Monthly Archives: April 2014

California Bookstore Day

This Saturday, from 3 to 5 PM, in celebration of the first annual California Bookstore Day, I’ll be participating in a Local Authors’ Meet and Greet at the Mysterious Galaxy bookstore, located at 2810 Artesia Blvd. in Redondo Beach. There will be over 20 authors present, selling and signing books. I’ll have copies of both Zendoscopy and Spacebraid and Other Tales of a Dystopian Universe for sale so, if you’re anywhere near Mysterious Galaxy (2 blocks west of Hawthorne Blvd. on Artesia Blvd., near the South Bay Galleria, please stop in, at least to say hello. Should be a lot of fun.

Here’s a link with more information about the event and the bookstore:

http://www.mystgalaxy.com/Event/Local-Author-Meet-and-Greet-RB-050314

I hope to see you there.

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Retired and Writing

   (Note: Due to a personal commitment, this week’s blog entry is appearing two days early. Assuming normal inspiration, the next entry will appear at the usual time, i.e., on Friday, 5/2.)

As of today, 23 April 2014, I became officially unemployed. As in retired. Although a well anticipated event, its arrival is going to take some time for mental adjustment. It’s just a bit weird not to be getting up for work, and having no more professional responsibilities after 42 years in medicine since graduating from medical school.

Those who know me well know that I’ve got no shortage of interests and activities to keep me occupied, major among them being writing. With a number of published articles, two books in print, and an essay due to appear in an upcoming issue of a literary journal for medical professionals, I’ve managed to build a body of work that’s taught me much about how to construct pieces for publication.

Writing has been something I’ve loved doing at least as far back as the 7th grade. It began almost as a byproduct of my lusting over a fountain pen. Oh, and not just any fountain pen. No, sir. It was a $1.00, clear barreled Sheaffer fountain pen sold by the student store at Northridge Junior High School. Over a period of years, until I could afford better, I owned several of them as well as similar ones by Wearever. They all leaked, staining my fingers and shirts, but I didn’t care. I was in love with real, flowing ink. I still am, and I treasure the wonderful non-leaking pens I’ve since acquired.

But, I digress.

As soon as I got that first Sheaffer, so did my best buddy, Sam (not his real name), and we started writing little essays of a sort, calling each one an installment of a series called “My Innermost Thoughts”. Sam and I each did this during class time and, somehow, never got caught. I wish I still had those little essays, but the nearest I have to my creative writing from that time is a short paragraph in which I said I thought I’d be a doctor when I grew up. This, actually, was terribly odd, if prescient, since I cannot ever remember wanting to be a doctor until late in my freshman year of college. Until then, I had planned on being an engineer or a physicist, like a first cousin once removed who was with the Applied Physics Laboratories at Johns Hopkins University and was involved in sending up some of our earliest communication satellites.

It was in college that my writing took off. I vomited a great deal of terrible poetry, tried without any recognized success to generate funny stuff for the school’s humor magazine, and (did I mention?), upchucked a lot of really bad, self-indulgent poetry. Every word, incidentally, was written with a fountain pen before getting typed on a blue Royal Futura manual typewriter that skittered across the desk every time I hit the carriage return . By then, though, I had graduated to $5 Parkers that I could fill from a bottle. They leaked a lot less than the Sheaffers.

Writing went largely on hold through medical school, internship, and residency, but once in the private practice of obstetrics and gynecology, I found myself spending long hours in the hospital attending labors and deliveries. Partly to kill time, I began to write again. The first draft of my story, “Spacebraid”, was written mostly in the on call rooms at two hospitals where I spent seemingly endless hours waiting out the often long process of labor. Ultimately, and through several re-writes, “Spacebraid” became the lead story in my first published book, Spacebraid and Other Tales of a Dystopian Universe. It was at that time that the story was almost optioned for film or TV production by a major studio. Unfortunately for me, the studio ultimately decided to take a pass.

I’ve been writing ever since, albeit sometimes in spurts separated by longer periods of inactivity. Zendoscopy was a project that took several years to complete. It’s obviously a much more personal effort than Spacebraid…, with many of its episodes being outlandish riffs on kernels of truth.

Here’s what’s coming on my writing calendar:

  • Saturday, May 3: Book signing for Spacebraid and Other Tales of a Dystopian Universe and Zendoscopy at Mysterious Galaxy in Redondo Beach from 3-5 PM. The store is located at 2810 Artesia Boulevard, about two blocks west of Hawthorne Blvd.
  • Wednesday, June 18: Author appearance at Wanda’s Readers, a book club in Redlands that has chosen Zendoscopy as its June read.
  • Summer 2014: Publication of my essay, “An Obstetric Story”, in The Pharos, the literary journal of Alpha Omega Alpha, the medical honors society.

With some luck, more signings will be scheduled over the next few months. And, of course, the writing continues. Stay tuned.

Today’s Annoyance: Hey! I just retired! Nothing bothers me this week.

