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.


Wednesday, March 28, 2018

A POTPOURRI OF READING ENTERTAINMENT

Do you like short stories? They have the appeal that one gets to meet the protagonist, learn about his or her particular problem, and enjoy the final resolution all in one sitting. I came to like short stories with surprising endings. In my recent book, Bright Figures Sinister Shadows, I have tried to craft stories with a “twist” at the end. Here you will find a man who hears his long dead father’s voice on the phone, and other stories about everyday people who suddenly encounter a time warp, living elves, a mermaid, or an alternate universe leading to bizarre consequences.

Read more about Bright Figures Sinister Shadows on my website www.ellner.com.

Monday, March 19, 2018

CREATING A HEROINE


You have just finished reading a novel you liked. In particular, there was one character who impressed you. As a matter of fact, you identified with him and cared what happened to him in the story.
You may have wondered how the author was able to create such a realistic person.

There are a variety of techniques that authors can employ to make their characters 3-demensional, but sometimes the character comes out of nowhere to insert himself into the story. This is how Kate Morrison, the protagonist (my favorite character) in And Evil Shall Come, came into being.

One evening my wife and I were in bed watching a movie called You’ve Got Mail. It was a cute story about a young man and woman who found each other in a computer chat room and finally met for a happy ending. When the film ended, my wife went to sleep, but I lay awake intrigued by the novelty of the concept. I knew that chat rooms were vehicles designed for online dating and approaching 70 with three grown children that was not my interest. I was curious though to see what one was like.

I tiptoed into the next room where my computer lived and somehow found a chat room. To my surprise a young woman from Nebraska selected me. Her name was Carol A.  She was excited to meet a professor from the east coast where all the intellectuals lived. It quickly became obvious to her that I was not interested in dating. I was enthusiastic to meet a professional woman from the Midwest.  We exchanged names, brief bios, and email addresses. We promised to meet the next evening.  Would she actually contact me? The next night I received an email from Carol asking questions.   We began to correspond. Carol was a reporter for an Omaha agricultural newspaper, with an abusive boyfriend. She dreamed of becoming an investigative reporter for a major newspaper. Over the next nights, weeks, we told each other about our childhood experiences. In time our exchanges became personal. Carol gave me much more than I gave her. She related dreams and even sexual fantasies. She wanted to talk, and it was almost as if I was a surrogate therapist. I admired Carol’s dedication, persistence, and courage.

I now had reams of printouts of our conversations over the months. I decided to use the material and write a book called “Pen Pals”, but soon dropped that idea because it wasn’t exciting enough. During my professional career I was actively involved with the U.S. Public Health Service and had accumulated a great deal of information about biological weapons. That would be the subject of my next novel. It took 11 years and 19 versions to finish the book. I would call my protagonist Kate Morrison and utilize many of Carol’s characteristics as well as a few interesting incidents she had related. Characters in my future novels would be more challenging.



Monday, March 12, 2018

A BIOTERRORISM THRILLER


When Kate Morrison, a young reporter, accidentally comes upon a U.S. Army camp in a desolate area of Nebraska, she is irritated and perplexed by the bizarre treatment she experiences. Kate, who dreams of writing for a major newspaper, investigates and is amazed that the army denies the existence of the camp. As she continues her investigation, she learns that the camp is actually an Al Qaeda operation manufacturing and distributing biological weapons to terrorist groups. Masterminded by a sinister Japanese who has compelled the acquiescence of a U.S. senator, the Al Qaeda carry out biological attacks around the world. Together with FBI Special Agent Matt O’Neill, Kate is able to forestall a biological attack on the U.S. Capital, but the Nation is left in turmoil when a devastating anthrax attack on the auto show in New York City leaves thousands dead. Thousands flee the city in panic when a miniature nuclear bomb is planted in Grand Central Station. In this gripping tale Kate is kidnapped, experiences betrayal, and faces beheading by the Al Qaeda.
Although my novel is fiction, it is based upon the details learned about bioweapons during the years writing the book. I actually visited sites of fictional attacks such as an Israeli kibbutz, an Indian village far up the Amazon in Colombia, a camping area near Washington, D.C. and, of course, the Javitz Center in New York City. Attacks with bioweapons are different in that the target may not know that it has been hit until hours or even days later when large numbers of victims suddenly develop similar symptoms.

Unit 731 really existed and so did General Ishii Shiro. See my previous post on BIOTERRORISM.

You can learn more about this thriller And Evil Shall Come on my website, www.ellner.com. You can even read a four-chapter excerpt. 

Thursday, March 8, 2018

ABOUT BIOTERRORISM


I learned details about bioweapons (BW) as a Public Health Service Officer on special assignment to FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency). FEMA was concerned that federal and military resources were inadequate in the event of a mass casualty disaster. These would include natural occurrences like hurricanes, earthquakes, and epidemics or an attack with nuclear, chemical, or biological agents. I was tasked to recruit, develop, equip, and train civilian volunteer groups of medical personnel, who would function as Disaster Medical Assistance Teams (DMATS). In the event of a disaster, DMATS would be activated, federalized, and transported to a critical area where they would triage and stabilize victims.

