead.

Susan Cushman:

Also funny is that I used to not like short stories, I didn't read them a whole lot. And so when I wrote that collection, it was a new genre to me. And I have a couple of good friends who are prolific short story authors, you know, and I was able to get some feedback from them. Because it's a totally different animal than writing an essay, which I've done a bunch of, or writing a full length novel or memoir. It's just, it's different. I like it now that I've done it, because each story has a short narrative arc. Yeah. Much easier to write, you know, 20 pages than 500 pages. Yeah.

Jason Frazell:

What, um, in the literary world? How do you define a short story? Does that is there a definition of what that actually means?

Susan Cushman:

Yeah, well, it's basically it's going to follow the narrative arc of a novel, you know, with the beginning, and then the climax, and then the resolution at the end. But it's more about word count, like a novella, which is a short novel is more like 30 or 40,000 words. You know, a novel starts at about 50,000. A short story is typically 20,000 or less. Okay, as far as the structure is really, it obviously cannot be as complex, there's not time. So you don't want as many characters to have to, you know, you'd barely have time to introduce more than three or four main characters, right. Short story. So it's simpler that way.

Jason Frazell:

Yeah. Interesting. Okay. I learned something new today. I was thinking about Stephen King, because he writes, obviously, like, massive books, but then I think, if I'm not mistaken, I think Shawshank Redemption was considered a novel. It wasn't actually that long. It wasn't one of his most famous books is actually I think it was called the it's called a novella, novella. And then he has, he's also a prolific short story writer to one of those things. So let's take a look at the reverse of this. Now, Susan, what's something that is outside of your comfort zone that's going to be inside of somebody else's?

Susan Cushman:

Probably talking about and writing about politics. I don't do this very often. The rare occasion when I go They're on Facebook, I'm instantly sorry that no matter which which side you're your own, somebody is going to start throwing crap at you. They're just going to go, why did I do that? And I just go back and delete the posts. You know, usually because it's not doing any good. Now on my blog, I used to be a little bit more political. But once again, I just decided, I'm, you're not going to convince anybody of something on there. And I don't really I'm not the kind of person who wants to convince, I don't want to convince anybody of my religion, my faith, my spirituality, my political leanings. Respect other people in all of those areas. Yeah. So I just don't go there with politics, you know? Yeah.

Jason Frazell:

So you take so what I'm hearing is you you follow one half of the old idiom, which is you never talk politics and religion. You talk a lot of religion, and you talk about politics. That's right. That's funny. That's funny. So your books, and what we're going to talk more about your whole body of work, but specifically about john, Mary Margaret. They they're not they don't get too much into politics. Is my assumption based on what you just said? Well, you know,

Susan Cushman:

it's interesting now that I've said that because john and Mary Margaret covers 50 years of civil rights history. Got it? Oh, but it's it's really not about politics in the sense of being about the right and the left. And Democrats and Republicans. But it is a lot It is about race. Yeah. So if you if you want to call that political, I'll call that cultural.

Jason Frazell:

Yeah, I think I think that's probably more accurate. Yeah. Which, which ends up being a which ends up being political. I don't know that it's quite as political as it used to be. I mean, you It used to be the one of the primary things, but we'll talk more about this. After the break specifically about the book. One more question for you before we take a really brief. Okay. I want to ask you about speaking. And so if I was able to give you let's pretend that this podcast was listened to by everybody on the planet, which would be amazing, but it's not. Like not everybody in the planets get to read your books. And I would give you five minutes to give a speech. What would you What would you talk about Susan? And what would be your call to action to the audience at the end of your speech?

Susan Cushman:

Wow, I could go a lot of different directions with that. Yeah. Because there, there are so many things I do care about. But I think right now, my speech will be about racial injustice, and inequality, especially in America, but also as it relates to the caste system in India and what happened to the Jews in Nazi Germany. I became role aware of all this last summer when I read Isabel Wilkerson's amazing book cast spells he is. So I mean, it was I had already as a white woman from the south, I had already gradually been having somewhat of an awakening, and I'm using quotation marks. Yeah. which some people get pushback about and don't like that term. Even even a lot of blacks don't like talking about being woke, you know? Yeah, I don't know what else to call it. Because it's, it is part of what's been happening to me in a good sense. And so when I read that book last summer, it was like, Well, my eyes were opened more and more. So I think my call to action would, would be to somehow call people to have an open heart and mind, accept any racism that might be in our hearts. And to have a new way to look at the issue historically. To forgive ourselves, and except others. One of my favorite quotes, I have a lot of quotes in my book, john and Mary Margaret, but one of my favorite ones is by William Faulkner. And he says, Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice, and lying and greed. If people all over the world would do this, it would change the earth. That's beautiful. Also,

Jason Frazell:

I agree. He's a smart, he was a smart man was excellent. Well, Susan, we're gonna take a very brief commercial break, and we'll be right back after this. Great. And Susan, we are back. So I like to ask this question of all my guests, and I make it very, very broad, specifically for a reason. So what do you want the audience to know? What do you want all of us to know about you?

