I spent 15 years researching the life of 19th century doctor who performed radical surgery on the severely deformed in a time before anesthesia. The book has just been released by Penguin. AMA!
MY SHORT BIO: I am the author of such books as DEAR FUTURE BOYFRIEND (written & published while I was was still in college), HOT TEEN SLUT (my memoir-in-verse about working as writer in porn while I was still a virgin), and WORDS IN YOUR FACE (a history of the New York City poetry slam movement). My most recent book, DR MUTTER'S MARVELS: A TRUE TALE OF INTRIGUE & INNOVATION AT THE DAWN OF MODERN MEDICINE, about the life & times of Mütter Museum founder Dr Thomas Dent Mütter was released by Gotham Books (Penguin) last week. For more information, please visit: www.aptowicz.com
MY PROOF: https://twitter.com/coaptowicz/status/511555133675954178
Oh man, Cristin. ABSOLUTELY. Ask away! What's your question?
Okay, here's my question: if some one wanted to get a sense of what this book is like so they COULD ask you questions about it, are there any excerpts available online they could read?
Great question, Cristin! And the answer is YES! I was hoping someone would ask that, so it's like YOU READ MY MIND!
Here are four excerpts from the book:
Here is an excerpt about a cleft palate surgery Mütter performed on a patient while he was still awake:
Here is an excerpt about 19th century discover of anesthesia that was published in THE ATLANTIC: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/09/dr-mutters-marvels/378688/
Here is a excerpt about Mütter's earliest introductions to the burgeoning field of plastic surgery which ran on BoingBoing: http://boingboing.net/2014/09/04/dr-mutters-marvels-intrig.html
And here's an excerpt about insane mid-19th century Philadelphia was which ran on io9: http://io9.com/a-grisly-but-fascinating-tale-of-the-greatest-medical-r-1631123214
Awesome. Love this!
If you want to WATCH me kvell about Dr Mutter -- with a slideshow of gory illustrations to boot -- feel free to check out my C-SPAN book talk recorded like at BookPeople in Austin, TX: http://youtu.be/tUBiuL8QmDg
Any plan of writing a book about Crack Squirrels?
What? And dilute my masterwork? NEVER!
Cristin, in the process of researching Dr. Mutter's life and work did you come across any descendants of Mutter, other historians, biographers or doctors who made you feel beholden to (even more so than you already did) doing justice to Dr. Mutter's legacy? If yes, how do they now feel about your completed work?
Mütter's entire family died when he was seven years old, and though he was married, their union produced no children. I think his lack of family was one of the reasons his life story has been lost for so long.
But both the Mütter Museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia and Thomas Jefferson University (which is the current incarnation of Jefferson Medical College, where Mütter taught for 15 years) are a big part of Mütter's legacy. I am so grateful to both of them for opening their doors to me & this project, and giving me full access to their complete archives and libraries, and allowing me to use all the images I requested for the book! INCREDIBLE, INCREDIBLE support!
I hope I have made them proud with this book! I held my book release party at the The Mütter Museum, which has a cabinet in their main museum dedicated to my research (I wrote all the text, selected all the specimens, and their generously included my bio in the signage!), and Jefferson is hosting an alumni-only celebration of the book this Thursday, two days after head archivist F. Michael Angelo joins me on stage to converse about the book for our Free Library Author Event!
As Philly, I couldn't be more pleased!
Thanks for your questions, Ian! (And for being a badass poet too!)
Hi, Cristin! When you write, do you write whatever comes to mind and tinker with the product, or do rely on any emotions to provoke some sort of heart felt poem?
Thanks for the great question! I write poems for all sort of reasons: because I'm angry, because I'm sad, because I'm in love, because I'm embraced, because I want to remember something, because I am trying to forget something.
As I've grown older, writing poetry has become my favorite tool to examine my own life. When you take the time to capture an experience in poetry, it gives you such an insight into who you are right now. I try to honor that the best I can in my writing -- to be as sincere and authentic -- and then hope it works as well on the page and/or the stage as it does for me in that moment.
