Suzanne Strempek Shea

May Update

Last post, I was waiting for the hum of the mail truck up the driveway, and Postman Kevin delivering the very first copies I’d see 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." Mail usually arrives here around 10 a.m. By noon there was nothing in the box. At 5, I checked again. Nothing, even though the package tracking had said it had been delivered. Tommy, Leo and Anto were at a house concert, the dogs were at Camp Barksalot. The house was quiet. I read student work, started an essay, kept listening. Even though I was certain Postman Kevin by now was back home putting his feet up after a long day, I kept thinking I’d hear truck. Rain began. I imagined the package delivered hours earlier but somehow claimed by one of the neighboring critters – most likely a literary-minded one – who’d dragged it into the woods for use as a nest or bedtime reading. I suited up for rain, grabbed the flashlight and headed out. I checked the edge of the woods. Along the fence. While down the hill, I gave another look in the mailbox, but didn’t expect anything. And isn’t that just when things happen?

Seeing your book for the first time can be a surreal. Being traditionally published truly is some form of winning the lottery. So many hope for it, but due to a stack of factors – many out of the authors’ control – it doesn’t happen for a good percentage of those who dream of it. So there’s the huge that. Then there’s the excitement of having a story you believe in getting into the world - usually after a whole lot of time and effort. I know some books have landed in the world only after decades of work. One of my literary heroes, Wally Lamb, took nearly nine years to write his classic and career-launching “She’s Come Undone.” The shortest amount of time I took to write one of my books was a gestationally sounding nine months, for “Becoming Finola.” And the longest was 3 ½ years, for “This Is Paradise.” So that moment standing in the rain at the side of the road with a box of books in my hand was a big one for me. This book about the astounding Mags Riordan and the creation of the Billy Riordan Memorial Clinic in Malawi was real.

Many thanks to everyone who’s been in my corner along the way. In the six weeks since that night, “This Is Paradise” found enthusiastic readers at:

  • The Wilbraham (Mass.) United Church’s very wonderful women’s fellowship group, which has had me visit with each of my books over the 20 years since “Selling the Lite of Heaven” and this time happened to invite me on the eve of the new book launch, a night Tommy called “spring training” for the book tour. Thanks again to Helene and Nancy Pickett for inviting me back, and to all the members and their guests for all the good wishes for the book.


So great to have Kathleen Aguero by my side. (Photo courtesy Stanislaus Skarzynski)

The official launch, at Broadside Bookshop in Northampton, Mass.,  where, with the exception of “Shelf Life” (fittingly debuted at the much-missed Edwards Books, where it was set), I’ve kicked off each new book since the invitation of the late and beloved founder Bruce MacMillan. This time I was joined by Kathleen Aguero, who read from her steel-strong new collection of poetry, “After That,” which intertwines subjects including aging, dementia and Nancy Drew. And Kathleen and I were joined by a full house of friends and family, and also my new publisher Peter Sarno of PFP Publishing, who arrived just as the store’s supply of “This Is Paradise” was selling out and the just-in-case carton of extra books he brought along was needed. Big thanks to the Broadside’s Roxie, Bill, Nancy and Nancy for setting up the night and supporting me – and so many local authors - yet again.


Wonderful readers at the Broadside launch.

Bay Path College’s 19th Annual Women’s Leadership Conference in Springfield, Mass., where I emceed a full day bearing the theme “Own Your Story” and featuring broadcast legend Barbara Walters, author and New York Times columnist Bruce Feiler and Syria Deeply founder Lara Setrakian. Many thanks to the 2,000-plus attendees, including those who bought copies of “This Is Paradise” and those who checked out Bay Path’s upcoming all-online MFA program in nonfiction that includes the also legendary Tommy Shea as a faculty member.

Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley, Mass., another fine store and another at which I’ve read with each of my books. Many thanks to owner Joan Grenier and staff for their hard work at another vibrant local independent that believes in writers large and small.

