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Most writers understand the importance and conventions of point of view–but how many understand “deep POV,” a.k.a. psychic distance?
When John Gardner described psychic distance thirty years ago in his book The Art of Fiction, it seemed to get buried in this wonderful writing book. In the first read through, many new writers have trouble grasping all the elements Gardner discusses. For me, after putting hundreds of thousands of words on paper, I went back and reread it. That second time it was more than a light clicking on inside my head–more like a nuclear bomb.
As with all writing aspects, I believe that once understood, psychic distance can be used by the writer like a craftsperson might use a tool–like a woodworker, using a chisel in various amounts, varying angles and pressures to produce a desired effect. The writer should be aware of and understand both the tool and the effect.
Something I don’t believe Gardner goes into great depth about is how unwanted psychic distance can be created unknowingly by writers who describe a point of view character “hearing”, “seeing”, “watching”, an action in a scene, which pushes the reader out of the POV character’s head and forces that reader to imagine, from a distance, the POV character witnessing the action. For example:
Jim watched Zoya walk into the tavern, saunter to the bar and light up a cigarette.
Zoya walked into the tavern, sauntered to the bar and lit up a cigarette.
In the second example, if this isn’t the first sentence of the scene, it’s not necessary to say “Jim watched …” since POV should already be established and the reader will know that Jim is the one witnessing this action. Also, the woman’s action seems more immediate if not filtered through Jim’s head before going to the reader. This makes a for a minimal psychic distance—the reader more easily immersed into the psyche of the viewpoint character and thus more likely to find empathy for that character.
That understood, if this is the first sentence in the scene, saying “Jim watched …” might be a better choice in order to establish POV for that scene and the reader shouldn’t need to be reminded whose POV it is after this opening line. Also, if the way Jim is watching is important to the scene, then the closeness of psychic distance might be forfeited or traded for a desired effect, for example:
Jim ogled the young woman as she sauntered into the tavern and up to the bar. Zoya was much more attractive than he’d expected, and he imagined the taste of her full lips as she lit up a cigarette and drew in the first puff.
Also, if the author has established POV in a scene, there is little need to use “thought tags”. In “deep point of view” the reader undersands that the narrated comments and descriptions are coming directly from the POV characters subjective mind–a.k.a. “indirect speech” or “free indirect speech” (see:
Understanding this aspect of psychic distance and using it as a tool can make a huge difference to the reader and to the success of a scene.
That’s my subjective view of this very important fiction writing aspect, and only further illustrates the beauty of this art, a subjective endeavor in which no two writers will ever find perfect agreement.
You can find a more thorough discussion on POV, psychic distance and other very important writing topices in my books Novel Writing Made Simple and EBook Writing Made Simple:
Below, you’ll find a great post by Emma Darwin examining and discussing John Gardner’s thoughts on the use of full character names, first names, last names and pronouns and how they affect “psychic distance”:
Psychic Distance is a concept which John Gardner explores in his book The Art of Fiction, and I think it’s absolutely crucial, not difficult to understand, and not nearly talked about enough. You’ll also find it called Narrative Distance because, basically, it’s about where the narrative (and therefore the reader) stands, relative to a character. Another way of thinking of it is how far the reader is taken, by the narrator, inside the character’s head. Gardner breaks it down thus:
And since sometimes it’s hard to see how this can equally well apply in first person, and to a less realist project, I’ve done a version which does both. Watch how in this version still has a sense of narrator, and a character, but this time they just happen to be the same persona:
Obviously it’s really a spectrum, not separate stages, but you can see what this is about, can’t you?
1) is remote and objective. It has a nice ‘Once upon a time’ feel to it but doesn’t give us any sense of one or more particular characters in the story as a person with thoughts and feelings: a consciousness. It tells us a lot about where we are and what’s happening, but if it stays at this level we might not care much about this person, and it limits the writer’s scope for exploring how he experiences the world and himself. It’s the subtitle across the beginning of the film that locates us.
2) is bringing in some particulars: the narrator is telling us (informing us) about a place, and an individual and their emotions. Think of it as a wide-angle shot of a village, or a voice-over.
3) is more particular, more personalised still: the narrator’s voice is beginning to show us (evoke for us) the particular character and their experience. This is, to quote James Wood’s How Fiction Works, “standard realist narrative”: in other words, the predominant mode of the vast majority of fiction: the narrator is in control, taking us into the experience of this world and that of individual characters and quoting speech directly. A medium shot where we can identify individuals.