What's your favorite Pokémon?
Psyduck. All the way.
Hi Cristin! I am curious if you could estimate the amount of hours you spent working on this book, including all preliminary research. Also, what was the calendar time from the day you started with the idea for the book to the final edit was turned back in? Those two numbers always fascinate me for any creative project.
I first entered the Mütter Museum during the winter break of my senior year of college at NYU -- so that's 15 years ago this December!
I worked on and off on the screenplay for several years, but didn't return to the idea fully until Sept 2010, when I began my yearlong writing residency at the University of Pennsylvania, which was devoted nearly the entire year to researching Mütter, his life, his times & his contemporaries.
Once that year of research wrapped, I spent another year crafted the outline & proposal. And once the book sold in April 2013, I spent the remaining 8 months writing the fuck out of the book idea!
First draft was turned in Dec 31, 2013.
Got it back Valentine's Day 2014. Revisions were done until May 2014, when it sent to layout. And tweaked it until June!
I have no idea how many hours that turned out to be, but it was A LOT. For the last four years, my only job has been writing, and I would often work in three writing shifts -- morning, noon and night -- interrupted only by food & sleep. But it was worth it. Or at least, I hope it will be! :)
Thanks for the question, Bucky, and for writing the BRILLIANT book, "All Blacked Out & Nowhere to Go" (which everyone should pick up now!)
Seeing your eclectic body of work, I'm curious: What project are you thinking about tackling next?
I am always writing poetry, so my next book of poetry is -- as always -- in progress.
As per my next nonfiction book, I have two ideas that I really love, and I am hoping that my forthcoming two month book tour behind DR MUTTER'S MARVELS will help me understand better which idea is the best to pursue next.
After spending so much time researching and writing this book, I am so excited to meet with readers and see what they (hopefully!) loved about it!
1) Your style of poetry is so concise yet so evocative and heavy, it's hard to compare it to other authors, or even other slam poets. Where do you draw your inspiration from and what works drove the evolution of your style?
2) How does your poetry style affect your nonfiction writing like Dr. Mütter's Marvels?
3) The titles of your books have always been catchy, especially your last collection of poems. What's the story behind the title "The Year of No Mistakes?"
4) Dr. Mütter's Marvels seems like such an extreme tangent from your usual works (a pretty awesome tangent at that), what drew you to the project and what helped keep you dedicated to seeing it through?
Love your work, keep on keeping on!
3.) My friend & fellow poet Anis Mojgani has a group of friends who always give their years names. The rough year that I went through this really grueling upheaval just happened to be given the nickname, "The Year of No Mistakes." Anis explained that it was so much that you COULDN'T make a mistake that year, but rather that nothing that happened to you WAS a mistake. Everything that happened was teaching you something. When I put the manuscript together, I asked permission to use it as the title of the book, and he agreed!
To hear more about this, check out Anis's amazing TEDx talk here:
2.) I think poetry really teaches you to look closely at a moment, or an event, or feeling, and tease out a larger meaning from it. That was a really wonderful tool to have in my writer's kit when tackling nonfiction, as you were able to present real life incidents in such ways that they seem to foreshadow -- or serve as metaphor -- actions which were happening or forthcoming in the book!
1.) The first poet I ever really fell in love with was Jim Daniels, who work about working class Pittsburgh and the kinds of dads & families I grew up and around in working class Philly. I never knew poetry could be like or tell those stories, and it was life-changing. After I moved to NYC, I read as much contemporary publishing poets as I could, and watched as many performance poets as I could! Some key ones to my development include Denise Duhamel, Kevin Young, Jeff McDaniels, Matt Cook, Jennifer Knox, Shanny Jane Maney, Sharon Olds and numerous poets of the NYC poetry slam community (Taylor Mali, Jeanann Verlee, Shappy Seasholtz, Mahogany Brown). I've written six books of poetry in the last 14 years, and I think you can see the finger prints of so many poets all over them, if you look closely enough!
