Tuesday, July 17, 2018

PUBLISHING TODAY

        Why do writers write? A few in every generation decide early on they want to be writers, get a Masters in English or Creative Writing and hunt for a do-anything job in a publishing house. Many begin to write in the evening and, after a year or so, complete a novel or a memoir. Some are fortunate to have their effort read. However, only a few may actually get published. One of these writers may become the darling of a publisher, write a book every year, make the N.Y.Times Best Seller list, and live happily ever after. 
         At the beginning of the 21stcentury the publishing industry experienced significant changes. Technology like e-books and Print on Demand became available, bookstores changed ownership, publishing personnel changed jobs, and new presses appeared. Men and women of all occupations with computers and printers decided they had a story to tell and wanted readers. Manuscripts from butchers and bakers, doctors and lawyers and even a professor proliferated like dandelions on a summer lawn, and thousands of unsolicited ones unread filled publisher’s waste paper baskets to overflowing.
            Surely, among those myriads of manuscripts awaiting the shredder, there must be a few gems, which will never be published. I think of a verse from Gray’s Elegy in a Country Churchyardthat goes,

            “Full many a gem of purest ray serene, 
             The dark unfathom'd caves of ocean bear: 
             Full many a flow'r is born to blush unseen, 
            And waste its sweetness on the desert air.”
            
            Literary agents increased in number and self-publishing presses offered frustrated writers the opportunity to “publish” their work. For a healthy sum, such presses will accept a manuscript and produce printed copies of books for the author. Marketing of these books is left to the author who can use them to distribute to friends and family to satisfy his desire for readers. As my wife would say, “It is what it is”. 
            


Wednesday, July 4, 2018

FAMILIES

Connie and I recently attended a family party at my daughter Diane’s home in Westchester County.  She and Ronnie, gracious hosts as always, called her grown offspring to greet us. Two of them with their spouses presented their kids to me, my four great grandsons! The boys regarded me with a lack of interest and promptly ran off to play, leaving me to calculate that I was responsible for a family of 20 souls including six spouses.

I suppose the family first appeared among early humans when a few of them banded together for protection and support. In later eras, love and affection also became motives.

Admiral Richard E. Byrd had lots of time to think about his family while he spent many months alone beneath the Antarctic ice with only a radio for company. In his memoir Alone, he wrote:
At the end only two things really matter to a man, regardless of who he is; and they are the affection and understanding of his family. Anything and everything else he creates are insubstantial; they are ships given over to the mercy of the winds and tides of prejudice. But the family is an everlasting anchorage, a quiet harbor where a man’s ships can be left to swing to the moorings of pride and loyalty.
I wonder if the family will continue to exist in the distant future. Nevertheless, I expect that my family will continue to grow and I hope, to prosper. (I quoted Admiral Byrd in my novel Incident in Geneva.)

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

COPY EDITING

         
The past week has been a busy one. On the 21st, our planet decided to return closer to the Sun again, guaranteeing at least one more fall and winter for us. As an incurable optimist, I am looking forward to a fall with gorgeous foliage and a winter with moderate snow and temperatures for outdoor activities. Hopefully, by that time all the children on the Mexican border will have been restored to their parents. 

       Back to writing. Before sending a manuscript to a publisher, it needs a close review. Copy editing is the process of checking a document for spelling, capitalization, grammar, and punctuation, the nuts and bolts of writing. Almost anyone with a good basic education and a sharp eye can do copy editing. 

         Programs like Word and Pages include checking grammar and spelling. I often utilize a robot program called Edit Minion for copy editing. To use it, I paste the manuscript into the program, which illuminates weak words, preposition endings, unnecessary adjectives, passive voice, etc. in different colors, providing the opportunity for correction. 

         Copy editing is quite different from reviewing a piece of creative writing for style. The latter, called editing, involves a consideration of voice, cliché, plotting, character development, and other aspects of the craft. Editing requires considerable experience and as stated in my previous posts, is often best left to a professional.

Friday, June 8, 2018

A PROFESSIONAL EDITOR

I worked on my second novel, And Evil Shall Come, for more than ten years. It was to be a thriller about biological weapons. The protagonist was an enthusiastic young woman reporter, and I researched the storyline. Creative writing has become competitive with publishers discarding unsolicited manuscripts unread, so mine had to be good.

I revised the manuscript eighteen times with Strunk and White’s Elements of Style alongside the computer, but the story was still not right. It was interesting but leaden. I had never studied creative writing so I attended a few writing workshops. These were not helpful, and I spent my time trying to interest publisher’s agents in my work.

Among the many how-to books on writing, two of them by Sol Stein, Stein on Writing and How To Grow A Novel, were helpful. I read them cover-to-cover, highlighting important sentences, and I tried to incorporate the changes in my manuscript.

Finally, I decided to call Sol Stein and ask him for help. He told me he was too busy and suggested I call his sister Toby.

