Given the choice between sitting and watching it snow, and tromping outside IN the snow, I…am usually split 50-50. But knowing it wouldn’t last long today got me outside. Which was nice, because there was lots to enjoy, including some very unhappy birds saying “duck this weather, anyway.”
Sadly, the falling snow also smudged my lens, and my camera is not up to the task of catching birds on the wing. *mutters darkly about upgrades*
- - “Author’s notes” video updates, discussing each new episode and whatever else is on my alleged mind
- - Monthly deleted excerpts from works that will never be seen elsewhere (warning: there may be spoilers!)
- - Each complete serial you supported (in mobi or epub format), digitally “pawmarked” and numbered.
- - An original flash fiction, every month.
I’ve decided to take advantage of a slight lull in the work schedule and…gasp!…take a day off. But I leave you in the capable, if slightly gore-coated, hands of E.C. Ambrose, who has been delving into a particularly fascinating bit of history for their recent “Dark Apostle” novels…
Medical Excellence in the Middle Ages
You weren’t expecting that headline, were you? When people imagine Medieval surgery, most picture a bloody saw in the grip of a man educated by a book written a millennium before by Galen, who drew his ideas about anatomy from dissecting pigs. With the recent interest in the use of larvae to clean gangrenous wounds and the efficacy of leeches in the reattachment of severed limbs, it’s time to take a closer look early surgical practice. While the surgeons of the fourteenth through sixteenth centuries had limited science, they had a specialized knowledge of common problems faced by their primary clientele, the warrior classes of the Middle Ages.
Medieval surgeons achieved their level of practice either through a formal education in one of the universities of the time (Paris, Saleron, Bologna, Prague), or by apprenticeship with a practicing surgeon—just like the interns and residents of today. This gave them real-world knowledge they could apply to their own patients.
The medieval surgeon had an awareness of the problems likely to be faced by his clientele, in the same way that today’s orthopedists might look for injuries associated with specific sports or occupations. One common malady was anal fistula, a very painful condition resulting from spending too much time in the saddle, often suffered by the knightly classes, but also developed by lesser men as a result of damp conditions or dietary problems.
The operation to cure the fistula was notoriously dangerous. However, the English surgeon, John of Arderne (c. 1307- 1380), specialized in this treatment, developing tools and techniques, and writing a manual to share his practice with others. Arderne goes so far as to include a number of case studies, claiming that patients he treated in the described manner were able to ride again a mere forty days later. While it’s hard to judge such claims today, it’s clear from the number of contemporary references to this work that Arderne was considered a leading surgeon among his peers.
One operation occupies a special place of horror in the modern conception: that of trepanation. Trepanation is the technique of drilling into the patient’s skull to relieve pressure on the brain, usually resulting from a compressed skull fracture. In the late Medieval period, given the prevalence of combat in general, and mounted combat in particular, skull fracture was not uncommon, and the surgeons of the time developed careful practices to treat it.
For many years, the instruments required were the same a carpenter might use, a hand drill for piercing the skull, sometimes in multiple areas with the skull between then scraped away carefully with a rasp, or a smaller probe inserted into the holes to elevate the depressed bone in between. An adept practitioner could complete the operation in about half an hour, and studies suggest that up to 90% of patients in the 1400’s survived the operation.
Medieval surgeons also had specialized tools and techniques for handling opthamology, and surgery of the eye was particularly advanced in the Muslim world. Cataracts clouded the vision and could severely limit the quality of life of the medieval patient, but a skilled surgeon could use a scalpel and delicate approach to “couch” the cataract and significantly improve vision. The eye would be washed with salt water and treated with oil of roses and egg whites to prevent infection. Patients were advised to lie on their backs for several days afterward.
One of the truisms of historical fiction is that history is like a foreign country—they did things differently back then. However, my research into medieval surgery suggests that, just like now, medical practitioners were motivated to improve their tools and techniques, to learn from one another, and to strive to create better outcomes for their patients. A surgeon at the time might be greatly rewarded for his success—granted royal or papal patronage, given estates or wealth. Given that one side-effect of a failed surgery was often the slaying of the surgeon, they had an added incentive for excellence.
Elisha Mancer, book four in the Dark Apostle series of fantasy novels about medieval surgery, launches this month! For sample chapters, historical research and some nifty extras, like a scroll-over image describing the medical tools on the cover of Elisha Barber, visit The Dark Apostle.
