Friday, December 31, 2021

Top 10 Most-Viewed Posts of 2021: #1


Counting down the top 10 most-viewed posts of 2021...and here's #1, a Q&A with Zoë Playdon, first posted Nov. 3, 2021. Wishing everyone a happy and healthy 2022.


Zoë Playdon is the author of the new book The Hidden Case of Ewan Forbes and the Unwritten History of the Trans Experience. It focuses on a landmark legal case in the UK. Playdon is the Emeritus Professor of Medical Humanities at the University of London.


Q: What inspired you to write this book about Ewan Forbes and his legal case?


A: Few people know that for decades, trans people self-identified, accessed affirmative medical care, corrected their birth certificates, and lived unproblematically in complete equality with everyone else.


But in 1970 UK trans people were stripped of their civil liberties, became socially excluded, and were subjected to an abusive medical regime that included conversion therapy and compulsory sterilisation.


Ewan’s legal case, decided in 1968, precipitated those changes, which damaged the lives of countless trans people. All the records of Ewan’s case were removed from public eye, the press gagged, and everyone involved in it sworn to secrecy, and so this crucial piece of trans history is unknown.


I felt it was important for people to know that trans equality used to be straightforward, and that it was deliberately removed to solve a political, constitutional problem – securing male-primogeniture inheritance to the British throne – which no longer exists.


Q: How would you characterize the attitude in Britain toward trans people in Ewan’s younger days and during the time of his case?


A: Ewan was born in 1912 – he’s the earliest example I have of a UK trans boy self-identifying and getting affirmative medical care – at a time when there was a well-established scientific recognition that some people have variations in sex characteristics that position them between typical male-female binaries.


So he grew up in a general social environment that accepted that some people’s sex was different from that assigned at birth.


In the 1930s, it was generally trans men, like the athlete Mark Weston, who attracted public attention and it was believed that trans men vastly outnumbered trans women, who were considered a rarity.


But in the 1950s, the world-wide publicity given to Christine Jorgensen in the US and to Roberta Cowell in the UK shifted that perception, and in the early 1960s, the publicity given to model and actress April Ashley cemented the social image of trans people as exquisitely beautiful “sex changes,” with trans women believed to vastly outnumber trans men. In fact, the issue wasn’t numbers but visibility.


Apart from these exceptional, well-known examples, trans people, both men and women, simply went through supportive medical and legal processes and lived their lives like anyone else.


No one knew they were trans, or if they did know, they regarded it as a purely personal matter of private medical history. This was the case for Ewan until he was in his 50s.


But in 1966, when his cousin John announced that he was taking Ewan to court to prove that he “is now and has all along been of the female sex,” Ewan knew, as a doctor, that the medical climate was changing dramatically.


A group of US psychiatrists, notably John Money, Richard Green, and Robert Stoller, were busy claiming that being trans was a mental illness caused by inadequate parenting, and that they could remedy it.


In 1962, the first Gender Identity Research Clinic was opened at the University of California, Los Angeles, to “cure” trans and gay people by a range of measures: aversion conditioning using either emetics or electric shocks, frontal lobotomy, psychotherapy, and electro-convulsive therapy.


Of course, it was nonsensical pseudo-science, but in an aggressive turf war with endocrinology, psychiatry won.


In the UK, the affirmative care given by surgeon Lennox Broster and his team was being replaced by a psychiatric model led by John Randell at Charing Cross Hospital, who saw his role as being to
“breed out of our genetic inheritance those with psychopathic and adverse genetic propensities.”


The new medical environment would classify Ewan as a floridly psychotic lesbian with a perjured marriage: both he and his wife Patty would be liable to two years’ imprisonment, their lives ruined.


Ewan was much-loved by his community, but he was lucky to escape the systemic transphobia that overtook the UK from 1970 onwards.


Q: How did you research the book and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?


A: Oh, I was constantly getting surprises, and sometime really big ones.


The first was that it took two years and the intervention of the Home Secretary to gain access to documents that should have been in the public record.  