Toby Stein was a Barnard graduate and a professional editor and writer with a number of published books and novels. I called her and described my novel.

“Sounds interesting,” she said. We talked fees. “OK, send me the manuscript and a check.”

After a few weeks I received a package from Toby containing about fifteen pages. She had read and critiqued every chapter, paragraph, and line.

“You are a good writer with a remarkable talent for dialogue,” she wrote, “and we will build on that. You should consider minimizing the use of narrative summary to explain the story. This is a novel, not a textbook. Let the characters move the story on by their actions or by dialogue.”

Toby’s pages were filled with the craft of writing, and I still refer to them. She critiqued every line I had written, often suggesting elimination, substitution or modification. Occasionally she praised a sentence or paragraph and I glowed with pleasure. I learned a great deal from Toby as I rewrote my novel. I sent it to the publisher with feelings of satisfaction and pride.

I’d like to be able to say And Evil Shall Come became a blockbuster or a best seller, but this was not the case. Marketing books is more difficult than writing them and is itself an art or science.

I turned to Toby again as I wrote The Ebola Connection, and once again she provided excellent guidance.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

REVISING


“What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure.”
Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

I am a compulsive reviser, but I must admit to having ambivalent feelings when I rewrite a manuscript. I find revision to be a constant challenge, in the absence of professional editorial input.

This is the way things used to be. When the muse was with me I could often write a first draft without stopping for food or rest. This could take many hours, but I usually finished with a sense of satisfaction that was short lived.

Writers are often advised to put the manuscript aside and let some time pass before revising it.  When I pick up the draft again, my emotions have cooled, my eyes have become jaundiced, and I recall Hemmingway’s dictum that “all first drafts are excrement.” Barnaby Conrad reminded us, “Books and stories aren’t written-they are rewritten!”  Irwin Shaw said that he rewrites, shows finished drafts to his publisher and a close friend, and then does a revision.
I yearned for criticism, but my sole critic, my roommate, pal, lover, and wife is inevitably away at work when I need her.  I endure the wait by removing unnecessary dialog tags, adverbs, and adjectives.  I try to replace narrative summary with dialog, I check tenses, search for clichés and stronger verbs.

The moment the door opens I pounce on her.  “Hi. I’ve written something.  I’d like you to read it.”

She insists on removing her coat and expresses the need to visit our facility first. Don’t they have bathrooms where she works? I thrust the manuscript into her hands and hover. Her typical response after a rapid perusal is “It’s good.”

Sol Stein maintains that when applied to a manuscript as a whole, such a response can be destructive.

“No,” I demand.  “Read it critically.”
“Can it wait until after dinner?”
“Could you just read it now?”  There’s a pleading note to my voice.
“I read it already,” she tells me as I follow her into the kitchen.  I’m hungry, but I need a critique like an addict craves a fix.
“What do you think?” I persist as she pours oil into a skillet.
“I told you, it’s good.”  She starts to slice an onion.
“I mean what do you really think of it?”

Criticism even when solicited is sometimes hard to accept and often provokes defensive explanations, but total deprivation of an analytical assessment can be frustrating.

Sometimes she makes a good suggestion that I incorporate into the next revision, but today she says, “Look, I’m not an expert.  What do I know?  You need an expert.” Further pleas and demands are futile.  She is totally absorbed in culinary activities.  Exasperated, I return to the computer with my oil-spattered manuscript.

I’m anxious to move on, to write more, eventually to submit something to an editor.  The work usually improves with each revision, but when does one stop There is always the risk that further revision will diminish the draft.  Each revision takes the story further from the original.

This is how things are now. “Never ask a family member or a good friend for a critique. This is as useless as tits on a boar hog. The inevitable response will be, ‘It’s good.’ ” Paul D. Ellner (1925-20--)


Thursday, May 24, 2018

MAGNETS AND LADDERS

Behind Our Eyes recently honored me when they included an excerpt from one of my novels in their spring edition of Magnets and Ladders. Behind Our Eyes Inc., a writers group, was created in 2006 and includes members from all over the United States. Members of BOE meet twice a month by moderated teleconference. Each Sunday night, they alternate between working critique sessions and listening to presentations from writers, poets, journalists, teachers and people in the publishing industry.The only requirement for membership in BOE is that the writers have a disability such as blindness. Their material is varied and includes poetry, short stories, essays, etc. 

Magnets and Laddersis published quarterly, and is edited by a member elected for that purpose. In my case, the editors were gracious enough to include an excerpt from my novel And Evil Shall Come. This was a large excerpt describing how Kate Morrison pursued by the Al Qaeda takes refuge in her best friends apartment and how the friend betrays her. 

I am grateful for this opportunity to promote my book. The editor, Mary Jo Lord, purchased a copy of my most recent collection of short stories Bright Figures Sinister Shadows.

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 for 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 that is destroyed, and Jakob, a Polish freedom fighter who bombed the train. 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.


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 of 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 and 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.