Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Why is Writing like Medicine?

Jessica Bell is hosting me over on her blog today!

I'm writing about Why Writing is Like Practicing Medicine. Check it out!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Wikipedia and TV. Destroyers of Productivity.

From XKCD:
I'm going to take you on a journey. (This is what the guilty do--they drag you down with them.)

Last night, I was going to get some writing done and made the mistake of turning on the TV for some background white noise.

White noise, ha. I should have known better.

The movie Julie and Julia was on, about a blogger Julie Powell, who cooks all the recipes in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a single year. Her blog became a hit and she ended up writing a book and having a movie made of her story (with Nora Ephron and Meryl Street and Amy Adams. Wow.)

So I ended up on the internet, reading about her book.

Then I read some reviews on her subsequent book, Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat and Obsession. Here's a review by the Village Voice and ow, it hurts to read.

Which lead me to inquire about the word navel-gazing in Wikipedia.

Which comes from the Greek word, omphaloskepsis.

Which lead to more Wikipedia searches.

At some point, I ended up on the Hesychast controversy (which, after reading the opening paragraph three times, I still don't quite get what it is) and then Cappodocia in Turkey.

Which made me think of capicolla (a salami-like entity, not currently in my refrigerator).

Which made me hungry, and I ended up scavenging my fridge for pepperoni.


Let this be a lesson to you all.

On another note, I have a new website! YAY!!!! Thank you to the marvelous and talented Tessa Elwood! And I have a new blog header/color scheme to match.

Also, on Wednesday, I'm guest posting at Jessica Bell's blog on why writing is like practicing medicine.


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Paranormal Primary Care

So I spend a lot of time talking to people about how to stay healthy, and making sure my patients are up to date on vaccines and colonoscopies and stuff.

What about the Paranormal Primary Care doctor? What does she have to deal with? Here are a list of questions she commonly asks her patients.

1. Are you living with a deceased person?
a) if YES, do they still speak to you?
b) if still YES, then can others hear them?
c) if NO, then please stop by our psychiatric clinic before continuing.

2. Are you deceased?
a) If yes, skip to question 3
b) If no, skip to question 6

3. Please indicate your personal type of undead.
Vampire    Ghost    Poltergeist    Zombie      Mummy    Frankenstein    Banshee     Ghoul     Other

4. Please describe your present state of solidity. Circle one.
Solid    Airy    Transparent    Glassy     Shiny    Sparkly    Gassy     Chunky    Wispy    Bubbly

5. Do you need food? Is it animal, vegetable, mineral, human, McDonalds, ritually sacrificed animals, pure souls, or evil souls?

6. Have you been vaccinated? Which ones?
anti-god     anti-vampire     anti-garlic   anti-perspirant     anti-lucky-charm    anti-priest    anti-silver     anti-angel anti-crucifix     anti-werewolf     anti-common-cold
(if you circled the common cold, then please leave, because we know you're just making stuff up.)

7. Are you overweight, or underweight?
a) If overweight, is it because you are carrying excess souls?
b) If underweight, is it because you are missing all your flesh?

8) Are you being haunted? If yes, but if it's a relative for whom you owe money, you're on your own.

9) Do you have high blood pressure?
If yes, does it boil?

10) What kind of exercise do you do on a regular basis?

Stake-Dodging       Elliptical        Biting        Writhing in torment       Yoga       Chain-rustling     Whoooing        Disappearing      Weight Lifting         ShapeShifting        Hunting Happy Souls     Teleportation         Telekinesis         Zumba       Transmogrification        Black Cat Avoidance     Stalking Hormonal and Oblivious Teens

There you go. Some basic Paranormal Primary Care questions.

Now go open your own clinic! (At your own risk! Most insurance companies won't work with you, FYI.)

Monday, August 20, 2012

Medical Mondays: CAFFEINE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Do you have your tea, or coffee, or chocolate, or Super Mocha Java with an extra shot of espresso ready? Good.

For this caffeine post, I have to reiterate my disclaimer. I am not going to persuade you to stop drinking caffeinated beverages, or to start drinking them. Your choice. Even if it's Taster's Choice. Ew.

