WATWB – Your Monthly Shot of News That Doesn’t Suck

Doubtless everyone has heard of the Centers for Disease Control, those brave, fun-lovin’ folks that put their lives on the line in the epic quest to quash Ebola outbreaks and keep the world safe from the next explosion of Solanum. A little less well-known is the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases. USAMRIID, primarily a US Army organization, works with the CDC and The World Health Organization and they all help keep the world safe from the tiny little bugs that can – and have – wiped out huge portions of the human population in the past. All these organizations are dedicated to keeping us safe from coughing out our lungs and bleeding from our eyeballs.

Death by disease ain’t pretty, and it’s probably an uphill slog since diseases have a nasty habit of mutating. Think about things like the Black Plague that wiped out upwards of 200 million people in about four years or the Anthrax attacks of 2001. One of those was a weaponized virus, the other was a completely natural occurance. Then realize that according to the CDC, 80,000 people died from the Flu last year. When you’re done pondering that, think about the guy next to you at work who’s busy hacking up a lung and sneezing on his computer screen when he should be at home in self-imposed quarantine rather than infecting the whole office.

Disease is a very real threat to our existence. Fortunately, brave souls at the CDC, USAMRIID, and WHO are willing to put their lives on the line to study diseases, keep them from spreading, help those who are infected, and find ways to keep it from happening again. It involves putting themselves in the middle of Ebola outbreaks, getting up close and personal with Flu victims, and walking into places where even a tiny tear in your suit can mean a miserable, lingering death as your organs liquify.

Then there are the anti-vaxxers.

I can’t say for certain if there’s an anti-vaxxer movement in other parts of the world. I liked to think we’d managed to keep that disease localized in the United States, but with the way messages shoot around the planet these days, their particular breed of stupidity has found warm hosts all the world. In fact, the WHO puts anti-vaxxers in the top 10 global threats. For those of you who are unfamiliar with anti-vaxxers, they’re the group that claims the vaccines that helped wipe out a lot of childhood diseases are all part of some massive conspiracy cooked up by the CDC, Big Pharma, the WHO, possibly The Who, and a shadowy cabal of evil-doers to do something nefarious. The prevailing message from the anti-vaxxers is that vaccines cause Autism, but they’ve also claimed mind control and population control at points in the past. Imagine your crazy uncle, drunk on cheap whiskey, waving a knife around, and babbling about the Rothschilds and you’ll get the idea.

While most people are quite content to trust professionals with their health care decisions and look to places like the CDC, the WHO, and USAMRIID for pointers on how to not die horribly, the anti-vaxxers look to other sources. Major disease control organizations have people with medical degrees, scientists, and folks with hands-on experience studying biological threats. Anti-vaxxers have Jenny McCarthy and that blog written by that one chick who doesn’t work, but she totally took a bio class in college and she’s a mom so she gets it. Also, she saw that episode of the X-Files where they were using the bees to transmit alien DNA and there’s this other blog by a guy who says he worked for the CDC and the bees didn’t work so they had to start using vaccines to spread it.

Somehow that bizarre message of Autism and mind control took root and now the anti-vaxxers are spreading like a plague. The end result of this disease of ignorance is more actual diseases killing people even as we see a dearth of people with alien DNA doing whatever it was they were supposed to be doing.

Disease control experts will usually tell you one of the first things you have to do to stem the tide of infections is quarantine. Find the source and make sure it can’t go anywhere else. Then you can work on curing folks without having to worry that the next town over just fell to Solanum and the dead are coming back to life. Unfortunately, due to the way the 1st Amendment works, you can’t just shut off the valve of the nonsense coming from the anti-vaxxers. They can continue to say whatever crazy shit they want and there’s no legal way to stop them without some epic court battles revolving around Freedom of Speech.

So, if you can’t make them shut up, how do you fight the misinformation? Well, you can counter with real information, but you can also take away their ability to make money by spreading lies. While the CDC, USAMRIID, and WHO are focusing on the first part, the platforms that provide the medium for the message are starting to step up and tackle the second part. YouTube, for instance, just pulled all ads from any videos that promote the anti-vaxxer agenda. While that won’t stop the message from being out there, at least those people won’t be making money off their lies. If this happens enough, eventually the invisible hand of captialism will squeeze the life out of the movement when it’s no longer economically viable to sit on your couch and talk about things you just pulled out of your ass.

It’s not the best news, because the disease vector is still out there, but by making it harder to make a living being an anti-vaxxer icon, it’s a step in the right direction. Hopefully, at some point in the future we’ll be able to look back at the anti-vaxxers as a brief, dangerous flirtation with death rather than looking back and wondering how a disease that we had a vaccine for wiped out half the planet.

