blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
Don't confuse credentials with competence. There are a great many lousy surgeons. There is an abundance of idiotic lawyers. Folks with MBA degrees make stupid business decisions. Every school has teachers the parent-grapevine warn others about. Credentials can be purchased. Competence cannot.

Even your dream job will have parts that suck.

Don't let someone else's claim of, "That's so hard to do!" deter you from what you want to do. First of all, what's hard for some folks is a piece of cake for others. Second, why is "hard" something to avoid? Besides, if everyone else is looking to avoid "hard," there will be very little competition for those with the willingness to actually put in the work.

There is no such thing as a dead-end job, but a dead-end attitude is quite real. Don't confuse the two. Every job teaches you something, if your eyes, ears, and mind are open to it. Dead-end attitudes close all three of those things.

There is no one path to success, so just smile and nod when people start telling you what you must do with the first years of adulthood. Mostly, they will tell you college is mandatory if you want to make something of yourself. Really, that's a load of crap. If you want to be making six figures in four years, start training as a heavy equipment operator. (You'll be paid to train rather than paying for the training, too.) If you want to be starting your own business, you'll find excellent resources in the open marketplace. If you want to experience different cultures and understand diversity, travel on a budget and meet the world in its own home. If you want to learn, read books and find mentors and ask questions and try new things and treat boredom as a void to be filled with coolness. And if you want to go to college because YOU want to pursue a career that requires a degree, by all means do that, too.

You can change your mind about just about any decision at any time, but you shouldn't then whine about the fact there are consequences to making changes. Everything has consequences, my son. Adults who rant about the unfairness of that truth must have had either a very sheltered upbringing, or are accustomed to making someone else bear the consequences for them.

How a person treats the restaurant busboy tells you more about her/his character than how she/he treats you. Make relationship decisions accordingly.
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
A couple months ago, I put out a tweet something like, "If you can't fix it in plot, alter the worldbuilding." Y'see, I'd just shifted inserted a huge change in Sand of Bone's world in order to give a character the reason and ability to perform an act that the remaining 60% of the novel depended upon. The change made me happy because, even though it had a huge impact, it required so little in actual text changes.

Not long after I put up that tweet, someone else wrote under the same hashtag something like, "Worldbuilding is the story's foundation and shouldn't be changed lightly." (That's a paraphrase based admittedly on memory, but contains the general idea.)

And I was reminded why worldbuilding checklists and such never worked for me.


Here's Where I Try To Explain )

Until I've decided to publish a story, worldbuilding is just as fluid as word choice. Everything--from religious tenants and historical perspective to the cut of a cloak and what gets eaten for a midnight snack--is open to change. If a character's choice in Chapter 25 seems unreasonable, but changing it would require extensive plot and character alterations, I'd rather drop a paragraph in Chapter 3 about a culture's familial obligations and a line in Chapter 7 about a their god's expectations that will make the character's choice seem not only reasonable but unavoidable.

And if a worldbuilding change I want to make conflicts with a work already published? I'll find a way to explain the contradiction. (I can, for example, explain clearly why it's acceptable for an Amish man to drive a tractor in my fields, but must use horses in his own.)

I want to hit That Scene. I want to tell the story. My worldbuilding exists to serve those ends.
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
We're all clear on the scam-status of Author Services, yes?  We've looked at the Writer Beware warnings.  We tell new writers to stay away.  We even extend a helping hand to writers who have been duped and are ready to move on.

But we don't really want to talk about the fact that Author Services is:
1)  owned and directed by Penguin,
2)  used by Simon & Schuster to run its own vanity press,
3)  used by Harper-Collins for its vanity "Christian" press, West Bow,
4)  used by Harlequin for its Horizons vanity press,
5)  Used by Lulu for "author support services."

For details, check out this.

And all these connections have resulted in more cricket song than outcry from professional organizations.

Calling any of the Author Solution operations a "writer supportive" form of self-publishing is like letting Cosby convince us chocolate cake is healthy breakfast food for kids.  Also be aware that some agents are "partnering" with these and similar services, ensuring that the writer not only pays exorbitant fees to "self-publish," but will be paying an ongoing sales commission to the agent as well.

