Friday, October 29, 2010

Having a La La La La moment

Do you avoid confrontation?

I'm really, really good at that. I've created a life of non-confrontation. There are times I'd rather plug my fingers in my ears and screech, "La La La La" than face something difficult.

I have noticed I do this with my characters, too. I'm too nice. I don't want them to suffer. But sometimes, for the sake of the story, I need to drag them to hell and back.

In writing and life, do you prefer to La La La La or do you throw down your gauntlet and just go for it?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Step Outside Yourself

Last weekend my family was invited to visit a farm in rural Nebraska.

People often think that since I live in Omaha, my whole neighborhood is infested with cows and chickens, but not so. My town is like any other suburb in the U.S. Given that I've spent most of my adult life in New York City, farm land is as alien to me as, well, Antarctica.

This was the real deal. There were no cute scarecrows welcoming us or perfect bushels of apples on display. It smelled like cows and manure. There were cats everywhere. I was surrounded by a sea of gold corn stalks for miles and perpetually peppered with dust and flies.

Here I am, out standing in a field:

A handful of gold:

And my daughter, hubbie, and friend in crammed into a "combine"--a $600K machine that harvests, threshes, and removes the kernel from the cob all at once.

We learned about how a hailstorm can ruin millions of dollars worth of crops in an hour. I know more about cow insemination I'll ever need to know (nine year old cryo-sperm still works!). I'll always remember that Holstein cows are the Michael Jordans of the cow world.

I learned what it really takes to be a farmer. You need to know economics, mathematics, weather, chemistry, mechanics, politics, genetics, biology, veterinary medicine, microbiology...

And I thought residency was hard.

I can't guarantee I'll be writing about a farmer in my next book, but glimpsing a life I hadn't remotely experienced was awe-inspiring, and a great education.

And...I do think I became a better writer that day somehow.

When was the last time you stepped outside of your life and saw something that broadened your world view?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Medical Mondays: The Bezoar

Anyone who's read the Harry Potter series knows that Snape grilled Harry about what a bezoar was. The bezoar later saved Ron from certain death in the Half-Blood Prince.

In medical terms, a bezoar is a mass trapped in the digestive system. In humans, they can be made of anything: fruit pits, bubblegum, stones, a conglomerate of pills...and even hair.

Yes, it's true. Humans AND cats can get hair balls.

Well, long ago people used to think that stone bezoars found in the stomach of goat and sheep were antidotes for poison. In 1575, a clever fellow names Ambroise Paré didn't believe the hype. So he took a servant who had been caught stealing silver and poisoned him. Did the bezoar work?

Uh, no. The servant apparently died in agony hours later.

Three cheers for the scientific method!

Three boos for torturous human experimentation!

Please keep in mind this post is for writing purposes only and is not to be construed as medical advice! (See sidebar disclaimer)

If you've got a fictional medical question, let me know! Post below or email me at

All I ask in return is that you become a follower of my blog and post a link on your blog when I post. Easy peasy.

Also, don't forget to check out Mental Health Mondays at Laura's Blog!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Awards! Come Get Some Shiny New Bling!

Hi all! It's been a while since I've posted awards, and I want to share the wealth.

You guys make blogging so much fun. Big hugs! I thank you from the bottom of my left ventricle.

Carol Kilgore and Faith gave me this sweet one:

Johanna and Gail gave me this adorable award:

Karen Lange gave me this cute one:

Deb Salisbury, with her great blog that scours the internet for the best writing blog posts ever, gave me this sweet award!

Dawn Simon gave this lovely one to me. Thanks Dawn!
I received this one from Nicole Murray. It's so sweet!

Alexandra Crocodile gave me this award! It's so cute!

Clara and LeishaMaw gave me this lovely award!

Melissa gave me this cool one!

DL Hammons gave me this sweet award!

Amanda Borenstadt, Nicole Murray (serial award giver!) Mohammed Mughal, and Cynthia Reese gave me this one. I love green. I am a green fanatic.

This Romantic Writer Award was given to me by Francine and can only be claimed by a romance writer!

So here's what I'd like to do. If you leave a comment on my blog today, then I hereby bequeath one of the above awards of your choice. I love blog bling!

