Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A word on Speedos...

Just wanted to drop in to remind you that it's Deb Salisbury's turn to see how she answers our Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog question for the month:

"Do you have any formal writing training, or have (or considered) an MFA in creative writing?"

As for me, I am still on a blog vacation until the New Year. I'm still reading (four novels down, more to come!) and am spraining my brain trying to delete images from my recent beach trip (go away Mr. Prancing Greased-Up Mohawk Man With Teeny Red Speedo. Ewwwwwww. Gag.)

There. Now he's in your brain too. Thanks for sharing my pain. Hooa!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Happy Holidays!

Welcome to all my new followers, and thanks to everyone who joined in the Deja Vu Blogfest last week--it was a huge success!

I'll be taking a blogging break for the holidays and will be back next week.

In the meantime, check out Sarah Fine's Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog post on Wednesday December 21st about whether she's had or considered formal writing training, MFAs, etc during her writing career.

Enjoy your holiday!

Stay safe.

Stay warm.

And most of all, stay entertained! (In other words, read a book!) I plan on reading three. ;)

Friday, December 16, 2011

Déjà Vu Blogfest: A Curse, and a Secret!

Hello and welcome to the Déjà Vu Blogfest! Hosted by DL Hammons, Creepy Query Girl, Nicole Ducleroir and yours truly!

Oh, but it was hard to pick an old post to recycle today. Though there has been good news to backflip over recently, and more good news, I've decided to share a little secret, via this Medical Mondays post from September of 2011. I was in the trenches then, studying for my Internal Medicine Boards.

Here we go!


Well, ha. This was inevitable.

I'm trying to keep myself in study mode, but I KNEW sooner or later I'd learn some factoid I'd feel compelled to share with you guys.

So I'm taking a brief break to tell you about
Ondine's Curse (also more correctly known as Congenital Central Hypoventilation Syndrome, or CCHS).

It's an extremely rare medical condition in which many sufferers can only breath voluntarily.

Meaning...if they fall sleep, they don't breathe and can die.

How can that be, you ask? Well, in the congenital form in infants, it can be fatal. It's so rare, doctors don't usually look for it. But in adults, it's caused by an auto accident, stroke, or neurosurgical complication to the centers of the brain that control breathing. They often need to use a ventilator machine to breath at night or an electronic device to zap their diaphragm muscle into helping them breathe.

The name Ondine's Curse comes from a German myth. Ondine was a water nymph in love with a mortal man. She gave up her immortality when she fell in love with him and bore him a child. He had promised, "
Every waking breath will be a testament to my love for you."

When he became unfaithful, she cursed him—if he ever fell asleep, his breath would be taken from him and he would die. Eventually, from exhaustion, the man did fall asleep. And he succumbed to the curse.


Why did I pick this for the blogfest? Well, after I wrote this post last year, I couldn't stop thinking about Ondine's Curse. I'd get short of breath imagining living life with this ailment. How a person would have such an odd relationship with air, and sleeping, and...existing.

So here's the secret: one of the main characters in my novel, The Fountain, suffers from Ondine's curse.

I originally started Medical Mondays to give back and share my medical skills with the writing community. I honestly didn't expect it to come full circle and inspire me in such a significant way.

Thanks for stopping by! I'm looking forward to reading all your recycled and awesome posts!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

University of Writer Blogs and Betas

This month's Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog's question is by yours truly:

“What formal writing experience do you have? (classes, degrees, major/minors). Did it shape your writing?Have you ever considered getting an MFA?”

  • I took a creative writing class in college. Most of the time, everyone got overshadowed by the one kid who could write an O. Henry ending like nobody's business.
  • I majored in Biology/Pre-Med, and minored in English. The minor was an excuse to pump blood into the right side of my brain, via Children's Lit and 19th Century English literature.

Ummmmm. That's it.

A few years ago, I started writing poetry and was tempted to apply for an MFA, but even the low res program was too time consuming.

Then when I started writing fiction, I figured I was too awful to subject myself to classes. I did join a writer's workshop for writers and doctors for a few years, but I wouldn't call that formal training.

Nope. I went to the University of Writer Blogs and Betas.

My amazing betas and crit partners taught me so much. Show vs tell, ratcheting up the tension, plotting, killing cliché name it, they taught me. And then there are all the writer blogs I've visited over the last few years. You guys keep teaching me, and I'm more than willing to keep learning.