4) is beginning to colour the voice of the narrator with the the vocabulary and point-of-view of the character. Shorthand for this is that we’re going further into the character’s head, courtesy of free indirect style, as invented by Jane Austen: “God how he hated … ” and “St Mary would save me, wouldn’t she?”. But, of course, we’re losing touch with anything that the character doesn’t see or think, or any other ways of saying it. In a movie – which can’t go inside heads – we could see a face, and try to read what it’s feeling.
5) is tight close-up and subjective: almost a brain download, with thoughts and sensory information all jumbled up. In Wood’s terms this is stream of conciousness. The character’s voice is wholly present and the narrator’s voice has faded out. It’s extremely expressive of this person’s character and situation. But if we stay at this level we may never understand what’s going on, and it limits the writer’s scope for moving between different characters and their consciousness.
Gardner’s point is not that one is better than the other, or that you have to stick to only one. Indeed, it would be a mistake if you did; it can make the piece very monotonous, specially if you stick at the (1)-(2) end. Just as good novels have a rhythm of action and reflection, so they have a rhythm of intimacy and distance. So I’ve extended Gardner’s concept to think in terms of the psychic range of a piece, from the closest to the furthest that it covers. And that’s why it’s important to be able to spot (roughly) what the psychic distance is at any one point. If you understand the possibilities of the different distances to control the reader’s involvement with the character and the story, then you’ll not only be training your instinct for when to stand back and when to close in, but you’ll also get better at spotting and fixing things when they’re not working.
My own lightbulb moment about this stuff happened when I saw that John Gardner’s Psychic Distance fits beautifully with Showing and Telling, (or as I like to call it, Informing and Evoking): Gardner’s (1) is the Telliest Tell, his (5) is the Showiest Show. And they both fit together with James Wood’s dissection of the different modes of narrative, and with another fascinating discussion by David Jauss: “From Long-Shots to X-rays” (that’s the full article: do read it.)
And notice, too, that although the character’s voice starts coming through as we get closer in to their head in the (4) and (5) sort of levels, the narrative has its own voice however “distant” the long-shot is. What could be stronger than In the far-off days of Uther Pendragon, witches stalked the earth? I’ve blogged more about voice here: the important thing for this post is to understand that fiction is polyvocal. Different voices – the narrator’s and the characters’ – combine to make the narrative, interpenetrating each other to different degrees depending on the psychic distance at that moment.
It’s also helpful to bear in mind that jumping straight from, say, (1) to (5), may risk leaving the reader behind. If you wrote: It was winter of the year 1853. A large man stepped out of a doorway. Snow. Under your collar, down inside your shoes, freezing and plugging up your miserable soul, there’d be nothing to tell the reader that the man we were shown stepping from a doorway is the same as this person with snow down his (her?) neck. Competent readers will make the assumption, but everything they read till their assumption is confirmed is, as it were, provisional, and means they can’t be so involved with the story. Other readers, not feeling secure in the world of the story and the line of the narrative, may give up. So be aware of this: either work your way by stages from, say, (1) to (3) to (5), or make sure you give the reader some handholds, so that you keep them with you at all times.
Understanding psychic distance is also the key to working with a moving point of view. It’s obvious that even if you limit your narrative to a single point of view, how far inside your character’s head you take the reader will vary. If your third-person narrative moves between several points-of-view within a chapter, say, then you have to start coping with the transitions. Many beginner writers are guilty of of “head-hopping”, which is switching points-of-view too often and too abruptly. But it’s not necessarily that the transitions happen too often (though it may be, and some teachers and editors are very doctrinaire about it), but that you haven’t handled them properly. Handle them properly, and you’ll find that said teachers and editors may not even notice, let alone disapprove. If you want to know more, have a look at my post on Moving Point of View, which is part of the big series on Narrators and Point of View.
So, next time you’re reading some fiction, have a look at how the author handles psychic distance: what range they use, and how and why they move to and fro within the range. Have a think about how that affects the way you experience the piece. If it’s told from more than one point-of-view, how do the transitions between different points of view interact with the psychic distance? Doing this will help to train your intuition about this stuff for your own work. And if you want an example of a lovely story which is pure 5, Jane Gardam’s ‘The Great, Grand Soap-Water Kick’, in her collection The Sidmouth Letters, is pure joy. But it’s not an easy trick to pull off.
You’ll find Emma Darwins blog at:
With E Z Knight, if a mountain gets in your way, you don’t go around it, you blow it up.
