Thursday, September 6, 2018

Poison, Pt 1, Medical Jargon

In the post, How Women Kill, we saw that women are sixtimes more likely than a man to kill with poison, not Poison, the 80s hair band featured here. I had to post that pic. How could I not? Look at them! They're like something aliens would keep as pets! Aaah, the 80s.

But, I digress. As often as poison is used to incapacitate folks in literature and real life, I thought we should discuss it a bit. We will look at some of the most common poisons, toxins and venoms and what they do to the human body. For the purposes of this post, I will sum them all up with the word, "poison."

Before we jump too deep here, let's look at a few medical terms that are often encountered when examining and writing about the symptoms and treatment of poisoning.  I ran into these words during my research and you might as well. Remember, using technical terms in your work can take your reader out of the story. Be sure that you show the definition of whatever medical jargon you use. Don't kill your reader with "jargon-monoxide" poisoning. :) I didn't make that phrase up. I wish I had!

Ok, here we go:

Toxins vs Poisons vs Venoms - We sometimes use these words interchangeably but they are not the same. A toxin is a biologically produced chemical that produces an immune response in the body. Both poisons and venoms can be toxic but poisons and venoms differ from each other. Poison is secreted by animals such as poison frogs. A venom is injected by an animal. The site describes it best: if you bite it and you die, it's poison. If it bites you and you die, it's venom.

Antibody - An antibody is a blood protein produced in response to a foreign or toxic substance in the body.

Antitoxin - An antibody used to counteract the effects of a toxin/poison.

Antivenin - Fist of all, did you know it's "antivenin" and not "antivenom?" The latter is actually two words: anti venom. Antivenin is a blood serum containing antibodies that counteract the poison/toxin delivered by animal life such as spiders, scorpions and snakes.

Arthralgia - Pain in the joints is arthralgia.

Blood poisoning - This is not actually poisoning. Don't confuse it with such. Septicemia aka blood poisoning occurs when bacterial infection from elsewhere in the body enters the blood stream. You can't poison a character and give them blood poisoning.

Bradycardia - A slow heart beat is bradycardia. If it happens a bunch of times it is bradybunchcardia. ;)  

Charcoal - When poison is ingested, the protocol of care may be putting activated charcoal in the stomach. The charcoal absorbs liquid contents of the stomach.

Cutaneous - Cutaneous relates to the skin.

Cyanosis - Like the color cyan, cyanosis refers to a bluish color in the skin. It is a result of low oxygen levels in the blood.

Diplopia - Diplopia is blurred vision not a type of dinosaur, which is totally what I thought it was. So help me, I saw one in Jurassic Park!

Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation - This is a condition in which small clots of blood form in the bloodstream. I don't know about y'all, but the word "clot" just grosses me out.

Emetic - Something that makes you vomit is an emetic. On that note, nauseated is a verb. Nauseas is an adjective. For example, the thought of watching Mama Mia nauseates me. (Sorry, it's true.) If I watch it, I am sure to become nauseas. (For the record, I love ABBA.)

Encephalopathy - A disease in which a function of the brain is compromised by an agent or condition like a viral infection or toxin.

Gastric Lavage - Pumping out the contents of the stomach is knowns as gastric lavage. Sounds like a fancy treatment at a holistic spa. But if one is offered to you, do not add it to your spa experience!

Heart Arrhythmia - Any irregularity in heart beat is considered arrhythmia. Symptoms include fluttering in the chest, racing heartbeat, slow heartbeat, shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness, lightheadedness, perspiration, faintness or fainting.

Hypotension - Low blood pressure is hypotension.

Hypertension - High blood pressure is hypertension.

Intubation - Insertion of a tube in the body to aid in breathing is intubation.

Metabolic Acidosis / Acidemia - When the body becomes too acidic, acidemia occurs. Symptoms include confusion, headache, sleepiness, loss of consciousness, coma, shortness of breath, coughing, muscular weakness, seizures, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting. 

Myalgia - This is a fancy word for muscle pain. It also sounds like something a doctor would say while swearing. "Oh yeah? Well, you can kiss myalgia!"

Myoclonus - Spasmodic and jerky contractions of muscle groups are known as myoclonus.

Opioid - Because opioid use / abuse is more prevalent, and I will be including fentanyl in another post, I wanted to explain exactly what an opioid does. An opioid is analgesic (pain reliever) that binds one or more opioid receptors in the brain. They block pain, slow breathing, calm the person in pain and act as an anti-depressant. The body produces a natural type of opiate on its own. However, it does not produce enough to combat chronic pain. Nor does it produce an amount that causes addiction. Prescription opiates are incredibly addictive. You brain actually learns to want synthetic opiates.

