Witching Hour Blog Tour: Interview with Pursy

Today is an extra special treat. It’s a story by an author I have worked with (the same fantastic lady who designed the cover for This Cursed Flame), and it’s one I had the extra special honor of proofreading (Part 2, that is). And I can tell you right now, it’s soooo good. Also, cats play a starring role. Can it get any better?

Be sure to scroll all the way to the bottom for the giveaway, and join in on the other blogs for books snippets, interviews, and more fun!

About the Book

Part One: As shadows encroach on the city of Lite, one cat stands between humanity and the hounds of darkness. Romeo takes it upon himself to find a suitor for his human Isabel in order to save the city and sets his sights on the unlikeliest of candidates. Can true love really save the day? Read Part One for FREE on Amazon and Most Digital Stores.

Part Two: When Isabel disappears in the middle of the night, matters take a turn for the worst. Romeo finds himself trekking through the dangerous wildlands to rescue the young queen with a clownish wizard, a sassy she-cat, a pretty healer, and a mysterious solider. However, their only hope may be the very thing Romeo fears most. Can Romeo and his friends save the day before the shadows consume them? Preorder for $.99/Releases March 25! Don’t forget to add the novella to your Goodreads Shelf.

The Witching Hour is a frolicking fantasy adventure with fairy tale themes and clean romance. Perfect for fans of Diana Wynne Jones and Lloyd Alexander.

Rated: PG for thematic elements and mild battle sequences

And now, the main event: Pursy Character Interview!

Q. Tell us a little bit about yourself. You seem like a well-traveled cat with tons of experiences!

Well, as you probably know, my name is Pursy. I’m a magical dark orange cat, and the royal healer Rose is my human. We don’t just take care of the royal family though. Rose would never agree to that. She has a big heart and wants to help everybody. A noble sentiment, but it can sometimes get her into trouble. And, yes, I am quite experienced, thank you for noticing; although, I haven’t traveled much beyond Rose’s flat, the royal college, and the palace. It isn’t safe to explore the world, you know. Too many hounds. The events of our story was the first time I’d really left the city. And I don’t care to repeat the experience any time soon.

Q. You spend a lot of time with your healer human. How did the two of you meet?

Rose found me when I was just a wee kitten hunting for scraps outside the dumpster near the college. She immediately noticed my talents and adopted me to help her with her training. She even took me to school with her.

Q. What was it like being a cat at a human school?

A little awkward, really. Nobody approved of Rose bringing her “pet” to school. I hate to use that word, but that’s what they called me. It’s quite the insult to a magical cat, you know. Anyway, although magical cats aren’t unheard of, the unmagical varieties are much more common. Her professor took a lot of convincing in regards to my superior qualities. Mostly, I just sat in Rose’s lap or sprawled next to the fire eavesdropping. They wouldn’t even allow me to take the tests, so I am not an official graduate of the college, although Rose insists I deserved certification. I don’t care about the papers, myself: I just like being useful, being able to help those who are suffering. Even cats have callings, you see, and healing is mine.

Q. Tell us a little more about your magic and how you help your human with her job.

I have a gift for emotions—specifically, I can share my emotions with others. So if someone is scared, I can calm them. If they’re in pain, I can lull them to sleep. I can even use my gifts on other magical cats. Like Romeo, the hero of our story. He doesn’t think he needs my help, but my Author insists he actually does. And I agree with her. I mean, look at him: he can’t even keep up with the palace mice these days. (That’s his job, you know, royal mouse catcher.)

Q. What are your other interests?

I love napping in the sunshine, when I can find an elusive patch of it. I also love snuggling with Rose. For a human, she has an uncanny ability to understand cats and relate to them. She treats me like an equal, something most humans don’t do. I also rather like helping people and creatures. I think I was always meant to be a healer’s cat. It’s just in my genes.

Q. After all the events outside of Lite, what are your plans now?

I plan to continue to help Rose with her duties as a healer and to spend as much time at the palace as I can. There are, ahem, creatures there I rather enjoy spending time with.

Q. Rumor has it that a certain kitty caught your fancy. Can you say anything about it?

Cough, cough. Well, since you asked, I am rather interested in a certain black kitty who lives in the palace. I won’t mention any names, but he’s rather charming in his egotistical, full-of-himself way. He doesn’t really think he needs anybody, but underneath all his fuss and bluster, he’s really just a kitten inside. He has a tragic past, and (sigh) I can’t resist a tragic kitty no matter how much he blusters. He needs me, even if he doesn’t know it.

