Category Archives: Writing

Who in This Room and Writerly Things

It’s been a while since I did a book related post, no? Oh, I guess it’s been a while since I did any post. That explains so much. Anyway, there are a few things on the calendar this spring.

THIS Friday, May 18th, which is incidentally my mother’s birthday and the anniversary of the Mt St Helens eruption, the Young Survival Coalition is putting on a very fancy event at the Pan Pacific Hotel downtown. It’s called Courage Night (rawr) and there will be four of us writer and breast cancer survivors reading and talking. And as if that weren’t enough, there will be appetizers including “boneless buffalo chicken bites” AND “fruit skewers.” What more could a girl want? Also a no host bar. There’s that too. It starts at 7:00 and you can find out more info and RSVP here.

In the hope of encouraging and helping others write their stories, I’ll be teaching a free writing class at Gilda’s Club in Seattle on June 28th. Anyone who has been affected by cancer can sign up, and really, I can’t imagine many people can say they haven’t been affected by cancer, so that means you, you can sign up if you want. Really, I’d love to see you. Or you can tell someone about it. You can find out more and RSVP here.

Hope to enjoy a fruit skewer with you on Friday!

PS – if you’ve read Who in This Room: The Realities of Cancer, Fish, and Demolition, I’d love for you to write a review on Goodreads or Amazon or Indiebound or the wall of a public bathroom, wherever you’d like.


SNL’s Version of Downton Abbey and Four Other Things I Love


  1. African American women with natural hair.
  2. Campbell’s Soup’s promise to make their cans BPA free.
  3. Christina Rosalie’s A Field Guide to Now is available for pre-order. Yes, please!
  4. Pam Houston’s ability to articulate the difference and similarity between fiction and non-fiction in writing “So rather than say my intent is to blur the lines, I would say that those lines are not useful to me as an artist. They don’t help me to get the story written.”
  5. Fancy Entourage – What’s better than Downton Abbey? The Saturday Night Live version of Downton Abbey. I can only find the video there. I can’t embed it but you can scroll down to the second image to watch. It’s worth it. TRUST ME!

What five things do you love right now?

Books and Babies

2011 has been a big year for us. Legendary. We met little K in June. Five months later Who in This Room: The Realities of Cancer, Fish, and Demolition is being published.

Perhaps one could say that in 2011 I was expecting two babies. But there are some very distinct differences. For example, Little K is much cuter than the book. And the book doesn’t ask me to rub its head while I drive. The book doesn’t pee through its diapers at night and occasionally scream out with night terrors. The book doesn’t throw peas on the floor then burst into giant tears when you tell it to stop. The book doesn’t shriek like a baby pterodactyl when it’s tired. And, more notably, the book doesn’t pull up my shirt and try to give me zerberts on the stomach.

Conversely, Little K doesn’t sit quietly on my desk or in a box on my floor. He is rarely misplaced and never forgotten (although I can’t say the same for his shoes). He doesn’t have 139 neatly formatted pages and, so far, he doesn’t have nearly as many words, but I know he will someday.

Really, there is only one baby.

But there are some similarities. Both feel like once in a lifetime events. Both are epic creations. Both bring me joy. I am so lucky, fortunate and grateful that they both exist.

Since becoming a parent, my goals for my children have changed. No longer do they need to be the leaders of the free world. After watching them speak with bits of food falling from their mouths, throw tantrums over already-chewed pieces of gum, and dress themselves in brown polka dotted leg warmers and yellow striped socks, I’ve learned that they are who they are. What will be will be.

Now, I simply hope my children will find things – subjects, sports, activities, hobbies – they like and that they’re good at. I hope they can earn money in an endeavor related to this interest or some other career they enjoy. In short: I hope my children find their place in the world and people that make them happy.

My hopes for the book are similar. WITR had to be written. During and after treatment I was obsessed and consumed by those stories. I thought about them 24×7. I was working it all out, creating art from grief. It had to be done and now that it is done, I hope people discover its strengths and that people connect with it. In short: I hope it finds its place in the world and the people who love it.

That is all.

Who in This Room: The Realities of Cancer, Fish, and Demolition is out! You can buy it anywhere good books are sold.

Who in This Room: The Realities of Cancer, Fish, and Demolition Events

The Who in This Room: The Realities of Cancer, Fish, and Demolition official launch date is October 11th but I hear rumors that it is shipping now. Early!

