Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Punk'd

Last week I mentioned I was writing (what I think may be) biopunk. But what is it, exactly?

Let's start with the granddaddy of the sci-fi genres that seemed to start it all, cyberpunk.

Cyberpunk, an amalgam of cybernetics and punk, originated in the early '80's as a type of sci-fi that incorporates dark views of humans, technology, and their combination in the future. The meanings of it vary depending on who you ask, but a general theme usually includes an undercurrent of rebellion by an oppressed few in a post-industrial dystopian-type setting. Examples: Neuromancer, by Gibson; movies such as Blade Runner and The Matrix.

Biopunk
is similar to cyberpunk but instead of technology fusing with people, biotechnology and recombinant DNA is in the forefront.
Examples
: Ribofunk by Di Filippo; Windup Girl by Bacigalupi (author of Shipbreaker); the movie Gattica

Steampunk
involves an era when steam power is still a mainstay in the culture, but it can be historical, an alternate history, or the future. There is often a Victorian-feel to the culture.
Examples: Leviathan, by Westerfeld; His Dark Materials by Pullman; the movies Wild, Wild West and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (which started as a novel)

And there are a ton of other cyberpunk derivatives, but they share the focus of a technology in the context of their societal effects. Though many of era-related, they can still be set in the future.

In the interest of not making this post too long, I'm going to try to define them briefly.

Atompunk: atomic age, pre-digital, mid-century modernism
Sandalpunk:
in which an ancient civilization never fell
Dieselpunk: or Decopunk,
it spans the era between the two world wars
Elfpunk:
in which elves and faires are in a modern urban setting
Nanopunk: nanotechnology is rampant, and the biotech is far more limited
Splatterpunk: lots of graphic, gory violence
Nowpunk:
current events directly affect the fictional characters
Mythpunk: smash-up of mythic characters with modern storytelling techniques
Clockpunk:
Similar to steampunk but industrial items rely on springs, like clocks
(Lots of these are further discussed in Wikipedia, and there were tons others I just ran out of time for: middlepunk, ironpunk, bronzepunk, timepunk, spacepunk...)

Whew! The latter list does seem a bit random (like, how about Shoepunk? A dystopian society with oppressive regimes that force women into wearing ill-fitting and very ugly house slippers instead of Manolo Blahnik heels that unlock the secrets to the universe).

Anyway, it was certainly interesting to research!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Medical Mondays: Doppelgänger Diagnosis


A doppelgänger is a distinct double of a person that can be seen. It's often thought of as a bad omen or evil entity, but is often used casually as a description of someone who closely resembles you.

There may actually be a medical reason for seeing doppelgängers in real life.

  • With electrical stimulation to the temporoparietal (that's the side of the brain, towards the back) part of the brain, a woman could distinctly feel the presence of a sinister double copying her actions. (See full article in NatureNews)
  • Syndrome of subjective doubles, or Syndrome of Christodoulou is an unusual delusional syndrome whereby a person believes a doppelgänger who looks like them but acts differently, is out in the world leading a separate life. Often it is caused by mental illness or neurological problems in the right temporal lobe of the brain. There may be some overlap with Capgras delusion ("Are You My Mother?"), which I've blogged about.
Some famous figures have experienced doppelgängers in their lives, such as Goethe, Abraham Lincoln (that was more of a two-faced person), and John Donne.

In literature,
doppelgängers as fantasty elements have been Edgar Allen Poe's short story "William Wilson"and Dostoyevsky's short story "The Double: A Peterson Poem."

Anyone see the movie Black Swan? Natalie Portman's doppelgänger should have won best supporting actress!

Have any of you read a good novel lately portraying a doppelgänger?

Please keep in mind this post is for writing purposes only and is not to be construed as medical advice.

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.

Friday, March 25, 2011

POV: Privately Owned Vehicle


Recently, I admitted I only write in first person POV. Call me lazy, but it's easy for me. There's one person to keep track of, and I've been able to blissfully ignore all the POV issues that writers discuss.

(Addendum: I'm getting flack for saying first person POV is easy! I've never tried any other POV's because first person is my comfort zone. :) I feel better knowing that it's not an easy POV at all. Yay, I'm not lazy after all!)

So I thought I'd look into it a bit.

After Googling "POV" I found that the first searches that popped up said it stood for "Privately Owned Vehicle."

