sdkfhsdlk

new book

Question of the Month: Research

by Susan Henderson on March 6, 2017

What kinds of research are you doing for your writing projects?

2017janlitparkresearch

Most of the research I did for the book I just finished was on dead people: bodies, dead bodies, the weight and feel of things, bathing the dead, embalming.

I watched YouTubes of surgeries and autopsies to listen to sounds of cutting and the sounds of the room itself. I learned about tools and machines. I talked to morticians and I listened to people who had lost loved ones.

2017tools

My favorite research books were Mary Roach’s Stiff, a collection of essays about what happens when you donate your body to science, and Richard Selzer’s Mortal Lessons, a book of essays I’d first read in middle school when I found it on my mom’s bookshelf. That book is pure poetry.

What I discovered as I delved into the research was this: the more you study and write about death, the more you are examining what it means to be alive. And this became something I wrestled with via my narrator, an embalmer who would rather spend her time with the dead than the living. So I gave her the uncomfortable task of leaving her basement workroom and stepping into the world of the living, where she feels so vulnerable.

*

There’s research for this new book, too. But I’ll keep it to myself for now. I always love the spectacular alone time with a book in its earliest stages, when no one in the world knows what’s in your head and what’s developing on the page. Some people like to share and get feedback early in the process. I don’t.

*

I’ll end (as usual) with the books I read since my last post:

March2017LitPark

Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration

Karan Mahajan, The Association of Small Bombs

Arlie Russell Hochschild, Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right

Miranda July, No One Belongs Here More Than You: Stories

Jose Saramago, Blindness

Elizabeth Crane, The History of Great Things

Ada Limón, Bright Dead Things: Poems

Bruce Springsteen, Born to Run

Andre Dubus III, House of Sand and Fog

Jim Crace, Harvest

Natashia Deón, Grace

William Gass, In the Heart of the Heart of the Country

Elm Leaves Journal, The Dirt Edition (Winter 2016)

Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Empty Mansions

Melissa and Dallas Hartwig, Whole30

John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell, March: Book Three

And two re-reads of poetry collections:

Jim Daniels, Punching Out

Cornelius Eady, Victims of the Latest Dance Craze

*

In the comments, share with me the research you’re doing, or have done, to find a way into your stories. Also, share any good books you’ve been reading, or just share about your life in general. It’s always good to hear from you.

{ 19 comments }

Question of the Month: Childhood Obsessions

by Susan Henderson on July 1, 2013

What were you obsessed with as a child?

toes

Part of what I loved about writing my new book was delving into old obsessions. When I was in elementary school, I loved looking through my mom’s nursing books with the often gruesome drawings of deformities and diseases. Sometimes, she took me to her nursing classrooms, where I remembered looking at human fetuses in jars and stacks of stiff cats in clear plastic bags.

When I was in middle school, I became obsessed with one of the authors on my mother’s bookshelf, Richard Selzer, who made surgery seem like poetry. I loved to read about the instruments, the cuts, the problems that couldn’t be fixed, the torment and wisdom of both doctor and patient.

sentis-design-notebook-300x258

All the while, my father would talk to me about the work he and his colleagues did at DARPA, the Pentagon, and the various colleges and institutions where he consulted. He told me about ARPANET, missiles, microchips, robots that tried to balance on one leg, digital speech, computers that might one day think, unmanned vehicles, robots that could go into dangerous places and try to fix the damage.

When I applied to college, I fully expected that I would one day be a biomedical engineer, something that combined so much of what had been swirling around me and piquing my interest for years. But after discovering the shock of my own limited brain and hopping through a handful of majors, I realized it was the stories of these things that fascinated me, not the idea of doing them myself.

As I stared at the blank page and wondered what my second book would be about, I found myself wandering back to these early obsessions with surgery and with the minds of inventors moving beyond what was known or what was even likely to be successful. I went back and read Richard Selzer’s books and found him even more fantastic than my memories (that doesn’t happen very often!) and suddenly, in fiction, I was able to go where I had failed in real life.

I will leave my story there for now. I’m still waiting to hear from my agent on the manuscript and looking forward to (and also fearing) his response. I know many of you know the feeling!

Okay, your turn. Let’s hear your stories of childhood obsessions, and which ones are still alive in you today?

*

Some thank you’s: The Writer magazine, for including my thoughts in the July and August issues, and De Woordenregen.

{ 26 comments }

I’ve been away for a while so I’d love to catch up a little. How are you? What’s happening in your world these days?

rimrocks

I’m thrilled to say that after a month in Winnett, Montana, I finished the new book and have sent it on to my agent. He will be the first to read any part of it, so there’s always the butterflies in the stomach, the fear of being crushed, but also the excitement that he’ll take something important to me and show me ways to make it better.

laundromat

A little about my trip… at the end of March, I flew to Missoula, Montana, where my brother lives, stayed over night at his place and caught up over wine and risotto. The next morning, we made the 6-hour drive to Winnett, a town of 181 people in Central Montana where my father, uncles, and grandparents used to live, and where I’ve very-fictionally set my book.

My hope was that being in this small town would awaken all my senses and emotions during my final edits and ignite a physicality that seemed to be absent from my book. And, oh man, did it ever! I walked through and around town several times a day, looking, listening, smelling, touching.  The trip was envigorating, lonely, claustrophobic, inspiring.

If you’re my friend on FaceBook, you can see a whole lot of pictures of this trip, from my family cemetery to the mid-April snow to the newborn calf someone drove around in his truck to keep it from freezing. I will be sharing more about the trip and the book over the next few months, but I don’t want to make this post too long, so I’ll stop here for now.

 *

In other news, I am so, so happy to report that after a long, nerve-wracking wait, my 17-year-old has now heard back from all of the colleges he’s applied to, and he’s made a decision about where he’ll attend in the fall. His choice: M.I.T.

MIT

I am full of joy, relief, and gratitude that he’s able to go somewhere that is such a profoundly good fit for him. M.I.T., by the way, sends their good news in a tube rather than an envelope, and then they encourage the students to hack the tube. My son made his into a working stylophone.

 *

Some thank you’s for reviews and links: The Never Dusty BookshelfFru Elde – En dag i mitt liv, Convertiv, Jocosa’s Bookshelf, Bethany Duvall, Crystal Clear As Mud, Well Read Westhampton, De Woordenregen, Laila’s Leseblogg, the Wesleyan University Community Blog, and something that made me cry at Juliet DeWal’s In Spite of All the Damage. Also, thank you to Emily Rapp for writing the beautiful non-fiction book, The Still Point of the Turning World, which I reviewed here at Great New Books.

Beautiful day so I’m going to get outside and walk!

{ 36 comments }

sdkfhsdlk