If you write fiction, whatever your genre, you are likely to write about physical injury at some point. But how can you write in a realistic way that moves your plot forward and reveals character? In today's show, I discuss writing injuries with Samantha Keel.
In the introduction, I mention Ingram Spark has introduced personalization with print-on-demand; PublishDrive signs a distribution contract with DangDang, China's largest ebook seller; ACX increases their bounty to $75 and provides affiliate links on the sales dashboard from 1 August 2018; and publisher Richard Charkin poses some difficult questions for the publishing industry.
I talk about finding my books in a Blackwell's bookstore in Edinburgh – pic here on Twitter. Plus, if you are a Christian writer, check out Jerry B Jenkins writing course. (I'm an affiliate of the course because I read Jerry's books and respect his generous teaching and incredible work ethic. I get a small % commission if you do decide to buy through my link, but at no cost to you.)
This podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets through the Kobo eco-system. You can also subscribe to the Kobo Writing Life podcast for interviews with successful indie authors.
Samantha Keel is a 911 and critical care paramedic and has spent the last 10 years working in emergency medicine. She's also a medical consultant for writers running the ScriptMedic blog and has written brilliant books, including Blood on the Page, Maim Your Characters, and also writes LGBT speculative fiction.
- What is the attraction readers and consumers of entertainment have to violence?
- Writing characters who go beyond the usual ‘alpha male' tropes e.g. Bond and Reacher. A discussion on writing trans characters.
- Mistakes authors can make when injuring their characters
- How injuring a character can improve plot and characterization
- Tropes to avoid when injuring characters
- Incorporating injury recovery time in our story timelines
- Using humour to cope with injury
You can find Samantha Keel at ScriptMedicBlog.com and on Twitter @scriptmedic
Transcript of Interview with Samantha Keel
Joanna: Hi, everyone. I'm Joanna Penn from TheCreativePenn.com. And today, I'm here with Samantha Keel. Hi, Sam.
Samantha: Hey, Joanna, how are you today?
Joanna: I am good. It's great to have you on the show. Just a little introduction.
Samantha Keel is a 911 and critical care paramedic and has spent the last 10 years working in emergency medicine. She's also a medical consultant for writers running the ScriptMedic blog and has written brilliant books, including “Blood on the Page,” “Maim Your Characters,” and also writes LGBT speculative fiction.
Before we get into it, Sam is going to give a disclaimer before we get into the interview.
Samantha: I just wanted to let everybody know nothing in this podcast that we're discussing is going to be medical advice. So, if something winds up coming up that you either see later or that relates to something that you have, seek actual medical counsel.
Don't try to treat yourself or anyone else using anything you find on this podcast. We will laugh at you and also have nothing to do with what you have decided to do with your life.
Joanna: This is just a podcast interview. So, but we have to say that, just to make it clear to everyone.
Sam, tell us a bit more about you and how you got both into emergency medicine and writing, and how do you manage them both?
Samantha: I started writing when I was very, very young. I'm one of those kids who just grew up with books upon books upon books. My mother's an editor, so there were always just this wealth of amazing stories around growing up, and I always wanted to write and create them.
I think the first story that I ever wrote, I was probably 5, 6, 7 years old, somewhere in there. And in terms of health care, I actually got lost on my way to medical school.
I was in college, I was looking to head down the pre-med track and towards becoming a doctor. And I wound up taking 21 credits, working two jobs and wound up dropping out of school.
The career I fell into after having done that, while I was trying to get myself together, was EMS. I found that the educational style for EMS is very much attuned to what I enjoy and the kind of learning that suits me, but I never really gave up the writing passion.
Back in 2016, the two sort of bumped. I was sitting in the parking lot outside of work one day and I was like, “Huh, you know what? There isn't out there is a resource for writers to accurately write about medical processes.”
Because you see all these things on ER and you read them in books and see them in Bond movies and stuff like that, and none of it is real.
All of it has this patina of being perfected for the story. I wanted to create a resource for writers that gave them the opportunity to at least understand the reality of things so they know where they're breaking the rules and how they can leverage the reality of not just injuries, but medical issues as well.
And really bring them into their stories in a way that supports the reader and respects people who go through things like that in their own lives.
So, I really wanted to create that resource. And it was kind of crazy because I started it as a Tumblr account. And inside of a week, I had encouragement from none other than Neil Gaiman, which blew my mind.
