Medical Humanities: Building a Community


Visitors in the Blaufox Hall of Diagnostic Instruments, one of the most comprehensive in the country

How do we build community? What makes it possible?

The Medical Humanities, operating at the intersection of fields, aims to bring diverse perspectives together. But that isn’t as easy as it sounds. In the mad tumult and breakneck pace at which we presently live, it’s increasingly difficult to be heard–though we are less like voices crying in a wilderness and more like people shouting at a hurricane. Carving out space for truly meaningful engagement is tricky business, and today I am going to liken it to a similar issue faced by museums and libraries.

For the past year, the Dittrick Medical History Center has hosted a medical humanities reading group. Housed in the Allen Memorial Medical Library, we provide a beautiful building and a practical space–but also much more. Our historical collections are diverse

Male figure, anterior view showing blood vessels, liver heart and bloodletting points.  Woodcut circa 1530 - 1545

Male figure, anterior view showing blood vessels, liver heart and bloodletting points.
Woodcut circa 1530 – 1545

and fascinating (500 year old ivory anatomy models, Beck’s defibrillator, Vesalius’s Fabric of the Human Body), but any curator will tell you, objects simply do not speak for themselves. Museums, libraries, and other cultural spaces must do more; we must build a relationship between history and humanities–we need supportive communities.

And those communities need us, too. One thing that has become increasingly clear to me since leaving the usual tenure track appointment for academics in favor of museum work is that a real hunger exists for alternatives and intersections. The usual routes–be they for degrees, careers, interest, investment, and engagement–don’t always satisfy. Hybridity and interdisciplinarity garner a lot of press, but how can we put such things truly into practice? One way is to form alliances between the medical humanities and medical museums like the Dittrick. We believe in the value of such communities, and want to make them an integral part of all we do. Here’s a look at how we’ve made those inroads.


Kate Manning, signing books in the contraception gallery after her talk

To build–and so to provide–a robust inter-disciplinary community, the Dittrick Museum has focused on membership, exhibit engagement, social media presence, and event planning. That means welcoming those beyond the walls to join us in new ways. This past September, we hosted a book talk by Kate Manning (author of My Notorious Life), packing the Zverina roomfor a talk about women’s issues, women’s health, contraception, history, and fiction. Kate signed books, gave a reading, and talked about the value of museum collections for her work. A link to the talk appears here; as Kate said, “here at the museum, I am surrounded by the things I once only imagined.” We’re also hosting a “mystery at the museum” night, as well as our other annual lectures, talks, and receptions.


Members at one of the Explorations talks, this one on the changing doctor-patient relationship brought about by the stethoscope

Of course, to bring in a public is only part of the process; we want those who visit to feel part of what we do. We want and need vibrant and engaged people to help us bring the humanities and medicine to the wider public. As a result, we’ve also begun to offer things like the Explorations talks for our members, interesting and behind the scenes chats about the museum or about history and the humanities more generally. We are also hosting a trolley tour of the Lakeview Cemetery the day after Halloween; many medical luminaries are buried there and it provides an interesting way to get the “dirt” on local history. These events are free to our members (see how to join), a fee for non members, but the point is this: Provide a narrative, the story of our shared medical past. Provide a space and also a reason to see the relationships among culture, society, health, gender, and more. To engage with the human side of medicine has always been one of the goals of medical humanities; to engage with the human at the interstices of culture, history, medicine and the humanities is also the goal of many a medical and scientific museum.


Members of the Medical Humanities Reading Group at Case Western Reserve University

And so, with our continued programs and projects–and a robust online platform (twitter, instagram, web, and blog), the Dittrick museum has sought to be a center for outreach and engagement. It has been our pleasure to host the medical humanities reading group and we welcome other like-minded affiliations. Join us. Be part of our community. Let’s make history.

[Images by Frank Lanza]

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Friday Fiction Feature

FictionReboot2Hello & welcome back to the Friday Fiction Feature! Tabatha here again to bring you the pulse-pounding stories of…oh wait…poor choice of words. With stories of mystery & adventure that will really get your blood pumpin…drat. Gotta try again. We’ve got some eye-popping…oh bugger! Forget it. No more hyperbole! (I’m going to alienate our differently-alive writers!). This week’s stories are all tales from the pulse-challenged. Stories from beyond the grave from all manner of chatty corpses. And so, with no more ado (or life-ist slogans!) I bring you books from the beyond the grave!

