Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Write Attitude

Well, I'm done whining and back to talking about something useful. Phew. This is the second segment in my "Dishing as Well as You Take" critique class. The first bit was here and talks about finding the right critique group/situation for your needs. Once you've signed up...

In the event that you do find the right mesh of form, function and individual factors, a feedback situation will not work if you enter it with the wrong expectations and attitude. Too often, critique or any sort of feedback is viewed as a necessary evil, and that kind of perspective can set the writer off on exactly the wrong foot when it comes to surviving and thriving in a world that is all about criticism and feedback.

Any author preparing to enter into a critique situation should do some deep soul searching and examine their honest feelings about feedback. Will you be able to distance criticism of your work from criticism of yourself? Do you feel defensive just at the thought of someone suggesting you make changes to your manuscript? If someone simply disliked your work, would you be able to allow them that opinion without taking that judgment to heart?

In all honestly, the answer to at least one of these questions will probably be nope…not ready for that. Most authors feel the initial sting of feedback, the cringe and knee-jerk urge to defend; however, the important thing is to figure out if you can learn to accept and work in that situation without allowing that instinct to win over.

Whatever your initial reaction to a comment on your work, to succeed in a feedback situation the author must be able to detach, to put aside defensiveness, argument, and hostility and absolutely consider that the feedback might be completely accurate.

That’s not to say you’ll have to agree with it in the end, but, for at least a moment, you must be able to allow that IT MIGHT be true. Otherwise the critique process will be completely useless to you. If you answer every change with argument, every comment with defense and interpret every suggestion as attack, then you will not function well, if at all, in a feedback environment. 

Opinions and suggestions that an author is unable to honestly HEAR and CONSIDER will do nothing for them or their work. Not that there is anything wrong with feeling this way about your writing, in particular at the beginning. But, if this is the case, then a critique circle will only waste your time and your partners’.

***Adding in here. The Hear and Consider part sounds pretty simplistic, but when your baby is under the microscope, it can be a lot harder than it sounds. Even for a veteran. There will always be one work, or one character or one writing flaw that you are resistant to seeing objectively. Learning to control that resistance, at least long enough to entertain the possibility the critique is correct, is hard to do, but so worth it.
Listening can save you from embarrassment later. It can help you find your blind spots and it WILL help your writing go to print in a stronger form.

Next up: Diplomacy. How to give bad news with a smile and not come off as an ass.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Series Post: Ask Dr. Dina - Infection Part III: Fungal

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 come now to the infection portion of our "Ask Dr. Dina" series. This piece is going to be broken into a few parts because there are many, many different types of infection and I'm not going to write a book on the subject.

These parts will be –

I – Bacterial 
II – Viral
III – Fungal
IV – Treatment

So far in this portion on infection we've covered bacterial and viral types. There are a lot more of them than I touched on, but the gist was there. I'm going to do the same for this one on fungal infection.

When you hear the word "fungus" or "fungi," what do you think of? Mushrooms, right? Yes, those are types of fungi. ("Fungi" is the plural form of "fungus."  I know. That seems backwards as you've been taught that plurals end with "s." That's true for most things, but in case you haven't figured it out by now, medicine/science likes to do things its own way. Why? Because science is a dick, that's why!)

The kind of fungi I'm going to talk about in this post aren't shiitakes or portabellas or chantrelles (shut up, hippies). I'm going to talk about microscopic fungi. While you can (and very likely do) ingest these microscopic fungi, I wouldn't recommend it.

What I'm going to talk about today is mycosis, which is fancy medical speak for "fungal infection." Why is it called "mycosis" when that doesn't sound a damned thing like "fungus?" Because mycology is the branch of biology dedicated to the study of fungi. So there you go. I told you - science is a dick.

Let's start with something everyone's heard of. Athlete's foot. You've all seen the commercials or heard about different medications for athlete's foot. You know it's gross and painful and so on. What you may not know is that athlete's foot is so named because athletes' feet are constantly moist from sweat and shoved in the warm, dark environment of a dirty sock and sporting shoe for hours on end, then they walk around barefoot in shower/locker rooms subjecting their feet to even more warmth and moisture, creating the perfect environment for that particular fungus to proliferate. That fungus is one we all carry (part of the natural flora of the human body) called Tricophyton. Now there's a shit-ton of subtypes of this fungus, but you'll most likely know them by their common names – jock itch and ringworm to name a few. (Hint: there's no actual worm involved in "ringworm." It's named that because the little assholes responsible for it [called "tinea" by health care professionals] make lesions that look like a ring/worm under the skin.)