Joanna: Oh, wow. Amazing.
Samantha: I was totally blown away. And inside of a year writing, I want to say 2,100 blog posts, writing three books. And on top of that, I had a full-time job and a part-time job.
I don't recommend people to do that. It doesn't always work. But that's how I got where I am.
Joanna: And just to be clear, you're here under a pen name and this is probably advice for anyone who works in medicine, right?
Keep your “real” self away from your writing.
Samantha: Oh, yeah, absolutely. It's tough because you want to be as authentic as you possibly can and putting your truth out into the world.
And at the same time, we live in such a litigious society and in such a way we're all extremely vulnerable. And trying to talk about this without opening myself up to potential liability has been really one of the hardest lines to walk.
Joanna: I think how you've done it is absolutely what we recommend to anyone who feels like it's either self-censor yourself and don't help people, which is what you're doing with your books, or you're putting yourself out there under a pen name.
I have friends I don't even know their…well, I do know their real names but I still call them by their pen name. I think we all exist in this space now.
I think the acceptance of pen names is there.
Samantha: For sure. And I think a lot of that has to do with the rise of internet culture where people in my generation, we made friends with people online, who we only knew by an internet handle.
Something that looks like a traditional name is closer than we have. But some of thee friendships that we make online are more real than the people we meet in real life because we connect on actual emotional levels, not just on, “Oh, you're in the same space as me.”
I think that has driven, in part, the acceptance of pen names and the acceptance of that that level of self-protection.
Joanna: Let's get into the violence.
You just mentioned the emotional connection, and you see the effects of real violence and real accidents and real nasty things in the real world. Most writers never do and we don't want to. We are not wanting to be part of violence and yet we write so much of it.
Many writers are obsessed with injury and death, certainly, in the thriller genre that I write in horror genre and now on TV, like “Westworld,” “Game of Thrones.”
The level of violence now, some would consider a lot. I'm a nice girl and I like watching these programs and I like reading these books.
Why are we so interested in violence? What is the attraction?
Samantha: I think in part it's what drives us to any part of fiction. We're driven to violence because it's an urge that we all have on some level.
We are all primates. We are all animals in the true sense of the word. And we all have spaces where we feel like our boundaries have been violated, and perhaps now more than ever, with the prevalence of social media and all of these pieces coming into our world.
First and foremost, violence is a response to feeling violated. And I think that's part of the fascination is that you and I can't just haul up and punch a Nazi in the face, but Indiana Jones can. And in fact, that's the purpose of his character. And I think we enjoy that.
Over the last, maybe 30, 40 years, we've taken a lot of the glamour off of the top of any kind of storytelling, but particularly surrounding violence where we're no longer looking at Humphrey Bogart punching a guy in the face once and they black out.
We're now looking at somebody like Bond or like Reacher who can go out and just massacre entire towns and walk away scot free.
I think there's a danger in that where we've divorced consequence from violence. That's what a lot of it comes down to, a lot of the violence that we see in storytelling is trying to be grittier and trying to feel more real.
And I think what winds up happening in some cases is that things get cartoony. We're exploring, in part, our own fantasies. We're exploring, in part, what would happen if in this world with no consequences, and in this world with no rules and exploring these different versions of our future. And we do that with all forms of storytelling.
But I think this, above anything, is a piece of ourselves that we've repressed. And that's not saying that we shouldn't repress it. That's not in any way advocating for violence. But I think that's part of the reason that we're seeing so much of it is that, to be honest, it's something that people wish they could do to some extent.
It's really kind of upsetting only because I feel like there's an ethical connection that we have to make that a lot of creators don't.
Joanna: I think we'll circle back to the ethics side of the representation because I think that's definitely important to talk about.
I like what you said about what we can't do ourselves and so often people feel like there's no justice. When therefore someone like Reacher can go in and can help do rough justice in a way that we might not expect justice to really work. So, I think you're right in that way and it's kind of a cathartic experience.
Also, for someone like me, like my female character, Morgan Sierra, there's many things about her that are like me, but she is ex-Israeli military, and she can really hold her ground in a fight.
Whereas I went to Krav Maga and came away crying on my first session and never went back. I'm just a real wet hen it comes to pain. So, that kind of cathartic expression of what we would love to be able to be or do, as you say, or righting wrongs can be a real part of that.