My starting point for writing was the court record of Ewan’s legal case, 500 pages of back-and-forth questions and answers. I went through it line by line, reconstructing what had happened in court, how the evidence had been presented and the narrative of Ewan’s life.


The next shock was that a trans man had inherited a male-line primogeniture baronetcy, something that we could never imagine happening today.


Clearly, something had changed, and so I backtracked to the first clinical categorisation of trans people in 1886 and went forward through medical literature, legal cases, and newspaper reports in the first part of the 20th century.


From that, and from the work of other historians, including unpublished doctoral theses, it became evident that for almost 80 years, being trans was classified as a variation of sex development, an intersex condition, and that the regimen was self-identification, affirmative medical care, correction of birth certificate, and an unremarkable life as an equal citizen.


And sadly, that was the next big shock, because since Ewan’s case, trans equality has been made to feel like an impossible dream.


Of course, I wanted to know what had happened after Ewan won his case. How had trans people suddenly been stripped of their civil liberties and what had the experience of that been like? So the next step was to work forward from Ewan’s case to the present day.


What I found was a mass of documents produced by trans activists in the 1970s and 1980s, all trying to make sense of what had happened to them.


It is really distressing material to read: a group of people who have suddenly been completely dispossessed and made subject to medical abuse, with no idea of why this has happened, and not even aware of what they were now allowed to do or be.


And like other ghetto archives, it is a very moving record of people trying to survive, and being obliged to accept the cruellest of conditions for survival: no employment rights, dismissal for being trans, unable to marry or adopt, and if unable to pay car parking fines, then sent to the wrong sex prison where women, certainly, were raped without it counting legally as rape.


They learned to expect to lose their jobs, homes, family, and friends, to be expelled from their church, sports teams, clubs, and societies. They knew they must never question their psychiatrist and must obey all their demands without argument, or they would get no healthcare.


To survive, the best chance was to move to another city, never speak of their past, not take any job with a pension or health insurance or social security or other benefits that required a birth certificate, and to accept that every interaction with officialdom would be exposing and humiliating because they would use birth names, pronouns, and titles.


The best to hope for was to live in hiding, hope not to get beaten or raped on the streets, and accept that if that did happen, the police would not investigate or provide any protection.


That was the legal regime until 1996, when the landmark case P v S and Cornwall County Council restored employment rights, and the official medical regime until the UK government accepted formally in 2002 that being trans was not a mental illness. I think that is the next shock for readers – that these events are so recent.


And the final shock for me was to discover how entrenched the British Establishment are in their protection of primogeniture.


When it was removed from the monarchy in 2013, there was a general expectation that it would be removed across the aristocracy as well. But now there have been six separate bills, one a year, entered into Parliament to try to end primogeniture – and they have all failed.


Q: What do you see as the legacy today of Ewan Forbes and of his legal case?


A: I see it as a dual legacy, both sweet and sour.


On the sweet side, we know that trans children were self-identifying and receiving affirmative medical care a hundred years ago, and that Ewan led a happy, fulfilled life. That puts the present moral panic about supporting trans children into a new perspective.


It’s also helpful to know that for a long time, it was believed that there were more trans boys than girls, then that switched to a belief that there were more trans women than trans men: it reminds us of the historical and scientific fact that we have no statistical records of the incidence of trans people, and that trans visibility is and has always been dependent on social nurturance.


And I think it is reassuring for the future to know that trans equality existed for many decades without being in any way socially problematic.


On the sour side, though, comes the uncomfortable truth that Ewan had to quite literally fight for his life in desperate circumstances, and that the consequence of his victory was a political crisis that was solved by putting trans people outside the social pale.


Two things, I think, are very hard to come to terms with.


The first is that historically, when we find a specific group stripped of their human rights, socially excluded, reviled by the media, and subjected to sterilisation, we term that not just a eugenic project, but genocide. It is unspeakably distressing to have to consider the possibility that the UK government effectively carried out such a project against its own citizens.


