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susan henderson

Question of the Month: Celebration

by Susan Henderson on February 18, 2018

Tell me how you’ve celebrated big moments in your life, whether it’s a book launch, a birthday, a marathon run, a clean bill of health, a sobriety anniversary, weight loss, or any other hard-won accomplishment.

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I’m not actually very good at celebrating. The above picture is how I look when I try to party. Unsure. Off in the back corner of the room, awkward and alone.

I’m not much into whooping it up. In school, I didn’t dress up for St. Patrick’s Day or Halloween. I didn’t cheer at pep rallies, though all students were required to go. I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day or New Year’s Eve. I find it all tiring, burdensome—a real stretch for my personality.

But March is the month my new book goes out into the world, and I worked too hard on it not to acknowledge its birth. So while I suck at parties, I’m always willing to try something new. If you have ideas about how to celebrate, put them in the comments section. I will at least think about trying them!

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As far as my book launch goes, it will be at The Turn of the Corkscrew on Long Island. You can RSVP here. They are a block and a half from the Rockville Center stop on the LIRR, and they have a fantastic menu. And wine! I will be gloriously happy to see you there.

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If you want to help this little book’s trajectory into the world, here are some things you can do: Pre-order or buy on the launch day (it’s all about first-day sales). Post photos of yourself or your pet with the book. If you go to an event, post photos of yourself and the book while you’re there. And if you like what you read, tell others or post reviews on social media.

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All of that said, if you have been on this long journey and have yet to celebrate a finished manuscript, an acceptance letter, or a book launch, what I’m posting below is for you with love, because this has been a long journey, and so much of it has felt like failure. Keep hanging in there and keep sending out your work!

Rejected but Not Defeated

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Who Owns Our Truths?

I’m going to leave you with a few hopeful thoughts—and yes, I’ve shared them before because they’ve buoyed me through hard times: Harper Lee only wrote one book (To Kill a Mockingbird). E. Annie Proulx published her first novel (Postcards) when she was 57, Frank McCourt published his first (Angela’s Ashes) at 66, and so did Karl Marlantes, who worked on his (Matterhorn) for 33 years.

You still have time to tell your stories.

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Question of the Month: Intensity

by Susan Henderson on January 14, 2018

Do you know the feeling when too much is flying your way at once and you’re trying to keep calm?

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Two months till launch, and I’m starting to feel the intensity pick up. All last minute edits are in. No more changes allowed. This is the final cover, front and back.

Discussion questions are ready for book clubs.

I’ve contacted a baker for my book launch. (She’s going to make cemetery-themed desserts!)

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I’ve made several trips to HarperCollins. (In the first picture, it’s the building on the right, with the World Trade Center in the middle. The second picture shows what it looks like inside.) One trip was for a party, another for a marketing meeting, and a third to film a video about The Flicker of Old Dreams with my editor, the amazing Sara Nelson.

I feel good about my book and about my team at HarperCollins. Most of what happens from here is out of my hands. And most days I’m okay with that.

But sometimes the fear sets in… Will any of the big outlets want to review my book? Will they like it? Will they even know it exists? Did I do enough? Should I do more? Am I going to lose friends because I’m talking about my book so much? 

The intensity can get inside of me. I can look at all the good things that are happening and see failure. I can look at a beautiful day and see gloom.

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I’m trying to stay steady, no matter what good or bad comes my way. I’m trying to keep it in perspective, in the background where it belongs. And I know how to do this—it’s what I’ve done since college—don’t get caught up in the last thing you wrote, keep moving forward, keep creating. This is the only world I have a shot at controlling, this one on the page, and I’m working hard on something new.

The other thing that keeps me steady is remembering to notice the gifts that are in my life each day, whether it’s a sunrise, a smile at the checkout line, or a word from my kids.