Would you say that that catharsis is part of it?
Samantha: Absolutely, catharsis is part of it.
And you're absolutely right, we look to our heroes to be who we can't, and to live these lives that we want to experience that we're curious about.
Part of that is the hero's journey and taking a hard look at the dark night of the soul and climbing back up. And part of that is doing things that we wish we could do, whether that's doing Krav Maga or taking out a whole town of really bad people, whatever that is.
Joanna: You mentioned Bond and Reacher, and personally I'm a real James Bond fan and I love all the Reacher books. I write women of those types of characters really, and you mentioned them in your fantastic, free ebook, which is “10 Medical Tropes that Need to Die.”
So come back on why Bond and Reacher are, in a way, that fun violence, but why are they wrong in their portrayal of violence in terms of cause and effect?
Samantha: I think you've hit the nail on the head. I think the number one thing that those stories do is they break the chain of cause and effect. Every action should have a reaction.
For something to matter in a story, we have to see a consequence of it. “The Guardian” did account either a couple years ago or fairly recently that James Bond has killed over 360 people in the course of his career. That's just out there and yet, we never saw him have any emotional consequence to that, that was always completely divorced. And the only thing that ever affected him was the fact that he keeps losing the woman he's in love with every single movie, which is its whole other issue.
But I think the danger in that if you see something over and over and over again with no consequences attached, it's easy, especially when someone is younger or maybe doesn't necessarily have a complete understanding of how the world works for one reason or another, it's very easy to think, “Oh, you know, this is just how things are.”
In reality things are very, very different. And I think as someone who sees the other side of it both in the immediate and in the longer term, where I've met people who've been paralyzed by getting shot in the spine. I've met people who got punched in the face and were bleeding inside of their head and were probably going to die.
You can't walk into that situation and not appreciate that there is another side to things and nothing ever happens to Bond, nothing ever happens to Reacher, as far as I know. I haven't seen every movie or read all the books in the Reacher series, but they never have either an internal, emotional consequence or an external, judicial kind of consequence for those actions.
I think it weakens the effect of the violence in the story. And I think it weakens the chain of cause and effect in general.
The more we reinforce that standard in our storytelling, the more dangerous that becomes. And this isn't to blame any individual writer or individual story. And this isn't to say that, “Oh, my goodness, violent video games are going to make kids go out and shoot people.” Those are not things that I believe.
But at the same time, I think as content creators, now, more than ever, we have a responsibility to be very cognizant of what we're writing, and very aware of the messages that we're sending because we live in a world where we're starting to hear the voices of marginalized people.
We're starting to hear more and more from LGBT writers, from communities of color, from pretty traditionally marginalized groups.
And more and more, I think we're able to draw a link between the way we talk about people or the way we talk about events in popular culture and the effect that that has on those marginalized groups and what that really does to a community.
I think on my end of things, I stayed away from embracing my identity as a trans-woman for a long time because I didn't have any popular or any positive representations to latch onto. I shunned my own community because I didn't have any context that that was a good thing to be and it's fantastic to be in it.
I genuinely love who I am, but for a very long time, I didn't have that connection. And you can't walk in that without understanding the parallels.
Joanna: I've been learning a lot more about the trans-community, which I think it's really important that we understand, like you're talking about kind of the cause and effect of being human in one way. And what I'm now thinking is, “I need a trans-woman Bond-type character.” The protagonist that is doing that shouldn't just be the white male.
I want these strong characters who can be the same as Bond to be all the different types of diverse people that we have.
I totally get that, in one way, we need to respect victims in some way, but I also like the part of me that loves the alpha hero, wants the alpha heroes to be diverse.
Samantha: Oh, that makes absolute sense. And I think we need to see not just positive representation, but representation at all of any particular group, as long as those characters are treated as characters, and not just as cutouts or stereotypes.
Samantha: And as long as they are as nuanced as anybody else. I would love to see a trans-female James Bond-type character and see her internal conflict and see her trying to contextualize the world that she's living in through that lens.
I always have questions in my own beliefs as to whether or not someone who's outside of the community can do a character like that justice, but I also don't believe that as Caucasian writers, we shouldn't include characters of color just because we haven't lived that experience. Because you wind up only writing Caucasian characters and that sucks.
