Suzanne Strempek Shea

January 2016 Update

Dear Reader -

Thank you for being part of another busy year for me. Busy is a nice problem to have.

I took a look at my calendar, which is serving its last days on the kitchen wall before I replace it with a new one featuring Nina Galicheva’s gorgeous photos from Blue Star Equiculture, the draft horse rescue right down the road from me. Blue Star has become an important part of my life in the last year. I’ve been a fan and supporter since former Philadelphia carriage driver Pamela Rickenbach opened the place in 2007, but for the past year and a half or so the stars have aligned to allow me regular swaths of time to spend there, doing what I can to help out with the 32 homeless and/or disabled working horses, many of whom once were used in the carriage trade in New York City and Philly. Since January of 2015, Susan Tilton Pecora and I have been spending lots more time there as we gather images and inspiration for a book we’re doing on a year at the farm. I’ve been writing short essays to go with Susan’s lovely paintings that swoop through the past year at Blue Star. We can’t say enough about this good and true home for unwanted horses that otherwise might be headed right for the slaughterhouse. We’re hoping our book, which we’d like to have out in another year or so, will help spread the word about the good done on this farm.

Susan Tilton Pecora does book research while volunteering at Blue Star Equiculture, leading the lovely Lucy into the barn.

When I’ve wasn’t at Blue Star this year, doling out grain, mucking stalls, smashing frozen water troughs, taking rides under the Supermoon, falling in love with the latest horse to arrive, here are some of the things that have had me on the run:

Teaching nonfiction once again at the January residency of the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast MFA program was, once again, a joy, as was returning from Maine to begin my annual spring creative writing class at Bay Path University down here in Massachusetts.

Annie Deppe enjoyed the snow that fell just for her at Bay Path.
Soon after the semester began, my Stonecoast stars Ted Deppe and Annie Deppe arrived at Bay Path all the way from their home in Co. Galway, Ireland, to be the university’s poets/writers in residence for a week, speaking to classes including mine and giving a reading at a public event. They’re dear friends and it was a thrill to have them here.


The Deppes also were part of Bay Path’s eleventh Writers’ Day, on Valentine’s Day, along with Roland Merullo, Bruce DeSilva, Charles Coe and Penny Guisinger.

The next month, heading to Western Mass. from a little farther away than Ireland was Mags Riordan, who returned to the area in March for three weeks of events promoting the Billy Riordan Memorial Clinic in the African nation of Malawi, and my book “This Is Paradise,” on Mags and her founding of the clinic in honor of her son. Big thanks to all who hosted us: The Mountain Road/Suffield (Conn.) book club, Cathy Les’ gathering, the Centerville (Mass.) library and the Cape Cod Sheas who provided lodging, the Irish Heritage Center of Portland, Maine, and the sweet Sawyers, the Wells (Maine) Public Library, the West Springfield Library, the Kingston, Mass., Library and Casa Cooper/Leone for the great pre-event gathering, the Ludlow/Wilbraham Rotary Clubs, and the Sandwich (Mass.) Public Library.

Mags, Suzanne Meserve (Billy’s Malawi USA director) and I take part in Meals for Malawi in the Sandwich, Mass. Library parking lot prior to an event.

Since “This Is Paradise” was published in April of 2014, it’s been a great pleasure to connect readers with Mags, and to spread the word of her work farther afield. She and I are very grateful for all those who’ve read the book, and who are now supporting the clinic via events and/or direct donations. If you have any end-of-the-year cash burdening your pockets right now, remember that the is a 501c-3 registered charity in this country, and any donations can figure in your tax forms for the year. Plus, you’ll feel pretty good simply from donating to this clinic that in 11 years has served 300,000 people in an area that prior to the clinic’s opening had one doctor for 800,000 people.

Tommy hits Hibbing, Minn.

April found Tommy and me bound for the Association of Writers and Writing Programs convention in Minneapolis. I was honored to be on two panels (Libby Cudmore and Matthew Quinn Martin’s “You've Been Telling Me You Were a Genius Since You Were 17: Five Writers Reel In Their Earliest (and Often Embarrassing) Efforts” and Helen Peppe’s "’Photographic’ Memory, Why all Memoirists Tell Imperfect Truths.”). I took the geographic opportunity to bring Tommy to Duluth, birthplace of both Ted Deppe and Bob Dylan. We also visited Hibbing, Minnesota, where the Zimmermans moved when Bob was 7. Big thanks to Duluth tour guides Zane Bail and Donald Dass, and our Hibbing guides Joe and Mary Keyes. If you are any level of Bob fan and want the tour of a lifetime, contact these folks. Especially with Uncle Bob’s 75th birthday fast approaching…

June brought another “Are You a Bookie?” book club/reader celebration at Bay Path, with Karen Shepard our keynoter, and the rest of the panelists Durham Caldwell, Nina Gaby, Bernadette Duncan Harrison and Ellen Meeropol. It’s always a treat to gather authors and readers and books, and this annual event also includes cake. You cannot go wrong. Many thanks to all who attended, and also to New England Public Radio for selecting my latest novel, “Make a Wish But Not For Money,” as one of its summer reading selections. I visited the studio on the morning of an early summer monsoon yet the chance to be interviewed by Karen Brown was worth every soggy step down the street.

