Author interview: A doctor’s stories forge a vision in American health care

Just when I thought I had heard the best stories that Dr. Michael Attas had to offer, he surprised me.

We had just wrapped months of revising and expanding a collection of his stories, and it was time to write “About the Author.” My task was to sum up Dr. Attas – a renowned cardiologist, retired Episcopalian priest, and founder of the Medical Humanities Program at Baylor – into one succinct biography.

But something was missing. I gave him a call.

“You know, it just occurred to me. I don’t know how you got started. What made you get into medicine in the first place?” I asked. It’s a question posed in his book.

“Ah,” he chuckled lightly. “Well, that’s an interesting story. . . .”

A few minutes later, I hung up the phone, shaking my head incredulously. How could that have happened to him? And how is it that I’m just now hearing about it?

I looked again at the “About the Author” page and smiled, rolling up my sleeves. I suppose it’s only natural that the life of a storyteller should be told through a story.

Because that’s what Dr. Attas is. He is a storyteller—a masterful one at that. And he is unveiling the best of his stories in his new release, Medicine at a Crossroads.

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Medicine at a Crossroads is a 200-page collection of stories and conversations to forge a vision for health care. It is for physicians, patients, and anyone in the American healthcare system. In other words, it’s for all of us.

In it, Dr. Attas addresses the most pressing questions in medicine today through the lens of the medical humanities. Individually, each story of illness, medicine, and healing provides a tiny, fragmented glimpse into the heart of a problem. Collectively, the stories forge together to help us find our way to compassionate, humane health care—and, ultimately, healing for all.

We asked Dr. Attas a few more questions to learn how his stories came together.

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Dr. Attas at his alma mater, Baylor University. Photo courtesy of the Marketing and Communications Department.

You mention in the Introduction that the collection took shape in the classrooms of Baylor University, where you founded the Medical Humanities Program. What was it like to establish the first program of its kind in the country?

The biggest challenge in the early years was getting other well-established and successful departments to think outside of their own boxes about premedical education. They had to “buy into” the notion that physicians might benefit from an exposure to the humanities.

At that time in Baylor’s history, funding for a particular department was directly proportional to the number of majors. So in a very real way, when a student decided to major in Medical Humanities instead of Biology, it resulted in less administrative funding for Biology. That system, thankfully, has now been changed, and is seen as less “threating” for the classic sciences. Academic “turf wars” are very real, as anyone in higher education can tell you.

We’re grateful for your persistence because the Medical Humanities Program has redefined how students prepare for a career in health care. Of all of the classes offered, what was your favorite class to teach?

I called it Philosophy of Medicine: the Nature of the Patient/Physician Relationship. We explored various models, history, literature, and current political/economic debates. It was so very timely. Students still contact me with ideas and questions in real life that they are struggling with.

One of your former students, Dr. Allison Sellner, confesses in the book to feeling uncertain about what others would think of her untraditional path. “As an early medical student,” she writes, “I felt that my Medical Humanities major needed an explanation, sometimes even an apology. ‘Oh, but I minored in Biology and Chemistry,’ I would say.” She adds, “I realize now that this perceived ‘weakness’ is, in fact, a tremendous asset.” Do you think this stigma still exists? 

There is a nationwide shift in realizing that medical students who are exposed to the humanities actually perform better. Despite this, there is still powerful cultural bias that they might somehow not be able to learn the sciences at the level they need to. Luckily, students like Allison are breaking down those stereotypes.

We’re excited that you’ve collected your best stories into a book for everyone. Do you have a favorite story?

Yes, it’s in a chapter in the Physician section called, “A Moral Claim.” It’s a story about a rancher who had been my patient for nearly twenty years. I had come to know him and his family quite well. After repeated hospitalizations for congestive heart failure, he was running out of options. All he wanted to do was go home with his family to look at his cows in fields of bluebonnets. His land, his cattle, and his family had defined his life, and he wanted to die in their presence.

It still tugs at my heart strings. At some level, it captures the notion of the type of physician I always wanted to become. It took me a while to “get there” I suppose, but hopefully that type of lesson is one that young students will take seriously.

It’s certainly not the only story that stirs emotion. You’re very candid in all of your stories. Have you ever been concerned about sharing any of your opinions or experiences?

I suppose any author wants to be affirmed, yet I’ve never worried too much about any pushback from the sharing of stories. I have had one or two negative emails about the ambiguity of medical ethics and the stories I tell to make a point. I suppose there are some people who like things in nice, tidy little boxes of black and white. Unfortunately, real world medicine isn’t like that.

You emphasize the importance of mentors in the real world. Who have you looked to for guidance over the years?

I had many mentors in my training years. After I went into private and academic medicine, I didn’t often run into many of them, but what they taught me bubbled to the surface at odd times. They became my lodestar when I would struggle.

In particular, a seminary professor named Will Spong – now deceased – was someone I could call on. He always provided a fresh perspective on my struggle to integrate medicine into the other components of my life. He was grounded in reality, not a pie-in-the-sky kind of religion or medicine.

You were already grounded in your work as a cardiologist, but you managed to earn a Master of Divinity alongside your career. What prompted this? And how did it impact your outlook and work?

