Special Feature: Writing Teen Characters Is Really Hard–a guest post by Rita Arens

FictionReboot2Welcome back to the Fiction Reboot, today we are happy to host Rita Arens, author of The Obvious Game, editor of Sleep is for the Weak, and a recent feature of the Friday Fiction Feature. Today she regales us with the trials & tribulations of investing a serious draft with humor & levity.

The Obvious Game 

“Everyone trusted me back then. Good old, dependable Diana. Which is why most people didn’t notice at first.”
The Obvious Game is a journey into anorexia. Diana starts out normal enough, but soon the spiraling reality of her mother’s health and her growing relationship with a high school wrestler cutting weight find her helpless against the new rules taking shape in her mind. Read on to finally understand the psychology of anorexia … and how Diana found her way back. An important read on a complex and confusing mental illness.

Writing Teen Characters Is Really Hard by Rita Arens

Rita ArensThis month I attended the Missouri Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference (SCBWI). I always enjoy writing conferences: They’re filled with a bunch of people who know exactly how difficult intellectually and emotionally it is to write books and then attempt to get other people to read them and maybe even buy them.

One of my favorite breakout sessions at this conference was led by author and professor Cecily White.

During Cecily’s session, we discussed the danger in writing teenagers who are too sullen, because even the most sullen teen doesn’t see herself as sullen. Nobody sees herself as sullen. Not even those of us who are currently punching pillows and hate-watching Real Housewives.

I had this writing-a-sullen-teenager problem in the earlier stages of my young adult novel, THE OBVIOUS GAME (InkSpell Publishing, 2013). My main character, Diana, develops anorexia. I had anorexia when I was a young adult. So I wrote Diana the way I remembered being. And I am not very nice to myself, especially when I remember that time in my life. Thought not autobiographical from a plot perspective, this novel is very autobiographical emotionally (I even set it in the 1990s to frame precisely what that time felt like). I wanted to get at it, exactly at it, and portray the mindset of anorexia authentically.

And my agent said, “At present it’s clear that the manuscript really is unleavened by any form of humor.” (emphasis mine) (he did write that in an email, though)

Writers, saddle up, because the publishing world can be direct.

Yes, THE OBVIOUS GAME is a heavy book. But after thinking and thinking and thinking about how to inject levity into the novel followed by revising and revising and revising, THE OBVIOUS GAME did actually achieve my goal of being traditionally published. (My first book, a nonfiction anthology called SLEEP IS FOR THE WEAK, was traditionally published, as well, but I have self-published several poetry collections and short stories, so I have different goals for different projects.) And! A reviewer addressed the humor directly: “This is a pretty unflinching look at ED and the way it impacts people. Arens really digs into the mindset of ED, the obsession, the logic and illogical. It’s beautifully written, but sometimes hard to read because it’s so meaty. Despite the meatiness, however, there’s a lot of humor in the book, and a lot of hope.” When I read that review, I danced around the room, because dammit see: “There’s a lot of humor in the book.” That humor was hard-fought.

The tool I used to inject the humor was The Obvious Game itself. As I drove to my 20-year high school class reunion with my best friend, I asked her what we thought was funny when we were fifteen. I had wrapped myself so deeply in the hard parts of my novel that I’d forgotten what made me laugh. She reminded me that we used to play The Obvious Game, and I snorted just thinking about it. No matter how bad your mood, you can play The Obvious Game. It requires zero skill. When I got back from that trip, I inserted The Obvious Game and all its ramifications into my novel and resumed pitching it.

There are two important lessons I took away from the experience of writing and rewriting Diana, my protagonist in THE OBVIOUS GAME. 1) Don’t let yourself become so obsessed with being realistic that you write an unsympathetic protagonist. Everyone has some redeeming qualities. Let the supporting characters be really evil if you will, but let your readers like your main character. 2) Draw on life experiences unique to you as you revise. Don’t be so focused on finishing that you write something generic. Write the book, as they say, that only you can write.

What’s The Obvious Game, you ask? You’ll just have to read the book! Here’s the playlist that goes with it, just to get you in the appropriate mood. Each song is off the album named in the corresponding chapter title. SEE WHAT I DID THERE? Nerd out with me, nineties-music lovers.


