I once said that if I were stranded on a desert island with only one book, I’d want it to be the Oxford English Dictionary. Given that this is hypothetical, I’d define the entire 20 volumes as one book. Alas, I have only the condensed version at home.
Reasons I Love Dictionaries: Lots of Information
The joy of big, encyclopedic dictionaries such as the OED and the Dictionary of American Regional English—dictionaries too big to fit in one volume—is that they give you so much information: multiple meanings, pronunciation, origin(s), where and when it was used. They give you archaic words and highly specialized ones. Often they include examples of the usage, past and/or present. Altogether good reads.
Reasons I Love Dictionaries: Specialized Topics
At the other end of the spectrum are dictionaries that cover very narrow or specialized topics, such as a medical dictionary, or dictionaries devoted to lust, wrath, body parts, or texting.
Reasons I Love Dictionaries: Passions
There are dictionaries that help one follow one’s passions. Everyone knows about cross-word puzzle dictionaries. Rhyming dictionaries fall into this category as well.
Reasons I Love Dictionaries: Subcultures
I own several dictionaries acquired for writing authentically about specific subcultures.
Reasons I Love Dictionaries: Time Periods
Some cover only certain regions of the country or time periods.
Reasons I Love Dictionaries: Regions
Not all English is created equal. You might remember the line sung by Professor Higgins in My Fair Lady:
There even are places where English completely disappears. Why, in America, they haven’t used it for years!
So it’s no surprise that there are various versions of the Oxford English Dictionary, including the Oxford Dictionary of American English. Given the breadth of the British Empire, it’s no wonder that there are dictionaries such as this one.
Reasons I Love Dictionaries: Age & Decade
As a writer, some specialized dictionaries are helpful, for example, when writing about children or when wanting to use slang appropriate to the age or year.
Reasons I Love Dictionaries: What’s That Word Again?
There are even dictionaries for people who know what they are looking for but don’t know the word for it!
Reasons I Love Dictionaries: Foreign Words in English Usage
I enjoy The Browsers Dictionary of Foreign Words and Phrases. For one thing, it points out words that are in such common use that one forgets they are foreign! Words like operetta and wanderlust.
Reasons I Love Dictionaries: Slang
But my all-time favorites for fun reading are the books of slang. They are full of colorful and often funny usages, and they come in both specialized and generalized forms.
Tip for Writers
Open any dictionary at random, close your eyes, put your finger on a word, and write it down. Repeat 3-5 times. Write a sentence, paragraph, scene, or story that uses all of those words appropriately.
Takeaway for Writers and Readers
Find your perfect dictionary and enjoy a good read!
I’m one of the legions of TV watchers addicted to Call The Midwife. It’s gritty and real. In spite of the historical context, it deals with issues important today, issues of women’s health and the monumental role of childbearing in women’s lives.
But even being a big fan, I was unaware that the series grew out of Jennifer Worth’s book, Call The Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times, until I read this week’s issue of The New Yorker.
Nussbaum wrote succinctly and powerfully about the TV series. She called the bloody, gory images set against a backdrop of tender, socially conscious humanism a “metonym” for the series. Every episode delves into “female reproductive experience. . . politicizing matters more often left personal, and vice versa.” For me, one of the most powerful things Nussbaum said was, “It treats invisible women—old women, poor women, homely mums—as rich wells of drama.” This is the sort of thing readers hunger for and writers should seek to exploit in their stories.
I haven’t read Jennifer Worth’s book, but I intend to. Having spawned this captivating series, it’s likely to be the best kind of memoir—a true story as gripping as well-written fiction.
If your plot involves any sort of violent crime, whether you’re a mystery/crime writer or not, you should know forensic nursing. In broad terms, forensic nursing is where the healthcare system and the legal system intersect.
Survivors of violent crimes typically come through the ER, where their medical needs are taken care of—setting broken bones, stitching wounds, etc. Ideally, the patient spends as little time as possible in the controlled chaos and tension of the ER; the goal is no more than 45 minutes.
Then they are escorted to a quiet, comfortable room furnished much like a small living room, but with drinks and snacks as well as TV. Anyone accompanying the patient would typically wait here during the examination. The area is secured, and only people the patient chooses to bring are allowed into the room. These people might be family or, perhaps, a trained volunteer from an organization such as Hanover Safe Place, which supports survivors through what is inevitably a traumatic time at the hospital.
The patient then meets with a forensic nurse. The forensic nurse’s role is to record the details of the crime and collect physical evidence. This process typically takes 3 to 4 hours.
Forensic Nurses’ Work
Background information comes first, including general medical history as well as questions about any injuries, surgeries, diagnostic procedures, or medical treatments that might affect the physical finding. But then come pages of more detailed and focused questions. For example, in cases of sexual assault, not only question about the assault itself and perpetrator(s) but also about the date, time, type, partner’s race, and relationship of last consensual intercourse; and since the assault, whether the patient bathed or showered, douched, brushed teeth, defecated, urinated, vomited, wiped or washed affected area, changed clothes, or had consensual intercourse.
