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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Report on Old Doug: Health, Theater, eBook, and More

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Normally on my blog I try and write little essays about various topics, but I thought it was time to furnish a few updates on various personal matters for those readers who know me well. Let's start with my novels.

1. eBook. At the height of the recent recession, I tried to publish what was in reality my second novel (see Related Posts below, "Frightening the Horses" which explains the first), called "Imaginary Friend." Unlike the first experience, where I had no trouble finding an agent, I couldn't get the new work read by even one of the 125 agents I sent it to (they were swamped by unsolicited manuscripts), so I eventually published the book myself on Amazon.com. It sold well enough in the beginning, and all of the reviewers were very complementary about my atheist thriller (a new genre). I even put the first three chapters on the blog (see below, starting with "Explosion at Ohio Stadium"). But I never took serious steps to publicize the novel (of which I am immodestly proud—the last three chapters still disturb me on finding that I had such horror in me) until now.

As of today, the Kindle version of my book is available for download in an electronic form for the price of $2.99. I'm very pleased by the way it looks, though (from all the law books I've published for the last 40 years) I know that devilish little errors are the first thing I notice when I read the published version of anything I've produced (and there have been dozens of such publications, all with the same disappointment). I only hope there aren't big mistakes in "Imaginary Friend" (say, a missing chapter) that I've mysteriously overlooked. Anyone wanting the printed version can still get it from Amazon for $15.00. But I am not done publicizing the book, which leads me to the next topic.

2. ThrillerFest. I've painfully learned that the way to sell a book is to meet people at writers' conferences and get friends in high places, so I went to a small conference in Florida in past January, and next week (July 5 through July 10), I'm going to one of the biggest in the country. It is in NYC at the Grand Hyatt Hotel (42nd Street), and is called "ThrillerFest." I will see Broadway shows most evenings ["Sister Act," "The Book of Mormon" (Tony Award for Best Musical), "War Horse" (Tony Award for Best Play), and "Anything Goes" (Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical)], but during the days I will be a budding novelist trying to sell both "Imaginary Friend" and my unpublished thriller (now in its fifth draft) called "Corbin Milk" (as to which see "The Thunderbolt" in "Related Posts" below).

The conference agenda is amazing. On Wednesday, July 6, it's devoted to "CraftFest," with many experts discussing things like how to make a presentation to an agent, how to get publicity for an eBook, etc., with CraftFest extending until the morning of the next day. The afternoon of Thursday is the equivalent of "speed dating," only with 50 well-known agents, each willing to hear a three minute pitch about prospective novels. I've already culled their bios to find fifteen who look promising ("interested in controversial works" catching my attention fast, given that one of my books is about atheism and the other about homosexuality as a covert CIA activity). On Friday and Saturday there are a series of panel discussions with famous authors doing the presentations. By "famous" I mean the biggest names in thriller fiction: Ken Follett, James Patterson, John Sanford, etc. One two-hour event involves a panel of actual members of the real CIA talking about that agency's representation (and misrepresentation) in thrillers—what's right and what's wrong. I plan to raise my hand and ask if the agency really uses homosexual agents to penetrate otherwise closed societies (see "Related Posts" below at "“The Thunderbolt”). That should prove interesting.

3. Theater. The Columbus Civic Theater's run of "Hamlet" is over. It was great fun with a wonderful cast, crew, and director. The reviews were very good and the audiences praised the show. Shakespeare is always to rewarding to play, being rich in beautifully phrased lines and revealing insights about the human experience. At every performance I saw something new that my character, the evil King Claudius, was plotting. The best fun for me was the famous prayer speech in which the king tries vainly to concoct a prayer that heaven will accept and thereby excuse his considerable sins. Playing villains is always fun—when the lights went out at the end of the play, four bodies littered the stage and mine was one of them.

"Forgive me my foul murder?"
Plans for me to direct CCT's September production of "Come Back, Little Sheba" fell through for various reasons, but I'm hopeful that in 2012 I can direct an evening of four one-act plays by Edward Albee ("The American Dream," "The Sandbox," "Home Life," and "The Zoo Story"). That would be great fun. CCT is also doing "The Christmas Carol" in December, and I doubt I'll be able to stop myself from trying out for the part of Scrooge.

