Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Elixir of Life

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Right now, this very moment, stop and count your blessings. Just--think of something you're grateful for. We'll wait.

Doing it? (Years ago I saw a wonderful play called The Syringa Tree, and in it, a little girl's grandfather tells her: "You are a lucky fish!" Now I say that all the time. And  that's why I put the fish. To remind you.)

Good, huh? I bet if they (they?) ever did a study about such things, they'd find blood pressure lowers, stress relaxes, frown lines disappear--you know, probably even calories burn. Whatever. Take that moment. Celebrate SOMETHING.

Because sometimes the universe forces you to do it. And as a result, amazing things can happen. 

Gigi Pandian discovered the elixir of life. She really did.

Celebrating 3 Years of Being Cancer-Free!

When Hank offered me this day to join the Reds for a guest post, I realized it was exactly three years ago that I completed chemotherapy and radiation for breast cancer. This week, I’m celebrating three years of being cancer-free!

And what better way to celebrate my three-year anniversary of kicking cancer’s butt than having my third book out this month?

The Accidental Alchemist is my “cancer book” in many ways – it’s the mystery I wrote after my cancer diagnosis caused me to throw myself into my writing, and it’s about an idea that was very appealing to me as I underwent chemo: a female alchemist who accidentally discovers the Elixir of Life.

Three-and-a-half years ago, right after my 36th birthday, I received the surprising diagnosis that I had invasive breast cancer. My husband and I had recently bought a house and were fixing up the backyard, I was enjoying my new train-ride commute to my day job (great for plotting mysteries), and my agent was pitching my first novel to publishers. I had plans in life, but cancer wasn’t one of them! It didn’t even run in my family.

But through the shock, sickness, and uncertainty, some amazing things happened. I saw with clarity what was important in my life: family, friends, and following my passion for writing.

My friends and family stepped up to take care of me, and we’re now closer than we were before my diagnosis. My writers group took me wig shopping before I started chemo and bought me a fabulous mystery-writerly wig: sleek black tresses with bright red steaks. I never would have selected that wig on my own, but it was absolutely perfect. Feeling inspired, I threw myself into my writing, penning a first draft of The Accidental Alchemist while undergoing chemo. (It wasn’t a good draft, but it was the first step.)

I made myself a promise that once I was well, I wouldn’t take things for granted that I used to. Like food that didn’t taste like cardboard. Or being able to drink coffee. Or having hair! Truly, I’ve never appreciated good food, strong coffee, or a head of healthy hair as much as I do today. 

(My husband loved my short-cropped pixie cut from the start of growing my hair back out – which you can see in this collage – but I decided to keep growing my hair out, because I don’t feel like myself without a crazy mess of curls!)

After completing chemo and radiation three years ago, I still had some treatments left to go, but that was my first big milestone. Besides savoring simple pleasures like a cup of good coffee, one of the things I did to celebrate being healthy was seize the day with a trip to Paris and Prague. It was partly a romantic vacation and party a research trip to do the historical research involved in two mysteries I was plotting. 

(Psst: If you read carefully, you’ll notice there’s a gargoyle referenced in each of my books; I’ve always loved the mysterious creatures.)

I can’t quite believe that three years and three books have gone by. Even though I’m pretty good at remembering to live each day to the fullest, life is passing by far too quickly. That’s because in my attempt to seize the day, this past year I said YES to every opportunity – which included writing two books as part of the two three-book deals I signed shortly after throwing myself into my writing. I love both books, but their creation was at the expense of leisure time with friends and family. I’m not exaggerating much when I say I set my alarm every single day in 2014.

Therefore my goal for 2015 is to SLOW DOWN a bit. I’ve asked for more time to write my fourth Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt mystery, I’m not saying yes to every tempting invitation that beckons, and I turned off automatic email notifications on my phone (gasp!).

I’ve still got a book to turn in at the end of 2015 (one I’m really excited about), and I’ll be attending several mystery conventions (which I always love), but I’m dedicated to a saner pace this year. One that leaves time for long lunches with loved ones, planning a big trip for my 40th birthday, and having fun exploring the unexpected places where my new novels lead me.

Thanks for celebrating with me today! Anyone else have a scary life experience that caused you to make positive changes in your life?

