Top 10 of 2013

December 31, 2013

The blog From the TBR Pile has chosen RACE ACROSS THE SKY as a Top 10 Book of 2013. What a great way to close out 2013. Thanks to all of you who’ve read and spread the word about this novel.

Book Clubs, or Book Groups?

November 20, 2013

I have had the immense pleasure of meeting many book clubs. Or is it book groups? Gangs, maybe?

Either way, it’s been an amazing experience to see how different readers, of different ages, living in different areas of the country, are getting the same meaning and emotion from the book. I am learning things far beyond the typical review. Lots of love for Janelle, a character no professional review has mentioned. Lots of discussion about Caleb’s hallucination on the mountain. And of who sacrifices more, Shane or Caleb?

As the book is no longer on the New Fiction tables, it counts on the love and support of book clubs, to spread the word, to friends, relatives, and book store managers. It is beyond gratifying to see that happening, to receive emails from readers.

Please do know that I am happy to join any club, group, clutch, coterie, gathering, crew, clique, or party–on Skype, a call, or in person. The Contact page can set that all up.

And thank you for your support of Caleb, Shane, June and Lily.

HuffPost piece: casting drug companies as villains, when they are full of heroes.

October 23, 2013

The Caleb story in RACE ACROSS THE SKY seems to get more attention in reviews than the Shane story. Yet readers tell me that they enjoy both halves of the novel equally. So yesterday I published a piece on HuffPost Books focusing on the other issues in this book: how drug company employees, almost always portrayed as the villain in a book or movie, are heroes to me.

The Bad Guys

I don’t mean to blow the ending of your book or movie for you, but it’s very possible that the villain is a drug company.

In today’s entertainment, they are the bad guys.

And why not? They are complex, profit-driven multinational corporations, whose hands can be seen in conspiracies all over the globe. That’s the stuff of villainy.

Drug companies play the role today that tobacco companies played a decade ago. But there may be a consequence worth noting: are we biasing a generation against an industry which saves lives?

The designation of evil from the entertainment industry is extremely powerful. The writers of the Superman radio program are credited with helping turn a generation against the Ku Klux Klan, when they made them Superman’s enemy.

You don’t hear many people these days proudly announcing, ‘I’m going to work for a tobacco company!’ The resulting talent drain in that industry is, I’m guessing, significant. One thing I learned researching my novel on biomedicine companies is that if this happened to them, it would be tragic. Because our futures depend on them.

Last week, GlaxoSmithKline announced that it has developed the world’s first malaria vaccine. Malaria kills 1.2 million people a year. Every minute, a child dies of malaria. And half the world’s population is at risk of malaria as the mosquitoes carrying it spread. Eradicating malaria has been a top, if not the top, global health goal for a century.

This week, the New York Times announced that new cancer drugs have put us “at the start of a new era in cancer medicine.” Patients who were not better after traditional treatments are finding remission from pills rather than the destruction of chemotherapy and radiation.

The men and women at these companies, from startups of five people, to the big biotech players, come to work each day with the dream — in fact the intent — to solve disease. They work for years on one project, knowing their odds of ever seeing it produced are astronomically small. But still, they dedicate their lives to ending the diseases of our time.

Now, the drug company as villain ending has justifications. Major justifications. There have been chilling, sickening examples.

GlaxoSmithKline admitted bribing doctors to encourage the prescription of unsuitable antidepressants to children. “The company encouraged sales reps in the U.S. to mis-sell three drugs to doctors and lavished hospitality and kickbacks on those who agreed to write extra prescriptions… Paxil …was promoted as suitable for children and teenagers despite trials that showed it was ineffective.”

Merck’s drug Vioxx may have caused up to caused between 140,000 heart attacks in the five years the drug was on the market.

A new paper suggests that Merck hid evidence that Vioxx tripled the risk of cardiovascular death for more than three years before taking Vioxx off the market, while taking in $2.5 billion in sales a year.

Ghostwriting — when drug companies hire people to write glowing pieces about their drugs under the bylines of experts — is a tactic that many believe should be illegal. The practice of paying doctors to prescribe medications undermines our trust in our physicians.

If someone you loved died from a Vioxx induced heart attack, or attempted suicide after being given unapproved antidepressants, or was given the wrong antibiotic by a doctor who was accepting payments for her prescription, then you don’t want to hear about drug companies being heroic.

But if you’re one of the patients now cancer-free after years of agony, or you live in Malaria-stricken Africa and have watched children die, then you very well may.