Read the original article here, in case you missed it up above.

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Shilpa Garg,
Inderpreet Uppal,
and Belinda Witzenhausen

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Book Review – Kiss Me When I’m Dead by Dominic Piper

kissmewhenimdead

I love gritty, noir stories where the bad guys are really bad and the good guys aren’t that much better. They serve as a reminder that it ain’t what you do that defines you, it’s why you do it. Such nebulous morality is on full-display in Dominic Piper’s debut novel Kiss Me When I’m Dead, a book about finding a missing girl that leads us into the dark heart of the sex trade in London with a heaping helping of twisted relationships thrown in just in case the sex trade didn’t leave enough of a bad taste in your mouth.

Back in the day, detective noir was a thing. It was a genre unto itself that spawned classics like The Maltese Falcon, Kiss Me Deadly, L.A. Confidential, and the Big Sleep. Literary greats like Spillane, Chandler, and Elroy stood at the top of the morass of human darkness and grinned like loons as they looked down and told us their depraved stories. They weren’t always for the faint of heart, nor should they be. After all, no one hires a private detective to find out the good things in life. Detectives are hired to dig through the detritus of the world and look for the stuff so odious no one in their right mind would leave it sitting out in the open like some black bird statue on a bookshelf.

These are supposed to be stories about hard people doing hard things, and Piper succeeds admirably at giving us a mysterious detective with a mysterious past, a flair for violence, and a host of willing ladies who fall for his charms. Kiss Me When I’m Dead is the full effect of wanton humanity laid bare and exposed with battery cables clamped to its balls and salt rubbed in its wounds.

Yes. It’s that good.

If you like your stories with a hefty dose of mystery that takes your hand and leads you through a world you didn’t know existed – and probably didn’t want to know existed – before kicking you in the head, this is a good book to read. It’s well-written, researched, and stands easily with some of the greats of the genre. If that’s not your bag, read it anyway, it’s a great tale and it goes to show you don’t have to write horror to come up with something terrifyingly fun.

The stunning debut thriller by bestselling author Dominic Piper, Kiss Me When I’m Dead introduces the enigmatic, London-based private investigator Daniel Beckett.

When Beckett is offered double his usual fee to track down Viola Raleigh, the missing daughter of a billionaire arms dealer, he has no reason to believe the assignment is not as it seems.

But his investigation is hindered as he discovers he’s being stalked by a professional surveillance team. As he learns more about Viola’s life as a drug addict and high-class call girl, he starts to realise that his wealthy client has been economical with the truth.

It isn’t long before Beckett himself is in danger, but his adversaries quickly discover that they are dealing with a formidable opponent with a far more sinister background than they might ever have imagined.

Get your copy on Amazon

Follow Dominic on Twitter

When Is It Enough? Showing and Telling and All That Jazz.

the Witch, on Twitter, asked a very interesting question: At what point have you done enought showing? Or telling for that matter? When, for the love of all that’s holy, is it done?

Everyone knows the story is done when it’s done. It may not seem obvious in the beginning when a story will be finished, but as you progress down the road of writing it you’ll soon realize there’s a central conflict (renegade necromancer out to destroy everything because she’s pissed as hell) and perhaps some side issues (vampire with similar problems, but wanting to take over her people instead of wrecking the city) that the protagonist (gun-toting badass with a drinking problem who really just wants to be left alone) has to deal with. Once the primary conflict is wrapped up and the side conflict gets taken care of, the story is done. The denoument should tie all the parts together, slap a bow on it, and call it good. We don’t have to worry about what comes next; that’s stuff for the sequel.

The plot is a necessity, but it’s in the midst of the story is where the magic happens. That’s where you show all of the things that led us to this point and give readers insight into the why as well as the how. So, you could sum up my latest work in progress using the descriptions above and you’d have the basic plot of a book that still doesn’t have a freakin’ title because I can’t think of one even though it’s nearly half written. You could even summarize the ending by saying “Bullets with a side of throat ripping”, but four disconnected phrases does not a book make. Why and how are important. So is building the world the characters live in. Those are the places to spend your time. On the plus side, you could use those disconnected sentences to come up with a half-decent blurb.

In a city where life is cheap, someone is leaving corpses that won’t stay dead. There’s no rhyme or reason to what’s happening, but Ace Colton’s recently deceased on-again-off-again girlfriend just tried to introduce him to the business end of a knife. At her funeral, a vampire finds him and explains that she made a promise to protect him. While everything implodes around them, they’ll make their way through a city where vampires and magic are real, leaders are fighting to imprison every last magical thing, and regular humans are pawns in a deadly game that could decide the fate of a world.

