Read our GRYT Book Club interview with young adult cancer survivor and author of The Cast, Amy Blumenfeld.
GRYT: Amy, what inspired you to write The Cast?
Amy: There were a few sources of inspiration for the book. The first was my master's project in graduate school which I wrote about adult survivors of childhood cancer.
The second source of inspiration was a videotape that was made for me when I was sick. It was don’t by 40 people — ten families (my parents' friends and their kids) — and it cheered me up when I was in the hospital.
The third source of inspiration was when I turned 40 a few years ago my friends and I were having these milestone moment type of conversations about relationships and friendships and marriage and parenting and career and I came up with the idea of creating fun characters with all different issues and stories and then weaving in the good important messages about long term survivorship and the impact on the patient as well as the friends and family through the stories about these characters.
GRYT: What type of cancer did you have?
Amy: Hodgkin’s disease, I was diagnosed at 13 and had treatment until I was 15.
GRYT: That videotape sounds amazing. What an awesome gesture! Do you still watch it?
Amy: Every once in a while but not very often. Our friend who made it transferred it onto a DVD but it is very grainy!
GRYT: In the book, you talk about Becca and secondary cancer. Is that inspired by your own life?
Amy: The secondary cancer was inspired by many of the patients I met doing interviews. I was fascinated by the long term effects both physically and emotionally on the patients as well as their family and friends.
I wanted to write a book that shed light on the fact that treatment doesn’t end the moment you walk out the hospital doors
GRYT: Why did you decide to write the book from multiple points of view?
Amy: I wrote the book from different points of view because I thought first-person perspectives are fun and interesting to read. I like those books and they draw me in quickly. I thought different POVs would also shed light on different aspects of the survivorship experience. People have different reactions to the same experience and I wanted to capture that.
GRYT: A lot of our community members find that’s when you need help and support the most.
Amy: It was fun. These characters really became people to me… like imaginary friends!
GRYT: Was it hard to write from a viewpoint from the characters who didn’t have cancer? How did you separate your experience from that?
Amy: Not really. I just thought about my family and friends and how things might look from their perspectives. It’s like being in a play… you get into a character’s head.
GRYT: Did you always want to be a writer? Did you keep a journal when you were sick?
Amy: I did not keep a journal when I was sick. For me, I just needed to maintain “normalcy” and not dwell on any of the sickness stuff. So I focused on just keeping up with school work and regular non-illness stuff.
I always knew I liked to write but I didn’t always know I wanted to be a writer. I didn’t mind writing thank you notes as a kid and would write long letters to my friends who went away for summers to camp.
When I was in college I liked the classes that required papers instead of tests. I found I learned more and enjoyed the research and writing process.
I got internships in journalism and then went to grad school for journalism. I wanted to go into television news but realized that the writing is different for tv vs. print and even within print it is different between newspapers and magazines and I found my strength was in writing. Magazine format pieces so I got a job after graduation at a magazine.
GRYT: How long did it take you to write The Cast?
Amy: It took one year to write the manuscript. Then almost a year to revise it. Then the publishing process and then it came out. So from the time I had the idea to write a novel to the moment I held the book in my hands, it took four years.
GRYT: Did you always know that you wanted to write a book that was inspired by what you went through?
GRYT: What was it like going from being a journalist and writing non-fiction to writing fiction?
Amy: When I was in grad school and wrote my masters project about adult survivors of childhood cancer my professor came up to me at graduation and suggested I turn the project into a book. That was the first time it ever occurred to me. He planted a seed and for a while, I thought maybe I would turn it into a compilation of interviews or possibly a memoir but it never clicked or came together and wasn’t fun to read at all. I didn’t want to write a cancer book. So when I turned forty I created these characters and the storyline and turned the whole idea into a novel and it was SO much more fun and liberating because I could make things up and didn’t have to stick to facts.
GRYT: Wow. I love that! What is your writing process like? Do you plot it out or just fly by the seat of your pants?
Amy: I have a rough blueprint for the story and then I write. But it often gets redrawn as I go! So it’s sort of a mix of plotting it and pantsing it!
GRYT: What’s next? Do you have plans for another book? A sequel maybe?
