Friday Fiction Feature

fictionreboot2Hello all and welcome back to the (now monthly) Friday Fiction Feature! This week Tabatha is back with another themed Feature. As mentioned in last month’s feature, I’m getting ready to travel far, far away. Far enough away to have many flights, a lot of luggage, and oh my goodness so much packing… so this month’s feature is themed around the fact that I expect to be on a plane in less than a week! (Unless you don’t read my posts the minute they go online–for shame). And so I thought I’d share some thoughts, advice, and hopes as a soon-to-be world traveler.

Moving Day: A Thriller by Jonathan Stone

Moving Day: A ThrillerAs I look forward to the adventure of traveling abroad, learning a new language, seeing new people and places, I am learning something more thoroughly than I ever have before: Packing Sucks. It is just awful. It takes forever, it’s a pain, and I don’t get to just unpack everything six blocks away the same afternoon. That is why I am taking a rather unorthodox approach to the setup of Moving Day. The book begins when a man’s possessions are stolen in a moving-day scam. Now I know, I know, that’s bad and it’s awful to lose all of your stuff. But after weeks of sorting, packing, and unpacking-to-get-at-stuff-I-still-need, that just sounds nice. No more junk to worry about, no more real-life tetris trying to get everything to fit in an old sedan… ah. Just imagine the freedom of it. Only a few suitcases of junk to move around… Or you know, imagine that sounds like the worst thing ever and that the criminals are terrible people who must be tracked down, etc. (since my version does tend to undercut the novel a little I suppose…)

Forty years’ accumulation of art, antiques, and family photographs are more than just objects for Stanley Peke—they are proof of a life fully lived. A life he could have easily lost long ago.
When a con man steals his houseful of possessions in a sophisticated moving-day scam, Peke wanders helplessly through his empty New England home, inevitably reminded of another helpless time: decades in Peke’s past, a cold and threadbare Stanislaw Shmuel Pecoskowitz eked out a desperate existence in the war-torn Polish countryside, subsisting on scraps and dodging Nazi soldiers. Now, the seventy-two-year-old Peke—who survived, came to America, and succeeded—must summon his original grit and determination to track down the thieves, retrieve his things, and restore the life he made for himself.
Peke and his wife, Rose, trace the path of the thieves’ truck across America, to the wilds of Montana, and to an ultimate, chilling confrontation with not only the thieves but also with Peke’s brutal, unresolved past.

Moving is Murder (A Mom Zone Mystery #1) by Sara Rosett 

Moving is Murder (A Mom Zone Mystery, #1)Fortunately the cozy mystery industry has come along with books like Moving is Murder to remind me that moving isn’t that bad. It’s still awful, and a pain in the but and… ahem. Sorry. Already said all that… Anyways, small reminders that as obnoxious as moving is, at least this move hasn’t involved any corpses. (It would probably be the hardest thing to pack up and ship anyways).

Moving four times in five years has honed Ellie’s considerable skills. But unpacking with a newborn daughter, record-breaking heat wave, and the realization that their dream neighborhood is known as Base Housing East is enough to make her turn to chocolate for comfort. She and her husband, Mitch, moved off-base for privacy. Now half of their neighbors are with the 52nd Air Refueling Squadron. Driving home from her first squadron barbecue, Ellie finds neighborhood environment activist Cass Vincent dead on the side of the road. The police call it an accident — but Ellie’s not so sure. She saw Cass argue violently at the barbecue with Mitch’s buddy Jeff… and it just so happens Jeff knows a lot about bee-keeping. Hoping to clear Jeff’s name before the police suspect him, Ellie starts snooping in earnest. What she finds shocks her. But what’s the connection to Cass? When suspicious accidents start happening in her own backyard, Ellie realizes she’s getting closer to the killer… maybe too close!

Moving Mars (Queen of Angels #3) by Greg Bear

Moving Mars (Queen of Angels, #3)Now I would love to continue this trend of ‘at least it’s not…’ with Moving Mars, but honestly, a Martian revolution isn’t really all that much worse than what people tell me I’m headed into. [It should be stated for the record that I don’t much believe them] But the way our more worried relatives and more alarmist friends tell it we’re headed into a terrifying land of maniacs who stay up nights thinking of new ways to torture house pets and give travelers food poisoning (*a word to the wise, don’t watch any youtube videos you are sent before traveling somewhere new. The people who sent them are just meanies who don’t want you to eat ever again).

Moving Mars is a story of human courage and love set within the greater saga of a planetary liberation movement. Mars is a colonial world, governed by corporate interests on Earth. The citizens of Mars are hardworking, but held back by their lack of access to the best education, and the desire of the Earthly powers to keep the best new inventions for themselves. The young Martians — the second and third generations born on Mars — have little loyalty to Earth, and a strong belief that their planet can be independent. The revolution begins slowly, but will grow in power over decades of political struggle until it becomes irresistible.
Told through the eyes of an extraordinary character, Casseia Majumdar, a daughter of one of Mars’ oldest, most conservative Binding Multiples,Moving Mars is Greg Bear’s brilliant conception of the human colonization of the red planet, with lovingly painted details and a grand historical sweep, embellishing an audacious scientific speculation.