The launch par-tay is this weekend! Come! And bring friends!

Here’s how the rest of the schedule is shaping up.

  • Bellingham WA – Village Books Reading and Signing
  • Sunday, October 16, 2011 at 2:00 pm
  • Village Books Website
  • Seattle WA – In Living Pink
  • Young Survival Coalition Fundraiser
  • Friday, October 21, 2011 8:00 pm
  • Young Survival Coalition
  • Vashon Island WA – Books By the Way Reading and Signing
  • Sunday, November 6, 2011 at 3:00 pm
  • Books By the Way Website

I’ll be speaking for just a few minutes at the Young Survival Fundraiser. This is the support group that got me though my treatment. It’s a really great cause and a fun party. If you’re in Seattle, come!

We’re also still hoping to set up a reading in Portland. Stay tuned!

Check out the website if you haven’t already That’s where you can find this video and other interesting stuff, like the reading schedule and blurbs for the book.

Like the Facebook page here!

Only nineteen days until the official release of Who in This Room: The Realities of Cancer, Fish, and Demolition!

Shelf Awareness

I have a few questions for you…

  • What was your favorite book as a child?
  • Who are your top five favorite authors?
  • What book changed your life?

I’ve been asked to be the Book Brahmin, to answer a series of book-related questions, for an upcoming issue of Shelf Awareness. I love books. This should be easy.

But how ever will I choose? The Brief and Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao! Refuge! Surely I’m overlooking something. Middlesex! I’ll send it off and realize that I’ve forgotten my favorite book of all time. Me Talk Pretty One Day! And then I will ask if it can really be my favorite book of all time if I had completely forgotten it. Sight Hound! These are the questions that keep me awake at night. OMG Cutting for Stone!

How would you answer? Or, how would you answer for me?

For those of you who don’t already know, Shelf Awareness is a newsletter about books and the book industry. They have two issues, one for trade professionals and a new one for readers. In the readers version, they write reviews and provide updates on books that are coming out that week. If you haven’t signed up for Shelf Awareness for Readers, you should. Right now they’re running a contest. You could win free stuff!

And just in case you’ve forgotten there are 55 days until Who in This Room: The Realities of Cancer, Fish and Demolition comes out.

My Name is Mary Sutter

Guest post by Cynthia Newberry Martin.

Robin Oliveira was a graduate assistant during my first residency at Vermont College. I met her only months before her first book would be published by Viking.

Mary Sutter is a midwife, and what she wants is clearly stated in dialogue in the first chapter: “I want to become a doctor.” The reader also knows the obstacles at the time of the Civil War: women are not doctors.

My Name is Mary Sutter is 364 pages and fifty-four chapters plus an epilogue. It has a strong female protagonist, lots of characters, and many different points of view. It’s historical fiction with an epic feel to it, and it’s difficult to believe it’s a first novel. It was quickly selected as an Indie Next Great Read and was on Oprah’s Summer Reading list.

The writing is skilled and lyrical. Even with all the different points of view, the reader is never lost. Listen to some of the voices:

From the omniscient voice, a metaphor:

On Amelia’s river of words, everyone was swept down the hallway to the dining room.

From Mary, authority:

The roast was delicious, but unimportant.

From Mary’s brother, Christian, a moment:

He did not know what to say, but instinct kept him there. Between them there was perfect stillness. He did not move, only breathed in silent rhythm with Bonnie’s muffled sobs. Time flickered and then flared, with its peculiar ability to alter perception. In its throes, we enter another life, one of possibility: I will overcome.

From that omniscient voice again, breadth:

The head wounds were hopeless, the abdominal wounds impossible. By then, the thirst and humidity, gunsmoke and cannon powder had rendered everyone slightly mad. It seemed to affect even the air. That’s what would be said for years afterward. Conjured our own weather that night. You remember?

Highly recommend.

This guest post, brought to you by my good friend, Cynthia Newberry Martin. On her blog, Catching Days, which is one of Powell’s Books “Lit Blogs We Love,” she writes regularly about “writing, reading, life and how they meld, clash and astonish”

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PSA: Small Publishers and Independent Booksellers

Before Who in This Room was picked up, I had a vague idea of why independent booksellers were important. Now I understand.