Bay Path MFA students motor toward Great Blasket Island.

July held Stonecoast’s annual summer residency, and two days after returning home from Maine, Tommy Shea and I boarded a plane to Ireland for Bay Path University’s MFA program’s first summer field seminar. We led a week of workshops, talks and readings in Dingle, Co. Kerry, where fifteen writers from the program and beyond, and from across the country and Canada, soaked up the wisdom of Ann Hood, Ted Deppe, Annie Deppe, Tommy Shea, Richard Hoffman, Brenda Ni Shuilleabhain, and Leo Moran of the Saw Doctors, who spoke about writing the home town, and sang some prime examples on the final day of the week. Interested in joining us for another week of writing in Ireland? Let me know, at

Cazenovia College in Cazenovia, N.Y., asked me to be its first Washburn lecturer back in 2007, and invited me back in September to speak again. This time, Tommy came along, and spoke to the school’s journalism students. A big plus was reuniting with Professor Grazyna and her husband, former Cazenovia Librarian Stan Kozackza, icons at the school and dear friends.

Lucky Bay Path had Alexis Paige as writer in residence in October, and her week included visits to classes and a reading for the public, plus a talk at the university’s twelfth Writers’ Day, which included Alexis, along with speakers Bernadette Duncan Harrison, Nina Gaby, Ellen Meeropol, Helen Peppe and Bunny Goodjohn, Doug Anderson, Nell Lake, Helen Peppe and yours truly.

Malawi is not right next door but Mags had a fine reason to make her second trip from there to Western Mass. in the one year. Danny Eaton, founder and director of the Majestic Theater in West Springfield, has written a play based on “This Is Paradise.” A reading of “Mags: A Conversation with an Audience,” with Cate Damon as Mags, was held in early November.

Taking questions, along with Suzanne Meserve, who first brought the book to Danny Eaton’s attention. Thank you, Suzanne!

Cate’s spellbinding performance before a full house was followed by a Q&A with her, Danny, Mags and me. I’m so grateful to Danny for wanting to tell Mags’ story in this way, to Cate for “being” Mags so marvelously, to Mags for saying yes to the story in the first place, and to all who attended and were so supportive. So many of the crowd were readers who were with me from the very first reading of the very first book. That’s 21 years now. I’m just flabbergasted by your goodness.

We’re hoping “Mags” will be staged at the Majestic in 2016.

As for the actual Mags, her two-week stay had us visiting the Wilbraham United Women’s Evening Fellowship, The Palmer Rotary Club, Brimfield Congregational Church, Arts at the Capital Theater (the arts magnet school in Willimantic, Conn.), Duxbury Free Library, and an evening with Mary Ekmalian and her friends in New York City.

One of my writing-related passions is dealing with trauma. It was an honor to be part of PEN New England’s first Writing and Trauma Conference, a day of talks and panels held in November at Regis College.

Other stops along the way this year: Odyssey Bookshop, Broadside Books, Topsfield Town Library, Storrs Library, Palmer Public, Holyoke Barnes and Noble, Dingle Bookshop, West Stockbridge Library, Somers Library, Stowe Library, Bacon Free Library, Westfield Athenaeum, Holyoke Rotary Club, Regis College, River Valley Market, Sixteen Acres Library, Granby Free Library, Hitchcock Free Academy.

The last month of the year included meeting with the Springfield Technical Community College book club and accepting a surprise alumni honor granted to Rosie Pilch, the main character of “Make a Wish” who in the book graduated from STCC.  I also enjoyed fun night of sweater-and-bookselling at the Chicopee, Mass. home of Mary Ellen Lowney, who in 2001 introduced me to Dingle knitwear designer Fran Ryan.

The cover hits it out of the park.
I’ve helped Fran sell her beautiful work at the Big E in Western Mass and at sales in Ireland, and am grateful for those memories. And am super grateful to Fran for her introducing me to Mags Riordan in 2004. That’s when I first heard about the Billy Riordan Memorial Clinic, and a place called Paradise. The start of a journey, a circle, the start of so many wonders.


Throughout, it was great to watch Tommy write an edit a book that will be out this coming April. “Dingers: The 101 Most Memorable Home Runs in Baseball History” will be published April 6 from Skyhorse Press. It’s co-written by Joshua Shifrin and it’s sure to keep both writers on the speaking and signing trail throughout the baseball season.

Both of us hope to see you along the way, Yankee fan or not….

Thanks again and all the best to you in 2016.


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