Seizures in Fiction

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I guess you might call this blog post a public service announcement. Here’s where I’m coming from. My oldest child has epilepsy. While this kind of sucks, particularly for her, it’s one of those things you have to accept and we’re just incredibly grateful that the magic of modern medicine seems to be working for our daughter and so far she’s getting to live a normal, pretty much seizure-free life.

The scary thing is that she’s a teenager and she’s getting damned near to being an adult. This means that she spends a fair percentage of her time not under our protective wings, but out in the world. This also means that the very real possibility exists that she may have a significant seizure one day while she’s out there and we’ll need to count on bystanders knowing what to do, or more to the point what not to do.

What prompted me to write about this is that twice this year, I’ve found myself reading a book that included a scene with a character having a seizure. In one case, another character thinks that someone should put something in the seizing character’s mouth to keep him from choking on his tongue (though the character does not actually take any action for reasons particular to the plot). In the other case (different book, different author), another character springs into action to hold the seizing character down.  Cringe. Both entirely wrong…and potentially dangerous.

Okay, let’s get the obligatory stuff out of the way. These are a couple of tiny scenes in good books by talented authors – two of my favorites as a matter of fact.  And these are not medical books, but works of fiction and we all know that characters in books often do the wrong things just like real people do. Obviously, these authors are not in the business of educating people about epilepsy. They’re in the business of telling stories, which they do well and I love them for it…but when books contain misinformation like this, I feel the need to spread the correct information as far as my little blog and my Twitter account can reach because my guess is that the authors of these books don’t realize that they’re perpetuating old wives tales that might actually get people like my child injured.

In real life, seizures are scary shit, and I read scenes like the ones described above and I picture some panicky, but well-meaning reader injuring someone because they “read in a book somewhere” that you’re supposed to put something in the person’s mouth or hold them down during a seizure. I find myself thinking I’d love it if the author would follow those scenes with some comment about needlessly broken teeth or torn muscles.

At this point, you may be wondering what exactly should be done in case of a seizure. And hey look, here’s a handy link with great advice on what to do and what not to do!  http://www.epilepsyfoundation.org/aboutepilepsy/Diagnosis/firstaid/index.cfm

The vast majority of people come out of a seizure just fine. Maybe they’re a little dazed and confused, they’re probably fairly exhausted, but they’re okay…provided nobody did anything silly like shoving something in their mouth or holding them down. Ahem. 

Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction: Whisper Down the Lane Part 4

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As mentioned in previous posts, this is a fun exercise from http://terribleminds.com/ramble/blog/ in which participants are taking over each other’s stories 200 words at a time. We’re on week four and here is my addition to a story about a lecture hall with two people who aren’t quite what they seem. Note to gun enthusiasts…sorry if I’m way off on my terminology. I looked the reference up a few seconds ago and I’m in a time crunch here, so if there’s no such thing as a semi-auto Colt…try not to hurt me too bad. 😉

Has this one been titled yet?  How about Masks?

***

Started by David Kearney at http://scenesandsequels.wordpress.com/2013/11/26/chuck-wendigs-flash-fiction-challenge-200-words-at-a-time-part-one/

The lecture theatre door slammed shut with a bang so loud half the room jumped in their seat. Alice descended the stairs, not oblivious to the 200 pairs of indignant eyes boring through her, and took the only available seat at the front of the class.

Professor Gordon Kane stood at the lectern and looked over the top his glasses at her. “Welcome Miss Turner, what a remarkable entrance. I was just about to introduce my colleague to your classmates, may I continue?”

Alice’s face burned so hard she thought her hair might catch fire.

Kane gestured toward a tall man wearing a green turtleneck and a tweed jacket with leather patches at the elbows. “I expect that many of you will recognize our guest,” he said.

She recognized him immediately; in fact, he was the very reason she was late for class.

“His book, Changing Minds, has spent the last six months perched at the top of the New York Times Best Sellers list, his television show of the same name has surprised and delighted audiences around the world and we are very fortunate to have him here today. It is, therefore, my very great privilege to introduce Dr. Lucas Spencer.”

The room erupted into deafening applause. Dr. Spencer moved to the lectern and held up his right hand. “Thank you, Gordon. Thank you, everyone,” he said. “I’d like to ask for five volunteers.”

***

continued by Mark Gardner at http://article94.blogspot.com/2013/11/200-more-words_29.html

Alice’s hand rocketed upward. She willed with all her being that he choose her. She didn’t want to look too desperate, but she had to be chosen. Dr. Spencer looked around the room and his eyes locked briefly with hers. She hoped her loud entrance was enough to get on stage. The blast radius was only five feet, so she had to be in his “bubble.”

