Park City doctor Scott Zuckerman places first in Utah Arts writing competition
October 16, 2015
Scott Zuckerman, a Park City-based medical acupuncturist, has won first place in the Utah Arts & Museums’ 2015 Utah Original Writing Competition.
He took top honors in this year’s Category B, which covers biographies, autobiographies and history.
Poe Ballantine, winner of two Best American Essays, one Best American Short Story and one Pushcart Prize, judged Zuckerman’s manuscript of "Dreams of My Comrades".
Second place went to Salt Lake City resident Melissa Bond for "Dear Little Fish," and honorable mentions were given to Cottonwood Heights’ Hector Griffin for "The Reluctant Boss" and Salt Laker Marcee Blackerby for "Nine Lives of a Natural Redhead."
Zuckerman took 3 ½ years to write "Dreams of My Comrades," which is about a World War II veteran.
"Ironically, I finished it on Memorial Day of this year and I couldn’t be more surprised and pleased that I won that competition," he told The Park Record. "I’ve been working for a few years on my autobiography and put that on the shelf when the opportunity to write this book came to me."
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Zuckerman’s subject, whose name was changed in the book, is the father of one of his patients. The father was a Navy SeaBee and was stationed in the Pacific.
SeaBee was originally was known as CB, which stood for construction battalion, and stationed in the Pacific, Zuckerman explained.
"They were construction men who were militarized, because private contractors could have been shot as spies," he said.
The writer began interviewing the SeaBee in 2011.
"He was 95 then, and told me that he never talked to anyone, including his family, about his experiences," Zuckerman said.
The former SeaBee consented to the interviews for the book only if Zuckerman agreed to on three conditions.
"I could not use his real name," he said. "I could not publish a book until after he passed away, and I could not divulge any details of his experiences, even to his family, until he passed away.
"I abided by those very strictly, and only after he passed away did I tell his daughter the things he divulged," Zuckerman said. "His daughter told me he would never talk about the things that he saw. He had never told the stories of his war experiences to another living soul."
"Up until the day he passed away, two years ago, he was being treated for post traumatic stress disorder at the Veterans Administration hospital in Salt Lake City," Zuckerman said.
After forming a strong trusting bond, the veteran asked his therapist to talk with Zuckerman.
"During the interviews with the therapist, she told me that he divulged more to me than to her," Zuckerman said.
The writer also tracked down as many living members of the veteran’s SeaBee battalion as he could find, and conducted phone interviews with most of them.
"I remember hearing a presentation by Dr. Harold Baumgarten, who is an expert and survivor of D-Day, and author, and he made a point to mention the names of everyone he could remember when he was in the Higgins Boat that landed at Normandy," Zuckerman said. "He said he often questioned why he survived and others didn’t, and he felt that part of his mission, if you will, was to preserve the memory of those who are no longer with us. That got me thinking about my subject and I felt his story needed to be preserved if he would tell me."
What started out as a straight autobiography as told to Zuckerman turned into something more as the interviews continued.
"The project took me on a very interesting journey that I wasn’t expecting," he said. "In its entirety, the book is actually not just his story, but the story of our relationship and the story of my personal journey getting to know him. The book has many twists and turns and there are many surprises that I came across during the interviews."
The biggest was seeing a war through his subject’s point of view.
"One of the revelations of my adult life is realizing that history is always reported through the eye of the beholder," Zuckerman said. "When we go through school, we learn math or calculus and English, and those subjects are what they are. A noun is a noun and a verb is a verb.
"When we learn history as a child, we think it’s told in the same degree of black and white, and that couldn’t be farther from the truth," he said. "In the book, I tried to touch upon many different varieties of what I think are very important concepts."
One of which is that war isn’t sanitary.
"When we look at World War II, many people think it was an honorable war and even refer to it as The Good War, but that’s not true," Zuckerman said. "In fact, going as far back as when people started to fight with one another, war has always been dirty and not honorable."
That’s not to say that everyone who fought or is fighting in these wars behaves in a dishonorable fashion, he clarified.
"The bottom line is war isn’t clean and that’s clear in the effects it has on the people who are out there fighting," Zuckerman said. "During World War I, we said the veterans developed shell shock. In World War II, we called it battle fatigue. Now, we call it PTSD. This is all the result of seeing terrible things and the atrocities that were committed by both sides, and that was something I wanted to convey."
Zuckerman’s interest in writing reaches back to when he was a high school student back East.
"I had an excellent English teacher, a gentleman by the name of Frank McCourt, who went on to win a Pulitzer Prize for ‘Angela’s Ashes,’" he said. "He was my teacher for three semesters, before fame and fortune found him, and he cultivated an enthusiasm for writing."
While working on "Dreams of My Comrades," Zuckerman would recall to the late McCourt’s love of writing and decided, after talking with friends, that he wanted to publish it.
"It became clear to me that getting published as a first-time author is very difficult," Zuckerman said. "Then a personal friend of mine, Dr. Ruth Zimmer, who is a writer and whose husband has published children’s books, suggested a way to get one’s foot in the door is to enter a writing competition."
So, Zuckerman entered his manuscript into the Utah Arts & Museums’ writing contest. He was notified of his win three weeks ago.
Usually. the next step for the annual contest winners is to find a publisher, according to Alyssa Hickman Grove, who oversees the Utah Division of Arts & Museums’ Literary Arts programs.
"Scott, actually, is the exception," she said. "For the category that he won in, we have an arrangement with the University of Utah Press. They have the first option to publish the manuscript."
Hickman Grove has forwarded the manuscript, the judge’s comments and Zuckerman’s contact information to the University of Utah Press.
"They, in turn, will also find a second outside reviewer and then present it to their editorial board for approval," she said. "If it is approved, the book could be published."
"It is very validating, and I couldn’t have done it without the support of my wife, Dr. Julie Asch," Zuckerman said. "When I was writing the book, I knew I couldn’t take on my full workload, and had to cut back, which also cut our income. Julie was so supportive of me that whole 3 ½ years."
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