Q. Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

Not really, Lady Selina. Your questions have been extremely on point. If you ever happen to be in Lite during your travels (not that I suggest traveling to Lite, though, because of the shadows and the hounds), do look me up. You’ll probably find me at the palace. I have a feeling I’ll be spending a lot of time there in the future. Who knows, I might even have a litter of little black and orange kittens for you to adore. Cats need to be adored, you know. That’s true for all felines, be that magical or no. Make sure you write that down…

Get a copy

In case you missed it above, you can read Part One for FREE on Amazon and Most Digital Stores. Part Two is available for a special preorder price of $0.99 and released on March 25.

You can also add it to your Goodreads Shelf.

About the author

Savannah Jezowski lives in Amish country with her Knight in Shining Armor and a wee warrior princess. She is the founder of Dragonpen Designs and Dragonpen Press, which offers author services such as cover design, developmental edits, and interior formatting. Her debut novella “Wither” is featured in Five Enchanted Roses, an anthology of Beauty and the Beast, and is a prequel to The Neverway Chronicles, a Christian fantasy series filled with tragic heroes and the living dead. She is also the author of When Ravens Fall, a Norse Beauty and the Beast retelling. She is featured in several Fellowship of Fantasy anthologies, including Mythical Doorways, Tales of Ever After, and Paws, Claws, and Magic Tales. When she isn’t writing, Savannah likes to read books, watch BBC miniseries, and play with cover design. She also enjoys having tea with her imaginary friends.

Learn more about Savannah Jezowski

Want to know about sales and new releases? Sign up for Savannah’s newsletter.

Giveaway!

You can enter to win a paperback of the entire story, both Parts One and Two! Simply click the link and follow the instructions. 🙂

Continue the Tour

Make sure to go back to all the previous posts for all the special release info and extras!

March 18 – Realm Explorers  http://anniedouglasslima.blogspot.com

March 19 –Book Spotlight http://cobonham.com

March 20 – Book Review  https://thefoldedworld.wordpress.com 

March 21 – Guest Post https://tammylash.wordpress.com/

March 22 – Character Interview http://jenelleschmidt.com

           Character Interview www.angeleya.com

March 24 – Character Interview  http://corinnejet.wordpress.com

March 25 – RELEASE DAY  https://dragonpenpress.com/

March 26 – Book Spotlight http://annie-louise-twitchell.blogspot.com/

March 27 – Book Spotlight  www.hlburkeauthor.com/blog

March 28 – Book Review  http://megdendler.blogspot.com/

March 29 – Character Interview https://sjeckert.wordpress.com

Happy reading, bookworms! ❤

10 Mental Health Tropes I Hate in Fiction

Are there certain types of tropes that just bug you? Here are a few related to mental illness that I can’t stand!

For a ridiculously long time, there has been a large back-and-forth between the societal stigma of mental illness and the progress science, and society, has made in understanding and treating these illnesses. This stigma and the views of society are often apparent in fictional depictions of mental health and mental illness. And, honestly, they’re usually at the best not very good and at the worst downright dangerous and harmful. And this is coming from a girl who loves to read books with mental health elements to them! So today I want to talk a little about some of the tropes surrounding mental health that I just cannot stand.

There may be some tough topics ahead, and you may not agree with all my points. But hang on, friends. This is a long one.

1. Labeling a person as “crazy.”

This just irks me, mostly because when it is used, a lot of the time it is simply because the character doing the labeling (like an ex-boyfriend) is making an excuse for the horrendous behavior that led the person to their so-called “crazy” behavior. Or, it is used as an excuse to disregard a person’s feelings and opinions. OR it is reducing a person or a character to someone else’s flawed idea that is mostly just a smokescreen for that other person’s flawed ideas.

And sadly, this happens in real life, too. We can do so much better, people.

2. People with mental illness are dangerous.

OH MY WORD I cannot stand this one. And it’s current! I just saw Bird Box on Netflix this week, and boy, does it hold onto this one!

POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT! (Skip this paragraph if you haven’t seen the movie yet) In the movie, there are “criminally insane” people from an asylum who escaped after everything started going downhill for the world. And these people don’t kill themselves after seeing the creatures, like most people do; instead, they force other people to look at them, leading these other people to kill themselves. And if you don’t willingly look, they force you to. Violently.

Here’s the problem: this trope perpetuates a fear of people with mental illness that already exists in society. Furthermore, this is an unfounded fear. In fact, people with mental health issues are more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators, and if you want a stat, only 3-5% of violent acts are attributable to people with mental illness (that debunked myth, and a bunch of others, can be found over on MentalHealth.gov).

3. Dissociative Identity Disorder

Yes, this disorder gets its own bullet-point.

Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), formerly known as multiple personality disorder, is often used in fiction to create either dangerous characters (see Point 2) or quirky, multifaceted characters. The alters (personalities) are often portrayed as just good folks in need of acceptance.

But like so many mental health scenarios in fiction, this is wrong. DID is a complex and serious disorder requiring a properly trained and competent therapist to help integrate the alters. Accepting the alters as they are shouldn’t be the goal of therapy or of the person suffering from the disorder. But instead of this, a lot of fiction writers exploit this disorder to perpetuate a harmful idea that alters can be good, or to make their character more interesting.

4. Mental illness makes a person smarter or more creative.

No.

Oh, you want the long version? Okay, let me explain. So there’s this romanticized notion that to be an intelligent or artistic person, you must be a “tortured soul,” aka suffer from some sort of mental illness. But this is yet another myth perpetuated by fiction.

Here’s the facts: people with mental illness typically find that the illness interferes with their ability to think clearly and create. In fact, I can personally attest to this.

You see, a few years back, I suffered from a pretty serious bout of depression, which I had experienced to a slightly lesser degree on and off for years and years before that. Before the depressive episode hit, I was writing thousands of words per day, and I even completed two full-length novel drafts within only a few months. And when the depression hit, I went to school, then came home and sat on the couch until 3-4 in the morning doing nothing other than watching TV. I couldn’t create. I wasn’t more creative or thoughtful or intelligent. I was stagnant and unmotivated and self-depracating. It killed my ability to live to my potential. And for a lot of people with depression, they don’t even survive to come out the other side like I did.

So yes, please, let’s stop romanticizing mental illness.

5. The weird, dangerous, or unethical therapist.

*sigh* Okay. So fiction seems to mostly have two options for treatment of mental illness by a mental health professional: no help (which is Point 6) or help by a therapist who is weird, dangerous, or unethical.

“Weird” therapists are those who seem spacey or are bumbling, fumbling idiots. It makes therapists seem aloof and distant, when in reality, a good therapist is attentive, down-to-earth, and easy to talk to.

But what I personally find even more alarming are the portrayals of therapists who do things that are unethical and, quite frankly, dangerous. They experiment on their clients or patients. They torture them. They form relationships with them that step beyond the appropriate professional relationship. It bothers me.

And why do I hate these so much? Because they scare people by painting an image of a horror movie or ridiculous scenario every time someone suggests therapy. And it can keep people from seeking the help they need. And that is dangerous to their well-being.

6. There are no therapists.

On the other end of the spectrum are the stories where mental illness runs rampant and unchecked or there is never anything to address traumatic experiences. These are the stories where the kid watches his parents die, but no one bothers to consider how that might impact him emotionally or psychologically. Or the girl going through a manic episode just keeps getting worse because no one seems to notice. The reality of life with mental issues and illnesses is ignored in favor of drama. And that is also not okay. I see it spreading a message of hopelessness and feelings of being unnoticed and unimportant. We need more realistic pictures of therapy across the board.

7. Mental illness as a “quirk” or “flaw.”

This is another pet peeve of mine. Writers will take a person, decide they’re too bland or uninteresting, and give them a mental illness, like OCD, to make them more interesting or quirky. Or their character is too perfect, so to give them a flaw, they give them severe and crippling anxiety.

Now, it’s perfectly fine to write characters with mental illness (and in fact there should be plenty of them, since so many people experience them). But what’s not okay is using them as a sideshow for the story. The illness needs to be purposeful and sensitive, and it shouldn’t be used for comedy or to imply that having a mental illness makes a person flawed. There are so many other flaws out there that mental illness shouldn’t be used as one of them.