From flying a helicopter through a blinding mountain blizzard to running down a blazing train to Hell, E Z Knight is tested more than ever in Knight’s Late Train — and somewhere in between he discovers an easy way to join the Mile High Club.
When Doc Knight and his train go missing in a Colorado blizzard, E Z must brave the storm to find his father. In the process, he discovers Doc was involved in something more than conducting trains through the mountains. A hazardous materials train is loaded with highly toxic and explosive gas with a yield that could rival the Hiroshima A-bomb, as well as a yellowcake Betty Crocker wouldn’t even think about making. The Thundertrain is headed for Denver, and the madman at the controls is bent on derailing the hazmat freight cars where they will cause the very highest body count. Hundreds of thousands of lives are at stake.
E Z enlists the help of sexy railroad engineer Rillie Bee Wilde, and finds out she’s as feral as her name. She takes him higher than he could ever reach in their helicopter. Soon, they find out who wins when hundreds of tons of locomotive meet a fragile whirlybird and a battle against two dozen mercenaries is waged in the dangerous Slaughterhouse Train Yard.
With the Thundertrain only minutes from killing tens of thousands of innocent citizens, E Z must decide whether to save his father and children, or to try to stop a team of mercenaries from blowing the “Mile High City” to Hell.
The only way to do both is to move a mountain.
Knight’s Late Train is an episode of the standalone novels of ”The E Z Knight Reports” series; a sexy, humorous and irreverent series as well as a somewhat realistic and poignant look at the darker side of life, crime and the human condition.
With a modern-day, ramped up “The Rockford Files”/”Magnum PI” feel, a Jack Bauer-capable hero and a “24″ pace, this series consists of standalone, page-thrumming novels.
“The E Z Knight Reports” has a special section on the author’s website and blog (gordonkessler.com) with info on each of the books, E Z Knight, Jazzy Brass and the “Knight Girls”. You’ll also find information about the author and his other novels and works.
If you enjoy best-selling action/adventure thriller authors like Don Winslow and Clive Cussler, as well as some of the best thrillers in eBooks by indie authors like John Locke and JA Konrath, you’ll love Knight’s Big Easy!
It happened again today. A small child was hurt.
There are a lot of really great young parents out there. They love their children dearly and only want what’s the very best for them. Sometimes they don’t think things through before they do them, deciding, “Oh, how much fun it would be to take Junior to …” Some folks who haven’t been to a dog park have no idea what goes on there.
Well, here’s your warning, good-intentioned but inexperienced parents: what goes on at a dog park is utter chaos!
What? Chaos at a dog park? Someone should do something! Someone should enforce order so that all dogs walk, not run; lick, not play bite; romp and play like kiddies and not run amok and wrestle like … well, like — dogs!
If you’ve been to a dog park, you know that most of the animals are out there just having a great time. Even my sweet Jazzy Brass, one of the most pleasant dogs you’ll ever meet, gets a little nuts. It’s the dogs’ place to be dogs, to do what dogs do. They want to chase each other, play bite and wrestle. There are small dogs, and huge dogs, and as long as the “alpha” male or female doesn’t come out in them, the time spent in the park can be a blast for both dogs and their caregivers.
But, if you’ve visited one of these fun places more than a couple of times, you’ve most likely seen some little accidents, sometimes not so little. Adults have even been known to get mowed down by dogs being dogs. These dogs don’t watch where they’re running, they’re just enjoying the chaos at the time. A person can easily get hurt, if they’re not keeping an eye out. The canines are excited, they’re letting off steam. You’re the cheerleader when you’re at the park, and your beloved companion is the player. If you’re a smart cheerleader, you don’t go onto the playing field in the middle of a game without being sure you won’t get trampled.
As soon as I saw it, I knew there would be trouble. A young mother with two small dogs and a medium-size one on leashes had entered the park’s main gate with a toddler in her arms. Hmmm. Obviously, she was thinking of how much fun was about to be had, but not considering she was leading three primed and ready rugby players onto the field of a very active game in progress. Within five seconds, she was down on the large concrete entryway, and she had dropped her little girl face first onto the hard surface, as well.
What could I do except run to her and try to keep the excited pack of dogs that quickly gathered away from mother and screaming child while they attempted to recover and find their legs?
Damn it! What a shame for the little girl who ended up with a bloody chin and a huge knot on her forehead. Accidents happen. This young mother certainly would have never risked her child’s wellbeing had she actually considered the danger.
