Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Satisfaction Guaranteed

I'm going to talk about endings today, but first I want to apologize for whiffing my last posting date. Life just got the best of me there for a bit and I completely missed the boat.

No excuses. My bad.

The reason I want to talk about endings today is because I'm sneaking up on one in my work in progress, and there are a lot of little fiddly bits needing tied together. I took weaving in college, and I wish I could say it helped me even a teeny bit with plot threads, but it didn't. Not one snit.

Endings are difficult, and even more so because they are important. At least, I think they are. As a reader, an ending can make or break a book for me. A really good finish can save a lackluster novel, and a limp, soggy ending can kill a great read, and has many time over.

So what makes a good ending? Is it necessarily happy? Tragic? Full of last minute twists? Well, I'd say it could be any of those things, but it doesn't have to be. Happy, tragic, twisty or predictable all have to do with personal taste. It's hard, possibly impossible, to give advice about matters of taste.

The best kind of ending then is one that satisfies. Isn't that special? Satisfies what? Who? They say it all the time, "you need a satisfying ending." But, but...
I finally had someone say this in a way that made all the lights come on. No, you can't satisfy everyone all the time, but a satisfying ending isn't about pleasing taste. It's about satisfying the promises you made at the beginning of the book, and in fact, all the way through it.

Does the ending satisfy the beginning? Eureka. I can work with that.

The best way to see this in action is to read short stories. I swear, they have this nailed. Good short stories that is, not crappy ones. Probably a given there, huh? Anyway, a good short story has an ending like a punchline. POW. Everything comes together in one final, perfectly executed loop.

It's almost like solving a puzzle, or working out the answer to a particularly tricky riddle. Very, very satisfying. Even if you don't like what happens. There is still that huge sense of accomplishment, of finally seeing the big picture. When an ending can tie back to the beginning somehow, when it can ease the reader toward some revelation about the previous story, then we're talking about magic.

At least, I am. This kind of ending sticks with me. It keeps me thinking. Sure, you still need to tie up those loose ends, or most of them. Unless, of course, you set up a different kind of book, one where the reader would expect to be left guessing about a few things. And I'm not sure a nice, neat tied up ending is always satisfying.

In fact, taking that long, slow journey back to the Shire to show us how the story ends for each and every character can backfire on you. If the big finish was on page 280 and you're still tying up things on page 340, we need to talk. Read some short stories for awhile and find that POW ending.
I'm pretty sure there's a version that suits the novel.

In the meantime, I have some weaving to do. :)

~ Frances

Saturday, August 24, 2013

One of the seven deadlies

I've been pondering the concept of pride recently. I mean, I embrace it, as I do all of the other Seven Deadly Sins (hello, we're evil!), but I find some people's use of the concept a bit odd.

To me, I think you should only be able to take pride in things that you've accomplished or had a direct influence on. But so often, whenever you achieve something, people tell you "I'm proud of you."

That phrase makes sense in certain situations. Parents, upon seeing their daughter graduate from college with honors after they've instilled a love of learning in her. To a teammate who you assisted in scoring the winning goal. But when it's something like you've lost 10 pounds and a random friend tells you that they're proud of you?  Are they taking credit for your weight loss?

It makes it sound like they're taking credit for what you've accomplished, when they tell you that they are proud of you.

I suppose it could be the inherently selfish nature of human beings... a way to say "Congratulations for what you've achieved, but really, let's focus back on me."

Or I could be totally overthinking the matter, but it just strikes me as odd. And maybe no one else notices that.

But it got me thinking about writing and how things that may seem innocuous or totally normal can be taken entirely different ways by other people. Some of it's cultural background that leads to changes, some of it is education, or a variety of other factors that influence how we interpret the world.

So who do we write for? The lowest common denominator? Dumb everything down so that even the dumbest among us can get it? Or do we sacrifice a few readers and keep things at the lofty level that we aim for?

I think the answer depends on what kind of thing you're writing, who your target audience is, and how snobbish you're feeling at any given moment. Yeah, I occasionally have the urge to write brilliant prose that will be studied alongside Oscar Wilde in years to come. The chances of that happening are slim, however, and if I aim for that, I'm most likely just going to sound pretentious. But that doesn't mean I shouldn't try for it sometime. But like most misunderstood geniuses, I may not get the popular opinion on my side until well after my death. Maybe I should aim more at the reality-tv-watching, beer-guzzling, NASCAR-watching middle american that makes up (apparently) so much of the population.

