Monday, December 10, 2012

Cancer vs. the Author by Margaret Frazer

Today is the first day of Margaret Frazer's blog book tour for her latest novel, Circle of Witches, and I'm thrilled to help her kick off this event.

Margaret is the award-winning author of more than twenty historical murder mysteries and novels, including the Edgar-nominated Sister Frevisse and Player Joliffe series. She makes her home in Minneapolis, Minnesota, surrounded by her books, but she lives her life in the 1400s.

"Over the years I’ve had a rag-tag of various jobs, including librarian, secretary, reseacher for a television station, gift shop manager, and assistant matron at an English girls’ school. Married once upon a time but not anymore, I have two well-grown sons who become uneasy if I read books about poisons at the supper table and refuse to turn their backs on me when I say I want to try something I might use in a story. When I write, I want to delve as far inside the perceptions of my characters as possible, to look at their world more from their point of view than from ours, because the pleasure of going thoroughly into otherwhen as well as otherwhere — the chance to move right away from the familiar into a whole other way of seeing and behaving — has always been one of my own great pleasures in reading. As a writer I deeply want to give that same pleasure to others."


Cancer vs. the Author by Margaret Frazer

It’s done. Circle of Witches – my novel of a girl growing into young womanhood as she learns, and tries to deny, the lies that have surrounded her all her life – is ready to go up for e-sale and then, a few days after that, in print. And I’m still alive to see it happen, despite there were days when I thought finishing it was literally going to kill me.

That was because the breast cancer I’ve been fighting for twenty years is trying to kill me, and the chemotherapy against it has stripped away much of my ability to write. Oncologists now acknowledge that chemotherapy will, more likely than not, cause cognitive impairment. (In plainspeak, brain damage.) They’ll admit to it if you ask them, but even then they tend to lump it with the other collateral damage, as if the rending of the myelin sheath on the synapses in your brain, destroying your ability to think clearly, was no worse than hair loss.

Twelve years ago, when I first had chemotherapy, oncologists were not admitting “cognitive impairment” existed. I had to experience the terror of “losing my mind” without support. The experience was so horrible that I refused chemotherapy ever after -- until this year, when a worsening situation forced me to it.

Twelve years ago, the chemo impact on the word processing part of my brain was minimal (though in other ways my life was made life hell for more than a year). I was able to keep writing: The Clerk’s Tale and The Bastard’s Tale came out of that time. This year when I finally gave in to the apparent necessity for chemotherapy, I desperately hoped the same would be true.

I hoped in vain. The damage has been crippling physically, and the chemotherapy has heavily targeted my ability to process words. Even at the best of times, trying to write creative prose is demanding, with its multiple levels of simultaneous, complex thought as you envision and work to lay out a fully realized world and characters and all their interactions. Trying to do it while your brain is losing coherence is an absolute nightmare of stress and frustration, made worse because I was helplessly aware that characters, plotting, everything were disappearing from my brain. Ironically, I could – can -- still write straightforward prose. An essay, letters, Facebook entries – those are possible. But for months now, if I try to write creatively, my brain begins to panic and flail as it tries to remember how to do it.

Into the midst of this misery came my e-book editor/agent, enthused about readying Circle of Witches for e-sale. Put aside as my condition had worsened, the book was in need of some work to make it a final draft, but other of my novels, their rights returned to me by the publisher, were selling very well as self-published e-books. Why not finish Circle of Witches and e-publish it myself instead of finding a traditional publisher first?

I pointed out that my disintegrating brain was one point against the idea, and that most days I was physically barely more than an exhausted, malfunctioning lump. My e-editor seemed to think that was irrelevant. He persevered. With any book there are always things that can be made better, and he found them out rigorously and talked me through them, pushed me for my choices and changes, and never mind if I ended a session clutching my head and pleading for mercy. He made a kind of hell for me, forcing me to bludgeon my beleaguered brain: I remember once sitting with tears streaming down my face, weeping because I had had such fun first writing this book, but now it was become a nightmare, a torture.

But while the tears were for the pain, they were also for the frustration of not being able to do what I wanted to – to tell stories, to write books, to give enjoyment to readers. If this present struggle was all that was left to me, then I would do it. And I did, because what mattered was the book, not what it cost me, mind and body.