HANK: Yay, Gigi! I remember when you got your diagnosis..and I wondered, of course, what would happen. You are such a rock star! One of the things that happens, here on Jungle Red,is that we get to know each other a bit more, and get a view into each others personal (and medical!) lives. Reds have been through a lot together, right? Shoutouts and special love today to Reine and Linda, and --who else?

And yes, good question Gigi--what scary (or surprising) experience caused you to make a positive change? 

(I saw Jonathan trip and fall once, on concrete, and I still feel sick win I  think about how close his head came to the sharp corner of a brick. Don't tell him, but sometimes if I get impatient or cranky, all I have to do is  think about that, and I'm fine again. ) 

 Reds, what's your elixir of life? 


Gigi Pandian is the USA Today bestselling author of the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt mystery series (Artifact, Pirate Vishnu, and the forthcoming Quicksand) and the new Accidental Alchemist mysteries. Gigi’s debut mystery novel was awarded a Malice Domestic Grant, and her short fiction has been short-listed for Agatha and Macavity awards. A cancer diagnosis in her 30s taught her two important life lessons: healing foods can taste amazing, and life’s too short to waste a single moment.

The Accidental Alchemist is a mystery set in Portland about a centuries-old female alchemist and her impish gargoyle sidekick who was accidentally brought to life by a French stage magician.

In The Accidental Alchemist: Unpacking her belongings in her new hometown of Portland, Oregon, herbalist and reformed alchemist Zoe Faust can’t help but notice she’s picked up a stowaway. Dorian Robert-Houdin is a living, breathing three-and-a-half-foot gargoyle—not to mention a master of French cuisine—and he needs Zoe’s expertise to decipher a centuries-old text. Zoe, who’s trying to put her old life behind her, isn’t so sure she wants to reopen her alchemical past... until the dead man on her porch leaves her no choice. Includes recipes.

“This reviewer is eagerly anticipating more from this series, and a return of a cast more fun than an episode of Portlandia.”RT Book Reviews, 4 ½ stars

Find out more about Gigi and her books on her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter @GigiPandian.


  1. Congratulations, Gigi, on your recovery and on your new book. I hope 2015 is everything you hope for it to be.

  2. Congrats on your 3 year anniversary!

    And this new books sounds like too much fun. I've got to give your books a try.

  3. Gigi, your personal and writing journeys are already worth a lifetime of accomplishment. So happy Jaya, Zoe, and you are with us for a long time. Enjoy a more relaxed 2015.

    Your wig story makes me think: what would be my fantasy wig? Long and blonde, probably.

  4. Awesome, Gigi. The Accidental Alchemist is on top of my TBR pile right now!

    I'm lucky enough not to have had a health scare, but I have made huge changes in my life several times: quitting a very good hi-tech job to say home with babies, later getting back into a new area of hi-tech, summoning the courage to get divorced (which greatly improved my life), and then quitting my day job two years ago to write fiction full time. They were leaps of faith, but I was following my dreams.

  5. Oh a fantasy wig -- good one Ramona! There was once this website that let you try out all different kinds of hair styles and colors --you superimposed them over your photo. It was scary--and very clear that I do not want to have short red hair!

    I have a platinum flip wig that I wore one Halloween when I was part of a 50s girl back up singer ensemble (!). ... Also not that attractive !!

  6. "Includes recipes."

    I love it. Recipes for the Elixir of Life? Philosopher's Stone Soup?

    Thanks for the upbeat start to my day. Hang in there.

  7. Happy 3rd anniversary.
    The Accidental Alchemist is near the top of my t-b-r pile.

  8. Gigi, I have read the first two Jaya Jones book and I am SO glad there's more to come! I look forward to reading the Alchemist book, too.

    My biggest challenge in life in recent years has been discovering that I inherited the Family Curse of really bad spine problems. I've had a couple of surgeries and am a "regular" at PT. A couple of doctors have told me that it's "difficult" or "impossible" for someone with these issues to be able to work. One keeps expressing surprise that I work full time; the other one knows me well enough to know that I won't give up. Their reactions always shock me because of COURSE I work! I enjoy my job, and have no plans to retire until I'm well into my 70s. Being stubborn (another family trait) really helps me to not want to give up! One of the good things that came out of this situation is that I joined a gym when I was almost recovered from the first surgery and lost a lot of weight, improved muscle tone, etc. And the exercise is having a positive effect on my life and health in general.