Remember what I said about science/medicine being a dick? Yeah. Why should we call it "athlete's foot" when we can call it something fancy like "tinea pedis?" Your head itches? Tinea capitis! (Ringworm of the scalp! Or, you know, just dry scalp or a fucking itch [dermatitis!]. Don't freak out.) Look, we like our Latin and Greek in the medical community, okay? Medical terminology is a language unto itself and if you want to be in the field, you've got to learn to speak it. No, I mean it. They teach it anywhere medical stuff is on the curriculum.

But I digress.

Now, the above are what are known as "cutaneous" fungal infections; that is, they affect things on the surface/outside of the body like your skin, hair, and nails. When fungus gets inside you, things get a little more difficult to handle.

Yeast infections. Ladies, you know what I'm talking about, right? If you've never had one, consider yourself blessed. Dudes…before you smirk and get all smug, you're not exempt from yeast infections, either. Yeast can affect your bits and bobs, too. Remember what I said earlier about fungus liking moist, dark, warm places to grow? I'll wait…THERE you go. Yeah. That. Now, yeast (called Candida in the fancy medical speak) is part of the body's natural flora. It's when things get thrown off-balance by whatever (stress, medications, diet, what have you) and the little bastards run wild that you have an infection on your hands.

And don't go thinking yeast infections are confined to your lower half. Uh-uh. Parents. Ever had to deal with thrush in your kid? Adults? Ever had thrush for one reason or another? Congratulations. You've had a yeast infection of your mouth. (Warm, dark, moist, remember? The human mouth is utterly filthy. You don't even WANT to know what lives in there, so brush your teeth [and tongue!] often, kids!) Yeast can also infect your skin and even your blood (called fungemia). HCPs (health care professionals, remember?) call yeast infections (no matter where they might be) "Candidasis." Most often the culprit is Candida albicans, but sometimes other species like to play, too.

When fungal infections get even further into the body, things turn really nasty.

Remember our friend meningitis from the bacterial and viral sections? Guess what? Fungus isn't going to be left out of that party. Fungal meningitis isn't contagious or very common, and generally affects people who have been seriously immuno-compromised, like cancer and AIDS patients. A fungus called Cryptococcus is generally responsible for this kind of meningitis. There are a couple of very nasty subtypes of Cryptococcus (NOT to be confused with Cryptosporidium, which is a whole different type of BAMF I'll talk about in a minute), and both are deadly when they set up housekeeping.

Other fungi get into the lungs (pulmonary system) and wreak havoc. One particular nasty is Aspergillosis. Now, normally aspergillis is fine and dandy when it's outside the body. Breathing the stuff in, however…yeah. Warm, dark, moist…you remember how it works. Most people breathe that crap in every day (as it's just in nature/the air) and are utterly fine. It's the same game – your immune system takes care of it if it's healthy. Your immune system is a BAMF too, and works like a boss when it's on the ball. It's when your immune system is compromised for whatever reason (and there are lots of things that screw with your immune system) that things become a problem.

Those of you allergic to "mold" really mean you have a sensitivity to aspergillis or other airborne fungi. (Hint: the "mold" found on bread you may be sensitive to is a fungi also. You might know it as penicillin.) If your character has an allergy to mold, you can't have them working in a bakery, okay? Because yeast has a lot to do with mold. Baking and brewing yeasts are different from the infectious kind, but they do have a tendency to change/ferment/mold, so keep this in mind if you give your character an allergy to mold.

Mildew is the same. Mildew is a common name for types of mold growth. And mold is what? That's right...fungus - usually Penicillium. (In the plant world, mildew refers to a specific type of fungus called Erysiphales, but that's a whole other thing.)

Now while this post is supposed to be about fungal infections, I'm going to touch briefly on parasitic ones as well, mostly because the two are often confused or combined, mostly because they're related. I just mentioned one above.

Cryptosporidium isn't a fungus. It's a parasite. A protozoa, actually, and it's commonly found in contaminated water. It's ubiquitous and worldwide. I had a nasty bout with it on an archaeological expedition once – it's not pretty. Though generally just unpleasant in people with healthy immune systems, crypto (as it's known) can be lethal to the elderly, infants, and others with suppressed immune systems. If you're going to have your character drink from a water source that could be contaminated, chances are they're going to come down with something. You've heard of "Montezuma's Revenge?" Yeah.

Other parasites responsible for infection are helminths (worms, like tapeworm and roundworm) and ectoparasites (things like mites, ticks, and fleas).

Now I'm only going to touch on these. Parasitism is vast and complex and hugely incestuous when it comes to infection. For example, rats carry a type of flea (as do squirrels and other animals) that carry what's commonly called "plague." This is a vague term for Bubonic plague, AKA "The Black Death," (you know…the thing that wiped out a third of the world's population back in the 1300s) and while the flea (the parasite) is carried by rodentia (what's known in epidemiology as a "vector"), the actual cause of the illness is a bacteria the infected flea carries called Yersinia pestis. Same thing with ticks and Lyme disease. The tick itself is the parasite (or "vector"), but it's the bacteria it carries (Borrelia) that causes the disease.

