Category Archives: On Writing

Back After a Hiatus: Politics as Usual

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted to the blog. Life’s like that, I guess. Lots of other responsibilities and even some fun stuff have kept me from blogging. First, in early April, I spent time selling one of my books, Zendoscopy, at the L.A. Times Festival of Books. While sales were less than spectacular, the time I spent with other writers while meeting and greeting the public in the Greater Los Angeles Writers Society booth was interesting and fun, and when it was over, I returned home recharged to work on the not-quite-a-sequel to Zendoscopy. Yes, it’s got a title, finally, after two years of ruminating over possible monikers, and it’s getting close to completion. I won’t be announcing the title until the book is completed and formally copyrighted, however. A bit later this year, all being well, I’ll post a chapter or two to whet appetites. All I can say now is that it’s going to be even funnier than the funniest parts of Zendoscopy, and not quite as angst-ridden.

Those who’ve read Spacebraid and Other Tales of a Dystopian Universe and/or Zendoscopy have likely surmised that I’m an amateur (“ham”) radio operator. In fact, I have been a ham since I was a kid. In April I was away at a major West Coast amateur radio convention for which I was the program chairman (third time in the job), and I just returned from attending the largest such convention held every year in Dayton, Ohio, where as President of an international organization of amateur radio operators in the health professions I chaired its annual meeting.

So, I’ve been busy.

Not so busy, however, that I haven’t been following what journalist Matt Taibbi has aptly called the Republican Clown Car. Of course, with only Trump (Drumpf?) left standing, it’s less a clown car now than a reincarnation of the Third Reich. Think that’s an exaggeration? Think again.

Let’s forget about Barry Goldwater for this discussion and skip directly to the Reagan era, when we truly began to see the rise of the religious right and an increase in bold faced Republican right wing lying to the public in ways that left a significant segment of the American population unaware that voting “conservative” was tantamount to voting against their better interests. Then came the so-called neocons, with Dick Cheney and a moronic President named George W., who led us into a misguided war based upon inadequate data and outright fibbing. There was an increased sense of militancy in foreign policy with more than a dollop of nation building idealism thrown in but based upon a wholly inadequate understanding of Middle Eastern culture, politics, and history. Meanwhile, at home, those most opposed to “big government” had no hesitations about trying to further disadvantage the poor, trample on equal rights for women and reproductive choice, restrict health care, undercut voting rights, and gang rape the environment.

Endlessly repeated lies and misinformation from the right, coupled with the Republican and Wall Street induced economic collapse of 2008, created an angry public that swallowed Republican scapegoating of President Obama and the Democrats, Muslims, Mexicans, and immigrants in general, and in the end created so much alienation that it inevitably led to the appearance of the Republican Clown Car: all those idiots competing for the Republican Presidential nomination. Let’s see, now. Just a few of them…Ben Carson, a religious fool who thinks the pyramids are hollow and were built for grain storage. Carly Fiorina, who touts her business experience but drove Hewlett-Packard into the ground and was fired as its CEO. The pathetic Jeb Bush, wholly inept as a debater and too weak to stand up to any of his opponents . Ted Cruz, one of the meanest, most reactionary, lizard-like human beings on the planet. I could go on with Christy, Paul, Kasich, Rubio…but you get the idea. And finally, of course, the alien monster that burst from the collective chest of the Republican disaffected, an arrival virtually guaranteed by years of Republican rhetoric and behavior: the Trumpmeister, himself. Misogynistic, bullying, bloviating, ignorant of world history, politics and culture, bigoted, scapegoating, vulgar, egotistical — a man with no real political allegiances who simply gave voice to all that festering anger and frustration, bias, bigotry, and xenophobia: the slimy innards and cold heart of today’s Republican Party. The right wing is like the rioters of Watts, Ferguson, and too many other places. It doesn’t care if it destroys the country – it’s simply mad beyond reason, charged with irrational anger, and Trump is the vehicle of this inchoate rage. Damn the torpedoes – blow up democratic government by consensus and compromise and simply rule by fiat. In other words, If Trump wins in November, we will have elected a fascist.

In several of my prior blog entries, I’ve said similar things, but the situation now is getting serious, folks. A recent Wall Street Journal poll (and, OK, the WSJ is pretty conservative) found that Clinton still beats Trump in the general election, but only by a margin of three percentage points: 46 to 43. Now, that’s scary. Do we want a bloviating, bigoted ignoramus as President? Could he really win in November. Unfortunately, the answer is yes. After all, consider the re-election of George W., and try not to cry when you do. Anything’s possible.

