Fiction Reboot Interview’s Barbara Rogan, Mystery Writer

FictionReboot2Welcome back to the Fiction Reboot!

Today’s Friday Feature interviews Barbara Rogan, mystery writer, agent, and teacher. Rogan has lived a diverse life; from New York City and Santa Fe to Europe and Israel, she has experienced many different places and perspectives that have factored into her writing. A writer with a love of thriller and mystery novels, Rogan also teaches online writing classes on her “Next Level Workshop” site. Her latest book, “A Dangerous Fiction,” combines Rogan’s loves of the publishing industry and of this thriller theme. The book was touted by Diana Gabaldon “a thriller with a psychological heart of mystery, a double-ended love story, and a fascinating look at the world of high-stakes publishing.” In an exclusive interview, Rogan discusses how her rich past plays a role in her writing.

bio_2_1949043100Author Bio:

Born in New York City, Barbara Rogan has spent much of her life traveling. In college she took a year off to journey through Europe and Israel. After she graduated from St. John’s College in Santa Fe, she took a publishing job in New York. Six months later, Rogan left for Israel, studied Hebrew and worked as a park ranger, horse wrangler, and editor in Tel Aviv. Two years later, she launched Barbara Rogan Literary Agency, which soon became the largest in the country. After the birth of her son, she sold the agency, moved back to New York, and became a full time writer. She has since published multiple novels and continues to teach online writing courses and revise fiction.

To learn more about Rogan, visit her website at or follow her on Twitter at @RoganBarbara.

Interview with Barbara Rogan:

  1. You have a rich, diverse life. How does this factor into your writing?

It provides material and a wider view of life. I’m not an ivory tower sort of writer. Recently, a young writer asked my advice about going straight from college to grad school to get an MFA. I advised against it. I have nothing against MFA degrees. The degree itself isn’t critical, as writers are judged by what they produce, not how they got there; but the intense focus on writing and critical feedback required to attain that degree can be valuable indeed. The first thing the writer needs, though, is something to write about. I suspicion_1advised the young writer who asked not to go straight to grad school but rather to go out into the world, preferably someplace where he doesn’t feel at home.

  1. How did running such a large publishing agency in Israel shape your perspective as a writer?

It taught me how the industry works. Before I started the agency, I was an editor in a large New York City publishing house; so I’ve seen the publishing world from a lot of different angles. This is both good and bad for me as a writer. On the one hand, I’m not intimidated by any situation and I can speak the lingo without an interpreter. Writers who understand the business get a bit more respect and can help themselves more, or at least avoid hurting themselves. On the other hand, I can see potential problems coming from 50 different directions. Sometimes, it’s better to just sit back and enjoy the ride.

  1. Do you have a specific process that you follow when you write?

I spend months doing prep work before I start writing a book. I do research; I write down setting, character and plot ideas, and wait for them to cross-fertilize; and in the final stage of prep, I start plotting out the novel. In the beginning, it’s a pretty rough outline. I know where I want to start and end up, but not all the stops along the way. As I proceed with the writing, I continue to outline sections in more detail. I write down my goals for each scene, and the incidents that need to happen to get me there. After all that planning, I put my notes aside and just write. The notes have provided parameters for the scene, but writing without reference to them allows for unexpected things to pop up.

  1. Do you have any quirky writing habits?

I like to write naked, hanging upside down from a chandelier. Other than that, no.

  1. What draws you to the genre of suspense and mystery?

hindsight_1__1Well, for one thing I’ve always liked to read them. People should write what they enjoy reading I think. For another, they have a definitive form. Mysteries are to fiction as sonnets are to poetry. They have certain requirements and you can be very creative while playing within those lines; but they give a shape to the book and a solid resolution, which I find very satisfying.

  1. You taught for a long time and still continue to do so through workshops. Why is teaching so important to you?

I never had the opportunity to study writing in college or out of it; like most writers, I’ve learned through practice, good critical feedback, and other writers. Teaching is a way of exploring the art of fiction writing, consolidating what I’ve learned over the course of writing my books. It’s certainly made me a better writer.

I also enjoy working with serious writers, seeing their progress and offering a little help along the way. It’s hugely satisfying when my students go forth and publish, as many have. And I think it’s useful work. Most writers go through identical stages in learning to write, as babies do in learning to walk. You can’t make just anyone into a writer, but for those who have the skill and determination, a good teacher can shorten the path.

  1. How was your move from Israel back to the United States reflected in your writing, if at all?

My first couple of books were set in Israel. After I made the move back to the U. S., the settings moved as well. Part of the reason that I came back was for the language. When I lived in Israel, I read a lot in English but spoke Hebrew most of the time. After a number of years living abroad, I began to feel a certain disconnection to my native language, which is a living and evolving thing. Since I write in English, I wanted to re-immerse myself in that language.

  1. Tell me about your experience writing your latest book, “A Dangerous Fiction”?

DangerousFictionHC_jacket3“A DANGEROUS FICTION” is the story of Jo Donovan, a literary agent who came out of nowhere to become a star in the NYC publishing world. She’s living the life she always dreamed of until it all starts to go south. Jo’s problems begin with a stalker who insists that she represent him, but soon get much, much worse. I had loved the 15 or so years that I spent as an agent, traveling widely and working with brilliant, fascinating people, and writing this book gave me the opportunity to return to that world. It’s always fun to write a book in which the characters need be really clever. I did succeed in entertaining myself, always my first goal.