4.) Thank you for your kind words about my word! My poetry work is largely autobiographical, but I also love telling true stories, such as the true story of New York City's Crack Squirrel epidemic:
Or obese presidents:
and so on! I love nonfiction & history, and telling true stories in all forms. As per my dedication to telling Mütter's story, it was a long haul, but he was an incredible man, and his story had never been told, and I felt it an honor and privilege to be the one to tell it. That kept me going!
Thanks for your great questions!
quadruple comment karma... genius
Oh man, I have so much more karma on my gonewild account, but the higher ups at reddit said I should create a new one for this AMA...
I'm kidding of course. This is my only reddit joke. :)
Hey Cristin! It's Cristin again! What happens if I'm late to this party? Will you still be answering questions even after your AMA time slot is over?
Hey Cristin, glad you asked!
The answer is YES! I am on tour behind DR MUTTER'S MARVELS for all of September, October & most of November. I'll be on the road alone, so I'll try to make it back here as often as I can to answer any questions people might have!
Also, I might keep asking myself questions, so that this AMA can become a weird art project that might only be discovered if/when someone doses me trying to dig up some GoneWild pics (wrong account, buck!) (again, just kidding! GoneWild jokes are literally my only Reddit jokes)
I'm going to buy your book because of this comment.
Also, when did you decide that you wanted to write? Do you remember a specific instance where the urge became overwhelming?
What's your favorite old timey name that you came across?
Which aspects of everyday conversation from that time would be most offensive at a dinner party today?
Since you'll be here awhile, would you mind if I stopped by and asked you questions every once in awhile? Sometimes, I could use a second opinion.
<< I'm going to buy your book because of this comment. >>
So badass! Thanks! I hope you liked it!
<< Also, when did you decide that you wanted to write? Do you remember a specific instance where the urge became overwhelming? >>
I've always wanted to be a writer -- since I was a kid. My mother was a writer who put her career aspirations aside to raise her kids, but she was always a voracious reader. And she taught me a true love of reading, which I think is the foundation for any writer.
While my mother & I both love nonfiction, I started writing poetry as well in high school, and fell into the NYC poetry slam movement when I went to NYU for college.
Writing nonfiction has always been this wonderful experience of trying to pin down a story that might never be told. It can be stressful and the responsibility to get the story (details, facts, descriptions) right feel overwhelming at times, but I find it really really fulfilling, and so I am always happy to jump in and do work.
But poetry is something where I get that "overwhelming urge" feeling. My work is nearly all autobiographical, and so poetry has really become the way that I understand my life. When there is an emotion, or situation, or event that is becomes the singular obsessions of my thoughts, pinning it down on the page and looking at has become my default way of understanding it.
Though the experience of writing poetry and writing nonfiction feel very different to me, I also understand that the muscles I use for each form are strengths which appear in the other form, so I'm happy to do both for as long as I have an audience for both!
<< What's your favorite old timey name that you came across? >>
THERE WERE SO MANY GREAT NAMES IN THE 19th CENTURY!!!
Here is a sampling of some of my favorites -- all of which came from ONE family: The Meigs Family, which I write about in my book!
Mindwell (girl) Recompense (girl) Return (boy) Silence and Submit (twin girls) Thankful (girl) Waitstill (girl) Sea (boy who was born at sea)
And these are just the "nouns / verbs as first names" names. Check out some other names from the same family tree, which I can only guess are biblical names?
Jehiel (boy) Beriah (girl) Asahel (girl) Sylvanus (girl) Bezai (girl) Lovisa (girl) Statira (girl) Jabez (boy) Azenath (boy) Lucina and Lurania (sisters) Artemesia (girl) Gamaliel (boy) Bezaleel Ives (boy) Erastus (boy)
It's enough to make names like Phineas, Lucretia and Ebenezer look downright plain when they pop up!
And even the full names of people they interacted with seem like ones that people just make up:
Reuben Tinkham! Issac Braag! Abner Hoxie! Temperance Crocker! Zylphia and Lemeul Jones of Barnstable, Massachusetts!