It's the newest of the new writers that most concern me.  Think of how hard it's been to get the word out when Author Services didn't have the clout of major publishers behind them.  But now?  Not even the current lawsuit seems to have deterred them.

Really, I'd love to know the publishers' true reasoning.  I just can't buy the official line of wanting to be part of self-publishing, to choosing Author Services because they are a "recognized leader."  Can't buy it--mainly because I don't think upper management can know so little about Author Solutions' history, reputation, and practices.

And if the obvious answer is true--it's all about the money--then I really don't want to hear another peep from them about how great lit is being threatened by FIll-In-the-Blank undermining large-scale publishing.
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
For years and years I've been telling folks cereal isn't the best breakfast food, but my voice is nothing compared to the relentless marketing for "whole grains"  and "low fat" supported by large corporations and federal funding.  But every now and then, a little research slips out.  This study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, discusses the positive impact of a high-protein breakfast on eating habits, hormonal balance, and hunger.

The levels researchers deemed "normal protein" and "high protein" were, in my opinion, both high--13g and 35g respectively.  13g would be two servings of standard cereal AND a a half-cup of milk.  35g would be, like, five eggs.  That sounds like a great deal of food, yes?  Alas, we've lost sight of the fact breakfast should be a large meal.  But when preliminary medical thought connected health problems with fats, breakfast was one of the first places we made fat and calorie cuts.  We abandoned proteins because they were linked with fats, and kept the carbohydrates, the starches, the sugars.  What followed was an explosion in weight issues, diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, mood disorders, cognitive decline, and more.

I suspect it'll be another ten to fifteen years before the overall thinking changes, primarily because school curriculum includes lessons and testing on the USDA-created eating plans.  Anyone educated between "the four food groups" phase and today will operate under the assumption that fats are bad, grains are good, and low calorie foods the ultimate goal.

In the meantime, we have a generation of children being raised on foods with nutritional labels that look like this:
Read more... )
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)

I read a trilogy recently that had me so captured, so invested, that there were times I felt I couldn't read quickly enough to find out what happened next.  I was frantic in a couple key scenes.  I can still hear the voices of the characters, still remember their expressions, still clearly picture the world in which they lived.  I've already purchased more books by the author, even though I think the writer made some missteps in the trilogy's final chapters.

See, I had to force myself to pay attention to what was supposed to the big climactic scene of that trilogy—not because of the frantic can't-wait-to-find-out feeling, or because it was a bore to read.  No, I felt adrift and disconnected during the climax because the writer had dumped so much "Cool Stuff" in at the end.

Cool Stuff is the unique collection of setting, culture, character and magic that make our fantasy stories fantasy.  Presentation of the Cool Stuff—aka worldbuilding—makes or breaks a novel within the first chapter or two.  Too much Cool Stuff at once, and the reader doesn't have enough of the familiar to anchor her; she will spend too much time figuring out the world, and not enough time connecting to story and character.  And once the Cool Stuff is established, the reader trusts the writer to maintain it.  It must be as consistent as from which horizon the sun will rise.  Proper use and introduction of Cool Stuff enables the reader to accept the magical and spiritual, and invest the rest of her reading time connecting with characters.

If the Cool Stuff was the most important factor, everyone would buy Guide to the Ring's Power rather than Lord of the Rings.

So there I was—happily reading along, thrilled with the world, loving the characters, feeling both thrilled and anxious as the trilogy's characters prepared for the final confrontation.  Then all of a sudden, this non-industrial world gained a cool underwater city with elevators and cool bits of technology disguised as natural vegetation.  And the grand revelation of the Story's Whole Point was pretty cool, too.

Even though the ideas were awesome, they were revealed at the worst possible time.  I wanted to know what they characters were thinking, feeling, hoping and fearing.  Instead, I got characters extrapolating about how this Cool Stuff must have come to be, what it might mean, and how it might work.  I got descriptions of all these new things punctuated with bits of action--action that was more difficult to envision because nothing about the setting was familiar.

Totally dissatisfying.  Y'see, I wasn't reading along to discover new pieces of worldbuilding in the final chapters.  I was reading to find out what would happen to the characters.  Alas, the characters—their fears, losses, challenges and victories—all took a backseat to integrating new Cool Stuff into an existing and stable (and fascinating!) world.


