Author Archives: E. Godhand

About E. Godhand

Emily Godhand is a dark thriller author who lives in Denver as Rat Queen. She is an Ambassador for Wattpad.com, where she manages the Paranormal profile: https://www.wattpad.com/user/ParanormalCommunity She utilizes her experiences working at an inpatient psychiatric hospital and as an advocate and educator for Depression and PTSD in her writing to combat stigma and support individuals with mental illnesses via representation. Ignore the Lovecraftian influence and the subsequent nightmares, put your faith in Godhand to write diverse, complex characters who manage to cheat death and come out blood-soaked and laughing.

Cryonics, or Death Swallowed Up

O’ Death,
Won’t you spare me over til’ another year
But what is this, that I can’t see,
With ice cold hands taking hold of me.
– traditional American folk song

Take the nihilistic assumption that humans are in the process of dying the moment they are conceived. Everything our bodies do is to maintain the process of surviving through creating, maintaining, and eliminating. Start messing with the supply chain, the fuel,the equipment, or the director, and the body has a problem.

If you can get it back up and running, good. If you can’t…things don’t shut down right away. Death is a process.

But how what exactly IS death? What does that look like?

The line between “alive” and “dead” is getting more and more blurred as we advance in technology. At this moment, different countries and different people define death differently. Ultimately, if the person in your story isn’t moving, breathing, and has no pulse, they’re probably going to go in the ground after a few minutes of being like that, since the brain damage sustained and the medical technology available is probably not going to get them to any livable state.

But what if you could? What would that look like?

“Not breathing.”
I can hold my breath; Am I dead? I can be choking or in laryngospasm when drowning; Am I dead yet? No? I can still have a pulse even if I’m not breathing, right?

“No pulse!”
Through chest compressions I can pump your heart for you and give you a pulse. I can run it through a machine and pump it indefinitely.

“No…self-initiated pulse?”
No pulse doesn’t mean the heart isn’t working at all, and you need an EKG (electrocardiogram, or a “heart strip”) read by a trained person to tell the difference between “ineffective pumping” (therefore not producing a palpable pulse) and “heart isn’t showing any electrical activity at all” (asystole, or ‘flat line’). 

You could be in atrial fibrillation, which is basically the heart jiggling itself like jello. It could be persuaded to pump again, given a good shock to reset it. Why do you think they call those chest-paddles “DE-fibrillation”?

Note: You cannot use a defibrillator on someone who is “flat-lined”, or in “asystole”, where there is no electrical activity in the heart. You can’t de-fib when there’s no fib. You can’t reset a rhythm that doesn’t exist. You start CPR when you hear that flat-drone, or don’t get a pulse. Put the paddles down your doctors would know better.

In some countries, death is defined as no self-initiated pulse. Even in the US, if you can’t get the pulse back after CPR (if the patient didn’t have an Advanced Directive against it and weren’t considered “DNR: Do Not Resuscitate”), the doctor will generally call it (and the doctor has to call it, not the nurse).

There’s some wiggle room though. Even in asystole, the brain may still have electrical activity.
…Remember how I said that everything is breaking down, and that this is guaranteed?

Well you can slow it. You can delay it. You can even potentially reverse it (for the most part).

Since all things are made of cells, and cells are made of parts, and those parts are made of chemicals, and those chemicals are made of atoms, and those atoms are made of….well, they’re always moving. Even solids, like a table, are always constantly shaking. In place, but, moving. Everything is in motion in some way. If you slow that down, reactions don’t happen.

If you heat up a body, things start to break down faster. Fever can be dangerous because it can “denaturate proteins”, which means, it’s so hot, hot means moving fast, moving fast means shaking apart, breaking down.

So what happens if you cool a body, such as in cryogenics?

Yes, the ‘freeze them in time’ for future revival’ thing but that’s more cryonics.

Things slow down. Do it too slow, such as hypothermia, the damage won’t be stopped. The body is mostly water, so ice crystals can form and burst cells, circulation is cut off, essentially leaving the limbs for necrosis (and gangrene to set in).

But in people who have been cooled quickly, instantly almost, the process the body goes throu-…

Okay let me back up even more. Oxygen is required for a lot of the body’s processes. There is such a thing as a “reperfusion injury”, where oxygen is introduced to an area deprived, and suddenly it has all this…currency with which to pay the men to start destroying things.

“But it has oxygen! I thought that was a good thing! Shouldn’t it be happy?”

Yeah, but remember, the body is a jerk, and runs more like a bureaucracy. The paperwork had already gone through, they just ran out of ‘money’ on the project. So no oxygen, no currency, no processes. This can cause damage.

But if the body is cooled properly, it’s too slowed to actually do anything even if it has the currency of oxygen. It’s stuck in a stasis.

Some success has been made with patients who were quickly frozen by the environment or strategically frozen when in critical condition. We pull them back with slow warming and controlling and staying ahead of the destruction. One step back, two steps forward.

Imagine this for your story:

“Red” triaged patients who would normally be tagged ‘black’ (“don’t bother”) frozen to halt the death process until an appropriate level of care can be arranged.