I could list them forever -- SO MANY AWESOME NAMES!
<< Which aspects of everyday conversation from that time would be most offensive at a dinner party today? >>
Since slavery was still alive and well, I would say that attitudes towards people of color. For sure. Hands down.
<< Since you'll be here awhile, would you mind if I stopped by and asked you questions every once in awhile? Sometimes, I could use a second opinion. >>
Sure! I thought I would check in more when I was on tour, but it really was a much more intense (in a good way) experience than I imagined!
But now that I am home & working on the proposal for my next book (top secret for now), I will hopefully check in more often!
Cristin, it's Cristin again!
You seem to take pleasure in applying for grants, fellowship and residencies? Are you a sadist? Insane? Is there stream in a wizard's forrest from which you drink magical water that makes you tolerate the hellish experience of filling out applications, waiting for months with hope you in your heart and then just being rejected time and time again?
Ha, Cristin! YOU ARE HILARIOUS! And not at all a total strange weirdo talking to yourself in a public forum!
The answer is that I do really like applying for grants, fellowships and residencies, because I like how they make me feel -- that I am valuing my work and career enough to put myself out there in ways that make me feel vulnerable and risky.
Rejections SUCK. Half the poems in my poetry collection WORKING CLASS REPRESENT deal with the pain for feeling rejected from this world to which you want to desperately to prove yourself. And it sucks when your hope is run over time and time again. I am not immune to that.
BUT picking yourself and putting yourself out there again is a choice you can make, and one that says "Fuck what every one else thinks! I'm DOING this!" and that can make a world of difference!
If you want more tips on this subject, check out the essay I wrote for Writer's Digest here and let me know if you have any other question:
And hey, Cristin? I believe in you! You keep swinging for the stars, you lovable weirdo!
Cristin: Visiting the Mutter museum was on my bucket list since I was 16, and I finally got to visit an opportunity to visit in my second year of medical school, since it's not open to the public. It was amazing! Today I'm a doctor! Are most of the objects in the Mutter museum collected by Mutter himself? If no, which ones are? Oh and I can't wait to read your book!
<< Cristin: Visiting the Mutter museum was on my bucket list since I was 16, and I finally got to visit an opportunity to visit in my second year of medical school, since it's not open to the public. It was amazing! Today I'm a doctor! Are most of the objects in the Mutter museum collected by Mutter himself? If no, which ones are? Oh and I can't wait to read your book! >>
First off, THANK YOU for becoming a doctor! In studying Mutter, I have grown an even larger respect for those who devote their lives to -- as Mutter would put it -- "alleviating human suffering." So THANK YOU!
As per your question about the specimens in the Mutter Museum, the basis of the museum is Mutter's collection, but it has grown rapidly since then, and is still collecting specimens to this day!
Most of the iconic specimens in the museum -- the "soap lady," the "mega-colon," the Hirtl Skulls, etc... -- were acquired AFTER Mutter's passing.
However, Madame Dimanche -- the wax model of the woman who grew a horn from the center of her forehead -- is from Mutter's original collection... and her story even appears in the book! :)
You should probably see a professional about how much you talk to yourself.
As for my questions: 1. I've heard the museum has a bit of a unique smell to it. And truth to that? If so, can you describe it? 2. Have you thought about tackling the Musee Fragonard next?
Thanks for the great questions!
1.) I've never known the museum to have a unique smell! If there is one, it has to be pleasant for me to have never noticed it! But I can say that archives typically have fantastic air quality, since they need to keep the books & papers at certain levels of humidity and certain temperatures to bed preserve them. My skin was never better than the months I spent mostly in archives! :)
2.) I've never heard of the Musee Fragonard. I'm going to google it later -- lest it's the google equivalent of a risky click! (I'm writing this on an Amtrak train & don't want to scandalize my mild-mannered seat partner!)
Hi Cristin! What drew you to the story of Dr. Mutter in the first place?