Susan Cushman:

Well, I grew up in Mississippi, in the 50s. And the apocalyptic life changing 60s, when I was a husk in high school and a teenager. And I got married young went to Ole Miss, but only only for one year because my husband was the senior there my freshman year, and we were dating and then engaged. And so got married when I was 19. I was a stay at home mom for a lot of years while my husband was pursuing his career, and we adopted three children, two from South Korea, and then our white boy who's from Mississippi. So that's a bit of a bit of my personal journey. Also along the way very significant for this Presbyterian girl from the south was that we converted to the Eastern Orthodox Church. Which actually my husband is a priest and ordained a priest in the, in the Orthodox Church. And that was a huge change for me spiritually, I visited monasteries, I've studied and painted icons. Yeah, that part of my life, and then the adoption and the kids. And then the two, the two Korean kids, our daughter's husband is black. And they have two mixed race daughters. Yeah. And then our son Jason, who's from South Korea, his wife, his mom, which is also Asian. Yeah, I have two mixed race, Asian American daughters. So that diversity within my family is has a strong impact on everything, I think and do and right.

Jason Frazell:

Yeah, it was the so you adopted the South Korean children in the 70s 60s, late 60s and 80s. What was them? Did you get any pushback? Or was there any sort of controversy around that at the time being? And again, like, you know, like the I don't know exactly the context in the moment, but right. Yeah, I'm just curious. I'm curious what that experience was like, well,

Susan Cushman:

in Jackson, Mississippi, at the time on there was kind of a community of people who adopt our adopting kids from Korea, through hope International Agency, so there was sort of a support group there. And our family and church and close friends who were all so supportive, that if there was somebody outside of that circle, who didn't like it, I didn't know about them. Now, I will say that both of my Korean kids are fed incidences where they were bullied. When they were in elementary, junior high around in there, just focus. And what's interesting is they went to a school that was the majority black, minority white, and then smaller minority, Asian, and but the Asians were Vietnamese, and so Hama Korean adopted kids, most of their friends were wider black, because the Asian community there was kind of kept to themselves. Yeah. In English as a second language and all of that. So you know, they didn't, they didn't really know well accepted in all the circles that mattered to me.

Jason Frazell:

Yeah, that's, that's good. This just feels like a really natural point to talk about the book, john and Mary Margaret. Well, but before we, before we go into the book, that's the newest book. I'd love to hear a little bit more about the series of books. And I have a few questions. So I've looked at them curious, like, Is there a through line? Is there that like, what's been What? What was the inspiration for you to release your first novel? Like, what's kind of like, what's your inspiration behind all this as a writer?

Susan Cushman:

Right? Well, I started on my first novel, Cherry Bomb. It took about six or seven years, because to begin with, I work I worked with, first I wrote a memoir, and then I decided I wanted it to be a novel instead. So that was a huge switch. After completing completely writing about some things in my own life, they were very personal. I decided some of them were actually gonna hurt some people. And I didn't want to do that. So I didn't just change the names and say, now it's a novel. You can't do that. Yeah, a memoir and a novel are two different things. But I'll let some of those experiences inform the characters in that book. And it was called Cherry Bomb. And it was about a little girl who escaped from a religious cult, where she had been molested by her father. And she gets a scholarship to the Savannah College of Art and Design, where she studies under the abstract expression, expressionist painter, Alain de Kooning, she gets introduced to iconography, which I did, and actually goes to a monastery to study icons. And the book ends up having a mystery to it, where she and Alain de Kooning and anon at the monastery, have a connection that you don't learn about till the end of the book. So but because that book took six, six or more years, another reason it took so long was I had a New York literary agent I was working with, and I did not like what she wanted me to do with the book. So after over a year of working with editors that she wanted me to change the book to make it more hardcore commercial fiction. And I wanted to keep this Southern, literary and spiritual element to it. Left are so instead of getting a book deal with a big with a big publishing company, and maybe more quotation marks success. Yeah, I was published by a small press at Mississippi. And the editor had integrity. And the book is the book I wanted it to be. But while I was waiting for the different stages of publishing to happen with that book in 2017, I sort of add, and I have to be doing more than one thing at a time. that resonates for me,

Jason Frazell:

for me, too.