It’s a long story, but briefly: I was always intrigued by religion and the notion of service. Early pastors who were ahead of their time in the 50s and 60s convinced me that a life of faith and a life of the mind were not mutually exclusive. I also became existentially convinced that both were calling me to a life of service. So, eventually, I knew that to study religion wasn’t a “shift” as much as a natural progression.

So, you’ve recently retired from a 40-year career. You discuss in one of your chapters the relationship between retirement and vocation. This chapter must resonate with you deeply now. How have you adjusted?

I miss my patients. Daily. At night. In my dreams.

I have not missed the chaos, the fatigue, the night call, the computers, and the stresses. 

I have loved the freedom to wander down rabbit trails intellectually, to travel, and to continue to learn and explore this fantastically beautiful world.

It’s one thing to have the freedom to tell stories. It’s another to write them. Tell about the process of writing the book.

The collection is an evolution of articles that I had previously written for The Waco-Herald Tribune. Revisiting them, organizing them, and focusing them was an emotional time for me. It brought back memories that were raw and often hard, yet it also brought back much of the joy that medicine provided me for 40 years.  

One thing that truly surprised me is how important it was to have an editor who “gets me,” both as a writer and as a human. I couldn’t have done this without her.

Ultimately, I have come to think of the book as my gift to my patients, my students, and to others who might read it. Whether it will “change” anything is out of my control.

Of course, your book involves more than the writing. Tell us about the “stained glass” cover design.

In the Introduction, I talk about my fascination with stained glass—the way fragments are hammered together into panes to forge larger scenes. It’s the same way I see medicine. Medicine at the Crossroads is about piecing together the stories of brokenness, grace, loss, and healing into a larger narrative truth. Three panes represent the three perspectives in the book: the physician, the patient, and the healthcare system.

If you could inspire your readers to do something, what do you hope it will be? 

I hope readers will simply ask themselves one basic question: “How will any healthcare system allow stories like this to flourish?”

Because any proposed model must, in my mind, allow for the gifting of stories and the listening of stories. Without this, all of the science in the world will fall on rocky ground.

As readers ask themselves this question and grapple with solutions, they may want to talk with you. How can they do that?

Now that I am retired, I would hope that I’ll always be available to walk with others through their own journeys.

I would prefer not to get into the “telemed” form of medicine that is taking off. I would rather help systems, patients, and physicians fine tune their own lives around creative changes and healthy responses. I also don’t think I have the heart or emotional energy to delve too deeply into the political side of things. I find the dialogue and heated rhetoric too simplistic and toxic. Surely we can do better than this.  

I will always be available for email advice. Except when I am on the river fishing. That is a cardinal rule. 

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An avid fly-fisherman, Dr. Attas is also the co-author of Fly-Fishing—The Sacred Art (SkyLight Paths Publishing, 2012).

It’s clear that you’re enjoying your retirement on the river! Before we leave your readers with the book, is there anything else you’d like to mention?

Yes. I told students that in order to survive and grow in this field, you need two things.

One is the willingness and be hurt and wounded and still love and give back. 

The second is community: spouses, friends, and colleagues. No one can do this alone. But if we surround ourselves with others who will honor our journey, then we can do this for the long haul.

Thank you, Dr. Attas. For more information:

Check out the book announcement

Purchase the book

 

Author portrait_MAttasMichael Attas, MDiv, MD, is a renowned cardiologist, retired Episcopal priest, and founder of the Medical Humanities Program at Baylor University, the first program of its kind in the United States. His revised and expanded essays on contemporary healthcare issues in Medicine at a Crossroads first appeared in The Waco Tribune-Herald. His first book, Fly-Fishing—The Sacred Art (SkyLight Paths Publishing, 2012), was co-authored with Rabbi Eric Eisenkramer to share lessons from fly-fishing on reflection, solitude, community, and the search for the Divine.

EllaElla Ritchie is the founder of Stellar Communications Houston, a book publishing team that provides a peaceful process and pride in every product for nonfiction authors, business leaders, nonprofit organizations, and federal government agencies. For more information, connect with her on LinkedIn or at the website.

 

 

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What is a Library of Congress Control Number — and how do authors get one?

I didn’t expect to geek out at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., but that’s what happened. From the marble floors to the stained glass ceilings, the national library is a glorious place.

I had traveled there to get the scoop on control numbers for self-published authors. But before we get to that, let me share a few fascinating facts about the library itself.

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What is the Library of Congress?

It’s the largest library in the world, with about 838 miles of bookshelves and 167 million items. The Library of Congress serves as the research arm of the U.S. Congress.

After the congressional library was destroyed by British troops in 1814, this new library was established thanks to Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson had sold his personal collection of 6,400 books as a replacement. He believed that democracy was dependent on free access to knowledge.

The purpose of our universal library is to preserve and provide access to sources of knowledge in all subjects.

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The original Thomas Jefferson collection

What is a Library of Congress Control Number?

A Library of Congress Control Number (LCCN) is a unique identification number containing a year and serial number.

