Monday, September 1, 2014

Childhood Cancer Awareness

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Unless, of course, you're a family touched by childhood cancer, in which case every month, every week, every day is shaped by a level of awareness no one wants but yet manages to provide significant blessings along the way. For those who do not live with that awareness, I'm posting something I wrote in late September 2008, just as Jake came off treatment. 



And Then . . .


There was me trying to decide what to write next.

It's been two weeks since his last chemo. He's had his blood draws for that period and his counts are good. On Monday the 27th he has a CT scan and MRI and we'll go to clinic the next day to meet with Dr. Afify for the final time. But not really--because, of course, we don't get to just walk out and pretend this all never happened. There will be scans and exams and probably worrisome moments aplenty over the next five years until Jake is officially declared cured. And I don't think I'm quite ready for all that. I'm still contemplating switching into that gear and wondering what life will look like then.

In the meantime, I've had a copy of Newsweek in my inbox for several weeks waiting for me to do this post. It's the September 15 issue and it has a story entitled WE FOUGHT CANCER . . . AND CANCER WON.

In 1971 (two years after I was born), Richard Nixon signed the National Cancer Act which was supposed to make cancer curable. Instead, almost forty years later, cancer is poised to overtake cardiovascular disease as America's number one killer.

There has been, as Newsweek put it, "a lot of elegant science . . . [but] studies of the mechanisms leading to cancer and efforts to control cancer often seemed to inhabit separate worlds . . . Indeed, it is possible (and common) for cancer researchers to achieve extraordinary acclaim and success . . . without ever helping a single patient gain a single extra day of life."

Why? On the NCI website, one can read that "the biology of the more than 100 types of cancers has proven far more complex than imagined [in 1971]." Cancer is smart. Send a drug up against it, and the cancer cells will develop around it. Like bacteria, cancer cells are constantly learning and mutating.

Metastasis is the greatest enemy. Metastatic cells, those that break off from the original tumor and grow elsewhere in the body, are responsible for 90 percent of cancer deaths. You want to know the really scary thing? There's no way to be certain that you're not leaving metastatic cells behind after treatment. Radiation killed the tumor in Jake's sinus. Forty-two weeks of chemotherapy have killed off any microscopic cells left behind. We hope. But the truth is, there's no way to tell.

The overall mortality rate from cancer has fallen 7.5 percent since 1971. In 1991, 215 out of every 100,000 Americans died of cancer. In 2005, it was 184 out of 100,00. Progress, but slow. Consider that deaths from cardiovascular disease have fallen by 70 percent in the same time period.

However, there's a brighter statistic. Fifty years ago, pediatric cancer was an almost certain death sentence (children with leukemia in the 1940s rarely lived longer than 3 months). Today, 80 percent of pediatric cancer patients live to be adults.

80 percent.

Why? Because pediatric oncologists banded together. With fewer patients, they reached out across the country for advice and help. The Children's Oncology Group (COG) has standardized treatment plans for pediatric patients. At times, 80 percent of children with a particular cancer are enrolled in the same clinical trial (Jake is part of a clinical trial)--it's long been less than 1 percent for adults. Rather than focus on new biological pathways, pediatric oncologists took the weapons they had and learned how to use them in new ways. And along the way, they saved the lives of countless children.

Only they're not countless to their parents.

Bravo. And thank you.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

In Memoriam


Dee Floyd Andersen

April 9, 1931--June 27, 2014



 Dee and Frances Wedding Day
January 1951



Andersen Family 1987 (the year after I met the youngest, Chris)



With Chris's Family on our wedding day
April 1992



Andersen Family 1992



Thanksgiving at Golden Corral
(what happens when you have more than 50 people for Thanksgiving!)



Andersen Family 2005
(minus eldest son, Allen--you get left out when you live in Hong Kong!)




Dee and Frances 2006
(the remains of the family farm where Frances grew up)



Dad, Allen (oldest), and Chris (youngest)
2006



Dancing with Spencer
2006



Thanksgiving Gardens with Emma
2005



With cancer-buddy Jake 
2011



Matthew's graduation
2011



"Please go away!" 
Alaska Cruise 2011



We are richer for loving you.
The world is poorer for losing you. 
We'll do you proud :)

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

April & May Books I Loved

PRINCE OF SHADOWS/Rachel Caine
A YA historical inspired by Romeo and Juliet, the titular Prince is Benvolio who finds himself in deep when his cousin falls for the wrong girl and Benvolio himself meets Rosalind. A wonderful, in-depth world with a touch of paranormal and the ability to make you weep for almost every single character. Highly recommended.

