David Henry Sterry

Author, book doctor, raker of muck

David Henry Sterry

Month: July 2011

Pelican Bay Inmates Hunger Strike to Protest Inhumane Solitary Confinement

When I first heard about the hunger strike, it was Facebook-ed, tweeted or Google+ed that there was going to be a massive noise-making demonstration in New York City to show the world the sick, twisted inhumane torture that’s going on right here in America. Yes, American citizens are being tortured by the United States government. And it’s all sanctioned by Gov. Jerry Brown, and ultimately by President Barack Obama.

Why, you might wonder, if you haven’t heard about this (and chances are you haven’t, because the powers that be don’t want you to know) would Gov. Jerry Brown, a man who has been a staunch advocate of human rights, and Pres. Barack Obama, who time and again has spoken out against torture, allow this to happen in the land of the free and the home of the brave? Isn’t this what the whole alleged war is supposedly about? So governments don’t torture their citizens? The reason you haven’t heard about this is because our government is torturing Americans from the bottom of the food chain, people without money, education or opportunity (“Justice? Yeah that’s right: Just. Us.” – Richard Pryor). They are prisoners in Pelican Bay State Prison’s Security Housing Unit. The SHU is a prison inside a prison, built for the “worst of the worst.” There are SHUs in three men’s prisons and in one woman’s prison in California. Prisoners in the SHU are locked in a tiny, windowless cell 22 1/2 hours per day. Their beds are concrete slabs. They are in permanent solitary confinement — and some for decades. No human contact. Food passed through a slot. Stop and think about that for a second. Imagine a day without any human contact. A week. A year. A decade.

This is from a letter postmarked July 8 from the Pelican Bay SHU:

To receive direct sunlight is being requested as currently the dog run yard has a sheet of blurred plastic so the sun is blocked out and the way the yard is designed the sun does not make contact with ones skin. It’s a known fact sunlight is essential to health and even bone density. SHU prisoners are withheld direct sunlight at this time.

The prisoners have decided the better to die than to live like this. Prison authorities who first said there were only a couple dozen strikers have now had to admit that the hunger strike has involved up to 6,600 prisoners at 13 of the 33 California State Prisons. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesperson, Terry Thornton said that as of July 12 there were 800 prisoners refusing food at 6 different prisons. They are striking for very basic things including an end to group punishment or the right to have one phone call a year, or even some warm clothes. As the massive strike enters its third week, the prisoners are going to start dying. Prisoners at Pelican Bay told lawyers that dozens have fainted and many people are experiencing heart problems and shortness of breath. At Calipatria, where at least 200 men are on strike, the temperature has reached 110 degrees and some prisoners have experienced heat stroke due to severe dehydration. At Corcoran some prisoners have been taken to the infirmary due to diabetic shock. When you feel the summer sun on your face tomorrow, tell everyone you know Gov. Jerry Brown and Pres. Barack Obama are allowing Americans to be tortured in Pelican Bay.
“I support the inmates of Corcoran State prison, pelican bay, and other prisons in their demands to end the inhumane policies of SECURITY HOUSING UNITS. I recognize their humanity and stand with them.” — Susan Sarandon

“I condemn the horrific conditions under which those prisoners live in the USA. We have a common global struggle against all types of class race gender and religious oppressions, including American-European imperialisms and neocolonialisms. We live in one world dominated by the same military police capitalist patriarchal system. We need to fight together. Unity is power globally and locally. Our Egyptian revolution is winning till today because of our unified power of millions (women men and children from all sectors of the society) who are staying in Tahrir Square day and night, and in all streets and squares all over Egypt from Aswan south to Alexandria north, and Suez Canal cities and villages. In solidarity.” – Nawal El Saadawi, Cairo, Egypt, renowned Egyptian novelist, doctor, and activist. She has been involved in the 2011 uprising in Egypt.

To get involved go to click here.

Here is a link to contact information of elected officials and the CDCR.

