Metal Pica: Hmmm, That’s Good—-Or Not


Pica is the persistent and compulsive eating of substances that have no nutritional value. Things like dirt (geophagia) or rocks (lithophagia), ice (pagophagia), paint chips, hair (trichophagia), paper (Xylophagia), metal, almost anything.

In the South, clay pica, more so in the past than now, still occurs. Red clay dirt is seen as having health benefits. It doesn’t, and in fact, the clay can bind iron, remove it from the body, and lead to significant anemia.

X-Ray of Geophagia

And oddly, ice pica can be a sign of iron-deficiency anemia. If someone says they feel the need to munch on ice constantly, a search for anemia is in order.

Metal pica is not common but cases do pop up from time to time. Kids swallow coins and paper clips and pieces of aluminum foil because kids do goofy stuff. But some people consume metallic objects in large amounts and, as should be obvious, this has significant health concerns. I mean, a belly full of metal can’t be good.

Such is the case with a 52-year-old man from whom surgeons removed over 100 pieces of metal.

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Posted by on March 19, 2018 in Medical Issues


The Mystery of Chopin’s Heart


Did Frederic Chopin die from Tubercular Pericarditis? And what the heck is that anyway?

Pericarditis is an inflammation has occurred of the pericardium, the sac that contains the heart. Most often it is due to a viral infection but there are many others causes. One of the worst is tuberculosis (TB).


Tubercular Thickening of the Pericardium



X-Ray Showing Thickened Pericardium
(White ring around heart shadow)

Tuberculosis has wreaked havoc in humans for centuries. It has been found in Egyptian mummies and has devastated entire populations. Treatment didn’t appear until the 20th century and in recent years new, more malignant forms have appeared. Even after several millennia, it remains a difficult medical problem.

It attacks the lungs and slowly destroys the tissues, leading to cough, fatigue, weight loss, and muscle wasting—-the reason it was called “the consumption.” It, at times, literally consumed the sufferer.

When it spreads to the heart, particularly the pericardium, it can quickly become deadly. A thick viscous fluid collects in the pericardial sac, compresses the heart, and interferes with its function as a pump. This fluid can also solidify into a leathery trap around the heart so that even survivors of the initial infection can suffer severe, long-term problems that we term constrictive pericarditis—-the encasement restricts cardiac filling and thus effects pumping.

Recent studies suggest that this is what happened to Chopin. His heart took a strange and convoluted journey. He had requested that at his death that his heart be removed and returned to his native Warsaw, Poland. When he died in Paris in 1849, his heart was indeed removed, placed in a crystal jar, and encased in a stone pillar at the Holy Cross Church in Warsaw. In a recent examination, researchers found evidence that suggested he had suffered from TB pericarditis.


Holy Cross Church


Guest Blogger: Gayle Lynds: It’s Good Fortune To Marry a Writer

It is with great pleasure that I welcome my friend Gayle Lynds as she tells us about her life with the late Dennis Lynds. I’m so glad I had the opportunity to know him. He was a character–in the truest sense of the word—and an iconic writer. Thank you. Gayle, for sharing with us.

Gayle & Den on SB wharf

Gayle and Dennis Lynds


It’s Good Fortune To Marry a Writer

Who knew falling in love with an author could lead to such adventure — in fact, to bigamy. I had a lot of fun being married to mystery novelist Dennis Lynds, who died in 2005 after we’d been together more than twenty good years. He was 81 and still young. Iconoclastic, witty, and generous, he’s credited with bringing the detective novel into the modern age.

5. 80th at Mystery Bookstore

In the process, he enriched the world with some 60 books and 200 short stories.

Dan Fortune Speaks

Here’s where my bigamy comes in: Den wrote under a dozen pseudonyms, many of them his own. For instance, I was married to Mark Sadler, John Crowe, and William Arden. He also wrote as the Shadow, Mike Shayne, and Nick Carter, to name a few more.

When we met, I was at the beginning of my career, publishing literary short stories. He was an award-winning author a couple of well-preserved decades older than me.

“You should write mystery novels,” he advised me.

“My brain doesn’t work that way,” I advised him. “I want to write thrillers.”

“You can do a lot with mysteries,” he insisted. He discussed each alias’s social themes, first person versus third person, setting choices, and favorite characters.

“Yes, but I figure I can do a lot with thrillers, too,” I insisted back.

den in office with sunglasses

He was not impressed, but he humored me. Thus began our life together, with the push-pull of two authors working in similar fields. The marriage was smooth sailing. The only times we disagreed (well, figure passionately disagreed) was over our books. It was incredibly fun, and an opportunity for growth for me, and an opportunity for him to discover he wasn’t the only workaholic. And yes, he grew, too. It’s inevitable with a fine writer.