In the end my e-editor was right in all he did. Circle of Witches is better for the final rewriting he forced on me, and I’m better for the fight that forced my brain to form new pathways to replace the damaged ones. I’ve stopped the chemotherapy, am hoping my brain will heal sufficiently to let me write again as I want to write, creating worlds and stories for other people’s pleasure – and my own.

In the meanwhile, Circle of Witches is done and ready for its readers. May you enjoy!


Margaret, thank you so much for sharing your story here. I know several writers who have fought cancer while trying to finish their books and keep on writing. Your experience will be an inspiration to a lot of folks, no matter what life challenge they're facing at the moment. 

Who knew your editor's torture methods would end up making him a hero? I wish you good fortune with Circle of Witches (and all your books) and a very long and happy life with lots more books to come.

You can learn more about Margaret and her books at her website. She can also be found at Twitter and Facebook. Circle of Witches is available through most booksellers who feature e-books including, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords.

The complete tour schedule is available at Margaret's website here or by clicking on the tour banner at the top of this post.

Circle of Witches:


Her mother had always been afraid. That's what Damaris remembered. From the time she was a little girl until the day her mother died, she had seen the fear in her eyes.

But now she understood. Now she was afraid, too.

Young Damaris wanted more than anything to be happy at Thornoak, the ancient manor owned by her aunt and uncle. Adventuring through the wide, open beauty of the Dale in the company of her rambunctious cousins she rediscovered a joy she had thought lost with the death of her parents. And in the deep, storm-tossed eyes of Lauran Ashbrigg she was surprised to find an entirely new emotion.

But even under the warm and inviting sun, Damaris is chilled by the undeniable fact that the family which claims to welcome and love her is hiding truths from her: The truth of the Lady Stone. The truth of the Old Ways. The truth of moon and star and witchcraft.
The truth of her mother's death.


"Exquisitely written, the novel offers a brilliantly realized vision... Suspenseful from start to surprising conclusion, this is another gem from an author who's twice been nominated for an Edgar." - Publisher's Weekly

"Love the passionate attention to detail in character, custom, and setting, and the sympathetic creation of believable people and events. Essential." - Library Journal of New York

"The writing is seamless... Rich period detail, canny characterization, and a lively plot should endear her tales to anyone..." - Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Mystery… Suspense… Frazer executes with audacity and ingenuity.” – Kirkus Reviews


Anonymous said...

Margaret your book sounds amazing-- we should all hope to write so well. I'm so sorry for the illness and chemo effects you are suffering. A commitment of prayers your way.

E.J. Wesley said...

Margaret, wishing you a speedy recovery and much success with the book. Sounds like a fabulous read! You're clearly a dedicated woman, and I hope that serves you well in your 'fight'.

Facing Cancer Together said...

This is a really inspiring story. While I was going through chemotherapy my writing completely disintegrated, and it's only now that I'm coming back to my project and finishing the complete first draft. It sounds like there were very hard times - chemobrain is only just now receiving acknowledgement, but how wonderful that you pushed through with your editor's prodding. Congratulations. ~Catherine

Margot Kinberg said...

Pat - Thanks for hosting Margaret.

Margaret - Thank you for sharing your story. Mostly, thank you for working as hard as you have to share your novel. What a wonderful inspiration for the rest of us. May you have a full recovery, and I hope it gives you empowerment to know that your novel will be out there for all of us to savour.

Dean K Miller said...

I shall cease my own insistent whining about things that do not matter, so that I can walk, and write, in the shadow of the heroes I am blessed to know.

Thanks Margaret and Pat.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Thanks to you all for the supportive and sweet comments for Margaret.

Anonymous said...

Echoing Pat, I thank all of you for your lovely comments. One of the things (besides sheer bloody-minded stubbornness) that's seen me through these troubles (and others over the years)is knowing that what I've written has reached others and enriched their lives. Now I'm using my own life toward the same end. It helps me mightily to hear from you.

Alana said...

Margaret, Thank you for your bravery and your persistence throughout this journey. I, too, promise to quit whining when the work gets "too hard." You are my inspiration.