Saturday, November 30, 2013


I know some of you are Canadians, but for the Americans in the crowd, we're still recovering from the feast of Thanksgiving. We had a great one - lots of friends and family and delicious food :)

So, in the spirit of still being in a tryptophan induced coma, my evil side is still snoozing away, I'm thinking I'll just list some things I'm thankful for. Join in in the comments.

Friends: I'm thankful for my friends (including the lovely ladies of the ELEW) who build you up when you need support and cheer you on when you're doing well.

Books: Whether reading or writing them, books make my life a million times better.

Fuzzy critters: We have two dogs and three cats (and would have more if my husband hadn't cut me off), but they never fail to make me smile. I mean, even when they're puking at 4:30 am, but they turn cute just in time to save their fuzzy lives  :)

The Internet: Yay, internet. I don't think I really need to explain this one!

There's plenty more, but I don't want to bore you. What about you guys?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

I'm Thankful for NaNoWriMo

I know, you're sick to death of NaNo posts, but hey, November's almost over.

Truth is, Thanksgiving is like my least favorite holiday. Not only are we celebrating (in ways we don't with Columbus Day and other questionable holidays) taking a country from it's native people, but we're doing it through gluttony. And not even vast quantities of food I love. Nope. Traditional Thanksgiving meals? That' like torture for me.

And I know the argument. Thanksgiving is really about giving thanks. Uh huh. So is Tuesday and every other freaking day that ends in "Y". You see, I don't believe in saving all my thanks for Turkey Day or even for November. I believe in being thankful every day. So, here I am, scheduled to post the day before Thanksgiving, and I know in my heart everyone wants a Thanksgiving post.

So here it is. It is November and I am thankful for NaNoWriMo.

Because of NaNo, I wrote the first novel I ever finished. Because of NaNo, I learned to turn off my internal editor (and that vodka is very helpful with that. Because of NaNo, I wrote the first book I ever sold. Because of NaNo I learned more about myself as a writer than any other single thing. And this year, because of NaNo, I'm learning that when the going gets tough (and believe me, it feels like November was designed to break me this year), you have two choices: crumble or get tough right back.

For someone who hates sports as much as I do (and I do--severely), one would think the idea of losing wouldn't bother me. But I'm staring down the last five days of NaNo with nearly 18,000 words to go. Not impossible by a long shot, but damn... And, that's as a NaNo Rebel who project hopped. Believe me, if I pull this off, I am taking my winner badge.

But even if I don't, I'll still be thankful. Because to that end, NaNo will have taught me that it's okay to fail. It's not like I'm in charge of keeping the world spinning. If I fail, we don't all die. Hell, I won't even die. I'll get up December 1 and the world will have kept turning, and I'll still be part of it. I'll smile and realize that I'm still an author. I still have the world's best job and two of the best kids anywhere. I have a fantastic family and great friends and a pretty fucking good life. I'll dust off my pajama bottoms and get back to work.

Because, like being thankful, I don't save my writing for November. It's for days that end in Y. And the ability for that to be true is one more thing I'm very thankful for.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Finding Your "Avengers"

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the show) premiered when I was fourteen and I was instantly in love. The characters were a year older than me and I immediately identified with them, adored the dialogue and the writing, and it was hugely foundational for me. As a young writer, I was less interested in the actors than I was the writers of the show, and as the years went by, I began looking them up and following their other work. Of course, Joss Whedon was the focus of this, as he was the creator of the show.

So I immediately followed Firefly as it aired, and was crushed by its cancellation as so many others were. And Buffy's (at the time) conclusion. And Angel's cancellation. And Firefly's big screen continuation, Serenity, when it did not do so well.

Then a new show was on the horizon--Dollhouse! Would this one survive without network interference? Would I get another seven years of something I love? No, it had two short seasons (and look, I liked Dollhouse, and this post is not the place to bitch about what shows you liked or didn't like--I do recognize it was polarizing) before being cancelled.