  1. Who are some of your favorite authors?

That’s tough because I read so many different kinds of books. In the suspense genre I like Dennis Lehane, Ron Rash, Gillian Flynn. Literary fiction: Don DeLillo, Edward St. Aubyn, Pat Parker, Barbara Kingsolver, Ivy Compton-Burnett, and the sainted Jane Austen, whose books I’ve read to the point of memorization. I read a lot of short stories, too: favorites include Katherine Mansfield, George Sanders, Amy Bloom, Lori Moore, and Tobias Wolff.

Thanks to Barbara Rogan 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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Fiction Reboot Agent Interview: Sarah Davis-Goff and Lisa Coen

FictionReboot2Welcome back to the Fiction Reboot and the introductory post of author-contributor Keri Heath! Today we are reviving our previous series of interviews featuring agents and publishers. Join us in welcoming Sarah Davis-Goff and Lisa Coen of Tramp Press!

Sarah Davis-Goff and Lisa Coen pooled their collective knowledge of literature and publishing to form Tramp Press, a small publishing agency in Dublin, Ireland. The press focuses on publishing excellent books, as Davis-Goff stated, “the absolute crème de la crème of Irish literary fiction.” The quality of the literature that Tramp Press publishes is obvious, especially since several of its releases have won the Irish Book Award. As Tramp Press looks towards the next step, it plans to increase the publishing experience for its authors by expanding to the UK. In an interview with the “Fiction Reboot,” Davis-Goff and Coen share their vision of Tramp Press’ place within the Irish publishing industry.

Lisa and SarahAgent Bios:

Sarah Davis-Goff received an MA in publishing from Oxford Brookes University in 2009 and has since obtained international publishing experience in New York, London, and Dublin. Lisa Coen spent several years working in the production department of Hot Press magazine, before deciding to complete an M.Phil and PhD in Anglo-Irish literature. The two met during their work at Lilliput Press and decided to found Tramp Press together.

For more information about Davis-Goff, Coen, and Tramp Press, visit

  1. Why did you decide to start Tramp Press?

There were a few reasons, really. We were both working at The Lilliput Press here in Dublin, but our time there was almost up. We’re young(ish) women and we felt that the industry could do with more age and gender diversity. More than anything we felt we had a valuable viewpoint to offer, and we could publish brilliant works that other people were missing, and do it well. For instance Flight by Oona Frawley was rejected by publishers who thought it would be a hard sell. It sat around for a few years, but once we published it, it was nominated for an Irish Book Award and received a rave review in the Guardian, among others. We’ve had to reprint it twice already!

  1. What makes Tramp Press different from other small publishers in Ireland?

We’re different from other publishers in how we approach the process: with the decline in sales over the last years, publishers have been publishing more, throwing a load into the marketplace and hoping that one or two make a dent. We approach things from the opposite direction. We’ll only ever publish works that are skin-prickingly, heart-stoppingly brilliant, and we’ll publish them with great care, and attention to detail – and force. We maintain old-fashioned editorial values and work to develop long-lasting relationships with our authors. By devoting all our time and attention to a few brilliant books a year, we aim to publish harder and better than anyone else. We get great feedback on our books, not just the content, but for instance the cover design of Dubliners 100.

  1. What do you look for in the books you like to publish?

In a word – brilliance. We only publish fiction (so no memoirs, history, etc), but apart from that it doesn’t really matter what a book is about, and we’re not genre-snobs. We have diverse tastes and read widely and would love to see some fantastic YA or sci-fi. As long as a book is excellent, we’ll want to get it out there. We also publish ‘Recovered Voices: once a year we’ll take a lost classic and repackage it. In our first year, that was A Struggle for Fame by Charlotte Riddell, a witty, scathing book about being a public author.

  1. How closely do you work with the writers to see their visions fulfilled?

At least a part of excellent publishing is managing expectations. Not every book is going to be a market-leader, unfortunately, and the massive success stories you see in the media are very much the exception rather than the rule. So being honest and upfront with our authors and making sure that they know what we offer is very important. This starts with our submission guide on We’re open to unsolicited manuscripts, but we’re upfront that the standard is high. Once we find a great manuscript, we work very closely with the author on editing or redrafting as needed.

With Dubliners 100 we really trusted Thomas Morris’s great idea and gave the contributors a broad brief: write a ‘cover version’ of a story from James Joyce’s Dubliners in its centenary year. People love a great idea, and because we trusted everyone and were kind of hands-off, we ended up with a terrific, award-winning collection of stories about contemporary Ireland.

Editorial is just one part of the process, once that’s in hand, we work really hard to promote our titles. So far we have achieved very wide review coverage for all our titles across newspapers and magazines at home and abroad, in the Irish Times, Sunday Times, the Guardian, the TLS, we’ve got a couple of mentions in the New York Times, and have had lots of radio and a couple of small TV slots – but nothing is guaranteed. We try to make sure that our vision of success for a title matches with the author’s.

  1. What do you usually read?

We both read a lot, of course, and although literary fiction is something we both reach for most often, we also enjoy a ton of other stuff. Sarah is reading Saga, a graphic novel right now and loving it, having just finished Anne Enright’s The Pleasure of Eliza Lynch, while Lisa’s been reading a lot of Neil Gaiman recently to balance out the non-fiction essay collections she read over the holidays. We both love good sci-fi, horror and YA. We initially bonded over our love for Stephen King!

  1. Do you think the publishing industry of Ireland is very different from that of other western European countries?

We’re lucky in Ireland. We’re a small country but everybody here reads, lots of people write, and it’s actually a strong market. There’s a lovely sense of camaraderie amongst small publishers and writers of contemporary literary fiction: it’s a great place to work. There’s a wonderful new movement of small presses achieving big things here and in the UK and France too, so we’re all in it together.

