Broadway alum, “Rugrats” voice actress Melanie Chartoff bares all and discovers true self in fun new memoir


“… a very insightful chronicle of a very funny woman maturing
in an odd profession in which we’re all very odd.” — John Goodman, actor

LOS ANGELES – Trying to crawl inside the television set to get her parents’ attention, she got blocked by all the tubes and wires. So she went the long way around to get herself onscreen. In a series of essays and stories, actress Melanie Chartoff explores her ambition, artistry and love blunders in her hilarious, heartbreaking and hopeful new memoir, “Odd Woman Out,” (Feb. 2, 2021, Books Fluent).

From her 1950s childhood in a suburb she describes as an “abusement park,” to performing Molière on Broadway, to voicing characters on the popular “Rugrats” cartoon series, Chartoff was anxious “out of character,” preferring any imaginary world to her real one. Obsessed with exploring her talent and mastering craft, fame came as a destabilizing byproduct. Suppressing a spiritual breakdown while co-starring on a late-night comedy show, Chartoff grew more estranged from whoever she was meant to be. But given a private audience with a guru, she finally heard her inner voice, played by ’70s soul singer Barry White, crooning, “Get out, baby!”

All the while, she’s courted by men with homing pigeons and Priuses, idealized by guys who want the girl du jour from TV to be their baby rearer or kidney donor.

Go backstage on Broadway, behind the scenes on network television, and inside the complicated psyche of a talented performer struggling to play the role of a complete human. “Odd Woman Out” intimately exposes the nature of identity in the life of a performing artist, snapshotting the hopeful search for a self Chartoff could love, and someone else’s self to love, too.

“Odd Woman Out: Essays and Stories”
Melanie Chartoff | Feb. 2, 2021
Books Fluent | Memoir
Paperback | 9781735268927 | $12.99
Ebook | 9781735268934 | $9.99
Audiobook | 9781735268941 | $9.99

Early praise for Melanie Chartoff and “Odd Woman Out”

“Melanie Chartoff’s book reads like a novel. A thriller, a tragedy, a comedy and romance.
The eloquence with which she presents her inner world is a service to any reader who lives a
deeply examined life. I felt like I’d gotten 25 years of therapy just observing her trajectory
towards serenity and the ability to say, ‘f*ck you’ to her personal demons. …
‘Odd Woman Out’ is a highly personal thrill ride. A must.”
— Laraine Newman, actor

“Chartoff reminds women of all ages that you can be sexy, infertile, half a century old,
but still young all at the same damn time.”
— Jenni Konner, co-showrunner, writer and director of “Girls”

“Melanie Chartoff’s ‘Odd Woman Out’ is a brilliant and engaging read. Chartoff, an actress of great wit and charm, is candid about navigating both the fleshpots of Hollywood and her own inner minefield. What emerges is extremely funny, often touching, often profound. A collection of pieces that will by turns delight you, sadden you and ultimately affirm how hard and how beautiful life can be. It is a journey you will be glad you took.”
— Fred Melamed, actor

“A beautiful, funny, moving rendering of a unique life in art, show business and comedy.
She is a brilliant actor and a wonderful writer. Her book inspired me.
Her teachings and insights changed my life.”
— Betty Buckley, actor

“I’ve known the talented Melanie Chartoff since 1980 and was well aware of her huge talent as an actress but had no idea that she was an equally brilliant author, as well. This is an extremely touching and funny memoir that is a must read!”
— Ed Begley, Jr., actor

“Melanie Chartoff is the most gorgeous writer, the most funny, poignant, sinuous teller of tales that make you gasp and sigh and cheer. Just. Wow. This book reconnects us to what it means to feel, to care, to be human, and still be able to laugh at it all. Odd Woman Out is a magnificent piece of writing about the fantastic adventure of her life and times. We can all relate, but none of us could have made it this funny, warm, honest, humane and human. Do yourself a huge favor and give yourself the gift of going along on this adventure.”
— Elayne Boosler, comedian, writer and animal activist

“From one chick in the chuckle racket to another — Bravo, Melanie!
This is the book I wish I had written — except for the dirty bits!”
— Anne Beatts, American comedy writer

About The Author

Beginning as an actor off and on Broadway, MELANIE CHARTOFF is best known for the characters she created on “Fridays,” “Seinfeld,” “Newhart,” and “Rugrats.” She’s recently been published in McSweeney’s, Medium, Entropy, Purple Clover, The Jewish Journal, Funny Times, Five on the Fifth, Glint, Entropy, Verdad, Bluestem, Evening Street Press, Mused, Jewlarious, Defenestration, Better after 50, Living the Second Act, and in three editions of Chicken Soup for the Soul (Simon and Schuster). “Odd Woman Out: Essays and Stories” is her first book. Visit Melanie’s website for more info. And connect with Melanie on Book Ya Ya for an event.


In an interview, Melanie can discuss:

  • Her illustrious career as an award-winning Broadway, Hollywood, TV and voice actor, singer, dancer, essayist, and inventor
  • How an out-of-place oddball initially found comfort and acceptance through performing
  • How she began her acting career and how she helps those looking to hone their talent
  • How she opted to forgo a conventional career and life with children to pursue artistic and creative endeavors
  • Her long journey to finding love and first-time marriage at 65, and her desire to give hope to other mature singles

An Interview with Melanie Chartoff

1. Your family was in some sense the inspiration behind your comedic talents. How did your familial relationships foster your desire to perform?

We writers begin stalking our parents for material almost prenatally, poor things, and mine provided plenty. They inherited handed-down traumas from their Holocaust-fleeing families. It was an uphill battle for them to laugh. I performed strenuously to draw fire from my daddy’s rage, to parody my anxious mother, to cheer up my sad sister. This gave me a large capacity for embodying all the characters in my small-town life.

2. So how did you get into acting?

I was mad for theater at an early age. I recall an actor was walking through the audience at our local repertory theater and spoke his story to me directly. I felt as though I was sucked out of my seat and into the vivid life on the stage at age 13. Thereafter, I wanted to live in a play better written than my life story with better characters, including myself.

3. Any advice you can give to aspiring actors?

With the evolution of online performance, it’s imperative that young actors learn to adjust their truths for the camera and mic hidden in their computers; that they internalize roles that are bigger than life for the close-up scrutiny of the small screen; that they can believe so ardently in a fiction and feel it so deeply, that the audience feels it, too.

4. You’ve said that you’ve played many roles as a human being before you actually became one — can you elaborate a bit on that?

I was a product of people’s projections. I took my shape from their desires. I had no idea who I was, but I was a carrier of what others needed from me. I tried to look like other people looked like they felt when I was young. Then, when I became famous, I pretended to be my onscreen persona, although I didn’t always feel like that tailored, fabricated self.

5. Is there a specific reason you waited so long to get married? Do you regret waiting?

I made many mistakes in love as I didn’t know which aspect of myself to be with different people. And my husband and I regret we didn’t find one another far sooner in our long lives. We’ll have less time than other people, so we are cramming as much joy as we can into our days and into our relationships with the many we love.

6. You say that you’ve written this book for mature singles. Can you explain how you think your experiences can help inspire them?

I think singles (of all genders) who have found themselves child-free and freelance in their lives after 35 will keenly relate. It took me a long time to forgive myself for my colossal blunders in relationships; for needing love too much to be more discriminating; for not knowing who I was sufficiently to know what I needed; to find delight and wonderment in my own company and imagination so that being alone didn’t feel like a punitive sentence pronounced by some patriarchal system.

7. What do you hope readers take away from the book after reading about your life?

I trust they’ll be amused by revelations in my quirky ways of thinking and that they’ll see and forgive themselves in my actions. I hope they’ll enjoy highlights of a 50-year life in the arts on stages and screens, in an assortment of odd courtships, and finally in a new marriage of unique equals whose mutual oddness turned to evenness when they wed. I want to remind readers it’s never too late to learn to love — yourself and other people — and to get life right.


Storytelling and heart shine in quirky YA debut exploring teen’s plan to escape her family’s doomsday community


Clinton, MS – Bethany Mangle showcases her storytelling skills in her young adult debut, weaving a narrative together with humor, excitement, and romance. “Prepped,” (February 23, 2021, Margaret K. McElderry Books/Simon & Schuster) explores themes from the author’s Korean identity, sisterhood, and finding your place within your family and the world. She creates honest characters against an adventurous backdrop, and captures raw emotions and a sincere portrayal of the teenage experience.