Ah, caffeine. The legal drug of the masses. 

What is it? It's 1,3,7-trimethyl-1H-purine-2,6(3H,7H)-dione, of course. But who has time to say that at the drive-thru window at Starbucks? "NEED JOE" is a more economical use of syllables.

Where is it found naturally? Lots of plants, including the coffee, tea, and cacao plants, kola nuts, guarana, and yerba mate, among others. 

Who drinks it? 90% of adults in the world consume some form of caffeine every day. Given our world population, that's...6.3 BILLION people a day.  

For the sake of ridiculous visualizations, what volume of beverage is that? About 800 million gallons. Give or take a few gallons. (When I did that calculation, I was like, whoa! That's like Lake Superior sized, right? But no, Lake Superior is three QUADRILLION gallons. Wow. That would be a lot of coffee.)

What happens if spiders are fed caffeine? I'm SO glad you asked! This is what happens.

From Wikipedia
Apparently they've studied caffeine's effects on mollusks too. More importantly, why do they need to investigate this?

What does caffeine do to you, right after you drink a shot of espresso? You all probably know the answer to this one already. It can increase mental alertness, mental focus, physical endurance, may cause insomnia, increased bathroom trips (for #1 and #2).

What if you really, really overdo it? Most people drink an average of two cups of coffee a day. That's about 200-250 mg of caffeine a day. People who suddenly drink a lot more than their usual amount can suffer from caffeinism. Symptoms include heart palpitations (the sensation that your heart is pounding or going fast--even causing abnormal arrhythmias), nervousness, insomnia, stomach upset and diarrhea, headaches, and irritability. It also results in excessive whole-body bouncing. Okay, that last one may only happen to me.

And if you suddenly stop drinking coffee after being a regular drinker? Headaches, nausea, fatigue, body pain and difficulty concentrating. Not fun. 

Can caffeine kill you? Yes. (I hear a collective gasp of FEAR.) But you'd have to drink about 100 cups of coffee to overdose. Cases of fatal caffeine consumption usually occur after overdosing on caffeine pills. Death is often caused by a fatal heart arrhythmia

Can caffeine save your life? Possibly. It's been associated with a decreased risk of Parkinson's disease, decreased deaths due to heart problems, decreased diabetes risk, and decreased risk of colorectal cancer and certain types of liver disease. 

But? You knew there was a but! There's always a but. The data for other cancers is not definitive, and there may be an increase risk of osteoporosis with caffeine consumption.

I don't like coffee or tea or chocolate, and my lips are dry. Any ideas? There is something called SpazzStick, which is caffeinated lip balm. There you go

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. :)

Monday, August 6, 2012

Some beautiful things. And vacation!

Hi guys. I'm sure you've plenty about Roni Loren's experience with being sued for using a photo on her blog.

With so many people using Pinterest and pinning addictions running rampant, it is a frightening thing. It's far too easy to use a random, pretty image from the internet.

This is one of the reasons why I do so many illustrations on my blog. First, because I can hardly find the right image to suit me, and second, I won't sue myself (one of the many benefits of not having multiple personalities.)

So after Roni's post came out, I started taking images off my Pinterest board. I'm not yet done purging, but I've done a lot.

Another thing I did was email several photographers asking them for permission to post their photos, so long as I attributed their images to them. Many of them emailed me back, thanked me for being conscientious, and said yes.

So I'd like to thank these artists and celebrate their amazing work. If you want to pin them, you can. But PLEASE link directly to their website, not my blog! Give them credit where credit is due. :)

Nimbus - Sala Murat, 2012, by Berdnaut Smilde
Nebulae, by Thomas Jackson

Emergent Behavior: Glow Sticks #1 by Thomas Jackson
Underwater, 2009 by Erin Mulvehill

I'm off for vacation for a while. I'll be back to my blog at the end of August. Enjoy the rest of summer!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Guest Post by Becca Puglisi: On Pacing, the Ultimate Balancing Act

Please welcome Becca Puglisi, one of the authors of the Emotion Thesaurus, who's here to discuss pacing in your writing! Take it away, Becca. :)

I’d like to start this post by stating an opinion that I think pretty much everyone shares: Pacing Sucks. When you get it right, no one really notices. I mean, how many times have you read a 5-star review that went on and on about the awesome pacing? On the other hand, when the pacing’s off, it’s obvious, but not always easy to pinpoint; you’re just left with this vague, ghostly feeling of dissatisfaction. One thing, though, is certain: if the pacing is wrong, it’s definitely going to bother your readers, so I thought I’d share some tips on how to keep the pace smooth and balanced.