It’s one of my pet peeves and this is a warning to others, old and young, short and tall. Dog parks are for dogs to play and have fun — to be dogs. It’s not a place for an overly aggressive dog. It’s not a place for elderly who can’t move out of the way of a large pack running at full speed. It’s not a place for a toddler even with close supervision or in a stroller. Sure, it’d be fun to see Junior reacting to all the nice little puppies. How about keeping Junior outside the fence? Here’s an idea; what about taking Junior to a pet store (the puppy mills that supply them are a whole other story)? Even better, take Junior to see all the really cute doggies and kitties at the local animal shelter!
Please stop and think. Don’t bring your small child inside the gate of any dog park. And, when you go with your best friend and constant companion, keep on your toes and be ready for a great time!
Hot off the virtual press–it’s here! EBook Writing Made Simple!
NOTE: Among the many books published concerning eBooks, none are about the actual writing of an eBook novel–until now!
THIS EBOOK FOCUSES SOLEY ON THE ACTUAL WRITING OF NOVELS INTENDED FOR THE EBOOK-READING PUBLIC. It does not deal with the ePublishing or marketing of such work–there are literally dozens of great eBooks out there already to help you with that.
IS WRITING AN EBOOK NOVEL the same as writing a novel intended for the traditional publishing industry? It doesn’t have to be–it can be much better. Why? When writing an eBook novel, you’re writing for the reader and not the uptight, rutted, NYC publishing industry. Find out how, and have fun writing again!
This eBook is especially designed for the beginning eBook writer, but it is also a great guide for the novelist who wants to think out of the box. With the huge new market writers have discovered in writing eBooks, opportunities abound for authors who take a different tack and understand this new venue from a clearer perspective. Writing for reader entertainment by bending and even breaking the uptight traditional publishing industry’s stiff and restrictive guidelines frees the author’s creativity.
Come take a look at the fiction-writing craft from a whole new angle and discover the innovative and effective ways to reach your readers.
From the basics of fiction writing and the strict unbudging conventions of a steadfast traditional publishing industry to how to break the rules for pure entertainment value, this book encompasses it all. A 500+ word lexicon of terms every writer should know is included.
Time for another:
If you pick the most popular book cover from the selection below, you’ll be entered to win a box of Christopher Elbow Artisan Chocolates.
So which eBook cover for my next men’s action/adventure thriller novel best draws you in and makes you want to read the story? To be eligible to win, make your selection and post it in a comment at the bottom of this page (or by email) by July 13, 2012. The winner will be announced on this website on Saturday, July 14.
What do you think?
Is #1 too hokey looking?
Is #2 too overdone with the fire?
Is #3 unrealistic and way over the top with the cherry-red-hot snowblower stuck on the front end?
Please give me your selection, thoughts and comments by July 13, 2012 in order to be eligible to win a box of some really delicious Christopher Elbow Artisan Chocolates!
Please check it out or else I’ll do it again, again: KNIGHT’S BIG EASY
It’s a fast, fun read; a men’s action/adventure packed with interesting characters, life threatening situations and snappy dialogue.
And, so far, the women love it, too! I must warn you that due to colorful language, violence and sexual situations, this one is not for the kiddies.
If you put this one down before you’re finished, I’ll…well, I’ll be very disappointed.
For more info, go to the Knight’s Big Easy page, NOW!
This cover design stuff is so difficult, but so very important, as well. So I asked for your help and you gave it to me! Thanks so much to everyone who participated.
We had a tie between J-4 and J-5 for the most attractive and professional-looking cover. The names of those who selected one of these two covers were then entered into a random drawing, and Tom Wingo of Oklahoma came out the winner! Again, thanks to all of you who entered the contest! Now it’s up to me to decide which one to use (I’m actually leaning toward a slightly modified M-7)!
Okay, I’ll actually send you the real thing! But you have to promise to tell everyone how much you enjoyed them!
Check out Christopher Elbow Artisan Chocolates at this link:
We visited the site again this morning. Before the incident, I walked Jazzy past it sometimes as many as six times on a typical day. What happened Wednesday hasn’t deterred us from that ritual.
For the past couple of days, we’ve stopped in the same location from which we’d spotted the body, and both Jazzy and I have stared down into the empty water. I know Jazzy has been reliving that moment as much as I. Until this morning, I’d gaze down unrealistically wishing that I might somehow see something that would replace the shocking reality we’d found. I had no choice but to look, my eyes drawn to that place in the water.
