Thursday, August 24, 2000
New York So you're sitting in the dentist's chair mentally cursing the sadist drilling, gouging and scraping inside your mouth, occasionally allowing you to spit.
Ever wonder what the dentist is thinking as he or she goes about this ugly business?
If it's Alan Winter, he's likely writing.
"There are times -- but not during surgery -- when I work out plots and scenarios in my head while cleaning someone's teeth," says Winter, a Park Avenue periodontist with a degree in history, a trained forensic dentist with a compulsion to write fiction.
He's had one novel published and a second is about to be offered on the Net.
"I can't help myself. I'm compelled to write. In order to make me stop, I'd need to be exorcised."
Winter, the 52-year-old father of three grown sons, got the idea for his first novel, "Someone Else's Son," when he hung photos of his boys in his dentist's office and patients commented that they couldn't be brothers because they didn't look alike.
When he mentioned to friends that he would like to write a novel about two babies getting switched at the hospital, he was told that was too improbable, that hospitals don't make such mistakes.
"My answer then, in 1985, was that it didn't matter," he says. "This was an intellectual exercise to see if I could create a believable story about this topic."
Years later, news stories told of two families, then in Florida and Pennsylvania, whose babies were switched at birth.
"Life imitates art!" Winter says. "Someone Else's Son" was published in 1993 by MasterMedia Ltd.
Winter holds a degree in history from Rutgers and dental degrees from New York University and Columbia. He trained as a forensic dentist at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology.
His new novel, "Snowflakes in the Sahara," is "the embodiment of what I know: history, dentistry and forensics," he says.
"Snowflakes" is a suspense thriller which, when ready in mid-September, can be downloaded from www.iUniverse.com.
With the backdrop of ever-worsening global warming, it's the story of a Svengali-like mind-manipulator (Lute Aurum) who teams up with an American business icon (Jeremy Steel) to take over the White House.
When their puppet (Aldous Fromm) is installed as president, Aurum and Steel are poised to pull off the greatest heist in history. They plan to grab Canada for themselves by hiding behind a new version of "Manifest Destiny": What's good for America is good for the world.
Can they pull it off? Standing in their way is Carly Mason, who heads the New York City Medical Examiner's forensic dental unit.
Winter says his protagonist, Mason, is "dentistry's answer to Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta."
A lot of dentists, he says, do interesting things: sculpting, painting, photography. But rarely writing.
"Can you name any dentists who became well-known writers?" he asks. "There are only two I know of ... Zane Grey and the popular Faye Kellerman, but I don't believe she ever practiced."
Winter was born in Newark, N.J. He lives in Mendham, N.J., with his wife, Joy, who runs a nanny placement agency. He commutes 46 miles to his office in midtown Manhattan four days a week, sometimes writing his fiction on a laptop on the train. He spends his off days writing, following what he calls "an inner calling."
"I'd rather write than do pretty much anything else," Winter says. "I don't play golf, tennis or ski. I write. It's more than a hobby, It's part of me.
"And I never get writer's block. ... I don't have time for it."