Spring 2014 Update
One day soon, I will wander down to my mailbox to find that my very cool postman, Kevin Kumpulanian, has left a long-awaited piece of mail: an actual copy of my new book, "This Is Paradise: An Irish Mother's Grief, an African Village's Plight and the Medical Clinic That Brought Fresh Hope to Both." It'll complete the circle that began nearly four years ago, when I told the one-and-only Tommy Shea that I wanted to write something about Mags Riordan, of Ireland's County Kerry, and the clinic she founded in Malawi, in honor of son Billy Riordan, who died while on holiday there. Tommy's reply: "That's a book." In a few weeks, it indeed will be.
The first time a new-book-arrival happened to me will be 20 years ago this May, when the first copies of my first book and first novel, "Selling the Lite of Heaven," arrived in the mail. I spent the rest of the day driving around the area, introducing this new creation to friends and relations. Highlights of that day: pulling over at the house of my cousins John and Ann Iwanicki, now of Florida but then of Springfield – John was mowing the lawn and I ran after him, waving the book – "Look at this!"; and stopping at the home of my dear former colleague, the late Elsie Osterman, who for so long was my trusted and eagle-eyed final reader and who subsequently fussed over every first copy's arrival. I've had nine books published since, and the thrill upon the arrival of an actual finished copy has never diminished. Don't be surprised if you see me driving in your direction, new book in hand, in the next few weeks.
A few folks have gotten to read it so far, including Mags Riordan and Tommy Shea, along with my new publisher, Peter Sarno of PFP Publishing – and I'm also starting to get some lovely blurbs, two of which are destined for the cover.
I'm so grateful for the early kudos from Ann Hood, author of "Comfort: A Journey Through Grief," and editor of the "Knitting Yarns" anthology, who says: "We hear about the triumph of the human spirit a lot. But Mags Riordan personifies the idea. In This is Paradise, Suzanne Strempek Shea takes on her extraordinary journey and shows us the power of a mother's love."
And big thanks, too, to Marianne Leone, author of "Jesse, A Mother's Story," and another "Knitting Yarns" contributor, who calls "This Is Paradise" "An important book not only for those who have suffered loss, but for anyone who seeks to understand how the act of giving assuages the singular torment of the grieving parent." "Comfort: A Journey Through Grief" and Jesse, A Mother's Story" are two of my all-time-favorite books – each will change you deeply, along with how you view loss and loving what remains - so I'm all the more honored by the words from their authors.
Another very important pair of eyes on this project belongs to author M.P. Barker, with whom Tommy and I wrote "140 Years of Providential Caring: The Sisters of Providence of Holyoke, Massachusetts," which was published last year. M.P. herself is celebrating a new book, the captivating and pitch-perfect historical novel "Mending Horses," but found time to do a final edit of "This is Paradise." Elsie would approve of M.P.'s great ability to find a misspelling, or question a word or line – I cannot recommend her highly enough to any writer looking for someone who will spot each and every glitch on the pages and hand back a manuscript that's all the better because of her reading it.
M.P. and I will be doing a variety of book events together in the coming months. Please check the schedule on this page, which begins with my first reading of "This is Paradise," April 23 at Broadside Bookshop in Northampton, Mass. I'll be sharing the evening with poet and friend Kathleen Aguero, who'll be reading from her new book, "After That."
The second event will be back in my home town, on May 2 at 7 p.m. at Palmer Historical and Cultural Center, 2072 Main St. in Three Rivers, Mass., where my reading will be followed by a talk on The Akaa Project started in Ghana by Mary, Lauren, Julia and Michael Grimanis of Wayland, Mass. I've known Mary since childhood, and she and her family are examples of regular folks who, not unlike Mags Riordan did in Malawi, saw a need in a community (this one far from home) and responded. A free-will donation to the PHCC will be asked at the door. Ghanaian crafts will be sold, along with my books.
The schedule continues and will be updated as I add more events – something that's happening often these days, I'm happy to say. If you're part of a library, a book club or an organization that would like me to speak about or read from "This is Paradise," please write me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm booking for the spring and early summer, and then for October on, as I'll have another book out from PFP that month. Stay tuned for the novel "Make a Wish But Not for Money," about a palm reader in a dead mall.
Other things keeping Tommy and me busy including preparing for the return of Saw Doctors Leo Moran and Anthony Thistlethwaite, who'll kick off a second American tour at the Palmer Historical and Cultural Center at 7 p.m. on April 4 and 5. Tickets are $25 and will be sold in advance only. We had a super time when the lads played the hall last September, to two sold-out crowds. If you're interested in being part of their return, please e-mail me at email@example.com.
So I'll close by wishing you happy spring, though I'm one of the minority who will be sorry to see winter go. I just love winter, and the more snow the better – so you can imagine I was quite happy over the past five months. If you happen to be a fan of summer, and of fantastic places to write and workshop, think about joining me on New Brunswick's Campobello Island Thursday, Aug. 14, to Sunday, Aug. 17, for Iota: The Conference of Short Prose. Details are at www.cclc.me/iota
Thanks, everybody. And here's to your finding something amazing in your own mail.
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