Susan Cushman:

Yeah. So I published two other books that was that published, that one came out in August, I published books in January and May of that year, while Cherry Bomb was going to be coming out. And this is with three different publishers, and had any of them known about the other, it probably wouldn't have happened, because they from their point of view, that's a marketing nightmare. Absolutely. But from my point of view, it's not and here's why the books had completely different audiences. The first one tangles and plaques, a mother and daughter face. Alzheimer's is a memoir about my mother journey with Alzheimer's and our relationship. And I took 60 blog blog posts that I had written over the last eight years of her life, and put them together into a book. So it was so much already written, that all I did was organize it, found a publisher and publish it in January. Then while I was waiting on, you know, the various stages of it to happen and the various stages of Cherrybomb to happen. I was having a conversation with an elderly neighbor, who is sort of a mentor of mine. She was a writer who got her a PhD in aging when she was 65. She's in her 80s now. And we were talking about women at various stages of our lives. And what second chances look like and check, second opportunities. And I said, You don't think I'm going to publish an anthology, and it's going to be second blooming, becoming the women were meant to be. And I got 24 women to contribute essays to it. I got a foreword by Anne Lamott. And Mercer University Press published that in May of that year. So that was a banner year, these three books from three different publishers in three different genres came out that year. And writing the anthology, I mean, editing the anthology was so much fun, because one of my favorite things to do is to pull together people with with talent, and direct. You know, like my dream job would be to direct a movie or to direct a news broadcast like that. Yeah, it was a movie where the I can't forgot the favorite network. Yes. broadcast news. Yeah, broadcast. And one of those. Yeah, I would love to direct things. Yeah, when you do an anthology, you will you invite the people, you want to write the essays based on your thing. And then you edit their work, and then you organize it, and it's so much fun. So I decided to do it again. So in 2018, I published my second Anthology, Southern writers on writing. And this had 13 men and 13 women writing essays all about writing, all contemporary, of course, University Press of Mississippi, jumped on that on they and I both could not believe it had already been not already been done. So that one came out in in May, I think of 2018. And then my edit my publisher for Cherry Bomb manava lives in a small town in Mississippi. He wanted me to go on a little book tour, to libraries in the small towns to talk about Cherry Bomb. And I did even though I had lived, I grew up in Jackson, Mississippi, I lived in Oxford when I went to Ole Miss. But I had never visited all these little towns like you pora and West Point, and Aberdeen and Paula talk. And so I researched each one before I drove down there. And I was fascinated by the history, some of the famous people there, some of the famous buildings and museums, and all of that. So I learned a lot about my own home state. Yeah. And so as I got back from each of these visits, where I would speak to the Friends of the Library groups in each library, and by the way, there were 50 people at one of those meetings. Yeah, usually a dozen to 20, which is a lot in a small town. Yes. You had as much else to do. But when I came home, my inclination would have been to write a blog post about you know, about my trip to you pour and speaking to the Friends of the Library. And as I started to write the blog post, something interesting happened. I asked myself, what if, what if I write a short story instead, and I'll make up a fictional author and a name or a jail Covington and I have had her going on this book tour, and meeting these really diverse people who all have a lot of heavy personal issues, sexual abuse, cancer or Alzheimer's. Adoption You know, there were like 10 different issues because there were 10 stories. So I had a jail, somebody said it was kind of like touch fun angel in Mississippi. Oh, nice. She helps the people and publish that short story collection and called it Friends of the Library. And that came out in 2019. And wow, just when I was doing that, I'm part of a large international book club organization called the pulpwood queens, and its founder Kathy L. Murphy started it 20 years ago, 21 years ago now. And every January, they have a big convention. They'll have like 20 something authors and several 100 book club members. They're like, 800 of these book clubs all over the world. No, it's interesting. Oh, yeah. So if your novel, if your book is chosen as the book of the month for April, then you know, all these book clubs are going to be reading your book that month. And then everybody whose books were chosen for that year is invited to Jefferson, Texas, to the girlfriend weekend to speak on panels, which I've done four or five different years over the years. So Kathy was aware that I had edited several anthologies, and she said, I want an anniversary anthology for our 2020 meeting January 2020. And I'd like you to edit it. And I'd like essays by as many authors, as we'll submit them, and buy a lot of the book club members when she said, Well, you do this and I said, Sure. Fun, right up my alley. So I'll publish my third Anthology, the pulpwood. queens celebrate 20 years in December of 2019. Yeah, and it has 67 essays in it. Wow. So it was a lot of work. But again, it doesn't feel like work. To me, it was just on. So some of the people who read those short stories, love to one of the 10 short stories, because it was about a black boy from Memphis, and a white girl from Jackson, Mississippi, who fall in love on the Ole Miss campus in the 1960s. And that was john and Mary Margaret. So several my readers said, We want more of their story want to turn it on novel? I'm not sure I would have ever thought to do that, if I hadn't been encouraged to. And so my seventh book and second novel, john and Mary Margaret, just came out in June. Yeah. So that's kind of the journey. All those books. And I've already got another anthology in the works that you do. They're being turned into me right now. And I've just started another novel. So I should have said this earlier, I just turned 70 in March, and I'm, I'm living my best life. I'm having the best time I'm doing what I've always wanted to do. So I just want to encourage people that it's never too late. Yeah, do what you always wanted to do. You know, that's awesome,