  1. Do you have any plans for the future of Tramp Press?

We do! Historically, being a small publishing company in Ireland has posed certain restrictions on success, both for the press in question and for its authors. Irish writers, generally speaking, get discovered her by small, ballsy publishers like The Lilliput Press (Donal Ryan, Rob Doyle), or the Stinging Fly Press (Kevin Barry, Mary Costello, Colin Barrett). Once their talent has been established and recognized, through sales and literary prizes, larger UK-based publishing companies will acquire rights to these works.

The deals involved will generally require the independent Irish publisher in question to give up rights to publication, in return for a fee to the author. In addition to this, most literary prizes that guarantee success and sales for writers (such as the Man Booker Prize, the Guardian First Book Award, the Baileys Prize, etc.) will only accept submissions from publishers that are established in the UK. Ultimately ambitious Irish writers have no choice but to sign with a UK publishing house.

This system can be bad for Irish writers, Irish publishers and Irish readers.

We want to be the first publisher to really break out of this mould, and have already made inroads to this ambitious task, by setting up UK distribution, sales and PR. In fact, we’re just about to have our first international launch in Waterstones in Piccadilly, of Sara Baume’s exceptional debut novel Spill Simmer Falter Wither. It’s the start of something big! In the meantime, we’ll continue to publish around three books a year, and to ‘rescue’ a neglected novel every year, so we can build a backlist and continue to gain readers’ trust.

A big thanks to Davis-Goff and Coen for their interview!

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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Friday Fiction Feature

FictionReboot2One time-honored tradition of the beginning of a new year is the “Where are they now?” when television hosts and internet writers track down formerly well-known celebrities and remind us all that they’re still alive. We at the Fiction Reboot have decided to take part in this annual reminder with a literary bent and show our dear readers a glimpse of their favorite characters; what they have been doing, what challenges have they faced, what monsters have they slaughtered. With tales varying from the chipper to the catastrophic, we invite  you all to read on and find out Where are they now?

Pinocchio by Michael Morpurgo & Emma Chichester Clark 

PinocchioTo start off our first entrant, we’ll let our protagonist tell us not only where he is now, but how he got there. This Pinocchio is the tale of the puppet who never got to be a real boy, told by the little liar himself. Here you can find out why on earth he thought the trip to Pleasure Island was a good idea and the proper etiquette for not tripping on your own strings.

Pinocchio as you’ve never seen him before: telling his own story through the master storyteller and award-winning author of War Horse.
“Now – there’s no point in pretending here – I was, and still am deep down, a puppet. Everyone knows Pinocchio is a puppet. I reckon I must be just about the most famous puppet the world has ever known. But the truth is I’m not just a puppet, I’m more than just bits of wood and string. I’m me. So I thought it was about time that I, Pinocchio, told you my story…”
Michael Morpurgo channels Pinocchio’s words to tell the famous puppet’s story in his own inimitable, cheeky and always funny way. Lavishly illustrated throughout in black-and-white by the acclaimed Emma Chichester Clark, this is a must-have for all book lovers, and an utterly charming and surprising adaptation of a much-loved tale.

Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer (Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer #1) by Van Jensen & Dusty Higgins

Pinocchio, Vampire SlayerUnfortunately, after this more lighthearted tale, Pinocchio’s life took a dreadful turn. He learned some hard lessons on Pleasure Island, but that was nothing compared to the changes he had to undergo to become Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer

After seeing Geppetto die at the hands of vampires, Pinocchio swears revenge in this darkly funny graphic novel. As the vampires plot the enslavement of mankind, only a one-puppet army stands in their way. But will a wooden boy and his endless supply of stakes – courtesy of plenty of lies and his elongating nose – be enough to save the day?

I Am Scrooge: A Zombie Story for Christmas by Adam Roberts

I Am Scrooge: A Zombie Story for ChristmasPerhaps our most chilling ‘where are they now’ is I Am Scrooge: A Zombie Story for ChristmasThis epilogue follows Scrooge after his fateful Christmas night, after he has become a good and cheerful man, after he has been accepted warmly into his community, and after his community has begun salivating over his warm brain. This contribution to the “and zombies” genre maintains the original’s focus on right and wrong and turning Scrooge’s moral compass towards the good of the community, whether he wants to or not.

The legendary Ebenezeer Scrooge sits in his house counting money. The boards that he has nailed up over the doors and the windows shudder and shake under the blows from the endless zombie hordes that crowd the streets hungering for his flesh and his miserly braaaaiiiiiinns! Just how did the happiest day of the year slip into a welter of blood, innards, and shambling, ravenous undead on the snowy streets of old London town? Will the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future be able to stop the world from drowning under a top-hatted and crinolined zombie horde? Was Tiny Tim’s illness something infinitely more sinister than mere rickets and consumption? Can Scrooge be persuaded to go back to his evil ways, travel back to Christmas past, and destroy the brain stem of the tiny, irritatingly cheery Patient Zero?

The Last of the Spirits by Chris Priestley

The Last of the SpiritsOf course, Scrooge’s moral quandary may never come to pass, if the ghosts that tormented him cannot convince someone else. In The Last of the Spirits we find what may well be the last chapter in Scrooge’s ever-changing story and an unequivocal answer to ‘where is he now?’ When his miserliness becomes too extreme, Scrooge’s fate falls out of his own hands and even the heroics of fighting in the zombie takeover cannot redeem him again, as he finds out why that gravestone the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come showed him had such an early date on it.

Sam and Lizzie are freezing and hungry on the streets of Victorian London. When Sam asks a wealthy man for some coins, he is rudely turned away. Months of struggle suddenly find their focus, and Sam resolves to kill the man. Huddling in a graveyard for warmth, Sam and Lizzie are horrified to see the earth around one of the tombs begin to shift, shortly followed by the wraithlike figure of a ghostly man. He warns Sam about the future which awaits such a bitter heart, and so begins Sam’s journey led by terrifying spirits through the past, present and future, after which Sam must decide whether to take the man, Scrooge’s, life or not.