If You’re Reading This, I’m Already Dead by Andrew Nicoll

If You're Reading This, I'm Already DeadFirst we’ll start with the more conventional method of writing from the great beyond (that’s right, we’ve gotten so far down this rabbit hole we’re working on making ghosts conventional); simply writing it all down in the great right-here first. From the well-known first line If You’re Reading This I’m Already Dead, our ghostly narrator unfolds the story of an acrobat’s journey from the caravan to the palace & finally the grave. Now if only we can figure out how to follow in only the first two of those footsteps…

‘I want people to know how Otto Witte, acrobat of Hamburg, became the crowned king of Albania.’ Otto Witte is an old man. The Allies are raining bombs on his city and, having narrowly escaped death, he has come home to his little caravan to drink what remains of his coffee (dust) and wait for the inevitable. Convinced that he will not see the sunrise, he decides to write the story of his life for the poor soul who finds what’s left of him come the morning. And it’s quite a story. Years earlier, when he was in either Buda or Pest, working at the circus, a dear friend brought him the newspaper. Inside was an article about how Albania was looking for a particular Turkish prince, because the country was in need of a new king. This Turkish prince is the image of Otto…A plan is formed; adventure, disaster, love and sheer, unabashed hope await.

Hard Day’s Knight by  John G. Hartness

Hard Day's Knight (Black Knight Chronicles, #1)Not everyone is content to simply communicate from beyond the grave; some stubborn buggers insist on actually taking part in the whole mortal coil even after they’ve successfully shuffled away. The protagonist duo of Hard Day’s Knight is a pair who passed away & then decided to pass on the usual long-capes-bigamous-maiden-seducing lifestyle deathstyle in favor of an entirely cape-free uniform & the night shift. Let’s just hope no stubborn suspects refuse to let them over the threshold with their search warrants.

Children are missing.
The police are stumped.
Halloween is coming, with an ancient evil on the horizon.
The vampires are the good guys.
This is not your ordinary fall weekend in Charlotte, NC. Vampire private detectives Jimmy Black and Greg Knightwood have been hired to keep a young client from being cursed for all eternity, but end up in a bigger mess than they ever imagined.
Suddenly trapped in the middle of a serial kidnapping case, Jimmy and Greg uncover a plot to bring forth an ancient evil into the world, and enlist the help of a police detective, a priest, a witch, a fallen angel, and strip club proprietor to save the world. This unlikely band of heroes battles zombies, witches, neuroses and sunburn while cracking jokes and looking for the perfect bag of O-negative.

Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey

Sandman Slim (Sandman Slim, #1)Mr. Witte & the police vampires were our more conventional dead men- content to have a normal lifespan as Turkish royalty & die normally, or at least come back in one of the approved fashions (vampire or zombie), but some people just have to be different. Like the protagonist of Sandman Slim, who couldn’t even stay put and get tortured like everyone else in Hell- he has to go and escape. (Of course what’s really impressive about Mr. Stark is that he is even able to have adventures after he runs away- I’d have thought he’d spend the rest of his unnatural un-life in various religious buildings yelling “Sanctuary!”).

Life sucks, and then you die. Or, if you’re James Stark, you spend eleven years in Hell as a hitman before finally escaping, only to land back in the hell-on-earth that is Los Angeles.
Now Stark’s back, and ready for revenge. And absolution, and maybe even love. But when his first stop saddles him with an abusive talking head, Stark discovers that the road to absolution and revenge is much longer than you’d expect, and both Heaven and Hell have their own ideas for his future.
Resurrection sucks. Saving the world is worse.