Not what I was looking for.

Or was it?

I mean, when we choose a POV (as masters of our fictional universe) we are choosing Our Privately Owned Vehicle of story delivery, so to speak.

Okay.

So what are the different Privately Owned Vehicles encountered in fiction?

1) FIRST PERSON. The "I, me, my, myself" point of view. Many find this a great way of making the reader intimately identify with the main character. In this case, the character's voice colors the descriptive passages.
Limitations include the fact that many behind-the-scenes experiences cannot be included if the MC isn't there. You can't get inside the head of anyone else.
Example: Lots of YA, like the Hunger Games Trilogy

a) First person collective (like the Borg! "We do this, we do that"). Very unusual but striking nonetheless.
Example: The Virgin Suicides, by Jeffrey Eugenides

b) First person omniscient. Told as first person, but the MC has knowledge of those around them. Also rarely done.
Example: The Book Thief, by Zusak

2) SECOND PERSON. This is the "you did this, you go there." In some ways, it feels very commanding. It also forces the reader into the shoes of the main character, which can be compelling. Another hard-to-find one.
Example: Jay McInerny's Bright Lights, Big City is famous for this POV.

3) THIRD PERSON. This is the "he, she, they" kind of writing. In these, the descriptive passages are colored by the author's voice, rather than the main character's.

a) Third Person Omniscient:
with this method, the narrator has no personal part in the story itself, and has a God-like, all-knowing perspective of that fictional world.
Example: Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and Jane Austen's books

b) Universal Omniscient, in which the narrator knows everything, including things the main character does not ("Little did he know, he'd be eating his toenail clippings for breakfast").

c) Third Person Subjective/Limited: here, the reader is allowed into the mind of only one character at a time, but sees all through the eyes of that character. It lacks the "all knowing" perspective seen in the omniscient POV.
Example: Harry Potter books

d) Third Person Objective,
in which the narrator is devoid of any emotion, often seen in journalism like articles.

Here are a couple of sites that further discuss POV:

POV for Dummies
The Writer's Craft

Writers in Progress
Editorandauthor.com
Wikipedia

So, do you have a favorite POV to read or write?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Stranger Than Fiction: Moonlit genes


Hi guys!

My current WIP is sci-fi. Bio-punk, to be more specific. I guess I'm a little science-geeky, so this was a natural theme to turn to in my writing.

As a result, I find all kinds of inspiration in the natural world. So I'm going to bring some of that to you. Even if you don't write paranormal or sci-fi, it's a great thing to stretch our imaginations with real life stuff.

Here are some earlier posts on Zombie Ants and Luna Moths: Beauty at the Ultimate Price.

Today's post is on light-sensitive genes. Did you know that we, along with shellfish and corals, have genes called cryptochromes?

The genes are turned on by the pale blue light of the moon and are responsible for the mass coral spawning in the Great Barrier Reef following a full moon.

Nowadays, the cryptochromes play a part of human circadian rhythm but the light-sensing part is no longer functioning. Too bad; it would have been a good explanation all that so-called crazy full moon behavior! (see Sarah's post of whether the full moon causes lunacy)

Neat, huh?

For more info, check out the original article from Scienceagogo.com

Finally, if you haven't had a chance, please stop by Deb Salisbury's blog where she'll be tackling the "In my writing, I always/never_____" question for our Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog series this month.

If you missed it, check out Laura's post, my post, and Sarah's post from last week!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Music To Make Write To Guest Post!


Hey all!

This is an unusual Tuesday post, but Chris Phillips, a fellow Nebraskan with pinchy-sharp wit has asked me to guest post for his Music To Make Write To series at his blog, the Slushpile Savant.

Go take a peek, if you please. Chris is endlessly entertaining, and if you haven't met him yet, well, it's about time you did!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Medical Mondays: Constructing a Murder Scene


This week's question is from Erin Cole, who writes mystery and horror and recently debuted her novel, Grave Echoes. Hooray for Erin!

Her question:
"Unfortunately, my character must die a gruesome death, but by natural causes. Frankly, it needs to be bloody, so that it looks like a murder. I thought that maybe she could die of electrocution in the bathtub, and then because she was taking large doses of probiotics, her body (excuse the gore here) rather explodes (due to the yeast in the probiotics and the heat of the bath). Is this medically possible?"

Great question Erin.

