Sunday, August 21, 2016

Will N.C. And Other Southern State Readers Empower A Self-Published Author??

Dear Lit Loves,

One of the questions I am most being asked by readers, librarians, family, friends, acquaintances, book club members, students, and others is the following question:  WILL NORTH CAROLINA READERS AND READERS FROM OTHER SOUTHERN STATES SUPPORT AND EMPOWER A SELF-PUBLISHED AUTHOR?

Initially, my first reaction is generally that I would not have worked to publish this book if I didn't think it had the content and relevance to appeal to everyday readers' lives, particularly women, and be embraced by the reading public, in particular, southern readers.  My specialty is communicating real life events in a manuscript format that is not sugar-coated and that speaks to many important issues (feminism, workplace inequality, domestic violence, and the reality of teachers working in public schools today).  I initially tried for five years to pursue publishing this book via the traditional route by querying agents, connecting with editors and other authors, and writing four other manuscripts during the quest to achieve publication in the traditional fashion.  It should be noted that I pursued both large and small presses in my publication efforts.  When I discovered the simple fact that primarily because I was not a partaker of social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram), I was also being disqualified from entrance to traditional publishing, I said, "Oh, Hell To The No".   I have seen Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter utilized on too many occasions to bully and ridicule people and cause students to feel so bad about themselves that they take their own lives.  I refuse to participate in most forms of social media.  And I have that right, folks.  My uncle and many others in the military fought and died for my right to live and speak as I choose. 

And because I chose to self-publish to get my work distributed to the mainstream reading community and because the method I chose to use to achieve that was Amazon, I am not going to apologize or be belittled for that choice.  So it is up to my core group of readers, most southern women, to rise to the occasion and evaluate my merits as a writer.  I wasn't given the opportunity to have Amy Einhorn as my editor nor do I know people in the movie and publishing business that would assist me in getting my book to market in Barnes and Noble, reviewed by The New York Times and other popular women's magazines, or have my first book made into a movie.    So I'm starting from nothing and that's perfectly fine with me.  I come from strong stock.  I've always had to be scrappy and pave my own road to achieve what I wanted in life whether it was an education, a better living environment, a more meaningful career, etc. so that's not new to me. 

So the answer to the question I am asked most lies with you the reader; you the independent owner of a small bookstore;  the members of various southern book clubs; librarians; book reviewers, feature writers for southern newspapers and magazines; and most importantly in my opinion, word-of-mouth recommendations of my book.  I'll promise to keep you updated as the coming months progress.  And if you have already purchased my book, thank you because I do appreciate where you choose to spend your hard-earned dollar.  If you wish to write me I will do my best to always answer reader email and represent North Carolina in the finest way possible as a writer.

Grace Sutherlin

Friday, August 12, 2016

Review: A Lucky Life Interrupted: A Memoir of Hope by Tom Brokaw

Dear Lit Loves,

This was a difficult reading choice for me.  I almost didn't order Tom Brokaw's memoir entitled "A Lucky Life Interrupted".  Why?  Because I recently lost my dad to complications brought about by a new form of targeted infusion therapy called Adcetris utilized for my dad's third recurrence of Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma  His newly assigned oncologist failed to take the proper medical precautions when it came to monitoring my dad for signs of infection and his long history of underlying heart issues while the new wonder drug known as Adcetris was administered.  The oncologist said what my dad eventually developed was "Just a lower lung infection".  She failed to diagnose him with a rapidly fatal form of pneumonia which also led to a collapsed lung and eventual heart failure..  I tried to get a hospital oncology administrator's attention and medical assistance for my dad by saying, "Hey, your newly appointed oncologist that was placed on my dad's case isn't doing an adequate job in terms of monitoring him.  She failed on the physical exam test, conducting the proper required diagnostic tests, properly diagnosing the fatal form of pneumonia, or getting him the aggressive antibiotic therapy he so desperately required. And was she even aware of his heart health history?"  You know what the oncology hospital administrator did?  He called to tell me, "It's over.  Your dad will never walk out of that hospital on his own accord as he did when he entered.  His body is done.  And no, I can't help you get a more experienced veteran doctor on the case". 

