Medicine Feed

The Cover for My Next Book Is a Loading Screen

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I'm excited to announce Unknown Sender: The Woods, my debut interactive novel produced by Daily Magic, releasing this summer. 

I hope you like the cover art loading screen*. It's rare for a writer to get credit on a game's loading screen like this, by the way. You can buy, download, and play it on your digital device like any other game, but since it's text-based and story-driven, the folks at Daily Magic decided to acknowledge that it's largely a written work.

The interaction comes in the choices you, the player or reader, make as you progress through the story. You log onto an anonymous chat app for the first time, and an "unknown sender" reaches out to you--with a life-and-death appeal for help. Alone and lost in the woods, your new chat buddy must escape a broken-down RV surrounded by ravenous wolves. And that's just problem number one.

Your texter's friends and insulin supply are missing, and it seems whoever took them wants to play games through the radio. This psycho geneticist has a thing for riddles and traps--human traps, that is. 

Can you beat him at his own game--without sacrificing anyone? Will you help Unknown Sender uncover the mystery that still haunts these dark woods?

 * For you non-gamers: The loading screen is what you see when the game content is loading onto your device. It's treated sort of like a book cover.


What's the Motive? Martha Crites

Grave_disturbanc

Debut author Martha Crites is a fellow finalist for the Nancy Pearl Book Award. She handles the tricky topic of mental illness with great care and intelligence in her mystery novel Grave Disturbance. Here she discusses how motive can shift and change over the course of the writing project.

Martha Crites:

Lisa asks, “What’s the Motive?”

I can only answer, “Motives change.” 

Did I intend to take on the stigma of mental illness when I wrote my first mystery, Grave Disturbance? Not at all. I just wanted to see if I could write a novel. So, in the time-honored tradition of write what you know, I gave my sleuth a job in the mental health field, like me. Not my exact job, but one a little more exciting. Grace Vaccaro is a mental health evaluator who sees people in the field to determine if they need to be hospitalized as a danger to self or others. I now know that writing a novel is a big project, and my motives have changed over time. 

Here’s what happened: When Grave Disturbance was first published, I found myself, like all new authors, needing a little elevator speech to tell about my book. Something like: After a filmmaker working on a documentary about native land rights is murdered, mental health professional Grace Vaccaro realizes that a woman she evaluated may have been a witness. Grace and Liz must sift truth from delusion to unmask the murderer before he kills again.

I had no idea that I would observe the stigma of mental illness first hand when I began to mention my protagonist’s career as a mental health evaluator. People became quiet and uncomfortable at the topic. So, I gave a lot of thought to how to talk about it and decided to mention the issue of stigma up front, at the beginning. Somehow, it helped my listeners find a new lens through which to view the story. 

Since Grave Disturbance came out, I often give presentations at libraries. We talk about how I wanted to portray Liz, the character with mental illness, as fully human, a person with talents and hopes, dreams and disappointments. But more than that, I tell them about my current novel-in-progress, which is now taking the stigma head on. I tell stories about the inspiration for a character in my work-in-progress: Marsha Linehan, the University of Washington therapist who bravely faced stigma by telling the story of her own illness to the New York Times after years of silence.

The result? Now instead of silence, audience members ask questions about psychosis, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and more. They tell me about their experiences with family members. We have a conversation I never anticipated, a conversation that is helping me form my second Grace Vaccaro novel with a much clearer idea of my motive.

What I love about the mystery genre is that it can combine entertainment with important issues like mental health, homelessness, and the history of treatment of Native Americans in our region–all in a fast-paced novel that keeps the reader turning pages. And afterward we can talk about it.

Review Grave Disturbance on Amazon or Goodreads

Follow Martha Crites on Facebook or Twitter

  Marthacrites

Martha Crites has worked in community and inpatient mental health field for twenty years and taught at the Quileute Tribal School on the Washington coast. Grave Disturbance was a finalist for the 2016 Nancy Pearl Award. 


What's the Motive? Ellen King Rice

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Debut author Ellen King Rice explores the mysterious world of mushrooms in this "What's the Motive?" post. A former wildlife biologist, Rice discusses epigenetics and the genesis of her character Edna Morton, who one day begins to sprout feathers.

