It’s Never Too Late To Start – Reimagining Hustle with Susan Cushman

My big takeaway:

It’s never too late to start!

Susan Cushman is a writer unlimited by genre. In fact, in one year Susan published 3 different books of 3 different genres with 3 different publishers!

Susan is older than many of my guests – she celebrated 70 earlier this year! In this episode Susan shares her experiences and views on success and hustle throughout different seasons of life.

Links from the show:

Show Notes:

Roxanne Merket 0:10
podcasting from my basement while my kids sleep This is reimagining hustle, a podcast for entrepreneurial parents creating a life where business and parenthood live peacefully in the same space. I’m your host, Roxanne Merket, a mom of two micro business coach and serial entrepreneur on a journey to prove that it’s possible to do what you love without sacrificing all your precious family time. Let’s get started. Welcome back to reimagining hustle, I can’t wait for you to meet my guest. Today I have Susan Cushman with me, Susan, how are you today?

Susan Cushman 0:43
Hi, Roxanne. I’m great. I’m honored to be here. Thank you.

Roxanne Merket 0:47
Oh, my goodness, I’m just so honored to have you. This is going to be so fun. I’ve definitely Google stocks you before and we’ve had a chance to meet a little bit beforehand. So will you let my listeners in and tell us about you tell us about what it is you do, and your journey to get there?

Susan Cushman 1:03
Well, I’m a writer, and I don’t have a brand when I was working with a literary agent years ago, and I no longer have a literary agent because we disagreed about some things. It was stressed to me that you need to have a brand so that when you hear the name Susan Cushman, you think oh chiclet Beach, read our romance, or mystery, or literary fiction, or essays, or short story. I have published almost everything that I just named, because I read in all genres, maybe not sci fi, but most genres. And I write in a lot of different genres, which I find to be fun, and I don’t care if I have a brand. Yeah, because I love doing that. So I have six published books, and a seventh coming out in June. So the books are tangles and plaques, a mother and daughter face Alzheimer’s, which is a memoir about me and my mom. And then Cherry Bomb was my first novel about a young girl who escaped from a religious cult and throws up graffiti as a cry for help. And studies abstract expressionist painting, and eventually, Byzantine icons at a monastery all over the place full of things from my life, you know, then my new novel, john and Mary Margaret, is about mixed race couples who fall in love on the Ole Miss campus. Oh, Miss university? Oh, yeah, haha, 1966. And what happens in their lives over 50 years, the novel spans 50 years, then I have a short story collection called Friends of the Library. And so that’s similar genres there. And then I’m the editor of three different anthologies of essays, follow the authors. And then I have four essays, my own that are published in four different anthologies, and a dozen more, and literary journals and magazines. So I love all kinds of writing, and I plan to keep writing and various genres. Oh, wow,

Roxanne Merket 3:04
this is so interesting to me. Because it’s, you know, you mentioned that your literary agent was like, No, you need a brand, because you need to be writing one thing, and I feel like that. So to not write just one genre is how we live our lives, right? I think about all the hats we wear, especially as mothers and entrepreneurs, which we talk a lot about here about how those hats are so often said, only be one or the other. And really, we’re finding this intersection. And so I feel like you’ve embodied that in your writing career. So this is absolutely fantastic. Tell us have you so you, you weren’t you haven’t always been a writer, though, is this right?

Susan Cushman 3:39
Well, yes, and no. When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a movie star first. But I was pretty sure that wasn’t going to happen. So I thought, well, the next best thing would be to direct or to write. So I started writing in junior high school, and I was a newspaper editor in high school, and did freelancing in my 20s, while raising kids, which we can talk more about. But my serious writing of books didn’t start until I was in my 60s. So I think it’s really important for people to realize that there is no age limit on creativity, and on being an entrepreneur, because being a writer is an entrepreneur, oh, business. You are everything. You’re the CEO, the marketing, I mean, you can hire help. I mean, I have a publicist, you know, some people have an editor, I have more than one publisher, but I’m the CEO of my writing business, you know, and I’m, I feel great about that. I turned 70 last month,

Roxanne Merket 4:40
Happy belated birthday.

