The Mystery of the Meniscus

Nine years ago I made the painful discovery that my right hip had worn down due to a congenital malformation. The ball and socket were one third the size they should be, and they were both flat on top.

I should’ve realized something was wrong when I needed heel lifts on my left shoe, but the pain in my left knee was the first presenting symptom. Eventually pain in my right hip became excruciating. I had a hip replacement. I was told that most people grow an inch because their body had been twisting around to avoid bothering the painful hip. I went from 5’6″ to 5’7″.

Unfortunately, although my legs were now presenting at the same length my muscles and tendons in my left leg had gotten used to being an inch shorter.

I wish someone had warned me about all the symptoms that followed. For the first year and a half after the hip replacement I could not drive for more than 20 minutes without searing pain in my foot. And I suffered a torn left meniscus not one, not two, but three times. When the meniscus — a tendon inside the knee — was not torn, it was still sore. I spent a great deal of time wearing an ace bandage on my left knee and I was extremely leery of ladders, because those were what caused the tears. The tendons in my knee were never damaged enough that I needed surgery, and they eventually healed in their own. Healing took a lot of time because of my age. The main thing I had to do was stay off my feet.

I now realize, with 20/20 hindsight, that this was my body trying to deal with stretching my left leg a whole inch. But what’s wonderful is I seem to have finally finished stretching and the pain in my knee is going away.

I’ve had a few people give me a hard time about my weight, but it’s been extremely difficult to lose weight when I couldn’t even move without risking another tear in my knee. I had to content myself with at least not gaining any extra weight.

Complicating matters was the fact that I was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat. Before my diagnosis I had no energy because the type of A-fib I have caused my blood to not oxygenate properly. Then, once the arterial fibrillation was diagnosed and treated, I had to be careful not to overdo it when I did exercise.

I seem to have gotten the A-fib stabilized. My blood thinner levels are stable, and I understand that they aren’t easy to stabilize for most people so I’m grateful for that. My blood is oxygenating properly. I’ve also learned what foods cause my heart to speed up or slow down. The main thing I have to watch out for is salt, which can slow my heart down to the point where it will stop and I’ll die. Needless to say I’m on a delicious low-sodium diet, which is no big deal since I was in a low-sodium diet anyhow, but now I really have to be careful. But I’ve learned what to watch out for, and they say that I will NOT need a pacemaker. The cardiologist is extremely pleased with my progress, and has approved certain types of exercise.

So now, I need to slowly get back into shape. Slow and steady wins the race. I can’t just sit at my computer and write or edit all day; I need to get up and move. So that’s what I’m doing, slowly and carefully. It seems to be working, because I have more energy.

I’ll keep you all posted.

Did You Know I Offer Editing Services?

During my tenure at Abyss & Apex Magazine I’ve had the privilege of helping so many writers with a rewrite of their story. I just had another one thank me, because he felt it was rare for editors to take the time to help writers improve their stories to the extent that we do. He said:

I’m sure that I thanked you for accepting my story, but I realized that I failed to thank you for something that you did that I really appreciate and admire.  You offered me the opportunity for a rewrite.  I’m sure it’s because of the pressure of so many submissions, but I feel like many publishers just look for reasons to reject stories to reduce the size of their slush piles, and ignore good stories that are flawed but easily repairable.  I think that there are probably many wonderful stories that are never read and good writers that are never published because of easily correctable errors in execution.

Not all of them are easy. Last month I did an A&A rewrite via a four-hour videochat with a college professor who was quite conversant with literary tropes but not with those required to publish in SF &F. She was equally grateful; I was excited to get her story into shape because I saw what she was trying to do. It was ambitious, but she was not quite hitting all the notes. Now you’re all going to love her story.

And I have recently started working on A&A Patreon rewards where I am editing short stories for our patrons. Finally, I have editing clients who send me their stories and we work on them, back and forth.

It’s what I do. If you need help with a story I’d love to work on it with you.

Another snippet from WTES

This is from the chapter in Writing the Entertaining Story on What Not to Do, which also has advice on what to do, instead:

So, what Cheney is saying is that—for short stories, at least—she does not stop to research things while she is writing. She marks that research is needed, keeps writing, and comes back to fill in the items needing research later. I’m guessing its one of the reasons she is such a prolific writer.

She adds,

If you’ve ever run across an author who gives tons of details about things that don’t seem to have anything to do with the plot, it’s likely they researched first, then tried to fit all their research in.

Don’t be that person who clutters their prose with unnecessary detail that distracts and bores the reader. Any extra research serves a purpose,  but bulking up your story or book is not what it’s for. It provides a subconscious sense of depth and weight to your story, like this iceberg:

The reader only sees what’s above the waterline, detail which is necessary to further the story, but you as the writer know so much more. And, trust me, the reader can sense an assurance that a writer knows what they are talking about. It gives it weight.

(Note: This is also why derivative works fall flat: the copycat writer is only copying that which is, as it were,  above the waterline.)

Snippet from WIP

Here is a short passage from what I wrote today in Writing the Entertaining Story.

Chapter 10: The Reader’s 50%

What you bring to the story.

As a writer, it is your job to bring a basic structure to your world. You must tell the reader what it your character is, and explain the challenges your character faces. You must make the character seem real and the setting in environment seem real by having the character interact with the environment. Occasional sharp-focus details will lend credibility to both the protagonist and world building.