The second difficult thing to acknowledge is that it happened so recently and that most British citizens knew nothing about it. History was occluded by a social memory in which trans people had always been pushed to the social margins, and that this was justified because they weren’t “real men” or “real women.”


As we know from other periods in recent European history, once you’ve decided some individuals don’t count as “real people,” it becomes permissible to say or do whatever you like to them.


Those kinds of brutalities are not just devastating for the people themselves but are irreparably damaging to the societies that permit them.


Putting these two items together, Ewan’s legacy, perhaps, is to invite us to look at the century of trans lives that his life spanned and to ask ourselves, do we want our society to continue that kind of injustice?


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Two quite different things. With my colleague Professor Jo Winning at Birkbeck College, I’m planning a research symposium on trans narratives, for 2022, to think about how we can create, structure, and critique histories that represent trans lives authentically.


I’m also continuing to work with my colleague Dr. Lisa Fenton at the University of Cumbria to develop our ground-breaking master’s degree in Bushcraft – Wilderness Living Skills, as it is called in the US – as part of a wider ecological initiative.


Finding better ways of treating each other and the world we live in seems to me crucially important for social justice and for species survival.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I’m absolutely delighted that in spite of the restrictions imposed by the Covid pandemic, we can still talk virtually to each other – but I’m also so disappointed, since I was really looking forward to visiting and spending time in the US, talking about these issues and getting to know each other better!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Dec. 31



Dec. 31, 1908: Simon Wiesenthal born.

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Top 10 Most-Viewed Posts of 2021: #2


Counting down the top 10 most-viewed posts of's #2, a Q&A with Ido Kedar first posted July 16, 2020.

Ido Kedar is the author of the novel In Two Worlds. He also has written the memoir Ido in Autismland, which describes his experiences with nonspeaking autism. 

Q: Why did you decide to write this novel, and how did you come up with the idea for your character Anthony?

A: I have a nonfiction book, Ido in Autismland, that I wrote when I was a teenager. It has had a significant impact on the lives of autistic nonspeakers and their families. I have continued to write nonfiction in my blog,, basically continuing where my memoir left off.

I have made inroads reaching out to families and professionals in the autism community through my nonfiction writing, but I realized the general public knew very little about autism.

In addition I craved a challenge and a new creative experience. Writing a fictional story about an autistic boy gave me the opportunity to do so much more than nonfiction allows.

Instead of me describing and explaining what autism is like, fiction lets the readers experience autism for themselves. They go into Anthony’s (the protagonist) head to swirl with his senses, hear his thoughts, and face his outer challenges.

Fiction let me create a true-to-life family and show how autism impacts them, for good and bad. It also gave me the chance to lay out current controversies through a variety of characters that have a huge impact on Anthony’s life.

In essence, fiction takes the reader on a journey into Autismland and exposes the reader to a new world that I hope will prompt social change and greater understanding and tolerance of nonspeakers.

Anthony is based on many of my own experiences and many observed incidents. In my case, as a boy who couldn’t communicate until I was 7, observation was incredibly important in my life. I noticed everything. Then, because I could not speak or share my ideas using other methods, I thought constantly about what I saw.

My own life is different than Anthony’s in key aspects. I have a different and more perceptive family. I learned to communicate at 7, not 16, as he did, but I observed many of my autistic peers waiting to learn to communicate until they were 16 or older. Some are waiting indefinitely.

To me, Anthony represents a kind of autistic everyman and his journey moves the reader from hopelessness to hope. 

Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?

A: The title, In Two Worlds, reflects the multiple dualities of Anthony’s life. He is torn between his inside and outside.

In other words, his inner autism and his outer therapies, his smart brain and his outer presentation of ineptitude and confusion, his at times hallucinatory sensory system and his outer life of mundane drills and behavior modification, his rich, intelligent, inner world and how he is erroneously perceived as low-functioning cognitively by experts, his life in silence without a means to communicate for 16 years with his entire destiny controlled by others and his ultimate liberation to communication and some measure of autonomy.

Anthony’s two worlds reflect a boy living in a trapped body while his mind and soul can soar freely.

