Don’t Buy This Book

Well, it seems that I’ve been on a bit of a rant lately regarding Electronic Medical Records.  The subtitle of this blog, however, says “Life, Writing, and Surgery”: or something like that.  So I feel compelled to move on, at least for the moment, to something other than Surgery.Bulldog (small)

It has been a very long time since I posted on the subject of Writing, so I don’t think it is too much of an imposition to provide the following post.  What follows is Chapter One from the second book in The Claddagh Trilogy, entitled The Problem With God.  It is, in my opinion, the best bit that I have written in this series to date, featuring the best dog character in a novel since Toto (my opinion again).  Feel free to try it, with the idea being that if you don’t like this, chances are pretty darn good that you won’t enjoy the rest of my novels.

Excerpt from The Problem with God:

Chapter 1

Father Julius Zimmerman was in Hell.  Hell, it turned out, looked and smelled an awful lot like Helmand Province in Afghanistan.  He wasn’t surprised.  He was dripping in sweat.  Of course he was, it was hot as Hell in here.  He sat in an armored personnel carrier with his squad.  It was stifling, as usual.  He turned to smile at his squad mates, noticing that they were all dressed in the same cowled woolen robes he had worn as a novice.  As his buddy next to him turned to smile back, Zimmerman saw that the other man’s face was a skull, smiling.  Julius started to scream.

The explosion lifted the APC straight into the air.  It crashed back to earth with a grinding shriek.  The air in the small vehicle became a stifling, putrid miasma that smelled of death.  Julius twisted violently to free himself of the wreckage entangling him.  His eyes snapped open and his breath caught in his throat.  Jack, his English bulldog, was staring at him, muzzle drooling on the bed and nose a half inch from his own.  Dog breath.  Julius screamed again, for real this time.  Jack almost blinked.

“Shit, Jack,” Julius yelled, “You scared the crap out of me.”  Julius fought to disentangle himself from the blankets that had twisted around him as he thrashed through his nightmare.  He finally succeeded and swung his feet over the side of the bed, sitting up.  He bent to scratch Jack’s head

“Ready to go, huh?”  Jack just stared back, unblinking.  Julius didn’t think the dog ever blinked.  Julius went to get up, putting his hand in the small pond of drool Jack had left on his bed.  “Aww, shit, Jack.  I just washed these sheets.”  Jack just stared back.  “Don’t get so upset,” Julius continued.  “It’s okay. I’ll take care of it.  Don’t be so hard on yourself.”  Jack just stared at him. Julius scratched the dog’s head again and went to the bathroom.

Zimmerman came out in his Georgetown hooded sweatshirt and shorts.  He grabbed his phone off the charger and dropped it in the waterproof bag with a handful of dog snacks and a bottle of water.  “Let’s go, buddy.  You got point.”  The dog shuffled out as Julius held the door open.  Zimmerman followed outside into the predawn darkness, carrying the bag.  The early morning chill was refreshing, dew on the grass stretching down to the river.  Julius forced himself not to check his six as he followed Jack’s waddling ass down to the boathouse.

Jack just sat watching on the dock as Julius flipped the two-man scull off the rack.  “Two-man scull, two men’s skulls,” Julius muttered to himself as he lowered the craft into the water.  It was heavy, almost a hundred pounds and ungainly, but Julius expertly flipped it into position next to the dock with a soft splash.  He dropped the bag into the back of the boat and held it steady to the dock. “What are you waiting for?” he growled at the dog.  Jack twisted his head quizzically for a moment, then padded over and dropped like a bowling ball into the boat.  The dog took a seat behind the bag, facing front.  Julius slipped into the front seat, facing backwards towards Jack, stretching arms and legs as he slid the seat back and forth on its silent mechanism. Julius had just greased the tracks and oarlocks yesterday.  He liked quiet.