It’s assigned by the Library of Congress to book titles that are likely to be added to its collection. I say likely because the number is assigned before a book is published. The decision on whether a book is added to the Library of Congress happens after publication. A copy of the book is mailed to the Library for review, and a final decision is made.   

Ultimately, LCCNs help librarians find correct cataloging data for books that have been published in the U.S.

What is it not?

An LCCN isn’t the same as a copyright, although the Library of Congress houses the U.S. Copyright Office.

An LCCN is also not the same as an ISBN. Whereas each format of a book requires its own ISBN, only one LCCN is assigned to a book. You can find out more about ISBNs here.

Do I need an LCCN?

You are only required to have an ISBN for your book, which allows your book to be made available to retailers. You are not required to have an LCCN. You only need an LCCN if you want your book to be made available to libraries.  

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What does an LCCN look like?

An LCCN is located on the copyright page of a book. There are two types of LCCNs, so the way your LCCN looks depends on which type you are assigned.

One type of LCCN is called a Cataloging in Publication, or CIP. It’s a set of data that includes information like the author’s name and Dewey decimal system subject headings. It looks like this:

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Another type of LCCN is called a Pre-Assigned Control Number, or PCN. A PCN looks short, like this:

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Am I eligible for an LCCN?

It depends on a few factors.

Let’s start with the two basics. Is your book longer than 50 pages? Are you working with a U.S. publisher? (Self-publisher, this means you.) If your answer is yes, you’re eligible for an LCCN.

Now let’s figure out which type of LCCN is right for your book. You can be assigned a CIP or a PCN, but not both.

Are you working with a big publisher? A book that will be widely circulated by a big publisher is assigned a CIP.

Are you a self-published author or small publishing company? Most books by smaller entities fall under the PCN category.

If you’re still not sure which type of LCCN is right for you, here’s a simple rule of thumb: Will your books be printed on demand? If so, you are eligible for a PCN.

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How likely is it that my book will be accepted into the Library of Congress?

Almost all books with a CIP are accepted into the Library of Congress.

The acceptance rate of books with a PCN is surprisingly good, around 60 percent.[1] This is because one purpose of the Library of Congress is to preserve an account of the nation. Local history and genealogical information are more likely to be produced by self-published authors and small publishers. These materials are valued as part of a holistic view of the United States and its people.

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How do I apply for an LCCN?

Your publisher will register for an LCCN for you.

If you’re a self-published author, you can apply on the Library of Congress website at http://www.loc.gov/publish/pcn/. It costs nothing except your time, and it only takes about two weeks to receive an LCCN before your book is published. After publication, send a physical copy of your book to this address:

Library of Congress
U.S. Programs, Law, and Literature Divisions
Cataloging in Publication Program
101 Independence Avenue, S.E.
Washington, D.C.20540-4283

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What happens after my book is reviewed by the Library of Congress?

Your book will either be accepted into the collection or rejected. If your book is accepted, your LCCN will appear in the official Library of Congress catalog for librarians. You’ll be able to search it anywhere. If your book is rejected, your LCCN may remain on your copyright page, but it serves no purpose.

Ella

 

Ella Ritchie is the founder of Stellar Communications Houston, a business communications and book publishing team that brings clarity, quality, and integrity to nonfiction authors, business leaders, nonprofit organizations, and federal government agencies. Connect with her on LinkedIn, Facebook, or the website for more information.

[1] RJ Crayton. “Self-Publishers May Want to Try for Library of Congress Cataloging,” Indies Unlimited, https://www.indiesunlimited.com/2016/01/25/self-publishers-may-want-to-try-for-library-of-congress-cataloging, accessed July 20, 2018.

Three Ways a Book Publishing Plan That Seems So Right . . . Can Go So Wrong

Mike Ellerkamp thought he had done everything right.

The life coach was fully prepared to publish his first book, The Simple Little Rule: The Golden Rule Rediscovered. Mike was ready to reintroduce the world to the power of God’s ancient wisdom to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” He partnered with a big self-publishing company and a big marketing company for big results.

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But when the book was released, what he got was . . . big crickets.

Unfortunately, Mike’s outcome isn’t unique. Many self-published writers invest a lot of time and money into a quality message — with little to show but disappointment and disillusionment.

After that experience, Mike took a hard look at his assumptions about the book publishing industry. He regrouped. Now, as he prepares to publish his second book, the author candidly shares his three biggest lessons learned in hopes of helping others.

#1 A bigger company doesn’t necessarily mean a better process.

“My first mistake was assuming that giving a lot of money to a big publishing company was the safest route,” Mike explained. “As a new author, you don’t know who to trust. I bought into the sales pitch that a big company would know how to get this done.”

While not all big companies are problematic, Mike experienced several delays. “These large publishers are dealing with thousands of authors and agents,” he said.

Another issue was the growing cost. “I was assigned an ‘account coordinator’ who would ensure a ‘better experience,’” he said. “He did help during a couple of points in the process. But I now realize that he was mostly a sales person first. The company wasn’t unethical. It’s just that the mission of a larger publisher is to sell publishing services—lots of publishing services!”

#2 Bigger activity doesn’t necessarily mean bigger results.

