Off to Thrillerfest

No blogging for a few days, as I’m heading off to Phoenix and the Thrillerfest convention.  It’s the first-ever national event for this brand new organization and I can’t wait to meet some of the greats of the genre.  I’ll let you know all about it when I get back.

 In the meantime, check out the new Mephisto Club  page, to find out about my new book, coming out September 12!

Bigger isn’t necessarily better

I’ve just gotten home from New York, after a visit with my publisher, and am delighted to see all the comments about my last post, regarding print size. In his comment, JA Konrath (whose blogsite every writer should be familiar with) wondered what I thought of the new larger-format paperbacks, which some clever soul has christened the “venti” form.

It just so happens, I’ve been thinking a lot about this new format.  And I’ve been asking questions about it, too.  The subject came up while I was talking to my publisher.

For those who haven’t noticed, the new paperback format is about an inch taller than the standard mass market paperbacks, but the same width, and they’re priced about two dollars more.  I first noticed them about a year and a half ago, when I walked into a Borders bookstore and noticed that the top shelf of the wooden paperback display rack was entirely taken up by venti-sized titles.  Not coincidentally, those same pb’s were also on the bestseller list.  But which came first, I had to wonder: the chicken or the egg?  Did the fact those books were on the top shelf HELP them onto the bestseller list?  Or were they bestsellers to begin with, and therefore earned their way to the top shelf?

I asked a Borders sales clerk what she thought of the venti format, and wasn’t it interesting that the best sellers just happened to be all venti?  She gave a groan.  “Oh, THOSE things.  We put them all on the top shelf because that’s the only place where the damn things fit.”

What a stroke of publishing genius!  You produce a pb in a new and unusual format that FORCES the bookseller to place the title on the top row — the very best place to catch a customer’s eye.  What a brilliant move!    

Those first venti paperbacks appeared to be fabulous successes.  They hit bestseller lists, they had great visual exposure, and at the higher price ($9.99) author and publisher were making more money per copy sold.  I wanted my paperbacks to grow up to be ventis, too. 

Then I started asking questions.  And discovered the downside to these paperbacks-on-steroids.

First, the venti format doesn’t mean bigger print — in most cases, it just means more white space around the margins.  Yes, the reader may THINK she’s getting a book that’s more easily readable.  But the font size doesn’t necessarily change.

Second, there’s that price.  Two bucks more per paperback is starting to sound like an extravagance, especially for women, who buy the majority of paperbacks.  It would certainly make me pause before buying.  At $7.99, mass market paperbacks are already hitting the threshold for the budget-minded.  At $9.99 — my god, that’s nearly ten dollars for a paperback! — you are going to see a lot of readers put the book back on the shelf and head for the library instead.  My publisher told me that while the author and publisher may be seeing the same or more profits as always, due to the higher cover price of ventis, they’re actually LOSING volume of readership.  They’re charging a higher price, but selling fewer copies.

That, I say, is a disaster.  Because if you want to build a career as a bestselling author, you need word of mouth, and you need readers.  A lot of readers.  Not just those readers who happen to have enough money to shell out ten bucks for a paperback.  You want everyone — teenagers on allowances, moms on budgets, retirees who are watching their pennies.  You don’t want to lose any of them.  And asking them to pay two extra bucks may do it.

Finally — and this is the real problem — there’s that awkward size, which doesn’t always fit the standard mass market shelves that many bookstores now have in place.  Sure, it’s nice to be on the top row for a week or two.  But what happens when the next shipment of titles comes in?  Where do bookstores and drugstores and supermarkets put those ventis, if they can’t fit them on a lower row, where older releases usually go?

They return them.  That’s right.  They don’t get the prolonged stay of execution a normal-sized mass market may enjoy, sitting on a lower rack for a few weeks beyond its pull date.  If the store doesn’t have room on the lower rack, those ventis are kicked out.  Or they’re laid on their sides, spine out.  They may have had their time in the sun, but it’s a briefer moment of glory.