Africa Night at Palmer Historical and Cultural Center, where I was joined by Palmer native and lifelong friend Mary (Koss) Grimanis and her daughters Lauren and Julia, who, along with Mary’s husband Michael, founded The Akaa Project to assist and empower families in the Eastern Region of Ghana. Mary and Julia spoke about The Akaa Project’s work, which began when then-17-year-old Lauren had a wish to volunteer in Africa during the summer. The Grimanis Family’s work is not unlike that of Mags Riordan in their also being just regular people who saw a need and worked to do something about it. We had a great turnout of friends and family and other local residents, many of whom took home selections from the tables of crafts from the very villages served by The Akaa Project and The Billy Riordan Memorial Clinic. Many thanks again to the PHCC for adding the event to the schedule at this lovely venue, and for helping out at yet another wonderful night there. As an update, Lauren left her home in Wayland, Mass., May 15 to begin running The Akaa Project fulltime in Ghana. Visit the website for updates on this big move, and for all the additional good work she’ll be able to do now that she’ll be living there.


Julia, Lauren and Mary Grimanis of The Akaa Project joined me for Africa Night (Photo courtesy Doug Farmer)


Kathy LeFebvre, Kelly LeFebvre, Jeanne Masztal and Sharon Young shop Akaa.


Sharon Young, Barbara Glanville, Mary Grimanis, Robbie DuComb and Jeanne Masztal – friends for ages (and, in the case of Sharon and Jeannie, since infancy). How could I do this without them?

Joshua Hyde Library in Sturbridge, Mass., where I was invited to read by staffer Cheryl Zelazo, another Palmer native and someone I met when she was in first grade and I was in third back at Sts. Peter and Paul School. Cheryl’s now adult services librarian at Joshua Hyde and she and director Becky Plimpton were among a welcoming group that included my literary soul sister Elizabeth Searle, who battled both Boston rush-hour and Brimfield flea market traffic to get to the library on time.


Joshua Hyde Library, Sturbridge, Massachusetts

I’ll be heading next to Portland, Peterborough, Keene, Ware, Longmeadow, East Longmeadow, Webster, Cape Elizabeth, Hampden… The schedule on this page continues and will be updated as I add more events. If you're connected to a library, a book club or an organization that would like me to speak about or read from "This is Paradise," please write me.

I'm booking for the spring and early summer, and in October will be joined for a few weeks by Mags Riordan, who’ll be coming to the States for events including an Irish festival in Chicago, a fundraiser by the Billy’s Malawi Project USA, a visit to the Irish Cultural Center at Elms College in Chicopee, Mass., and a talk at Springfield Technical Community College. If your organization would like to book Mags as a speaker, she has some available dates in October so just let me know. We’re willing to travel, so just ask…

Can’t make it to an event but want a book? Buy it right from my publisher, PFP Publishing, with the handy button that’s now on this page. Have a copy and want a signed bookplate? Write me at sess7@comcast.net and let me know to whom you want  signed and where to mail it.

How did you hear about the book? It could have been via the help of the following reporters and broadcasters, to whom I send many thanks again for their coverage (listed in order of broadcast or publication):

Jim Madigan and the crew of “Connecting Point” on WGBY-TV, the Public Broadcasting System affiliate in Western New England

Anne-Gerard Flynn of The Republican, Springfield, Mass.

Maureen Turner of The Valley Advocate, Northampton, Mass.

Doug Farmerof the Journal Register in Palmer, Mass.

G. Michael Dobbs of Reminder Publications, East Longmeadow, Mass.

Bill Newman of WMHP-AM Radio, Northampton, Mass.

If you’d like to learn more about Mags Riordan’s work and the history of The Billy Riordan Memorial Trust, I recommend these:

If any of this has inspired you to own your story and tell your story, join me on New Brunswick's Campobello Island Thursday, Aug. 14, to Sunday, Aug. 17, for Iota: The Conference of Short Prose.

Thanks again for helping “This Is Paradise” get off to a great start.

Suzanne



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