Mike said his second mistake was his marketing plan. “My account coordinator suggested a bigger marketing campaign through ‘bigger and better’ contacts. He cast the bait, and I took it. Hook, line and sinker!”

The 3-month campaign involved a lot of activity. Reports showed that thousands had received his press release, and thousands more were reached through social media. It all looked dazzling. That is, until the sales report rolled in.

“I was excited to land a radio program. But other than that, there were no real results,” said Mike. “I spent a lot of money to speed the process, but it didn’t really enhance the process at all.”

Publicist Sandy Lawrence, the founder of Perceptive PR, said successful book marketing is less about money and more about time. “Most people don’t buy the first time they see. And so, because most first-time authors aren’t known, they first have to become known. Then they can begin to sell books. Naturally this process takes time and perseverance.”

#3 The experts aren’t necessarily smarter than your gut.

It’s critical to find a publisher you can trust. But even when you do, continue to pay attention to your instincts.

“I had done a massive amount of research before I began this new journey,” said Mike. “But I dropped all of that wisdom and listened to the folks at the publishing house instead. In hindsight, I think my money could have been spent in better ways.”

With this experience under his belt, Mike is applying his lessons learned to his forthcoming second book in The Simple Little Rule series. “I’m returning to my own research and following my own avenues to radio shows, newspapers and magazines,” he said, undeterred in his commitment. “I’ll continue to develop the brand the way I originally would have.”

And this time, Mike has a different plan for his resources. “I’m keeping the funding much closer to home and among people I know and trust.” He smiled, adding, “I know better now.”

AuthorMike Ellerkamp is a life coach, inspirational speaker, and Houston chapter leader of the Nonfiction Authors Association. He is the author of The Simple Little Rule: The Golden Rule Rediscovered, in which he brings to life a profound tenet through five principles and shares his own spiritual, philosophical and historical journey along the way. Contact Mike for a book event or speaking engagement, or connect with him on his website, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

 

 

EllaElla Ritchie is the founder of Stellar Communications Houston, a business communications and book publishing team that brings clarity, quality, and integrity to nonfiction authors, business leaders, nonprofit organizations, and federal government agencies. Connect with her on LinkedIn, Facebook, or the website for more information.

The Power of Publishing Your “Big Why”

You wouldn’t guess the long, emotional journey that has driven Dr. Alanna Bree to establish A Children’s House for Pediatric Dermatology – nor its nonprofit counterpart, A Children’s House for the Soul. Her face only beamed joy as supporters streamed in the doors of The Health Museum in Houston. They were there to support the first annual happy hour fundraiser for the nonprofit. Bill Brown, the longtime voice of the Houston Astros, emceed an evening of tasty bites, signature cocktails, and auction items.

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But Dr. Alanna’s whole-hearted commitment was evident when speakers began sharing the impact of A Children’s House. A child life specialist explained the deep needs that the nonprofit fulfills in children and teens with skin disorders and birthmarks. A high school student with a rare genetic skin disorder talked about the respite from bullying that he enjoyed at the “Love The Skin You Are In” Family Days. A woman with a highly visible skin condition praised the nonprofit for helping her to embrace her unique beauty as a teenager. Through each speech, tears flowed quietly down Dr. Alanna’s face.

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This is her “big why.” Her whole purpose is to cultivate this healing and hope in the world – not only physically but also emotionally and spiritually.

This is what the whole evening was about. It was about more than what Dr. Bree does (care for children and teens with skin disease and birthmarks). It was also about more than how she does it (with compassionate, holistic care, flexibility, and reasonable prices). It was all about why she does it.

In his TEDx talk titled, “How great leaders inspire action,” marketing consultant Simon Sinek says this approach is what makes Dr. Alanna different from other physicians. You see, true leaders share their “big why” to inspire people to take action. Sinek says, “People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it.”[1]

This is the reason Dr. Alanna just released, A Children’s House: A Small Story About a God-sized Dream. The 140-page autobiography chronicles her journey to becoming a pediatric dermatologist – and the four unmistakable words she heard from God that forever altered her course. She tells with honesty how she quit a successful but unsatisfying career to find her ultimate purpose and fulfillment. It’s a stunning read for everyone: medical students, professionals, believers, and nonbelievers alike.

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It’s also a stunning example of the power of sharing your “big why” with others. Dr. Alanna is communicating from “the inside out,” as Sinek calls it. She’s sharing the drive behind her cause, the whole reason her nonprofit exists. And it’s already making an impact.

As guests streamed out of the Health Museum, stakeholders stopped to tell Dr. Alanna that they were inspired by her message. Patients were grateful she hadn’t given up. Board members were surprised by their impact on her success. Dr. Alanna smiled at each of them. Now that they understand her “big why,” they are empowered to make a difference.

PubAuthor Portrait_editedElla Ritchie (left) is the founder of  Stellar Communications Houston, a business communications and book publishing team that brings clarity, quality, and integrity to nonfiction authors, business leaders, nonprofit organizations, and federal government agencies. Connect with the team on LinkedIn, Facebook, or the website for more information.

