October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the perfect time to interview the author of a recent memoir about her own breast cancer. Gail Konop Baker is the author of Cancer Is a Bitch: (Or I'd Rather Be Having a Midlife Crisis). She took time to answer some questions about her life, her writing, and her book.
Lesa: Gail, thank you for doing an interview about your book, Cancer Is a Bitch. I read it, and I know it's a memoir, with names changed. Would you start by telling my readers about your life before you were diagnosed with breast cancer?
Gail: I have always been a writer, and had just completed my second novel (the first one was on submission) about a woman who finds a lump in her breast and thinks she might have breast cancer and wonders if she has lived a meaningful life. I sent it to my (then) agent and a week or two later went in for my annual mammogram and was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Lesa: Why did you write Cancer Is a Bitch?
Gail: I didn't mean to write it. Really. But after my diagnosis, I couldn't think or write. I was stunned. Panicked and paralyzed. I spent most of my time staring out the window and Googling health sites and calculating my risk of recurrence and mixing up batches of organic facial cram. Then one day, my husband pressed a journal into my hand said, you have to write this. I didn't want to, but somehow the pen found its way into my hands and next thing I knew I wrote, "I'm sitting topless in the oncologist's office on Valentine's Day, cancer is a bitch." I filled the whole journal, my hand shaking as the words poured out. But also thinking, I will NEVER EVER show this to anyone since these were my deepest, darkest, rawest most intimate thoughts. And they might have remained that way, if I hadn't read that Literary Mama was looking for columnists. On a whim, I pitched the idea of a column about a Mama baring her soul about breast cancer called "Bare-breasted Mama." The response from readers was immediate and amazing and mostly from women who hadn't actually had cancer but were connecting with my honesty about my marriage and motherhood and other midlife issues. And that's made me think I'd tapped into something more universal.
Lesa: I always like to ask the author to tell us about the book, because you may reveal things I missed when I read it. Would you summarize Cancer Is a Bitch for readers?
Gail: It is about my brush with non-invasive breast cancer and how that served as a catalyst for me to re-examine the entire trajectory of my life including old business from my childhood, my marriage, my motherhood, my life and career choices. And in the process of writing it, I ended up re-negotiating my relationship with myself. I stopped hesitating. I went from why to why not. I decided now would be the time to be the person I always meant to be, to do the things I forgot to do, to be my most amazing self, to live life as if it matters. All of it. Right now. And I hope that readers will vicariously experience my ups and downs and ups again and be inspired to do the same.
Lesa: What has been the reaction of family members to the honesty in this book?
Gail: My husband and children are my biggest fans. Followed by my mother. And all my close friends. But they're all used to my honesty. My in-laws are the only family members who had any reaction which is pretty strange considering I hardly mentioned them at all, and also softened anything I thought might be too revealing. Being compassionate was a very high priority for me. That's the tricky dance with memoir. Writing it openly and honestly without exposing too much.
Lesa: What are you enjoying most about life right now?
Gail: Watching my three kids blossom into the most amazing people. It still feels like a miracle to me that they sprung from my loins. Honestly.
I'm also enjoying finally launching my career in my forties! I have discovered that I LOVE reading and speaking in front of audiences. I find it energizing! One person telling me I touched or inspired them can keep me going for a long time.
Lesa: Are you writing anything else?
Gail: Of course! I'm writing a book about marriage tentatively titled Anatomy of Marriage. As I wrote Cancer Is a Bitch, I realized questions about my marriage and marriage in general kept haunting me. I want to write the real deal about marriage. I think we talk a lot about weddings and divorces but not so much about the complicated, messy, ebb and flowing day to day of marriage. A lot of people who read Cancer Is a Bitch and interviewed me for radio and TV and also many readers, say they found the marriage part of the book fascinating. And want more...
Lesa: I usually save this question for last, but I have one more for you. I'm a public librarian. Do you have any special memories or comments about libraries?
Gail: Like many writers, I was a very early book lover and some of my fondest memories involve walking to my local public library. The moment I walked in, I'd inhale that old book smell and feel instantly comforted. I had a favorite corner in the back that had a bank of benches against a long window where I'd sit cross-legged with a stack of books and lose track of time...ahh the days before Facebook! Oddly, I also loved watching the librarian scan and stamp my books when I checked them out. The sound of the worn page turning, the little flash of light from the machine, the thump of the stamp.
Lesa: And, Gail, is there an interview question you wish someone would ask? What is it, and what's your answer?
Gail: No, I think you did a marvelous job! Thank you!
And, thank you, Gail, for taking time to talk about your book and your life.
Gail Konop Baker's website is www.gailkonopbaker.com
Cancer Is a Bitch: (Or I'd Rather Be Having a Midlife Crisis) by Gail Konop Baker. Perseus Publishing, ©2008. ISBN 9780738211626 (hardcover), 272p.