What is not your responsibility is to fill in all the blanks. That’s not your job. That’s the reader’s job. And when the reader fills in the parts of the canvas that you’ve painted that’s called The Reader’s 50%.

What the reader brings to the story.

A reader brings to any story the sum total of their life experiences. When you describe a high school, the reader automatically thinks of their high school experience. It’s inevitable, it’s expected, and really in a lot of ways that works in your favor. All you have to do is a writer is point out the things that might be different from the general experience of most people going to high school.

When you describe a sailing ship on the ocean, if that person has ever been sailing all their experiences on a sailboat will come to mind when you bring up a sailboat in your story. While it’s important to describe that briefly, but accurately, for those who have never been sailing… for those who have been sailing mostly all you have to do is evoke their memories, without making any mistakes that would throw them out of the story.

Readers bring an enormous number of experiences to what they read: literally, a lifetime of experiences. And this is a good thing. You can tap into that wellspring of experiences when you write. These experiences are much more vivid than anything you could ever scratch out with a pen or type into a document. So when you’re grounding a scene by mentioning the smell of wood smoke at a campfire, for many readers you will tap into their visceral memory of sitting around a campfire themselves at some point in their lives.

This is why too much detail can be a problem in your story. If the details don’t match up with your readers experience, you cannot evoke the readers experience. It’s also why people often complain that they don’t like the movie because doesn’t match the book. What the movie doesn’t match is the reader’s 50% — the part that they brought to the table when they read the book.

Here there be dragons

For today’s #bookqw I chose an excerpt from Writing the Entertaining Story.

Background illustration: part of Olaus Magnus’s Carta marina of 1539, showing the coast of Norway.

The book keeps chugging along and is more than half finished. Progress has been swift since I started using Dragon Speaking Naturally dictation software. Stay tuned for updates!

Excellence vs. Fear

My husband is dealing with various people at work–both client companies and co-workers–whose behavior is perplexing to him. He sort of leans on me to understand such things, rather like I lean on him to understand many technical things. He understands how to deal with machines, but my former career as a safety manager was all about knowing how to deal with people. I had to know how to motivate people who did not want to work safely or those I was responsible for would get hurt or killed. So I, a person with what were originally abysmal people skills, learned how. And I tried to use my powers for good.

Because I knew that behavioral techniques were powerful. My father proved that for me.

Many moons ago my father, a teacher, was taking a sabbatical at UCONN. He took a course on behavioral science, and was the ringleader in an experiment that they perpetrated on the teacher. Now you would think that a professor who taught behavioral manipulation would be onto them, and see right through what they pulled, but no. Every time he went near the windows, the students looked attentive and smiled. Every time the teacher went away from the windows they looked away and frowned. By the end of the semester they had him sitting on the windowsills. He actually had a body part OUTSIDE of the window before he caught on! That’s how powerful behavioral techniques can be.

My father walked away from that class muttering about how dangerous behavioral modification was. Who gets to play god? But when I was a safety manager, once I knew what a person wanted, all I had to do was be their ally and help them get it, which they would do while helping me meet my safety goals.

I had no problem using behavioral science to help save lives, but thought it wrong to use to get my way otherwise. Early on in our marriage, I vowed to my husband that I would never, ever use behavioral techniques on him. Instead, I would teach him what I knew, in case he was being manipulated, or to use to defend himself.

Recently, my husband had a co-worker whose demands and view of things seemed very warped and hard for him to understand. I listened and sighed. His co-worker was fear motivated. Now, fear-motivated people are some of the easiest people in the world to manipulate (just look at how politicians use fear!) and I was going to show him how to make this co-worker easier to live with, but my husband said, Wait a minute. Full stop. What do you mean, fear motivated?

Part of the reason I love this man is that, like me, my husband is excellence motivated. He just enjoys doing a good job. He fixes mechanical things; I fix words and stories. It had never occurred to him that people could be driven by anything else but excellence. He was rocked back on his heels at the thought. Once he got over that, I showed him how to allay the fearful co-worker’s concerns. And it all fell into place.

You see, fear-motivated people usually have not taken control of their own lives. They feel battered and abused like flotsam pushed about by a storm. Anyone would be naturally fearful if they felt they were nothing but a victim, unable to change anything about their situation. But when a man or a woman stops waiting for someone else to make them happy–romantically, financially, or in any other way–they gain power over their own destiny and those who alternately promise things or threaten them become less important. An excellence-motivated person’s self-worth is not tied up in anything they cannot control, because their focus becomes changing the things they can change. So being excellence motivated makes it very hard for others to manipulate you. And that’s a good thing.

Rather than being upset with this co-worker for the constant barrage of complaints and anger, I showed my husband what he needed to defuse the situation was to keep this person in the loop, so that they were never surprised. The fear-based person could not understand why he was doing certain preventative maintenance things because they felt pressured by their bosses and overwhelmed. Anything he could do to help this person see that he was there to lessen their fear would solve his problem. And once their fears were assuaged he could maybe help them see that pursuing excellence is power. It’s power over fear, first and foremost.

Maybe this person will want to learn, and if so I’ll show him how to teach them excellence. Frankly, it’s more fun.