Monday, January 23, 2012

L. Diane Wolfe's The Circle of Friends, Book 5

I've been reading like a mad fiend these past few months. I've heard that some writers stop reading fiction so their work isn't muddled by another's voice. Man, I few sorry for them. If I don't write for a while, I get the grumpies. If I don't read for a while, watch out. (I've only sworn off fiction once while I studied for a set of six graduate math exams. It was a horrible, soul-sucking two months.)

Anyhoo, one of the many books I've slurped down includes one written by an author in our blogging community: L. Diane Wolfe's fifth book in The Circle of Friends series centered on Heather Jennings. I picked this one because Diane has blogged that it's the best thing she's written and it takes place in Clemson, SC. I grew up right next door to this college town in Anderson, SC.

When we meet Heather, she's just finished her master's at Duke with a sweet prize. She has a real job! Instead of asking, "Do you want fries with that?", she's both looking forward to and nervous about becoming an assistant basketball coach of the Lady Tigers at Clemson. Cool. That's the good news.

The bad news is the love of her life is living large in Colorado with a) an incredible job as wide receiver for the Denver Broncos, b) a huge house, c) a brand new baby with his wife Sarah. Ouch. And by the way, Sarah was Heather's friend and roommate when she was an undergraduate. Double ouch!

Now this particular pain isn't something that's happened to me—oh wait. In six grade the crush of my life told my best friend he liked her—on my birthday no less. Maybe that's why I identified with Heather right off the bat. I recognized her pain.

Longing and regret are only the start. This book takes you on an emotional roller coaster—which is entirely appropriate because I know Diane loves roller coasters. Heather accepts that her feelings for Matt are a dead end. (Downturn) Then she starts an unlikely relationship with his older brother. (Possible upturn, but with twists and a dark tunnel of uncertainty—is this love or rebound?) Then Heather's father passes away. (Huge drop, even though with her dad's cancer, she knew it was coming.)

The part written after her father's death really struck a chord. I wanted to grab the phone and call my dad. And there's a second emotional tug at the ending that also got me teary, (but in a good way which I won't spoil). If you love well-developed characters, drama and emotion, check this one out.

Paws Everywhere
Image courtesy: cayusa

I know from reading Diane's blog she may consider writing more fiction. My 'two-cents' recommendation would be to bring the southern setting more to the forefront, because there's something I'm just dying to know: Does Clemson still paint the main roads into campus with huge tiger prints? I loved that as a kid. My parents would drive us up there to walk through the botanical gardens, feed the ducks stale bread and then visit their superb ice-cream store. The campus dairy hosted school field trips where you could see a cow with a little round window in its belly. I can't remember what they were studying with this window-to-cow's gut, but it was awesomely gross/fascinating.

Okay, this post just jumped the track. Re-calculating. Have you read any books set in places near to your heart?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

How the Internet Hijacked My Day

CDC Director Gerberding Gives Green Light to Gardasil then Goes to Work for Merck  (g1a2d0049c1)
Image Courtesy: watchingfrogsboil

I had a long list of things to do yesterday, but none of it happened. Why? My day got hijacked by a news story, a comment from the hubs, and the endlessly fascinating maze that is the internet.

The story: Twelve girls from the same high school in Leroy, NY have developed mysterious “Tourette-like” symtoms since the start of school. Leroy, NY is a thirty minute drive from my house.

The comment from hubs: “This might be a shot in the dark, but how about Gardasil?”

As far as I can tell, no information has been released as to whether these girls have had recent vaccines of any kind. One news article reports: “NYS Health Department spokesman Jeff Hammond also says vaccines such as Gardasil were investigated as a cause and ruled out.” (Source)

Here’s some interesting things about Gardasil, HVP, and cervical cancer that I found on the web.

1. Gardasil is a vaccine available to girls and boys ages 9 to 26. It’s given to prevent certain strains of the human paploma virus. The strains of HPV the vaccine targets may lead to cervical cancer, genital warts, and precancerous lesions among other diseases. (See Merck’s insert for full details here)

2. HPV is widespread in the population (20 million presently have it and 50% of sexual active people are expected to acquire an HPV infection in their lifetime).

3. explains that in 90 percent of HPV cases, the body's immune system will rid itself of both low-risk and high-risk HPV strains.

4. How strong is the evidence that HPV leads to cervical cancer?

From Very few HPV infections lead to cervical cancer.

From News with Views: Repeated transient HPV infections even when caused by high risk types of HPVs are characteristically not associated with an increased risk of developing squamous intraepithelial lesions, the precursor lesion of cervical cancer.

From Mike Adams at Dispatch From the Trenches: A woman found to be positive for the same strain (genotype) of HPV on repeated testing is highly likely suffering from a persistent HPV infection and is considered to be at high risk of developing precancerous intraepithelial lesions in the cervix . It is the persistent infection, not the virus, that determines the cancer risk.”

Say what? The women at risk are the ones with an HPV infection that persists as opposed to several different HPV infections.

5. How many people get cervical cancer?

According to National Cancer Institute, 12, 710 estimated new cases in 2011

6. How many are dying from cervical cancer?

Again, NCI stats for 2011 was estimated at 4, 290.