So thank you again, everyone. Thanks for being my professors!

Laura Diamond posted last week, and Sarah and Deb will be up soon!

(Psst. Does anyone think it's funny that MFA and LMFAO are, er, similar? Just sayin'. Having an immature moment here...*snort*)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Medical Mondays: Ancient Birth Control

Good Monday to you all. Today, Luanne Smith of Bards and Prophets has a fascinating question for her novel.

"My character (this is in a post-apocalyptic setting) needs to be able to prevent pregnancy without *ahem* abstaining. There was/is a ferula plant (Silphium) that was said to be used in ancient times as a contraceptive. Apparently plants in this group have high levels of estrogen-like properties in them.

What I need to know is how would a plant like this be prescribed? Assuming it was readily available, would it need to be ingested everyday like the pill? Also, what side effects might my character experience after taking something like that for an extended amount of time (besides pregnancy, of course)?"

I've always found the need to control fertility a fascinating historical (and contemporary) subject. I even did a research paper on historical methods of birth control in med school. (Stones as IUDs? Crocodile dung as a spermicide? That's just a tiny bit of what I'd found.)

Herbal medicine has long been used as a means of controlling fertility. In a futuristic scenario, it would be conceivable (*ha ha*) that women might have to turn back to nature for contraceptive means.

Silphium is actually a now-extinct plant that was used in ancient Egypt and Greece, amongst other places. In fact, the heart-shaped seed may be the origin of why the heart shape is associated with romance.
photo credit
Silphium probably belonged in the genus Ferula, many of which are called "giant fennel." Although in the same family as true fennel, Ferula isn't truly a fennel plant.

These plants grow in the arid climates of western Asia and the Mediterranean region. In ancient Greek texts, there is plentiful discussion of using the Silphium juice once monthly to both prevent conception and as an abortifacient as well. Silphium's popularity in the ancient world may have led to its extinction.

So which Ferula plant might be used in Luanne's story? Possibly a species called Ferula Asafoetida.
photo credit

Yes, you read that right. There is a "fetid" in that name. Some have called it "Devil's Dung." All parts of the plant have a pungent, fetid odor. However, the dried gum of the plant root, once cooked, has a more palatable onion/garlic flavor and it still used today in some kitchens around the world.

Medicinally, Asafoetida is a natural antiviral (it was studied as a treatment for H1N1 flu), aids digestion and reduces flatulence (maybe it should be marketed as Anti-Fetid?), as an asthma treatment, and an anti-seizure medicine.

Asafoetida is also a commonly known contraceptive and abortifaciant. However, I had some trouble finding out how it would be used as such. Silphium was taken once monthly. The juice of the plant (maybe half a teaspoonful) was enough to do the job. When thinking of how herbs are used medicinally, consider these methods:
  • Extract (herb soaked in alcohol, strong concentration of herb)
  • Tincture (herb soaked in alcohol, weaker concentration of herb)
  • Infusion (herb soaked in hot water)
  • Decoction (herb boiled in water)
  • Ingested directly. (In Luanne's case, the gum from the root of the plant was cooked and eaten with food. This is the most likely method used, but again, I'm just guessing.)
  • Applied topically (like in a poultice)
  • Boiled and steam inhaled
  • Burned and smoke inhaled
Since Asafoetida has been long used as a spice, likely there is no serious long term side effect from taking it continuously, but of course there aren't any studies on this.

One last thing. Ferula Asafoetida grows mainly in India, Afghanistan, and Iran. For contraceptive herbs native to North America, also consider:
  • Black Cohosh
  • Wild Carrot (related to Ferula)
  • Queen Anne's lace (also related to Ferula)
  • Smartweed (Polygonum Hydropiper)

Here are some references I used to research this question. Good luck, Luanne!

If you've got a fictional medical question, let me know! Post below or email me at
All I ask is that you become a follower and post a link on your blog when I post your answer. This is for fictional scenarios, only. Please check out the boring but necessary disclaimer on my sidebar --->
Also, don't forget to stop by Laura Diamond's Mental Health Mondays and Sarah Fine's The Strangest Situation for great psychiatric and psychological viewpoints on all things literary. :)

Now follow Medical Mondays on Twitter! #MedMonday

Friday, December 9, 2011

Author Spotlight: Dawn Miller

Welcome Dawn to our Author Spotlight. Her book, Larkstorm, just went live on December 6th. Here we go!

