Edith here, hosting a bunch of relatives for my honey’s 70th birthday! Today I’m delighted to welcome Gigi Pandian back to the blog. Her tenth mystery is out – which I’m excited about, because I love this series – and she’s talking about how she writes through good times and bad. Check the end for a special giveaway.
Writing Through Good Times and Bad
Last week was a big milestone for me – my tenth book was published!
This is an especially meaningful milestone because The Alchemist’s Illusion is a novel in my Accidental Alchemist mystery series, which is not-so-subtly my “cancer survival” series. I began writing the first Accidental Alchemist novel while undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer shortly after my 36th birthday, exploring ideas around the Elixir of Life through a centuries-old female alchemist.
My cancer treatments left my body feeling exhausted and crummy, I was stuck at home with no immune system to speak of, and my agent hadn’t been able to sell my first novel. It wasn’t a great time in my life.
However, several unexpected things happened.
First, facing my own mortality much earlier than I’d expected, I was more clearly able to see the important things in life, without the noise that usually gets in the way. My family mattered. As did my beloved friends. And also, even though I wasn’t yet a published author, I realized how much my writing meant to me. But do you know what used to matter and no longer did? The stresses of modern life.
My writers group took me wig shopping and picked out a mystery-writerly wig for me. I never would have picked it out for myself, but it was perfect! It made me feel powerful and in control at a time when outside forces told me I wasn’t.
I was in that state of mind when I saw I’d be going through chemotherapy during National Novel Writing Month. I’d been writing for years, but never fully committing to it. But now, who knew how much longer I’d have to write? When I wrote during chemo, the words rushed out of me, and what came out was a story of transformation, the central theme of the whole series. (You know the key transformations of alchemy: transforming lead into gold and finding the Elixir of Life that grants immortality. So I had a lot of material to play with!)
But… because I write on the lighter side of the mystery genre, my way of exploring mortality wasn’t dark. It turned out to be a humorous not-quite-cozy romp with alchemist Zoe Faust, her impish gargoyle sidekick Dorian Robert-Houdin, and their lovable misfit friends.
I’d been writing in my stable life for several years before cancer, thoroughly enjoying the world of words and the company of other writers I was meeting. But until I realized how easily it could all be taken away, I didn’t fully commit to seizing the day.
I was writing the story for myself, but unexpectedly my agent sold The Accidental Alchemist quickly. The fourth book in the series is out this month, and the series is now in the early stage of development for television. If I hadn’t let my imagination run wild based on that dark time, I don’t know that I would have had the courage to write the story.
I’m now more than seven years cancer free, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds.
Have you had any experiences that shaped you in unexpected ways? I’ll send a set of Alchemist recipe cards to one commenter!
THE ALCHEMIST’S ILLUSION, the fourth in the Lefty Award-winning Accidental Alchemist series, came out last week. A perilous painting leads Zoe Faust and Dorian Robert-Houdin on an audacious alchemical adventure in Portland, Oregon, in search of Zoe’s old mentor Nicolas Flamel. Like the earlier books in the series, this one includes delicious vegan recipes.
Gigi Pandian is a USA Today bestselling and Agatha and Lefty Award-winning mystery author, breast cancer survivor, and accidental almost-vegan. The child of cultural anthropologists from New Mexico and the southern tip of India, she spent her childhood traveling around the world on their research trips, and now lives outside San Francisco with her husband and a gargoyle who watches over the garden. Gigi writes the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt mysteries, Accidental Alchemist mysteries, and locked-room mystery short stories.
Learn more about Gigi and her books at http://gigipandian.com/, sign up for her email newsletter for the latest news, and connect with her on social media: Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
I love Gigi’s series! It never disappoints me.
Thanks so much, Susan! I’m so happy you’re enjoying it 🙂
What an amazing story Gigi! I’m so happy for you. My life has taken so many zigs and zags it’s amazing I don’t have whiplash.
Oh, those zig zags! But they do keep things interesting.
Congratulations on the tenth book, Gigi! What a great story. It’s wonderful and freeing when you hit that moment when you realize what really matters in life.
Thanks, Liz! It really was a large silver lining. I just need to remember to hang onto the feeling when life gets busy!