The Land of Green Ginger by Noel Langley

The Land of Green GingerWe’ll end our look into the epilogues of our favorite characters with the most upbeat edition (unless you count the heroics of quashing a monster uprising as a happier ending). The Land of Green Ginger will catch you up on the lives of the entire Aladdin crew; from the eponymous carpet-flyer himself to the freed genie and into the second generation, you can learn what happened to each beloved character. The author has even thrown in an adventure with magic and incompetent wizards to fill in all those empty spaces between catching us up in our most complete ‘where are they now’.

This beloved classic is a funny, clever, and original novel that opens with Aladdin, now Emperor of China, trying to decide what to name his new son, a child who won’t stop talking and is already far too articulate for his own good. The Genie of the Lamp announces that Abu Ali should be the child’s name and that his destiny is to rescue the magician who created The Land of Green Ginger (a sort of fabulous floating garden) and then turned himself into a Button-Nosed Tortoise by mistake. Abu Ali is told he is the only one who can find the peripatetic island, locate the Button-Nosed Tortoise and reverse the spell. And so begins a series of adventures that invoke a memorable cast of characters, some despicable, some feckless and some (no surprise) beautiful and feisty. It’s all here – Flying Carpets, Green Dragons, Magic Phoenix Birds, Boomalakka Wee, the dysfunctional infant son of the Genie of the Lamp, the displaced mouse who was supposed to have been a donkey, even Omar Khayyam himself… adding up to a fantastical tale of adventure and mayhem, fabricated by the screenwriter of The Wizard of Oz and illustrated by the inimitable and beloved Edward Ardizzone.

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MedHum Monday: Vaccines and History


Okay, it isn’t Monday. It’s Fat Tuesday. But I was a bit waylaid by flu…and that has me thinking about a piece I wrote recently for the Dittrick Museum’s blog on epidemics and vaccines through history. Granted, flu isn’t plague. But  it kills large numbers of people annually, even so. (The traditional number had been 36,000 yearly, but the CDC estimates say that the death toll ranges from 3,300 to 49,000 depending on outbreak year– read more).

So today I am re-posting part of that earlier piece, titled “Deadly Effects: Epidemics, Vaccines, and the Measles Outbreak.” If you would like to read the entire article, do check out the Dittrick Museum (and its attendant website and instagram). It’s my home away from home, you know.

Excerpt from DEADLY EFFECTS:

Childhood Diseases:

IDiphtheria throatn 1875, the 243-person death toll from diphtheria comprised 8.2% of all reported deaths. As was typical of the disease, children comprised most of the mortalities. In the 1880s Dr. Joseph O’Dwyer, a Cleveland Ohio native, developed a method of intubating patients (inserting a tube to keep the airway open) to survive the life-threatening phase of diphtheria. Otherwise, the diphtheria infection slowly closed the throat, and children suffocated to death. [Dittrick Museum, hall exhibit. Read more.]

In 1898, Cleveland witnessed a minor outbreak of of the worlds most dreaded diseases: smallpox. Only a year later, the cases jump from 70 to 475, six times the rate of outbreak. In 1900, the numbers double again to 993–and then, in the plaSmallpox_hartzell4gue years of 1901 and 1902, more than 1200 people become ill, with over 200 dying at the height of the disaster. Many of these were children. Those who survived the epidemic were left with horrendous scarring, the “pocks” that welted on the skin left their mark for a lifetime. [Dittrick museum, hall exhibit. Read more.]

In the 20th century, one of the most feared childhood disorders not only killed, but crippled. Poliomyelitis killed more than 6000 people in the US in 1916 [2]; most were under the age of 14. Parents lived in fear; no one–not even President FDR–was safe. An early attempt at vaccine creation proved unsuccessful, and the disease continued. By 1952, 57,628 polio cases were reported in the United States, 21,000 of them paralytic cases.[2]

In each oR.W.Lovett, Treatment of Infantile Paralysisf these epidemics, the victims were largely children–but also those with weakened immune systems, the elderly, the ill. The diseases attacked the powerless, who expired or were crippled under the horrifies gaze of their loved ones. And for much of history, no cure availed itself. But cures did come, in the form of vaccines. And strangely, the key to polio had been found be a man searching in desperation for a cure for measles.

Measles and Milestones

Measles does not, perhaps, sound as terrifying as small pox and polio. However, this highly contagious disease had a much higher mortality rate. Affected children were contagious both before and after the appearance of measles, and worse–it could survive in the air for over an hour just waiting for the next victim. [3] Children got diarrhea and vomited, had a vivid red rash and watery eyes. It hospitalized an average of 48,000 Americans each year through the 1960s, leaving the survivors compromised sometimes with brain damage or deafness. With over 4000 cases of encephalitis, many children became wards of the state. [2] In other, poorer, countries, millions died every year. Alexander Langmuir, chief CDC epidemiologist in 1961, stated emphatically: “Any parent who has seen his small child suffer even for a few days with a persistent fever of 105, hacking cough and delirium, wants to see this disease prevented.” [3]


At the same time, it was important for Langmuir that the vaccines be safe. In 1935, Maurice Brodie and John Kolmer tested a polio vaccine that proved disastrous and even deadly. It would be 1952 before the next serious trial, the successful Salk and Sabine vaccines. John Enders, who found the key to polio while looking for a measles cure, created a vaccine of mild measles that was added to other boosters children received for the diseases mentioned above. At last, children could be better protected and parents need not fear the daycare centers or play dates, school yards or other common grounds that had harbored these diseases. [3]