Always be ready for the worst day of your life: This is the mantra that Becca Aldaine has grown up with. Her family is part of a community of doomsday preppers, a neighborhood that prioritizes survivalist training over class trips or senior prom. They’re even arranging Becca’s marriage with Roy Kang, the only eligible boy in their community. Roy is a nice guy, but he’s so enthusiastic about prepping that Becca doesn’t have the heart to tell him she’s planning to leave as soon as she can earn a full ride to a college far, far away.

Then a devastating accident rocks Becca’s family and pushes the entire community, including Becca’s usually cynical little sister, deeper into the doomsday ideology. With her getaway plans thrown into jeopardy, the only person Becca can turn to is Roy, who reveals that he’s not nearly as clueless as he’s been pretending to be.

When Roy proposes they run away together, Becca will have to risk everything — including her heart — for a chance to hope for the best instead of planning for the worst.

More about “Prepped” and Bethany Mangle

Bethany Mangle | February 23, 2021 | Margaret K. McElderry Books / Simon & Schuster
Hardcover |978-1534477506 | $18.99
Paperback | 978-1534477506 | $10.99
Ebook | 978-1534477506 | $10.99
Young adult contemporary

About The Author

Bethany Mangle is a young adult contemporary author. Her debut novel, PREPPED, will be released on February 23, 2021 by Simon & Schuster/McElderry Books. She currently lives and writes in Mississippi with her husband and their spoiled rotten dog. For more information visit Bethany at


In an interview, Bethany Mangle can discuss:

  • Her representation of family dynamics and sisterhood
  • Prepper communities and the idea of an apocalypse as conflict
  • Being a debut author in the time of a pandemic
  • Writing a Korean-American love interest from an #ownvoices viewpoint
  • Accepting fear vs. letting it take over
  • Using her own teenage experiences when writing characters

An Interview with Bethany Mangle

1. How did your own experiences as a Korean-American teenager reflect in your writing?

When I was growing up, I never read about characters who looked like me or had my background. I wanted to create a Korean love interest to show that diversity does belong in fiction and YA romance. I wanted Roy to be Korean without emphasizing his heritage or needing to justify his race. He’s just an ordinary boy (or as ordinary as you can be in a doomsday community) who happens to be Korean.

2. How did you decide to set your story against the backdrop of a neighborhood of doomsday preppers?

I work in nuclear power and so much of that centers around preparing for the worst case scenario or things that are basically impossible, like a tsunami coming off of a river. I was watching an emergency drill one day when I wondered what it would be like to take that level of preparedness and apply it to a character’s home life instead.

3. The main character, Becca, searches for belonging, worries about the future, and tries to fully understand the dynamics of her family. How did you draw from your own experiences and emotions and capture that in fiction?

I just tried to remember what it was like when I was a teenager and I was worried about whether any of my choices were the right ones. Becca’s struggle centers around that fear that one mistake at a pivotal moment in your life could change everything forever.

4. What inspired you to start writing?

I literally cannot remember a time when I wasn’t writing. I used to dictate stories to my grandmother before I knew how to physically write words. I’ve just always wanted to do it.

5. What made you decide to write a young adult novel?

I read a lot of young adult and decided to try it. I love books that explore themes of belonging and navigating personal identity. I also like the thought that I can contribute to teens seeing themselves represented in fiction as publishing embraces diversity.

Influencer Marketing Tips and Tricks for Authors

The term “social media influencer” comes up often these days, though it is vague and meaningless to some people. Books Forward is here to help you find out who these people are, and how you both can work together!

Who are influencers?

Influencers are people who have a decent following on social media, full of an audience of people who are specifically interested in the influencer’s opinions on whatever topics or items it is they discuss. Some influencers are “fitness gurus” who post videos of workout plans, their healthy eating habits and fitness clothing brands they prefer. Other influencers post makeup tutorials and makeup brand preferences. In the book world, there is an entire community of influencers who make posts that center around books they love, books they are reading, books they are planning to read, books they bought six months ago but still haven’t had a chance to pick up, books with beautiful covers, books with sad endings. . . do you see the theme here? There is an entire social media world out there that focuses specifically on books. As an author searching for an audience, it is crucial and beneficial to tap into that!

What do influencers do?

All of the posts that influencers make on social media build their reputation on their platform. Twitter’s #BookTwitter, TikTok’s #Booktok, Youtube’s “Booktube” and Instagram’s “Bookstagram” accounts are popular platforms for booklovers to unite and discuss everything that is books. Twitter is a place where people typically discuss in-depth themes of books, while TikTok features aesthetically pleasing videos of bookshelves with books arranged by color, or book challengers for people to complete together. Youtube is a great place to find people talking through book reviews, and Bookstagram has beautiful, artsy pictures of books with thoughtful captions about the books featured.

Influencers with a large following are often sent book after book from many different publishers, so the books they decide are good enough to read, or have an attractive enough cover to post, hold significant value in the book world. However, large accounts can also be deceiving. Sometimes, sending your book to an account with a smaller following will garner just as many audience members because of engagement of posts and thoughtfulness in posts. People like to get an opinion on a book from somebody they trust, and when a well-respected influencer gives a raving review about a book on their account, it immediately gains leverage.

What Does This Mean for Authors?

This is the most important question, right? Why does this entire “book world” on social media matter? It just sounds like an outlet for people who are obsessed with reading, right? Well, that is right, and that is also why it is important for authors. Just like us, a lot of these influencers have their specific preferences. Maybe there’s one who LOVES historical fiction novels, or YA romance novels. If you are releasing your debut YA romance novel and manage to get an influencer to read and review your book positively, you now have a significant following of people listening. About YOUR book. Even if you only get the influencer to post a picture of your book, saying they are excited to read it, it gets your book in front of people who are potentially interested. You are tapping into a niche audience that was basically formulated for books like yours!

A lot of the time, influencers will be perfectly happy with a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. A lot of bookstagrammers don’t post negative reviews so it depends on who you reach out to, but you basically send them the book for a post on their story, or a picture on their feed. Also they aren’t sent as many books as the bigger accounts and can be more thoughtful with posts.

Common Misconceptions

It is not always about the number of followers that a bookstagrammer has. If you get an influencer who has 100k followers to read your post your book, but your book is YA and the influencer prefers mystery books, the audience receiving the message is targeted to people who might not be interested in your book. It is best to find an influencer who’s brand lines up with yours, because the people representing your book are a reflection of it. You want people who support and appreciate your work as an author and your book’s genre. Accounts with smaller followings should not be cast aside because of their size; these accounts may look smaller but could have a high engagement level! This is something you should always consider when picking influencers to work with. Smaller accounts also don’t have as many books coming their way, and the chance of getting a review or post from them is higher. Reach out to a variety of followings, and focus on the branding of the individual influencer.


New Book from Top OB-GYNs is Pregnancy Game-Changer


“Pregnancy must-have” empowers expectant moms with fresh look, new insight

Washington, D.C. – The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the most trusted group of experts in women’s healthcare, is releasing a new, fully revised version of its perennial pregnancy must-have, “Your Pregnancy and Childbirth: Month to Month” (Jan. 26, 2021). This modernized seventh edition features the latest medical information, brand new chapters that answer today’s essential questions, a beautifully redesigned cover, and new and updated anatomical drawings. The book also addresses the coronavirus (COVID-19) health crisis with details on telehealth, travel during pregnancy, breastfeeding and more.

ACOG is the nation’s leading group of physicians providing health care for women, comprised of over 60,000 members. For more than 60 years, ACOG has written the medical guidelines that obstetricians-gynecologists and other medical professionals use when caring for women. “Your Pregnancy and Childbirth” is unlike anything else on the market, with recommendations supported by ACOG’s clinical guidance and the everyday experiences of obstetricians-gynecologists who have cared for millions of pregnant women.

Engaging and relatable, this easy-to-understand book encourages women to

  • learn about pre-pregnancy health and planning, pregnancy, labor and delivery, and the postpartum period
  • use the information they learn to talk with their obstetrician-gynecologist and others who may care for them during pregnancy
  • be empowered, active decision-makers in their care.

