Author Bridget Zinn

Author Bridget Zinn. Photo by her husband Barrett Dowell. (September 30, 2006)

No life should be reduced to a narrative.

It's too tempting to tie up the loose ends. To miss the minutiae that make each of us human. To find reason where there is none.

So the abrupt, far too early end of author Bridget Zinn's life doesn't need to make sense. It leaves you frustrated and baffled and wanting, because her life — like her work — was beautiful and artful and immense. And then it was finished.

Her story, though, has just begun.


This piece first ran in Printers Row Journal, delivered to Printers Row members with the Sunday Chicago Tribune and by digital edition via email. Click here to learn about joining Printers Row.


In December 2007, a year and a half before she was diagnosed with cancer at age 31, Zinn was living with her boyfriend, Barrett Dowell, in Madison, Wis., and working as a librarian. Inspired by a lifelong love of reading, a decadelong desire to become a published author and a crystal-clear dream about a teenage master potion-maker, she started to write her debut novel.

She and Dowell moved to Portland, Ore., in 2008, where Zinn continued to write, through migraines and blurred vision and other troubling symptoms that would, in March 2009, be revealed as stage 4 colon cancer.

She signed with an agent. She wrote. She underwent surgeries and chemotherapy and endless tests. She married Dowell in her hospital bed. She wrote.

The fruits of her labor, "Poison," was released this month by Hyperion. It's a middle-grade fantasy about Kyra, a 16-year-old potions master who is forced to poison her former best friend in order to save her kingdom. She is accompanied by her little pig sidekick and Fred, the guy she's crushing on, big time.

"It's a rom-com, basically," says Michael Stearns, Zinn's agent at New York-based Upstart Crow Literary. "If Meg Cabot were to write a Tamora Pierce novel, this is the one she'd write."

(Cabot being the author of paranormal and romantic fiction for teens, including "The Princess Diaries," and Pierce being the author of young adult feminist heroine novels, including "The Song of the Lioness" series.)

"'Poison' is the book Bridget wanted to read but wasn't finding," says Stearns. "Tamora Pierce novels are amazing and dense with these fantastical worlds, but they're much more serious than Bridget wanted to be. She took the 'Princess Diaries' element and married the two things."

"She knew the genre," says Stearns. "People think they can write for kids because it's easier. Bridget understood that it's a great responsibility, and part of that responsibility is knowing what's gone before you and fitting your story into kind of a larger story. She knew that."

Now that same literary community, the one she spent years studying and celebrating, is rallying around "Poison," determined to have its reception live up to Zinn's legacy.

Her fellow authors and Dowell have coordinated an all-out "Poison" fest to get the book in front of as many readers as possible. They're urging bloggers to write about their own firsts — first novel, first post, first anything, really — in honor of Zinn's debut. They've urged Twitter users to tweet about #Poison and Facebook folks to post pictures of themselves holding "Poison."

"When she passed away, everyone immediately said, 'We want to support this book and we want everyone to be able to read it,'" says Suzanne Young, author of "A Need So Beautiful," who met Zinn through a writers group in Portland.

"Bridget was so kind and gentle, and yet she was so smart and witty," says Young. "Her book has that same perfect blend of charm and romance and humor. I really hope people, in a way, get to meet her through her words."

Young adult fiction author Inara Scott last month blogged a host of ideas for getting the word out, a post that quickly spread to other authors' social media feeds.

"If you're an author, consider mentioning 'Poison,'" Scott wrote. "If you're doing an event, consider giving a piece of your time to the story of Bridget and 'Poison.' If you're a librarian, spread the word about 'Poison.' If you're a reader who loves 'Poison,' please post a review.