Whedon was fairly obscure to a lot of people. Even with all of this work produced, if I brought up his name, I'd get a lot of, "Huh?" outside of geek circles. His Wonder Woman project didn't get off the ground either.

Then came The Avengers.

One of the highest grossing films of all time. Almost universally loved by everyone. I adored it and up until that point hadn't seen any of the related Marvel films. Hell, you say "Avengers", I think of Emma Peel (which I make no apologies for).

But that film was HUGE, it put Whedon the map in a way he wasn't before, and it afforded him a lot of new opportunities.

What is my point? Oh, I have one. Thank you for holding on for it.

Writers, sometimes you suffer setbacks because there is something greater for you waiting in the wings.

You work and you slave over a project you love. You put your heart and soul into it. And maybe it's good. Maybe it's fucking awesome. Maybe it's original and sharp and wonderful.

But maybe people don't respond to it. Maybe it's too hard to define, or the market's saturated. Maybe it's not the right time for it. Regardless, it's rejected. Whether by agents, or editors, or readers, that project doesn't really get off the ground.

We run into these blocks because they force us to grow. They force us to look for a new path. They make us problem solve, they make us start fresh.

This is one of the reasons why I encourage people to keep writing new books instead of pinning everything on one project. Why I don't think that, when your first series is rejected, you should immediately self-publish and forgo writing new books. Like your characters who are made stronger when forced to find ways around the obstacles you toss in their path, so are you.

I have hit these blocks over and over again. It sucks. It hurts. It's tiring. I wish certain a certain series did better as there are more books I want to write, but if it had, I wouldn't've gone back to the drawing board and created a new series--one that I am head over heels in love with. I don't know if it'll sell, but the process of writing it made me a better writer than I would've been if I just stayed with the same books for years. I have twenty-six finished books, dozens started, short stories and novellas all over the place, and each one forced me to learn and grow and become better at what I do.

There is a lot out of your control as a writer. You can't make people like or even READ your work. You can't dictate how your career will go. You can't force a home run. Now, you can practice your swing. You can put in the work to be better. But when you get up to bat, there are going to be all kinds of things out of your control: all you can do is swing.

If the ball doesn't connect, or it does but you hit a foul, or you strike out over and over...the only chance you'll have at hitting a home run in the future is if you keep on getting up to bat. If you keep on swinging.

There is no guarantee. And yeah, it might not be fair. I wish there was more Firefly. I would've liked to see Dollhouse grow and develop over time. But Whedon kept on moving forward, past every obstacle, and ended up with the motherfucking Avengers.

You can too. Your home run is out there. Keep swinging.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Baby Evil Writers 101: Be Thankful

Baby Evil Writers 101: Be Thankful
Julie Butcher

Thanksgiving Day means that even the most evil Americans should take a moment and count their blessings. My darling minions, you need to do so with your writing.

Celebrate the truthful critique partners in your life. Their criticism has made your prose bloom darkness. Hug the malcontents who jerk you from complacency and make you write more. Appreciate the editors and agents who gave their time to tell you that you need to be better.

Also, you should be especially thankful for pie.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

NaNo Junior

Ti's the season for a lot of posting about NaNaWriMo. I know by week three (it is week three isn’t it?) everyone had probably heard enough to decide if it’s for them or, you know, just for the crazy people. But there is one little aspect of the event that is not really represented in the slog of chanting and keyboard throwing. 

Probably because it’s not really something we can participate in. 

When I had kiddos mmhh phmm years ago, I feared my November noveling frenzy was about to take a major hit. It did at first. I tossed off a book with a baby on one arm, but it was hard. I almost whiffed it that year, for certain. Then my kids got a little older. They weren't exactly writing yet, but they could lift a crayon, right?

I clicked on that YWP button that hides so merrily in plain sight on the NaNo homepage. Wow. There’s, like, a whole other site in there! You may think, who cares? I don’t have or plan to have children, and really, what kind of Sesame Street noveling are they doing over there anyway. She said crayon. I’m outta here.
Stick with me for just a second. I promise  I’m not trying to recruit you to mommy-hood.  Unless you want….oh never mind.