H.L. Mencken Had it Right

I just read that 17% of Americans believe that the sun revolves around Earth. Also that 61% don’t believe in the Big Bang, and 52% don’t believe in evolution. These are terrifying statistics. More than indicating a shocking degree of ignorance, it’s a terrible indictment of our educational system and a depressing commentary on the prominence of religious superstition in the country. And it’s going to get worse.

As I write this, there is a movement active on a number of U.S. college campuses to enact rules requiring disclaimers on certain course descriptions warning that some material in them may be offensive or disturbing to students. In other words, in the very institutions that should be challenging and stimulating students with new, controversial, and unfamiliar concepts, there are those who want to warn them that they might want to avoid classes that do just that.

Recently it was revealed that the most banned book in the U.S. in 2012 was author Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants. It even outranked Fifty Shades of Grey. Why? Because a certain faction in our country thinks kids shouldn’t learn about hygiene when the vehicle uses the word, “poop”.

Taking all these facts together, I’m forced to repeat the words of William Bendix in the old Life of Riley television show: “What a revoltin’ development this is!” Or, more specifically, to wonder just how ignorant, prudish, and stupid people can be. H.L. Mencken said it best when he commented that nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.

I sometimes wonder where we’re headed. American students rank 37t h in math proficiency, coming in just behind the Slovak Republic. As a nation, we are woefully ignorant of both world and our own country’s history, of world geography, science, literature, and we lack foreign language proficiency to an extent that’s shocking compared to the rest of the developed world.

Politicians, especially those of right wing persuasion, refuse to acknowledge or address all of these issues in any constructive way, their reasons being religious and economic (their own economics, actually). They’re cynical, ignorant, and willing to let the country transform itself into a third world nation with faith that “the Rapture” will ultimately resolve all problems by saving the worthy. In succinct terms, this makes me sick.

Here’s a question. If all of our technology vanished today – no more cell phones, Twitter and Facebook, cars, planes, refrigerators, i.e., everything – and we all found ourselves at square one lighting candles, would today’s younger generation have the knowledge and ability to re-create the modern world?

Think about it. Do people who are convinced that power lines cause cancer understand that their cell phones are sending out radio waves into their brains? Do people understand that if Earth were to stop spinning, people would not actually fall off into space, as someone once suggested to me? Do people really think that “intercessory” prayer can help people to survive surgery? It is almost beyond belief that such people, people who don’t have the math skills to balance a check book, would be able to re-create the technological world in which we now live and which, by the way, we take for granted.

Ah, but you say we actually do have enough older, established scientists and engineers and even some younger ones who are up to the task. Yes, it’s true, but none of the current crop of ignoramuses in government will fund them. And besides, we have ceded too much of our manufacturing capability to foreign countries. We’d have to rebuild factories and machinery that we don’t know how to build or, more likely, come up with the long green to buy it all from other countries, mainly China. Men of my age remember taking shop courses in junior high and high school, and being able to learn a trade in many occupational training schools. But we’re getting to be old farts, and schools hardly provide that kind of training these days since, as a society, we no longer value it. Instead, everyone is supposed to go to college. Not everyone should and, even among those who show promise, vast numbers of them are so ill-prepared by their prior education that they cannot write a simple, declarative English sentence without spelling and grammatical errors.

Depressing? You bet. I want to believe that all this can be fixed. That people will cast off religious superstition, overly selfish economic motivation, and apathy, that they will demand better education in basic math, language and science, and vote for increased investment in vocational training programs for those who really shouldn’t or don’t want to go to college. But in a country where half or more of the population can’t be troubled to go to the polls to vote, what hope is there for change?

It’s often been said that we get the government we deserve, but that’s the punitive view. I think we deserve better. People just need to get off their butts and demand it. If they don’t, we’ll never get the rascals out.

Today’s Annoyance: People who, like, can’t get a simple sentence out without, like, saying the word, “like”.

What the F#@k Is It with Republicans?

So, what the f#@k is it with Republicans? The “party of Lincoln”? The party that is supposed to revere the country’s Founding Fathers? How is it that this once respectable institution has fallen so far into the black hole of anger, self-interest, and vindictiveness? To wit, these widespread Republican positions, behaviors, and beliefs:

  • Opposition to civil rights legislation.
  • Abandonment of any respect for separation of church and state with brazen and repeated attempts to turn the country into a Christian theocracy.
  • Gutting of the voting rights act and attempting to impede access to the polls by minorities whom they fear will vote for opposition candidates.
  • Puritanical opposition to insurance coverage for contraception while supporting coverage for treatment of erectile dysfunction.
  • Hostility toward Social Security.
  • Cutting of food stamp coverage for those in need.
  • Opposition to equal pay for equal work for women.
  • Opposition to sensible immigration reform, including the Dream Act and paths to citizenship.
  • Support for budgetary cuts in programs designed to aid the poor.
  • Opposition to any increase in the minimum wage and, even, to the minimum wage itself.
  • Opposition to health care reform and support for cuts in Medicare and Medicaid.
  • Rejection of established scientific truth: global climate change, evolution, and almost any hard data in conflict with preconceived notions or religious superstition.
  • Refusal to support environmental protection measures (since, after all, Armageddon and the Rapture will take care of things permanently!).
  • Opposition to any sensible firearms regulation.
  • Opposition to campaign spending limits.
  • Veiled racism, including persistent “birther” nonsense and opposition to anything coming from President Obama regardless of merit.
  • Using anecdotal and single example evidence to promote biased generalizations.