Dr. Spencer chose a diverse group of volunteers. Different ethnicities and social standing, but they were all male. Alice wondered if she had chosen the wrong gender. After four of her classmates made their way to the stage, Dr. Spencer looked at her and smiled.

“Alice, please join us on stage.”

Alice glanced at the watch covering the scar on her wrist. She had worked hard to show her peers she was just like the rest of them.

If they only knew, she thought as she ascended the steps to the stage. It was almost time–her purpose on this world had almost reached fruition. Dr. Spencer greeted each volunteer with a hearty handshake. That would be her moment.

The room was awash with hundreds of conversations, but she focused on only Dr. Spencer.

***

Continued by Renee Elizabeths at http://reneeelizabeths.blogspot.com/2013/12/flash-fiction-200-words-at-time-part.html

Alice took her place at the far side of the stage. She let her gaze bounce, never settling on Dr. Spencer for too long. Her fingers kept reaching for the watch, pinching the links of the band together and then smoothing them.

Adrenaline disguised as nervous fidgeting.

Sweat trickled down Alice’s neck as he shook the hand of third boy he’d chosen and she resisted the urge to squirm. Dr. Spencer was close enough now that she could feel the edges of the psychic field. She prayed her modified suppressors would hold.

Dr. Spencer took the hand of the boy standing next to her. “Don’t be nervous,” he said, his quiet voice modulated to be smooth and enticing. “There’s nothing to worry about. Not anymore.” Dr. Spencer smiled and the boy smiled back, his eyes glazing under the attack.

Dr. Spencer dropped his hand and took a step toward Alice. Then another.

So close now.

Her heart pounded. Her fingers twisted the watchband one more time. Positioning the detonator under her thumb.

Dr. Spencer took the final step and held out his hand.

Alice took a breath, tried to pull her lips into a smile, and pressed the button.

***

Part 4 by me…McKkenzie

Nothing happened. Dr. Spencer stood there with his hand out, his lips began to curve upward as his eyes twinkled.

“Aren’t you going to shake my hand, Alice?”

Alice looked down at the watch as her already pounding heart picked up the pace. She was pressing her own naked wrist bone. Her eyes flicked up to find the watch dangling from Dr. Spencer’s finger. Oh crap, the suppressors weren’t working.

“A fine piece of craftsmanship,” he said, giving the watch a mocking swing. “I take it you have strong opinions about my work?”

Alice suppressed a shiver as sweat began to soak through her shirt, chilling her skin on the drafty stage.

“I have strong opinions about slavery, sir,” she grated through clenched teeth. Her equipment hadn’t failed her entirely. She could still think, but could she act?

Dr. Kane cleared his throat. “So…ah, if we can get started…” he began. Alice registered the confusion in his voice and the growing tension in the room.

Okay, the bomb wasn’t happening, but she still had the semi-auto Colt in the small of her back. Spencer was trapped in this body for now. If she could blow a few holes in his head it would be over.

Her hand slid around her slim waist and she struggled to hide a surge of relief as she grasped the gun and pulled it free.

Contract Writing vs. Fiction

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Ever since I got serious about writing fiction — and by that I mean, forcing myself to stop engaging in what I classily refer to as “mental masturbation” and actually get the damned story on paper – I’ve noticed this weird division in my writing life. On one side, we have contract writing, which consists of being a stringer for a newspaper, writing the odd magazine article, corporate writing like rewriting somebody’s web site (which I did this week), and basically any other kind of writing that I can get somebody to pay me for.

I appreciate my contract writing. I really do. A lot. It helps to pay the bills and I count on it to slowly but surely drag my family out of the black hole of medical debt the last few years have plunged us into. Also, I’m as validation-needy as the next person, so I’ll admit that seeing my name in print is…nice. But these days, I have to admit that the contract writing has started to feel a bit like doing the dishes. There is a marked “I have to get that done so I can move on to something good” feeling about it.

On one hand, I’m tempted to feel bad about that (ah, sweet guilt). On the other hand, I suppose it’s to be expected. One thing is inherently more enjoyable than the other. While I have been assigned many interesting stories by my clients, they just can’t stand up to the passionate enjoyment I get from writing stories.