Susan Cushman 4:42
Thank you huge milestone, and I don’t have any plans to slow down right now.

Roxanne Merket 4:47
Yeah, yeah, I am. So inspired by this too. I feel like we’re so often bombarded with like the 20 under 20, or the 30, under 30, you know, and so as we start to develop ideas, And that creativity muscle gets exercised and flexed. We worry that it’s too late. So thank you for that reminder that you’re never too old for creativity. That’s so fun. Tell us what does success look like to you at this point in your career? At this point in your life, what does success look like?

Susan Cushman 5:18
Well, I think in order to address that, I need to back up and say what success looked like to me at different seasons of my life. Like a lot of your listeners are probably a lot younger. And I’m so I got married when I was 19. And barely 19. And for me, at that point, success looked like me supporting my husband for seven years, while he did medical school and residency, and we did not have children during that time. So that’s what success look like for me than it was I was paying my dues for our family to make it work. And then, as a mother, beginning at age 27, I have three adopted children, one Caucasian and two from South Korea, then success felt like feeling good about my choice to be mostly a stay at home mom during that time until our kids were teenagers. Ours was the house where other kids came after school, for snacks and to work on their science fair project. I was taking kids to and from soccer practice or whatever, because many of my children’s mothers did have careers and didn’t work outside the home. I was kind of the odd woman out amongst their friends, this would have been in the 80s and 90s. And so and a husband was so busy, he was traveling all the time. But I felt like my job was CEO of the children during those years. And then the kids needed one parent who was at least going to be available, you know. And then as an empty nester, beginning in 2001, when our youngest left for college, I think for then, success looked like pursuing those things that I had put on the back burner. And I started with art. I paint Byzantine icons, we are converts to orthodox to Orthodox faith, like the Greek Orthodox. And I studied at monasteries, and I painted Byzantine icons. I went on pilgrimages, and Greece and other places in this country. And so at that point, success was moving toward being a full time writer, which I finally became at age 66. So in 2017, I published three books in one year, three and a year with three different publishers who each didn’t know about the others, because I knew about tell them what was going on. Someone would put the brakes on it, because it was the marketing nightmare. And yet, you know, I wanted it to happen. So there was the memoir with one publisher, the novel with another, the anthology with another, and they came out in January, March in August, all in one year. And it felt awesome. And there were a number of bookstores that welcomed me back for each of the three, because they had such different audiences. I was waiting to different readerships, you know. And then I think the last thing I’m thinking about what success more recently was, in June of 2020, as the pandemic was really taken off, my husband and I celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary, so that marriage feels like a success. And then last month, I celebrated my 70th birthday. So successive different seasons of the life, my life looks like different things. Yeah.

Roxanne Merket 8:32
It’s so refreshing to hear you say that, because I feel like you’re right. I talk to a lot of young moms, right, who are just like their, their kids are still in diapers. And we kind of get on our heads. We think success is money first, and then we have kids, and we think success is something else. And so it’s nice to hear you reflect back on these different seasons of your life and say, Oh, yeah, it does look like different things at different seasons of life. So thank you for sharing that with us. Can we go back to this three books in one year? Can you just tell us a little bit more about the intensity of that year?

Susan Cushman 9:08
Well, I’m an intense person, I probably have some undiagnosed add. If I don’t have a project, a creative project going on. I go nuts. Yeah.

