Thursday, May 17, 2018

THE DISTANT FUTURE?

I cannot help thinking about global warming, climate change, countries developing nuclear weapons, Muslim terrorism, random shootings, etc. and wondering what will happen.  In Incident in Geneva I decided to use myself as the protagonist and the novel to determine what would or could result from these potential catastrophes. So I, thinly disguised as Professor Charles Handler, and his wife, residents of a tiny hamlet in Northwestern Connecticut, find themselves on a train in Switzerland. They are coming from a visit with a colleague in Zurich heading to see family in France before returning home. En route, Charles plans to tour the Hadron Collider in Geneva, considered to be the world’s largest machine.  While there a freak explosion propels Charles into an alternate universe, where he finds himself back in Connecticut five hundred years into the future.  The people are survivors of a thermonuclear war and a worldwide pandemic.  Society, political structure, religion, and customs have all radically changed. Many of the social changes appear to be beneficial while others are baffling and difficult from him to accept until he learns that everyone has been genetically modified to eliminate aggressive behavior and greed. Charles is accepted into society until a warrant for his arrest from the World Court leads to his arrest on charges of attempted manslaughter of the Human Race.

How these many problems are resolved or addressed make interesting reading as you contemplate their possibility or probability.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Readers and Writers

I think all writers are serious readers. Some of them may be checking the competition or looking for ideas, but I believe they all read for pleasure. I’ve always been an avid reader. Since my retirement in 1989, I read (listen to) about three books a week, usually novels.

Many detective, thriller, and spy types are so predictable that by the time I finish the second paragraph I can guess the ending. My preferences are stories that deal with universal concepts. The books cited below are examples that meet these criteria.

Cider House Rules by John Irving relates how young Homer Wells grows up under the tutelage of Doctor Wilbur Larch, the obstetrician and abortionist at St. Cloud’s Orphanage in Maine.

John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath is the story of poor Oklahoma farmers trying to escape the Dust Bowl by migrating to California.

In the Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver, three families in Appalachia lead lives entwined with each other.

Voices in the Ocean by Susan Casey is a nonfiction gem that describes the lives of dolphins and how they interacted with humans since ancient times.

Irma Joubert, Afrikaans novelist has written Girl from the Train, the touching story of two disparate characters, six-year old Gretl, the sole survivor of a train bound for Auschwitz and Jakob, a Polish freedom fighter, Jakob finds Gretl and cares for her before arranging for her safe life in South Africa. But they never forget each other.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee is the saga of seven generations of Koreans striving to survive under the domination of the Japanese who despise them.

You do not have to read these books. I only list them as examples of wonderful stories of the human condition. Our book club has read and enjoyed some of them.





Thursday, April 26, 2018

BROTHERS



A toxic relationship between two brothers with tragic consequences continues to be a subject of particular interest in many cultures. From Cain and Abel to The Brothers Karamazov, hostility developing between brothers still elicits an emotional response somewhat akin to murder. Perhaps this is because fraternal love that changes to hate is almost as difficult to comprehend as the deliberate taking of a human life.

I decided to write about two brothers in the modern era who experience such a change. With my background in infectious disease, the Ebola pandemic raging in West Africa serves as a critical episode in their lives. This novel is clearly character-driven. Once the two protagonists appear, they take over and write the story.

Howard and Frank Frazer grow up in Hartford, Connecticut, raised by a loving mother who tries to impart moral behavior.  Their father is killed in an industrial accident when the boys are young.  They have an affectionate relationship until puberty, when their paths take different directions. Howard is basically a do-gooder helping everyone, while Frank is more self-centered. Situations occur that radically change Howard’s feelings for Frank to hate, but initially Frank doesn’t care. I believe that the way their lives unfold to a dramatic conclusion should make interesting reading. See my website for more information. The novel is called The Ebola Connection.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

A COOKBOOK ?

A cookbook, why not? I have been cooking and baking for more than half a century. I titled the book First Steal A Chicken, an old joke about the Hungarian recipe for chicken soup, which starts: First, steal a chicken. The Romanian version is: First, get someone to buy you a chicken. My attempt at humor in food preparation is not unique. For a few belly laughs, read Charles Lamb’s A Dissertation Upon Roast Pig. Please excuse the pun.

I collected hundreds of recipes from friends, neighbors, chefs, newspapers, magazines, books, and the Internet. Some are even my own concoctions.  I tried to credit the source e.g. Ann Seranne’s Rib Roast of Beef, Diane’s Brisket, Hilde’s Mom’s Lemon Pound Cake, and Paul’s Cumberland Sauce. I tested most of the recipes and rejected some that didn’t taste good or were too complicated. All types were included from appetizers to desserts. There were Chinese, European, Southern, early American, etc. I never published the book but printed a few copies for family and friends. Later I decided that if there was to be a 2nd edition, there would be some rejections and inclusions, but that never happened.

I love cooking and baking bread. My kids, now grown, Diane, David, and Jonathan, are all good cooks to the considerable satisfaction of their spouses.


Cooking can be a creative enterprise like painting, sculpture, and writing. Each of those requires considerable effort, but the reward is the pleasure that comes from the satisfaction or delight of the taster, viewer, or reader. This pleasure comes in arithmetic progression in that the more tasters, viewers, or readers, the greater the pleasure.