Chapter 1: Pride by White Lion (1987) – When the Children Cry

Chapter 2: Appetite for Destruction by Guns N’ Roses (1987) – Welcome to the Jungle

Chapter 3: Scarecrow by John Mellencamp (1985) – Small Town

Chapter 4: True Colors by Cyndi Lauper (1986) – True Colors

Chapter 5: Can’t Hold Back by Eddie Money (1986) – Take Me Home Tonight

Chapter 6: Hysteria by Def Leppard (1987) – Hysteria

Chapter 7: Nothing’s Shocking by Jane’s Addiction (1988) – Jane Says

Chapter 8: Just Like the First Time by Freddie Jackson (1986) – Have You Ever Loved Somebody

Chapter 9: Use Your Illusion by Guns N’Roses (1991) – November Rain

Chapter 10: Bat Out of Hell by Meatloaf (1977) – Bat Out of Hell

Chapter 11: Head Games by Foreigner (1979) – Dirty White Boy

Chapter 12: Faith by George Michael (1987) – Monkey

Chapter 13: Cuts Like a Knife by Bryan Adams (1983) – Straight From the Heart

Chapter 14: Double Vision by Foreigner (1978) – Hot Blooded

Chapter 15: Disintegration by The Cure (1989) – Fascination Street

Chapter 16: Poison by Bell Biv DeVoe (1990) – Poison

Chapter 17: Achtung Baby by U2 (1991) — Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses?

Chapter 18: Nevermind by Nirvana (1991) – Smells Like Teen Spirit

Chapter 19: Listen Without Prejudice by George Michael (1990) – Something to Save

Chapter 20: Out of Time by R.E.M. (1991) – Losing My Religion

Chapter 21: The Way It Is by Bruce Hornsby (1986) – Mandolin Rain

Chapter 22: Infected by The The (1986) – Out of the Blue (Into the Fire)

Chapter 23: Strange Fire by Indigo Girls (1989) – Strange Fire

Chapter 24: Little Earthquakes by Tori Amos (1992) — China


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MedHum Monday Presents: Blood Rises – Tension and Truth in The Knick

DailyDose_PosterWelcome back to the Daily Dose and our special series, Medical Humanities Monday! This feature takes a step back from medical collections in order to look more closely at the popular medical history drama, The Knick. Though fictionalized, the series is based on  historical figures at Knickerbocker Hospital, and today, series editor Catherine Osborn investigates the fact and fiction of blood transfusion. [post also appears at Dittrick Museum Blog]

“More suction, Bertie.” – Dr. Thackery

“I’ve lost the pedal pulse.” – Nurse

“Blood rises, air becomes scarce. Which man can survive the longest? Care to wager, Bertie?” – Dr. Thackery

(Soderbergh, The Knick, ep. 4)

Cover of "Elecktromedizinische Apparate," 1898.

During the showdown between Dr. Edwards and Dr. Gallinger over an exsanguinating patient in Cinemax’s The Knick, it was clear who was not most likely to survive. In this scene, Dr. Edwards, a “colored” physician is not allowed to physically assist in a procedure using a galvanized wire to treat an aneurism, despite the fact that he was the coauthor of a paper describing its success. While verbally instructing Dr. Gallinger, a white physician who is unfamiliar with the procedure, Dr. Edwards becomes silent – daring Gallinger to either pass over the scalpel or let the patient die.

Is such a scene a work of modern fiction? As inspired by the New York Academy of Medicine’s amazing posts on the series, we ask: What was it like to perform such innovative procedures at the turn of the twentieth century? Let’s find out!

In 1899, Dr. Forest Willard at the University of Pennsylvania provided case reports on “aneurism of the thoracic aorta” and its “treatment by introduction of wire and electricity” (p 256). This paper, one year before the scene in the fictional Knickerbocker Hospital, reads with a similar dramatic style:

Galvanic Battery from "Elektro-Medizin Apparate," 1898.

Galvanic Battery from "Elektromedizinische Apparate," 1898.

As the conditions were growing worse, and rupture certainly approaching, the patient consented to accept the risks of the only operation that offered any chance of success, the introduction into the sac a certain quantity of wire as a framework or skeleton, each coil of which might form a nucleus for coagulation, producing eddies in the sac and final consolidation. (p. 256)

The basics of this procedure are as follows: A patient presents with an aneurism, a ballooning of a weakened blood vessel that may burst and lead to death. A physician makes a nick in the vessel and inserts a cannula that will shield the walls of the vessel from the electricity. A coil of wire, anywhere from 5 to 225 feet long, is inserted (quickly!) through the cannula into the sac of the aneurism, and the free end of the wire is connected to a galvanic battery. The wire becomes charged to begin coagulation of the blood. After a variable amount of time, the current is disconnected, the cannula is removed, but the wire coils are left behind to serve as a structure for the clot (Siddique et al., 2003).

From D.D. Stewart in 1901. This heart of an autopsied patient showing the coils within the hardened aneurysm.
From D.D. Stewart in 1901. This heart of an autopsied patient showing the coils within the hardened aneurysm.