Dead Mann Walking (Hessius Mann #1) by Stefan Petrucha

Dead Mann Walking (Hessius Mann #1)Following in the shuffling footsteps of his predecessors, the eponymous Dead Mann Walking takes an entirely different approach to the afterlife, namely “What the ^&*#! Who did that!?” Brought back to life(ish) against his will, this hero bravely decides to take the unexpected change in his (shambling) stride and gets back into the swing of life(ish). Unfortunately that’s easier said than done. It’s hard enough getting a job with a prison record, but just try explaining that your criminal record was expunged when you were executed. Determined to move on, Mann goes into business for himself as a private eye. At least he’s got good camouflage for stakeouts: shuffling around in the dark is practically an obligation for the undead.

After Hessius Mann was convicted of his wife’s murder, suppressed evidence came to light and the verdict was overturned-too bad he was already executed. But thanks to the miracles of modern science Hessius was brought back to life. Sort of.
Now that he’s joined the ranks of Fort Hammer’s pulse-challenged population, Hessius attempts to make a “living” as a private investigator. But when a missing persons case leads to a few zombies cut to pieces, Hessius starts thinking that someone’s giving him the run-around-and it’s not like he’s in any condition to make a quick getaway…

Many Bloody Returns: Tales of Birthdays with Bite by Charlaine Harris, Jim Butcher, Kelley Armstrong, Toni L.P. Kelner and more

Many Bloody Returns: Tales of Birthdays with BiteAnd for our final selection today I am going to completely ignore the theme we’ve been building, and wish myself a happy birthday (this weekend) with Many Bloody Returns

From cakes to stakes, a celebration of everyone’s favorite bloodsucking subculture by a baker’s dozen of favorite authors. Each of these thirteen original stories offers a fresh and unique take on what birthdays mean to the undead. From Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse attending a birthday party for Dracula to Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden battling bloodsucking party crashers, these suspenseful, surprising, sometimes dark, sometimes humorous stories will ensure paranormal fans will never think of vampires or birthdays quite the same again.

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Reboot Review: The BOOM–how fracking changed the world

DailyDose_darkstrokeWelcome back to the Reboot Review!

Russell Gold, an investigative reporter at The Wall Street Journal, reports on one of the biggest stories of our time: the rise of “fracking.” Today, we present a review of his latest book, The Boom, available from Simon and Schuster.

The Boom: How Fracking Ignited the American Energy Revolution and Changed the World. By Russel Gold, Simon and Schuster, April 2014.

Reviewed by: Mark A. Schillace, senior engineer, Rockwell Automation

indexNot a day goes by without someone commenting on the process of fracking. For the past 5 years, I have heard arguments for and against it. Oh, the argument will die down for a while, but rest assure, if you are channel flipping, scanning stations on your car radio or surfing the web, you will hear someone talking about how “good” it is for America and the Oil and Gas Industry and/or how terrible it is for the environment. Everyone seems to have something to say; how can the engaged citizen make sense of it all?

Being an Electrical Engineer by degree and having to frequently analyze all aspects of a future design, I explore every side of an issue. Russell Gold’s book The Boom provides answers to many questions that I have been asking for years, like: When were the first wells drilled and fracked? How has fracking technology evolved over time? Who were the major players? Has it become environmentally safer/cleaner? And what will this mean for future gas prices? Without taking sides, Mr. Gold did an excellent job presenting and explaining all of these aspects and more.

I particularly appreciate the historical research that went into writing this book. Some books just scratch the surface, but Gold really digs deep into the bedrock, or should I say shale (appropriate if you are writing a book about fracking.) Gold walks the reader through the oil and gas process from the first wells fracked with explosives in 1947 to the more modern way using water, chemicals, and high pressure pumps. And let us not forget about the dozens of people Mr. Gold interviewed who were key contributors: the geologists who have spent most of their lives studying underground rock formations, the engineers who have staked their reputation on experimental, never tried before drilling and fracking techniques, and the inventors who had enough foresight to invest in a questionable gas extracting method.

Gold also captures the view of the land owner. In some cases, the unlucky soul that bought a piece of land to build a house on so he could raise his family suddenly finds himself, surrounded by unsightly oil and gas wells and the smell of petroleum in the air. How sudden? Within a single year. In other cases, the luckier land owner who has just barely scrapped by as a farmer working the land becomes a multi-millionaire almost overnight. The difference? Who owns the mineral rights—you can’t lease them to the oil and gas company if you never owned them in the first place. And of course, there are other costs, too—environmental costs, future costs. Like a high-pressure undercurrent looking for an unsupported crack, there seems to be trouble just under the surface.