Alanna F. Bree, M.D., (right) is a board-certified pediatric dermatologist and owner of A Children’s House for Pediatric Dermatology, where she specializes in holistic care and effective treatments for skin conditions and birthmarks in infants, children, and teens. She is also the founder and executive director of a nonprofit organization, A Children’s House for the Soul, which provides social, emotional, and spiritual support for affected children and families in the Houston area. Connect with the clinic on Facebook and Twitter, or connect with the nonprofit on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

 

[1] Simon Sinek, “How Great Leaders Inspire Action,” TED, https://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action#t-21349, accessed March 29, 2018.

Author Interview: A Pediatric Dermatologist Tells How Four Words Changed Everything

You wouldn’t guess the long, emotional journey that Dr. Alanna Bree endured to establish A Children’s House for Pediatric Dermatology – nor its nonprofit counterpart, A Children’s House for the Soul. Her face only beamed joy last Friday as supporters streamed in the doors of The Health Museum in Houston. They were there to support the first happy hour fundraiser for the nonprofit. Bill Brown, the longtime voice of the Houston Astros emceed an evening of tasty bites, signature cocktails, and auction items.

But Dr. Alanna’s whole-hearted investment was evident when speakers began sharing the impact of A Children’s House. A child life specialist explained the deep needs that the nonprofit fulfills in children and teens with skin disorders and birthmarks. A high school student with a rare genetic skin disorder talked about the respite from bullying that he enjoyed at the “Love The Skin You Are In” Family Days. A woman with a highly visible skin condition praised the nonprofit for helping her to embrace her unique beauty as a teenager. Through each speech, tears flowed quietly down Dr. Alanna’s face.

The pediatric dermatologist is finally revealing her miraculous journey in her new autobiography, A Children’s House: A Small Story About a God-sized Dream. The 140-page book chronicles her path to becoming a successful pediatric dermatologist – and the four unmistakable words she heard from God that set her on a path toward true hope and healing. It’s a stunning read for everyone – medical students, professionals, believers, and nonbelievers alike.

We sat down with Dr. Alanna to ask a few questions about her journey – and what it was like to write her book.

How did you get the idea to write a book?

It started out as more of a journal for myself to help me remember all that God had done in the process of building A Children’s House. It served as a personal source of encouragement for when times were tough and a reminder of all He was calling me to do for His glory.

But I realized it was a story that was just too good not to share! I often say that if I had the cure for cancer, I wouldn’t keep it to myself but would gladly share it with others. Well, I have something even better: a God who loves us so much that He gave His only Son so we can have eternal life with Him. Now, that is a story that I couldn’t keep to myself!

Your book tells about the ups and downs on your journey toward building A Children’s House. What is your favorite memory?

When I think back, there are so many good memories. But my favorite is when I went on a personal prayer walk through the house before the construction began.

I wrote scriptures on each of the walls and asked for God’s protection and blessing on every aspect of the process. I dedicated myself and all my earthly treasures to what He was calling me to do. I knew that building A Children’s House was something that only God could do since it was something I did not feel equipped to do on my own. Putting God in the center of the process and placing my trust in Him gave me such strength and hope during the ups and downs.

Tell us about what it was like to put pen to paper. What did you find to be most difficult or surprising?

The most difficult part was writing this testimony. It was like nothing I have ever done. It definitely took me outside of my comfort zone, but I’ve reminded myself throughout the process that this story is not about me. It is a story about what God can do if you are obedient to His calling. I am just a vessel and am humbled by the fact that God is willing to use me for His glory.

But the surprising thing was that it didn’t take me long to write the original draft. It seemed to flow easily.

What about the process of transforming your manuscript into a book? How was the publishing process?

As a novice author, I didn’t know how to go about sharing my story with the world. I researched self-publishing options and talked with several authors and publishers. But the process and cost seemed overwhelming at the time – so much so that my story came to a halt and sat around for several years.

Then I met Ella of Stellar Communications Houston, which turned out to be the most enjoyable part. It has been a privilege to collaborate with such a talented editor who helped me navigate the process. Honestly, it has been easy and pleasant with her guidance and expertise. I’m thankful she is willing to share her gifts with others in such a special way. I could hardly wait to open each chapter for review as we collaborated. Seeing it all come together was so exciting, and I was encouraged by the early endorsements that we received.

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Dr. Alanna (right) with publisher Ella Ritchie

What a privilege it has been to work with you too, Dr. Alanna! Now we’d like to hear more about this beautiful photograph on your front cover.

It was taken while I was examining a patient at the Baraka Health Clinic in Kenya through a program called Passion to Heal. I didn’t realize there was even a photographer in the room, so I was surprised when the photographer emailed it to me after the trip. He said he had been walking through the clinic on another assignment but snapped the moment because it was too perfect not to capture. I am so glad he did. The image has served as a reminder of my time in Kenya, where I received even more than I gave.

What do you hope readers gain from reading your book?

My hope is that fellow Christians are encouraged on their walk with the Lord and convicted in their obedience to His calling. It is sometimes scary to step out on faith, but it is so worth it to be able to see the Lord at work in your life. So, it was with me too, and I am sure others will see parallels in their own lives as they read my story.