Okay, so it’s not perfect. Sue me. It’s a first cut.

Anyway, back to the magic of the story. What makes a story engaging starts with the plot. If it’s a tale of some doof brushing his teeth, no ones going to care, unless it’s some avant-garde house movie where the audience can convince themselves they saw something that wasn’t there and look down their noses at everyone who missed it. Get a decent plot, make some memorable characters, throw in some sex with a vampire, and don’t be afraid to unleash a bunch of hot lead. That should be enough of a hook to get people interested.

It’s the world of the book that will keep people interested. I wrote a post a while back about why I thought writing urban fantasy was harder than regular fantasy because you have to make all the weird shit seem natural when it’s dropped into a mundane setting like Albuquerque, New Mexico or Tijuana, Regular Mexico. The world building requires more effort because you have to shoehorn in fantasy elements and make them seem like they belong there. And that requires description.

Which, finally, takes us back to The Witch’s original question: When have you shown enough? There’s actually an easy answer to that, but it’s not the easiest thing to understand. It’s done when it’s done. Let’s say I’m describing magazines on a coffee table in a weird sorcerer dude’s house:

The table was covered with half-formed rings of spilled coffee, the kind of thing you only see with people who either drink too much coffee or don’t give a shit about cleaning up anymore. In the middle, staring up from a leaning pile of crusty, dog-eared, and tattered “Big Butts” magazines, a girl in a bikini looked over her shoulder, shoving her ass into the camera. Someone had drawn an eye patch and a fake scar on her face with a cheap ballpoint pen and the ink was smeared from recent use. On the corner of the table, neatly aligned and staring at me with a smirk on its face, was a pristine copy of Jane’s Defense Weekly with a cover depicting the latest in the military application of magical weapons.

There’s a lot of information built into that paragraph, even if it’s not obvious. That’s what I like to call information density. You don’t have to have spell out every little thing to have the world building work, and you definitely don’t have to tell the reader what you want them to realize. That’s showing in a nutshell.

You’re trying to accomplish a few things with world building:

  • Describing the world (duh)
  • Laying out the important points
  • Fleshing out a character

The trick to it is figuring out the important points and that’s the key to understanding The Witch’s question. What’s important? What does the reader need to know to understand where this madcap tale of guns and sorcery is heading? That is something only the author can answer. If your book is about a half-assed sorcerer who’s never done anything important with his life and is catching shit from his parents and the general world around him, the description of a coffee table shed a lot of light on both him and his world. We know:

  • He’s probably an obsessive coffee drinker and that makes his hands shaky
  • He likes to punch the bishop on the couch.
  • The world not only has magic in it, but someone’s working to weaponize it.
  • Our sorcerer has a thing for degrading women and possibly mutliating them.
  • He likes big butts and he cannot lie.

While some other brothers might deny, our sorcerer dude is probably a messed up individual on track to get himself and everyone else in a lot of trouble. If that’s the description of the character you’re going for, you’re good to go. If not, replace the magazines or clean up the coffee table. Or whatever. Just realize when to stop. The table might also have a half-empty box of Kleenex, or a cold mug of coffee, or any number of other things. He might also have a half-empty box of ‘Nilla Wafers in the cabinet and some Chinese noodles in the trash, but you don’t need to say that. In the case of the Kleenex and the cold coffee, we already know he likes coffee and boxing the clown on the sofa, you don’t need to hammer the point home – no pun intended. In the case of the ‘Nilla Wafers and Chinese noodles, who cares? All we know is he likes vanilla wafers and Chinese food and everyone like vanilla wafers and Chinese food. It’s junk information just like saying he owns a pair of pants or breathes air.

All the information in our world building needs to have a valid reason for being there. It needs to describe a character and how they’re different or what their motivations might be, explain some aspect of a world that’s not what’s expected in our world, or leave clues and reasons for plot points that will happen later on. If it doesn’t fall into one of those categories or doesn’t help breath life into a world, let it go. And if you’ve already shown it, there’s not much reason to beat that dead horse some more (also no pun intended). Leave some space for the action that drives the story forward and don’t overload the reader with details that aren’t important. Bored readers put down books and that’s not what we’re shooting for here.

So, to answer The Witch’s question: The showing and telling are done when they’re done. And they’re done when the pertinent information has been presented. Everything else is icing and remember, while sitting on the couch with a jar of chocolate mocha icing and a spoon sounds like a good idea, it gets old pretty quickly.

One final thought on world building: Realize we learned an awful lot about a character from describing his coffee table. Not all character building is obvious.

Follow The Witch on Twitter. She’s worth your time.