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Question of the Month: Endings and Beginnings

By Posted on 27 2 m read 1.7K views

How do you transition between endings and new beginnings?


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.


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.


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:


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!

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  • Billie Hinton
    July 3, 2017

    Oh, I am nearing a re-read of Arundati Roy’s God of Small Things and then the new one. Right now I am loving Claire Fuller’s Swimming Lessons.

    Endings and beginnings: my son graduated too and a little later this month I will be driving the U-Haul truck full of his furniture and books and belongings to Ithaca where he will be beginning his doctoral work in astronomy and physics at Cornell. I’m so happy for him it hasn’t really hit me yet that he will now be 10 hours away instead of 3, by car, but I guess the up side is that he’s only a couple hours away by air. 🙂

    I’m winding down with a novel and hoping to get it out of my hands after Labor Day and move on to the first draft I have waiting of what I think will be the next novel I’d like to work on. It feels like the beginnings and endings of the novel writing have faded since my children have grown up and started having their own beginnings and endings – I feel those so much more than I have the writing ones. This weekend son is in and out and my mom is here for a long weekend and it feels like this might be the last time this particular constellation of comings and goings and visitings will happen, so I’m trying hard to sink into the treasure it is.

  • Susan Henderson
    July 3, 2017

    Billie, I didn’t realize how much the two books are linked, so I’m glad I went back and re-read the first one before starting on Utmost Happiness. It’s REALLY good, and the threads and images running through the two books are so moving.

    What does your son hope to do with an astronomy/physics combo? I’m so intrigued!

    Congratulations on being so close to finishing your latest novel! How do you feel, seeing the finish line? For me, writing is so often a feeling of being lost, so the great satisfaction of finishing is I found my way, found what I wanted so badly to say, managed to organize the chaos. I think part of my fear of starting something new again is that I know I’m going to get lost. You know?

    Something about mentioning the constellations and the comings and goings of our children speaks so deeply to me about a kind of hard-wired rhythm. That’s comforting to me, though I feel myself fighting the rhythm at the same time.

    • Billie Hinton
      July 3, 2017

      Ooohhh, so excited about reading the two books one and then the next, now.

      Son has been doing research in dark matter and fast radio bursts since his freshman year and has support from Cornell to continue, so I think he’ll probably keep rolling as he goes through grad school. His love is theoretical astrophysics and cosmology – I suspect he’ll end up doing research and writing and teaching, but who knows! Right now he is excited because he gets to take general relativity with the same professor (now emeritus) that his undergrad physics/astronomy mentor took it with, at Cornell, many moons ago. I’m thrilled he has gotten to work with such amazing people already in his young academic life. His mentor told him at his grad reception that when he gets his PhD from Cornell he’ll give him HIS robe to wear. It was a pretty amazing moment. I didn’t go to my own college graduations but I had a wonderful, amazing time at my son’s! 🙂

      Re: this novel – I’m ready to get it out of my hands, to be honest. It’s been a long haul with this one!

      I so get the idea of the hard-wired rhythm being both comforting and something we fight a little. Perfect way to describe it!

      • Susan Henderson
        July 4, 2017

        I have only the tiniest understanding of this field because of Hawking’s dumbed-down for regular folks book, Black Holes and Baby Universes. I can’t wait to see where he goes with this. And that is a breathtaking story of respect about the doctoral robe. Love hearing about his journey, and your daughter’s too!

        I hope, by the end of the summer, you’ve completed and released yourself from you current novel, and I’ve found my footing in mine. Writing long work is such a strange process and a huge commitment and test of patience.

  • GC Smith
    July 3, 2017

    I just keep busy at golf, boating, auto mechanics, building projects, cooking, reading when I’m thinking about what the next writing project might be.

    This month I have a free book written in Cajun dialect. Mudbug Tales; A Novel In Flashes, wit’ recipes. If you would like an E-book copy go to:

    Use coupon code: PJ38L

    Here’s a poem for tomorrow.

    For Independence Day
    By GC

    America, America…
    we once were
    proud of you;
    you shined
    a beacon
    for the world
    to see,
    to you

    Your light was
    that of liberty,
    of opportunity,
    of embracing
    disparate peoples;
    you looked for truth
    for better ways
    for all of us
    to live

    Oh yeah.
    there were the warts
    the stops and starts
    the imperfections
    the injustices,
    through the years
    from founding days
    till recently
    you always
    tried to
    do much

    But now,
    You’re sadly,
    badly worn,
    you seem to have
    lost your way;
    but I still hope
    it’s temporary,
    and we will
    soon see born
    a new and better

    we will.
    I hope
    we do.

    Do you?

    • Susan Henderson
      July 3, 2017

      It’s a good year for an unsentimental perspective on this holiday. Thanks for your poem. What’s your favorite recipe in Mudbug Tales?