So I’m happy to stay in the tried-and-true mass market format.  Maybe my paperbacks don’t make that big visual splash that the ventis do, but I’m happy to linger a little longer on the shelves.  Word of mouth sometimes takes months.  I’ve discovered that my sales pattern has a prolonged “tail” – many of my readers discovered me long after my books were first released.  But they’re not going to find me if my books have already been returned to the publisher. 

 

Have mercy on our eyes

Last year, while on the road, I dropped into a bookstore to pick up a trade paperback copy of Zadie Smith’s WHITE TEETH.  I’d heard a lot about the book, and was looking forward to reading it.  I didn’t browse through the book first, just paid for it and walked out.  Sitting in a restaurant an hour later, I opened the book, read about two paragraphs… and gave up. I haven’t opened the book since.  Why?

Because I couldn’t read the blasted thing.  The print was too small.

Now, I’m not at all vain about wearing glasses, but I’m not used to wearing them, either.  They feel foreign, sitting on my nose.  Only in the last few years has the perfect vision of my childhood deteriorated to the point that I was finally forced to order bifocals.  But I just can’t seem to enjoy the act of reading while I’m wearing those things.

Now, when I go into a bookstore, the first thing I do before I even consider purchasing a book is I check the print.  I’ve ended up putting a few books back on the shelf — and the chances are, I’ll never read them.  Not every book has a large-print version available.  (And I’m not quite ready to admit that I NEED those large-print editions.) 

I don’t think I’m the only one who’s in this position, with vision too weak for teeny print, but still too good for large-print.  My eyes are in that in-between stage.  Like the pre-teen who doesn’t quite need the grown-up bra. 

I once had a nice chat with a woman from Thorndike Press, who holds the large-print rights to some of my books.  She told me that large print is one of the few segments of publishing that’s showing sustained growth.  The reading population is getting older, she pointed out, and baby boomers (who, I suspect, read more than Generation X-ers) are now in their fifties.  The dumbest thing a publisher can do is print books that readers can’t comfortably read.

Before my books are printed, my editor sends me sample pages so that I can approve the typeface.  Lately, I’ve been paying a lot more attention to the font size.  With the paperback version of VANISH, I asked them to use a larger font.  Publishers don’t like to do this, because it means more pages, more paper, and a higher per-copy expense.  But I insisted, and they agreed.

I don’t want my books to end up like WHITE TEETH, unreadable by middle-aged eyes.

If you’re a writer, think about your older readers.  Take a good hard look at the size of your book type.  If you (or your mom) has a hard time reading it, then who the heck is going to want to buy your book?  If the print’s too small, ask your publisher for larger type.

Your sales may depend on it.

  

VANISH is a Macavity nominee

The news is now officially out: VANISH has been nominated for a Macavity award.  I’m astonished, especially after all the whispers from critics that my Edgar nomination was a complete fluke.  I’ll refrain from uttering that famous old Sally Field line.  But truly, I’m thrilled!

 The Macavity Award Nominations 2006
(for works published in the U.S. in 2005)

The Macavity Awards are nominated and voted on by members of Mystery Readers International. Winners will be announced at Bouchercon during opening ceremonies, September 28, 2006.

Best Novel
o One Shot by Lee Child (Delacorte Press)
o The James Deans by Reed Farrell Coleman (Plume)
o The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly (Little, Brown)
o Vanish by Tess Gerritsen (Ballantine Books)
o Strange Affair by Peter Robinson (William Morrow)
o The Power of the Dog by Don Winslow (Knopf)

Best First Novel
o Immoral by Brian Freeman (St. Martin’s)
o All Shook Up by Mike Harrison (ECW Press)
o Baby Game by Randall Hicks (Wordslinger Press)
o Solomon vs. Lord by Paul Levine (Bantam)
o The Firemaker by Peter May (St. Martin’s)

Nonfiction:
o Tracks to Murder by Jonathan Goodman (Kent State University)
o Behind the Mystery: Top Mystery Writers Interviewed by Stuart Kaminsky; photographed by Laurie Roberts (Hothouse Press)
o New Annotated Sherlock Holmes: The Novels, edited by Leslie S. Klinger (Norton)
o Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her by Melanie Rehak (Harcourt)
o Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife by Mary Roach (Norton)