“Clear to the rear,” Zimmerman announced quietly.  “Clear to the front?” he asked the dog.  Jack stared past Zimmerman and said nothing.  “Good to go, then.”  Zimmerman pushed off from the dock.  He fitted his long graphite oars to their locks and began an easy pull upstream to the middle of the Potomac.  It was still dark, but a lighter purple over the Gothic towers of the university hinted at the dawn to come.  Zimmerman started to pull harder, settling down to his warm-up cadence.  He stared back at the dog staring at him.  “When are you going learn to row?  I’m getting a little tired of hauling your fat ass up and down this river.”  Jack tilted his head.  “You know what I’m talking about, dog-breath.  Getting a little jiggly around the middle.  No snacks until we clear the Chain Bridge.”  Jack laid down on the ditty bag, settling his muzzle on his paws. He looked sad.

Zimmerman began to slowly increase his cadence, sliding and pulling in concert to the soft splashing of the dipping oars.  Despite the cold, a sheen of sweat appeared on his forehead.  He concentrated on his breathing.  He was an “empty-lung technique” guy, inhaling steadily during the power stroke, emptying his lungs slowly during the recovery, his chest empty and his knees tight in, squeezing every bit of air out at the catch, then the cadence beginning again, his powerful chest filling with air as he pulled with his back and shoulders, pushed with his legs and felt the trembling boat shoot forward through the glassy water.  He was a human metronome, a sweating piston pumping within the scull’s smooth cylinder, watching his wake curve smoothly downstream.

Jack’s head came up off his paws.  He made a thrumming sound with his throat and looked at Julius.  “What?” Zimmerman asked between breaths.  “You say something?”  A second later they passed under the Chain Bridge.  “Oh.  You said bridge, huh?  Fine, go ahead.  Lard-ass.”  Jack chose not to reply to this, instead nuzzling into the ditty bag and coming out with a dog treat.  “Just one, lard-ass.  It’s Wednesday, we’re going for distance today.  Better make ‘em last.”  Jack made his sad sound and settled into chewing on the snack.

Julius settled into his endurance cadence.  He no longer wore a heart monitor or brought along his little electronic metronome.  After four years of rowing three times a week, his body knew what to do.  He didn’t think.  That was the best part.  He pulled, the oars splashed, the water slipped by.  He felt a trickle of sweat travel the length of his spine.  He kept to the middle of the river, somewhat narrower here as he headed north, the yards and yards drifting behind him marked by the little whirlpools left by his curved oar blades.  Silence, if you didn’t count the loud snuffling of Jack polishing off his treat.  Jack looked into his eyes, head tilted.

“No more.  Not until the next bridge.”  Jack made his sad sound again, a deeper thrum ending with a higher note that always sounded to Julius like his ex-wife saying “Fuck you.”  Pity, that.  He breathed, pulled harder but no faster.  The water flowed past, the river making its slow turn to the west.  Julius could see the dawn threatening to break behind them as he fought to race away.  Sweat started to drip down his nose.  Pulling, breathing, pulling, breathing.  Jack started to snore.

Jack’s head came up and Zimmerman knew he must be nearing the Beltway bridge.  How long had he been rowing?  He didn’t know, didn’t wear a watch.  Pulling, breathing.  A drop of sweat rolled into his eye and he tried to blink it away as the huge mass of the bridge passed darkly overhead.  Julius could hear the early morning traffic noises as he shot like an arrow out from under the bridge.  Sweat in both eyes now and it wouldn’t blink away.  He couldn’t see, was blinded by the sweat and the sun rising like a searchlight over the bridge, straight into his eyes.

“Dammit,” he said out loud, shipping his oars and rubbing at his eyes with the heels of both hands.  He had been in a trance, moving at speed like a perfectly tuned machine, hadn’t been thinking or feeling or anything and then—stupid sweat, stupid sun, he thought.  He looked back at Jack, who was waiting to be told he could get his snack.  Something caught his eye, however, something about the bridge.  He looked up, squinting into the sun which was intensely bright, exactly behind the bridge.  Something on the bride—a person.  Standing on the railing, a person, silhouetted by the bright sun behind.  A girl, he thought, the light streaming through a loose white dress or something, her figure in dark relief within.  He stared, transfixed, his eyes watering from trying to squint into the sun.  It was a vision, he thought. An angel, an angel from heaven.  He could make out a ring of red fire, a halo, about her head, lit from the sun behind.  Everything else about her was in shadow. As Julius watched, she raised her arms, outstretched.  Jack barked, once.  An angel, he sees it too, Julius thought.  Just then, the vision started to shrink.  Zimmerman stared, confused, until he realized that she wasn’t shrinking.  She was falling, pitching head first over the side of the bridge.