      • GC Smith
        July 4, 2017

        It’s a tossup between crab cakes, shrimp creole, and Frogmore stew.

        • Susan Henderson
          July 4, 2017

          Well, you introduced me to the whole concept of Frogmore stew. Probably never would have encountered it except for your writing.

          • GC Smith
            July 4, 2017

            Have you tried Frogmore Stew yet? It’s worth the making, which is not difficult.

  • Ric Marion
    July 3, 2017

    Endings and Beginnings.
    The past month has been spent clearing out my Mother’s house. It was time. Mom is still with us – safely ensconced at the Home. She is 94, unable to maintain a place of her own. So, to stretch her finances, we sold it. Which means, of course, that we had to sort, save, pitch, wonder about 94 years of stuff. I already have enough stuff and my three brothers felt the same way. Still, I have a living room full of boxes stuffed with stuff – some remaining boxes are pictures from all the travels my parents took during 16 years of retirement together. Since my Dad passed, I’ve been making the sixty mile round trip to my home town every week for 17 years. When I handed the keys to the new owner last week, I realized I now have no reason to go to my earlier home. It has ended. There is no longer a ‘home’ to return to, only in memory. That phase of my life has ended.
    Not that I have a lot of time to ponder the loss of childhood. Four weeks from now, on Belle Isle in Downtown Detroit, my middle son will stand on a grassy lawn, with Great Lakes Ships passing nearby, beneath a blue Michigan sky and start his new adventure as a married man. Bridal showers, new suits, all the planning for a destination wedding, who has time to think about endings?
    For him, everything is new. New house, new bride, new gifts. And the beginning of a wonderful future with the love of his life.
    Endings and Beginnings.

    You’ll get the hang of this empty nest syndrome, Susan. Alone with your spouse for the first time since your oldest came home from the hospital. Takes a bit of getting used to, but it has some interesting moments and you’ll find new things out about your life partner – which is surprising after all these years.

    So excited about your new book. Looking very much forward to it.

    • Susan Henderson
      July 3, 2017

      Oh, this story. Both you and Jen (in the comment below) write so poignantly about this hard phase most of us will reach. Thanks for sharing your story. And for the reminder of all the new life and new hopes that are there as well.

      Our hearts sure get a good workout and take a lot of punches in a lifetime.

  • Jennifer Haupt
    July 3, 2017

    Ah, I hear you about endings and beginnings, Sistah!

    I just visited my parents in Wisconsin, in the beautiful house nestled in the hills that they have been living in for the past 25 years. The next time I visit, they’ll be in an “independent living” center. It’s a beautiful apartment, but it’s not HOME. I will never again feel like I am visiting their home.

    As for novel-land, you know that the novel I started work on 11 years ago is finally–finally!–finished and sold. I’m expecting 10 advance advance copies (for blurbers and a few select reviewers) this week. I remember you telling me how you packaged your first novel in bright tissue paper and foil stars (or something like that) and sent it to editors. This is such a lovely idea. I feel the need to give my ARCs a loving send-off into the world. Everyone I’m sending this special AARC to has, in some way, supported me during the past decade and is special to me. So it’s a wonderful end to this creation part of the process, and a beginning of some new part where my novel will actually be out in the world. Exciting and scary. But, for now, just filled with hope and love.

    Expect your copy next week, dearest Susan. And, thank you.

    • Susan Henderson
      July 3, 2017

      We are stepping toward that same heartbreak with my mother-in-law, and even as I read your words, I feel the sorrow that’s been building.

      I am so looking forward to holding your gorgeous book in my hands. The story you’ve told is worth the 11-year wait. It’s that important. And we’ll get to read together at Squaw Valley next summer!

      • Jennifer Haupt's
        July 6, 2017

        That would be so fun to read with you at SV! 💕💕

  • Susan Henderson
    July 3, 2017

    I adore you guys and your stories. I’ll be responding tonight. Today suddenly got very busy. xo

  • AK Gray
    July 5, 2017

    Endings…my first full year back in a workplace. The younger son’s first year of middle school, and the older one’s first year of high school (though I note that he says he is not being challenged, so that leads into the beginnings).
    Beginnings, of summer, our niece’s wedding and her new life…and to the wonderful speech/language therapy place in Herndon, VA, where our precious E.V. took us in hand and got us back on the road to success. It was so needed, to get started anew. And I have time to read. I lost my kindle along the trip, but still. I’ve plowed through three of the Poldark series books. I have one on auditory processing disorders that I need to get through. And a pile of books from the library that will not go unread this time. Books for M, including his pick of H.G. Wells The Rights of Man, and the I Am Malala one I really think he needs to hear. Writing, right now it’s writing lessons for him. I’m hoping that I can squeeze in my own, later, when I’ve stoked up motivation and energy fires to former levels…..

