Okay, I had cancer as a teen. I write novels for teens. So why don’t I write a novel about a teen with cancer?
The truth is, I have. The manuscript sits in my drawer, along with the novel about the delusional girl who thinks she’s Emily Dickinson. It’s not that the novel is so bad. In fact, it won me a couple of "good" rejection letters from editors and agents. I think it was ultimately unpublishable because I wrote it for the wrong reasons.
A writer has to write for her readers. A story written for the purpose of exorcising past demons may be great personal therapy, but it doesn’t necessarily make a good book. In my case, I think I was still too close to my cancer experience to find the universal in my particular story. And finding the universal is a must if you want to truly connect with your readers.
Maybe someday I will write a great YA novel about a teen with cancer. But in the meantime, there are a number of good novels out there featuring teens dealing with cancer and other life-threatening diseases. A few of my favorites are DEADLINE by Chris Crutcher, BEFORE I DIE by Jenny Downham (read an interview with the author here), and RUBBER HOUSES, a novel-in-verse by Ellen Yeomans.