What might cause a grisly death scene that looked like foul play was at hand, but really wasn't?

A few things immediately stuck out as possibilities.

1) Hematemesis (Fancy word for vomiting blood). You could die from a bleeding, broken blood vessel high up in the gut (stomach, esophagus). The blood fills the stomach and it causes vomiting, which as you can imagine, would create a horrific scene. Sadly, I've seen this myself, and yes, it can appear like a massacre took place. The number one cause has often been cirrhosis of the liver (liver failure from diseases, such as long standing alcohol abuse or viral hepatitis, which eventually causes certain blood vessels in the body to expand and bleed. The also have accompanying problems with their innate ability to stop bleeding, which makes the problem worse). A stomach ulcer that eroded through a blood vessel could also cause hematemesis, but less likely death.

So for Erin's character, a past history of alcoholism and markers of cirrhosis (little pink blood vessels over the skin [called spider hemangiomas], flushed palms, distended abdomen, jaundice) might be evident and yet still easy to conceal.

2) Boerhaave Syndrome. This is perforation, or ripping of the esophagus (the tube that connects your throat to your stomach). It occurs with severe retching and vomiting. It can be a cause of death in someone with bulemia, for instance. The death rate of this, untreated, is very high. To make the scene kind of gross for Erin's case, there might be vomitus mixed with blood at the scene of death. Or if the person does not die immediately, they would soon succumb to breathing problems, shock and then death. It's not nearly as messy as being caused by #1, and thus a less ideal choice for the character.

3) But what about exploding guts? If you remember my forensics post, a dead body at some point will bloat from the gases formed by bacterial decomposition. Many of these bacteria are naturally occurring, but eating lots of probiotics probably won't make you more aggressively decompose.

Furthermore, the body has many layers of fascia, muscle, and skin that keeps the abdomen a neat and tidy compartment. Even with severe bloating in decomposition, the belly probably won't explode, especially in a fresh post-mortem scene.

Erin would have to concoct a way for the person's belly to be partially penetrated/torn/stabbed during or just after death
, and the body would have to be discovered days later. Perhaps sooner, if a warm environment sped up decomposition. This way, the abdominal contents would have time to decompose to the point of expanding and popping outside of the abdominal compartment through the wound.

I've heard of exploding guts causing death, but it's only happened
when the layers of abdomen were compromised, such as at the onset of surgery. I once heard of a case where a patient who had such severe constipation (yes, really, really, really bad constipation can indeed kill--sorry for all the hypochondriacs out there) but this is extremely rare.

Thanks Erin for the great question, and sorry to all of you who just read this over breakfast (a frequent apology here at Medical Mondays, unfortunately!)


Please keep in mind this post is for writing purposes only and is not to be construed as medical advice.

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.

Friday, March 18, 2011

NaNo Recap?

I didn't do NaNoWriMo this year.

I did a combination of NaNoRevMo (that revision project is still on hold) and tinkered with a new WIP.

As far as my writing goes, I'm always looking forward, but now and then, I force myself to glance back.

Hopefully, I won't pull a muscle in the process, and I can get a clear view of how far I've come (Or not. *Snort*)

What happened to your NaNo, or November project? When you look back a few months ago, what do you see?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

You Push Me, I'll Push You.


Are you getting tired of me talking about my revisions?

Sorry!

Then again, one of the reasons I love to blog is that I get to talk endlessly about something near and dear to my heart (and I'm not talking about my lungs).

WRITINGWRITINGWRITINGWRITINGWRITING.

No one tolerates my writing babble more than you guys. For that, I give you all hugs with limitless refills.

So I've got pages and pages of outlined revisions. They are color-coded by character. Synopsized by chapter (is that new verb?). There are a thousand arrows and random microscrawl all over.

I'm ready to redo chapter one.

And I'm scared!

Jumping into an icy lake would be easier.

Someone, push me already.

Do you ever get the jitters before a new phase in your writing process? Or just dive in, no worries? Who else needs a push right now, in writing or in life in general?

If you haven't had a chance, please stop by Sarah Fine's blog where she'll tackle the "In my writing, I always/never_____" question for our Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog series this month. If you missed it, check out Laura's post, mine from last week, and stay tuned for Deb Salisbury's answer next week!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Medical Mondays: A Death in the Night, part 1

Hey all!

I've been having a back-and-forth conversation with the amazing and sweet Len Lambert--check out her blog Conversations with Self if you have a moment.