A hospital that is overrun with casualties that can’t reasonably stabilize everyone without putting a few ‘on hold’. 

A cryogenic chamber that flash-freezes and slowly warms the patient up to bring them back after space-travel or ‘until we have the technology to treat your condition’. 

So here’s the million dollar question:

If we can pull them back, if CPR, cryogenics, and just…act of god for all we know, can make them alive again, were they really dead? And where is that line?

 

Writing About Drowning, or, Watch Little Kids in the Pool

Quick, how do you normally see a character portrayed in a visual media as ‘drowning’?
Very visible, loud behavior, right? Arms up, head potentially bobbing, screaming for help?

“Help me! Help me I’m in aquatic distress!”

Alright, maybe. Getting there. That’s called “aquatic distress” and may precede drowning. If your character has gotten to the ‘face down float’ you’ve missed a bit.

But there are several things that happen when you lift your arms to wave in water:
Firstly, you will sink. Going vertical is actually a technique to put yourself under the water because it reduces the surface tension.
Sinking of course means your head goes underwater.
Head going underwater means you’re not breathing.

So your character may do this. Sure. But I hope you weren’t attached to them, and what did you teach the readers drowning looks like? Drowning is the third most common unintentional death in the world and has been a major cause of deaths throughout history. We like to live near water. 

Very likely the signs of drowning are more subtle:
*You may not see them at all, not unless the water is very clear
*Their head may be tilted up, but if they can’t keep themselves afloat or coordinate enough to roll on their back, their lips and nose may still fill with water. This is a response not under conscious control.
*Arms be out to the side, possibly paddling down, to increase buoyancy, but coordination is very hard and not likely to happen. They may also appeal to be “climbing an invisible ladder” similar to a non-productive “doggy-paddle”. 
*They may look fearful and unable to focus.
*They may not be able to call out because of the whole ‘not breathing’ thing, and may instead gasp.

This can be misinterpreted as ‘playing’ in the water. But then it gets weird as your body tries to ‘help’.

See, when I say that a drowning person is panicked, I don’t just mean they’re overcome with fear.

I mean the compulsion to breathe has become an all-consuming obsession. It is the one and only thought they may have. I mean you could take the kindest, gentlest person on the planet and they still will very likely hold you under the water to give themselves a chance to breathe. I mean a drowning person will pull the person down trying to save them. This is why it’s recommended you throw objects they can grab onto, or extend poles.

It is also entirely possible to be at risk for drowning in very shallow water, or even water that you can stand in.

How?

I was at the waterpark the other day with a friend, enjoying some time in the wave pool. Now I’ve experienced the sensation of drowning about…four times now, because God doesn’t seem to love me and no matter how strong of a swimmer I get, things can still come up. You get knocked out falling off a jet ski. The air you were holding so carefully gets knocked out of you when you come up and hit an object that moved over you, and now you have to move without just the oxygen remaining. The waves keep coming, and coming, and you can’t catch your breath before the next one.

In the wave pool there was a child around early elementary school age who had fallen off the inner tube he shared with his sibling. At first he seemed like a kid playing in the waves, but he wasn’t keeping his head above water. Was he getting air? Who knows. But he wasn’t coordinated. The waves pushed him towards the shallower end where he could stand during the trough, but the waves were coming right after the other. The little one turned his back to the waves and walked as best he could, but he was crying without saying anything. His lungs weren’t expanding.

I was already working my way towards him at this point, but all these signs indicated that possibly his lungs were spasming to keep more fluid from coming in.

You cannot breathe like this. You cannot pull air in, exchange the gases, and exhale it as needed. Your body has decreed that in order to save you, nothing is coming in for now. This can be considered a form of ‘dry drowning’ and is the sensation of suffocation. This is called “laryngospasm”, and as fearful as it can be to experience, someone who is rescued with a sealed airway that protected the lungs has a higher chance of recovery.

Which means, panic. Your character will generally have about 20-60 seconds of tolerating this autonomic response before they risk passing out. Another response they may have is the hyperventilation of gasping, of trying to constantly pull air in but being unable to expel the CO2 in their system. Too much carbon dioxide within the system can also shut the body down.

Once they pass out, they then risk pulling water into the lungs, which, even if they are revived, can have lasting effects on the body and still risk killing them 24-48 hours afterwards from pulmonary edema, difficulty breathing, and ‘drowning in your own body fluids’.

The actual sensation of drowning past this response is often quick and quiet as the brain is deprived of oxygen. With hypoxia, everything shuts down, and a great feeling of peace can overcome them as the systems that scream to react shut down. But this often means that even a strong swimmer character who is doing their best to make it through the maze of tunnels may suddenly pass out without warning.

Oftentimes one way to determine if someone died before or after being submerged in water is if there is water in the lungs. Water in the lungs indicates the person was alive at the time of submersion.A sample of the water can then be matched to local water sources to determine if they were drowned in the water they were submerged in.

Thankfully the child wasn’t ever to any of those points yet. I lifted him out of the water and pulled him closer to shore, where his frantic sibling helped him back on to the inner tube. With some encouragement he was able to coordinate his breathing enough and, being the resilient thing little kids are, was back out in the water laughing and smiling and waving at me.