When Who in This Room made the rounds to the big publishing houses, I was told, over and over, that the writing was good, the story enjoyable but that it wouldn’t sell. In a few cases, the editors were in favor of the book, behind the book, but the process always got hung-up in the marketing department. They didn’t know how to sell the book and they weren’t willing to take the chance. Too risky, they said.

Finally, the book was presented to CALYX Books, a small press who has been discovering and publishing women writers for thirty-five years. They were the ones who believed the book would sell and decided to take a risk by publishing it. I am flattered and honored by their generosity. They publish two issues of their excellent literary journal and one book each year. That’s right, they publish one book a year. They take great pride in the work they do and they should, they do great work.

You know all those tables near the entries of the big chain bookstores, piled high with books, the latest, soon to be best sellers? Those spaces are all paid for. The big publishing houses purchase those spaces to push books they think will do well. You can be sure that Who in This Room will not occupy one of those spaces. CALYX Books simply can’t afford it.

The people who work in independent bookstores – Elliott Bay, Third Place, Powell’s, Village, Tattered Cover and many others – they actually read the books they sell. They read the books and they develop opinions; they make recommendations based on those opinions and upon what they hear from customers. They put books they like on tables and, sometimes, they put the books they like into customers’ hands. I am grateful for them and I am hopeful that some of them will put my book into yours.

PS – CALYX Books is always in need of donations. They are a 501c3 so your contribution is tax deductible. You can also support them by subscribing to their fantastic journal. One of the stories from Who in This Room will be featured in the next edition.

Happy Belated

I missed my blogiversary! What’s going on around here? Who’s running this place anyway?

On December 14th, HMN turned a year old. This was my very first post – I Apologize in Advance.

It’s fitting that there’s an apology in the title. That I start out apologizing for what I am going to do. I realize now that when I became a blogger, I made a presumption that my experience, knowledge and/or writing were valuable to others. That’s a huge presumption and at times feels egotistical and totally against my nature and I have to crush the compulsion to just shut-up and apologize for taking up your time.

Its one thing to write in the removed fortress of a book but it’s another thing to write and have people actually read your work and respond… Immediately. A friend once asked what surprised me most about blogging and that was my answer – having readers.

Every time I post it’s hard not to imagine people taking time out of their busy lives to read my words, and to imagine their reactions, and to assign totally fictional thoughts and critiques to totally fictional people. This is only fueled by the excitement of learning your carefully-chosen words about cancer, race or your child have been read by hundreds or even thousands of complete and total strangers. My imagination runs unchecked bringing out my inner, apologetic, critic who just wants to stay out of the way.

Almost every time I post something I have a mini-crisis. I’m probably having one right now. I’ve heard things about mean people in the blogosphere and I know, eventually, one of those people will find me. And they’ll find a flaw in my writing, or more importantly, my character. They’ll point it out and there it will be for everyone to see. It’s only a matter of time.

But that hasn’t happened. Maybe someday it will, maybe someday it won’t, but for now I’m going to celebrate that worst fear unrealized and I’m going to revise my answer to my friend’s question. The thing that surprises me most about blogging: how nice, loving and generous everyone has been with their comments. And for that, dear reader, I thank you.


As soon as I heard Who in This Room would be published I started hotflashing and eyelid twitching about what the cover would look like. Handing over control has never been easy for me.

Fortunately, the lovely and utterly-reasonable people at Calyx agreed to let me pursue a few design ideas and I immediately called my friend, Judy. You may remember Judy of the super-cool tattoo from this post. As soon as we spoke I knew she was the perfect person to create the cover for so many reasons – here are the top ten.

1.       She’s so much cooler than I am. Do you need to look at that tattoo again?

2.       She’s had breast cancer.

3.       She uses the word ‘hoopty.’

4.       She’d never pick up a book about cancer (unless it was written by a friend who wanted her to design the cover).

5.       We both love the television show What Not to Wear.

6.       She’s a talented graphic designer. Oh yeah, there’s that.

7.       She has a whole cabinet of Japanese anime dolls. At least I think that’s what they are.

8.       She designed the logo and image for our friend’s business. I love that logo. BTW – Great cancer/health related blog on her site.

9.       She happened to be between projects. How lucky for me!

10.   She works FAST. Thank goodness.

I’m in love with the end result. Eyelid twitches be gone! Thank you, Judy!