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.

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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.


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.


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.


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. :-)


Question of the Month: A Book

by Susan Henderson on December 2, 2016

For those of you working on a book or some other long project, tell me a little about where you are in the process. Or maybe just how that process feels right now.


It will take a few LitPark posts to describe the long project I just completed. (I wasn’t willing to talk about it at length until I was certain I’d come out the other side.) At times, the process felt like chaos. I felt lost, full of doubt, and afraid I was writing something too big for my capabilities. As many of you know, at one point, I threw everything away and started over.

Again, I’ll share more specifics later. But I read an interesting book recently, Jack Kerouac’s Old Angel Midnight. In the forward to the book, it’s described as Kerouac’s 11-year writer’s block. He worked feverishly at this manuscript, but the result is kind of a glorious gibberish, almost like a jazz artist scatting. Sometimes he makes observations or writes what he hears in the accents he hears them in. Sometimes the work is emotional, sometimes pointed, and most often, it is a look into the soup of his mind.

I found it so comforting to read because it’s the closest thing I’ve ever found to my thought process and why creating something that is eventually linear and comprehensible is such a struggle for me.

Here’s a page from the book (I just randomly opened to this one):


This page happens to be one of the easier to follow and visualize (and hear). It actually reminds me a good bit of James Joyce. Other parts of the book are harder to reach. But I wanted to share this because we each fall into stories in different ways. Our brains are different. What we attend to most easily is different. And in the end, the journeys we take to find and tell our stories are as unique as we are. After eleven years of working on Old Angel Midnight, Kerouac wrote On the Road in one short burst. My hunch is that he couldn’t have written it without first writing this.

So I had described much of the process of my latest project as being one of chaos and doubt. But at some point, the chaotic pieces began to make sense and fit together and tell the story I didn’t know if I was capable of telling. The passages I had worried were digressions turned out to be crucial. I wasn’t as lost as I felt. And one day, I looked at the stack of pages and thought, wait a minute, I think this has finally become a book.


Oh! So I almost forgot to share my news! I sold my new book, again to HarperCollins. My editor this time is Sara Nelson. I’m unbelievably grateful to Sara and to the whole crew there and to my incredible agent, and to you, my writer’s support group.

We’re on this long, winding journey together and I couldn’t ask for better company.


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


Octavia Butler, Kindred

H.G. Wells, War of the Worlds

Caroline Leavitt, Cruel Beautiful World

Jack Kerouac, Old Angel Midnight

Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Hans Fallada (translated by Michael Hoffman), Every Man Dies Alone

Marcy Dermansky, The Red Car

James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time

Jesmyn Ward, The Fire This Time

Paul Harding, Tinkers

Emma Cline, The Girls

and Triple No. 3 (a chapbook from Ravenna Press)


Oh, and one re-read:

William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying (It’s kind of embarrassing how often I re-read this book.)


Now, let’s hear from you. Tell me about your work. Tell me about its heart, what excites you, and what terrifies you about it. And what you need to see it through.


Question of the Month: Nuts and Bolts

by Susan Henderson on October 3, 2011

Does it help you to know the behind-the-scenes nuts and bolts of the book business, or does that make it all seem more depressing?


I debated whether to bring the nuts and bolts of royalty statements here because so many people are protective of their sales numbers. But I’ve been pretty transparent throughout the process of trying to write and sell my book, thinking that knowledge of this business empowers writers, or at least makes us not feel so alone. So here goes… nuts, bolts, and numbers.

My debut novel came out the last week of September, 2010.

In April of 2011, I got my first royalty statement. (In the literary world, these statements come every April and October, hopefully accompanied by a check.) The April statement only showed sales from the book’s release through the end of December 2010.

The sales page was filled with confusing headings (royalty rate, gross units, reserves, and so on) as well as loads of numbers and percentages. I had to call my agent to decode the thing, but the short of it is this:

From the end of September 2010 to the end of December 2010, my book sold 31,000 copies. Most of those sales were paperback; fewer than 2,000 were for the e-version of the book (Kindle and Nook).

