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Author Profile in Publishers Weekly!

by Susan Henderson on September 10, 2017

So excited and unbelievably grateful for this generous, 2-page Author Profile in the September 11 issue of Publishers Weekly!

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The fabulous Wendy Werris interviewed me. We talked about small towns, morticians, death in its many forms, and a little about the writing process. It’s a really lovely, well-written article.

I took a screenshot so you can see what it looks like, but you need to be a subscriber (for either the print or digital edition) to read. I’ll link to the digital version of the PW Author Profile in case you’re interested.

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Question of the Month: Out of Your Hands

by Susan Henderson on September 4, 2017

Talk to me about how you stay calm and emotionally present when important parts of your lives are out of your hands.

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This is the ARC of The Flicker of Old Dreams. ARC stands for either Advanced Reading Copy or Advanced Review Copy. It’s a free book that still has typos in it, and it goes out early to newspaper and magazine editors who might review it, as well as to authors who might offer a blurb for it.

Up until this point, you feel like you still have control over the book. You can still make small edits to the text. You can still dream big about the life it will have. You still have time, perhaps, to lose ten pounds or become an extrovert before you go on book tour.

But then you arrive at this place. And the novel that was such a private affair for all the years you wrote in your garage office or in the back of a café has now become something public. The ARC is sent far beyond your circle of kind friends, who would never say anything to hurt your feelings, and to people who might hate it and say so loudly. Or they might interpret the book or the characters in ways you never imagined or intended.

It’s out of your hands.

Reviewers will have their opinions. The book will have its own life outside of you.

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We learn this again and again. We’re not in control of as much as we like to believe. We can do things to help. We can be proactive. But the art we send into the world becomes one more thing (like illness, rain, and the choices our loved ones make) that may impact us deeply and personally, but is not ours to steer.

So how do you make peace with what you can’t control, and get busy with what you can?

Talk to me in the comments.

I’ll end, as usual, by sharing the books I’ve read since my last post.

Tyehimba Jess, Olio
Miranda Beverly-Whittemore, Bittersweet
Mona Simpson, Anywhere but Here
Julia Fierro, The Gypsy Moth Summer
Maile Meloy, Do Not Become Alarmed
David Niall Wilson, Gideon’s Curse: A Novel of Old Mill, NC
Robin Black, Life Drawing
Teju Cole, Blind Spot
Wendy Werris, An Alphabetical Life
Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

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One last thing. Some sad news. We lost our beloved Steve in August and we miss him every day. I can’t say more here without breaking down, but I’ll be around in the comments.

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I’m in the mood to celebrate. Want to win some cool prizes?

Good, because I have something special for you:

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Bestselling author, Caroline Leavitt, will give away 3 signed copies of her incredible, haunting novel, Cruel Beautiful World. I read this book in one sitting, my heart racing, as a lonely girl makes a series of terrible choices in order to feel loved. Here’s the official description:

Sixteen-year-old Lucy Gold is about to run away with a much older man to live off the grid in rural Pennsylvania, a rash act that will have vicious repercussions for both her and her older sister, Charlotte. As Lucy’s default parent for most of their lives, Charlotte has seen her youth marked by the burden of responsibility, but never more so than when Lucy’s dream of a rural paradise turns into a nightmare.

Cruel Beautiful World examines the intricate, infinitesimal distance between seduction and love, loyalty and duty, chaos and control, as it explores what happens when you’re responsible for things you cannot make right.

Set against a backdrop of peace, love, and the Manson murders, the novel is a reflection of the era: exuberant, defiant, and precarious all at once. And Caroline Leavitt isat her mesmerizing best in this haunting, nuanced portrait of love, sisters, and the impossible legacy of family.

So, wait. A signed copy of this extraordinary book is not the only thing you will win…

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…because Caroline is also going to watercolor a bookmark just for you!

Okay, so she only knows how to paint these things, but you get to choose:

1. mermaid
2. dogs
3. fishes
4. a hand wearing a pair of pants (I know! Wha?!)
5. cups of coffee

6 cats

How do you enter to win? Easy. Just post a comment below, and I will make sure your name goes into a hat. This is the hat.

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At the end of the week, I’ll draw three names and announce the winners!

One last thing. Remember that first picture with a cover of Caroline’s book in it? Scroll back up to the top and look at the painting. I love this story: This painting (by Eileen Patten Oliver) is very important to Caroline because she’s terrified of the ocean but also loves it. So Eileen painted a small figure standing in front of a tsunami. And Caroline says this painting gives her courage.

And I love Caroline—for this and a million more reasons.

Okay, post a comment, and I’ll put your name in the hat. Hope you win because this book is spectacular!! (And if you’ve already read it, you can post a note to Caroline just because.)

UPDATE! UPDATE!

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As promised, one week after I posted this, I put all the names of you fantastic people into the hat. The 3 winners of a signed CRUEL BEAUTIFUL WORLD and watercolored bookmark of your choice are:

Ric Marion
Nikki Dawson
and Joanne Mielczarski

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(See, I chose with my eyes shut and let the winners fall on to my filthy keyboard.)

Caroline will be in touch with each of you about prizes. Congratulations! And thank you, everyone, for playing!

