the ruby cup

Question of the Month: Title

by Susan Henderson on December 7, 2009

Tell me some of your favorite book titles. What do you think makes a good title? What catches your eye?


I’m asking this partly because, once again, I have to find a new title for my book. The marketing team thinks THE RUBY CUP sounds more like YA Fantasy than literary fiction, and I think they’re right. But how to find a title that fits?


I have a few links to share. First, when I announced a couple of months ago that I’d no longer be running interviews (because I need to knuckle down and devote my time to writing books), Meredith Resnick very graciously offered to take care of some of the folks I’d planned to talk with. You can read her interviews over at The Writers Inner Journey. And in particular, I’d love for you to read about author Tod Goldberg, and Gina Frangello, one of the best and most generous editors I know.


Second, if you’re not already a fan of The Nervous Breakdown, the site’s been completely and wildly improved. It’s getting tens of thousands of hits a month, and I hope you’ll read (and maybe even contribute) to the TNB community. I have a weekly column over there called The Evolution of the Book, which has been culled from my monthly wraps at LitPark. The goal of this column is not only to buoy the frustrated writer by letting off steam about things like rejection, close calls, and endless waiting, but also to show a road map of sorts as to how I got this book written and sold. Whether it’s a road map you want to follow or whether you want to learn from my mistakes and take a different path is up to you!


Question of the Month: Pet

by Susan Henderson on November 2, 2009

Tell me a story about the first animal you ever loved.

Green-Hand with his first dog, Brian.

Green-Hand with his first dog, Brian.

For those following the progress on my book, I’m happy to report that I turned my edits in on time (I was asked to add a frame-story, as well as pick up the pace of one part of the book), and the edits were really well-received. I’m now waiting for the very last bit of tightening, and then I’ll find out what happens next.

In the meantime, as I wait to hear back, I’m busy writing something new. I did this when the book was on submission, too, wrote a whole second novel, which I’ve put away in a drawer until I have enough distance to read it fresh. And now I’m starting my third, something gloriously dark and fun to write!

How about you? What are you working on?


Book Deal!

by Susan Henderson on July 19, 2009

The deal: My novel, THE RUBY CUP, will be published by Harper Perennial!


A few details: On Friday, I got a call from my agent with an offer from Harper Perennial. It’s my favorite publishing house (everyone who knows me best knows this), so it was an extra thrill.

Earlier in the week, I’d spoken with the woman who will be my editor to see if we’re on the same page with edits. Do you know the feeling when someone talks about your work with ideas that are so in-line with yours but with an original twist you never considered? It sets off fireworks in your head. You can’t stop the new ideas; they find you when you’re driving and while you’re sleeping.

I always thought, when I got a book deal, that I’d shout it from the rooftops. My reaction surprised me. It felt intensely private, like giving birth; and then, after something full of seemingly endless pain and worry and utter exhaustion, you’re holding this baby. And he’s healthy and looking at you. And in the back of your mind, you know you have to call everyone to say he’s born and tell everyone his name and how much he weighs and all about the labor, but you kind of can’t move. You just want to stay in that quiet space for a while, just the two of you, and let it all feel real.

I spent the weekend cleaning. Can you believe my first real urge after getting a book deal was to wash and fold all the laundry?! And I just hung out with the family and gardened and threw a tennis ball to the dogs. Hardly went near the computer.

I feel good. Feel like getting to work. And I want to tell those of you who feel like Sisyphus, pushing that boulder up the hill, or who feel like a mother in some kind of cruel false labor, that I hope it happens for you soon. Because the second you’re standing on the top of the hill, or you’re holding that newborn, all that pushing doesn’t seem so bad.

Thanks to all of you for being here. xo


Monthly Wrap: How a Book Can Save a Kid

by Susan Henderson on February 6, 2009

Do you remember, when you were a kid, what it was like to walk through the cafeteria with your lunch tray or walk down the aisle of the bus, and kids are putting coats and backpacks across the empty seats so you can’t sit down? Remember that feeling?

Or, say, you’re walking down the hallway at school and some girl comes up behind you and cuts a foot-long section of your hair off while her friends (yours too, you thought) laugh hysterically.

This is why books are so important during childhood. Because one day, you’ll open up a book and discover a child who hurts like you do, and suddenly, you’re not alone.

But it doesn’t stop there.

Because books are not just about company or validation. They shake up your ideas about everything you think you know. They show you that the world is infinitely more glorious and more wicked than you ever dreamed.

The world is no longer just a tiny corner crammed with backpacks and mean girls. And while you once walked silently past the girl holding the scissors, determined not to let her see you cry, now there are so many more possibilities.

My favorite children’s books? These are just some of them…


Look behind an obsessive reader and you’ll usually find out why they ditched people for books. Tell me some of your early favorites. Or, better yet, tell me your own version of the scissors story.


