When a rabbi-friend urged me to “share my story,” my heart sunk in my tumor-riddled chest. Did the world really need another story about breast cancer? And if I wasn’t willing to tackle this “important” topic, then why did I write, anyway?
Ironically, the metastasis diagnosis in 2010, coupled with the miracle of my continued survival, nudged me back toward my very first encounters with books — the wonder of finding new gifts on each page, the enchantment of faeryforests and hidden creatures, the magical music of language and the happy discovery that words themselves could transport and transform me.
In short, it propelled me toward celebrating the intrinsic joys — and healing powers — of writing itself.
Because writing does more than transmit information. It transports the writer beyond Carefusion pumps and tethers of plastic tubing into a world where anything can happen: Bluebells can bloom in your footsteps, True Love can fall from the sky. While writing, we can transcend the noxious fumes of illness and leap directly into fields of honeysuckle, clover, and mud. We can dance on the rings of Saturn. We can do anything. We can even get well.
Because like everything else, it all comes down to how we define our terms.
One of the kinder characters in my current faery-infested novel surprised me with this: “In every blessing hides a curse, and in every curse, a blessing.” Her words sustained me through the ups and downs of a writer’s life, as well as through the bald-fatigue and perpetual gastro-intestinal distress of a BC endurer.
I have always depended on the kindness of characters.
And on that of SCBWI.
From the moment Alexis O’Neil, then SCBWI-SoCal Regional Advisor, greeted us on “Writer’s Day 2012” with a rousing sing-a-long, I became an enthusiastic participant in the happy world of SCBWI. And when Sarah Laurenson called one summer afternoon to tell me my opening for Between the Wish and the Word had been chosen for the 2014 Sue Alexander Grant, I was grateful beyond belief.
And I still am. Because the Working Writers Retreat that followed reminded me that writing and publishing are two different things. Because in spite of the accolades and attention, no one picked up that book. Too much darkness for children, publishers said. Too much gossamer for adults.
Blessings. Curses. The seduction of “success.” Ephemeral as faerydust and as easily blown away.
The blessing there was that I learned how to listen.
So I listened when a peripheral character advised me to tell her story first. And the prequel that emerged, Between the Song and the Sigh, felt blessedly free of “market-driven” expectations. By disregarding outcomes, the story that unfurled became a pure — and healing— joy to write.
So thank you again, SCBWI, for showing me that setbacks are just another kind of learning, and for reminding me to write what I love and to love what I write.
And thank you, my faeries — my dear, unmarketable faeries — who fly from cuteness and slouch toward a more Yeatsian camp — dark and dangerous, tormented with yearning, selfish, devoted, frightened, and brave — for helping me trust in the process again, and for honoring the strangeness and particularity of my own truest vision.
I write for you, my faeries, so you can go on living. I write so I can go on living too.
John Lennon observed that “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” I would posit also that “Life is what happens when you refuse to stop creating it.”
So: Why do you write?
“Fame and fortune” may sound like a magic portal to happiness, but in truth, no product can possibly compete with thewholly thrilling and restorative process of creating whole worlds from mere words. Words live. Words heal. And those of us who are lucky enough to spend our precious minutes living amongst them? We get to heal ourselves every day.
Especially with a little magical help from our friends at SCBWI.
Readers, why do you write? Has writing (or reading) helped you through a hard a time? Tell us in the comments!
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Between the The Life Stone of Singing Bird (Faber and Faber, 1996), and A Bug Collection (Red Hen Press, 2013), Mansfield’s work has found homes in a variety of print and online journals. In 2014, she was awarded the Sue Alexander Grant, and in 2015, her short story, “Fertilizer,” was published in Persimmon Tree and anthologized for the Write Well Award (2016.) In 2017, her fiction, including “The Woman Who Wouldn’t Die” was staged for The New Short Fiction Series. As Director of Creative Writing at Milken Community Schools, she was awarded the 2017 Jewish Educator Award. She is currently putting the finishing touches on her passion project: a literary fiction/YA/fantasy hybrid novel — chock full of faery-magic and the power of friendship.
Images provided by Melody Mansfield.