This morning was different. I found myself hesitant to look, feeling eerily reluctant, as if I would find another lost soul’s vessel floating there. I knew if that happened, I would surely vomit. The first time hadn’t hit me that hard, but a second time would have sent me over the edge and into the Twilight Zone.
Once Jazzy and I crept to the side of the high bank and looked over, I was relieved to see…nothing. But when we turned to leave, I noticed something I hadn’t before. Surely it was because of my focus and dread that I hadn’t noticed it: a sole iris, purple and lovely. Irises grow wild, so it wasn’t completely out of the ordinary. But as I looked closer at this fully bloomed blood iris, I saw that it was surrounded by potting soil. It had been freshly planted.
I was immediately taken aback at the instant of this revelation. Someone had cared enough to leave this flower on the site of the woman’s passing. Had it been family? Had it been one of the law enforcement officers or EMTs? Or had it been a stranger?
I must admit that I felt both pleased at someone’s thoughtfulness but at the same time somewhat guilty by it as well. I had unjustifiably found a sort of kinship with the deceased, the thoughts of this person and her life dominating my mind for going on three days. Some of the memory remained very unpleasant: the sight of what turtles do to a body, motionless in the water, forever etched behind my eyes; the sound of Jazzy’s frightened bark at the body’s movement while being assaulted by the turtles, sounding over and over in my ears (normally silent, she’s barked softly no more than six times before this in her eighteen months of life); and the footprints leading to the body on that muddy bank forever being questioned in my head.
So has anything changed for me or Jazzy Brass? I can’t say it has in a major way. For some days to come, Jazzy will likely be drawn, as I will, to the place we’d stood on that faithful morning. I will be attracted to the flower as well, in hopes that it will continue to bloom in the absence of the life it symbolizes.
I will treat my golden retriever companion’s side trips from the beaten path with more respect than they would normally deserve—her often picking up on the scent of rabbits or squirrels. After all, this is the second body other than rodents’ she’s found—the first being a yearling deer killed by a bobcat or pack of coyotes right here in suburbia last fall.
I will put this day behind us in hopes of never reliving the feeling of unbelieving helplessness from less than three days ago.
My self-therapy session is finished.
No good news comes today. But there is news that brings some sort of resolution, at least to law enforcement. They tell me the death was neither accidental nor foul play. It was not natural, either. I am somewhat relieved. (For background see yesterday’s post: I just found a body.)
It wasn’t on the TV news. I watched for it all day, hoping to steer my thoughts and emotions in one way or another down a rocky path. I searched the Internet for news. There was absolutely nothing. I became suspicious. At first, I wondered if there could be good reason for this information to be held from the public. A little frightening, if that were the case. Then I questioned if my mystery-thriller-writer’s brain had taken me on a side trip of its own.
Finally, this morning I queried and found out. I’m still numb. I’m sorrowful for the deceased and for the family. Briefly, I felt anger at the human condition. As I write this now, I feel empathy for a life that was troubled so much: empathizing, not just sympathizing.
We’ve all had our troubles, some so much more than others. Most of us are on the lighter side of that and should be so very thankful for what we’ve had and have now. I’m not talking about riches, at least the material kind. I’m talking about lives enriched with the wonders of this world enough that it’s been a positive experience more than a negative one. After all, life is a gift that should never be taken for granted. A gift; to live. Is society to blame? Do we easily cast off souls to become human driftwood?
So the rest of us go on. We see another day, thankful we and our loved ones are alive one more day. We hope and pray we’ll see the sunrise tomorrow and the sunset on another good day. It won’t last forever. Enjoy it. Savor it. Take in a deep breath of fresh air and taste it, feel it, live it. Be a part of it. Look at your loved ones and enjoy the sight of them, even if only in a photo. Take a mental trip back and find pleasure in the good memories of them. And if you have arms, use them. Hug someone special to you. If you have legs, take advantage of them. Go to someone you care for, if for no other good reason but to lend them your smile to pass on to others. Never take these things for granted. And, if you have a big heart, touch it, feel it, explore it. Push it out and let others do the same in return.
I’ll continue to write about death, murder and violence in my thrillers. I’ll continue to make the bad guy a living, breathing thing that, after overcoming impossible odds, can be dealt with, given his comeuppance, and stopped.
