Michael MacDonald, Ph.D. – Author Interview

What is your most recent book? Tell us a bit about it.

My new book is entitled, Unbelievable Pain Control: How to Heal and Recover from Chronic Pain and Fibromyalgia. It is a book based on my almost 25 years of experience helping individuals with various forms of chronic or long term pain.

Unbelievable Pain Control is really three books in one.

Book One is inspired by an incredible true story of a dentist who willingly undergoes major surgery, without anesthesia. Three patients in a chronic pain program hear about this story, unexpectedly encounter this fellow patient and learn about how unbelievable pain control can help them with their pain.

Book Two shows you how these patients have healed and recovered from their chronic pain. This book details the many lessons and real-life secrets they learn from this dentist, and from each other, as they progress through the hospital pain program.

Book Three shows you how doctors and scientists from all over the world are helping people with chronic pain. This section features doctors in pain, amazing international organizations, the world’s top pain researchers and a review of the many exciting new developments in this field.

Tell us something about yourself.

I work as a rehabilitation psychologist. Over 90% of my patients suffer from long-term pain and related injuries caused by car and work accidents. Their injuries are real and physical. As a psychologist, my day-to-day work involves helping individuals to cope and manage with injuries and disabilities that medicine has not been able to cure. These injuries create significant stresses and losses in individual’s lives and that is the reason why they come to see me.

Most of my previous writing has involved research or scientific papers. This is part of my training as a psychologist. The other main form of writing has been, and continues to be, doing long reports for lawyers for my patients that have been injured in car and work accidents.

Unbelievable Pain Control is my first project of a self-help nature. I should say that this is my first completed work. Over the past ten years or so I have been working on other writing projects. One book that is approximately half way finished will probably involve a title such as Unbelievably Real. It will be designed to help the same group of individuals as my current book. Several years ago I got more interested in my current project and it sort of took over my writing. Fortunately my enthusiasm continued and I was able to finish this book. I am quite happy with it.

As I explained above, I am a psychologist with a special interest in rehabilitation and helping individuals to cope with long term injuries, disabilities, and especially pain. This has followed from my training, even in the early days of graduate school. I completed my Masters and Ph.D. degrees at the University of Western Ontario in 1985 and have been doing this type of work ever since.

Currently my wife (who is also a psychologist) and I own a small group practice. In London, Ontario, Canada. This is a great community for this type of work. We work closely with medical specialists, and a variety of health care providers, all of whom have a special interest in helping people who live every day in pain. It is a very supportive community for patients and professionals. London, Ontario is a city of about 350,000 people. We have a large university and large community college which is a big help in this type of work. We are also fortunate to have several hospitals and a thriving health care community.

When I am not writing, or hanging out with my family, I have a keen interest in playing hockey as well as other sports. When I have time I like to run and occasionally ski in the winter time.

What inspired you to write this book?

I have been involved in several writing projects over the years. This particular book sparked my interest because of an idea that took hold of me. I knew of a dentist from a nearby town and had met him years ago at a conference. He is fairly well known for his remarkable feats. For example, he initially underwent major abdominal surgery without any anaesthesia. He documented this incredible accomplishment in a scientific journal several years ago. Subsequently he also videotaped his own efforts to undergo major dental surgeries without anaesthesia.

The idea that took hold of me was the question of what might happen if individuals who live every day in pain, and are often overwhelmed by the severity of their pain, heard of such accomplishments. How would they react? Would they become angry and deny that such accomplishments are possible? Would they be amazed and want to learn the secrets of this doctors courage and strength? These are all the questions and issues that I explore in the first part of my book.

I also have been inspired by business books, such as Who Moved My Cheese, by Spenser Johnson. This is a simple story, told in parable form, which illustrates how individuals can cope with changes that have been forced upon them. This form of story telling can be very helpful in explaining complicated topics in an entertaining way. So I took the amazing accomplishments and the parable format and put them together in a story that I thought might be helpful to people who live every day in pain and want to have a greater understanding and possible control over their pain and suffering. It is really these ideas that came together and inspired me to write this book.

