But for those of you who know nothing about lymphoma in general, or my kanoodling with it in specific, the short story is: I was diagnosed, I received a treatment called Bexxar that put me into remission, and three years later I'm able to write this post without "lymphoma" being the word that occupies 99.9% of all my waking thoughts. (Instead, the word "spatula" is the word that occupies 99.9% of all my waking thoughts...but that's another story.)
At the end of September, I gave an Ignite Spokane presentation called "How Lucky Underwear Helped Me Battle Lymphoma," chronicling my strange trip through diagnosis and treatment.
Now, this week, I received word that Bexxar, the very treatment I received, may not be available to other lymphoma patients: GlaxoSmithKline, the makers of Bexxar, have released a statement saying:
"the infrequent demand for Bexxar, coupled with its significant production costs, meant that our on-demand service would not be sustainable."
Translation: "We're going to start ramping down production of Bexxar." I don't fault GSK for making decisions based on profit; they are, after all, a company, and that's what companies need to do. But in this particular case, I believe making Bexxar more inaccessible represents a large step backward in current lymphoma treatment...and in treatments moving forward.
I won't go into all the factors affecting this at the moment; suffice to say I'm a believer in Bexxar, and I want to do everything I can to help keep it a viable option for lymphoma patients. So I'm asking you to sign a petition and/or an open letter to GSK, urging them to reconsider their decision.
I'll be speaking at the inaugural Ignite Spokane tonight (www.ignitespokane.com), a growing movement that began with Ignite Seattle in 2006. That, in turn, grew out of Japanese Pecha Kucha. (Not the first fun idea we’ve stolen from Japanese culture—Karaoke, anyone?)
Basically, the Ignite talk is five minutes in length, governed by 20 slides of 15 seconds each. Quick “nuggets” of information, easily digestible in an online format (most videos eventually make it onto YouTube and other video sharing sites). Worldwide, the Ignite movement has grown to more than 50 cities around the world, and it continues to expand.
Ignite is a perfect model and example of where we’ve been moving with social media in the last few years. In the early days of the Interwebs (and social media specifically), the lure was the fact that you could interact with people across the world. Geography no longer mattered. And certainly, that’s still true to a great extent. But we’ve also seen the greatest recent growth in activity among localized social media. People are interacting among niches within their own, physical communities. That’s what powers Foursquare, Yelp, Gowalla, BrightKite, and the location update feature on Facebook. That’s what powers Meetup, Gather, and thousands of spontaneous Tweetup gatherings in venues across the world. And that’s what powers one of the newest darlings of online commerce: Groupon.
Fingers and toes crossed, and all that Jazz. This 15-seconds-per-slide thing is really throwing me for a loop. I tend to be a wanderer when it comes to speaking.
In the last year, inexplicably, I've caught the running bug. Okay, not really the whole bug, but maybe a few sniffles. I still only put in about 16 miles a week (although I have and will put in more while prepping for a race), and I'm still the big, slow, lumbering guy bringing up the back of the pack.
But I like this thing called running. On some level, I really do.
Recently, I finished Christopher McDougall's Born to Run, a meditation encapsulating endurance running, the human form, and yes, even cosmic peace. It's a fascinating read; I'm excited to learn more about the natural running form of the Tarahumara in Mexico's Copper Canyon, and the various "natural running" techniques built on the principles they follow: landing on the midfoot rather than the heel, keeping the right pace, moving toward a lighter, less controlling shoe...that's all interesting to me.
Just as interesting were the stories of the runners themselves--the people who populated the pages. As I read descriptions of these people, I found myself googling their names just to find out more about them.
Less interesting (to me) were McDougall's explorations of the human body and why we were "born to run." And McDougall, obviously excited by the material, the experience and the energy, goes a bit off the deep end, all but telling us the world would be perfect if everyone just went out for a run together. But that enthusiasm can be excused, can't it? It's part of what makes the book so interesting to read.
The enthusiasm spills over into characterization a wee bit; the runners in the pages are all set up as over-the-top caricatures more than normal living, breathing people. But again, I suppose people who regularly run 100+ mile races aren't, well, normal.
A quote that particularly resonated with me came from Jenn Shelton, the stay-up-all-night-and-run-all-day-party-girl in the book, who says something to the effect of:
When I'm running, it's the only time my brain isn't all...bleh.
That spoke to me, because that's how I feel myself. I find my mind constantly occupied, and running is one of the few things that's a true reset button for the brain. When I'm running, I concentrate on running and nothing else. There's something very...I don't know...cleansing about that.
With that in mind, I'd note that all of the characters in the book share a certain frenetic brain activity level. Barefoot Ted, in a scene while trying to fall asleep, says, "Okay, brain, be quiet now." And the other people display signs of having brains that just won't shut off.