Roxanne Merket 9:19
I feel that on a deep level,

Susan Cushman 9:21
and I do better with more than one. So in the publishing world, there’s a lot of like in the military, hurry up and wait. Yeah, like, they give you deadlines, and then you Hurry, hurry to crank out by that deadline, then you wait a couple of months, until they send you galleys and then you wait for marketing and then you wait for publishing. And so I’m not gonna sit around for weeks and months at a time. So as the first book was going through some of those processes, I was meeting with a neighbor across the street who was in her 80s who was a mentor, Sally, I got to do something while I’m waiting on this to happen. And oh, and in the background was the novel I’ve worked on for six years, but I live the New York literary agent over. And so it was in the hands of a new one man shop in Mississippi, a small publisher in Mississippi, instead of big literary agent. So there was a whole lot of waiting in there. And I said, Sally over coffee, I said, I got to do something. You know, I feel like I’m blooming in this time in my life. And she at age 65, had gotten her PhD and aging and published her first book at 65. And now in her 80s, she just published her fourth book. So she is my mentor, said, I got to be something, what should I do, and we talked, and then was born, the anthology of second blooming, becoming the women we are meant to be. And I invited Sally and 19 other women authors to write essays. And they wrote about everything from a second marriage, sometimes a second faith and second religion. Second Chance after escaping death. After becoming sober, after being incarcerated, you know, just all sorts of things. And it turned into a magical book. And that was a whole different project, because I was editing and organizing, I can edit an organism asleep. But writing creative words on the page from scratch, does not come easy. To me, that’s work. Organizing, and editing is just fun, because what I’m doing is going, ooh, talent, talent and the talent, and I’m pulling them in, and just making them look good. And you know, in my, in my in a different life, I would have been probably a publishing star literary. Because I like to make other people look good, you know. So I lost my train of thought of where we’re going with that, oh, the three the three books in one year. So that one went to a Mercer University Press. And while the other two books were going to small, independent presses, again, who didn’t know about each other, eventually they did? Yeah, you know, and they’re kind of rolling their eyes at me. I said, Well, hey, I’m going to 10 or 10 or 20 events for each book. I’m not ignoring any of you, you know, because I was my own marketing person at that point. It was a great year. Just a really happy time. Yeah. Well, I

Roxanne Merket 12:16
can see the way he talked about it. You know, in that, you know, I’ve the luxury of seeing your face as you describe this right. And your eyes just lit up as you explain that that was happening. three books, three different publishers who didn’t like there’s that little bit of scandal. Nobody knew about it, right? And that’s no fun to just see, just to see you talk about it. This is Oh, yes. Susan, can I shift gears just a hair? I want to talk about parenting during all of this. So your mom and a grandma. And I would love to know how being a parent during this journey of yours has changed you.

Susan Cushman 12:55
Yeah, I know, it has possibly, possibly changed my kids, too. I’m not so sure. Because I’m when I began writing seriously, our kids were all in college or the military, in the army of sun and Air Force a daughter in college. And so then they began their careers, got married, started their own families. So both my daughter and my daughter in law, and their husbands, the four of them are all in it. And they live in Denver, and Arizona. And their two daughters, each are four granddaughters go to school out there with each of them having two parents with careers, you know, and so two of them have been in daycare some to have been in family daycare, but they both had mothers whose careers were as important as their fathers. And that’s totally different from the way I raised them where the mom stayed at home. And the dads career to preference is really a bad word that I just chose to do what I was doing, and what I was doing, I never felt like it was less important than what my husband was doing, though he was providing financially, you know, so, as I watched my daughter and daughter in law, make those choices. And then they saw me in my 60s, pursuing a career we just clicked you know, and they’re both very smart, creative young women who are 38 and 40. And and we interact a lot my daughter in law did graphic design and it’s helped me with some things and I’m so I feel like me and I like life career them in their late 30s career. kind of have a connection this special. No, oh, yeah. Wonderful. And my granddaughter, you know, I dedicated my newest book to my granddaughters, because I hope I’m setting an example for them to that they can be what they want to be when they want to be it. It’s changed me because it’s made me see more and more how important it is. To not just give up these things. I mean, I can give up all this and just go spend months at a time babysitting and I I have friends who have chosen to do that. And my kids, no, I’m not choosing to do that doesn’t mean I don’t adore my grandchildren because I do. But for me, it’s not fit right now to primarily be a babysitter.