Have Space Suit—Will Travel (Heinlein Juveniles #12) by Robert A. Heinlein

Have Space Suit—Will TravelSadly, this title is not a very apt description of my upcoming travels. Perhaps that will be my new life goal: to be able to say Have Space Suit, Will Travel and mean it. (Because you know what, owning a space suit, even if you don’t get to take it to outer space, is pretty rad). And maybe it’s not so unrealistic! I mean come on, read the description here, a kid from the middle of the Midwest (yup) who works crappy college jobs (yup & more yup), and you know…other similarities I’m sure… why not? Hey, it’s not my fault the description is too short to show how similar my story is to this one. I guess you’ll just have to read it to find out likely it is I’ll get to follow in their footsteps and continue my travels “where no (wo)man has gone before!” (yeah, I know. But I couldn’t resist ;) )

Kip from midwest Centerville USA works the summer before college as a pharmacy soda jerk, and wins an authentic stripped-down spacesuit in a soap contest. He answers a distress radio call from Peewee, scrawny rag doll-clutching genius aged 11. With the comforting cop Mother Thing, three-eyed tripod Wormfaces kidnap them to the Moon and Pluto.

The Traveling Vampire Show by Richard Laymon

The Traveling Vampire ShowI’d like to end today’s Friday Fiction Feature (and my last Feature for a long time written on this continent) with a book that serves a very different function. The others have shown annoyance at moving, the (real-ish) dangers of travel, totally unrealistic travel goals, and ‘at least it’s not _____’s. But this book, dear readers, is more of an inspiration for a level of awesome. The level of awesomeness inherent in the title Traveling Vampire Show. While I don’t exactly expect to make a fortune with the “Traveling Tabatha & Co. Show” but hey, we all need something to aspire to, and if only I can make the stories of my travels one third as interesting as the promise of a totally-not-a-scam Traveling Vampire Show I think I can consider this next year a success. I don’t even need starry-eyed teenagers to come in search of a mere glance at my awesomeness (though, you know, if they felt compelled, well that’s hardly my fault is it?).

Though gloomy with clouds, it is a hot, August morning in the summer of 1963. All over the rural town of Grandville, tacked to power poles and trees, taped to store windows, blowing along the sidewalks, fliers have appeared announcing the mysterious one-night-only performance of The Traveling Vampire Show.
The show will feature Valeria, the only known vampire in captivity. According to the fliers, she is a gorgeous, stunning beauty. In the course of the performance, she will stalk volunteers from the audience, sink her teeth into their necks and drink their blood!
For three local teenagers who see the fliers, this is a show they don’t want to miss. But they may have to.
Though they can probably scrape up the price of admission, other obstacles stand in the way. One problem, nobody under 18 years of age is allowed into the show. Dwight, Rusty, and Slim are only 16. Another problem, the show begins at midnight and the three teens always have to be home by then. If that weren’t bad enough, the show is to take place at Janks Field — a desolate patch of ground with a nasty history — that has been declared off limits by their parents
The situation appears hopeless.
Though Dwight and his friends fear they won’t be able to attend the actual performance of the Traveling Vampire Show, they do have the entire day to themselves. Why not hike out to Janks Field and take a look around? With any luck, they might be able to watch the crew make preparations for tonight’s performance. If they’re really lucky, maybe they’ll get a peek at Valeria, the gorgeous vampire.
And so the three friends set off on foot for Janks Field…
Dwight is a solid, honest kid, long on common sense and loyalty to his friends. He always tries to do what’s right.
Rusty is a husky guy who relishes trouble.
Slim, their long-time pal, is the brains of the outfit, a voracious reader of novels, an aspiring writer, and a girl. Also, she is sometimes too brave for her own good.
The Traveling Vampire Show is the tale, told in Dwight’s own words, of what happened to him, Rusty and Slim on that hot summer day they hiked to Janks Field. It’s the story of their friendship and love, their temptations, their betrayals, and their courage as they went where they shouldn’t go, did what they shouldn’t do…and ran into big trouble.


Farewell for now good readers, and remember, the FFF will return, this time as an international series!

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A Study in Spenzer: Cleveland’s Sherlock

ForenscisSmallAs many of you know, I have been working for the past year on the archive of John George Spenzer, toxicologist and forensic expert in Cleveland Ohio (1864-1932). Today, I would like to introduce the intrepid student who has been assisting in this research, Elizabeth Fregoso. In today’s post, she gives us a wonderful tour through that archive in A Study in Spenzer: an Evening of Amateur Deductions. Welcome Elizabeth!


A Study in Spenzer
Elizabeth Fregoso

My experience working with the Spenzer collection and thoughts/ analysis on his personal effects.

During my most recent year at university, I had the great fortune of spending lots of quality time with renowned forensic toxicologist and professor of chemistry and medicine at Case Western Reserve University, none other than Dr. John George Spenzer.

That is to say, I rummaged through his belongings and catalogued them in as much painstakingly personal detail as possible. Spenzer himself died in 1932.

But allow me to explain! This opportunity came unexpected, by way of an article I discovered online about a fantastic exhibit entitled “Forensic Science, Sherlock, and Steampunk” showing at the Dittrick Medical History Museum. I found this article while I was rather vainly entering the search term “ ‘Sherlock Holmes’ ‘Case Western Reserve University’ “ into Google in an effort to find some interesting Sherlockian attractions near campus. I should mention that I am an aspiring Baker Street Irregular and actually celebrate January 6th in an entirely ‘un-ironic’ fashion, so naturally, I’m pretty interested in anything related to this particular interest.

The next day, I trekked out to check out this exhibit. If you haven’t yet been, the exhibit contains a collection of various medical and Victorian artifacts with a focus on the evolution of forensic science around the turn of the 20th century, and I HIGHLY recommend visiting the museum next time you’re in town. While perusing it closely I was lucky to meet the inestimable Dr. Brandy Schillace, who introduced me to the doctor personally in the form of numerous amusing anecdotes and plenty of odd and intriguing similarities between Spenzer and Sherlock. Interest piqued, it was about a week later when I returned to the museum and at the invaluable suggestion of my first-year advisor inquired into an undergraduate research position. On getting hired, little did I suspect that I was just beginning a fascinating and intimate association with this incredible man.