Check it out. I made a new award for you guys. So if you desire something truly unique and are willing to suffer the certain headache you'll get from staring at it too long, then I present to you—

Enjoy. And have a great weekend!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


There have been a lot of NaNoWriMo blog posts and to each one I've written, "Good luck! I'm not doing NaNo this year but..."

What am I doing for the month of November?


So. Anybody ready for National Novel Revising Month?




On a louder note, please check out Danyelle Leafty's post this month on why stories exist--in every culture and time. And if you missed them, I blogged on this last week, and Laura posted the week before!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Medical Mondays: Charcoal, not Oreos

Welcome to Medical Mondays, where medical facts for the purposes of fiction are discussed ad nauseum and my readers are left only slightly vertiginous.

Today, as adjunct to last week's post on methanol poisoning, I discuss the use of charcoal as an antidote.

Way back in medical school, I remember making my way through the ER and noticing a sickly looking young man with suspicious black smears around his mouth. He looked like he'd just eaten a plate of Oreo cookies with his hands tied behind his back. I asked the senior resident what was going on.

"Overdose. He just finished his activated charcoal slurry."

Ah. Not Oreos. (Though I'm certain Oreo cookies are highly effective antidotes for some things. The munchies, for one. And lonely glasses of milk.)

Charcoal is the result when wood (usually) is heated in the absence of air and incompletely burned. Obviously, it can then be used as a fuel, but its got a lot of other uses, such as in filtration (it's in my aquarium filter right now, and probably in your Britta filter at home).

Medicinally, it has been consumed for centuries to aid in digestion and to adsorb (not a typo—that's aDsorb, which means molecules stick to it) toxins and poisons.

Red colobus monkeys have been known to eat charcoal to help with their digestive ailments, since their leafy diet is high in cyanide.

Charcoal biscuits were available in 19th century England for flatulance and stomach problems.

Activated charcoal is charcoal that's been treated to make it extremely porous and therefore give it a huge amount of surface area for adsorption. One gram of activated charcoal has the surface area of 500 square meters. That's a lot of room on which toxins can bind.

I could imagine reading a scene where burnt wood was eaten after fear of being poisoned. That would be quite a MacGyver move in a book, wouldn't it?

Please keep in mind this post is for writing purposes only and is not to be construed as medical advice! (See sidebar disclaimer)

If you've got a fictional medical question, let me know! Post below or email me at

All I ask in return is that you become a follower of my blog and post a link on your blog when I post. Easy peasy.

Also, don't forget to check out Mental Health Mondays at Laura's Blog!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Genre Envy

I've experimented with writing non-fiction, poetry, and fiction (but all within the YA).

Within YA I've dabbled in historical, urban fantasy, and have brewing ideas in dystopian and contemporary. All with a splash of romance.

But I confess, I wish I could write a mystery.

A really good, gripping, gotta-turn-the-page-to-find-the-killer kind of mystery.

Actually, I also wish I could write some fun chick-lit, or more serious women's fiction.

Man. I have genre-envy, and I've got it bad.

What about you? Do you have any particular genres you'd love to write, but for one reason or another, haven't?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog: Why do Stories exist?

Today it's my turn to tackle this week's Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog on stories.

The question comes from Danyelle Leafty. She asks, "There have been stories in every culture and time period. Why?"

I could get all anthropological on you. You know, how we're all social creatures and stories are a means of communication...but Laura did a better job than I could on her post last week!

But it something occurred to me as I pondered this subject.

I think stories are about experiencing a kind of immortality.

I'm not going to get all Twilight on ya, I promise. But look. When it comes down to it, we've got one life to live in a body with a fixed expiration date.

Stories enable us to experience life outside ourselves, to transcend what we are and where we are. We can know what it feels like to be a yak herder in Mongolia, a witch, an alien, a girl in a red hood bringing some food to her Grammie.

From the dawn of time, people can't help but be curious about other lives and circumstances. In a way, it's about experiencing more than the single life to which you were born.

Living a thousand or more lives. It's a kind of immortality--of sorts.

How about you? Why do you think stories are part of our past, present, and future?