8. Mental illness can be overcome by trying just a little bit harder.

This one also angers me from my experience. I can’t tell you how many people told me, when I was going through my worst, to “just be happy,” or “get over it,” or “pray more.” Like I wasn’t trying hard enough to get through my problem. Like it was somehow my fault. And unfortunately, this societal attitude carries right through to fiction.

There are so many stories out there where one character will tell another to just pull themselves up by the bootstraps and get over it… and they did. And that is completely unrealistic.

And this trope is harmful, because it implies to people experiencing mental illness that it’s their own fault and their own shortcoming that is causing them to suffer.

And that’s so very much not true. Mental illness is like physical illness; even the brain can get sick. Do you tell a person with the flu to just get over it? What about someone with meningitis? No! You take them to a doctor and tell them to let you know if they need anything. And that is how it should be for mental illness, too!

9. Taking a pill immediately fixes everything.

There’s another trope where a person suffering from a mental illness will take a single pill or have a startling revelation and suddenly everything is fine. It’s the idea that a single quick fix can change that person’s state immediately.

That is not how it works.

Some medications take weeks to start working, and they work better when a person also talks to a mental health professional. It takes time. And it’s not a straight process; there are ups and downs, relapses and recoveries. It’s hard work. It’s not just a simple fix of “take this pill and everything will be great!” And every illness, and every medication, has different timelines and effects and side effects. And none of them is that easy.

10. Suicide: romanticizing or using for revenge.

We’ve finally made it to the last one. And this one is the heaviest, and the one I considered not including.

Suicide is never to be taken lightly. It’s not a joke, it’s not something you just casually throw in. And many fiction writers talk about it in ways that can make it seem appealing, like and escape or a way out, especially to people who are struggling with just living life.

And then there is the idea of using suicide as a way to get back at someone. Looking at you, Thirteen Reasons Why! These tropes suggest that suicide is a viable way out, a good way to get the last word. But it’s not. Because the person who dies is still gone. And they leave broken hearts and broken friends and families behind them. Every single one. So let’s stop making it into something pleasant and positive when it’s not.

Concluding Thoughts

I know this was quite a long post today, but mental health is something I am very passionate about, and seeing these destructive tropes in my fiction burns me up! Let’s do better, as writers and readers, to create and demand realistic fiction that doesn’t make light of mental illness, make it a joke, or perpetuate harmful stigmas. Let’s make it something for people to understand and relate to. We need to do better, for ourselves, for society, and for people suffering from mental illness.