I can indeed confirm that it was just as Dr. Schillace said: time and time again I was reminded of the Great Detective while going through Spenzer’s things. He kept a bunch of commonplace books where he stored information he found relevant – he was intensely involved in the subject of crime and followed it closely –he was occasionally a bit of a ‘sassmaster’ — sometimes I couldn’t even tell which of the two was the one cramping the other’s style. It was this inextricable linking that gave me the idea to have a little fun while I was going through Spenzer’s notes – Sherlocking about a little, if you will. I decided to put my skills of deduction to the task of building up a sort of idea of the man. What follows is my attempt to apply Sherlock’s own methods to my examination of Spenzer’s belongings, and deliver a brief analysis on the character of the man behind the infallibly well-groomed moustache, Dr John George Spenzer.


Spenzer_cane_5x7.5Born in 1864, Spenzer had quite the drive to achieve, even from a young age. Though he was born in the United States, he moved to Germany at 15 years old, when American law at the time deemed him too young to obtain his degree. He completed his education abroad and, from there, he moved to Cleveland and became a professor at what is now Case Western Reserve University. It was while here that he became known as “Cleveland’s Sherlock Holmes”, having a hand in multiple sensational criminal trials. Among his achievements were providing definitive evidence in the 1916 trial of Josh Kiser as well as identifying toxic chemicals in the Cuyahoga River that led directly to federal efforts to understand pollution during an age when many companies were permitted to use rivers as industrial waste dumps.

The majority of the Spenzer collection that I interacted with was composed of notes on printed-slides-3_8x5various topics relevant to Spenzer’s known areas of expertise: medical jurisprudence and forensic investigation. All the material were contained in binder upon forest-green binder and on paper so thin it could have been used for tracing. Most of the copied articles were excerpted from published textbooks; the one he favored most seemed to be Eduard Von Hofmann’s Atlas of Legal Medicine. Apparently, Spenzer was a man on a mission to catalogue everything that piqued his curiosity, a continual quest to hone his skills and build on his professional knowledge. There must have been about 100 pages per binder per subject, and there were even accompanying illustrations. In watercolor.

Title Page_cropPretty impressive, eh?

Well, clearly he thought so too, because he went a long way in convincing his readers (or maybe just convincing himself) that he was striving for nothing less than perfection. Check this out: in many of the binders and positioned before all the content, there was a manufacturer’s tag clipped in the very front firmly attesting to the “mechanical perfection” of the binders.

How’s that for some old-fashioned, passive-aggressive vanity?

As for the content itself: Spenzer collected miscellanea on a variety of topics that today would be intimately familiar to any forensic scientist. Fingerprinting, ballistics, hangings, drownings, electrocution… just a handful of the subjects he collected materials on. Though I haven’t cataloged it yet, there was an entire binder on the infamous Rasor trial. A sensational case for its time, Guy Rasor was accused of murdering his lover, Ora Lee. It was a case in which Spenzer was personally involved as an expert witness – and enjoyed making the ‘expert’ part known, especially. Take a look at this exchange, which I transcribed from a photo I took in order to use as a reaction image whenever I thought a friend was wrong about something in a text conversation:


SPENZER: A heart-shaped piece was cut out of the right-hand pocket.

ATTORNEY: And by whom?

SPENZER: By myself. From this point below and posterior to the left-hand pocket a rhombohedral piece was removed.

JUDGE: Will you put it in United States, Doctor?

SPENZER: A rhombohedral, your Honor, is a certain, definite shape, like a square is a shape, or a rectangle.

ATTORNEY: The trouble is we don’t understand that, Doctor.

SPENZER: A faulty education.


I’m definitely no Sherlock Holmes, but I’ll go out on a limb here and deduce from this particular exchange that Spenzer could be a bit of a Holmesian know-it-all when he wanted to be.

I did get to catalogue an entire binder on the Crippen trial, a case in which Spenzer was not directly involved. You wouldn’t think it though; from the sheer amount of materials he collected on this trial’s proceedings, he was certainly an interested third party. Doctor Harvey Crippen is accused of murdering his then-wife Cora and disposing of her body in the basement. The two expert witnesses in the case are entirely at odds about what the chemical evidence means. In fact, much of the transcript Spenzer had on record was argument on each scientist’s methodology, as the judge and attorneys attempted to figure out how two radically different conclusions could be reached from the same evidence.

This binder stood out to me. Unlike the other binders, it wasn’t just a collection of useful and interesting tidbits. It was one of only two I had gone through – the other being “The Forensic Detection of Blood” — that appeared to be set up as a textbook, complete with a table of contents, multiple sources, and original commentary. Of course, much of this commentary was thinly veiled criticisms of the investigators involved and laments on how, if it were him on the case, he would have done things differently. But the main idea is that much of the language was directed at a third party, as if someone were meant to read these notes in the future as instructive exercises on chemical toxicology, and its limits. It would seem not all of the work was private; some of it was meant as a field guide for future generations of forensic scientists.

A last feature of note: nearly every entry had hand drawn ink and watercolor illustrations accompanying them – save for those with parent articles that had none. These illustrations came in either color or in black and white, but were always copied meticulously from the source material. In my opinion, the most charming of these illustrations wOhio-vs-Murray7x5ere the ones on the spines of each binder, indications of the specific binder’s subject materials. With little touches like that, beginning an impressive new tome always gave me the definite feel of cracking open an actual textbook.