I want to share what happened with my son, and how I think it can benefit literacy, storytelling and pretty much everything we do as adult authors too.

So, thinking it would assist me with my own noveling freedom, I signed my pre-K son up for YWP (young writer’s program) and we were off. The first year, he couldn't read or write. Wait, wait…I know. He could make his letters, and we set our own word count goals in YWP land. He made a very sketchy alphabet book and we were off.

The second year he learned to read. He wrote over 500 words. Still sketchy, but kinda cool. My daughter did the alphabet that year. My friend’s kiddo dictated to her and she typed it down. Rules are wiggly in YWP because OMG it’s not about winning. Also, I have lots of friends with kids. Mommy’s you know travel in herds. They all tried something different, but they all got the same result.

Kids who were rabid about story.

If we do the math that’s, kids who are rabid about story extrapolated to the highest power equals ADULTS who are….you get it.

This year my son is eight. He reads well, writes beautiful letters and plays a lot of video games. I was worried about the video game thing. I mean, when we get serious, I suspect games are the direct competitor of reading. He picked a thousand words to shoot for this year. He’s also a little autistic, and like, I showed him the graphs and number bars and stats because I’m evil and know how his motivation works.

“Can I put in my words mom!!!”

His story has plot this year. It has characters with dialogue. It has action and boss battles (cause you just can’t purge that gamer completely) and it has a hat made out of watermelons. SO much awesome.

It’s entertaining, and not just to me. Best of all, we are one furious noveling family.  Also, the YWP site is pretty. It has a dare machine. Some days, I’m tempted to use it. They also give out classroom kits and loaner computers and do a lot of great things for future readers.

All around win.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Series Post: Ask Dr. Dina - Eyestrain Reloaded

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!

Note: This post originally appeared in 2011 when the Evil League of Evil Writers had a two-week theme of self-care tips for writers. Today's post is made of 100% recycled materials, because the original post I wanted to do needs a little more research. Yes, I research these Dr. Dina posts like a big bitch. What? You thought I just pulled all those charts and graphs and source cited links out of my ass? Fuck no. Those posts take anywhere from four hours to half a day to write and properly format, and the next one I have planned I don't want to rush, so here. Have a ball. (HA HA! I KILL ME!)

Continuing our [previous 2011] two-week theme of self-care tips for writers, I want to talk about eyeballs.

What? Why are you laughing?


(What's with the laughing…?)

Well, whatever the reason for your laughing, taking care of your eyes is something most people – especially writers – overlook.

For writers, it's especially difficult. We stare at a computer screen (or blank page, for those who use pen and paper still *cough*archaic*cough*) for hours a day, and a lot of it isn't even for writing reasons. Most of us use computers at our jobs, or just browse the 'Net, or whatever. There are some of us (who shall remain naMEless) who play computer games and so on.

Then there's the research, the social networking, and so on.

Most everyone forgets about the health of their eyes. Unless you suffer from chronic dry eyes or have contacts that dry out when you stare too long at the computer screen, most of us never even think about putting in eye drops. That's medicine, right? If you don't have pinkeye, why would you use eye drops?

Because your eyes are a part of your body that you use constantly. They need lubrication just like any other moving part.

Writers stereotypically have bad eyesight to begin with. What? We do! I said it was a stereotype. I'm no exception. I've worn glasses since I was three. I got contacts when I was ten. HARD contacts, or as they called them back then, "rigid gas-permeables." This was supposed to slow the change from year to year of my eyeball (I said it again!), and it did work to a degree. However, I'm what's called a "high myope."