What advice do you have for people who want to self-publish?

Take things slowly and treat it as a business. I believe all writers – self-published or not – need to be familiar with the business side of publishing. Just like a business should never open its doors without a plan, a writer shouldn’t throw a book up on the internet without having goals and a plan for reaching them.

Marketing is an absolute necessity because you can write the most amazing book ever, but if no one knows about it, then it’s not going to sell. Selling on the internet, we don’t have the luxury of the casual bookshelf browser – we need to let people know our books exist.

How do you manage to do so much in 24 hours?

I don’t sleep. At least that’s the rumor. In reality, I wake up around 4:30 or 5am everyday and either go for a run or go to the gym. I home school my oldest son – a 5th grader – while my other two boys are at school. My afternoons consist of carpools, sports practice, homework and dinner. I put my children to bed at 7pm and typically write until around 11. Since I have an iPhone, I do much of my social networking and email on the go.

Is there a different genre you might like to try and write someday?

Larkstorm is a dystopian fantasy crossover, and while I love writing those genres, I wrote a contemporary boy POV romance I hope someday sees the light of day. I also ghostwrite a commercial contemporary YA series and absolutely love it. So, short answer: I’d like to write contemporary.

What is something about yourself that most people don’t know or would be surprised to know?

I’m dyslexic and have a difficult time reading out loud. I stumble over words and struggle with simple pronunciations. But, like I tell my son who is also dyslexic, that doesn’t mean we can’t write, or tell stories, or speak in public. We just have to work harder. And I think that makes success all the more sweet.

In the years following the destructive Long Winter, when half the world’s population perished, the State remains locked in battle against the Sensitives: humans born with extra abilities. 

As one of the last descendants of the State’s Founders, seventeen-year-old Lark Greene knows her place: study hard and be a model citizen so she can follow in her family’s footsteps. Her life’s been set since birth, and she’s looking forward to graduating and settling down with Beck, the boy she’s loved longer than she can remember. 

However, after Beck is accused of being Sensitive and organizing an attack against Lark, he disappears. Heartbroken and convinced the State made a mistake, Lark sets out to find him and clear his name. 

But what she discovers is more dangerous and frightening than Sensitives: She must kill the boy she loves, unless he kills her first.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Book Buying Budget

I just bought another book.

I'm feeling both elated (Ooooh! New plucky protagonist! Shiny new cover! Squee!) and guilty (What about the library? Hmmmm? Haven't I spent enough money on books this year? Is this habit tax deductible yet?).

Sometimes I've borrowed from the local library, but I'm always worried about crumbing in them. The books, that is, not the library (I have a terrible habit of snacking and reading). Or not being able to borrow what I really want, when I want it.

Every time I get a new book, that same swirl of emotions surrounds me. Excitement. Guilt. Glee. Embarrassment.

True, most of the bad feeling disappears when I open up those crisp pages and inhale the new world at my fingertips.

So I'm curious. Do you have a book budget? Or do you blissfully ignore the bottom line when it comes to reading? Maybe something in between?


Don't forget to drop by Laura Diamond's blog today where she answers this month's Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog question: Have you had any formal writing training? Ever thought about getting an MFA, or have one?

Also, don't forget to sign up for our Deja Vu Blogfest for December 16th! It's right around the corner!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Medical Mondays: Münchausen Trifecta!

Today, Laura Diamond, Sarah Fine and I are tackling a topic together. It's called Münchausen syndrome.

It's a psychiatric, factitious disorder whereby people fake illnesses for attention and sympathy.

Ever heard of it? It's named after Baron Von Münchausen (1720-1797), who told many fantastic and untruthful tales about his adventures. His stories were later told in a novel by Rudolf Erich Raspe, and also in a 1988 film, The Adventures of Baron Von Munchausen. (Remember Uma Thurman as the Goddess Venus?)

Sarah Fine is going to tackle Münchausen's by Proxy, which occurs when parents sicken their own children to get attention as the "concerned parent."

Laura Diamond is going to tackle the psychiatric aspects of Münchausen's syndrome.

And I'll tackle some of the medical aspects of Münchausen's.

First of all, Münchausen's is different from malingering.

