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Question of the Month: Intensity

By Posted on 18 3 m read 1.6K views

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


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!)


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.


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.


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


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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  • Billie Hinton
    January 14, 2018

    Hang in there with the pre-pub rush! I can’t wait to read the new book.

    I’m feeling especially in need of self-calming techniques this new year, and that trend started I think in mid-November. I had travel plans with daughter, with family, and so much to do to be able to leave the menagerie here while I went away. At one point in December I was ticking off things on my list with dread and had to stop about every five minutes to remind myself that I could also choose to tick them off with joy and focus on the moment when there was really only one thing at a time I could do, and that’s all I needed to be focusing on. I’m not sure what is driving this but I suspect the political and national climate is fueling it to a degree. I certainly have my own fuel for feeling frantic. I have to actively work to stop the whirling dervish thing my brain does oh so easily.

    I had a wonderful time traveling with my daughter because I relentlessly reminded myself to stay in the moment. One thing at a time to do and everything around me to enjoy.

    In other news, but likely very related to the above windmilling mind thing, is the fact that I have not felt like working on the book or even the short pieces I had been focusing on in October. It’s rare for me to hit this kind of halt with writing, and it seems to be related to some late mid-life stuff where I’m rethinking the career choices I made – not regretting the ones I made, but bemoaning the fact that I couldn’t pick all of them. I was a science person until sophomore year of college, then veered off to major in English, veered back in grad school for psychology, then went from an interest in research to clinical work. I am wishing I’d taken the rest of the maths, and the hard sciences that I would need now if I wanted to veer back into science. Marine biology, cephalopods, astronomy. It’s a little crazy, but I’m trying to let myself boycott fiction if that’s what I need to do right now, and use my deep work days to do the reading that is exciting me: all about octopuses, neuroscience, and yes, a little fiction. I just finished Fiona Mozley’s Man Booker nominated Elmet. A terrific read.

    It’s possible a lot of my creative energy is being used in the farm projects we have going – we’re nearing the end of the biggest one right now, and I’ve sworn to take a break before the next one. I’m wondering if many of us are feeling an underlying freefloating pressure these days. I am hearing it from friends and from family and clients.

    Interestingly husband, daughter, and I all came down with a surgical strike flu the day after my son left to go back to Cornell. It forced all of us to rest, and took away all the agitation about all the other “stuff” – I almost feel grateful for my body shutting me down so effectively for a few weeks! Now how to move back into normal health and wellness without the dervish energy. 🙂

    • Susan Henderson
      January 14, 2018

      Yes, the daily assault on civil rights, decency, etc, etc, is not helping.

      I’m glad you had a good trip with your daughter. You may not have been able to choose all the paths you would have liked to have pursued, but it’s quite something to watch your children move so deeply and passionately into the maths and sciences. That they come from a home filled with animals and books and art will make them especially interesting out in the world.

      I need to check out Elmet, even just to learn what that word means.

      Funny how weather, animals, and sickness force us to find balance in our lives. Of all the things I feel worried and depressed about that are happening in the world these days, there are also those constants that ground me. Even the things we might not like (flu, snowstorms, animals needing walks or feeding) have lessons to teach us.

      My oldest is beginning his Master’s this spring after finally finishing up his cross-country road trip. The break was good for him, but near the end of the trip, he said his head really missed math.

  • Sheri A.
    January 15, 2018

    I’m reading Hunger by Roxane Gay. I relate to parts of it very much, and then there are parts I cannot relate at all to. It is about weight and our bodies, and how trauma can have a huge effect on both.

    • Susan Henderson
      January 15, 2018

      Sheri, So glad you’re here! I read HUNGER this summer and thought it was so powerful, just the experience of being obese in the world — the daily realities, the public scrutiny, and the stories our bodies hold.

  • Sheri A.
    January 15, 2018

    P.S. Can’t wait to read your new book!