Of all his novels, my favorites are those in the Dan Fortune series, written as Michael Collins. Dan is iconic, the much beloved main character of one of America’s longest-running detective series.

I particularly enjoy how evocative the stories are of the eras in which they were written. For instance, in Act of Fear, the first Dan Fortune mystery, New York City is alive on the pages.

Act of Fear - 3D

Back in the 1970s, Chelsea was colorful, with characters straight out of a Damon Runyon tale. It’s here that Dan Fortune grew up.  His best friend was Andy Pappas. They were poor kids, and Dan and Andy broke into ships together, stealing cargo.  Then Dan lost his arm in a failed robbery, and he decided it was time to put out his shingle: Dan Fortune, Private Detective.  But Andy was good at crime. Taking over the docks, he became boss of bosses, a vicious racketeer. Still, he’d let Dan be familiar, call him by his first name, even give him crap – until now….

What a story it is. In fact, Act of Fear, won the Edgar. Our family is proud to finally be able to republish all of the Dan Fortunes, for the first time in eBooks and in trade paperback.  I hope you’ll consider trying just one.


For links and more information, please visit

New York Times bestseller Gayle Lynds is the award-winning author of 10 international spy novels, including The Assassins, The Book of Spies, and The Last Spymaster. Her books have won numerous awards.  Library Journal hails her as “the reigning queen of espionage fiction.” Associated Press calls her “a master of the Modern Cold War spy thriller.” Her novel, Masquerade, was named by Publishers Weekly as one of the top 10 spy novels of all time.  With Robert Ludlum, she created the Covert-One series. A member of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers, she is co-founder (with David Morrell) of International Thriller Writers. Please visit her at and read her blog posts at


Posted by on February 13, 2018 in Writing


Guest Blogger: Lisa Black: Predators and Prey



When my husband and I were buying our second home, the bank we went to suggested an adjustable-rate mortgage. It had a nice rate, much lower than the 30-year fixed, which “couldn’t go up more than 2% per year,” and we “could lock it in at any time.” Period. For some reason I cannot recall, something made me check into this further. I was not good at math and certainly had no head for business, which had always bored me silly, but I did have a job as a secretary, which meant I had a phone, an office in which to use it all day long, and time. I wound up talking to four different people at three different banks before I got the situation clear. The rate that could be “locked in” was a completely different rate—not the adjustable rate at all, but the prime rate plus whatever the bank currently tacked on, a rate that was already higher than the 30-year fixed. When we met with the loan officer I reconfirmed this, and she said only, “But the adjustable rate might go down.” (As it turned out, it did, but still—I’m going to base thirty years of payments on “might”? I don’t think so.)

We passed on the ARM.

But questionable, risky and downright deceptive loaning practices went on, and my hometown, the setting of my books, suffered greatly. As a consumer activist explains to my detectives in Perish:

Perish cover

“If you remember the housing bust, 2008, thirty percent of Slavic village homes went into foreclosure, Cleveland led the country in vacant homes, etcetera etcetera?”

Riley said only, “Yes.”

“Because mortgage originators like Sterling made loans to people they knew bloody well could never pay them. They set it up, collect their fees for doing a little paperwork, the investors get monthly payments, borrowers begin paying off their house, everybody’s happy.”

“So what’s the problem?”

“You know how that Greek guy said everything had to be in moderation?”


“When there’s money being made, moderation goes out the window. Even people with bad credit don’t want to pay high rates and, obviously, don’t have the money to pay high payments, so . . . creative math. Adjustable rates that you can ‘lock in’—except the rate you’re locking in is a completely different rate, prime plus whatever the bank feels like tacking on, so from day one this will already be higher than a thirty-year fixed. Low rates with balloon payments, which would work out fine if you know you’re going to win the lottery in three years. Interest-only payments, in which you aren’t paying a penny of the principal until the payment leaps up by one or two hundred percent in, say, seven years.”

“But—” Riley began.

“Exactly. Why make loans you know are going to fail? Because Wall Street compensation is based on that year’s performance. All the higher-ups get bonuses based on a percentage of profit—for CEOs this can be millions, double- and triple-digit millions. So when they will make more in one year than most people could make in several lifetimes, they don’t think in the long run.

