Thursday, March 6, 2014

RIP Cynthia Chapman Willis

My dear friend and critique partner, Cynthia Chapman Willis died on March 3rd. I am heartbroken. For those of you who didn't know Cindy, it's not too late to get to know her. She left behind two wonderful novels, Dog Gone and Buck Fever. Both showcase Cindy's love of animals and her big heart. The following video shows Cindy during happier days, just after the release of her first novel:

Cindy worked with me every step of the way on my debut novel, The Ballad of Jessie Pearl. That novel is about a young woman wasting away from tuberculosis. She grows weak and has difficulty breathing. It's ironic that lung cancer caused many of those same symptoms in Cindy herself.

The morning after Cindy died, I went to the gym. I was pushing myself hard, but all I could think about was that Cindy would never move again. It was much like this passage from The Ballad of Jessie Pearl:

I grab an old coat that Tom outgrew and let myself out the back door. The wind makes a moaning sound like it's grieving too. I whistle for Patches and race down the dirt road. Carrie will never move again, and knowing that pushes me to run for both of us.

I have corresponded with Cindy almost daily for the past ten years. I keep expecting an email to pop up in my inbox. It doesn't seem real that she's gone. Jessie Pearl experienced those same emotions when her sister died:

I've seen Carrie every day of my life, but after tomorrow I'll never see her again. Poof--she'll be gone. I can't even conceive of it.

And like Jessie I'm struggling to believe Cindy is in a better place.When Jessie's other sister tells her that she'll see Carrie again some day in heaven, Jessie expresses her doubts:

I wish there was a guarantee of that. Do you really believe it?

Here's how Anna answers her:

I think everybody lives with doubt, Jessie, but I'm trying hard to believe. Faith brings me comfort.

In the end, faith is all we're left with. Rest in peace, dear friend. I hope we'll meet again.


  1. Devastating.

    She was lovely, a cat lover (yay!) and *young.* Way too young to go.

  2. I still can't believe it. And Cindy was a health nut. She was into yoga, juiced, never smoked, and BAM. She dies young from lung cancer.

  3. Cindy sounds like a wonderful person and friend. I am deeply sorry for your loss, Shannon.

  4. I am so sorry for your loss, Shannon. My father-in-law, who also died from lung cancer, was also a non-smoker. Second-hand smoke may or may not have been an issue. The only thing for sure is the empty space in our hearts. Hopefully you can fill the one in yours with beautiful memories of Cindy.

  5. I love the tribute, Shannon.

  6. Beautiful memorial to Cindy! I met Cindy at the 2012 Highlights Whole Novel Workshop, and her spark of energy and joy for writing encouraged us all. I'm so sad at her passing.