Friday, October 28, 2011

How I Write-- Research

While last week we talked about how we develop our characters, this week the question asked was how we do our research.

I don’t know if you know, but I write weird stuff. I don’t write normal, humans living ordinary lives. My book is all about spies and assassins and psychic powers. And through the vein of it all, I love science and adding a scientific spin on the paranormal.

My research involves science textbooks and Googling about psychic abilities and various uses of equipment. But mostly, I make it up. That’s the thing when you write paranormal, you can use your imagination to create things. Like copying memories from one person and transferring them into another.

What I write, there isn’t tons of research out there for (sometimes, none). I have been known to look up fighting techniques, however, and watch youtube videos of it, studying the way the fighter moves. I don’t tend to mention real places either. Why? Because I fear those details that need to go into the story to make it real for readers. If it’s a real place, especially one I’ve never gone to, which less face it, is everywhere, then I know I’ll mess something up. So what did I do? My characters live on the mountains. Granted, in book2 they do go to town, but it’s not a real place. I can make up whatever I want and no one can say ‘hey, you wrote that wrong’.

I’m always in awe at those who write historicals. I think that it’s the hardest genre to write just because there’s so much you need to know. All those accuracies, you need to keep in the back of your mind or else you know someone is going to find it and point it out.

All in all, there are layers to researching. I Google (my main source to the wacky information you can’t ask someone out loud), but I also watch movies (fight scenes) and read other books. In the end, it all helps those puzzle pieces fall in place.

Check out how my other friends do research: Danie Ford Emma G. Delaney Kimberly Farris Kristen Koster

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Zombies Pt 3: the zombie brain

In this part of the zombie series, I decided I wanted to have some fun with the zombie brain (the brain eating kind). Check out Pt 1 about Zombies in Nature and Pt 2 on Zombies in History.

Beyond the "living dead" theory, zombies are characterized primarily by their abnormal but sterotyped behaviours. We can see this particularly in many popular Hollywood movies, where zombies aren't portrayed as reanimated dead, but as living humans infected by a biological pathogen such as a virus. They are alive, but different. However the method of transmission, the person is usually transformed into a single-minded hunting machine with all changes to bodily function serving to locate the prey, capture them and then to feed.

Neuroscience has shown that all thoughts and behaviors are associated with neural activity within the brain. Therefore, the zombie brain would also be similar. It makes no sense for it to be different. Because of the behavioural symptoms shown in movies, we're given clues and can piece some of the them together.

Let's break it down by symptoms:

1. Rage: When you look at zombies, they are always trying to eat people (generally angry I guess if they are to feel something). It's an anger that is directed toward everyone simply because they're human or, the next meal course. According to Oscillatory Thoughts, this behaviour has roots in the primitive parts of the brain that center around flight or fight. In humans not infected, these impulses are suppressed by signals in the lower part of the frontal lobe: the orbitofrontal cortex. It sends inhibitory signals to the amygdala.

Like crocodiles (who is driven by the amygdala--studies show that by damaging it, the flight or fight responses is significantly reduced) zombies would be driven by this. Working with the amygdala, the anterior cingulate cortex dampens the excitability, giving the frontal lobe time to process and think what to do. A zombie would potentially have a damaged anterior cingulate cortex. With it affected, the zombie would be unable to regulate the anger, creating hyper-aggression.

2. Appetite: In the brain, there is an important part that controls feeding. This is the ventromedial hypothalamus. Zombies have an insatiable appetite it seems. They're always hunting for prey to chew on. If zombies were to have damage in this area, they wouldn't know when to stop eating. There have been studies in primates that have shown that damage to this area of the brain causes monkeys to eat anything and uncontrollably.

3. Stumbling/staggering gait:

A zombie isn't the best athlete. They stumble and stagger as they move. The area in the brain responsible for balance and fluid motion is the cerebellum and the basal ganglia. Zombies would probably suffer from some sort of dysfunction, much like cerebellar degeneration such as ataxia.

It's possible that all combined, this could explain the behaviour of zombies. Or at least the ones we know from popular fiction. What other symptoms can you think of?

Friday, October 21, 2011

How I Write-- Character development

This week, my accountability group ask : how do you flesh out/develop your characters? What process do use to make your characters three-dimensional?

I'm not a person who fills out character sheets. I know that some people swear by them, but for me, I can't do it. Those sheets are an instant muse block. It's plotting and for me, I just can't do it. So what do I do? I layer it in as I go. I'm not sure where some ideas for characters come along. Sometimes, it'll have a good idea beforehand but for the most part, I don't know much. My characters grow sentence by sentence.