A name commonly showed up alongside these illustrations: “Louis Karnosh”, about whom surprisingly little can be found on Google, besides that he was a practicing MD in the Cleveland area around Spenzer’s time and was 44 by the time of the 1940 census. It’s fairly reasonable to assume that he was involved in the reproduction of these images somehow – possibly Spenzer did the lineart and Karnosh supplied the watercolors? In any case, there’s no confirmation on what role he played exactly, but the pictures are quite detailed and, despite showing graphic images of violent crimes, are rather beautiful. However Dr. “Louis Karnosh” of Cleveland was involved, he deserves a little bit of the limelight.

Speaking of the limelight, it is here that we may be witness to a rare expression of humility on the part of our good Dr. Spenzer: deferring a portion of his personal, work-related project onto someone with known skill that he considered worthy of inclusion in his Perfection Collection. As anxious as he was to make his own expertise known – and not without good reason, of course — he was not above acknowledging the skill and expertise of others.


So, to conclude my Study in Spenzer, as it were: here we have a chemist and forensic investigator of note—sharp as a tack, dedicated to his studies, and deeply invested in his work on both a professional and a personal level. A perfectionist and concerned with high standards of presentation, he worked tirelessly to ensure that his methods were reliable and his records flawless, as seen in his immense dedication to keeping commonplace books to paste newspaper abstracts and transcripts for reference. Despite being somewhat standoffish and arrogant, Spenzer was readily able to recognize and acknowledge the unique talents of those around him. He was also anxious to have a hand in influencing future forensic scientists, both in the classroom and on the page. In conclusion, Spenzer was a highly intelligent and motivated man, and all of his efforts in the field of forensic science were taken up with the aim of more easily and efficiently getting to the truth, serving justice, and keeping the peace in common society.

Sound like someone else you might know?

I thought so, too.

Elizabeth Fregoso is an undergraduate engineering student at Case Western University and currently lives in Parma, OH. She takes special interest in true crime, behavioural science, and chemistry, and her dream is to find (or invent!) a job in which she can indulge a combined interest in storytelling, imagination, and problem-solving on a daily basis. She enjoys filling rare moments of spare time with gourmet sodas, free online courses, and copious amounts of Sherlockiana.

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MedHum Mondays Presents: OUCH part 2, a series on pain

DailyDose_PosterWelcome back to MedHum Mondays on the Daily Dose! A few weeks ago, we featured orthopedic massage therapist Joseph Watts on body communication and chronic pain. Today, we wanted to follow up that article with OUCH part two: chronic low back pain. It afflicts many–and “cures” abound–but what does low back pain really mean? And what does it tell us about how (and if) our body is communicating to us? The answer, it seems, is right under our noses. Well. Under us, anyway… Welcome, Joseph!

Low Back Pain:
It Might Just Be Your…..Butt.
Joseph H. Watts LMT

Low back pain is the scourge of the developed world, especially in the United States. It accounts for billions of dollars in lost work hours, millions in healthcare costs, and quite frankly (if you have ever had low back pain), it just plain sucks! There is a constant barrage of products shamelessly promoted to help you with this problem. For a price, they will give you the next supposed “cure all.” However, low back pain still exists in our culture at an ever increasing rate. What gives? I wish I could give you the quick and easy cure, but if I could, I’d be writing this from a far away beach somewhere… and I am not. Take heart: the answer *is* simple, but putting these things in practice is rarely as easy as the quick fix television salesmen would have you believe!

Wellcome Library: Anatomical illustration showing muscles of the back; Brown, 1681

Wellcome Library: Anatomical illustration showing muscles of the back; Brown, 1681

So…..what is this all about? Good question! I am glad you asked. Our low back pain is generally caused by a weakness of our core muscles, which are the transverse abdominals, the multifidi of the spine, the pelvic floor muscles, and the diaphragm. Alas, I am sorry to report thatthe elusive “six pack” is not part of your core. (Wait for another post for that explanation!) If you want to strengthen these you can ask a personal trainer, Pilates Instructor, or Yoga Instructor for help; even the internet will give some suggestions. But remember, simpler is better. However, if they tell you to focus on crunches then they do not know what your core is. It’s not about your stomach—it’s about a crucial and over-looked missing link: Your butt!! The Gluteus Maximus to be precise.

All day long, many of us sit. We sit at work, sit in our cars, sit in front of the TV or computer at home, sit, sit, sit, sit, sit. When we are in the seated position we keep our Glut Max in a constant stretch, while at the same time shortening our hip flexors. This creates chronically shortened, tight hip flexors, and the brain then neurologically shuts of the Glut Max.   Now, when we walk, these Glut Max muscles, which should be powerful hip extenders, don’t fire. So the Hamstrings fire, then the low back takes up the slack. This is not the job of the low back. Now the low back muscles are working overtime. That alone is enough to make them hurt, but add the shortening of the hip flexors and a forward tilt to the pelvis and you add in potential compression and pinching of the spinal discs, as well as irritation of the nerve trunks coming from the spine. This is a pain soup in the making.

Very few programs even have Glut Max on the radar to relieve back pain. So, if you have back pain, exercising the Glut Max might be a great idea. This is where the work of an experienced orthopedic massage therapist can help. Someone trained in muscle spindle activation can help re-awaken the Gluts max. And of course, you will always want to consult your doctor to make sure there is no serious spinal condition before you do any new forms of exercise.

So, remember, get off your butt. It might be the pain in your back!

