After cancer treatment, Juliette Whitman envisioned a comic novel

Juliet Whitman Investigative reporter, theater critic, and writing lecturer at the University of Colorado. She has published her novel ‘Stockers Her Kitchen’, short stories and essays centered around her acclaimed cooking and has won several journalism awards. Her memoir, Breast Cancer Journal: A Century of Petals, won the Colorado Book Award and was named a finalist for the National Book Awards. Whitman also received a True West Award as Person of the Year for Denver’s arts coverage.

SunLit: Please tell us the backstory of this book. What inspired you to write it? Where did the story/theme come from?

Juliet Whitman: I was treated for breast cancer many years ago, but the years of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and other treatments affected my sense of who I am, including my sense of who I am, on the most basic level. changed everything. What impressed me the most was the relationship between patients.

Support groups were often raucous, filled with laughter, outbursts of sadness and anger, and quiet moments of insight. We threw lewd jokes about bodily functions and whined about the caretaker we knew in our hearts to be our savior.

We all lived in a kind of bounded space where there was only a trembling transparent membrane between life and death. Where else can you say “Damn I hate healthy people” without being judged?

The outside world includes sugar-pink ribbons, sentimental depictions of cancer in movies and fiction, obituaries depicting heroic battles, learning to be more fulfilled and creative, to meditate, and to love. , there was a book that explained that you could heal yourself by eating carrots.


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It got me hooked. I decided to write a comic novel in which a group of patients embark on wild capers. However, there was a problem. I’m not a cartoonist. I may be satirical, sarcastic, and acerbic, but there doesn’t seem to be a funny bone anywhere. The result is “Again and Again,” which explores death, celebrates life, and may contain occasional humorous passages.

SunLit: Put this excerpt in context. How does it fit into the entire book? why did you choose it?

Whitman: Chloe, 23, a cancer patient, received a Portacath, a device that is placed under the skin to allow nurses to administer chemotherapy without repeated injections. Scared, angry, lonely and embarrassed, she goes out drunk with her friends.

SunLit: Tell us about the making of this book. What influences and experiences influenced the project before you sat down to write it, and did it take you in unexpected directions once you started writing it?

Whitman: Being a journalist is very useful when gathering information for fiction. I have spoken to dozens of cancer patients. Also nurses and doctors. The surgeon let me see the mastectomy, and the oncologist allowed me to accompany him on his rounds.

There are also political and social issues that I explore, especially our brutally broken healthcare system.

Yes, there were many unexpected developments during the writing process. You can’t create an enthusiastic soul like Chloe without her surprise.

SunLit: Are there any lessons you learn each time you write a book? If so, what has the process of writing this book added to your knowledge and understanding of your technique or subject?


He grips the rock with his crooked hand.
Solitary land, near the sun,
Wrapped in the azure world in which he stands.
The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls.
he watches from the wall of the mountain,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.

The Eagle by Alfred Lord Tennyson

This poem provided a metaphor for writing a novel. I find it especially helpful when I start to get frustrated along the way. At first, it stands on a cliff like Tennyson’s eagle. All patterns are clearly visible. You know the form and intent of your book, and you think you understand the characters. But then you are no longer on a cliff, but in the sea, blinded by foam, seaweed and rolling water, writhing and splashing.

Ultimately there is peace. By the time the draft is finished and ordered, it feels as though you knew where it was going all along.

SunLit: What was the biggest challenge you faced writing this book?

Whitman: I rewrote “Again and Again” several times over the course of three years or so to find the plot. We knew women would have dangerous, boundary-breaking adventures. Because after the angel of death hits you with its wings, shouldn’t you take risks that you wouldn’t normally do?

“many and many times”

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But for the longest time, I didn’t understand what the adventure was all about—until four-year-old Colin showed up, snatching the nurse’s stethoscope and laughing like a goblin.

SunLit: If you could pick just one theme, lesson, feeling, or realization that readers would receive from this book, what would it be?

Whitman: It’s about how we respond to threats, how we deal with them, how we cooperate, how we comfort and confuse. I think the core of “Again and Again” is exploring the inexplicable complexities of life and death. Patients and their nurses struggle to understand what it means to die, but they are alive and well.

