About 10 years ago, Mary started getting up early, 5 a.m. or so. It was no surprise that her sleep patterns were off. Nearly a decade of breast cancer treatment, what with chemo, various other drugs and unfathomable emotional/psychological stresses, can do that. Just being the partner of someone undergoing that had played havoc with my sleep patterns — I’d gone through occasional stretches of insomnia, sometimes weeks on end. So her atypical early-to-rise state was not a shock.
Then one morning a week or two later, as I was waking a couple of hours after she’d gotten up, she returned to the bedroom, plunked down a stack of paper on the bed and said, “So, I’ve written a novel.”
I believe that my reaction was a suitably erudite, “Wha?? Gaa?? Faa??”
Well, that’s what she was doing with her pre-dawn hours. She wrote a novel. Just like that. In a week or two. I was impressed and agog. And a teeny bit peeved — I’d started a novel a couple of years before that and had made only a little headway. (And here, a decade later, it is still a work-in-progress at best.) She simply knocked one out. Just like that. Easy-peasy.
“Figures of Echo,” it said on the title page. I started to read it. And it was…. good! Really good! A young adult/pre-teen tale, but one of sophistication and imagination, full of playful spirit and true emotions. In other words: It was Mary. The main character, an 11-year-old girl, was very Mary — a voracious intellect, insatiable curiosity, quick wit and easy-flowing humor and affection, tempered by, but not hindered by, accompanying self-doubts and insecurities.
Echo lives with her dad over a Manhattan tavern (and quasi-restaurant) he runs. Her mom died a few years before, but a set of regular patrons make up their extended family, and overall things are pretty fine. Until….. well. No spoilers. It’s a sweet, fun, breezy read. The characters are fully formed. The situations and drama well-plotted and plausible. And, most importantly, it has Mary’s voice in every phrase.
After a few attempts to shop it around to publishers, she wound up putting it out herself via Lulu, with copyediting by niece Bianca and a fine cover design by friend Brigid. It won the DIY Book Festival’s nod as Best Teenage Novel of 2007.
Not long after it was bought by Lifetime for a TV movie. They gave it to a screenwriter, who changed key elements of the plot, changed key things about the main characters, made up a perky/silly best friend for Echo and changed the title (“Custody,” ugh). And it was…. not good. Rob Morrow, James Denton and, as Echo, Kay Panabaker — all gave it their best in the lead roles. But, well, it was a Lifetime movie, so it was what you’d expect: dumbed-down and trite. But it aired, and for at least a few years was a regular part of the channel’s Father’s Day programming. And we had a nice viewing party with friends when it premiered in September 2007, Mary and Rick rushing home from the completion of their Plucky Survivors trip, a brand-spanking-new DVR allowing us to watch from the start though they arrived about half an hour late.
Mary wrote a lot. Her Los Angeles Times series about her cancer experiences touched and helped many others going through similar things. Her Frommer’s Guides brought insights and depth to New Orleans and, yeah, even Las Vegas. Her graduate work in theology and philosophy of religion were remarkably perceptive and illuminating — even if she was unable to complete her PhD work before she died, seven years ago today. Much of it is preserved on her web site, CancerChick.com.
But “Figures of Echo” may have been the writing of which she was most proud, rightfully. It’s a still-resounding echo of the remarkable person she was.
(This is not a sales pitch, but “Figures of Echo” is great reading for girls around the age of the title character. And for adults too. And any proceeds from it will be donated to PinkAid and Pink Fund, two wonderful organizations giving financial aid to women-in-need dealing with breast cancer. “Echo” can be purchased via Lulu.com or Amazon.)