Best Short Story:
o “It Can Happen” by David Corbett in San Francisco Noir, Akashic Books
o “Everybody’s Girl” by Robert Barnard
o “The Big Road by Steve Hockensmith (AHMM, May 2005)
o “There Is No Crime on Easter Island” by Nancy Pickard (EQMM, Sept-Oct 2005)

Sue Feder Historical Mystery Award
o In Like Flynn by Rhys Bowen (St. Martin’s Minotaur)
o Spectres in the Smoke by Tony Broadbent (St. Martin’s)
o The War of the World Murders by Max Allan Collins
o Night’s Child by Maureen Jennings (St. Martin’s)
o Pardonable Lies by Jacqueline Winspear, (Henry Holt)

“Main Selection” is a very good thing.

Some of you may have noticed this phrase printed in an ad for a new book, or on the book’s back cover:

“A Main Selection of the Doubleday Book Club” (or the Literary Guild or the Book of the Month Club.)

Maybe you don’t know exactly what that means, or whether you should even care.  I once overheard a writer say sneeringly, about another author: “So she sold book club rights.  Big deal.  All it means is they’ll print up cheap copies of her book, and she won’t get royalties for them.”

That sneering author was clueless.  Because selling book club rights is a Big Deal.  And being chosen as a “Main Selection” at a major book club is a Very Big Deal.

Book clubs promote and sell books directly to their members, through the mail.  They can offer books at much lower prices because the copies they ship are printed on thinner paper, in a slightly smaller hardcover format.  These are not condensed books; they have exactly the same text you’ll find in a regular book, but the books are produced more cheaply.  Also, the title selection is limited to what the club offers in its catalogue, but they do carry thousands of titles.  About 17 times a year, a catalogue gets mailed out to members, who can choose from the latest selections.  The book clubs offer books they believe are most likely to have a substantial readership, so the selections include a lot of blockbusters and popular authors .  But they’ll somtimes also offer a worthy literary novel, or a new and unknown author whom they believe has the potential to grow. 

So what’s it mean for the author, when her book is chosen by a book club?

First: money.  Sometimes, a lot of it.  It may be upwards of six figures, if your book is chosen as a main selection.  True, the money is most likely paid directly to your publisher (who probably retains book club rights) but that money is credited toward your advance, so you start earning royalties sooner.  That’s one reason the Sneering Author was clueless; six figures isn’t  something to sneer at.

Second: readership.  Just look at the sizes of the major book clubs.  The largest, Doubleday Book Club, has 1.2 million members.  Literary Guild has 1 million members.  Book of the Month Club has 400,000 members.  If your book is a Main Selection, that means it’s the club’s default choice for the month.  If the member doesn’t mail in the selection card in time, then that member automatically gets sent the Main Selection.   Your book will get shipped to thousands and thousands of households, exposing your name to readers who may never before have heard of you.

This is a really good thing.  Countless readers have told me that they discovered me only because they’d forgotten to send in their monthly selection card.  And so my book turned up in their mailbox.

Finally, there’s the prestige.  The book clubs have selection committees who must choose from all the new releases the publishers send them.  But the committee chooses only one or two Main Selections each month.  Think about that.  Think about how many books are published every month.  Then think about being selected as THE BOOK, above all those other titles.

Since the book clubs go for titles they think will be popular with their members, naturally you’ll see a lot of familiar authors turn up as Main Selections.  John Grisham and Patricia Cornwell are guaranteed their month’s slots.  But every so often, the selection committee will choose someone you’ve never heard of, someone who’s brand new to the publishing world.  It’s their way of saying: “this is an important book.”

That’s what happened to THE LOVELY BONES.  When Book of the Month Club selected it, it was a signal to the publishing world: “Pay attention.  This one’s special.”

It’s what happened to me, back in 1996, when my very first hardcover, HARVEST, was a Literary Guild Main Selection.  Back then, I was unknown to booksellers, just a former paperback romance author.  But when the Literary Guild chooses your novel as a Main Selection, the publishing world takes notice.  Suddenly, you’re not just another new hardcover author; you’re the writer of that month’s Big Book. 