Here are the core demands of the hunger strike (summary of demands from Revolution newspaper):

1. End “group punishment” where an individual prisoner breaks a rule and prison officials punish a whole group of prisoners of the same race.
2. Abolish “debriefing” and modify active/inactive gang status criteria. False and/or highly questionable “evidence” is used to accuse prisoners of being active/inactive members of prison gangs who are then sent to the SHU where they are subjected to long-term isolation and torturous conditions. One of the only ways these prisoners can get out the SHU is if they “debrief”–that is, give prison officials information on gang activity.
3. Comply with recommendations from a 2006 U.S. commission “make segregation a last resort” and “end conditions of isolation.”
4. Provide Adequate Food. Prisoners report unsanitary conditions and small quantities of food. They want adequate food, wholesome nutritional meals including special diet meals and an end to the use of food as a way to punish prisoners in the SHU.
5. Expand and provide constructive programs and privileges for indefinite SHU inmates–including the opportunity to “engage in self-help treatment, education, religious and other productive activities…” which are routinely denied. Demands include one phone call per week, one photo per year, 2 packages a year, more visiting time, permission to have wall calendars, and sweat suits and watch caps (warm clothing is often denied even though cells and the exercise cage can be bitterly cold).

There have been a solidarity protests around the country but this is not enough.
A previous version of this post incorrectly identified Pelican Bay as Colligan Bay.

Pitchapalooza Winner Genn Albin Gets 6 Figure Book Deal

This is a fantastic success story. When we went to do our Pitchapalooza at Rainy Day Books in Kansas City, little did we know that our winner would end up with a three book deal with Farrar Strauss Children’s. But Genn Albin’s truly awesome pitch for her dystopian novel Crewel just blew us away. Here’s the first of three pieces she has written for us about how the whole thing came down. Thank you, Genn, you are truly an inspiration. And we’ll be watching and reading about your journey from talented amateur to (knock wood) best-selling author.

In January I decided I needed to be more involved with the Kansas City book scene, and if you want to be more involved with the Kansas City book scene, you look to Rainy Day Books. Now at the time I had a finished first draft of my novel, but my days were spent at home with two toddlers, which meant I didn’t have a lot of time or money. So when I saw the Book Doctors were scheduled to bring an event called Pitchapalooza to Kansas City on Rainy Day’s website, I took a deep breath, picked up the phone, and made a reservation for two to the event. Thankfully, the event was free, but if you bought their book, you would receive a free phone consultation, and since money was tight, this sounded like a lot of bang for my buck. I messaged my local critique partner and told her we were going.

I spent the next few weeks devouring every blog post on the Book Doctors’ website and every news article written about the event. I suppose it stems from my background in academics that I like to research. Well, maybe I don’t like it so much as I can’t escape it.

And then the unthinkable happen — a stupid ice storm. Kansas City weather is fickle at best, and I remember worrying that I would not be able to drive down in the ice. My valiant husband, and number one supporter, promised he would drive me if I was worried about the roads. In all fairness, they were bad, but I never considered that flights might be cancelled. The morning of the event, I got a phone call letting me know Pitchapalooza was being rescheduled. I was heartbroken.

I watched the Rainy Day website for the rescheduled time, crossing my fingers that it would still happen, and reserved my spot as soon as the date was made public. I spent the next month determined to get the book as close to a final draft as possible, so I could use my consult to discuss querying — a process that had me shaking in my boots. I put together several pitches and hated them all, and then the date of the event, I sat down and put together the final pitch. In the end, I wrote my pitch in an hour, but I used all the tips and tricks I’d learned over the past two months.

I waited impatiently for my critique partner to pick me up. My car was in the shop and I was hesitant to drive the family’s only car for an event downtown (in case my husband needed to escape with the kids). But then I got a message that she was running late and it would be another fifteen minutes. I called my husband, who was out with kids and said only car, to come back to the house. I knew if I didn’t leave in the next few minutes I would miss my chance to sign up to pitch. As it was, I thought it might be too late already. He came home, and I raced to the plaza library branch. I got there right as the event was starting, but with enough time to put my name in (thank god, I wasn’t pulled over). I missed all the rules, what the prize was, introductions, but I got my name in.