And if you are struggling in any way, with anything at all, please consider talking to your doctor or a mental health professional. There are so many options available to you, and help is out there, waiting! There is hope. You can visit To Write Love on Her Arms, the National Suicide Hotline, or a variety of other sites all designed to help you get through the bumps and deep valleys of your life. Please use them, reach out, and take those steps.

~~~

I said a lot today, but I also want to hear from you! What are your least favorite (or favorite) tropes related to mental health? Tell me in the comments!

Writing Post-Apocalyptic Fiction

If there’s one genre that is both overdone and under-explored, I would say it’s post-apocalyptic fiction. Now, don’t confuse this with dystopian. They are two different genres, though they do have great potential to overlap. Let’s start by distinguishing them.

Post-apocalyptic: stories about the world after a great catastrophe that completely changes society in one way or another.

Dystopian: a world in which everything is terrible, either due to a totalitarian or dictator government or through an environmental catastrophe (note: environmental disaster would also make it post-apocalyptic).

Now, some people may still argue that these are basically the same thing. And they can be. But I would argue that the difference is the presence of a catastrophe. This leads to the idea where a dystopian can also be post-apocalyptic, but it doesn’t have to be. Likewise, just because something is post-apocalyptic doesn’t mean it must be dystopian. Who knows; maybe the catastrophe drives civilization to become better and more hopeful for humanity!

Some common types of apocalypse stories include zombies, flu epidemics, or world war stories (to name a few) that leave the world a barren, empty place with a few survivors. These tropes have been done and redone so many times it can be hard to see dystopia or post-apocalyptic fiction as anything but overused and tired. And honestly, these tropes follow cycles of popularity and boredom. If you write it, eventually it will come back to market.

But the problem isn’t the genre itself. The problem is the stale ideas being used too often or at times when the public is exhausted of the topic. Authors have been playing off the same old tropes and ideas for years, so how can we do liven it back up? New catastrophes, updated situations, and unique perspectives on old tropes. Here are a couple examples:

  1. New catastrophes that aren’t tired, like an alien invasion, superstorm (which borders on overdone), or something people haven’t written yet.
  2. More relevant situations (think the long-term effects of climate change). Relate your catastrophe to something people weren’t writing about 50 years ago.

Let’s take a moment to examine a couple poor decisions, to balance out our understand a bit. What shouldn’t you do with your post-apocalyptic story?

  1. Choosing effects of a catastrophe that are not realistic. Simply put, don’t overextend the catastrophe’s capability. For example, I once saw a book in which an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) killed a huge portion of life on Earth. But there’s a major flaw: EMPs are harmless to living things. They really only affect electronics. And for this reason, I never picked the book up. Keep things logical and realistic to keep from losing readers.
  2. Writing the same story. We have enough stories about survivors of a zombie apocalypse going out and kicking butt. We need more stories with unique takes, like the scientists making a cure, or the onset of the catastrophe. Don’t write what everyone has always written. Make your own twists on it. If you don’t, your story will be lost in the noise of all other stories like it.

Now for some of the most unique catastrophes I’ve encountered.

  1. Life as we Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer. In this story, the moon is knocked closer to the Earth by a meteor. Ever wonder what would happen in a case like that? Me either. Until I read this.
  2. Ashfall by Mike Mullin. Here’s another (scary and potential) disaster: the eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano. And this trilogy was really well-done and excellently researched.
  3. Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis. This one plays off the possibility of a future water crisis. Another, newer release that follows this idea is Neal Shusterman’s Dry.

There are a few other upcoming or recent books I can’t wait to see, ones that show promise for reinvigorating this genre. These are my most anticipated post-apocalyptic TBRs:

I’m sure there are more, but honestly I have over 700 books on my TBR, and things can get a little lost. 😉 But these three definitely stand out at the top.

What are some of your favorite post-apocalyptic tropes? Do you agree with me, or disagree? What recommendations do you have for post-apocalyptic or natural disaster books? I’d love to find some more good ones, so leave a comment and let me know!

Six Relationship Tropes I Hate in Fiction

I don’t know about you, but I have very specific tastes when it comes to fictional romantic relationships, particularly the “I never want to see this” kind. These are definitely personal preferences, and if you like one or more of these, I’m certainly not trying to convince you not to or belittle you for something you like. To each their own! But these are the romantic relationships I could do without in my books.

  1. Student-teacher relationships. Example: Pretty Little Liars
    Especially in YA, I really, really despise these kinds of relationships. In fact, let’s extend this out to any kind of relationship with a dangerous balance of power issue. Student-teacher or student-coach or student-parentofafriend or student/employee-boss. Why, you may ask? It’s gross (if it’s a child or teen and an adult), it’s not legal (or ethical), and I really feel like it gives young readers in particular a skewed idea of healthy relationships. It can blur the lines of right and wrong or safe and unsafe. Any kind of relationship where the balance of power is off (one person has more power than the other, like one controls a job or grade) can be incredibly dangerous and unethical, if not illegal, and it is just as dangerous to idealize or romanticize this abuse of power (as many books do).