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, it opened my eyes to so many things. For example, sitting in the waiting room at the Oncology Center and realizing that just about everyone in there had some form of cancer — I wasn’t the only one — it wasn’t just about me. The infusion/treatment room was so upbeat, you would never know we were all receiving some form of chemotherapy. Books were my savior during my four-hour sessions (although one of the chemo infusions made my vision blurry and unable to read, so I did that one last). The room was full of books, TV’s, donated knitted caps, and just wonderful, brave men and women determined to do what Gigi mentioned: “seize the day.” I am now 9 years cancer free, and every day is a wonderful blessing ~
Congratulations being 9 years cancer free, Celia! I’m so glad to hear you’re still remembering to seize the day. My husband sometimes needs to remind me to slow down and enjoy the moment, when I get stressed by something like a book deadline–which *should be* living my dreams.
I loved my oncology team as well, and it was really special that one of my chemo nurses came to the book launch party for my debut novel 🙂
And oh yes, BOOKS were such a comfort during those chemo sessions. That’s when I discovered Victoria Laurie’s page-turning books, so I get teary-eyed when people going through cancer treatments tell me my books have brought some escapist comfort to them during those sessions.
My life, like many others have taken seemingly hopeless downturns. Some, totally out of my control, but yes some because of decisions I made. Any and everything we or others do, say, react to or not and things that are out of our control help shape us in one way or another. The one thing I’ve known through my 65 years, is no matter how dark, there is always a glimmer of hope, whether we can see it or not. You’re story of this part of your life is lovely and thumbs up to your writers group, they made an excellent choice and you for accepting it Sometimes the unexpected downturns end up being the best life lessons and give clarity to our lives. Many more blessings.
Sheryl — you’ve won the book-themed recipe cards! I drew a random winner from the comments today, and you can reach me at gigi @ gigipandian.com to send me your mailing address. I hope you enjoy the cards!
So glad you’re hanging onto that hope, Sheryl. Yes, it’s never fun going through those crummy times, but in this case it taught me an important life lesson. Wishing you much joy in the new year!
Welcome to the Wickeds, Gigi! It is so great to have you back here. Your story is inspiring. Congratulations on your seven years and your amazing journey.
Thanks so much, Barb! It’s lovely to be back for a virtual visit, and look forward to seeing you in person at Malice Domestic.
I love how a series you wrote for you sold so well. I really must get to it (and get caught up with Jaya as well).
That was such a good lesson for me, Mark. I don’t think I would have let my imagination run as wild if I’d been thinking about what anyone else would think of it.
Oh yes, I empathize — I’m so behind on my TBR pile of books…
Yes, you must, Mark!
Kudos to you, Gigi, for taking control of what you could when you could, and achieving your dream. I am sure you will achieve many more. (And I love those shoes!)
Thanks, Ramona! And yes, those are my favorite shoes 🙂
Gigi is an inspiration! Not only an inventive and skillful writer, but one of the nicest people out there.
You’re making me blush, Connie!
It’s so great to see you here at the Wickeds!
I’m going to have to start this with an embarrassing admission. While I’ve read (and loved) your Jaya series, I’ve never read any of the Alchemist series. I’m not sure why. Probably just sloth (along with the fact that as I’ve said here before, I’m currently reading everything published by over sixty authors). But after reading your post this morning I’m ordering all the Alchemist books now. In fact, I just jumped over to Amazon and did just that.
As to your question about life experiences shaping me, my experience was quite different from yours. In my 30’s (an epoch in time now only dimly remembered by History), I also had a major health crisis. I was very, very ill for a rather extended period. Cancer was the suspicion (although it turned out to be something quite different). In the months after I regained my health, my outlook was completely different. I found myself literally stopping to smell the roses. I was full of appreciation for the smallest things and the great ones as well.
But that attitude didn’t last. Within a few months, it was gone. My intellectual appreciation of my good health and all the little things remained, but the overwhelming joy in every iota of life faded. I felt (and still feel) sorrow at this loss and wished (and still wish) with all my heart that I could recapture that feeling. But I couldn’t … and can’t. But I still remember it and, oddly enough, feel terribly grateful to have felt it, even for a short while.