“These firms—Ameriquest, Long-Term Capital, Long Beach Mortgage, and now Sterling—they don’t care if they falsify paperwork, whether they let their clients lie about their income, whether they flat out defraud their clients by pretending to sign them up for a fixed rate and then fake the papers to put them in an adjustable rate—because by the time their monthly payment suddenly triples and they default, the original firm is long out of it and the borrower is arguing with a company that never knew them and only knows what the original firm told it.” Ned went on, using both hands for emphasis. “People have to fight back. Cleveland and a bunch of other cities sued the lenders, but the mortgage banker’s association donated a few million to the state political parties and the lawsuits were thrown out. The Federal Reserve, the SEC, Congress threw up their hands and said there was nothing they could do. In 2008 the music finally stopped and some dancers collapsed, the government bailed out the rest, and our lawmakers were supposed to make laws so this couldn’t happen again.”

Jack’s legs twitched, aching to move, to do something.

“Except with caps on their compensation the investment banks and mortgage banks had plenty of money to keep up the kickbacks to the political parties, so the new laws wound up watered down into trickles.”

“Wait,” Jack said. “Are you protesting things that happened ten years ago, or things that are happening now?”

“The past is preface,” Swift said, but wiped away the smug tone when he saw Jack’s lack of appreciation for it. “The behavior I protested in 2008 slunk away for a while, laid low but never went away. Mortgage securities were a cash cow, and just because we slaughtered the cow doesn’t mean people lost their taste for milk. The big firms reined it in because no one, not even them, wants to go through that again, but little places like Joanna’s saw opportunity. Have you noticed commercials for instant credit and cold calls from barely legal sharks offering anyone who answers a no-collateral, pick-a-payment loan? They’re baaack—doing all the bad things they did before, but this time having the sense to get out before someone blows too hard on their house of cards.”

Borrower beware.


Lisa Black has spent over twenty years in forensic science, first at the coroner’s office in Cleveland Ohio and now as a certified latent print examiner and CSI at a Florida police dept. Her books have been translated into six languages, one reached the NYT Bestseller’s list and one has been optioned for film and a possible TV series.


ITW’s Fifth Annual Online Thriller School

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Last year’s Thriller School was a great success and students came away with many new skills for their writing toolbox. And this year will be just as useful to writers of all skill levels.

This year’s seven-week program begins April 2nd, 2018, and as before the craft of thriller writing will be front and center. Each instructor will teach an aspect of the craft through a real-time, Facebook Live video available exclusively to the students who are registered for the Online Thriller School.

Students will have an opportunity to ask questions of each week’s instructor either during or immediately after the video presentation. The video will be available for the entire week in case some students are unable to make the live presentation on Monday. Any questions that aren’t answered on Monday of each week will be addressed on Thursday either through a follow-up Facebook Live video or in writing (instructor’s choice).

All videos and Q&As will be available throughout the entire course, and for approximately 6 months thereafter.

Every writer knows that learning to write well is a life-long pursuit and writers must never cease improving their craft. There are many wonderful books, classes, and online sources that will help you improve your storytelling craft, but where can you learn directly from the best? From New York Times bestselling and award-winning authors?

Right here. At ITW’s Fifth Annual Online Thriller School.

We have assembled a cadre of excellent teachers and topics so please join us and let us help you take your writing and storytelling to the next level.

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The Current Class Schedule:

4/2/18: Storytelling: The Art and Craft Of Story—Steven James

4-9: Plot: What’s Happening Here?—Grant Blackwood

4-16: Character: The People Who Drive The Story—F. Paul Wilson

4-23: Point Of View: Whose Eyes Are You Looking Through?—HP Ryan

4-30: Dialog: It’s Not Like Real Conversation==James Scott Bell

5-7: Setting, Mood, Atmosphere: Bringing the Right “Feel” to Your Story?—Gayle Lynds

5-14: Voice: What Does A Good Story “Sound” Like?—DP Lyle

Attendance is limited, and we sold out last year, so register today!





Posted by on January 20, 2018 in Writing


Improved GHB Testing


NMR Spectrograph

GHB is one of the so-called Date Rape Drugs—along with Ecstasy, Rohypnol, and Ketamine. I have an article on these on my website (See Below).

GHB has been difficult to detect, primarily because it’s rapidly metabolized (destroyed) by the body. But new techniques employing Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) Spectroscopy allow the detection of GHB metabolites (breakdown products) as much as 24 hours later. This gives investigators a longer time period to uncover GHB in a victim.

GHB can also often be found in the victim’s hair up to a month or more after exposure, but this testing is not as yet perfected.

More on the fascinating world of Forensic Toxicology can be found in FORENSICS FOR DUMMIES:

FFD 300X378



Getting Lost in Your Own Home



What if you couldn’t navigate your own home? What if your child is calling for you in another room, but you can’t figure out how to get there? You just might have Developmental Topographical Disorientation (DTD). Some resort to making detailed maps of their home just to navigate life.

An odd neurological condition for sure.

The Atlantic article:

New Scientist article:

Medical Daily article:


Posted by on January 11, 2018 in Medical Issues

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