That does not mean, of course, that vaccines were unproblematic. The first disease to yield a vaccine was, in fact, smallpox. Edward Jenner injected a milder version, that of cowpox, into a healthy child. The act of risk and daring would be considered highly unethical today–but again, small pox killed and maimed many in the 18th century. The treatment worked. For polio, the earlier trial had resulted in illness and death. A later version, by Albert Sabin, introduced a weakened but still living virus. Jonas Salk’s vaccine worked by stimulating the immune system against polio without giving a live virus. Complications still arose, such as the contamination of both vaccines with SV40 virus at a facility of American Home Products. Even so, the US was polio free by 1979, and the crippling, painful, deadly disease no longer threatened American children. Measles, mumps, rubella, smallpox, polio, and diphtheria–despite setbacks, US parents, spurred by public action and social responsibility as well as the need to protect their own children, flocked to immunization centers. The understanding: we aren’t protected until we are *all* protected.


[1] Mariano Castillo. “Measles Outbreak: How bad is it?” CNN Feb 2, 2015

[2] Polio Timeline, History of Vaccines

[3] Arthur Allen. Vaccine: The Controversial Story of Medicine’s Greatest Lifesaver. London, Norton 2007 (216-217)

[4] Measles. World Health Organization. Nov 2104.

Additional reading:

Lucas, William Palmer, 1880-1961. Experiments as to the protective value of certain specific sera and vaccines against the virus of poliomyelitis / by William P. Lucas and Robert B. Osgood. Boston, Mass. : Wright & Potter Printing Co., State Printers … , 1912

Horder, Thomas J. (Thomas Jeeves), 1871-1955. Clinical pathology in practice, with a short account of vaccine-therapy, by Thomas J. Horder ..London, H. Frowde; Hodder & Stoughton, 1910

Kirkpatrick, J. (James), approximately 1696-1770. The analysis of inoculation: comprising the history, theory, and practice of it: with an occasional consideration of the most remarkable appearances in the small pocks. London, J. Buckland [etc.] 1761

Author: Brandy L Schillace, PhD, Research Associate/Guest Curator, Dittrick Medical History Center

Posted in MedHum Monday, Medical History, Medical Humanities, The Daily Dose | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Friday Fiction Feature


Welcome back readers! It’s nearly St. Valentine’s Day, and you know what that means! No, not zombies this time…well, ok zombies, but only a few… It means Romance! Pink and red decorations, creepy teddy bears, and candy that tastes like plastic abound! Oh, also love. Love probably abounds too. And the Friday Fiction Feature is not to be left in the dust, we’ve got stories of timeless love and romance against all odds (and some physics). It is Friday the 13th after all…

The Professor’s Daughter  by Joann Sfar & Emmanuel Guibert

The Professor's DaughterOur first romance is one for the ages. Literally. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I at least have often wondered about this “one person for everyone” thing; what if that one person is in the South Sandwich Islands while I’m trapped up here in Minnesota? What if the deity in charge of romance mucked up and my one true love got born 30 years too late? Well, The Professor’s Daughter suffered from this very crossing of the stars, but wasn’t about to let a little thing like thousands of years and ancient embalming techniques stand in her way!

Three thousand years may seperate them, still… they love each other.
19th-century London. She is the lovely daughter of renowned Egyptologist Porfessor Bowell, he the dashing mummy Imhotep IV, owned by the professor and awake for the first time in thirty centuries. They stroll through London arm-in-arm and find their way into an abiding love, but everything seems to be getting in the way of it.
Murder, adventure, mystery kidnapping, Queen Victoria tossed into the Thames–what more could you ask for?

Death of a Valentine (Hamish Macbeth #26) by M.C. Beaton 

Death of a Valentine (Hamish Macbeth, #26)Sadly not all love can go as smoothly as the professor’s daughter’s, for some, like the unfortunate Sergeant Macbeth, tend to see death as an impediment to romance, even when it is not his own.  But, alas, for some the Death of a Valentine will always spoil a good date, if not because the valentine is your own, then at least by keeping you too busy to tend to your own lovely lad/lass. (So I suppose the romantic tip here is to stay away from corpses, at least until you’re married. Sound advice.)

Amazing news has spread across the Scottish countryside. The most famous of highland bachelors, police sergeant Hamish Macbeth, will be married at last. Everyone in the village of Lochdubh adores Josie McSween, Macbeth’s newest constable and blushing bride-to-be.
While locals think Josie is quite a catch, Hamish has a case of prenuptial jitters. After all, if it weren’t for the recent murder of a beautiful woman in a neighbouring village, there wouldn’t be a wedding at all. For it was a mysterious Valentine’s Day package–delivered to the victim before her death–that initially drew Hamish and Josie together on the investigation. As they work side by side, Hamish and Josie soon discover that the woman’s list of admirers was endless, confirming Hamish’s suspicion that love can be blind, deaf . . . and deadly.

My Zombie Valentine (Dark Ones #4.5 (Bring Out Your Dead)) by Katie MacAlister, Angie Fox, Lisa Cach, & Mari Mancusi 

My Zombie ValentineWe bring you next a selection of lovers so devoted, so connected to each other (or at least bits of each other), that Macbeth’s advice to avoid corpses is just the mantra of a quitter. For some devoted sweethearts to whom the underrated cry “Bring out your dead!” sounds like an invitation to speed-dating night pick up My Zombie Valentine and see some love that really never ends!