One of the major differences between these historical and fictional accounts is the use of ether during such a procedure. Willard mentions that “aside from the first shock at the sight of spouting blood, the patient suffered no serious inconvenience…and he talked cheerfully throughout the operation” (p. 257). Instead, Dr. Gallinger’s patient lays unresponsive and unaware of the conversation above him. Imagine had he not been anesthetized and had witnessed the men play a game of chicken with his life!

Who would have needed this surgery? Based on the age of the patient in The Knick, the “etherized” male would have likely been syphilitic – as the tertiary stages of the disease lead to inflammation and aneurism. Five of Willard’s cases were patients with syphilis who were occasionally “of intemperate habits” or simply “drunkard[s]” (p. 259).

The hardened anuerysm would remain visible as a large lump on the patient’s chest (Stewart 1901) after the surgery. Unfortunately although “life [was] prolonged and made much more comfortable,” post-operative patients typically died only months later (Willard 1899, p. 261).

Stewart 1901. A patient a few months after surgery displaying a harden aneurysm.
From D.D. Stewart in 1901. Patient a few months after surgery with a harden aneurysm.

Will the young patient at The Knick survive? He may have served simply as a backdrop for the interpersonal tensions between the main characters. Historically, twentieth century doctors followed up on these cases for equally self-serving reasons. Autopsies allowed physicians to retrieve the remaining coil of wire, determine the success of their work, and to fine-tune their pioneering methods.


Reiniger, Gebbert, & Schall. 1989. Elektromedizinische Apparate und Ihre Handhabung. Siebente Auflage. Erlangen.

Siddique, Khawar, Jorge Alvernia, Kenneth Fraser, and Guiseppe Lanzino. 2003. Treatment of aneurysms with wires and electricity: A historical overview. Journal of Neurosurgery 99:1102-1107.

Soderbergh, Steven. Sept. 5, 2014. Season 1, Episode 4 “Where’s the Dignity?” The Knick. Cinemax.

Stewart, D. D. 1901. “The galvanic current in the treatment of saccular aneurisms.” In An International System of Electro-Therapeutics for Students, General Practitioners, and Specialists. Horatio R. Bigelow and G. Betton Massey, eds. 2nd edition. Philadelphia, PA: F.A. Davis Company.

Willard, Forest. 1899. “Aneurysm of the thoracic aorta of traumatic origin; Treatment by introduction of wire and energy.” University of Pennsylvania Medical Bulletin XIV(7): 256-261.

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Friday Fiction Feature

FictionReboot2Welcome back to the Friday Fiction Feature. Tabatha back again (surprise, surprise) with another mystery theme. Yet again, I have selected a theme based on my own week. Clever readers should be able to piece together the subtle hints & learn how I have spent my last week. If you think you are up to the challenge of decoding my very subtle theme, read on.


Sick Puppy (Skink #4) by Carl Hiaasen

Sick PuppyThis week’s mystery selection begins with Sick Puppy because it suggests a mystery all it’s own (though I’m not sure how much I want to know how you get dung beetles to swarm…). For those looking for inspiration, Sick Puppy also provides useful tips on how to spend your millions (after the academic’s lottery comes through of course). For instance, eco-terrorist seems to have a lot to offer: you get to meet new people, you get to share ideas (among other things), you get to always be right (and run away before your victim companion has a chance to answer), and you get a new level of fame not normally available to the rest of us. Infamy counts as fame right?

Independently wealthy eco-terrorist Twilly Spree teaches a flagrant litterbug a lesson–and leaves the offender’s precious Range Rover swarming with hungry dung beetles. When he discovers the litterer is one of the most powerful political fixers in Florida, the real Hiaasen-style fun begins.

Cold Plague by Daniel Kalla

Cold PlagueThis novel was chosen for its educational value. Pop quiz: a new, impossibly clean, healthy, and unknown anything shows up. No one understands how the new miracle substance shows up, but its effects are so remarkable it goes on the market immediately anyways. What do you do? A) Take some! B) Wait for some more definite scientific results or C) Build & hide in a reinforced shelter to escape the inevitable zombie hoard/unknown catastrophe. If you answered C congratulations on your thorough knowledge of impending disaster. If you answered A or B, we strongly recommend you sit down and prepare to learn a valuable lesson in “too good to be true” from Cold Plague. 