Paresthesia - This is a tingling, pin and needles sensation caused by damage to peripheral nerves. It's kind of like the feeling you get when your hand or foot falls asleep.

Pulmonary Edema - Fluid in the lungs in pulmonary edema.

Syncope - A temporary loss of consciousness caused by a sudden fall in blood pressure is syncope. It is also a word that sounds like "sink of pee," which reminds me of the time one of my very young children peed in the bathroom sink as an April Fool's joke. And, they did so in May. Their thinking was that it was an even bigger April Fool's joke since it happened long after you'd expect it. 

Tachycardia - A racing heart beat is tachycardia.

Toxicology - The branch of science concerned with the nature, detection and effects of poison.

Toxicology Report - Issued in forensic toxicology testing, the toxicology report states what sort of toxin as well as the amount of it was found in a body post mortem.

In our next post, we will look as a few poisons and their effects on the body. Now, I leave you will one of the best poisoning scenes ever. In Poison, Pt 2, we'll look a little closer at this scene and the dreadful iocane powder. Until the next round at, get blood on your pages! Oh, also, NEVER GO AGAINST A SICILIAN WHEN DEATH IS ON THE LINE! Or dessert. My best friend is a Sicilian. Trust me on the dessert thing.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Jo Staff

I recently had the pleasure of teaching at the Realm Makers
writer's conference. When not teaching I had one-on-one mentor appointments with writers who were working out fight scenes. We looked at disarms, blocked movement, played with weaponry and just plain ole' brain stormed. In brainstorming, writers asked for weapons suggestions. A weapon that I suggested several times is one of my new favorites: the jo staff.

One of my mentor appointments.
 I'm teaching
a disarm. That's a Nerf gun, btw.
Settle down.
This summer I began studying the Japanese martial art aikido. I absolutely love it. In fact, I will do a whole post on it at some point. For now, just know that aikido utilizes several weapons. One of those weapons is a short staff known as a "jo." When I first saw the jos on the wall of the gym, I thought maybe they were bo staffs for kids. Nope. They are wooden staffs that, ideally, reach the top of the chest. They are unassuming, fast and deadly weapons. A well wielded jo staff can defend against hand to hand contact, as well as blades of varying lengths. As well, they serve a myriad of purposes and maintain distance from an assailant.
My daughter learning to use a jo. :)

A jo fits every size character because the size of the jo is determined by the size of the wielder. It blends seamlessly into a medieval or rural setting as a walking stick or farm tool. And, in an urban setting, if your character has poles within reach such as the handles of a mop or broom, a floor lamp or shower bar, they could easily have a hearty weapon in hand. Take a look around you right now and consider what could be used like a jo. I see balusters of a stair case. (That's the round spindle thingys.) Were one loose, it could be kicked out and wielded like a jo. It would be a bit short, but the wielding would be the same.

How does one wield a jo staff? Quite easily. Seriously, if I can learn to use a jo staff, anybody can. The most tedious bit is learning to hold it firm enough to block a strike but not so firm that your arms and shoulders are stiff. Once you get that down, you just learn a couple katas. A kata is a choreographed fight sequence. Katas help you learn techniques and understand how different movements work together. For a jo staff, your character can't do a straight out jab then an immediate over head strike. There has to be a transition between the two because the jab extends the staff to its length and the strike comes from above the wielders head. Something has to connect those movements and a good connector is a block of some sort. In the time it takes your character to transition between moves, their assailant can strike so having a block between moves is pretty smart.

Here is my sensei, Renato Freire, from Haru Dojo doing kata 13. The kata consists of thirteen moves. It's pretty easy to see which moves are strikes and which are blocks. That will help you in your writing because you will see how important a defensive transition is. Movement 10 is a sweep. It targets the ankles and aims to take the assailant off their feet. Pretty cool huh?

I highly suggest a jo staff. Next time you are in a hardware store, get them to cut a 1.5" dowel for you about collar bone height. Practice this kata and play with the moves. Link different ones together. Not only will you have a new bag of tricks for your character but a few for yourself. And, look around your town for an aikido dojo. It's a wonderful martial art. If you are in the Houston, Texas area, please drop by Haru Dojo. I would love to have a class so large we have to take it out to the parking lot! By the way, those pants are called "hakama" pants. They obscure movement of the feet. Don't call them a samurai skirt. Folks don't appreciate that. Don't ask me how I know.

If you are a fan of the Walking Dead, you know Morgan uses a jo. You will hear it called a bo staff but it is short enough to be considered a jo. Here he is in action. Enjoy. Until the next round at, get blood on your pages!

