27 February 2013

My Next Big Thing: The Obituary Book

My brother also writes, under his pen name, J. MaynardCarr.  He recently asked me to participate in a Blog Hop where I discuss my Next Big Thing. 

1: What is the working title of your book?
I don’t have an actual title, but I’m saving my current document as The Obituary Book. One of the characters is obsessed with death and re-writes obituaries of various people whose lives and deaths she encounters because she is disappointed by the generic quality of most obituaries.
2: Where did the idea come from for the book?
After a dear aunt of mine died, I wrote a tribute to her on my blog Chez Cerise.  My husband’s uncle read it and asked me if I would write his obituary after he dies.  I started thinking about obituary writers and how boring most obituaries are.  I started wondering what obituaries might be like if they were written in such a way that a reader could really get a sense of who the deceased was from his or her obituary.  I started thinking about what kind of person would take issue with obituaries and my characters evolved from there.

3: What genre does your book come under?

General fiction probably.

4: Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

No idea at all.  In fact, I have seen so few movies since becoming a parent in 2000 that I’m not sure I would have any idea of the current hot stars.  But that being said, of course Meryl Streep would play the mother, because she is still the most versatile actor I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching.

5: What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

It’s a novel set in Phoenix in the 1980’s and is narrated by a daughter and a mother whose brother / son has recently died and how they try to make sense of his death.

6: Is your book self-published, published by an independent publisher, or represented by an agency?

My novella, Marcasite Stars, is self-published.

7: How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I have been working on this book for a couple years, with many fits and starts.  In 2010 I wrote a horrible first draft via NaNoWriMo.  I’ve been working on the re-write since then.  Revising this novel was my major goal for 2013 but I was side-tracked by health issues in mid-January.  I am still confident I can accomplish this revision by the end of the year. 

8: What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I read constantly but I don’t think there’s much out there that can directly compare. 

9: Who or what inspired you to write this book?

As I said above, Fernando asked me to write his obituary, which was such a huge compliment, such an honor.  The concept for the book started with that request and bloomed from there.

10: What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

I like quirky characters, strange amalgamations of real and imagined traits.  Late last year I was at a restaurant with my husband, enjoying an adult lunch without our daughters, when Esther, a character from my obituary book walked in to have lunch with a friend.  In my book, Esther is a Holocaust survivor and former neighbor of the two narrators.  This real-life Esther was dressed all in purple:  purple zip-up jogging suit, shiny purple running shorts, purple pantyhose, purple sneakers, all of which clashed beautifully with her dyed-rust colored hair and bright red lipstick.  She waved to her friend and called her name in the exact Eastern European accent I’d imagined her to have.  I nearly choked, seeing her walk into my real life like that, appearing just as if she walked off the page.   


24 February 2013

The Whole Sky

We often mark our time here on earth with the words before and after:
before I met you...
after we were married...
after graduation...
before we had children...
before he died...
2013 did not begin in an auspicious way for me.  In fact, on the last day of 2012 I received news that swirled me up into an eddy of doctors’ visits and medical tests and procedures from which I am still quite literally recovering.

Just over a month ago I was diagnosed with a very early stage breast cancer in my right breast.  Something that no one mentioned about being diagnosed with cancer is that the first suspicion is just the beginning.  From there, you’ll be asked to run a gamut of tests that confirm or deny other suspicions.  You will be given lots or little information, and then be asked to make huge decisions.  Three weeks after my first cancer diagnosis, it was revealed that the same cancer was also lurking in my other breast, simply missed by at least two other doctors.  And on February 15th, my mother’s 76th birthday, I underwent bilateral mastectomy.  All of the cancer was removed and the sentinel lymph nodes of both sides were also free of cancer.  I am well on the road to recovery, but it will be a long process.

And so now I find that I can demarcate my life as before cancer and so very gratefully as after cancer.  There are certain aspects of my life which are irrevocably changed, altered permanently.  But not all of this change is bad.

Before, I saw the world as full of potential, for adventure, for travel, for knowledge.  But it’s not until you hear certain words spoken in reference to yourself or a loved one, words like cancer, that you really feel the presence of other potentials.  Abruptly, possibilities like pain, suffering, and death - your own and that of your loved ones - loom darkly on your own horizon.

Hearing a doctor say that you have cancer is like being thrust under water.  Quite suddenly, there is no longer enough air in the room.  And the world, as you once viewed it, no longer has the clarity it had before.  The word cancer attaches itself to nearly every thought, obscuring most of them.  I can only speak of my own experience, my own diagnoses, which are highly curable.  I can only imagine that these feelings are multiplied exponentially if your prognosis is more grave than mine.

If this can happen to me, my wild brain laments during the long dark nights, then what else is possible?  What horrors are equally likely to be visited upon my husband, my daughters, my loved ones?  These potential dangers ambushed me at night.  I’ve known for quite some time that I’ve lived a life relatively free from loss and tragedy.  I know that I was grateful for that.  It was as if, with my diagnoses, for the first time, my eyes were open, able to see things that have always been there.  These potential dangers lurk under shadow but are keenly visible with my new-found vision.  There is no way to unsee this.

But something else became discernible as well.  I truly never realized how much I am loved.  I never consciously felt love swaddling me, as a friend put it she wanted me to be cocooned with love.  I had never sensed love’s full capacity to buoy me up in spite of feeling tethered to a heavy darkness.  A string I could follow to lead myself out of the cave.

So many people have expressed admiration for my courage, remarking on how brave I am.  I don’t really know what they mean by that.  I once defined courage as being aware of the dangers that exist and carrying on anyway.  I still believe that.  But the instinct for self-preservation is pretty high, whether you are on a risky mission in Afghanistan or making decisions about cancer treatment.  I only did what I had to do in order to ensure that my life could go on pretty much as it had before.  Anyone would find the same reserve of intentions if and when you are faced with challenges.  It is not until you look that challenge in the eye, though, that you will know how strong you are.

My brother John, a cancer survivor himself who is married to a cancer survivor as well, said to me early on that cancer would test me in ways I couldn’t imagine.  This has been absolutely true.  He also said that he wouldn’t give his cancer back because it made him a better person.  I know exactly what he means.  My entire world has come sharply into focus since I resurfaced from my initial plunge underwater.  Some things that seemed important have faded to irrelevance.  Others, which seemed intangible are now palpable.  The greatest of these, of course, is love.  Hafiz, the 14th Century mystic said,

all this time
the sun never
says to the earth,
"You owe me."

what happens
with a love like that.

It lights the

Please know that your kindnesses through deeds and words do have an impact.  Do not be afraid to love, for it is the only way to extinguish darkness.