How did you publish this book?

For several years I tried to find a publisher or agent to take on this project. Unfortunately, I met with no success. Part of the reasons for my rejections involved the small size of the specialized market. I have a strong feeling that other reasons related to the unconventional format of my book.

So I decided to publish Unbelievable Pain Control on my own. I set up a business, called Michael Renford Books. I also used some professional help. Debbie Eliksen (Freelance Communications), who works out of Calgary, Alberta, acted as an editor and project manager for this book. Debbie was a big help and a very positive influence.

What do you believe is the hardest part of writing?

Actually I find the writing part fairly easy. Usually my mind is buzzing with ideas and the hardest part is finding the time to get my ideas into the computer(or now into my new blog, Chronic Pain Letter). What has surprised me is how time consuming the marketing has been. It is not hard to find good ideas of how to market your book. Actually John Kremers’ book, 1001 Ways to Market Your Book is crammed full of great ideas. His website Bookmarket.com also has many free downloads, mailing and e-mail lists, and many useful resources. The problem comes from realizing that there are so many good ideas but so little time. It is fascinating though. I am also learning about social media marketing – also very exciting.

How do you do research for your books?

Well, my research really comes from two basic sources. The scientific research component usually involves internet searches through library based databases. Almost any article published anywhere in the world can be accessed (often for free).

The second component of research involves taking a close look at the difficulties that my patients experience as well as their triumphs, in my day to day interviews and work. One of the benefits of being a psychologist is I get to spend a lot of time with each person and to understand their injuries and their lives in detail. Often doctors and specialists only get to spend a few minutes with each person. I get to spend an hour each time I visit with them. This provides me with a wealth of information not just about long term pain but also about the many ways in which it has affected individual’s lives.

What are you reading now?

I tend to read fiction as well as non-fiction books. Two recent non-fiction books I have read are Superfreakonomics (I also read the original Freakonomics) and The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge. Both were fascinating and at times irreverent. The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman was also full of good ideas. I am reading a light noir fiction book by Jose Latour, called Crime of Fashion. It is quite good as was his previous book Havanna Best Friends. I also like to read anything I can get my hands on by William Gibson and Ian McEwan.

Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?

As I mentioned above, I am half way through another book, which will probably be titled Unbelievably Real. It is more of a traditional self-help book, again devoted to helping people who live every day in pain. This current book has a mixed format involving stories, references, self-help and research updates. The new book will be more conventional, focusing on three basic steps for coping with long term injuries – reclaiming your credibility, dealing wit pain flare ups, and managing the stresses that can aggravate your pain.

What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?

I am fairly new to writing but will give some of my thoughts. I found it very helpful to work with Debbie Eliksen and appreciated the depth of her knowledge about writing and publishing. I understand that she has been involved in over fifty book projects.

Over the years I have also read many books about writing and publishing. This is no substitute for real experience. One of the things I did pick up, which seemed to help me, was how the industry has been changing and how difficult it is for many writers to find publishers or agents. There are many variables involved in the acceptance of a book project, over and above the overall quality of the writing. There are many economic factors, social factors, trends, size of market for each book and competition, to name just a few. This background research helped me to be fairly realistic about writing and dealing with the marketplace.

What are you doing to promote your latest book?

I have found this part fascinating as well as very time consuming. I have started a blog www.chronicpainletter.com to try to provide some ongoing new information about this same field as well as to try to draw some attention to my work and some of the controversies in the field. I have learned how to write press releases. This is not very difficult actually and there is much information available for free on the web. Soon I will delve more heavily into social media, another fascinating social trend.

Where can readers learn more about you and your book?

The website I mentioned above is full of details about my book as well as details about chronic pain and fibromyalgia. Readers can find a more detailed description of the topics of the book, table of contents, as well as lots of free information. There are also large biographical and media sections (and links).

Readers of this column are also welcome to write to me with any thoughts, ideas, questions or interview requests at Michael@Renfordbooks.com.