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September 2018

Wayétu Moore asks, Who Makes Up Your Village?

by Susan Henderson on September 10, 2018

I am so thrilled to share Wayétu Moore with all of you who don’t know her yet. She is one of my favorite writers with an old soul, an astounding ear for dialogue, and the courage to tackle big issues in her work. She is also one of my favorite humans, from when we first met as roommates at the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, to laughing and telling stories back here in New York, to seeing all she has done for others, particularly those who live in Liberia, her first home.

Wayétu is the founder of One More Book; she owns the only bookstore in Monrovia, Liberia; and she’s a Margaret Mead Fellow at Columbia University Teachers College.  Her debut novel, She Would Be King, is out tomorrow, and it is a masterpiece.

This is the blurb I was honored to write for it: “This magical retelling of Liberia’s beginning is so original, so bold and poetic, Wayétu Moore is destined for comparisons to Yann Martel, Markus Zusak, and Paulo Coelho. Her unforgettable heroine, Gbessa, leads those who’ve been stripped of their homes and their language to rise up and defend not only their own futures but the memory of those who would never see freedom.”

And this is is Edwidge Danticat’s blurb that’s on the cover: “Epic, beautiful, and magical, this astonishing first novel boldly announces the arrival of a remarkable novelist and storyteller.”

So here is Wayétu, on the day before her book launch, with a letter for those of you who feel weary and beaten up by the writer’s life. Hang in there!

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Dear Writer,

I have to admit it’s odd offering advice on writing because I find myself still negotiating the madness associated with this process every day. I suppose rather than guidance on the many events on your pages and screens, the best words I can offer are those relating to the world off the page, the one you have to navigate and at times even protect yourself from to preserve the part of your spirit most vital to your craft.

You are sensitive and you cannot help it. At times this is what you hate the most about yourself, but this frustration about your soft heart and fragile skin is coupled with the realization that your sensitivity is needed to move about your craft in the way that you do. If you are anything like me, this sensitivity causes a number of functions in your life, and at times is at the root of undesirable interactions. So, my advice speaks to those.

Who Makes Up Your Village?
We all know the saying, “it takes a village.” Growing up, my parents abided by this, and were very strict about who my siblings and I spent our time with. It used to infuriate me, but later I understood their wisdom, and that they were only trying to protect us from the heartaches that stem from bad company and influences. I would honor their methods later in life—the care they took in choosing their friends and those they let into our home, and their circle. This circle, this village, has power. The members of this group give counsel, and bad counsel can sometimes lead to devastating outcomes. You’re pursuing a profession that is competitive, stressful, and to be honest, downright hard. None of us become writers to become rich. This may perplex those closest to you who aren’t writers or artists. Why pursue something with no guarantee of monetization? Those who are around you will either be your greatest encouragers, pushing you toward that extra page or chapter, or be the reason why you abandon (ed) those stories in that unnamed desktop folder. Choose them wisely and choose them well.

Make Friends With No
Rejection is not only a rite of passage in one’s path to seeing the book on the shelf of their favorite bookstore, it’s an active, enthusiastic component of your relationship with writing. It’s the mention of that ex, or the nagging recurring argument, the in- law, or the one stubborn thing your partner won’t let go of. “No” isn’t going anywhere. It comes in different shapes. It may be from an agent, an editor, destroying your “darlings,” a publisher, a magazine, or, even readers. It’s inevitable and it isn’t going anywhere. Making friends with that word will diminish the chances that you eventually become resentful of writing, and of the literary industry in which it exists. When I became okay with rejection, and stopped taking ‘no’ so seriously, my writing suddenly felt like it belonged to me again.

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Govern Your Sensitivity
Someone said something to you that felt like a jab. Or they did that passive aggressive thing to get under your skin. Suddenly, you can’t think straight. It’s difficult to concentrate on any task following that encounter, especially your writing. I will tell you something that I have to tell myself: govern your sensitivity. How people treat you exposes more about that person than it does about you. Dissecting and internalizing every conversation or interaction doesn’t only take away from valuable time that can be used toward productive ends, but over time, it can affect your overall health. Govern your sensitivity. It is okay to feel in the way that you do. Empathy is a gift. But, learning to discern which slights were worth my attention and which I should tune out took a long time. The stricter I became with myself about preserving my energy, the more energy I had to produce.

I hope these three things are helpful. Good luck, today. Happy writing.

With love, Wayétu

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One Foot in Each Book

by Susan Henderson on September 2, 2018

Ever feel like you’re trying to run in two different directions at once?

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I’ve been heavy into research for my new novel. I’ve interviewed a locksmith, a storehouse manager, a ward charge, a ward attendant, a photographer, a graffiti artist, and more—all to find out about their experiences working at, living in, or exploring a now-abandoned psychiatric hospital.

That’s a picture of a key the locksmith brought to our interview.

But while I’ve been busy with the new novel, I’ve also been doing a number of book clubs and speaking engagements for THE FLICKER OF OLD DREAMS. Here’s a link to my interview with Helen Little at the iHeart Radio studio in Manhattan. And below is a photo from my talk at the Syosset Public Library.

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I’m not a multi-tasker by nature, so this—splitting my attention, sometimes living out of a suitcase or running from back-to-back appointments—can be stressful. But I’m learning how to break out of my comfort zone and appreciate where it takes me.

There have been some wonderful surprises along the way, and I took screenshots so, later, I would know they truly happened.

Like this…

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And, OMG, this…

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I understand they are fleeting moments, gone even as I post this. But I believe in feeling gratitude for all the big and, usually, small delights that happen in a day—a dog wagging its tail, a stranger holding a door open, a neighbor slowing down to chat, a reader posting an enthusiastic review, a cool day after a heat wave.

It all matters.

Some thanks are in order… to The Writer magazine; 7:30 BookClub; My Life, My Books, My EscapeThe Coachella Review; Hers for the Reading; Book Beat; Syosset Library; A. F. Compson; Liz Morgan PR; Andie Behling; Alexa Melliot; Pookapyle; and Marilyn Cole.

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As always, I’ll end by sharing the books I’ve read since my last post… though most of my reading lately is research for Novel #3, and I don’t post my research:

Gabriel Tallent, My Absolute Darling
Tayari Jones, An American Marriage
Mary Morris, Gateway to the Moon 
Celeste Ng, Little Fires Everywhere
Dorothy Bryant, Confessions of Madame Psyche
Ari Folman and David Polonsky, Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation
Alexander Chee, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel

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That’s it for now. Talk to me in the comments section about something that’s keeping you busy these days.

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