Books & business + reality: no magic bullet

With gratitude to Zetta Brown and Penny Leisch, this blog also appears July 3 on the Southern Writers on She Writes Blog Tour,

Book writing as a business never occurred to me. But the process toward my becoming a book-based businesswoman started in 2005, innocently and naively. A friend in public relations introduced me to Gerald S. Berenson, MD, during a kickoff for Tulane University’s comprehensive fundraising campaign, “Promise and Distinction.” She was innocent; I was naïve.

Innocently, she nudged the internationally acclaimed cardiologist/research scientist and suggested, “You ought to get NancyKay to write your book.”

Naively, I jumped at the suggestion, not even knowing what he wanted or expected but imploring him to allow me the opportunity. I myself broke the first rule for PR and marketing: know your audience.
Tall, suave, obviously bright, Berenson bought my concept and became my business. The business of books offers greater challenges and more opportunities than ever – everybody can write, and anybody can publish. But the reality remains that getting the gig and publishing the product requires more old-fashioned skill, attention to detail, and sticktoitiveness than most people care to or can invest. My reality is that into the seventh year of this project I’m still investing and learning.

Early into my effort to write a book for parents based on lessons learned in the Bogalusa Heart Study (, I learned that as founder and senior scientist, Berenson had already written more than 800 journal articles and four academic books. He had screened the heart health of some 16,000 Bogalusa, Louisiana, residents and followed them from childhood into middle age, adding their children and the children’s children to the observational study. Already 33 years into the only long-term, cardiovascular, community research program in the world in which both African-American and Caucasian individuals have consistently participated from early childhood through adulthood and middle life, he wanted the book completed in three months.

What a challenge – for both of us. Although I had been a published writer since before Berenson began the Bogalusa Heart Study in 1972, I had never written a manuscript for a book. And even though he had written and published profusely, he admitted to not having entered a commercial bookstore since he was in high school. With my desire to become an author and his to tell parents and educators how they could help children avoid adult heart disease, we began the collaboration. The really rough draft a now-deceased New York writer had started 16 years earlier provided our starting point. Not much of that material remains in the text that finally pleases us both.

The business of writing the book now lies behind, but the business of the book itself remains in infant stage. Realizing total failure in finding a literary agent willing to join our business, we finally agreed to self-publish, an option both available and acceptable to help achieve our distinct desires. As co-authors, we share the responsibility for summarizing four decades of data into a product that will attract the attention and grab the interest of people who care about families, health, and disease prevention. The writing’s done; now comes the test to title and market the book.

Through its gestation, the manuscript bore various potential titles, but finally a string of words that convey the essence of its content frame the name: You Can Fix The Fat From Childhood ― & Other Heart Disease Risks, Too. Will that stand out in a world of 211,000 self-published books in the past year? Is that really the title?

Lessons learned from the Bogalusa Heart Study cover certain aspects of asthma, diabetes, hypertension, nutrition, obesity, physical activity, risk factors, and tobacco. In the Study’s first two decades, researchers documented 11 percent of children in the study as overweight; now that number’s 40 percent. That meteoric gain, the World Health Organization’s declaration that overweight and obesity are the fifth leading risk for global deaths, and the nation’s focus on fatness suggested to me that a book boldly emblazoned with the word “fat” likely would attract attention and earn sales, particularly if the title seemed to offer a solution.

First-time novelist Stephanie McAfee ( took it to the bank. Also a Southern writer, she self-published her e-book Diary Of A Mad Fat Girl on Christmas Day 2010. Seventeen days later, she reported on Facebook, “Finally made the Amazon Bestseller Rank in the good ol’ US of A! I’m #97 in Kindle eBooks/Humor. ‘Well that’s a long way down,’ you may be thinking, and while that is very true, it’s also a long way up from #24,000 where I started.” Less than two weeks later, she was Number 21. Then came the NYT Bestseller List and a three-book deal with a traditional publisher.