I also hope it encourages others to share how God is working in their lives, because as Christians it is our duty and privilege to shine our lights to help others see the love and joy of Christ though all we say and do. My biggest desire is that my story will also introduce those who might not yet know Jesus in their hearts and lives into a saving relationship with Him. If one more person is in heaven one day because they read my story, then I will have succeeded beyond my wildest dreams!

What’s next for you and for A Children’s House?

Gosh, I can only imagine! I feel so blessed to be living out my calling through A Children’s House at this time and place in my life. Doing what I love so much brings me such joy, and I only expect great things for the future! There will certainly be ups and downs, but I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I can fully trust God, and I plan to prayerfully follow wherever He leads me!

How can readers who are touched by your story provide support for A Children’s House?

Prayers are the best gift. I would love for others to pray that my story will touch the hearts of those who will benefit from its message.

I would also love for readers to share this story with anyone who might need to hear it.

And we would  appreciate support for our mission at A Children’s House. We’re here to encourage and unite those affected by skin conditions and birthmarks by providing opportunities for social, emotional and spiritual support. Donations that will positively impact the life of a child with a skin condition or birthmark can be made at www.achildrenshouse.org/donate.

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What a joyous project! Thank you, Dr. Alanna. We wish you and A Children’s House all the best. If you’d like to learn more:

Purchase the book here

Visit the clinic

Visit the nonprofit

Read Dr. Alanna’s interview in Voyage Houston Magazine

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Ella Ritchie (pictured, right) is the founder of  Stellar Communications Houston, a business communications and book publishing team, including graphic designer Elena Reznikova (pictured, left), that brings clarity, quality, and integrity to nonfiction authors, business leaders, nonprofit organizations, and federal government agencies. Connect with the team on LinkedIn, Facebook, or the website for more information.

Alanna F. Bree, M.D., (pictured, center) is a board-certified pediatric dermatologist and owner of A Children’s House for Pediatric Dermatology, where she specializes in holistic care and effective treatments for skin conditions and birthmarks in infants, children, and teens. She is also the founder and executive director of a nonprofit organization, A Children’s House for the Soul, which provides social, emotional, and spiritual support for affected children and families in the Houston area. Connect with the clinic on Facebook and Twitter, or connect with the nonprofit on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Don’t Use that Tone with Me: How to Set the Right Tone for Your Website

Your mom was right: Your tone matters. And now that most business introductions happen online, it matters more than ever.

That’s because your website represents your business personality. Without the luxury of personally greeting every online visitor, you’ve got to rely on your website to do the talking.

But this is about more than just your words. This is also about your tone.

That’s because just as important as what you say is the way you say it. Your tone speaks volumes about who you are as a business.

Think of your tone as your online body language.

Without proper attention to tone, your business personality might get lost in translation. For example, a technical expert might come across online as cluttered and stiff. A warm, enthusiastic professional can be misconstrued as amateurish. Unfortunately, the wrong tone can turn away prospects.

So how can you set the right tone for your website?

Let’s take a peek at the process we followed for a Houston-based cyber security company, Elevated Cyber Security. Its website at www.elevatedcybersec.com is a dead ringer for the personality of the company.

#1 Define your identity and purpose.

We asked many questions of the company, starting with this fundamental question: “Who are you?”

We quickly learned that all four leaders are military veterans with over 15 years of IT experience. They tackle cyber security with the same hard-hitting approach and uncompromising values that defined them in the military. And they’re certain that this is what distinguishes them from other cyber companies.

With an identity this well-defined, the tone that is needed for their website was clear. It should be bold, tough, and straight-shooting – with lots of references to their military background.

Here’s how the company is introduced in the “About” page.

Let’s start by getting three things straight with your cyber enemies.

They’ll have to get through us to get to you.

And we’re not intimidated by cyber battle.

We’re military veterans who have been winning in combat for 20 years. Our team started out serving together on the USS Pioneer back in the day. That’s what shaped our values.

We’re also security experts with different perspectives of the IT industry. Government contracts, large oil and gas corporations, small and midsize businesses. Collectively, we’ve seen it all.

#2 Know your audience.

Next, you’ve got to really understand your ideal clients – to know what makes them tick. We asked the company several questions like, “Which of their deepest needs can you fulfill? What are their fears? Why might they hesitate to hire your company? What misconceptions might they have of your company?”

The leaders at Elevated Cyber Security honed in on their target clients. They described them as small to mid-sized business leaders who have a few common misconceptions: They believe their backup systems are sufficient and that they wouldn’t be able to afford more protection. They also think they’re too small to be a cyber target anyways.

The company leaders explained that they needed to instill some necessary fear. They wanted to shake these small businesses out of a false sense of security.

Armed with this insight, the same bold tone was used to squash these misconceptions and to inspire action.

Here’s an excerpt from the home page.

Do you have tough skin?

Good. Because you need to hear the truth about your security.

90% of small and midsize businesses don’t protect their data. Even though data security is their top concern.

That’s a big mistake.

Because 62% of cyber victims are small and midsize businesses like yours. And 60% of you will go out of business within 6 months of an attack.