As a city dweller who heats his home using natural gas, I am very happy that our heating bills have been cut by two-thirds. Who wouldn’t be happy about that? But at what other costs? Being a long term planner/ thinker at the end of the day I would rather pay higher gas bills and have fresh water to drink then the alternative. Mr. Gold’s writing style is approachable, not too complex to comprehend and makes you think about all aspects of the Great Fracking Boom. I would highly recommend this book to anyone looking for answers.

Mark A. Schillace, senior commercial engineer at Rockwell Automation, is responsible for developing strategic products and applications as it applies to automation and information solutions with a focus on Control Logix (PAC’s) that support 1588 PTP Time Synchronization Protocol, Ethernet Switch Topologies and Sequence of Events (SOE) applications that are widely utilized in the Power Industry. He has previously worked as a Controls Engineer designing Precipitator, Rapper, Soot Blower, and Flue Gas Control Systems for the Power, Oil & Gas, Cement, and Pulp and Paper Industry.

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MedHum Monday: Stones, Clocks, and Stars at the National Maritime Museum

DailyDose_PosterHappy MedHum Monday! Today’s post is brought to us by Dr. Katy Barrett, Curator of Art, pre-1800 at the Royal Museums, Greenwich, UK. Her piece is a narrative from the current exhibit at the National Maritime Museum, Ships, Clocks, and Stars: The Quest for Longitude which relates the search for lasting health with the difficulties of searching for one’s place in the world. Take it away, Katy!

Finding your longitude at sea was difficult in the eighteenth century. While latitude can be measured from fixed points on the earth or in the heavens, you can draw your meridian line of longitude anywhere. To know your distance east or west of your meridian you need to know the time difference, and thus need an accurate clock to keep the time of your home port while you measure your local time from the height of the sun. If you can’t find your longitude you don’t know where you are in relation to land, and that can lead to loss of life, of cargo and of time. In 1714, as one of her last acts, Queen Anne therefore signed a bill to find a solution to longitude.

Why should medical humanists care about this story? Yes, more accurate navigation makes ocean voyages quicker and safer, reducing the risk of scurvy, to which George Anson would lose hundreds of his crew in the early 1740s when unable to locate the island of Juan Fernandez. But longitude was also equated to medical concerns back home. It was the prize money attached to the longitude act that really fascinated contemporaries: £20,000 for the most accurate solution. The deluge of proposals that this prospect of wealth unleashed led many to see the attempt as a mere project: idle, mad, or even malicious, the outcome of which would only be to dupe or even harm the naive investing public. William Hogarth showed just such ideas in the final plate of his series A Rake’s Progress, where one inmate of Bedlam desperately tries to change his fortunes by solving longitude on the wall of the madhouse.

Hogarth's In the Madhouse

Hogarth’s “In the Madhouse” from the A Rake’s Progress series.

Hogarth represented a similar attitude to ‘quack’ doctors. In plate 3 of his Marriage-a-la-Mode, the adulterous earl takes his young mistress to see a doctor whose room is stuffed with projects for miracle cures. In the Company of Undertakers and Cunicularii, he suggested that all medical practitioners were on a similar spectrum. Indeed, a number of contemporary commentators and satirists suggested that the search for longitude and attempts to prolong life or cure particularly feared diseases were equally absurd. In 1729, Gabriel John, who styled himself ‘a seventh Son, and Teacher of the Occult sciences in Yorkshire’ satirised fellow doctor John Hancock’s miracle cure for the plague saying, ‘if the Doctor has the Art to make People immortal, what is that to any body? There must be a time to find out the Longitude, if ever it be done; and some body or other must do it, if any body does; ay, and the Philosopher’s Stone too.’[i] The Philosopher’s Stone, of course, being another miracle means to prolong life, which an inmate of Newgate Prison attempts to produce in plate 7 of A Rake’s Progress.