The people who go to work in their labs every day are searching for new ways to treat autism, Parkinson’s, and the lesser-known diseases that so many people find themselves facing. Their names will never be known outside their industry. The drug they have devoted a decade to will probably die in clinical trials. Their failures are tragic. Their successes life-saving. That is the stuff of heroes.

And therefore it is the stuff of drama.

So drug companies are potent settings for fiction (and non-fiction). But when we make them our go-to villain, the effect on those consuming these stories can be serious. It biases a generation against an industry that needs new blood, as we run out of antibiotics, and discover new technologies.

And when we read about this week’s accomplishments, it seems to me we are reading about the good guys.

By the way, no drug company paid me to write this.

Derek Sherman is the author of RACE ACROSS THE SKY (August 2013, Plume/Penguin Books), the story of two estranged brothers–an ultramarathoner and a biotechnology drug rep–who unite to save a baby.

‘A debut novel that blows me away…’ a rave in Night Owl Reviews

October 21, 2013

Race Across the Sky

It’s always nice to read a debut novel that blows me away, and in Derek Sherman’s case, with his first novel, Race Across the Sky, he has had that affect. This novel really did blow me away. It was written so well and the author really brought his character’s to life. I was surprised he was able to switch between the characters so well and portray them so realistically. Another thing that surprised me was the author’s way of sharing what he learned about running cults and biotechnology without giving a lecture to the reader. Bits and pieces of his research came through in the story so well without causing me to lose interest or feel like I was all of a sudden in a classroom. The characters in the story need to know these things, and believe me, they know them as they should.

Aside from the character Mack, the characters in this story were very likable. I just fell in love with them – Caleb, June, Lily, Shane, Janelle and even Dr. Acharn. Now I’m always going to remember that doctor and the strange way he smoked his cigarettes – and it was funny how he’d be smoking one moment, turning around to hack up a lung in another moment, then continue smoking again as if nothing happened. My heart went out to the character, Lily. I wasn’t surprised that Caleb loved that little girl so much that he was willing to risk his life for her. Mack is the “evil guru” in this story. I didn’t like him very much. He was crazy! There were many scenes with Mack that had me rolling my eyes and muttering, “That guy is nuts.” I DID get a little mad over how he instructed June on changes to make to her baby’s diet and sleep schedule – I actually wanted to shake him and scream that a baby needs more than two meals a day – but this was not a surprise coming from him. I had to admit I was a little sad that Caleb and June were so brainwashed by Mack that they thought their set-up was a good deal. Why would they not want to get away from that? Mack controlled their lives. And while Mack said they were free to leave at any time, the truth was, they weren’t. And Caleb may not have realized that Mack was using him to achieve notoriety for himself. Caleb was Mack’s star runner, his ticket to fame and fortune. Before I read this novel, I was not aware of running cults. While I’m all for an active, healthy lifestyle, and while that dormant runner in me had me cheering the characters on during their runs, it’s unfortunate that there are running groups have elevated such a lifestyle to cult status and ruined the sport for people.

Despite something tragic that happens at the end of this story, Race Across the Sky was a really good novel. It was an engrossing, powerful story that I had a hard time putting down. This story definitely held my interest and it affected me so profoundly that I would not soon forget it. Race Across the Sky is a great novel for anybody who enjoys suspense, mystery and medical thrillers. I enjoyed reading this book and look forward to seeing more good books from this author.

Caleb Oberest thinks his life is perfect being a member of the Happy Trails Running Club. Despite having no contact with friends or family, no cell phone, no bank account or even his own home, Caleb spends his days running for hours and living by the strict standards of the group, which pretty much includes 4 hours of sleep and two meals a day. Then young Lily enters the picture, a child with a fatal disease that could mean she’ll be dead in three years. Caleb falls in love with Lily’s mother, June, and loves Lily so much that he realizes he would do anything to save her – even if it meant leaving behind the life he’d grown to love for 10 years and risking it all for a cure. But can Caleb get Lily to this cure in time? It literally becomes a “race for a cure” to save Lily and escape from the cult that will stop at nothing to get him back.

New City rave review

September 25, 2013

A great review from New City.

