Thursday, May 19, 2011

Thursday's Thugs Guest Post: Villains in Medical Mysteries and Thrillers

No, I didn't write this book.

Hello! I'm Sarah Glenn, guest posting today on Thursday's Thugs. If you'd like to know more about me, check out my blog or the bottom of this page.

Anyone who knows me in person knows that I like medical mysteries. I've watched everything from Marcus Welby to House, MD. I've read everything from Coma to A Heartbeat Away. I'm not the only one, either, as sales figures and TV rating attest. Sickness and death come to us all. Physicians, nurses, and other healthcare workers are the police - and sometimes detectives - who identify and battle the enemy.

The hero of a medical mystery is usually a physician or a nurse. I did read Pharmacology is Murder from Dirk Wyle, but that's the only pharmacy-oriented mystery I believe I've ever seen (feel free to recommend others). The author is frequently a member of the same profession as the hero. Medical mystery is a subgenre where Mary Sue is expected, and often preferred by the reader. The villains in these novels can come out of a wider selection of professions, but they tend to fall into a group of specific tropes.

Big Business: HMOs and Big Pharma are soulless, greedy entities whose qualities extend to their flesh-and-blood representatives. Neonates in the NICU cost too much money, so the HMO in The Provider by David Shobin finds a vile way of removing them from the caseload. Our Hero must figure out what's going on and stop it.

Medicine Gone Wrong: Medicine is being misused or has gone awry. The first book I read from Robin Cook, Mortal Fear, hooked me with its answer for why salmon die after they spawn. In Acceptable Risk (also by Cook), a scientist tests the psychotropic properties of a mold by injecting himself and other people in his program with the mold. Bad idea? Oh, yeah. I think that Tess Gerritsen provides one of the most jarring perversions of medicine in Life Support. Truly horrible - but I couldn't set the book down. As a side note: most medical novels that involve Science Gone Wrong should carry a gross-out warning.

Serial Scientist: Someone is killing people via medical means to get their jollies. Contagion by Robin Cook, possibly my favorite medical thriller of all time, has an antagonist who loves collecting deadly viruses because -well- he likes collecting deadly viruses. Naturally, he must infect a few people so he can see them at play. Jack Stapleton, forensic pathologist, is the only one who recognizes that a conspiracy is afoot. One of the other villain types on this list usually exploits the serial scientist for his/her own agenda. 

Terrorists and the Military: Two sides of the same coin - medicine offers a strategic advantage. Good guys and bad guys both start to get ideas when Dr. Wonderful or Serial Scientist comes up with a supersoldier serum/really scary way to kill people.

The Patient Who Won't Take No for an Answer: Dr. Wonderful must treat a VIP/deranged powerful lunatic - or else. Like the Serial Scientist, often involves one of the other tropes. Michael Palmer's The Patient, for example, is a terrorist who will do horrible things to his hostages unless the heroine removes his inoperable tumor.

One of Us: A doctor or nurse is behind the crimes. The reasons can vary from revenge to mercy. Robin Cook combined this with an Unreliable Narrator in one of his novels, but telling you its name would spoil the story for you.

Do you think I've covered them all? Do you have better examples than I do for these types? If so, let me know. I'm always looking for new material to read.


Sarah Glenn has a B.S. in Journalism. She's worked as an art intern at the billboard company, as an NCIC operator for her local police department, and as a teaching assistant for medical terminology. She currently works in continuing healthcare education.

Sarah's first novel, All This and Family, Too, is the story of a lesbian vampire who moves into a gated community and discovers the true meaning of horror. Will she survive the experience with the mixed blessing of a loving but dysfunctional family?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Weekend Writer: Are you living your dream?

When I first thought about the writing lifestyle, I pictured myself in a mountain cabin with a wood fire, a cozy blanket, some hot tea, a kitten curled on the rug, notes scattered around, and my computer clicking away as golden words spread across the screen. In essence, I dreamed of a quiet retreat from the world where I could indulge my creative side.

Then reality set in.

In order to afford my cozy cabin (i.e. little house in the burbs)I needed a real job. There's no fireplace, but sometimes I get to curl up in my recliner with a cozy blanket and a cup of tea. The notes scattered around sometimes take over the room and don't always sound golden when I see them on the screen.

The kitten is a different matter. Mr. Pwyll, my wife's cat, was fully grown when we met. He wasn't the curling up kind of kitty, but did make the perfect writer's cat in one way. When he spread that long blue-gray body of his across the floor his tail curled into a big question mark. He seemed to always be asking us "what comes next." He died after being Sarah's "little boy in a cat suit" for more than eighteen years. His ashes still sit beside his favorite toy on the shelf above her computer. Since years of living with Mr. Pwyll proved me allergic to cats, he will likely be our last kitty. I do occasionally need air in my lungs.

The biggest conflict with my dream of writing is the reality that I cannot have that quiet retreat from the outside world. My creative side must be indulged in the moments when I am not working at my day job, promoting my book, rushing through the chores, and trying very hard to hold everything together for just one more day.

Do I feel cheated?


I am a published author. Someday I would like to give up the day job and devote all my time to my second career. It would also be nice to have a quiet retreat now and then in a mountain cabin. Having other things to work for keeps me working away to achieve those goals. Overall, I have no complaints. For the most part, I am living my dream.

If on occasion, you hear me say "traveling is expensive and tiring", don't believe for a second I want to give it up. Those promotional events we writers do require as much creative energy as the writing. Throwing my talents into promotion brings out skills I didn't know I hand. Meeting and talking to readers and other writers is wonderful. The readers who take the time to come to an event, drop me an email to say they loved my book, or post a review make it all worthwhile.

