Buddy Cushman Art

engaging stories of hope and joy

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Interview With Author W.B. Cushman


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 an interview with new author W.B. Cushman of Portland, Oregon. The interview was conducted by phone from Everglad’s home office in Orleans, Massachusetts.


Everglad: Welcome to the world of published authors Mr. Cushman, and congratulations on your new book “Ring Around the Rosy“.

Cushman: Thank you Clarissa.

Everglad: This is your first?

Cushman: Yes. My first ever. I’ve had one short story published in a Weasel Press Anthology September 2015. But, this is my book.

Everglad: It’s an interesting story, one I enjoyed very much. We’ll get, in a minute, to some of the specifics. I understand that when you began your tale of Rosy and Teddy and Matt it was not with the idea of writing a novel.

Cushman: That’s true. At the time, in the Spring and Summer of 2015, I was committing myself to fiction. I’d been publishing a Blog for about a year then, the posts generally autobiographical in nature. Anyway, I’d begun writing short stories and submitting them to on-line magazines requesting submissions. I don’t remember which particular magazine this was for, but one of the sites was requesting a story that required an apocalyptic setting and at least one character with what would be considered a major disability.

Everglad: How did that venture morph from a short story to the now-published novel?

Cushman: There was a word limit, I believe it was 7000 though it could have been 5000. In short order I flew past the limit and made the decision I would just keep going and see where the story took me.

Everglad: Could you explain “see where the story took me”?

Cushman: There are probably as many different ways to write a story as there are writers. One way would to be thoroughly organized, creating an outline with plot development, character and setting detail, pretty much having it figured out. I would say I’m at the opposite end of the spectrum. Most of the stories I write, and now this novel, I have an idea for a beginning and nothing beyond that. Seriously, it’s rare that I know where a story is headed, and I almost never know who’s going to show up to tell the story.

Everglad: Is writing that way anxiety producing? Don’t you worry you’ll bog down, get stuck?

Cushman: Yes, and that’s happened a few times. But, more often than not, an idea appears. Or a new character. In “Rosy”, for instance, I began the book with only three characters in mind, the three you mentioned. But when those three arrived back in their hometown, following the apocalyptic event in which the entire planet of Earth was cooked by a solar intrusion through the atmosphere, all of a sudden there were four younger kids hiding in the ruins of a private school. And we meet them when one calls out, “Halt. Who goes there?” Which for me is pretty cool. Who wouldn’t want to write those words in a story? It’s like a ticket right back to childhood.

Everglad: So, new characters appear, almost as if by magic. How did you come up with their names?

Cushman: Felix, Les, Cal, and Marvin? I don’t know exactly. I tried to picture each kid and a name that would work for him. If I can sidebar here for a minute, and this could be a much longer conversation, but one of the thrilling aspects of writing fiction for me is being able to create something out of nothing. Before I wrote “Rosy” there was no Felix Sylvia, an 11-year old living in Marion, Massachusetts in 2018. There’s probably someone with that name, maybe lots of someones. But not my someone. And how cool is that? And Sylvia was a name in my hometown growing up, a Portuguese name. I had a friend named Bruce with that last name. So, I get to honor and make jokes with myself and do whatever I want. Which is a complete joy of writing fiction.

Everglad: Writers have always been encouraged to know much more about their characters than they share on the pages, know everything about them, their habits, their likes and dislikes, the names of their pets, etc. Was that part of your process in writing your book?

Cushman: I would be giving myself way too much credit if I said yes. That would involve more attme-writingention to detail and devotion to being at my absolute best than I’m generally able to amp up – for anything. It’s a goal, to know future characters that well. To be able to tell you the name
of Felix’s dog. Maybe it’s Taffy. So, my best answer to your question is a little bit. I know each of them, and all the characters in the book, as individuals. I’d know each one if I met them on the street as a group. Ditto for Peter Frates and Cat Levesque and everyone else who adds their voice to this journey. Of course, when Victoria created the cover, and had a very particular Rosy and a Teddy and a Matt looking out at me, well, that was a little discombobulating.

