Category Archives: On Writing

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.

A Successful Reading and Signing

Last Sunday, I participated as one of three authors in a book reading and signing at Vroman’s bookstore in Pasadena. It was a terrific experience, and I’m only sorry if you couldn’t be there. (Hey, I sure announced it enough in the blog and on Facebook!)

It began with my arrival at about 3:30 PM, accompanied by my wife, who supports me with such forbearance in so many ways. Vroman’s had set up a space with rows of chairs for attendees – lots of attendees. At the front of the area was a podium, and to its left (audience right) were three tables, one for each of the authors. On each table were stacked copies of our respective books, ready for signing. In a word, it was classy.

I was greeted by a very nice woman who was both welcoming and helpful, and who laid out the event’s agenda. Each of us would have 15-20 minutes to read and/or speak about our book, and this would be followed by a Q&A which we’d do as a panel. Following this, the actual signing.

One of the other authors had pretty much stacked the audience with his friends and supporters, and he rather forcefully insisted on speaking last. The other author, a young woman who’d written a diet and weight loss book, and I, decided not to argue about it. She had never done a signing and did not want to speak first, so I took the lead-off position.

The reading went well, with lots of folks in the audience finding the excerpts from Zendoscopy funny and, in a few cases that I’m aware of, affecting. Next came the weight-loss author. Clearly, she was a hit. Slender, tall, and undeniably attractive, it really didn’t matter that her book was really just another self-help tome making dubious medical claims leavened with a bit of common sense advice. She clearly had an immediate impact upon the overweight women in the crowd. Then came the author who’d insisted on going last. He did an overly long and ill-defined reading from his book, but none of that mattered since he’d packed the audience with many people already primed to buy his work.

The Q&A went well, with lots of questions ranging from the thoughtful to the predictably anxious from aspiring writers (“How do you get your ideas?”). The Vroman’s staffer told us that it was the best Q&A she’d experienced, and she’d therefore allowed it to go on longer than usual for these events.

Finally came the signing. I’ve found signings to be fascinating, this one being particularly so because it followed a reading. There were those who told me that they’d enjoyed the reading and bought the book, those who said they’d enjoyed the reading and didn’t buy the book (but who might have bought one of the other books), and those who were only there to mingle with the authors and nothing else.

Did I sell many books? No, actually. Only a few. But it was fun and I got my first experience with a reading. I’m now looking at trying to do it again at other local bookstores, and the generally positive feedback has encouraged me to continue working on Zendoscopy‘s sequel. Don’t ask – it’s as yet untitled.

As always, many of the entries in are targeted to those who are hoping to succeed at writing. I hope this entry has provided a bit of insight into one aspect of marketing one’s work, and that you’ll keep coming back to follow my own adventure’s course in months to come.

Finally, I want to thank those friends and supporters who did turn out to support me at the event. Believe me, it meant a lot to see you in the audience. And here’s my plug and appreciation for one special attendee, Nancy Young, author of Strum. Nancy, I never expected to see you there, but I’m so grateful that you came!

An “Awesome” Posting

This Sunday, 1/25, I’ll be doing a reading and signing for Zendoscopy at the premier bookstore in Pasadena, Vroman’s (695 E. Colorado Blvd.). If you can come, please do. I’d love to see you there. Time: 4 PM.


I’m always interested (and generally appalled) by the use of certain words that have become trendy. I’ve written here before about this, taking to task such words as “basically” and “awesome”. The latest word that’s driving me nuts is “incredible”. It seems that everything, no matter how expected, mundane, or trivial, is getting described these days as “incredible”. To wit:

  • This bagel with cream cheese is incredible! Uh huh.
  • Your new T-shirt is incredible! Yes, it does slip on over your head.
  • I saw The Interview last night. It was incredible! Really?

Since when has everything become so unbelievable? Since when has it become so easy to inspire such a level of awe over the routine? Or, more likely, since when has paucity of language skills and general laziness been so openly displayed? I guess I don’t know what to say. I guess it’s just incredible.

In a recent posting about the terrible slaughter by terrorists in Paris, I ended with the statement that, “Nous sommes tous Charlie.” In some respects, I regret doing this because, just as with “incredible”, Je suis and nous sommes Charlie have become overused to the point of abuse as well as parodied, all of it to the point of meaninglessness.

In the sense that I used it, I meant that all of us were attacked, not just the satirical magazine and its staff. But those always eager to misinterpret things have come out ranting about how despicable Charlie Hebdo, the magazine is, and criticizing those who used the phrase, obviously in its more expansive sense. Idiots abound in this world, and those too stupid to understand that the attack was one on all freedom of expression, a terrorist act by those who would impose ignorant, religiously based tyranny upon us all It was, after all, Voltaire who in the 1700s said that he might disagree with what is said but not with the right to say it. Apparently, there are many in the world who still have not accepted this approach.