E. C. Ambrose blogs about the intersections between fantasy and history.
Buy Links for volume one, Elisha Barber:
So, we’ve been talking behind the scenes for a while (with breaks for holidays, illness, and pretty much every other interruption you could imagine), but I’m pleased to say that it’s now official: I’ll be writing two more historical fantasies for Saga Press/S&S! (thereby covering your Gilman-related reading needs through 2019).
from Publishers Lunch:
Bestselling author and Nebula Award finalist Laura Anne Gilman’s untitled historical fantasy, described as a grown-up Johnny Tremaine meets The Blue Sword, in a two-book deal to Joe Monti at Saga Press, by Barry Goldblatt at Barry Goldblatt Literary.
These books will be stand-alones – this was my request, as I’ve been writing series books for fourteen years now (!!), and wanted to play within self-contained stories for a while.
This does not mean the Devil’s West is over. With book 3, Isobel came to a natural pausing point, so I’m taking it. However, other characters in that universe have been asking for their time on the page (details on THAT to come). And I’m incredibly excited about these new books and new characters….
Many thanks to my agent, Barry Goldblatt, and my editor, Joe Monti, for listening, and making it all happen. :-)
And yes, this means I will spend much of 2017 writing about rebels and royalists during the War for Independence. Yes, my timing is either impeccable, or uncannily unnerving.
Currently in San Francisco, after a signing (and a March!) in San Diego, and then another signing, and then going to hear other people reading at SF in SF, and now a day of relaxation – where relaxation means updating Patreon with a new serial episode, answering emails and calling my representatives – before heading home tomorrow morning.
(but despite host loaner cats, I miss my boys…)
Meanwhile, there are now signed copies of SILVER ON THE ROAD and THE COLD EYE at both those fine establishments, so even if you missed out on the buffalo and the cocoa and the gossip by not being there in person, you can still get a few author-defaced copies for your own….
Spending most of today in transit down to San Diego and Mysterious Galaxy, trying to avoid as much of the Cheeto Bowl coverage as possible, for the sake of my bp and my ability to deal with 46% of the country with civility. Choosing instead to remember who we are and what we CAN be.
Kindness is not weakness. Compassion is not surrender. Strength doesn’t need to be cruel, or petty. A healthy sense of humor about ourselves is essential – and makes us better humans.
Every time a positive review comes in, a writer gets another feather in her wings.
“The Cold Eye is a captivating read… Both of these novels are more than “weird Westerns,”
they create an entirely new Western mythos, one I hope to explore for many books to come.
“The Cold Eye was pretty much everything I wanted it to be, plus some. I had high expectations going into this book, and I’m pleased to announce that Gilman surpassed every single one of them. If you haven’t started this series yet, why not? It’s one of the best things in the genre right now. 5/5 stars.
- Bookworm Blues
“Laura Anne Gilman continues to forge her own version of a Western, American myth of the very early days of a West that wasn’t, but I wish it might have been. I daresay if you are a fan of Weird Westerns, you should already be reading Laura Anne Gilman. And if you are not, the Devil’s West novels may change your mind, too.” -The Skiffy and Fanty Show
Tonight is the first official signing/reading, at University Bookstore! Even if you can’t get there in person, you can order a signed copy…
Virtually, I’m ranting about a book that pissed me off, over on Tor.com (where they changed the title to be classier)
A little over two years ago, I moved to the Pacific Northwest with a variety of goals. One of those goals was to take my wine knowledge and put it to use again (after a stint working wine retail, using it to write an award-nominated trilogy, and host wine-tasting dinners, that is).
So I got a job at a winery tasting room. And discovered – to actually nobody’s surprise – that I’m really good at it. It combines several of my skills (geeky wine knowledge, the ability to talk to anyone who walks through the door, office organizational skills, marketing knowhow, and a slightly obsessive need to have things run smoothly) and puts them to use in a field I enjoy (the boutique wine industry).
Fast forward, and I’ve moved on from my original place of employment to a brand-new winery opening a brand new tasting room, again working as Lead (basically, second-in-command) for the manager. And then – just as I was preparing for the release of THE COLD EYE – I get a phone call. “Your boss just gave notice. We know you’ve got another career going with the books, but how do you feel about stepping up here, and maybe taking on a few more responsibilities, too?”
I told them I’d think about it, hung up the phone and – after a brief period of hyperventilating – brought up a spreadsheet and started putting together the pros and cons of taking the (still part-time but more-time) job, while still keeping my writing time. Then I texted my first boss, and said “you think I can do this?” Her response: “I told you a year ago you could do it, stop worrying!” (reader, she did actually tell me that a year ago). Then I called a friend who has more experience in the “more responsibilities” part of the job they were talking about and said “do you think I can do this?” Rudely reassuring noises responded. Yeah, they thought I had this.
Reader, I took the job.
Effective January 14th, I will be Woodinville Tasting Room and Website Content Manager for Rocky Pond Winery. If you’re ever in town (or happen to be visiting our “big sister” tasting room in Lake Chelan) stop by and say hi!