Then came the excruciating part. The contestants were drawn one at a time using the on-deck system. My critique partner showed up and succeeded in keeping me calm (aka listening to me nervously prattle under my breath), and then my name was called. I was elated and terrified and ready! The thing about pitching your book in front of hundreds of people is that you are taking an often isolating experience (writing a book) and proclaiming your ambitions to the world. It was no secret to family and friends I was writing a book, but ask anyone who is a writer and they’ll tell you that most people kind of give them an oh-isn’t-that-adorable nod when you talk about it. This felt real. I was standing up and sharing my story, for better or for worse, with a group of people who knew what I meant by “writing a book.”

My pitch was timed perfectly and I stumbled over the one line I knew I would screw up (why didn’t I change it?). And then it was my turn for feedback. Arielle proclaimed it was exactly one minute. David said my delivery was smooth, and I admitted I was trembling. I believe David’s exact words were “Fake it until you make it!”

And that was it, and I was disappointed. I wanted more feedback, more criticism. I wanted them to rip me to shreds. I whispered this to my critique partner when I got back to our seats and she gave me the standard cheerleading reply : “That’s because it was perfect.” I realized then that at some point, I’d cross the divide between someone writing a book and being a writer. Criticism no longer sent me running. I wanted to make my pitch and book better even if it was painful.

There were a lot of amazing pitches there that night. A few that made me stop and take notice. A few I couldn’t hear (word to the wise: don’t sit in the back!). And I was flabbergasted by the shear number of people there. People, who just like me, were spending their free time writing with the dream of publishing a book. I hear people say they want to write a book all the time, but this was a room of people who had done it. It was such an inspiring experience.

Then it was time for them to decide on a winner. David did his best to entertain the crowd and answer questions, but I know that for myself and 24 others in the audience all we could do was try to suppress the horrible, rolling nausea in our stomachs while they decided. Geoffrey came out and reminded us about what to do to get our books signed and set up our consultations, and I refrained from screaming, “Just get it over with before I puke!”

And then he said my name.

And my critique partner let out this blood-curdling scream.

And I almost died – from excitement, from embarrassment, from surprise.

I waited for the next forty-five minutes or so to talk to Arielle and David about my pitch. The whole experience was a blur of enthusiasm and well wishes. And then another amazing thing happened. A teen girl walked up with her mom to tell me how she wanted to read my book. Talk about awesome. A real life member of my target audience wanted to read my book! Turns out V is a writer herself and an avid reader. It took me about ten seconds to beg her to be a beta reader for CREWEL. She said yes, and I’m happy to report she’s the first teen to read it and all futures books!

Arielle and David were worth the wait. They asked some questions, we took some pics, and Arielle suggested I wait until I had a finished manuscript before we had our consult. I walked away with a renewed confidence. It was as though pure adrenaline had been injected into me. I was ready to get back to work. I couldn’t have imagined how much craziness and excitement lay before me. Pitchapalooza was only the beginning of a very wild ride.


The Book Doctors Present: Pitchapalooza Video Trailer!


Pitchapalooza is American Idol for books (only without Simon). Twenty writers will be selected at random to pitch their book. Each writer gets one minute—and only one minute! In the last month, three writers have gotten publishing deals as a result of participating in Pitchapalooza. Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry are co-founders of The Book Doctors, a company dedicated to helping authors get their books published. They are also co-authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How To Write It, Sell It, and Market It… Successfully (Workman, 2010). Arielle Eckstut has been a literary agent for 18 years at The Levine Greenberg Literary Agency. She is also the author of seven books and the co-founder of the iconic brand, LittleMissMatched. David Henry Sterry is the best-selling author of 12 books, on a wide variety of subject including memoir, sports, YA fiction and reference. They have taught their workshop on how to get published everywhere from Stanford University to Smith College. They have appeared everywhere from The New York Times to NPR’s Morning Edition to USA Today.