I guess I'm just going to write whatever the hell I feel like, whenever I feel like it. And you can all be oh so proud of me.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Baby Evil Writers 101: When to Query

Baby Evil Writers 101: When to Query
Julie Butcher

We’ve talked about a lot of things here my evil darlings but, we haven’t covered when to query your  evil manuscript of doom. I made the mistake of querying too soon and suffered (and rightly so) the hordes of rejection letters and pangs of baby evil writer growth spurts.

I don’t want that for you, my malevolent dears. So I have  a baby evil check list for you before you send your firstborn into the world.

1.       You have a completed manuscript. It can’t be part, it can’t be almost. You must have finished the entire thing. There isn’t an exception for this rule unless you write non-fiction. Not ever and not past ever.  So that would be NEVER.

2.       You have already started another story. Not the sequel to the first thing you wrote—a new story. I know you want to immediately go to the next book in your series. I know this and I did this. But sweet heathens, the market changes . What sells today won’t necessarily get you a book deal next week. I’m not trying to burst your lovely bubble but this is an industry fact. Start something different. The submission process takes months and even years. You need something new to keep you going when the rejections come in.

3.       You have sent this manuscript to a critique group, or to a professional editor with a good reputation, and you have made sweeping changes in the story and to the characters. If you haven’t done this. Stop thinking about submitting your manuscript to Agents and Editors. Stop right this minute! No one can write without a reader’s opinion. Even big name authors have beta-readers. You cannot count your family or your close non-writer friends in this tally.

4.       You have read your manuscript out loud at least three times. This is an important step for all true minions of evil. You catch mistakes like crazy-town and you will improve your work, guaranteed. Evil is as Evil does. Unless your friends, family, and the people at the coffee shop think you are insane, you’re not finished.

5.       You have put this manuscript aside for at least three months and worked on something else. Time may heal all puss-filled wounds but in addition, it gives you clearer eyes for your own work. Our minds are funny things, my dears, and absence makes them clearer and able to see the giant infested plot holes of doom.

6.       You have line-edited your work for punctuation errors or sent your work to a line editor to be corrected. Some editors and agents can see past where the comma fairy pooped all over your work. Others run screaming into the dark to nurse the migraine your manuscript caused. Probably blinding pain will not get you representation or a book deal.

7.       You have mentally prepared yourself for rejection and have physically stocked your lair with chocolate, liquor, or whatever items help you to conquer despair.

8.       You have researched agents and editors to make sure they not only represent the genre you write, but are open to and accepting unsolicited queries. Personally, I tend to remember the names of people who defy my wishes right to my virtual face. Don’t be that person.

9.       You have spent more than a week perfecting your query letter and have gotten awesome reviews on it from your beta readers.

10.   You have scourged the idea of self-publishing if you haven’t sold within a few months from your psyche. I will take my ball and go home or find someone else to play with doesn’t cut it in this industry. True evil lasts forever. You have to be ready for the long haul. Sure, lightning can strike. But how many times have you personally been hit?

That’s what I thought.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Series Post: Ask Dr. Dina - Infection Part IV: Treatment

DISCLAIMER: I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV. I do not hold a current medical license or certification (I let them lapse because I no longer work in the medical field and don't intend to ever again). What I do have is an extensive medical background in various fields. Everything you read here is the result of either education, training, research and interpretation, or personal experience. The information in this post is not to be taken as a substitute for professional medical advice or examination. Seriously, if you're having an immediate medical problem and you're reading this blog for help, get off the damned computer and call an ambulance! 



We've been talking about infection for quite awhile now in our "Ask Dr. Dina" series. This piece was broken into a few parts because there are many, many different types of infection and I wasn't about to write a book on the subject.

These parts were –

I – Bacterial
II – Viral
III – Fungal

Now we've come to the final installment of this piece – Part IV: Treatment. In this piece I'm going to talk about…you guessed it…the different ways to treat various infections.

Let's start with something everyone (hopefully!) does – cleaning. Cleaning the things that touch the infection is just as important as cleaning the infected area itself.

Killing microbes (commonly called "germs") on something is called "sterilizing." You're making something free of contaminants – making it sterile. There are lots of ways to sterilize things, but I'll only talk about a couple here. Hospitals and other places like laboratories and tattoo parlors use a machine called an autoclave to sterilize their equipment using high heat and pressure. Ever see a movie where they take a lighter or candle and run the flame over a blade or pointy object before sticking it into someone? Same principle (and it works, but you have to do it more than a few times to get the thing sterile).