But real life goes on. The real bad guys sometimes get away. And sometimes the bad guy isn’t a guy or girl at all. Sometimes it’s your own heart and mind. Sometimes it lives in your soul, becomes a part of you. It torments you. Get help. Sometimes you can’t do it alone. You can’t be the good guy all the time and put the villain in its place. Its place isn’t inside your skull or in the center of your chest. It may be deeply rooted. You might need help. Don’t be afraid to ask. There are thousands like you who can be helped if they’d just ask. Don’t allow yourself to slip through societal cracks. And don’t let anyone you love or even know slip away, either. Get help.
Regardless, my heroine is my golden retriever Jazzy Brass. I thank God for her. I thank God for my family. I’m thankful for my kids and lovely grand kids, all my friends… I’m thankful for a life that isn’t always positive, but seldom all negative, and for waking to over 20,000 sunrises.
To find help through troubled times, here are a few resources:
Suicide Prevention Lifeline:
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention:
Help Guide—Suicide Prevention:
Suicide Prevention Resource Center:
CDC’s Violence Prevention Page:
American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy:
Safe Horizon for Domestic Violence:
Hospice Foundation of America:
Know of other important resources for our troubled friends? Please leave them in a comment.
Take care, my friends, my fellow members of the human race club. Let the Good Lord grant you another, and always better and brighter, day.
Really. Actually my golden retriever Jazzy Brass spotted it first. I won’t say exactly where or who, but it was a woman still in the prime of life, face down in two feet of clear, still creek water. We found it 90 minutes before I started writing—this being something for me to do in order to come to grips with the situation on a personal level. Right now I feel little more than sadness, even though I want to feel more. That’s probably coming. Examining a little deeper, I find somberness and somehow a kinship to the deceased.
In the past I’ve seen death. That hasn’t bothered me so much before. I write about death often in my thriller novels. But I’ve never been the first person to discover a body. I know this happens all the time, especially with a spouse or friend who has passed in their home. It’s just a bit different when it’s a stranger found in a public, yet somewhat concealed place.
I find myself wishing somehow that person would have shown signs of life—that I could have saved that life. I’m a Red Cross certified CPR, First Aid and AED trainer. Maybe I could have done something, had there been but a small perceptible sign.
Regardless, I feel my sweet Jazzy Brass is a heroine. She’s the best companion anyone could have. And by pointing the body out to me, forcing me to come look at what she’d discovered, she saved this person’s family and friends the additional heartache of going without knowing what had happened to their loved one any longer. I imagine that even a few minutes in their lives may have made at least a tiny difference.
BTW, before I made this post, I waited for the police to inform me that an officer had notified the deceased’s next of kin.
I feel a bit of reverence for this unfortunate person. I don’t wish to disrespect her. But for some reason, I feel a need—an importance—to give my thoughts. Maybe it’s for my own therapy. Maybe something I bring up will help someone else—I don’t know why or see how. I’ll probably blog more about this in the coming hours and days. There is more to tell, but I’ll wait for news and police reports before I comment further on specifics.
Does anyone have any thoughts to share? If so, please do. It could be important to me and you—and perhaps someone else viewing this post.
Follow up the day after “I just found a body”: “I found a body yesterday–Jazzy Brass and I”
If you ever buy Kindle eBooks, this is really great! Maybe you already know about this site. If you don’t you will want to use it.
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E Z Knight fans have been after me about when the next episode will be published. Well the first draft is finished and on my editors’ desks. The book will hit Amazon very soon!
That’s right. Poor ol’ E Z Knight has been stuck down in Norlins (New Orleans) for the past two and a half months (my writing time, that is). He’s in the Big Easy trying to stop some really mean bastards from killing a whole bunch of people, including Billie, the son of E Z’s parole officer, Tamara White Cloud.
Leaving Smokey and his buddies Beautiful and Booger behind in Southern California, he’s working with Black Zack, an old jazz trombone player, and beautiful redhead FBI Special Agent Pooh Dooley (Poodoo), who’s working undercover in more ways than one. They’re chasing and being chased by a couple of despicable villains named Papa Legba and Sheriff DePue. These two lowlifes are playing God over the lives of 500 children.
This is the wildest ride E Z’s been on yet, and if you’ve read Knight’s Ransom, you know I’m not talking about Disneyland amusements. With eyes popping, necks breaking, stabbing, shooting, choking, and even a little alligator chomping, E Z is working his way to the bottom of this, his deadliest of all capers yet. And staying alive and among the living has been especially difficult with a Voodoo queen doing everything she can to make him a zombie, and his new ally Jazz player Black Zack hauling something a little more illegal than plain fescue clippings in back of his pickup.