Offering real clinical guidance without the clinical jargon, this straightforward book breaks down each step of becoming a mom, month-by-month, in ways that every woman can understand and relate to during each phase of the pregnancy experience. It answers women’s most pressing questions, including what bodily changes to expect each month; changes in fetal development; how to manage self-care; how to think about pain relief during labor and delivery; how to handle travel, work, and exercise; and a new chapter where new moms and moms-to-be can find quick answers to frequently asked questions.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) is the nation’s leading group of physicians providing health care for women. As a private, voluntary, nonprofit membership organization of 60,000 members, ACOG strongly advocates for quality health care for women, maintains the highest standards of clinical practice and continuing education of its members, promotes patient education, and increases awareness among its members and the public of the changing issues facing women’s health care.

“Your Pregnancy and Childbirth: Month to Month”
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists | Jan. 26, 2021

About the Official Spokespeople for “Your Pregnancy and Childbirth, Month to Month” 7th Edition

Lisa M. Hollier, MD, MPH, is immediate past president and former interim CEO of ACOG. Currently, she is a professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. She also serves as the chief medical officer for Texas Children’s Health Plan. Dr. Hollier is a national ACOG spokesperson on maternal mortality, having conducted interviews with ABC News, NPR, The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, CBS News, USA Today, PBS Newshour, The Huffington Post, Politico, and other well-known outlets. She dedicated her ACOG presidency to producing guidance on heart disease and pregnancy, which is the number one killer of women overall, but particularly in the postpartum period. She can speak to the importance of both prenatal and postpartum care as she has frequently done on the national stage.


  • Maternal mortality/morbidity – common causes and ways to prevent or treat life-threatening pregnancy-related conditions
  • Heart disease in pregnancy and other chronic conditions, such as gestational diabetes and hypertension
  • High risk pregnancies as result of conditions such as preeclampsia, obesity, advanced maternal age, prior C-section
  • Prenatal and postpartum care – what to expect at check-ups, common tests and vaccinations during pregnancy, how to prepare for labor and delivery, the importance of ongoing care after childbirth

Tamika Auguste, MD, is a board-certified ob-gyn at MedStar Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C. Dr. Auguste also serves as chair of the Ob/Gyn Clinical Practice Council at MedStar Health and as associate medical director of the MedStar Health Simulation Training & Education Lab. At ACOG, she was a member of Dr. Haywood Brown’s presidential task force on redefining the postpartum visit that helped produce ACOG’s guidance Optimizing Postpartum Care. She is also a CREOG Education Committee member and the vice chair of the Council on Patient Safety in Women’s Health Care. Dr. Auguste is a media expert for ACOG and has conducted several interviews on the importance of ongoing postpartum care and maternal mortality. She also regularly responds to inquiries about common issues in pregnancy, including the signs of pregnancy, emergency deliveries, preterm birth, nutrition, mastitis, induction of labor, and toxemia, to name a few. She has spoken with reporters from The Washington Post, Woman’s Day, ProPublica, Women’s Health, New York Magazine’s The Cut, and many more outlets.


  • Prenatal and postpartum care – what to expect at check-ups, how to prepare for labor and delivery, the importance of ongoing care after childbirth, postpartum depression
  • Nutrition – Essential prenatal vitamins, what to know about weight gain and how what you eat and drink affects breastfeeding
  • Induction of labor – what circumstances would necessitate it
  • Pregnancy symptoms –cravings, aches and pains, changes in a woman’s body
  • Common conditions in pregnancy, such preeclampsia or hypertension

M. Mercer, MD, FRCSC, is an obstetrician–gynecologist and maternal–fetal medicine specialist in Cleveland, Ohio. At MetroHealth Medical Center, he chairs Obstetrics and Gynecology and is director of The Women’s Center. He also serves as professor and chair of reproductive biology at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. He has been in obstetric practice for more than 30 years. Dr. Mercer has a long history with Your Pregnancy and Childbirth: Month to Month. He chairs the YPC Editorial Task Force for the upcoming seventh edition and served on the task forces of the previous two editions. His dedication to the seventh edition was essential in shaping the book’s tone and readability and ensuring the highest level of accuracy.


  • Prenatal and preconception care – genetic testing during pregnancy, vaccinations needed during pregnancy, what to expect at check-ups
  • High risk pregnancies as result of conditions such as preeclampsia, obesity, advanced maternal age, prior C-section
  • Preterm birth, perinatal and infant mortality
  • The 4th trimester – the first three months after pregnancy and why that period is a critical time for women, postpartum and transitions of care
  • The history and evolution of Your Pregnancy and Childbirth: Month to Month

Shannon M. Clark, MD, is a double board-certified obstetrician–gynecologist and maternal–fetal medicine specialist focusing on the care of women with high-risk pregnancies. Dr. Clark is an associate professor with roles as a clinician, researcher, and educator at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas. She has published multiple peer-reviewed articles and is a reviewer for numerous medical journals. She is also actively involved in educating and training medical students, residents, and fellows. Dr. Clark has contributed to multiple hot topics of interest for pregnancy-related magazines, websites, and blogs and is a media expert for ACOG. Dr. Clark has taken a special interest in pregnancy after the age of 35. She was inspired not only by the experiences of friends and patients but also by her own personal experience of becoming a mom to twins at age 42. She is the founder of, a website dedicated to fertility, pregnancy and motherhood after age 35, and life and health after age 40.


  • Advanced maternal age – complications that can exist for the mother and fetus
  • Fertility after age 35 – what to know about age-related fertility decline, IVF and other assisted reproductive technology
  • High risk pregnancies as result of conditions such as preeclampsia, obesity, advanced maternal age, prior C-sections
  • Pre-pregnancy health and what’s important to know when trying to become pregnant

Diana Ramos, MD, is an adjunct assistant clinical professor at Keck University of Southern California School of Medicine and is the first Latinx woman and the first public health physician to hold the position of president of the Orange County Medical Association. Dr. Ramos has worked as reproductive health director of the Los Angeles County Public Health Department and is vice chair of the ACOG California executive committee and the ACOG delegate to the American Medical Association. Dr. Ramos speaks both Spanish and English and among her areas of expertise are health disparities preconception, interconception health, contraception, and quality improvement. In Los Angeles County she has led several initiatives to improve the health of women, including decreasing maternal morbidity and mortality by focusing on postpartum hemorrhage, cesarean section reduction, and maternal overweight and obesity. She has written and contributed to numerous articles in obstetrics and gynecology and public health literature. She has lectured locally, nationally, and internationally on a wide array of topics including preventive health and women’s health with an emphasis on health care disparities, patient safety, social media and the internet, and quality care improvement. She also serves as a regular ACOG media expert, responding to inquiries about exercise during pregnancy, edema, weight gain during pregnancy, maternal mortality, and complications in pregnancy from outlets such as Shape, WebMD, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal, among others.


  • Exercise during and after pregnancy – what exercises are safe during and after pregnancy
  • Weight management including the proper diet and exercise plan
  • Maternal mortality – common causes and ways to prevent or treat life-threatening pregnancy-related conditions
  • Complications in pregnancy such as preeclampsia and gestational diabetes

Manijeh Kamyar, MD, is a board-certified maternal–fetal medicine specialist and obstetrician–gynecologist at Northwest Perinatal Center in Portland, Oregon. She is a member of the YPC Editorial Task Force and a past member of ACOG’s Patient Education Review Panel. Drawn to medicine by her desire to serve others in a meaningful way, Dr. Kamyar considers it a gift to be able to help women navigate one of the most intimate and significant parts of their lives. She speaks both Spanish and English and is passionate about helping patients and their loved ones understand complicated and difficult topics, leaving her office not only with the information they need to care for themselves and make decisions but also a sense of calm and peace of mind. Dr. Kamyar’s interests include fetal anomalies, maternal diabetes and nutrition, and maternal substance abuse and use. As a specialist in high-risk pregnancies, she also sees patients for preterm labor, multifetal pregnancies, recurrent pregnancy loss, maternal cardiac conditions, and maternal thyroid disease.