Tough skin isn’t enough to do business anymore

You need to protect your data with intelligent security solutions that you can afford. Because you can’t make a mistake with your data.

And here’s the rest of the “About” page.

We know their strategy.

We’re not fooled into thinking you’re an unlikely target. The hard truth is that 62% of cyber victims are small to mid-size businesses just like yours.

They’re gunning for you.

They know you don’t have the same resources as a large company. They know you think you’re okay. So they’re banking on the fact that you’re not prepared.

But there’s one thing they don’t know . . .

You have secret weapons.

Teaming up with us means leveraging the same weapons and tactics as a larger company. Even with a smaller budget.

Because this isn’t about sexy solutions. This is about honest results.

We won’t hold back or sugarcoat your situation. Good or bad, you’ll know what shape your network is in. You’ll understand your options. And then we’ll take swift action.

Together, we’ll execute internal network security, external network security, data protection, and compliance and training.

We’ve got your back. We’re at your front line. And we’re at your side.

Let’s do this.

#3 Be consistent.

When you know the best tone to represent your identity, apply it to every page of your website. Take every opportunity to reinforce who you are and what you’re all about.

That means crafting a great first impression on your “Home” page . . . .

Military Grade Protection for Your Data

This is headquarters for small and midsize businesses who want intelligent security solutions. We’re a team of military veterans and security experts who deliver straight talk and honest results.

. . . And it also means not overlooking opportunities like your “Contact” page. Even here, you can communicate your value.

Your enemies don’t take a break, so we won’t either.

Contact us any time. We’ll respond within 24 hours.

 

A lot goes into finding the right tone for your website. Start by defining your identity and purpose, knowing your audience, and being consistent. This way, your website will hit the best tone for your target clients!

 

EllaElla Ritchie is the founder of Stellar Communications Houston, a business communications and book publishing team that brings clarity, quality, and integrity to nonfiction authors, business leaders, nonprofit organizations, and federal government agencies.  Connect with her on LinkedIn or Facebook, or check out the website for more information.

 

Author Interview: Co-authors work up laughter and hope in a self-help gift book for unemployed readers

Front coverUnemployment was no laughing matter for Roni Elayne Singer and Nancy DePrimo Zuromski. They both endured the shock and sadness of losing a job at the same time, and now the duo – both back in the workforce  – are setting out to help others.

Front cover

They are co-authors of a new gift book, Over 50? Menopausal? You’re Fired!!! It’s the humorous tale of Penny Pinkslip, from the humiliating day that she is fired through the five stages of losing a job and to the triumphant moment of accepting a new offer. Packed with colorful drawings and practical tips, the purpose is to provide beneficial job seeking advice and equal doses of hope and laughter.

 

Here, Roni (pictured above left) and Nancy (above right) reveal more about their own experiences and their new book.

Let’s get straight to the heart of the matter. You call unemployment a “rocky road.” What was it like for you?

Roni: It was the worst time of my life. I’ve actually been through several layoffs, but it doesn’t get easier. In fact, each layoff was worse than the last. To make matters worse, my husband left me while I was unemployed, so I had to find a new place to live. I can’t image anything worse for one’s confidence and self-esteem.

Nancy: One of the drawings in the book shows Penny walking with shackles on her ankles. That is exactly how I felt during each layoff.Penny Pinkslip in shackles

What would you say was the worst part?

Nancy: For me, the worst was not being able to say goodbye to the many employees who were not only friends but extended family. And, of course, knowing my income was just slashed.

Roni: My lowest low was being escorted out of the building. It happened to me twice. I was treated like a criminal, walking through the corridors with everyone looking at me. It’s truly humiliating and demeaning.

Nancy: Yes. I was escorted out of one oil and gas building where I had worked for over 15 years, and I remember looking down at the white lines in the driveway on my way out, knowing I would never see them again. My son had painted those parking lines when he had “worked” alongside me during one of his summer breaks to learn office skills.

Roni: Unfortunately, the inhumane treatment doesn’t stop there. I was surprised to discover that some people in Human Resources are nice, but most don’t want anything to do with you until they need you. They didn’t return phone calls, and I never knew if they were considering me as an applicant or if they even received my application. It felt very disrespectful.

Do you have any take-aways from that difficult season?

Nancy: I was surprised to learn how many other women in administrative roles were in the same situation as myself. This ah-ha moment made me realize that I must advance my skills so that I may move into another type of employment. I also learned not to take the incident personally and to remember that this was only a business decision, not a failure on my part. And I’ve become confident in the fact that, while I may be over 50, I am capable to offer employers years of experience, common sense and dedication. I’m no longer constantly worried about being laid off because I have proven to myself time after time that I am able to brush off the lint and become employed again.

Roni: Having experienced the heartache of being over 50 and job searching, I am now much more compassionate and empathetic with those who are looking for a job. I’ve also learned patience because the wheels of hiring move very slowly. And I’ve found out that I’m stronger than I thought I was.

Of course, another take-away is this new books of yours! Tell us how such a great collaboration emerged from such a terrible time in your lives?