Roxanne Merket 15:14
It’s so fun to watch you as you describe, owning that one of the things that we talk a lot about around the podcast and in my own business is that whatever you choose to do, make sure that you’re choosing it intentionally. And so if you’re choosing to stay at home with your kids, make sure you’re doing that not because anybody else is telling you you’re supposed to, but because that’s what you want. If you’re choosing to have a career, make sure you’re doing that not because anybody else is telling you, you have to but because you choose it, if you’re choosing to be an entrepreneur kind of in this funny middle ground, like where I live, make sure you’re doing it because you want to do it. And so that’s exactly what you’ve just described, you know, and you’ve had these seasons in your life where you have you chose to stay at home with your kids. And now you’ve chosen to seek this career. And so I appreciate how much you embody that idea of doing this intentionally right of making this decision. Very, very intentionally. Do you ever feel guilt especially I want to talk about like, right now you mentioned, you know, some of your friends kind of choose to be the babysitting Grandma, or whatever it may be, but you’ve made a decision not to do you ever feel guilt around that,

Susan Cushman 16:15
you know, that don’t feel any guilt at all. Sometimes I’m a little jealous of the fact that I had friends here in Memphis, who have grandchildren to live in town. And I’m jealous of that, because Mars are in Arizona, and Denver, and we’re in Memphis, Tennessee, but you know, and some of them have chosen to be regular babysitters, whether it’s one or two days a week, you know, or, or whatever it is, but they are completely retired, you know, they are not doing what I’m doing. And and we’re all different. We’re all wired differently. I don’t feel a bit of guilt. Now. We traveled to visit and we have our kids and grandkids come here. And if they need me, I’m there in a heartbeat. When my daughter’s first child was being born. That would be nine years ago. almost nine years ago, I flew out and rented up Airbnb and spent a month in Denver. And I was there weeks before and after her birth, I was in the labor and delivery with my son in law on one side of my daughter and knee on the other as she was giving birth, and was you know, there for the whole thing. And then another time when our her second child was in intensive care for a week on a ventilator, because it’s so sick. And I immediately dropped everything and flew out for two weeks to help with the three year old to help with shifts in the hospital with the baby. So you know, I’m available at the drop of a pen. And that’s the nice thing about the work I do is that I am my own boss, and I’m available, you know, whenever you have

Roxanne Merket 17:47
that flexibility to show up as as you want as you’re needed. That’s fantastic. This is what do you wish people knew about being a parent and a grandparent and an entrepreneur all at the same time.

Susan Cushman 18:04
trying to think if there’s anything more in than what I’ve already said,

Roxanne Merket 18:07
I totally you’ve given us so much. I’m just like, pulling more from you.

Susan Cushman 18:12
I really think it the whole thing, again, is to not is to feel good about the choices you make. And like you said be intentional about those choices. Now, I will say Not everyone gets to be intentional, right? You know, if I had a child who lost her job, her husband left, she’s trying to raise kids alone, I’d be there in the drop of a pen to help I was set aside things that I wanted to do to help. I’m very fortunate that my kids are very successful in their lives, and they don’t need to be rescued, you know, there, that just blesses me tremendously. But I wouldn’t be. And I have a writer friends who are younger, who get up at four in the morning and write for two hours before their kids are up. And then they do the full time mom thing. And they are also publishing some of them New York Times bestselling books, while they’re doing that, you know, and some of them have full time jobs and children and their writing. I didn’t think I could do that. I didn’t try to strap that on. But kudos to them for doing that. And I hope they never ever feel a minute of guilt. You know, for for choosing that path. And the ones I know are doing it well and their kids are fun. You know, your kids will probably go well look what mom can do. Instead of well mom ignores us because these women are not ignoring their kids. I know them. They adore their kids. You know, you’re sacrificing a lot by getting up at four in the morning to write for two hours.

Roxanne Merket 19:46
That’s I mean, that’s the reality of it sometimes right as you make the time to do the things that you that really matter to you. Yes, Susan, you are just so much fun. Okay, I want to ask you a question about The name of this podcast so I named this podcast, reimagining hustle because when I started my entrepreneur journey, I actually didn’t have children. I started before I had kids, and I loved this hustle mentality, this Hustle, Hustle, Hustle, go, go, go work, work, work, you know, when you stop business stops, the whole all that nonsense. And then I had my first child, and my whole world stopped. And I went, Oh, hold on. This is not sustainable. We’ve got to do something different. And so I’ve been on this quest to reimagine what hustle can look like. And so I would love to know, how do you reimagine hustle?

