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I have debated for quite some time about whether or not to make public a situation that’s recently arisen in my life. As it has begun to effect me more and more, I’ve finally decided to make a simple announcement here.

About a month ago I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

It came, let me tell you, as a total surprise. I didn’t feel sick and I’d never have known if I hadn’t noticed a small, painless lump above my collarbone and gone to the doctor. I thought it was nothing. Turns out it wasn’t.

No cancer diagnosis is ever anything short of steal-your-breath-terrifying, but Hodgkin’s is a very treatable, curable disease. So, in that sense, I am “lucky”. I am seeing an amazing team of doctors at Memorial Sloan Kettering (like, seriously, that place is incredible) and they have given me an excellent prognosis, about a 90% chance of full recovery.

I hate gambling and even I’d take those odds!

Treatment is chemotherapy, possibly followed by radiation. I had my first dose of chemo last week and have a couple of months to go. So far it is…kinda unpleasant, but manageable. Probably the less said on this, the better.

During treatment, I have decided (and boy was this an agonizing decision) to take the fall semester off from teaching. Between many doctors appointments, side effects of the chemo, and sense of responsibility I feel to my students, it just boiled down to a big stress sandwich. Still, today would be my first day of classes and I am feeling very sad not to be in that room greeting a new batch of fantastic kids.

I will, of course, continue to write! Whether from my bed, couch, home office, or a co-working space, fiction can be created under even the most difficult circumstances and I’m sure will prove a great escape for me in all this.

It goes without saying, that I will, of course, absolutely SLAY this disease. I will kill it with fire, trample its ashes into tinier ashes, and move on with my life in as fabulous a manner as possible. Getting from Point A to Point B, though, is no doubt going to take grit, humor, and support.

As for that support…many of you are already aware of what’s been going on, and I want to take a moment to express, from the depths of my heart, how much your texts, calls, FB chats, emails, care packages, homemade food, visits, love and support have meant to me. Life throws stuff at us — and at the people we care about — and how we react defines who we are.

So, please know that I see all of you, with your amazing, shining, wonderful hearts, and I’m more grateful to have you in my life than I can ever put into words. I only hope I can one day repay even half the kindness and compassion I’ve received.

Thanks for listening, and for being there.

Oh, and…fuck cancer!

In my last post I announced that I had been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Today I am happy to report that I have successfully completed the first phase of my treatment (chemotherapy) and have received a clean PET scan!

This means I’m essentially cancer-free and ready to move on to the final stage of treatment, which will be a couple of weeks of low-dose radiation. The radiation is designed to destroy any remaining microscopic cancer cells not eliminated by the chemo. So, I still have a bit to go, but treatment is moving in a very positive direction.

It has been about 3 months since I first found out something was wrong and in some ways it feels like 3 years and in others like just a few weeks. One thing is for sure, though: my life has been changed forever.

Finding out you have cancer is like realizing the foundation you’ve been standing on, previously believing to be solid and enduring, is suddenly riddled with holes, precarious and uncertain. Everything shifts, but most especially your perspective on life changes in a profound way.

In fact, one of the gifts of cancer is gaining a true understanding that you must no longer take anything for granted. When I found out I was sick, I started living more fully in the present and thinking about what things were most essential to me. I came to understand the importance of seizing ahold of what truly mattered and letting the rest go.

After all, the rest is just static.

For me, the list of critical things was surprisingly short. At the top: friends and family. In the end, what else really matters more than the people who love you? Nothing. The outpouring of support and encouragement I’ve received has humbled and inspired me; it has made me want to be a better friend and family member.

Next on the list: lifestyle. Am I living the life I truly want, day in and day out? When I look back at the end (whenever that comes), will I be glad of my choices? Of how and where I spent my time? These questions have prompted a lot of soul-searching for me. The final item on the list: writing. Even on my sickest days, in the midst of the chemo, I thought about writing, felt compelled to tell stories. It is an essential part of me.

I’m getting better, and I am very lucky in that I should soon move on from this (as much as one can ever truly move on from cancer), but the experience has changed me. I suspect it will continue to change me for a long time to come.

Sick or well, cancer or no cancer, at least now I know what matters to me. And for that I am grateful.

Hi All! I’m just back from spending the weekend outside Boston at the annual Readercon convention. For those who don’t know, Readercon is a fantasy and science fiction convention with a strong focus on writing and books.

This is my third (or maybe fourth?) Readercon and I keep going back for several reasons. First, I really like the size. It is big enough that it attracts an interesting and varied crowd of authors, industry folks, and fans, but small enough that it feels intimate and isn’t overwhelming. Also, the writing track is usually at the foreground and there are always lots of compelling and thought-provoking panels. Finally, it isn’t too far away from where I live, so going doesn’t feel like a massive, time-zone spanning production.

This year, a friend and I drove up from the New York area, escaping the swamp-like humidity for a few days to write, hang with friends, and listen to smart people talk about interesting things. Some panels that really stuck out (for me) were those that focused on writing female characters and friendships, and those discussing the incorporation of greater diversity into our books without misappropriating and misrepresenting.

It was obvious from listening to panelists and audience members that these issues are front and center for a lot of people right now (finally!) and that there are many viewpoints on the topic, all with a lot of emotion behind them. In my opinion, this is one of the things fiction is for: grappling with the complexity of social issues. I was really glad to see these topics playing a major role in the programming and to see greater representation of women and members of the LGBTQ community on many the panels. With a few exceptions, though, POC were not nearly as well represented — a problem that was called out by a lot of people and hopefully will be improved upon next year.