Joanna: Exactly. This is my point with diversity and that people are people. And, yes, there are challenges that different people in diversity face, but at heart, like the righting of the wrongs thing, they're going out and blowing some town up, that that to me can be something that any character can do. I like this idea.
What you're saying is the cause and effect on both the character and also the victims who are involved.
Samantha: Exactly. And just once, I would like to see James Bond crack somebody over the head and then come back out of the room and see that person vomiting horribly in the corner, like as a really legitimate consequence.
In most of these stories people just fall down dead. And that's not the way people have that experience.
I think if you want to look at a realistic character death, there's a great scene in “Band of Brothers” where somebody winds up crying for his mom, and he's one of the heroes, he's one of the good guys, and he gets shot a couple of times, and he's literally he's regressed into his childhood and he's crying for his mom on the battlefield.
I feel that gives him much more authentic experience, not that particular trope, but just appreciating consequences in general. And both in terms of the LGBT community, communities of color, what have you, and in terms of victims of violence and victims of assault and just recognizing that actions have consequences for other people.
It's not just that James Bond has saved the world, it's that he's left 360 families without a father or a husband or a wife or that he's left 360 pairs of parents weeping over their child's coffin. Even if they're bad, even if they're bad guys, exploring that space.
Joanna: I actually think “Game of Thrones” does it better because it has the scope of a television series, or series books, because you actually have the time to go into some of the effects on the characters.
“Game of Thrones” being a classic example where someone kills someone else's child and that then spirals into other violence. When we see that in a big scale, things like the Middle East and this sort of spiral of everybody killing each other.
Let's come back to the book. In “Maim Your Characters,” for example, and this ties into what you're saying, you talk about writing injuries that matter, that can actually help the plot. When we're talking about stuff…it's normally plot; stuff happens, someone gets shot or something.
But you're arguing that there are injuries and things that can happen that can actually improve your plot and characterization.
How can we do that?
Samantha: I think the key to doing that is just understanding the structure of an injury plot and weaving it into your overall narrative for it.
For example, I'm just going to go really quickly through the phases of an injury plot as I see them, as I broke them down in the book and sort of go through it.
It's a very similar to the overall structure of a story. Somebody has to have an inciting injury, right? They break their leg, they fall off a horse, whatever it is. You have sort of the immediate phase of how they respond to that in that moment, what it means.
For example, maybe the hero was going after the villain, but the sidekick falls off his horse, and all of a sudden, now the hero has to make a choice between helping his friend versus going after the villain.
Now, you've added a question, you've added a moral element to the story of, “Am I the person who is so dedicated to justice than helping my friends?” Versus, “Am I the person who is so dedicated to my friend that I will let the bad guy get away?”
So, you have that, that's what you would see as the beginning. And then we're going to see you need some form of a definitive treatment.
If there's a splint on the battlefield, you should, even if it's implied later on, you should have either a surgery or something else to definitively fix the problem. And then you can watch these characters try to recover.
What I call ‘the rocky road to recovery' is you can use it as an exploration of the injured character. So, so many of these characters that we use, that we have as heroes are very dependent on who they are in their role.
For a long time I define myself as a paramedic. And there were a couple of times in my career where I got hurt, and I didn't know who I was when I wasn't out there on an ambulance helping people. Answering that question gave me a lot of insight into myself.
But from a storytelling perspective, you get a chance to see who somebody becomes when they can't take that role originally, they can't take the role that they had wanted to.
And then there are a couple of optional pieces. You can choose to test them towards the end. So, for example, is the hero going to go after the villain at the big showdown on their half-healed broken leg? Is that what they're going to do?
And you can choose to settle them out at their new normal, where they either have some kind of lingering disability, they go back to the way they were, or they have a reentry where in the climax you can have the bad guy stomp on that broken leg and double the pain and bring them back to that point.
You may choose to do something different because it can be a little bit repetitive to use the same injury over and over again. But the bottom line is an injury plot forces you to examine, A, who a character sees themselves as and how they cope with not being physically able to do the things they want to.
And then, B, they can be a really interesting way to force a hero to approach a problem in a different way. So, let's say you're writing a “Lord of the Rings” style book. And the only person who can open the doors to Mount Moria are the wizard, and the wizard literally gets taken out at the knees. Now your hero has to deal with a challenge in a different way. And they have to divert what they're doing or get more resourceful.