RECOMMENDED You’ll be running through the chapters of Derek Sherman’s debut novel “Race Across the Sky.” An addicting read, the “Race Across the Sky” unveils the effort of two estranged brothers to save the life of an infant suffering from a terminal genetic disorder. Both find themselves risking everything they have in a poignant story about conviction, family and what it means to sacrifice one’s life out of love. It would be a shallow conclusion to say this novel is about running. It is merely a context that is naturally beholden to the theme of sacrifice. “Race Across the Sky” aligns two radically different worlds: ultramarathoning and corporate pharmaceuticals. Ultramarathoning, an extreme sport that requires runners to race distances well over the standard 26.2 mile marathon, is the niche culture from which Shane, a new father and salesman for one of America’s most powerful biotech companies, wants to save his brainwashed brother Caleb. Ten years previously, Caleb had left his Manhattan consulting job to join Happy Trails Running Club, an ultramarathoner commune outside of Boulder, Colorado, lorded over by one of the sport’s most notorious gurus, Mack. A wiry, bearded and uncanny crackerjack of a man, Mack’s personality attracts runners from around the world to train under his draconian but grandmaster tutelage. After years of minimal contact, Shane receives a letter asking him to visit Caleb at the retreat where he’s introduced to the ultramarathon world that consumes Caleb and those who have also become addicted to the need to run. Physical purity, mental transcendence, tapping into a kind of athlete’s samsara through the pain of running up and down 13,000-foot mountains: these are the benefits of ultramarathoning that its junkies use to explain they’re not crazy. And outside of their small community of enthusiasts, they have to do that frequently. When Caleb introduces Shane to his lifestyle—which includes six-hour daily runs, a perfectly engineered diet, reiki and hash healing circles, all strictly coordinated by Mack—he also introduces him to a secret he’s been hiding. Against Mack’s code of no emotional relationships within the house, Caleb has fallen in love with a woman whose child was born with Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency, a rare genetic disorder with no cure. The newborn has only years to live. Shane returns home to his pregnant wife and connives a plan to force his brother to leave Happy Trails, but it’s at this point that the story begins to unravel at a pace that will keep your heart rate up. Sherman, the creative director at Cramer-Krasselt here in Chicago, wrote the novel over an eight-year period on his train commute from Lake Forest to the Loop. “I didn’t know I was writing a book, I was just writing down a story,” he explained in an interview. For the author’s first piece of fiction, the story has moments of masterfully crafted conflict and an extremely creative introspection into worlds most know little about: ultramarathoning, pharmaceutical politics, Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency and the broadly expanding horizon of biotechnology, the practice of engineering an organism’s natural biological makeup, like DNA, to produce controlled artificial effects. So why place a story about love, sacrifice and corporate politics in the context of ultramarathons? Says Sherman, “It’s such a dramatic world that is very difficult to understand. I like to write about what I don’t know. I wanted to know that kind of will power and overcoming of pain. It’s in a sense metaphoric for our society, where it’s a game to take anything and make it extreme. Everyone is working harder, pushing themselves further. And I was interested in the good that can come out of it, both in biotech and ultramarathoning.” How the disparate lifestyles of the main characters collide when these two worlds are brought together is what makes “Race Across the Sky” such an entertaining read. How love must be found through their sacrifices makes the story an endearing read. You’ll enjoy the emotional race he’s designed. (Charlie Puckett)

Chicago Tribune’s piece and review

September 9, 2013

Thank you, Chicago Tribune, Courtney Crowder, and Printer’s Row for such a fantastic story.

“The extremes that make us who we are.”

August 30, 2013

Lovely to read this review from BookAholics:

“This book is about family, and love, and parenthood, and childhood, and obsession, and the extremes that we humans will go to in order to reconcile all of the above, and how they make us who we are.”

WGN Superstation features RACE ACROSS THE SKY

August 27, 2013

What a thrill to be featured alongside Audrey Niffenegger in WGN’s piece on Ragdale. Our book and I get a good amount of time. Thanks to Larry Potash, Ragdale, and everyone who included me in this great story.

Cleveland Plain Dealer Rave Review

August 15, 2013

Thank you, Cleveland Plain Dealer–the first major book review. Thanks for taking the time to review this book. And for your very kind words. “Suspenseful, taut and tender, this is highly original work well wrought.”

River City Reading Review: “Race Across the Sky is original, beautifully executed and should be in the hands of as many readers as possible.”

August 7, 2013

I thought I would share a nice review.

While Race Across the Sky may seem like a novel about marathon runners and drug companies, its core is much deeper and more intricate.