Pristine water—hidden for millions of years, untouched by pollution, and possessing natural healing powers—is found miles under Antarctic ice. The scientists who make this astonishing discovery stand to win worldwide acclaim and earn billions. While people around the world line up for a taste of the therapeutic water, a cluster of new cases of mad cow disease explodes in a rural French province. Dr. Noah Haldane and his World Health Organization team are urgently summoned.
Fresh from a brush with a pandemic flu, Noah recognizes the deadliness of a prion—the enigmatic microscopic protein responsible for mad cow disease—that kills with the speed and ferocity of a virus. Despite intense international pressure to declare the outbreak a random occurrence, Noah suspects that factors other than nature have ignited the prion’s spread among animals and people in France. Facing a spate of disappearances and unexplained deaths, Noah uncovers a conspiracy that stretches from St. Petersburg, Russia, to Beverly Hills, and from the North to the South Pole. He soon realizes that the scientific find of the century—a lake the size of Lake Superior buried three miles under Antarctica—might hold the key to a microscopic Jurassic Park.
With a billion-dollar industry hanging on his silence, Noah has to stay alive long enough to sound the alarm.

Sleeper Vol. 1: Out in the Cold by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips

Sleeper, Vol. 1: Out in the ColdThere is a terrible trend in fiction these days. Authors consistently think that genres should only cross in predictable ways (like Mystery & Suspense, Romance & Baking), never considering the brand new genres they could create with some inventive pairings (like Noir & Romantic Comedy, Thriller & How-To-Guides). Fortunately we have novels like Out in the Cold to pave the way.

Masterfully combining the genres of crime stories and superheroes, Sleeper provides a dark, humanizing exploration of the criminal world. As an undercover agent in a complex super-villain organization, Holden Carver has become caught in a web of moral uncertainty. After being forced to kill someone to preserve his cover, the self-loathing operative looks to be pulled out of his assignment, but the only man who knows he is really a secret agent is in a coma. Now with the world believing him a traitor to his country and his cover about to be blown, Carver must find a way to survive his mission and regain his identity.

A Choir of Ill Children by Tom Piccirilli

A Choir of Ill ChildrenMy next contribution is less a rehash of my past week, and more a prediction for the upcoming week (I may have taught a few classes while ill… It’ll be fine, freshmen are resilient. At least they’ll be doing better than these characters). A Choir of Ill Children shows a world where the normalcy of magic, superstition, and widespread odd-ness inspires a better class of catastrophe–after all, if a curse on your bloodline is just Tuesday, imagine what it takes to have an adventure in this town. Though I can’t help but think ‘What did they expect to happen in a place called “Kingdom Come”?’.

A Choir of Ill Children is the startling story of Kingdom Come, a decaying, swamp backwater that draws the lost, ill-fated, and damned.
Since his mother’s disappearance and his father’s suicide, Thomas has cared for his three brothers—conjoined triplets with separate bodies but one shared brain—and the town’s only industry, the Mill.
Because of his family’s prominence, Thomas is feared and respected by the superstitious swamp folk. Granny witches cast hexes while Thomas’s childhood sweetheart drifts through his life like a vengeful ghost and his best friend, a reverend suffering from the power of tongues, is overcome with this curse as he tries to warn of impending menace. All Thomas learns is that “the carnival is coming.”
Torn by responsibility and rage, Thomas must face his tormented past as well as the mysterious forces surging toward the town he loves and despises.

Sick by Tom Leveen

SickMy last contribution to this week’s Friday Fiction Feature, before I go crawl into bed with a big cup of tea, is Sick to remind me that even when I feel like a walking zombie surrounded by coughing & lurching hoards (read: a classroom of ill freshmen), it could always be worse!

The Breakfast Club meets The Walking Dead as a group of unlikely allies tries to survive a deadly outbreak.
Brian and his friends are not part of the cool crowd. They’re the misfits and the troublemakers—the ones who jump their high school’s fence to skip class regularly. So when a deadly virus breaks out, they’re the only ones with a chance of surviving.
The virus turns Brian’s classmates and teachers into bloodthirsty attackers who don’t die easily. The whole school goes on lockdown, but Brian and his best friend, Chad, are safe (and stuck) in the theater department—far from Brian’s sister, Kenzie, and his ex-girlfriend with a panic attack problem, Laura. Brian and Chad, along with some of the theater kids Brian had never given the time of day before, decide to find the girls and bring them to the safety of the theater. But it won’t be easy, and it will test everything they thought they knew about themselves and their classmates.


*Secret Theme: I’ve been Ill (Told you it was a toughie!)

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Friday Fiction Feature

FictionReboot2Hello and welcome back to the Friday Fiction Feature! For this week’s selection, Tabatha has been inspired by the old standby- things I wish I had time to do instead of homework. This week there was a tie between “read some trashy mysteries” and “play Clue.” Because I’m lazy, I have decided to combine those two choices and give you a thrilling list of Who Dunnit mystery stories, each of which asks you to figure out which of the suspects is the murderer. We have more traditional examples of the suspected innocents who must clear their names, as well as some not-so-innocents who decide that clearing their own name only gets half the job done, and decide to do some besmirching on a friend’s account. You know, to be helpful. I invite you to curl up, enjoy the mystery, and see if you can guess Who Dunnit!