Were it not for the wondrous invention of laser eye surgery, I would have worn glasses with my contacts at the age of eighteen. Fortunately LASIK technology came along and I was able to have it done – after a different laser surgical procedure done on my left eye called "retinal scarring." This was done in order to strengthen my tissue-paper thin retina enough to survive the pressure of the LASIK procedure. (I won't gross out the sensitive amongst us with the details of it. And before you go looking it up online, remember that I had this surgery done when the procedure was in its infancy at one of the best eye centers in the country. For all the advanced technology, it was a little more brutal than it is now.) One of the side-effects is that I must always use eye drops…sometimes more than once a day. Upon waking is the hardest time. I reach immediately for the eye drops then. If you think this is annoying, well…it's a huge trade-up from all I had to do with my contacts and glasses every day. So I have to use eye drops every day for the rest of my life. FAIR TRADE.

They warned me when I had it done that I'd probably have to come back in a year or two for what's called "an enhancement." (Basically they'd have to do the whole thing again because my prescription was so high that they couldn't lower it all they needed to in one go.) I did this, too. (That's surgery number three for those keeping score at home.)

It's been about ten [update: thirteen] years now since my last eye surgery, and a few years ago I started having problems with my right eye. I went immediately to the ophthalmologist (medical eye doctor – different from an optician/optometrist you see in your local grocery store or eyeglass place) and he ran me through a series of tests and made sure everything was at least functional.

He crunched numbers and pondered things and gave me eye medicines to use and made me promise to take "eye breaks." For three weeks I had a timer by my computer, and every fifteen minutes it would ding and I'd have to look away from the computer screen at a far corner of the room for at least a minute.

It got old quickly.

When it was time for me to get checked out again, he nodded in approval.

And then he wrote me a prescription for glasses.


This time, they're different however. This time they're for driving/distance vision only, and they're a very low prescription. Here's an example:

Post-LASIK vision: Both eyes 20/10
Eye problem: Left eye 20/10, Right eye 20/100
Fixed eye-problem: Left eye 20/10 Right eye 20/30
Corrected vision with glasses: Left eye: 20/10 Right eye: 20/20

More or less.

It's been a few years now and I haven't had a problem with my eyes. I am still conscious of them and the need to rest them. To look away from the computer screen or television or even a book I'm really into. Your eyes are such a vital part of you, and most people don't even consider their health.

Eyeballs are tough. They take a lot of abuse and a lot of strain. They're also delicate, fragile things. Take care of them.

Look away from the computer screen. Right now. Go on, I'll wait.


How'd that feel? Pretty nice, eh?

Next time you're at the store, pick up some preservative-free single-use vials of a refreshing eye drop, or get those nice ones made for those who use computers all day. Pop a couple drops in every now and again. (Unless you're like my mother and can't stand the thought of putting something in your own eyes and have to have someone else force your eye open just to put a drop in.) They even make some out there for you allergy sufferers for that itchy, watery eye thing.

Seriously. Eye drops. Get some. Use them.

Your eyes will thank you. Also, you may get more work done. No promises, though. I'm just saying that you're more productive when you're comfortable.

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.)

Friday, November 15, 2013

Taking time for yourself

So, I know my last post was about NaNoWriMo and how I was excited to get started (well, at least it was about NaNoWriMo, I can't remember if I was excited or not... it's been that kind of month...). At any rate, I never actually started NaNoWriMo. I meant to. I had good intentions. I even vaguely had a plot. But life intervened.

And no, nothing dramatic like last year where my husband inconveniently got cancer and herniated a disc in his back at the same time. No, this was more just normal hectic life. Lots of things to do, work, busy-ness. Husband was travelling, and normally I use that time to write, but I'm also taking an online class through NYU (who doesn't love good old-fashioned tax law?) So I never even got around to signing up for NaNoWriMo.

But I think that's okay. You know, sometimes you gotta take time for yourself. That's why I'm sitting on the couch with my husband, dogs, and am watching Thor. I'd like to pretend that it's research for these Norse mythology posts I've been doing, but that's a load of crap. I just like watching Thor take his shirt off (don't tell my husband!) :)

So, the moral of this post is that it's okay to take some time off every once in a while and admit that you just need to recharge your batteries.

