How Breast Cancer and NaNoWriMo Helped Me Write My Novel

This is a guest post by Debbie Manber Kupfer. 

At eight years old I turned into a ladybug. The story prompt in the Puffin Post said to choose a creature and write a story from its point of view. I spent days wandering around my house and garden in Barking, a working-class borough of London, peering into my dad’s magnifying shaving mirror and imagining my life as a tiny red, spotted crawling thing. Then I wrote that story and sent it off to the magazine and I waited.

Two months later, I tore open the envelope that held my Puffin Post and scanned through the pages and there was my name in print – Deborah Manber. I’d got a mention for my ladybug story. You see, even back then I was fascinated with shapeshifters. My favorite Harry Potter book was always book 3, The Prisoner of Azkaban, when Rowling introduces the idea of the animagus, but I wanted more details. How did a wizard turn themselves into an animal? What did it feel like to change? Were they scared that they might not be able to change back?
These thoughts bubbled around my head, percolated, and eventually lead to the creation of P.A.W.S. – The Partnership of Animagi, Werewolves, and Shapeshifters. And the more I write the more I discover and yet there were years when I put this whole writing thing on hold. I worked on my puzzles (I’m a freelance puzzle constructor for Penny Press magazines) and thought that a novel could wait. Wait until the kids were out of the house, wait until I had time to devote to it, but then life threw me a curveball.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer and I was terrified, yet I got through it, chemo, surgery and radiation and today thankfully I’m cancer free. But it made me realize something. I made me realize I’m mortal and that if I really wanted to write that novel, I needed to do it. So during NaNoWriMo of 2012, I sat down and wrote the first draft of P.A.W.S. I encourage everyone to try this. For me NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) worked really well – it allowed me to get my story down. It took many edits and meeting a wonderful writer’s group for that original draft to become a novel, but NaNo (and my cancer) was the push I needed to get started.

Today I have two novels in the series and I’m working on a third. I also have something I never had when I started this I have a network of writer friends, both online (check out the FB group: The Dragon’s Rocketship) and a few in real life. I still write my puzzles, and drink about a gallon of hot tea with milk each day and sometimes I still watch those ladybugs and wonder what’s going on in their tiny heads.

Debbie Manber Kupfer grew up in London and lived in Israel, before somehow ended up in St. Louis, where she works as a puzzle constructor and writer. She lives with her husband, two children, and a very opinionated feline. She is the author of P.A.W.S. and Argentum and has short stories in several anthologies including Fauxpocalypse, Shades of Fear, Winter Wishes, Sins of the Past, Sins of the Future, and Stardust, Always. She also created the puzzle book, Paws 4 Logic together with her son, Joey. She believes that with enough tea and dark chocolate you can achieve anything! 
Connect with Debbie on her blog or Facebook.


“Despite all the stories I shared with you there is so much I never told you, Miri, so much you’ll have to discover for yourself. 

“Be brave, mein Katzel.”
When Miri receives a silver cat charm from her omama on the night before she dies she has no idea that the charm holds a secret, a powerful magic that saved her omama’s life and is about to make Miri’s a whole lot more interesting.
Discover the magic of P.A.W.S.

Do you agree? Disagree?