I realized yesterday that my hard learned lesson about publishing (“it’s a long distance run, not a sprint”) can’t help someone dying of cancer. What do you say to someone who will mostly likely be dead before she reaches the age you were when you first got a book contract?
I have a friend who’s been dying of cancer for a long time. Since she was in her teens, in fact. She keeps beating back Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and sometimes she even manages to kill off subsidiary cancers that bloom up in the meantime. But here’s the thing about Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. It might go into remission but it never really goes away. And now it’s stopped responding to treatment. Because Non-Hodgkin’s can go slow, or fast, or change its mind about where it pops up or how fast it wants to develop, there’s really no telling how much longer my friend has. It could be months, or it could be years.
Before any rumors or speculations start flying, I’m not talking about anyone here on the Black Gate staff. For the sake of my friend’s privacy, let’s call her Eowyn, because she’s smart, gutsy, and beautiful.
She’s been living with cancer so long that she almost uses it like a superpower. Her ability to focus on the moment — to live in the seconds she has and not to be thinking about what comes next — exceeds that of anyone else I’ve ever met, and I think it must have something to do with the outlook on life cancer has forced upon her. When she sits down to write, she is so totally tuned in to what she is doing she can complete a novel in a couple of months. And those novels are good; my God, they’re good.
Yet the publishing world moves at the speed of slow. I’ve watched as the months and years have dragged on and no book deal comes her way. I no longer know what to advise her. It’s not that she wants a truckload of money — there’s not enough money in the world yet to cure this thing. It’s that she wants to share her stories; more than that, she wants to be here while she shares her stories. And in an industry where even a requested novel might sit around for a few years before you sign, and then must wait six months to a year longer to appear in print… well, what do you say?
I don’t think there’s anything left to advise that doesn’t sound trite. All I know to do is to be here when my friend calls.
Howard Andrew Jones is the author of the historical fantasy novels The Desert of Souls, and the forthcoming The Bones of the Old Ones, as well as the related short story collection The Waters of Eternity, and the Paizo Pathfinder novel Plague of Shadows. You can keep up with him at his website, www.howardandrewjones.com, and keep up with him on Twitter or follow his occasional meanderings on Facebook.