Just don't overcharge your batteries. You don't want to get rusty.

But for now, I'm off to be cozy. Enjoy your weekend, y'all. If you're doing NaNoWriMo, then good luck!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

How Nanowrimo is like Iditarod. Or Maybe a Turtle Race.

It seems to me that Nanowrimo has a lot in common with the famous Iditarod race held annually in Alaska.

Of course there are differences. The Iditarod racers have dogs and a sled, and run a dangerous (and cold) course of 1,100 miles across ice and snow in the Alaskan wilderness. Bad things happen. Dogs and humans run the risk of death.

Nanowrimos have keyboards and coffee and probably cats. If there are dogs involved they are more likely to be lying on the writers' feet than running across miles and miles of frozen tundra. Don't let this fool you - Nanowrimo is also a dangerous race. Your cat could spill coffee on your keyboard. You could trip over a dog on your way to replenish snacks and break a typing finger.

You could get 20,000 words into your story and find out it sucks.

It always starts out well, with fanfare and excitement.

Sledders pack up survival gear. On the day of the race they take off to the sound of a cheering crowd. Wrimos also lay in survival gear - snacks, paper, pens, chocolate, tea, coffee and other more stimulating beverages. They plot, they plan. And on November 1st they launch their new books to the cheering of online friends and possibly even reality based family members.

The beginning is exhilarating. 

But it's now two weeks in, and many wrimos may be feeling alone in the middle of a vast and windy wasteland.

There is an extra danger for writers, and it is this: you can quit anytime you want. The sled racers could too, I suppose, but then they'd be stranded in the middle of nowhere at risk of death from cold and starvation.

Writers, on the other hand, can abandon a book, curl up in front of a warm fire, and drown their failure in wine. This may be comfort for the body, but the soul is in peril.

It's important to finish the book. It doesn't have to be a race. If Nanowrimo doesn't work out for you this year, that doesn't mean the book (or you) is a loser. You can still keep on writing.

I realized by the end of the first week that I'm not going to complete my 50k this November. The plot is complicated, the book was already half written and requires edits along the way, and I don't have enough time.

I'm good with this. I still plan to make it to the finish line. It's just going to look a little more like this:

Monday, November 11, 2013

Wherein Mama Bitchstress Puts You in the Corner and Makes You Think About What You've Done

I traumatized a few people on Twitter last night because I ran into something horrific and had to share the pain.

It was a book on Kindle (of course), self-published (of course), in which the author was arguing with negative reviews. The book in question--fiction, and romance (or possibly erotic romance at that)--was written in all caps.

All caps.


Also, it was riddled with spelling errors (like "eys" for "eyes"), wrong word usage ("bare" for "bear"), had almost no paragraph breaks, and...did I mention it was IN ALL CAPS?

The author's defense of this is that a) she is a new author, b) these books are "in progress", c) they're written purely for enjoyment (although she is charging $2.99 a pop for them), d) she works at a pantry kitchen and some of the money made will be going to feed the homeless.

No. No. No.

Listen to Loki. He only wants what's best for you.

I bring this up because this is not an isolated incident. Talk to anyone and you'll hear stories of books being sold on Kindle that flat out say "this book is a draft/work in progress" and "I can't afford an editor" in the description.

Come. Come sit at my feet as I have something very important to tell you. Lean in close. I want you to remember this.


Readers should not be paying for the "privilege" to be your betas or your editors. "Writers" who do this are the reason we can't have nice things.

If I go to a restaurant and pay money for food, I don't expect to be given a plate of lumpy mashed potatoes and still-frozen vegetables with someone's spit in a glass in place of water because the chef is "still learning." If I pay money for a meal, I expect it to be, you know, COOKED and well-prepared.

If I pick up a movie I've paid money for, I don't expect to see the actors fubbing their lines, mics in the scene, and the director walking in the background, with everything over a blue screen and no special effects added. If I see a movie, I expect it to be, you know, FINISHED.

