Corinne Demas is a professor of English at MHC and a Fiction Editor of The Massachusetts Review. She is the award-winning author of numerous books for children and adults, including two short story collections, four novels, a memoir, , and a collection of poetry, The Donkeys Postpone Gratification. Her new Young Adult novel, Everything I Was, will be published in April. Her children’s books include The Littlest Matryoshka, Saying Goodbye to Lulu, and Always in Trouble.
We gratefully acknowledge Hyperion Books for letting us include this excerpt from Corinne’s novel The Writing Circle which is available in paperback for the first time.
It was the day of testicular cancer. Nancy (a name that no one was given anymore) had laid out the offprints from various medical journals on her desk the night before, but she hadn’t looked at any of them yet. The monthly newsletter she edited had a dozen articles an issue, and she usually spent a day collecting material for each article, and a day reading through it, boiling it down, and writing it up. The newsletter was published under the name of a university medical school, but Nancy was its major author. An editorial board of physicians at the hospital—whose names were used for PR—sometimes suggested subjects for her, but mostly it was she who came up with the topics covered each month. She kept her ear out for what people were worried about, health crises that hit the local news (like the deadly strain of E. coli bacteria that had contaminated baby spinach) and the usual seasonal concerns. She did articles about lower back pain when spring gardening season arrived, articles about skin cancer as summer approached, and articles about frostbite at the start of winter. She farmed out some of the work to freelance writers (she had once been one of them), but she rewrote all the articles herself. The narrative voice she had perfected was professional but jaunty. She sounded like an authority, but her tone was upbeat, even when the article was ultimately informing the reader about some hideous condition that involved suffering, disfigurement, and certain early death.
“We are not in the business of scaring people” is what the physician who had started the newsletter and hired her years before had said. “We’re in the business of informing them and helping them make wise choices about their health.”
The wise choice about testicular cancer, Nancy knew from an article she’d done a year before, was to wear boxers rather than briefs and to be wary of bicycling. But there was now some new information about tumors and heat, and it was time for a follow-up. The word cancer in the headline was a certain draw for readers.
She was making herself a cup of tea when the phone rang. It was Bernard.