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So You Want to Write a Book

Friday, September 21st, 2012

When I decided that my story might help other women striving to overcome their own circumstances, I worried that my expertise as a physician wouldn’t exactly translate to the process of writing a great book.  Instead of giving up right there though, I decided to look into hiring a writer to help me out.  Luckily, I found talented freelance writer and editor, Anita Bartholomew who truly is a book doctor.

After reading my first best-selling memoir, The Ditchdigger’s Daughters, Anita saw potential in the next chapter of my life as a professional woman trying to balance career and family.  Her writing skill and knowledge of the changing publishing industry allowed me to get exposure to a much bigger audience than I would have been able to do on my own.  With her collaboration, my newest memoir, “SOMETHING TO PROVE” won the Grand Prize in the New York Book Festival.  On my radio show, Inside Information for Women, Anita and discussed this process and how the publishing industry is shifting in a way that actually benefits small publishers and unknown authors.

As the cost of print media slowly begins to outweigh its profits, many publishers are scaling down and moving to digital publishing.  You’ve no doubt noticed the increase in e-books and e-readers, but many are unaware how this is changing the popularity of what it is we’re reading as well.  Before, you needed a book with surefire potential for big profits or a name that already had clout in the genre in order to get the attention of publishers.  Now though, many people are partnering with smaller publishing companies or even publishing and promoting their own work through digital formats.  This has allowed new authors to sell a lot more of their work, and this time, without losing the percentage a publishing company would have taken.  It has also, surprisingly, shifted what people are reading altogether; as steamy romance titles are easily concealed on e-readers and nobody knows whether someone is reading about politics or pop stars.  These digital authors and publishers have also increased competition in the publishing world in general, driving prices down to much more easily consumed costs for their audience, which translates into more sales for more writers.

Even though it is easier to get e-published these days, you’ll still need great writing in order to sell a lot of books.  I’m thankful I found Anita so that my book could have that chance.  If you too are dying to get your story told, whether fact or fiction, you don’t have to be the next great author, you just need a great idea and a partnership with a talented freelance writer like Anita Bartholomew.


– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.


Kids—follow your dreams, whatever they may be. And Mr. Gingrich, clean your own damned toilets

Friday, December 16th, 2011

I don’t usually discuss politics on my blog (although, in today’s world, even something as essential to life as paying for medical care has become political). So, I hesitated to speak out when one of the men vying for the GOP nomination for president said something so wrongheaded and racist that it made me ill.

But, on reflection, I realized that this isn’t about politics simply because the person making the comments is a politician. It’s about dignity. It’s about respect for other human beings. And it’s about the truth.

Here are some of the comments made by former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich:


“Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habit of working and have nobody around them that works… They have no habit of showing up on Monday. They have no habit of staying all day. They have no habit of, ‘I do this and you give me cash.’ Unless it’s illegal.”


Mr. Gingrich’s answer to his made-up “facts”? Get rid of child labor laws. Get rid of unionized janitors. Instead of teaching children in schools, put poor children to work as the schools’ janitors, cleaning the toilets.

Let me speak as the daughter of a ditchdigger and a domestic. They were poor, but that didn’t mean they didn’t work. My daddy worked two jobs — 16 hours a day — and took side jobs on the weekends. My mother cleaned other people’s houses because a lack of money for tuition forced her to drop out of teacher’s college in her senior year. Together, they probably worked more hours in their lives than people like Mr. Gingrich would or could survive. And they didn’t do it so that my sisters and I could be janitors, but so that we could become doctors. And you know what? Three of us did become doctors, and one became a lawyer.

That’s what my two memoirs are all about. The Ditchdigger’s Daughters tells the story of hard-working impoverished parents with a dream for their daughters to do better. Something to Prove  is the story of how I passed down that dream and work ethic down to my own children. Woody, my son, a neurosurgical resident and a cum laude Harvard graduate, is the grandson of a ditchdigger.

There were plenty of racists around when my sisters and I were growing up. They wrote us off and expected us poor little black girls never to leave the housing projects. But our parents convinced us to dream the big dreams.

Maybe I should send Mr. Gingrich copies of my books. Maybe it would open his eyes. Because if Mr. Gingrich had his way, my son would be cleaning toilets like his grandmother, and digging ditches like his grandfather. I’m not saying that hard, manual labor is something to be ashamed of, but we can do better.

Sadly, it becomes more difficult for young people when racists in high places can’t see our children aspiring to anything more than a plunger, a shovel, or a broom.

I’ll close with an excerpt from the blog of another formerly poor black child, Travon Free, whose hardworking parents made sure he had the tools to make a success of himself, and who has a few choice words in rebuttal to Mr. Gingrich’s:


 “As a child who grew up in Compton in the early 90s, one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in America at that time, I watched my mother work tirelessly, sometimes juggling multiple jobs to provide for myself and my sister. Day in and day out, like many other parents in poor neighborhoods, she did what she had to do in order to provide for us.

