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I had been writing because my editor at the time was offering money sight unseen for it.”

After offering this enticing example, Karen suggested, as others had, that Edie jot down a short synopsis of the grandiose idea and promise the Muse she’d write the new story after the others were completed.

“Although you’ll write it on the side, because it’s not like the Muse is offering you a sizeable check and a Glock doesn’t put food on the table. And by the way, couldn’t the Muse see her way to helping out with the other books and getting you more of an advance for them? Sometimes Muses are open to negotiation.” Karen’s book, Night Fires, (Bantam/Dell 2003) was a Rita finalist and is still in print.

I love the idea of negotiating with the Muse.

When other authors, published or unpublished, ask my opinion on what they should write next, I usually answer with a question: “If you knew you only had one year to live, but you would have the energy, strength and ability to write one book, which book would you choose?”

I believed that response would lead every writer to her own perfect answer. Considering the uncertainty of life, shouldn’t the next book always be the one you know you want to leave behind? I’m no longer certain the answer is always that simple — although I believe the question has relevance.

NINC member Linda Barrett was diagnosed with cancer soon after selling her first book, a category romance, and she had surgery the same month the book was released. She was under contract for more titles at the time and wrote more category romances during treatment and recovery and for years afterward. (You can read more of her story in “We Bounce Back,” Nink, June 2004.) I noticed Linda published a women’s fiction novel, Family Interrupted, this year, and I wondered whether she’d made the choice to write a different type of story because of her experience with a life-threatening disease.

“The original “itch” to try something bigger or different came just before the second breast cancer was discovered in December 2010. I didn’t understand what was happening except that my proposals were getting rejected, partly because of a new editor, but partly because I was starting to people my stories with a “cast of thousands” — lots of relatives, lots of subplots, lots of POVs. While submitting category romance and receiving rejections, I had started working on a women’s fiction project which allowed for the expansion that category did not. I was thinking about life questions that maybe didn’t come with a total happy-ever-after but as I call it, a hopeful ever after.

“Oy! Trying something so big and new-to-me was crazy, difficult and shot my confidence right to shreds. I didn’t know how to control the story structure — how to go back and forth through time — I think that was my hardest issue. But I finished the book and let it rest for awhile. In the meantime, I had an idea for another big story which turned out to be Family Interrupted, which was published in April this year. I learned so much about handling a lot of material and timeline. The reviews are wonderful, and it’s being discussed at two book club groups so far. I was now focusing on family-in-crisis type situations and how the aftershocks affected each person individually and the family as a unit.

“As I went through treatments, I was comparing the first and second experiences and the collateral events in our lives. I knew deep down that I had a book here. By the time I attended the October 2011 NINC conference, I knew I’d write a memoir, and I had my picture taken with and without my wig on by former NINC member and photographer Sasha White. Hopefully Ever After: Breast Cancer, Life and Me will be released independently this October. Lots of laughter, tears and love for at its heart is a romance. I guess the difficult decision for some writers would be deciding if they wanted to reveal their experiences. Because of my particular circumstances, as a carrier of the BRCA1 gene mutation, I had no compunctions. I wanted to share what I’ve learned. (Think Angelina Jolie’s decision). The book has already garnered a fabulous review from Joni Rodgers, a NYT-bestselling author (Bald in the Land of Big Hair) and cancer survivor.

“I worked on these independent projects through my treatments: One, fiction; the other non-fiction. Both were stimulating, challenging — even with chemo brain — and kept me on my normal writing path. I haven’t had time to rewrite the first women’s fiction book yet.”

Linda’s response wasn’t what I anticipated, but I find it intriguing. Yes, the type of books she’s writing has changed considerably, but the change happened more gradually than I expected. The changes were the result of her life experiences and her growth as a writer, as with all of us. It appears the Universe stepped in with the frustrating rejections of the stories she intended to continue writing, thus making the choice to concentrate on women’s fiction easier than it may have been otherwise.   

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