Ellen King Rice:

Proteins. That was my motive. Thank goodness for you, dear reader, I wasn’t interested in high fiber at all (your inner life of fiber is, please, Dear God, your business). For years I’ve been curious: why don’t we see people breaking out in feathers? Feathers, after all, are made of the protein keratin. We produce one type of keratin in our fingernails and hair, so why, oh why, couldn’t a ‘mature' lady break out in angelic feathers instead of coarse chin hairs?

From my years as a biologist, I knew that all life is in a state of constant experimentation. We also know that there are ancient pictographs showing people with wings. Is it possible that there have already been people with feathers? Could that be the origin of our angel stories? 

As I mulled over the idea of modern bodies changing to produce a new protein, I realized I would need a trigger for this new pathway. Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider before changing into Spiderman. What could I use? 

One day I was making my tortuously slow ambulation out to the mailbox when I saw a flush of mushrooms peeking out from the undergrowth. Hmm. Could mushrooms trigger anything in a person? I went inside, mulling this idea. A few minutes of Internet searching and . . .  Holy Mother of God! Fungi are everywhere! (There are molds in the shower with you when you are naked and alone. Very creepy.) Not only are there millions of species of molds, yeasts, and mushrooms lurking everywhere, but some of the species absolutely have the ability to unspool dormant portions of human DNA. I had my trigger. 

I began writing The EvoAngel in 2011. It was a stop-and-go process because a very new science was unfolding daily in the news: epigenetics. All DNA for all species has the ability to respond to environmental changes--and the really gobsmacking amazing thing? Once a DNA section is activated or stored, that change can be passed down to subsequent generations. I was writing a gallop through the woods of the Pacific Northwest as a fun thing to do. The more I learned about epigenetics, the more I realized how important it is for everyone to understand this new science. 

Ever beat yourself up? Ever struggled to lose weight, be happy, quit drinking soda pop, or be less anxious? There can be a genetic aspect of each of these struggles--and, even more powerful to know, is that the responsible genetic switches can be jiggled from “on” to “off.” This is huge for mankind. It means that many things that have been regarded as “moral failings” are, instead, part of our cell structure. Furthermore, we don’t have to surrender to the situation. We can take charge and change--and we can do so in ways that will make our descendants healthier and stronger. 

Alas, some of the science is more than a little tedious (Go ahead. Try murmuring “DNA methylation at the Cytosine juncture” into the ears of your beloved and see if you garner anything more than snores.) If I was going to keep readers interest on the science of feathers, mushrooms and epigenetics I clearly needed...lots of sex. Oh, dear. Could I really manage that? Hmm. Villains could help. So might a large adorable dog. 

Buoyed by the reality that barnacles really do have an inflatable penis that is fifty times longer than the average barnacle body, I did my best to add in enough sex, villainy and puppy charm to keep the pages turning.

The end result is a story about an elderly mushroom hunter, Edna Morton, who has sprouted a feather. A trip to the local health clinic exposes her to an ambitious and aggressive physician who wants to take control of Edna and research this new biological oddity. The EvoAngel is a good gallop through the woods of the Pacific Northwest. It is part adventure, part science class, and totally fungi-friendly. My motive is to change the way you see your body and your world while making you laugh, gasp, and blink. All these things go well with a glass of wine and a slice of cheese, so prepare yourself and let’s begin...

Review The EvoAngel on Amazon.

Follow Ellen King Rice on Facebook.

Ellen King Rice photo

Ellen King Rice is a former wildlife biologist whose fieldwork was ended by a back injury. She has reinvented herself as a writer, artist, and chocolate tester. Besides Amazon, her book can be found in Olympia-area retailers Orca Books, Island Market, and Bay Mercantile. She hosts Mushroom Tuesdays on Facebook. See www.ellenkingrice.com for more.

 


The $6 Million Dollar Man in Today's Dollars

 

The other day I thought about how much I wish I had a bionic spine, and I remembered that back in the 70s, they totally promised us bionic everything when "The Six Million Dollar Man" debuted on television. Here it is 40 years later, and still no bionic dude.