And if you missed it, please check out Laura Diamond's post last week. Stay tuned for Danyelle's next week!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Medical Mondays: Blinded by Poison

Hi all!

I'm back to Medical Mondays and sporting a terrific cold (likely the result of post-test-stress disorder, the other PTSD).

I'm going to answer my own question today.

I need to blind a character in my novel slowly by poisoning. The first thing that popped into my head was methanol poisoning.

What's methanol (or methyl alcohol)?

Basically, it's wood alcohol. I actually made this in eighth grade. We heated some slivers of wood inside a test tube over a bunsen burner, condensed the fumes that shot out the end of some tubing and lit it with a match. Talk about encouraging science and pyromania.

Voila! Wood fumes on fire! My hair survived and thank goodness all my lab partners.

Wood alcohol, or methanol, has been used as far back in ancient Egypt as an additive to embalm mummies. Nowadays, it's found in paint thinner, antifreeze, Sterno (the blue goop on fire under those hot buffet trays) and fuel additives.

In medicine, we occasionally encounter methanol poisoning in alcoholics who turn to paint thinner or Sterno thinking it's more convenient than going to the store and getting a liter of vodka.


Methanol, in as little as a shot-ful, can cause permanent blindness. It causes some deadly metabolic disturbances, namely metabolic acidoses, because the body turns the methanol to formadehyde and formic acid.

Unfortunately (or fortunately) for my character, methanol wasn't widely available in the early 1800's, so it didn't work for me.

On to other ways to torture my poor character. I'm so mean! (Can you see me rubbing my hands together, cackling with evil?)

Please keep in mind this post is for writing purposes only and is not to be construed as medical (or homicidal) advice! (See sidebar disclaimer)

If you've got a fictional medical question, let me know! Post below or email me at

All I ask in return is that you become a follower of my blog and post a link on your blog when I post. Easy peasy.

Also, don't forget to check out Mental Health Mondays at Laura's Blog!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Literary Devices Part 6: Of Red Herring and Dogs

We all know what it means. But how on earth did it get that name? And what do dogs have to do with stinky, pickled fish, hmmm?

Well, one theory is that people who used to train hunting dogs with herring (which turn red when pickled just so).

Once the dogs grew skilled at following the fishy trails, they used more subtly scented objects to fine tune their skills, like dead badgers, which apparently possess a far more delicate kind of stench.

Anywho, the trainers supposedly crossed the scent trail with a perpendicular trail of red herring juice or shmears, in order to throw the dog off and teach it not to be distracted by the familiar fish odor.

Well. That's all nice but it's probably the true origin of the term. It comes from William Cobbett, who in 1807 complained about the false journalistic reporting the Napoleon was defeated. He'd once used a red herring to turn dogs away from attacking a hare. His quote, "It was a mere transitory effect of the red-herring, for on the Saturday, the scent became as cold as stone" was repeated enough that the idiom eventually stuck.

Red herrings seem to be of more use in mystery plots. Agatha Christie, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Edgar Allen Poe are famous for using red herrings in their plots.

So there you have it. Happy Friday everyone. Now. Let's crack open a cozy mystery and hey...

...does anyone fancy a kipper?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog: Stories and Time

Hi all!

Well, I'm back from the crazy land of boards recertification.
Thanks to all of you for your amazing support. I felt like I had a cheering section, and that warmed the cockles of my myocardium.

I have so much information packed into my brain I'm going to tip over. And probably I'll be dreaming of anthrax, tularemia, valley fever, q fever, histoplasmosis, blastomycosis, coccidioidomycosis, HAART, toxoplasmosis, herpes encephalitis, tuberculosis, plague, dengue fever, lyme, rocky mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis, malaria, babesiosis, and a few other things for the next month, whether I like it or not.

And that's just some of one topic (infectious diseases) among 10 I crammed myself with.


So, again thanks for your support! It's over until the next one rolls around in 10 years.

And now onto less infectious topics. Or maybe very infectious, depending on your point of view!

This week's blog chain topic is courtesy of Danyelle Leafty, who asks:

"Stories have existed in every time and every culture. How come? And why are stories so important?"

So take it away, Laura Diamond, who tackles the topic this week!