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Question of the Month: Endings and Beginnings

by Susan Henderson on July 3, 2017

How do you transition between endings and new beginnings?

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So much happened last month. My oldest son graduated from college, and my youngest son moved in with him, so they’re now sharing an attic in Boston. This will be the first summer since they were born when I don’t have a child living at home.

I’m also experiencing a deep sense of being finished with my book that will launch in March of 2018. Lots of steps have now been completed. I’ve done my big edits and my copy edits and my first-pass edits. The layout designers have chosen a font and a look for the inside of the book. I got my author photo taken. (I highly recommend Taylor Hooper Photography!) And we’ve chosen a cover, which I’ll share when I’m allowed.

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We’re getting awfully close to the stage where a galley (sort of a pretend copy of the book) will be sent to potential blurbers and reviewers. The book is basically out of my hands at this point, and this lull before its March publication date is a good time for me to dive deeply into the new work.

But what exactly is that new work?

I definitely have a sense of the next book I’m trying to write—its premise, its setting. The characters and plot are coming more into focus. But it’s early in the creative process, and so much is still unknown. Also, I don’t know that I’ve fully left the last one behind.

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It’s a funny feeling, shifting gears. Like my son, I’m considering my next steps and still feel like I’m decompressing from the intense work that’s consumed my mind for the past few years. Right now I’m in some weird in-between space.

Talk to me about where you are in your own writing process, and how you transition from endings to new beginnings in your work or just in life.

As always, I’ll end by sharing the books I’ve read since my last post:

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Arundhati Roy, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness
Margaret Atwood, Cat’s Eye
Elisabeth Tova Bailey, The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating
Elizabeth Crane, Turf: Stories
Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain
Taylor Larsen, Stranger, Father, Beloved
Samanta Schweblin (translated by Megan McDowell), Fever Dream
Claire Cameron, The Last Neanderthal
William Landay, Defending Jacob
Lidia Yuknavitch, The Book of Joan
Kim Chinquee, Veer
Stephen Pimpare, Ghettos, Tramps, and Welfare Queens
Donna Tartt, The Secret History
Patrick B. Osada, Changes
Karen Dionne, The Marsh King’s Daughter
Jennifer Gilmore, The Mothers
Kate Clifford Larson, Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter

And one re-read…
Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things

That’s it for now. I look forward to your stories in the comments section!

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Question of the Month: The Blank Page

by Susan Henderson on May 1, 2017

What do you do when your new book is only a blank page? How do you start getting ideas? The picture just below is how the great Jean Cocteau works with a blank page. What’s your process of mapping things out or free-wheeling it? I want to hear any tips you’d like to share.

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HarperCollins has my final edits on the Montana book, and I should get the copy-edits back from them any day now. Soon the book will be out of my hands. Next steps are more about collaboration than anything else as we move to blurbs, cover design, and marketing.

So now it’s on to the blank page of something new.

It’s taken me a while to leave the old book—to leave the small Montana town and the blizzard and the mortician’s tools behind. I’d stare at the new, blank page and wonder if there was another story in me that could hold my attention for two, three years. And for a long while, the page stayed blank.

What an exhilarating, intimidating thing a blank page is.

At some point, I began to make some marks on my paper—random doodles, bits of ideas I’d had over the years that I still remembered. But none of them were big enough to excite me. I need fire, obsession, ideas that send my head and heart racing.

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So I set out to recharge my senses and my imagination.

During what would normally be my writing time, I watched silent movies and foreign films with the subtitles turned off, taking in images and emotions and music, trying to spark any sense of curiosity or anything unresolved and burbling inside of me. I doodled on pieces of paper as I watched these movies.

This is one of J.K. Rowling’s early pages. Same, further down.

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Whenever I left the house or read the newspaper, I tried to become more conscious about what moved or enraged or frightened me. I walked a lot. And that’s when I became aware of my first notable obsession: a particular abandoned building in my town. I began walking and jogging past it regularly, transfixed.

My stories tend to begin with my interest in settings. Some writers talk about the main character’s voice beaming down, fully-formed. Other writers begin with concepts. Some dig through their personal history.

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I fall for settings, I guess. What’s on the other side of this window? What’s this interesting decoration or this elaborate padlock about? I wonder what happened in this room?

I start to collect puzzle pieces and questions. And before long, these tangible images and textures spark old longings and fascinations and wounds I carry with me. My imagination wakes up. I wonder…? What if…? And suddenly my head is popping with ideas and I begin to fill page after page, chasing a new story.

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As always, I’ll end with the books I’ve read since my last post…

Mohsin Hamid, Exit West

Sue Monk Kidd, The Invention of Wings

George Saunders, Lincoln in the Bardo

Jim Daniels, Rowing Inland

Dan Chaon, Ill Will

Adam Haslett, Imagine Me Gone

Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Sally Koslow, The Widow Waltz

Ian McEwan, Amsterdam

John Bingham, The Courage to Start: A Guide to Running for Your Life

Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Shadow of the Wind

Edwidge Danticat, Brother, I’m Dying

Elisabeth Tova Bailey, The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating

And one re-read:

James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son

Jump into the comments below and share what you’re reading or how you approach the blank page or whatever else you’d like to talk about.

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