Thank you for your question! I am grew up in Philadelphia, and so the Mütter Museum was always a part of my world. It wasn't until I left Philadelphia that I realized not every kid grew up with a medical oddities museum in their town. When people would ask me, "Why does this museum exist? Who is this Mütter person?" I realized I didn't know.
Shortly after that, the Alfred P Sloan Foundation began to offer a fellowship at the school at which I was studying writing at (NYU) which would reward the best screenplay or play based on the life of a scientist or scientific discovery. I was paying my own way through college, and was always on the look at for new funding opportunities that might help me offset those costs! I figured I could give that fellowship a try, and looking to the origin story of the Mütter Museum was the first story I thought about researching.
It will be fifteen years this upcoming December that I first stepped into the Mütter Museum to begin researching his life, never for a moment realizing the incredible story I would uncover. I am so proud to be releasing this book, and sharing his story, now!
Hi Cristin!! Love your work by the way! I would like to ask, when you are writing poetry how do you decide what makes it in to one of your books and what to cast aside?
The simplest answer is that I always make sure to submit my work to literary journals through out the entire period that I am writing my next collection. As a person who performs their work often, it is extremely helpful to me to see which pieces are accepted for publication by lit journals -- and thus which pieces still work & resonate even if I am not their to perform it.
When it is time to put out my next collection, I put all the pieces that have been published in one pile & all the pieces that haven't been published in another. I read through the "already been published" pile and see what story that is telling. Then I look at the unpublished pile and see what poems will help flesh out that story -- either complimenting or contrasting what is already there.
Once I have a solid manuscript (adding poems from the "unpublished pile" and pulling ones from the "published pile" if they ultimately don't fit the book's theme), I give the manuscript to poet friends whose opinion I respect. For THE YEAR OF NO MISTAKES that was Sarah Kay, Wess Mongo Jolley and Derrick Brown.
I allow them to read the manuscript as is, have their thoughts, and see if they would remove, change, edit or shift around the existing line-up. Then show them the pile of cut poems to see if they would add any back in. Sometimes they would suggest poems to write as well.
I do this process one at a time, and show a new poet a subsequent draft if I feel like I've hit the right combination, and that's how the book is finalized!
Hope that helps! And thanks for the great question, GcalebG!
How did they make 19th century doctor who with no TVs?
It aired exclusively on BBCzero.
Can we hang out? I'll be cool. I SWEAR I'LL BE COOL!
<< Can we hang out? I'll be cool. I SWEAR I'LL BE COOL! >>
Absolutely. Do you live near a Boston Market? I kind of mad for their creamed spinach!
Cristin, it's Cristin again. I like you. I like your face. I like your mother.
If I want to keep track of you, how do I do it? If I wanted to see you read and surprise you with big boxes of cupcakes, how do I do that?
Great question, Cristin!
I am on tour for most of the Fall! So if you live in Philadelphia, Austin, Ann Arbor, Indianapolis, Omaha, Chicago, Iowa City, Minneapolis, Portland (OR), Seattle and/or Vancouver, you can see me LIVE! Just check out the tour dates here:
If you aren't in those cities, you can still keep track of me via my social media accounts!
Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Cristin-OKeefe-Aptowicz/106211019418057 Twitter: https://twitter.com/coaptowicz Tumblr: https://www.tumblr.com/blog/coaptowicz
I just saw you are in Austin tonight! I wish I could be there, but alas, I will be working til after the event is over. I will have to go by book people tomorrow and check your book out. Have a good visit while you're here!!
<< I just saw you are in Austin tonight! I wish I could be there, but alas, I will be working til after the event is over. I will have to go by book people tomorrow and check your book out. Have a good visit while you're here!!>>
I actually live in Austin now! I've been here since 2011! And BookPeople is my local bookstore, so I always make sure I pop in there to sign copies of not just DR MUTTER'S MARVELS, but also all of my poetry books (which can be found in the Write Bloody section).
Though I miss my northern hometowns of NYC & Philly, I really love this town! So much queso! SO MUCH QUESO!
Any tips for a young writer? Who's interested in writing biographies?