What is wrong with these people? And why do so many of those who stand to be hurt the most by the policies supported by their Republican representatives keep re-electing them?  I wish to hell I knew. All I do know is that many of the Republicans I speak with seem to have this inchoate sense of anger with the world and a degree of self-interest that borders on the solipsistic: “It’s all about me. Go f#@k yourself.”

Republicans seem ignorant of history, either rejecting well established evidence of the Founding Fathers’ thinking or simply twisting it in ways unrecognizable to well educated individuals. Self-interest – often naked greed – seems to be the motivating influence for many Republican office-holders, and the more moderate Republicans, if any remain, are too cowardly to stand up to the nut cases.

Pundits are saying that Republicans may well capture the Senate in the upcoming midterm elections. Once again, ignorance and stupidity may result in people voting against their best interests. One really does have to ask why any minority voter, why anyone receiving Medicare or Medicaid, why anyone dependent upon food stamps, why anyone who uses contraception…would vote Republican. It makes no sense. None at all. But, then, watch Fox’s loony bin of angry white guys and blonde bimbos spewing their ignorant, venomous propaganda. Well, as Republican Abraham Lincoln noted, you can fool some of the people all of the time… But, then, Lincoln freed the slaves. The current bunch of GOP bigots seems to want to resurrect the chains.

Oh, and by the way, there are plenty of unhelpful Democrats around, too, many of them in public office. Why the hell aren’t they more supportive of the President? More willing to stand up for what they say they believe? Why do those guys keep getting elected?

Being a hopeful cynic, I look forward to people waking up and voting the rascals out but, as I listen to NPR and read my daily newspaper, I just don’t think it’s likely to happen in my lifetime.

Today’s Annoyance: I think the foregoing is enough for this week.

It has been said that writing is easy. All you have to do is sit down and open a vein. Actually, what I’ve found is that while writing may take considerable effort, it’s not harder than getting your writing out to an audience.

As readers of this blog and others who know me are well aware, I’ve been writing for a long time. I’ve had articles published in a variety of places: the medical literature, hobby magazines, innumerable letters to the editors of many publications, and organization newsletters. My first book, Spacebraid and Other Tales of a Dystopian Universe, was published in 2004. My latest, Zendoscopy, was published earlier this year.

The magazine and newsletter articles had built-in audiences and there were no issues related to marketing. For the two books, however, it has been a very different story. I’ve previously written about the near-impossibility (actual, in my case) of getting an agent when one is an unknown writer, and without an agent, sending manuscripts directly to publishers is simply to have one’s work buried in massive slush piles. The solution, self-publishing, gets one’s book into print but that can be a dead end unless there’s a marketing effort to follow, an effort that needs to be fueled with more money than the initial publishing cost.

Here’s the history and current status of Zendoscopy. The book was published in late January. I posted this on my main Facebook page and revised the page that previously touted Spacebraid…, renaming the page “Books by J. Allan Wolf”. I did a 10 day ad campaign on Facebook and wrote about publication issues on the blog. I’ve set up a book signing for 3 May at a local bookstore and I’ve managed to get the book into the gift shop of the Palos Verdes Library in Rolling Hills Estates, near home. I’ve sent a copy to a local NPR radio station’s morning general interest program but, after more than three weeks have heard nothing from them. On 7 May I expect a Kirkus review to appear. I’ve got a supply of custom bookmarks and the publisher has templated several pitch letters and a PR blurb for me. Today, I had a local FedEx (ex-Kinko’s) do a nice mounted 11 x 17 poster of the cover for $7.50 to use at the 3 May signing. The book is available through many online booksellers including Amazon.com, Amazon Kindle, Barnes and Noble, et al.

I know that some copies are selling, but they’re not exactly flying off the shelves (or into tablets). I can’t afford ads in major newspapers and magazines, and so far no widely read reviewer has picked it up, although I plan to send out some copies to reviewers in the hope that, perhaps, one will read it and like it enough to write something nice about it. Of course, that could easily backfire.

So that’s where things currently stand. If you’re an aspiring writer without connections who’s going to dive into self-publishing, you need to know that it’s unlikely you’ll make a fortune on your masterpiece. Still, it shouldn’t keep you either from continuing to write or continuing to try to get your work to a target audience. If you have faith in your work, that’s what you’ll do. Craft it carefully, be open to input from anyone you trust enough to read it, get it thoroughly proofed before it goes to publication, get a good cover design, and then market it to limits of your budget. Follow this blog for updates on the progress of Zendoscopy, and if you haven’t yet gotten your copy, just remember: I can use the royalties.

 

Today’s annoyance: Overuse of the exclamation mark.

I subscribe to a magazine that regularly publishes articles by a writer who is addicted to exclamation marks! Every strongly worded, declarative sentence he writes ends with one! I’m not kidding! They just keep coming! It drives me crazy! I wish he’d stop! Unfortunately, I doubt that he ever will!