The show only ran for four years, but in the monoculture of the time, everyone watched it. We kids fantasized what it would be like to have superhuman powers, which seemed well within the reach of science. "We can rebuild him," the narrator intones. "We have the technology." This is a great example of what I like to call "hand-waveology." Whenever science is used to further a plot without tackling sticky improbabilities like resource scarcity, return on investment, or actual scientific laws, the writers are sort of waving their hands, expecting us to accept it, no questions asked.

The other thing about the show is that it suggests technology can turn us into a better version of ourselves. Not some clunky inhuman cyborg but a man who's only a robot on the inside, where it doesn't mess up his man-ness, and the robotics only serve to make him stronger, faster, less vulnerable. And all for only $6M. I can remember that sounded like a lot of money back then. It doesn't anymore.

I wondered what that $6M would be in today's dollars, and it turns out it's $29,118,985.80. So the remake would have to be called "The Thirty Million Dollar Man." 

Of course, if they really did try to "rebuild" an astronaut today (LOL), assuming he's given permission to use his body as a science experiment (apparently not an issue for 1970s viewers), and assuming for the sake of argument that the technology actually does exist, it would probably run at least a billion, and there'd be cost overruns and delays. It would cause a huge controversy in a number of areas: government spending, the whole scary robots-taking-over-the-world-thing, the ethics of experimentation, etc., etc. There'd be lawsuits and counter lawsuits. #whyamisocynical #howcouldinotbe #thatisall


A Requiem for the Egg

Egg-1090878_1280

I can write about anything I want here on the blog, so today, it’s eggs. Or rather, the absence of them, from my diet.

This is Day 39 for me on an elimination diet, with eggs at the top of the list of foods that have been cut. Two of the others are what you’d expect: Gluten (I can hear you groaning) and dairy. But then there’s also almonds (no other nuts, just almonds), clams (no other seafood, just clams) and beans (definitely navy and green, and maybe more).

It’s a quirky list. I have 21 more days to go.

But today I want to talk about eggs. Because EGGS. Seriously, people. Eggs. Do you think you could go without eggs for very long? Close your eyes and think about everything you’ve eaten in the past week that contained eggs. I’m not just talking about the Big American Breakfast but also all the baked goods in the world and pad thai and stir fries and even hard candy, can you believe it, hard candy. Yeah. Now you see what I mean.

A special note to vegans: I see you sitting there all smug, saying to yourself that you’ve got this no-egg thing down. But did you notice the rest of my list? Can you do without eggs AND beans AND gluten? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

You over there, looking at me with duck-egg eyes. Nope. Don’t even go there. I’m off all eggs. Probably even emu.

(Yes, people eat emu. There’s a ranch not far from my house.)

So you can see my predicament. This egg thing isn’t something I pulled out of the air, either. Over the years, I’ve had two blood tests plus a skin-scratch test consistently show a high reaction to eggs.

The first blood test was taken after I’d been on a self-selected diet of only fruit, vegetables, rice, and meat, plus eggs. Essentially, I’d eliminated all of the standard food allergens EXCEPT eggs. Why? I don’t know. Maybe denial. 

In an attempt to eliminate symptoms, I had been going off the results of the allergy skin scratch test I’d had nearly a decade before, in 2002. (This allergy issue has plagued me my whole life.) Everyone knows by now that the skin scratch tests aren’t very reliable, and that one showed me allergic to pretty much everything. I guess I chose to ignore the egg portion of “everything.”

But what’s really curious is that after that blood test came back in 2011, and I’d completed a yearlong egg abstention, I returned to eating eggs again.

It could be that the one food I really should never eat is the one food I apparently will continue to eat to the point of self-delusion. I had two allergy tests identify eggs, and I reverted back to eating them after each go with the elimination diet.

Eggs. I love them. Poached, fried, sunny-side up, whipped into quiches and meringues, placed atop a Korean bibimbap, snuggling cheese and veggies as an omelet blanket. I love a runny yolk, sopped up with toast. I look forward to Easter for the hardboiled eggstravaganza (you knew that word would work its way in eventually, right?) When I was a kid, it was eggs with ketchup. We ate a lot of foods back then that weren’t good for you or that didn’t even taste all that good, but eggs weren’t one of them.