Clue: Who Killed Mr. Boddy? by Eric Weiner

Who Killed Mr. Boddy? (Clue, #1)

To start us off with our series of Who Dunnits, I have chosen one of the best, and most fun, examples of the genre: the game Clue! Since the game so often constitutes the first introduction to the Who Dunnit, it seemed only fitting to include it in our lineup of notables. Fortunately, someone agreed with me and wrote Who Killed Mr. Boddy. Bringing the mystery off the gameboard, Clue offers the chance to find out which colorful character used the candlestick in which room without ever having to claim the dice landed wrong, and you deserve a second roll.

Mr. Boddy wanted to show his friends how much he cared so he gathered them all together to tell them they’d been included in his new will. The next day Mr. Boddy was dead. Who killed Mr. Boddy? Readers discover which of the characters from the popular board game, “Clue”, is guilty in each of sixteen mini-mysteries.

Murder Packs a Suitcase by Cynthia Baxter

Murder Packs a Suitcase (Murder Packs a Suitcase, #1)

Everyone who has ever wanted to travel with a camera around their neck, a fannypack around their waist, and a blinding Hawiian shirt can finally live out the touristy dream! Not in your own life, of course. Your spouse/child/sibling/parent/friend/stranger would never allow such a display no matter how handy fannypacks are!

But thanks to Murder Packs a Suitcase you can travel to all the obvious, glitter-coated, overdone tourist traps you wanted. The first in a series, the novel follows a tourist’s tourist from one landmark to another…crime scene. Finding herself on the short list of suspects, our tour guide must learn which of her companions is a killer before she can  rebuckle that fannypack and start taking some blurry photos.

Mallory Marlowe is ready to turn a corner—one lined with palm trees, plastic pink flamingo lawn ornaments, and snack bars shaped like giant ice cream cones. Thanks to her new job as travel writer for the New York magazine The Good Life, recently widowed Mallory is zipping around Orlando, assigned to rediscover the glory days of “old Florida.” It’s the first of what she hopes will be many exciting adventures . . . but she’s about to discover that the Sunshine State has a dark side.
Settled in among the faux volcanoes and tiki torches of the Polynesian Princess Hotel, Mallory is on the lookout for quirky attractions like alligator farms and pirate-themed diners hidden amid the glitzy theme parks. But she’s not prepared to find a cranky journalist speared to death in the Bali Ballroom—or to find herself a suspect in his murder. With her trip coming to a close, Mallory has no choice but to figure out if one of her fellow travel writers is a killer. Because if she doesn’t get out of Florida soon, her career—and her life—are about to come to a dead end.
(Includes Mallory’s article for The Good Life, with tips and reviews of real Florida attractions!)

The Unfinished Clue By Georgette Heyer

The Unfinished Clue

The Unfinished is a Who Dunnit in classic style. Family and friends are brought together apparently just to annoy everyone to the point of giving them a motive, shortly before the discovery of a rich man’s body. You could not ask for a lovlier crime as the rich and beautiful compete to prove their innocence, and hide the fact that they all would have done it, if only they’d gotten there first.

The stabbing of irascible General Sir Arthur Billington-Smith fails to stir up grief in anyone, least of all his family, which is no wonder considering the way he had treated them all during the fateful weekend. Inspector Harding picks his way through a mass of familial discontent to find the culprit — and much more besides.

But He Was Already Dead When I Got There by Barbara Paul

But He Was Already Dead When I Got ThereThe Who dunnit takes a turn in But He Was Already Dead When I Got There. Taking off in true Clue style, a body shows up and everyone knows it must have been one of the 6 suspects. But in this nasty little mystery the suspects aren’t content just to prove their innocence, they all pitch in and try to…”help” the detectives find the “correct” solution to the mystery. Well, anyone who’s seen a mystery show knows the police can’t be trusted to come up with the murderer, so where’s the harm in making sure they get the right wrong suspect? Right?

Styled on the old fashioned, complicated mysteries beloved by Perry Mason fans, this is the sort of classic tales where everyone’s story keeps changing and no one would dream of calling the cops.

Old Vincent Farwell announces at a house party that he will not extend his $1.5 million loan to Ellandy Jewels. The six young people assembled, all with varied interests in the company, leave to consider their options. Then one by one or in pairs, they return to Vincent’s house, find he’s been murdered, draw assorted conclusions about which of the others did it, and proceed to alter the scene according to their intentions.