Jason Frazell:

Susan. That's great. So, john, john and Mary Margaret, it's available now it came out in June. Where can people find it?

Susan Cushman:

Anywhere books are sold every I mean, if you've got an independent bookseller in your town, ask them to order it. Because it's going to be carried in bookstores in the south, of course, primarily, but you know, in Minnesota, or wherever else, just call your bookstore and say please order me a copy of john and Mary Margaret by Susan Cushman. Of course, you can get it online at Amazon. And Barnes and Noble has it other places like that?

Jason Frazell:

Is it is it available on audio as well?

Susan Cushman:

No, it wasn't done in audio. It is on Kindle. It is on Kindle. It's Hardcover, softcover, and Kindle. Gotcha all through. And it's really short. It's a quick read. I've had some people say they read it in one day. Oh, wow. That's Yeah. Well, thankfully, it was because I couldn't put it down. They said, Yeah,

Jason Frazell:

that's great. Well, congratulations, Susan, on all those especially john and Mary Margaret. I will put in the show notes, a link to the book as well. So people are thinking, Hey, I like this. What's the name of the book? Again, john and Mary Margaret. And I'm actually looking here because we're recording this and Susan are looking each other. I like the cover of it. I'm assuming the cover is that must be old. This

Susan Cushman:

is the last. That's the last thing I'm building right there. On the bottom. Gotcha. And of course, the people holding hands are john and Mary Margaret. gotta remember good. Yeah, now Koehler books kayo. EH, le are published it. And they do a terrific job with book covers.

Jason Frazell:

Yeah, it's a really beautiful cover. Yeah, very striking. I think they do a good job. Very cool. Very cool. All right, Susan. So I've been asking you a lot of questions. So this is your opportunity to ask me something. And since we don't know each other, we've known each other for 34 minutes now. What would you like to ask me that I can answer for answer for you. And for everyone else.

Susan Cushman:

Okay. Well, sort of. I'm gonna throw a couple of things and you please mix them together. Take your choice. Um, whoa. Why you started the podcast like what is your mission? That's one question. And then another question is, what do you think makes somebody a cool person? Yeah, thank you say you're talking to cool people.

Jason Frazell:

