Monday Wisdom: On Clinical Research and Henrietta Lacks


I often entertain the idea of becoming a doctor.

After becoming a mother at age 20, I (and dare I say even my family) doubted that I would ever finish college and medical school for a single mother was totally out of the question. However, I have worked in the medical field for over 10 years – in mental health, outpatient surgery, and clinical research. My time as a Clinical Research Coordinator strongly resonated with me as I read Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

Oh my goodness. I had planned to write this blog post months ago and the time has constantly dragged because I honestly could not pull myself together. Never, have I read a book that shook me and had me question everything I knew about myself and more importantly my career in healthcare. THAT IS INDEED THE MARK OF A GOOD BOOK!


A few years ago, I interviewed for a Clinical Research Coordinator position at a local hospital. When I was in front of the PI (Primary Investigator), I was told that I was brought in specifically to recruit African-Americans. For one reason or the other, they were having a hard time recruiting African-Americans and the money they would receive to continue to research was contingent upon recruiting more African-American (males specifically).

Now I knew the history of Tuskegee, read all of the issues regarding vulnerable populations research, and just knew of the distrust involved in clinical research. Working in medical trials, the adverse events (side effects) of the drugs could be unbearable and deadly. In one trial I worked on, most of our patients were already deadly and the study drug would, at best, buy the patients another month or two but the potential side effects would make those extra months of life 10,000 leagues past miserable.

So as I sat across from the interviewer who singled me out due to my blackness and ability to recruit blacks. I was flabbergasted! The money was nice and the hospital would bring a certain level of resume credentials but I hurt because I didn’t want to used to lure in black men. No!

As I read the book, I found myself going through all those emotions again and dredging up some new ones. For example, when I read how staff just NEGLECTED to tell Henrietta and her family, what they were doing with her cells, I felt ill. I have been in the icky situation with doctors pushing me to drive up subject numbers and to recruit at all costs and watching if I become to “overly explain-y” or made things sound too horrible when explaining the research project. We had numbers to meet and research to conduct. Reading Skloot’s work did not surprise me because I have worked with many doctors like the John Hopkins doctors. I am saddened that there are still many like them in 2015.

Earlier this year, after a 2 year break from Clinical Research where it literally felt like recovering from a bad breakup, I interviewed for another position. As I walked through the hospital and felt how familiar it would all be, a sadness washed over me. While I know that future generations would benefit from any research finds, I still find that there are some doctors and nurses and medical staff, that are still very much like Henrietta’s. How can I reconcile myself with that?

Skloot’s book changed me because it reenergized my passion for health. While I may not be treating patients, I can teach students how to properly conduct research; I can educate the public on what to look for when approached for a clinical trial or any type of research.

My writing has also been re-energized. I want to find the best ways to tell a good, honest story. Because in the end, the story is what matters.

Paper Bag Revisions

As I previously reported, I greatly failed at trying to revise 10 picture books and a New Adult Science Fiction novel. Thus, during the month of June, I am trying to rectify this.

The picture books have been revised and I am now preparing to query. Hooray – I think:)

While doing revisions on the science fiction novel, I wanted a way to organize my main character’s days. This is a very important plot point for the novel and I really needed a way to see this in a BIG way. Cue the paper bag revision.

As I don’t have butcher paper just lying around, I took a brown grocery bag and cut it halfway and spread it out. See the photo below:



After cutting it, I made boxes and put in the chapters. For each chapter, I wrote the words “action” and “what day is this for the character.” Since I had an extra bit of paper left, I made little “family trees” for my major characters so I could keep track. This will help me greatly when writing the sequel:)

Here is another picture of my revision bag:


It is my hope that my revision paper bag will aid me while I incorporate notes from my CPs and add a little more meat to my story.

What are some things you have created for your book revisions?


Check out other blogs in the “I don’t like Mondays” blog hop


Notes On Revision From Writer Ashley Farley

As I hammer through revisions on two projects, I wanted to share a fresh prospective.  I “met” writer Ashley Farley through February Write-A-Thon.  This was a Nanowrimo type contest hosted by Ashley.  Through encouragement from her and my fellow participants, I drafted the novel I am currently editing.  Ashley self published Saving Ben, which can be purchased via Amazon:



What is your revision process?

I don’t consider myself in true revision mode until my third or fourth draft, when the major work is complete and all that’s left is the fine-tuning. Of course there is always plenty of fine-tuning to do—grammar corrections and sentence restructuring, fact checks and time-line verification.

I always take a little time—at least two weeks—away from my manuscript before I begin to revise. Taking this break helps clear my mind so that I can start my revisions with a fresh pair of eyes. When revising, I read through my manuscript multiple times, each time with a different element in mind. I consider adverb usage. I make sure my sentence structures are varied. I analyze dialogue. And when I finally feel like I’m close, I follow these three steps in this order:

1)      Change the font as it helps errors stand out.

2)      Have Alex read selected sections to me—Alex is the automated voice on my computer. For Mac owners, these controls can be set in system preferences: system preferences-system-diction and speech-text to speech. Alex is the best thing EVER.

3)      Print your manuscript and comb through the pages with a red marker the old fashioned way. Words look different on paper.

What were the lessons I learned (about writing and my process) from Saving Ben?

Truthfully, I learned the most about writing and my process from my first never-will-see-the-light-of-day novel Legend of a Rock Star. I had BIG ideas for that book—three different protagonists with multiple points of view, plot lines that jumped back and forth within a forty-year time span. I changed points of view several times—from first to third and back again. I learned so much about what NOT to do with Legend that writing Saving Ben was easy in comparison. Well . . . almost.

The biggest lesson I learned with Saving Ben is the value in hiring a professional editor, for a manuscript critique as well as the line edit. My editor, Patricia Peters, is simply amazing. Not only did she correct my grammar mistakes, she gave me her valuable perspective on my characters and plot as well. Writers should never consider self-publishing without hiring an editor. And there are plenty available online if you do your homework. Well worth the money!

What do I think is the most common mistake writers make when self editing?

Impatience is the writer’s biggest enemy. Many writers rush through their edits, and without bothering to hire an editor, they slap their manuscript up on Amazon for the world to see their grammar errors. Writing takes time. Unfortunately, our instant-gratification society pushes self-published authors to crank out as many books as they can possibly write. Rushing the process creates undeveloped plot lines and shallow characters. Rushing the process is responsible for self-publishing’s bad name.



About Ashley Farley:

I wrote a novel, SAVING BEN, in honor of my brother, the boy I worshipped, the man I could not save. It’s not a memoir, but a story about the special bond between siblings.

I’m a wife and mother of two teenagers. I have lived in Richmond, Virginia, for seventeen years, a city I love for its history and traditions. Personal experience with my brother inspired me to become involved with the leadership symposium in my son’s school where I’ve helped bring in speakers to raise parents’ awareness of the alcohol and drug problems children face. When I’m not steering volunteer committees or working on my next novel, I can be found swimming laps or playing tennis.





Today’s blog is part of the “I don’t like Mondays Blog Hop!” Check out the other participating blogs by clicking below.