Q: Can you say more about how the experiences of writing fiction and nonfiction compare for you?

A: Writing fiction is a lot more fun, to be honest. I have been writing nonfiction since I was 12, educating and advocating, and getting asked the same questions over and over. There are many misconceptions about autism that have truly harmed people and I have felt a need to help fix things, to the best of my ability.

My memoir, Ido in Autismland, was written between the ages of 12 and 15. I felt passionate about writing it and poured my soul into it. Nine years later I still get asked the same questions, and I assume I will forever.

That’s fine, by the way, but I needed to stretch myself in a new way. Inventing characters, villains and heroes, and the world of a family was incredibly enjoyable. I knew their world. I heard their conversations in my mind. The characters were vivid to me and became real to me and they became real to readers too.

It is worth mentioning that one widely believed theory about my disability is that we lack creativity, imagination, insight, and empathy. I hope my book turns that nonsense on its head. 

Q: What do you hope readers take away from In Two Worlds?

A: My hope is that by going into the head and heart of Anthony that readers will be moved and gain insight into the experience of what it is like to live bombarded by sensory stimulation but to be unable to communicate your thoughts and show people who you really are due to an unreliable motor system.

The reader is the only one, besides Anthony, who knows he is smart and understands everything he hears. Consequently they share his experiences and frustrations of living in a world that endlessly patronizes, underestimates, and misinterprets him. The reader experiences Anthony’s highly sensory, at times almost psychedelic, inner world with him.

His eventual liberation to communication follows what I would call a truly heroic struggle to be heard despite powerful forces that on the surface seem benevolent, but which actually keep him stuck in isolation. The reader is with Anthony as he finally breaks free from them.

In Two Worlds examines the toll nonspeaking autism takes on family life and it looks at the popular autism treatments and theories that dominate his every moment. Ultimately, In Two Worlds tells the story of autism from the inside out.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I am working on another book as well as collaborating with my mother to develop an online class to help other autistic people gain the skills needed to communicate and end their isolation. Many people have no access to a qualified instructor so online is the ideal venue for them. My goal is to keep educating and advocating, but to keep my challenges varied and fresh.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: It is important to understand that many people believe nonspeaking autism is a language processing and cognitive disability, when for me, and for  thousands of others, it is actually primarily a motor disability. 

Severe autism itself is a huge challenge and very frustrating. It prevents people from moving and behaving as they like and means they must always have some kind of supervision in life.

But the misunderstanding of the disability just makes the situation exponentially worse. After all, if you had a disability that trapped you in dumb-looking motor patterns, you might be annoyed at the trap, but then trapped further by the professional response that believed that the motor patterns reflected lack of intelligence or thought. Try to imagine being paralyzed. You tell your body to move and it refuses.

Your brain is ok. It’s the disconnect that causes the problem.

Now imagine that your body is moving but doesn’t obey your brain. That creates impulses, patterns, and erratic movements. That’s autism. Kind of a moving paralysis, not a lack of thinking or understanding. Simply put, not talking is not the same as not thinking.

In Two Worlds has been well reviewed by readers and is recommended by Kirkus Reviews and BookLife , where it was a quarterfinalist in fiction. You can find my books on Amazon, Kindle, Smashwords (eBook), and Ido in Autismland is also available on Nook. You can reach me through my blog,, or Facebook. 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Dec. 30



Dec. 30, 1922: Jane Langton born.

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Top 10 Most-Viewed Posts of 2021: #3


Counting down the top 10 most-viewed posts of's #3, a Q&A with Paul Halpern first posted Sept. 9, 2021.


Paul Halpern is the author of the new book Flashes of Creation: George Gamow, Fred Hoyle, and the Great Big Bang Debate. His many other books include Synchronicity. He is a professor of physics at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia.


Q: What inspired you to write this dual biography of physicists George Gamow and Fred Hoyle?


A: As a child, I was highly inspired by George Gamow’s book, One, Two, Three, Infinity, a marvel of scientific exposition. It greatly stimulated my interest in physics. I also read The Black Cloud, by Fred Hoyle, and considered him one of the masters of science fiction.