You know what that turned into Mr. Gingrich? “A son who received academic and athletic scholarship offers from three Ivy League schools and countless other universities, a son with a college degree in Criminal Justice who graduated with honors from every school he attended, and a daughter who not only attended a Gifted and Talented Education high school, but is one year away from completing a degree at UCLA.”


Bravo to Travon Free. And to all those who haven’t yet escaped poverty, keep working. Keep believing in yourself. Don’t let people who know nothing about you discourage you, or pull you down. Pick yourself up and set yourself on the path to realizing your dreams, no matter how impossible others might say those dreams are. If I could do it, you can do it.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, MD, MPH

Gone almost 30 years… always in my thoughts

Monday, December 5th, 2011

Maybe it’s the holiday season that just naturally brings back memories of those we love. Or maybe it’s because my father, Donald Thornton, is never far from my mind. But even something as seemingly innocuous as doing some upgrades in our home stirred vivid memories of Daddy, who readers will remember from my memoirs, The Ditchdigger’s Daughters, and Something to Prove.

My husband Shearwood and I were talking to our security firm about improving our home security system. And it brought me back to the day that my father and mother accompanied me to Bard Hall, where I was to room, when I first entered Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City.

I would be living away from home for the first time, and in big, bad New York City, no less. My parents had already helped me settle in and, reluctantly left me in my new room. I assumed they were on their way home. Then Daddy came back to the room, carrying a heavy glass ashtray. After giving me yet another talk about how important it was for a young woman to be careful and vigilant, he handed me the ashtray, which was odd, because I didn’t smoke.

The ashtray was for security purposes, he said. He instructed me to place it above my door, so if any one tried to come in, it would fall and alert me and I could defend myself—or just run.

I thanked him, and promised I’d be careful, but I never did use his makeshift security system. I knew perfectly well that the first time I rushed out the door, I’d be the one to get bonked on the head.

But, just knowing that my Daddy would always look out for me (and yes, I believe he still does, though he’s been gone since 1983), made me feel safer.

And I still have that ashtray.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, MD, MPH

My memoir’s getting lots of media attention: good news and bad news

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

Yes, that’s me on the cover Living, the Jersey Shore magazine, and there’s a lovely, long, detailed article inside, that talks in-depth about my latest memoir, Something to Prove, as well as my first memoir, The Ditchdigger’s Daughters.

I’m thrilled to have gotten the coverage, especially now, when I learned, in a roundabout way, that the publisher of Something to Prove is getting out of the trade (consumer) book business.

Erik Sherman of CBS News wrote all about that, and how it affects Something to Prove, so I won’t say more. But I hope to have news for you of a paperback and ebook of Something to Prove soon. Stay tuned.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, MD, MPH

The Problem With Part Time Doctors

Friday, June 24th, 2011

As anyone who has read either of my two memoirs knows, I’ve worked long hours as a ob-gyn/maternal-fetal medicine specialist, throughout my career. While it’s been a challenge, at times, and I’ve had to juggle like crazy to be the kind of mother my children could always count on, it was the life I signed up for.

I don’t regret my career choices.  Becoming a doctor is as much a calling as a profession.

So, when I read an op-ed by a woman anesthesiologist, which criticizes a recent trend among women doctors to think of medicine as a part-time career, it struck a chord.

This section, in particular, offers food for thought:

Since 2005 the part-time physician workforce has expanded by 62 percent, according to recent survey data from the American Medical Group Association, with nearly 4 in 10 female doctors between the ages of 35 and 44 reporting in 2010 that they worked part time.

This may seem like a personal decision, but it has serious consequences for patients and the public.

Medical education is supported by federal and state tax money both at the university level — student tuition doesn’t come close to covering the schools’ costs — and at the teaching hospitals where residents are trained. So if doctors aren’t making full use of their training, taxpayers are losing their investment. With a growing shortage of doctors in America, we can no longer afford to continue training doctors who don’t spend their careers in the full-time practice of medicine.

… The Association of American Medical Colleges estimates that, 15 years from now, with the ranks of insured patients expanding, we will face a shortage of up to 150,000 doctors.

When you look at training in the medical profession as a scarce resource, provided to a small number of people, in whose hands others place their lives, you can see that it isn’t the kind of career choice you make lightly. It’s a commitment. And those who don’t feel the need to fully commit, who think of it as a profession in which they can dabble, do a disservice to the patients who need them, as well as to those who would have committed fully to the profession, if only they could have gotten into medical school.

In our do-your-own-thing society, this might seem like a harsh, even an unfair judgment. But medicine isn’t practiced for the benefit of the practitioner. It’s a service to our fellow men and women. And as long as there are so few of us that some people have long waits for needed care, those who choose this profession must be willing to be there when they’re needed. And if they can’t? There are plenty of other professions with lesser requirements.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, MD, MPH

Something To Prove Wins Top Prize from New York Book Festival!

Friday, June 3rd, 2011

I’m thrilled to report that Something to Prove: A Daughter’s Journey to Fulfill a Father’s Legacy earned the Grand Prize from the judges in “The New York Book Festival,” besting hundreds of rivals in every category for the title.