I REMEMBER YOU/Yrsa Sigurdordottir
I'm a sucker for haunted house stories, and this Icelandic one is a gem. In an isolated village (naturally) three friends set to work renovating a house. With little experience and not enough preparation, things soon go badly. And that's before the haunting begins . . . Meanwhile, across the fjord, a doctor discovers a recently-deceased woman was obsessed with his own missing son. The two strands eventually come together for a chillingly good story.

SO MUCH FOR THAT/Lionel Shriver
Shriver is not an easy writer. For the first three-quarters of this book, I was convinced I hated it. And yet, I kept reading. And the last quarter fully rewarded me. Shep Knacker has finally accumulated the money needed for his lifelong dream of retiring to a small and simple life. But then his wife is diagnosed with cancer. As she deteriorates and their money vanishes into health care, Shep's friend, Jackson, is spiraling into his own circle of debt and depression trying to keep his severely-disabled daughter alive. Shriver is always provocative and in-your-face, but the elegy of Glynis dying at the end was so beautiful and poignant that I suppose I'll never be able to decide if I loved or hated this book.

THE BRONTES/Juliet Barker
A biography of the most famous siblings of the 19th century, Barker goes in-depth to not only each child's talents, but how their relationships in and outside their family shaped and twisted them. The outlines of the tale are familiar--Charlotte the only survivor of six children (losing Branwell, Emily, and Anne within less than a year), marrying in her late thirties, and dying likely as a consequence of a complicated pregnancy. If you're a fan, this is a great biography, especially in adding depth to the sometimes-villain of the classic tale, their father, Patrick.

ALIAS GRACE/Margaret Atwood
A re-read for me of one my favorite Atwood novels. Fifteen years after Grace Marks was convicted of murdering her employer and his housekeeper, Simon Jordan has come to study the famous prisoner in order to jump start his medical career in what will become the field of psychology. The two of them often seem to be at cross-purposes, but eventually Grace tells her story. The twist to this novel is that Grace Marks was a real woman, 16 years old when she was convicted and spent almost thirty years in prison before having her sentence commuted and vanishing from the record. Atwood weaves an  entirely plausible and moving story that, even in the end, leaves the reader undecided about the depth of Grace's involvement in the murders.

SPIRIT OF STEAMBOAT and ANY OTHER NAME/Craig Johnson
The first title is a novella featuring Walt Longmire, featuring a wild winter-rescue in an ancient plane and an injured girl whose life depends on them. Like everything Johnson writes, almost elegaic in its beauty and emotion. ANY OTHER NAME is the newest novel in the Longmire series, in which Walt is asked by old friend Lucian to investigate the suicide of a neighboring county's detective. Walt is soon mired in the cold cases of three missing women that the detective was investigating and someone wants him off the trail. Add in the time pressure of his first grandchild about to be born in Philadelphia, not to mention Wyoming blizzards, and Walt has his hands full. Always a winner.

THE ORPHAN MASTER'S SON/Adam Johnson
Winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, Jonson's novel of North Korea deserves every accolade it's won. Pak Jun Do is raised an orphan and then plucked into digging tunnels. Having survived that, he is selected to become a professional kidnapper, and then to sail with North Korean fishing boats as an intelligence officer. In love from afar with a legendary actress, Jun Do eventually takes on the most dangerous role of all trying to preserve beauty and love from a regime that wants only to crush everything. Absolutely recommended.



Thursday, June 26, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Brothers

All my words are being sucked up by revisions/copy edits on the new book. but I cannot overlook the two critical events of this past week. On June 23, Jake started college. And on June 25, Matt turned twenty-one. 

"How have you come to this . . . to such a place as this?" (That would sound better if Hugh Jackman were singing it."

So here you go--my first two boys through the years :)



Matthew in a rare shot from his first year without casts. (He was born with club feet, for those who didn't know him then.)



Jake in possibly my favorite picture of myself ever :) 




With Matt on our favorite beach park in Seattle. 