I wonder if, on some level, this is a personality trait of an endurance runner.
In any case, I'm in. After having completed my first half-marathon last year, I'm certainly going to do more half-marathons. Maybe even a full marathon.
I'll be out there, Christopher McDougall, doing my part to promote world peace.
I'll admit I've been pretty quiet online the past few weeks. There are two very good reasons for that.
1) I'm once again late handing in my next book. So I'm past deadline and trying to catch up...something that's been difficult because I've essentially re-tooled the second half of the novel after my first draft.
2) I'm focusing on my first half-marathon, which I will be running this Sunday, September 20th right here in good ol' Billings, Montana. I'm a little scared, a little excited, a little unsure...did I mention a little scared? This is compounded by the fact that I seem to have contracted a head cold (now moving to my chest) this past weekend.
Once I get past the whole book writing and road running thing, well, it will be back to business as usual online.
It makes sense. If you're seeking publication, especially in fiction, you should read a lot and review a lot. In fact, it would be great if you get a reviewing gig at a local newspaper, or a web site, or somewhere else; you'll get double duty by forcing yourself to analyze what works (and doesn't work) in the books you read, and you'll get some credits to put in your query letter by having your reviews published. Plus, you might make some contacts that benefit you.
I'll agree with everything above. Except for the review part. Make that: except for the published review part. At the very least, I want you to carefully consider the potential risks with the rewards.
Risks? What's risky about reviewing books?
Here's the thing. If you review, you're naturally going to review the genre you're interested in writing. As long as you read books you love, everything will be fine. But inevitably, you'll run across a book you hate. No problem, you might think; you're a critic, after all, so why not be critical in your reviews?
Because the world of publishing is small when you think about it. And your genre--mystery/thriller, romance, spec fiction, religious fiction, whatever--is even smaller. More so in our socially networked society.
Maybe you see the problem developing. If you publish a critical review, honest as it may be from your point of view, it's going to be seen. First, it's going to be seen by the author, because most authors actively search out reviews for their books. (I always have, but I'm largely getting cured of the disease. That's probably a topic for another post.)
As an author, reviews that praise your work are wonderful things. But the negative reviews are the ones that really stick with you. When you read a negative review, the name of the reviewer is instantly burned into your consciousness, and filed away inside your mind. It's just human nature. Now, that author may take the review in the spirit it's intended, but she may not. She may belong to a few author groups, and she may pass along portions of the review to the whole group, seeking solace from friends. She may complain to her publisher, and ask they never send another book for your review again.
And have I mentioned: your name is now burned into her consciousness?
Someday--maybe six months from now, maybe a year from now, maybe longer--you might have an opportunity to be published. You might need an endorsement, and you might find yourself approaching the author whose work you savaged. Perhaps you've forgotten about it, but I guarantee she hasn't. She'll remember your name. Even if you're sure you'll never need something from that particular author, remember: the Interwebs are vast and far-reaching. You might ask another author for an endorsement, and she'll casually mention it on a writing list...and the author whose work you savaged will share her thoughts.
That's if you get the contract. Don't forget editors have a soft spot for books they've acquired. If they're interested in your submission, you can be sure they'll do a google search on you. Lo and behold, they'll find the many reviews you've published online. When said editor stumbles across a review for a book she acquired, and notices how you ripped it apart...well. Maybe you haven't sunk your ship, but you've piloted right toward a large iceberg.
My point is, scathing reviews last forever. And they may haunt you. So if you truly want to review books, I advise you to only post reviews of books you really love (which may not be possible if you're "assigned" reviews at a publication). The old adage holds true: if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all.
It may not do much for your critic cred. But then, you're not interested in being a critic; you're interested in being an author.
As I write this, I'm about 14 hours into a broadband outage from my provider, Bresnan Communications. No, this isn't going to be some WTH???-laden anti-Bresnan tirade. I've been pretty happy with their broadband service--this is the first major failure. Rather, this is an opportunity to talk about something more companies need to recognize: the need to use social media for crisis communication. Already on Twitter, there's a #bresnanfail hashtag. There are stories about the outage popping up on local media sites in Bresnan's markets. And Bresnan's response has been...nothing. Depending on how long this lasts, the misery could snowball for them. Some things they could have done already to mitigate this:
Have employees with Twitter accounts replying to tweets as they appear. That's the beauty of microblogging--you can communicate even if your servers are melting down.
Posting status updates on the company homepage. Instead, they have the "corporate" home page up, as if nothing's wrong. Put up a simple "We're sorry for the outages, and we're working on the problem. We'll update you again at noon MDT." Apologize, say you're working on the issue, promise an update. It's really that simple. As it stands, I'm betting folks might feel Bresnan is ignoring the problem.