Hogarth's "The Prison Scene" from the A Rake's Progress series.

Hogarth’s “The Prison Scene” from the A Rake’s Progress series.

Attempts to cure the stone and syphilis were, likewise, equated with longitude. But, the stone presented a particularly interesting case. In 1738-40, Joanna Stephens announced that she had found a cure for the stone and petitioned parliament for a reward of £5,000, which she received after disclosing her cure to a group of trustees.[ii] The clear parallels with the set up of the longitude act did not go unnoticed by contemporaries. The journalist William Kenrick commented in 1744 that, ‘the parliamentary rewards, that have been offered and paid for the finding out the Longitude … for a nostrum for the Stone, and for several other inventions and discoveries, afford a sufficient proof that the encouragement of ingenuity … is in general adjudged to be politically expedient.’[iii]

Sketches of Harrison's early chronometer from 1767

Sketches of Harrison’s early chronometer from 1767

He did not comment on the outcome of Stephens’ cure, which had soon turned out to be ineffective despite her demonstration to the trustees. This blatant abuse of public funds therefore led commentators to suggest that John Harrison, the now famous clockmaker attempting to gain the £20,000 longitude reward, might be similarly a mere projector.

In his Letters from Altamont, the poet Charles Jenner reported that, ‘a certain mechanic of this inventive city, has contrived a time-piece with all the principles requisite for [finding longitude] … There are not, however, wanting a party who say, that the people appointed to examine into the merit of the projector’s claim, have been too hasty in their judgement … It is not many years since a reward was offered for any person who should discover a certain cure for that dreadful disorder, the stone: a woman offered her claim, and received the reward for a medicine which has since been found, in many cases, impossible to be administered, and in others ineffectual.’[iv]

For all concerned, the process of solving longitude at sea could be as complex, contested and painful as curing the stone. For contemporary onlookers, both projects were equally absurd.

Dr. Katy Barrett is Curator of Art, pre-1800 at Royal Museums Greenwich and part of the AHRC-funded research project ‘The Board of Longitude 1714-1828: Science, Innovation and Empire in the Georgian World’. []

Ships, Clocks and Stars: The Quest for Longitude is at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London until 4th January 2015. See for all related display and events



[i] Gabriel John, Flagellum: or, a dry answer to Dr. Hancock’s wonderfully-comical liquid book, which he merrily calls Febrifugum magnum (London, 1723), p.15.

[ii] See Arthur J. Viseltear, ‘Joanna Stephens and the Eighteenth Century Lithontriptics: A Misplaced Chapter in the History of Therapeutics’ in Bulletin of the History of Medicine 42:3 (1968), pp.199-220, and Nicky Reeves’ on the Board of Longitude blog

[iii] W. Kenrick, An address to the artists and manufacturers of Great Britain; Respecting an Application to Parliament for the farther Encouragement of New Discoveries and Inventions in the Useful Arts (London, 1774), p.16

[iv] Charles Jenner, Letters from Altamont in the capital, to his friends in the country (London, 1767), pp.86-8.


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Friday Fiction Feature

FictionReboot2Good morning & welcome back to the Friday Fiction Feature! Your favorite series-editor Tabatha has returned, and today I want to go a little nerdy (I know, way out there for a monster-murder-humor-centrous blog book series). For our very first introduction to dorkiness I am going to assemble my very own fiction D&D party. I have sought out the best (read: funniest) companions to be had. Ready to meet any situation (provided it isn’t actually threatening), and prepared for any (teddy-bear-sized) enemy, this team brings together the best supernatural fighters fiction has to offer!


Bill the Vampire (The Tome of Bill #1) by Rick Gualtieri

Bill The Vampire (The Tome of Bill, #1)The first member of my party is Bill the Vampire. I think Bill will be a valuable asset to my party because he gives us the element of surprise. With Bill I can combine the fierce predatory skills of a vampire with the inconspicuousness of a computer programmer. Just think of the ambushes you can perpetrate when you sneak in a man with a pocket protector behind the lines!