End of Part One





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Monday Morning Pages — Notebook Number 29

I started reading “The Great Gatsby” downstairs in the recliner this morning, early, and twenty-five minutes later began thinking I really know next to nothing and have paid almost no attention in most of the years of my life, and have forgotten nearly all of the things I did see and half-heartedly committed to memory. In other words, so I’ll never be a writer. This follows the rejection I received last night of my most recent short story, the feedback being very direct and clear, with little encouragement.

So now today beings with me having to push through the mush of ancient stories — stories that say I’m not good enough and I’ll never be good enough and why kid myself of any hope to be a successful writer. Yes, those old as the hills stories, the genre of “who am I kidding”.

So there are two choices — and the older I get the more I am coming to believe that there are only two choices in every situation, kind of a yes and a no thing — in this case accepting that I will never write anything that will engage and entertain a large group of readers, large defined as in the thousands and really in the tens of thousands, and so why kid myself. Go on and do something else at which you will have a better chance for some success — though at this point in my life I have no idea what that might be. Or, door number two, carry on my wayward son. Keep on keepin’ on. Try, as Janis, said, just a little bit harder.

Now, practically speaking,  on the one hand I am early morning comparing my writing ability — if there’s really any of that at all — with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s. So there is that. And on the other hand — and as Henry David Thoreau said, I talk so much about me because I know no other subject so well — I have a six decades history of rarely plunging all the way in, with everything I’ve got, to whatever it is I’m on to now. Which now, in this now case, is writing. Being a writer. So give up because I’m just not very good and almost certainly not good enough. Or try just a little bit harder.

Actually the choice feels clear. Since 2011 when I left my somewhat jokingly defined “career” in human services, I have met a guy and co-wrote and created a CD of original music; picked up a paint brush and painted some paintings and had some shows and sold some greeting cards; and taken a creative writing class at Portland State and embarked on a path with some very specific goals to become a successful writer. Maybe not as good or successful as F. Scott Fitzgerald or the authors I like to read, but successful still.

This feels like the last house on the left on a dead-end street. And so, I write on.

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Check Your Shoes (Before Entering the House)

There are eight million canine stories in the city. This is “Check Your Shoes (Before Entering the House).

I went for a walk the other afternoon, and just before walking I asked The Universe to supply me with an idea – some image, a word, a phThe Dogsrase, a sacred vision – for a subject for my Thursday blog post. I was walking down by Johnson Creek, and the idea came to write about walking in the woods. I also thought about the creek water, and rivers, and writing about rivers by which I have closely lived, and how they are unique, each there own. I was leaning toward that. And then I happened to look down and saw I was about to step in a pile of dog excrement. In Portland. Here. And I knew The Universe had answered. I had my tale.

Let me tell you something about Portland. There is a militancy here about cleaning up after your dog. No, I take that back. It is more like a flat-out, crazily obsessed, dogmatic militancy. You must clean up after your dog. We have ways of knowing if you do. Or – perish the thought – if you do not. Punishment will be severe.

Actually I have never seen a “punishment will be severe” sign posted. But there are signs to “pick up” posted throughout the city, certainly at walking parks. And parks that have sections reserved for dogs-off-the-leash-freeness. And there are receptacles. Everywhere. With blue doggie bags. To use for, you know, cleanliness is next to dogliness. Some are just bags. Many are blue, made of the kind of plastic outlawed in California and no doubt soon in Oregon. Others are clear. Boxes of dog bags everywhere. Some are in the shape of plastic gloves, making the grabbing and scooping and retrieving process lickedly-split quick and easy. But those boxes are only for convenience. Not really necessary. Because dog walkers everywhere in Portland carry their own bags, like boys use to carry Trojans – just to be ready, just in case. Everywhere people are leaving their homes with plastic bags, gloves, receivers and retrievers of all shapes in their back pockets. Or their purses. Because that’s the way we roll here.