  9. Congratulations Gigi. You are an inspiration to many.

    I hope that 2015 is as perfect as it can be, both professionally and personally.

  10. Gigi, what a terrific, inspiring story. For all of us it's a good reminder to slow own and, as they say, smell the roses. As I was reading, I kept thinking "...and she's so young!" For most of us this is a lesson that comes later, hopefully not too much later.

    (Another shout out to Ross.)

    I'm terrible about wasting time on stupid things, but I'm exceedingly good at counting blessings. Born smling, not frowning I guess.

  11. Congratulations, Gigi! Every day is a milestone day.

  12. Gigi - I am delighted to see you here this morning, and even more delighted to celebrate this day with you, sweetie. Congratulations and we shall do a little dance when I see you in Raleigh this October.

    I have not yet read The Accidental Alchemist, but it's right here and I can't wait. I'm a big lover of gargoyles too and search them out. They can be spotted in the oddest places all around cities with older architecture, like Asheville, NC. Asheville has very cool gargoyles.

    Hank, as always, you are such an inspiration. Thank you.

    My "elixir of life." Easy Peasy. Donald Barley. When I get so mad at him I want to scream I picture him in that hospital bed with tubes everywhere and me saying, "is he going to be okay," and the doctor looking me dead in the eye, taking my hand and saying, "we're going to hope so." I've been through that scene, and believe me it makes me realize what's important and what's just pretty ho hum in the big picture of things.

  13. Congratulations, Gigi. I lost my mother to breast cancer in 2001, and I'm so glad your story has a happier ending - literally.

    Me, I was diagnosed with MS in 2008. Got fired from a long time job in 2011. Both conspired to get me to sit down and say, "What do you want to do when you grow up?" The answer was not write technical manuals (although I still have to do that - something has to pay the bills while I'm waiting for the book ship to sail).

    Good luck with your plans for 2015.

  14. Congratulations on a wonderful milestone! Here's to many, many more.
    A saner year? You have earned it.
    Your readers get impatient waiting for the next book, but we can wait a bit longer. Don't want you to burn out!
    Love your books and can't wait to meet this newest pair.

  15. I'm on the West Coast so I'm just getting up now -- as I promised myself, I didn't set my alarm for *quite* as early today!

    Thanks so much for inviting me to celebrate with the Reds today, Hank! xo

    And thank you for the good wishes, Joan, Mark, Gram, Kristopher, and Margaret!

  16. Congratulations on your 3rd year anniversary! Such a wonderful thing. And your goal to slow down a bit in 2015 is a good one, but I do understand the excitement of feeling better again and coffee!

    I am 6-1/2 years beyond ovarian cancer and grateful every single day. I love my dear husband and my dear daughter and mysteries and good coffee and Central Texas, where I live, and so many things.

    Take care, Gigi, and I'm off to hunt up your books!

  17. Ramona -- I had so much fun with wigs! I had to take those small pleasures where I could get them :)

    I didn't include a photo of my favorite wig here, but if you're curious you can Google me and see the black wig with red stripes. I never realized I could pull of straight hair OR short hair!

  18. Edith -- you're braver than I am. What amazing leaps of faith. I'm so happy you followed your heart and are having such a great time writing.

  19. Susan -- the recipes in the book are for my very own Elixir of Life: healing foods that taste amazing.

    Through my spin on healthy foods, I'm healing my body while eating foods that are also the best-tasting I've eaten in my life.

  20. When we were in Paris several years ago--wow, thinking about it, more than several-- went on a big gargoyle binge, taking photos of them all. What are they, though?

  21. Hallie -- I'm with you, I'm so thankful my personality allowed me to use this experience to count my blessings.

    Kaye -- You're another person whose positive energy always makes me smile. Can't wait to celebrate with you in person :)

  22. An answer to Hank's gargoyle question!

    Short answer: Architects used gargoyles as an ornamental way to have enough waterspouts on buildings. But the term now applies to all sorts of architectural grotesques (like the ones on Notre Dame).

