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Up from the Blue

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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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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Question of the Month: Partners

by Susan Henderson on October 3, 2016

Tell me about your partner.

We talk so much here about ourselves and our writing lives. But who’s that person (or animal or drug or ritual) you go home to, or that person you rely on to balance out your life? I want to hear all about him or her.

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Mr. H and I met our second year in college. He was a drama major reading Einstein. I was still a science major reading Oliver Sacks. We traded books. He read mine and I pretended to read his.

Our first date was to an August Wilson play.

He grew up in Honolulu, Singapore, and London. He had a British accent when we first started dating, but now you mostly hear it in his syntax or in his funny choice of adjectives.

Mr. H teaches, paints, designs and builds sets, designs and builds costumes, creates cool scar make-up, writes songs when he’s in the shower, and plays guitar in a punk band.

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When our first dog was dying, he carried him up the stairs every night so he could sleep in our bed and carried him down the stairs every morning. Our boys were the first babies he ever held.

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He played Lego with the boys and sewed costumes for them. And when they got older, he taught them games like Magic Cards and Glory to Rome.

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How is my life better because of him? Because we talk about anything and everything. Because we’re both constantly curious and constantly learning. Because we laugh. We laugh a lot. Because we know life has ups and downs, and he’s the person I want with me on this great rollercoaster of life.

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

Ocean Vuong, Night Sky with Exit Wounds

Max Porter, Grief Is the Thing with Feathers: A Novel

Yaa Gyasi, Homegoing

Aimee Bender, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

Yukio Mishima, Death in Midsummer

Helen Simonson, The Summer Before the War

Jessica Anya Blau, The Trouble with Lexie

Thelma Adams, The Last Woman Standing

Natalie Baszile, Queen Sugar

Don DeLillo, Zero K

Anand Giridharadas, The True American: Murder and Mercy in Texas

Sari Wilson, Girl Through Glass

Tracy K. Smith, Life on Mars: Poems

Jack Gilbert, Refusing Heaven

Paula Whyman, You May See a Stranger

Aleksandar Hemon, The Lazarus Project

Gina Frangello, Every Kind of Wanting

Akhil Sharma, Family Life  

Joyce Carol Oates, The Gravedigger’s Daughter

Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad

 

And some re-reads:

Elie Wiesel, Night

Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men

 

So that’s it for this month. But jump into the comments section and tell me about your partner. I want to know that side of you.

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