Malingering is when people fake their illness for secondary gain. Secondary gain can include money (for a lawsuit), getting out of military duty, getting out of prison for the "nicer" environment of the prison hospital, getting out of school (see Ferris Bueller's Day Off), getting out of prison ("I swear I was crazy when I killed that guy!"), getting prescription drugs, etc. Also, see my vomiting chicken blood post.

It's also different from Somatoform Disorders, when people have physical symptoms without any overt abnormalities on tests. These people aren't faking their suffering.

In Münchausen's, the person fakes an illness because they find the attention of medical personnel and the medical environment comforting and pleasant. From the doctor's side of this, it can be extremely frustrating.

Here's a story that I heard when I was a medical student.

A man came to the hospital with excruciating abdominal pain. He was at a party the night before when he clinked glasses with guests. After drinking his champagne, he realized his glass had broken during the toast and splinter-sized shards were at the bottom of his glass. He was convinced he'd swallowed some splinters.

Though normally glass should be seen on an X-ray, tiny shards might be missed. He had an endoscopy, which revealed nothing. He was ready to have an exploratory surgery to remove the possible glass shards from his gut when my attending (who I believe was a rotating resident at the time) said, "Hey. You look very familiar. Didn't you come to the ER at another hospital with the same problem last month?"

The patient immediately left and never came back.

Yes, he was willing to have an unnecessary, major surgery. And needle pokes, and endoscopies, and radiation. But he also got a load of concerned doctors, nurses, and staff who thought, "This poor man! He needs our help!"

Here's another one.

A woman came in with fevers and signs of a blood bacterial infection gone out of control. After antibiotics and an ICU stay, she recovered. There was no obvious cause for the infection, and doctors were confused as to why several types of bacteria grew in her blood. (Normally in blood infections, there is just one bacteria involved.)

After a second bout of sepsis with multiple bacteria, the hospital staff suspected Munchausen's. The patient was then observed surreptitiously injecting herself intravenously with a liquid mixture made from her own feces.

And on, and on, and on. There are thousands of stories like these, sadly. People injecting themselves with insulin to get hypoglycemic; people rubbing dirt and spit into their wounds to prolong a hospital stay...sounds impossible? It's not. I've seen a bunch of them myself.

Many patients with Munchausen's will go to several doctors and/or hospitals for treatment ("doctor hopping"). They may move to different states so they can do it again, or change their names. And they're willing to undergo unnecessary, even dangerous, evaluations to do so and put their very lives at risk.

From the medical side, the key to finding out someone has Munchausen's is part science, and part luck. Doctors have an obligation to make sure there truly isn't a dangerous medical condition before they blame something on Munchausen's--because that kind of accusation is extremely serious. But when the data doesn't add up (like the multiple bacteria in the blood, above) or suspicious behavior is found, then we suspect Munchausen's. I have heard that video cameras can be used to prove cases of Munchausen's by proxy, but I'm not sure about regular Munchausen's.

It can be particularly difficult to diagnose if the patient already has real medical problems, and/or has educated themselves about certain illnesses--how they present, what "alarm" words to use to make doctors sit up and take notice.

Can you imagine what's it's like to have Münchausen's? Can you imagine having one of your characters with this syndrome?

If you've got a fictional medical question, let me know! Post below or email me at
All I ask is that you become a follower and post a link on your blog when I post your answer. This is for fictional scenarios, only. Please check out the boring but necessary disclaimer on my sidebar --->
Also, don't forget to stop by Laura Diamond's Mental Health Mondays and Sarah Fine's The Strangest Situation for great psychiatric and psychological viewpoints on all things literary. :)

Now follow Medical Mondays on Twitter! #MedMonday

Friday, December 2, 2011

Fairy Tale Plotholes

Hey all!

You know, once you get better at writing, doesn't it seem like somebody hands you a pair of Plot-Hole-Seeking-X-Ray glasses?

I love fairy tales, but once in a while, they bug me. Like, imagine if Snow White was written like this:

Once upon a time, there was a vain Queen who wanted to be the most beautiful woman in the land. Her magic mirror told her, "There is another who is the fairest than thee, O Queen. Her name is Snow White."

So the Queen goes to her dungeon and brews a powerful liquid, TOPF (Tincture of Pizza Face). And thus, beautiful Snow White was afflicted with the worst case of incurable acne even seen in Fairytale land.

The End.

Have your writing abilities ruined a few stories for you?