The use of biological agents as weapons is not new.  In 1346, Tartars attacked the walled city of Caffa in Crimea.  When cases of Bubonic plague appeared among the Tartars, they catapulted the corpses of the victims into the city to start an epidemic. Genovese sailors stranded in the city escaped and returned to Italy carrying the disease, bringing the dreaded Black Death to Europe.

During the French and Indian War (1756-1763) in Pre Revolutionary America, smallpox broke out among the occupying British troops. Officers ordered blankets from sick or dead soldiers to be distributed to the hostile Indians hoping to decimate the tribes.


The Japanese were the first to methodically study the effects of various pathogenic microorganisms on humans. In 1937, the Japanese occupied Manchuria and set up a camp there known as Unit 731. By the end of WWII, almost everyone in Europe and America became aware of the Nazi death camps like Auschwitz, but Unit 731 was worse than any of them. Surrounded by barbed wire and machine-gun nests, it was a place of horror where human beings were used as guinea pigs for lethal agents. General Ishii Shiro, a Japanese physician, was in charge of the camp where more than 3,000 men, women and children were murdered by using them as experimental subjects for testing. Most of the victims were Chinese who had been convicted, sentenced to death, and sent to Unit 731 in lieu of execution. As the Russians approached the camp, Shiro dropped thousands of infected rats on Chinese communities resulting in 20,000 fatal cases of bubonic plague.

Shiro and his staff were captured and turned over to the Americans for prosecution. Now this will sicken you.  American generals, anxious to learn the results of Shiro’s experiments and determined to keep this data from the Russians, persuaded President Truman to pardon them. The Soviets were no fools and lost no time in establishing a huge organization called Biopreparat devoted exclusively to the development of bioweapons.

Eventually the Americans started researching bioweapons. Fort Detrick in Maryland was a center for researching and developing germ weapons, and the Dugway Proving Ground in Utah was designated as a testing site. Experiments were conducted secretly in the U.S. without informing the subjects. In 1950, ships of the U.S. Navy sprayed a cloud of bacteria over San Francisco and many residents developed pneumonia-like symptoms. Three years later the Army, Navy, and CIA sprayed bacteria over New York City and San Francisco.

In 1966, the U.S. Army dispensed bacteria throughout the New York City subway system.

In 1972, President Nixon signed an Executive Order banning the use and production of biological agents. By the 1980’s, details of the above experiments were de-classified.

Non-fiction books and novels began to appear. Among them: A Higher Form of Killing by Ken Alibek (a defector from Biopreparat), The Cobra Event (Richard Preston), Vector (Robin Cook), Germs: Biological Weapons and America’s Secret War (Judith Miller) and many others.

My novel, And Evil Shall Come, is a thriller based upon much of what I have learned about BW.




Monday, March 5, 2018

CIA CAREER?


I was in Atlanta attending the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology hoping to find a better position. It was1963, and I was an assistant professor at the University of Vermont School of Medicine in Burlington.  The Microbiology Department was small with little opportunity for advancement.  Also, I was lonely since my former wife and daughter Diane were now living in New York.

A stranger approached me and started a casual conversation that somehow morphed into a job offer.  He told me the “agency” could use a man like me. I could tell he was referring to the CIA , and I envisioned myself in Eastern Europe with a pistol and a raincoat. He indicated I would be working as an analyst in Washington D.C. perusing scientific literature.   He explained “if the Russians published a paper describing immunization of humans with an aerosol of flu vaccine, we would be interested and your report might be considered at a high level.” He gave me a contact in Philadelphia and asked me not to discuss our conversation with anyone.

I thought about working for the CIA until the following day when Dr. Harry Rose, Chairman of the Microbiology Department at Columbia’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, interviewed me. He offered me a position there, and I jumped at the opportunity. Also, I would be closer to Diane.

I never called the contact in Philadelphia.

Friday, February 23, 2018

HIATUS ON HILTON HEAD


I am wintering on Hilton Head, a large island in the South Carolina Low Country. With me are my wife Connie, who often doubles as driver, nurse, and typist together with Ray, my faithful multi-talented guide dog.  We come here to escape Connecticut’s bitter temperatures, snow, and black ice that could result in a major fracture. Hilton Head and the Low Country is a unique place with mild winter temperatures, beaches, and an environment that attracts golfers and others from the mid-west and New England. Living here is more modest than Florida until April when the prices rise significantly and snowbirds return home. Liberated slaves who found security and who lived by fishing and farming originally settled it after the Civil War.  They became known as the Gullah because they originally came from Angola.  Among themselves they speak a dialect called Geechee, English spiced with African words, and live in settlements with their own churches. They are friendly and interact freely with visitors, but try to continue crafts such as basket weaving they developed over the years.  There are a number of artists among them.

We enjoy the many restaurants featuring fresh seafood and hush puppies, concerts, and walking the beaches where Ray can run free.