7. If you don’t get the Gardasil vaccine, how can you protect yourself against cervical cancer?

From Pre-cancer cells can be found before they have a chance to grow into cancer by having regular Pap tests.

A yearly Pap smear is also recommend by Merck.

8. This one is important: If you have a benign cervical HPV viral infection before receiving the vaccine, the vaccine can increase your risk of developing cancer. So imagine this scenario: Mom and sixteen-year-old sitting in pediatrian’s office. Daughter is too embarrassed to admit to sexual activity and gets her HPV vaccine, not knowing she already has HPV. The chances of her benign infection converting to a precancerous state just increased by 44%. Yikes. (Source)

This also explains why the age of patients eligible for Gardasil is so low. The drug is most effective if it is given before exposure to HVP. In other words, they want the girls to have it before they become sexually active.

9. What are the side effects of Gardasil?

According to Merck’s insert, patients have to be carefully monitored during the injection because they may faint and/or have a seizure (stiffening of limbs followed by uncontrolled jerking of limbs and face).

Another reported side effect during injection is anaphylaxis--a severe allergic reaction that may result in death. Read here for more detail on symptoms including difficulty breathing, dizziness, vomiting, slurred speech and hives.

After the injection, the possible side effects include: headache, fever, nausea, dizziness, pain at injection site.

There have been serious adverse reactions including: gastroenteritis, appendicitis, pelvic inflammatory disease, pneumonia, pulmonary embolism, and a long list of systemic (all over the body) autoimmune disorders.

Out of around 29,300 people in the study group, 40 died. According to the Merck insert, this number is not out of bounds with what happens to a healthy population of this age and size. Five deaths were from car accidents for example.

10. Why do some people want Gardasil banned?

Here’s something to chew on from This article criticizes the way control groups were handled in Gardasil studies. The people in the study were given one of three things: Gardasil, a control without the vaccine but with amorphous aluminum hydroxyphosphate sulfate adjuvant (its purpose is to stimulate an immune response), or a saline placebo.

The substance that the anti-vaccine folks are worried about is the aluminum hydroxyphosphate because it crosses the blood/brain barrier and has a history of wreaking havoc. So that control group is worthless; it’s part of the experiment. (More about aluminum and vaccines here.)

If you go through the Merk insert, they only separate the aluminum control from the saline placebo for pain associated with the injection site. For all the rest of the data on deaths and severe adverse reactions, the aluminum control and the saline placebo are lumped together. Not only is the data misleading, it is useless to those who suspect this aluminum is the poisonous part of the vaccine!

The anti-vaccine folks fear Merck is pushing Gardasil for the money. At $400 bucks a patient for the three shots, no wonder they want every kid (girls and boys) to roll up their sleeves. Many sites distrust Merck in the wake of the Vioxx scandal. This popular arthritis drug was pulled after 27, 785 heart attacks and sudden cardiac deaths were linked to the drug. (Source)

If you’re still with me at this point, you may be bored reading these lists and facts. Ho-hum. Every vaccine has risks and a small portion of the population is expected to experience adverse reactions, right?

Now check out this website:

The nine beautiful girls described here are dead and their families hold Gardasil responsible.

Under the injuries and injuries continued links are dozens of horror stories about how other girl’s lives were ravaged after receiving the vaccine. Some found doctors who conclusively told them their medical problems were caused by Gardasil. Others still struggle to find a diagnosis or a doctor that will believe them.

Here's a sample of quotes from different girls before and after their Gardasil shots. I picked the ones that stand out in connection to the Leroy case:

Before the shot:

“I had always been a pretty healthy teenager with the exception of a few asthma attacks every year, which were usually mild and easy to treat. I was in school and sports and always active.”

“I am the Mom of a beautiful, 15-yr-old girl who, up until recently, was healthy and very well-adjusted. She attended high school, was a great student, was involved in marching band and our church youth group until a few weeks ago.”

“My now 14yr old Daughter has always been a healthy, active and straight A student.”

“You see, up until this point, my daughter had been a normal happy active teenager. In fact, she was used to running six to ten miles a day, and so loved her sport that she had just days before this ordeal began, came back from her last meet. She was so talented, she was competing at the state level, had set several school records, was being recruited by numerous colleges and was ranked as one of the best in the state.”

After the shot:

“Over the next few days we started noticing random muscle twitches that would make my body jump and that I had started to faint more often. We thought it could be because of my anxiety and new anxiety medication, but bought it up to my doctor anyway. She put me on Ativan and told me to go to to a councilor, so we did.”

“In January of 2009 we went for the second shot . . . The muscle twitches became worse as did the fainting spells. My doctor insisted that because I had just turned 19 that it was just anxiety about growing up.”

“She was given a clean bill of health the day she got the shot. Within 20 minutes she was so sick. She began vomiting, shaking, experiencing migraine headaches, numbness, fatigue and high fever. She literally slept for 4 days.”

“She began experiencing headaches, dizzy spells and achy, shaky legs within days of receiving the first shot of the Gardasil vaccine on July 30, 2009.”