When I met her early this year (at Pulpwood Queen Kathy Patrick’s Girlfriend Weekend,; it’s a Southern thing!) and learned about her extraordinary success for attracting book buyers, “I am unabashedly copycatting you,” I told her. “Over the past seven years, I’ve been working on a how to raise heart-healthy kids book . . . We’ve had about nine different titles, and none worked. After your visit to Jackson, I re-titled it ‘you can fix the FAT ― and other heart disease risk factors, too.’”

She responded: “I LOVE that title! It’s very catchy and it gets right to the point. Let me know when you get it listed, cause I’ll be number one in line. Why? Because I’m a chubby girl married to a chubby guy and we have a 2-year old little boy in perfect health and we want to keep him that way. I think your book will have mass appeal, but especially to people who have it to deal with, you know? So yes, I’ll buy it, read it, and then promote it all I can.”
So much for market research and think-tank strategic development.

I know from personal experience and observation that most people who are overweight or obese forever seek the sure-fire formula, the magic bullet to lose excess weight and fit the Western world’s ideal body image: slim, trim, toned, healthy. To entice some of those other fat people as buyers and readers of our book could be huge!

Berenson’s 40 years of research show that individuals can learn about and practice behaviors that result in appropriate body weight for good health. Learning to adopt healthy lifestyles – that’s prevention! His hope is that prevention beginning in childhood will become an acceptable and common practice. Through that, individuals and families can address quality of life from its origin and, maybe, extend quality to the end of life.

His intent to push primordial prevention ― prevention before bad risk factors begin and result in heart disease and related diseases, like diabetes ― and mine to both contribute to public health and realize financial gain, well. We are here.

And this is our reality – for books, business, people who want to “fix the fat.” Writing and publishing a book, deviling with all the creative and business aspects of the publishing details, and trying to prevent weight gain or to lose excess weight – almost every act of value requires real work, really. The magic bullet just does not exist. That said, awareness plus action equals success. Reading this book can give individuals and families the know-how to achieve healthier lifestyles, lose weight if needed, and prevent the risk of heart disease and diabetes – from childhood.


Here we go again

One month, two, three . . . lapses in writing, dieting, working strategically: enough!

Thanksgiving’s past; also Christmas and the coming of the New Year. One-third through winter and looking forward to spring. Much work to be done before, though. House repairs and paint, new lighting front and back, sorting and clearing and rearranging on the inside, itching to get outside for quality digging-in-the-dirt activity.

As Ray Charles sang so long ago, “Here we go again. . . I’ll try it again. I’ve been there before, but I’ll try it again.” For Mizrizbaboo, this relates not to reuniting with and reclaiming an old love — though that remotely and inconceivably could have happened — but refers directly to getting back to and fully embracing enhanced wellness. Reinvention continues with the full realization that the new beginning starts within, inside my own head and heart and kitchen. Once more, determination burbles up; intent seeks a solid connection between thinking and doing. Doing: daily records of eating nutritiously, avoiding unhealthy food and drink, taking supplements, getting exercise, writing and accomplishing the to-do list, being organized, focusing, achieving, and — yes — playing some, too.

“Any fool, any fool knows that there’s no, no way to win” unless the fool fully commits! So, it is written. So, let it be.

Mizrizbaboo does not write or make New Year’s resolutions. Every day is a new work in . . . . is it process or progress? Just a course of action, or actually moving forward? Progress — the choice is made. That’s the first step, once again.

With gratitude to © EMI Music Publishing and songwriters Deluca, DaveJ/Morrow, Marvin. . .

“I’ll play the part again one more time.”

How time slips away . . . feeding body and soul

My goodness! No post from MizrizBaboo since August? Oh, my.

Does “busy feeding the soul” suffice for reason? In September, I got a “head” start on the 2nd, celebrated my 27th birthday anniversary for the three dozenth time, and fed my soul with the 2011 Memphis Creative Nonfiction Writers’ Workshop

Thanks to Susan Cushman’s organization, planning, and coordination, attendees filled tummies and minds with healthy doses of Memphis food and drink combined with an array of inspiration and encouragement from both published and wannabe authors and at least one attorney.

October overflows with family connections, visits, and celebrations. I could enjoy my Georgia cousins much more frequently if only we could transpose Alabama with the Peach State! Not only do the McAlpin and Sullivan families serve humongous hospitality; they also filled me with delicious dinners, plenteous portions of fruits-of-the-vine, and huge hugs.

