sdkfhsdlk

Question of the Month: Post-Mortem Photos

by Susan Henderson on November 6, 2017

What are your curiosities regarding the dead and the dying and our customs for mourning them?

LitParkThanosArchives1

The Flicker of Old Dreams, my new novel that’s narrated by a mortician, explores all kinds of death—the death of a town and a way of life, the death of a body, the death of a spirit.

I’ve been obsessed all my life with looking closely at the things others find uncomfortable or hurry past. And our often-peculiar rituals for mourning the dead have particularly consumed me.

And so, when I first stumbled upon a post-mortem photo, I couldn’t turn away.

LitParkThanosArchives2

This mother died in childbirth. Two of the triplets died as well.

Sit with that shock for a moment, the bereaved family members dressing and arranging them so lovingly. Needing to do this though it must have also felt wrong. And then to see that death, and not peace, crept into the mother’s eyes.

But it’s the photos of the living with the dead that wreck me. Just imagining the grief.

LitParkThanosArchives3

This little boy is holding his deceased sibling. All of these pictures, by the way, come from The Thanatos Archive and appear in the book, Beyond the Dark Veil.

It’s jarring, isn’t it? The photo is both tender and gruesome, an expression of profound grief and also a portrait of our greatest fear. I wonder, when I look at photos like these, whether it soothed some family members while haunting others.

In my book, a post-mortem photo is taken in the opening pages. And it is touched upon throughout the novel. I wanted to walk as close as I could to death and to grief and see what it all had to say to me.

Talk to me in the comments about what these photos stir in you. Tell me stories about your family rituals for mourning, or for bypassing that painful process.

NovLitParkBooksRead

As always, I’ll share the books I’ve read since my last post:

Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air
Alfred Lansing, Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage
Jesmyn Ward, Sing, Unburied, Sing
Ronlyn Domingue, The Plague Diaries: Keeper of Tales Trilogy
Attica Locke, Bluebird, Bluebird
Stephen King, Firestarter
Nicole Krauss, Forest Dark
Danez Smith, Don’t Call Us Dead
Marcia Butler, The Skin Above My Knee
Lidia Yuknavitch, The Misfit’s Manifesto

SusanSueLaurelJuliaMargaret copy

Oh, and I owe some thank you’s:

To Jill Tardiff, National Reading Group Month Chair, for inviting me to be a part of a panel celebrating the WNBA’s centennial and National Reading Group’s 10th anniversary. It was a pleasure to talk books, writing and publishing with Susan Larson, Laurel Davis Huber, Julia Franks, Margaret Wrinkle, and a great joy to spend time with friends (Melissa Connolly, Wayétu Moore, and Kimberly Wetherell) who showed up for support.

Thanks also to Library Journal, Virginia Stanley (Director of Library Marketing), and Bookish Roundup for the kind words.

And last but not least, gratitude to those of you who’ve pre-ordered The Flicker of Old Dreams and added it to your GoodReads lists!

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

{ 32 comments }

Question of the Month: Firsts

by Susan Henderson on October 2, 2017

Tell me something you’ve done recently for the first time—a public reading, a crossfit class, a trip to another continent. Whatever it is, I’d like to hear your story.

Screen Shot 2017-09-09 at 10.04.05 AM

Last month, I did my first interview for The Flicker of Old Dreams. It was fun to talk about the new book, about embalming and researching a dying town and how the book became a giant meditation on death. It’s a very generous, 2-page Author Profile in the September 11th issue of Publishers Weekly, and the interviewer, Wendy Werris, was lovely and engaging—a great writer herself, as you’ll see when you read the profile.

My publicist was able to copy the pages so they’re legible, and I’m including them below.

TFOODinPWpage1

Since it was my first time talking about the new book, I wasn’t sure what kinds of questions I’d be asked. And then, after talking for an hour, it’s always interesting to me what the interviewer chooses to highlight.

There was a little concern from my publisher that the profile was running so many months before the book will be available. It doesn’t launch until March 2018. But if you’re interested in pre-ordering, you can follow this link. It will give you options for all the main book outlets.

TFOODinPWp2

Oh, later this month, I’ll be on a panel, along with Julia Franks and Margaret Wrinkle and moderated by Susan Larson, celebrating the 10th anniversary for National Reading Group Month. If you want to go, it’s Friday, October 27th in NYC at Cafe Auditorium at 1745 Broadway.

And I also want to give a shout-out to A Bookaholic Swede for featuring The Flicker of Old Dreams on her weekly Cover Crush. And to Peter de Kuster for interviewing me on The Heroine’s Journey.

LitParkOct2017

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

Rene Denfeld, The Child Finder
Viet Thanh Nguyen, The Sympathizer
Stephen King, Firestarter
Jamie Ford, Love and Other Consolation Prizes
Roxane Gay, Hunger
Martin Espada, Vivas to Those Who Have Failed

That’s all for October. I look forward to your stories in the comments section. :-)

{ 12 comments }

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.

SeptLitParkGalley

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.

flood

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

SeptLitParkSteve

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.

{ 14 comments }

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

Good, because I have something special for you:

2017JulyCaroline1

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…

2017JulyCaroline2

…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.

LitParkHat

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!

Steve&Hat

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

DirtyKeyboard

(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!

{ 85 comments }

Question of the Month: Endings and Beginnings

by Susan Henderson on July 3, 2017

How do you transition between endings and new beginnings?

JulyLitParkA

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.

JulyLitParkB

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.

JulyLitParkC

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:

JulyLitParkD

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!

{ 27 comments }

sdkfhsdlk