<< Any tips for a young writer? Who's interested in writing biographies? >>
Well, first, you have to find a person you are really passionate about -- because you are going to spending YEARS researching every part of this person's life. So if it's not THAT interesting to you, the project will die pretty quickly.
Next, you want to read a lot of books that either cover the same territory (i.e. other biographies of the subject you want to write about, or biographies written about your subject's contemporaries) to get a sense of what's out there, what has already been done, and what has already been covered.
Then, you should read (or re-read!) biographies that you LOVE. What are some elements that unite them: do they make sure to tell the person's entire life story, or do you like biographies (like David McCullough's "Mornings on Horseback") that tell just a slice of a person's life? Do you like a lot of detail, a lot of action, a lot of dialogue? In text footnote, end of book end notes, explanatory chapters that don't have anything to with the person, but explain the culture / world he/she lives in?
Then once you have that -- figure out what is the story YOU want to tell about the person who has bewitched you. And then -- JUST DO IT!
Hey Cristin! I'm super interested in your Mütter screenplay that catalyzed this journey. Any plans for a Mütter movie in the works?
Madeleine! <-- spelled correctly!
Thank you for the wonderful question! There has been interest in the film/tv rights of the book, but like a pile of sleeping pigeons, I am not making any noise about it, lest the opportunity flies away! :)
Congratulations! Would you discuss in brief your experiences working with a larger press—specifically, editing, title selection, etc.? How much control/choice were you afforded?
Jeaverlee! So wonderful to see you here (and did you notice I name checked you above? Poetry lovers, if you haven't plugged JEANANN VERLEE into YouTube, do it NOW!) and thank you for your wonderful question.
You are absolutely right that there is a different between big presses and small presses when putting out your book, and there are times when going with a small press makes more sense, and trying for a larger press makes more sense.
For my poetry books, I love publishing with Austin's own Write Bloody Publishing. Poetry can be such a niche market, and for me the most important qualities I want to have when it comes to my poetry books are: are they available to purchase everywhere, do I have ultimate control over which poems are published & how they appear, are the covers eye-catching & gorgeous, and are the other poets on the press poets I am absolutely proud of.
With Write Bloody the answer is YES, YES, YES and YES! So I am thrilled publishing with them -- knowing that I can handle much of my book's own promotion myself.
But for DR MUTTER'S MARVELS, I felt like this was a story bigger than I could handle by myself, and I made it an early dream to create a proposal that would catch the attention of an agent, and hopefully a major publishing house. I feel blessed that both happened. Being on a major publishing house opened doors for me that may not have been possible for me before, and I am grateful for the time, energy, effort and attention that Gotham Books / Penguin has given DR MUTTER's MARVELS.
But I have to admit, my experiences with indie presses (like Write Bloody) was very key to having a positive experience with Gotham Books / Penguin. Because I had been so hands-on with my indie presses, I could express my needs and wants to Gotham clearly and early, which really set the book on the path to where it is today. I think had a wonderful control over to the roll out of the book, but again -- I think doing so many books DIY made that easier!
I hope that answered your question! Let me know!!
Hey Cristin, it's Cristin again!
What's your favorite subreddit?
I learned everthing I know about make-up from YouTube videos and the fantastic subreddit reddit.com/r/MakeupAddiction!
In fact, my first every post -- in prepping for this day -- was there: http://reddit.com/r/MakeupAddiction/comments/2eqhnu/thank_you_mua_for_giving_me_the_skillz_to_be_a/
I also love r/mildlyinteresting and r/oldschoolcool!
Do you believe what he did was justified, or just flat out cruel? (Hope to purchase the book, it sounds phenomenal)
<< Do you believe what he did was justified, or just flat out cruel? (Hope to purchase the book, it sounds phenomenal) >>
Mutter was renown -- and sometimes reviled -- for his humanity. He took numerous steps to ensure the his patients suffered the least amount possible before, during and after his dramatic procedures.