Susan Cushman 20:35
I’m not sure I do. I’ve thought about I knew you’re gonna ask me that question. I’ve thought about reimagining, I just keep imagining it, I don’t really have to reimagining it. I’ve been hustling all my life, you know, since I was a little girl hustling in one way or another. You know, when I was in elementary school, I sold personalized Christmas cards to all the neighbors to make money. And then it Christmas, when our elementary school was two doors down from our house. And when everyone went home for Christmas, all the teachers were the janitor pulled all the Christmas trees out of the rooms and put them out on the curb. And I wouldn’t collected them and had a Christmas tree stand and sell them to make money to buy Christmas presents. So I’ve always hustled always worked. A baby says sold things, you know, I worked in department stores as soon as I was 14 or 15. Or as soon as I could, we weren’t poor. But we were kind of lower middle class. And I wanted, I want I love the hustle of it. You know, I wanted the money to do things with it. I wanted to buy clothes to go to college, I wanted to buy name brand clothes, you know, to go to college. You know, and I think about each stage, even being a soccer mom, which was one of my favorite phases of my life. And I wasn’t writing then. But I was totally fulfilled. We traveled to soccer tournaments all over the country, you know, and my daughter was awesome. And it was it was like a little mini career being a soccer mom and and it felt like a hustle to you had to do a lot with the team. Yeah, it was expensive, you know, competitive soccer is. So I’m not sure that reimagined hustle at all. I think the only difference for me now at 70 is physically I feel like I’m slowing down a little bit, possibly even mentally. And there’s nothing I can do about that I still have this emotional energy and creativity. But I’m tired or quicker. I’ve got aches and pains, you know, with both my mother and my grandmother dying from Alzheimer’s, I worry when things get fuzzy and gray. Maybe reimagining hustle for me is going to be this a decade of my life, maybe I’m just gonna have to start reimagining it, being okay to publish one book every other year instead of three in one year. But you know the things one of the things I love, I love speaking as much as I love writing. So my publicist is setting up a book tour for me in June and I’m going to be driving all over from Memphis, Atlanta, South Carolina, Florida for about two weeks. And I absolutely love that. And that’s that’s still the hustle to me, you know, to do that thing. So I don’t I don’t think I’m reimagining it. I think I’m, I’m just imagining it over and over,

Roxanne Merket 23:24
just as it is. But I am inspired by the way that you talk about it. Because a lot of times when I talk to people about hustle, you see their shoulders tense up and they start talking a little bit faster. And it’s just kind of that intensity of like, feeling like life is getting away from you. Whereas when you just described hustle To me, it was again I’m gonna come back to that word intentional, right? It was very intentional as you’re doing these things, even from I left the star review in the Christmas trees right? Even from such a young age doing things very intentionally because you had purpose behind it. And so as you describe, even in this eighth decade of your life, going on a book tour and doing these things, but doing it intentionally I feel like that that concept of hustle you spoke of it with such relaxation again I get the privilege of seeing your face right you just relaxed as you talked about it so so while you may not feel like you reimagined it for me you just did so thank you.

Susan Cushman 24:18
Well, you know, I thought about I forgot about this from an entrepreneurial point of view. I forgot about this. In 1990s, middle and late 1990s I had probably my only true entrepreneurial experience. I was publisher of a trade magazine for architects and builders, and it came up monthly. And so I sold all the advertising I wrote the cover stories I you know I did I did everything for it made very little money, but it was the most money I’ve ever made but for working about 24 seven, but I did it from home. While our two younger kids were 13 1415 an older kid, it kind of gone away for a while. Um, so it, you know, the kids saw me loving it. They didn’t know what money I did or didn’t make. But my office was right there, you know, they were there. We had a swimming pool at the time, I could see the swimming pool at my office windows to make sure they weren’t killing each other, all their friends over there. So that was probably the one season of my life where I was working really hard while kids were still home. And I loved it, you know, and I was writing, but I was writing copy for a trade magazine, instead of fiction and stuff. So but it worked on. I don’t know, I don’t remember feeling guilty, or like I was leaving them out. or anything, you know, yeah. It was a fun season.