Back home, face the music time at Enhanced Wellness — oh, how I dreaded that! The September checkup had been fine, finally showing a total weight loss of 50 pounds! But what horrible number would haunt me after such a good time since? Not to have worried. Even though good food and good drink satisfied me throughout the month, body and soul somehow worked together to lose four more pounds. Yes!

Maybe the extra exercise of just moving around from one state to another and back, beginning the purge of accumulated articles of daily living that are no longer needed or wanted, and prepping the yard and garden for winter contributed. Certainly have plenty more of that to do! Changes in the temperature contribute to creativity in the kitchen, too. This first recipe emerged from a plastic container of going-too-quickly spring mix I’d bought for salad; the second, just perfectly timed for Friday night before the fire.

Quick-Save Salad Soup  

2 cups chicken broth • 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes • Remnants of 11-ounce container Spring Mix • Garlic powder • Black pepper

Heat broth and tomatoes seasoned with garlic powder and pepper. Add spring mix (that you’re saving from early demise because the supplier apparently did not adequately dry the lettuces before packaging) and cook fast until thoroughly heated. Serve immediately with sea salt and a few drops of olive oil to taste. You might also add sliced onions and cannellini beans before the lettuces and top with shaved parmesan cheese.

Buffalo Chili  

1 pound ground bison • 1 medium onion, chopped • 1 green pepper, chopped • 1 can red kidney beans, drained and washed • 2 28-ounce cans diced tomatoes • 1 tablespoon chili powder • 1 tablespoon paprika • 1 tablespoon white vinegar • Sea salt to taste

Brown meat, onions, and pepper. Add all other ingredients. Simmer 1 hour, stirring frequently.

. . . .

Now comes November, and another wedding! With not one piece of Halloween candy to be allowed inside MizrizBaboo’s dwelling, extreme effort to eat and sip healthfully — dare I say sparingly? — in preparation for and anticipation of the next family wedding mid-month in Louisiana. Celebrating Cajun style looms. Quickly following, the BB Queens Book Club will start Thanksgiving Week with copious quantities of  hors d’oeuvres and vino and renewed commitment to ourselves as friends and fellow readers . Restraint? Not a chance. Then, Thanksgiving Day, Thanksgiving Weekend.

Now thank we all our God.


Success of the month!

If the red-white-and-blue certificate did not authenticate and validate my four months of denial, Enhanced Wellness’ Facebook announcement did: Mizrizbaboo officially became Success of the Month! Applause, Applause — & Thank You Very Much. They said it’s because I shed 11 pounds and four percent body fat in two months; actually that would be one month.

Hooray for me! In retrospect, the dietary detox did not do me in. Good thing. Nurse One says another awaits about every 20 pounds down. OK. I can do that. Getting rid of toxins can be so liberating and exhilarating!

The numbers are good, including body mass index (down), fat free mass (up), total body water (up), intracellular water (down a teeny bit), and extracellular water (increased). For me for now, pounds down — that’s the important number.

But for Nurse One — and actually also for me, especially for the long haul — the other numbers indicate improved health status. And it shows! Even the dental hygienist noticed. Yes, my oral health watch-keeper, Miss Wendy, told me Tuesday my gums have never been healthier, tighter, happily pink. She specifically sought the “pocket” that bothered us both back in February; it’s gone!

Do I feel better? Well, yes. Breathing’s much improved. Reflection in mirror not horrific. Skin clearer, hair of better texture, nails a nice natural color. Old clothes begin to fit again. Sandals unworn for two years got an outing last Sunday. Fattest clothes begin to stack in the trash pile. Yes!

This is the first time in many moons that Mizrizbaboo has achieved this type success. The only other time occurred 25 years ago — maybe that’s my natural cyclical magic number. But back then, the process was anything but healthy. Reasons for even trying to get slim were all wrong and involved actual nutritional denial — I’d bought in to one of those pre-packaged foods programs. Nurse Two said, “Oh, you were eating dead food.” Well, yes.