“Holy Shit!”  Julius snapped out of his trance and struggled to unship the oars.  His boat was whispering away from the bridge, farther and farther as he watched the figure fall silently, slowly.   She hit the water with a sickening splash and disappeared.  Jack made his sad sound.  Waves lapped at the boat.

“Shit, shit, shit,” Julius said as he struggled to bring the scull about.  This was exactly what the small boat was designed not to do.  He fought the craft, backing one oar and pulling hard with the other, the graphite bending and locks creaking with the strain.  It seemed to take forever to bring it around, to start the pull back to the bridge.  “Do you see her, Jack?  Is she there?”  Jack barked, once; now hopping past Julius to the bow, front paws on the gunnel, staring ahead.  He barked again, his stub of a tail wagging.  Julius kept shooting glances over his shoulder to try to see ahead but could only see Jack’s butt wiggling emphatically side to side.  “Get down, Jack.  Down, dammit!  If you fall in, you’re gonna sink like a rock!”  Jack turned to look back at Julius.  He made the ‘fuck you’ sound.  Then he returned to looking forward.

Julius thought he was getting close, but wasn’t sure until Jack started barking.  Jack almost never barked, almost always in the context of pizza.  He was barking like a crazy dog now, though.  He kept looking back to Julius, then to the water.  Julius used the oars to brake the boat to a stop.  He got up on his knees and scanned the water.  He saw nothing.  Jack was hopping up and down with his front paws on the gunnel, barking.  Jack never hopped.

“Dammit, Jack!  Get down here, you’re gonna fall in.”  Julius wished again that the stubborn animal would wear his life jacket once in a while.  Jack had always refused, making the sad sound whenever Julius had put it on him.  Julius had made him wear it once, despite Jack’s complaining.  The next morning he found it chewed to shreds.

Jack was looking just ahead of the boat now, steadily alternating barks with thrumming sounds, not hopping anymore.  Julius was trying to think what to do, not even sure he had really seen the girl.  But Jack had seen her, too, he was sure.  As he stared at the same spot in the river as Jack, her white figure rose to the surface.  Silently, her inert form surfaced, face down, her arms outstretched.  A formless white dress clung gauzily to her.  She didn’t move.

Without a thought, Julius rolled over the gunnel into the river.  The boat rolled as he dropped smoothly underwater, knocking Jack off the gunwale.  Julius came up, suddenly realizing that his jump must have rolled the boat.  He looked from the floating girl to the boat.  No Jack!  “Oh my god!”  Julius stretched for the boat as Jack’s head came up.  He had been knocked into the bottom of the boat, but now stood with paws on the gunwale again. He barked and looked at the girl.  Julius just shook his head and turned to swim for the girl.  Julius was a strong swimmer, most ex-Navy Seals were.  He was at the girl in three strokes and rolled her face up, treading water.  He brought his arm under hers and around her chest.  He could feel her breathing.  She’s alive.  He turned with her, twisting to see where he was, where was his boat.  Where was his boat?  He turned and saw his boat, and Jack still standing on the gunwale, looking at him.  The boat was moving downstream, moving with increasing speed away from him.  Jack stared, twisted his head questioningly.

“Stay, Jack!  Stay!  Don’t jump!  Stay in the boat!”  Julius looked at Jack, at the receding boat, back down at the girl in his arms.  He looked back to Jack, now moving more swiftly downstream.  “I’m sorry, Jack.  I’m sorry.”  The boat was moving faster.

“Fuck you.”

Julius swam for the riverbank, carefully holding the girl’s head above water.  By the time he had pulled her ashore, the boat had disappeared downstream.

End of excerpt from The Problem with God

Now, if you did enjoy that somewhat, don’t buy the book!  But you should go ahead and buy the first book in the trilogy, entitled God Bless the Dead.  Works out much better that way.  Oh, and by the way, all proceeds from sales of GBTD go to charity to support research concerning mental illness.  So there’s that, too.