  • High risk pregnancies as result of conditions such as preeclampsia, obesity, advanced maternal age, prior C-section
  • Nutrition during pregnancy – Essential prenatal vitamins, what to know about weight gain
  • Multiple pregnancy
  • Gestational diabetes – the importance of screening, risks associated with gestational diabetes and treatment options
  • Prenatal and postpartum care – what to expect at check-ups, common testing and vaccinations during pregnancy, how to prepare for labor and delivery

Holly Wong Cummings, MD, MPH, is an obstetrician–gynecologist at Penn Medicine and assistant professor of Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology at Perelman School of Medicine University of Pennsylvania. She also serves as a Young Physician member of ACOG’s Patient Education Review Panel. Dr. Cummings helps care for women across their reproductive lifespan. She enjoys helping new mothers navigate the complexities of breastfeeding and meet their breastfeeding goals. Her favorite part of the job is providing individualized care to a patient and tailoring her care to what that person needs. She appreciates the combination of creativity and science that practicing medicine provides and tries to keep abreast of all the possible options out there and present them to patients to help them make the choices that work best for them.


  • Breastfeeding – how to initiate, how long to breastfeed and why it’s important for the health of the baby and the mom
  • Vaginal birth after cesarean/trial of labor after cesarean
  • Travel in pregnancy – when air travel is safe, concerns with the use of seatbelts
  • Various types of screenings in pregnancy including Aneuploidy screening and genetic carrier screening
  • Preconception counseling – what things to consider when trying to become pregnant
  • Vaccination in pregnancy and the myths that exist around the flu vaccine and others
  • Exercise in pregnancy – what is safe and what isn’t

A university mired in scandal and an enigmatic librarian entangle in Edgar and Agatha nominee’s dark new thriller


A powerful Boston family is desperate to keep old secrets buried …

BOSTON – At the center of Edwin Hill’s intricate mystery series is Hester Thursby, a research librarian who’s complicated, bookish and realistically flawed. In the acclaimed series’s newest installment, “Watch Her,” (Dec. 29, 2020, Kensington Books), Hester teams up with reader-favorite Detective Angela White to investigate missing alumni of a decadent for-profit university, plunging into a world of academic scandal, old money, infidelity, buried secrets … and murder.

While attending a gala at Prescott University’s lavish new campus, Hester and White, are called to the home of the college’s owners, Tucker and Jennifer Matson. Jennifer claims someone broke into Pinebank, their secluded mansion on the banks of Jamaica Pond. The more Hester and Angela investigate, the less they believe Jennifer’s story, leaving Hester to wonder why she would lie.

When Hester is asked by the college’s general manager to locate some missing alumni, she employs her research skills on the family and their for-profit university. Between financial transgressions, a long-ago tragedy and rumors of infidelity, it’s clear the Matsons aren’t immune to scandal or mishap. But when one of the missing students turns up dead, the mystery takes on new urgency. Hester is edging closer to the truth, but as a decades-old secret collides with new lies, a killer grows more determined to keep the past buried with the dead …

Praise for Edwin Hill and the Hester Thursby series:

“Complex characterization and a masterly mystery make this a superior read.”
— Kirkus review of “Watch Her”

“Quirky characters complement the suspenseful plot. Readers will agree that a failing school makes a grade-A mystery.”
— Publisher’s Weekly review of “Watch Her”

“Intense…Poignantly looks at the fragility of emotional health and the pitfalls of trying to make a fresh start … Hill’s affinity for creating realistic characters with complicated personalities and suspenseful plots shines.”
Associated Press review of “The Missing Ones”

“Addressing the impact of illegal drug dealing and use, this whodunit has broken family dynamics and a wonderfully complex and intricate mystery, plenty to engage readers looking for a new amateur detective to follow.”
Library Journal STARRED REVIEW of “The Missing Ones”

“Hill demonstrates the same humor, malice, and zinging dialogue that made his debut novel one to savor, and he commands our attention as a rising star in the mystery genre. Don’t miss out on The Missing Ones.”
New York Journal of Books review of “The Missing Ones”

“The Missing Ones is a resounding triumph that reaffirms Edwin Hill’s emergence as a fierce new voice in crime fiction. While the mysteries of the missing and murdered are skillfully rendered and satisfyingly (if sometimes heartbreakingly) resolved, it’s the characters themselves and their myriad dreams and disillusionments that demand our attention. This book, then, is a salient reminder that we are all broken in some way and that we are all trying to put ourselves — and each other — back together again.”
– Criminal Element review of “The Missing Ones”

“[A] well-crafted, extremely promising debut and series launch…An increasingly tense plot and striking characters – in particular, compassionate, conflicted, loving Hester – make this a standout.”
– Publishers Weekly STARRED REVIEW of “Little Comfort”

“Thursby is a tough, cerebral, relatably flawed sleuth who lulls herself to sleep with horror films and takes on serial killers and unexpected motherhood without skipping a beat. A dark but compassionate psychological-thriller debut with great appeal for fans of Ruth Ware and Cornelia Read.”
– Booklist STARRED REVIEW of “Little Comfort”

“Watch Her” (A Hester Thursby Mystery #3)

Edwin Hill | Dec. 29, 2020 | Kensington Books | Mystery
Hardcover | 978-1-4967-2676-6 | $26.00 ($28.95 CAN)

EDWIN HILL is the author of the critically acclaimed Hester Thursby mystery series, the first of which, “Little Comfort,” was an Agatha Award finalist, a selection of the Mysterious Press First Mystery Club, and a Publishers Marketplace Buzz Books selection. The second installment, “The Missing Ones,” was also an Agatha Award finalist and a Sue Grafton Memorial Award nominee. Formerly the vice president and editorial director for Bedford/St. Martin’s (Macmillan), he now teaches at Emerson College and has written for the L.A. Review of Books, The Life Sentence, Publishers Weekly, and Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. He lives in Roslindale, Massachusetts with his partner Michael and their Labrador, Edith Ann. Visit Edwin online at

In an interview, Edwin Hill can discuss:

  • Writing a successful award-winning female-led mystery series as a male author
  • The process of developing characters across multiple books in a series
  • Crafting a novel that accurately captures the realms of higher education and academia
  • His connection to the Boston/New England area and setting his books in those locations
  • Writing on social status and gender dynamics and crafting characters that defy stereotypes

An interview with EDWIN HILL

1. This is the third installment of the Hester Thursby series. How has Hester evolved from the beginning of Book 1 to now?

I like to think that she’s grown (and grown up) a bit! When we first meet Hester Thursby in “Little Comfort,” she’s recently been saddled with her 3-year-old niece, Kate, and has decidedly mixed feelings about raising someone else’s child. That ambivalence strains her relationship with her long-time boyfriend, Morgan Maguire. The traumatic events of “Little Comfort” leave Hester emotionally scarred. She carries those scars into the second novel in the series, “The Missing Ones,” and those scars almost break her relationship with Morgan.

“Watch Her” picks up a year-and-half later. As a couple, Hester and Morgan have healed stronger than they were before, and they’ve both committed to raising Kate as full-time caretakers. They’ve also continued to expand their found family. Many of the recurring characters in the series, including fan-favorites Angela White and Jamie Williams (and Waffles, of course) make appearances in this book.

2. Are there any challenges you’ve come across as a male author writing a female-led series? How have you overcome those challenges?

I always say that writing is a series of problem-solving exercises, and this would be one of those exercises! Anytime you write a character who’s removed from your own experiences, you have to make sure you’re asking the right questions and talking to people who have had those experiences to test your assumptions. The job of the fiction writer is to inhabit characters and represent them as fully realized and three-dimensional. You wouldn’t want to read a novel about me (too boring!), so all my characters have to be developed through my imagination. Hester experiences all sorts of things that I’ll never experience — she’s a woman; she’s 12 years younger than I am; she has a child; she works as a librarian; she’s estranged from her mother; she’s very short — and my goal is to make those experiences seem authentic to the reader. I talk to lots of people and have a group of reviewers look at drafts of novels before they go to my editor to flag anything that seems off. Ultimately, though, it’s up to me and whether I can provide that connection for the reader.

While Hester and Morgan are the central characters in the novels, all of the Hester Thursby novels are told from multiple points of view, so this challenge doesn’t stop with Hester!

3. The book focuses on gender dynamics between the 1990s and 2010s. Can you talk a bit about writing characters that explore and defy stereotypes?