Although I wish I could be at the ceremony on June 10, 2011, at the Algonquin Hotel, to accept the award, I have a previous commitment. I will be the lead panelist at the “100 Black Men of America Annual Convention,” in San Francisco that day.

My fellow panelists include Terri McMillan, bestselling author of How Stella Got Her Groove Back, and several other books, radio talk show host Shirley Strawberry, and TV personality Star Jones, best-known for her long-running stint on the popular talk show, “The View.”

Although I won’t be there to accept the New York Book Festival Award in person, you can bet I’ll be there in spirit. I am so honored to have been chosen to receive this recognition, and so very, very grateful to the judges who chose Something to Prove over so many other terrific books.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, MD, MPH

Come Join Me on BookTV Next Weekend!

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

I’m delighted to report that my keynote address to The Young Women’s Leadership Network was covered by C-SPAN for BookTV.  I had been interviewed a few years ago by Brian Lamb for his program Q&A on C-SPAN [], to talk about my first memoir, The Ditchdigger’s Daughters, and it was a great experience.

Now, on Saturday, April 16 and Sunday April 17, the program, broadcast from The New York Academy of Medicine in New York City, will capture me addressing 400 high school girls from East Harlem who are interested in math and science for their Career Day.  I will be discussing my recent memoir, Something to Prove: A Daughter’s Journey to Fulfill a Father’s Legacy.

C-SPAN book discussions are always in-depth, unlike so many other television “sound-bite” interviews, which is why I’m so happy to know that BookTV selected my presentation of the new book for their broadcast. Hope you’ll take a break from the last minute tax return rush to join me.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, MD, MPH

Hear (and See) My Radio Interview with Leonard Lopate of WNYC

Friday, January 7th, 2011

I had a great time visiting with Leonard Lopate of WNYC Radio, and talking about my new memoir, Something To Prove.

We spoke of my father, Donald Thornton, how our girl band, The Thornton Sisters came into being, and how sexism has often been a greater impediment than racism in my career.

The interview was videotaped and posted to YouTube, so here it is.

Let me know what you think.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, MD, MPH

Dr. Yvonne Thornton Discusses “Something To Prove” on Nurse Talk Radio Show

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

The week before Christmas, I was a guest of co-hosts (and registered nurses) Casey Hobbs and Dan Grady on the award-winning “Nurse Talk,” a radio show with a sense of humor similar to the popular NPR show, “Car Talk.”

You can listen by clicking the link below (I’m the second guest, so I’m a bit after the halfway point), but stay for the entire show. It’s a lot of fun – and you’ll learn a lot, too. Nurse Talk with Dr. Yvonne S. Thornton, author of Something To Prove

And if you’re in New York City, please be sure to stop by and see me tonight, January 4, 2011, at 7 p.m. at Barnes & Noble, 2289 Broadway at 82nd St. (212) 362-8835. The event is free and everyone is invited.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, MD, MPH

Happy Holidays to All – With a Few Tips to Keep the Season Merry

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

You probably already have a hectic life that just got that much more hectic with the added responsibilities of the holidays. We women often feel pressure to do it all, and to make the holiday special for everyone else. But sometimes, we forget ourselves in the process. So, I thought I’d offer a few tips to plan a holiday that you can enjoy as much as your family and guests.

1. DON’T SHOP UNTIL YOU DROP: I know that budgets are tight for many, many people this year. So, resist the urge to splurge. Even if money isn’t an issue, time is. Don’t try to buy everything at once. Shop in the way that makes the most sense for you, whether that means strolling the mall or surfing the web.

2. LEAVE THE HAUTE CUISINE TO THE FOOD NETWORK GROUPIES: Having company over? Prepare what you can a day or two before, and keep it simple. Forget Mastering the Art of French Cooking this season. Your guests are there to see you, not the Iron Chef champion, so set things up in a way that lets you enjoy the celebration, too.

3: COUNTER THE CALL OF THE BUFFET TABLE: No matter how hard we try to stick to our eating plans, the holidays make it difficult. Fill up your plate with veggies and salad, and leave just a small space for the too-good-to-resist high calorie treats. Balance the inevitable extra calories with an extra walk around the neighborhood after meals. You’ll feel better, and you won’t have to hide the bathroom scale.

4: MAKE YOUR OWN SEASON MERRY AND BRIGHT: Be good to yourself this season. Check the local listings for gatherings that might be fun, or for church choir concerts. Go to a holiday movie. Re-connect on the phone or online with friends and family who have moved away. One of the most rewarding things you can do for yourself is to help those less fortunate. Donate to a food pantry. Visit a senior citizens home. Offer to take a shelter dog for a walk.

I know how tough it is for women to follow this simple advice (hey, I’m a woman, too), but I also know we’ll feel better if we do. So, I’ll try if you will.

Meanwhile, please stop by if you’re in the New York tri-state area for my book launch party at Barnes & Noble in West Nyack this evening for my new memoir, Something To Prove: A Daughter’s Journey to Fulfill A Father’s Legacy. Details are here.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, MD, MPH