Perfect. Yes, I will definitely combine these. Okay. I'll start with the start with a cool person. thing. And I've shared this a couple times on the show. I'll share it again, how the name of this podcast, you know, because people asked me about it all the time. Yeah. It was November of 2019. And I had said, Hey, I'm gonna launch this in January of 2020, which means I need to record some episodes before I launch it, because you need to have some stuff to put out there. Right. And one of my guests, Chris Christie Rizzo, she was a guest. Like, she's probably my fourth or fifth interview. And I remember and she's a friend of mine, and we got done. And I said, She's like, that was really fun. I'm like, Well, I'm really struggling with a name. Like, I'm not a very good, I'm not very good, like naming things. And okay. And I was like, What do you think of this, and I had this name from somebody else. And it was kind of a little too busy to see for my taste that it's kind of like a little dry, she goes out, it's really easy to call talking to cool people. And I'm like, yep, that's it. I was like, okay, so So Susan, I didn't have any artwork. I didn't have a title I didn't, you know, like when you publish a podcast out there, it's just like a book, you have to have a title and artwork and all these things. So I created the title of the show, and all the artwork for it after I'd recorded some episodes, and I'm so glad that Krista did that. Because I'd probably I don't think that would have been, I never would have come up with that. So for me, a cool person is anybody with an interesting story to tell? So I'm sure as an author, you probably identify with that. That's great. I've, if you look at my list of guests, this will be episode I believe, 89. And if you could get a wider range of people to talk to. I've talked to college students, I've talked to Kwazii famous people, I've talked to authors, I've talked to retired Navy SEALs therapist, and to me, what makes somebody cool is that they've got an interesting story to tell, and that they're curious. Yeah, for me, the main thing I look for my guests are, the story itself might not be the most interesting part. It's the curiosity that comes with it. And also just like, I'm curious about people gender, like I'm kind of a student of humanity. So I think that Susan's journey to become an author is interesting. I think that for a guest who's like a musician, like I think that's interesting, I think almost everybody's story is interesting, which therefore makes them cool to me. So that's for all for all the, for the audience listening. My, my level of cool is not about like, you know, like, cool, like, this person is a cool person. It's more like, are they interesting? And are they curious? So that's that, how I started? Yes. Which also much broadens my ability to talk to a lot of people, which is helpful. I'm also somebody I just really like most people, you know, like, there's certain people that like, don't like most people, I really like most people. So I will admit, my bar for cool is probably a lot like the bar to get over my Kool meter is probably much lower than other people. But I like it that way. So the how the podcast came about, comes from what I wanted to do when I was a kid. When I was a kid, I wanted to be Johnny Carson, and then Jay Leno, because I think that switch happened when I was, I want to say 12, like 19, like 1989 1990 when Johnny retired, and Jay Leno took over and I said, Man, I can't think of a better job than to sit on, Sit in a comfortable chair and talk to people. And I didn't realize as a kid that like those interviews are kind of, here's Johnny, here's what you're going to ask Susan about. Like, here's the things we want you to ask her about. She's got a new book coming out. Some of it's a little scripted. And so this podcast is kind of my small scale version of getting to just talk to people about what they're up to in their life, which is really fun. Having fun. Yeah, blast. It's my favorite thing. If I could just do this all day, I would I would do it. Like I said, this will be I think you'll you know, we're gonna release your episode very shortly, I think you'll be Episode 89. So I've been consistent. I've been releasing, keep going. I have an endless list of guests that I want to have on or that want to be on. So yeah, I'll keep it going. I love doing this. I could do this. If I could just do this. If I could only do this. I would probably just do this. But yeah, so thanks for the questions. That's Yeah. So Susan, I got a few more questions for you. If you've got a little more time for me, of course. All right. So what do you what are you passionate about?

Susan Cushman:

I'm passionate about just about everything that I engage with and care about because I'm a passionate person, but I can tell you about, I think two or three on the top are obviously about racial equality, and also about faith about orthodox spirituality, and also about adoption. Yeah, I'm passionate about and about a cure for Alzheimer's. So I have a lot of causes because of my own life situations.

Jason Frazell:

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Do you, um, you write about these things? Do you get involved in other ways?

Susan Cushman:

Yeah, sure. Well, I'm with the Alzheimer's, I have been a speaker at some conventions and conferences, and volunteered, there's a group call all authors al z authors.org. And anyone who is caregiving for someone with Alzheimer's, should google them because there are over 300 authors on one of them, who have written books about caregiving, for someone with Alzheimer's, and you can go through and find person caring for a spouse, person caring for a mother, you know, you can find based on the things and get books that will relate to your own situation. So I have volunteered with them. I've done some editing, and some work with them. And like I said, I've spoken. And then, um, I was a volunteer, I lit up creative writing class at a senior living facility here in Memphis for nine months, we had to quit because it COVID Yeah, I tried going zoom, but most of the people were in their 70s 80s 90s and didn't really like zooming. See that. But you know, because my mom spent the last eight years of her life in a nursing home. And three years before that, in assisted living. I felt like I will always want to find a way to give back to the people who took care of her. You know, she really got good care. And also, that's another way that I've done that. I'm trying to think and then with church, I've done a lot there everything from teaching Sunday school to be in a church secretary to being in charge of committees. You know, so I'm involved always in the things I'm passionate about one way or another.