As always, I came away from the convention kind of drained but also inspired. There’s nothing quite as important for writers as getting out of our heads and into conversation with others. The writing shed can be a good place to lock in for the sake of productivity, but it can also create insular thinking. After the weekend, I’m back at my computer full of questions and doubts, but also bursting with new ideas to improve my manuscripts.

So, to work!

Why so quiet?

I haven’t been posting very often over here at Comedy and Tragedy and you might ask, “why so quiet, Miranda?”

I’ll tell you why. I’m busy writing.

I’m revising a novel-length contemporary fantasy and working on the first draft of a science fiction project, both of which I’m very excited about.

Since the semester has ended I suddenly have vast, uninterrupted stretches of time to just write. It is glorious but it also requires a fair amount of discipline. There’s just so much shiny stuff out there. Twitter. Facebook. Basically the whole internet. Also everything outside my window, trying to lure me into the glorious sunshine, tempting me to hang out in the park all day eating ice cream.

So, yeah, mostly just trying to quietly maintain some discipline around here. And write.

Read Me

Periodically I like to share thoughts about books I’ve read and enjoyed so that you might consider reading and enjoying them too.

In no particular order, some recent favorites:

The Girl from Everywhere, by Heidi Heilig

This one caught me up with its premise (what if a girl lived on a time-traveling pirate ship and her father was obsessed with finding a map that would take him back to the moment before his wife died giving birth to her?). It pulled me in with wonderful characters and a fast-paced plot. Plus, the idea that an authentic map could take you anywhere (real or mythological) struck me as extremely cool. I think what I liked best about this book, though, was the balance Heilig managed between the fantastical elements and the more prosaic (but no less interesting) emotions and dynamics that exist within a family.

The Paradox Trilogy by Rachel Bach

This series hit every single one of my buttons. Totally fantastic, kick-ass female protagonist? Yes. Gripping plot? Check. Character-driven science fiction? You bet. I tore through these books (Fortune’s Pawn, Honor’s Knight, and Heaven’s Queen) in about a week. Bach’s protagonist, Devi, is a mercenary with ambition and recklessness to spare. That combination gets her into some unbelievable scrapes and watching her negotiate them is a delight. Bach writes action better than almost anyone else I’ve read. If you’re looking for a fun, exciting sf adventure, this series will not disappoint.

The Cold Between by Elizabeth Bonesteel

This standalone (which will become part of a series, I believe), is a lot of things. It’s a murder mystery. It’s a romance (and a pretty hot one at that). It’s a space opera. At its heart, though, I think what makes this book work is that it’s first and foremost a character study. How do different people react and respond to pressure from their personal relationships and from external (and pretty traumatic) events? How do those twin pressures intertwine and inform each other? The answers to these questions are sometimes tragic, sometimes surprising, and always interesting.

 

14.46.107

That’s right, travel season is nearly upon us, and this year it is all about family.

In 14 days spring break will FINALLY be here and my dad, sister, and myself will travel to the British Virgin Islands where we’ll spend a week semi-conscious on the beach.

In 46 days I will have administered my last final exam and submitted my grades and I’ll get on a plane for Seattle. I’ll spend about 2 1/2 weeks visiting my parents and sister, helping my mom in her amazing garden, writing a lot, and camping with my nieces. It will be awesome.

Then, in 107 days, my husband and I will take a family vacation with my parents to the Dordogne in SW France. I will wallow around in prehistoric cave art, stuff my face with truffles and foie gras, drink lots of wine, and post photos on Facebook that will make everyone hate me. Apologies in advance.

These trips will no doubt be fabulous, but the best part is that in the next 4 months I’ll spending almost 5 whole weeks with my family. This makes me really happy because they live in Seattle and I live in NYC and I never get to see them this much in such a short time. Yay!

Into the Woods

I mean this literally and figuratively.

In the literal sense, I’ll be heading off to a writing retreat this weekend. Some friends and I will be staying in a house deep in the woods of northeastern NY. The house used to be a hotel and the woods are (I’m told) dark and deep. It all sounds very atmospheric. I think there’s an equally likely possibility that we’ll:

a. have a great time and get lots of writing done

or

b. be devoured by sinister forces that dwell beneath moss and stone, never to be heard from again.

Wish us luck!

In the figurative sense, I’ve definitely wandered out of reality and down a winding path with an unknown end. I call this journey Miranda’s First Draft Adventure in which I temporarily disconnect from reality. When I’m feeling my way through a new project for the first time, I tend to go invisible. Or, maybe a better way to put it is that the real world becomes invisible to me.

It might look like I’m cooking dinner or having coffee with a friend or folding laundry, but I’m not. I’m actually working out the way this character might react in a particular situation or considering how to fix a plot hole. I’m not really in a classroom in Queens queuing up the afternoon’s lecture but on a damaged shuttle in another galaxy, trying to imagine how my protagonist will react when he finds out his best friend is a lying liar.

The “here but not here” part of working on a first draft has many advantages. It means I’m always working on my novel, even when I’m doing something else. It means I wake up at 3am with The Solution to a problem or have flashes of deep character insight while waiting for the G train. It makes the book better and is, frankly, an integral part of how I work. It also has disadvantages. I neglect my friends and family. I get scatterbrained at work. I can’t concentrate on other important things in my life. I drift away from the here and now.

This process, though? It appears to be involuntary. I don’t know another way to write a first draft. So, if you’re looking for me, that’s where I’ll be. In the Woods. Literally and figuratively.

See you on the other side.

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