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US ‘Pretty Ugly’ book tour: challenging, gratifying, filled with presentation lessons

Speaking before distinctive audiences of high-level academics, medical leaders, journalists and editors in diverse settings across the United States recently about the genesis of my novel, ‘Pretty Ugly,’ has been a most exhilarating and fun-filled experience.

Now back in the quiet, bucolic northwest coast of of Ireland where much of the book’s drama takes place, I find myself recalling many of the enjoyable and challenging moments during those memorable weeks in March, while of course, internally evaluating what I consider I did right and what I could have done better, to help me improve on future presentations, always a challenge for authors used to being alone with just a blank page for company.

And, of course, ultimately, thanking my lucky stars for the opportunity to embark on such a whirlwind tour across the Atlantic that took me from Tucson, Arizona to Kansas City, Missouri to Fredericksburg, Virginia, with Florida and New York sandwiched in between.

In Tucson, I had the privilege to speak before an august gathering of some of the leading women doctors in Arizona in an event organized by Dr. Sandra Katz, three-term president of the Tucson Society of Women Physicians. Ranging from cardiologists and gynecologists to neurologists and orthopedic surgeons, these accomplished women from different countries were all deeply interested in the potential dangers from nanoparticles in everyday cosmetics and discussed openly during question time and among their peers afterwards over dinner, what health problems such miniscule particles could cause within the human body. Most of the doctors were intrigued and delighted that such a real-life, and controversial medical theme, could be the central thread of a novel.

Dr. Katz thanked me on behalf of the medical society for what she described as “an enlightening and fascinating presentation,” adding, “You had a room full of physicians of every specialty - from family practice, anesthesia, dermatology, obstetrics/gynecology, ophthalmology, plastic surgery, general surgery, orthopedics, oncology - and we were all spellbound by the facts you presented about the dangers of toxins in cosmetics. Hopefully, your book will have an impact on the regulation of the cosmetic industry and will educate the public on the health risks.”

Some days later my talk in Missouri allowed me the chance to fondly re-visit the place where I had lived for ten years working as the medical and science correspondent for the main morning newspaper, The Kansas City Times. Warm memories flooded back of fine, dedicated people I had met, including highly-skilled journalists and editors such as Pulitzer-prize winning Dunstan ‘Dusty’ McNichol (now sadly departed and for whom I offer a dedication in ‘Pretty Ugly’), Chicago-born Mike Kennedy who still plies his trade skillfully there (upon which a character in my novel is based), and who, to my utter delightful, was able to attend my presentation, as did Paul Wenske, a former national correspondent and business editor.

The event itself also give me the chance to honor two other highly-respected individuals who have had a marked effect on me during my lifetime Dr. E. Grey Dimond and Dr. Felix Sabates.

The convivial evening took place in the Diastole International Scholar’s Center beside the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine, which like Diastole, was established by Dr. Dimond, a most astute man whom I had the great pleasure of meeting while I was a newly-emigrated, 20-something reporter. Such was E. Grey’s influence on me as both a close personal friend and educator, I used his persona for one of the lead characters in my novel – a kind-hearted doctor concerned about the health and well-being of ordinary people. E. Grey's health mantra was "Stay skinny, don't smoke." It worked for him. He died at the tender age of 94, just four years ago.

The second influential person is Cuban-born Felix Sabates, who overcame many difficulties as a new emigrant to the US to become a leading ophthalmologist who founded the Eye Department at UMKC medical school, the Eye Foundation and also the Sabates Eye Centers. I knew very little about the complex internal workings of that most important of human organs until I interviewed Felix many years ago. The knowledge I gained then was invaluable as I began to write ‘Pretty Ugly’ and decided the eye would be the crucial organ that is badly affected by toxic nanoparticles in cosmetics in a key female character. The book, 'From Cuba With A Vision' tells Felix's life story.

Warm thanks also goes to Nancy Hill, president of Diastole, without whose tireless organizational skills and positive, upbeat nature the whole evening soiree could not have taken place. And to Phil and Kathy Chaney for being such kind, generous and humor-filled house hosts.

Contributing to a most pleasurable evening entitled ‘Irish Words and Music’ were talented musicians, Molly McLaughlin and Into the Sun. Browne's Irish Market provided delicious food that complemented the whiskey tasting by ‘Restless Spirits,’ a new local distillery.

As for Fredericksburg, full credit there goes to Dr. Stephen Farnsworth, journalist, respected political commentator, Fulbright professor, author of multiple books and founder of the Center for Leadership and Media Studies at the University of Mary Washington. It was he who arranged my talk before students, staff and members of the local community in the university setting.

I was delighted that so many of the participants wanted more details from me after the lecture about this ongoing healthcare controversy. They were both concerned and downright angry that US politicians hadn’t done more to protect peoples’ health from such potential dangers as nanoparticles about which few clinical efficacy tests have been conducted.

All in all, my three-week US book tour was not only a most gratifying one but one that helped me immensely as an author to strengthen my skills in presenting my writing in an interesting and attention-grabbing way, a subject I hope to talk more about at this year’s ‘Ireland Writing Retreat’ on the 'Wild Atlantic Way' in Donegal, Ireland, the same place where much of the action in ‘Pretty Ugly’ happens. See video below.

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