Friday, March 30, 2012

In Which "Rotten Fungus" is NOT Redundant

I got a few comments on my post Wednesday in reference to my "throw away the bad mushroom experiment" item on my to-do list.

So, I have some explaining to do.

No, they were not psychedelic mushrooms, and no, it wasn't a penicillin experiment, either.

Like many ventures gone terribly awry, my story begins with "So there's this website I saw...."

It was called Fungi Perfecti (no kidding, that's the name) which sells these "easy" mushroom growing kits. I looooove mushrooms.  (No, I am not a hobbit. I am short though. *checks for hairy feet* Yep, definitely not a hobbit. But I love my Elevensies!)

So we bought this Pioppino mushroom kit. Apparently, you get this bowling ball size of sawdust and mushroom spores. I figured this would be a cinch. Humans don't have to try hard to grow fungus, I reasoned in my reasonable way. Just walk through a boy's locker room barefoot and let the itching begin. Or ignore a loaf of bread. Or let your shower get steamy and watch that black stuff accumulate.

Easy peasy, right?

So I dutifully misted this lump of brown matter (that sounds gross. It really looked like a dry stump). And I kept this little plastic humidity tent on it. And voila! Wittle baby Pioppino mushrooms started to grow, like this:


Dang. I'm good.

But then, oops. Busy me, I forgot to mist it. So then they dried out and looked like this:


And then, in order to make up for my poor watering habits, I over-misted, over-humidified, and basically doused the lump. And then they looked like this:



Now, the mushroom experiment, a horrific fungus-on-fungus violence of spore-ific proportions, is residing in our back yard.

I'm so embarrassed. I can't even grow a good fungus.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Balancing it all--or not.

Hi guys,
Today I'm guest blogging over at the Lucky13's blog on "Balancing it all--or not."

Stop by if you can!

And also check out Deb Salisbury's post on Prologues: A Do or Don't? As well as previous posts by Laura Diamond, Sarah Fine, and myself. :)

Have a great Wednesday! Hope you're all enjoying this fantabulous spring weather. :)

Monday, March 26, 2012

Medical Mondays: A Most Inconvenient Paralysis

This week's odd medical phenomenon is Periodic Paralysis. I've studied this for every board exam and and still have never seen a case of it. But it's so odd, it needs its own post.

These are a set of diseases whereby the sufferers experience short bouts of muscle weakenss or even total body paralysis, but are completely conscious. It's caused by abnormalities in the ion channels of the muscles.

The triggers for these episodes are:
  • carbohydrate-rich meals
  • exercise
  • fasting
  • stress
  • excitement
Sometimes people are found to have either very low blood potassium levels, or even high potassium levels during the attacks. Having an overactive thyroid can also trigger it. Half of sufferers often suffer from complicated migraines as well.

The treatment is usually via medications to help stabilize potassium levels, and are often targeted to the specific subtype of Periodic Paralysis based on gene type.

The disease is also hereditary--if a parent has the disease, their kids have a 50% chance of inheriting the condition.

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, March 23, 2012

Cussing Can Be The Best Compliment

Hey guys!

Whew, this week has been a doozy. I've got things breaking all over the house (hello, water dripping from my kitchen ceiling!) and more sleep deprivation than usual, so forgive this belated post.

Here's a little picture I took this week, to make it up to you guys:

Holy Cumulus Humilis, Batman!
I mean, after you zone out the detritus of the Omaha suburbs down there, can you believe that fairytale sky? Where's Cinderella? Hanging out at the local fast-food place known for their vomit patties (aka the Runza)?

Anyway. I hope you guys are having a great week and have an even greater weekend. :)

As for that cryptic blog post title, you can find out over at Ink & Angst. I've been briefly interviewed, along with several other Lucky13s. Come gatecrash with us, if you can. Gratzie mille!

I've been a little out of the blog loop lately, so if you have some news to share, please let me know in the comments!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Prologues and Vivisected ball gowns


I'm back! I was in Dallas for a wedding this past weekend. It was wonderful seeing a stunning bride and a happy family, and yet in the back of my mind was one little grain of irritation...

Today's blog post. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog question this month is about prologues. Love them? Hate them? Kiss them or compost them? What?

How do I really feel about prologues?

Way back in April of 2010 I'd blogged about them, deciding that for my own stories, I didn't like them so much. I'd prefer to sprinkle in back story as I went along. Right? Right.