    My longer GARGOYLE DEFINITION is on my Gargoyle Girl blog (yup, I have a gargoyle photography blog):

  23. Mary -- So sorry about your mother and your own trials. I'm so blessed that my cancer was caught quite early.

    I've got my day job, too. I like the fact that writing is a fun treat rather than what needs to pay the bills.

    Libby -- I'm my own worst enemy. I'm having so much fun writing new mysteries that I *want* to keep going quickly, even though I know it'll exhaust me in the long run.

  24. Kay -- Congratulations on being 6-1/2 years past ovarian cancer!

    So happy to hear you still remembers to be grateful every day. I sometimes wonder if I'll forget that lesson, but so far it hasn't happened.

  25. Gigi, congratulations on your 3 year anniversary. I survived meningitis as a toddler. Your books are on my TBR list.

    Are you going to the malice domestic convention in DC?


  26. Bionic -- I'll be there at Malice Domestic!

    That's the mystery convention that gave me my start in the mystery world, and I love the community there.

  27. Gigi, lovely to meet you here at Jungle Reds. The new series sounds fantastic. Good luck with it.

    And the shock that makes you think differently? When I fell and broke my pelvis. I am now more careful--and try to be in less of a hurry.

    See you at Malice

  28. Go Gigi! And best wishes for a fun and balanced 2015 ...

    I've just finished The Accidental Alchemist and loved it. Perhaps, like me, Reds, treasure, pirates and gargoyles don't normally draw you in? Don't worry, Gigi writes wonderful mysteries with fab locales, genuine suspense, humour and a modern vibe.

  29. I've had the pleasure of knowing Gigi through all her hair phases. She is a fountain of positive energy and I continue to wish her the best in life and writing and the intersection of the two.

    ~ Jim

  30. Rhys -- I hope being less in a hurry has other added live benefits. And yes, looking forward to Malice!

    Carole and Jim -- Thanks so much for the kind words :)

  31. Gigi, you are an amazing person, throwing yourself into something positive when life threw you a negative. Your account of your experience is inspiring. Last fall I went through a breast biopsy that I just knew was going to be malignant, but it wasn't. Just that scare had my head spinning and helped me calm down about the small annoyances of life and focus on the great joys. Your bravery in the face of your diagnosis rather shames me in my fear.

    Your appearance here today is such a treat for me in that I, too, love gargoyles and had put your book on my Amazon wish list and on my TBR list due soley to the cover. Well, the title and description were intriguing, too. And, your answer to Hank including the grotesques term even thrilled me. I've already read to my five-year-old granddaughter about gargoyles, explaining the difference between gargoyles and grotesques. I have a little pocket-sized book on gargoyles that she loves to look at in the car. Start them early, I say. Hahaha!

    So, congratulations on your anniversary and your book. I am looking forward to meeting you at Bouchercon in Raleigh. I'll have to have two copies of The Accidental Alchemist for you to sign, one for me and one for my apprentice gargoyle granddaughter.

  32. Kathy -- Thanks so much for your note! I should add that of course I wasn't this calm the week of my diagnosis ;)

    And here's a book your granddaughter might like: A gargoyle pop-up book!

    I found the book at the Notre Dame giftshop in Paris, but even if it's not available in the US, I bet there are some used copies online.

  33. Hi Gigi! Congratulations on your 3-year anniversary!! And what better way to celebrate than with a new book coming out. Can't wait to read it!

    And congrats on slowing down, too. One of the things I did this year was to stop push email on my phone. Sounds silly but it's made a big difference.

    I've always been inclined towards a "Live every day as if it were your last" philosophy, probably inherited from my dad. But back in the early nineties, about the time my first book was published, I had a couple of years of suffering from almost constant severe rotational vertigo. Not life threatening (unless it happens while you're driving, so I couldn't drive.) But never knowing from one minute to the next when you were going to be flat on the floor, unable to get up... Horrible. I had a surgery that helped enormously, and although I still have occasional vertigo, it's not debilitating. And there is seldom a day when I'm not grateful for being on my feet and able to do things.

  34. Congratulations to the fabulous Gigi! And to all the fabulous readers and writers at JRW, both front of the house and in the back blog. When I hear stories of what people go through and survive to thrive -- Mr. Right is a doctor of natural medicine and tells his share of stories, too -- I choke up with amazement. People can be pretty darn impressive!

