Monday, September 29, 2014

Looking from the other side

Around the beginning of August I was feeling the pressure of my full time day job and so many deadlines approaching in the weeks thereafter.  As I am not the only aspiring author out there trying to fit my writing into that small space left over after the obligations of day job, family and other real world responsibilities are met, I find I am wondering how the rest of you do it.  So, let me share with you the reality of the last few months and maybe we can compare notes.

Here I am at the end of September with two successful speaking engagements behind me, my second book in the hands of my copy editor, my abstract submitted on time to the American Association of Physical Anthropology, and only a scholarly article to finish (with a whole month to do so).  An impressive series of accomplishments, to be sure, but rest assured that this short burst of literary and scholarly productivity was achieved at the expense of just about everything else.  I’ve aged a few years, gained perhaps as many pounds (I refuse to get on the scale) and my liver has asked me to take a break from that dram or two (or three) of whiskey enjoyed at the end of each long day.  The house is a mess, the garden is full of weeds and both my phone and computer have long since reached their capacity to store messages.

On the positive side, my husband and my son are alive and well and have managed to care for themselves adequately while I have been otherwise occupied (my son even learned to do his own laundry).  Thanks to the Higgins men I had clean clothes and takeout food to sustain me as I worked into the wee hours of the night.

At work, my very dedicated staff exceeded my expectations in their efforts to ensure that all of the pooches entrusted into our care each day were safe and happy.  Had it not been for their diligence, I would not have been able to retreat into my tiny office for a few hours during the day to finish a chapter or tweak a Power Point presentation.  The only barrier to productivity during that bonus window of time was the gassy old hound who lounged daily just outside my office door.

So, at the end (almost) of a several long weeks of intense productivity, I have survived with my family and my business intact.  Don’t be too impressed.  Assuming I didn’t die of exhaustion, I doubt very much that my loving family and loyal staff would be so supportive were this schedule to continue.  A long term strategy is needed if I am to persist with this very precarious juggling act.  How do you get the most out of each of the 24 hours and still keep your life, your love and your sanity intact?  

Monday, September 15, 2014

On the subject of book covers...

It's the middle of September and the mood has changed.  It's not just because most of my scholarly obligations have been met and the Bills are, as yet, undefeated.  Many of the dogs that were off enjoying their cottages in Canada during the summer months have returned, so it feels much like the start of school in Dogdom.  All of this excitement is swirling around like leaves on a windy fall day, not yet ready to settle.  I guess the question is where will it land?

If I could direct all of this positive energy, I would point it toward the St. Jude project.  So far we have sold 30 copies of Orphans and Inmates to benefit the hospital.  That may seem like a lot, but royalties are paltry in the self publishing universe and it only amounts to about $100.  I need some help getting the word out. Suggestions are welcome!!!

I am at the point where I need to start thinking about a cover design for Grave Reconciliations, the second book in the Orphans and Inmates series.  As you might guess from the working title, the fate of those buried in the poorhouse cemetery is an important part of the tale.  The trick is to have an eye catching cover that speaks for the story and will also attract people who have not read the first book.  My husband did the concept sketch for the O & I cover, which I was very pleased with and everyone seemed to like.  From there, the graphic designer (Dane, from Ebook Launch) did a great job of translating our vision into the perfect cover.

So, I am hoping that the same magical formula will work again.  Below is one of my husband's concept sketches for Grave Reconciliations.  It is meant to represent the cemetery at the Erie County Poorhouse, which I know from my research was located far away from the building.  The graves were marked by numbered wooden stakes.  Each number was linked to an individual, whose identity (name, age, sex, occupation, place of birth and cause of death) was recorded in a ledger.  At the end of each year, the wooden stakes were pulled up and reused, leaving the individual lying beneath all but forgotten.

Without revealing too much of the plot, Grave Reconciliations introduces a paranormal element and moves between the past and the present as the spirit of an almshouse inmate reveals clues that expose widespread corruption, not the least of which was body snatching and the illegal sale of the unclaimed dead from the poorhouse to an area medical school for dissection.  Would this cover (or, rather, a color version of it) and the description mentioned above attract your interest?  If not, why?  Is the image of the cemetery too creepy? Not creepy enough? Should I include a ghost? Please let me know what you think!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Balancing the past and the present: Healthcare and humidity

Fall is here, sort of, and the dogs are settling into the change in routine and the change in weather.  This is a time of transition for us as the college help goes back to school and we scramble around the schedule to accommodate their classes and internships.  Who knew the hottest days of the summer would be in September?  We added extreme heat and humidity (comparatively) to a largely understaffed week at work and the start of school for the teenage son (and his first out of town varsity football game).  With the usual combination of awesome husband, after work cocktails and dumb luck, I managed to survive it all, plus a gardening injury that sent me to Urgent Care for some super glue and a tetanus shot!

So here we are a week away from the abstract deadline for our national meeting (The American Association of Physical Anthropology) and the plan is to spend the day looking at the physician reports from the Erie County Poorhouse.  They are contained within the Proceedings of the Erie County Board of Supervisors from 1880-1910 (Available at the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library).  The working hypothesis is that the Erie County Hospital (part of the Erie County Poorhouse complex) provided adequate care for the city’s poor.  Quantitatively, we have the Hospital Department Report (sometimes called the Physician’s Report).  These reports documented the number of people treated, what they were treated for, if they were cured and if they died (among other variables, such as nativity, or country of origin).  We will use these data to calculate crude death rates and disease specific death rates for the Erie County Hospital to compare with the census data for the general population. (Below: Proceedings of the Erie County Board of Supervisors, 1895, from the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library)

There are also qualitative data such as resolutions or written reports from the Medical Superintendent that documented changes in procedure, such as the report below.  This report documented the hospital’s move to the former lunatic asylum (now Hayes Hall on the University at Buffalo’s Main Street Campus) by Dr. Francis Metcalf in 1894.  This report discussed the reclassification of many cases from chronic to treatable, as well as improvements/changes to the facility and the staff.  These types of reports are critical to understanding what else was going on in terms of policy and procedural changes that might have impacted the quality of care available at the hospital. (Below: Proceedings of the Erie County Board of Supervisors, 1894, from the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library)

Why are we interested in the quality of care at the Erie County Hospital, you ask?  Well, we have determined that most of the individuals excavated from the Erie County Poorhouse Cemetery were likely not inmates of the poorhouse, but rather residents from the city of Buffalo who couldn't afford alternative health care.  We have been able to compare the diseases, injuries, and other conditions identified in the skeletons with those recorded in the hospital’s mortality index.  However, these data only allow some understanding of the people who died.  The Physician Reports also document those individuals who were treated and survived their ailments, therefore providing us with a more complete picture of the health issues experienced by the city’s poor and the health care available to them.

Having only been through 20 of the 30 reports, I had better stop blogging and finish collecting data! (Go Bills!)