There are reasons we fear the night. He isn’t one of them.
Meet Bill Ryder: programmer, gamer geek, and hopeless dweeb when it comes to women. All he ever asked for out of life was to collect his paycheck, hang out with his buds, and eventually (someday) ask out the girl of his dreams. However, then Bill met Sally. She was mysterious, aggressive, and best of all…smoking hot. Bill never stood a chance. Before he knew what was happening Sally had lead him to his death, and that was only the beginning of his troubles.
Now Bill awakes to find himself an undead predator of the night. The only problem is he’s still at the bottom of the food chain. He’s in way over his head, surrounded by creatures more dangerous, better looking, and a whole lot cooler than he is. Worst of all is the dreaded Night Razor, a master vampire who just can’t stand him. He gives Bill a 90-day deadline to either prove himself or meet a more permanent kind of death, and the deck is definitely stacked against him. But Bill isn’t exactly average. A vampire like him hasn’t been seen in over five centuries. He’s got a few tricks up his sleeve, unlikely allies to help him out, and an attitude problem that makes him just too damn obnoxious to quit. He may just pull it off… if he doesn’t get his teeth kicked in first.

Zero Sum (Zero Sight #2) by B. Justin Shier 

Zero Sum (Zero Sight, #2)One of the first & most important characters to go into any D&D party is, of course, the mage & I’m certainly not going to be the only one left without a magic-handler…even if he is a teenager. Sure, sure the wizard is usually supposed to be an elderly & wise man or a young woman with impossibly large breasts, but even the wizened wizard had to be young once, right? Besides, I figure if I can enlist him early, we’ll become friends, and having a mage nearby who likes me is the best self-preservation I can think of. Anyways, a pimply magician is certainly better than none, and if he can manage to survive the plot of Zero Sum I imagine he’ll be overqualified for any derring-do I can come up with.

My name is Dieter Resnick. I was planning to turn eighteen in May, but I don’t think I’m gonna make it. I’ve just been drafted into a war. And this war isn’t usual. It’s kinda sorta fought with spells. Six months ago today, I was my high school’s valedictorian. Now I’m Elliot College’s newest combat-certified mage, and one of the few to survive a Talmax raid. I’ve got a weft-partner named Rei Acerba, whose hobbies include flaying the skin off her foes and perusing the sunscreen aisle. I’ve got a tutor named Jules Nelson, who spends her evenings talking to trees. And I’ve got a friend named Jay Dante, who tends to vanish when I need him most. We’re all part of a team called Lambda, and we’ve been ordered into the middle of a battle between North America’s magical factions. The warriors of Talmax are surging up from the South. The Department of Mana Affair’s once omnipotent DEA agents have been left cowering behind their wards. Our job is to reveal the enemy’s secret weapon–before they take ownership of the entire West Coast.

Blackjack Villain (The Blackjack Series #1) by Ben Bequer

Blackjack VillainSo, now that we’ve got magic and stealth in the bag, we’ll need some muscle. And who better to provide backup & a really big gun than a bad guy! Blackjack [the] Villain is the perfect muscleman to round out the team–he has all the skill of an experienced mercenary, and a long career as a villain will ensure that our group looks scary and things like morality don’t muddle up his brain when it comes time to do his most important job: keep me safe!

“I’m Blackjack. A small-time villain. I know I’m not a big leaguer, but more than one wannabe hero has ended up in traction after getting in my way. I mostly stick to easy stuff, though, like popping banks and armored cars, and make a little money where I can. Living good is nice, you know? I thought I had it all figured out, until I found a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: A slot in a big time super villain team.

The gig seemed like a dream. Steal bits of dusty old crap from different parts of the world and make serious cash. But little would I know that what would start small would end up sending me halfway across the galaxy (or was it to a different dimension?), and at the end of it all the fate of our planet, and everyone living in it, would be in my hands.
Oh, and I met a girl.
A girl who changed everything.”