Roxanne Merket 25:42
Oh, yeah. What a fun memory for your kids to I would be so interested to hear what they had to say about that time period in their lives, because I imagine that they saw you for just, you know, always being there being consistent, as you know, as moms always are. So Oh, Susan here, just absolutely glorious. Will you give us a pep talk, especially for some of these younger moms on this journey? Just from your experiences and your frame of mind? Would you give us just a little pep talk?

Susan Cushman 26:14
Okay, let me think what I haven’t already said, for parents and grandparents make choices in every season of your life, that work for you then on any if you’re married, respect your parents, your your spouse’s journey as well, whether you’re choosing to both work, and equally share childcare and house chores, whether you’re going to take turns one of these gonna stay home per time or the other works. Just be sure that you respect your partner, you know, whether it be a spouse or a partner, or whatever, and that they’re in it with you. Even if they’re my husband is a physician. He’s a scientist, he has a completely different brain working than I do. But I’m so impressed with what he does, and he’s so supportive of what I do. And it works. You know, it works for us. So be a team do it works. Be at peace with your choices.

Roxanne Merket 27:11
Thank you, Susan. Thank you. Okay, we need more of you. So tell us where we can find you online?

Susan Cushman 27:19
No, yes, well, easily to find my website, www dot Susan And I’m all over Facebook and Instagram, because I love social media, I care what anybody says about it, I love it. I’m on there a lot. It’s a writing is a lonely job. So it’s a way to socially connect with readers and other writers. And just people you know, so I’m all over that I’ve had a blog for about 12 years. I used to post on it three times a week, and I have not as much since the books have been out because it makes sense. I was doing that instead of having books. But I’m still trying trying to keep it alive. So it’s within the website to my books are all on Amazon. But of course, I’m a big supporter of independent booksellers. So you know, you can find them, your your independent bookstores can order them if they don’t have them. And, but they’re all listed in the website as well. So that’s

Roxanne Merket 28:14
awesome. And we’ll make sure that we include all the links in the show notes now you have a little gift for us. I you’re letting me do a giveaway with you as well. So will you tell us about that?

Susan Cushman 28:23
Yeah, I want to give away two books today. One is my new novel john and Mary Margaret. And again, it’s it’s set. A lot of it’s set on the old ms campus beginning in the 60s. And I was at Ole Miss. And so I know what I’m writing about, you know, and so a black boy falls in love with the white girl and how that turns out, and then has their lives intersect over the next 50 years, both in Oxford, Mississippi, and in Memphis, Tennessee. So it has I did a lot of research and has a lot of history of the civil rights movement in it, but it is a fiction story and somewhat of a romance. So I want to give away a copy of that. And I also want to give away a copy of the anthology I mentioned earlier a second blooming, becoming the women were meant to be with a foreword by Anne Lamott and essays about 20 women authors in their 40s through 80s. And it’s a treasure so I want to get a copy of you can figure out how you want to do the giveaway yes to win.

Roxanne Merket 29:22
Yeah, absolutely. So I say if you are interested in winning either of those books which my goodness isn’t that so generous of you make sure that you check out my Instagram all the information will be posted on my Instagram account which is at Roxanne Merket m er ke t. So check it out. You can get all the details for how you may win one of those books from Susan, Susan, thank you so much. This has been just an absolute treat for me. Thank you for your time for your wisdom and for sharing just this, this experience with me.

Susan Cushman 29:49
Thank you It’s been a lot of fun.

Roxanne Merket 29:54
Thanks for listening to reimagining hustle with Roxanne Merket. If you liked the show, and want more, check out real imagining hustle calm, and please leave a review on iTunes or wherever you listen to your podcast. We’ll be back next week with another episode. See you soon