Jason Frazell:

Yeah. Did you see the movie The father last year? with Anthony Hopkins? No. It was a it was a I believe it was a play. And they turned into a movie. It's I don't remember if he has Alzheimer's or dementia, but highly recommended. You want it down? How did I miss that? He won. He won Best Picture he want me to sorry. He won Best Actor last year. Oh, so he played so it's it's about Anthony Hopkins is a scene. He's the dad, this father. And it's about I won't spoil how the movies done, but it's brilliant. It's really about his experience with you know, like dementia or Alzheimer's. I forget which one, but also his children's experience working with him.

Susan Cushman:

I don't know how I missed it. Of course, if it's in the theaters, we didn't go until we got our vaccines. Yeah, I need to know if it's straining somewhere. Right. It

Jason Frazell:

is definitely streaming you can buy it like Amazon should be like Amazon Prime. Yeah, it's called the father is tremendous. It was the best picture. He won Best Actor. Thank you. I can't wait. There it is. So hopefully, hopefully, that's useful for everybody. My grandmother on my mom's side had Alzheimer's, and then she had a stroke. So I'll never forget, when she passed away, I remember the pastor who was leading the service said, you know, this is a disease that is, can be quite nice for the person experiencing it. It's actually kind of like, and very hard for the family. So that was kind of our experience, too, is that like she she you know, she woke up every day. And like everyday, it was kind of a new experience for her. And especially for my mother was very closer as if that's a very challenging disease like, so I saw that in my family as well.

Susan Cushman:

Well, my mother's mother had it first. And then my mother. So obviously, I think I'm third generation. You know, I'm 70. And I'm remembering at what ages my mother and my grandmother started having issues and at what ages, they had to go into a nursing home. And I've already talked with our kids about my wishes. And I have long term care insurance. And I don't want them to try to take care of me at home. Yeah, because I want them to have their loves their own lives. Yeah. And they were a little resistant at that at first. And I'm like, you know, the money will be here for it if if it happens. And I'm, again, watching the fact that my mother and my grandmother both had good care in the same nursing home in Jackson, Mississippi, you know, but 20 years apart. Yeah. So anyway, yeah, but

Jason Frazell:

correct me if I'm wrong, you would know more about this than I would. But I think a lot of the new science is really the best way is to stay really active with your mind, like writing books, active in the community, do it the things that you're doing, are some of the best ways to stave off to keep keep yourself active. Yeah,

Susan Cushman:

I mean, I'm sure it helps to a degree. But I think, you know, at some point, hopefully the research, we'll come up with some medicine that will help to stop so

Jason Frazell:

yeah, absolutely. Well, the next question I have for you is about the thing that you're most proud of. So what is it that you're most proud of,

Susan Cushman:

you know, part of me wants to immediately say, My late live writing career. But I'm gonna say this, the thing I'm second most brought off, and I'm gonna say, my family, and especially my marriage of 51 years. Congratulations. Thank you. I was 19 My husband was 21. When we got married in 1970, we literally grew up together. Yeah. We learned to love each other unconditionally, and forgive a myriad of sins, you know, over over all those years. And I'm remembering the bumpy times we went through and how glad I am that we stayed together, because we're having the best time now. And it's great. Now, we adopted these three amazing kids that I told you about earlier. And then I have the four mixed race granddaughters and our oldest son is getting married in November. And he and his fiance live in New Orleans, and sadly, they no power. They Well, they evacuated, they won't they won't have any power for over a month.

Jason Frazell:

Oh my God, is that they've gotten the news now.

Susan Cushman:

Yeah, they're they they're staying with friends in another city. And yeah, it's gonna be awful. But anyway, yeah. So I think I'm most proud of my family. And then secondly, of this late life, career and the writing, because it is really what are the two things I always wanted to do? Three things, be married, have children and write books.

Jason Frazell:

And then here we are. It's perfect. Here we are. That's awesome. Thank you. Susan, what's something you're afraid that might actually be true about you?