So here's something that shocked me when I got to Dallas. I swear this has to do with prologues, so stay with me. We were staying at the lovely Crescent Hotel, and this is what we saw in the foyer:

Do you see them? Those odd, hovering ballgowns?  Here is the right one close up. I took some great pictures but I left them on my iPhone at work, so these are directly from the artist's website (E.V. Day)

This is the front.

And this was the back view.

 Here is a close up of the red dress.

I was so tempted to scramble over to the placard that explained why these shredded ballgowns were pierced and strung up like insect shells caught in a spider web. I was fascinated and horrified. Amazed and curious. 

And I thought, this is the whole issue with prologues, right here with these dresses. 

1) Did I need a prologue to prepare me somehow for why these dresses were here? To tempt me about about their stories (pro-prologue)? Or was it better to just be thrust into their presence to experience the shock of seeing them, with no preparation at all (anti-prologue)?

2) OR...maybe these dresses ARE the prologue to another story yet to come.  Pieced together, vivisected and objectified, yet beautiful and fragile, they give a glimpse of what's yet to be, tantalizing the viewer to read on and find out the real story of why.

The final answer to the debate, for me at least? There is no answer! It's all in the artist's mind on how best to present the story. It's not about being pro- or anti-prologue anymore.

It's about being pro-story. Write your story, and write it as well as you can.

*******
On the artwork:

Both dresses are originally from the NYC Opera's archives, fashioned with monofilament and wood into a suspended sculpture. 

From E.V. Day's website, on the first sculpture:

Cinderella: Distressed Peasant/Princess
This sculpture is composed of two Cinderella dresses that symbolize her transformation: the white, cake-like “Princess” dress with its pearls and panniers, and a dress found on a rack of the costume archive labeled “Distressed Peasant.” Ironically, the peasant dress is more a marvel of handiwork and artifice—its luscious cashmere woven to look like burlap, its hand-made lace hand-torn and rubbed with ink to look sooty, and its silk velvet corselette punched with holes. The bloated, regal Princess dress splits down the back, and the cicada-like, deluxe dishevelment erupts.


On the red dress sculpture:

Mimì—Rigor Mortis (La Bohème, Puccini)
The most popular work in the operatic repertory, La bohème recounts the sad tale of the seamstress Mimì; from her rapturous love for the dashing poet Rodolfo to her tragic demise from a dreaded disease, dying in the freezing cold in the arms of her love. This exquisite example of a bustled Victorian dress in red velvet, with its laced bodice and satin ribbon, is so architecturally constructed it practically stands on its own. The figure of the unyielding dress, hovering like a headless sleep-walking zombie, seems frozen in the moment she reaches for her lover.

See more about E.V. Day's artwork on her website and on Wikipedia.

If you missed it, check out the other Sisterhood answers from Laura Diamond, Sarah Fine, and next week, from Deb!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Welcome Samuel Park!

I'm thrilled to have Samuel Park on my blog today to talk about his debut, This Burns My Heart. It's already had rave reviews, like this one:

TODAY.COM: ”Samuel Park’s This Burns My Heart is a remarkable debut novel that comes steeped in romance and cultural history… Soo-Ja Choi, Park’s protagonist, is an ambitious young woman trapped in the oppressive South Korea of the 1960s. Yearning to realize her dreams of becoming a diplomat in Seoul, Soo-Ja makes a hasty choice that comes with a price.”

I know, amazing, right? So I had the great opportunity to interview Samuel. Here we go!

1) How did the concept of this book come to be, or evolve?
Hi Lydia! Thank you so much for having me on your blog. I'm delighted to be here! Originally, the book was going to be about a father-daughter relationship. But in the course of writing it, as it so often happens, that became a secondary subplot. I realized that that wasn't what the book was about. So I cut out the first 70 pages that I'd originally written, and went in a different direction, describing the moment when my main character chose who to marry. I realized that that's what the book was really about--a woman making the wrong decision, and seeing how that affected the rest of her life. Those first 70 pages, though, set during the Korean War, became a memory that the heroine describes when she first meets the man she falls in love with, Yul.