Now the diet includes fresh tomatoes, onions, garlic, peppers, squash, eggplant, beans, almond milk, cherries, peaches, cantaloupe, almond butter, a couple protein shakes, and ounces of water equal to half my old body weight. No wheat or corn, bananas, pineapple, chocolate. No processed food. No pork — mostly skinless, boneless poultry and fish or shrimp with occasional lean beef, lamb, or buffalo. Wine for special events — book club gatherings, for example.

And the week includes exercise — I still don’t love it, but tai chi once a week and deep water aerobics twice a week can help build muscle and provide much-needed oxygen to the brain. Brain health is improving and will continue. Without being too specific about very personal stuff, I’m a work in progress. Who knew?

Many thanks for your encouragement and for the time you gave me in reading this. The journey continues.


Three months along the way: journey or destination?

Always proofread from the original copy — that’s a valuable lesson I learned in my first after-college job. OK, roll back the calendar to April and re-read my own words: “Now the sit rep and action plan are in place; execution has begun. Process evaluation will occur daily, weekly, biweekly.  Along the way Mizrizbaboo will comment on fleeting thoughts, puzzling dilemmas, and profound observations.”

Why do I feel so totally un-profound?

In the crisp spring of this journey’s start toward beginning again, the plan sound and sure, Mizrizbaboo looked to the future, to the daily duties that would help achieve better health, a better me. What now? The 12-week therapeutic lifestyle program’s completed for better health now and for a lifetime. Thirty-six pounds gone. Feeling better, for the most part, and no longer avoiding mirrors, but nowhere near done. Gut still hurts despite 14 days of four-times-a-day chewables, pill, and capsule. Important indicators turned black. Yuck! And immediately following that: 10 days of dietary detox. Day four now. Down.

Summer’s hot humidity blankets most of the country; welcome rains quench the thirst of Fondren’s plants and animals, also providing some lower temperatures. The sun’s in hiding, and a slight wind movement twists leaves and pink crepe myrtle blossoms. Only the overhead fan’s movement and whir of the computer’s fan along with the air conditioner’s hum breaks the silence

On this day, no thought at all. Dietary detox depresses. Several photographs on and around my desk recall happy days: My Sweet Baboo, suavely smiling,  paused from his crossword puzzle, August 1994, Council Circle courtyard, Jawaadah juice nearby. The two of us, dressed, enjoying wine in the company of Tulane alumni at a lavish gathering on Prytania – what year: 2004, maybe? And later, probably springtime 2009, obviously at Pat O’Brien’s with bloody Marys and big smiles (him) and frizzy hair (me).

All those glasses are empty now. Despite the BB Queens wine glass I collected at our latest Dirty Santa exchange, the one emblazoned with “My Glass Will Always Be Half Full,” no glass contains anything but water. Depressing, indeed. Fruits, vegetables, legumes. Only. If this is my destination, well, I’ll just be damned! So returns the fire, the determination, the duty to continue this journey.

Going back to the original enables a timely deflection of my despondence: “For the long haul, it’s all about prevention. Prevention of disease, disability, disgruntlement, dismay, too early death. There, I’ve created and typed my new mantra; now I re-commit to living the motto. And, as for all Life’s path, I recognize that achievement is not a destination but a journey, a path, a process.”

Three days down for this latest regimen: six to go. I can do six days. Six days of denial with reading, writing, practicing  tai chi, and doing deep-water aerobics. The journey continues.

May . . . family reunion & summertime kickoff

When Mack Gardner and I thought up an annual McAlpin Family Reunion in 1972, neither of us knew that we and our cousins would come and continue to come every year with our children, theirs, and theirs. But mark the calendar: the 4th Sunday in May, Every Year, the Lawrence and Kit Ware McAlpin Family reunites at The Old Place in Smith County, Mississippi.

We started innocently enough. Our mothers — sisters — each had eight brothers. Almost all of them had gathered that fall for a Sunday lunch, and we “second generation” first cousins were there. Wouldn’t this be more fun, we asked, if ALL our cousins could be here? How difficult would it be for each of the First Generation to gather their clans next spring for a “dinner on the grounds” reunion? Not.