Around the same time, I heard about the Big Bang vs Steady-State debate, which spurred my fascination with cosmology. Knowing that Gamow and Hoyle were two of the principal players involved in that debate made me even more interested in those scientists.


I had considered, as various points, writing biographies of each of those scientists, so when the opportunity arose, I put forth the idea of a dual biography, with the Big Bang as kind of a third character. I think it worked out great, judging by the excellent reviews.


Q: What do you see as some of the most common perceptions and misconceptions about the Big Bang Theory?


A: Many people now associate The Big Bang Theory with the popular television show! But it is a term invented well before then, by Fred Hoyle in 1949. Hoyle coined the term on a BBC radio show as a way of making fun of the theory.


Gamow never liked the term, given that the universe started out small, not big, and there wasn’t an actual explosion. But the term stuck. A contest with more than 13,000 entries of renaming the birth of the universe couldn’t find a better name!


The biggest misconception about the Big Bang is that it was an explosion in space, like a blast of dynamite, rather than the expansion of space itself.


Q: How would you describe the dynamic between the two scientists?


A: They met only rarely in person—most of their debates were in media accounts.


The one documented time they spoke directly about their theories was in the summer of 1956 in La Jolla, California, where Gamow was consulting for an aerospace company, and invited Hoyle to visit. They drove around in Gamow’s white Cadillac and speculated about the temperature of space. Their discussion was very friendly.


Less than a decade later, a discovery by Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson established that temperature as about 3 degrees above absolute zero—confirming the Big Bang theory.


Q: The Kirkus Review of the book says, "While many popular histories of this debate portray Gamow and Hoyle spending their lives debating this question, Halpern’s nuanced biographies give equal space to their other accomplishments, which were not only important, but Nobel-worthy." What is each scientist's legacy today?


A: Gamow developed the mathematical ideas used to determine the energies for particle colliders. He also pioneered science popularization—both in print and on TV.


Hoyle was similarly a great popularizer. He also brilliantly came up with the mechanism by which the carbon and other higher elements in the universe are produced—in the highly-compact, fiery cores of dying stars and released in supernova explosions. Thus he explained the chemical basis of how life—and human beings—exist in the universe.


In short, aside from the Big Bang and Steady-State dispute, their legacies are long-lasting and magnificent—in science as well as science popularization.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I am working on an article for an Italian journal about a suggestion by the Austrian thinker Ernst Mach, called Mach’s Principle, that the distant celestial bodies have a direct influence on bodies on Earth, by causing them to move in straight lines at constant speeds (or remain at rest, if they are already still) unless acted on by an external force—namely, the state of inertia.


Over the decades since he proposed that idea, there have been many schemes by Einstein, Dirac, Hoyle and others to try to get that idea to work. I’ll discuss what makes that notion so compelling.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: It was delightful, during the writing of the book, to get to know the family members and colleagues of those I wrote about.


One of the scientists that I interviewed, James Peebles, found out only a few weeks after I called him that he won the Nobel Prize. I was so pleased, and also happy that I had the chance to interview him before he was inundated with requests.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Paul Halpern.

Dec. 29



Dec. 29, 1922: William Gaddis born.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Top 10 Most-Viewed Posts of 2021: #4


Counting down the top 10 most-viewed posts of 2021, here's #4, a Q&A with Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch first posted Sept. 4, 2021.


Photo by Orest Skrypuch

Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch is the author of the new middle grade historical novel Traitors Among Us. It follows the same characters she's written about in Don't Tell the Nazis and Trapped in Hitler's Web. She lives in Brantford, Ontario.


Q: Why did you decide to return to the story of Krystia and Maria in your new World War II-era novel?


A: From my research, I realized that refugees like Krystia and Maria were far from safe at the end of the war, even though they had been given asylum in an American refugee camp.


Thousands of survivors just like them ended up being kidnapped right out of Allied refugee camps and taken into the Soviet Zone, where they were interrogated and tortured into signing false confessions, and then held in secret compounds called “silence camps.”