See what I mean about parasitism being incestuous? It's usually not the parasite itself that causes disease, but the bacteria it carries with it, virus it enables, fungus it promotes, or damage it does while infecting.

Remember what I said about vast and complicated? Yeah. Let's just leave our discussion of parasites as it is, shall we? Just things to keep in mind if you have your character slogging through a field full of chiggers (a type of mite) or a cave full of bats.

This concludes part III of the Infection Sequence of the "Ask Dr. Dina" series. Join us in a couple weeks for the final installment of this sequence, where we'll talk about how the various infections I've talked about are treated.

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, July 27, 2013

Whoops, travelling...

Ha ha, oops. I was supposed to post yesterday. I was travelling and swore I'd post when I arrived, but then I got caught up in the whirlwind of arrival and totally spaced it.

I think that's part of travel, no matter where you go. I mean, I only went a state away, back to the city where I used to live, but when you travel you take on a whole different mindset. Things that are easy at home, like keeping to a schedule or a diet, or anything, become wholly different challenges when you're away.

Something about the freedom of change and being thrown off of normal completely changes your mental attitude. I mean, eating healthy is at home, but put me in a different city and I'm like, yay food... all the time. I may weigh 400 pounds more when I get back, but so be it. At least I will have caught up with my friends over a bunch of different meals  :)

Anyways, this applies to writing too. But for me, it works in a good way. At home, I get so stuck in the rut of going to work and going home and being with family and living my life that I often fail to find time to squeeze some writing in. But when I travel, I have so much more leeway that I often cart along my laptop solely because I know I'm more likely to write when I'm travelling. For me, being away from my daily life frees up that creative side of me and actually wants me to put words to paper.

What about you guys?  What do you do differently when you travel?  Can you write more or less? Do you find it hard to resist donuts (I'm asking for a friend on that one, clearly...)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Curve Balls

Well, I'd meant to continue posting about critiques this week. Primarily, how to take a hit and keep going. Then I took a hit and had to, you know, keep going...

Sometimes life works like that. I like to think of the random chaos that springs from nowhere as plot. I just got a plot twist. Or to quote my favorite of all movies (okay I can't pick favorites but it's way up toward the top) "You just got hit. The getting up is up to you."

Once upon a time I had a lot of anxiety and depression. I did a lot of therapy, but in the end I think it was moving to somewhere that has SUN that really helped. Okay, maybe the therapy gets some credit too. I also had half my thyroid removed way back in my youngun' days, and though it was scary as hell, it wasn't really a big deal.

Fast forward a few scenes to my oldun' days. All of a sudden I'm having whispers of the old anxiety again. I think WTF? I thought I killed you years ago. I walk out in the sun a little more (which requires surgically removing my fingers from the keyboard) I exercise, and I breathe... I manage. Plot twist handled.

Except the lumpy thyroid shit is back too. My kiddo goes in for a sore throat and her doctor pins me to the wall about the state of my throat. Yeah, okay, I've been ignoring it. So I get to start all this again and I think, a little more weakly...plot twist?

I think, maybe they're related? What if there's a connection between the mood disorder and the weird growth in my throat? Maybe it's an alien parasite.... okay, maybe that last one is a bit out there. BUT...I'm not a doctor, I'm a writer.  This is what I do.

I make connections. I fictionalize. I write. It's a kind of therapy in its own right. You get hit, you translate it into plot, you use it to go on. Get back up. And you write as fast as you can in case the plot twist kills you before you finish the next book!

Next week, I'll get back to critique. And the movie, if you're the sort that's still trying to figure it out, was The Ghost and the Darkness.


Monday, July 15, 2013

Series Post: Ask Dr. Dina - Infection Part II: Viral

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 come now to the infection portion of our "Ask Dr. Dina" series. This piece is going to be broken into a few parts because there are many, many different types of infection and I'm not going to write a book on the subject.

These parts will be –

I – Bacterial
II – Viral
III – Fungal
IV – Treatment

Now last time we covered different types of bacterial infections. There are a lot more of them than I touched on, but the gist was there. I'm going to do the same for this part on viruses. I'm not going to get all technical and differentiate viruses into whether they're RNA or DNA viruses, but I will note here that there are different types of them. Also, I'm just going to cover some of the ones that affect humans, because viruses that mainly affect animals (like parvo) is a whole other arena, and would be another post in itself. Having said that, let's go on.

The flu. HIV. The common cold. There are a LOT of viruses out there. Some are mild. Some are nasty. Some will kill you. Some just make you really uncomfortable. Some are curable. Some you just have to suffer with. Let's talk about a few of these, shall we?