    • Susan Henderson
      July 5, 2017

      I’ve known a few speech therapists and love how connected they can be to the child and to the mystery of language (brain, tongue, confidence, and all that is behind it). So glad you found a good one!

      Don’t you find that having and not having time to read is one of the early indicators as to how much stress you’re under? I remember when I had a job that took everything out of me by the end of the day, I could hardly even read the photo captions in People magazine. There simply wasn’t room, and I couldn’t relax enough to concentrate, much less get lost in a book.

      So love your library picks… and that you use your library. And glad, always, to your stories. : )

  • Aimee Bingham Osinski
    July 5, 2017

    My youngest son is starting high school in the Fall. I had no problem watching my oldest son gain independence. Maybe because there was always his baby brother to look after, or maybe because the older of the two is less reckless? I keep imagining the youngest boy is much younger than he is. I don’t feel ready for him to be in high school. My older son just got home from traveling abroad and I don’t think he’s going to be coming home for anything more than visits in the future. It’s exciting to watch where life takes him, but it is also sad that this phase of life is over.

    I took a long break from writing in any form. Giving birth nearly 3 years ago after having children who were old enough to get their own breakfast and take baths unattended really changed things. But, I’ve had a vague idea floating around for years. So, I signed up for Nanowrimo and started to prep and plan. Then, I became consumed by the election and pretty much stopped writing a few days into November. I am in a Facebook group for creative people. It’s not a space about writing, most are musicians and most of the posts are not about crafting or creating anything. The owner of the group posted a challenge encouraging anyone who creates to set a goal to complete the following Tuesday. My goal was to work on outlining the story I’d started in November. But, I wrote a scene instead. And slowly but surely, the words are coming.
    I just read Into the Wild
    Today, I started Tolstoy. After reading Into the Wild, I felt like I needed to revisit. It’s summer and I am traveling soon, so it’s a great time to delve into Anna Karenina.

    • Susan Henderson
      July 5, 2017

      Oh, that whole first paragraph! The universal mom’s heart, and the bittersweet process of watching them grow up and away.

      I think the election got in the way of a lot of writers’ work. Whether they lost their sense of focus or their sense of urgency with the short story or novel when so many larger things seemed at stake. It’s a process, that’s for sure, trying to find a balance between being engaged in the world and still keeping some sense of honor towards your own creative work.

      I loved Into the Wild. Tolstoy is one of those authors I like to “read” on audio because of all the tough pronunciation. And sometimes I get lost knowing which character he’s referring to because everyone seems to have a nickname that sounds nothing like their proper name.

      Excited that you’re stepping back into your book. And that you’ve got a diverse group of creative people supporting you.

  • Leora Skolkin-Smith
    July 11, 2017

    Hi, new to this wonderful thread. I’m really stuck on endings, though I have th next book firmly in my heart and soul and wanted to ask Susan and others how they dealt with parting with a working which you’ve been immersed for years. I really seem to be having a hard time of this parting. For five years I woke uo and this book was the center of my consciousness with many elements to unwind and resolutions to find. I think it feels a little like mourning but I’m having a hard time saying goodbye. Also facing the real world of publishing and all hat anxiety. Would love to hear insights. Thanks. Leora Skolkin-Smith

    • Susan Henderson
      July 23, 2017

      Leora! I’m so sorry, your comment got lost in a filter, and my webmaster just rescued it. I’m sorry to respond so late!

      I feel like I’m still trying to part with the old book. And whenever I think I’ve done it and have found a groove in the new one, I tend to get a note from HarperCollins to review something about the old book. Or I’m trying to get press for the old book, which has not yet released. And so I’m kind of half in the old world and half in the new. It’s very hard for my head because I’m not a multi-tacker, by nature. I do better focusing on a single thing and fully immersing in it.

      For me it’s not mourning leaving the world. It’s more that the old world is more than 3-D to me and the new one is like the lightest pencil sketch, and there are whole streets and alleys I haven’t got down. I don’t know what the characters keep in their pockets or what they hide from each other.

      This is all to say that I’m asking for insights along with you because we’re in the same boat. Anyone?

      Also, I’m so glad you’re here! xo

  • Leora Skolkin-Smith
    July 27, 2017

    thanks! very exciting and enjoying sharing this weird journey!

    • Susan Henderson
      August 1, 2017


  • Jeanne Voelker
    August 1, 2017

    Why have I never seen this blog before? Sign me up, please!

    • Susan Henderson
      August 1, 2017

      Glad you’re here, Jeanne!

  • Kim Chinquee
    August 4, 2017

    Started The Ministry of Utmost Happiness today. WOW. Having a hard time putting this one down. I love your recommendations!

    • Susan Henderson
      August 4, 2017

      Worth the 20 years it took between the first book and this one.

Susan Henderson