The “Coconut Effect” and Reader Immersion

“An eagle-eyed viewer might be able to see the wires. A pedant might be able to see the wires. But I think if you’re looking at the wires you’re ignoring the story. If you go to a puppet show you can see the wires. But it’s about the puppets, it’s not about the string. If you go to a Punch and Judy show and you’re only watching the wires, you’re a freak.”

— Dean Learner, Garth Marenghis Darkplace

…but I mean, there are times when research and accuracy aren’t the most important thing for reader immersion. The “Coconut Effect”, named after the horse-hooves sound the characters make in Monty Python and the Holy Grail by banging two coconut halves together, describes a phenomenon where readers have come to expect something so much, however unrealistic it may be, that not having it would break immersion.

MontyPythonHolyGrail_018Pyxurz
Because there’s reality, and then there’s what the reader knows and understands of reality. Readers look for familiarity in common, repeated tropes that make up their repertoire from media they have consumed in the past, as opposed to actual science or facts. They come to expect these repeated in future media as its own language for the purpose of telling a story, all the while understanding that they are suspending disbelief in accuracy for the purpose of Plot or Rule of Cool. (Godspeed if you follow that link to TV Tropes.)

So maybe cars don’t actually explode into pyrotechnics when you shoot the gas tank (but it looks cool). Maybe radiation isn’t always glowing a sickly green (but it’s an easy way to show invisible radiation on a visual medium). Maybe it’s not so easy to get past security measures (thankfully so).

But readers come to expect these. We don’t actually ever anticipate a reader needing to blow up a gas tank with a well-placed rifle round or break past security. And that’s not touching the legal or ethical ramifications of essentially teaching someone how to carry out these acts.

It is important for you, the writer, to know the truth though, and insert it into your story as necessary. If your plot is based on something being true when it is not, the reader immersion may be so broken that the rest of the plot doesn’t make sense.

…There are exceptions for ad hoc cultural understandings based on the scientific data available at the time.

 

mobydick
“…spouting fish with a horizontal tail…”

There are many ways to subvert this trope, and whether or not it’s appropriate to do so might depend on your story. Did your character learn some false information from watching too many movies or TV shows? For example, you might have a character who thinks they can blow up a gas tank with a rifle round, and when that doesn’t work out, what is their Plan B? Plot twist!

Are the characters arguing over whether or not they can actually “suck the venom out” of a snakebite? (The record, no, you can’t. Also it’s gross and unhygienic and you just introduced a lot of bacteria to a wound.)

Does your characters inaccurate knowledge lead them into trouble when everyone else calls them out on it?

batsarentbugsOne place where it might be important to subvert or lamp-shade the trope the reader expects (regardless of how common it may be), is when perpetuating the myth might actively harm people and the cultural understanding of the people affected by the trope.

For example, writing stereotypical characters may perpetuate some of the prejudice and stigma real, live people face.

The “Crazed Lunatic” may be a recognizable trope, but without a nuanced exploration that subverts it, it can lead to further cultural misunderstandings of mental illness and discourage people from seeking help they may desperately need.

Writing any stereotype about a sex, gender identity, religion, race, or sexual/romantic orientation may reinforce negative opinions the culture may have in regards to those people. It can deny them humanity and the ability for their character to be perceived as a fully nuanced, complicated person.

So sometimes it’s not so important to have perfectly researched, detailed accuracy. But it is important to consider how sharing this information might affect the people reading it, their enjoyment of your story, and how making this common knowledge might help or hinder the population reading it.


 

Welcome to June! (Misconceptions in Fiction)

Hey Folks!

This June I’d like to showcase some great posts about misconceptions often seen in stories. Research can be hard, so we’ve done the grunt work for you!

Good research in writing is absolutely essential to me because even though I write about immortals and dead elder gods and paranormal entities, I like realism in my stories, dammit.

These are abnormal things happening in a normal world and the little, but accurate, details accentuate that contrast between what is real and what isn’t. If the world doesn’t seem real because the demographics, geography, tools, or physics are off, it can take a reader out of the story. Immersion can be important to pacing, so anything that takes your reader out of the story will ruin the “…Just one more chapter” effect you’re going for.

People, even mistakenly, take information from books. It’s how we learn about the world when we can’t or haven’t yet experienced it ourselves. Even in fantasies, even in anything fiction, if the reader can find something similar to their world, they’ll apply it subconsciously as learned information.

They trust you did your research as the author. Misinformation from the media we consume is spread and impacts people’s’ lives because we don’t remember where we learn information, just what was said. Even if it’s wrong.

If you write about a character being chased by a black bear and they escape by climbing a tree, you think that person isn’t going to try to climb a tree to escape a black bear? What other information did they have? They trusted you.

But if you have the character learn, “Oh wait! Black bears will totally climb the tree after you!”, then very likely that person will NOT climb the tree. And hopefully survive anyway.

…Why yes I did get chased by a black bear once, why do you ask?

So please enjoy this month’s collection of misinformation to avoid as necessary in your writing, and perhaps some suggestions on how to do it better.