Let's start with a cold. If you aren't aware of it by now, there's a difference between having a cold and having the flu. Many, many people aren't aware there is one and think they should be treated the same (with antibiotics, which is wrong, and we'll discuss this in Part IV – Treatment). I've got news for you – NO.

No, and I'll tell you why.

(Now I'm going to generalize here, but this is for the purposes of torturing your character with your writing and being medically accurate. THE INFORMATION BELOW IS NOT to be used for diagnostic purposes as stated in the disclaimer above.)

Your character is sick in bed with some kind of respiratory thingy and praying for the sweet release of death from their misery. Should you call it "a cold" or "the flu?" Remember it this way – if there is FEVER (over 100F/37.7C) = FLU. No/low fever, it's a COLD. Get it? NOT HOT (no fever) = COLD. Easy mnemonic. There are exceptions, of course, especially in small/young humans, but again, this is in general. Don't believe me? Here. Have a link to people who say the exact same thing.

Now, both colds and flu are caused by viruses, and viruses don't respond to those antibiotics people expect the doctor to prescribe for their sniffles. Fortunately the majority of doctors have gotten it through their thick fucking skulls these days that prescribing antibiotics to every yahoo with a runny nose is a Very Bad Thing and have stopped giving everyone who walks through their door with a cough a prescription for amoxicillin, much to the bitchery of said yahoos. But you know what? MOST YAHOOS AREN'T DOCTORS, or even loosely affiliated with the medical profession and think Google gives them a fucking medical degree. Yes, I realize that when you're sick enough to go to the doctor you want them to Do Something To Make It Better Because That's Their Job And You Are Sick, but the answer is NOT antibiotics when you get a cold or even the flu, despite what you may have read on some forum written by a housewife in Bumblefuck, Assholestate.


See above. Antibiotics DO NOT WORK on cold and flu viruses. Matter of fact, they don't work on viruses, period, (antivirals sometimes do, depending on which and what for) which is what makes viruses Very Bad Things.

Now, if your cold develops into something bacterial like pneumonia (lung infection) or your sinuses/ears get infected from all that drainage, THEN you can think about antibiotics. NOT BEFORE. Antibiotics are for bacterial infections, but I'm getting ahead of myself. This isn't the Treatment part of this infection portion of our series. (I'm kind of militant when it comes to treatment and patient whinage, which is part of the reason I left the medical profession, but I digress yet again.)

Just please don't send your character to the doctor for a cold and have them fill a prescription for antibiotics. THIS IS STUPID AND WRONG and believe it or not, perpetuates the incorrect belief that this is what you do when you've got a cold. STOP THE INSANITY!

Where were we? Oh yes. Colds vs. flu. Now, most colds are caused by a wily little fucker called a Rhinovirus. (Go ahead and laugh. Rhinovirus is used to being laughed at. That's probably why it's such a bitch.) It's a pretty little thing under the microscope, looking like it's wearing a boutonniere. It has to dress fancy like that so your immune system lets it into the party, where it proceeds to get drunk and make an ass out of itself as it takes over everything and makes you feel like utter shit until it gets shown the door by the BAMFs in your immune system known as, I shit you not, Killer T cells. These guys eat viruses for breakfast, but they're kind of busy doing shit and you may have to cope for a couple days before they can get the party-crasher Rhinovirus out of the living room. Rhinovirus is an opportunistic bastard, though, and he's the ultimate couch-surfing moocher. He keeps coming back year after year, maybe wearing a new suit or sporting a spiffy new haircut, but it's always him. Nothing you can do to get rid of his dumb ass but take some over-the-counter cold meds (and there are some awesome ones out there now) to make you feel better until the Killer Ts have time to get to him. They're busy, remember, doing all kinds of other shit, and it will take them a bit to get to Rhinovirus and all the little friends he brought with him. Rhinovirus is an asshole, so try not to invite him to your party. I'll tell you how to discourage him later in the Treatment part of this portion of our series.

Now, the flu. Again. Nothing you can do about this guy. You've heard of swine flu (this was the big H1N1 strain of 2009, and while it was a type of virus known to be associated with swine, actually wasn't THE swine flu, of which there have only been about fifty human cases), Spanish flu (also the H1N1 subtype, also called the 1918 flu), Russian flu (yet again, H1N1), Hong Kong flu (H2N2), bird flu (H5N1) and others. All are types of a virus called…wait for it…Influenzavirus. Now if you want to get all fancy and scientific, the Influenzavirae are types of Orthomyxoviruses, named, stunningly, A, B, and C.

Influenzavirus A is the one responsible for all the fancy different types of flu you hear about. H1N1, H2N2, H5N1, everything. No matter the subtype, it's a member of the Influenza A family.