So, what’s the down side to being a book club pick?  Well, there is the possibility that it may dent your sales in the brick-and-mortar stores, because so many readers are receiving your book in the mail instead.  And book club sales aren’t applied to any bestseller lists.  A million book club readers may have chosen to receive your book, but it won’t get you on the New York Times list. 

Still, the real secret to building a bestselling career is word of mouth.  And when hundreds of thousands of book club members are reading your book and talking about it, you can bet that will boost your sales in bookstores as well.

 

Top Ten Creepy Ways to Die #9

Death by Ballpoint Pen

You know how your mother told you never to run while carrying a sharp object? She was giving you good advice. Here’s a case where the mom herself probably should have followed her own teachings.

A college student came home to have dinner with his mom, and found her lying on the carpet. Bloodstains splattered her clothes and her right eyelid was swollen.

Autopsy revealed that a black Bic ballpoint pen had perforated the woman’s eyelid, pierced the eye, and penetrated the brain.

The case was, at first, dealt with as a homicide, although various forensic experts thought it was more likely that it had resulted from an accident. But police continued to suspect murder, and “witnesses” were found who recalled the victim’s son talking to friends about how easy it would be to kill someone by firing a ballpoint pen from a pistol crossbow. (You don’t know what a pistol crossbow is? Neither did I, until I looked it up. It’s just what it sounds like — a crossbow, but fired by a pistol-like set-up.) Because of that witness testimony, the son was convicted of his own mother’s murder and was sentenced to prison.

Which, you think, would be the end of the story. But it’s not.

The son’s attorneys didn’t buy the guilty verdict, and requested further studies. So forensic scientists got to work. They tried to reproduce the victim’s injuries by using pistol crossbows to fire Bic pens into … well, human brains. (Relax. These were cadaver brains, donated for dissection.) They tried again and again to reproduce the injuries found in the victim. And couldn’t penetrate the eye far enough. Their conclusion? The death was almost certainly accidental.

So how often does this happen?

There are more than 40 intracranial transorbital stab wounds documented since 1848. Among the objects which cased the wounds were pens, pencils, an umbrella tip, pitch forks, a radio antenna, and a snooker cue. They’re uncommon and most likely accidental. And they don’t always lead to death, although fifty percent of victims have permanent injuries.

As a (somewhat) happy conclusion, the young man in the story I mentioned earlier was indeed released from prison, after the evidence exonerated him. Moral of the story? Even an everyday object like a pencil or a pen can be deadly. Think about it.

It’s enough to make you want to curl up in bed and stay there.

TOP TEN CREEPY WAYS TO DIE: #10

Not that there’s a NON-creepy way to die. But in honor of my favorite TV host, David Letterman, I thought I’d compile a top-ten list of some of the true cases I’ve come across in my research, cases that have given me an “oh-my-god” reaction. The sort of stories that will equally fascinate my weirdo readers. (And I know you’re just as weird as I am.)

Here’s #10:

DEATH BY GARBAGE COMPACTION

Case History: The remains of a 31-year-old man was found at a recycling facility, after having just been dumped there by a garbage truck. He was found among a pile of cardboard and paper. On autopsy, the pathologist found multiple fractures of the clavicle, ribs, pelvis, and skull. There were hemorrhages into the muscles and soft tissues and pleural (lung) lacerations.

His alcohol level was elevated at 0.34g%; he was legally intoxicated.

His diagnosis? “Compressional asphyxia.” In short, he was squashed to death by a garbage truck compactor.

Ick, you say. So do I. This is one of those horrifying deaths that you don’t even want to think about. One of those nightmarish scenarios that make you cringe. How on earth can this happen? you wonder. Why the hell didn’t the victim scream? How did he end up in this awful situation, being trapped in a compactor as his bones are crushed?