Even if I wrote personality and whatnot down in one of those charts, I'd never follow through. I know that. As someone who spent five years writing rp, I was used to filling out character forms. Did my characters ever stick to it? Nope. Oh the physical aspects did, but everything else that was important to make up a char?, no.

Pinterest is good. I do sometimes find items that would suit a char and will pin it to remember. One thing I always do, however, is find a picture that suites the char in my head. I know it doesn't sound like I do a lot to create the chars in my head. I can't really explain how they 'come' to me, only that play a lot of the scenes over and over again in my head.

Check out the others:
Danie Ford Emma G. Delaney Kimberly Farris Kristen Koster

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Zombies Pt 2: Historical Accounts

Last week, I posted about zombies in nature and how it's not all sci-fi and brain eating corpses brought back to life. Such is the tale of Clairvius Narcisse, a man who was allegedly poisoned with the poisons used by a Bokor. In 1962, he "died" and was given a burial. When the Bokor later dug him up, Clairvius was given a paste that at certain doses has hallucinogenic effects that can cause memory loss. He was then forced to work, alongside others, on a sugar plantation until the master's death. Because the doses of the narcotic paste stopped, Clairvius eventually regained his sanity (unlike many others who suffered brain damage). One day in 1980, in a supermarket, Angelina Narcisse was shocked when Clairvius, her brother, walked in.

Accounts of zombies go back even farther. Recently, archaeologists found an 8th century graveyard in Roscommon, Ireland with more than 120 of human skeletons with large stones stuck in their mouths--a ritual researches believe the locals did to stop the dead from returning to walk the Earth as zombies. The bodies in the cemetery dated between the 7th and 14th centuries.

At first, the team of archaeologists thought that they had stumbled across a burial ground for the remains of the victims of the Black Death. Initially, they believed that it possibly could have been related to vampire slayings, where a stake is driven into the heart. During the Middle Ages, the people at the time thought that vampires were believed to spread plague. A stone placed inside the mouth was thought to prevent this, causing the corpse to starve. The only thing against the theory about vampires, was that the vampire culture didn't evolve until the 16th century. Therefore, researchers thought that the act of placing stones in the mouths might have simply acted as a barrier to stop the dead from coming back from the graves, possibly feeding into the theory that the vampires would starve with such methods later on.

One scientist said that the mouth 'was viewed as the main portal for the soul to leave the body upon death. Sometimes, the soul could come back to the body and re-animate it or else an evil spirit could enter the body through the mouth and bring it back to life'.

In fact, many cultures placed something in the mouth of the deceased. Ancient Greeks and Romans, for instances, placed a coin in the the person's mouth before burial, believing that it would be payment for the ferryman who conveyed souls across the river that divided the world of the living from the world of the dead.

There are many practices of putting stone and other objects into the mouth of the deceased. What do you think was going on? Was it to stop the dead from rising? Or some other reason?

(Also, check out this awesome hardware store, taking zombie preparedness to a whole new level!)

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Six Sentence Sundays

If there's something I have the most trouble writing, it's action scenes. My books are full of them. They take me so long to write because I have a hard time picturing the scene in my head at times, or I just don't know how to get it on paper. There's too much moving around and details you need to know to write a good fight scene. Add psychic abilities and I get frustrated. lol.

And this time, she wasn’t alone. Stefan stared past the dead woman at the figures that approached, recognizing each one as his brother’s victims. As they shuffled toward him, he broke out in a sweat and without a plan of action, threw the energy that had balled into his hands at them. He had no other choice. He had to get away. Now.

For more Six Sentence Sunday, check out the official website.

Friday, October 14, 2011

How I Write-- What do your bookshelves look like?

Books... love them, but seriously, where to put them all? It was asked in my accountability group what our bookshelves look like. At one point, my bookshelves were organized. Then my cats got to them and knocked them all down. I seriously don't know what it is with these cats, but they are obsessed about the book shelf and knocking them all out on the floor.

I own way too many books and only one bookshelf. While my parents have boxes and boxes of those I'd packed up during various moves, I have over 500 here in this apartment. During my purge at the beginning of the year, I boxed up a lot of them and set them aside. The ones I kept for the shelves are those that are keepers...those I read more than once. Still, there isn't enough room.

While I did the purge, I sorted my books out in piles: historicals, contemporaries, paranormals/urban fantasies, and then those I had yet to read. As I set them back on the shelves, I started out with the historicals, working my way then to paranormals and then contemporaries. But, I didn't stop there. Not only are they separated by genre, they are separated by alphabetical order of author last names and then by series or standalone. All those books I had yet to read went on top of the shelf in their own little piles.