Now, I know what you're thinking. "I get my flu shot every year!" Good for you! Dr. Dina thinks flu shots are BULLSHIT for the most part. Why? Because the flu changes every year. It's not like measles or hepatitis or any other virus that has an effective vaccine that prevents it. Every year Those In The Know pull a random number out of their ass and say things like "we're due for this strain and this strain and this strain…gonna be a heavy year for those…let's use those in the vaccine this year!"

Now that might seem belittling to those scientific types who I am sure put a vast amount of work into making flu shots, but seriously. Dr. Dina wants more than just 60% efficacy in her vaccine, thank you. Another issue I have with the flu vaccine is that its peak effectiveness is only two to four weeks, after which its protection drops by 50% over the next six months. I would like a little more than a month to half a year's protection from my vaccine, thanks. Though the protection from that vaccine is in theory supposed to last three years, you're encouraged EVERY FLU SEASON to get a flu shot. Why? Because no two seasons have the same flu shot. Does that seem right to you? The shot changes every year because they're never certain from year to year which strain is going to be the one running around with its clothes off at the party that year.

Now, the flu vaccine does benefit some people a great deal. Kids, seniors, people with HIV/compromised immune systems…lots of people benefit from that 60% efficacy guesswork. I'm not saying you shouldn't get a flu shot. I'm saying I, personally, think they're bullshit for me, and I'm a former HCP (health care professional). I was the type that was encouraged to get one because I had direct contact with the people who needed them most. Now while I've never had a flu shot and never intend to get one, I'm all for vaccination against disease. Militant about it, in fact. Ever heard of "herd immunity?" Yeah. That. THAT IS A GOOD THING. Get your vaccinations, people. Whether or not you want to get a flu vaccine is up to you. It's not for me, personally, as I don't consider the flu to be a disease, let alone one I need vaccinating against. It's not pertussis. My former HCP husband gets them every year.

And yet still gets the flu every year. Huh. Must not be lucky enough to acquire one of the strains he was vaccinated against.


Let's talk about something other than colds and flu. Let's talk about…HERPES! Yeah! That's a fun one. The technical name for this viral infection is Herpes Simplex. Now, there are two subtypes, creatively called 1 and 2.

Cold sores/fever blisters are herpes lesions on the mouth and lips (sometimes below the nose and other parts of the face, including the eyes) and are caused by Type 1 and generally called Herpes labialis. (Fun fact! If you have a cold sore and perform oral sex on someone, you can give them genital herpes. Don't try this at home, kids! Practice safe sex and don't perform oral if you have a cold sore. Also don't let anyone with a cold sore perform oral sex on you.)

Genital Herpes can be caused by Type 1, but is generally Type 2.

Herpes can also infect the fingers, throat and brain. In fact, there's a thought that HSV-1 is responsible for Alzheimer's disease.

I could go on and on about different types of viral infections. I'm sure you've heard of HIV. This is the abbreviation for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It's the virus (called a lentivirus, a type of retrovirus that develops slowly) that leads to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome).

Ebola. You've heard of that one? It's a filovirus that causes a hemorrhagic fever. There are currently five different types of Ebola, plus a similar hemorrhagic fever disease called Marburg in the same family.

Hepatitis. Viral infection. A, B, C…all are viral.

Polio. Meningitis. The types of viral infections is enough to fill a hundred books. There's even a field of study dedicated to it called Virology. Viruses were a passionate field of study for me back in the late 1990s. (I blame the movie And The Band Played On, the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and Richard Preston's The Hot Zone for this.)

There are a hundred ways to torture your character with viruses. Have your adventurer traipsing through the jungles of the Africa? Infect him with Ebola or other nasty. (Lassa fever is fun!)

Is your heroine finding herself in the desert southwest? Toss a little Hantavirus in there. (Yes, this is a real thing. It's carried in mouse pee. No, really. I promise.)

Most locales have some happy little virus hanging around. A lot of viruses are named after the places they're discovered or expected to be. Medical types call this "endemic." You don't have to be somewhere exotic for this to happen, either.

Now, you sci-fi writers can have a shitload of fun with this. Firefly did. ALIEN did. There are loads of examples of Really Weird Shit Infecting The Populace, and not just in sci-fi. Have a ball with it. Just remember if you're going to make some fancy new virus up, be sure and base it in science and back it up with your world-building.

This concludes part II of the Infection Sequence of the "Ask Dr. Dina" series. Join us in a couple weeks for part III – Fungal.

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, July 12, 2013

Turn around, bright eyes

I picked the title of the post for no other reason than to inflict "Total Eclipse of the Heart" on all of you, because it's been stuck in my head all day and I don't want to suffer alone.

What?  It's not like you didn't know we were evil around here. The name gives it away.

So grab a hairbrush and join me in a rousing chorus of a damned annoying song.

