Sunday, March 15, 2015

Review: Run, Don't Walk: The Curious and Courageous Life Inside Walter Reed Army Medical Center by Adele Levine

Dear Lit Loves,

Well folks, it's been a rough week.  My dad's Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma has returned for the third time.  We've been fighting this adversary since 2003.  My dad has done CHOP chemo, a stem cell transplant, and now we're attempting Monoclonal Antibody Therapy.  I say "we" because I don't know how anyone would ever get through cancer and its insanity by themselves.  Monoclonal Antibody Therapy includes use of a drug called Adcetris which has two parts.  The first part of the drug targets the CD30+ protein on my dad's cancer cells and the second part of the drug is the chemo agent which then kills the cancer cell.  It should only isolate and target the cancer cells and leave the healthy cells unharmed.

Dad had his first round of therapy on Wednesday.  He's extremely weak, has an incredibly nagging cough, and very little appetite.  He will complete a treatment and then have three weeks off until time for the next round.  Supposedly, this is a miracle drug.  It was only approved four years ago and is specifically for Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma patients who have relapsed after a stem cell transplant.  We'll see how it goes.

Meanwhile, to distract myself from my anxiety of nuclear proportions regarding my dad's situation, I read the memoir entitled Run, Don't Walk:  The Curious and Courageous Life Inside Walter Reed Army Medical Center by Adele Levine.  Let me preface this review by saying that after having my manuscript turned down by a literary agent in the same office as Ms. Levine's, it was with great interest that I read this book to determine what type of writing these particular agents are looking for and why this manuscript would be deemed "publishable" while my manuscript was not given the same status. 

Ms. Levine worked as a physical therapist at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in D.C. for six years.  Interestingly, she sought out the field of physical therapy not because she felt "called" to do this type of work or wanted to dedicate her life to helping rehabilitate military veterans.  No, she took this position as she will plainly tell you because she wanted work that had better hours and work that she could leave at the end of the day and not take the job home with her.  I have to say that at this point in reading the book I was saying to myself, "Yeah, right.  Good luck with that."  Then I realized that she wasn't kidding.  Those were her only reasons.  In my opinion it certainly didn't work out that way for Ms. Levine.

Lord Have Mercy.  This woman encountered some real characters when it came to physically rehabilitating soldiers who required amputations and who were returning from the War in Iraq and Afghanistan.  She follows several of these fellows throughout their course of treatment at Walter Reed.  The one who proved the most hilarious was named Cosmo.  He had a flair for using the "F" word in every sentence and habitually not showing up for his physical therapy appointments.  The dude even took it upon himself to go tour the White House via bus and by himself.  He wanted to be back on the front lines with his comrades so badly that he became hooked on playing military video games with fellow soldiers on a nonstop basis.  I think it was his way of escape and yet a way to feel like he was still part of the action overseas.  Another soldier the author helped was named Kai and he had witnessed his friend and comrade die when their vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb.  Later in the book he comes across his commanding officer at Walter Reed who suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury and the officer never recognizes as being one of the soldiers that was under his command during the roadside bomb event.  Next, there was a soldier named "Pigeon" who was just determined to "get smoked" or obtain an overwhelmingly intense exercise session in during physical therapy that he was physically wasted by the end of the session.  When the physical therapy group moves to conducting therapy in a local pool, Pigeon is finally able to once again exercise and workout to the point of "getting smoked". 

In the midst of all this it appeared to me that Walter Reed Army Medical Center functioned as a display case for the military to show off its muscle, technology, and dedication to rehabilitating wounded troops.  Each day some tour group, celebrity, or military brass parades through to see just what is happening inside Walter Reed.  The other physical therapists are candidly described as well.  When people say that it takes all kinds of people to make the world go round, well, it takes all kinds of physical therapists for Walter Reed Army Medical Center to function and carry the load of working to rehabilitate soldiers with amputated limbs.  The physical therapy staff never has enough computers for all of them to use at once in order to enter their patients' progress reports, and for heaven's sake, just getting a coffee pot boosted morale almost as much as witnessing a soldier learn to expertly walk with amputated limbs.  I don't think anyone became rich working at Walter Reed, but Lord knows, the staff attempted to make it interesting.

Adele Levine herself is a complicated person.  She makes it clear that physical therapy is not her life's mission, but yet she throws herself into her job and clearly is deeply impacted by the wounded soldiers and their injuries and personal stories.  No idea why the author never seemed to provide herself with a fully decorated apartment with decent furniture as she sleeps on an air mattress.  She also seems to have difficulty finding and maintaining stable romantic relationships.  I was able to identify with Ms. Levine when she provided bone marrow to assist in her father's cancer treatment.  She appeared to have a deep respect for him, but he never lived to visit her at Walter Reed which I believe the author deeply regrets. 

