Over the past several years, I had the pleasure of working with a client on his debut novel, Journey of a JuBu. The writer, Blaine Langberg, is an orthodontist by day, and an author and stand-up comedian by night. We planned the book launch before the pandemic hit; little did we know that the book’s timeless wisdom would be so timely in today’s upside-down world. Below are excerpts from an interview the author did with his publicist, Aline Weiller. It provides an introduction and some context to this amazing book that can offer readers a path to keeping calm and staying focused when everything around us is as crazy as it’s ever been.
Aline: Where are you from originally?
Blaine: I grew up in Yorktown Heights, NY, and received my undergraduate degree in Math with a minor in English from Union College. I enjoyed using my analytical ability to delve into the meaning of literary fiction, culminating when I wrote my thesis on Fractal Repetition Structure in Poetry. I went on to receive my Doctor of Medical Dentistry degree from the Harvard School of Dental Medicine and remained at Harvard to complete my specialty training in orthodontics. Since 2003, I’ve practiced orthodontics (aka straightening teeth), during the day while spending my evenings writing. I have completed two full (unproduced) screenplays, and the movie short, “Look At Me,” which was screened at the 2009 Connecticut Film Festival and can be viewed on YouTube. During the last four years, I have devoted my time to writing Journey of a JuBu.
Aline: What authors and/or books inspired you to write JuBu? Also, who is your favorite author and what types of writing do you enjoy?
Blaine: I’ve always loved a great story whether it’s told by a book, a television series, or a movie. In high school and college I worked in the old B. Dalton Bookstore and was gobbling up books nightly. My favorite book is Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, though I also admire Philip Roth and especially loved Portnoy’s Complaint. On the spiritual side, I connected strongly with The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield, which helped inspire me to write Journey of a JuBu. I realized there is a market for exploring spirituality through a modern fictional story.
Other books I enjoyed growing up were A Separate Peace, the Lord of the Rings series, and Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. On the less serious side, I got a kick out of the short funny essays by Robert Fulghum in All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. For nonfiction, I’m a fan of Bill Bryson, Jon Krakauer, and David McCullough. As you can see, my taste in books is quite diverse. I love to cycle through book genres, and it’s common for me to go from reading spiritual books by Eckhart Tolle to Abraham Lincoln’s biography by Doris Kearns Goodwin, or from Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn to Breakfast with Buddha by Roland Merullo.
Aline: How long have you been a pop culture enthusiast and how did it influence your writing?
Blaine: I have been into pop culture since I was little. After my homework was done, I would watch television for hours—reruns of “Gilligan’s Island,” “The Brady Bunch,” “Diff’rent Strokes,” “Facts of Life.” I was binge-watching shows before binge-watching became a thing. As a teenager, I would sneak down to our tv room at night to watch HBO comedy shows. And then there was my obsession with reading. My father owned a pharmacy, so I would go to his store every Saturday and read comic books, magazines like “Mad Magazine” and “Sports Illustrated” and even a few issues of “Seventeen” to learn about what girls were thinking about. Immersing myself in pop-culture has helped me create relatable characters that people will find funny and entertaining. It’s also helped me have a keen ear for dialogue between my characters.
Aline: What or who gave you the idea to write JuBu?
Blaine: I began writing this book for myself—it was therapy for me as I dealt with turning 40 and the stresses in my life with balancing work, family, and the inconvenient truth that I was aging. I’ve always had anxiety, and I delved into meditation to help quiet my mind. Writing this book was a great way for me to explore spirituality and how I could incorporate a spiritual practice into my life. The book helped me organize my thoughts and provided a fun outlet for me to get my feelings on paper.
About seven years ago I decided to write a story loosely based on what I was going through, a neurotic Jewish dentist trying to find his spiritual footing. Obviously, the narrator, Jacob, is my alter-ego—an orthodontist who writes a meta-fiction coming of age novel about his conversion from Judaism to Buddhism. Like me, Jacob, is reluctant to face the intense personal scrutiny that accompanies publishing a memoir, so he hides behind the veil of his alter-ego, Adam Freeman, a Yale-trained pediatric dentist. Adam, the protagonist, is a snarky, anxiety-plagued man-child who has difficultly drawing boundaries at work and stepping up as a husband to his wife. After a panic attack at his dental office, Adam looks for answers as to why his body is failing him by exploring alternative medicine and mindfulness. Although I wrote the book for my amusement, I began to notice that my journey was relatable to a large number of people when I started reading chapters to my writing group at the Westport Writers’ Workshop. Their responses were extremely encouraging.
Journey of a JuBu is unique because it brings a fresh and funny perspective to spirituality for Generation Xers. It is also a novel within a novel and references numerous popular television shows through the 80s to today.
Aline: Tell us a little about the main characters and what you drew from in your real life?
Blaine: You know the old adage, “write what you know”? Well, I drew on my experience as an orthodontist who loves writing and is trying to balance the stress of running a practice with family life and turning 40. Like my characters, I deal with anxiety, and the book incorporates a lot of research I’ve conducted to help me control my body when it isn’t cooperating with what my mind wants. I have to admit that I wrote the book for a selfish reason: to gain perspective on my life. It made me laugh as I was writing it and also got me emotional at points. But while I wrote the book for me, I realized that other people were connecting with the story when I gave it to them to read. It was clearly bigger than a self-help book for just one person. That is why I am putting it out there.
Aline: Have you always had a good sense of humor? How long have you been doing stand-up comedy?
I have loved comedy ever since growing up watching TV in the 80s. After I got up the nerve to take a comedy class, I realized comedy was another way to tell a story, but with more instant gratification than writing. And who doesn’t like instant gratification. I realized I connected with comedians and the audience instantly, and that it was a rush to make people laugh. I get a surge of energy when everyone in the room finds me funny. Plus, being in a house with three daughters and working with all women, stand-up the only time in my life where I can speak and a room full of people will listen to me without talking back.
Aline: If you had to do an elevator pitch, how would you describe JuBu to readers.
Blaine: I like to pitch the book as “Seinfeld meets The Celestine Prophecy.” I want to teach you about spirituality while making you laugh and be entertained.
Aline: What sets JuBu apart in the fiction market?
Blaine: I feel the market is ripe for a book like Journey of a Jubu. Spiritual books such as The Celestine Prophecy; Eat, Pray, Love; and Breakfast with Buddha have all shown commercial success. In addition, witty, self-deprecating television shows like “Seinfeld” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” have generated tremendous popularity. However, no one has combined spirituality books with the quirky humor of Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David the way my book does. Although there are quite a few spiritual books out there featuring people searching for their truth, my book is the first to chronicle a 40-year-old Jewish man exploring Buddhism in a way I believe almost anyone can relate to.
We live in a unique time in America—and especially now during the pandemic—where people are looking for answers and exploring spirituality more and more. It is my goal and passion to present this story to the masses so that people can enjoy one man’s journey of balancing his neurotic Jewish side with his Zen, Buddhist teachings.
Aline: So what’s next?
Blaine: My dream is to adapt Journey of a JuBu into either a television series or a movie. I feel that the characters lend themselves to being on screen and taking shape in an actor’s performance. The book is filled with dialogue that pops off the page and I feel it would play out well on either the big or small screen. I would pitch it to streaming services as “The Big Bang Theory meets Entourage.”