Buddy Cushman Art

engaging stories of hope and joy


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Me, the Bee Gees, and Books in the Basement

 

1977 Billboard Music Awards

Lonely days, lonely nights. Where would I be without my omen?

I think that’s how it goes. Down here in the basement, the sound of tiny paws scurrying within the heating duct, spiders in the west ground-level window, unsold books, unsold paintings, unsold greeting cards, all the company a young boy needs. And, of course, Barry, Robin, and Maurice. (And Andy)

My newest book – “Dictation from the Backyard” arrives today on UPS, they promise, 50 copies destined for collector status at some point far down the road, every page numbered incorrectly, off by one (not the loneliest number), allowable by a formatter glitch and yours truly missing the obvious on three separate “proofing” opportunities. You now what — I’m blaming it all on the nights on Broadway. Anyway, all these paperbacks spilling out onto the living room floor sometime the next few hours, potential magnets for dust, leave me rocketing with sadness and I’ll start a joke, and I’m thinking about stalking customers — “Well I had to follow you though you did not want me to.” As in, tag, you’re it.

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I’d take a room full of strangers, yeah, they’ll be another “Book Signing” up at Papccino’s if they’ll still have me, it’s where I read these very poems up at the open mikeMany of my poems are about Massachusetts, lights out or on. Like a mining disaster, if you catch my cave-in. And what about caving to the obvious and buy a friend’s book and give it away, say, the 14th, poems, maybe show how deep your love is, it’s possible and all the while participating in someone else’s journey in a helping way, which Thoreau (another Bay State boy) told us all there ain’t nothing better. Buying all these Words.

I was meditating then,
That summer,
In a chair
In a spare bedroom,
But I took to meditating while standing
In the imperfect silence
Of my afternoon meadow visits.
Stand up on the edge,
Undercover through bushes and trees
The crowd unaware,
I’m still,
I’m empty,
I’m large,
Suntanned skin tickled, tricked by the breeze off the nearby sea
Aware of sliding sweat
Gravity’s friend
Down my back.
Aware hot tires rolling over tar,
Aware the soft slap
Of runners’ shoes, behind,
Passing.
Passing.

 

Run to me.

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Rap-sody in the Rain

I was on the phone with my main man Provincetown Keith the other afternoon. He was in a van with his squeeze Sally, tooling down US 287 west out of Lawton, Oklahoma with a destination somewhere around greater Amarillo, TX in mind. Keith is one of my three spiritual advisers (which include him, head East Bay drug czar Gavin O. in Oakland, CA, and my wife Susan, currentlyLawton upstairs doing something healthy and useful.) I’d called Keith because I was in need of spiritual advice.

I was out on a walk and it had begun raining — well, here in Portland, perhaps I should more accurately say it had resumed raining — anyway, water was oozing down from the sky and I was attempting to protect my non-waterproof smart phone by holding it up somewhere between the collar of my raincoat and the brim of my Red Sox baseball cap, my right arm curled up and around in some Dali-like abstraction of human anatomy, and still keep the microphone end of the phone pointed toward me because I was in need of spiritual counseling, I was in need of comfort — comfort from my own anguished thoughts and — what I was about to admit — escalating resentments.

So I laid it out for Keith, after perfunctory “what’s ups?” and “good to hear your voice Bro’s”, I’ve published a new book, it’s my second book of poetry, it’s my fourth overall, and I’ve sold just three copies (not counting the eBooks my wife and I both ordered on differing electrical devices) and what do you have to do, how much begging will be enough, and yes, okay, I did quote from Rilke the question of whether or not I would die if I didn’t write, which feels strongly like an affirmative for me so, yeah, the writing’s the thing, and also asked, as a devilish advocate, if you write a book or write anything for that matter and no one reads it, like what’s the point? And Keith, and he’s good at this, interrupted repeatedly through his laughter saying “Dude, you’ve got your own answer”, and me firing back then why don’t I just write, say, the greatest book of poetry ever written and then run out to the backyard and set the mother on fire, and Keith said “Come one man, please, seriously?” and I said I know resentments are bad, but still, and Keith said “Ah, there….there in the ‘but still’….there’s the disease.”