Each of my books explores different aspects of gender and sexuality. Hester struggles against submitting to gender norms. I also bring queer-identified characters into the novels. Angela White is one of the recurring characters in the series. She is a detective in the Boston Police Department and lives with her wife, Cary, and Cary’s son in Dorchester. Angela had a small role in “Little Comfort” and a somewhat larger role in “The Missing Ones,” but I wanted to bring her into the forefront of “Watch Her” and to fully explore her work and home life. For me, she’s a standout in this book.

4. Can you speak a bit to your connection with the Boston area and why you’ve set the series there?

I grew up in Massachusetts, and after a few years in California, have lived here for the past two decades. One of things I like about Boston and New England is that the landscape offers a lot of variety in a relatively compact area, which is perfect for writing. Hester and Morgan live in Somerville, where, not coincidentally, I lived when I first started the series. Each of the books is set in Somerville and in other picturesque locations — Beacon Hill and the Lakes District of New Hampshire for “Little Comfort”; an island off the coast of Maine for “The Missing Ones”; and Jamaica Plain for “Watch Her.” I’ve also enjoyed playing with the weather — something that also varies in New England. “Little Comfort” is set in the dead of winter. “The Missing Ones” is set in the autumn, and “Watch Her” is set in spring.

5. The book centers around the fictional for-profit Prescott University. Did you do any sort of research to help accurately depict the world of higher education?

My research for this book was three-fold. I worked in higher ed publishing for many years and saw some of the ins and outs of academia in that job. For-profit schools differ from traditional schools in that they report to a board of directors that expects a return on their investment. I didn’t want Prescott University or Maxine Pawlikowski, the character who serves as the general manager of the school in the book, to be over-the-top corrupt, so I tried to base the college on good educational principles, even if some of the characters wind up making poor decisions. I also read up on for-profit colleges that have failed or been shut down in the past two decades like Corinthian Colleges. I wanted to understand what could make a seemingly thriving business go belly up and what impact that had on the students enrolled at those schools. What really helped me most, though, was graduating during a recession in the early ’90s. I had a series of terrible, terrible temp jobs that provided plenty of fodder for any poorly run business. When I wanted to show something going badly at Prescott University, I consulted my vast database of personal experiences!

Captivating and timely YA debut explores social justice, family links and stereotypes within riveting mystery


Williamsburg, VIRGINIA – From debut author Pamela N. Harris comes a timely, gripping teen novel about a boy who must take up the search for his sister when she goes missing from a neighborhood where Black girls’ disappearances are too often overlooked. “When You Look Like Us” (Jan. 5, 2021, HarperCollins/Quill Tree Books) is an intense and realistic story that is perfect for fans of Jason Reynolds and Tiffany D. Jackson.

When you look like Jay Murphy and his sister, Nicole — brown skin, brown eyes, black braids or fades — everyone else thinks you’re trouble. No one blinks twice over a missing Black girl from public housing because she must’ve brought whatever happened to her upon herself. Jay can even admit that, for a minute, he thought his sister Nicole just got caught up with her boyfriend, a drug dealer, and his friends. But she’s been gone too long.

It’s time for Jay to step up, to do what the Newport News Police Department won’t. Bring his sister home. Will there be enough people who believe in him even though the odds are stacked against him?

“A powerful story about misperceptions, reality, and the lives lived in between.” — Kirkus starred review

“When You Look Like Us”

Pamela N. Harris | Jan. 5, 2021 | Quill Tree Books/HarperCollins | Realistic/Suspense YA
Hardcover | 9780062945891 | $17.99

Pamela N. Harris was born and somewhat raised in Newport News, Virginia, also affectionately known as “Bad News.” A former school counselor by day, she received her bachelor’s in English and a master’s in school counseling at Old Dominion University, her M.F.A in creative writing at Fairleigh Dickinson University, and a Ph.D. in counselor education and supervision at William and Mary. When she isn’t writing, Pam is rewatching Leonardo DiCaprio movies, playing with her kiddos and pretending to enjoy exercising.
For more info on Pam, visit

In an interview, Pamela N. Harris can discuss:

  • The positive impact of teachers and school counselors who believe in their students
  • The importance of school-family-community partnerships for students of color
  • The Black Lives Matter movement and its presence in her story
  • Being a debut author in the time of a global pandemic
  • The importance of representation in media and how the characters in her book are representative of her personal teenage experience
  • The real-life issue of Black girls going missing without much concern from police
  • Juggling writing with parenthood and working full-time
  • Her experiences being Black in the world of academia

An Interview with Pamela N. Harris

1. How does your book address stereotypes about Black people, both from others (like the media) and the ones that have been internalized?

I felt it was extremely important for my Black readers to see themselves on the page, and for readers from all backgrounds to see the dimensionalities of characters who don’t look or speak like them. Jay, my main character, lives in public housing — and because the media often portrays individuals from these neighborhoods in a negative light, Jay wants to prove he’s not this stereotype but isn’t aware that he holds some of these misperceptions, too. I wanted Jay to gradually become aware of his biases in an authentic way, and hopefully readers could follow him on that journey.

2. How did you successfully balance the mystery elements of your story with the larger real-life issue of Black girls going missing without much consideration by authorities?

When I was drafting “When You Look Like Us,” I was reading these series of tweets and other social media posts from devastated friends and family members of Black girls who had gone missing but who were not being acknowledged through major media outlets. While the mystery was definitely an important element, I also wanted to pay respect to those voices who felt as if they were being stifled.

3. How did your background in counseling school-aged children help you craft these characters?

My seven years as a school counselor was one of the highlights of my life. I’ve been fortunate enough to have former students reach out to me to let me know how much of a positive impact I had on their childhood — mainly because they always felt heard around me. Kids often go through their days being told what to do by adults, but I tried to empower them to be the experts in their own lives. To tell their own stories. And I listened. I remember my students of color coming to my office to complain about reading so many books with characters that didn’t look like them. At the time, the majority of the characters I wrote were white — mainly because that’s who I read about as a child and teen. I felt like I needed to wait for permission to tell the stories I wanted to tell featuring the characters I really wanted to write. My time with my students gave me the push I needed to stop waiting and to start putting my authentic voice on the page.

4. The story is based in Newport News, Virginia, the city you were born and raised in. What similarities are there between Jay’s neighborhood and experiences and yours?

I always say that I was born and mostly raised in Newport News since I lived on several different military bases off and on until I was 13. However, I never truly felt “home” until the summers I got to visit my cousins back in Newport News, or when my dad finally left the Marines and we moved to Newport News to be closer to family. I tried to “escape” several times. I got accepted into an out-of-state college but chose the one that was a 45-minute drive away. As an adult, I moved to another state for three years, but again, I felt unsettled until I decided to move closer to home. Since I spent my high school years struggling financially and living in public housing, just like Jay, I had associated Newport News with a negative experience. I’m now able to self-reflect and realized that I feel tethered to Newport News for good reason: My family, my friends, my teachers, the community as a whole made me the strong woman I am today. I wanted Jay’s story to be my love letter to Newport News. Even though he goes through similar feelings of resentment about being from there initially, he’s able to appreciate the city in the long run.

5. How did having mentors that encourage you change your life and help you persevere?

I was a first-generation college student, so having mentors beginning at a young age was critical for me. My parents did their jobs by loving and supporting me to the fullest, but they didn’t know what they didn’t know. What they did know is that they wanted to help me fulfill my dream of going to college and writing, so they didn’t mind reaching out to the village for guidance. I had strong, beautiful Black female educators help me navigate the college and scholarship application process. When I wanted to pursue my doctorate degree, I made sure to have two Black female professors on my dissertation committee. I was (and still am) intentional about who I seek for mentorship because it’s important to have someone who can relate to the obstacles that I go through as a female of color while also demonstrating how to be resilient and successful. Now that I’m living my dream as a writer, I look to other female authors who have the careers that I aspire to have as my guiding point.

6. What inspired you to write this story, and why is it so important to you personally?

I absolutely loved the noir movie, “Brick,” starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and the TV show, “Veronica Mars.” While both of these featured characters of color, these characters only had supporting roles. I wanted to write a mystery with a Black protagonist simply because I hadn’t seen or read stories like this when I was growing up. I think it’s important for young readers to read about characters of color in all genres.