Rather than comparing this time to what it might be like in my most fevered imagination, I need to notice each act of kindness and generosity, however small. Some thank you’s are in order: Eric Forbes at Good Books Guide, Jennifer Haupt at Psychology Today, Publishers Weekly, Ron Block, Virginia Stanley, Binnie Klein, Eileen Tomarchio, Amy Wallen at Savory Salons, LibraryThing, LibraryLoveFest (here and here because they’re that awesome), A Cook and a Book, and folks who posted reviews at GoodReads.

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

Yoko Tawada, Memoirs of a Polar Bear 
William H. Gass, On Being Blue
Colin Dickey, Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places
Luke Dittrich, Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets
A.J. Finn, The Woman in the Window
Lucille Clifton, Mercy 
Melissa Scholes Young, Flood
Carl A. Zimring, Clean and White: A History of Environmental Racism
Marisa De Los Santos, I’ll Be Your Blue Sky 
Jean Cocteau (translated by Mary-Sherman Willis), Grace Notes

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That’s it for now. Talk to me about keeping steady, about not losing perspective. Tell me some stories. Oh, and I have a gift coming for you soon! One of my personal heroes will be here with Words for the Weary. I’m so looking forward to hearing what she has to say, and I can’t wait for you to meet her!

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Question of the Month: Introverts on Book Tour

by Susan Henderson on December 4, 2017

How do you make the transition from the person who wrote in private for years to someone who must now help sell that finished book?

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Most writers I know—me included—are introverts. And suddenly, when our books are published, we have to wear makeup, mingle, and speak into microphones. Worst of all, we’re asked to help promote our books when we are not salespeople.

The shift can be jarring.

And yet, we worked so hard on our books. We want people to read the thoughts and obsessions that consumed us for years.

So how do we make this shift, and how can we help each other?

First, we must swallow our discomfort and our pride and do what our publisher asks. They want us to post advertisements and reviews. They want us to send out letters and change the photos on our social media pages. We don’t want our publicists and sales reps to tell us how to edit the sentences in our books. Likewise, they don’t want shy, rejection-phobic authors to tell them how to make sales. They simply want us to help them do their job.

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What is the most helpful thing we can do for each other before a book’s launch? Pre-order!

It matters, and this is why. Publishers look at the number of pre-orders to help determine which authors to invest their marketing dollars in and whether to send their authors on book tour.

The other important thing about pre-orders is that they are the number one shot authors have at landing on a bestseller list. The first day a book goes on sale is usually the most explosive day of sales. The more sales we’ve already banked, the better our chances.

Here are some links to where you can pre-order The Flicker of Old Dreams: IndieBound * Amazon * Barnes & Noble * Books-A-Million * Target * Turn of the Corkscrew (You can also pre-order more than one copy if you plan to give the book as gifts!)

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What is the most helpful thing we can do for each other after a book’s launch? Make some noise!

If we are enthusiastic about a book or simply want to be supportive of an author, our best way to help them is to post reviews or pictures of the cover on FaceBook, Instagram, Twitter, Amazon, GoodReads, and on our blogs. Authors often repost positive reviews, and sometimes the publisher will as well, so this kindness has a way of coming back around.

Some of the folks I need to thank this month… Marilyn Berkman for including me in her WNBA write-up; Marcia Butler for interviewing me on the Creative Imperative Video Project; Virginia Stanley, Director of Library Marketing, for talking about my novel on Under the Radar, Over the Moon; and High Country News magazine for including The Flicker of Old Dreams among its must-reads for books about the American West.

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As always, I’ll end by sharing the books I’ve read since my last post (not counting manuscripts I’m editing or blurbing—the bulk of my reads this month.):

Janet Fitch, The Revolution of Marina M.
Vicki Croke, Elephant Company
Leslie Harrison, The Book of Endings

And two re-reads because I love these books so:

Etheridge Knight, The Essential Etheridge Knight
Max Porter, Grief Is the Thing with Feathers

That’s it for now. I look forward to hearing from you in the comments section. Let me know how you deal with getting out of your comfort zone!

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. :-)

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