Four women who are about to dig up the truth!
Tired of boyfriends who drain you dry? Sick of guys who stay out all night howling at the moon? You can do better. Some men want you not only for your body, but your brains. Especially your brains.
It’s true! There are men out there who care–early-rising, down-to-earth, indefatigable men who’ll follow you for miles. They’ll take the time to surprise you, over and over. One sniff of that perfume, and you’ll have to use a shotgun to fight them off. And then, once you get together, all they want is to share a nice meal. And another. And another.
Romeo and Juliet, eat your hearts out.
“Bring Out Your Dead” by Katie MacAlister
“Gentlemen Prefer Voodoo” by Angie Fox
“Zombiewood Confidential” by Marianne Mancusi
“Every Part of You” by Lisa Cach

My Big Fat Supernatural Honeymoon by P.N. Elrod, Marjorie M. Liu, Katie MacAlister, Lilith Saintcrow, Ronda Thompson, Kelley Armstrong, Jim Butcher, Rachel Caine, & Caitlin Kittredge

My Big Fat Supernatural HoneymoonThere is a trend in romance tales which I imagine must be obnoxious to the happily married/partnered/living-together-and-please-stop-asking-when-we’re-getting-married-or-we-never-will-just-to-spite-you. It seems like all the best stories (practically all the stories actually) are about finding new love or getting engaged. There is a terrible dearth of actual happy couples who have been together for more than two years. (Unless you count the protagonists’ parents, and no they don’t count because I’ve seen those movies, and the parents never count). Fortunately we have My Big Fat Supernatural Honeymoon to at least fill in the next step in the romance genre. Picking up where the romance novels end, these stories will get us all the way through the wedding and at least to the following day! (Hey, it’s progress).

Nine popular fantasy and paranormal romance authors celebrate marital bliss supernatural style in a collection of honeymoon tales populated by demons, vampires, shape-shifters, magic-users, and other unusual characters.
What newly married couple doesn’t dream of a romantic retreat where they can escape the world for a while — but what happens when supernatural forces intrude on their wedded bliss?
Nine of today’s hottest paranormal authors answer that question in this all-star collection of supernatural stories. Can a vampire-hunter enjoy her honeymoon after learning that her new hubby is a werewolf? How can newlyweds focus on their wedding night when their honeymoon suite is haunted by feuding ghosts? And what’s a wizard to do when a gruesome monster kidnaps the bride on her way home from the wedding? With so much otherworldly mayhem awaiting our newlyweds, will they ever get around to the honeymoon itself? Find out in…My Big Fat Supernatural Honeymoon.

Harlequin Valentine by Neil Gaiman & John Bolton

Harlequin ValentineOf course, some of you will not be completely impressed by my lineup of romance for (and across) the ages. Some of you prefer more boring traditional romance stories. Well, I have just the thing. One of the oldest romance stories we have, and the namesake for an entire industry of trashy romance; Harlequin! Because I also know my audience won’t want me to just push them towards an old story they may have heard time and time again, I’ve swapped out the original for a version updated by one of our favorite authors here on the Fiction Reboot.

In this modern retelling of a classic commedia dell’ arte legend of tomfoolery and hopeless, fawning love, creators Neil Gaiman (Sandman) and John Bolton (Manbat: Batman) update the relation of Harlequin and Columbine. A buffoon burdened with a brimming heart, Harlequin chases his sensible, oblivious Columbine around the streets of a city, having given his heart freely. Consumed with love, the impulsive clown sees his heart dragged about town, with a charming surprise to bend the tale in a modern direction. Gaiman’s writing is poetic and as loopy as the subject matter. Bolton’s art, a combination of digitally enhanced photo-realism and dynamic painting provides sensational depth with bright characters over fittingly muted backgrounds. Those who have spent Valentine’s Day alone know that the cold February holiday can be hard to swallow. Gaiman and Bolton want you to know that all it takes is a steak knife, a fork, and a bottle of quality ketchup.Contains an additional 8-page backup feature written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by John Bolton on the history of commedia dell’ arte!

Breathers: A Zombie’s Lament by S.G. Browne

Breathers: A Zombie's LamentThis last book aside, I doubt that many of you actually clicked on my Valentine’s edition hoping for some straightforward boy-meets-girl-meets-unnecsarry-problem-solves-problem-gets-happy-ending novels. So to get us firmly back on track, and in true Friday Fiction Feature spirit, we’re ending on zombies with Breathersa tale of love, loss (of life), and class action law suits. (and for those of you who–like me–thought the movie with a living person dating a zombie was just ucky, don’t worry, everyone’s undead here. Nothing ucky about it).

Meet Andy Warner, a recently deceased everyman and newly minted zombie. Resented by his parents, abandoned by his friends, and reviled by a society that no longer considers him human, Andy is having a bit of trouble adjusting to his new existence. But all that changes when he goes to an Undead Anonymous meeting and finds kindred souls in Rita, an impossibly sexy recent suicide with a taste for the formaldehyde in cosmetic products, and Jerry, a twenty-one-year-old car-crash victim with an exposed brain and a penchant for Renaissance pornography. When the group meets a rogue zombie who teaches them the joys of human flesh, things start to get messy, and Andy embarks on a journey of self-discovery that will take him from his casket to the SPCA to a media-driven class-action lawsuit on behalf of the rights of zombies everywhere.
Darkly funny, surprisingly touching, and gory enough to satisfy even the most discerning reader, Breathers is a romantic zombie comedy (rom-zom-com, for short) that will leave you laughing, squirming, and clamoring for more.

*P.S. rom-zom-com might be my new favorite appellation.


So from all of…me here at the Friday Fiction Feature, happy Valentine’s Day!
(And singles, please stop calling it Singles Awareness Day…that’s just sad. Literally SAD. That’s what it spells! You should celebrate this day of plastic candy too, just please, please come up with a new name!)