Buy God Bless the Dead at Amazon

That Cat in Alien

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Bulldog (small)

 

 

 

 

 

Feel like that damn cat in Alien. You know, at the end? Not a good feeling.  And you, buddy, are no Sigourney Weaver.   Just saying.

 

Jack the Bulldog

                                                                 The Problem with God 

by Evan Geller

 

Blog Tour: Therin Knite’s Othella

It is a pleasure to host the blog tour of Therin Knite as she promotes her new novel, Othella.
Othella
Book Description:
Georgette:  Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Georgette McClain can’t resist a juicy tip. So when a rumored crazy ex-CEO gifts her evidence of a vast conspiracy involving the world’s premier scientific community, Arcadian Heights, she sets her sights on the story of a lifetime. And all she has to do to grab it by the reins is sneak into the most secure facility in the world—and expose it for the slaughter house it is.
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Marco:  Tech company CEO Marco Salt has it all. Fame. Fortune. Family. But not long after Marco’s beloved genius daughter is invited to join Arcadian Heights, a rogue agent reveals to him the horrifying truth about the revered scientific community. Forced to flee for his life, Marco finds himself on the run with a deadly secret in his grasp and a single goal in mind: destroy Arcadian Heights.
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Quentin:  Quentin Belmont has been the Arcadian Heights spokesman for the better part of two decades, and his singular motivation is to keep the community safe at all costs. So when an internal incursion leaks vital information to an outside party, Quentin preps a “cleanup” without a second thought. But what at first appears to be a simple task turns out to be anything but, and Quentin comes face to face with the unthinkable—a threat that could annihilate the community.

About the author, Therin Knite:

Therin Knite is a 22-year-old recent college graduate who occasionally writes speculative fiction and has the odd delusion of literary stardom. Knite lives in a humble little place known as the Middle of Nowhere, VA, where she spends most of her days reading books and writing what may possibly qualify as books.

Knite is a graduate of the College of William and Mary and holds a BBA in Finance and English. In August 2014, Knite will begin work as an underwriting analyst at a large insurance company, where she intends to stay for the foreseeable future.

Knite, who’s been writing seriously for seven years, is an avid book reviewer, blogger, and the sort of person who spends far too much time imagining epic sci-fi battles in her head. Knite intends to publish 3 to 4 novels per year, ever year, until she runs out of ideas…which is highly unlikely, so she’ll probably be writing forever.

Finally, Therin Knite has a simple writing philosphy you may want to know before you pick up one of her books:

“50% Dark, 50% Snark”

Purchase the paperback:  http://www.amazon.com/Othella-Arcadian-Heights-Therin-Knite/dp/1499551258/

Purchase the kindle version:  http://www.amazon.com/Othella-Arcadian-Heights-Book-1-ebook/dp/B00L7DCTA8/

Website: http://www.therinknite.com/

Blog: http://knitewrites.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/TherinKnite
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7760963.Therin_Knite
Amazon Page: http://www.amazon.com/Therin-Knite/e/B00HRL0CXA/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Therin-Knite/663841677010575

I invite you to explore Therin’s excellent blog or try the sample of this new novel available on Amazon.

Best of luck to Therin on her new novel.

Publishers on Life Support: An Industry in Decline

There is no lack of opinion regarding the state of the publishing industry.  While I am not a professional insider, my status as a writer-publisher of two novels, as well as my previous experience as an author/editor of a traditionally (Big Six) published nonfiction work, gives me some credibility, I believe, in this discussion.  As much as many writing on the topic, at any rate.  It is my opinion that traditional publishing is exhibiting evidence of an industry that is deeply moribund.IMG_1115

