June 27th, 2013

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Elisha Barber — The Dark Apostle — Devils, Drugs, and Doctors

Originally published at Cassie Alexander. You can comment here or there.

You all know I’m a bit of a medical nerd. Or, nut! Because of that, Elisha Barber sounds totally up my alley — and probably yours, if you’re reading this — so I asked E. C. Ambrose to lay some knowledge on both of us!

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Devils, Drugs, and Doctors

On the surface of it, Cassie’s work and mine don’t have a lot in common.  She’s writing about a strong female character in a modern setting, while I’m invested in a peasant from the 14th century ( so invested that some think we’re starting to resemble each other—check out my author portrait).  However, both series have a medical background, and are informed by the understanding of physiology contemporary to the character.

In Cassie’s world, that means germ theory, sterile environments and advanced life support systems.  In mine, it means the theory of the four humors, the belief that water spread disease, and the use of human anatomical charts based on pig dissections.

My new book, Elisha Barber, began with reading far too many books about medieval medicine, until the facts and the anecdotes tangled into the idea for a story.  (Several stories, in fact, but that’s another thing entirely).  And all of that research began with a single title:  Devils, Drugs, and Doctors by Howard W. Haggard, M. D.  I have the Pocket Book edition of 1940, the 15th printing of a work that first came out in 1929.

This is a rambly and engaging popular history volume which follows the history of medicine through a variety of approaches, none of which involve footnotes or bibliography.  I wouldn’t recommend it as a sole reference, but as a source of inspiration for medical fiction, it’s a treasure trove.  It doesn’t shy away from lurid tales and speculations, but includes lots of quotes from historical sources, including illustrations and broadsheets from the past.  It is, in short, just the sort of work that gets a writer curious, then excited, to learn more.

Haggard frames his work, first of all, with a discussion of childbirth through the centuries.  This central act, and its medicalization, provide a telling window into the changing role of women, the role of the doctor in relation to the female patient, and progress in the care of both mother and child.

All of us have been involved with childbirth on one side or another, and just reading the opening chapters here gives one a healthy appreciation of modern medical practice.  Imagine the obstetrical forceps being considered a trade secret—passed from father to son, rather than being open shared to save the lives of many.

Mid-way through reading Devils, Drugs, and Doctors, I had an idea for a character, a barber-surgeon, during a problematic childbirth.  This is when the true research began.  I drilled into Haggard’s text, searching for other references, finding more books, and running my interlibrary loan librarian a bit ragged in my quest for knowledge.  When I started Elisha Barber, I hadn’t pinned down his timeframe, so committing to the 14th century setting lead to an even more detailed reading list, placing my protagonist in the limited window when opium had been banned by the church, but just when guns were entering warfare—changing both war and battlefield medicine forever.

I fell into a warren of research to write this book, and it was Devils, Drugs and Doctors that provided the rabbit hole, for which I shall be eternally grateful.

Here are some places to follow or to find out more:

For sample chapters, historical research and some nifty extras, visit www.TheDarkApostle.com

E. C. Ambrose blogs about the intersections between fantasy and history at http://ecambrose.wordpress.com/

https://twitter.com/ecambrose

https://www.facebook.com/TheDarkApostle

(Cassie again — this is why I love E. C. Check out this author photo!!!)

Elaine Isaac

E. C. Ambrose is the author of “The Dark Apostle” series of historical fantasy novels, beginning with Elisha Barber from DAW Books. Go check them out!!! :D