Jake in all his bald, chubby glory :)




First Christmas as brothers (1996)




Matt was always so responsible (1996)




Shortly before Emma joined the brothers' club (1998)




At Disney World (2001)




Near Buckingham Palace (2004)




Masai Mara visit in Kenya (2006)




Matthew Nicholas



Jacob Bentley


What a wonderful life we've had with these two! Happy birthday, happy college, and we can't wait until you come home for a visit :)

Friday, May 16, 2014

Romantic Times Award Ceremony

(Subtitled: In Which I Did Not Trip or Cry, so I'm Calling it a Win)

After the drama of cancelled flights yesterday, my husband made it to New Orleans with half an hour to spare before the Awards Ceremony. Thank goodness, because I'm pretty sure I couldn't have physically made myself walk into that ballroom without him next to me. I was starstruck from the word go. Eloisa James, Mary Robinette Kowal, Tess Gerritsen, Lee Child . . . how on earth did my odd debut novel land me in such company? We shouldn't even be breathing the same air!

What a wonderful, generous group of writers and fans. I love the mystery community, but I have to say that the romance community has an energy and warmth that is unique. I will definitely be returning to an RT convention in future--hopefully with friends in tow so my anxious, introverted self has some help in letting go :)

For those interested, you can read my brief speech below.

And thank you. Yes, you. Every single one of you is part of this magical life of mine and I'm so grateful. Kisses and beads for everyone!!


In 2005, I attended my first conference, eager to pitch my new manuscript The Boleyn King. My enthusiasm was slightly dampened by the agent who declined to meet with me because, she said, "Your book is not historical fiction." 

In 2008, my second son was diagnosed with cancer at the age of eleven, touching off a year of chemo, radiation, hospitals, and a bone-deep fear. 

Today I get to celebrate twice. 

First, because today Romantic Times assures me that The Boleyn King is indeed historical fiction. 

And second, because today is my now healthy son's eighteenth birthday. 

I thank Romantic Times Book Reviews--the editors, staff, and especially reviewers--for their kindness. 

The readers who seem to like my alternate version of historical fiction. 

My agent, Tamar Rydzinski, who is my still center in the chaos of publishing. 

My editor, Kate Miciak, who claims I am the recipient of the strangest editorial email she has ever sent. 

My husband, with whom I have been in love since I was seventeen years old. 

And if there is anyone here in need of hope in writing or in life, I offer the phrase that pulled me through countless times of trouble in the past years. The words of St. Julian of Norwich: "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well." 

Thank you. 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

New Orleans, Spring, and Titles

Hello, New Orleans!

It's my first visit to the city, and my first Romantic Times Convention. It's also the first time since 2005 that I've attended a conference by myself. Left Coast Crimes, Bouchercon . . . always I have my best friend/soul sister Katie at my side. Making wisecracks, drinking Diet Coke, and generally lessening my anxiety that I will make a massive fool of myself. (Because if I do, she's right there with me and humiliation shared is humiliation lessened.)

Honestly, I'm 45 years old! I thought I'd be over this kind of fear by now. I'm not, but I've learned how to fake it. To remind myself of my husband's wise words: "People are thinking about you a lot less than you think they are." To make myself smile and look outward. To squash my fears with a genuine interest in those around me.

So that's what I'll do. First thing tomorrow. Tonight is put-on-pajamas, write-a-blog-post, answer-emails while snacking alone in a hotel room kind of night.

I think it's also a list-as-blog-post kind of night. Here's my list of Spring 2014 Favorites:

1. Finishing Book One of the new trilogy. Signed, sealed, and delivered to agent and editor. Now awaiting revision notes and mightily relieved that the bones of the story have received approval.

2. Snow melt. Finally I can see my front lawn. Honestly, I thought that ten foot snowdrift in my driveway would never melt.

3. Seeing friends and family. I took the three kids still at home to Utah for spring break, primarily to visit Grandma and Grandpa Andersen. It was a lovely visit, full of laughter and some tears, and included a soul-healing night with my dearest writing friend, Ginger Churchill. I love you, Ginger! (You should check out her picture books--Carmen's Sticky Scab and Wild Rose's Weaving. Now she's working on a novel that has me all a-flutter!) Although we adore Boston and have no desire to leave, we spent thirteen years in Utah raising young kids and those kinds of memories leave a mark.

4. Second child accepted to college! Jake, who graduates June 1, waded through seven acceptances to decide on BYU for his undergrad work. He's starting summer term, so we're down to just a handful of weeks before he leaves home. (That is not on my favorites list.)

5. My parents are coming to Boston :) They'll spend ten days visiting for Jake's graduation--which actually falls on their 49th wedding anniversary. Unfortunately, the younger kids will still be in school, but I have plans for their entertainment.