So, in terms of revelation of character, I think that's really where the money's at, is looking at how people respond when either they can't be themselves or they have to choose between their friends and their mission.
Joanna: I really like that. And I certainly feel like I'd probably reach for obvious injuries. We've seen so many films where people are shot but they're shot in the shoulder, so it doesn't stop them.
Samantha: Don't get me started on that.
Joanna: Well, indeed, I want to ask you. You have that in the tropes that need to die, I think.
What are some of the things that it kind of implies lazy writing, as in, stop reaching for stuff that is just obvious?
Samantha: I think you started with a good one: shooting a character in the shoulder.
First of all, people don't tend to understand what the word shoulder actually means in terms of the anatomy. If you want a character to have a nothing gunshot, the outer flesh of the upper arm, the outer flesh of the thigh is probably what you want to reach for as a writer.
But once you have something in or next to the rib cage, as a medical professional, that just takes me out of a story immediately. Any gunshot in the chest is a life-threatening until it's proven otherwise, has the potential to kill a character.
If you want to go for that trope and you want to shoot somebody in the shoulder, that's fine, have it mean something, have it threaten their life, have their lung collapse, have them bleed into their chest.
And then walk through the process of having a chest to put in, draining out the chest, the two or three weeks they're going to be walking around with a chest tube attached to their side of their chest with a drain.
I think in terms of some other tropes that need to go away, I think the biggest one is the myth of the one-hit knockout where a character decides to knock out a bad guy in lieu of killing them and tries to make the ethical choice, but what we don't see are the consequences of doing that in and of itself.
It's entirely possible that somebody can be knocked out by basically hyper reflection, the mechanism behind the TKO as we see in boxing or the knockouts we see in boxing. But oftentimes, they then hit their head on the way down, they might break their neck, they might have bleeding inside of their head.
Even if somebody just has a concussion, they can have life-altering consequences. A friend of mine got head-butted by a four-year-old, and this is a true story, four or five years ago and never lost consciousness and still has symptoms of post-concussion syndrome.
She still has trouble with executive functions, still has trouble with prioritizing and making decisions, and still gets headaches, gets fatigued very quickly. All of that from one concussion.
We have this myth that, “Oh, you know, that character hit the bad guy over the head.” Well, it doesn't actually work that way. And I think that one in particular can be dangerous. I have heard a case reports of little brother hits big brother over the head because they do it on TV all the time and big brother has a brain injury.
Joanna: I think those of us who are well and have not had bad things happen in that way, it's very hard to imagine, but I did psychology so we did a bit about brain injuries. And it's just scary how that type of thing…there's nothing potentially visible and yet it's affecting your life.
I do want to talk about that recovery, like you mentioned there, the two to three weeks with a drain on the chest. Often, our characters do not have two to three weeks to sit around when they're trying to save the world.
I'm currently writing Book 10 in my “ARKANE” series, and I'm very aware that Morgan, my character, has scars from old injuries, she's got burns, she really shouldn't be off saving the world.
But my timeline demands that she does. And I don't want to bore my readers as well.
So, is it a case of the adrenaline pen in the chest? I'm going to get going with a load of drugs? Or should we try and look at the physical and mental aspects of recovery?
How can we incorporate recovery in our timeline?
Samantha: I definitely think there's a place for looking at the physical and mental aspects of recovery. Depending on what you decide to do with her, looking at something that has a fairly short recovery time might be helpful for you.
I think asking yourself the question of, “What if she can't? What if because of some injury, she can't do things the way she wants to, what is her option? What is the option for the story?” And taking some time to explore that, you may come up with something that meets or exceed or is little bit more creative than something like that.
I think in terms of the epi pen in the chest, I think “Pulp Fiction” lied to us all.
Joanna: I was thinking of “The Rock” with Nicolas Cage when he's just been poisoned and he's got that big pen.
Samantha: They're also playing with nerve gas and not using an antidote to nerve gas, which does exist. So, there's that, too.
One of the things that I tried to do, actually, when I wrote a book called “Blood On The Page,” it's unfortunately titled “Blood On The Page, Volume 1,” I'm not sure that there will be a Volume 2 because I have actually stepped back from the writing space a little bit. So, I didn't intend that to be misleading.
One of the things I did with that book was I made an al a carte list for writers who want to incorporate injuries into their stories and what a writer can do…find something that either enters a body part that they're looking for or has a recovery time that they're looking for so that if you need your character back on their feet in two weeks to do this.