In my defense, I had a conspirator in my delusion. I’d begun to see an acupuncturist, who was convinced after he was done with me, I’d be able to eat “anything.” He put me on a cleanse, and after I completed it, I had a new eating plan, eggs included. I tried to tell him I was supposedly allergic to eggs, but he wasn’t having it.

He was great help in getting me off an inhaler, and on that new eating plan plus running every day, I was a weight I enjoy being. But my symptoms never really went away.

So, I switched acupuncturists. My new one wasn’t convinced of my egg allergy either but said I wasn’t eating enough protein. That was a watershed for me. While more recently, I'd eaten meat, I'd never fully embraced a meat-eater's existence. I’d been a vegetarian for 13 years, and a vegan a good portion of that, and you know, I just don’t really like meat. It was a struggle, but I upped my protein intake. This helped more than anything, as I’ve written about previously. All of my symptoms cleared up.

…At least for a while. But then last summer, I had symptoms again, some new, some old. Hence the latest blood test and quirky list of foods to avoid.

When this latest test came back a high positive for eggs, I kind of flipped out. I thought maybe since I’d eliminated it twice before in my life, for significant periods of time, and health-care providers I trusted seemed to think I could eat them again, that I was fine. But apparently not.

You don’t hear about egg allergies much; it’s not as common as say, a peanut allergy, or a gluten sensitivity. A lot of those gluten-free foods I can’t eat by the way because they’re loaded with eggs, which act as a binder in the absence of gluten. 

Crazy, the power of eggs. Note not one but two acupuncturists totally spaced on the egg-allergy thing for me, despite the test history.

But my new small-town acupuncturist/naturopath, who seems a bit bemused by the quirkiness of my allergen list, declared a moratorium on eggs for two months, and possibly longer.

So there I was at the beginning of the Season of Baked Goods, with a no-egg death sentence.

To find out how I survived this ordeal, check back on the blog next Monday for “Who Needs Eggs?”

 


#FridayPoetry: August

Broom of Anger

 August

 

This summer,

the hottest day of the year,

I met my neighbor on the sidewalk.

The scarf on her head hid no hair.

She told me my errant cat

climbed through the dog door

to sit with her through long days.

We talked of tulip bulbs 

and chemo.

I had just returned 

from a cold movie theater.

When we hugged,

my hands on her hot skin felt cool. 

The heat of the day made us part,

she to her living room A/C.

 

I have not seen her in months.

Her house sits on a hill,

the windows an empty stage.

A Mylar balloon has pledged 

Get Well for weeks,

the message now deflated.

 

The front garden has gone to seed,

the dandelions triumphant,

a bag of mulch unopened.

What was she going to do 

with the empty whiskey barrel, 

turned now on its side?

There’s no one left

to keep the weeds at bay.

 

This poem appears in my collection, Broom of Anger.

 

 


What I'm Reading: The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our StarsThe Fault in Our Stars by John Green
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the best book I've read all year. At first the kid voices bothered me because they sound like the writer expressing his viewpoints through them with his vocabulary and education but with a few annoying "whatevers" and "likes" thrown in to remind you they are kids. But the story transcends this issue and is true and beautiful and so significantly well done that even the most critical reader gets swept into the gentle drama and wonderfulness.

View all my reviews


What I'm Reading: Nothing in Reserve

Nothing in Reserve: True Stories, Not War Stories.Nothing in Reserve: True Stories, Not War Stories. by Jack Lewis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was introduced to Jack Lewis' writing when I edited it for Crosscut, and I admired it then as I do now. These essays cover a life before, during, and after service in the Iraq War, and as such, they offer an unblinking honesty about it all: the naive but proud notions of service, the valor and vices of battle, and the vicissitudes of middle age. Lewis is a clever wordsmith, and his playful prose is backed by a wealth of experience fully lived and amply analyzed. Readers should be prepared to be moved to tears, disgust, and laughter by turns in these pages. They may find themselves looking up from their Kindle to quote from the book: "Soldiers my come and soldiers may go, but the bureaucracy of armies is immortal and immutable." "There's no better tool in the world than a switched-on soldier." "Any problems more complicated than eating, sleeping, and mission prep could be saved until you got home. It's a savings plan for personal problems that pays you back with interest, compounded hourly." So while the military and motorcycle jargon might make one feel as if peering into a foreign world, there's so much here to grab any reader that the book shouldn't be relegated to only those looking for a good war story, especially since Lewis challenges our very notions about what that is.