Right, now that we've got that our of our system, let's talk about writing.  Or not. Whatever. It's Friday and I'm killing time at work before I can head home and then hang out with my nieces this weekend. They're 8 and 7 and have ridiculous amounts of energy, but despite all that are super fun. Or maybe because of that. Who knows.

I like hanging out with the girls because they always offer a totally fresh perspective on anything. After 31 years on this planet, I may have gotten a bit set in my ways. Certainly, I've gotten used to looking at things from my perspective as a lawyer, a writer, a wife, whatever defines me. And these girls... they don't have any of that. They aren't tied down to any one perspective and often change their minds and points of view several times in one conversation, much less in a day.

Although tough to keep up with sometimes (they have a LOT of energy), it's a refreshing change to see things through their eyes. Not only are they young, so a lot of things in general come new to them, but they live in Germany most of the year, so I get to hear their perspectives on a lot of American things. For instance, 4th of July. Now that was entertaining.

Of course, they may go away with the impression that Americans are crazy (and I may or may not be adding to that impression), but I'm enjoying my chance at seeing the world through a different (much shorter) pair of eyes.

And I think I can use that in my writing. I mean, your readers aren't always going to be exactly like you. So you need to take a step back, look at your work with a different set of eyes, and see how people who aren't your twins will see it. A beta reader or critique partner can help you do this.

But that's all I'm saying. For now, I'm to go party with a couple adorable Germans.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Baby Evil Writers 101: Evil is as Evil does

Baby Evil Writers 101: Evil is as Evil does
Julie Butcher

Face front Baby Evil Minions and give me your attention.

Begins rant

I know that all of you evil trainees are putting your worst foot forward. You have conquered the malevolence that is facebook. You’ve stalked agents and editors with the sneaky and quiet feet of seasoned cat burglars on twitter. You chat with other writers and industry professionals, and post all of the things, online, forever.

Once you’ve put your words and feelings on the ether that is the wicked internet—IT NEVER GOES AWAY.

Vicious is not evil. Malevolent tweets against other people/sexual orientations/races are not evil. Do not let your fingers run away on the keyboard and let all of your stupid fall out. Whining especially is not evil. If I see one more tweet about how horrible writing a query is, I will come for you in the night—with a sword—and it won’t be pretty.

Queries are a necessary evil, so is writing a synopsis. If you are truly following in our wicked footsteps, SUCK IT UP AND SOLDIER ON. Those things are evil and therefore belong to us. We embrace the evil.

You are not allowed to whine in public. There is messaging on facebook and direct messaging on twitter. Use those to have a pity-party with your friends. Make your family miserable instead of the entire world. Did you ever see Frankenstein’s Monster gripe about those awful, heavy shoes? Did Dracula complain about sleeping with dirt in his coffin? Ummm…let’s see…that would be a resounding NO.

Rejections are not a happy-shiny thing but they are necessary. What isn’t necessary is your moaning and groaning on social media. No one wants to work with a complainer. It is irritating. It is also permanently on the web forever. Do not jump off the roof and then complain that you broke your leg. OF COURSE YOU DID BECAUSE THAT WAS DUMB.

True evil is strong and silent. Not stupid.

Ends rant

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Write Group

I'm posting a segment today from a class I made up on critique called, Dishing AsWell As You Take, or, how to give and receive diplomatic critique. This section came to mind because I was raving about my writer's group to an interviewer last week, and realized just how amazing they are and how lucky I am to have them. I wish every author could have the kind of support and feedback that comes from a good writer's circle, and I know that the biggest factor in making that a reality is finding the right group...

  Writing groups, the best and worst tool you’ll ever have.

 Most authors will tell you all about the necessity of having good “beta readers,” about the importance of getting “fresh eyes” to examine your writing, and about exactly how much they owe to their “group” or “critique circle.” They will also, invariably have a horror story or two to tell about the ones that weren’t quite so helpful.

 The success of any writer’s group depends on the dove-tailing of its members needs with the needs of the group as a whole. Some groups may or may not serve the form and function that appeal to you, others may have the format you’re looking for, but for whatever reason, still not make a very good fit.

 When shopping for a critique circle, there are many factors to consider, not the least of being: do I really want one? Whatever your needs and preferences are, getting the right group can be vital in ensuring that your experience is positive instead of devastating.

#1 Writer’s group or beta readers. A writer’s group is a collection of authors all of whom have needs that the group should address. The format provides a diverse pool of skills and opinions, but also requires a give and take and will not allow (or should not allow) one person to dominate with their needs at the expense of other members. If you are willing to give as well as receive, the rewards here can be enormous.
 Beta readers are not necessarily other writers. Certainly, they can be, but this situation often involves readers who exchange free or early access to an author’s works for feedback. While some writer’s groups exchange beta reads, often a beta reader situation is a one way street with the author focusing on writing and not an exchange of criticism.