2) What was the hardest part of writing it?
Writing the book was a very easy, joyful time. The hard part came after. Sometime before I finished the manuscript, my agent left the business. She gave me the name of a colleague of hers at the same agency, a very powerful and well-known agent. When I finished the manuscript, I sent it to her and kept my fingers crossed. Within a matter of days, however, she passed. That sent me into a tailspin; it was one of those so-close-and-yet-so-far kind of situations. After that, it just went from bad to worse. I kept querying, and I'd get an occasional request for a full, but nothing would come of it. That summer, right after I'd finished the book, was really the hardest. When I finally got a Yes from Lisa Grubka, at Foundry, it was really exciting. Now I'm glad those other agents turned me down, 'cos it paved the way for me to find Lisa, who is an amazing agent. I think I appreciate her more because I went through a period where I just didn't think I would ever find representation.


3) Okay, so I come from a Korean family. I know my mom would freak out if I wrote this book, worrying about "Everyone will think this is a thinly veiled autobiography about me!" How did your family handle the subject matter of this book?
My mother and I have a deal: I can't tell people *how much* was based on real life, and I can't say *which* parts were based on her life. That way I am able to preserve her privacy, while still being truthful about my inspirations. At the end of the day, it's a work of fiction. Even though my mother inspired Soo-Ja (the main character), she's not Soo-Ja, if that makes sense. Actually, *I* am Soo-Ja!

You're especially right about how tricky it is to write a book like this as a Korean person. Korean children, like Chinese, live under a doctrine of filial piety, under which you practically worship your parents. I was so worried about what my mother would think, that I didn't even tell her I was writing a book about her life. I only told her after the book sold. I think I was in complete denial that she would eventually read it. She hasn't yet, but I suspect when the Korean edition comes out, there will be some fireworks in the Park home! But all kidding aside, my mother really loves the whole enterprise of publication. She asks me all the time what the latest review was. When the Boston Globe review came out, which was mixed, she was very mad at the reviewer.


4) Illuminate us with something that surprised you about the publishing process, during the time AFTER your book sold. (Okay, that's just me being nosy, but I get to ask the questions, so what the heck.)
A number of things surprised me about the publishing process, and here are two of them:
1. I had no idea how "daily" the whole process is. I thought I was just going to hear from the publisher maybe once or twice a year. Not so. At peak times, I would get an email almost every day from my editor, her assistant, or from the publicist, or the marketing specialist. There was always so much to go over-- galleys, blurbs, jackets, bookseller reviews, industry reviews. I didn't know how "social," in other words, the process can be, especially since you spend so much time writing by yourself. I think that's actually one of the most fun things about the process--getting to work with people who are passionate about the book that you wrote.
2. I was also surprised by how important it is to have friends who support you. For instance, I thought, back in the day, that if you do a reading, people automatically show up. Not so. Unless you're a big best-selling author, you need to hustle up your own audience. My friends, bless their hearts, really came out in force, and showed up to my readings. If you think you "have it made" once you've sold a book, you're in for a surprise. After you sell the book, you're at the mercy of people more than ever before. It's a surprisingly vulnerable position. You're at the mercy of people who may or may not show up to support you. You're at the mercy of reviewers who may or may not like your book. You end up having to completely give up control. Having said that, I was lucky that it all turned out well--I've had as few as ten and as many as 80 show up at my events, and I was just as thankful for those ten as I was for the 80.

Thanks again, Lydia, for hosting me! It was an absolute pleasure!

You're very welcome, Samuel. :) And I have a particular treat for you guys too. Here's the trailer, in case that review above wasn't spectacular enough!

 


Connect with Samuel Park on his website,Twitter, and Facebook


***

Ooh, and more good stuff. Please check out Sarah Fine's blog where she's discussing the highly debatable subject of the Prologue: Do or Don't?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Medical Mondays: Human Boundaries

Hey guys!

Most of my Medical Mondays discuss how to maim, kill, drug, and generally abuse the human body for the sake of good fiction. But let's celebrate some of the positives, shall we? Humans are pretty strong and the truth is that in many cases, we're hard to kill.

I found this fascinating test on human limits on the National Geographic website. Want to learn a bit more about that body of yours and test how much you know?  Check it out! 

And here's another article about free diving and the intersection of culture and human physiology. If you're too busy to read the article, just watch the video on the link. It's an incredible video. Totally surreal. I tried to hold my breath while watching the guy diving, and I barely lasted 30 seconds!

To quote the writer on this piece:

"Life as an amphibious human can appear so alien that it’s stranger than science fiction, but painfully beautiful to watch."