You know those little bleach wipes you can get for the kitchen and bathroom? Those are awesome! Bleach kills a hell of a lot of things, and you don't need much to do it, either. A 10% solution of bleach mixed with water is enough to kill the HIV virus, tuberculosis, hepatitis and other bloodborne/bodily fluid pathogens.

(Here's a link for the technical medical types from the CDC. Warning: unless you speak Science, this is going to hurt your brain: )

Alcohol is another good thing to use to sterilize something. We've all seen movies where a character is injured and someone pours vodka over the wound and the character screams. Yeah, that's about right. It's going to hurt like a bitch to do that. They also pour some over the knife before they begin cutting into the character. Why? To sterilize it! Booze does work if you've got nothing else (the "better than nothing" principle), but there's a lot of other things in booze that aren't so lovely for sterilizing. And it has to be spirits, not beer or wine. Neither beer nor wine have a high enough alcohol content to do anything but wet the wound, make it smell funny, and possibly infect it with some kind of fermenty thing. Best use the beer and wine to get the character intoxicated so they don't whine when you clean their wound with something else. (Note: sarcasm. Alcohol dehydrates you despite it being liquid and shouldn't be given to wounded people. It looks cool, though.) We'll talk more about wound care in another post.

Do you carry a little bottle of sanitizing hand gel (I do!)? If you do, you should make sure it has an alcohol content of at least 60% in order to be effective at killing microbes on your hands. Now this will burn like fire if you get it in an open wound or your eyes, so try not to do that. If you've got a paper cut you're not aware of, I guarantee you the hand gel will tell you all about it. Nothing beats soap, water, and friction (friction is most important believe it or not) for washing your hands (which you should do often, by the way, especially if you touch your face/hair/nose or have small humans in the house), but in a pinch/if those things aren't accessible, hand sanitizer will do.

But all that's just surface stuff. Inanimate objects (called "fomites" in the fancy medical speak) need to be cleaned in order to keep the potential for infection at a minimum. It won't to any good to wash your infected wound in a dirty sink, now will it?

Now that we've talked about cleaning things (treatment!) outside the body, let's talk about how to treat infections on or inside it. Following the order of the previous posts, let's start with bacterial infections.

These are the most common infections, and as we know the most about them, are the easiest to treat. Bacteria are easier to kill than other microbial life for a lot of reasons I'm not going to get into.

I mentioned in the post on bacterial infection that antibiotics are for killing bacteria, not viruses. Now, not every infection needs antibiotics. When your cat scratches you and you get a little red line that gets puffy and stingy for a couple days, yeah, that's likely infected, but it will most likely go away on its own. Your body's natural infection control – your immune system – has that covered. The bouncers will show up and throw the assholes out and send a repair team in to fix the damage Kitty inflicted. It will take a few days, but they'll sort it out. It's when there's more work than your immune system can handle that it needs some help in the form of antibiotics.

Antibiotics come in all sorts of forms. They come in creams and ointments you spread on/in the wound, liquids you pour into the infected area, pills you swallow, and injectables you either shoot directly into the muscle, under the skin, or into a vein through an intravenous line (IV). It just depends on the type of infection you have and where it's located. Most antibiotics aren't over-the-counter except for some creams and ointments (we've all used a triple-antibiotic ointment for a cut or scrape, I'm sure), so if you feel you need an antibiotic for whatever reason, go see your doctor for a prescription. They'll determine if you actually need one. Overprescribing antibiotics is a problem as the things they're trying to kill with them develop resistance to them, which is why if the doctor determines you have a cold VIRUS instead of a bacterial sinus infection, you're (hopefully/probably/most likely) going to be told to go home, take some acetaminophen, drink lots of fluids, and rest.

Which brings us to viruses. As said both above and in the post about bacterial, antibiotics DON'T WORK ON VIRUSES. What does? Well…not a whole lot. There are some antivirals out there, but they're not designed to kill the virus they're treating. They're designed to make it hard for the virus to grow/develop. Not only that, but antivirals are target-specific. You may have heard the term "broad-spectrum antibiotic." What this means is that that antibiotic will kill a whole host of different types of bacteria. Not so with antivirals. There aren't many, and the ones that are out there are for viral infections like HIV or herpes.