View all my reviews


Take a Cue from the Spanish Lifestyle

Drinking water

Imagine a daily lunch that isn't spent eating microwaved food at your desk or rushed at a fast-food place but instead unfolds over the space of two hours, between 2 and 4 in the afternoon, spent in the company of friends and family. This lunch includes wine and good, local food made from scratch, and it ends with fruit for dessert and the most amazing espresso you've ever sipped. No one's rushing or checking their watches. Everyone's laughing and talking and taking their time.

Welcome to Spain. 

Before this 2 pm lunch extravaganza, you might have had a sandwich snack around 11 at a local street cafe, with that glorious coffee, or maybe a pastry. Maybe that was the second time you ate that day, depending on when you got up, which didn't have to be early.

Coffee and pastry

After this 2 pm lunch siesta, you go back to work for another two or three hours, heading home around 6 or 7, when you might have a snack. Dinner then is as leisurely paced as the lunch was, maybe even more so, and it doesn't start till at least 9.

Adding the Spanish work day up, I'm getting about 5 hours of actual work. To Americans, this probably sounds appalling. But after working like a dog for 25 years, the Spanish work/life balance seems much more civilized to me. 

And so is what they eat. It's hard to find a fast-food place in Barcelona; they're all clustered around tourist attractions for a reason. Most of what you find to eat in Spain came from a farm or ranch nearby, and is presented in its close-to-original state, like the famous Iberian ham, carved right off the shank.

Shank

During my recent trip to Barcelona, all of my admittedly low-grade, not-serious-but-annoying digestive issues entirely cleared up. Sure, it was in part due to the fact that I was away from daily work stress, walking every day, and breathing in warm, Mediterranean breezes, but I happen to think the food - and a radically different food culture - had something to do with it.

For one thing, it's hard to argue with black squid ink paella...

Black ink paella

Or seafood soup. (And in the background, there's a right-sized dish of homemade ravioli. Next to it, a bottle of wine, which came with the meal, all for far less than we'd pay in Seattle.)

Seafood soup

For another thing, the amazing artisanal yogurt pictured below seemed to heal my gut in the space of a week. We imagined it was made from milk gently and humanely harvested from Pyrrenese cows who enjoy daily massage and are sung to by maidens playing lyres.

Yogurt

Next door to our apartment was one of many fresh food markets throughout the city, which is where most people shop. The procuring of food is not a chore done in one large mega-trip to a mega-store but rather woven into the fabric of your life, so that you're stopping in for fresh produce, meat, dairy, and bread as part of your daily walk route, and taking the time to chat with the vendors. There are small stores resembling the grocery stores in the States, but even they have barely any processed foods. For bread, you go to a bakery. For toiletries, you visit a farmacia.

Concepcion market

In the U.S., we're too prone to taking the quick route, turning our fad-food-of-the-moment into something packaged, with a long shelf life. Just think about the section now devoted to "gluten-free" packaged food in a lot of stores lately. As detailed in this New Yorker piece, gluten-free does not usually mean healthy. 

Unless you have a true food allergy or celiac disease, restrictive diets like the gluten-free one probably won't cure all that ails you. Believe me - I've tried them. I was a vegetarian for 13 years, and about half of that included stints of true veganism. I tried the wheat-free thing back in the 90s before the word "gluten" was used by anyone but nutritionists. I've gone fat-free, egg-free, and paleo. These diets might make you feel better for a short time, as you tend to be more mindful of what you're eating and avoid gut triggers like fried food and alcohol, but they inevitably lead to further restrictions, frustrations, and failure. 