If you have six weeks, go ahead and break some bones because six weeks is the typical recovery time for a broken leg. Versus something like a wrist sprain, maybe break a character's offhand arm where she won't be able to carry anything as much she'll be guarding that the entire time she fights, she'll be asking herself, “Am I going to be as effective?”
But have her going into the final battle physically unprepared or physically weakened and asking herself, “Can I really defeat the villain while I have my arm in a sling?”
Joanna: A specific question just from a purely selfish aspect. Her main injury, the most recent injury, was fighting a demonic snake and killing it with this chemical which has burned her so that demon blood has kind of burned her. So, essentially, she has burned skin on both her legs. So, obviously, she's in pain.
What does the recovery on leg burns look like?
Samantha: Well, it's going to depend on a few things. To be honest, in part, it's going to depend on your genre, whether you want her to be able to function or be so out of her mind stoned on opiates. That's part of your genre and part of your choices as a writer.
It depends on the depth of the burn, if it's second-degree burns where it's blistering and all that. You're looking at probably a few weeks to a few months depending on the level of care, whether she gets hurt again, stuff like that.
Whether you have decided that you want her to have a superhuman pain tolerance and that she can just keep kicking ass with horrible pain from her burns on her legs.
I wouldn't suggest going to third-degree burns on that because that is so deep that it has severed the nerves so actually that area of her third-degree burn doesn't feel pain. The areas around it do because you always have a circle of second degree around a third degree. But third-degree burns definitely require hospitalization.
The other thing is depending on how much of her legs you've decided to burn, she's going to need quite a bit of fluid. She's going to be very, very thirsty for a few days. If she doesn't get official treatment one of the things that happens with burns is you lose a lot of heat through the skin, you have a lot of tissue swelling in that area, blisters…sorry, graphic content warning for your audience, but blisters wind up rupturing all the time, stuff like that.
So, there's a fair amount to consider in terms of that injury. And there's a fair amount to consider in terms of keeping consistent with your story and what you've already written.
You said this is Book 10 in a series of 10, do you want to break the rhythm that you've already established to lend that piece of realism? And if you do, what's the point of it? So, I think the number one question to ask yourself is what is the point of giving her those burns?
Joanna: It's so funny because I think as writers, when I was writing that, I actually thought maybe that was the end of the whole series and I didn't even consider incorporating recovery. And I've done this before as well with corrective bone.
I've done it before and then realize I've painted myself into the corner with injuries and then I've had to figure out how to bring my characters back, even though they didn't necessarily die. It's a big thing.
But I really like what you're saying around using the injury to help us feel more empathy for the character, whatever their situation. And in that way, like I was thinking what you're saying about Bond, the Bond that people appreciate the most, I think, is “Skyfall” where Judi Dench dies, M dies, and you see his family history and you see him grieving for her.
And it's kind of like the injuries there, the recovery is so much more part of it. And I now like the idea of making Morgan's pain part of it rather than just getting up and being completely fine.
Samantha: Let me ask you something. So, first of all, when it comes to “Skyfall,” that's the movie where he gets horribly tortured while he's sitting in a chair and the end of the movie is him in recovery?
Joanna: I can't remember. I know the scene with him in the chair…
Samantha: I know it's one of them.
Joanna: I can't remember if that's the one, but it's the one where they go back into his family home in Scotland and it's just a much more personal film.
Samantha: I think that's, of all of the Bond films, that's the one that's spoken to me the most as well because he stops cartoony and he starts being a man. And I think that is crucial in emotionally connecting to a story.
I think the other Bond films, especially from the '60s in the '70s, we watch because it's a good telling, it's a romp. Even if it's a violent, cartoony romp, you have somebody who's trying to end the world with a satellite.
When you connect with the emotional and physical pain of the story of someone like Bond, that's when you get people really interested in the character. And I think that movie, of all of them, did the best job of making him real and relatable, and a person, and not just a role.
What to do with Morgan Sierra? My question is, are you starting Book 10 right where Book 9 left off? Can you put some time in between?
Joanna: No, this is the thing, I totally painted myself into the corner by saying, “There's a body being found in New Orleans with these markings on,” and I put that at the end about a year ago. And I'm like, “Oh, okay. So, there's my start..”