Walter Reed was open for one hundred and two years before it was closed.  The physical therapists there either left or were transferred to the new Walter Reed in Baltimore.  Ms. Levine worked at the new Walter Reed for a period of time and then left.  She now has a home, is in a long-term relationship, and has two sons as well as a dog.  This left me thinking, "How? What brought that about?"  I didn't read this book in one sitting.  I put it down and picked it back up to read over the course of about a week.  I thought this was an eye-opening look at what our soldiers encounter after returning to the U.S. following major war wounds and how tiring it must be to work day in and day out with wounded military personnel who have multiple amputations .  I guess what disappointed me most is that I'm not sure the author really understood the value of her experience and she never seemed overly devoted or caring when it came to her work as a physical therapist.  It was like she could take it or leave it.  And I'm only doing this because the hours are better and this job does not involve washing dishes.  I kept thinking, "Don't our wounded soldiers deserve a more devoted and engaged person to care for them?"  Just my thoughts guys.

Till my next read,

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Traditional Publishing Is Fading Fast And I Know Why

Dear Lit Loves, Editors, Agents, and Publishers,

It has become apparent to me that the traditional means of publishing with the big four is quickly fading.  The world of big, traditional publishing that has financed careers, retirements, Park Avenue offices, and Jimmy Choos eventually will come to an end.  How do I know this?  I HAVE STOPPED BUYING BOOKS AND SO WILL YOUR BOOK BUYING AUDIENCE WHICH INCLUDES WOMEN LIKE ME WHO BUY THE MOST BOOKS AND HAVE THE MOST DISPOSABLE INCOME.

Recently, I got so tired of not hearing back from literary agents that I just began submitting to editors directly.  The editors want to find the next bestseller and they are realizing that not all talent is discovered by literary agents.  Amazon figured this out years ago, by the way.  Seriously, HarperCollins in England is already taking open submissions directly from writers beginning in April from what I read recently.  Why is this happening?  Literary agents are not finding the talent.  I think most of them are relying on their current stable of authors hoping onE of them knocks his/her next book out of the park; therefore, they're not making time for new talent and new writers. You can't find the next diamond in the haystack if you're aren't looking folks!  Wake Up!  Put on your glasses and get a magnifying glass for God's sake!

Then I noticed a multitude of literary agents screaming for Young Adult books.  I hate to be the one to tell you this, but since I'm a realist and deal with real life issues in the memoir genre, this group of readers will pass.  They grow up, get heavily involved with their phones, devices, and something called Candyland.  Don't ask me about that because my primary relationships in life are face-to-face with real people and not via a medium on a device.  And people wonder why the younger generation has no clue what interpersonal communication excellence is?!!  And Hello!  The market is totally flooded with the genre of Young Adult.  I was and a whole lot of other folks were over it before it started.  We were singing, "LET IT FREAKING GO" a long time ago, I just don't think publishing folks are listening.  Maybe there wearing their earmuff too tightly or should pull the ipod buds out of their ears?  Lord, who knows these days.

You say there will always be another generation to take the place of the graduating Young Adult generation.  Maybe, if you want to place your money, fortune, way of life, future hopes on the whims of teenagers. And then, wait, the other day there was an editor via social media yelling for someone to send her meaningful memoir.  I'm like, okay, let me figure out how to contact her because obviously this woman and I need to talk.  I specialize in lives rich with conflict, disaster, the unusual, and the infamous.  Do you know what I discovered?  This editor works at a company that wants you, the writer, to pay them to evaluate your manuscript, edit it, format it, market it, and then publish it.  Are you insane?!  I can do that via CreateSpace lady!!  Oh, the horror of dealing with the realities of publishing today!

So you guys/gals go ahead and stake your fortunes, dreams, retirement, and careers on romance, young adult, sci-fi, and fantasy.  I'm going with the real people who don't need to find adventure via any of those genres.  They're living that excitement each day via their own lives.  And guess what?  They don't want a guru or "alleged" guru telling them how to care for a parent with Alzheimer's, help a friend during her last six months of life, how to overcome an autoimmune disorder robbing them of their hearing and eyesight, or instructing them on what to do when an oncologist is found negligent when it comes to treating their brother/sister for a cancer.  No, what Generation Xers and Boomers want is some real person who has lived through these encounters and writes about them clearly, concisely, and with compassion because our stories are how we learn to deal with lives that are already overwhelming, insane, and rich in both the hilarious and unpleasant.  And those of you who don't give us the opportunity to give that group of readers those kind of stories and that kind of content?  See you when the company folds, you're standing in the unemployment line contemplating how much you're going to need to take from your retirement account to survive, and you're left standing by the curbside with your fantasy book wondering where your next meal will come from and how on earth you got to this point.  Me, I'll be pursuing my dreams in publishing via whatever means necessary.  And if you try to stop me to get me to tell you how I did it, I'm not sure I will have the time to speak with you because I'm busy speaking my story to the people who are listening and in touch with real life.

Grace Sutherlin