In Barcelona, we cooked frequently, used fresh ingredients, didn't eat anything processed, and were the better for it. We also spent less money on everything, but especially cheese and meat, than we do in Seattle. We ate everything, and we still lost weight.

Balcony spread

What seems to be the key is admittedly harder than simply cutting out a particular food, and that's eating as a truly healthy omnivore. Supporting that would be a less stressful culture and much better work/life balance.

Good, local food and dishes made from scratch, eaten at a leisurely pace in the company of friends and family, and a working lifestyle that supports it. I know some of you are probably thinking right now about Spain's economy and saying to yourself that their lifestyle is to blame, but I'm not convinced of that. I don't believe it's necessary to sacrifice our personal health and well-being for the sake of the health and well-being of our economy. That doesn't seem like a logical correlation.

It's no accident that one of the chief tourist attractions in Barcelona is La Boqueria, an incredible food market where local food artisans have been hawking their goods for centuries.

Boqueria

Boqu nuts

  Boqu meat

Since I've been back in the States, I've tried to replicate the Spanish way of eating, with mixed success. It requires carrying a lot of food with me for the long work day, and I still eat at my desk, which is the only way I can fit in a workout. And yesterday the organic farm we subscribe to delivered its last box of the season. Since I didn't have the time to can, dry, and freeze the summer's bounty of foods, I'm trying not to panic.

What's your food story? Tell me all about it.

 

 


Blisters No More

At one of those amazing, ubiquitous farmacias in Barcelona, I picked up this handy little product, which resembles a tiny stick of deoderant but is actually so much more.

Compeed

It's like what you'd get if a stick of Dry Idea had a three-way love child with Vaseline and a wax candle. And it's the answer to your prayers, if you've ever had a pair of shoes that were super cute but gave you blisters.

All you do is roll up the stick, slide it on your ankles wherever your footwear rubs or pinches you, and voila! No more problems. Because blisters are caused by friction. This stuff makes the blister-causing heel or strap just sort of glide comfortable over your precious skin.

Apparently, Spanish women are all over this miracle invention but are keeping it to themselves. I have never seen this product in the States anywhere, but here it is through a Spanish Web site, with its unsurprising five-star rating and cheers of "perfecto" and "muy practico." 

BUT WAIT. Surely Amazon, which now sells every product known to man, can get me the hookup? Yes. Yes it can. Whew. Now I don't have to go back to Barcelona just for this.

 

 


Yay, Spanish Health Care!

Yay, Spanish Health Care!

As I mentioned earlier, a plethora of minor but annoying ailments cropped up on my honeymoon due to the stress of launching a book, getting married, and planning my first trip to Europe all in the space of a month, not to mention horrific jet lag.

I had a little naive panic my first day in Barcelona until I realized I'd probably have an easier time on their health-care system than my own.

And I was right. First off, there's a farmacia (as depicted above) on EVERY SINGLE STREET in the city. I'm not exaggerating.

They're clean, well-stocked with great products, and staffed with incredibly helpful Catalonians willing to put up with a couple of American clowns whose knowledge of the local language is pretty much non-existent and whose grasp of the euro currency system is, well, sweaty in the palms.

PLUS, you know how you're taking that one medication all the time but are nonetheless forced to seek your doctor's prescription for it at regular, bereaucractic intervals because it's not available over the counter? Well, some of those drugs are OTC in Barcelona. Halelujia!

OK, so minor flaw: My first purchase was for the wrong dosage. But I was able to go back and exchange the drug for the right one.

I also walked into a chiropractor's office and got in for an adjustment that day for only 40 euros, no paperwork necessary. I swear this guy (who was from South Africa and therefore spoke English, lucky for me) gave the best chiropractic adjustment in the history of backcracking. 

Incidentally, these farmacia green crosses (universal in Barcelona) are the same green crosses now being used to designate marijuana dispensaries all over Seattle. Color me confused.

If you selected the hyperlink, you saw a pic of Girl Scouts selling cookies out in front of a pot shop. No, that wasn't staged; it happened. I applaud their capitalist spirit.