When you ask someone to shell out money for your product, you damn well need to be sure it's the best fucking product and worthy of that money. There are hundreds of thousands of books out there--readers have a lot of options. They pay our bills, they support this industry, and they deserve the very best.

KDP is not where you put something "purely for enjoyment". You put shit up on your website or blog if that's what it's for and don't charge money for it. KDP is not where you go to find beta readers. You go to online writer groups and try to find crit partners. KDP is not where you go to find an editor. You find online resources for self-publishers and hire someone.

"But Mama Bitchstress, I can't afford--"

Stop it.

If you CHOOSE to self-publish--and it is a choice, no one is holding a fucking gun to your head--then you spend the money to have someone edit the work and put out a decent cover (not slap some Papyrus text on a poorly sized stock photo you threw into MS Paint). If you're charging readers money for something, you damn well better give them something WORTHY of that money. If you cannot afford an editor, then don't self-publish. Period. Full stop. The end. We all know normal typos happen, especially in longer works, but three or four of those is a far cry from BOOKS WRITTEN IN ALL CAPS WITH NO PARAGRAPH BREAKS OMG SOMEONE SHOOT ME.

If Mama Bitchstress catches you pulling this kind of shit, I am going to come in to your house and take your keyboard away and I won't give it back until you've had time to think about what you've done. If you argue, I am going to beat you to death with that keyboard, pull out a Ouija board, call your spirit up from hell--where people who self-publish without an editor go, and they have to read SLUSH, 24/7--to yell at you some more.

This isn't just about readers, though.

This is about you.

Presumably you want a career, yes? You want to be around ten years from now? Do you really want people to associate you with a book written in all caps?

Let me tell you, you will be judged on what you've written regardless of what stage you were at when you wrote it. I am. All the time. And I'm not even talking about something as absurd as I've mentioned above--I'm talking about books that aren't terribly written, and have been edited, and are still young. They're not as I'd write them now but I don't get to go back in time and alter scenes I wrote when I was a twenty-one-year-old kid. And neither will you.

Respect yourself. Respect readers. Don't be in such a fucking rush.

Also, readers, please stop buying books that admit to only being drafts or works in progress. Because even if you one-star and return it later, you're only encouraging these people.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Baby Evil Writers 101: Beginings Part One

Baby Evil Writers 101:Beginings Part One
Julie Butcher

I think every writer I have ever met started their first manuscript with their character being alone. They’re in their house, or in the bed, or standing and waiting for a bus—but they are always alone. There is a logical reason for this. It’s way harder to imagine six people in a room, their actions and dialogue than it is one.

Sometimes this works my evil darlings but mostly it makes you work harder to make your protagonist likable. When we see people in real life, we judge them by their actions , and by how they interact with others. Let’s say you’re at a park. You see a toddler trip, scrape their knee, and start screaming bloody murder.

1.       The mother runs to comfort the child. She hugs him and sings.
2.       The mother runs, grabs up the child, and starts screaming for help, “Call 9-1-1!”
3.       The mother ignores the child and lets another mom take care of the toddler.
4.       The mom snatches a first aid kit from her purse, cleans and bandages the wound, but talks on her cell the whole time.
5.       The mother smacks the child and complains loudly about how much work this child is for her.
You would feel differently about the mother with each scenario. But the main point is that you would be judging her by how she reacts to her child’s injury. If a child wasn’t present, she’d just be sitting on a bench and thinking—boring.

Since we are human, and evil, we watch from the sidelines and judge others. This is what we all do. In sixty seconds we are judge, jury, and executioner. Everyone does this and they do it with your book. At most you get a page or two to interest the reader in your hero.

That isn’t much.

 Put your protagonist with someone else, show how he interacts with others. Otherwise, he is just like a picture on the wall—we know what he looks like but nothing about who he is inside.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Licensed to Obsess

My current work in progress is what I call a "research heavy" book. That means, basically, that it's about shit I don't know enough about to just jump in and wing it. It means I get to study a bit, and if I do it right, have some fun learning new and previously unknown things.