The only hope is for youth and minorities to show up in droves at the polls. Let’s hope they’ve gotten the message because if they haven’t, and if we end up with a President Trump, we may find the Canadians wanting to build a wall to keep us out.

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Where Are The Sales?

I just received the annual report from WordPress with the 2015 statistics for seductivepeach.com. Over the course of the past year, the blog was viewed in 71 countries around the world, a fact that both surprises and delights me. So, as 2015 ends and 2016 begins (I’m writing this on New Year’s Eve), I want to thank everyone for their support and interest in my ramblings and rantings.

Having expressed my thanks, I still want to ask a question to which I probably won’t get an answer. With so many readers in so many countries, how come I sold so few of my two books in 2015?

Zendoscopy is the sometimes hilarious, sometimes wrenching story of Sherman, a somewhat square peg of a kid coming of age in the round hole of his 1950s and ‘60s Southern California world. The book has received excellent reviews (check them out on Amazon.com), and I’ve done book signings and taken ads during the year. Yet, still, very few sales. If you haven’t read (bought!) the book, please consider doing so as we enter 2016. And if you like it, please write a review on Amazon.com or any other online site that accepts reviews. And tell your friends about it, too!

Spacebraid and Other Tales of a Dystopian Universe , my other book, was published back in 2004. It, too received favorable reviews but has sold many copies. It’s a collection of science fiction, fantasy, and horror stories written over a period of years when, in my former (I’m retired) career as a practicing obstetrician and gynecologist, I needed to kill time in the hospital waiting for women in labor to deliver their babies. It’s a fun read if you’re into those genres, and I hope you’ll consider getting a copy in the year to come.

Both books are available in hardcover and e-book formats, so take your choice. You’ll find the hardcover (trade paperback) versions of each on any of many online sites, and the e-book on Amazon.com. I recommend buying from Amazon.com and posting reviews there. Of course, if you live in Southern California and buy the hardcopy version, I’d be glad to autograph it for you.

Finally, the not-quite-a-sequel to Zendoscopy should be ready sometime in 2016. Several of the characters from Zendoscopy appear in the new book, but the story is totally new. If you’d like to find out more about Effie Mae, Larry, Saltzman, and Consuela, you’ll certainly want to pick up the new book when it arrives. I’ll be announcing its title a little later in 2016, so keep watching the blog or check me out on Facebook.

In the meantime, have a safe, happy, and healthy new year, and let’s all hope that in 2016 we’ll begin to see a more peaceful and tolerant world. And that goes for the behavior in Congress, as well!

Upcoming Zendoscopy Signing

On Saturday, 11/21 from 10 AM to 1 PM , I will be participating in a local authors’ fair at the Peninsula Center branch of the Palos Verdes Library, located at 701 Silver Spur Road, Rolling Hills Estates (main entrance located on Deep Valley Drive).

I will be signing my book, Zendoscopy, so if you don’t have a copy and can stop by, please do so. I’d love to sign a copy for you! Even if you already do have a copy, bring it and I’ll sign it for you.

Here’s the full text of the book’s review by B. Case, a top 500 reviewer for Amazon.com:

5.0 out of 5 stars Witty, warm, and wonderful, December 26, 2014

“Zendoscopy,” by J. Allan Wolf, is a fictional memoir that tries to be both emotionally honest and delightfully hilarious. It succeeds admirably at both. I haven’t enjoyed a work quite like this since I read David Niven’s autobiography, “Moon’s a Balloon” some 42 years ago. That bestseller captured the essence of the famous English actor’s sparkling personality mostly through a collection of outlandish (but narrowly true-to-life) tales. It’s the same with this book. It’s the personality of author that shines through loud and clear out of the pure joy of the reading experience.

“Zendoscopy” defies categorization. I called it a fictional memoir because it reminded me of Niven’s autobiography. But I could just have easily have said that it was a character study, a coming-of-age-novel, or a collection of linked stories. Whatever it is, in summary, it covers the early life of a geeky, insecure, and bright young man named Sherman Alt. The stories start with his birth in a hospital where a plumber’s plunge serves a vital role. It ends with Alt as a medical doctor with a wife, a home, and a major plumbing problem. In between are many stories that help describe what it was like to grow up in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. The stories cover a broad range from serious to slapstick. It’s a work full of wry humor, ironic circumstances, and somewhat exaggerated tales. Many of the stories have to do with the main character’s adventures and misadventures with the opposite sex.

On a serious note, the book covers the journey of one man toward self-acceptance and the deep psychological reward of a validated life. It’s impressive the way the author pulls off this serious theme from a book that is mostly light and brilliantly funny.

