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Romance author tells the story of her battle with breast cancer

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image Linda Barrett has been writing for Harlequin Romance since 2001. Photo Penny Fletcher

“Hopefully Ever After” to be released Oct. 3

Linda Barrett moved to the retirement community of Valencia Lakes in Wimauma in October 2011 but she never intends to retire.

Linda has been writing romances for Harlequin since 2001 and at the time of her move, had 12 published Harlequin Romances.

Since her move, she has also written her first novel, Family Interrupted, that is about how, after a young girl is killed by a drunk driver, the girl’s mother’s feelings compare to the feeling of the driver — who also cannot go back to her previous way of life.

“I started reading Harlequin romances during the long cold winters while living in Massachusetts,” Linda said in an interview at her home Sept. 18. “They’re like potato chips. You can’t eat — in this case read — just one.”

So she began writing for Harlequin in 2001.

“Then all of a sudden, everything happened at once,” she said. “It was like Murphy’s Law on steroids.”

She was living in Houston at the time, and in February, the same month as her first book was released, and she had just started a new job working with the homeless, helping them get GED’s — she was diagnosed with breast cancer for the first time.

“I couldn’t tell my publisher. I felt I had to protect my career. It should have been a joyous time, I mean — I was finally published!”

But instead, she describes that year as bittersweet. “You have to take the bitter and the better,” she said.

Still, she continued to write. “Writing is not for sissies. You have to braid the strands carefully so the reader can get lost in the pages,” she said. “Plot, story, narrative, scenes. The author has to think conflict and plot constantly.”

Between 2001 and 2010, Linda wrote 13 books for Harlequin, at between 60,000 and 80,000 words each.

Then she wrote the novel, Family Interrupted, about the car accident.

Meanwhile, her breast cancer was always on her mind. Now, as a two-time survivor, she chose to tell her story in her new book, Hopefully Ever After, which is being released Oct. 3.

Although she has used her poignant romantic-style, she chose to Indie (self) publish Hopefully Ever After, so she would not have to write to a publisher’s guidelines and  also so she could control it from the first draft to the marketing.

“This is an important warning to all women, but especially Jewish women,” she said. Linda herself is Jewish and has studied the odds of a specific gene that is carried by Jewish people.  She is quick to back her facts with a brochure put out by FORCE: Facing Our Risk of Cancer — What Every Jewish Woman Should Know. It states that one in every 40 Jewish persons carry this gene.

Doctors quoted say that every woman carries a gene that can turn to breast and ovarian cancer but they only mutate in some women. The rate is much higher in Jewish women because they have BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. “There is a test for this gene, and every woman should ask for it,” Linda said.

Linda’s warning is not just for Jewish women, however. She said both her cancers were found by self-examination and confirmed by mammography and a physician.

Besides earning early acclaim from Romance Writers of America for Hopefully Ever After (before release), an early copy was reviewed by New York Times best-selling author Joni Rodgers, author of  Bald in the Land of Big Hair. 

Rodgers review states, “The cancer experience can be a panic-fueled bullet train, but you meet some cool people in the bar car. In engaging girlfriend style, Linda Barrett’s frank, funny memoir delivers an honest account of her difficult journey with just the right mix of love, friendship, wig-whipping and accessibly-rendered science. Highly recommended for the newly diagnosed.”

After being diagnosed the first time the same month Linda started her new job in Houston and Harlequin published her first book, what she calls “Murphy’s Law on steroids” burst into her life again.

“We had just decided to move to Valencia Lakes from Houston and had put the down payment on the house. Then I was diagnosed a second time. I stayed and had all my treatments in Houston, and then moved.”

Two years later, she says she feels good and is extremely hopeful she has again beaten cancer. It is with this attitude she writes the Blog, “Starting Over.”

“I write about balancing everything, family, work — especially writing — and whatever comes into your life.

Linda has performed quite a balancing act.

The first time she had cancer, she sustained a lumpectomy and 30 days of radiation. The second time, it was a bilateral mastectomy and six rounds of chemotherapy. She continued to work, write, and eventually — move.

“That’s where I got my Blog’s title, Starting Over. In  life, you just have to keep starting over,” she said.

She writes both poignantly and with humor. Her “How Do You Know if You’re a Writer” series is framed like Jeff Foxworthy’s famed, “How do You Know if You’re a Redneck” series.

Yet her story can often leave tears on the page. It depends which of her works you read.

To learn more about Linda, visit www.Linda-Barrett.com and hit “Blog” for “Starting Over.”

To learn more about FORCE- the organization dedicated to spreading the word about breast and ovarian cancer and the high rate of these in Jewish women, visit www.facingourrisk.org or call 866-288-7475. You do not have to be Jewish to be helped by FORCE.

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