  2. Love triangles. Examples: The Infernal Devices, Twilight
    I am so over this one. Particularly as a person who never had more than one crush and never more than one person (if that) interested in her, I find these kinds of stories dull, self-indulgent, arrogant on the part of the one caught in the middle, and unrealistic. That whole “Oh no, two boys like me, how will I choose when I like them both!” thing just grates on me. Yeah, maybe some people can relate to the situation, and that’s fine. And I know enough people like them for it to have become a trope in the first place. But if I never see another love triangle again, it will be too soon.
  3. Distant “family”. Examples: Born of Earth by A.L.Knorr, Newsflesh trilogy (to be clear, I LOVE both of these books/series…except for that relationship)
    These are the romantic relationships that also toe the line between legal and illegal, just barely on the side of “this isn’t actually taboo.” For example, a girl falls in love with her adopted cousin or brother. Yeah, they’re not specifically related by blood, but they are still legally related. It just bothers me.
  4. Actual family. Examples: Flowers in the Attic
    Speaking of family, how about actual family? Like, surpassing the normal family relationship to become romantically involved. It’s just another relationship that weirds me out. I don’t like reading about it. I find it unenjoyable and awkward, and that’s not something I’m looking for in my fiction.
  5. Bad boys/girlsExample: The Infernal Devices and so many others
    I will never understand the books that romanticize falling in love with a guy or girl who treats the other person like dirt. Why would you want to be around someone who is mean all the time or acts like they don’t care about you? A real, good relationship is one where both parties feel valued and loved. Anything otherwise is modeling poor relationships. It’s not as dangerous as the power balance issues, but it can still lead to some bad times for actual humans.
  6. Abusive relationshipsExample: 50 Shades of Gray (I didn’t read it, but I know enough)
    Much like some of the above relationships, abusive relationships are difficult. They can model dangerous roles and choices to impressionable people, particularly if the relationship is romanticized. Personally, unless it is incredibly important to the story, I don’t really want to read about it. Especially with something like 50 Shades, where the characters seem ignorant and tolerant of such behaviors and it is never addressed. Abuse is never okay, and a lot of times it is lazy writing. I will be more okay with it if it is addressed or necessary, but it’s a hard balance, and I’ll need convincing.

So these are my most hated romantic relationships in fiction. Again, please remember that if you happen to really enjoy one of these kinds of relationships in your reading, I’m not trying to dissuade or belittle your choices and your enjoyment; I am merely pointing out the relationships I dislike and find particularly worrisome or troublesome.

Now that I’ve shared with you, it’s your turn! What are your least favorite romantic relationship tropes in fiction? Why? Share in the comments!

Creating Living Worlds

One of the most important, and sometimes most difficult, things when writing a world is making it feel alive. We want to feel that the world around our characters is progressing, that it isn’t a stagnant box we created, a world crafted in stone. We want to know that it is realistic. After all, things in our own world are always changing whether we are involved or not. Why shouldn’t your fictional world?

But how do we actually accomplish this gargantuan feat? How do we make our fictional worlds feel active and alive?

Change.

1. Understand that things will still change while your characters are awayAnd show this to your readers.

For example, let’s say you’re writing a fantasy and your heroes leave on a quest to a cave in the woods. The village or town from which they left may have been calm and serene, but perhaps they return to the middle of an event. A town isn’t a dead thing; events cycle in and out, patterns of life ebb and flow, streets become busier or sparser depending on what’s happening or the time of day.

Keep your locations alive by making sure to follow a natural rhythm of life. Don’t keep everything always the same.

Besides normal flows of life, realize that major changes can occur while your characters are away, also… or even while they’re right there. Just keep in mind that some of these major events are best left as major plot points. If there are large-scale changes happening, they should have a specific intent, such as a huge natural disaster caused by something related to the heroes’ quest or the deposition of a king leading to unrest the characters will have to address. You need the changes to be relevant to the story and, more specifically, your characters.

My advice, as always: be intentional.

2. Remember that people change, even when they’re not the focus. Your minor characters still have lives, even though we’re not seeing them through the story. Things are going to affect them. Don’t treat them like cutouts. Make sure that they are also progressing and changing as the story goes. They should be impacted by the same changes the characters see or induce, and they are going to respond in a way that matches their own personalities. Use that to your advantage.

3. And finally, just like in our world, civilization advances. What do I mean? Well, the technology, religion, culture, and ideas present in your society should be moldable and dynamic. They should advance and change and contort. Sometimes these changes are small and barely noticeable, like the development of a new generic drug, but sometimes there are major shifts in paradigms or laws. Incorporating changes or advances in technology, ideas, and political climate can add credibility and life to your worldbuilding.