A retrospective study reveals that there have been at least six such compactor-death cases since 1991, with some common findings among them. Some of them may have already been dead prior to compaction — in other words, they were dead bodies tossed into dumpsters. But the chances are, at least a few of these victims had voluntarily crawled into dumpsters because they were seeking warmth and shelter from the elements. Garbage truck drivers report seeing people climbing out of dumpsters just before the trucks empty them. Perhaps the victims who DON’T climb out are too intoxicated to awaken to the sound of the truck engines. Two of the reported victims did, in fact, have high alcohol blood levels on autopsy, indicating they may have been too drunk to save themselves.

Stay tuned to this page. More creepy entries to come…

THE ULTIMATE OFFERING

As a suspense writer, I must explore the dark side of human nature, a journey that is sometimes so disturbing it gives me nightmares. One of the most frightening journeys of all was into the mind of a character known as “The Surgeon”, a man who is fascinated by the history of human sacrifice. Because he is a scholar of this subject, I too, had to know about it. And what I learned shocked me.

Human sacrifice has been practiced on every inhabited continent, by a wide variety of cultures. Distinct from run-of-the-mill homicide, it is a ritual killing, often performed in a sacred place, for spiritual or religious reasons. Its practice is closely tied to a belief in life beyond death. The gruesome methods of killing, and the sheer numbers of hapless victims, remind us that the history of man is a violent one.

Most of us are familiar with the ancient Egyptian sacrifice of royal wives and retainers to accompany the dead Pharaohs into the afterlife. But Egypt was not alone in sacrificing the living to join a dead king or leader. Grave sites around the world bear evidence of this practice. In Mesopotamia, ministers, soldiers, servants, and 64 gaily dressed ladies of a dead king’s court drank a narcotic potion, lay down in his tomb, and were buried alive. In China, Germany, France, and Scandinavia, other royal grave sites with multiple skeletons, many showing evidence of violent ends, tell the same chilling tales of the living slaughtered to accompany the dead. One variation of this ritual was the Hindu practice of suttee, in which widows were burned alive on their dead husbands’ funeral pyres. While it is supposed to be voluntary on the widows’ part, too often, the terrified woman was tied down, and her relatives stood on the sidelines, prepared to push her back into the flames should she escape. Perhaps most disturbing of all, the one usually chosen to light the fire was her first-born son. (Even today, in modern India, there are sporadic reports of widow-burnings.)

Other examples of human sacrifice abound in ancient history. In Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, children or infants were sometimes buried in the foundations of new buildings, in hopes their souls would offer protection. In Mexico, Aztec priests slaughtered thousands of war prisoners, cutting out their still-beating hearts as offerings to the gods. In Norway, captives were bound to the rollers over which ships slid into the sea, reddening the keel with a blessing of blood. Druids burned captives alive in large wicker men. In Greece, a colony of outcasts was kept fed and housed for only one purpose: to be used as human offerings whenever the need arose.

While victims of such rituals were often prisoners of war, slaves, or outcasts, in some cases, it was the very person most cherished who was chosen to be sacrificed. According to Greek myth, such a sacrifice was made by King Agammemnon on the eve of his fleet’s sailing against Troy. In hopes of favorable winds, he ordered his virgin daughter Iphigenia to be stretched across the altar. There, her throat was cut, her life sacrificed to Artemis.

Today, such an act strikes us as incomprehensible. We look back with disbelief at the long history of people being ritually burnt, strangled, stabbed, or buried alive, and cannot understand how such atrocities could have happened. But ancient man inhabited what Carl Sagan once called the “demon-haunted world,” a fearsome universe ruled by occult powers. In such a world, where every plague and famine, every defeat in battle, was due to ill forces from the supernatural, man turned to ritual to protect himself.

And the most powerful ritual of all was the spilling of human blood.

CREEPY FACTS — FALL 2000

A new issue just in time for Halloween!

CREEPY BIOLOGICAL FACTS — FALL 2000

MEDICAL MAGGOTS

“Ah, dear Juliet, why art thou still so fair? Shall I believe that insubstantial Death is amorous, And that the lean abhorred monster keeps thee here in dark To be his paramour? For fear of that I still will stay with thee, And never from this palace of dim night depart again. Here, here will I remain With worms that are thy chambermaids.” — Romeo and Juliet

“Never laugh when a hearse goes by ’cause you could be the next to die. They wrap you up in a big white sheet And bury you down about six feet deep. The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out, The worms play pinochle on your snout. They eat your eyes, they eat your nose, They eat the jelly between your toes.” — from an old children’s ballad

Death and maggots. From the time we are children, we learn that the two are inextricably linked. We find dead animals in the woods or at the side of the road, and are totally grossed out to see worms squirming in their decaying flesh. No wonder just the thought of maggots makes us all shudder!