The Low Country was home and haven to Pat Conroy, who became one of the foremost writers our Southern literature.  Born in Atlanta, he was a “military brat” with many siblings and an abusive father, who was a Marine Colonel.  Conroy attended the Citadel, South Carolina’s military college. Many of Conroy’s books were influenced by his growing up in a harsh environment.  Among his outstanding novels are The Great Santini and The Citadel. Other popular ones are Beach Music and The Prince of Tides.. The latter was made into a movie starring Barbra Streisand Nick Nolte. Conroy died in 2016 and his life continues to be celebrated on the Island. 


In a few more weeks, we will start packing for our return to Connecticut.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

A NOVEL ON TIME TRAVEL



One day in 1998 I was sitting in my office when my thoughts strayed to my father, who had died 23 years ago. He was born in 1899 and became a mechanical engineer.  Some of the early technical achievements  of his era included transatlantic radio and the first flight of Orville and Wilbur Wright. What if he came back today? How would he react to the Internet, DNA, cell phones, computers, genetics, ATM’s, and the space station? This led me to think about time travel.

The possibility of time travel has been seriously considered by scientists. Cambridge Professor Steven Hawking concluded that time travel was impossible because of the paradox. This paradox maintains that if a person traveled back in time and murdered his own grandmother, one of his parents would not have been born, and therefore he couldn’t exist.  But apparently that’s not the end of the story. An Israeli scientist found a flaw in Hawking’s argument—something to do with parallel universes.

At any rate, time travel has been a fascinating theme in fiction, starting with Jules Verne’s classic The Time Machine, the humorous A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain, Timeline by Michael Crichton, and many others. I began to write my first novel Stranger in Time.

Suppose Daniel Rowland, a young Connecticut farmer from colonial times, was mysteriously whisked to our present time leaving his wife and unborn child behind. How would he react?  And how would people regard him?

In researching my novel, Stranger in Time, I needed to learn as much as I could about the life and times of colonial Connecticut, the era of Daniel Rowland, my protagonist. My quest began in the Historical Room of the Guilford Free Library where the librarian provided documents and maps of the colonial period.  Next, I explored the old cemetery in Guilford, noting the names and dates on the old tombstones.  For days, I visited some of the historic homes such as the Whitfield House Museum, and wandered around Hammonasset State Park, the site of some colonial farms. During these explorations, the character of the protagonist began to form in my mind as I envisioned the places where Daniel might have lived and the events he could have experienced.

Meetings with the Connecticut State Archaeologist, the Madison Archivist, and the Staff Archaeologist of the Connecticut Historical Commission were all helpful. A numismatist described coins of the colonial era.  I learned much about the Calvinistic beliefs of the Puritans and their services during conversations with the friendly pastor of the First Congregational Church in New Milford. All in all, I enjoyed these activities. The people I met were friendly, enthusiastic, and expressed interest in reading Stranger In Time once I had finished my writing.

Awed by technology and bewildered by the lightning-pace of modern life, Daniel is regarded as an imposter despite his familiarity with obscure details of colonial life. He experiences crime, murder, and medical problems. Unable to return to his wife and unborn child in the distant past, Daniel encounters legal complications when he tries to reclaim his farm lost in the intervening centuries. With an attorney who happened to be one of his descendants, Daniel is helped.

Learn more about Daniel’s adventures in Stranger in Time.



Sunday, February 18, 2018

INTRODUCTION


Visions of a Blind Writer  (VOBW)

Happy President’s Day weekend!
VOBW will be my new BLOG.  Some of you may remember my original BLOG, which intermixed posts of my writing with political statements.  This BLOG will be limited to things literary.
First, an introduction.  After completing three years of medical school at the University of Maryland College of Medicine for my Ph.D. , I resolved to spend my life in medical academia. My first position was as Instructor at the new medical school at the University of Florida. After four exciting years, I became an Assistant Professor at the medical school of the University of Vermont.  Three years later, I accepted an offer at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons where I spent the next twenty-six years moving up the ladder to become Professor of Microbiology and Pathology. I was successful in my lectures to medical and graduate students and post-doctoral fellows. On four occasions, the medical students voted me “Teacher of the Year” and “Outstanding Lecturer”. At the same time, I was the Director of the Clinical Microbiology Service at the Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital. In 1992, I received the prestigious Sonnenwirth Award for Leadership in Clinical Microbiology in the U.S.
Shortly after receiving my doctorate, I accepted a commission as a reserve officer in the U.S. Public Health Service, where I eventually rose to the naval rank of Captain. I was tasked to establish Disaster Medical Assistance Teams in New York and New Jersey. I also lectured on biological weapons to U.S. Navy personnel. Several times, I was called for periods of temporary active duty.
When I retired from Columbia, I worked as a legal consultant in infectious disease testifying as an expert witness in many cases.
Fifteen years ago, I became blind due to age-related macular degeneration, but before losing my vision, I had qualified as a commercial instrument rated pilot and flew search and rescue missions for the Civil Air Patrol.  
My last two non-fiction books are Understanding Infectious Disease and The Biomedical Scientist As Expert Witness. Late in life and always a writer, I began to use my imagination and turned to writing fiction.
More about this soon.