What do a plastic surgeon and a teen sci-fi author have in common?
Not much, but both exist in the form of Dr. Steven Wallach, a Scarsdale resident for the last 15 years.
Wallach grew up with an early attraction to medicine. As a child, he was born with a clubfoot, a birth defect by which one or both feet are turned inward, often so severely that the bottom of the foot faces sideways or upward.
After having the problem corrected, Wallach got hooked on the idea of becoming an orthopedic surgeon. Yet after he learned about plastic surgery in medical school, he took up that pursuit instead.
“I thought it was very creative, and it helped people in a positive way,” he said.
Now, with more than 20 years of experience under his belt, Wallach has built a thriving medical career. He is a former president of the New York Regional Society of Plastic Surgeons Board of Trustees, a leading expert in his field featured in New York Magazine, an associate clinical professor of plastic and reconstructive surgery at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and an associate editor for Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, among other titles.
Still, many misinterpret exactly what it is Wallach does for a living.
“Plastic surgery isn’t just cosmetic surgery,” he said. “I think that’s the biggest misconception. People think all we do is … make breasts larger and make faces prettier.”
That’s part of it, sure, Wallach said. But as a plastic surgeon, he also has extensive knowledge in reconstructive surgery, whether fixing fractured bones in the face, performing skin cancer reconstruction or aiding burn victims.
“Really any imaginable soft tissue injury, we usually are the ones asked to fix it,” he said.
So, with a hectic schedule and a high-profile career, why write a book?
It started with Wallach’s son Jacob, who is one of three boys.
As a toddler, Jacob invented his own toy, a cross between a mound of Silly Putty and a “gumball-machine-alien,” which he dubbed a gubby-ball. Wallach and his wife thought the toy had some promise, so they reached out to a friend who’d worked with the late-great Muppets creator Jim Henson, crafting such beloved characters as Snuffalupugus and Big Bird.
The friend told Wallach he should focus on developing a story for the toy. So Wallach took to writing.
It was a slow, painstaking process at times, he said, even in terms of picking a concept.
Many friends told Wallach to tackle a genre more aligned with his background in medicine, like a graphic suspense novel.
“People would tell me try to do something more Michael Crichton-ish. Or as John Grisham would in law, you do in medicine,” he said. “I didn’t really want to do that. That wasn’t me.”
Instead, he tapped into the books, films and TV series that shaped his youth, pulp fiction-type films, such as “Star Wars” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” and books like Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and Frank Herbert’s “Dune.”
Wallach let those pillars inform his process, and after many drafts, “Koh-do World: Rex and the Blue Planet” was born.
The story follows Rex, a teenager who grew up in an orphanage, and his two pals as they fight to save the planet from aliens.
“Writing to this audience, for me … was kind of easy, maybe because I’m just immature,” he laughed.
Still, it was far from a seamless writing process.
The book took Wallach about five years to write, as he fought to find the willpower to sit and type late into the night, early in the morning and on weekends — whenever he could find time.
“I just kept pushing ahead,” he said, “and eventually a book came out of it.”
Wallach is already writing the next installment of the Koh-do series, which he said will draw from his well of medical knowledge.
“I figured well, what do I know?,” he said, “and how do I apply what I know?”
“Koh-do World: Rex and the Blue Planet” is available now on lulu.com.