Here are daffodils and babies. I have a deep love. A 90-year-old man who survived the Holocaust sips his hot chocolate and gives a cynical middle finger: “Those who wanted me and my children shouldn’t survive.”

SunLit: In a highly politicized atmosphere in which access to books and people’s books has become increasingly controversial, the question of the availability of literature in books, libraries, and public spaces in general. What would you like to add to the conversation?

Whitman: The state of our school breaks my heart. Not just the current fascist attack on books and what teachers are allowed to talk about, but also the way this country thinks about education, obsessed with weighing tests and money.

I had never come across a five-paragraph essay until I came here from England as a teenager. Or a true and false or multiple choice test. At-home testing required essays and analysis. And our teachers used their literacy, knowledge and passion to choose what they wanted to teach.

SunLit: Tell us about your writing process: where and how do you write?

Whitman: First, we have to deal with the critics. Critics sit on my shoulders every time I start writing and say my ideas are ridiculous, my prose is ugly, my work is so bad it pollutes the universe.

Next is the writing part. If you get stuck, use the exercises and free-text to get fresh ideas. Ursula LeGuin’s “Steering the Craft” is her one of my favorite prompt books.

Once you actually start writing, you start writing very quickly. Think of Jackson Pollock throwing paint onto a canvas. The result is a lot of repetition and rigmarole, but then I take a day or two off the exercise. You realize that not only is there something, but there are many things that need to be cut out.

Finally, once the draft is complete, activate your OCD triggers to edit word by word, sentence by sentence. Do you need an ‘and’ there? Give it a try. No; take it out. please put it back With this “to”, you can dance forever. And — is the right word rage? Isn’t the character just boiling quietly?

My most important rule is to not follow rules. They are meant to break.

SunLit: Tell us about your next project.

Whitman: I decided to make the current novel more autobiographical than the previous one. An old woman named Veronica is grading her student’s papers and regularly considers the consequences of her work and her life. Has she been a force for good in the world, even if only slightly, and will the remorse she feels for her previous mistakes forgive them?

She is also working on memories of a classmate she was once close with. Mary is now a highly respected neuroscientist, she has published a book on the nature of evil and is regularly interviewed by the BBC. However, Veronica knows that Mary committed cruel and horrific acts when she was a teenager.

Quick hit: 10 or more Quirky questions

SunLit: Are you looking forward to the actual writing process, or is it the chores you have to dread to do good things?

Whitman: I procrastinate like crazy, but when my fingers touch the keyboard, I tend to be happy.

SunLit: Regardless of your age, what was the first piece you were proud of?

Whitman: When I was seven or eight, I wrote a poem to impress my mother, but the critic was already working in my brain. And rightly so. The poetry was preachy, sentimental, and Victorian. it started. Never waste it. But let the birds taste it. ” At least scan.

SunLit: Looking back on your early professional writing, how do you feel? embarrassed? satisfaction? Wish I could start over?

Whitman: Working in journalism, I was quite happy with my writing. But I never thought I had the right to go into actual fiction. Celebrities such as Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Saul Bellow have said that without a penis it would have been useless to try to write well.

SunLit: Can you imagine which three writers from which era could participate in a great discussion of literature and writing? Why?

Whitman: Samuel Beckett, WH Auden, Margaret Atwood. They are all bright, worldly wise, and ironically, but they play music on the page and amaze with their transcendental moments.

SunLit: Do you have a favorite saying about writing?

Whitman: “Books must be the axes of the frozen sea within us.” Franz Kafka.

Speaking of which, will Kafka come to our gathering? And Shakespeare?

SunLit: What does the current collection of books on your home bookshelf tell visitors about you?

Whitman: I am passionate about politics, theatre, theatre, poetry, food writing, language, and fiction by immigrant and British writers.

SunLit: Soundtrack or Silence? What audio background helps you write?

Whitman: silence.

SunLit: At what age and what event made you want to become a writer?

Whitman: When I attended a workshop with Alix Cates Shulman in my 40s, she wrote about the first story I submitted:

SunLit: What is your biggest fear as an author?

Whitman: Any kind of illness or event that causes speechlessness.

SunLit: And what gives you the greatest satisfaction as an author?

Whitman: Surely you know: admiration and understanding of work.

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