Time is running out–500 kids’ lives are at stake. Find out what happens in Knight’s Big Easy coming at the end of June.
Okay, there are probably a thousand other things that hurt worse than kidney stones, but I personally haven’t experienced those thousand other things. Although most common in men, some of the women who’ve both given birth and had kidney stone episodes say they’d much rather deliver a baby.
The newly crowned 2012 American Idol winner Phillip Phillips (and now Motley Crue’s Vince Neil, as well) has had a few bouts with kidney stones, as well. He seems to be a really good guy and a great singer. I hope he can gain control of these troublesome “little” things and they don’t get in the way of his career. From news accounts, I’d guess he has what is known as medullary sponge kidneys (MSK), not a disease, but a condition in which the passages in the kidneys are larger than normal, and thus allow for sediment to build up and create stones. If he is cursed with this condition, he has company.
I was diagnosed with MSK back in 1991 when x-rays revealed that I had over two dozen stones in my kidneys. I had a number of stones before that, and have had literally hundreds since. After numerous lithotripsy surgeries of various types, I’ve finally gotten this condition somewhat under control. Lithotripsy surgery doesn’t cure stones, it just removes them. Most times, these procedures are out-patient, occasionally requiring an over-night stay in the hospital ($30,000+).
For this procedure, they’ll either:
1. make a small incision and go after the stone (rarely done anymore from what I’ve read—and a little more extended hospital stay can be expected);
2. go after the stone with a long, thin catheter-type tool that has a tiny water nozzle, some tiny extractor arms and a camera on it (don’t worry, it’s not a 35 mm—all that stuff is really quite small). This is neat to watch as the camera passes through your body (but hey, this is personal stuff—make them promise the video won’t be posted on YouTube the next day!);
3. blast the stones with sonic waves (extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy or ESWL). They’ll either put you out or use a drug called versed. They’ll tell you versed won’t put you to sleep in order to keep you from feeling the pain. Instead with versed, you just won’t remember the pain you have! I don’t know about you, but this makes me feel a bit uncomfortable — lying naked and in pain on a table, surrounded by people in masks, all the while being video-taped. If there’s ever a porn movie made from it, I want royalties!
If you’re lucky, you won’t need a stent—a tube that is temporarily inserted into the ureter on the affected side that makes the passageway larger so that the bigger stones and particles will pass more easily. These things will make you howl–hurt nearly as bad as the stone would when you go pee (I happen to be a freak with two ureters on my right side–which doubles the fun with stents inserted into both). Then you have to come back a month later and have the stent yanked out (and I do mean yanked).
When you have the first stone, you might think you’re dying (click here for symptoms)—especially if you don’t know what’s happening to your body. Don’t worry, you’ll probably live. Following that first one, it gets a little easier for the sole reason that you know what’s twisting your gut so badly. After passing a couple dozen, it becomes somewhat routine. When you’ve passed a couple hundred, with the help of the right pain reliever and/or nausea medication, it’s barely more than a mild inconvenience.
Many folks think that the pain is only in the passing of the stone when it leaves the body. For some crazy reason, they think that the only time you feel the pain is when it shoots through the urethra (penis if you prefer, guys). This is relatively painless compared to the dull but intense ache some sufferers feel in the back and flank, or the intense twisting agony most experience in the lower gut.
Something to watch out and be prepared for: some radiologists will tell you that you won’t feel back pain from a stone because the kidney doesn’t have the right nerve receptors, or some such nonsense. DON’T believe them! Although some stone sufferers never experience this discomfort, you might. The back pain isn’t from the kidney itself, but from the tissue surrounding it due to the kidney lobes swelling and adding pressure to that entire area of the back (can you guess that I’ve been told this before and that it really “pisses” me off?).
There are a number of different types of kidney stones and they’re formed by different things. The most common are the calcium type, followed by uric acid stones and several others. Diet is really the key to controlling these little bastards. Drinking lots of water is imperative with any type of kidney stone, as well.
Specifically for uric acid stones, what I understand the best thing you can do to reduce stone formation is to cut down on your animal protein intake—especially red meat (I know, guys and gals—ARGH!).
With the mean little sticker-bur calcium stones, reducing oxalates is the key (oxa-what?). Yeah, oxalates. This salt compound binds with the calcium being filtered out by your kidneys in order to pass from your body in your urine. Oxalates cause calcium to build up, eventually looking something like a very horny little quartz rock.