Susan Cushman:

Well, this might sound a little bit weird. But I might be a racist. Or I might be a narcissist. These are both issues I'm really well acquainted with and others, including some people I'm very close to. But I'm thinking like the Bible says, Let him who is without sin throw the first stone. So I'm, I'm very slow to, to judge others. Because I don't think I can't speak for anyone else. And I'm pure of heart and and are without sin in these areas. You know, I'm sure I have a black son in law. I have these mixed race granddaughters. I wrote this book about race. But that doesn't mean that growing up as a white person in Mississippi, that there wasn't something ingrained in me. Yeah, that belief gets ingrained in our culture that I believe we all have to deal with. And the place to start with that is about being honest. About how we look at things. Yeah.

Jason Frazell:

Yeah, I, I was I was sharing with you. Before we got on. I'm originally from Minnesota. And I was actually back there this weekend. And I visited George floor George Floyd square with my with my parents. Wow. And when that happened, just to share this with you. When that happened. I came to find out that officers show then went to my high school. Oh my goodness, so and my parents live in Yeah, my parents lives. About three miles from cut foods where that happened. It's uh, yeah, it's like it down in South Minneapolis. And and Minnesota has been a little bit of a hotbed for this. Like there's another African American guy killed. I think it was earlier this year. We had flandreau Castile a few years ago. And I've had to look at my biases as well. So like in coach, you would call them like your undistinguished biases. Sometimes you have distinguished biases, you're like, Yes, I know this about me. And a lot of times you have undistinguished biases. And you know, anybody who's listening who says like, Oh, um, we all got them. Because we're all raised. We all raised we learn as children, we build those patterns, right, our girl patterns, and then I think what you said is so important is like, first of all to get curious about and be like, hey, like, what are my distinguisher undistinguished biases, and then when you can own them, then you can, if you want to, you can do something about them, right? Or just, it's, it's the white fragility thing of just like, hey, like, I'm white, and I don't know what to do here. And I'm scared, and I'm probably going to get this really wrong. And I'm still willing to do because I am committed to being better. And that's the thing.

Susan Cushman:

Yeah, I'm saying I was afraid of getting it wrong and writing the book. Yeah, john, and Mary Margaret. And so what I did was I have two author friends who are black men, and I have a black male protagonist in the book. And they both agreed to be early readers and read early drafts of the book. And that's also known as a sensitivity reader is getting some one of a different race or gender or culture, from the author. Yeah, to give you good feedback on the history, the language You're using and all of that. And they were both fabulous. One is Jeffrey blunt. And he was the first black director at NBC News. Oh, very cool. Yeah. And he, he wrote a wonderful novel called the emancipation of Evan walls. And he wrote a fabulous blurb for me. And the other guy, Ralph Eubanks was at Ole Miss, during part of the time in which my book is set. And, and he's from Marx, Mississippi, and he now lives in Washington, DC, and he's a visiting professor at Ole Miss. And he was also he and his books. A place like Mississippi is his new book that just came out. They were both so helpful, because to do that, by myself, I really could have messed up. I mean, it's amazing how many just phrases and words and cliches and things that you just don't want to do. That would be offensive. Absolutely. And yet, I think the fear of doing that keeps a lot of people from doing it. Yep. And in January, there was an article in the Wall Street Journal, by James Campbell, who wrote about James Baldwin, and he is writing about cultural appropriation there was also, Toni Morrison is also in this article. And here's a little thing that he said about it that I thought was excellent. From the Wall Street Journal. Writers on each side of the color line, have more than just the right to cross the divide and report back. It is their duty. imaginative life depends on cultural exchange. Literature depends on the imagination. To put it another way, culture is cultural appropriation. Any artists worth the name, should be willing to take a punch for it. Yeah. So that's what I felt like I was doing was being willing to take a punch for in writing this. And I've been really surprised not to have gotten a whole lot of pushback from it. I've been shocked. I've been expecting it. You know, I've spoken I went on a book tour for two weeks in June, all through the South 2300 miles I drove. And I had nine events, and I in person events. And nobody asking me about well, how do you feel about you being a white woman writing this? Huh? Nobody even brought it up, which it just greatly surprised me. There may be people thinking if who aren't going to contact me and say that? Yeah, no. I will say one of the most heartening experiences I had was meeting with my first ever men's book club here in Memphis, and they're all black. And the leader of the book club is a librarian at a branch library. That was a negro branch back in the day. And so I'm having this book club, talk with him by zoom, a few weeks ago, and one guy keeps asking me some pretty critical questions. And I'm a little bit nervous. Because, you know, he's, he's right. And I want to be humble, and I want to be appreciative. But then at the end of the time, he said, Well, Miss Susan, I just have to tell you that you nailed it. And I just took a big sigh of relief. That's the audience I want to. Yeah, you know, I mean, I want to reach a wide audience with the message. But I want to please, my black readers and not offend them. Yeah, no. So that was a grateful

Jason Frazell:

season. That's really cool. thankful for that experience. Yeah. Thanks for sharing that, Susan. All right. We're gonna wrap it up here. And I just have a couple of questions for you. So this is my, this is my, I call this my grand philosophy question. How do you see the world right now? or just in general? How are you like to answer it is a okay with me?