It should be reported here that Keith and I met way back in the fall of 2007, just when the Red Sox were ramping up their second World Series run, at early morning meetings in Provincetown out at the tip of old Cape Cod where a whole bunch of people — who’d gotten up early to do so — spilled their guts about pain and struggle and joy and release and, yup, resentments and even feeling free at last, and pretty early on we — Keith and me — figured out we were spiritual buddies, and over these last 10 or so years we’ve taken turns at the spiritual nourishment thing depending on who needed it the most on that particular telephone call — and a sad fact is that we have not laid eyes on the person of each other since the summer of 2008, being only phone advocates of abundance and joy…..

Then I nicked the wrong thing on the side of the phone or they passed through a cell phone dead zone or a chuckling God farted or something because the phone went dead and I trudged home in the rain and they, I presume, kept motorvating west, and when I arrived home I texted Keith and said okay, I got it, that feeling of self-pity is leaving me, I get it, and the next day, maybe two days later, he messaged me and said as soon as he and Sally landed somewhere they felt like hunkering down for awhile — so as to have an address — he was gonna order both my poetry books on line and he was so proud of me and I was like a hero and other cool spiritual nourishment and comfort statements.

Meaning mostly I was comforted in the not selling any books thing because, like the men (Rilke and Keith) said, I wrote the damn things. And how cool is that.

Then, 20 minutes ago, I read a quote from Samuel Johnson in the preface to Mary Karr’s “The Art of Memoir” which said this —  “No man but a blockhead ever wrote for any cause but money.”

Which may necessitate another call to somewhere in the southwest.

Some day

I’ll fall back

Into the pattern of the world.

I’ll still be free

On the Orleans rotary.


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10,000 Revisions

Open Mike 2

I pray today is a day of no wasted time. Exactly none. I’ve been successful so far though it is only five minutes past seven in the morning. In the morning recliner I was reading the poems — a few — of Pablo Neruda from a library book of his complete works. Mostly I was reading from the lengthy introduction. From there, on the second cup of coffee, I moved on to breakfast recipes in the Tassajara Recipe book, which arrived earlier in the week via Ebay and set me back only four dollars and some cents including shipping. I took a little time to ponder over five photos of myself the resident Papaccino’s coffee shop photographer slipped me in an envelope from a local print shop as I made my way back to my seat from the microphone in the corner of the room. Two months ago I could not have imagined reading anything — a recipe, a prayer, some passage from one of Dr. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing books, anything — in front of people, having developed (I remember distinctly) a variety of panic disorder reading in front of a group of men in a brightly lit basement room in a church on Medford Ave in Somerville, MA — all with hyper-ventilations and heart interruptions and fear of not catching a new breath — ever again — meaning I have refused to read in public for more than ten years.

This morning
Gray with misunderstandings
And surrenders
Distractions of the highest order,
Golden,
Enticing in their ambiance
Welcome turnaways from
That hungry child
In the public school door.
She’s invisible.

But this was my fourth appearance up at the open mike, after one initial week of panic and refusal, and some neighborhood guy was handing me pictures of me. By the way, I look old though I can happily and honestly report I feel within my mind and spirit and soul quite the opposite, even in a world of aching knees and prescribed cholesterol medication.

Last night I read two poems from Minor Revelations and one from my second book of poetry — Dictation from the Backyard. I finished, placing my hands on the provided metal reading stand to keep the shaking less visible, with a poem I’d written only yesterday morning, I felt compelled to read it even if it didn’t feel in it’s final state — kind of like how I feel about myself….not my final state, not yet. Still, the poem is titled 10,000 Revisions, which could or could not be some metaphor for my own transformations.

Someone yelled out, after my first poem, “Did you write that?” Someone else approached me when the open mike thing was over and said he wanted to buy a copy of my book. I said I’d bring one next week. Meaning I can’t be wasting any time…..anytime.

I’ve followed you to the carnival,
Followed into the funhouse,
All it’s laughable distortions.
But see,
Here,
I hold a mirror
True in its reflection
Taken from atop the girl’s
Second-hand dresser,
A birthday gift some year back
I’ve watched her hold it
In one hand
Brush her hair with the other, and
Now I’ve borrowed it
As if it is a breaker
To be snapped closed
And cut through
The tripped darkness,
Which is intentional
And obligates me
To flip the switch.