Sherman manages to use two science-centered topics to hold up the inner workings of his book; themes of family, morality, and truth, which make the story feel incredibly human. As the novel progresses, it becomes clear that Sherman has a talent for finding and highlighting the beauty in small, seemingly insignificant moments that others might miss.

Despite the fact that I am definitely not a runner or a scientist, I found myself begging for just one more chapter through my whole reading experience. Though their situations and lives are extreme, Sherman’s characters feel undoubtedly real and they are hard to let go of. Race Across the Sky is an original, well researched and beautifully executed debut that should be in the hands of as many readers as possible.

Barnes & Noble Westfield Mall Book of the Month

August 4, 2013

We just heard that the big Barnes & Noble Westfield Mall in Vernon Hills, IL has selected RACE ACROSS THE SKY as their August Book of the Month. This means the book will get its own table at the store, starting next week. Thanks again to Barnes & Nobles everywhere for their incredible support. Including the reviews on their website’s page for the book.

Amazon ‘intriguing new voices in fiction’.

August 2, 2013

Amazon is listing RACE ACROSS THE SKY on their debut fiction page, under the heading “intriguing new voices in fiction.” Now, that’s intriguing. Thanks to Amazon.

Publication Day: The book is out now.

August 1, 2013

You can now find Race Across the Sky at all Barnes & Noble’s New Releases tables, at airport Hudson and Barbara’s Bookstores, your local independent bookstore, Amazon, and many other places you might go. On the Contact page, you can set up a call or Skype with your book group. Let me know what you think. And thank you for your support.

Huffington Post piece

July 17, 2013

There’s an article on the themes of RACE CROSS THE SKY on HuffPost today.

Nice piece on the book

July 6, 2013

Forest & Bluff Magazine did a nice story on the book. People seem to be interested in the fact that it was written on the Metra commuter train from Lake Forest to Chicago. It’s true: when they created Quiet Cars with no cell phones or talking, I went from finishing one to three pages of work a day.

First Review: Booklist

June 2, 2013

The first review is here. Took a nice Black Maple Hill to be able to actually read it, but all is well.The unedited review is at Booklistonline.

Booklist Review
Adult Books – Fiction – General Fiction
Race Across the Sky.
Sherman, Derek (author).
July 2013. 384p. Plume, paperback, $16 (9780452299061).
First published May 20, 2013 (Booklist Online).

A touching love story forms the backbone of this first novel, while thought-provoking details of clinical drug development and communal living flesh out the drama. Ultimately, though, it’s the characters that make this surprising juxtaposition of worlds such an engaging read.— Cortney Ophoff

Gazebo News Article

June 1, 2013

Thank to Jenny Quill and Gazebo News for writing the first story on the book. Check it out at:
Also, there’s a story about ducks.

Listen to an interview with Early Word

May 26, 2013

Hi. There’s a quick interview about the book on Early Word.

Then, on June 12th at 4pm EST please feel free to join a live Q&A chat hosted by Early Word at the same address.

Advertising is Art

May 10, 2013

A lot of people are saying things to me along the lines of, ‘if this novel is successful, you can leave advertising.’ First of all, it’s not true. But second of all, why would you want to do that?

People outside of advertising seem to have a hard time seeing what we do as art. For obvious reasons: the ads they see every day. But we don’t judge the artistic worth of music by the Top 10 we hear every day, of literature by the books we see most often at the airport, of street art by the gang tags we pass on the way to the train.

I think the reason for people’s surprise at the idea that advertising is art, is their lack of exposure to the very best of it.

Like any art form, advertising must create an idea and execution that is compelling. Emotional. Surprising. That teaches you something about yourself. Makes a statement about our world. And leaves you changed a little bit. I’d say it achieves this with about the same hit-or-miss ratio as music, gaming, film, poetry, tv, and fiction. Probably more than poetry.

It also needs to do that across a range of media. And on top of this, it must convince you to go out and spend money on an item you might not need.

Here’s a list of a few recent pieces of advertising that are art. And are in themselves an answer to this question of ‘if this book is successful, will you leave advertising?’ Which is to say, ‘no.’

”A provocative, meticulously-crafted and wholly original debut.”
-James P. Othmer, author of The Futurist

April 7, 2013

I met Jim Othmer, author of the brilliant novel ‘The Futurist’, over email. We discussed novel writing, advertising, and the creative joys of both. Jim offered to read my book, and sent back this great quote to share: 
”RACE ACROSS THE SKY is a provocative, meticulously-crafted and wholly original debut.”
 It’s great to meet you, Jim.