We’re drawn to books about addiction and recovery because we relate to people’s struggles, or we want to know how they recovered, or we want to hear about their redemption.
Here are a few, along with a yet unpublished, but promising one. I’ve also included some tips for medical professionals on getting published.
“Drunkard: A Hard-Drinking Life” by Neil Steinberg
Powerful title, isn’t it? I read this book by Neil Steinberg, a columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times, in April. I didn’t think he could talk about his drinking day after day after day and still hold my interest, but he did. He wrote about how much he drank and how he sneaked drinks and hid bottles so matter-of-factly, that I suspended disbelief and went along for the ride. Actually, I marveled at how blasé he could be. His denial was enormous, until, at the end, he acknowledged to himself that he’s an alcoholic. Ultimately, he had already laid it out; the truth was there all along. What seemed like simply a daily regimen was a path to destruction. I found the columnist’s story different from others because of his matter-of-fact tone.
We know that physical violence is not uncommon in a house where someone abuses alcohol, and Steinberg got into trouble for hitting his wife when he was drunk. She called the police; he ended up in court and then in court-ordered rehab. He went to self-help meetings, too, although for most of the book his heart wasn’t in it. He relapsed and then relapsed again, until the effort finally clicked. Somehow he makes it appear seamless, which is surprising because he was so difficult at times and had such a hard time in groups.
“Basketball Junkie: A Memoir” by Chris Herren
Last month I got an email from The Partnership at Drugfree.org about Chris Herren, who wrote a memoir with Bill Reynolds called Basketball Junkie. Herren was a high school basketball star who had it all—a book written about him, an appearance on NPR, and a contract with the Boston Celtics. However, he had started with alcohol and progressed to cocaine and then heroin, and quickly lost it all. It’s a story of redemption, as he reclaims his dignity if not his career. Back with his wife and three children, he’s been sober for several years now.
A Golden Voice” by Ted Williams
Remember Ted Williams, the former DJ who appeared all over TV after a YouTube video showed him disheveled on a street corner in Columbus, Ohio? He told his story of addiction and said he had stopped using, and got offers of jobs, a place to stay, and a future. But he hadn’t stopped. Dr. Phil gave him a good talking-to and he entered rehab but left shortly afterward. He’s back now and says he’s sober for real this time. Look for another story of redemption from Williams and his ghostwriter. He’s had a hard road and some of his truth-telling may amaze you. I wish him the best.
“Permanent Midnight: A Memoir” by Jerry Stahl
You have to take Amazon reviews with a grain of salt. Sometimes authors have their friends write reviews, so those are always glowing. Others are honest about disliking the book, and still others—especially people with a competing book or those who “have it in” for the author—write simply scathing reviews.
In any event, the review of this book by Booklist, the American Library Association’s magazine, is positive. Stahl has had quite a career. Started as a pornographer for Beaver magazine. Wrote fake sex letters for Penthouse and articles for Hustler. Earned about $7,000 a week writing scripts for Moonlighting,Thirtysomething, and Alf.
He was also addicted to smack, coke, crack, Dilaudid (a pain reliever),and other substances and soon lost everything, including a possible gig as a writer for the second season of Twin Peaks. The review goes on to say:
“Permanent Midnight is not for people with delicate sensibilities or any other low thresholds for truth. Stahl's autobiography provides no glitzy Hollywood confessional with raised letters on the dust jacket, and it's not a self-help book on recovery. Instead, it explores, with brutal honesty and humor, the author's struggle between the nightmares of addiction and the nightmares of sobriety. Permanent Midnight is one of the most harrowing and toughest accounts ever written in this century about what it means to be a junkie in America, making Burroughs look dated and Kerouac appear as the nose-thumbing adolescent he was.”
A Novel Yet to Be Published
I thought this next entry would be instructive for medical professionals with a book idea. An addiction specialist friend of my coauthor, who has written a novel about a young person’s journey to hell and back, is trying to find an agent. The book emanates from his practice and if I correct, is a composite of many clients. In April he sent me the manuscript and asked for advice.
I thought it was wonderful—he delves into legal problems an addict often incurs—but since he’s marketing it as medical fiction and fiction isn’t my specialty, I wasn’t able to help him much with plot, characterization, and so forth. I gave him suggestions for polishing his writing in some areas and then introduced him to an editor-friend at a publisher.
In case there are other addiction professionals interested in writing books (not fiction), here are some tips:
1. The publishing industry has changed dramatically in the last few years. It’s harder to get a book commercially published today, although it can be done. On the other hand, self-publishing is a viable alternative if you can’t attract a commercial publisher, and sometimes publishers pick up self-published books and re-publish them under their auspices.
2. You need a “platform” to attract an agent and also a publisher. In other words, you have to show you have some credentials that wil sell a book, and it’s work with a capital W. Have you been in the media, been quoted in publications? Have you been on radio or TV? Do you have a blog? A website? These are expected today. Look at the website for Helping the Addict You Love by Larry Westreich, which Dr. Westreich uses to market his book.
3. The amount of information you need to know about publishing is enormous. There are books on getting published, but older ones are outdated in this market. Read, read, read and talk to people so that you know the basics of the publishing industry. The author of Understanding the High Functioning Alcoholic is another good site to take a look at.
4. There are conferences especially for doctors wanting to publish books. One is given by Harvard Medical School, Department of Continuing Education, http://cme.med.harvard.edu/cmeups/htm/00292363_schedule.htm. The doctor I mentioned who’s writing the medical fiction book attended a SEAK (www.seak.com) conference in Hyannis, Mass., like this one: How Physicians and Lawyers Can Get Their First Book Published, August 10, 2012. I’m not pushing these; but there is a lot to learn and these conferences do offer good information.