Thursday, November 2, 2023

How I Switched from Writing Medical Journal Articles to Historical Fiction: Guest Post by MICHAEL J. COOPER

“Is this you?” asked the Intensive Care Nursery nurse at Oakland Kaiser, as she held up a copy of The National Inquirer. “Right here.” She tapped a lacquered nail on the text. “Is this you?” 

“Yes, it is,” I had to admit, relieved that she wasn’t referring to a photograph of me with a black strip covering my eyes. There was, indeed, no photograph attached to the short article, which reported on a paper I had recently published in the Journal of the Israel Medical Association.
“I thought it was!” she exclaimed with real enthusiasm, then added, “Will you sign this please?”
As I had been staring at the article, I thought she meant for me to sign it, perhaps with a dedication. But looking up, I saw that she was holding out an opened patient chart.
“You need to sign this verbal order,” she said simply.
I quickly signed the V.O. and gave her back the chart along with her copy of The National Inquirer.
The year was 1979, and I was a pediatric resident at Oakland Kaiser, recently having returned from living and studying in Israel for the previous eleven years. I had immigrated to Israel after graduating Oakland High in 1966, and after a few years studying in Jerusalem, had managed to be accepted to Tel Aviv University Medical School. As part of the requirements for the MD degree, students were obliged to write a dissertation based on original research in any area of our choice. I had chosen to write mine on the effect of meditation on serum cholesterol and blood pressure. 
I subsequently published the research in the Journal of the Israel Medical Association, but since that was in Hebrew, I also submitted the paper to the up-and-coming peer-reviewed Journal of Human Stress.  With my research article just having appeared in that journal, I had a pretty good idea how it had made it into the pages of The National Inquirer—a few months before, I had received a call from a free-lance journalist in Florida, who wanted to interview me about my research. I agreed and proceeded to speak with him for a few minutes. 
And now, here I was—in The National Inquirer—with my “fifteen minutes of fame” lasting less than a minute. 
Sure, it wasn’t the New York Times, the paper of record with the slogan, "All the News That's Fit to Print." But The National Inquirer was also renown and known by some to print “All the News That Fits.”
And as I completed training in pediatrics and went on to specialize in pediatric cardiology, I would continue to publish research papers in peer-reviewed journals. There were no more articles in The National Inquirer, but that was OK, because the only thing worse than being “damned with faint praise,” was any praise, or for that matter, any mention in The National Inquirer.
But what about the transition from medical writing to historical fiction?
Once I finished my pediatric cardiology fellowship at UCSF, I remained on the clinical faculty and continued to research and publish in medical journals, and took a full-time job with Northern California Kaiser-Permanente. As my practice expanded to include clinics and hospitals in Walnut Creek, Vallejo, Santa Rosa, Oakland, Stockton, Richmond, Napa, Fairfield, and Vacaville, I eventually made a conscious decision to reduce my medical writing. This decision happened to coincide with my interest drawn back to Israel.  
At this point (the early 1990s) under the leadership of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, there was finally a real peace process in the works—the Oslo Accords. But to my dismay, there was a good deal of angry push-back to Rabin’s efforts—both in Israel and in the US. In this environment, I regularly published letters, opinion pieces and essays in support of Rabin’s peace efforts in local and national Jewish periodicals. Though I received plenty of supportive responses, I was dismayed to receive more than a few angry reactions. And as the peace process moved forward, the resistance increased. 
In the Middle East, resistance to the Oslo Accords came from an unlikely and unholy alliance: on one extreme, ultra-nationalistic Jewish settlers, and on the other extreme, militant Palestinians such as Hamas—strange bedfellows in their vehement opposition to peace-making efforts. 
In Israel, this opposition reached a fever pitch in 1995 prior to parliamentary elections. As Rabin’s efforts were rejected by Hamas with increasingly horrific acts of terror, Rabin’s efforts were also rejected by Netanyahu and his right-wing allies in the form of personally vilifying him as a crypto-Nazi and a traitor to Israel. The risk of his assassination, as assessed by Israeli security services, was high. And, indeed, after a huge pro-Oslo/pro-Rabin demonstration in Tel Aviv on November 4, 1995, Rabin was killed by a right-wing Israeli zealot with two shots to the back. 
The shock to the Israel public and the international community was profound. And after Rabin’s death, with the ascension of a right-wing Israeli government under Netanyahu, the peace process was derailed and eventually died.
For catharsis, I turned from writing letters and op-ed pieces to writing historical fiction. Setting my books in the Holy Land at pivotal points of history, this was my way of trying to insinuate a message of coexistence and peace into a vehicle I hoped might succeed in changing a few hearts and minds. I began with historical fiction set in British Mandatory Palestine in 1948 - Foxes in the Vineyard. This was followed by The Rabbi’s Knight, set in the Holy Land at the twilight of the First Crusade in 1290, and lastly, the soon-to-be-released Wages of Empirelargely set in Ottoman Palestine at the beginning of WWI.
Beginning in 2007, I also turned to volunteer work for a US-based non-governmental organization offering pediatric specialty services to children within the Palestinian Authority. In doing about two missions per year since then, I’ve attempted to be part of the solution as a pediatric cardiologist for children with limited or no access to care. In short, healing hearts.
And now, it so happens that Wages of Empire is a novel about war in a time of war—holding up a mirror that reflects on the current paroxysms of violence in the Middle East, and asking the question: What does that history have to do with the present?

In a word?

Wages of Empire is now available for pre-sale in all formats by Amazon and other platforms. Please see author’s website -
Michael Cooper
writes historical fiction set in the Middle East; Foxes in the Vineyard, set in 1948 Jerusalem won the 2011 Indie Publishing Contest grand prize and The Rabbi’s Knight, set in the Holy Land in 1290 was a finalist for the 2014 Chaucer Award for historical fiction. Coming in November of 2023, Wages of Empire set at the start of WW1 won the CIBA 2022 grand prize for young adult fiction and the first prize for wartime historical fiction.

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