I still dream to have my own room that is wall to wall filled with books. And a cozy little reading chair. However, I have been buying a lot of ebooks lately. I think my parents would be happy about that, considering they are the ones who help me move. lol. Not only would I want a secret little hide-away that leads to the "library", I love the cubbyhole little reading area in the picture on the right. My only concern would be if an earthquake hit. LOL. Not that we get a lot of those, but I would be a bit paranoid it might all fall on top of me. Death by books?

My bedroom would not be without some as well. Can you imagine having a bed like this? I think I would store all the books I had yet to read under that bed. And for the office (when I get an office), I love the look of this "desk". All my research books would look awesome in there. Everything from anthropology to biology to psychology and history and whatnot. And of course, you can't forget about the livingroom. I really like what they did here, using bookshelves and setting them around the couch. It gives it an interesting look. Of course, you would need an open concept room, to set the couch in the middle like that, but still. It would totally work in my apartment. Well, if I got rid of the kitchen table. Who needs one? lol. These are just a few ideas of what would make my dream home. I love featuring books and showcasing them for others to check out. Maybe one day...

For more on personal libraries, check out the bookcases of my friends!
Danie Ford Emma G. Delaney Kimberly Farris Kristen Koster

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Zombies Pt 1: Zombies in nature

Zombies. They're quite popular these days. Movies like Dawn of the Dead, Zombieland, or Residence Evil are everywhere, depicting flesh eating creatures going on a killing spree--either because of a virus, chemical, radiation or some other paranormal explanation. Even the CDC got in on the action and specialized their web-page to prepare you for the zombie apocalypse.

But in reality, zombies have a whole different meaning. The creole word ''zombi' is derived from Nzambi, a West African deity, coming into use in 1929 after the publication of The Magic Island by William B. Seabrook's. The book describes the first 'zombie' Seabrook came across:

    "The eyes were the worst. It was not my imagination. They were in truth like the eyes of a dead man, not blind, but staring, unfocused, unseeing. The whole face, for that matter, was bad enough. It was vacant, as if there was nothing behind it. It seemed not only expressionless, but incapable of expression."

Haitian voodoo priests, known as Bokors, study and use black magic to resurrect the deceased. According to local lore, a bokor captures a victim's ti bon ange, or the part of the soul directly connected to an individual, to create a zombie. What the Bokor uses, however, is a powder issued to the victim orally that is often called coup padre. After analyzing the powder, scientists found tetrodoxin (a poison from the puffer fish), a marine toad that also produces a toxic substance, a hyla tree frog, and sometimes, human remains as main ingredients. In addition, some contain other plant and animal ingredients, like lizards and spiders, which would be likely to irritate the skin. Some even included ground glass.

Once the powder gets into the bloodstream, the victim's heart rate begins to slow to a near stop and he/she is perceived as 'dead', despite them only being paralyzed. Thinking the person dead, the public would bury him/her. The victim would then be exhumed by the Bokor. Although alive, the victim's memory would be messed up badly and they are said to be transformed into a mindless drone, often said to be put to work in the fields as slaves.

There are also natural sources of zombie-nism that can be found. Recently, a stalk of fungus species Ophiocordyceps camponoti-balzani was found growing out of a "zombie" ant's head in Brazil. The fungus was found to infect an ant and take over its brain. Once the ant gets to an ideal location for the fungi to grow and spread their spores, the ant is killed.

Another natural "zombie" is created in South America by a female phorid fly. With the use of a needle-like appendage, the female fly will inject their egg into a fire ant. The egg grows and the larva migrates to the ant's head, living there for weeks as it eats at the brain. Sometimes, the ant is compelled to move away from its colony to avoid attack by the other ants. Once it's grown, the fly decapitates its host, exiting through the ant's head.

There's also the case of a parasitic jewel wasp that uses a venom injected into a cockroach's brain to inhibit it of free will. The venom was found to block a chemical substance called octopamine (a brain substance that places insects in an alert state, inspires them to move, and allows them to perform demanding physical tasks) in the cockroach's brain. Unable to fight back, the "zombie" cockroach can be pulled into the wasp's underground lair where an egg is laid in its abdomen. Much like with the fire ant, the larva eats the still living cockroach from the inside out in about seven to eight days.

These are just a few instances of natural zombie-nism and how it could occur. How do you feel about pop culture's obsession with the brain-eating zombies?

Friday, October 7, 2011

How I Write-- Hobbies

My accountability group this week asked about hobbies. What do we do when we're not writing?