To Your Health

Joseph H. Watts, LMT, has logged more than 1000 hours of massage training. He has a passion for exploring the deep mystery that is the human form. He is a father, husband, brother, and friend who loves working with people, particularly aiding those suffering from chronic and intermittent pain. When he is not working as an orthopedic massage therapist, he spends his time in nature or his garden. (Also, he is a huge dork for Lord of the Rings–but who isn’t?)

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Anthropology of Autism

DailyDose_darkstroke Welcome to Medhum Mondays on the Daily Dose!

Some of you may know that in my other life, I (Brandy Schillace) am the managing editor of an international journal of cross-cultural health research: Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry. This June 2015, the journal released a special issue on conceptualizing autism. This release featured articles that explore the social and cultural dimensions of autism across the globe, and reviewed the multitude of ways that families with children of autism navigate systems of social support and provide care for their children within their region and their community. As stated on the CMP blog, the entries “illuminate the human experience of caregiving and the often slippery, complex position of developmental disorders in the landscape of medicine, caregiving, and mental health treatment.” In that sense, then, they critically examine the human at the center of medicine, and thus intersect with our common mission in medical humanities. Today, I am reproducing an interview with the guest editor conducted by our blogista, Julia Knopes, at–welcome Ariel and Julia!

 Dr. M. Ariel Cascio, guest editor of the special issue, is an anthropologist who studies the cultural and historical position of autism in Northern Italy. Here, the social media editor of Culture, Medicine & Psychiatry, Julia Knopes, interviews Dr. Cascio about the special issue, and her perspective on the future of cross-cultural autism research.

(1) Can you tell us a little about the upcoming June 2015 special issue?

The special issue, “Conceptualizing autism around the globe,” shares anthropological (and allied field) research on autism in Brazil, India, Italy, and the United States. We talk about “conceptualizing” autism as a way to counter the idea that autism “is” or “means” one specific thing. Sometimes autism means the diagnosis measured by a certain instrument (such as ADOS), sometimes it means a more broadly defined set of characteristics (such as those in the DSM), sometimes it means an individual identity, and so many more things. The articles in this issue explore how autism is conceptualized at several different levels: in national policy, in treatment settings, and in the home.

 (2) What’s something new you learned about the anthropology of autism while working on this special issue?

I’ve just enjoyed the opportunity to greater familiarize myself with the group of scholars who are pursuing the anthropology of autism, and to work alongside scholars whose work I have long followed.

(3) So how did you become interested in the study of autism?

I’ve been studying autism since 2008. I actually came to anthropology before I came to autism, and when I first began learning about autism, I saw it as rich for anthropological inquiry (isn’t everything!) because of anthropology’s strengths in focusing on lived experience, challenging deficit narratives of so-called “disorders,” and placing medicine and psychiatry in sociocultural context.

(4) What was it like doing fieldwork in Italy? How do Italians see autism differently than other places in the world?

I’ve studied the autism concept more in Italy than in any other place in the world, and I’m very grateful to everyone there from whom I learned – autism professionals, family members of people with autism, and people on the spectrum themselves. I could hazard comparisons with the literature that address perceptions in other parts of the world – and some of these comparisons come through in the special issue – but for now I would like to focus on the strength of the rich description of the Italian context without external comparison. As my article in the special issue shows, autism professionals tended to take a social model of autism, focusing on creating environments that were tailored to the needs of people on the spectrum and structured to help them learn.

(5) What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in studying autism?

As in many areas of inquiry familiar to readers of CMP, it can be challenging to communicate information about my study to people who study autism in other fields (clinical, psychological, social work, etc.). A lot of research about autism takes a positivist stance, whereas my research takes an interpretivist stance and focuses on autism as a concept whose meaning may vary rather than a diagnosis measured in a particular way. Nonetheless, I love talking about my research interests with a broad audience because in many contexts (especially in the U.S.), so many people have personal or professional interest in autism and we can always have interesting and stimulating conversations.

(7) What’s something you think would surprise non-anthropologists about the anthropology of autism?

I would imagine non-anthropologists would be surprised by the anthropology of autism for the same reasons they might be surprised by anthropology (or medical anthropology) in general. For example, they might be surprised that anthropologists study autism all over the world, particularly if they think of the autism concept as something that represents a universal set of characteristics and experiences that are unaffected by context. The articles in this special issue really show that context matters in all conceptualizations of autism, from Brazil to the United States, from national policy to the family home.

 (8) Where do you see the anthropology of autism heading next?

I see the anthropology of autism becoming more inclusive. In her commentary, Pamela Block expresses optimism that the anthropology of autism will increasingly include researchers who identify as autistic themselves, and I agree. In addition to including more researchers with autism, I anticipate that the anthropology of autism will increasingly work to include participants with higher levels of support needs (those whom some people call “people with low-functioning autism”), and delve deeper into their lived experiences as well.

This interview was originally posted on May 6th 2015 on the Culture, Medicine & Psychiatry blog:

You can access the special issue on Conceptualizing Autism here:


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Doctor…Who? Featuring Lance Parkin!

fictionreboot2Welcome back to the Fiction Reboot (with blogger/contributor Keri Heath)! We are happy to present an author feature today: Lance Parkin, a British author best known for his work with the science fiction and fantasy genres. In addition to his own original fiction, he has written guidebooks for works such as Stark Trek, Emmerdale (a British soap that he also wrote storylines for) and the His Dark Materials trilogy. But Parkin has written most prolifically about the outrageously popular science fiction drama Doctor Who. In today’s feature, Parkin reveals why he loves the science fiction genre and how he delves into a new universe.