Dreams are wonderful possessions to hold, to build upon, and bring to life. I hope you are living yours.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Book Review: Eel's Reverence by Marian Allen

In Eel’s Reverence, Marian Allen has created a delightful fantasy world and a great cast of characters. The "Eel" is similar to our world in more agrarian times. Battles are fought with knives, fists, clubs, and crossbows. Travel is by horse or cart. Humankind and mermayds come into contact and conflict with each other in a complex, prickly relationship. The complexity of relationships is not confined to race. Aunt Libby unwittingly stumbles into the role of foil to an alliance of reaver priests who have taken over the Eel. She and the belligerent, brooding “tad” who befriends her must sort through a tangle human and non-human agendas.

I enjoyed following the adventures of her protagonist, Aunt Libby, an aging "true" priest of Micah, who grows tired of watching parishioners abandon the true faith for the showy temples of reaver priests. She intrigued me because she is not in the usual vein of the scantily clad and beautiful heroine. Aunt Libby’s naiveté, her adherence to the true faith, and her age are both strengths and weaknesses in the struggle to peacefully resolve differences between races and faiths.

In Marian’s world, nothing is quite what it seems. The machinations of the rich and powerful to control the masses is one of the oldest, but Eel’s Reverence gives it a fresh and inviting treatment. In the Eel, everyone has their own agenda and Aunt Libby is pushed to both resist and collaborate with the revers. Often her faith is tested. Her friends and enemies shift allegiances and forsake her at the most inopportune moments. Through it all Eel’s Reverence shines with humor, great pacing, and plot that is filled with mystery and tension. I highly recommend you read this book. Better yet, have someone read it aloud to get the full impact of Marian’s skill with language.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Weekend Writer: Confessions of a Procrastinator

Once upon a time I had intentions of writing this weekend. Of course, that was before Thursday brought my great nephew to town in an emergency helicopter, before I misplaced my sister's house short, writing plans came before the weekend actually arrived.

Now it is early Monday morning. The workweek is looming on the horizon. I'm sitting here waiting for dawn to burst onto the scene and force me back to the office. I haven't added a single word to my manuscript. Instead of rushing to get a little work done before going to bed, I'm blogging. So what does that tell me?

You guessed it. I'm avoiding working on my book. It isn't hard to put off working on a book that's being troublesome. I found lots of good reasons that managed to burn the entire weekend.

The weekend started to vanish when Thomas was flown to the UK Hospital on Thursday afternoon. A ruptured appendix put him in the Peds ICU. I know he isn't immediate family, but I really needed to hang out at the hospital with Thomas and his folks. They weren't familiar with the UK Hospital or Lexington. I was being helpful and considerate. Besides, sick children just love a bunch of adults hanging around looking at them when they feel bad.

There was shopping that had to be done. The family didn't have anything with them when they arrived at UK. Anyone who knows me is aware of how I feel about shopping, but this was important. If I am going to have to force myself into the stores, what better time than when the book isn't going well?

I had to get a haircut. Really, my haircuts are scheduled weeks in advance. I suppose I could have put it off, but I was going to visit Mom and didn't want to show up looking like a bum. It is amazing how shaggy my head looked.

I went to visit my mother on Saturday. This was the Mother's Day weekend. What kind of kid would I be if I didn't go visit, take her a present, and buy her a nice dinner? While I was in my home town, I also got to watch my grandson play soccer and take both grandsons to dinner with me while my daughter went to Lexington to see Thomas.

I was behind in my reading and needed to squeeze in a little time with a good book. It had nothing to do with the fact that it is much more fun to sink into a finished novel than figure out how to fix a scene that isn't working. Sarah and I spent a few hours with Marian Allen's fantasy novel Eel's Reverence this weekend. What a great way to not write!

Max, the grandpuppy, was missing his family. My daughter and the grandchildren were visiting the hospital, and poor Max wasn't considered part of the family. Grandma couldn't possibly ignore him by writing during dog sitting. Sock games and lots of petting are important while Mommy and the boys are away. The fact that my third grandchild is cute, furry, and adores me has nothing to do with why he got to sit on my lap most of Sunday.

Christy wanted to take her mother out to dinner Sunday evening. After all, it was Mother's Day. So I had a nice long dinner with my family, then we went back to the house so they could collect Max before heading home.

Now where did the whole weekend go?

Monday, May 02, 2011

Weekend Writer: She's Alive...Well, sort of.

After writing, rewriting, editing, and going down the long road to having her first novel published, this weekend I got to wake my spouse up to tell her that her book was live. Yes, Cynthia Leach, the reluctant vampire, stepped out of her coffin and onto the bookshelf May 1. She is out there, in broad daylight, and didn't burst into flames. Maybe fictional vampires don't really burst into flames in the sunlight. I'm not sure, though.

Dead or alive, Cynthia and her strange Southern family are ensconced in Slippery Elm and putting down roots, California style. The neighborhood association isn't happy about it. UC Irvine isn't all that keen about having a professor who can't keep daylight office hours either. What's a poor undead lass from North Carolina to do?

Pick up a copy of All This and Family, Too and find out.

How's that for shameless spouse promotion. What can I say? I'm so pleased to have my wife join the first novelist club.

My writing friends know what an awesome moment it is when that first novel hits the sales rack. They do their day jobs, confine their writing to evening, weekends, and wherever they can squeeze in an extra moment of time. They know the juggling act we go through to have time to write, query, submit, dive into the deep end of promotion while wait for the book to show up.

This weekend gave us the second coolest day in a writer's life. The first coolest day is still ahead. I'll probably be gushing again, and posting pictures too, when she finds that first box of books on her doorstep. I may need somebody to grab me though...she isn't going to be happy if I open the box.