On the other hand, I recently beta-read a novel by one of my VPXV classmates.  It was filled with Cool Stuff from the page one.  I had the same urgency to read it as I did with the trilogy mentioned above, and I approached the climax with the same anticipation and excitement.  The writer delivered a final confrontation that was engaging and satisfying and filled with Cool Stuff.  But no new or special or astounding Cool Stuff was introduced.  Instead, the characters confronted variations of existing Cool Stuff, and used their Cool Stuff skills in special and astounding ways.  That left me, the reader, free to engage with the character at his most critical moments.

And what do we really read fiction for?  Character.

I think there's a writerly temptation to "save the best for last," holding back what we think are the most awesome pieces of our imagination until the Big Special Moment when we will just blow the reader away.  But what really blows the reader's mind isn't the Cool Stuff.  It's how the characters use/confront/transform the Cool Stuff.  Cool Stuff is a tool, and a true craftsman doesn't admire tools for their tool-ness, but for what the tools can help create.

blairmacg: (Default)
Here's a fun article:

How the Mid-Victorians Worked, Ate and Died

Analysis of the mid-Victorian period in the U.K. reveals that life expectancy at age 5 was as good or better than exists today, and the incidence of degenerative disease was 10% of ours.

That's a pretty bold statement, yes?

It's a very interesting analysis that draws from a wide variety of data sources.

The basics: A diet high in non-processed foods, supported by new agricultural innovations that hadn't yet slipped into industrialization, combined with a high level of physical activity/challenge resulted in a life expectancy equal to today's--and arguably of better physical quality in later years.  Infection caused most deaths, particularly in the young years, before immunity would have a chance to strengthen from exposure to daily pathogens.  Infection during childbirth also resulted in a woman's life expectancy being slightly lower than a man's during the era.  (Handwashing was an incredible innovation.)

A couple points related to the article:

Canadian research found the seven minutes of vigorous exercise daily was the minimum needed for a child to remain healthy.  They also found most children didn't get that seven minutes a day.  Not even a freaking seven minutes?  Really??

The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology published new research again correlating a high incidence of peanut allergy among the affluent.  Many allergists consider it another arrow pointing to over-sanitation as the trigger for the national spike in autoimmune disorders.

A recent article in New Yorker gives a decent overview of current and ongoing research regarding how important bacteria is to our health and longevity, and how our quest to kill bacteria may be a primary cause of our current rise in degenerative disease and autoimmune disorders.  For example: the presence of H. pylori bacteria, vigorously attacked by antibiotics in an effort to avoid ulcers, is actually protection against allergies and asthma.  Folks without the bacteria are prone to allergy-induced asthma.

Lastly, American Journal of Medicine has published research indicating that women who eat a high amount of antioxidant-rich foods have a far greater chance of avoiding a heart attack than women who eat small amounts.  The correlation between antioxidant intake and health was independent of weight/BMI and exercise frequency.  The article is titled, "Rethinking the Way We Eat."

Because I'm in a touchy mood tonight, I'll go ahead and point out how often I've been called an ignorant, uneducated, and a quack for saying nutrition has a profound impact on disease, and degenerative diseases don't need to be accepted as "normal."
blairmacg: (Default)

I've said this before, but I'm going to say it again: The time to designate your personal Health Advocate is while you are healthy.  If you wait until you are hospitalized, in pain, and under the influence of narcotics, you might not even realize you need an advocate.  Or, if you do realize it, may be unable to articulate it.  Worse, if you are unable to communicate at all, a health advocate will be determined by fate alone (it'll be your closest kin).

Your Health Advocate must possess three things:

First, intelligence.  The HA doesn't need to be a genius or hold a medical degree, but must understand how to perform quick research on your behalf, and how to utilize that research.  The HA doesn't need to know right now what BUN levels measure, but must know where to find that information.  Critical thinking skills are a must.  This person will be taking in rapidly-changing information from a variety of sources, then either advising your next-of-kin about, or making on their own, decisions that may well determine the course of your life from that point forward.

Second, confidence.  The hospital setting can be confusing, overwhelming, and intimidating--and the level of confusion and intimidation rises with the severity of the situation.  Your Health Advocate needs to be confident enough to ask questions of people who may not want to be questioned, to double check every piece of information, and to point out potential problems and inconsistencies.  He needs to be able to do so in the face of extreme displeasure from those being questioned, to walk up to and/or follow medical professionals who want to move on before answering your questions, and ask for second opinions.