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These Here Thoughts Today

My father – Winston H. Cushman – died early in January 1980. In Arizona. He was 68 years old. During these succeeding 38 years this question has come to, or for, me every so often – Will I live longer than 68? Longer than my Dad? Or will that be my due date too? Today I have the answer.

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It was 1949 in New Bedford, MA, when I came on the scene. Seven years later I rolled, part-way through the year, into second grade at the Pilgrim Elementary School in Wareham — my hometown. I have a poem about Allen Ginsberg and me and second grade in my first published book of poetry, “Minor Revelations”.

This one.

 

 

 

 

 

Second Grade

Massachusetts

Why wasn’t I reading Allen Ginsberg in 1956 when he was writing “America”

and I was in second grade,

Elementary, a pilgrim at Pilgrim?

Not yet reading Weekly Reader

Not yet swooning over Mary Linda

Not yet floating like a butterfly and stinging like a marshmallow

Out on recess playground

Not yet a Red Sox advocate (it’s coming) and sufferer (soon)

Not yet a political giant

Not yet crossing the race barrier

Not yet finding my howl

Not yet bunting magic bunts with my magic little league lumber

(there’s gold in them thar trees)

Not yet a bedroom boss, a bedroom baby,

a bedroom blue boy

Not yet so perpetually confused about the things I’m sure of.

I’m sure Allen would have helped,

Garden State fairy angel,

With all of my life’s poetry,

Held my metaphorical hand on endless walks with bigger daydreams

and a bigger heart.

Why’d I have to wait til now?

Massachusetts?

 

It’s a good question. About the waiting. My first sponsor — Dick M. — always told me, when I came to him moaning about this or that, he’d say, “You’re right where you’re supposed to be.”  I can’t say I always appreciated those words as an answer, but as I’ve aged I’ve come to believe more in possibilities. I guess I started getting A.G. and poetry in general when I was supposed to. Anyway, I turned 69 today and I’ve just published poetry book number two – “Dictation from the Backyard” — and I’ve managed to hang around a little longer than my Dad now, which feels more like obligation than anything else.

Expect poetry from me going forward.

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Love Is An Ocean I Can’t Forget

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I am going to the ocean tomorrow. To this place.

I came from the ocean. I know, supposedly we all did, if you’re a Darwin kind of gal or guy. But, specifically, for me, I came from the ocean side. Born in New Bedford – the Whaling City – raised in Wareham, a town filled with beach communities and bays and water all about. I graduated from Cape Cod Community College, a half mile from the Atlantic on those Main Street days, and later Salem State College, a stone’s throw from Salem Harbor/the Atlantic. I lived in Salem for many years, then off to Rockport and its peninsula self into the Atlantic for a winter, eventually to Plum Island and Newburyport, where the mighty Merrimack River flows into the cold ocean there.

When I first left Massachusetts, at age 27, I flew to Los Angeles and lived for a short while in both Venice Beach and Santa Monica. Later crashing in graduate housing at UC Irvine, hard by the Pacific, and working for a spell in San Clemente, able to take an occasional dip there or in Laguna Beach. A few years later it was New Smyrna Beach in Florida,ariel-view then Vero Beach. Back up to Mass and a year-long stint running an HIV/Aids housing program in Provincetown, a block from Cape Cod Bay. I squeezed a year and a half in Oakland, CA somewhere in there, crossing the bridge or taking BART under the San Francisco Bay, while running a kid program in the Lower Haight. Where, with the right eyes, you could see salt water from the tops of the highest hills. And certainly from Berkeley out from Blondies Pizza.

Yet somehow, within the reality of this always-by-an-ocean Bedouin life, I ended up in Portland, Oregon. Nearly 100 miles, as the raven flies, to the ocean. The Pacific. The one in the photos above. Some two hours away. Let me paraphrase “Remember the Titans”: How far? Too far? How far? Too far.

You can take the boy out of the ocean – if you must – but I don’t believe you can take the ocean out of the boy. Certainly not this boy…..Ocean si, Portland no.