Unfortunately, it's like that; straight away. But I like what you're saying and I'm going to incorporate that. So, the book is called “Valley Of Dry Bones.” I haven't written it yet, but if people are listening to this in the future then they can decide whether or not I've managed. I have one last question because we're out of time.
Samantha: Of course.
Joanna: I talked a bit about this with Michaelbrent Collings around humor and depression. I feel like humor and violence are also something that people struggle with.
Yourself as a medical professional and the people you work with, is there this dark humor that comes into your job and into your writing because you can only laugh sometimes, otherwise you would cry.
Is that a real thing? And what kind of humor is acceptable in these situations?
Samantha: Absolutely, that is a thing. Dark humor as a coping mechanism is a tried and true part of healthcare. And it's actually something that I've backed away from over the last few years in my career where it's something that newer people tend to lean on because they're processing their own emotions.
Once you get square internally with things that are happening, hopefully, you grow to a place where you don't need that as a coping mechanism. You get to relax and think about it more in terms of the global context.
So, stop laughing at the less appropriate humor and start really leaning into, “Okay, but what can I do to help? What is the actual meaning surrounding this?”
That's been part of my journey. It's been a part of the journeys of people that I've sort of helped to mentor over the years as a provider, but it's not necessarily something that I know how to handle in a writing context.
I think whether or not to use humor and the type of humor to use is going to depend a lot on, A, you as the writer and, B, on the characters involved.
Some characters are going to have a really good sense of humor, their method of coping with something that happens to them is going to be humor, or they're going to tease somebody into trying to get up and recover using humor.
I think you can also be very destructive and very detrimental with humor. And one of the things that I've always tried to walk the line with talking about all of this is respecting the community of people out there who are disabled, who either have had some kind of injury or have just chronic disability in general.
One of the best things you can do as a writer is if you're going to make jokes in a particular space, ask somebody familiar with it and reach out to writers and and people who are out there helping.
So, one of the things we haven't had time to go into is the ethics of using torture. And there's a Tumblr blog that actually deals with this specifically of torture in storytelling, and what the tropes are versus what the reality is, and how to navigate that successfully.
You can find all kinds of blogs on disability or on the LGBT community or on a whole bunch of things. There was actually a whole community of bloggers that I was a part of when I was actively blogging where our mission was helping people navigate writing respectfully about various parts of life and not writing about them accurately at the same time.
Taking that level of responsibility as a writer and understanding that your words and your stories don't just affect your characters, they affect the larger conversation in that space about injury, disability, queer communities, marginalized communities such as disabled people, things like that. And reaching out and finding out how those communities want to be seen, what they want in terms of representation.
One of the biggest things that we can do as storytellers is start to look at our stories as pieces of a broader social message and the ethics of how we approach telling the stories.
Joanna: I agree. And I really hate that the indie world makes this easier. And I absolutely respect the fact there is an LGBT section on the bookstores, but it also feel that there should be LGBT characters in the other genres, where they're not actually put in like a separate category. It should just be things like, African-American category.
It's like, seriously, why isn't this just a thriller, or a carnival? I feel like the lines are changing in a way, but those characters are just characters in other genres. Is that fair to say?
Samantha: Absolutely. And I think including characters from other perspectives in any particular piece of fiction is one of the things we can do to just normalize people as people.
When I read a story about a lesbian character, I don't want it to be about her being a lesbian, I want her to have kick-ass adventures and go kill some bad guys. Wame thing with a trans-character. I don't want to hear the story of transition and all that, although that's incredibly important. I want to hear about the moral choices that character is going to make and how that character is going to move forward after facing difficulty after difficulty.
In terms of categorizing, instead of telling LGBT stories, we need to tell stories with LGBT people. And there's a big difference in those two. And I agree with you that we need to re-categorize and take a good, hard look at how we include people and how we include backgrounds in any particular piece of fiction.
Joanna: This has been really fascinating. Where can people find you and your books online?
Samantha: The easiest place to find me is scriptmedicblog.com that will have links to everything. But in terms of Twitter, I am @ScriptMedic. Little play on words on script doctor. And if you're interested in checking out the books, go on Amazon, search under Samantha Keel and I should pop right up.
Joanna: Fantastic. Well, thanks so much for your time, Sam. That was great.
Samantha: Thank you, Joanna. I'm so happy to be here.