Use your technology to communicate. Bresnan could send an automated phone message to broadband customers, giving status updates. (They're also experiencing problems with their VOIP, but my phone has been back up for several hours--I think a call could have been made in that time. Especially if they anticipated this kind of problem and set up an automated call system ahead of time.) Or here's an idea: their cable TV service is unaffected; why not run a crawler with updates on the cable system?
Look for opportunities to do something unexpected. Turn the failure into something noteworthy by partnering with a coffee chain to offer a free cup of Joe to Bresnan customers. Offer a free on-demand movie through their cable connection. Do something to acknowledge the problem. Frankly, nothing is more endearing than people (or companies) who go out of their way to say "I'm sorry."
Learn from Bresnan. Anticipate a crisis, and map out how social media can work for you. If you don't, it will work against you.
UPDATE: As of 9:30 am, internet service is back up. And, I notice a message acknowledging the network outage on Bresnan's home page--not sure when that went up, but as the Aussies say, good on ya, Bresnan.
My latest book, Faces in the Fire, is on shelves now. And I want you to get a free digital download of the book (Kindle, Sony E-reader, pdf--your choice). All you have to do to get that free download is put your face in the fire.
It may sound painful, but it's quite the opposite. To celebrate the release of Faces in the Fire, I'm building a photomosaic at my website (tlhines.com), using images from readers just like you. Just go to the website (tlhines.com--or did I say that already?), click on "Become a Face in the Fire," and upload a photo of yourself. Or of your dog. Or of your car. Or of your tattoo. (More on that below.) Just for submitting your photo, you'll get a free download of the book, no strings attached, courtesy of my publisher Thomas Nelson.
But there's more. Action figures. Not your typical, run-of-the-mill action figures, either. We're talking Bigfoot. Crazy Cat Lady. Obsessive Compulsive. Moses. Jane Austen. Librarian. When you submit your photo, you could win your choice of any of these funky action figures (I'm giving away 20 of 'em). Five submitted photos judged most interesting/odd/unique will win. Five photos of the most interesting/odd/unique tattoos will win. Five people who share the "Be A Face in the Fire" project with a friend will win. And five people drawn at random from all submitted photos will win.
Now as I said, there's no real catch to any of this. But there is a deadline. If you want a free download of the book, you have to submit your photo by SUNDAY, AUGUST 2--downloads are only active for one week, starting Monday, July 27. (Downloads "officially" start Monday, but if you submit now, you'll get the download information on Monday when the downloads activate.) After the free book downloads end, I'll still collect photos through the month of August, and hand out the 20 action figures at the end of the month.
I think this is a fun project, and I hope you do, as well. Maybe you just think it's strange. And hey, that's okay, too. In any case, I hope you think it's interesting enough to share, bookmark or tweet with other people, so please do so. I want to give away a bazillion free downloads of the book next week. I want to see your photos--tattoos and otherwise. And I want to give 20 strange action figures loving homes.
So come on: put your face in the fire for the Crazy Cat Lady. Or for Moses. Or for Jane Austen.
Today, I drew the names of the five winners, and they are (their usernames only--I won't publish their email addresses on the web):
sharpjds, who chose a Zombie Play Set
DianaWelsh, who chose a Librarian Action Figure
katloiter, who chose a Yodeling Pickle
scott2, who chose a Librarian Action Figure
niteyblossom_1, who chose a Yodeling Pickle
I've emailed all the winners. If you didn't win, thanks for entering anyway; because of the success of this contest (evidently, I'm not the only one who likes bizarre schwag), I'm thinking of making this a monthly thing.
If you've attended one of my "Getting Published--Without Getting Scammed" presentations, you might recall me comparing some of the more unscrupulous self-publishing companies to the song poem industry.
That said, I have a soft spot for the whole song poem industry--a strange fascination, you might say. Without it, we wouldn't have songs such as "I Like Yellow Things" or "Non-Violent Taekwondo Troopers" available for our listening pleasure.
Really, where else would you find lyrics such as:
I have taken a vow of celibacy until marriage.
However if Annie tempted me into her carriage,
I might lose to Miss Oakley; it's not funny.
Annie Oakley is one of my historical honeys.
Gold, Jerry. Pure gold.
Friends (thanks, Nicole and Karen) recently passed along this episode of "Independent Lens," which offers a fascinating look inside the world of song poems, including interviews with people who submitted "song poems," as well as the industry folks who set them to music and recorded them.
It's absolutely impossible to watch this and not become a song poem devotee.