Who Dunnit? How to Be a Detective in Ten Easy Lessons by Marvin Miller

Who Dunnit?: How to Be a Detective in Ten Easy LessonsWhat fun would it be if we showed you all these active versions of Clue, of people taking the Who Dunnit into their own hands and playing the old game out in real life, if we didn’t let you join in too? That’s why we have remembered to include you in our fun with Who Dunnit? How to be a Detective in Ten Easy Lessons so you can exercise your own investigative muscles. With ten practice cases laid out for you like real mysteries, Who Dunnit? challenges you to sniff out your own solutions. Just think, after reading this book you can set out to solve your own mysteries with ten cases already under your belt! With credentials like these, I’ll bet* there’s not a dumb cop out there who won’t let you run the investigation yourself! (*the FFF is not responsible for any “muddling about in police business” charges which may be incurred after reading this book).

The author of the popular “You Be the Jury” series of books presents ten case files in a work that encourages budding sleuths to examine the evidence and solve the crime.




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Book Review: My Notorious Life

NotoriousToday on the Fiction Reboot | Daily Dose, we present a review of My Notorious Life!  This work is based upon the true story of Anne Lohman, also known as Madame Restell, a prominent New York midwife enveloped in scandal, who died by suicide in 1879. The Dittrick Museum will host Kate Manning for a short talk and book signing on Sept 19th; RSVP to jks4@case.edu.

“Women’s Private Matters”: Thoughts on My Notorious Life by Kate Manning
Reviewed by–Anna Clutterbuck-Cook

Halfway through Kate Manning’s historical bildungs roman, My Notorious Life (Scribner, 2014) the young protagonist confronts her husband. Axie Ann (Muldoon) Jones has just performed her first abortion for Greta, childhood friend. Axie’s husband Charlie returns home and, upon learning of the abortion, turns angrily to his wife: “You want to tempt the devil on is, is that right? And the traps?” he accuses, “Is that what you’re doing there, then, [in your office] on Chatham Street?”

 –None of your business, I said. –It’s women’s private matters.

He stared at me like I was a stranger. Like he imagined in grim pictures what I done with Mrs. Evans [her teacher]. What I done for my friend. I feared what he thought of me, and how I would disgust him, and that he would leave me. –What else would you have me do? I cried. –Leave Greta on the road? (231).

 This exchange brings into stark relief the key tension around which My Notorious Life turns. Axie’s angry outburst — it’s women’s private matters! — is both a vicious indictment and and a powerful act of protection. By keeping her work in the shadows, particularly away from the scandalized and ill-informed eyes of men, Axie is able to care for her patients. Yet that same distance, the willful unknowingness of men regarding the experiences of women, isolates Axie personally and professionally — ultimately endangering not only her livelihood but her very life.

Loosely based on the real-life case of Madame Restell, a self-trained female physician who ran afoul of moral crusader Anthony Comstock and New York’s sensationalist press in the late nineteenth-century, Notorious is the fictional autobiography. Irish-American orphan Axie narrates her own life with a compelling voice that is by turns prickly, desperate, angry, generous — a complicated child grown into a complicated woman. We meet Axie as a child, separated from her ailing immigrant mother and sent West on an orphan train with her younger brother and sister — siblings who weave in and out of the narrative as actual and imagined characters, haunting Axie’s life long after they are separated and placed with different families. Resistant to relocation, Axie is returned to New York and ends up an unpaid housemaid-apprentice to a midwife, Mrs. Evans, who also “fixes” women who come to hear with unwanted pregnancies.

Our contemporary reproductive health landscape has its roots in the nineteenth-century world vividly fictionalized in the pages of My Notorious Life. As historians have ably documented — see, for example, Leslie Reagan’s seminal history When Abortion Was a Crime: Women, Medicine, and the Law in the United States, 1867-1973 (University of California Press, 1997) — midwifery and abortion occupied an uncertain space in the constellation of nineteenth-century health care. The reproductive lives of women had long been attended to by other women. However, as the modern medical profession evolved, the relationship between midwives and female physicians (denied access to medical schools) and the male medical establishment became contentious. Abortion — technically outlawed after “quickening” but largely ignored until the mid-1800s — became a cause du jour for reformers, ostensibly concerned for women’s safety, and medical men interested in the potentially lucrative business of women’s health services. These nineteenth-century battles lay the groundwork for a politicization of reproductive health care that remains in place to this day — as anti-abortion protests and lawsuits over birth control make clear.

It’s women’s private matters. The story of Axie’s life is overwhelmingly a story of women.* Men appear as charity workers, religious and political leaders, physicians, and occasionally lovers. Yet even Charlie, Axie’s husband, never completely emerges from the shadows despite his continual presence on the page. His motivations and emotional landscape remain shrouded. His courtship of Axie is perfunctory, their early marriage rocky, his understanding of her profession limited to its ability to stabilize family finances.