Roni: The idea for a book came up during what Nancy affectionately calls a “girlfriend check,” our way of staying in touch ever since we became instant friends in 2003 in a performing choral group. It was during one of these “girlfriend checks” that Nancy and I realized we were both facing unemployment at the same time.

Nancy: I mentioned that I had started writing a book about my job search, and Roni piped up that she had started writing a book on her job search too! From there, we compared notes and decided to collaborate.

Roni: For me, it started as emotional therapy, just writing down my thoughts. Then, I was able to put a humorous twist on it. After collaborating with Nancy, we found we really have something good here and that pushed us forward. We were able to take a terrible situation and put a funny twist on it and, at the same time, keeping it very real.

Nancy: We had a common bond of sadness over our circumstances, but it also felt natural to work together because our personalities, the way we see the world, and our senses of humor are so similar.

Speaking of your sense of humor, your title is pretty bold. How did you come to the decision to name it Over 50? Menopausal? You’re Fired!!!

Nancy: We wanted something that was both accurate and attention-grabbing. We’ve seen so many others in our same situation.

Roni: Even though we’re joking about menopause, all people over 50 will easily relate to the book. Many men have read the book – a few have even endorsed it – and they’ve found that even though they can’t relate to the hot flashes, they can definitely relate to the emotions of being laid off. Penny’s lessons are truly unisex.

The book has some great artwork. Tell us about that.

Roni: As a technical writer, I always use graphics to visually describe what I’m writing. So it was a no-brainer for me that this book must have great graphics. Our extremely talented illustrator, Kathy, did a fantastic job in capturing our message exactly.

Nancy: Yes, we wanted to show everything that Penny was going through, even down to lamenting the “dust bunnies” under her bed.

Penny Pinkslip cleaning dust bunnies.png

What was it like to publish your first book?

Nancy: Being close friends helped with the ups and downs. We agreed that no matter what happens with this venture, our friendship is what matters most. Successes come and go, but true friendship is priceless.

Roni: Yes, we’ve always been very consider of each other. If we think we said something hurtful, we always talked about it. We bounced ideas off each other and laughed a lot! I can’t think of a better co-author.

Nancy: That’s why no part of the process was difficult. Not like a colonoscopy – now that is difficult! Between Roni’s unbelievable writing ability and our continuous communication, sprinkled with some times of hesitation and laughter, we’ve been able to create a gift for others who find themselves in this situation.

What has been the most surprising thing about publishing?

Nancy, laughing: That it’s actually being published!

Roni: I love this book and am proud of what we’ve done. But as therapeutic as it has been, I’ve found that it still doesn’t take away the emotional and financial pain that was suffered during more than 2 ½ years of unemployment.

That’s why we love that you’re sharing hope and wisdom with others. Do you have a bit of wisdom you want to share here?

Roni: I found networking groups to be the most helpful. They reminded me that I was not alone, and the people there were always very supportive. They are the ones who kept me focused and sane through the process. That’s why I stay in touch with them even though I’m gainfully employed. I want to help others with their resumes and interviewing skills like others helped me. I don’t want anyone going through what I went through.

Nancy: I recommend online training exams similar to those offered through Houston Unemployment and most temporary employment agencies. Testing has always been difficult for me, especially when it’s a make-or-break exam to land employment! So being able to sit in the comfort and peace of my home and challenge myself, by myself, built my confidence so that taking the placement exams elsewhere was easier. I also want to mention that even after we become employed again, we should always be ready for the bottom to drop, even when things seem to be calm seas. Unfortunately, in this economy, no position is safe from downsizing.

Any parting words for your readers?

Roni: I hope you will be able to see yourselves in this book – to see that there is a happy ending coming.

Nancy: Yes. Even at the lowest time in your lives, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. As a Master Spiritual Healer, it is my hope that this book will bring enlightenment to those who may not be able to see the rainbow light at this time in their lives. You are not alone as long as you reach out to others for help.

Thank you, Roni and Nancy! We’re certainly not alone now that we have Penny in our lives. To read the hilarious (mis)adventures of Penny Pinkslip, or gift it to someone you care about, we invite you to visit the following links:

Purchase the book

Check out the book announcement

 

EllaElla Ritchie is the founder of Stellar Communications Houston, a business communications and book publishing team that brings clarity, quality, and integrity to nonfiction authors, business leaders, nonprofit organizations, and federal government agencies.  Connect with her on LinkedIn or Facebook, or check out the website for more information.

Roni Elayne Singer headshot

Roni Elayne Singer is a trainer and technical writer in Houston, Texas,
with two grown children and two grown dachshunds. She enjoys singing, playing piano, cooking and being with her family and friends. Over 50? Menopausal? You’re Fired!!! is her first book. You can find out more at https://www.pennypinkslip.com/ or by emailing  Roni at pennypinkslip@gmail.com.

 

Nancy DePrimo Zuromski headshotNancy DePrimo Zuromski  is a financial account representative and
lives with her husband in Kingwood, Texas. She has two grown sons, three grandchildren, three cats and enjoys spoiling her family. Over 50? Menopausal? You’re Fired!!! is her first book. You can find out more at https://www.pennypinkslip.com/ or by emailing  Nancy at pennypinkslip@gmail.com.