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Question of the Month: Firsts

By Posted on 12 2 m read 1.7K views

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. 🙂

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  • billie hinton
    October 2, 2017

    Wonderful interview!

    I’m in the midst of something new right now – planting a pollinator garden in advance of starting my apiary in the spring. I went to bee school last winter and decided to postpone starting the hives until this spring, which meant I could spend the time this fall working on this garden. It’s all native plants, all providing forage for native bees, honey bees, and butterflies, and is aiming to provide food for the pollinators spring, summer and fall. I’ve done a fair bit of gardening in my life but this is a new endeavor. The fascinating thing is that I’m already seeing the benefits of the native plants – there were a number of things planted in our garden beds when we bought the farm, none native, and this weekend as I began to set out the new natives, I started seeing bees arrive – there were zero insects on the non-natives and the new very young pollinator plants had bees scouting. Doug Tallamy’s Bringing Nature Home talks about research that illustrates this – so interesting. I’m “half” a certified beekeeper – took the written part of the exam in the spring and will do the practical part next spring once I start handling the bees. Nervous but also excited. 🙂

    • Susan Henderson
      October 2, 2017

      I’m smiling so big right now! I love every bit of the preparation you describe and how you’r going with native plants. What’s on the written exam for beekeepers? And how far do you keep them from the other animals? Post lots of pictures!

      • billie hinton
        October 3, 2017

        Lots of entomology questions about the species, from history of the bee being brought to the U.S. to their anatomy and physiology to bee behavior. Issues that possibly relate to hive collapse including varroa mites, American and European foul brood, the life cycle of the bee, etc. It was a fascinating course to take and I actually enjoyed studying for the test. Some people don’t do much to keep them separate from other farm animals and say they don’t have issues – I will be preparing an area that will be fenced off from horses, donkeys, pony, and dogs (we have the Corgis and are getting Maremma Sheepdogs later in the fall to serve as livestock guardians) mainly so I don’t have to fret anyone knocking hives over! The past couple of weeks we’re having lots of bear sightings in our area so I may also have to look at fencing that keeps bears out – not something I’ve had to think about before this year. They normally pass through but don’t linger – this year it seems like the bears are staying much longer than usual. It’s a fun project. Will definitely post photos as things progress.

        • Susan Henderson
          October 4, 2017

          This whole process has me in a state of wonder. I could watch the whole movie of your transition to beekeeper! Will the sheepdogs stay in the house at night or out by the livestock? Tell me more! Link to photos! 🙂

  • Amy Wallen
    October 2, 2017

    So excited about your interview and this new book and oh how I can’t wait to see what you’ve done since the last time I read it.

    My First would be that I watched the First episode of the Ken Burns’ The Vietnam War documentary. From that come so many other first feelings, first thoughs, first realizations, and I’m only on Episode 5 out of 12.

    I’m looking everywhere for integrity and seeing so little of it. I’m looking inside and outside of everyone. I’m beginning to think (would that make it a first) that we haven’t learned from our mistakes nor from what we thought we had done right. We just don’t learn.

    On a happier note (because I can’t be so maudlin so long), and because you and I are so focused on death and the thereafter, here’s a great first for some:

    Happy Monday!

    • Susan Henderson
      October 2, 2017

      Yes — Lordy! — about the world and integrity. We will have to drink mojitos and commiserate and then plan some world-saving revolution.

      I’ve been watching the Ken Burn’s documentary, too. I’m behind you on episodes because David’s on crew for The Nerd, and by the time he gets home, we’re too tired for TV. But lots of feelings, yes.

      Can’t wait for us to do some death-book tours together, wherever we can — if we should be so lucky to find that the world still exists by then. Linking your book so folks can pre-order: (I just wish they could see your unbelievably-fabulous book cover, but they don’t have it up on the site yet!)

  • GC Smith
    October 2, 2017

    Firsts: No holes in one, no book contract, no climbing the Eiger, no Grand Prix racing trophy (or even participation for that matter), but last spring Mimi and I went to 11 countries by ship after a transatlantic crossing. It was our first and likely our last travel by ship. We left from St Lauderdale FL and stopped in Portugal, Spain, France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, Estonia, Russia, Finland, Sweden, and Norway. It was a fun trip but a month on a ship is more than either of us want to do again. In fact, both Mimi and I prefer setting our own itineraries, renting a car or getting a rail pass, and going where we want when we want. But we had fun, we particularly liked Normandy (D day beachhead), Estonia, and Russia (St Petersburg). The Estonian people were especially lovely, it’s a sadness they are so close to and likely to again be threatened by the Russian bear.

    No other recent firsts as most of those are now somewhere in the distant past. Perhaps if we get our home sold and a new one bought there will be some firsts again.

    Still dawdling over the final line edit of To Live And Die In Dixie while I await word from an agent or publisher. A yes would be a first.

    • Susan Henderson
      October 2, 2017

      I hope you get that yes!

      It’s good to hear about your trips. Makes me want to learn more about Estonia. And you’re right, a month is a long time on someone else’s itinerary. Looking forward to hearing how you settle into your new home in the mountains. Hope it happens for you soon.

  • Ric Marion
    October 4, 2017

    Had to think hard and long about ‘firsts’. Driving into my hometown for the first time since selling Mom’s house, knowing the last bond to my childhood had been severed, still there is my 50th class reunion in a couple years. Dramatic first of having my autistic granddaughter come running to Gramma with a shriek and a big hug. (Papa still waiting for this to happen to him, it will and it will be wonderful.)
    Many firsts this year – cross country trip with my youngest, being father of the groom for my middle son, rediscovering (now that the kids are gone) my love for my wife and the amazing things she does to keep me sane and safe, and reconnecting with the full moon and the special place the universe has in my life.
    Watched Ken Burn’s Vietnam, imagine my surprise when, in episode 8, they showed the Capitol steps demonstration, and even though I couldn’t find myself in the picture, I was there. And at the next demonstration as well, on November 15, 1969. Somewhere there is PBS footage of me being interviewed – I was half expecting that to show up as well. To those of us who lived through it, the war was a life changing event. We only hope that our actions then helped it end sooner and influenced the world we live in now. They did – though the present leadership doesn’t seem to think so.
    Tomorrow is the full moon, my energy level is soaring, the trees are turning, all is right with the world.
    Looking forward to your new book, Susan. Waiting on my copy of Jamie Ford’s latest to arrive. Life is good.

    • Susan Henderson
      October 4, 2017

      This is beautiful. I hope everyone here reads it at least once.

      • Ric Marion
        October 5, 2017

        BTW, my lovely fiction librarian, Janelle, keeps Publishers Weekly at her desk so she doesn’t have to hunt it down when I want to catch up. I used to have a sub, but they got a bit pricey. Anyway, I got to read your interview, the day after you posted – very nicely done, my dear. Janelle asked what I was so interested in and then she read it, said the book sounds intriguing. May have found you a new reader.

        • Susan Henderson
          October 5, 2017

          Librarians are my superheroes. Thrilled that you introduced her to my book. (By the way, I read Jamie’s and LOVED it.)

Susan Henderson