Remember: building a world is just the foundation. Worlds change. Your world should not be static. Let the ideas shift and morph as you write. Write the changes to your world that feel natural to the story. Write a dynamic, living environment for your characters.

(This post also appears at papercraneswriting.tumblr.com)

Scientific Misconceptions and Misrepresentations in Writing

Hey there! Sorry it’s been so long, but life has been crazy! Let’s dive right into a topic near and dear to me: science, scientists, and common scientific misrepresentations in fiction.

Many writers want to include an element of science, either by writing a scientist character, focusing on science fiction, or creating a system of rules for how magic in a fantasy story may work (hey, logic! I use science in my fantasy writing all the time!). For ease, I’ll break this into two pieces: myths surrounding the people involved in science and myths around the science itself. For many of these, I will also give you a way to approach these myths to improve your writing.

Myths of the Scientist

Myth #1: All scientists work in labs at universities. This is just plain untrue. While some scientists remain in academic environments, the funding and lack of tenure-track faculty positions, not to mention the simple fact that not everyone wants to stay in academia, means that a large number of scientists go elsewhere. In fact, most scientists are not tenure-track faculty. They may be found in government work, private companies (scientific or otherwise, believe it or not… people like people who proved they can think), scientific writing and publishing, ethics, consulting, or a large number of other positions. WE’RE EVERYWHERE.

Another reason this is untrue is that it focuses on biomedical-type science. Remember there are ecologists, psychologists, sociologists, geologists, archaeologists, etc. Every field in science is different, and many of them include field work. Take some time and talk to one of them, even if it’s by email. HINT: Scientists love talking about what they do.

Myth #2: Scientists are all stuffy old men in lab coats. Also false. While it is true that this is still a largely male-dominated field, and largely dominated by white men at that, there are tons of women, young scientists, non-white individuals, and jobs without lab coats. Would a consultant wear a lab coat? Maybe, but not always. When writing scientists, keep these things in mind. Make them a diverse bunch. And yeah, scientists can be quirky and awkward and arrogant. But remember that a stereotype is nothing but a perceived image and isn’t always true. Choose your representation of these folks carefully and deliberately. They are not cardboard cutouts, so don’t treat them that way. They still have their own personalities and lives and hobbies outside of their profession. But chances are good that if they are in science, it’s because they love it.

Myth #3: I don’t know enough science to worry about good science in my story. This may be true for you, but don’t let it stop you. Consult. Talk to people who know what you don’t. Writing isn’t solitary. You can ask to visit and shadow, ask them to look over your logic or give you the right knowledge. Even a student can give you basic information. If you don’t ask, the answer is no, but you may be surprised. And if you get a no, don’t let it discourage you. If one person doesn’t answer or is too busy, try someone else. Look on university and college websites for email addresses, and give it a polite, enthusiastic try. Even something as simple as “Hi, I’m a writer and I wanted to talk to you about your research” can open so many doors. Believe me, the readers (and scientists) will thank you for taking the time and effort to do your own research.

Myth #4: Scientists are not religious people. Again, take a step back. Scientists are first and foremost people. Within science, you will encounter both religious and non-religious individuals, just like in the general population. For example, I have been studying and working in science (biology, no less) for over 8 years and am a steadfast Christian. There are also a number of scientists with beliefs in any other religion (or non-religious viewpoint) found anywhere in the world. In fact, a 2005 survey observed 48% of scientists had religious affiliations and 75% believed that religion is important for conveying certain truths or ideas (see this page for more questions and answers). Don’t be afraid to make your scientist a person of faith (whatever faith that may be). Be true to the character, not the stereotype.

Myth #5: Scientists are not superstitious. While once again this depends on the person, I can say from personal experience and interactions that many scientists are very superstitious people. But not like you’d expect. What I mean is that because some experiments can be so tricky or finicky, if it works one time a scientist may choose to keep everything the same so it works again. Not just the procedure. Simple, unscientific things like not putting away a solution until a certain point in the procedure or doing a dance while an instrument is collecting readings (I knew someone who did this). And yes, we know it doesn’t make sense and isn’t logical. Yet…

For further reading on the public’s idea of the scientist, check out this page from the National Science Foundation (NSF). And remember, this is how they are perceived, not how they are. To read more about scientist portrayals in Hollywood, read this post from Euroscientist.

Myths of the Science

Myth #1: Humans use only 10% of their brain. False. False false false! I can’t tell you how often I see this in books and movies and it ticks me off every time. We use all of our brain. Maybe not all at the same time. But there’s nothing there we don’t use. End of story. So no excuses just so that you can write a character with special superhuman abilities. Find another way that doesn’t perpetuate a myth.

