This journey into the chartered territory of brain cancer was indeed an unexpected one. It began with a surprise emergency room visit to our local hospital on January 16, 2016. Literally overnight, I found myself at the University of Virginia talking to some of the top doctors in the field of neurosurgery and oncology about the brain tumor they'd found on the frontal left lobe of my brain.
My initial response was relief that the doctors discovered what it was so incredibly fast. Once we knew what we were dealing with, we just needed to decide which hospital would be right for both me and my family. UVA was the top choice for us for many reasons--not the least of which was that I could recuperate at home with family and friends beside me every step of the way. The other was that our dear daughter, Hannah, could stay in school and be supported throughout the entire process, and that my husband, Marshall, who was right in the middle of the most significant work change of his entire legal career, could tend to both work issues and my health issues at the same time.
As to my brain cancer's impact on my writing life, I knew immediately that I would no longer be afraid to write. I've recently written several picture books that I am very happy with. I've also done quite a bit of spiritual writing in the last five years or so that has paved the way for a book I am currently calling A Hero of My Own: A Literary Theory of Suffering. This book, however unintentionally, turned out to be the perfect preparation for my "unexpected journey" into brain cancer and beyond. I plan to have it in shape to submit to editors soon.
Why did you decide to blog about your experience?
I decided to blog about my brain cancer's impact on my life because I am a writer. How else would I be able to come close to figuring out all that is going on inside of me, without taking the time to write about it?
How has Charlottesville's writing community shored you up during this challenging time?
I am indeed fortunate to have a wide, wonderful, welcoming circle of writing friends here in Charlottesville--beginning with my talented and very kind, in-person critique group made up of Jennifer Elvgren, Julie Swanson, Rosie McCormick, Kathy May, Kathryn Erskine and Anne Marie Pace. These patient and caring ladies have not only supported me emotionally, they have also checked on me, visited me, touched base with me, and--certainly not least of all--fed me spiritually, mentally, and physically throughout the process. In particular, they have been helping me get some of my writings in shape so that children and other writers can download them directly from my website in audio, visual, and book formats. As you can imagine given the circumstances of my cancer, shoring up my family's financial future is of the utmost importance to me.
What writing project are you working on? Has your "unexpected journey" caused you to change gears regarding any writing projects?
Yes, as much as I would like to say it does not, having cancer does indeed change much about my life. I have been working on a book, currently titled Vinegar Hill, that is very important to me. It's set here in Charlottesville during the 1960s. While I will continue to work on this title, it will no longer be my sole focus. I have another election year project I am interested in working on with my sisters in law, if they might be interested in collaborating with me. I guess you could say that having brain cancer has expanded my field of vision to a certain extent.
Nothing is impossible. Everything is within grasp. There is no real need for fear--just time for motion, enjoyment, stretching, reaching, fulfillment. It's a great place to be, on many levels.
How has participating in and being in attendance at the Virginia Festival of the Book helped you grow as a writer? Will you attend any particular event this year?
Participating in the Virginia Festival of the Book has helped me grow as a writer for many years now. I started attending Festival events long before I ever dreamed I would actually become an author myself, carrying my many hopes and dreams right along with me to the panels where I listened attentively to all of the various speakers.
This year I was scheduled to participate in my regular Moseley Writers Critique Panel, but decided to withdraw, given my recent brain surgery and the subsequent recovery I am currently navigating. In retrospect, I could definitely have participated in the panel, but it will be nice for me to feel no pressure and instead be able to pick and choose the events I decide to attend this year.
Fran Cannon Slayton spent her childhood growing up in Manassas
and Haymarket, VA. She was a mean unicycle rider and pogo stick hopper. She prided herself as an all-around terror on the kickball field. After law school, Fran became a prosecutor, specializing in child sex abuse cases. Once her daughter was born, Fran took on the role of stay-at-home mom ("the best job ever"). She became an author and a part-time singer/trumpet player in a rock and roll cover band. Fran's debut novel, When the Whistle Blows, was published in 2009 by Philomel Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group. It received starred reviews and was described by Kirkus as "an unassuming masterpiece.” Today, Fran lives in Charlottesville with her family and can be found online at francannonslayton.com. Editors interested in her work may reach out to her literary agent, Linda Pratt of Wernick & Pratt Agency.
First of all, I have always been a lover books--they have surrounded me ever since I was little. However, I never dreamed of becoming a writer. Then I became a stay-at-home dad to my three young daughters, which also thrust me into the role of primary-bedtime-story-reader. As I read more of these books, I became enamored with these wonderful stories, and beautiful illustrations. I began to look forward to story time just as much as my girls did, and I must say I certainly grew to love picture books more as an adult than I had as a child.
It was then that I began to notice how underrepresented people of color are in children’s literature. The actual statics are staggering! When my daughters began to ask why there are so few books with prominent African American characters in them, I decided that instead of complaining about it, I’d act. As Toni Morrison stated, “If there’s a book you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” I felt it was my duty to be the change I wanted to see in world.
The general theme of the book is a universal one. It touches on the issue of over-consumption and materialism that is widespread in our culture today. Our society sends the message that the more “stuff” we have, the more successful we should feel. This book attempts to show that this may not be the case, in a fun way of course.
Why did you decide to use Kickstarter to fund the creation of your book?
I may not have dreamed of becoming a writer, but I’ve always had an entrepreneurial bent, and I’ve always admired those who’ve chosen to adopt the mindset and attitude toward seeking out change! The publishing industry is changing, and now more than ever, we authors can get our books into the hands of readers without the gate-keepers of traditional publishing. Print-On-Demand has changed the game. Besides, readers don’t care how a book is published, as long as the book is good. I met Bethany Carlson of The Artist Partner, who assists authors that choose the Indie-Publishing route. Bethany is a Kickstarter pro! She convinced me that crowd funding is a great way for authors to launch an independent book project. So in keeping with the entrepreneurial spirit, I went for it, and I’ll say it was a successful venture.
What were some of the challenges you faced while going through the process of self-publishing your book?
The major challenge I’ve faced thus far with indie-publishing has been the learning curve. I didn’t go to school to major in publishing, so I’m literally learning as I go. But when I decided to publish, I knew I didn’t want to go through the query process. I didn’t want to sign off the rights to my book (which had become my baby); I wanted to have creative control over the outcome. Plus, I knew that whether or not I went the Independent or Traditional route, I’d still have to pretty much do my own marketing. So once I made my decision, my first hurdle was to find an illustrator, an editor, a book designer, a printer/distributor, a marketing plan, and the funding. None of this was really “hard” it just required some effort on my part.
What have you done to prepare for being a participant in the Virginia Festival of the Book?
Well right away, I needed to order more books from my printer (LOL). Beyond that, it was just a matter of organizing all the events I’m appearing at…10 in all.
What do you enjoy about Charlottesville's writing community?
Charlottesville is rather well-known for having a strong writing community. My family and I moved here from Kansas City a little over 2 years ago. One of the reasons why was to be closer to my family who lives in Baltimore. But I also moved here with the express purpose of immersing myself in the local writing scene…I came here to make my writing dreams come true. In the process, I’ve meet and worked with many fine local scribes like Amy Lee-Tai, Jane Jackson, Carolyn O’Neil, Bethany Carlson, and Kathy Erskine. Moving to Charlottesville has been one of the best decisions of my life.
Marc Boston is a lover of books, and a stay-at-home dad who was inspired to write original stories to read to his daughters during bedtime. Marc was born in Baltimore, and raised in Kansas City. Today, he lives with his wife Rachael and their three daughters in Charlottesville. He can be found online at marcboston.com.