And because of the nature of plastic surgery at that time, all the patients willingly volunteered to go through this extraordinary painful surgeries while awake -- and they did so because they hoped it would give them the life they were being denied as severely deformed people.
So yes -- I believe Mutter's actions through out his career were well-though-out, undeniably humanist and, yes, justified!
If you dig snag a copy of the book, would be interested in hearing if you felt the same way! :)
Hey Cristin! It's been a few months since you did this AMA! Can you let us know what's happened since?
Cristin, first off, thanks for writing this question on a month-old AMA. I'm not sure if you knew I'd come back to answer it, but it's your lucky day. I just happen to be online AT THE EXACT SAME TIME YOU ARE, so I'm going to go ahead and answer in an unusually & almost suspiciously swift way!
So the answer is A LOT has happened in the months since my AMA!
Perhaps that most shocking to my mother is that the book in question, DR MUTTER'S MARVELS: A TRUE TALE OF INTRIGUE AND INNOVATION AT THE DAWN OF MODERN MEDICINE made the New York Times Best Seller List... THREE TIMES! No joke! It debuted at #7 for Books on Health, then dropped off the list for a month, came back at #10 for November and than came back AGAIN at #5 for December! My mother nearly passed out from overkvelling!
The other thing that happened is that it got since incredible reviews from publications all across the country. I was so so SO grateful. I'm a Philly girl and the story to me is such a Philly story, so I didn't know how it would translate to non-Philadelphians, but it it got really lovely, lengthy & generous reviews in publications like The Wall Street Journal, NPR Books, The Onion's AV Club, Publisher's Weekly, Library Journal, School Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, The LA Review of Books, Ploughshares, and Nature Magazine, among many others, so that was huge!
It also made a bunch of "Best Books of 2014" list, including Amazon.com, NPR's Science Friday, The Guardian (UK) and The Onion's AV Club, among others!
And lastly, I got to leave a longtime dream of sharing Mutter's story through a cross country tour! I got to perform & read at cities across the country: Philly, NYC, Providence, Pittsburgh, Columbus, Detroit, Chicago, Iowa City, Omaha, Vancouver, Portland, Seattle, Austin, and Indianapolis among others! To just get in a car and drive for months in support of a book I've been working for years, as a dream come true!
I am back in Austin now, working on the proposal for my next book and looking forward to the paperback release of DR MUTTER'S MARVELS slated for later this year!
But man, was 2014 just an incredible incredible blast! And I'm so incredibly grateful!
Man, that was beautiful.
Thanks for answer my question in such detail. I thought you were going to be a total weirdo (spending years writing about medical oddities and such), but you know what -- you are alright. You are just alright.
Hey, you are alright too.
Hi Cristin! What, if any, formal training do you have in autobiography? And in poetry, for that matter? I think I recall your undergraduate work being in screenwriting...any tips for jumping around genres?
My only training for writing biography was the writing of my previous nonfiction book, WORDS IN YOUR FACE: A GUIDE TOUR THROUGH TWENTY YEARS OF THE NEW YORK CITY POETRY SLAM (Soft Skull Press, 2008). And my own training prior to that was freelancing at magazines.
But I consume nonfiction and biographies like a beast, and know what I like, and what I don't like, and use that guide my choices.
I remember reading that a first time novelist should write the book they've always wanted to read; with DR MUTTER'S MARVELS I always thought of that advice, and tried to write the book I would love to read if I knew that this was the subject matter. And then through out the writing process, would re-read those books that inspired me to think that way!
So that would my suggestion, BoreasaurusRex: read the hell out of the genre you want to try, and then just jump in! :)
Follow up questions to Jeanann's question! What point were you at in your research when you created your book proposal? (and at what stage were you at when the Gotham Books/Penguin book deal came through?)
Hi Madeleine! Great question!
I created my first book proposal about six months into my research. It was explained to me that with nonfiction books, you should submit the proposal BEFORE you write the book, and editors and publishing houses might have ideas of how they would like for you write the book.