As a surgeon practicing for over 27 years, I have had the deeply unpleasant experience of witnessing institutional decline and failure.  This past decade has been particularly challenging for hospitals.  On several occasions, I have witnessed the process of a hospital failing around me.  The signs are always the same.  The first evidence of a problem is the day that I’m told that some suture or medication that I’ve routinely used during an operation is “not in stock.”  While variously ascribed to “vendor problems” or “delayed shipment,” the real reason is that the hospital has stopped paying its bills in a timely fashion and the suppliers are waiting for a check before they send any more stuff.  Obviously, this is a problem.  It affects the care of my patient, but one finds a way to make do.  Next, the clerks start disappearing from the wards and nursing stations.  These individuals, while not licensed professionals, are the equivalent of the staff sergeants in the military–the people who know how to get things done.  They make everybody’s job easier.  But since they have no direct patient contact and are not regulated by the various accreditation agencies that the hospital must answer to, they are first to go as the hospital seeks to pare down its salary expenses (salaries are always the hospital’s highest expenditure).  The absence of the clerks doesn’t directly endanger the care of patients, but it makes the lives of the nurses, PA’s, and doctors much more difficult.  Suddenly, the care givers must spend time doing clerical duties to get things done for their patients, making everyone less efficient.  And it’s not like we have a lot of extra time to take on these tasks, so everybody feels the strain.  Hospitals depend on the fact that health care professionals, however, will pick up the slack for the good of the patient.  After all, everybody who works in the hospital has sworn an oath to that effect; everyone, that is, except the hospital administrators.  But this can only be stretched so far, and eventually, the best staff members leave to take positions at other, more solvent hospitals.  The remaining staff, too old or marginally competent to relocate, are left behind in a situation of downward spiraling care.  The final phase before the doors are ultimately locked is a deeply distressing period, though patients are often oblivious to the situation.

I see the same thing happening today in the publishing industry.  Obviously, traditional publishers are in a financially challenging environment.  Their current reaction, it seems to me, exactly mirrors what I describe above.  Experienced and talented professionals in the field, some of them my friends and associates, are being let go.  Divisions are being downsized or consolidated.  Jobs once done by these experienced pros are now done by interns, or not at all.  In-house expertise is sacrificed to subcontractors, always the lowest bidder.  My recent reading experience has given sad evidence to this trend.  Ebooks put out by major publishing houses on Kindle and Nook (I use both) exhibit extensive formatting issues, nonfunctional Tables of Contents, and copy editing errors pointing to a “scan but don’t proofread” approach to converting their manuscripts from print to the electronic format.  Even recent print editions, both hardcover and trade paperback books, show the kind of mistakes that shouldn’t be allowed by a professional publishing house that holds itself to a standard above the independent author-publisher.  Supposedly.

This is the crux of the matter at hand.  The traditional, professional publishing houses are in competition with independently published writers, as well as multiple small presses.  The response to this competition must be to turn out an even better product, to provide their contracted authors with a level of support and professional cache that will make for continued loyalty.  This has not been in evidence.  It seems, instead, that the response is to cut corners as they cut expenses.  It’s not going to work.  This short sighted approach, like the hospital trying to keep its doors open as it provides decreasing quality of care, leads to failure.

The response of a challenged industry giant must be to use their assets to explore new markets and areas of opportunity.  For example, many independents and small publishing houses are exploring the use of “bundles” to provide readers with greater value.  This is a natural technique for traditional publishing houses to employ, as they own the rights to huge libraries of previously published material, much of it desirable to readers.  It costs almost nothing for publishers to exploit this asset, but there is little or no effort being displayed in this regard.  It seems to me that every time I purchase a book written by an author published by RandomPenguinWhatever, I should receive the recommendation to buy a bundle of that author’s previous work, or some part thereof.  Not happening.

If traditional publishing houses continue to play defense rather than innovate, to pare down rather than promote those aspects of their industry in which they excel, the downward spiral to institutional failure is inevitable.  The best and brightest in the industry–authors, editors, marketing and legal professionals–will leave for the new opportunities which will  arise in their stead.  These folks haven’t sworn an oath to support their publishers.  And readers are not oblivious.

Give Your Sweetheart a Claddagh and Help the Homeless

Happy Valentine’s Day.  Just to prove that we are not simple dupes, reflexively buying chocolates and cards because the Hershey/Hallmark Intimacy Industrial Complex tells us to, do better for the one you love this year:

Just now available for your loved one:  The Problem With God, now in paperback.  The second (some say the best) book in The Claddagh Trilogy.  Available at Amazon at:

Buy the Book!