  35. I love hearing these--you are ALL inspirations!
    And--speaking of gargoyles--and their designers. Are there any that are angelic or cherubic? Funny that they're all grotesque. Or are they?

  36. Happy Anniversary Gigi! I still have your first Jaya Jones' book on my TBR pile. I'll get to it. I promise! The Accidental Alchemist sounds fun. As far as lifechanging events, when 2 friends of ours died a month apart from cancer years ago, I decided life is short. Let's do fun things now and don't worry about the cost. So that year I took my first BIG trip. Husband and I met my parents and drove around Ireland for a good week. It was wonderful and now I still plan BIG trips and go go go.

  37. Deb -- "Live every day as if it were your last" is a WONDERFUL philosophy, and though it's easier to do now than it once was, I still need reminders sometimes ;)

    So glad to hear your vertigo is doing better!

  38. Leslie -- I know! What amazing stories people share!

    Pat -- Yup, I've been taking those BIG trips these days! But the husband also insists that we contribute a lot to retirement savings -- since he plans on me being around for a good long time :)

  39. Hank -- Great question about non-grotesque grotesques!

    Stonemasons had a sense of humor in the past as well as the present, so there are bunch of locations with *hilarious* comedic gargoyles. Some famous examples are on the colleges at Oxford in England.

  40. Gigi, I love your attitude. You have learned the secret of a happy life, for sure.

    I've had a lot of "rocks in the stream" that made me reevaluate, and I'm grateful for them. Sometimes you need a reminder, I guess.

    Gigi, I wish I'd taken photos of the lawn gargoyle near our home. For many years the owners dressed it in Hawaiian shirts in the summer, which always lifted my spirits when I passed by. Then one of the wings got broken, and no shirt for awhile, with a forlorn gargoyle. The building was sold, and although no one has ever dressed him again, his wing has been repaired and he again proudly surveys that corner.

  41. Karen -- that's hilarious about the gargoyle dressed in a Hawaiian shirt!

  42. Gigi, how sweet of you to tell me about Gargouilles by Paul Rouillac. I looked at it on your page, and it was so cool. I haven't been able to come up with anything but on Amazon, $34.00 for new (and I would want it new), but I am still looking.

    A couple of gargoyle books I have are Gargoyles on the Roof, a poem (such witty language) by Jack Prelutsky, illustrations by Peter Sis and Night of the Gargoyles by Eve Bunting, illustrations by David Wiesner.

    OK, NOW EVERYONE (sorry for the Caps, just really wanted you all to share in this) here on the blog, please note that Gigi has an extraordinarily cool blog, too, and it's called Gargoyle Girl. I cannot get over just how cool a name that is for a blog, right up there with Jungle Red Writers. Gigi's blog can be found at and is currently sporting some great gargoyle pictures from Notre Dame that she took with of all devices, her cell phone.

  43. Oh, Gigi! I love this post. Yes, I have had scary, life-changing experiences as well. Writing helped me through them, too. Congratulations on all of your successes. I'm so happy for you.

  44. Thanks for the Gargoyle Girl plug, Kathy!

    And thank you, Susan!

  45. I'm so happy the gargoyle was restored! (I'm on the road again..back home soon..)

    See you all tomorrow--for an amazing Hollywood story!

    YAY Gigi--we love you so much.

    And all of you.

  46. Hi Gigi, so nice to meet you and learn of The Accidental Alchemist.

    Like you and several others, I had a life-changing scare, but am also happy to say I've been cancer-free for 15 years now. Things like that definitely change your perspective on life, but it also sharpened my sense of humor, too!

    Love the gargoyles and want to say thanks to Kathy Reel for pointing me to your blog.

    All the best!

  47. Lynn -- How wonderful to be 15 years cancer-free! I got a boost in my sense of humor, too. Life's too short to be serious :)

    I'm happily surprised to find so many other gargoyle fans!

    I guess I'd better start including my Gargoyle Girl photography blog in my author bio :)

  48. Gigi,

    Your bravery is amazing. I so look forward to meeting you in Berkeley next month. And to reading The Accidental Alchemist.