7. What do you hope readers gain from reading your novel?

It’s difficult to answer this question. As a school counselor, I know kids hate it when you obviously try to teach them a lesson. However, I would love for readers to walk away with a more open mind and heart — and to understand that skin color and ZIP codes only tell part of someone’s story.

Cross-genre D.C. mystery tackles social issues with grit, humor


Jen Lu and her AI sidekick confront climate change and longevity drugs in 2033

TORONTO, Canada — Set in Washington, D.C. in 2033, climate change has hit hard, fires are burning, unemployment is high, and controversial longevity treatments are only available to the ultra-rich. Enter resourceful young police detective, Jen B. Lu, and her partner, Chandler, a synthetic computer implant in her brain acting as her link to police records and a constant voice inside her head. He’s a wannabe tough guy with a sense of humor and his own ideas about solving crimes.

As a detective in the Elder Abuse unit, Jen is supposed to be investigating kids pushing their aging parents to “exit” so they are eligible to get the longevity drug. But what really has her attention are the persistent rumors about Eden, an illegal version of the longevity drug, and the bizarre outbreak of people aging almost overnight, then suddenly dying.
When Jen’s investigations of Eden take her too close to the truth, she is suspended, Chandler is deactivated, and her boyfriend is freaked out by “the thing inside her brain”—leaving Jen to pursue a very dangerous investigation all on her own.

“The Last Exit: A Jen Lu Mystery”

Michael Kaufman | Jan. 12, 2021 | Crooked Lane | Mystery
Hardcover | ISBN: 9781643855677 | Price: $27.99

Praise for the book…

“[An] outstanding series launch…Exceptional worldbuilding is complemented by sympathetic characters and suspenseful plot twists. Kaufman is a writer to watch.”
Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Kaufman keeps the pot boiling…A strong, richly imagined brew.”
Kirkus Reviews

“An engrossing thriller set in a fascinatingly plausible near future, The Last Exit centres on a human-AI partnership that’s as believable as it’s moving.”
Emma Donoghue, New York Times bestselling author of Room

The Last Exit hits hard. Fast action—a melding of the mental and physical—keeps this smart futuristic thriller racing, and its contemporary implications keep the reader thinking.”
Thomas Perry, bestselling author of A Small Town

“Global warming, deadly epidemics, and frightening advances in artificial intelligence combine to add unbearable tension to this fast-paced and, somehow, even funny mystery.”
Richard Reyes-Gavilan, executive director, DC Public Library

“Detective Lu has troubles aplenty coming at her in this fast-paced thriller: a baffling mystery to solve when too many people start dying too fast, personal moral quandaries to wrestle with, and a cruel and inequitable society on the brink of chaos to navigate.”
—Con Lehane, author of the 42nd Street Library mysteries

“I love a book that makes me think, shows me a different world, and makes me savor the world I have, and be more grateful for it.”
Anne Perry, international bestselling author of the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt mysteries

“A highly accomplished debut that does not miss a beat.”
Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, bestselling author of Last Ritual

About the author…

MICHAEL KAUFMAN: Michael has worked for decades engaging men to support women’s rights and positively transform the lives of men. He is the co-founder of the White Ribbon Campaign, the largest effort in the world of men working to end violence against women. He volunteers as a senior fellow at Promundo (Washington, DC) and has worked in fifty countries with the United Nations, governments, NGOs and educators. He advised the French government in 2019 as a member of its G7 Gender Equality Advisory Council. He is the author of numerous nonfiction and fiction works, and was awarded the Canadian Jewish Book Award for Fiction. His most recent nonfiction book is The Time Has Come. Why Men Must Join the Gender Equality Revolution (2019) and his most recent novel is The Last Exit: A Jen Lu Mystery (2020). His books and articles have been translated into fourteen languages. Born in Cleveland, Ohio, having lived in Durham, North Carolina, and now living in Toronto, Canada, he is married and has a daughter and a son. For more information, please visit:

In an interview, Michael Kaufman can discuss:

  • Which aspects of the novel parallel our biggest fears in 2021, and what a hopeful take on dystopian themes can teach us about moving forward.
  • How a decades-long career in gender equality influenced his fiction writing.
  • How The Last Exit blends elements of the police procedural mystery genre with those of political thrillers, science fiction, speculative fiction, anti-racist and feminist works.
  • His thoughts on weaving themes about climate change, technology, the role of the police, and political corruption into a work of fiction.
  • What’s next for Jen Lu.

An Interview with Michael Kaufman

1. You’ve written seven non-fiction books and worked in fifty countries with the UN, governments, women’s organizations, companies, and educators to engage men to support women’s rights and end violence against women. Why are you making this shift to writing fiction?

I’ve always read much more fiction than non-fiction, including a zillion mysteries, and I have two other published novels. I’ve long wanted to focus on fiction-writing, but for many years there were so few men speaking out for women’s rights and for men to play an equal role in raising children that I felt a responsibility to put most of my attention on that. Now there are thousands of us and many organizations that engage men and boys–so I felt that the time had come to focus on the thing I’ve long dreamed of doing.

2. Your book has people wearing N95 masks, a virus affecting great numbers, a massive forest fire, and an uprising against the police. Did you write this in response to Covid-19, the 2019 and 2020 West Coast fires, and Black Lives Matter?

It does have a bit of a “ripped from the headlines” feel, but I swear on a stack of Bibles all that was in the drafts written in 2018 and early 2019. An early draft has “Jen put on her N95” because of smoke from a forest fire; I edited it to read “her N95 mask” because I figured readers wouldn’t have a clue what I was talking about. Oh how things change. There are details, however, that even the most fevered imagination couldn’t cook up: like a virus killing millions being called a hoax and people showing their lemming-like political loyalties by defying simple public health measures. That definitely is not in this book.

3. Why did you choose to highlight hope within what might otherwise be a very dark novel? In these difficult times, can we actually imagine a future with real hope?

Set in 2033, The Last Exit, does have a few dystopian elements, but the same could be said for Washington, D.C. in, say, 2020 and 2021. But it’s a positive book, full of hope–not because I’m naive, but because I believe in our personal and collective capacity to build a better future. One reason I wrote this book (other than to be utterly entertaining!) was to give people a chance to experience that hope and to understand how we can act, both on our own and together, to change the world.

4. While there’s an important mystery at its core, The Last Exit also blends in elements from other genres, such as: political thrillers, speculative fiction, dystopian fiction, anti-racist and feminist works. Which elements did you seek to highlight (or avoid) within these multiple genres?

First and foremost, The Last Exit is a mystery, with strong elements of a police procedural. I wanted it to be exciting but also a ton of fun to read. I wanted it to be thrilling, but definitely not a techno-thriller or a chase novel. I wanted it to be a page turner but have solid literary chops. Yes, it’s set in the very near future, but it doesn’t focus on technology–a few things have changed but it looks pretty much like Washington, D.C. today. I wanted my feminist, anti-racist, LGBQT-positive, and pro-economic-equality ideals just to be there, as part of Jen Lu’s world, and not something the book makes speeches about.

5. What’s next for you? Can readers expect to see more from Jen Lu in the future?

Although I’ll continue as a public voice for women’s rights and better ideals of manhood, my focus for the years ahead is my fiction writing. I’ve finished a draft of the second Jen Lu mystery and I’m really excited by the direction it’s taking. I’m writing a screenplay based on my first novel, and I’ll soon return to work on a literary novel I started years ago.

Viral BS: Medical Myths and Why We Fall for Them


Can your zip code predict when you will die? Should you space out childhood vaccines? Does talcum powder cause cancer? Why do some doctors recommend e-cigarettes while other doctors recommend you stay away from them? Health information―and misinformation―is all around us, and it can be hard to separate the two. A long history of unethical medical experiments and medical mistakes, along with a host of celebrities spewing anti-science beliefs, has left many wary of science and the scientists who say they should be trusted. How can we unravel the knots of fact and fiction to find out what we should really be concerned about, and what we can laugh off?