Now, as I said above, there are things that kill viruses outside the body, like bleach and other substances, but that's not really a treatment. There are some vaccines against certain viruses (like polio) that are very effective, and some that aren't (like influenza). Medicine continues to search for vaccines for things, but viruses are hard to beat. Prevention is the best medicine for viral infections, because treatment is a complete bitch.

Fungi are also hard to treat, mostly because the duration is so long AND because the little bastards are hard to completely eradicate. Fungi have the unique ability to propagate themselves in almost any environment with only a single spore. They're hardy and like extremes, and even when you think you have it beat, it JUST. WON'T. DIE.

But! They are easier to treat than viruses. Not as easy as bacteria, but we do have ways to deal with them. If you've ever had a cream or other drug that ended in "–zole," you've likely been given an antifungal (or antiparasitic, which I'll toss in here because that's what I did in the post on fungal infections). There are a whole lot more antifungals out there, and all of them work almost exactly like antibiotics – attacking the fungi itself in order to allow your immune system to get a kill strike. Some work like antivirals, and keep the infection from getting anywhere until your immune system has a chance to raise shields and keep it from getting in. Like antibiotics, antifungals come in all different forms (and are often mistakenly called "antibiotics" by health care professionals and laymen alike) with varying degrees of efficacy. Depending on the severity of the infection, an over-the-counter seven-day yeast infection treatment might not work as well as a stronger one prescribed by a doctor. It's the same medication, really, just in a different formula with a more powerful delivery system.

(NOTE: This isn't to say that you should get more of the OTC treatment and use it doubled, because THIS WILL NOT WORK LIKE A PRESCRIPTION. The prescription version is different from OTC for a reason. While most OTC versions work just fine, if you need a prescription version, OTC isn't going to help you. NEVER DOUBLE UP ON OTC DOSAGES OF ANYTHING. "MORE" IS NEVER "BETTER.")

Now, how does all this apply to your character? Well, I'll leave that to you. I've given you post after post as to how infections happen, and now I've told you how they're treated. If you've got a character with a gunshot wound (GSW in the fancy medical speak) and you have them in the back of a car speeding down the street, infection should be the last thing on your mind. Later on, if you have them in a quiet spot, you can have them assess the damage and what to do about it. Hopefully these posts on infection will help you consider the details, like how they're going to sterilize something in that situation (or even if you're going to have them do it).

This concludes the Infection Sequence of the Ask Dr. Dina series. Next time we'll talk about something less gross. Like drowning.

Questions about medical issues with your writing? Leave them in the comments below and I'll get back to you as soon as I can. (THESE MUST APPLY TO FICTIONAL SITUATIONS ONLY. I AM NOT YOUR DOCTOR, NOR A SUBSTITUTE FOR ONE.)

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Movie Marathon

This weekend, a friend and I are planning on marathonning the Bourne movies. I've only ever seen the first two, and she hadn't seen the most recent one, so (as I've posted before, obviously) we're starting at the beginning.

Outside of the movie perspective, I find the book series interesting. Mind you, I've never read any of the books, so I'm talking about this totally out of the blue. Don't rant at me about a lack of research, because I'm not going to do any. I'm just really good at giving my opinions without worrying about the tedium of fact-checking.

At any rate, my point is about the Bourne trilogy, which is actually more books now (and not in the hilarious way that the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy did a trilogy). But Robert Ludlum died and never wrote the fourth one. Someone else did (and no, I don't know who, and I'm not going to google it to find out). I mean, that sort of thing happens all the time, but I still find it kind of odd.

I remember being utterly surprised when I learned that the Nancy Drew series, written by Carolyn Keene, was actually written by a variety of different authors, all of who used the same pseudonym for continuity. Shocked, I tell you. I mean, I'd read a million of them as a kid and never even considered the idea that Carolyn Keene wasn't a real person.

But it kind of boggles the mind. I mean, I don't know if I could duplicate someone else's writing style. I like to think I'm kind of unique, but who knows, maybe someday someone will come along and write the sequel that I'm delaying on writing. Heck, that might same me some time  :)

I'll be pondering that change of author while I'm busy ogling Matt Damon and Jeremy Renner. Have a good weekend and don't let anyone steal your pseudonym and write your books for you. Unless you're into that sort of thing  :)

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