New York Times bestselling author Eloisa James is one of the spokespersons for Avon Books’ K.I.S.S. and Teal campaign to raise awareness of the symptoms of ovarian cancer.
Each year more than 21,000 women are diagnosed with the disease, and 15,000 women die of it, a mortality rate that has shown no improvement in over 30 years.
To combat this disease, Avon has donated $25,000 to the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance and has promised to contribute up to $25,000 more, based on sales of seven selected historical romance novels between August 30, 2011 to February 28, 2012.
September is National Ovarian Cancer Awareness month, so the New York Journal of Books is proud to speak with Ms. James about her commitment to the campaign.
NYJB: Why is Avon Books so actively supporting the campaign for ovarian cancer awareness?Eloisa James: Romance is read primarily by women, and ovarian cancer is a women’s disease. Avon and its authors are saying, “You are our readers, our women, and we want you to live long and healthy lives, so we are going to put the symptoms in the back of every one of these seven books.” We are looking out for our own readers. Almost everyone has been touched by ovarian cancer, whether by the death of a friend or a relative.
NYJB: How did you become involved in the K.I.S.S. and Teal campaign?
Eloisa James: I was approached because my editor knew my mother had died of ovarian cancer. In addition, my college roommate’s mother was felled by the disease, as well as one of my closest friends, a brilliant college professor. It is a cause I feel strongly about.
NYJB: Many people think of the romance genre as pure fantasy. Isn’t ovarian cancer uncomfortably real?
Eloisa James: People seem to perceive lasting love as the central fantasy of the romance genre, but I believe that two people loving each other for the rest of their lives is entirely possible. In my opinion, the real fantasy, especially in historical romances, is that the world is free of cancer and other causes of untimely death. Women in the era I write about were usually dead by the age of 45. Often the cause was complications from childbirth—another “women’s issue.” But historical romance offers a time and place that cancer forgot.That’s the fantasy.
NYJB: In your keynote speech at the Romance Writer’s of America Conference in 2009, you mentioned how your work in progress was a comfort to your mother. Can you talk about that?
Eloisa James: At that point, my mother had been diagnosed with Stage IV ovarian cancer. She had undergone surgery, but declined chemotherapy because it would not have been effective. So she had come home to finish her life.
I was in the process of writing When the Duke Returns, in which the hero comes home to his ancestral estate after many years of living abroad, only to find it in a terribly neglected state. The most noticeable sign of neglect is the smell of sewage in the house: the plumbing has rotted out.
As I read snippets of the manuscript to her, my mother particularly enjoyed this aspect of the plot, so I embroidered on the broken toilets until they became a significant subplot. They made her laugh and laugh. My mother did not read romance, but in her last days, When the Duke Returns, with its lack of cancer and death, provided something of a refuge for her.
NYJB: What do you see as your role as a well-known romance author in this campaign?
Eloisa James: I am an ambassador to my readers. My fellow authors and I were briefed about the disease and its symptoms by the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance at this year’s Romance Writers of America conference. Our mission is to get the word out to our readers about how to recognize the symptoms of ovarian cancer and how to make sure they receive timely treatment. I have included it in my popular Barnes & Noble column this month (link:http://bnreview.barnesandnoble.com/t5/Reading-Romance/The-Great-Escape/ba-p/5617). I will be talking about the campaign on my Facebook page, my website, and through a newsletter sent to 50,000 subscribers.
NYJB: What is your message to your readers?
Eloisa James: K.I.S.S.—Know the Important Signs and Symptoms! Ovarian cancer has a reputation for “whispering” in its early stages, but if you are paying attention to your body, the symptoms are there. They include bloating, pelvic and abdominal pain, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly, and urinary symptoms (urgency or frequency). If these symptoms persist for more than two weeks, see your doctor and ask to be tested for ovarian cancer. Do not allow the doctor to dismiss your concerns as a possible gastrointestinal disorder, a terrible tragedy that has frequently occurred in the past. Insist on the proper testing!
NYJB: What sort of response to the campaign have you seen so far?
Eloisa James: One particularly encouraging response came from the retailer Target:
When Avon approached their book buyers, Target immediately increased its orders of all seven of the historical romance novels included in the K.I.S.S. and Teal campaign. Target is a very community-minded corporation, and they demonstrated that clearly. I know other retailers also responded with enthusiasm; Barnes & Noble is running my public service announcement about the symptoms on their website.
NYJB: Your novels are well known for their literary references, since your alter ego is a professor of Shakespeare at Fordham University. You also quote a poem when you talk about the campaign against ovarian cancer: “If we planted a poppy for every woman who has died from ovarian cancer in the last decade, there would be fields upon fields— millions of crimson blooms.”
Eloisa James: I did. I was thinking of John McCrae’s famous World War I poem, “In Flanders Fields,” describing rows on rows of young soldiers buried in a field of poppies.
I feel the poem speaks just as clearly about the women who have died of ovarian cancer, especially the lines which say:
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hand we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
We need to keep the torch held high, to shine a light on the symptoms of ovarian cancer so, as the poem says, we do not break faith with the women whose lives have been claimed by the disease.
Interviewer Nancy Herkness is an awarding-winning author of romance novels. Her articles have appeared in Romantic Times BookClub magazine. She is a member of Romance Writers of America and Novelists, Inc.