I married an amazing woman

moonlight+beach+encinitasand her parents live in San Diego, and I have traveled there with her many times and everyone of those times been lucky enough to spend time in the Ocean Beach part of town. And swim there. A lot. We’ve day-tripped up to Encinitas a couple of times and swam at the gorgeous Moonlight Beach as well.

 

But most of the time, for these last eight and a half years of beach-withdrawal life in Portland, I have ached for the ocean. Deep down. I’m a beach boy. Look at my writing: “Ring Around The Rosy” and it’s ocean-side wander from Marion to Rockport; “Astoria Strange” where the Pacific sparkles and shines from the top of the Astoria Column. My current work, “When I Settle For Less“, book one of a novel set in southern California’s imaginary DeLoreal Beach.

You can’t take the boy out.

I’ve been blessed with the fact that my step-daughter Marie’s dad, my wife’s ex, owns with others a cottage three hundred yards from the Pacific Ocean in the Pacific Beach community of Tierra Del Mar. We rent it cheap for the promise of an amazing cleaning by me (and it’s always cleaner after than before), and I’ve been able to go and be there many times these last six years. The last two Marie and I – both writers – have commited to a “Writing Retreat” of five days/four nights, and I am thrilled to say our third such venture begins tomorrow. If the creek don’t rise and there ain’t no meltdown I’ll be right there, where I took those photos at the top, in a little less than 24 hours.

Get to refresh the genetic shadows deep within, of life by the water.

Get to rejoice.

"Gorgeous sunset from UC Berkeley!"


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So Many Pedestrians, …

When I moved to Portland, Oregon I had to learn a new way to cross the street. I’d grown up in Massacchildren-crossing-sign-k-7066husetts and had spent most of my life living – and crossing streets – there. Now I was living in Portland, a city of about 500,000, similar in population to Boston. The last place I had lived in Massachusetts was the town of North Truro, on Cape Cod, population about about 318. (Actually the town of Truro, of which North is part, has a population just over 2000 so I am likely underestimating – in my usual smart-alecky way – how many people live on the North side, closer to Ptown. The point is, not a lot.)

None of which is the focus of this piece. I was talking about crossing the street, and re-learning the way to take that action once I’d relocated to the Northwest. You see the title up there, up at the top of this post? It is, in fact, half of a popular bumper sticker seen periodically on the rear bumpers of cars whooshing around the Bay State. In it’s entirety it reads like this – “So Many Pedestrians, So Little Time”. If you’re a Bay Stater, you get it.

When I moved to Portland and needed to cross the street I would step to the edge of the curb or into the curb cut or even off the curb if I felt foolhardy and wanted to live dangerously – and wait. Approaching cars, somehow having seen or perhaps sensed my intention from more than half a mile away would slow down and eventually stop. Up the street from me. Being from Massachusetts, where we take it as a God-given right to actually gun the motor at the sight of someone foolishly teetering at the edge of the curb, I would wait. The car would wait. I would wave them on with my hand, cause there’s no fuckin’ way I’m stepping out there Bro. They would wave me across. I wouldn’t go. They wouldn’t go. I would feel something like frustration, like, just go you asshole. They would feel something like rage, because I was making their sensitive and kindly and well-trained in driving etiquette selves waste time, and I have little doubt that perhaps more often than not they would slide their fingers under the driver’s seat, or maybe into the purse to their right, and feel the reassurance of cold steel – locked and loaded, one in the chamber, safety off motherfucker.

What’s a boy to do? Because I know, growing up where we have bumper stickers that yearn for just a little more time, that if I step off the curb and start the dead man walking stroll across the macadam some perverted Celtics fan is going to gun that bitch and twist the wheel ever so slightly in my direction. So I don’t go and the Portland car don’t go and I wave and they wave (and sometimes you can’t actually see the face behind the wheel and it’s freaky and scary like that movie “Duel” with Dennis Weaver and the invisible truck driver, which was actually Stephen Spielberg’s very first  full-length film btw) and I mutter under my breath “dumb Portland asshole” and have no doubt that they mutter too, except in braille, with their fingers on the trigger.

And so, back to Cape Cod and without disparaging the truly lovely and inspiring town of North Truro, the fact is you’re way more likely to get gunned and runned there than with the half a million sweet automotive souls in the Rose City.