What I read this month: Barbara Kingsolver, THE POISONWOOD BIBLE (Absolutely tremendous. Thanks to Lizzy for the recommendation);┬áDeepak Chopra, CREATING AFFLUENCE (I know, Mr. Henderson teased me, too, but okay, so I downloaded this off and I listen to it when I’m folding laundry, and now I’m going to be so rich and famous). I also tried to learn how to build suspense by reading these: Laura Benedict, CALLING MR. LONELY HEARTS (I had nightmares for days); Alexandra Sokoloff, THE HARROWING (It’s like a master’s class on how to structure fear); Joe Hill, “THE BLACK PHONE” (Whoa. I’ll remember this one forever).

What I read to my kids: Neil Gaiman, CORALINE (freeaky!); Stanley Weintraub, SILENT NIGHT: THE STORY OF THE WORLD WAR I CHRISTMAS TRUCE (read the intro and first chapter – very interested in the story but not in the cumbersome way it was told – so we decided to order the movie, Joyeaux Noel, instead); Laura Ingalls Wilder, LITTLE HOUSE IN THE BIG WOODS (I’ve read this to the boys before, and they always complain because the cover is so girlie, but it’s fascinating history: balloons made of pig’s bladders, a corn cob named Susan, and who can eat cheese again after reading about rennets?).


Thanks to everyone who played here and linked here this month. And thank you to my guest, Belle Yang, for sharing her art and her powerful story.



Monthly Wrap: When Patience is Required

by Susan Henderson on January 9, 2009

Years ago, when I left my job as a rape crisis counselor, I was presented with a plaque. In beautiful calligraphy, my co-workers had listed the qualities they valued most about me: Dedicated Somethingerother. Compassionate Listener. Some Other Things. Patient.

I showed the plaque to Mr. Henderson, and he asked, “Do you think they meant this as a joke?”

Because not only am I known for listening only when I feel like it, but I will do things like put a frozen waffle in the toaster, and as soon as the edge is even slightly cooked, I’ll eat around the outside because I can’t wait two minutes for something I want.

You’d think I’d have picked a career that involved immediate rewards.

But logic is never one of the reasons a person becomes a writer. You know how it is. Your friends see you madly scribbling your ideas down on paper. They see you carrying around typed pages, crossing out words, circling things and drawing arrows here and there. They comment on how you disappear for weeks, sometimes months, to work on your manuscript. And, innocently, they ask, “What have you published?” And, “Can I read your book?”

They have no idea why these questions are so deeply frustrating. Or how a person can write for months, for years, and have nothing to show for it. Nothing that counts on their terms: A trip to the bookstore to find a beautiful hardcover book on one of those front tables.

It baffles them how you can write so slowly. How the things you’ve published are so hard to find. How you are never, or hardly ever, paid for your work. How, after not being paid for twenty years, you continue to call yourself a writer. And yet, that’s what you are. And you know the big break will come soon. It must. Because you’re good. Because you have things to say. Because you know your writing is better than the books on the bestseller list, or it will be after this next revision.

So what do you do while you hope someone falls in love with your work? What do you do while you hope for that career break?

If you’re an impatient type, you do this: You move forward. You put your finished manuscript in play, and then you get to work on the next one. And you try to make this new thing the best you’ve ever written. You move forward because a writer doesn’t wait; a writer writes.


I can’t tell you how moved I was by your answers this week on how and why you endure, and was glad to see David Niall Wilson continue the discussion over on his blog with a post entitled Perseverance: Writing is NOT the Hardest Part.

What I read this month: Tawni O’Dell, Back Roads (Dark and brilliant); Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Love it even more now than when I first read it as a teenager. Choked me up so many times. No real plot, but, oh, what a portrait of a generation! Wonder if it would sell today?); Wally Lamb, The Hour I First Believed (Wow. First half of the book is better than the second half, but still: Wow); Truman Capote, Other Voices, Other Rooms (Like most first books I’ve read, particularly the unpublished ones, it’s a bit of a mess. But here and there is something wonderful, like this: “They can romanticize us so, mirrors, and that is their secret: what a subtle torture it would be to destroy all the mirrors in the world: where then could we look for reassurance of our identities? I tell you, my dear, Narcissus was no egotist…he was merely another of us who, in our unshatterable isolation, recognized, on seeing his reflection, the one beautiful comrade, the only inseparable love…poor Narcissus, possibly the only human who was ever honest on this point”).

What I read to my kids this month: Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book (Just try to read the first 2 pages and not buy the book. Loved it); Dylan Thomas, A Child’s Christmas in Wales (We read this out loud every year, and whoever happens to be reading when they get to snowballing the cats, or Ernie Jenkins, or the dry voice singing on the other side of the door always feels like they won the lottery).


Thank you to my January guest, the fabulous editorial cartoonist Jimmy Margulies. Thank you to everyone who played here this month.