She has a character that sadly, must die in during her sleep. A young person, maybe in her thirties.

What could cause something like this?

First, we have to consider the character. She is very young, so the chance that she might have sudden cardiac death (SCD) due to atherosclerotic heart disease would be less likely (this is the #1 cause of sudden death in the world--95% of the time)

What else could cause SCD at her age? I came up with a few possibilities, but each is really interesting, so today I'm going to tackle Brugada Syndrome.

This is a rare condition that affects less than 0.4% of the U.S. population, but as high as 1% in some Asian populations. Some may have unexplained episodes of fainting (syncope), but most have no symptoms at all. People have a peculiar abnormality seen on an EKG, or ECG, but most people don't have them done routinely, so it would be easily missed. Men have it far more often than in women.

People with Brugada syndome often suffer SCD during sleep via a fatal arrhythmia, usually ventricular fibrillation. It's the #1 cause of SCD in Southeast Asian men, where it's called Sudden Unexpected Nocturnal Death Syndome, or SUNDS. Men often die in their sleep after a carb-heavy meal, which makes their condition more susceptible to arrhythmia.

SCD in Brugada Syndrome can also be provoked by other factors: local anesthesia, tricyclic antidepressants, lithium, fevers, low potassium levels (this is linked to a high carbohydrate meals, see above in SUNDS), hi potassium or calcium levels, and cocaine use.

I'm sure I've seen Brugada syndrome mentioned in some crime shows or movies but I can't remember which ones.

Have you ever heard of Brugada Syndrome?

Please keep in mind this post is for writing purposes only and is not to be construed as medical advice, or homicidal advice, yeesh.

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.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Distance Makes the Eye Grow Sharper

I'm still wallowing in revision hell. It's toasty. Good for my cold toes, yet occasionally itchy. Heh.

I recently got back a hard copy of my MS that a beta had read. The paper waste is guilt-inducing, I admit, but for the first time, I saw something I hadn't noticed.

The words.

The physical distance of seeing my pages of manuscript made a lot of my beta/CP comments suddenly very real. This flavor of comment in particular:

"This scene goes on for too long...it takes forever to get from point A to B..."

I mean, I could really see this stuff now. Maybe it's temporal distance, maybe it's really seeing the text in front of me on paper.

Have you ever only "seen" problems in your manuscript after seeing it printed in tiny little pages?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

I always/never______!


Hey guys. Today I have to answer my own question for the Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog.

It's my question. I'm kind of kicking myself for thinking it up.

"In my writing, I always/never______."

Of course, any absolute statements mean that at some point in time, I'll look back on this post and laugh my a** off. So, take this all with a modicum of sodium chloride.

I always
...write in first person POV. I'm scared to write in third person. Seriously.
...plot. I do pants my scenes, but overall, plotting is my method.
...create main characters who think they are ugly or don't think much of their outward appearance.
...write YA, when it comes to fiction.
...create female MC's.
...make sure there is a scientific theory behind any paranormal element, if writing paranormal.

So, do you have any hard and fast rules that have come to epitomize your writing?

Please take a moment to check out Laura's post from last week, and stay tuned for Sarah's and Deb's in the coming weeks!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Medical Mondays: Decomposition Composition

Theresa Milstein has a fascinating question for this week.

"If someone died and was buried in a shallow grave in New England (about an hour northwest of Boston) for nine years, would only a skeleton and clothing be left behind? Or would hair, skin or anything else be left?"

Boy, this was both interesting yet gruesome to research. There's too much to cover in one post, so I'll just highlight some major themes on this topic.

(Warning: I hope you have a strong stomach for what follows! Be thankful I'm NOT posting any pictures...bleah.)

Stages of decomposition: a human body will go through a few stages, including a fresh stage, followed by bloat, active decay, advanced decay, and dry/remains. (For photos of these stages on a pig carcass, click here.)

Each of these stages can be sped up (with heat, moisture/humidity, exposure) or slowed down tremendously (in an oxygen-free environment, like peat bogs, or with very cold temperatures, acidic soil, dry environments, or lack of exposure to animals/insects).

Bacteria, outside the body and naturally occurring within the body, cause disintegration of the corpse. Early in decay, this microbial proliferation in turn releases gases and horrific odors. It's called putrification and causes the bloat stage of decomposition.