Which is mostly meaninmonday-pic-2gless – all of it I’ve just written – to this Blog post. Because this is a post about reading, about reading books, about the 50% of the United States population that continues to read books after graduation from high school, and about what I was thinking early this morning, in the blue recliner with my second cup of coffee, looking at the pile of “to be read next” books on the little wicker thingy table beside the chair, and I had this thought – “So Many Books, So Little Time.” Honest, I had that very thought. There were three books I’d just purchased at Powell’s with a Christmas gift card and two out from the library, and three old Kurt Vonnegut paperbacks and the copy of Desolations Angels I’d finally bought for myself after having read Kerouac’s book (my favorite of his) twice out of the library, and I said “Man, there are so many books to read, I’ve got to read more” and I thought “so many books” and then, as if by the magic of one bread crumb leading to another or, possibly, psychosis, the bumper sticker found on cars in Massachusetts, the one that says if I had any wish in the world – other than world peace – it would be for just a little more driving time, that popped into my head and I ran down here in the basement and turned on the computer and typed in the headline above, then went upstairs and took the picture of Steinbeck, Steinbeck, and Bradbury, had a bagel and some yogurt, looked at Twitter for a while, and then came to the keyboard – which I do quite a lot these days – and typed up this daydream about living life right, where you wait for all the cars to go by, and living life wrong, where the cars wait for you, and they’re not happy about it.

And by the way, in the spirit of full disclosure – drivers in Massachusetts are way, way, way betters drivers than drivers in Oregon and Washington and probably most everywhere else will ever be.

Word.

Stay off the road. Read a book.


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Interview With Author W.B. Cushman – Part Three

Editor’s note: Clarrisa Everglad is a former journalist, and Professor Emeritus at Cape Cod Community College in Barnstable, Massachusetts. She is the author of seven books on fiction and fiction writing, including “Show Up and Follow“, winner of four internationaltierra-del-mar-2-061 awards. She regularly interviews authors on their fiction work.

Following is Part Three of an interview with new author W.B. Cushman of Portland, Oregon. His book is “Ring Around the Rosy“. The interview was conducted by phone from Everglad’s home office in Orleans, Massachusetts.

Everglad: We’ve gone off topic, a little, away from the book which is the focus of this interview. Though the points you’ve made about the writing process, and its joy for you, are most interesting and, I believe, invaluable. I’ll want to ask you more later. But now, back to your “Rosy“. There is a small paragraph coming near the very end of the story that stands out for me, in its language and, I’d say, subject matter. I’d like to read it to you and ask for your feedback.

Cushman: Okay.

Everglad: Here it is – “The sun slid out from behind a passing cloud, and a soft breeze moved across the land and out over the ocean. If there were seagulls they would have been making their seagull calls. Minnows would swim around eddies in sand pools created by the eternal waves, and small brown and gray pipers would chase the tiny fish back and forth, playing tag with the rhythm of the watery world.”  It’s quite lovely, for me as a reader, and different in the power of its imagery from much of the rest of the book.

Cushman: Thank you, Clarrisa, for bringing that paragraph into our conversation. It may be my favorite paragraph in the book. If I can take a minute I’ll explain why.

Everglad: Please do.

Cushman: My favorite genre in fiction writing has always been mystery. I love speculative and horror, if its good – like Stephen King’s – and lots of science fiction. Clearly Rosy falls into a speculative category, and most of my writing – “Astoria Strange” and another collection of stories I’m gathering for publication down the road, “Collected Strays” – is horror and science fiction in nature. But, there is something about mysteries, Detective mysteries, that satisfy me most. Perhaps my favorite mystery writer is author James Lee Burke. He has a series of maybe 20 books with a character named Dave Robicheau that is outstanding – the plots, the characterizations, the ongoing story line. But, what sets him apart from other famous and successful mystery writers is, for me, the power of setting he creates with language – language that allows the reader, transports the reader, to be there completely, to see it, hear it, touch it, smell it, experience it. There is a majestic poetry to Burke’s writing. And, to the point you raised, Professor, that is an ongoing goal of mine, as a writer, to use words to pull the reader thoroughly and willingly into my story. It’s a goal, like I said, and at this point in my time as an author I’m nowhere close to where I want to be. Having said that, the paragraph you quoted is me moving toward that place. The story of Rosy and all her traveling companions is coming to an end, at least in this book, and, for me, the end feels so much like a pause.  So into this pause comes a memory, told as an ‘if only’ – if only life as Rosy and her friends knew it continued to exist. Then seagulls would be seagulls and the tides would come and go, with shoreline inhabitants doing there forever shoreline things. I stopped at that paragraph, when I got there, and tried to infuse it with a Burke-like sense of thusness. Look and hear, and you will know this and remember, what’s gone now. In a way coming in a complete circle back to a sticky summer day in August when kids went to aquariums and the waves in Buzzards Bay licked the hurricane wall in New Bedford Harbor.