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Isn’t (s)he worth it?  Of course he/she is, and proceeds go to charity.  What says “I love you” more than contributing to keeping homeless people warm this crazy cold and snowy holiday?

Enjoy your chocolates, too.

Professionals Perform

It should be obvious to anyone who reads this blog that I am not a professional author.  I have never made such a claim, despite the fact that I’ve written a bit.  I’ve traditionally published nonfiction with McGraw-Hill, I’ve edited quite a bit of nonfiction, and lately I’ve independently authored/published two novels.  And I write this blog which, I hope, occasionally doesn’t suck.  All of which does not make me a professional author.  I am a surgeon, and I write.  But I am a professional surgeon, and I am not, in any manner of speaking, a professional writer.IMG_1114

I make this point as a matter of introduction. I read a bit about writing, since it is my hobby.  Nobody who dabbles in this business can possibly miss the current controversy surrounding the seismic changes occurring in the publishing industry.  The recent changes have allowed anyone with a computer to publish a book.  I am, as I mentioned, a case in point.  This has led to a great deal of distress on the part of the established publication industry, exactly paralleling the cataclysm which struck the traditional music industry a little over a decade ago.  No surprise there.  What is unique to this authorship revolution, however, is the angst that this revolution has created amongst professional authors.  A case in point–

I recently read the blog post of Chuck Wendig at Terrible Minds.com entitled:

feb, 2014
SLUSHY GLUT SLOG: WHY THE SELF-PUBLISHING SHIT VOLCANO IS A PROBLEM

 At the risk of oversimplifying Mr. Wendig’s lengthy blog post, the gist of the problem as he sees it is that now that the barriers to publication have been dismantled, so many people are publishing so much bad literature that it is making it hard for readers to discover quality books and, in addition, that this lack of quality may lead to a backlash against independently published work.  This is a point that Mr. Wendig has made many times and is a point made by many concerned professionals in the field.

I don’t agree.

Oh, I wholeheartedly agree that we are currently experiencing an unprecedented wave of terrible, awful, self-published books.  Just like we’ve recently seen a surge of mega-best selling traditionally published dreck.  Nothing new there.  But I disagree with Mr. Wendig that this is a problem.  It sounds an awful lot like, “Those damn kids with their rock and roll are ruining all the good music for the rest of us.”  I don’t think Mr. Wendig has to worry so much.

You see, Mr. Wendig, you are a professional writer.  You dedicate all your professional energies to your craft, which is your job, which earns you a living so that you can put food on your family’s table.  That is not what I or these other yahoos spouting “the self-publishing shit volcano” do.  We dabble.  We emulate.  And very often, we suck.

You should be encouraged by this fact.  You should revel in the great discrepancy between your work and mine.  Trust me, if you decided to take up general surgery as a hobby and start taking out a few gallbladders on your kitchen table just for kicks, I’m not worried.  You are never going to approach my skill or professionalism in this endeavor.  If you can convince some folks that your hobby-level gallbladder removing skills are good enough to get a few people to lay down for a cut-rate cholecystectomy, I’m not feeling threatened.

Your job, Mr. Wendig, is to be so much better than the rabble that your professionalism makes you stand out above the crowd.  Your job, is to make sure that your work is valued and valuable, marketed in a manner that the audience/consumer finds desirable.  The music industry analogy is perfectly apt.  Believe me, Bruce Springsteen isn’t too worried that I can put out an album on iTunes using Garage Band.  However, quite a few million music lovers got a little ticked off when Springsteen’s albums were costing $18 a pop for a CD that cost thirty cents to make.  A lot of folks couldn’t afford $100 for a ticket to a concert in Madison Square Garden.  That’s when we all started to look around and realize that the bands playing at the local theater for $10 really were pretty damn talented.  So we went to see them perform, instead.  And then we bought their albums, instead.

So Mr. Wendig, don’t worry that most self-published books are terrible.  Just be professional. Worry when we start getting good at this stuff.