I know that I’m lucky to be able to make my living writing instead of say writing at night and cleaning out chicken coops during the day (pretty sure that was one of Douglas Adams’ jobs). But who would have expected that writing fiction would make my day job feel a bit like cleaning out chicken coops? It’s the thing I’m doing while I strive for what I really want to do.

Human nature? Yeah, probably. We’re never satisfied…but isn’t that what gets us to strive for more? From candles to light bulbs? From the Earth to the moon? From stringer to author???  We’ll see…

A Question for Fiction Writers

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Howdy, writers who are following this blog…and any other writers who stumble upon it. I had an interesting epiphany today and wondered if this has happened to anyone else.

I talked to a family member who I will call “Rosamund” for the purpose of this entry. We had the usual difficult conversation. Have you ever started play-fighting with someone only to have them hit you a few times with such force that you realize they meant to hurt you…but you can’t really call them on it without looking like a baby?  That’s what talking to Rosamund is like for me.

Afterward, as I sat there fighting the urge to squeeze my eyes shut and scream for a while, I realized that one of the least likeable characters in the book I’m writing is based loosely on this person.

It was a very strange moment in that the pieces just suddenly went click-click-click in my head and I recognized one trait after another of Rosamund’s that this character shares. If you had asked me yesterday if this character had any basis in reality, I would have said “no, none at all.” The character does not look or sound anything like the real Rosamund…but nonetheless, it all fits.  Oops.

So how weird is that? Does this happen to everyone else? And now what? Do I keep my character as she is and hope the real Rosamund doesn’t recognize herself if she ever reads it? While the character is not at all central to the plot, she does have her role.

Weird writer problems…

Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction: Whisper Down the Lane Part 3

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As mentioned last week, this is a fun exercise from http://terribleminds.com/ramble/blog/ in which participants are taking over each other’s stories 200 words at a time.  Here is my contribution of the third part of an ever so slightly Biblical story…

First 200 words by:  http://apocryptica.wordpress.com/2013/11/25/390/

Jacob stood alone on the fog covered dock. A spectral figure wreathed in frost and ice crystal.
The glock hung loosely at his side with the apathy of sleep deprivation.

A beam of light lanced through the fog and somewhere far off a fog horn belched.

He waited.

His fingers were numb on the grip and his exposed skin was cold and clammy.

He waited some more.

Then he heard it, the slow stutter of hooves clacked across the dock; Each step loud and surreal in the opaque air.

CLACK-CLACK.

He shivered.

Jacob told himself it was only the chill of the fog, but he knew better.

He saw the eyes first.

Red as rage and hot as a furnace.

One step after another.

CLACK-CLACK.

He ran his tongue over his ragged lips and croaked out a greeting.

“h-here.”

His voice sounded like a lost child.

Afraid, alone and desperately wanting to be elsewhere.

The terrible eyes moved forward in their unrelenting pace.

CLACK-CLACK.

It ripped through the fog, its two cloven hooves leaving a scorch marked trail.

His teeth chattered .

It came to a sudden halt, its black armor clanking like a death toll.

It gave a serrated grin.“I think we both know why I’m here.”

Second 200 words by: http://carlthenomad.blogspot.com/2013/12/1000-words-in-5-parts.html

“Listen… uhm…”

It shook its head slowly back and forth.

“No, Jacob, No. Think before you speak. Ask yourself, is this something that needs to be said, or is it something I’ve heard too many times before?”

Jacob opened his mouth but found his voice had taken the advice seriously and gone somewhere to think. Esau smiled again and moved closer. The step thudded and the dock creaked. The hand with the gun jerked up and aimed at several places in the general area of a heart. He brought up his other hand to steady the trembling.

“Oh dear, it doesn’t have silver bullets does it?”

Jacob darted a look at the gun.

“N-no…”

“Jacob, that was a joke.” This was murmured in his ear. During that moment he had looked at the gun instead of the target Esau had covered the distance between them. And had done so silently. It stood in front of him, leaning over to put its head next to Jacob’s. He could smell sage smoke and salt water.

“What are you doing with this Jacob? Guns don’t kill people. Well, not people like me.”

Third 200 words by me…

Panic overrode common sense and Jacob began to babble. “C’mon, Esau. Be reasonable, brother. We can work this out! I’ve got…”

Esau’s huge hand flashed up to grab Jacob by the neck, stopping his speech along with his breath. With its other hand, it took the Glock from Jacob’s limp fingers and crushed it in its fist. “Do not call me that again!”