So, imagine my surprise – lost in reverie about my next wildly engaging blog post of nature, rivers, spirituality – to look down as my foot was about to fall squarely in a big pile of dog shit. (Author’s note: as it is my intention always to write blog posts that are available for readers of all ages, the aforementioned dog shit will be hereafter noted as “DS”.) Anyway, the shock, the fear, the loss of breath, the……………….

Um, excuse me. That is not how I felt. Don’t tell Portland people I am saying this, but I looked down, I was about to step in DS, and I – oh my God! – moved my foot. The canniness, the stealth, the jaguar-like speed of decision making. I moved my foot, I thought I had a blog topic, and I kept walking. Here’s why. It’s a where and a when. I’m from Massachusetts and I am from back in the day. Ah, the day. That day. Back when we would go out to play, really play, run through back yards, back and forth across streets and the little grassy areas between streets and sidewalks, run through baseball fields and empty lots and parks by schools and parks by rivers and parks by the woods, and inevitably, invariably, run through DS. Like, you know, not a big deal. Like, you know, normal. If you went out to play and you didn’t come back with at least a smidgeon of DS still on the bottom of your sneaker, even after all the rubbing on grass or twisting your ankle to get it off the sides, even using a twig or stick to scrape it off the bottom, if you didn’t come back with at least a trace of the brown stuff and just a twinkle of a smell – were you really playing? Had you even gone out? Were you like, maybe, the biggest wuss in your hometown? Come on!! Live free with DS or die.

DS on your shoes was a way of life – a damn badge of honor – and I’m glad I lived in that place and that time. Because it’s not like that here, it’s not like that anymore. Now, you don’t clean up after your dog, it may be a criminal intervention, it may be a fine, possibly public ridicule in The Oregonian. But for sure it will be a seething, glowering mob mentality, a righteous umbrage at the insensitivity and, well, dogged disrespect, for the way things are. They way we do it here. The way we roll.

Sometimes, when I’m in a really “bad” mood – and by “bad” I mean to say really “good” – I make a plan to go to the local shelter, rescue some unwanted mutt, bring him or her home and feed ’em a couple of large cans of B & M beans, and then run through the streets and parks of Portland, my dog pooping and farting and fouling all of the greenness here, there, and everywhere, again, and again, and again.

Because that is how me and my dog, who by the way I will name “TheGoodOldDays”, roll.


Gone But Never Forgotten

“Well, I guess that’s it.”

Royal Davis said that in 1964. It was later in September, after we had tried a few more times to keep our club going. We just couldn’t do it.

Two years earlier, right after school started when we were in the seventh grade, Royal and Bruce Sylvia and me decided one day after playing football on Royals’ front lawn that we were going to start a secret club. We called it “The Boys Club”. Only the three of us were members. Royal lived six houses down from me on High Street, right where Route 6 came up the hill and kept going up past the town hall on the way to New Bedford. His father was a Doctor and they had a lot of money. It was a big white house with a nice lawn that ran between the house and Route 6. When we played football there we often had built in fans, people sitting in their cars waiting for the light to change on Route 6. It was after one of these games that we went into the garage at the end of Royal’s driveway – big enough for two cars and a second floor loft, and we made the decision to start a club for after school meetings. We decided that we would build the club in the space between the side of the garage and the fence that separated the next house, back towards my house. Over the next three weeks, after school and on all three Saturdays, we found pieces of lumber and some big old painters canvas sheets, and Bruce’s mother gave us four old folding chairs – our clubhouse wasn’t a total secret – and early in October we had our first meeting of “The Boys Club.”

It was so cool. We had a table of an old telephone cable wire spool and some candles and flashlights. We had a bunch of magazines we all collected and “borrowed from home” and a couple from five-finger discounts too: ‘Mad’ and ‘Field and Stream’, ‘National Geographic’, three old ‘Playboys’, and two brand new ‘Fast Cars and Fast Girls’, the ones Bruce slipped under his jacket in the 5 & 10. We had a radio too, it ran on batteries, and whenever we were just hanging out if was turned on to WBZ or WMEX — Bruce Bradley, Dave Maynard, Arnie “WooWoo Ginsberg or some other cool disc jockey playing rock and roll.