At Pitchapalooza, judges will help you improve your pitch, not tell you how bad it is. Judges critique everything from idea to style to potential in the marketplace and much, much more. Authors come away with concrete advice as well as a greater understanding of the ins and outs of the publishing industry. Whether potential authors pitch themselves, or simply listen to trained professionals critique each presentation, Pitchapalooza is educational and entertaining for one and all. From Miami to Portland, from LA to NYC, and many stops along the way, Pitchapaloozas have consistently drawn standing-room-only crowds, press and blog coverage, and the kind of bookstore buzz reserved for celebrity authors.At the end of Pitchapalooza, the judges will pick a winner. The winner receives an introduction to an agent or publisher appropriate for his/her book.

To sign up to pitch, you must purchase a copy of The Essential Guide To Getting Your Book Published. Anyone who buys a copy of receives a FREE 20 minute consultation, a $100 value. If you don’t want to pitch, the event is FREE.

New York Times article: http://tinyurl.com/3tkp4gl

Pitchapalooza mini movie: http://tinyurl.com/3jr8zte

Pitchapalooza on NBC: http://www.thebookdoctors.com/the-book-doctors-pitchapalooza-on-nbc-television

Here’s what people are saying about Pitchapalooza:

“We came to Pitchapalooza with an idea and six months later we got a book deal with a prominent publisher. We simply couldn’t have done this without this opportunity and without David and Arielle. We had been working on this project for several years, on our own, and struggling without any guidance. We were really discouraged by the entire process. Winning Pitchapalooza, and working with these two, really helped us focus and renew our enthusiasm in the project. And now we’re going to be published authors!”

—Nura Maznavi and Ayesha Mattu, Pitchapalooza winners Litquke, San Francisco, Oct. 2010

Here’s what people are saying about The Essential Guide To Getting Your Book Published:

“I started with nothing but an idea, and then I bought this book. Soon I had an A-list agent, a near six-figure advance, and multiple TV deals in the works. Buy it and memorize it. This little tome is the quiet secret of rockstar authors.”

—New York Times best-selling author Timothy Ferris, The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich,

Lovely Review from Spun Stories by Cynthia Haggard


Here is another book from my pile of how-to books on self-publishing. THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO GETTING YOUR BOOK PUBLISHED by Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry covers just about everything you need to know about the Wild West World of publishing today. Earlier this year, I reviewed Dan Poynter’s classic book about self-publishing and praised it to the skies. The only shortcoming with that book was that it focused on publishing an actual physical book. In a way, this book takes up from where Dan Poynter left off. In addition to the usual advice about how to get an agent, and how to publish a softcover book, this book also looks at e-book and social media.

The book is divided into three parts:

  1. Setting up Shop, which covers how to get an idea for your book, how to develop your author platform, how to package your book with a title and a pitch, how to get an agent, the agonies of the submission roulette and what to when (not if) you get rejected.
  2. Taking Care of Business covers selling your book, contracts, working with your publisher, and self-publishing.
  3. Getting the Word Out covers publicity and marketing, the book launch, how to keep your book sales alive and royalties.

There is no better recommendation I can give than to tell you that my softcover copy is bristling with those sticky markers, which indicates that I found plenty of nuggets inside. If you are trying to publish your book, I recommend that you read this one carefully. You might find exactly what you need inside. Five stars.

–Cynthia Haggard writes historical novels. She has two completed manuscripts that will be published in the coming year. THWARTED QUEEN is a portrait of a woman trapped by power, a marriage undone by betrayal, and a King brought down by fear.FAMILY SPLINTERS is a novel about identity, forbidden love and family secrets. (c) 2011. All rights reserved.


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