Friday, April 20, 2018

MARY ENGEL - A BENEVOLENT LIFE



I wanted to get a dog. Our home had been burglarized, and we needed protection. I learned of a woman who raised Dobermans and went to see her. Her name was Mary Engel, and her bitch had just whelped so she had some puppies. Mary sold me a puppy, and when I brought her home, I named her Heidi. As she grew, Heidi proved to be an excellent guard dog and my close companion.

During the 12 years Heidi lived with us, Connie and I occasionally encountered Mary at social occasions or cultural events. She was a psychology professor at City College, approaching retirement, and introduced us to some of her friends. One or two of these friends told me of Mary’s unusual background.

Mary was born in Budapest to a wealthy Jewish family. She was named Marika, Hungarian for Mary. Her mother was a socialite and largely neglected her. Mary’s father was an American who distributed films in Hungary. Mary attended Catholic school and endured virulent anti-Semitism. When Mary was fourteen, her mother committed suicide and not long after, her father died of a heart attack.

With the onset of the Holocaust, Mary lived with friends, one of whom could forge documents. To avoid starvation, the girls sold those documents, which Mary distributed to Jews escaping the death camps. Captured and arrested by the Hungarian Nazis, Mary was condemned to death only to be rescued at the last minute by the invading Russian army.

At sixteen Mary immigrated to New York and lived with an Uncle. She attended college, majored in psychology, and eventually earned her doctorate. She became the second woman professor at Harvard University and was appointed to an important government position. In these years, Mary had several unhappy marriages.


On a visit to Hungary, Mary found an old friend who had loved her, brought him back to America where they soon married. Unfortunately, Mary became ill and died only a few weeks later. Dismayed by her tragic death, I decided to write Mary’s story, a partially fictionalized biography called Marika. I hope that some of you will read more about the book on my website.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

GRANT, A SUPER BIOGRAPHY

Biographies have seldom been my first choice of a book, until I read Grant by Ron Chernow. Clearly America’s greatest biographer, Chernow brings to life one of America’s greatest generals, and finest, but underappreciated presidents.

Ulysses S. Grant, a Midwesterner, graduated from West Point and entered the army as a second Lieutenant. He distinguished himself in the Mexican War, but resigned from the army in disgrace with accusations of drunkenness. Grant reentered the army in the Civil War and rose rapidly to the rank of General. The civil war was America’s bloodiest, the numbers of killed and wounded exceeding those in World War I, World War II, Korean War, and Mexican War combined. Grant prevailed in the battle of Shiloh and the Vicksburg campaign, endearing himself to Lincoln to become his most trusted general and the strategic genius of the war. Grant’s two-term presidency was beset by corruption and scandal, but he sought freedom and justice for black Americans and worked to crush the KKK. After his presidency, he wrote his memoirs with the aid of Mark Twain. Grant’s successful struggle with alcoholism gives the reader a deeper understanding of the man.

I found Grant to be a fascinating book. It remains a best seller. I too have written a biography. It is about a young girl who emerges from the horrors of the Holocaust, to become a prominent psychologist anxious and able to help children. Watch for my next Blog.

Friday, April 6, 2018

STORY STARTERS

        People sometimes ask me where I get the ideas for my stories. Some authors plot a story and then find the character while other authors start with a character and sort of let the character write the story. With the exception of three of my short stories, I usually rely on my imagination, often playing the “what if” game. For example, I’m in a market and bump into a woman causing her to drop her purchases. As we both bend down to pick them up, I notice that she has an unusual tattoo on her wrist. What if she is a…?
        The three exceptions referred to above were actual events I experienced and used in short stories. One of these was my adventures in a large New York City department store. The second was what happened to me riding a New York City police horse, and the third was when I was mistakenly censured for flying over the White House. In one of my novels, Incident in Geneva, I patterned the protagonist after myself in describing what I thought life might be five hundred years from now.
I was not always old and blind. Except for the last fifteen years, my vision was 20/20. It was only when my copilot in the Civil Air Patrol mentioned that my landings were getting bumpy and tactfully suggested I see an ophthalmologist who told me my flying days were over.
As a medical school professor I wrote a number of medical and scientific books and many articles in scientific journals. I never learned touch-typing, but I could “hunt and peck” at a pretty good rate. My non-scientific writings began with poetry, which came easy to me. I wrote a book of poems, which I never published. Nobody buys poetry, but people like my poems, and now I post them on Facebook.
After I retired from Columbia, I found a second career as an expert witness, continuing to type my opinions until my vision failed. My last two nonfiction books where Understanding Infectious Disease (Mosby 1992) and The Biomedical Scientist as Expert Witness (ASM Press 2005). This last book continues to sell a few copies. My first attempt at fiction was Stranger in Time, which I self-published in 2010. It took me less than a year to write, but when I became blind I was obliged to utilize professional typists. This turned out to be a pleasant experience as I enjoy interacting with them.
Books have always played an important part of my life. Most authors are enthusiastic readers. As a kid, I read under the covers with a flashlight and continue to be an ardent reader. I read two or three books a week. After losing my vision, I’m able to continue with audio books.