Playing through the pain.

by novelistpaulmosier

In February of 2016, a sudden overbite in the mouth of my beautiful 7 year old daughter, Harmony, led to a diagnosis of Rhabdomyosarcoma, a cancer which strikes 5 children per million. 27 months later, Harmony’s bed is empty.

While Harmony was still in the hospital with her initial diagnosis, I pitched the idea for the second book of my contract with HarperCollins to be a novel informed by Harmony’s experience, and the experience of our family. My editor agreed, so long as the novel was from the point of view of the cancer fighter’s older sister. So I began work on the novel that would become Echo’s Sister. I wrote ahead of our actual experience, and the novel ends six months into Echo’s battle. I hoped I would be done with it– cancer and the book. Writing it was a good way to process what we experienced as a family, a subject I would never have imagined myself touching in a story. Cancer sucks. I never wanted to read about it and I certainly didn’t think I’d want to write about it. But write it I did, turning in the first draft about four months into Harmony’s cancer journey.

In the summer of 2016 I began work on my next middle grade novel, 30 Parks, about a girl whose father takes her on a tour of all 30 Major League Baseball parks in a desperate attempt at repairing their relationship. It progressed well until our family of four went on holiday to an Airbnb in the Ocean Park neighborhood of Santa Monica. It was a beautiful time of good memories. Harmony was in remission, and we had every reason to think we would enjoy a long future with her. The sense of place– seaside town, ice cream shop, boogie boarding– pushed its way into my consciousness, and then two characters appeared– gothic Juillet and prototypical California girl Summer, and the novel Summer and July was born. I thought I could work on both it and 30 Parks at the same time, but I couldn’t really return to 30 Parks until Summer and July was finished. Summer and July came quickly, joyfully, and the first draft was nearly complete when Harmony experienced her first recurrence in November 2016.

Harmony fought hard, and refused to let cancer interfere with her getting as much from life as she could. She taught us, lifted us, and left her physical form fearlessly after telling us she would be fine, that this isn’t real. The bravest person I’ve ever known, and the wisest, is my younger daughter, Harmony. She will forever be 9 years, 7 months and 26 days old, but I’ll never impact the lives of others as much as she did in her short time in this dimension.

In truth I’ve been nearly unable to write for 18 months. My wonderful agent once called me “prolific,” but new words have been a struggle. It isn’t writer’s block– it’s been an inability to turn from the fear and the worry. Harmony kept on living, creating, but I could not.

Harmony created a breathtaking, funny body of artwork. She was also very much a consumer of novels and graphic novels. And so it is time for me to get back to the work of creating novels for the Harmonies of the world. It’s what my Harmony, our Harmony, would expect of me. So tonight I will open my laptop, find the in-progress manuscript of 30 Parks, and give it my best, if only for a few moments. Just to see if I still can.

I expect it will come. Two nights before her passing, sleeping in the chair beside Harmony’s hospital bed, I was awoken by her talking in her sleep. The last two words of the utterance were “Daddy’s book.” Two mornings later, the day she passed, I emailed my editor and found that it wasn’t too late to dedicate Echo’s Sister to Harmony Sea Mosier. Within three hours, we held her as she took her last breath, without a particle of fear. She squeezed my hand, I think to pass her strength to me. I will try to be worthy of hers.

I love you Harmony, and I’m so, so proud of you.