Jacob’s eyes widened in terror and he did his best to nod. Esau let up on the pressure, but kept its hand where it was. “I don’t think we’ll be doing any negotiating tonight, brother,” Esau snarled. “Last time I was reasonable you tried to cleanse yourself of me. Nice try, by the way, but it’s going to take a lot more than Wiccan nonsense to pull your ass out of this fire.”

“Okay,” Jacob croaked. “I’m sorry about that, but you can’t blame me for trying, right?”

“Can’t I?”

“Es, I really am sorry. For everything.”

“Liar!” Esau spat. “Thief! Nothing can make up for what you did!”

“Look br…Es. You don’t know what I have. See my truck parked over there? I’ve got 150 gold bars in the back. They’re yours…”

Esau chuckled. “Hey, thanks bro. Those are going to come in handy in my new life. The life I get to start living here on Earth while you take my place in Hell.”

Whaddayaknow? It works!

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After yesterday’s angst-fest, I decided to shut the hell up and follow the advice I’ve been claiming is so valuable. That is, I forced myself to jump in there and write my way out of the muck and mire…and it worked. The first few sentences were absolute shit, but as I made myself continue, the words began to flow more naturally out of my brain and onto my screen and before I knew it, I had the beginnings of another chapter. Huzzah!

So thank you, Unwitting Author Mentors, you’ve saved me again. I was even inspired later to revisit a short story I wrote many years ago. Eventually I decided that, while it was kind of a cool idea, the thing is a flea-bitten pig that needs to be either put down or rewritten entirely. This too is a learning experience.

Now I’m way behind on writing that I’m actually getting paid for, so my thoughts on Looking for Gods and Freelance Writing vs. Writing the Fiction Dream will have to wait for another day…

Happy Friday, blogosphere!

Writing Angst and Smelly Wrestling

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I am a giant bundle of anxiety today. Anxiety made of one part “What if I suck at writing fiction” and one part…existential angst in general. Isn’t there more than this? What should I be doing? Am I screwing everything up completely? Did I fuck something up in a previous life? Did I fuck everything up in this life? Why does everything have to be so ugly and brutish and uncertain? Wouldn’t it be nice if there were wise gods who would talk to us and maybe sponsor or bless us in our endeavors? You know, so we could feel confident that we were on the right track?

It’s at times like this I’m tempted to run outside and ask someone to smack me. Or to throw myself into the nearest cold body of water.  But since neither of those are particularly practical options, I’m left with what to do about it. Suck it up and just work on my damned contractual work like I’m supposed to be doing? Take the day off and read? Get back to dealing with the stall I’ve encountered in my book? 

Oooh, ouch! That one hit a tender spot. I may have found the source of the problem. I have the rest of my book mapped out…but I’m feeling mired in the swamp of it all and I find myself a bit stuck. How hilarious that all my self-doubt and big god talk would probably evaporate if I could just figure out how to map my next chapter. Do all writers go through this? Does this explain all the drinking?

As I probe this particular sore spot, I’m beginning to realize that the feeling is familiar. It feels a lot like a hard physical work out.  More specifically, it feels like that point where there’s just a half mile more to run or a few more sets of strikes to the heavy bag when that little voice inside says… “Just stop. You’re tired. You can do more tomorrow. Why do you do this to yourself?”

Having been raised Catholic; I’m usually good at being my own drill sergeant. “Suck it up, you maggot!” or something along those lines is pretty normal internal dialog for me.  So what’s the difference? Well, barring physical infirmities, it’s hard to be bad at running. And if you punch or kick the heavy bag wrong, it is immediately and painfully obvious. But what if you’re bad at fiction? What if you put all the blood, sweat, tears, and worst of all, time into this endeavor and people tell you it sucks? What if you started a god damned blog telling people you were going to finish and now you’re panicking??

I wrestle with this a lot. And it’s not a fun, slap and tickle kind of wrestling. It’s a big hairy, smelly opponent that I wish would just go away. And while I know that my unwitting author-mentors would tell me to write and ignore the rank bastard…that’s easier said than done.  I guess at the end of the day, we all have to remember that even successful authors had to go through this and some of them even claim that they still go through it despite their success. And really, even if it does turn out to suck, there’s always time to fix it.

Or so I’m told.

And isn’t it better to do it and find out it sucks than wonder forever if it could have been good? Given the shitty writing that I’ve seen praised out there, surely there will be somebody who likes it?  

Okay…deep breath, fists clenched…once more unto the breach!

“But I know that I can make it
As long as somebody takes me home every now and then”

         — Sam’s Town by The Killers