Wolf’s prose is rich and polished. He keeps his readers engaged by focusing almost entirely on action and dialog rather than weighing down any particular piece with too much descriptive prose. Most of his character development takes place through authentic action and dialog. As a result, these secondary characters flash to life off the page.

As for the meaning of the unusual title, “Zendoscopy,” trust that there’s a gratifying explanation at the end of the last story. And, yes, it’s tied together with further revelations about the honorable, rational, and world-loving character of Sherman Alt.

Naturally, the perfect audience for this book would be other bright, geeky men who grew up in the same time period (i.e., Baby Boomers in their mid-60s). But I am sure the many universal themes in this book can resonate nicely with a much broader range of readers. As far as humorous anecdotal story collections go, this book gets an easy five stars in my rating scheme. It’s brilliantly written and had me smiling almost constantly and laughing out loud a number of times.”

   So, plan to attend if you can. If you can’t, you can still get hard copy from Amazon.com or the e-book format for Kindle. The book is also available from multiple other online sellers.

Post-Op Pain, Creativity, and Productivity

Seven weeks ago I underwent surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff in my right shoulder. I’d always heard that the pain following repair and the ensuing recovery period with physical therapy were difficult to bear, but even though I am a (retired) physician, I had no idea how much pain I’d actually experience and how completely wearing it could be. The baseline pain is a 24 hour burden, exacerbated by movement, lack of movement (yes), torturous physical therapy, and the exercises that must be done two to three times a day. The prognosis: 80% recovery in three to four months and whatever residual recovery I’ll see by six months.

Now, you might think I’m complaining about all this, but you’d be wrong. I was warned, I underwent the repair because it needed to be done, and I’ll get through the next several months whatever it takes. Not to do so would be to live with restricted mobility in my arm for the rest of my life, and that is flatly unacceptable. No, then, no pity. That’s not the purpose of this week’s missive. No, the real purpose is to discuss the effect all this has had, and is having, on creativity, productivity, and, specifically, my work on the loosely related sequel to Zendoscopy.

It’s not surprising how physical pain can sap the urge to express oneself creatively, especially when the accompanying physical limitation precludes doing much writing by longhand or typing. For weeks following surgery, I had to type by left-handed hunt and peck, and it’s only recently that I’m back to some limited two handed touch typing. Even that is limited, though, as my right arm will only tolerate so much before needing a rest. This paragraph, for example, is being written 24 hours after the preceding ones.

Last week, I got permission to restart playing the guitar, and I expect to get back to more extended writing soon. In the meantime, I’ll try to be terse and pithy in my blog entries. In that spirit, I offer the following:

  • I’m going to miss Jon Stewart.
  • Donald Trump is the poster child for what’s wrong with the Republican Party, even as the Party would like to get rid of him for revealing its true colors.
  • We must be well into summer. Look at all those criminally stupid people leaving their kids and pets locked up in broiling cars.
  • While climate change continues to manifest itself in terrifying ways, the deniers continue to do nothing about it.
  • Guns, guns, guns. While the mayhem continues, Rick Perry voices the imbecilic opinion that one partial solution would be to allow patrons to take guns into movie theatres.
  • As fuel prices are starting to come down, gas guzzler purchases will surely rise.
  • Republicans, in their opposition to all things Obama, would rather see Iran get a nuclear weapon in two months than approve an agreement that would prevent it for at least ten years.
  • Oh, and did I make the point strongly enough that I’m going to miss Jon Stewart?

Networking for Aspiring Writers

Writing is a solitary activity. You sit at your desk, pen and paper or keyboard at hand, and bleed words onto the page. But as I’ve noted many times in past postings, the big problem that we relatively unknown, often self-published writers face is lack of visibility. Oh, we’d be visible if people could find us, but for many of us, often limited by budgetary constraints, without media contacts, and realizing that social media can only take one so far, the need to network becomes important. If nothing else, perhaps those of us who are struggling for recognition can learn from the struggles, failures, and successes of others. So with all this in mind, not long ago I joined the Greater Los Angeles Writers Society.

The Society is a nonprofit organization offering a variety of services to established and aspiring writers, and to those like me, who aren’t well established but are more than aspiring.

After a period of no participation in Society events – unfortunately I had to miss working, and marketing my books at several events due to schedule conflicts – I decided to attend one of their forums last weekend. The panel was made up of published writers, two or three of whom had also written for TV. The nominal topic was, “Things I Wish a Pro Had Told Me When I First Started Writing”. Actually, none of the panel members specifically addressed this until the Q&A, when they were asked for one thing they wished they’d known when they began writing in the attempt to make a living. The answers weren’t terribly enlightening, unless you’d been living in a dark cave since birth. The most profound answer was in the form of advice to save ten percent of every check received for retirement. Good advice, but not quite why most people were there.