Instead, it is relationships between women that form the emotional core of My Notorious Life: Axie’s narrative is woven together by the threads of her connection to her mother, her sister, the midwife-physician to whom she is apprenticed, her friend Greta, her daughter, the women who seek out her services. Axie’s is a fully realized female world of love and ritual, moral complexity, anger, violence and loss. Against this rich tapestry of female relationships, characters like Charlie appear as distant players. In the end, My Notorious Life is a sweeping, melodramatic narrative worthy of its nineteenth-century protagonist — one which takes women’s private matters and makes them of more public concern.

*I’ve used binary terms throughout because those reflect the language used in the novel, the apparent identities of the characters, and the social framework of their world.

Anna Clutterbuck-Cook is a historian, librarian, and writer who serves as reference librarian at the Massachusetts Historical Society and is currently researching mid twentieth-century Christian understandings of human sexual diversity. She lives in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts with her wife, two cats, and over one thousand books. You can find her online at thefeministlibrarian.com.

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Friday Fiction Feature

FictionReboot2Hello and welcome back to the Friday Fiction Feature! Today’s theme is once again inspired by my own thrilling life, and the Tabatha-centrous theme of the day is “Nooo! Summer can’t be over already!” That’s right dear readers, it’s already back-to-school time. In fact Monday was back-to-school time, today is just the day set aside for trying to come to terms with the sad, sad fact that I can no longer sleep more than the cat, and I will have to use my brain more than twice a day.
And how does a graduate student and teacher cope with the return to working life you ask? With dragons! To make the return to hard work and long days doctors (phd’s that is) recommend filling your spare hours with mythical worlds which have nothing whatsoever to do with your actual work. So, I hope everyone who has also had to head back to campus this week will join me in sitting back, taking a break, and pretending that we are slaying huge dragons to save our imperiled homes and families as a relaxing getaway.

Bob the Dragon Slayer by Harry E. Gilleland Jr.

Bob the Dragon SlayerThe first selection for this week’s escapism is Bob the Dragon Slayera tale of an unexpected hero, impossible tasks, insurmountable odds, and in all likelihood a fair maiden. There is always at least one fair maiden. While the impossibility of Bob’s task suggests that he can only win (gloriously at that), the lawyers and his magical friend Steve let me hope that even if he overcomes it all in a blaze of glorious triumph (because they always do) at least it’ll be funny watching him stumble his way there.

Bob, a mere peasant lad, sets off to see a dragon that is terrorizing a village and soon falls in with a wizard named Stephen. Thereafter, his life is filled with adventures that involve dragons, knights, damsels in distress, castles, a fair lady, friendship, true love, an evil king, civil war, and lawyers. This rollicking tale belongs not to history but to legend. Written with wit and humor, this novella will delight readers from teenagers to octogenarians.

Dragon Slayer by Isabella Carter 

Dragon SlayerThe next book on the list gives us another tale of derring-do, but this time with the formula-plots all mixed up. The Damsel-in-Distress-Who-is-Forced-to-Marry-the-Evil-King has merged with the Unexpected-Hero-Who-Must-Defeat-the-Dragon-and-The-Evil-King and given us our Dude-In-Distress, Ingram. Because all really determined and self-respecting Evil Kings are equal-opportunity-destroyers, and bets with your rival over the right to marry off your offspring are always a bad idea,  Dragon Slayer saves time by making the Unexpected-Dude-in-Distress-Hero overcome insurmountable odds, free himself from his own Evil King, and slay the dragon all in one book. (Talented lad). I would like to see how he manages to carry himself off into the sunset though…

Ingram is a coward and weakling—at least according to his father, the king, and the royal court. He cannot use a sword, he faints at the sight of blood, and even his brilliant abilities as a strategist are not enough to overcome his failings. When his father loses a bet to the notorious Lord Mallory over the matter of a dragon slaying, he pays his debt by ordering Ingram to marry him.
Then his father reveals that he is putting Ingram to a greater purpose, giving Ingram one last chance to prove he is not worthless. All it requires is betraying his new husband.

Dragon Slayer by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Dragon SlayerAnother Dragon Slayer takes us in a completely different direction, leaving behind the heroic art of dragon slaying, we now enter the cruel world of…dragon slaying. Showing this age-old heroic task from the other side, Dragon Slayer gives the dragons’ side, recasting the heroes as murderers and the dragons as victims of vicious attacks. And what does the victimized species do when murderers run rampant? They develop detectives to find the clues and hunt down the perpetrators. The novel is an entirely new kind of detective story (well really, how many private eye’s can skip the whole judge/jury/jail bit and go straight to pulverizing the neer-do-well with one claw) merging fantasy and mystery and making us reevaluate just what ‘heroics’ are, Dragon Slayer reopens an entire genre for exploration. (Maybe now they’ll leave off with all that foolish physical-activity-kind of heroics, and start valorizing the more thrilling heroes: academics).