I wanted to know how Maria and Krystia would cope if this happened to them. I especially wanted to know how they would (or if they could) escape. There were 10,000 young people who had the experience that they did after the war and I wanted to shed light on it.


Q: How do you think the sisters have each been affected by the horrific events they've lived through?


A: Both of the sisters have a resilience based on trust and a resourcefulness based on generosity. They have lost so much, but in doing so, have an appreciation of what they still have.

As an example, their mother’s execution has a profound effect on both of them, but while the Nazis could kill their mother, they couldn’t take away the lessons and the love and generosity of spirit that she instilled in both of her daughters.


Q: The novels are based on historical facts--how did you research this particular book?


A: This is the seventh novel I’ve written that deals with the Ukrainian experience in WWII, so I’ve known about the Soviets raiding Allied refugee camps for quite some time.


It’s something pretty much every survivor talks about – they’ve either witnessed it, escaped from it, or knew someone who was kidnapped – so doing the initial research was relatively easy.


Finding detailed first person accounts of people incarcerated in Silence Camps was harder because it was exceedingly rare for people to escape. The toughest was finding an actual successful escape plan. I do consider myself a librarian-detective and so I kept on digging.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story?


A: History as we know it only scratches the surface of all that has happened in the past. There’s so much that we don’t know and what we don’t remember and learn from, we’re bound to repeat.


I would love it if readers talked to their own parents and grandparents and asked about what their life was like when they were young. After that, ask an older person from a different culture or community the same questions. We need to learn from each other so we can all grow in compassion, generosity, and experience.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: A story set in the 1930s that I’m having trouble containing in a single novel. At this rate it will be three.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: The companion novels to Traitors Among Us, in order are:


Don’t Tell the Nazis, Trapped in Hitler’s Web, and then Traitors Among Us. That said, the novels don’t have to be read in order. I try to write each story so they’re self-contained, but linked.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch.

Q&A with Robert L. Dilenschneider


Photo by Pamela Einarsen



Robert L. Dilenschneider is the author of the new book Nailing It: How History's Awesome Twentysomethings Got It Together. His other books include Decisions: Practical Advice from 23 Men and Women Who Shaped the World. He is the founder of The Dilenschneider Group, a corporate counseling and PR firm, and the former president and CEO of Hill & Knowlton.


Q: What inspired you to write Nailing It, and how did you choose the people to profile in the book?


A: Conditions around the world are changing so rapidly that we need to rethink how we approach the future and how we go for success.  

Nailing It tells the stories of 25 men and women from around the globe who started with modest means and who helped change the world.


I generated a field of several hundred who fell into the category and picked the ones that are in the book because they seemed to have most appeal and provide the best lessons.


The idea is to inspire young people and help them recognize that they can make a difference. For the more mature this book offers a snapshot of history in the making.


Q: How did you research the book, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?


A: In-depth research was done on each one of the individuals cited. The challenge was to make what we had to offer in three or four pages.


I was pleasantly surprised to learn about two people in the book who resisted the roles that others assigned them: Akio Morita and Rita Levi-Montalcini.


Morita was expected to take over his family’s centuries-old business, following the example of 15 generations of his predecessors. Levi-Montalcini was supposed to become a traditional wife and mother, not even going to college; certainly not becoming a doctor. Carving their own paths, Morita founded Sony and Levi-Montalcini won a Nobel in medicine (and became neither a wife nor a mother).


Q: What do you think made these figures find success early in life?


A: Determination is key. In almost every case these men and women took prudent risks, were oblivious to criticism, and exercised a laser-like focus on their objectives.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?


A: I want readers to take away the idea that at any stage of your life you can start something and make it successful.


My hope is that the stories in the book will help every reader realize that there are many paths forward. Some paths are smooth, while others are rocky. Some are routine and quotidian, others are novel. Some seem to go around in circles. Some require daring, bravery, and rebellion.


