Mother’s Day and Ticks

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A few years ago, I wrote a story about the childhood event of finding a tick during the warm months of spring and summer.  The article was published in the Tennessean on Mother’s Day in 2005.  I got more e-mails from people I didn’t know telling me their tick stories. I still cannot think about ticks without thinking of my mother’s relentless pursuit of removing these pesky creatures.  And since it is getting warm outside and Mother’s Day is upon us, I’ve posted the piece in its entirety below.

 About this time every year, there’s a cry that swells up in households across the South.   “I found a tick!”  When I think about ticks, I think about my mother.  

Mothers hate ticks.  At least mine did.  I seemed to be the first child infested on our West Tennessee farm each year.  The finding of a tick would summon my mother from anywhere in the house while my older brother vied for an unobstructed view of the torture, an event for him of unequaled pleasure.  My father would remain calm in his recliner, only to enter the treatment plan if there was a large animal attached.

What followed was a very sophisticated, diagnostic question.  

Is it latched on or still crawling? 

This question was hardly necessary, however.  Crawling ticks were merely flicked off and never reported.  By the time my tick was discovered, it had been hunkered down for a day or two, maybe longer, somewhere on a thin strip of skin shaded only by undergarment. 

My mother’s method for tick extraction changed dramatically during my childhood.  She started out using Campho-Phenique, that WD-40 of all medical ointments, used on everything from ring worm to poison oak.  I can still remember the cooling sensation on the skin, like Vicks salve between your cheek and gum. 

The problem was that the tick liked it too and would hunker down even more.  This resulted in great angst and a gentle teasing-turned-to-yanking the tick out.  My mother would then examine the pathologic specimen and ask that universal prognostic question. 

Is the head on? 

You hoped and prayed that that small black nubbin was there, complete with a chunk of epidermis, because you surely didn’t want her going back for more.  It took only one missing-head tick to radically change her tick extraction method.

A new and improved technique illustrated an important scientific principle.  Ticks rapidly conduct heat.  Her recipe for the use of fire to remove ticks was as follows: (Please do not try this at home), 1) Strike a match, 2) Blow it out, 3) Immediately apply to tick.  I can still remember the burning ember coming perilously close to private parts while my brother foamed at the mouth with glee.  By the end of this ordeal, I could not have cared less where the head was.

Sixteen years ago, when I was a medical student in another city, a woman was transferred from a local nursing home to the hospital.  It was the first day of my Internal Medicine rotation.  She had a fever and was non-responsive, near comatose.  My superiors predicted it to be the last day of her ninety-one year life.  The usual sources of fever – urinary tract infection, pneumonia, etc, – were ruled out.  Then she was declared my patient.  Great.

Her history was brief since she couldn’t talk.  Her only son was in another state and did not answer the phone.  This left the physical exam for diagnosis.  In a small room with a nurse as chaperone, I examined her skin.  I listened to her heart, lungs, felt her neck, examined her back. 

“What are you looking for?” my bored, cross-armed nurse asked me. 

“I don’t know.”

I searched her legs, groin creases, raised her arms with webs of loose flesh hanging like draperies.

Then I saw them.

Deep in the left armpit, beneath a tuft of hair.

Three black spots.

Moles?  No.


Three juicy blood-filled ticks sucking the last days out of my sweet patient (we had bonded by that point).  With a pair of tweezers, I gently pulled them straight out (the appropriate method, no flames or potions needed), placed them in a specimen container, and with a satisfied grin told the nurse to send them to the lab for testing.  And yes, the heads were intact.

Three days after she was admitted, her fever had resolved.  She still couldn’t talk but her eyes tracked to those around her, enough improvement for a return trip to the nursing home.  I held the doors as the attendants pushed her in the elevator on a stretcher.  As she brushed by, she winked.  She had to use both eyes but she definitely winked at me, her tick-extracting surrogate son.  

As the doors closed, I had a deep desire to embrace that fragile skin around her neck.  Was it the ticks?  Who knows?  But I still think about her today.  And I appreciate my own mother’s burning diligence with those little blood-suckers.

So remember.  Check yourself for ticks.  There’s always a mother around, somewhere, when you need one.

The Library is Rockin’

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This week, I had the opportunity to return to the Knoxville campus of The University of Tennessee as part of the Accomplished Alumni program.  I met with students and faculty and gave a talk at the Hodges Library.  This program is directed by Patrick Wade in the Office of Alumni Affairs and provides a way for UT Alumni to give back to the university.  After graduating nearly twenty-five years ago, it was enjoyable to meet with students and discuss their plans for the future. 

Back to the library.  Twenty-five years ago, I was a frequent visitor to the central library on campus.  I was pre-med.  I went there to study.  Seems like the only other students there were meeting to decide what party they were headed to next. 