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Psychological Warfare - Gaslighting pt3, Victim Response

We've been looking at how your characters can fight mentally by means of a form of mental manipulation known as gaslighting. We have defined what it is, looked at the personality of a gaslighter as well as the sort of things a gaslighter might say in your MS. In this the final part in the three part series, we are going to look at what your gaslighted character may feel or say in response to the mental manipulation.

How Gaslighted Victims Respond
As important as showing the tactics of the gaslighter is the response they elicit from the target. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, these are ways to show that a character is being gaslighted.

* He constantly second guesses himself.
* She often asks herself if she is just being too sensitive.
* He feels confused or even crazy.
* She constantly apologizes to the gaslighter.
* He can't understand why, with so many apparently good things in his life, he isn't happier.
* She finds herself keeping information from those close to her so that she doesn't have to explain or make excuses for the gaslighter's behavior.
* He knows something in the relationship is very wrong but can't quite express, even to his own self, what it is.
* She lies to avoid put downs.
* He has trouble making simple decisions.
* She feels that she is no longer normal self. She used to be more confident, more fun and laid back.
* He feels hopeless and joyless.
* She feels as though she can't do anything right.
* He wonders if he is a good enough employee, friend, husband, parent, etc.
* She feels physically tired after interaction with the gaslighter.

Gaslighting is diabolical and offers a wealth of opportunity for writers. Wow. You know you are a writer when you read about something awful and get a little pumped knowing you can use it in your work!

While I learned a great deal researching this and the response to the posts on gaslighting has been great, I gotta tell ya, I'm kinda glad I'm done with them. Every time I read up on gaslighting and wrote about it, I got majorly bummed out. Especially because I live with a gaslighter...
This is Dottie. Dottie is a gaslighter. I told her about a hundred times to get out of this box. She assured me that not only was she not in the box, but maybe I was really the one in a box. Maybe it was my guilt of being in a box that was driving me to accuse her of the same. Maybe if I took a good look at myself, I wouldn't be looking for her to make a mistake! Maybe I should just feed her because according to her, I have never fed her. Ever. She is skin and bones and dying. Maybe I'm trying to kill her and I'm accusing her of being in a box because secretly I want to put her in a pine box! 
I showed her this picture. She said that I need counseling.
And that, dear writers, is gaslighting. Thank you, you've been a great audience. Be sure to tip your waitress.

Until the next round at, get blood on your pages!
(I'm not the one in the box, right?)

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Psychological Warfare - Gaslighting Pt 2, What Gaslighters Say

In our last round at, we looked at the manipulation methods of gaslighting and how a gaslighter behaves. Today we will look at how that plays out in our manuscripts. Not only will we examine the sort of things a gaslighter might say but how a manipulated character might respond.

One of the key tools of gaslighting is "illusory truth." Illusory
truth is a lie you come to believe is true simply because you hear it so often. Now, that's not always a bad thing. Some self help courses teach you "believe it until you become it." And, we saw a very sweet example of illusory truth in that book/movie where the lady baked a poop pie.

But, in the hands of a gaslighter, illusory truth is a weapon. And they wield it so well their victim begins to see flowing blood as a normal part of life. If I tell you over and over on a regular basis for an extended period of time that you look like you are getting sick, you will come to believe it, even if you feel fine. What's even worse is that you might actually become sick. Here's a video explaining a bit about illusory truth.
Gaslighters say things that not only reinforce their illusory truth but support their feigned honesty and make their target doubt his/her own ability to know what is true. Even more diabolical, they might use bits of truth to support their lies.  

Here are some examples of what a gaslighter in your manuscript might say. Notice three things about these statements. 1. All put the focus on the target of the manipulation. 2. All take focus off the lie and the manipulator. 3. All demean the target of the gaslighting.  

·                         “You’d know if you paid attention.”
·       “I wish I kept your text to show you that you are wrong.”
·       “You’re over-reacting.”
·       “Stop taking everything so personally.”
·       “This is not that big of a deal. You’re making it a big deal.”
·       “I will repeat myself since you obviously don’t listen.”
·       “Haven’t I given you everything you asked for?”
·       “You’re the only person who has a problem with this.”
·       “I’m only criticizing you because I care about you.”
·       “I’m not arguing with you. You’re the one arguing.”
·       “You always jump to conclusions.”
·       “Are you saying I’m lying? Wow, look who is being hurtful now!”
·       “You think I’m lying because you’re a dishonest person.”
·       “You think that because of you, not me.”
·       “Why would I lie to you? Why would you think so little of me?”
·       “You have trust issues.”
·       “That’s not what happened. You have a bad memory.”
       “That’s what you think of me? What does that say about you?”