 #2 Writing Workshop vs. Critique Group A writer’s group can be strictly an exercise, seminar and workshop scenario, where authors come to learn and practice their skills with little or no feedback. It can also be a heavily formatted critique circle and/or any combination of the two. If what you want is practice and exercises, a critique group where there are strict set schedules and only one author at a time, formal critique is not going to meet your needs. The same is true of the author who really only wants a critique source…the writing seminar style group is likely to prove disappointing.

 #3 Compatibility Even if you find a group that follows the format that you seek, compatibility can be an issue on many levels. A group that focuses on poetry will have little to offer the fiction writer, and a group that stresses literary fiction can be next to useless to the commercial genre author. With beta readers, an author must find readers who enjoy and understand their particular genre, as well as their writing style. Having a reader continually disparage your work because they simply don’t like the way or what your write is not beneficial as a tool for growth. On the same note, working in a beta or group situation with someone who has a strong personality conflict can cause more problems than it provides benefits.

 #4 Help not Ego A group that leans too far in either direction, be it too gentle or too harsh, will be of little use to anyone. A critique circle that provides nothing but praise and positive feedback may make its members feel good, but it will do little to advance their art or careers. Conversely, a group that sets out to trash one another’s work only serves to feed some twisted sense of ego and superiority. Brutality will only make an author gun-shy and defensive and far less likely to hear anything legitimate inside the feedback barrage.

An author's group is just one more tool that the writer can choose to take or leave, but if you happen to discover one that really suits you, I don't think anything else can compare to it. They can also be a lot of fun, and a source of some amazing friendships.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Series Post: Ask Dr. Dina - Infection Part I: Bacteria

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! 



Now we have come to the infection portion of our "Ask Dr. Dina" series. This piece is going to be broken into a few parts because there are many, many different types of infection and I'm not going to write a book on the subject.

These parts will be –

I – Bacterial
II – Viral
III – Fungal
IV - Treatment

As it's the most common type of infection, bacteria get the first crack at this subject.

When most people think "infection," they think of a cut that's red and swollen and full of pus, and they would be correct. Any open wound – from a paper cut to a gunshot – is capable of getting infected. Any opening in the skin (I'll leave it to your imagination…there you go….) is capable of acquiring an infection, especially if those openings are dark, moist, and warm. As the human body tends to run anywhere from 96-99 degrees Fahrenheit on average and most of our holes are where the sun don't shine, this makes for an ideal environment for all sorts of bacteria looking to set up housekeeping.

It's commonly thought something needs to be dirty in order to introduce infection. Technically true, but, a brand new nail from the hardware store is just as likely to introduce bacteria to the wound when it pierces your foot as a rusty one that's been left out in the dirt for years. It might not be the same kind of bacteria, but it's still just as likely to cause infection. This is why it's important to have your tetanus shot updated. Tetanus is caused by a bacteria called Clostridium tetani, and that little bastard is not only everywhere, it likes wounds of any kind, especially punctures. Tetanus not only hurts like a motherfucker, it's fatal 40% of the time. I don't know about you, but 40% is too close to 50% for me. More than one-third but less than half. So basically, over one-third but less than half of the people who get tetanus die.

And this is 2013.

I'll leave you to ponder those odds. Then call your doctor and get your damned tetanus shot updated if you haven't had one in the last ten years.

Moving on.

As bacteria goes, Clostridium is a bitch. There's over 100 species of that asshole, some of which I'm sure you've heard of –

- Botulism. (C. botulinum) Some idiots shove botulism in their faces for the paralytic effect. They call it "Botox." It's fucking botulism, people. FOOD POISONING. Botulism is why you don't give honey to a child under a year old. Botulism is bad shit. I don't care if your forehead sags, and I don't care how nice they've dressed it up; unless you've got a legitimate medical reason do to this (and there are a few, believe it or not), don't put food poisoning UNDER YOUR SKIN. Fuck!

- Gas gangrene. (C. perfringens) You've heard of gas gangrene, yeah? That lovely putrefaction/death of tissues, skin-splitting-from-bloating thing that happens to corpses and soldiers in historical romance novels? Well, this is another lovely aspect of Clostridium. (Gas gangrene is not to be confused with "dry" gangrene, which is caused by insufficient blood supply/ischemia and is often found in diabetics, the elderly, and people with circulatory issues such as frostbite victims.)

And more. Loads, loads more of Clostridium types. But like I said, I'm not writing a book here, let alone one on microbiology.

Still, bacterial infections are the ones responsible for those lovely pus-filled wounds your character might sport. Even the little ones like a stye in the eye. Styes are infections of the sebaceous glands of the eyelid. They hurt like a bitch and there's nothing you can do about them except wait for them to go away. Oh, sure, there's some over-the-counter bullshit ointment you can use, but really these are just mineral oil and white petroleum (aka "Vaseline") that make you feel better but don't actually do anything to hurry things up.