So why were most people there? My observation was that there were three types of people in the audience:

  • The totally clueless
  • The guys looking to pick up women
  • Those actually looking to network and learn something

The totally clueless asked questions of a sort I’ve heard before. Questions like, “I’m writing about (some topic). To whom should I send my manuscript?” Or, “How can I tell whether my dialogue sounds ‘real’?” I wanted to scream in pain.

The guys looking to pick up women were typified by what went on in the row of seats just in front of me. Three guys, all trying to impress one cute young woman. One guy admitted early on that he was unemployed as he thrust a personal “business card” at her, one appeared to be a hopeless nerd with Asperger’s who couldn’t stop talking about his science fiction and fantasy stories as if they were documentaries, and the third just sat next to her and kept grinning, apparently happy enough just to have scored proximity.

As for those of trying to network, it was pretty much a bust. Since most of the audience wasn’t really networking material, and since none of the panelists had anything concrete to offer as, say, in, “Your story sounds interesting – I’d like to read it and maybe help you get to an agent/publisher/studio…”

In the end, I left feeling somewhat disheartened. I won’t give up, though. The Society does offer real opportunities for book signings at book fairs, and I plan to participate when I can. Oh, and on the way out, I found myself on the stairway immediately behind that cute young woman from the row in front of me. As we left the building, she turned to me, smiled, and wished me a nice day. All of which had the effect of reminding me that I’m old enough to be her father…and then some. On the other hand, at least she didn’t offer to help me to my car.

On Reading Leading to Writing

When I was a kid growing up in the 1950s, my parents would take my kid brother and me out at least one Saturday evening each month to some local restaurant for dinner: Rothbard’s Delicatessen, Yet-D-Far for Chinese, Bob’s Big Boy for burgers…. It was great, but even greater was what we’d usually do after dinner.

“Can we go to a newsstand?” the kid and I would ask. The answer was almost always yes, and so we’d head off to one of several newsstands in the area that carried a wide variety of magazines, comic books, and paperbacks.

Mom and Dad, Mom especially, were avid readers who didn’t care what the kid and I read as long as we were reading something. (Mom, an artist, had many art books on the shelves at home, and I’d often sit and study the nudes when no one else was around.) So, I’d go browsing for my favorites: Flying, Mad (both the magazine and the paperback collections like The Mad Reader), Famous Monsters of Filmland, and comic books to add to my substantial trove.

In elementary school, we had a biweekly visit of the L.A. Unified School District’s “Bookmobile”, a mobile library from which we could check out books. And I did. The Freddy the Pig books, Miss Pickerel Goes to Mars and other books in that series, and the Winston Science Fiction series. It was the Bookmobile that offered up my first taste of Robert Heinlein: The Red Planet, a book I read and then re-read many times over.

All of this exposure to books and magazines provided the foundation for me to become a lifelong reader, and an eclectic one at that. And beyond just reading, it fostered imagination and a fantasy life that started to be expressed through writing. I also found that my own particular portal into self-understanding came best through putting words on paper. When I could look at what I was thinking, I could better understand what I was thinking.

Over the years, I’ve written many letters to the editor – some published and some not – a number of published articles and essays, and two books. My first book, Spacebraid and Other Tales of a Dystopian Universe, was a collection of stories written from pure imagination. There is not much of me in those stories except for a few small particulars.

It is a different story with Zendoscopy, as many readers have easily discerned. Where they have gone wrong, however, is in the assumption that all the episodes in the book actually occurred. In fact, most are riffs on a kernel event or are complete fabrications. What is so interesting to me is that so many people have found what they think is truth in the stories and, perhaps displacing their own identification with them upon me, think that Zendoscopy is somewhat of an autobiography. In three words, it’s a mistake. The book is an example of “writing what you know”, and I’m glad that it seems more real than it is. Nevertheless, I frankly admit that there is far more of me in it than in most of my other writing.

I’m currently at work on a not-quite-a-sequel to Zendoscopy. As yet untitled, it does pick up on the lives of several of the characters in Zendoscopy, but it’s a completely different story and it’s much more separated from “me” than is Zendoscopy. I’m about a hundred pages into it as I write this blog entry, and it’s going to be some time before it’s finished. I hope that when it is, it’ll be as well received as has been Zendoscopy, but I write for the love of writing and not for the money (fortunately). So, whatever happens, happens.

I’ve digressed a bit from how I developed my love of reading, but it was that love that also stimulated me to write. My only regret about it all is that I long ago gave away my collection of comic books. If I’d kept it until now, it’d be worth a small fortune.