Now for the financial figures, the great humbling for writers…

Here’s a sample of a royalty statement (not mine and not my publisher) that I think has some really helpful highlights on it.

Okay, so your book is sold to readers for one price but that’s not the amount the author gets per book. You (the author) really get pennies per book. After the pennies are added up, you start subtracting for your advance (the original sale of the book), your agent’s fee (15%), returns (there were 157 returns of my book), and something called reserves (which I still don’t understand but it’s something like a holding fee).

The first statement also didn’t include foreign rights sales because those contracts came in late. But, hoorah, there was a check, only much smaller than the already cynical math I’d run in my head. In other words, no one’s going shopping; that money goes into the family checking account to pay for such glamorous things as electricity, groceries, and debt.

So now it’s October, and while I await another royalty statement and hopefully another check (please oh please I hope the Rosie O’Donnell show in March gave a bump in sales), I know where the real payoff comes from—it comes from you guys. The richest asset for any author is a community of other readers and writers, loving books and valuing the creative process.


Some thank yous to people who posted about my book: Dear ReaderBeautiful World, Fayetteville Free Library, Girlfriends Book Club, Heidi’s Books, Pregnancy Books Review, ALTAFF, Letters for Lucas, and Michelle Wegner (What an honor to be in a stack with Heart of Darkness and The Velveteen Rabbit!). So appreciative of all of you. Word of mouth means everything to the life of a book!

And speaking of word-of-mouth for books, a few regulars here have some exciting new books to share: Nathalie Boisard-Beudin’s ON CLOUD 285, Greg Olear’s FATHERMUCKER, and Jessica Keener’s NIGHT SWIM. Adrienne Crezo has launched LitStack, an online hangout that somehow has the feel of being in an indie bookstore. And the incomparable Brad Listi has a brand new, hour-long author podcast (which is fantastic), called Other People. Please check out all the talented work!

Later this month, I’m going back to my home state of Virginia for an exciting inauguration of Club Read. Hope to see lots of you there!


Question of the Month: Fair

by Susan Henderson on April 5, 2010

Tell me a story of you at the fair. What did you eat? What caught your attention? Did you ever get separated from your group? Did you win a prize? Did you raise your hand when the hypnotist called for volunteers? I want to hear all about it.

Speaking of fairs, I’m starting to learn more about what happens to books just before they’re published, and one of those things is that they are carted to The London Book Fair in April. The hope is that your book creates a pre-publication buzz and nabs some foreign rights sales.


This is what the galley version of my book looks like, and it will be in someone’s suitcase this month, flying off to London. It’s a little like sending your child off on an airplane ride without you, and you hope she’s in good hands, never overlooked or left unattended but loved, included, and delighting those who meet her.


If you have a moment to pop over to The Nervous Breakdown, I recently interviewed author Danielle Trussoni, and I’d love for you to join the conversation. We talked about her novel, ANGELOLGY, as well as her road to publication and how Will Smith’s production company is handling the movie version of her book. Hope to see you there!


Question of the Month: Complete

by Susan Henderson on March 1, 2010

Tell me something you’ve completed that you’re proud of, or that shows what you’re made of. Whether it’s a poem, a quilt, a garden, or a restored car, I want to hear about it!

Oh, by the way…


I now have a title and a cover. You can even pre-order my book at Amazon.

It’s starting to feel real!

One last thing: I’m so happy to announce that you can now buy my friend, Darlin’ Neal’s new book, RATTLESNAKES AND THE MOON. Darlin’ and I have been critiquing each other’s stories for years, and she’s an absolutely amazing writer. But don’t just take my word for it. Here’s what Antonya Nelson says: “Darlin’ Neal’s book of stories is the literary equivalent of a Lucinda Williams music album: achingly lovely homages to heartbreak and hard times, sung by a voice rich with whiskey, soaked in insight.  An absolutely stellar performance.”