Other bacterial infections you may have heard of –

-      Acne. Now, we've all had pimples (zits). If you've never had one, congratulations! While not all acne is caused by an infection, there is a bacteria called Propionibacterium acnes that's widely thought responsible for certain types of it. This type of acne is basically a skin infection caused by bacteria. (No, not chocolate, though things like chocolate can exacerbate [this means "make worse"] the oil production in the pores that in turn gets infected by the bacteria that causes the acne.)

- Staph (Staphylococcus). There are some forty strains of staph, and not all of them are bad. We all have staph living on our skin (S. epidermidis). It's part of our natural flora. But when it gets out of hand for one reason or another (disease, immuno-compromised individuals), it gets ugly and a tiny little nick while shaving leads to a Staph infection (including but not limited to cellulitis). Others like MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staph. aureus) can kill, because they're big, bad, and think your little antibiotics are for pussies. MRSA is most commonly found in hospitals and is a complete bitch to get rid of once it makes itself at home. Keep this in mind if your character ends up in the hospital. Or prison. Prisons are hell for MRSA.

- Strep throat, impetigo, scarlet and rheumatic fever, and toxic shock syndrome are all caused by a bacterium called Streptococcus pyogenes. If you give your character strep throat, well, now you know how they got it.

- Salmonella. There are over 2500 types of this bad boy, but the one most people think of is Enteritis salmonellosis, usually S. enterica, aka "food poisoning." This is the one comes from tainted food, mostly. Raw eggs, improperly handled raw chicken, stuff left out too long (real mayonnaise made with eggs at picnics and so on) – all can be blamed on Salmonella. As can lovely things like typhoid fever. This is a fun one to torment your character with.

- Escherichia coli. Or, more commonly known as E. coli. I'm sure you've all heard of this one. There are some particularly bad strains of this one, but they all come from the same place – shit. No, I mean it. E. coli is found in the intestinal tract of living organisms, and if something was infected with E. coli, that means there's been some kind of fecal contamination, usually via the oral route. Meaning yes, they ate shit. (And since some strains will kill you quick, it kind of gives a whole new meaning to the phrase, "Eat shit and die," doesn't it?) Now, E. coli is a very nice thing to have when it's where it's supposed to be. E. coli helps you with all kinds of things to do with digestion, but when you try and digest it, there's going to be problems. E. coli doesn't like being eaten and is going to fight you on it. This is why it's a very bad idea to shit in your drinking water, yet people do it all the time.

- How about a fun one? Let's talk sex! What? No? Come on! How about a nice dose of Neisseria gonorrhoeae (gonorrhea)? Treponema pallidium (syphilis)? Fine. Chlamydia tractomatis (chlamydia, but you knew that one, right?). Well, okay then. Sexually transmitted bacterium might not be your thing, but that doesn't mean you can't have a party all by yourself with a touch of Candidasis. Wait, that one is a fungal infection. We'll talk about those later, in part three.

- Urinary tract infection. Usually we have Pseudomonas aeruginosa to thank for these. Pseudomonas is also responsible for most burn infections. Remember last time when we talked about burns? Yeah. They get infected too, and Pseudomonas is usually to blame (sorry, Pseudomonas, you bastard). "Blood poisoning" is the colloquially accepted term for "sepsis (or septicemia)" and again…usually (but not always) Pseudomonas. This guy is a real pain in the ass, because it lives everywhere on everything. I SAID EVERYWHERE! EVEN THERE! This boy is badass. But don't hold that against him. I'd be pissed too if my name meant "fake unit."

- Meningitis. Yeah, you've heard of this one. But did you know there are different types? The bacterial one I'll talk about here is the BAMF. This one is the killer. Bacterial meningitis is fast, highly contagious, and deadly. Remember gonorrhea (N. gonnorhoeae)? Yeah. Meet its big brother, Neisseria meningitides. Remember our old friend Strep? He's good friends with N. meningitides. Between N. meningitides and S. pneumoniae, they account for over 80% of the bacterial meningitis cases in adults.

And there are many, many more.

See what I'm saying here? Infection doesn't have to mean a pus-leaking ingrown toenail or a weepy cat scratch or a dirty bandage over a knife wound. It can be an ear infection, food poisoning, or STD.

Now I don't want you going around thinking all microbial life has it in for you. Some bacteria are great. Wonderful even. Necessary for living. Some help you digest food. Some bacteria kill others that would normally kill you (or parts of you). Others make excellent vaccines that keep you from getting infected with other bad things.

Hell, some infections are even beneficial. Infection means just that – something has been infected with something else.

This concludes Part One of the Infection Sequence of the Ask Dr. Dina series. Join us in a couple weeks for Part Two – Viral.

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.)

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