Chemo Vow

When I was facing my first chemo treatment at the beginning of April 2016, I intentionally wore a T-shirt celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Seattle World’s Fair. My friend Pam Kersey was with me that day, and as the infusion began, she offered to take my photo to mark the moment. I had no idea the picture would later be used to create the cover of my chapbook, Breast Cancer: A Poem in Five Acts (Finishing Line Press). This proved to be a nice surprise. Yet the reason I wore the T-shirt was to reiterate a vow I’d made days before: when I was all done with breast cancer treatment, I’d finish the novel I’d begun in 2002. It was a project I’d been viewing as an albatross. I was determined to tie up the loose strands of Kaleidoscopes, Viewmasters, and The Game of Life

The story is focused on a 40-year-old, Rubieann Blankley, who begins to dissect the cultural divide in America. It opens with her ruminations sparked by the film It Happened at the World’s Fair, which she is viewing in the Seven Gables Theatre in Seattle. Yes, Rubieann Blankley was born on the day the fair opened.

Fast forward to August 2017. I rolled up to my Oregon Coast cabin after retiring early from Cuyamaca College. I planned to regroup while looking for adjunct librarian work in Northern California. First on my agenda was to drag out this 2002 manuscript, which had been languishing since 2008This is not to say I hadn’t done any work on it. The draft I stored in 2008 ran some 350 pages. I’d meant to get back to it sooner, but I became sidetracked by poetry writing and other fiction projects. Meanwhile, the 2002 manuscript leered at me.

Six boxes of research materials awaited in my cabin, along with the manuscript. Or so I thought. As I sorted through each box, I was horrified to discover the manuscript was missing. Thus began an odyssey focused on my hunt for the manuscript (detailed in an essay I hope to place if the manuscript is ever sold). I did not solve the mystery of the missing manuscript until two years later when I was unpacking boxes in my new Davis, California, studio. I’d secured adjunct work with Los Rios Community College District and was beginning my second semester.

By the time my new district went into pandemic lockdown in March of 2020, I had a working draft of Kaleidoscopes, Viewmasters, and The Game of Life. I decided to call this project my COVID novel. I was facing months of solitude, and I needed something to do. Yet I’d changed considerably since 2008. I couldn’t completely recover my earlier vision. I spent time analyzing what I’d written during the early 2000s, adding notes and new passages. I completed a new draft by the end of June 2020. My story expanded to 480 pages.

Feedback was called for. Three people read and critiqued the book. While they delivered many good comments, I was disheartened to realize I’d need to revamp a crucial aspect of my original structure. To explain, I used two point of view schemes, which I applied to alternating strands of narrative. One was told with the use of an omniscient narrator who copped a tongue-in-cheek attitude. The other was constructed with a close third person POV. However, two of my three readers demanded I kill my mocking narrator. This suggestion was hard to accept. Not only was I attached to the said narrator. It meant I’d have to rewrite one third of the manuscript.

I’m proud to say I completed the manuscript on Thursday, May 6, 2021, nearly 19 years after I first started it. Needless to say, I am at a loss. Five years ago, I was receiving chemo treatments, most unhappily. I now have a manuscript built from aspects of the person I was in my early 40s and the person I have been during my late 50s. I know there is much to get through if I want to get the manuscript onto the desk of a simpatico editor. Still, I feel free.