Still, the book proposal is an intense process, which does include sample chapters, sample writing, and a complete chapter-by-chapter breakdown of (your vision of) the entire book! So creating the proposal helped me shape, guide & envision the book in real and tangible ways months before I ever sat down to actually begin the formal writing of the book.
Getting the book proposal to the shape where it was sellable was a loooong process. Almost two years! But again -- that's because I was constantly working on the outline of the book, making sure that chapter breakdown (meaning the complete outline of the story) was a sharp, effective and compelling as it could me.
The book was put to auction in early April 2013, and 8 published companies put in bids (!!!). The auction took three days, and I was (and continue to be so happy) with the publisher I chose, Gotham Books.
The book was due 8 months after the book sold, so I had to really hustle that writing! But again -- thanks to the very detailed chapter breakdown I created, and the research "narrative outline" I created (a 1,000+ page document that told the entire story using JUST cited excerpts from my research with no creative writing on my part), I was able to turn the manuscript around by deadline! Whew!
Hi Cristin, if you had to pick a super power for a wrestler to have, what would that be? Also, can I get a hair cut?
It is true honor, Mr. Cockstrong, to answer your question!
If I had to pick a super power for a wrestler to have it would be be able to shape shift to Civil War historian Shelby Foote (best known from Ken Burn's The Civil). Then, when the wrestler had his opponent in a hold, he would shape-shift to Foote and tell a charming & folksy anecdote about The Civil War, lulling his victim in a false sense of safest but a legitimate sense of awe. And then -- REBEL YELL! And FINISH HIM!
As per the haircut, I need to find a way to have another SNIPS FOR TIPS in the future. Remember that time I was growing unironic tales on several members of the Bowery Poetry Club staff? GOOD TIMES.
Thanks for your question, Cockstrong! And thanks for your support!
I just read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which is a similar medical/human interest story and really enjoyed it. Have you had a chance to read that book yet?
Absolutely! The author, Rebecca Skloot, did an incredible job of telling that story while trying to remain respectful as possible to all parties involved! A tough thing to pull off, considering everything!
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan were both recently released nonfiction books that were recommended to me to help me understand better how I could handle my research material, and I highly recommend them book!
(As well as all books by Erik Larson and David McCullough!)
Thanks for the question!!!
If you could replace your arms with any common household object, what would it be and why?
Wait, both my arms? Oh crap, I'm a writer! So it would need to be something that would allow me to keep typing...
Um, a long pair of salad tongs and one of those long forks you use to hold steaks in place?
The upside to this deformity is they would probably put my body in the Mütter Museum when I died!
Do you have celiac disease?
Not that I know of!
I'm sort of hoping this is an unusual pick-up line, so if there is a reason why you asked this, please let me know!
Besides the obvious of surgery sans anesthetic, what was the most interesting thing you came across during your research for Dr. Mütter's Marvels? I would like to also note that Hot Teen Slut is my favorite piece of your works :D
I grew in a working class family (my dad worked for the Philly water dept & my mom for the IRS), and whenever I read histories, I never imagine what it would be like to be the King, Queen, President, Tzar, etc... I always look to see what life would be like for the common working folk, as that is likely where I would find my ancestors.
When researching working class Philly in 19th century, I came across a horrific medical condition called "PHOSSY JAW" which was so harrowing & horrifying that immediately after transcribing it, I found myself in the Jefferson archive bathroom washing my hands for 20 minutes straight.
You can read all about at the end of this excerpt of the book that io9 ran (but have some Purell around before you dive in): http://io9.com/a-grisly-but-fascinating-tale-of-the-greatest-medical-r-1631123214
And THANK YOU for the HOT TEEN SLUT love! I was really nervous putting that book out, as I was worried that it would mar people's vision of me for the rest of my career. But 13 years after it's release, it is still one of my best-selling poetry collections, and I am so thrilled that so many people continue to connect to that book! Thanks for being one of them, netdorf!
Hey Cristin, it's you, Cristin! It feels weird there being no questions. Do you if I ask you a question just so there is one question? And maybe it will encourage other people to ask questions?
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