“On 11/5/08 during a routine physical, she received her 1st dose of Gardasil. The following week she complained of headaches & felt tired. On 11/29/08 she had a headache and stayed in bed all day. She got up that afternoon & had 2 seizures. She was rushed to the ER. Her condition became critical after she lost all motor skills & became unresponsive. She was life flight to Riley’s Hospital in Indianapolis. She spent 4 months in the PICU. Her condition remained critical. She was put on a ventilator & feeding tube. She also had uncontrollable movements, extremely high heart rate (up to180 bpm), high fevers including 1 that was 108.7 degrees, she remained in a medical induced coma. She was given extensive testing and the ONLY result we do have is that she has Encephalitis.”

“She was weak, dizzy, severely fatigued, still unable to breathe, still having chest pains, and begining to have leg tremors.”

“My problems started a few days after my first Gardasil shot; though I didn’t connect them to it as I’ve never had an adverse reaction to [or been allergic to] anything in my life. My symptoms include skin problems, twitching, muscle cramps and stiffness, muscle weakness, ice pick headaches, brain fog and concentration problems, as well as trouble with spelling and finding the right word.”

“It’s amazing how everyone’s symptoms are identical, and how their diagnoses are the same- a Conversion Disorder or Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. And yet, researching those, we saw that all cases are different, not one case is the same. We are all being told we are mentally ill to cover up the damage being done by this horrible vaccine.”

Ready for a Twilight Zone moment? Read this. Kinda spooky, considering that last quote.

So, that’s why I'm very curious if the Leroy girls had the Gardasil vaccine.

Those little excerpts above don’t do the injured girl’s stories justice at all. If you are considering the Gardasil vaccine for you or your kids, I encourage to explore these sites and do your research before you make your decision.

I’m not sorry I spent a day learning about all this because I have two lovely daughters ages 7 and 5. I have never questioned vaccines before and they got all their shots as recommended. However, they will not be getting Gardasil—no way.

What do you think? Would you let your child have the Gardasil vaccine?

Monday, January 9, 2012

Driver Wanted

224 of 365- Driving home from Milwaukee.
Image courtesy: pahz

What drives a story forward?

My favorite books are moved by an unanswered question or series of questions. In The Poisonwood Bible, author Barbara Kingsolver tells the story from the point of view of five different characters: a mother and her four daughters. Early in the book, the mother is recalling their time in Africa (her husband is a Baptist missionary) and mourning the child she left behind, buried in red dust. The reader wants to know which daughter died, or perhaps, did the mother get pregnant with a fifth?

As the story continues, each of the four daughters is put into mortal danger. The reader knows one must perish. Who will it be? This construct excels at keeping the reader on the edge of their seat. Yet, as soon as I recognized the manipulation, it started to annoy me—a hazard, I suppose, of thinking too deeply about the inner workings of writing while reading.

Another book does something similar. Gail Godwin’s Unfinished Desires takes place in girl’s boarding school run by nuns. The former headmistress is charged with reciting the school’s history and she fears what to do about the ‘toxic year’ of 1951/1952. The reader knows something horrible is going to happen. Girls will be expelled, secrets will be revealed, and all who star in this troubled year will not be alive in the end.

In Heather Gudenkauf's The Weight of Silence, we are introduced to a young girl (age seven) who refuses to speak even though there is nothing physically wrong with her. What a great question. What would cause a child to go mute? Then you learn she’s having trouble controlling her bladder and is terrified of her abusive, beer-chugging father. Assumptions are made. Will they turn out correct? Or will there be a twist?

So this goes to the top of my 'to-do' list as I near to end of the first draft of my current manuscript. Which questions can I tantalize my readers with in the beginning that will cause them to stay up late to find the answers? Does your manuscript have these burning questions to push to plot forward?

Monday, January 2, 2012

A (Not So) Perfect Christmas

Even in Barbie-world, the wrapping paper is more fun than the actual present. This scene was arranged by my daughter, Sedona, all by herself. I had nothing to do with it. Except for the fabulous green couch. I made that sucker myself, and it took for-freakin'-ever.

This blog is being written with a backseat writer named Sedona. She wants to be sure you notice Barbie-dad's disgusted pose in the background. Note Barbie-mom speaking with her daughter as the teenager plays with her brand new iPod on the fabulous green couch. Did I mention that I sewed that thing myself? Yes, I did. Really. It took a long, long time, but enough about me.

Sedona likes the wrapping paper a lot (it came off some special chocolate candy she got from my husband's home town of Oswego) and the reindeer costume the littlest doll is wearing. Yes, her nose is actually red, which is fine for Christmas, but what happens when we hit summer? I guess they'll have to pretend it's a wicked, bad sunburn. Darn it, Barbie, how could you be so careless not to put sunscreen on your kid? Come on. Get with it.

Here is a picture of my guest writer and fantastic creative director: Sedona

Besides making fabulous Barbie couches I have been writing the first draft to book number two (up to page 300!) and that's why I've been absent from the blogoverse. One of my New Year's resolutions is to make a blogging comeback (as long as my kids don't get sick.) See you in 2013!