I'd like to say that I've had time lately to do much in the way of hobbies, but I haven't. I used to paint. I love doing it, but haven't done much in the way of it lately. There's something about putting the colours on canvas and having it turn into a piece of art work. I love acrylic. Water paints can frustrate me. Oil takes too long to dry. So for me, acrylic is my Goldilock medium. It's justttttttt right.

I can also be quite the baker. Not a cook. A baker. I love the sweets. I'm always in search of finding the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe. I still haven't found it yet. It needs to be chewy and buttery and chocolatey goodness. My mom came close once. They were flat and chewy and yum. But my dad likes fluffy so...that was the end of the flat cookies. I haven't quite got the same result yet.

I play a lot of games online. Random games. Why? Because if I join a game that goes on forever, I'll never leave. So I stick to the free short games. I have too much of an addictive personality (I think that's right?). Games, I can get lost in. I've done it before. TV shows I love? I'm obsessed about.

I wish I had the time to do a hobby of some kind, but really, between writing and my soon to be two daytime jobs), I don't have a lot of time to do much else because when I'm not working, I NEED to be focusing on writing. I'd love to go horseback riding again, and in a few years go on an archaeology dig, but right now, those aren't in the cards.

What do you enjoy doing when you're not writing?

Read about the hobbies of my friends:

Danie Ford
Emma G. Delaney
Kimberly Farris
Kristen Koster

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Rise of the Phoenix, a case of spontaneous combustion?

On Sept 23, 2011, a man burned to death in his home, his death ruled as spontaneous combustion.

We've all heard the tales, the most famous, a fictional story by Charles Dickens when he killed off an alcoholic character in such a manner in his book "Bleak House." The character, named Krook, was an alcoholic, following the belief at the time that spontaneous human combustion was caused by excessive amounts of alcohol in the body. However, one of the first known accounts of spontaneous combustion dates back farther back to 1663 by a Thomas Bartholin who described a woman in Paris as she "went up in ashes and smoke" while she was sleeping, the straw mattress unmarred by the fire. And then in 1763, a collection of spontaneous combustion cases--"De Incendiis Coporis Humani Spontaneis"--was published.

There are several popular theories:

1. a fire is sparked when methane builds up in the intestines and is ignited by enzymes

If this was true, victims would suffer greater damage to their internal organs. However, from the cases where the body wasn't completely charred, the evidence suggests the opposite.

2. a fire results as a buildup of static electricity inside the body
3. from an external geomagnetic force exerted on the body
4. one individual has claimed that it is the work of a particle called a pyroton, which he says interacts with cells to create a mini-explosion.

No evidence has been found to prove the existence of these.

Although many attribute such ideas of spontaneous human combustion to the paranormal, in 1998, forensic scientists believed they found a possible explanation as they tested the "wick" effect.

Using a dead pig, wrapped in cloth, they tested the idea that a body can be devoured by flames from its own body fat. Scientists found that the clothes soaked up the melted fat, acting like the wick of a candle, leaving all surrounding materials unharmed, such as the case in 1951 of Mary Reeser who is suspected to have burned to death after taking sleeping pills while smoking, causing her body to burn from within. Another example, in 1966, a body of a 92-year-old was discovered. while only his leg and slippered foot was found, the rest of his body had been burned to ashes. A hole in his bathroom floor was the only evidence of the fire that had killed him, everything else untouched.

In this case of the man's death on Sept 23rd, forensics found that the fire in the fireplace of the sitting room where the badly burned body was discovered was not the cause of death. Neither was there any trace of an accelerant found, which could have suggested foul play. The only damage was to the body and the ceiling above him and floor underneath.

In mythology, we hear about a creature that burns up, much like in these cases of spontaneous human combustion. That creature is the phoenix, a mythical bird that, at the end of a 500 to 1000 year life-cycle, goes up in flame and a new phoenix (often as an egg) is reincarnated as an egg, born from the ashes.

Could spontaneous combustion be an explanation for such tales of a phoenix? What do you think?

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Six Sentence Sundays

I finally got over the block I've been facing these last few weeks with book2. If all goes as planned, the book will be finished by Nov or Dec. I re-plotted it all and am feeling confident about the scenes again. My cat decided to use my white board as a ramp and as a result she had rubbed most of the writing off, forcing me to try and remember it all again. lol This time, when I wrote down the points, I jotted it down in a pad of paper.

What woke her was something else that had nothing to do with Stefan. This was just another part of who she—Doctor Mackenzie Black—was. She was a freak. Once upon a very long time, she’d been human, born to a normal human mother and father. The fact that Broderick and the Council had injected her brain with a virus to mutate her DNA made her into something else that she couldn’t quite explain. Or want to.

For more Six Sentence Sunday, check out the official website.