So imagine this lovely scenario: You are a patient in the hospital, suffering from an open leg wound that is not healing. One morning your doctor walks in and announces he has your new treatment. He opens a vial and sprinkles this “new” treatment into your wound. And out plop … maggots?

Nope, it’s not your worst nightmare. And if you can stand the thought of worms feeding on your flesh, those maggots may be just what you need.

Maggot debridement therapy (MDT) is not a new thing. It was used by Napoleon’s battlefield doctors. During the American Civil War, a Confederate medical officer named Joseph Jones noted: “I have frequently seen neglected wounds … filled with maggots…as far as my experience extends, these worms only destroy dead tissues, and do not injure specifically the well parts.”

And J.F. Zacharias, a Confederate army surgeon, wrote: “I first used maggots to remove the decayed tissue in hospital gangrene and with eminent satisfaction. In a single day, they would clean a wound much better than any agents we had at our command. I used them afterwards at various places. I am sure I saved many lives by their use, escaped septicemia (systemic infection), and had rapid recoveries.”

Over fifty years later, during the first world war, an American orthopedic doctor working in France found that two wounded soldiers who had lain on the battlefield for a week had abdominal wounds swarming with maggots — wounds that had begun to heal without evidence of infection. Years later at John Hopkis Medical School, recalling his wartime experience, he used maggot therapy and found that his patients’ wounds healed much more quickly. During the 1930’s, maggots were used routinely in hundreds of North American hospitals for deep tissue infections. But in the 1940’s, their use dropped out of favor with the emergence of antibiotics. Only recently, as bacteria have developed resistance to many antibiotics, has maggot therapy come back into use as an adjunct therapy for wound healing.

Maggots, which are the larval stage of flies, work their magic by feeding on decaying tissue. They have a pair of mandibles or hooks, which they attach to the tissue, and use these hooks to scrape off dead membranes. This is, in fact, precisely what “surgical debridement” means: “the removal of foreign matter and dead tissue from a wound.” The maggots simply do the surgeon’s work on a microscopic level. They secrete protein-digesting enzymes, which cause the dead tissue to liquefy, and the wriggling movements of the maggots may somehow stimulate wound healing. Maggots do not damage healthy living tissue. THE MARVELOUS MAGGOT The maggots that doctors use for wound debridement are the larvae of green blowflies. Within 12-24 hours after the blow fly lays its eggs, baby maggots hatch. They start off tiny, only 1 mm long, but over the next 5 days, as they feed, they plump up to 10 mm long. At this point they stop eating, and transform into tough-skinned pupae. For the next seven days (or longer, depending on air temperature) they metamorphose into adult blow flies, and finally emerge by rupturing through their pupal skin.

Doctors use maggots at their tiniest stage, soon after they have hatched from their eggs. The number of larvae used depends on the size of the wound. An injured finger tip may need only 5 maggots; a deep wound may need 500. After introducing the maggots to the wound, a piece of netting is laid on top to hold them in place. They feed for three days until they’re gorged and plump and juicy from eating dead human flesh. Then they’re removed.

(Have I whetted your appetite?)

So how does a doctor order up a batch of maggots? Does he just pick up the phone and call for a shipment?

Well actually… yes.

The world’s leading authority on maggot therapy, Dr. Ronald Sherman from the University of California, Irvine, is also a maggot breeder and supplier for doctors around the world, and the only source of medical maggots in the U.S. He collects maggot eggs before they hatch, uses a solution of sodium hypochlorite to prevent them from changing into flies, and stores them in sterile containers until they hatch. The maggots are then disinfected and shipped overnight in sterile containers. (Hmmm. Makes ya think twice about ordering a ham through FedEx, doesn’t it?) Dr. Sherman ships about 5-10 vials every week to doctors in the U.S. and Canada, and in one year alone, he shipped 3,000 vials to the U.K.