Author Bio:

25468Lance Parkin has been writing about the television show Doctor Who since the early 1990s. Since his first professional novel, Just War, he has written books for BBC’s Doctor Who series and a History of the Universe of Doctor Who. In addition to his work with the Doctor Who universe, he has written guidebooks for Stark Trek, His Dark Materials, and Emmerdale, among others. His most recent work, published in 2013, is a biography of Alan Moore, who wrote comics such as The Watchman and V for Vendetta.

To learn more about Parkin, visit his website at

Interview with Who? Lance Parkin!

  1. Most of your work centers on the fantasy or science fiction genre. What compels you about these genres? 

Science fiction gives an author a license to go off on tangents, stretch a point, ignore inconvenient facts. So you can set a story in a more focused, exaggerated environment. In the end, though, you can do that with most fiction. The most ‘realistic’ and ‘grounded’ novels have coincidences and weird little moments in them that seem more like magic. I Cold_Fusionwouldn’t defend ‘science fiction’ as a whole entity, it’s something that encompasses all sorts of storytelling. There’s science fiction that’s really lazy – uses the genre to skimp on the research, or the characterization, or to smooth over the spiky, awkward bits of reality. Or that’s just derivative or playing to existing fans.

We live in an age where we understand that the system we have is flawed. Just about everyone sees that we’re damaging the planet, the economy is geared in a way that’s cruel to a lot of people, technology allows terrifying levels of surveillance and control, where we see lots of things that need to be done that aren’t being done … and we also have got it into our heads that there’s no alternative, that society has to look like this, give or take. Science fiction is a way of exploring alternatives. What do we want the world to look like, what is it we’re really troubled by? What do good guys look like? At its best, science fiction is the best tool we have for seeing our world differently.

  1. Why are you so fascinated with the Doctor Who universe?

I’ve been watching Doctor Who since I was a very small child, and so I know the terrain. It’s sort of a hub for so much of British culture, a show that just about every British actor has been involved with. It’s hard to find much British science fiction that isn’t reacting to it in some way. The internal mythos of the show is rich and wonderful, but it’s the format that makes it perfect. The whole point of the show is that it switches genres from week to week, that it’s a playful deconstruction of anything and everything. It was doing steampunk and mashups and metafiction and everything like that for decades. It’s a funny show, made by people who are smarter than me, but who don’t wear it on their sleeve. It’s Just_War_(Doctor_Who)almost impossible to overestimate it. And there’s so much of it that you can pick one strand and get a set of stories that conform to that style. If you want dumb, flashy action, you can find ten stories like that pretty easily, but if you want twisty, weird stuff that looks like a pop video you can find ten of those, too. There’s very little it can’t do.

  1. In writing the Doctor Who novels, do you ever experience any trouble staying true to the characters’ personalities?

It’s an interesting challenge, because you’ve got to tell your story, you’ve got to move things along, and you’re often taking TV characters, who tend to be all surfaces, and turning them into characters in novels, where it’s all about what they’re thinking. So there are balances to be found – but that’s really what all writing is about: finding the balance between not telling your readers enough versus lecturing them; being evocative without being obscure; being faithful to the past, but saying something new and relevant.

  1. When making a guidebook, what is your process for delving into a fictional universe?

The very first thing I do with any non-fiction is work out exactly what it’s for, exactly why people would take it down from the shelf. That’s the test for me. It’s a reference book, so when would you refer to it? I make a very careful study of the other books that are out there. The internet is there for the basic facts, these days. I wrote a biography of Alan Moore … well, anyone with a laptop can assemble a functioning biography of someone like magic-words-vis-1him, even if they’ve only just heard his name the first time, all they need is Google and in a few minutes you’d have a framework for his life story. The role of a book is to go beyond the objective facts, to bring the author’s experience and perspective in there. I’m working on a guide to Doctor Who planets at the moment, and I’m trying to inject some personality into it. If you want a list of things that happened on Telos, planet of the Cybermen, then it’s easy enough to find. So to make it a book people are going to be interested in, I need to find some quirky or weird stuff, pick up on a detail from a story that other people have overlooked.

  1. You also do reviews of different media. What do you look for when you watch a show or movie that you are reviewing?

I’ve been lucky that most of the things I’ve reviewed are things I’ve asked to review. There’s enough snark and pedantry on the internet – and I can be as snarky and pedantic as the best of them – so when I review, I try to look for things I enjoyed, things that worked. That’s not to say every review is positive, or needlessly sunny. The top tips I would have are not to be afraid of expressing your own opinion, and don’t waste too much time double guessing what other people will think. And review the thing in front of you, not the book you’d have written instead. Respect and explore the choices the author has made – if indexthey’re taking an angle on the material, they’ve chosen not to do something else, so explore those choices. As a rule of thumb, I’ve found that any review which asks questions is a waste of time. ‘What was the author hoping to achieve by putting this character into the mix?’. I don’t know – so why not go away and think about it, and come back and write your review when you’ve worked it out?  On the whole, I’m the sort of person who finds it really difficult to mark a book or movie out of ten, or go ‘three stars!’. There are some lousy movies with one line of dialogue or image that I love … how many stars is that worth? There are some fantastic movies that leave me utterly cold.

  1. Do you have any forthcoming work that fans should look out for?

I’m keeping myself busy. I’ve got that guide to Doctor Who planets; a biography of Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek; I’m working on another Doctor Who project I can’t talk about yet; I’ve got a couple of articles coming out about Alan Moore, and the paperback version of my biography of him; a book of essays about comics, another on Sherlock Holmes, and in my spare time, I’m writing an original steampunk novel.