    • Susan Henderson
      January 15, 2018


  • Janet Clare
    January 15, 2018

    What a wonderful, and strangely encouraging post. My first book, Time Is the Longest Distance, will come out later this year from a very small publisher out of Australia (where the story is set), and, with no team such as yours, everything is in my hands! How I wish it wasn’t! But I am determined to get the word out because I am proud of it. No matter what, there will be a party!
    All best.

    • Susan Henderson
      January 15, 2018

      Janet, Tell us about your book!

      I love the title: TIME IS THE LONGEST DISTANCE. Do you have a launch date yet? Many here have had their books come out with small publishers. Maybe they can share something about what they learned with you.

      I’m so glad to know we’re going through this weird/exciting/unnerving time together. It’s nice to have the company. 🙂

  • GC Smith
    January 15, 2018

    Like Alfred E. Newman my motto seems to be, “what me worry?” Not being a sufferer of such I don’t relate well to anxiety. But, you seem to have good coping mechanisms. Hang in there, enjoy life, March will come soon, and The Flicker Of Old Dreams will be a huge success. Meantime, you have a new project to engage your considerable talents. Enjoy.

    • Susan Henderson
      January 15, 2018

      I wonder what that must feel like to go through life without anxiety. For me it’s 30-60% of my experience in the world, depending on which head games I’m able to employ to keep it at bay.

      Did you move yet? How is all that going?

  • GC Smith
    January 15, 2018

    We haven’t moved yet, but coming into spring we’ll get our current home sold and get on with it. We’ve found a place we’d like to buy.

    • Susan Henderson
      January 15, 2018

      I look forward to your stories in the spring.

  • Christopher Lincoln
    January 15, 2018

    I suspect all of your worry is a perfect expression of you being you. And you being you seems to be working out quite well.

    • Susan Henderson
      January 15, 2018


  • Ric Marion
    January 19, 2018

    Late to the party, as usual.
    Perspective. Personally, I’ve been on a magic carpet trip for the past 18 months, as though everything clicked into place in some cosmic lock mechanism. Don’t know what it is, don’t have a great explanation for it (outside of evangelizing Druids and Lunar myths), but at this point, I’m just going to ride it until the end.
    People who know me say, “Enjoy it while you can, it won’t last.” Then, I’ll get a phone call and someone will buy $2000 worth of stuff and ask, “Do you take American Express?” Of course I do.
    And this magic does not appear confined to me. My children are all doing new and wonderful things, some artistic, some philosophical, all very strange. Everyone is healthy, happy, looking forward to the coming year.
    Yes, like you, Susan, it is hard to believe it can simply keep getting better. But, a year and a half in, it still gets better every day. And, when that happens, your stress levels drop off the charts. I find I don’t get upset about little things or even big things. Current events – while many folks are wailing about the end of the world and life as we’ve known it, I find myself observing it all with a wry amusement. Been there, done that, it will all work out.
    So, you, my dear, are going to be just fine. A glorious second novel, many friends who wish you well, a solid family, yeah, you’ll be fine.
    Mom always says (Mom is 94) “The worst bridge you will cross is the one you never come to.”
    What? Me worry? Not anymore, and life is so much better.
    And, it appears your new novel will arrive on my birthday in March.
    I don’t even begin to understand how that happened. It is my whole life right now and I am blessed.

    • Susan Henderson
      January 19, 2018

      I’ve learned the same lesson: Enjoy the good while it lasts. And also: Look for good each day… because it’s there.

      I’m glad it’s such a good time for you and your family. I think you’re right, too — and I have to find a way to adopt your style — that when you lower your stress level, obstacles don’t seem so big or threatening. Determined to walk closer to that mindset. By the way, your mom is awesome.

      • Ric Marion
        January 19, 2018

        Mom is awesome. She has some memory issues. She asked one of the gals at the Home what was for dinner. The girl said “leftovers”. Mom looked at her funny and said, “If I can’t remember what I had for dinner last night, would it still be called Leftovers?”

Susan Henderson