In Viral BS, medical journalist, doctor, professor, and former CDC disease detective Seema Yasmin, driven by a need to set the record straight, dissects some of the most widely circulating medical myths and pseudoscience. Exploring how epidemics of misinformation and disinformation can spread faster than microbes, Dr. Yasmin asks why bad science is sometimes more believable and contagious than the facts. Each easy-to-read chapter covers a specific myth, whether it has endured for many years or hit the headlines more recently. Dr. Yasmin explores such pressing questions as

  • Do cell phones, Nutella, or bacon cause cancer?
  • Does playing football cause brain disease?
  • Should you eat your placenta?
  • Do the flat tummy teas promoted by celebs on Instagram actually work?
  • Is the CDC banned from studying guns?
  • Do patients cared for by female doctors live longer?
  • Is trauma inherited?
  • Is suicide contagious? and much more.

Taking a deep dive into the health and science questions you have always wanted answered, this authoritative and entertaining book empowers readers to reach their own conclusions. Viral BS even comes with Dr. Yasmin’s handy pull-out-and-keep Bulls*%t Detection Kit.

“Viral BS: Medical Myths and Why We Fall for Them”

Seema Yasmin | January 12, 2021 | Johns Hopkins University Press | Nonfiction, Science
Hardcover | ISBN: 1421440407 | $24.95

Based on her original reporting from West Africa and the United States, If God Is A Virus charts the course of the largest and deadliest Ebola epidemic in history, telling the stories of Ebola survivors, outbreak responders, journalists and the virus itself. This highly anticipated debut poetry collection by journalist, epidemic expert and poet, Dr. Seema Yasmin, features documentary poems exploring which human lives are valued, how news editorial decisions are weighed, what role nonprofits and the aid industrial complex plays in crises, and how medical myths can travel through the hot zone faster than a virus itself.

These poems also give voice to the Ebola virus. Eight percent of the human genome is inherited from viruses and the human placenta would not exist without a gene descended from a virus. If God Is A Virus reimagines viruses as givers of life and even authors of a viral self-help book.

If God Is a Virus: Poems

Seema Yasmin | April 6, 2021 | Haymarket Books | Poetry
Paperback | ISBN: 1642594598 | $16.00


Dr. Seema Yasmin is an Emmy Award-winning journalist, medical doctor, disease detective and author. She was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in breaking news reporting in 2017 with her team from The Dallas Morning News for coverage of a mass shooting. Yasmin was a disease detective in the Epidemic Intelligence Service at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention where she chased outbreaks in maximum-security prisons, American Indian reservations, border towns and hospitals. Currently, Dr. Yasmin is a Stanford professor, medical analyst for CNN and science correspondent for Conde Nast Entertainment. Find her at, Twitter @DoctorYasmin and Instagram: @drseemayasmin.

An Interview with Dr. Seema Yasmin

  1. Viral BS feels especially relevant during a pandemic. Did you write it because of Covid-19?
    I started to write this book in 2016 following the success of a regular column I wrote called Debunked. Every week I’d dissect reader questions about medicines, chemtrails, vaccines, diets, and other health hot topics – and there were plenty of topics. Medical myths and health hoaxes are not new and sometimes the way studies are reported in the news can give a false sense of what a study actually found. That’s why there are chapters about dietary supplements, cholesterol-lowering medicines, vaccines and other topics on which there is much confusion. So it feels timely now because we are experiencing a pandemic and an infodemic, but the spread of health misinformation and disinformation is nothing new!
  2. How did you go from being a doctor and disease detective to a journalist?
    I went from medical school and the CDC to journalism school because while I was investigating epidemics I witnessed the spread of not only disease, but rumours and hoaxes about disease. I also saw the unraveling of decades of public health achievements, such as vaccines, because anti-vaccine groups were so effective at sharing their misleading stories. Journalism school was a way to train in effective storytelling, to try and counter some of the health misinformation out there, and to extend my public health work to a much wider audience. I wanted accurate health information to be available to as many people as possible.
  3. We’re living in a world where we are bombarded with misinformation. How do we become more mindful consumers of information related to disease and health? Do you have any tips on what to look for to help decipher between “real news” and fear-mongering?
    Use the BS detection kit at the back of Viral BS! It’s important to remember that false information often thrives and goes viral because it’s sensational, emotionally triggering and novel. It’s the kind of stuff that feels new and makes you want to share with others, versus accurate information which isn’t usually as “wow” inducing. False information is designed to go viral by being compelling. So consider that a first red flag. And then, like the United Nations #PledgeToPause campaign that I’m involved with, take a minute and pause before you retweet, repost or forward on Whatsapp. Do your due diligence, check what else has been reported on this issue, do a reverse image search and some fact checking before you share with others. And finally, talk to friends and family about what you’ve seen before deciding to believe it. Studies show that people exposed to false anti-vaccine messages on social media were less likely to fall for the lies if they discussed the messages with loved ones.
  4. What medical myths did you believe as a child?
    So many! The intro to Viral BS tells the story of how I believed lots of conspiracy theories as a kid, why that was, and how that informs my research on the spread of health misinformation and disinformation. As frustrating and dangerous as they can be, I have empathy for people who believe falsehoods because conspiracy theories often have a kernel of truth and because the reality of medicine and public health is that it was built on a legacy of exploitation of the most vulnerable people, and there are histories of unethical experiments that sound like conspiracy theories but are actually true.
  5. Your book “If God Is a Virus” focuses on the largest Ebola outbreak in history. How did you go from reporting on Ebola to writing poems about Ebola?
    There’s a line from one of my favourite poets, Marwa Helal, in her spectacular book Invasive Species that says: “poems do work journalism can’t.” I like to disrupt the boundaries of genre and find power in the way journalism can be interrogated and used through poetry. When I finished reporting on Ebola in West Africa and had published the magazine and newspaper stories that were expected of me, the stories of the people I had met never left me, and I wanted to see what poetry could do that traditional journalism could not.
  6. What were the greatest myths (or misinformation) you witnessed surrounding the recent Ebola outbreak? How can we prevent this?
    There was a myth that the outbreak was started by researchers at Tulane University in an experiment gone wrong; a myth that vaccines for Ebola would only work on White people; that it could be cured with herbal medicines. There were a ton of myths and hoaxes, some well-meaning and false, others malicious and spread with the intention to cause chaos and harm. We prevent this reoccurring by acknowledging that there is a chasm between science and the public – particularly some communities – and by building bridges ahead of a crisis.
  7. While I’m sure this is hard to narrow down, especially given the strength and courage of all disease survivors — do you have a survivor story that stays with you most?
    I can’t stop thinking about Salome Karwah, who I reported on for Scientific American and who is featured in some poems in If God Is A Virus. Salome lost her parents to Ebola, she lost friends and uncles, and her community was devastated by the epidemic. She couldn’t even properly bury her family members and mourn them according to tradition. Salome had survived two civil wars, then she became infected with Ebola – and survived. I attended Salome’s wedding to another Ebola survivor in December 2015. Her two children were there and it was a beautiful series of ceremonies. But a year later, Salome died in childbirth. And even though she had survived Ebola, it was that virus that in some ways killed her, because first responders and neighbors did not want to touch her or help her when she was suffering because she was an Ebola survivor and there was so much stigma about survivors. The headline for my magazine story about Salome was along the lines of, “A woman survives Ebola but not childbirth.” The two poems about her are titled “Baby Sister Survives Ebola…” “…& Dies in Childbirth.”

Is TikTok the next Bookstagram?

You’ve seen it in the headlines, heard about it incessantly from your teenage niece, or (perhaps) you’ve even downloaded it yourself. Let’s talk about TikTok. 

TikTok is a very popular app that promotes the creation of short-form video content and slideshows of no more than 1 minute in length. The app is designed so that videos have a much greater chance of going viral than, say, content on Instagram or even YouTube. 

As of the time of writing this blog, TikTok has approximately 800 million monthly users, ranking just behind Instagram (1 billion monthly users). However the app is only two years old, so its growth rate is substantial. It also received a huge download boost during March-July 2020 due to Covid-19 lockdown. 50% of users in the US are under the age of 35, with the majority of users being 16-24

Like Bookstagram, TikTok has a healthy book community. YA is the most popular genre on TikTok due to its demographic, with YA Fantasy and YA Romance/Rom-Com being among the top most popular subgenres

Just like Bookstagrammers, BookTokers are influencers who review books, offer recommendations, and flex the extensiveness of their shelves (such as @zacharyjamesoffical, @treofpaperbacks, and @amysbooknook. Authors are beginning to find very influential platforms on TikTok as well, and since the app is still relatively new, it’s not inundated/saturated with authors just yet. TikTok viewers (who are often young, aspirational writers themselves), love connecting with authors writing in their favorite genres, or engage with videos of fellow writers explaining their successes, tips, and struggles. 