Well, the library has changed.  The John C. Hodges Library is a six-story, 350,000-square-foot building completed in 1987.  The place is now packed with students.  It seems the place on campus to be.  I particularly enjoyed the centrally-located Starbucks. 

While in Knoxville, I was invited to be a guest on Live at Five at Four, a live afternoon television program on the NBC-affiliate, WBIR.  You can click the link (not the picture) below to see the 4 minute interview.|tvideo|life#/Scott+Pearson+/909740512001

RUPTURE: The Movie

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If your life was made into a movie, who would you choose as the actor or actress to portray you?  This is your chance to select that starlet or action hero you’ve admired on the screen.  Somewhat of a daunting task, isn’t it?

After the release of RUPTURE in 2009, I was asked by the creator of a web site called, My Novel, The Movie, to speculate on who I would choose as the cast of the movie version of RUPTURE.  Seemed easy at first.  I thought – I’ll just choose the latest Oscar winners and off we’ll go.  But the choice needs to be correct, or at least realistic.  After all, this will put a face (and a body, no less) to characters who populate the world of the novel. 

As a writer, I want the reader to see the character in his or her own mind.  Meaning, to envision the character as words are translated to active scenes of desire, anguish, pleasure.  Some writers choose not to speculate on which actor might play their lead characters, for fear that this taints the readers imagination.  I considered this position.  Then I thought: come on, readers are more imaginative than that. 

So, think of who you would choose to play Eli Branch and Meg Daily.  And don’t forget detective Lipsky, and Henry, all of whom return in PUBLIC ANATOMY.  Then check out RUPTURE, The Movie (link below).  Once opened, you can click on the actors name to see their photo and credits in the IMDb database, which I found to be very helpful.

Then add a comment to this blog post of who you would choose to play the role of Eli, or Meg, or any of the characters.  And don’t forget Liza French from PUBLIC ANATOMY, who remains yet to be cast.  

My Book, The Movie: Rupture

Mysteries and More

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Mysteries and More is a fantastic mystery bookstore nestled in Lenox Village in southeast Nashville.  Greg and Mary Bruss own the only brick and mortor bookstore in Tennessee dedicated solely to the mystery genre.  And a great store they have.  They invited me for a signing today which coincided with the third birthday of the store’s opening.   I was met with a room full of people and –  birthday cake to boot.

What a pleasure to talk with dedicated readers of mysteries and thrillers.  But I know that the real reason they came was the “feel” of a community bookstore where books are displayed for accessibility, the chairs are comfortable, and the owners care about delivering the right book to the discerning reader.  And there was cake.

After I talked about my writing of the Eli Branch series of medical suspence, and answered questions, and signed copies of Rupture and Public Anatomy, many of those in attendance did not leave.  They congregated for fellowship
and discussion about books and reading.  Life seemed to slow down for a while.  Exactly how a bookstore should be.

Celebrating Memphis

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Summer sunsets over the Mississippi River, white dogwood blooms in the spring, brilliant red oaks in autumn, an occasional blanket of snow.  Four seasons in the Bluff City.  One thing is certain – Memphis has character – and that’s what I try to capture in my novels. 

From Beale Street to the Rendezvous, Front Street to the Arts District, a tour of Victorian Village, nights at the Peabody, Fourth of July in Tom Lee Park.  Then outwards to Tunica, Oxford, and the farmlands of West Tennessee, and a few surprises thrown in. 

I enjoy talking with Memphians about the setting of my books, as I did at my recent signing at Davis-Kidd Booksellers in Laurelwood Shopping Center.  In my novels, I want to capture the good, the bad, even the occasional ugly. If RUPTURE and PUBLIC ANATOMY were movies, Eli Branch would no doubt be the star.  But in many ways, Memphis is the main character.


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I’ve just returned from the first week of signings for PUBLIC ANATOMY.  My first event occurred at Big Sleep Books in St. Louis (Big Sleep as in Raymond Chandler’s hardboiled crime novel of 1939, The Big Sleep, and the 1946 movie of the same name starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall).  Ed King runs a great “old-feel” mystery bookstore on North Euclid Ave. in St. Louis.  Later, I signed at Subterranean Books near the Washington University campus.  Thanks to Kelly and Alex and their cozy independent store.  My Nashville launch was at Barnes and Noble with community relations manager, Robbie Bryan, and a host of friends, some of whom I haven’t seen in years. 

Next stop Bradenton, Florida outside of Tampa, for nice meet and greet at Books-a-Million.  My gratitude to Ken for a nice set-up.  The key fact for Bradenton, of course, is the spring training home of the Pittsburgh Pirates, the baseball team I’ve followed (through some lean years) since I was six when I used to watch Roberto Clemente.  The Pirates also happen to be the favorite team of Eli Branch (go figure).  I was able to squeeze in a game and watched the Pirates beat the Red Sox, 9-4, in front of the largest crowd ever in McKechnie Field history.  Ok, enough baseball trivia.