Generally, anything larger than 5 mm (about 3/16″) won’t pass without surgery. But even the tiniest of stones can cause you just as much trouble as the bigger ones that pass. They’ll scrape the lining of your ureter and may even block it. This creates pressure in the vessel from the build up of urine, stretching the canal and causing colic (spasms) that will…well, let’s say “rock” your world.
Here’s the problem with trying to limit oxalate intake. Oxalates are in all the good food you eat! That’s right, you can watch your diet and eat healthy according to most medical standards and still be literally plagued with kidney stones. Why? Because that healthy diet isn’t necessarily the best diet for calcium kidney stone sufferers.
Get this: oxalates are in chocolate (damn it!). They’re in nuts (sorry, I can’t help it: “nuts!”). They’re in spinach (okay, no big deal—just kidding, moms!). They’re in berries, many green vegetables, all kinds of really good and healthy food!
From over twenty years’ experience of dealing with these little hell-raisers, here’s my suggestions for if you suspect you’re having symptoms of a kidney stone passing, or think you might have MSK:
1. See a doctor, but not just any ol’ MD. Find a good urologist (pee-pee doctor) to take a look at your parts, as well as a good nephrologist (kidney specialist), who can tell you more about what kind of diet you need to follow.
2. If you’re diagnosed with calcium stones, and he/she doesn’t’ prescribe potassium citrate, ask for it—it truly works wonders for calcium stones. There are other meds like allopurinol and hydrochlorothiazide (a diuretic that makes you pee a lot), that might be prescribed as well. If you need pain meds, they’ll probably give you some kind of opiate like hydrocodone, oxycodone or Lortab as well. If you get sick from the stone pain, like many do, ask for ondansetron (generic for Zofran)—I’d much rather have the pain than that damn nausea.
3. Drink tons of water! Revised: But not just any water. Only drink purified water WITHOUT “minerals added for taste”. It’s those minerals you want to stay away from in the first place. Aquafina (this is not a commercial–and I don’t get paid for this mention!) is one of the many brands that don’t add minerals.
4. If you have calcium stones, learn how to identify foods with high levels of oxalates and limit your intake. If you have uric acid stones, lay off the red meat.
5. Okay, here’s a no-brainer, but since I obviously went without a brain for nearly twenty years until I did the ol’ V-8 slap…don’t drink cranberry juice. If you’ve been diagnosed as a calcium stone former, it might just be the worst thing you could do! Yes, I thought the little bit of oxalate in cranberry juice wouldn’t hurt me, and that the positive effect of drinking kidney-healthy cranberry juice would far outweigh the oxalate concerns in cranberries. WRONG! I’ve had stones, sometimes as many as two or more a week for over twenty years.
a. I drank cranberry juice about that long because I thought it’d help keep my kidneys healthy and happy considering all the Hell that the stones were putting them through. A few months ago, I ran out of cranberry juice and kept forgetting to get more on shopping trips to the store. I went for a week without the cranberry juice that I had been drinking at least twice a day. No stones. I went for a month without it. No stones. It’s been four or five months now and, although I have had some minor flare-ups since, there hasn’t been nearly as many as I had before I went cold cranberry—er, uh, turkey.
b. The conclusion? Drink more orange juice and/or lemon juice. The citric acid in these juices help break down and slow calcium stone formation.
So, you say, “What’s all this got to do with fiction writing, novel-writing, thrillers, etc.?” Well, guess what condition I’m going to give my protagonist E Z Knight from my new men’s action/adventure thriller series? That’s right! He’s going to suffer from MSK right along with me! Coming out in June in Knight’s Big Easy, tough-as-a-starving-grizzly-bear E Z Knight is going to be given kidney stones by a very wicked Voodoo queen.
I ain’t no doctor…(but I’ve written in their POV before, and it’s very scary), so don’t believe me or follow any of my advice without consulting your own physician. And, for a much more in-depth look at this condition and what you can do to reduce or maybe even eliminate kidney stone troubles, check out the resources below.
Websites: You’ll find a number of really good sites here: (click!)
I knew it would happen–the question was when. Amazon and IPG have just reached an agreement to allow IPG eBook titles to be restored on Amazon. In other words, as of today, they’re playing together nicely once again. Although it may take a couple of days, all IPG Kindle eBooks should be once again listed as before. I can only say that I’m thankful this did not affect me and my eBooks!
You can find the whole scoop at Publisher’s Lunch:
Check it out!