Amy: I am working on my second novel. As of now, it is sort of a spin-off of The Cast.
GRYT: Neat!! Can you share anything about it? Or is all under wraps?
Amy: I feel like some of the characters stories aren’t done….
GRYT: What are some of your favorite books, Amy?
Amy: Oh, good question. I have a bunch. I liked The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer. I like all of Tova Mirvis’ books. The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo. The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri. Then Came You by Jennifer Weiner. I could go on….By the way, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman is really great too as is One Day in December. These are all fiction!
GRYT: Any idea when your spin-off will come out? We’ll be ready to read it!
Amy: Aw, thanks. Not for a while. I’m still doing promotion for The Cast.
GRYT: Looks like we’ll just have to keep an eye on your website and social media for an announcement! Thank you so much for joining us tonight and letting us read your book and pepper you with questions. We always love hearing from fellow survivors.
In collaboration with A Ballsy Sense of Tumor and Lacuna Loft
At the end of last year, Justin, founder of ABSOT, teacher by day, writer by night, began hosting our year long How to Tell Your Story AppChat. Once a month, he would go through a host of different techniques, themes, and recommended guidelines. The GRYT community graciously listened, participated and brainstormed together. Then another month would past and the cycle of learning the how tos would refresh. It was an amazing series, and our first real AppChat that we debuted. The shame of it was, not a whole lot of writing was ever done, which was purely unintentional.
There have been many studies exploring how helpful and wonderful writing can be. Psychology Today, states:
“Across many experiments, people experience a positive effect from employing expressive writing to cope with difficult life experiences. Even though a traumatic or grievous experience comes crashing into one’s life unbidden, through writing, one can shape and explore the difficulty. Writing takes time. Taking time to write of one’s own life experience provides a way to respect, hone and understand the trauma or loss. We dignify our lives by taking seriously, in writing, the unwanted experience. We can make meaning of tragedy. Simply writing emotively, without telling a story, is not effective. Creating a narrative helps one write with authority in the face of unwanted change.”¹
So we brainstormed on how we could get more people involved, get more writing done, and how to help guide our community members in this new endeavor. It only made sense to transition How to Tell Your Story into a writing group. With the help our our nonprofit partner, Lacuna Loft, (check out their amazing writing program, Unspoken Ink), our awesome moderator, Justin, and Gryt’s platform, we know the only limits the GRYT Writing Group has is ones participants choose to enable.
Enter the start of a new year, new page, new chatroom. Beginning January 4th, on the Stupid Cancer app, among the various chatrooms you will be able to find a sparkling new one, the GRYT Writing Group Chatroom.
Once a week, on Friday mornings, in the chatroom, you will find a new writing prompt. In collaboration,with Lacuna Loft and A Ballsy Sense of Tumor, along with GRYT Health, there will be a rotating authorship of writing prompts. Each week is guaranteed to be different.
Read the prompt, ponder on it, then leave your paragraph, or two, or five- whatever your heart desires, in the chatroom to share it among your fellow community members. We’ve laid down the foundation for a safe, inclusive environment. All that’s left for you to do is to get your creative process on!
Not sure where to start? Feeling intimidated by the blinking cursor on your screen? Starting on the third Thursday of every month, join Justin for a new AppChat, GRYT Writing Night. You can chat with others, brainstorm, and get the creative juices flowing for that week’s writing prompt. Can’t make it? The writing prompt from the AppChat the night before will be posted in the GRYT Writing Group Chatroom the next morning.
GRYT Writing Group Guidelines:
Anyone that is part of the GRYT Community can participate, whether you think you are a writer or not.
Respond to the writing and not the writer.
Be sensitive and respectful.
All work is assumed to be fictional.
If you aren’t given the information in the writing piece, you aren’t privy to it. Be conscious of boundaries.
Feel free to direct message one another, by tapping on a user’s avatar, but the chatroom’s use is first and foremost for leaving writing pieces and commenting on them.
It’s ok to suggest edits, but be constructive with your criticism.
2019 is destined to be an epic year. So hop on board and follow along with us as we write our way through a new adventure together.