I'm skipping Friday and next Monday because of my crazy schedule. Stay tuned for Wednesday's post. I'm interviewing Samuel Park about his stunning debut, This Hurts My Heart, and Sarah will be posting for our Sisterhood series. Happy Monday everyone!

Friday, March 9, 2012

An Odd Duck's Squeamishlessness

When I was a kid, maybe in 4th or 5th grade, I was fascinated by my mom's soft contact lenses. She hardly wore them, though. When I had a moment to sneak into her bathroom, I'd unscrew them out of their cases and simply stare at their über gelatinous magnificence. 

I read the instruction booklet on how to put them in over and over again. One sneaky afternoon when she was napping, I put them on.

(I know. I am an odd duck. So be it. Odd ducks, unite!) 

Of course, my vision was blurry. And later on in life, as the ultimate, in-your-face Karma, I wore contacts for about 23 years until I got laser vision surgery recently.

BUT. My point is, I possess a sort of squeamishlessness. (Ooh. Say that really fast and it could make you drool by accident!) I'm not grossed out by discussing vomit, stool, snot, pee, or the color, smell and consistency of said bodily excretions. We doctors happily use adjectives like "currant-jelly" and "rice-water" and "soft serve ice cream" or "hard and pellet-like" with happy aplomb when discussing these things. Sure, I throw in a colorful Ew and *hurl* during my Medical Mondays.

But in truth, it takes a lot to make get me nauseated. Hence, I was sort of made for a career in healthcare.

HOWEVER. I did not think I was built for fiction writing. Only after years of trying did I realize I could take a tablespoon of talent and a pound of hard work and turn it into something.

What about you? Do you have a natural talent for your calling, be it writing, or your day job? Or did you have to fight to get where you are? Maybe a little of both?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Revising 101

So I'm about five weeks into the writing workshop I'm helping to lead. People are getting together their pieces of poetry and prose to mold into better shape by the end of the workshop. So tomorrow, I've been asked to lead a discussion about revising.

Re-vision. Looking at your words with fresh, critical eyes. 

(Not to be confused with proofreading, or checking for grammar and spelling mistakes.)

When I revise, my first step is distance. The temporal distance of days, weeks, or months really helps me see a draft more clearly.
Then, consider visual distance. Reading it aloud helps, or having another person read it (with poetry, this is super helpful). Also, reading it printed out instead of on a computer screen, or in a different font.

Obviously, the input of readers is hugely important! Let's assume that's happened, too.
 
I have my bag of tricks when it comes to revising poetry.
  • remember why I wrote the poem, and if that focus is still there after each draft
  • play with each grouping of words so the meaning has more clarity and a sense of newness
  • rub out clichés and make my own new metaphors
  • listen to the rhythm and the pace, and consider balance in the whole piece. Not perfect, tidy balance, per se. Just a sense that it all the lines belong together somehow.
  • try not to use cute, tidy conclusion-y lines. Let the poem speak for itself; no need to summarize for your reader at the end.
As for prose, there is big-picture revision stuff, and smaller picture editing stuff. 

Big picture revision stuff: 
  • Are the goals of the main character known? Are there stakes clearly set up?
  • Is there a story and character arc in this? Have the characters changed from the beginning to the end?
  • Am I weaving in the sub plots and stories of others and playing them off each other okay?
  • Why am I writing this, and am I making sure that the reader cares? 
  • Am I taking the easy way out in telling this story? Or the reverse--are things so out of hand as to be too cartoonish or unbelievable?
Small picture editing stuff:
  • Make each sentence count
  • Show when it's possible; tell when it's necessary
  • Make sure the pace is okay. Cut prose when it's bogging down the pace. Add more description when the reader feels ungrounded and lost. Interplay the slow and the fast. Fast, fast, fast is not good. Slow, slow, slow is not good either.
  • Fine tune dialogue, and use it as a means to show more about the characters
  • Is there tension threaded within the scenes? And is it real, not fake, tension?
  • Did I start in the right place?
  • Did I layer in my backstory without infodumping? Or if I did have to infodump, is it presented in a way that is truly engaging to the reader?
  • Try to make my descriptions feel new
  • Use the senses without being too overwhelming
  • Avoid flat prose (repetitive sentence structure; exhaustive linear sequences of events)
Whew! That's a lot already.