Fifteen dragons have died in less than a century.
Rumaad, a different kind of dragon, collects information about the killings the way some dragons collect jewels. So he’s perfectly suited to see the differences in the latest crime scene, the murder of a dragon he knows all too well.
What he sees convinces him something has changed in his world—and not for the best.

His Majesty’s Dragon (Temeraire #1) by Naomi Novik 

His Majesty's Dragon (Temeraire #1)Shifting views once again His Majesty’s Dragon proposes an alternate view of history, explaining the real story behind Napoleon’s fame and defeat. Little did we know, Napoleon’s famous strategies depended heavily on the skill and influence of his dragon fighting-force (they played-up the naval aspects because at the time huge wooden tubs holding hundreds of people and weaponry sounded cooler than plain old dragons. That’s the version of history I’m sticking to anyways).

Aerial combat brings a thrilling new dimension to the Napoleonic Wars as valiant warriors ride mighty fighting dragons, bred for size or speed. When HMS Reliant captures a French frigate and seizes the precious cargo, an unhatched dragon egg, fate sweeps Captain Will Laurence from his seafaring life into an uncertain future – and an unexpected kinship with a most extraordinary creature.
Thrust into the rarified world of the Aerial Corps as master of the dragon Temeraire, he will face a crash course in the daring tactics of airborne battle. For as France’s own dragon-borne forces rally to breach British soil in Bonaparte’s boldest gambit, Laurence and Temeraire must soar into their own baptism of fire.

How to Slay a Dragon (The Journals of Myrth #1) by Bill Allen 

How to Slay a Dragon (The Journals of Myrth, #1)We at the Friday Fiction Feature always try to be helpful. This generally means giving any extra hints and tips we can to make sure you are not left out of whatever theme we choose, and today is no different. We know it’s no fun to hear all about dragon slaying and not be able to join in yourself, so to cap off the list we present How to Slay a Dragon. You can learn all the basic techniques to dragon slaying as you read the story of an unfit warrior lost in a world of magic, mayhem, dragons, and, worse yet, angry princesses.

Ruuan is a very large dragon. Twelve-year-old Greg Hart can’t slay a dragon. He’d be lucky to win a fight against one of the smaller girls at school.
Now the magicians of Myrth have mistaken him for a legendary warrior, so they’ve yanked Greg into their world of sorcery and danger. Nothing will stop the people of Myrth from believing Greg will rescue King Peter’s daughter from Ruuan the dragon. After all, Greg has been named in a prophecy, and no prophecy has ever been wrong before.
Until now.

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MedHum Monday: The Medical Heritage Library’s “Never-Ending Work in Progress”

Is from Plexus Vol XV No 12 (1909), the publication of the College of Physicians and Surgeons, Medical Department of the University of Illinois, Chicago. From the University of Illinois Chicago Library of the Health Sciences Special Collections Department. https://archive.org/stream/plexusf15coll#page/n7/mode/2up

From Plexus Vol. XV No 12 (1909), the publication of the College of Physicians and Surgeons, Medical Department of the University of Illinois, Chicago. From the University of Illinois Chicago Library of the Health Sciences Special Collections Department. http://archive.org/stream/plexusf15coll#page/n7/mode/2up

Happy Monday, everyone! Those of us at the Daily Dose send best wishes to those beginning the new school year today — as students, teachers, parents, etc. Amidst the Monday chaos, today’s MedHum Monday post resumes our series of contributions from lovely individuals who work at medical history museums and libraries. Hanna Clutterbuck is here to share how the Medical Heritage Library takes the printed or filmed history of medicine and makes it available digitally for a much wider audience. Welcome, Hanna!

I work with the Medical Heritage Library, an online digital collaborative of leading medical libraries, including the Francis A. Countway Library at Harvard University, the United States National Library of Medicine, the Wellcome Library in the UK, and the College of Physicians of Philadelphia (a full list of our partners and contributors can be found on our website).

Our collection includes a wide variety of materials that all fit under the large ‘history of medicine’ umbrella. We have deliberately kept our scope large and we have monographs, journals, and audio/video items covering a wide variety of topics including the history of dentistry, plastic surgery, neuroscience, balneology, phrenology, physiology, psychiatry, psychology, the development of surgical technique, the history of anesthesia, and nursing history.

Continue reading

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