  1. Do you have any favorite authors?

Oh, tons of them. I’m lucky enough to have friends and acquaintances whose work I enjoy, so let’s start with the nepotism: Paul Magrs, Paul Cornell, Kate Orman, Mark Clapham, Ben Aaronovitch, Phil Purser-Hallard, Eddie Robson. Sorry if I missed anyone out, there, I mean no offence! I’m a completist for Douglas Adams, Michael Chabon, Borges, Iain Banks, Nicholas Christopher, Ken MacLeod, Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, David Liss, Umberto Eco, Stephen Baxter, Paul Pope, Matt Kindt, Philip Pullman. Too many to name, I’m going to think of half a dozen more in a minute. I enjoy Christopher Bennett’s Star Trek novels.  In terms of the reference book stuff, I’m blown away by the Making of Star Wars series by JW Rinzler. One thing those writers all have in common is … um … well, actually, looking at that list it’s not exactly a full spectrum of racial and gender diversity is it? … hmmmmm … OK … need to work on that. Another thing they have in common is that they entertain me, they make me go ‘ooh, that’s clever’, they just connect things up in fun ways. When I write, I think some of the appeal is puzzle solving – the challenge of ‘making it work’.  All of those writers have completed Rubik’s Cubes I wouldn’t have been able to, they’ve surprised me and squared circles.

Thanks to Lance Parkin for taking the time to speak with “Fiction Reboot”!

Keri Heath is a writer and journalist from Austin, Texas. She has written professionally for Austin Fit, Totally Dublin, Austin Woman, and ATX Man magazines. She has also seen her creative work published in NEAT and Straylight magazines, among others. When she isn’t writing, she loves to read, run, and play mandolin. You can view Keri’s work at or by following her @HeathKeri.

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MedHum Monday Presents: OUCH–What’s With Physical Pain?

DailyDose_darkstrokeWelcome back to the Daily Dose and MedHum Monday! The medical humanities encompasses a wide field of inquiry, but at its core is a commitment to the human. It is also about communication, though, about narrative, and about story, and about the importance of sharing. Today, I’ve asked Joseph Watts, licensed orthopedic massage therapist, to talk to us about communication and pain. Not only does interpersonal communication serve as the backbone of human connection, but body communication (our body speaking to itself and to our consciousness) is a vital aspect of life and living. Welcome Joseph!

“OUCH”: What’s With Physical Pain?

By Joseph H. Watts

Why do our bodies hurt—sometimes, seemingly, for no reason? There are systemic conditions with such symptoms, like Fibromyalgia, but today I’d like to talk about something else: those sharp pains that seemed to come from nowhere, or the slow building pain that can creep up on the joints. The pain that plagues most Americans costs us billions in lost work and destroys our chances to do the fun things we have always done. What can we do?

To begin, we need to talk about communication, particularly interpersonal communication. (Trust me, this will all come together.) Communication is extremely important for survival. Beyond that, it is important for conducting business and fo effectively connecting with our families, friends, and neighbors. We all know the emotional pain of miscommunications, or worse, non-communication. Business fail when the communication fail. Families are split when they cannot effectively communicate, and many of us know the pain that occurs when communication is cut off completely. Often if one person in a relationship stops communicating, the other person will eventually start to plea or yell to open those lines back up. Do you see where this is going?

Woodcut of male with blood vessels Stephanus, 1545. Wellcome Images

Woodcut of male with blood vessels. Wellcome Images

Our minds and our bodies are intertwined; they are one, yet they are separate. The only way to keep both working together happily is if they are communicating. So understand this, your body is always talking to you. It is always telling you if something is not right. Something is a little off here, or something is a little tight there. Yet, we often ignore it. Actually, we are usually so distracted and busy we just don’t hear it. So the reason we have pain is because we haven’t been participating in this conversation. Pain is our body yelling at us that something is very wrong.

So back to that first question:what do we do about it? As an orthopedic massage therapist, I confront this everyday. I work hard to educate people about our wonderful bodies, and I have noticed that as people receive bodywork more regularly, they start to feel and indeed to “hear” their bodies again. People will begin to notice the small cues, and they can make corrections early on and avoid unnecessary pain. Adding something like yoga and mindfulness meditation to life also enhances our ability to listen to our bodies and rebuild that relationship. So the next time you feel that twinge in your back, realize that it might be time to quiet your mind and listen to your body.

To Your Health!

Joseph H. Watts, LMT, has logged more than 1000 hours of massage training. He has a passion for exploring the deep mystery that is the human form. He is a father, husband, brother, and friend who loves working with people, particularly aiding those suffering from chronic and intermittent pain. When he is not working as an orthopedic massage therapist, he spends his time in nature or his garden. (Also, he is a huge dork for Lord of the Rings–but who isn’t?)

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Fiction Reboot Author Interview: Barry Lyga, I Hunt Killers Series.

Sammie Kurty (author/contributor), signing in! For today’s Fiction Reboot Interview, I fictionreboot2have the pleasure of once again welcoLyga_AfterTheRedRain_HCming author Barry Lyga. You may recognize his name from his best selling series, I Hunt Killers. He has quite a variety of writing under his belt, from middle grade fiction, to YA, to graphic novels.  He even keeps an author blog, talking about books and all the ins and outs of writing.  Needless to say, he’s impressive.  His latest novel, After the Red Rain, (co-written with Peter Facinelli and Robert DeFranco) will be released this coming August.  Today, Barry talks with us about writing like a method actor, Bruce Springsteen, and his future projects. Welcome back to Fiction Reboot, Barry!

Author Bio:

Lyga0110Called a “YA rebel-author” by , Barry Lyga has published fourteen novels in various genres in his nine-year career, including the bestselling . His books have been or are slated to be published in a dozen different languages in North America, Australia, Europe, and Asia.