If the body is well covered in clothing, this may slow down decomposition. Being inside a structure (coffin, house) may as well.

Animals and insects active in the decay process can be used to accurately identify the timing of death. Blowflies (and their eggs, larva, etc.) are classically used in this timing process of early decay.

Hair and fingernails, being organic, will also break down and disappear with normal decomposition, but as we've seen in Egyptian mummies and peat bog mummies, they can be preserved as well.

Clothing decomposes depending on its type and the environment. Cellulose-based fabrics (cotton, rayon, linen) will degrade rapidly in soil, but will degrade slowly if the soil is alkaline (high pH). Protein-based fibers (silk, wool) will degrade slowly in acidic (low pH) environments.

Petrochemical-based clothing (nylon, polyester) will degrade very slowly or not at all, as there are no methods of decomposition in the natural world (yes, those polyester 1970's suits will outlive all of us, many times over.)

Adipocere, also known as corpse, grave, or mortuary wax, is a waxy substance caused by the oxygen-free metabolism of body fat by bacteria. It can look like a shell of wax in the areas where bodily fat used to be. It can also be black, grey, yellow, white, or have the consistency of wax, be semi-soft, or found in more liquid forms. Adipocere formation can occur in a cold, airless environment, such as a sealed casket, wet mud, or at the bottom of a lake. The pictures are hard to stomach. Google at your own risk.

The answer to Theresa's questions?
In northwest Boston, the soil can be loamy or mucky (yes, muck is a technical soil term, and yes, I spent too much time on this website researching soil northwest of Boston). But unless the body was put into a bog, there ought to be enough air in the soil to prevent mummification.

As the summers can be warm, we'd expect a normal process of decay. Being in this soil, a shallowly buried corpse would easily decay without adipocere formation over the course of 9 years. There would be little left of the body except a skeleton. There would be no hair or skin left.

As for clothing, only traces of clothing that were petrochemical based, such as polyester, or artificial shoes or soles, may still exist, or metallic bits from the clothing.

Here are some sites I used for gathering info, if you'd like to brush up on your forensics of body decay:

UK Website with topics on forensic corpse evaluation
Hair and Fiber decomposition in archeology
Post-mortem fate of human remains
Adipocere info
University of Tennessee Forensic Anthropology Center aka "The Body Farm"
Tollund Man (peat bog mummy)

It was so interesting, but I did lose my appetite for about 24 hours after researching this. Hope you all recover as well!

Also, don't forget to check out Mental Health Mondays at Laura's Blog and Sarah Fine's The Strangest Situation for some great psychology-themed posts!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Time: Friend or Foe?


I have issues with time.

I can't control it. It ticks on faster when life throws you a happy moment; it goes so slowly when I least need it to. Time doesn't care what I'm doing. It goes along at its own pace, and I'm just a bug in it's web.

And in writing, time is all things good and bad.

I love how time gives me the distance to see my writing in a new light. It makes me a better writer.

But I find waiting so frustrating. I'm not patient, and publishing and writing aren't fast things. Even if you can write a novel in two weeks, chances are it'll take a heck of a lot longer to revise that sucker into something publishable.

Time. (*raises fist*) Grrr.

What I wouldn't do for Hermione's Time Turner! I want it!

Okay, rant over. :)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Sandwich With a Side of Revisions

I've been getting feedback from betas and CPs on the first draft of my WIP.

All I can say is...ouch.

I decided to put the changes needed on index cards to put order in my new universe of manuscript chaos.

On the right are a pile of details that need fixing.

In the middle are plot problems (some are so huge--let's just say that some of those cards mean weeks of revisions, at least).

On the left is a sandwich that makes me happy. In these trying times of revisions, though I love the Oreos, it's better to stuff oneself with this:

Brain-Food Critique Sandwich

100 Calorie multi-grain bread
Schmear of guacamole
Sprouts
Cilantro
Lettuce
English cucumber slices
Slice of Emmentaler cheese

For me, it helps the critiques go down better--even more so than chocolate. (I can hear gasps of disbelief! Really. I love chocolate, but my salt-tooth is anatomically larger than my sweet tooth.)

How about you? Do you do anything that makes the crits easier to deal with? Any tips on how you organize all the feedback?

If you have a moment, please check out Laura's Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog post where she answers this question: "In my writing, I always/never_____".
 
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