1. Current Story vs. Backstory. Every character and every story has backstory. But the relaying of this information almost always slows the pace because it pulls the reader out of the current story and plops them into another one. It’s disorienting. And yet, a certain amount of backstory is necessary to create depth in regards to characters and plot. To keep the pace moving, only share what’s necessary for the reader to know at that moment. Dole out the history in small pieces within the context of the current story, and avoid narrative stretches that interrupt what’s going on. Here’s a great example from Above, by Leah Bobet:

The only good thing about my Curse is that I can still Pass. And that’s half enough to keep me out of trouble. But tonight it’s not the half I need because here’s Atticus, spindly crab arms folded ‘cross his chest, waiting outside my door. His eyes glow dim-shot amber—not bright, so he’s not mad then, just annoyed and looking to be mad.

Bobet could have taken a lengthy paragraph to explain that certain people in this world have curses that are really mutations, that Atticus has crab claws for hands and his eyes glow when he gets angry. But that would’ve slowed the pace and been boring, besides. Instead, Bobet wove this information into the current story—showed Atticus leaning against the door, showed his crustacean claws and his freaky, glowing eyes so the reader knows that he’s a mutant and, to the narrator, at least, this is normal. This is an excellent example of the artful weaving of backstory into the present story

2. Action vs. Exposition/Internal Dialogue. Action is an accelerant. It keeps the pace from dragging. Granted, there will be places in your story that are inherently passive, where characters have to talk, or someone needs to think things out. The key is to break up these places with movement or activity. Characters should be in motion—smacking gum or doodling or fidgeting— while talking. Give them something to do during their thoughtful moments, whether it’s peeling carrots or painting a picture. These bits of action are like an optical illusion, fooling the reader into thinking something’s happening, when really, nothing’s going on. This is one scenario when readers actually prefer to be fooled, so make sure to energize those narrative stretches with action.

3. Conflict vs. Downtime. On the flip side, you can’t have a story that’s all go and no stop. One might think that since action is good, more action is better. Not true. Readers need time to catch their breath, to recover from highly emotional or stressful scenes. A good pace is one that ebbs and flows—high action, a bit of recovery, then back to the activity again. Even The Maze Runner, possibly the most active novel I’ve ever read, has its moments of calm. When it comes to conflict and downtime, a definite balance is needed for the reader to feel satisfied.

4. Keep Upping the Stakes. We know that conflict is important—so important that every single scene needs it. But for conflict to be effective, it needs to escalate over the course of the story. To keep the reader engaged, each of the major conflict points needs to be bigger, more dramatic, and with stakes that are more desperate. Look at The Hunger Games. It starts with Prim in danger, followed by Katniss facing a series of do-or-die scenarios, and finally ends with her playing a desperate game of life or death with not only herself, but Peeta, too. Clearly, lots of other conflict is interspersed, but when it comes to the major points, each one should have greater impact than the last.

5. Condense the timeline. When possible, keep your timeline tight. If it gets too spread out, the story will inevitably drag. It’s also hard, in a story that covers a long span, to keep things smooth; there will be time jumps of weeks or months or even years between scenes. Too many of these give the story a jerky feel. So when it comes to the timeline, condense it as much as possible to keep the pace steady.

For sure, pacing is tricky, but I’ve found these nuggets to be helpful in maintaining a good balance. What other tips do you have for keeping your story moving at the right pace?

Becca Puglisi is one half of The Bookshelf Muse blogging duo, and co-author of The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Expression. Listing the body language, visceral reactions and thoughts associated with 75 different emotions, this brainstorming guide is a valuable tool for showing, not telling, emotion. The Emotion Thesaurus is available for purchase through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and Smashwords, and the PDF can be purchased directly from her blog.