Whether you are a young person, or someone who loves a young person and wants to help him or her—or whether you are an old” person taking stock of things—know that each path is unique, just as each person is unique.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m currently working on two new books.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Robert L. Dilenschneider.

Q&A with John Lawrence



John Lawrence is the author of the new book Playing Doctor: Part Two: Residency (Blundering Along with Imposter Syndrome). It's a sequel to his book Playing Doctor: Part One: Medical School (Stumbling Through with Amnesia). In addition to being a doctor, he has been a filmmaker, scriptwriter, and whitewater river guide, among other activities.


Q: This is your second book about your experiences as a medical student and resident. Did you know from the start that you'd be writing more than one memoir?


A: Thank you so much for taking time to discuss my series Playing Doctor!  


The question of writing multiple volumes in the series is sort of a chicken-and-egg answer as I initially wrote the entire book as one 700-page manuscript. Many years later, when I finally became serious about self-publishing it, I realized that nobody would want to strain their back hefting such a weighty tome, or download such a lengthy book, so I divided the manuscript into several different books.


All that said, after the effort of editing and publishing book one, the idea of not dealing with book two crossed my mind! The different books take place at different times in my training and show a sort of character arc, from head injured student to licensed physician, complete with poor decision-making throughout my personal and professional life!


Q: Of the various experiences you write about in the book, which especially stood out for you?

A: In book one, starting medical school with traumatic head injuries that severely limited my memory was an overriding aspect of my life for all my years of training.  


Much of what we do in medicine is very rote and repetitive, such as looking up lab reports and writing chart notes — not very interesting to write down in a book, so I tried to choose those experiences that stood out in general.


In book two, there are several stories involving obstetrics that stood out then and now — as humans we are inherently protective of infants and children, so those moments, tragic and triumphant, remain more ingrained on my memory.


My readers, however, all seem to pick up on a certain spider bite that happened in book one.  

Q: Do you think you felt less like an imposter once you became a resident?


A: No!  More so. At least in medical school you could disappear behind the student label. As a resident, as much as you were recognized as just starting out, your name tag clearly stated you were an M.D., so there was no student moniker to hide behind.


The imposter syndrome was therefore alive and well because I was now expected to be able to think and act like a doctor, at least that was the pressure we expected of ourselves (and was expected of us by the residency programs and our medical teams) — but I certainly felt a sense that at any moment someone would pull back the curtain and reveal that I did not belong.

Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?  

A: An entertaining and enjoyable read to start with!  


I do hope the series conveys the very human aspects of medical training, the long arc of developing into a doctor, and hopefully shares the fears, frustrations, hard work, humor, and dedication that are a part of that world — yet are often hidden away.


We have all had some experience within the medical community and besides providing a fun summer read, it would be nice if readers were inspired to follow their own dreams, be it medicine or anything else!


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Editing book three in the Playing Doctor series, glancing over several screenplays I wrote that I look forward to working on and producing independently after this series is completed next summer, and balancing family and day job life.


Q: Anything else we should know?  


A: For all the writers out there, keep writing! I have so much respect for everyone taking the time to dedicate themselves to their work. 


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Terry Tierney



Terry Tierney is the author of the new novel Lucky Ride. His other work includes the poetry collection The Poet's Garage. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. 


Q: What inspired you to write Lucky Ride, and how did you create your character Flash?


A: After amusing my friends with my cross-country hitchhiking adventures, I decided to write them down. Lucky Ride began as a memoir of the Vietnam era, but it soon gained a breadth of its own and morphed into a novel. 


I freely changed my real-life experiences and created new experiences to enhance the enjoyment and depth of the story. Similarly, some of the characters bear similarities to actual people I met along the road, but they are all recast to fit the story. Most characters sprung solely from my imagination.


Because I wrote Lucky Ride in the first person, many readers assume Flash is my pseudonym. In many ways I wish I were more like Flash, especially in his unflappable ability to pull himself together and extend his thumb for the next ride. We share a few attitudes and exploits, but Flash is his own person with his own ironic perspective. 


