I recently had the privilege of proof-reading a very different kind of book – one on one man’s journey through diagnoses about and surgery on his prostate. The book was published about a week ago, and I thought it might be fun to do a wee interview with the author – friend and blogger Mike Crowl:
Mike, congratulations on the publication of your most recent book, Diary of a Prostate Wimp: the aftermath of having a prostate biopsy. Its coming indicates again that you are person with many interests – music, writing, acting, religion. You’re the almost-‘renaissance man’. I want to ask you about your book – a book which I learnt a lot from about things which I hope to never experience first hand – but before we talk about the book, please tell us a bit about yourself.
I’d certainly prefer that men don’t have to go through what I went through too, or even worse, what Dave (whose story is also in the book) went through, but these experiences are more common than we realize.
That aside, I’m retired, have had a varied working career including running a Christian bookshop, OC Books, for 17 years, and am now trying to catch up on some of the projects that I haven’t had sufficient time for in the past.
Your latest book is quite a contrast to your previous book Grimhilda! – a tale for children (and their parents) about a dragon baby sitter, animated toys, and parents with lessons to learn (and about which I wrote here). What is the story behind this most recent project? What is the book about?
Like most men, I began to have increasing problems with urinating as a result of my prostate increasing in size. Unfortunately, prostate growth is normal for almost all men. My GP was keeping track of this via a regular blood test. The results showed a need for some concern, and I was sent for a biopsy, in case there was any cancer in the prostate. The biopsy, which is quite invasive (there’s concern worldwide that it’s actually dangerous, because of infections) caused my bladder to seize up. This is known as water retention, and when you can’t pee, they give you a catheter. For blokes, this is a very unpleasant thing to have.
When did you first realize that you wanted to write a book about your experience with prostate problems?
I wrote blog posts about the experience back in 2008/9, and after I’d had a prostate operation, a man in Australia wrote and said he was experiencing similar issues, and that reading about my experience had been helpful. I thought that perhaps other men might find the posts of use if I put them into a book, but the project went on hold for a few years, partly because the children’s musical/book took priority.
The topic seems kind of ‘private’. Why did you choose to make the details of this story so ‘public? Who were you writing for?
One of the first responses I got when the book was published was ‘TMI [too much information] Mr. Crowl’. This came from a female friend. However, much of what I’d written had appeared in the blog posts, so it wasn’t private material suddenly being made public. Some other matters came from my own diary notes, though I edited out things that were even more private. I had debated how far to go with detail, but I don’t think I went overboard. When I showed the book to Dave, he immediately picked up on things that might be considered private and confirmed that these were things he’d experienced too. For me it was a matter of trying to say that there’s no need for men to be reticent about these issues: it’s helpful for guys to know they’re not alone in going through these experiences.
What do you hope readers will gain from the book?
In spite of the increasing talk about prostate cancer, I don’t think the average man realizes that he’s likely to have some issues with his prostate at some point in his life, quite apart from the cancer aspect. I certainly didn’t. Anything that gives more information is useful, and if it can be put across in a reader-friendly fashion, then it’s all to the good. We talk about young men thinking they’re bullet-proof, but I suspect that men continue to think the same thing throughout their lives until something like this hits them.
Are there similar books that inspired the idea for this one?
Far more of them focus on the prostate cancer aspect than on the biopsy and what they call the TURP operation (read the book for an explanation!). While prostate cancer kills more men than any other cancer, not every man who has problems with his prostate has cancer. I know many more guys who’ve been through the prostate operation than guys who’ve had cancer. So I think this book is slightly unusual in focusing on the lesser issue than the greater.
What was the most challenging part of writing this book?
Balancing out the different voices: the slightly jokey blog posts, the more serious diary and ‘God Notes’ (stuff I wrote to God during the time) and Dave’s story, which also appeared as blog posts originally. But in general this was a good deal easier to put together than the children’s book had been. I’d be interested to know what you thought about the prayer angle of the book.
I valued – and was challenged by – the raw honesty of the prayers. And I appreciated the way that you tried to mimic in print life’s own ‘natural’ integration of medical issues, emotions, humor, sex, and God. What have you learned from this experience – both the experience of living with prostate troubles and the experience of writing about them?
Ask questions. Medical people deal with so many different illnesses they tend to only answer things that are necessary. Be persistent with your doctor, don’t let him or her fob you off. New Zealand doctors are better than some overseas ones – in the UK, for instance, it seems from anecdotal information that GPs are less likely to concern themselves with men and their prostate needs, and may even be quite uninformed. If you’re a man, it’s likely you’ll need to deal with some prostate issue at some time. Forewarned is forearmed.
Why did you choose to go the e-book route? How have you found the process to be?
I went this way because I knew I could get it published more readily. Print publishing in New Zealand is difficult these days, as it is in much of the world, and it’s also a long process even if your book is accepted. Some of the e-book technical challenges seemed overwhelming at first, but there are books to guide you (both Kindle and Smashwords have very detailed style books available for free). Furthermore, the cost factor is considerably less and you’re not left holding a bundle of unsold stock with e-books. Their shelf life is indefinite, unlike many printed books.
What are you working on now? Is there another book in the pipeline?
I’m planning to write a ‘sequel’ to Grimhilda! How it will relate to the previous book is the question at the moment. I have my ideas, my co-writer (Cherianne Parks, who worked on Grimhilda! with me) has other ideas; there are things I believe should be in it, but whether they fit the mix is another matter. I’d like to see it finished by the end of the year. Cherianne isn’t sure that’s realistic!
Thank you Mike. This has been fun.
Thank you too, Jason, for the chance to talk about it further.