The major problem with maggot therapy? That “tickling” sensation of having them squirming in your wound. The literature also mentions that “some patients may find the presence of maggots in their wounds to be unacceptable.”

Well, duh.

OF MAGGOTS AND MURDER The little critters may also be saving lives in the field of criminal investigation. In a June 6, 2000 story from Associated Press, it was reported that a man who has spent seven years on death row, and who was scheduled for execution on June 28, 2000, may be exonerated thanks to maggot evidence.

Anthony M. Spears was convicted of fatally shooting a woman outside Mesa, Arizona. He insists he’s innocent of the murder of Jeanette Beaulieu, whose body was found on January 19, infested with maggots.

David Faulkner, head of the entomology department at the San Diego Natural History Museum examined the maggots and concluded that, based on their larval development, the victim died no earlier than January 9.

Anthony Spears left Arizona and was home in California on January 4.

The forensic entomology evidence was strong enough to make the forewoman of the jury that convicted Spears recant her guilty vote and claim that fellow jurors had bullied her.

At last report, Mr. Spears is still appealing his conviction.

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MORE CREEPY FACTS Take Two Worms and Call Me In the Morning

Immunoparasitologist Joel Weinstock of the University of Iowa has discovered a revolutionary new treatment for inflammatory bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis. He has his patients swallow worm eggs.

Dr. Weinstock noted that people who live in third-world countries with unclean water sources often are hosts to parasitic worms in their intestines. But in such countries, ulcerative colitis is extremely rare. Putting two and two together, he wondered: could parasitic infections be protective against such inflammatory diseases?

He tested his hypothesis on six patients with inflammatory bowel disease by asking them to ingest worm eggs. Five of the six went into complete remission, and the sixth showed significant improvement.

The worms may work by inhibiting the body’s immune system, preventing it from attacking not only the worms, but also the host’s own healthy tissue. As Dr. Weinstock noted, parasitic worms have been a part of the human organism throughout most of man’s history, and perhaps we have come to rely on each other for optimum health. Because of the cleanliness of modern society, we are no longer hosts to parasitic worms. The result? We are now suffering from diseases seldom seen in more unhygienic times.

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How Dirty Are Your Hands?

In the 1930’s, Dr. Philip Price wondered how many bacteria he carried on his hands, so he washed his hands with plain soap in a series of sterile basins. Then he totaled up the bacteria in the basins and calculated the population that was originally carried on his hands: 4.58 million.

Other studies have shown that:

95 percent of the bacteria found on our hands is under the fingernails.

It takes a full five minutes of washing to flush out or kill 99 percent of the organisms.

Dominant hands are often underwashed. If you’re right-handed, your left hand is probably cleaner.

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Don’t Even ASK Where It Comes From

Should you ever need a skin graft, there’s a good chance the skin will come from a company in Canton, Massachusetts called Organogenesis. Paper-thin, and nearly opaque, the disk-shaped skin grafts are used to treat leg ulcers, burns, and skin cancer lesions. The grafts are grown individually in 3-inch-wide wells and they form round patches which are described as “sticky and slightly elastic.” The source of the cells in the grafts?

Human foreskins.

The skin is procured from newly-circumsized babies (with their mothers’ permission, of course.) Because foreskin is young tissue, it grows rapidly, and as many as 200,000 grafts can be grown from a bit of foreskin no larger than a postage stamp.

Wow, they find a use for everything these days, don’t they?

IT’S A BIRD! IT’S A PLANE! IT’S…

Okay, so it’s not a creepy biological fact. But I couldn’t resist telling you about this. It’s the culmination of mankind’s race for space, the ultimate symbol of all that we’ve been working toward with rocketry. It’s…

The orbiting billboard.

The restaurant chain Pizza Hut has just signed a deal with the Russian Space Agency to display its new logo, ten meters tall, on a Proton rocket scheduled to blast off later this year. The price for the ad? A rumored one million dollars.