Like Flash, I served on Adak, dropped out of college, and smoked my share of weed, but he emerged from those experiences in better humor.


Q: You've said that Jack Kerouac, John Steinbeck, Tom Wolfe, and Hunter S. Thompson are among the writers who have inspired you. Can you say more about that?


A: I credit those authors with launching me on my journey of writing Lucky Ride, and I inhaled a bit from each of them. 


Kerouac rises to the top of my literary influences. Although the road novel is a persistent theme of literature, Kerouac embellishes the road with a personality, raising it almost to the level of protagonist. 


I adore the rhythm and music of Kerouac's words. I hear the soothing buzz of tires on asphalt forming the bassy bottom of his harmonic flights of imagery. His quest for meaning and epiphany informs my writing, but his broad canvas of inner reflection and his technique of spontaneous prose are unique to his style alone. 


My writing tends to be more controlled and directed. Like Flash, I try to maintain my momentum.


But in some ways Kerouac's perspective feels privileged because his characters get the help they need, more often driving a car or riding a bus than hitchhiking. 


Steinbeck's characters often start with nothing and they hazard the road because they have no choice, an experience more closely aligned with Flash, though Flash has better luck.


With Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters’ bus Furthur, Wolfe depicts a rock and roll hallucinogenic version of On the Road, including a few of the same characters, particularly Neal Cassidy. 


I love the creative and experimental atmosphere of The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and the Pranksters’ search for both inner meaning and cultural transformation, though I also relate to their occasional sense of paranoia and displacement. 

Despite the miles he logs, Flash’s quest tends to be more internal. He recalls protesting the war with his wife Ronnie, but his journey focuses less on changing the world than understanding the impact of the war on him and his friends and surviving that impact.


Thompson cranks up the acid and velocity in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. My narrative pace is probably closest to that of Thompson, though my prose tends to be more sober most of the time. 


Reading Fear and Loathing also taught me that Flash’s emerging sense of himself in the postwar landscape must come from a place deeper than an acid trip. As mesmerizing and fun as Thompson’s characters are, they are not looking for personal meaning in the same way as Flash.


Flash’s road trip and internal journey are tempered by his need to find a job and solve the riddle of his unraveling marriage. Like the characters chasing the American highways before him, Flash struggles to find his way, navigating his needs and emotions within the cultural landscape.


Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: As I wrote Lucky Ride I realized Flash's hitchhiking trip was best told within the context of his broader personal life, particularly his love for Ronnie and the way their relationship and marriage evolves from war protest to conscription and its aftermath. 


The novel begins in Binghamton, New York, when Ronnie's affair with her boss launches Flash on his road trip, and the final chapters only became clear to me as the characters pursued their own directions. With respect to his marriage, Flash's quest cannot end with the highway.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story?


A: I hope readers enjoy the ride. Flash’s adventures in the ‘60s era echo contemporary and universal themes, including romance, cultural conflict, the value of friendship, and the effects of war. There is more to the ‘60s than sex, drugs, and rock and roll, though we can’t discount the value of that triangle. But my primary goal in writing Lucky Ride is to entertain.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: My second novel, The Bridge on Beer River, will be published in 2023 by Unsolicited Press. Set in Reagan-era Binghamton, the novel features a war-scarred narrator who attempts to do the right thing, occasionally succeeding, despite his struggles with alcohol, romance, and the decaying economy of his Rust Belt town. 


I'm also writing short stories and revising another novel about an environmental visionary and his imaginary friend. But I drop everything when I feel a poem coming on, so I hope to have a new poetry collection in the next few years.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I spent so long finishing Lucky Ride that some are now calling it a historical novel, which is appropriate, though I find the description amusing. 


Flash might be slow to make decisions, but my editing process was even more deliberate. My rewrites focused on ensuring the voices and scenes were true to themselves and the period, while fulfilling my stylistic vision of a fast read. 


Lucky Ride took two months to live, 40 years to write, and it takes 10 hours to read.


Please feel free to follow me or thumb me down:


--Interview with Deborah Kalb