There is a niche on TikTok for EVERYTHING. So what makes a video become popular or go viral? Here’s the thing: Nobody knows. TikTok’s algorithm is notoriously “uncrackable” (as far as users are concerned, at least) meaning that even frequent users don’t really know why some content becomes popular and others, well, doesn’t. The pro is that technically anything can go viral; the con is that “trying to go viral” is a mystifying and frustrating endeavor. But there are a few indicators of success. 

When you publish a TikTok video, the video will not be visible to 800 million users — instead, it will be introduced to a pool of a few dozen (based on what content those users have engaged with previously). If your video is watched from start to finish, liked, and shared by that small pool of users, TikTok will then “show” it to a pool of a few hundred, and then if engagement is still high, they’ll “show” it to a few thousand, and so on and so on.

Videos with high engagement get exposed to more viewers. Engagement is measured by likes, shares, comments, duets, and view time (watching the video from start to finish is best). Videos tend to get highest viewership (aka most exposure to viewers/higher engagement) within the first three hours of posting, but not always — every person who engages with your video can give it a little “boost” in the algorithm (meaning suddenly more people see it), so videos can go viral “later,” like 3-5 days after posting. This is the exception though, not the norm.

Again: No one knows the exact formula for making something go viral. Success can feel very arbitrary. However, popular TikTok content is pretty much always entertaining, authentic, and relatable. Seriously, leave your sales pitches at the door — no one is interested. But if you entertain, are authentic, or are relatable (or best, a combination of all three), the influence/following you’ll gain is extensive and unlimited. Telling people to “buy my book!” on TikTok is content-death — but authentically demonstrating your passion for your work and then asking people to check out your book / showing why it’s appealing can have a huge effect. Viewers on TikTok want to support creators; demonstrate why they should support you. 

Books Forward holiday gift guide

Still on the hunt for the perfect gift for the special people in your life? We have a few suggestions…

For your mom, who is working to diversify her reading life:
We love our families and we love our mothers, sisters, grandmothers, and aunties, but not every family looks like a Norman Rockwell painting, and not every woman is a 1950’s homemaker. Nor should they be! Seema Yasmin’s Muslim Women Are Everything is a beautifully illustrated book with inspiring stories of successful Muslim women from around the world.

For your BFF who thinks they’re totally a detective after binging too many true crime docs:
We all have that friend who is obsessed with true crime documentaries and can’t get enough of suspenseful TV dramas. Let them get lost in the pages of The Second Mother, the newest psychological thriller by USA Today bestselling author Jenny Milchman. This twisting story follows a schoolteacher who attempts to outrun her past by accepting a job on a remote Maine island — only to discover that its residents may be more dangerous than the isolation itself.

For the aspiring hip hop artist in your life:
Big Freedia is the irrepressible force behind bounce rap music going mainstream and a collaborator with Beyonce, Lizzo, Drake and Kesha. And although this year’s tour with Kesha was canceled due to the pandemic, this iconic voice for LGBTQ+ and Black Lives Matter activism is celebrating the paperback release of her memoir, Big Freedia: God Save the Queen Diva, just in time for the holiday shopping season. From growing up as an overweight gay choir boy in New Orleans’ worst neighborhood, to surviving Hurricane Katrina by living on her roof for two days, to bursting underground bounce music into the mainstream, Freedia’s signature creativity and resilience continues to set her apart. Grab a copy of this book and pair it with Big Freedia’s new holiday album, “Smokin’ Santa Christmas,” available on Dec. 11.

For your armchair psychologist sister:
Did your sister take an intro psychology class in college and now she wants to diagnose everyone in the family? Losing the Atmosphere: A Baffling Disorder, a Search for Help, and the Therapist Who Understood is the perfect book for her. In this stunning new memoir, Vivian Conan takes a deep dive into her struggles with unsettling symptoms and her mental health journey.

For your activist cousin who’s not afraid to discuss race and politics at the dinner table:
Your family has a carefully curated list of topics to NOT talk about at the table — and your cousin can be relied on to confront them all during the course of the holiday. It’s a breath of fresh air after too many prim discussions about the weather and the consistency of the mashed potatoes; these dialogues are important, even if they challenge some of your relatives. Gift your cousin Wings of Ebony by J. Elle. This explosive YA debut is about a Black girl from a poor inner-city neighborhood who is desperate to return to her community after she discovers she has magic powers and is swept away to the secret land of Ghizon, only to discover that the evil infiltrating the land may also be threatening her hood. Described as The Hate U Give meets Wonder Woman in a Black Panther world, this novel tackles racism, privilege, and allyship with clear parallels to the Black Lives Matter Movement.

For your favorite crazy cat lady:
We know them, we love them, and we (usually) support their feline fandom. So instead of turning to a typical T-shirt or overdone wall art, this year, gift your cat-obsessed friend with a book from a cozy mystery series featuring lovable Siamese RahRah and his amateur sleuth owner, Sarah. Debra H. Goldstein’s Sarah Blair Mystery Series are witty and charming whodunits that include easy recipes for the cooking-averse — and of course, lots of cat content!

For the theater nerd in your life:
Got that one friend who breaks out into song when things are a bit too quiet? Or maybe you are that friend. Either way, embrace that performance prowess by pre-ordering your friend — or yourself — a copy of Odd Woman Out by actress Melanie Chartoff (aka Didi Pickles from Rugrats). From breaking into the biz to the devotion that led her to put career over love and family, Melanie’s stories are equal parts heartwarming, entertaining and oh, so funny in this memoir.

For your siblings who swear like sailors:
None of us can deny 2020 has been a mess. But instead of shushing your brother’s creative cursing or stifling your sister’s impulsive swears, psychologist Jodie Eckleberry-Hunt would rather embrace it, as she details in her self-help guide Move On Motherf*cker: Live, Laugh, and Let Sh*t Go. Whether it’s journaling exercises or practical steps individuals can incorporate into their daily lives, this is a book your family members will be ******* glad to receive under the Christmas tree this year.

For your film-obsessed friend:
I bet you’re thinking, “We all love movies, right?” or “I’ve been watching 10+ hours of Netflix per day since March, surely that counts, right?” Well, nice try. But when we say obsessed, we mean like, knows-Cary-Grant’s-birthday-and-celebrates-it-annually obsessed. Or, someone who actually knows what French New Wave Cinema is, someone who’s not only subscribed to Netflix and Hulu but also the Criterion Channel. You get the idea. Well, if you’re into getting the perfect gift, look no further than Phantom Lady: Hollywood Producer Joan Harrison, the Forgotten Woman Behind Hitchcock by Christina Lane. Considering that this is the first-ever biography on writer-producer Joan Harrison, it’s sure to have even the most extreme film fanatic saying, “Huh, I actually never knew that!”

For your techie cousin:
If your cousin is always coding or streaming on Twitch, then getting them a book may not seem like the obvious choice – but we’re not talking about a slow-burn here, we’re talking about a fast-paced, action-packed, furious page-turning type of book. The Price of Safety by Michael C. Bland is set in the United States in 2047, a time when technology is implanted in human brains and extensive surveillance is used to reduce crime rates. After a techie dad decides to help his daughter cover up for a crime, things get dangerous, pitting them against powerful forces in the government.

For your younger brother, who has taken to wearing all black and talking about death a lot:
This year has brought out the nihilism in a lot of people, but we suggest directing them to a book that will fit their darkness but leave them uplifted. E.A. Barres’ thriller They’re Gone is gritty with great character work. It starts off with two murdered men and only gets more intriguing from there.

For your uncle who misses the glory days of rock ‘n roll:
Jon Zazula, who is known in the music world as Johnny Z, gives a look behind the scenes in his book, Heavy Tales. After he and his wife founded Megaforce Records in the early ’80s, he had a hand in the early successes of bands like Metallica, and has stories to share.

Need even more book recommendations? Check out our previous blog posts or email me at