I’ve got to make another embarrassing admission, Gigi. My assumption, after having met you, was that your age was probably in your late 20’s. I’m wondering if you seemed that age to me (and still seem it even knowing I’m off by two decades) was because of that life-changing experience you went through. In any event, I’m suspecting you actually have found the Elixir of Life!
Lee, thank you for sharing your story. It’s so true that the joy at the simplest things can easily fade after life goes back to “normal,” which is so unfortunate!
I’ve tried to hang onto that feeling, sometimes successfully and sometimes not so much. For me, the simple act of drinking a cup of COFFEE was one of the things that was such as joy once I was done with chemo. I couldn’t tolerate coffee in the months I was going through chemo, and I desperately missed having a mug of steaming black coffee in my hands. Once I was well, for months I savored every cup. But as months gave way to years… coffee is still enjoyable, but it doesn’t fill me with the same happiness it did during that short window of time.
I’m so glad you recovered from the health crisis in your 30s, and I’m sending you good wishes that you can recapture some of that joy you experienced after going through it! Perhaps the Accidental Alchemist characters, who were created during a similar time in my life, can play a small part in helping you find it 🙂
You’re an inspiration, Gigi! So glad you found your own form of alchemy through writing — and congrats on #10!
Thank you so much, Vickie! I still can’t quite believe it’s book 10! (9 novels and a Jaya Jones short story collection)
I love both of your series, but I think Accidental Alchemist series has a unique tone and feel to it. It took me a while to get to it for some unknown reason. I think I was cautious that I might not like it as much as Jaya’s tales. i was wrong to wait as long as I did. I love the books.
As for transformative times that changed my life, I know it was when I listened to the voice that told me get in the pickup and go to the holiday party that I was hesitating to attend when I was stationed at Vandenberg AFB CA. I am now married to the man who lit up when I walked into the room. I looked over my shoulder to see who he was looking at and apparently it was me. That’s what happens when one listens to the insistent voice and the invisible push to get a move on.
What an absolutely wonderful story, Vicki! Thanks for sharing 🙂
Edith — Thank you again for inviting me to stop by the Wickeds today! I hope you had a wonderful time celebrating your honey’s 70th! I’ll pop back over the weekend in case more folks stop by, and then draw a random winner for the book-themed Accidental Alchemist recipe cards. Have a great weekend, everyone!
My life lesson came early, and has stood my in good stead for the half a century+ since it kicked me in the teeth. My mother suicided at 36, when I was 12. I learned then that I can live through, get past, move on, enjoy life after the worst possible thing I could ever imagine happened to me. It’s not always easy, it’s not always kind – and life goes on. There are people still (t)here who love me, care about/for me, make life worth living. And I have to say – books helped. Then, now, always.
I’m so sorry you had to go through that, P.J. I’m with you, books can be such a help during tough times. they were a God-send during chemo, and Elizabeth Peters novels are my go-to comfort read. Whenever I’m bummed out, I don’t turn to food, but a much-read Vicky Bliss novel.
Great story, Gigi. I look forward to reading this series I hadn’t heard of.
My life changing experience happened 32 years ago. I was on a small, overcrowded boat on Lake Titicaca at night. There were only two life jackets for about 18 people. The engine kept quitting and the only light was someone’s keychain light. The lake is 900 feet deep at the deepest. It is just above freezing at that time of year on the lake. I’m not much of a swimmer (as in barely at all) and the shore was way too far away for me to get to. Oh, and the boat leaked pretty badly (the boatman’s helper was bailing the whole time.) At first, I was frightened and then I looked up and saw the incredible amount of stars visible in the southern hemisphere especially when it is so dark. I relaxed. I decided if I were going to die that night, I would go out having a beautiful scene in front of me. Since then, I have been able to not worry about much of anything. Que sera, sera. Makes life so much easier and more pleasurable. And I still do enjoy every day and appreciate the very little things in life like how soft my carpet is to walk across barefoot. Life is good.
What a beautiful place to have a life-changing realization, and that’s wonderful you’re still able to hang onto the feeling!
Thanks again for inviting me, Edith — and for joining me, everyone!
I drew a random winner from the comments for the book-themed recipe cards. Sheryl Sens is the winner! Sheryl — you can reach me at gigi @ gigipandian.com to send me your mailing address.
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