6. New-ish activities. After reading an article about how writers benefit from having a hobby or activity that does not involve words, I returned to two things I haven't done for a while: sewing and playing the piano. I've played the piano since I was eight years old and one of my prized possessions is the Yamaha grand piano my parents let me have when we bought our first house. I studied for ten years and have always continued to play, but in the last couple months I've tried to make it a daily break. Sewing is something I did for fun--I have lots of family costumes made over the years but it had been some time since I'd done anything other than mend hems. But since late March I've made my daughter an Easter skirt, curtains for my son's room, and have assembled patterns and fabrics for a bunch of new projects. Playing music is an instant release; sewing is a wordless creation that instantly shows itself as either working or not.

7. I suppose I should end with Titles, since I teased it in the subject :) Once the new book was turned in, Tamar and Kate and I had a fast and furious email conversation over several days debating titles. It was my first experience with this, since The Boleyn King was the title under which I sold my first book and the subsequent titles were my first suggestions. This was a more lively discussion and intriguing looking on it from the inside. I'm very excited with the new title and promise to share it as soon as I have the go-ahead.

And there you go :) Spring 2014--it just barely arrived in Boston, and already summer is looming. A summer which will see our household reduced to half our kids, a summer in which I need to write book two in the new trilogy, and a summer of perhaps bittersweet family moments.

I'm. So. Unbelievably. Lucky.

Friday, May 2, 2014

March Books I Loved

A GREAT AND TERRIBLE KING/Marc Morris
A wonderful biography of Edward I, also known as Longshanks and the Hammer of the Scots. From Edward's birth (not the firstborn son) through his tempestuous adolescent years often spent in opposition to his father, Henry III, the biography paints a grand yet intimate picture of Edward's life. He switched sides according, always, to his own interests--perhaps shown most vividly in his friendship with Simon de Montfort that ended with Simon's death and Edward's brutality to his surviving sons. Edward had a clear vision of his rights and helped create a central government that survived his own son's weakness as Edward II. I think the title says it all.

TALKING TO STRANGE MEN/Ruth Rendell
I could have sworn I'd read everything Rendell has ever written (including her Barbara Vine books) but I stumbled across this book at Powell's in Portland and eagerly snapped it up. Though written under the name Rendell, it has more in common with her psychological books written as Vine. The story is pure spy: safe houses, dead drops, code names, and double agents. But the spies are schoolboys, playing out a version of the Cold War in between homework. When adult John Creevey stumbles across their coded messages, he becomes convinced it's the work of gangsters. While he spirals down after the destruction of his marriage, the boys find themselves in actual danger. Like all good spy novels, to tell too much is to give it away--but I will say that this was a novel I've had a hard time getting out of my head.

THESE RUINS ARE INHABITED/Muriel Beadle
Another used book I stumbled over at Powell's during my February visit, this is a memoir of an American scientist and his family living in Oxford for a year in the 1960s. I picked it up for my mother-in-law, who lived in England for several years with her husband and small children in the 50s, but found it highly charming myself. From the differences in heating and shopping to the way parents interact with their children's schools, Beadle is an interested observer who never condescends but paints every difference with genuine affection for England.

GRACE: A MEMOIR/Grace Coddington
Another memoir, this by the creative director of Vogue who shot to surprising fame in the aftermath of the documentary The September Issue about Anna Wintour and Vogue's behind-the-scenes. Grace tells the story of her life from a small town in Wales to international travels as a model and her work in magazines. She knows everyone in fashion and has stories to tell, but she does it all with her blunt good-humour that was evident in the documentary. (Which film I highly recommend!)

WORDS OF RADIANCE/Brandon Sanderson
At last! The second in The Stormlight Archives series. I love everything Sanderson writes, but the Mistborn trilogy will always be my sentimental favorite as the first of his works I read--and The Stormlight books take their place beside other fantasy series for which I eagerly await each new release (Scott Lynch and The Gentleman Bastards, Patrick Rothfuss and The Kingkiller, & of course Martin's Game of Thrones.) Each of these series have in common a world vividly realized, painted with color and detail I envy, and containing characters that leap off the page into my heart. Words of Radiance continues the story of former slave, Kaladin, who has powers he fears to reveal. My favorite person in this book is Shallan, a young and brilliant girl from an exceptionally troubled family who may know even more than she thinks she does about the way the war is about to change. Sanderson never disappoints. If you like epic fantasy, this is a writer for you.