Then on to Sarasota and Circle Books in St. Armands Circle, the Rodeo Drive of Florida.  Debbie Stowell runs a great bookstore in a great location.  I enjoyed meeting readers from all over the country – Michigan, New Jersey, and Indiana.  Congrats to Bill from South Bend for Notre Dame’s #2 seed for the NCAA tournament.

Next up is Davis-Kidd Booksellers in Memphis on Saturday, March 19th.  For both RUPTURE and PUBLIC ANATOMY, Memphis is where it all goes down.

What is a Public Anatomy?

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I just returned from the South Central Renaissance Conference held at St. Louis University where I presented a paper for the Society of Renaissance Art History.  The topic of my paper was the sixteenth century anatomist, Vesalius, who is known as the father of human anatomy.  Specifically, I discussed the details from the illustration (year 1543) that forms the cover of my novel, PUBLIC ANATOMY.  The scene shows Vesalius performing a human dissection in a public demonstration – thus, a public anatomy.  

Icones Anatomicae, History of Medicine Archives, Vanderbilt University

Public anatomies were spontaneous events, usually outdoors, held in hastily constructed platforms that held spectators, anatomist, and the body for dissection.  The spontaneity of the event depended upon the availability of a body – usually a criminal pulled fresh from the gallows – the clock ticking before decay set in.  Word would spread and a host of spectators would converge – students, politicians, clergy, and those struck with morbid curiosity.  And since human dissection at that time was largely forbidden by the church – the event was not advertised, the set quickly dismantled following the dissection.

This work of anatomical art forms the title page of Vesalius’ masterpiece on anatomy, the Fabrica.  You can find the full illustration within PUBLIC ANATOMY on the left page just before the beginning of Chapter One. Within this image are clues that propel the mystery in the novel.  So take a look at the illustration and refer back often.  And happy hunting, PUBLIC ANATOMY is released tomorrow.

Publishers Weekly selects PUBLIC ANATOMY

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Publishers Weekly is the leading magazine for the book industry.  So – I am pleased to announce that PUBLIC ANATOMY has been selected as an editor’s pick for the Spring Announcement issue released January 24, 2011. 


The magazine breaks down all genres from Cookbooks to Politics to Romance novels for the upcoming Spring Book Season. 

PUBLIC ANATOMY is listed in the Mysteries and Thrillers section along with authors the likes of Michael Connelly, Lisa Scottoline, and Harlan Coben.  Not bad company.

The link is below:

RUPTURE in paperback

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About eight years ago, I began the writing of a series of medical suspense.  From this, Eli Branch was created and took over the story that was ultimately published in RUPTURE in February, 2009.  Eli was born of the need for someone to take on the ever-increasing challenges that exist between the world of medicine and our society today. 

And so I am pleased to inform you that RUPTURE is coming out in paperback on March 7th, the same day as PUBLIC ANATOMY is released in hardcover.  This version of RUPTURE will be in trade paperback, a larger, more substantial book, similar in size to hardcover. 

In PUBLIC ANATOMY, the story of Eli picks up about six weeks after the end of RUPTURE.  So while the mystery in PUBLIC ANATOMY stands alone from the debut in the series, if you would like to know Eli from the beginning, pick up RUPTURE in paperback and meet him just before his world derails.

Beginnings … and an End

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Welcome to Pens and Scalpels.  My first novel, RUPTURE, was released almost two years ago in February, 2009.  RUPTURE introduced surgeon Eli Branch and by the end of the book, he had sustained and survived a career-threatening injury.  Now he’s back in the sequel, PUBLIC ANATOMY, which will be released March 7, 2011, less than three months away.

As I gear up for another book release and the signing tour is planned, I think back to a cold February night in Nashville when RUPTURE was launched at a book signing party at Davis-Kidd Booksellers.  Well over a hundred people attended the event and the store has been supportive of me as a debut author ever since.

Book signing party at Davis-Kidd Booksellers

As some of you know, the Nashville store of Davis-Kidd is closing this month and we are grieving the loss of a friend.  I have been a faithful supporter of the store for over ten years after first moving to Nashville.  As a fledging writer, I bought numerous novels and how-to magazines and books on the writing craft.  As my shelves overflowed, I soon learned that reading about writing is not the same as writing.  Buying one more craft book doesn’t put words on the page.  Thus, the profound statement – Only Writing is Writing.

Some readers and authors bailed on Davis-Kidd when the store moved to the mall.  I stayed with them – attending author readings as though they were workshops, studying, learning – until I sat behind a stack of my own books.  So I take this opportunity to say thank you to the folks at Davis-Kidd Booksellers. May you continue in your faithful support of books and reading.

Happy Holidays to you.

And come back soon to the next edition of Pens and Scalpels.