Myth #2: Antibiotics are good for getting rid of any infection. Nope. Antibiotics will only be good against bacterial infections… for viruses, you need an antiviral, and for parasites or fungi you need antiparasitic or antifungal agents. BUT also remember that use of antibiotics can lead to superbugs… those organisms that are not killed by a certain antibiotic, or are resistant. In fact, prescribing antibiotics for viral infections could also be contributing to antibiotic resistance of bacteria. If you’re interested in the major implications of antibiotic overuse, I recommend looking up information about antibiotic overuse and the post-antibiotic era. Scary stuff.

Myth #3: Hair and fingernails keep growing after death. They don’t. The body dries out after death, causing the skin to pull away from hair and nails so that it merely appears they have grown. They haven’t.

Myth #4: There is a dark side of the moon. Not really. This myth may come from the fact that on Earth we can only ever see one side of the moon. This is because the Earth and moon are what is called “tidally locked”, a case in which the rotation of the moon around its own axis is the same as its orbit around Earth, causing only one side of the moon to ever been seen by Earth. However, there is no dark side of the moon, as the sun hits every part of the moon at one point or another.

Myth #5: Brain cells (neurons) can’t regenerate in an adult. This is a myth that even scientists believed up until the late 1990s. It was thought that a person was born with as many neurons as they would get in their adult life, but in fact there are new neurons born all the time in a process called neurogenesis. There are particular regions of the brain where this process occurs regularly, such as the hippocampus (the region of memory).

Myth #6: People are left-brained or right-brained. This one isn’t true either. Whether an activity is creative or logical, both sides of the brain show activity. There is no such thing as a left-brained or a right-brained person.

I hope this gives you a place to start for your own writing. But I warn you, this barely scratches the surface. I encourage you to look at some other resources, including those listed above as well as other lists of scientific myth and fact such as on Alternet, Dan Koboldt (who discusses genetics myths in fiction), Listverse, IFLScience, and again this page from Berkeley. However, I encourage you to research any scientific idea you want to use in your writing. Doing the extra work now adds to your credibility and the enjoyment of your story by your readers!

My credentials to prove I know what I’m saying: BA in biology, MS in neuroscience, working in science industry since 2015.

This post first appeared on Paper Cranes Writing.

Starting with a Spark: Ember of Foxfire

It had been a while since I started a completely and wholly new story. Yes, there were a few starts, a couple short stories, a couple incomplete beginnings that have since been largely abandoned, but nothing I’d intended to be a real new world.

You see, I have been working on a series of fantasy novels since 2011. I finally completed my editing process in the month of March 2016 and sent it out to my first potential publisher. I had spent years upon years, countless hours and brain cells, thinking and living and breathing that world.

And then it was time to step back and wait, and I was left in a story vacuum.

After editing for so long, bouncing back from a huge dry spell, and needing something new purely for the joy of creation, I needed fresh inspiration. I thought about how things had started for the previous series. That was simple: I had been watching I Dream of Jeannie and really wanted to tell a story from the perspective of a genie. And it grew and morphed into a new, complex, colorful world filled with characters I loved. Stories I had to tell. Worlds I wanted to explore.

But what about now? All I had was my current fascination with urban fantasy. I was sucked into worlds of werewolves, floating on ocean waves with sirens, dreaming of creatures who prowled the night and fought evil right in our own world or in variations of our world.

And I love it.

But, truth be told, I’m not a huge fan of vampires, I’m not feeling the urge to write beautiful mermaid tales, and the world is saturated with werewolf fiction. So where did that leave me?

I narrowed down that I wanted to write urban fantasy. But I was still without the “fantasy” element. I scoured online lists of mythological beings, writing out notes on selkies, swan maidens, and kitsune, just to name a few. And of everything I read, I kept coming back to the kitsune. I searched for other kitsune fiction, and while it was there, it was sparse and questionable. But I wanted to read about fox shifters. They didn’t have to be perfect kitsune. But they were different and powerful and had a hierarchy already built in to their growth and development. It was the first spark.

And then a character started forming in my mind. A half fox shifter, half human girl just entering her independence in the human world after years of learning from the other fox shifters. She was young, naive, and not exactly popular with her peers because of her parentage. But she was also brave and strong and wasn’t afraid to be both girly and tough.

But what would happen to her? I’m not a huge fan of romance, especially the love-at-first-sight kind that plagues a lot of urban fantasy, so I knew I wanted it to be romance light or romance free. I knew she would have a fully fox brother who was older and more experienced than her. And then I read more about the kitsune. I created a similar North American kitsune lore. I developed the basic plot of what would happen to my character. I knew where she was going and what she would be facing. I knew how she would have to grow. I saw her trials, her enemies, and her friends. I had finally met Ember.

And there it was. I was ready to start creating again.