 One of the pitfalls of research heavy book; however, is the temptation to insert everything you learn about a topic straight into your manuscript. Most will advise against the unrelated information injection. It makes a book clunky, and it can bore the blue bejeezus out of your readers. Particularly if they aren't studying for a doctorate in herbalism, the history of writing devices in western civilization, monkey genetics, or whatever it is that you have discovered and become suddenly, inexplicably obsessed with during your research.

 As an author, when the time comes to put words on paper, most of that wicked shit you've discovered has to stay where you found it. Rather, it has to stay out of the story...and out of the story's way.

 That being said, I'd like to point out that during the pre-writing phase, all bets are off. In fact, so long as you promise to restrain yourself mightily once you actually start writing, I suggest going absolutely fantastically crazy with the depths of your research.

I have a theory that the more obsessed you get over a topic, the more you really dig in and try to absorb it, the easier it is NOT to cram it down your readers' throats.

 Because if you know it well enough, you won't have to. When you first learn something, it's new and shiny. It's also on the surface of your little pool of knowledge, floating there where you can accidentally step in it. Once you have integrated the information, though, it goes deeper. It becomes fused with the big ocean labeled "all the shit I know." After that happens, it's a lot less conscious. It's not an effort to retrieve it, and so, it flows way more naturally.

 That's my theory anyway. More significantly, I enjoy going a little crazy over a topic. I like the research stage and I've been known to get a little obsessive from time to time. If I'm writing about the 1950's (and I am) it seems logical to spend a few weeks listening to the music, watching the newsreels, wearing the clothes. I'm not suggesting we take up method acting for every book, but it seems like actually wearing a girdle would make an author more likely to write about how and where they tend to pinch than about how they're constructed.

 And as far as story goes, I think the the pinching wins.

 I'm also interested in how other folks research. I'm even more curious about any crazy, possibly over done, things other authors have tried when channeling their inner method actor. Because I know I can't be the only one who tried on the girdle.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Series Post: Ask Dr. Dina - Choking, Strangling, and Other Fun

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!

Today we're going to talk about breathing. Or rather, the lack thereof.

Now, there's a difference between asphyxiation and choking. Most people use the terms interchangeably, and they're wrong, and I'll tell you why.

Choking is the obstruction of air flow, whether that's by something lodged in the trachea (airway, aka "the throat," though technically the throat is made up of two orifices - the larynx ["voicebox"] that leads to the lungs for breathing [the lower part is called the "trachea"] and pharynx which leads to the esophagus and stomach) or constriction of it by trauma. The trachea is in front of the esophagus, and you can feel it just above the hollow of your throat. It feels kind of bumpy with some ridges. See those in the picture below?

used with permission wikipedia creative commons
Throat Anatomy (used with permission via Wikipedia Commons)

This is why you'll see health care professionals making a cut on the throat in medical dramas to get a tube in to help someone breathe, because the airway is compromised in some fashion and they need a tracheotomy.

Choking is when air can't get through the trachea (aka "windpipe") because something is preventing it (like someone's hands around a throat, a piece of food, water down the airway, etc.) from reaching the lungs.

Asphyxiation is the lack of oxygen. This can be from gases like carbon monoxide, smoke, chemical agents, sleep apnea, a drug overdose, exposure to toxins, smothering (like a pillow over the face), low atmospheric pressure like high altitudes or a vacuum like space, disease, crushing of the chest not allowing expansion of the lungs…lots and lots of things can cause asphyxiation. You've all heard of auto-erotic asphyxiation? Yeah. This means intentionally decreasing the supply of oxygen (usually via constricting the airway by a choking or hanging method) in order to experience a heightened sense of euphoria during orgasm. (NOTE: DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME. THIS IS HOW PEOPLE DIE, BECAUSE THERE IS VERY LITTLE VOLUNTARY CONTROL OVER THE BODY DURING ORGASM AND IF YOU ARE CHOKING OR HANGING YOURSELF YOU CAN AND PROBABLY WILL PASS OUT COMPLETELY AND DIE. THEN SOMEONE FINDS YOUR NAKED, BLOATED CORPSE AND KNOWS WHAT YOU DID THERE AND WE'RE NOT GOING TO TALK ABOUT THAT RIGHT NOW, EITHER, SO MOVE ALONG.)