Demonspawn (Damned and Cursed #1) by Glenn Bullion

Demonspawn (Damned and Cursed, #1)I think it will be important to have a backup unholy man in the team on the off-chance that my stealth killer Bill is not up to the job. After all, smart tacticians build redundancy into the system in case the first person is shot or distracted. With this in mind, I intend to recruit DemonspawnHis human appearance will make sure he can sneak into most places under the radar (though not as well as the guy who can make himself invisible by boring everyone explaining how the radar works), and his demonic powers should be enough to take care of a room of enemies. Besides, it looks like he’s got connections with the vampire community, and there’s nothing like a good legion or so of dangerous allies!

“My name’s Alex. I used to think I was normal. I have a job, an apartment, good friends. I have a sister I adore, and the most beautiful woman in the world happens to be my best friend.

I see ghosts. So what, right? It’s on television all the time. All kinds of people see ghosts.
But seeing ghosts turns into seeing demons. Seeing demons turns into walking through walls. It only keeps getting better. It just so happens I’m half demon, the only one of my kind.

I met a woman and made a new friend, Victoria. She is a four-hundred-year-old vampire, and she needs my help. It turns out vampires are popping up everywhere. Some kind of new breed, more animal than vampire. They feed on anything, and can’t be reasoned with.
Can a half demon do anything to stop them?”

Immortal (Immortal #1) by Gene Doucette 

Immortal (Immortal, #1)The more I think about connections & allies the more convinced I am of my next choice for the party: Adam The Immortal. Who better to bring us allies than a man who has had millenia to accumulate them? Not to mention all of the practical knowledge he must have picked up along the way. I mean, if a wizard is supposed to be impressive as soon as he is old enough to look wizened just think how useful a 60,000 year old man will be! Not to mention the survival skills he can share with me while we send the muscle-men out to slay the enemies.

Surviving sixty thousand years takes cunning and more than a little luck. But in the twenty-first century, Adam confronts new dangers—someone has found out what he is, a demon is after him, and he has run out of places to hide.Worst of all, he has had entirely too much to drink. Immortal is a first person confessional penned by a man who is immortal, but not invincible. In an artful blending of sci-fi, adventure, fantasy, and humor, IMMORTAL introduces us to a world with vampires, demons and other “magical” creatures, yet a world without actual magic. At the center of the book is Adam.
“I have been in quite a few tight situations in my long life. One of the first things I learned was if there is going to be a mob panic, don’t be standing between the mob and wherever it is they all want to go. The second thing I learned was, don’t try to run through fire.”
–Adam the Immortal

Adam is a sixty thousand year old man. (Approximately.) He doesn’t age or get sick, but is otherwise entirely capable of being killed.His survival has hinged on an innate ability to adapt, his wits, and a fairly large dollop of luck.He makes for an excellent guide through history . . . when he’s sober.

A Clue for the Puzzle Lady by Parnell Hall

A Clue for the Puzzle Lady (Puzzle Lady, #1)Last but certainly not least, I want to include the Puzzle LadyWhen you are in difficult situations, fighting unimaginables horrors, unlocking mysterious caverns, & decripting riddles which have stumped generations of heroes, who could round off the team better than a woman with a cruciverbalist’s vocabulary & riddle knowledge? Between Blackjack & the heroine of A Clue for the Puzzle Lady I don’t think we’ll need to blink at something like the sphinx.

First in a series, this clever mystery from an Edgar Award nominee lets readers fill in the clues as the plot unfolds. The heroine, Cora Felton, is a weekly syndicated crossword columnist who turns into a modern-day Miss Marple at the whiff of a good mystery. “Fresh, funny, and ingeniously densed. It kept me guessing right down to the end–just like a good crossword”.–WIll Shortz, Crossword Editor, “The New York Times”.

*Now I know what you’re thinking. This crew still needs a fearless leader! Someone with skills, charm, wit, and amazing fighting skill! Well don’t worry, dear readers, for there is one last member of the team: ME! What could make a better contribution to any D&D party than me? I am smart, a fast reader…also some of those heroic attributes as well… Anyways, I don’t see why I can lead the team (and take all of the credit), after all I did go to all the trouble of assembling this ragtag group, and everyone knows the unlikely heroes are always the ones to save the day!…after they are spurred to action… when their beloved hero dies…hang on, I might have to rethink this one.

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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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