Third, emotional control.  The HA can't be the one who gets flustered, who cries easily, or angers quickly.  An even keel is best.  If the HA has great confidence to ask questions, but can't keep a lid on frustration or fear, the likely result is a deeply pissed off and offended medical professional.  Civility must be maintained.  The HA should be able to ask nursing staff for what you need, and remember to smile and say thank you when it's delivered.  Along the same lines, the HA should be the one you can count on to give you a sense of control amidst frightening situations.  Keeping your stress levels low is equally important as making sure you get the right medications.

If your next of kin doesn't display those traits now, do not hope he or she will rise to the occasion in a crisis.  That's not fair to either one of you.  Let your next of kin be precisely who he or she is.  Let your HA take the other burden.  In my family situation, we all know my father wouldn't make a good HA for my mother.  He knows this.  So our family agreement is that his job would be as my mother's emotional anchor.  My sister and I would be the HA.

Research has varied over the years, but placing U.S. deaths from medical errors around 100,000 annually seems to be the general agreement.  About 1.5 million folks suffer "adverse events" from medication errors.  Your HA is there to reduce the likelihood you'll end up in those statistic pools.

First example: Over a decade ago, my mother took a nasty fall and broke her ankle. The damage was severe enough to require extensive surgery and lots of screws to hold the bones in place.  The day after her surgery, I arrived at the hospital to find her in so much pain, she was soaked in sweat and having trouble breathing.  I got a nurse who came in for about twenty seconds, and informed me my mother had maxxed out the morphine pump, and couldn't be given additional pain medication.

I found another nurse who took one look at my mother, and knew there was no way she'd be in such physical distress under a max dose of morphine.  A quick check revealed the morphine pump was malfunctioning, and hadn't delivered a single dose for hours.  That incident made the need for an advocate clear to me.

Second example: Right before my late husband was formally diagnosed with liver cancer, he was hospitalized for a heart attack triggered by uncontrolled internal bleeding.  Lab tests showed his blood wasn't clotting properly (as happens when the liver isn't producing clotting factors), and his liver and kidneys were performing really, really poorly.  So the Liver Doctor ordered a bunch of tests and some vitamins to bolster the blood until he knew what else was going on.  The Heart Doctor looked over the chart, saw 'heart attack,' and prescribed aspirin and statins. 

Yeah.  Aspirin to thin the blood and statins to further impair liver function.  Had someone not checked the med list, he may have had those medications for a week before Liver Doctor found out.  That alone could have killed him.  Liver Doctor was livid; Heart Doctor never crossed our path again.

The first example happened in a hospital considered one of the state's best.  The second happened in the VA hospital.  I point that out to make clear the facility you expect to be treated within shouldn't make a difference on whether you designate an advocate.

So now is the time.  Talk the person (or persons) you'd trust with your life.  Complete a HIPPA Authorization Form that will allow that person access to medical records for situations you determine.  Consider if you also need to complete a medical power of attorney.  It doesn't take much time or effort. 

It is totally worth it.

(This Public Service Announcement triggered by the recent hospitalization of a family member who nearly lost his colon because no one was present to effectively advocate for him.)

blairmacg: (Default)

This story troubles me greatly.  It's taken me awhile to pinpoint exactly--beyond the obvious--why.  During this morning's karate class, I think I figured it out.  Now to see if I can articulate it.  I'm using a bunch of newbie-author italics and bolds.  Oh, well.

The decision made by the Readercon board says to me that harassment happened, and that witnesses backed it up.  It says the behavior was not acceptable--but it was excusable.  A short-term banning says the boundary-crossing--which I understand included physical contact, correct me if I'm wrong--was determined to be not nice, but not a big deal.

But there's another notion I want to discuss--a related tangent, if you will--that this situation triggered for me.  I don't think it's anything new, and it incorporates what others are saying, but I decided to post it anyway.  While the situation I've read of is the jumping-off point, I am not talking about that specific situation.  I'm talking about generalities and probabilities, not specifics and certainties.


Cut for those who have read enough already... )

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