Gaslighting a very real form of abuse. Which is great for writers. I know, that's awful. BUT, using reality is what makes our work, well, real. It's what people relate to and what makes them connected to our characters either in love or hate. 

Next time we will look at how gaslighted characters respond. And, I will give a little info on how to handle a gaslighter. 

Until the next round, get blood on your pages!

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Psychological Warfare - Gaslighting Pt1, Making a Gaslighter

In The Art of War Sun Tzu wrote that "supreme excellence consists of breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting." How is that possible? How can an enemy be broken without stepping on the field of battle? Simple. Make his every step a battle.

Psychological warfare is simply that: war waged psychologically. It brings the battle into the head of the enemy and makes him question whether his body is up to the task of fighting. Although the stratagems of psychological warfare may vary, their greatest vehicle of war is the same:


Yep, that's it. Instill doubt in the enemy. Doubt is a parasite that feeds on one's expertise, training, and fortitude. The more it is indulged, the more starved the host. The more starved the host, the more he will seek assurance. And, when you go looking for confidence, you are guaranteed to find insecurity instead. Get where I'm going with this? Doubt is deadly.

So, what does that have to do with fight writing? A whole heap. Psychological warfare is as much a form of fighting as boxing or blade work. And, it is like, THU BEST, kind of fighting for writers. Psychological warfare lays open the mind of a character. Just splits it like a ripe melon and gives access to all their seeds of thought.

If you have a villain in your story, and, ya do, ya gotta consider the mental tactics that n'er-do-well is using to best everyone. They can't be a flat, paper thin, reprobate.You must give the bad guy every bit the attention you are giving the good guy. Know why? Because the only difference in a hero and a villain is who is telling the story.  

In order to instill doubt into anyone, a villainous character has to distort reality. He has to make the good guy believe something that just isn't so. And, one of the most devious ways he can accomplish this is gaslighting.

The term gaslighting harkens back to a play from the late 1930’s called Gas Light. In the play a husband drives his wife to insanity by making her question reality. There was also a subsequent film adaptation known as Gaslight. In the movie a husband seeks to have his wife institutionalized so that he might have access to her family’s wealth. To make her believe she is crazy, he convinces her that the house they are living in is haunted. One way he does that is by dimming a gas light a little more each day, ergo the term gaslight. But, wait, that’s not all. After convincing her the house is haunted he then stops making it seem so to convince her that it was all in her head! HOW MESSED UP IS THAT!!!

Gaslighting is a form of mental manipulation. It is an attempt to gain power over another person by causing them to question reality. When a person isn’t sure what is real, they have no concept of the amount of control another person has over them. Gaslighting is a classic tactic used by abusers, cult leaders, narcissists and dictators and my cat if I may be so honest. 

As a human who has experienced it, I can tell you that it is nothing less than evil. As I writer I can tell you that gaslighting is awesome sauce! Seriously, you pour some of that on your villain and you have yourself a bad guy and a story your reader won't soon forget.  

Ok, so how do we add gaslighting to our miscreant's bag of tricks? Well, first we make him the sort of person that gaslights. And, there are personality traits peculiar to folks who use this sort of mental manipulation. Put these down on your villain's character sketch check list.

Gaslighter Personality Traits
A gaslighter is generally an authoritarian with others but not necessarily himself. He, in fact, may follow no rules and become defensive when given boundaries. With others, however, there is little room for error. For those who cross him there will be some sort of punishment. This will make others hesitant to cross him which further reinforces his behavior. For him, this complete lack of repercussions brings euphoria as does the dependence of others afraid to contradict him.

He is either hot or cold which further ensnares the target of his manipulation. His coldness is so chilling that any amount of warmth is welcomed. In his mind, he is completely correct. There is nothing wrong with him. He is unlikely to go to therapy but if he does, anything the professional says will be discredited. 

And y'all, here's the real kicker. Despite his deplorable means, the gaslighter is well liked. He is charismatic. He is attractive. People want to be in his favor and liked by him. He is, in the truest sense of the word “charming” in that he bewitches all those around him. Your readers should love him and hate the fact that they do.

Ok, in the next round of FightWrite, we will look at how gaslighting will affect your targeted character.

Until then, I leave you with one of the best film examples of gaslighting, and one of my favorite movies of all time, The Usual Suspects. If you haven't seen this brilliant work, don't watch this clip. If you have, this is the end scene where the cop realizes how diabolically genius Verbal Kent is. Those will delicate ears, there's an "effy" in the clip. 

The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he doesn't exist. - Verbal Kent, The Usual Suspects

Until the next round at, get blood on your pages!