Now you know the difference between the two, what's the point?

The point is, use the proper term. When your character "has the life choked out of them," explain by what. What's doing it? Are they choking on something (is something in the airway?) or are they being strangled? Or do you mean they're suffocating/asphyxiating in a smoke-filled room because their house is on fire?

Choking is violent. There's usually coughing and flailing and struggling and clawing at the throat and so on, and if you're lucky enough to have someone around who knows the Heimlich maneuver, you might make it out of the situation alive. If you're alone, find a chair or something. You've only got a few seconds, though, because the average person can only go about seven to fourteen before passing out from lack of oxygen. Hint: This is a very, very narrow margin and passes interminably slowly when you're fighting for your life, so if you (or your character) are choking, work fast. Did you ever play the fainting game when you were sleeping over at someone's house? Good. Don't. It's dangerous and some people never wake up.

Strangulation is pretty much the same thing. Strangulation is a physical thing that compromises the air flow, only it's usually outside the body. There's all sorts of differentiation when it comes to strangulation, but they all pretty much have to do with trauma to the throat area. Chokeholds are common in a lot of martial arts/blood sports/combat scenarios, because you're trying to incapacitate your opponent by cutting off their airflow. They can't breathe, they pass out, threat neutralized. They're called chokeholds for this very reason – you're choking them. Remember, the window for this is very small – seven to fourteen seconds – so if your character can do it right, it's a good way to have them deal with a hostile rather than having them attempt to knock the baddie out with a frying pan.

Strangulation also applies to garroting and hanging.

Smothering is when your character walks into a room filled with smoke or other gas and passes out because they can't breathe. Other than having a pillow pushed over someone's face, smothering usually isn't violent. It's quick and quiet - and in the case of some gases, invisible and painless -, which is why the gas chamber was once considered a humane form of capital punishment.

Again, if you're writing these things, know the terms to use.

Technically they're interchangeable and no one will really call you on it, unless you get a nitpicky medical professional like myself who really hates it when a character being strangled is written as "smothered in blood." No, smothering is totally different than strangulation. "Smothered" is asphyxiation, not choking. You could say "drowning in his own blood," because that's saying that blood is obstructing the trachea/entering the lungs (we'll get to what drowning is and does in another post – just go with it here) and causing the character to choke/be strangled by the liquid. Then you'd be medically accurate, which is what you want, right?


That's what I thought.

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.)

Friday, November 1, 2013


Ready, get set, write!

(I'm taking a break from the Norse mythology postings to discuss current events)

What? You haven't started writing yet? YOU'RE ALREADY BEHIND!!!

Yeah, I'm in a weird mood. I'm thrilled it's November, partially because of NaNoWriMo, and partially because for us Americans, we get Thanksgiving. I also get to celebrate my husband's birthday.

I wasn't too sure about NaNoWriMo this year, because I've got a lot of stuff going on. A lot. As in, my first ever trial this Monday (and I only heard about it from my boss last week). Panic! But, on the other hand, my husband is abandoning me for a week, so I'll have plenty of time to crank out 50,000 words while he's gone, right? Right?

I may have to quit my job to make it happen :)  Not that I needed an excuse...

So, hands up. Who's doing NaNo this month?

I think I'm going to write a chick lit thriller. Weird combo? That's what NaNoWriMo is for. Writing that crazy stuff that may never see the light of day... or may be the next bestseller. It's all fun :)

Alright, everybody *claps hands* Back to work. You need your 1,667 words today!

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