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Fiction Reboot Author Interview: Tessa Harris, Shadow of the Raven

FictionReboot2Introducing our latest Reboot contributor, Sammie Kurty.

Sammie Kurty, signing in! For today’s Fiction Reboot, we have the pleasure of welcoming back author Tessa Harris. Her first novel, The Anatomist’s Apprentice, won The Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Best First Mystery Award in 2012. Since her debut into the publishing world, Ms. Harris has released 5 novels about her ever intriguing anatomist, Dr. Thomas Silkstone. On January 27, 2015, she released the latest installment to the series entitled Shadow of the Raven. The novel investigates one of the most complex and complicated parts of the human anatomy: the mind. Dr. Silkstone and his beloved Lydia experience firsthand the inhumane, poor treatment of the mentally ill and the impact madness made on 18th century England. Today, Ms. Harris discusses Shadow of the Raven, writing, and where history and fiction intertwine.


tessaAuthor Bio: Tessa Harris
After studying History at Oxford University, Tessa Harris began a journalistic career in Lincolnshire. She progressed to a London newspaper, and later a feature writer on Best magazine. After two years, she was made editor of a regional arts and listings publication, and later deputy editor on Heritage magazine. In 2005 she was made editor of Berkshire Life magazine. Tessa always had literature aspirations, and in 2000 won a European-wide screenplay writing competition for a work later optioned by a film company. The script was set in 18th century London and subsequent research led Tessa to the invention of Dr Thomas Silkstone, an American anatomist and the world’s first forensic scientist. For more Fiction Reboot interviews with Tessa, see here.


Author Interview

  1. If you could interview any author, living or deceased, who would you and why? Who is your favorite author?

As a journalist I’ve been lucky enough to interview some really big authors: Jeffrey Archer, Robert Harris and Barbara Taylor-Bradford to name but three. However, the author I’d most like to interview is Daphne du Maurier. I adore Jamaica Inn and My Cousin Rachel. When I was on holiday at St Ives, in Cornwall, I passed the cottage where du Maurier used to stay and write, so I started reading her novels. I’d love to share a bottle of wine with her while watching the sun go down over the bay by St Nicholas’s Chapel. As for my favourite author? There are so many, but Sarah Dunant (The Birth of Venus, Sacred Hearts) has to be up there, alongside Andrew Miller (Pure) and Patrick Suskind (Perfume).

  1. In regards to your historical fiction, does the history outweigh the fiction, the fiction outweigh the history, or is it an even mix of both?

I’ve said before that writing historical fiction with real-life characters at its core is a bit like negotiating a minefield that’s already been swept. As long as you keep to the tried and tested path, i.e. stick to the facts, you’ll be safe. But if you stray – beware! If you’re not blown to pieces by eagle-eyed critics, then there’ll still be readers out there keen to take pot shots at you.

  1. What made you want to center your most recent novel, Shadow of the Raven, around the notorious Bedlam Mental Hospital and mental illness in general?

There are only two chapters set in Bedlam, but I wanted to touch on the treatment of mentally ill patients at this point in history. There was a debate going on at the time about how sufferers should be handled. Attitudes were changing. Members of the public could no longer pay to gawp at inmates at Bedlam for entertainment from 1770, but Bedlam’s head, John Monro, was convinced that madness could only be cured ‘evacuation by vomiting.’ Thankfully there were others who did not take this approach and gradually the treatment of the insane did improve.

  1. Do you personally identify with Dr. Thomas Silkstone? Do you identify with the medical detectives or play the “Sherlock Holmes” role in your own life?

I’ve lived with Thomas (in my head) for 17 years now. I identify very much with his reasoned approach to things, but he does tend to be a bit too serious. He needs to lighten up a bit, I think. Whether or not Lydia is the right person to help him do that is another story!

  1. Dr. Schillace recently remarked that students have an interesting but conflicted connection to Lydia as she can be hard to pin down. What would you say best symbolizes Lady Lydia Farrell and why? 

A lot of readers are annoyed by Lydia. They think she’s too submissive. She’s certainly not the conventional heroine of contemporary novels of this period. They’re all very independent and feisty. Today’s leading female characters are very often portrayed as ‘breaking the glass ceiling,’ whereas Lydia exists under it. The reality of this period dictated that women had to conform or face being ostracized. Take Mary Shelley, for example, who was , in effect, banished for her affair with a married man. Not every woman had the will or the courage to forsake convention. Lydia is not weak, but up until now she has accepted her lot because she has had no choice. Many women in certain cultures face the same constraints today. Just because they do not openly challenge them does not make them weak.

6. I read that the Silkstone series originated from a screenplay. Would you consider trying screenwriting again?

I’d love to. In fact I’ve started writing the first book as a TV drama.

7. Finally, any advice to the discouraged writers just starting out? Especially those who are interested in genre fiction, mystery, thriller, etc?

Write, read and write again. Never throw anything away – nothing that you write is ever wasted. And never give up. It took me ten years to find a publisher for the Silkstone series, but I’d been trying with other works for the past 30!

Thank you, Tessa, for joining us today! You can find Tessa on Twitter and Facebook. Her latest novel, Shadow of the Raven, is in stores now!

indexShadow of The Raven
American anatomist Dr. Thomas Silkstone hunts for justice amid a maelstrom of madness, murder, and social upheaval. . .

In the notorious mental hospital known as Bedlam, Dr. Thomas Silkstone seeks out a patient with whom he is on intimate terms. But he is unprepared for the state in which he finds Lady Lydia Farrell. Shocked into action, Thomas vows to help free Lydia by appealing to the custodian of her affairs, Nicholas Lupton. But when Silkstone arrives at the Boughton Estate to speak to Lupton, he finds that another form of madness has taken over the village. . .