We always shook each others hands to start our meetings. We vowed to stay friends forever. Usually there was some snack one of us had smuggled out of the house, raisins or fig newtons, even m & ms. Every once in a while we pulled out a hidden stash of old pipes and a bag of cherry blend tobacco and smoked and told stories of school that day. I think it was three, maybe four times, in those two years we had a female friend, or two. There was even some kissing. Royal told us one time, alone in the club house,  that he had touched Patty Harmon’s left breast. That was a big deal.

Our club house meetings two or three afternoons a week went on for two years. Then, in the fall of 1964, it stopped working. Bruce transferred to a Catholic High School over in Dartmouth, and didn’t get home til just before five every afternoon. Royal had always been going to a private school in Marion, the next town over, but when he became a freshman his parents made him join a debating team and a scholars club and that meant he didn’t get home until much later three days a week. I just walked a few more yards over to my home town’s high school, across the parking lot from junior high, so nothing changed for me, but there was usually no one around. We tried Saturdays a couple of times, but Saturdays are best when you just get up and do what you decide to do then.

So the last Thursday in September of 1964 – when we all met after dinner –  Royal said “I guess that’s it”, and the three of us shook hands and went home. I wouldn’t have said we went our separate ways, but I guess we did. When we said goodbye to The Boys Club.

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My Time


There are eight million artist stories in the city. This is mine. This is “My Time”.

As thermione 1his tale begins I have borrowed Hermione’s wand – wasn’t it always the most powerful? – and have used it on my ancient stories. Be gone, ancient stories. Fly away, ancient stories. Flipendo.

Yes, they are gone. Now I can tell it.

Something woke me up the other night around 1:30, I don’t know what, and before I knew it I was wide awake. You know how it is, when your mind flips a switch and suddenly a bright, vibrating stream of thoughts begin parading through your head. And sleep has to go wait over in the corner. That’s how it was for me that night. Thinking this and that, rolling over, telling myself I was about to fall back asleep, then 15 minutes later rolling back over, alert and aware that there would be a sleepy tomorrow. I was thinking about my wife – just over there, blissfully in her delta place – and how she had returned a few hours earlier from a work conference in Tennessee. I was thinking about my art, and not having painted the last few days. I was thinking about my re-done Etsy Store and all my efforts to get it going, part of the reason for not painting. I was also thinking about other artists. Two artists with whom I am connected, both on my Facebook Art page www.facebook.com/67blondies , and one here personally in Portland, had posted recently sales of their work. Jennifer Beaudet had been posting progress on a new vase of flowers painting, and shortly after she put it up for sale, it was sold. You can see her work here: www.facebook.com/JBeaudetStudios . It is wonderful, she is a fabulous artist. Her work is bright, fun, colorful, engaging. And my artist friend in Portland, Sean Kalley, www.facebook.com/koldshoulderart had three of his amazingly creative paintings now up on the walls of a Portland business. He uses pastel oils, with his fingers, and the results are stunning. I was thinking that I was happy for both of them. I was also thinking that I was just a little jealous, and I had the thought that I have sold very few paintings in my four-ish years as an artist because…here it comes….I’m just not that good, my art is just not very good.

This is before I borrowed Hermione’s wand. These are my ancient stories, whispering to me. Not good enough. Not as good as. Who am I kidding? Maybe I don’t really believe it myself. Ancient stories. Somewhere, very long ago, these thoughts and/or thoughts like them found their way into my conscious and sub-conscious minds and took up residence. Therapy a couple of times, years of really hard work to live sober with honor and integrity, endless conversations with mentors and friends, had indeed turned a spotlight on these little buggers, and they have been pushed out…Mostly…But here they were, at 2:30 in the morning, stopping by again to say hello. YOUR WORK JUST ISN’T GOOD ENOUGH BUDDY.

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