So here's where I need your help. I'd very much appreciate your collective experience. Do you have any other important revision tricks that you can add? 

*****

Two other quick notes, if I may.
A blogger from my neck of the woods, Sally Deskins, invited me over for an interview last week. (read it here!).

And this week, Laura is blogging on this month's Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog topic:
"Prologues: good idea, bad idea? Discuss!"  Next week, I'm up! Thanks guys, and have a great Wednesday!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Medical Mondays: A Little History Lesson in Yuck

An Amputation Below The Knee. From Gerssdorjf*s woodcut, reproduced in Gurlfs "Geschichte der Chirurgie"
A good friend of mine, Dr. Phillip Smith, is a poet and an infectious diseases expert. He and several of his colleagues just published a paper, "Infection control through the ages."

As you may know, infection control today goes without saying--hand washing, cover your mouth when you cough, use sterile everything when doing surgery...

So obvious, right?

'Twas not always so. Hold on to your hats, yo.

Medieval Era (5th to 15th Centuries)
For background, remember that in the mid 1300's, the bubonic plague killed 1/3 of the population in Europe.
  • Hospital death rates were so high that sometimes a requiem mass was held for people entering the hospital, as if they'd already died. (Can we say "glass half empty" any louder?)
  • Some wounds were treated with cautery. A burning iron was pushed into a wound until it hit bone, or boiling oil and treacle was poured into the wound. (And you though salt was bad.)
  • Corpse removal was not immediate. We take this for granted. During this time, immediate removal would be thought odd. Sometimes, bodies in rigor mortis remained in the same bed with with other living patients for over 24 hours. (*looks for trashcan; dry heaves*)

Early Modern Era (1500-1800)
Infectious diseases continue to be the most common cause of death in Europe and the U.S. Yellow fever hit, (you must read Laurie Halse Anderson's Fever 1793 for a great fictional account of this time), measles and smallpox were serious killers, and massive outbreaks of cholera hit in the early 1800s.
  • The first "clinical trial" for smallpox happens in 1796--an 8 y/o boy is inoculated with blisters from a milkmaid with cowpox. The boy then survives a smallpox challenge.
  • Bloodletting is a common form of treatment. One woman is described to have been bled 1309 times before dying at age 31. (Gee. I wonder why she didn't make it to #1310.)
  • Most women undergoing Cesarean section died.
  • 40% of those undergoing amputation died from infection. Most instruments such as metal probes and saws were not cleaned between patients and were caked with pus and blood. (Under these circumstances, 60% survival rate is not that bad...)
  • There is a proposal to ban spitting on the hospital wards. (Yay! Personally, I'd like to ban spitting all the time.)

This paper is such a great find for writers doing any historical research!
Healthcare is always an issue in historical fiction. If you would like to read more, you can download the PDF here.
("Infection control through the ages." Smith et al. American Journal of Infection Control. 2012; 40:35-42)

Congrats Phil, Kristen, and Dr. Hewlett on your publication, and thank you for doing all that exhaustive research!

I hope some of you will find this helpful if you ever need research for your novels during any of these eras. Happy Monday!

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, March 2, 2012

Time Waste Removal Challenge 2012

On Goodreads, there's a nifty little widget called the 2012 Reading Challenge. Basically, you punch in how many books you'd like to read this year, and it keeps track of them as you read them.

The truth is, I need this widget in order to be successful with the Reading Challenge:

2012 Time Waste Removal Challenge (So I Can Read More Books)

It goes like this. You make a list of activities you'd love to get rid of and proceed to get rid of them.

Here's my list:
  • Floor Crumb Sweepage. Why bother? They just reaccumulate anyway.
  • Depilatory activities. Talk about Sisyphean endeavor. Hair today, gone tomorrow, then back again.Whyyyyyyy do women do this? Oh yeah. We don't like being hairy.
  • Trips to Costco (a.k.a. The Warehouse of Doom) Wrestling with a package of toilet paper bigger than I am is NOT how I want to spend my precious life hours. But I do it. Again, and again.
  • Bathing children. I mean, you're done and a minute later, they have that puppy-in-the-rain smell again. Kids are dirt magnets. They need to patent that and sell it to the Gorilla Glue people. Or the Hoover people.
Enough of my ranting. I guess I'll get more time the old fashioned way...by not sleeping!

So. What activity do you wish you could get rid to make time for a good book?
 
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