That’s how it began. Thirty-nine years and looking forward to the 40th consecutive event in 2012. If it were a wedding anniversary, we’d exchange rubies. Bonds between and among family members ebb and rise without visible tide yet remain as constant as an ocean’s motion. And so the reunion continues, sometimes on Memorial Day Weekend, often not: always the official summertime kickoff on the 4th Sunday of May.

Just one earth-bound remains of the First Generation: Aunt Veattress, matriarch of the McAlpins; she, the first born sister, older than Etha, who died in 2006 only days before her 85th birthday. All the brothers, gone: Clefton, Erhman, Zollie Bill, Newell, Gabriel, Drummonds, Newman, Fairrell. But their offspring remain and come as we all can, all bringing food to share under the open pavilion built in sight of where stood the last house Mama and Papa Mac shared.

Some bring new dishes — a different salad or just-discovered casserole — but most follow tradition and bring expected delectables that probably originated in her mother’s own kitchen decades ago. Chicken and dumplings arrive in the same pot great aunts brought in the 70s. Pots of peas, cornbread, and cakes — nobody notices the container so much as notes that favorite foods grace the long wooden table.

Mizrizbaboo rocked tradition this year, though, and did not arrive with her usual barbequed baked beans. Early arrivals seem to have left space for the huge blue roaster that most years comes with about four pounds of delicious, but a clear glass bowl of black bean salad took the place. Few complained, though some did question. Those who tested the new addition proclaimed it good and called for the beans’ return next year. Not even potato salad and deviled eggs plus the salad sufficiently satisfied.

So, OK. The beans return next year. But for those who enjoyed the Black Bean Salad, drain a large can of black beans and add red or yellow pepper, diced; 1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion; one to two cups cherry or grape tomatoes; one tablespoon olive oil and another of balsamic vinegar; one to two teaspoons ground cumin seeds. Mix all ingredients together in a bowl and chill for several hours, If desired, garnish with avocado slices before serving.

Laissez le bons temp rouler

Restored, rejuvenated, and back in Fondren from “way down yonder” in New Or-leans. God, I do love that city!

Tulane friends and duty called; Mizrizbaboo responded — and for the most part, maintained the new practice of thinking about and making informed decisions about what goes into my mouth for food, energy, and enjoyment. How much damage can a woman do in just less than 48 hours? If the body tells the truth, rumbles in the tummy this morning indicate at least a bit of real hunger.

Thursday evening: dinner at the Intercontinental. Grilled ground lamb with couscous, roasted Kalamata and green olives, and a small house salad — along with some sips of sauvignon blanc vino. So what if the plate as presented also bore four beautiful portions of heavily buttered and grilled sandwich roll? Hey! Bread’s not that heavy; it got moved to its proper place on the bread plate instead of into my mouth.

Friday morning: smoked salmon with red onions, chopped egg, and capers atop a bit of cream cheese and potato latkes. Am I on a cruise? . . . Water at the graduation reception under the live oaks — then came the water from above and a walk back to Broadway under a gentle rainfall. . . Pascal Manale’s for libations and lunch of paneed veal and peeled barbeque shrimp. . . Dinner at the Hicks’ home with New Orleans hostess, TU SPHTM AA President visiting from New York, and two lovely young ladies — one just graduated and the other welcoming her second year — from Viet Nam. Hostess Elaine peeled, chopped, diced, and scrambled red, green, and yellow peppers with garlic, onions, tomato, carrots, spices-but-little-salt. and ground beef to accompany crisp mixed greens with homemade dressing — oh, yum. The Graduate prepared dessert, a traditional Vietnamese recipe of a most delectable flan.

Big berries — black, raspberry, and straw — with yogurt and ample quantities of French roast coffee, assorted juices, and bottled water for Saturday breakfast with business for the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine Alumni Association . . . Reservations at two at The Palace Cafe on Canal. A spicy Bloody Mary prepped the palate for shrimp remoulade and a heart-healthy serving of almond-and-lemon-grilled drum over tomato-roasted couscous and a chilled sauvignon blanc.

On the return trip home, a pit stop in McComb provided a much-needed caffeine boost of iced mocha coffee from PJ’s of New Orleans. God, I love that city!