So reading Mr. Brokaw's account of his diagnosis of Multiple Myeloma, a cancer of rogue plasma cells that proliferate in the bone marrow and attack the bone causing weakness, bone fragility, muscle weakness, and plenty of pain was a difficult read for me.  I also new Mr. Brokaw, a well-compensated former anchor of NBC nightly news had more advantages than my dad did when it came to access to the best hospitals, insurance coverage, monetary abundance, and the best doctors.  So I eventually picked up the book because my dad and I used to watch the NBC nightly news together each evening. Dad liked Mr. Brokaw because he was of humble origins. Dad said Tom Brokaw never came across like he was talking down to people, but rather like he was having an informed conversation with his viewers.   The other evening network news anchors at the time were, according to my dad, a guy who acts like he is royalty and one that tries too hard to be perfect and doesn't come across as human.

Initially, Mr. Brokaw notices some weakness in the form of falls,balance issues, weakness, and pain.  Since he is on the board of the Mayo Clinic he had access to a doctor there who completed some labs and found the multiple myeloma and then had an oncological guru confirm the diagnosis.  Mr. Brokaw was stunned.  I could tell from reading the book he had no earthly clue how his life was about to change.  He did have access to the best docs in the business who put together a treatment plan for him that was managed not at the Mayo Clinic, but Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York.  He started a drug therapy regimen and eventually realized this wasn't a disease that you overcome in two to four weeks. No, cancer becomes your life and it consumes the lives of your closest family members.  Fortunately, Mr Brokaw has a daughter skilled in emergency medicine so she was able to assist in translating a lot of what the doctors were telling him and advocate for him and his well-being.  I did this for my dad, too, but I didn't have the luxury of an emergency medicine degree so I had to take it upon myself to become educated about my dad's form of lymphoma, its symptoms, its treatment options, treatment prognosis/effects, and keep my dad up to speed with all that was going on with his health.  He and I battled that lymphoma for twelve years together through six rounds of chemo, an eight week hospital stay for a stem cell transplant, and finally, the targeted therapy of the new wonder drug called Adcetris. 

I realized quickly that my dad and Mr. Brokaw had one thing in common:  they weren't afraid of getting in the ring with an overwhelming,well-equipped enemy like cancer.  My dad had seen his brother die of leukemia after returning from Vietnam and being exposed to Agent Orange.  His mother died of breast cancer.  Dad didn't say, "Why me?"  Instead, my dad said, "It's my turn and I'm not going down without a fight."  Mr. Brokaw took the same approach.

Like our family, Mr. Brokaw quickly discovered doctors and specialists can be overly optimistic about treatment options, prognosis, and how the plan of attack on a disease like cancer will unravel.  Communication between oncology specialists is oftentimes non-existent at best; each cancer patient needs a well-informed advocate through the whole cancer process; and when it comes to major treatment decisions, it would be optimal if all medical personnel involved in a patient's cancer treatment were on the same page or better, in the same room, and making a decision together with the patient.  This rarely happens.

Mr. Brokaw gets the absolute best care and a drug that usually costs $500 a pill, he received a month's supply with a $15 copay.  This is not the norm, folks.  I watched as my dad's copay each time he had to be admitted to a hospital was close to $1,000.  A stem-cell transplant can run upwards of $150,000, and not every person has a hospital like The Mayo Clinic or Memorial Sloan as well as an oncology advisor from M.D. Anderson. 

I do think Mr. Brokaw started appreciating what he used to take for granted:  hunting, fishing, bicycling, jumping on and off planes to far off places, and being able to do small tasks like walking the dog in an easy fashion.  Cancer has a way of forcing what you used to take for granted to the forefront of your mind.  It makes you come face to face with the concept of your mortality.  It makes you appreciate others who have braved the course of cancer, whether they made it to the finish line or if they were taken out of the race altogether too early.  It absolutely forces you to realize that each day you are given is a gift.  Use it wisely.

Till my next read,