Called a “YA rebel-author” by Kirkus Reviews, Barry Lyga has published fourteen novels in various genres in his nine-year career, including the New York Times bestselling I Hunt Killers. His books have been or are slated to be published in a dozen different languages in North America, Australia, Europe, and Asia.

After graduating from Yale with a degree in English, Lyga worked in the comic book industry before quitting to pursue his lifelong love of writing. In 2006, his first young adult novel, The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl, was published to rave reviews, including starred reviews from Booklist andSchool Library Journal. Publishers Weekly named Lyga a “Flying Start” in December 2006 on the strength of the debut.

His second young adult novel, Boy Toy, received starred reviews in SLJPublishers Weekly, and KirkusVOYA gave it its highest critical rating, and the Chicago Tribune called it “…an astounding portrayal of what it is like to be the young male victim.” His third novel, Hero-Type, according to VOYA “proves that there are still fresh ideas and new, interesting story lines to be explored in young adult literature.”

Since then, he has also written Goth Girl Rising (the sequel to his first novel), as well as the Archvillain series for middle-grade readers and the graphic novel Mangaman (with art by Colleen Doran).

His latest series is I Hunt Killers, called by the LA Times “one of the more daring concepts in recent years by a young-adult author” and an “extreme and utterly alluring narrative about nature versus nurture.” The first book landed on both the New York Times and USAToday bestsellers lists.

Lyga lives and podcasts in New York City with his wife, Morgan Baden, and their nigh-omnipotent daughter. His comic book collection is a lot smaller than it used to be, but is still way too big.

Twitter: @barrylyga

Author Interview.

I’m dying to know, is Lobo’s Nod based on a real place? If so, tell us more! If not, what inspired you?

Nah. I was going for a sort of ur-small town, or maybe the Platonic ideal of small towns. I always get them confused. :) I talk about the origins of its name at, and of course the LUCKY DAY novella goes into the history of the town. But it was really just me ruminating on the nature of small towns (having grown up in one) and wanting to evoke it without having to turn the book into a Russian novel!

Your detail and accuracy into Jazz’s troubled psyche is astounding. Any remarks as to how you came up with Jazz’s story? Research you’ve had to do?

Before I wrote the first book, I spent about three months researching serial killer pathology, forensic science, and the history of serial murder. And then I did what I always do with a book: I submerged my own ego and just allowed myself to BE Jazz. It starts with a simple premise and a simple question: “I am not Barry Lyga. I am Jazz. My father is a serial killer. What’s my life like?” And I go. This is the only way I know how to write. It’s sort of like Method acting, except in a chair at a keyboard. And I guess the pay is worse. :)

Ever consider making the I Hunt Killers series into a graphic novel? Is television in the future? What are your hopes for the series?

I’m generally not interested in adapting my work. Once it’s done, I’m done. My publisher has the graphic novel rights, so they could do one, if they thought the audience would be there. I tend to think a graphic novel would be tough — it’s a very interior series, very much concerned with inner thoughts and feelings. Those are tough to do justice to in a graphic novel. The TV series looked promising for a little while, but died late last year, so that’s not going to happen. As to my hopes: I really only care about the books. Everything else is gravy. If a movie or something else comes along, great, but my only hope is that people will read the books, enjoy the books, tell their friends…and maybe re-read them every now and again to discover new little nook and crannies.

It comes up often in the IHK series, so I have to ask: Which do you think is more important? nature or nurture? (Or if neither, how do you see the relationship?)

Jazz was raised by a serial killer (nurture) and his father is a serial killer (nature). The question is moot for him. And the question that really matters — and its answer — is the theme running through the entire series, both overtly and obliquely…which I’d rather people discover on their own, rather than me spelling it out. It’s no fun if I give away the answers.

Do you have any quirky writing habits?

If I did, I’m sure they wouldn’t seem quirky to me! No one has ever called me out for any. Sometimes I freak people out when I can type and talk to them at the same time for several paragraphs.

Do you have a favorite author? One that inspires you?

I have a whole range of people whose work I admire, stretching from the anonymous poet who wrote BEOWULF to Edgar Allan Poe to comic book writers like Alan Moore and Paul Levitz to prose authors like Joe Haldeman, Tom Perrotta, and Ken Grimwood. My biggest inspiration, though, is probably Bruce Springsteen. He manages to tell complete, powerful, compelling stories in about five minutes. It takes me five hundred pages!

Lastly, do you have any new projects? Would you want to dabble in any other genres?

I have a book coming out in August that I co-wrote with Peter Facinelli and Rob DeFranco, AFTER THE RED RAIN, which is post-apocalyptic with a twist. And then I have a very odd sort of middle-grade novel, THE SECRET SEA, coming in early 2016. A quick look at will show that I love nothing more than switching up styles and genres. I’ve done contemporary realistic fiction, thrillers, kids’ super-hero adventure, and even an erotic adult comedy. I plan to keep shaking things up in the future!

Thank you, Barry, for joining us today! You can find Barry on his website, or on twitter @barrylyga. You can find all of his fantastic books on Amazon or a book store near you!

About the Contributor

sammieSammie Kurty is an English major in her senior year at Wittenberg University and a contributor to Fiction Reboot. She is a proud member of Sigma Tau Delta, the International English Honors Society. Sammie has been passionate about writing all her life and is about to complete her first novel, Sapphire Lake, a project she has worked on for three years. When she isn’t writing or reading, you can find her practicing makeup artistry or riding roller coasters. Twitter: @Shamtakee

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