And although they are not committing atrocities, there are many in our own country who would censor what may be said, who seek to have books removed from libraries that they deem offensive, who would dictate how we all should live. Lest you doubt this, simply listen to Republicans these days, especially those on the far right who, in misunderstanding the foundations of the country, insist that it was founded as a Christian nation and who would rip the First Amendment to shreds given the chance.

There’s trouble in River City, my friends. If saner heads don’t speak up, don’t stand up and vote, we’ll get what we (don’t?) deserve. And if that happens, I can assure you it won’t be good. It will be real, and it won’t be “incredible” when your front door gets bashed in. But, now that I think about it, it will be “awesome”.

Consignment Fun

In my nearly constant quest to find markets for my writing, I look for independent bookstores that might be willing to take my work on consignment. Remember that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to get any four-walled bookstore to carry your book if you’re self-published. The only viable route, then, is consignment. The general rule is that consigners – that’s you and I – will receive 60% of the sale price of whatever is sold, but there’s no guarantee of this. One bookseller I tried to deal with tried to reverse the usual arrangement and pay me 40%. I walked. I may be crazy, but I’m not stupid.

Let’s face it. The deck is stacked against self-published writers. Even if you get a store to take a few of your books on consignment, there’s no guarantee that they’ll place the books anywhere where potential buyers will see them. This happened to me at a prominent bookstore in Hollywood, where they took five copies of Zendoscopy and, for want of a better way to describe it, interred them on a shelf in a creepy back corner of the store where no one would want to wander. Meanwhile, they had shelves and tables with books – many “remaindered” — on prominent display across the front of the store and visible through front windows. And for this, they charged me $100 up front just for their benevolence. You can do the math: there was no way I’d make a penny on the sales even if the five books sold, which they of course didn’t.

Now, you may ask why I went for the deal at that bookstore in the first place. The answer is simple. I did it in the attempt to gain some recognition. In retrospect, it was a mistake.

Recently, I did better. The established bookstore in Pasadena, Vroman’s, agreed to take five books on consignment (for a fee, of course), but they placed them on a rack in the front of the store, with other books by local, self-published authors. Beyond that (and also for a fee but, hey, worth the gamble) they’ve given me a date for a reading and signing, along with two other authors who’ll also be there under the same arrangement. The event, about a week away, will be on Sunday, 25 January at the bookstore. Time: 4 PM. If you’re free and live in Southern California, please come. I could use a few groupies, or at least shills, to show up in my corner!

The fact remains, though, that one event won’t make me a well known, best selling author. It’s a struggle. Every self-published author I know has dealt with the problem, which arises from a “Catch-22” situation, namely, the “agent problem”. In order to get published by a mainstream publisher, you need an agent. But to get an agent, you need to have been published by a mainstream publisher. In other words, in order to arrive, you have to have arrived. The only other ways to find success are to have connections or to be the beneficiary of blind luck. Read the reviews of Zendoscopy on They’re terrific but they’ve gotten me nowhere because in order for anyone to see them, they’d have to know about the book in the first place. That’s another Catch-22.

Zendoscopy was also reviewed by Kirkus Reviews, and that review was favorable. In fact, the book was one of the 10% or so whose review made it into their main publication. Where? Buried in the Indie section toward the back of the magazine, where few would be likely to notice it. So, even in the face of a small triumph, there was ultimate defeat. But don’t get me wrong. I know that the marketplace owes me nothing. My point, if I have one, is that if you’re going to write and self-publish, do it because you’re driven to put words on a page and not because you think you’re going to get rich at it. The odds are overwhelmingly against you. Write if you must – I do – but even if what you write is pure fantasy, your expectations shouldn’t be.

I hope to see you at Vroman’s next Sunday.

Best Review Yet

As an end of the year surprise, Zendoscopy has received a wonderful review from an top 500 reviewer, B. Case. Here is what she said:

“Zendoscopy,” by J. Allan Wolf, is a fictional memoir that tries to be both emotionally honest and delightfully hilarious. It succeeds admirable 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.

My sincere thanks to B. Case for her kind words. As my regular readers know, one of the recurrent themes of this blog is the difficulty we self-published authors face in getting any recognition and publicity. An endorsement like this one from an Amazon Top 500 reviewer provides the author with a sense of validation and, specifically, is tremendously encouraging for me as I embark upon my next novel.

Happy new year to all, and for all those like me who write for the love of it while still hoping for an audience, keep on writing!