Interview with Dr. James Fricton – Part 2

Originally posted on • January 5, 2017

Dr. James Fricton is Professor Emeritus at the University of Minnesota, Senior Researcher at Health Partners Institute for Education and Research, and Pain Specialist at the Minnesota Head and Neck Pain Clinic. Besides being the current President of the International Myopain Society, he has been on the board of the American Pain Society and American Academy of Orofacial Pain. This is Part 2 of Melissa Swanson’s interview with Dr. Fricton about his romantic thriller self-help book, The Last Scroll.

In 2014, your book The Last Scroll, a romantic thriller/self-help book, was published. What was your inspiration when you wrote The Last Scroll?

Fricton: I initially began writing a non-fiction self-help book to help people understand how to prevent chronic pain. However, as I became involved in writing, I found the long list of risk and protective factors in pain, the interaction between them, how they perpetuate chronic pain, and the theories behind strategies to change them were complex to write about. Concepts of human systems and biopsychosocial theories, cybernetics, chaos theory, homeostasis, positive psychology, behavioral medicine, and integrative care are all important in understanding chronic illness. They are, however, often confusing to patients. Thus, it was apparent that it may be a challenge for both patient and health care providers alike to understand them. So, I turned to fiction to tell a story and weave these concepts into the plot and characters so that it would be more intriguing and, hopefully, engaging to those who read it.

Why turn it into a romantic thriller novel?

Fricton: Although non-fiction self-help books can be informative, many people do not find them engaging and, sometimes, particularly if concepts are complex, they may be difficult to remember. There are no characters, plots, emotions generated, or dramatic conclusions to compel the reader forward. Fiction, on the other hand, can be used as a creative teaching tool that can be more engaging and interesting to readers than non-fiction and present many opportunities for lessons to be learned. Fiction can change your entire epistemology – helping people learn a new way of understanding ourselves and the world – one that goes deeper and broader than any assemblage of non-fiction facts. Stories can become personal by helping the reader become involved with engaging characters who can be as real as the people they encounter every day. The characters can teach us how to act or react or learn from a situation. And, when the characters grab us emotionally, we become engaged in the story and, more importantly, the lessons.

Tell us about the story.

Fricton: The Last Scroll tells the story of a dedicated but lonely young physician, Dr. Ryan Laughlin. After the death of his wife, he is searching for elusive secrets to happiness and a good life for both himself and his patients. A chance meeting with an old classmate leads him to an ancient Roman spa in a medieval village of Italy where researchers are studying two remarkable events that could change the course of history: a new technology that claims to measure the essence of life itself, the human spirit, and the final Dead Sea Scroll which was recently discovered. This scroll reveals universal truths about the nature of life through principles of the Seven Blessings of Life but warns of Seven Plagues of the Beast that are emerging this century causing alarm and protests around the world. While visiting the spa to learn these secrets and enjoy the food, wine, and culture of Italy, Ryan finds himself the target of a killer who claims the project is heresy and will do anything to stop it. In a deadly race through ancient Italy, he is desperately trying to save the only woman he has loved since the death of his wife.

It is a self-help book. What insight does it provide?

Fricton: As a self-help book, the statement on the cover of the book summarizes its major theme: “It’s about your energy.” What if we can measure our energy, the human spirit, in the seven realms of our lives? The book follows this premise using energy as a metaphor for wellness. It reveals how to maintain positive energy in each realm of our life through cognitive-behavioral approaches to achieve the blessings of life including love, health, wisdom, happiness, prosperity, beauty, and peace that are available to all of us. It’s about understanding our virtues and vices and how they reflect the positive or negative energy we have in each Realm. It’s about knowing that we exert a positive and negative influence on the people and world around us, whether we want to or not. And, it’s about how to balance our lives in each Realm and deal with the challenges of life that deplete our energy and lead to chronic pain and illness. More information about The Last Scroll can be found at

By “helping people understand the seven realms of their lives that are involved in preventing chronic pain and achieving health and wellness.” What are the seven realms?

The seven realms are dynamic, evolving, and interrelated set of risk and protective factors that occur in each area of our lives and can shift the balance between health and illness. While many distinct pathophysiological mechanisms may occur in chronic pain conditions, persistence of an illness is based on the complex interaction of diverse factors which can initiate, perpetuate, or even protect people from the chronic pain. This allows us to understand each of as a whole, with the interrelationship between different realms of their life contributing to this balance between health and illness. The factors may be diverse and may include Body, Lifestyle, Emotions, Spirit, Social Life, Mind, and Environment (Acronym is BLESS ME). The Body includes physical and physiologic aspects of the body and how we use it including exercise, repetitive strain, and posture. Lifestyle includes behaviors that we do regularly such diet, sleep, substance use, activity level, and pacing. Emotions are the positive and negative feelings we experience such as depression, joy, fear, courage, anxiety, calm anger, guilt, and shame. The social life includes the relationships with the people around us including love, belonging, social support, helping others, and rewarding recovery. The Mind includes thoughts and attitudes we have including optimism, pessimism, self-efficacy, resilience, expectation, and understanding. The Spirit include the higher beliefs and purposes that drive us including self-compassion, purpose, faith, beliefs, and direction. The Environment includes physical environment and settings that surrounds us including safety, risk, disorganization, being unclean, noise, and pollution.

How does it apply to your daily life?

When I’m not writing, my life is filled with activities that boost my energy in the seven realms including learning more, caring for others, family activities, spending time with friends, coaching baseball and football, exercising, golfing, reading, creating gardens, enjoying healthy meals, helping people manage chronic pain, conducting research to enhance health and wellness, teaching students, and writing books and papers. I like the little things in life such as the aroma of my wife’s ragu that has been simmering all day, the smile on the boy who just scored a run on our baseball team, the view overlooking the Italian wine country of Brisighella when the yellow ginestra are in bloom, the tears in the eyes of a patient when she first realizes the relief from her headaches is real, the gentle rush of water flowing over the waterfalls in my backyard as I fall asleep, the inspiration I receive from hearing about good things people do for each other, and the “aha!” moment when an idea pops in my mind while exercising to music.

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