Susan Cushman:

Well, as an Orthodox Christian, I see the world as a temporary home. And the kingdom of God is my prominent home. If I didn't have this faith in this vision, I might be overwhelmed with despair. The state of affairs of the world at present is seemingly unending racism, poverty, violence everywhere. You know, of course, Christ said My kingdom is not of this world. And yet, my faith does not prevent me from caring about what's happening in the world, or doing my part to help. You know, it's just like, I keep I keep small bills in my car, and give them out to people on the street corners all the time. I introduced myself and asked her name, you know, and ask them to pray for me. And, and I see myself in them there. There I go, had I had some bad knocks, you know, here I am. Having had a lot of blessings and opportunities that they might not have had, you know, yeah. So, um, I think the most important thing that I've done to help though, is writing and especially is writing this For john and Mary Margaret and also my book about Alzheimer's, tangles and plaques I've gotten, a lot of people said it really helped them in their journey with their loved one who has Alzheimer's. So as I say, the world is a place that is suffering. That is in a lot of pain. It's not my final resting place. But while I'm here, I want to do everything I can. Yeah.

Jason Frazell:

Susan, we've talked about the latest book, and I'm all the books, all the books are available on on Amazon. bookstores can order them hardcopy paperback. What about? You mentioned your blog a few times? Is your blog still available for people to check out? Is that something that's still out there?

Susan Cushman:

Yeah, it's on my website, www dot Susan Cushman calm. Within the website. There's the blog.

Jason Frazell:

Great. And so you you practically mentioned it, you've got the website, because we were just talking about power, the different ways people can connect with you. The last way that I was asked authors about is can people follow you on Goodreads? I'm a Goodreads user. Yeah,

Susan Cushman:

absolutely. Goodreads, Instagram, Twitter. All of those cool I'm pretty active on I love social media. Yeah, it's great. They're a lot. That's fine.

Jason Frazell:

I will put all of your links in the show notes so people can connect with you on Twitter, on and on Instagram, connect with Susan on Goodreads, go out, grab the book, john and Mary Margaret. Sounds amazing. I can't wait to check it out. My I'm gonna My parents are going to like this book, too. My parents are very active in racial justice issues as well. I think they're and they My parents are similar. And they're a couple years younger than you also married very young. They're from Kansas. So not the deep south. But definitely, you know, like, kind of in the middle there. Midwest. Yeah, Midwest, but you know, there's some racial stuff that happened in my family as well. Like, there's definitely some, some biases on one side of my family. So I just want to congratulate you on the latest book. Thank you so much for being on with us today. Thank you. As I have all my guests do, I'd love if you would leave us with words, words of wisdom. And these should be some short and sweet words of wisdom. Oh, would you like to leave that on a post? It could fit on a post it note what writer? What writer doesn't have post it notes? Very. Yeah. What do you got for Susan?

Susan Cushman:

Um, well, you asked me about this ahead of time, so I had some time to think about it. I wrote something on several post it notes. And like a typical Arthur crumbled him up and threw him away and decided instead of my own words, I'm going to share the words of one of my favorite writers from Mississippi, Eudora Welty, and Eudora Welty makes two cameo appearances in my book, john and Mary Margaret, because Mary Margaret becomes friends with her when she's 14 and 18 years old. And they live in the same neighborhood, because I lived in that neighborhood, right? Where Eudora Welty his house in the early 70s. And but I never got to meet her. So I feel like I got to know her through my character, Mary Margaret. And so here's what Eudora Welty, I think, would say about my book, john and Mary, Margaret, and other books that people write that they feel like, isn't are important. Great fiction shows us not how to conduct our behavior, but how to feel. Eventually, it may show us how to face our feelings, and face our actions, and to have new Inklings about what they mean. A good novel of any year can initiate us into our own new experience.

Jason Frazell:

Beautiful. Thank you so much, Susan. Thank you, Jason. Pleasure to be on. Thank you so much. enjoyed it.