What the critics are saying about Shadow of the Raven

““The Dr. Thomas Silkstone books have been an interesting and unique series. Set in 1784 and featuring an anatomist colonist from America, Harris looks at Georgian England through the fresh eyes of an outsider. She displays her complete historical knowledge with her easy and graceful presentation of the times. In this fifth installment, the personal stakes have never been higher. The books highlight a particular, more social aspect of the times. The twists and turns never stop, making Shadow of the Raven impossible to put down.” –RT Book Reviews, 4.5 Stars Top Pick

“Deception, murder and land wars thwart Dr. Thomas Silkstone’s latest attempt to find happiness with his beloved Lydia.” –Kirkus Review

sammieAbout Sammie Kurty Sammie Kurty is an English major in her junior 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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MedHum Mondays Presents: Rhetoric in the Flesh


Welcome back to the Daily Dose! Today’s MedHum Monday series will be a cross-post from the Dittrick Museum (also managed by Brandy Schillace). Graduate student and guest blogger Julia Balacko will present a review and summary of the Dittrick’s recent medical humanities book launch event for T. Kenny Fountain’s newest work–a rhetorical exploration of anatomy, meaning making, and trained vision. As with so many  intersections between medicine and humanities, there is much more here than meets the eye!

Contributor: Julia Balacko

EVENT: Book Launch for T. Kenny Fountain’s Rhetoric in the Flesh

hRecently, I had the pleasure of attending the book launch for T. Kenny Fountain’s Rhetoric in the Flesh: Trained Vision, Technical Expertise, and the Gross Anatomy Lab at the Dittrick Museum. At the event, Fountain discussed some of the key arguments from the book, and shared anecdotes from his participant observation in the human gross anatomy lab.

Fountain’s text is an ethnographic account penned from the perspective of a rhetorician of science communication. His focus on language offers a lens into anatomical learning and clinical training that is at once pointed and engrossing. Through his account, Fountain reveals the underlying relationships and tensions between students of anatomy and the bodies they dissect.

As I learned from the book launch talk and from an initial reading of the text, one term that Fountain’s participants in the laboratory often returned to was “making.” This word appears counterintuitive, given that dissection entails acts that are more closely associated with destruction than creation: scraping fat from tissues, disarticulating bones, removing organs to see structures beneath of them. However, “making” had a particular cadence in the interviews and interactions that Fountain had with students and faculty in the lab.

Students, instructors, and teaching assistants in the cadaver laboratories employed “making” to describe cutting and preparing the corpse in ways that would mimic the beautifully colored, flawlessly sketched anatomical drawings in their medical atlases. To dissect a body in a careful fashion that would reveal biological structures as cleanly and as clearly as the textbooks was to “make” the body, both into a mimicry of the visuals in the textbooks, and into a body that was representative of what the books deemed anatomical truth. Some students alternatively deemed this process “Netterizing,” or rendering their cadaver’s anatomy to appear as manifestly as the eminent anatomical artist and physician Frank Netter did in his illustrations.

Students in the past have also “made” cadavers into new visual things, as the Dittrick Museum’s collection of rare photographs from 19th century medical schools reveal. Medical students in that era would commonly photograph themselves and their classmates standing over the body they were dissecting. These photographs were frequently sent as postcards to family members as a sign of pride, demonstrating the students’ hard work in medical school and their experience in the anatomical laboratory. In these images, the cadaver represented how they were becoming professionally distinct as physicians: they could learn by dismembering real human bodies, a privilege not extended to other professions and certainly not to a scientifically-minded lay person.

The Dittrick Museum Chief Curator, James M. Edmonson, published these photographs along with historical commentary in the book Dissection: Photographs of a Rite of Passage in American Medicine 1880-1930. Yale professor John Harley Warner, also a historian of medicine, coauthors the book.

As we see, the students dissecting bodies can transform these cadavers into something else. Yet bodies can be “made” by more than the students and faculty alone. Fountain’s text argues that bodies can make themselves. In one case in his book, a woman who donated her body to science accompanied her anatomical gift with a letter. The letter contained details of the domestic abuse she suffered, as she explained the scars medical students would discover on her skin when they began to dissect her. The woman cast her body in a context that the students who received her body, and read her correspondence, could not ignore when considering the conditions under which that body lived and died. This woman “made” her body a representation of its life, its embodied struggles, and its significance as a precious gift to the students who received it.

Cadavers can also “make” themselves in death. One cadaver in the laboratory Fountain observed at had late-stage cancer that had not been reported on her medical records before she was embalmed for dissection. The cancerous tissue was stiff and impossible to cut through. It obscured structures, encased organs, and halted the dissection. In this instance, the cadaver makes itself both anomalous– by not representing “true” anatomical structures like the textbooks– and simultaneously representative of the reality of disease, which medical students will confront as future physicians.

In the past and today, cadaver dissection stands an important source of experiential and visual knowledge of the material human body for medical professionals. Like the 19th century medical students who posed proudly next to their cadavers, medical students today are equally as privileged to gain firsthand knowledge from the human body. Although students’ relationships to their cadavers have no doubt changed, as Fountain’s book suggests, the study of anatomy remains an exceptional experience in the education of future physicians.

You can learn more about and purchase Rhetoric in the Flesh here:

To learn more about the Dittrick Museum’s photographs, get Dissection: Photographs of a Rite of Passage in American Medicine here:


Julia Balacko is a second-year PhD student in medical anthropology at Case Western Reserve University. Her research explores the history, development, and cultural meaning of cadaver dissection in American medical education.

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