Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here. Today and tomorrow I’ll be sharing some gently edited excerpts from emails I received from Lea during the time she was working on Thread and Buried, the ninth Mainely Needlepoint mystery. She received a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer in the spring of 2018 and was very open about her health, writing several blogs about it here at Maine Crime Writers. Everything below is in Lea’s own words except for the occasional book title I’ve inserted in brackets for clarity.
July 7, 2018
Agent talked with Kensington about my situation–Kensington sent me flowers! One day at a time. I don’t feel awful but am tired a lot.
August 20, 2018
Publisher/editor/agent have been more understanding than I thought they might, even though I’ve told them I don’t think I’ll be doing any more new writing. Of course, I suppose even that might change. All depends on my innards and how they react to meds and time.
August 26, 2018
I actually have been feeling well enough to consider the possibility of working on a new book. I gave all my reference books to the Saco Museum! When 4-5 weeks ago the doc said “any time” I believed him. But the chemo seems to be working now. Not what doc expected. He keeps saying I’m “atypical.” Well–OK. But it is really confusing my family, who were prepared to hold my hand while I died in August! As long as I can be productive, I’ll be OK–even if the productivity is a little different from normal.
September 3, 2018
Yes, I’m still around! Last week was a rough one–I was just exhausted and spent several days in bed. Thank goodness I’m a bit better now–in terms of energy. I’m taking steroids (although I know some side effects aren’t good) but yesterday I managed to get my blog for Friday done. Saturday got copy edits for my next spring’s Kensington book [Thread on Arrival], which they want back by September 13. So that’s top of the pile right now. In other words, I’m back working after taking those days off, and hoping the exhaustion stays away. Back to copy editing—not my favorite job. And this copy editor has 12 pages of notes to start with–all copy editors hate my epigraphs because they don’t all include exactly the same info in the same order (because I don’t have it for 19th century sources,) so I have to take a lot of deep breaths and cuss a bit. And that isn’t even the book. This one I wrote last spring when Bob was so ill I hardly remember it, so it should be more interesting to read than usual. Onward!
September 7, 2018
Today I had a consultation with my oncologist pre-chemo, and post-CT scan Wednesday. The news? Unusually for pancreatic cancer, mine is reacting very well to the chemo treatments. In fact, where two months ago my doctor was talking “days to weeks” as a prognosis, the chemo has made such dramatic changes to the cancer in both the pancreas and the liver that he is now saying, ”You could have another year.” (No promises, but right now everything looks very good.) At the moment I’m doing copy edits for next May’s mystery. Then it looks as though I’ll be back to working on the mystery under contract [Thread and Buried] for which I’ve already missed deadlines. Right now it appears I’ll be around for a while.
September 24, 2018
Today I started by flipping through all my notes–then had to lie down. This ain’t the easiest way to live–frankly, would have been easier if I’d just died quickly, as first predicted. Waiting around isn’t fun.
October 18, 2018
I’m up to date with all promo stuff for the book out in 2 weeks [Thread Herrings] and I’ve done copy edits and proofing for book out next spring. So I should be writing a new book. I may take a short lie-down (after cleaning the kitchen and such) and then try it this afternoon. I read what I’d written and wasn’t happy. The awful review I got in the PPH [Portland Press Herald]Sunday hasn’t helped, I’ll admit, although the review was a bit strange. I think what I was most upset about was the “full of cliches” line. But some people must have liked it–my Amazon numbers went up.
November 2, 2018
Kensington did a nice job in promotion this time around, and I did some on my own, too–there’s a lot out there! And one or two posts or reviews or whatevers each day for the next couple of weeks, too. Just hope people don’t get bored reading about the book before they buy it! I’m looking forward to having no excuses not to work on my next book now that I seem to be recovering, at least for now.
November 27, 2018
Completed all the epigraphs for the next needlepoint book (50) and tried to start writing yesterday–did turn out 3-4 pages and then realized none would work. It’s a first person series and I was writing in 3rd person. Shows I’m not focusing well . . . will try another beginning this afternoon.
January 5, 2019
I did about 3100 words yesterday–I’m trying for ten pages a day. Since my editor is pretty clear he wants the whole manuscript by February 1—not sure I’m going to make that. (I’ve only written about 50 pages!) But I told him I’d give him a better estimate after I have test results on the 16th. At the moment I’m just leaving the house to walk to the mailbox. I have a complicated plot, so I know there’ll be editing, making sure little pieces of information are inserted where they should be. Between my sore hands and my blurry eyes it ain’t easy! Yesterday I had a really sore neck by the end of the afternoon and took some pills, a hot bath, and then used a heating pad while reading Barb’s latest book [Barbara Ross’s Steamed Open]. Thank goodness, that combination helped! If I could get the whole book vaguely together by February 1, maybe I could ask the editor for another week or two for editing. Again, will see. He told me for the first time this week that the book is scheduled for publication next October, and other books on that schedule went to production this week. He even sent me a copy of the book’s cover. So it does look as though they’re planning on publishing it! Gee–now all I have to do is write it.
January 17, 2019
Will have to write to John today. He wants the manuscript by February 1. I’m only about 30% of the way through. I suspect they’ll have to push out the pub date. If I hadn’t been so exhausted this month–I really lost two weeks. But I feel good today (steroids yesterday and this morning!) and hope to make some progress this afternoon. Also doing laundry–big tasks at this point!
January 24, 2019
Am better today but not LOTS of energy. So far have edited 10 pages. A few (!!) left to go, besides about 200 pages of new pages! Ah, well.
February 8, 2019
So far so good today. Usually I’m ok for 1-2 days after chemo and then it all hits. Hoping to make some major progress on manuscript today. Who knows? Might happen!
February 26, 2019
I’ve now finished editing and inputting edits for the half of the book due Friday that I’ve written. I guess I have to break down and tell agent and editor no new book this week. Sigh. I’m feeing guilty, but it’s just the way it is. I’ll keep working on it. The past few days have been good ones although right now I’m tired from laundry/changing bed and defrosting and throwing out some of the dozens of misc. stuff (corn broth from husks?) that Bob made and then never used and I’m not going to use.
2nd email same day
Wrote to John Scognamiglio and told him book wouldn’t be finished this week. New deadline: April 1. So–I’m not off the hook.
Part Two will appear at MaineCrimeWriters.com tomorrow.
Thread and Buried will be released next Tuesday, November 26, 2019, in paperback and ebook editions. If you click here, it will take you to links at all the major online booksellers. You can also ask your local independent bookstore and/or your local library to order a copy.
This is both inspirational and heart wrenching.
I am so glad that at my first Malice in 2016, I was seated with Lea and got to know her a tiny bit!
Thanks for sharing!
Thank you for sharing this. Lea was astoundingly hardworking and tenacious. A persistent inspiration.
She was indeed.
This is like having Lea right here talking with us — matter-of-fact and achingly honest about the terrible illness that took her too soon. I know how much your daily communication meant to her. Thank you for this post, Kathy Lynn. I’ll look forward to the follow up tomorrow.
Thanks, Brenda. I miss her daily, especially when I have some bit of writing news to share. I’m glad I have Shadow, but telling her isn’t quite the same.
Thanks so much, Kathy (& Lea XO). I so needed this today.
Will say more on FB, where folks know me a little better. But thanks.
You’re welcome, Julia, and thank you for sharing more on FB. We don’t know each other but I’m sending you a virtual hug anyway. Lea was an inspiration in so many ways..
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