Everglad: That’s well said Mr. Cushman. Your explanation with a poetry of its own. And I do know Burke, and like you, I am a fan. I also appreciate your honesty, that to write with the sense of majesty you describe is, for you, a goal, that you are not there yet.

Cushman: I’m nowhere near there. But it’s good to have goals.

Everglad: I would hope that every writer would hope to improve with each passing day, and story. Do you have a plan to help you on that path?

Cushman: I read a lot. Maybe four or five books a month. I’d like to read mbooksore. In his book “On WritingStephen King says the two most important things a writer can do are read a lot and write a lot. So those activities are certainly the foundation for becoming a better writer. Which includes reading books about writing. I just mentioned King’s, which is my favorite. Another that’s important to me is Ray Bradbury’s “Zen and the Art of Writing”. Those are both autobiographical as well as instructional. There’s a third book as important for me and that is “The Art of Fiction” by John Gardner, which is more of a textbook.

Everglad: It is a very important book for any aspiring writer.

Cushman: I took a class – Fiction Writing – at Portland State University, either in the Fall of 2014 or 2015, I can’t remember. One of the reading assignments was the first chapter of Gardner’s book. Upon my first reading I had the reaction that there was an arrogance in the writing, what he was saying. I remember saying that in class, and I’m pretty sure I remember the Professor chuckling, or something like that. Anyway, for some reason, a couple of months later, I ended up going on Ebay and buying the book. A brand new paperback copy. Now I’ve read through it at least twice, it’s marked up and highlighted and underlined, meaning I’ve made it my book, and like I said, it’s become very important for me – as a student of writing.

Everglad: What about it speaks to you, and if you can, please relate that to your writing of your newly published book.

Cushman: In the second chapter of the book – which for me is the bonanza – Gardner says, “Fiction does its work by creating a dream in the reader’s mind.” Further in the chapter he says, “What counts in conventional fiction must be the vividness and continuity of the fictional dream the words set off in the reader’s mind.” That, for me, is the highlight statement in the book, and the thought I carry all the time I am at the keyboard, or brainstorming with myself on a yellow legal pad. What I ask myself – Am I continuously engaging the reader with the vividness of my writing? That is The Question, and I emphasize those two words, for me and my writing. So, with Rosy, the feedback I’ve received so far would indicate that I have had at least some degree of success in the continuity of the story maintaining reader interest, in a couple of cases people asking about a potential sequel, wanting to know what happens next. I’d like to think that I was able to move forward from the story’s apocalyptic beginning and create first three and then more characters who mattered, who were worth caring about, characters that hopefully people could identify with. And want to travel across the state of Massachusetts with, and see how it turned out for them. And that was true as well, I hope, for Peter Frates, an entirely different character with a completely distinct milieu of emotions from the kids, but someone you could still root for. And hopefully I maintained a continuity describing the day-to-day physical survival needs and activities as well. The other part, the vividness of the writing, I guess every reader will decide that for themselves. I think it goes back to the earlier conversation of writing with a majesty like James Lee Burke. It’s good, and in places very good, and hopefully I can do better.

Everglad: Every question, and every answer, incites further questions. There is so much more to talk about. Marvin’s mother, why you wrote her the way you did? What was your level of research for the book? How is it that a second character with Down Syndrome appears? And of course a number of questions about the narrator and your choice of perspective. I ‘d call it an omniscient third person, with an attitude.

Cushman: I’m yours for as long as you need me, Professor.