4. Health. As related before on this blog, at the one year anniversary of my heart transplant last November I was the poster boy for the whole program. My rejection rate was zero (the scale runs from zero, very good, to four, very bad), all of the tests showed I was in great shape, and I was vigorously working out with weights, push-ups, sit-ups, exercycle, etc. The tests did reveal the start of a buildup in two of my arteries, which I was assured could be handled by a new medicine. At this point the doctor changed my medications, taking down the anti-rejection drugs slightly while adding the new pills, and then I was told the hospital would now move to a three month examination period, with a new biopsy to check my rejection level being scheduled for late February. This worried me. Prior to that I'd been having biopsies every month (they had all been good), and I thought it was probably a bad idea to switch my medications and then not test me for three months. But then I remembered I was in law, not medicine, so I kept my mouth shut.

In February the biopsy reported a rejection level of three, which is very serious. At this point there were major new alterations made in my drugs, and I was given more medicines than I'd had at the time of the original transplant (56 pills a day), particularly prednisone (a steroid), which always caused me to go into a mental fog, my hands began to shake and cramp, balance issues arose, my cuticles disappeared completely, I felt constantly tense and irritable, and worse. I became convinced (and remain convinced) that I was over-medicated. Most people gain weight on steroids, but both after the transplant and the new February medications, I started dramatically losing weight. I normally weigh between 195 and 200 (when working out), but the prednisone stripped me of my appetite and everything I put in my mouth, including my favorite foods, tasted like paste. I could detect salt or spices, but that simply meant the bite tasted like salty or spicy paste. Every mouthful was a chore. It took me an hour to eat seven bites of the center of a chicken pot pie one evening. My energy level dropped, I didn't have the ability to workout, I had trouble climbing steps (and all this caused my performance on stage to look shaky at times), and I couldn't sleep without an Ambien. My weight dropped and dropped, and yesterday morning I stood on the scales, a skeleton, and looked at the number 161, down from 163 the day before. None of my clothes fit. Some of my symptoms sound funny but, trust me, are not: I have no fat in my buttocks which means I'm painfully sitting on just skin and bones, and I'm in constant danger of my pants falling down wherever I happen to be (ho, ho, ho, right?). For my trip to NYC next week I had to buy all new clothes. The mental fog has been tough on me too. I had to rewrite one of my law casebooks this spring, and sometimes had the problem of being unable to type due to shaking hands and faulty memory; playing tournament bridge one evening I forgot how to keep score in a game I've played for decades. Fortunately the steady drop in the amount of prednisone finally lifted the fog, and my head is clear these days.

The prednisone level has been reduced from 70 mg a day to 5 mg, but that hasn’t solved my loss of appetite problem, and another reduction in the prednisone is not planned for months—so close and yet so far. I'm forcing myself to eat solid food and drink supplements, and I am gaining some strength, but it's a constant battle, and I can feel the prednisone weighing me down all day, every day. I do worry that some other body function will fail (a kidney problem put me in the hospital for ten days in May, but was easily fixed), and I'm working hard to keep healthy. Things should be fine by the time of the second anniversary of the heart transplant in November. All my doctors say the same thing: "Doug, eat more." When every bite is a stomach-revolting event and one has no appetite at all, this is easy to say but hard to do. However, I'm good at rules and planning to live a long time, so I'm force-feeding myself good food. It would be wonderful to enjoy eating again, and I so look forward to that.
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Related Posts:
"My Heart Belonged to Andrew," February 17, 2010
"Frightening the Horses," April 7, 2010
"Mama, Biopsies, and My iPad," May 19, 2010
"Imaginary Friend," June 22, 2010
“The Thunderbolt,” September 3, 2010
“Explosion at Ohio Stadium,” [Chapter One of "Imaginary Friend"] October 9, 2010
"Escape From Ohio Stadium," [Chapter Two of "Imaginary Friend"] November 2, 2010
"Open Mouth, Insert Foot," [Chapter Three of "Imaginary Friend"] November 21, 2010
"Naming My Heart," March 24, 2011
"Another Opening, Another Show: Doug is in Hamlet," April 29, 2011

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