For strangulation cases, they ask how the patient was strangled—one-handed, two-handed, knee, forearm, ligature—how long it lasted, and whether there was more than one incident.
A danger assessment is conducted as well, focusing on whether the violence is escalating in severity or frequency, whether weapons (especially guns) are available and/or used, drug or alcohol use, presence of children, and control of the survivor’s daily activities and social interactions.
The Physical Exam
Although the verbal data are crucial, the physical exam is central to forensic nursing. Samples of blood, urine, hair, and swabs of orifices are taken. Specialized equipment is available. Photographs are taken. Hair is combed, nails cleaned and clipped. The patient stands on a plastic sheet to remove clothing, to catch any random debris.
Chain of custody must be carefully controlled and documented.
Children have special treatment as well. They are given a toy that they can keep. They’re also given tablets and pencils or markers to draw pictures that can help in understanding the assault. Sometimes an outline of a person is presented for the child to mark where he or she was touched or hurt.
Improving Forensic Nursing and the Patient’s Experience
Improvements and refinements are always in progress. Once upon a time, a survivor might be asked to detail the crime by a dozen different people. Now recounting the crime waits for the forensic nurse, diminishing the impact of reliving it.
When a patient’s clothes are taken in evidence, they are given generic going-home clothes. These are grey sweatpants, t-shirt, and—until recently—the granny panties pictured above, one size for all. A college student survivor said that having to wear those granny panties made her feel violated all over again.
She organized her sorority sisters to provide hundreds of pairs of new panties in varied colors, styles, and sizes. All of the clothing provided to survivors is donated. Should you or your group want to donate new clothes, new toys, child pillowcases, gas cards, food cards—or money!—here’s your contact. And, by the way, she gives talks about the program.
History of Forensic Nursing
Forensic nursing is a relatively new medical specialty. In 1992, 72 registered nurses—mostly sexual assault nurse examiners—came together to form the International Association of Forensic Nurses. Since 1993, Bon Secours Forensic Nursing in Richmond has served survivors of sexual assault, child sexual abuse, and domestic violence. Now a team of 10 full-time nurses work with 26 agencies to serve survivors of any type of violent crime.
Bon Secours is atypical. There are over 300 hospitals in Virginia, and many of them have no full-time forensic nurses. Therefore, patients from all over central Virginia can end up at Bon Secours. They assist more than 2,200 patients per year.
Additional Facts For Writers
Forensic nurses have from one to three certifications beyond the RN degree, which are essential for presenting expert testimony.
Approximately 9% of patients are male.
Patients are 50/50 adults and children.
In descending order, the busiest days for forensic nurses are Monday, Friday, Wednesday, and Sunday.
Rush hour starts at 11:00 a.m.; the slowest times are 2:00 a.m. to 7:00 a.m.
Most forensic nurses are recruited from ER nurses, but they need to be “softened up” on the job, not to rush.
Patients can choose 1) medical treatment only, 2) anonymous evidence collection, or 3) identified evidence collection.
Evidence that must be refrigerated cannot be anonymous; other evidence can be made identifiable later.
Although immediate evidence collection is best, kits can be collected up to 5 days after the fact.
All patient info is secured in the Forensic Nursing Department; it isn’t part of general medical data bank.
Part-time, floating forensic nurses tend to burn out after a couple of years.
Perhaps surprisingly, most long-term forensic nurses are married to police officers, firefighters, or EMTs.
Bon Secours is a premier forensic nursing program. For the sake of your story line, you might create more conflict in the story if the characters botch the process. A screw-up could taint evidence or miss it. Insensitive treatment could leave the survivor among the walking wounded.
Support Forensic Nursing
Last but not least, put this worthwhile event on your calendar!
Is there anyone out there who doesn’t know that Hillary Clinton is the presumptive Democratic Party nominee for president? Or that she is the first woman to run for president on a major ticket? Her achievement reminds us all that women have long been making history. Some of you will remember that I mentioned Victoria Claflin Woodhull, the Equal Rights Party candidate in 1872. She was a fascinating woman—a stockbroker and publisher as well as a suffragist.
TO ALL THE READERS OUT THERE
Find out about other amazing first women. Lots of them are listed in references such as this.
Lady Astor (birth name Nancy Witcher Langborne), the first American-born woman to become a member of Parliament in Great Britain in 1919.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the first woman to appear as a congressional hearing witness in 1869. She was trying to keep the women of DC from being debarred from voting.
Sally Stearns, the first woman coxswain of a men’s collegiate varsity team, 1936.
Nan Jane Aspinwall, the first woman horseback rider to make a solo transcontinental trip from SanFrancisco to New York City, 1910.
Susanna Medora Salter, the first woman mayor, elected in Argonia, Kansas, 1887.
Belle Martell, the first woman licensed to be a prize fight referee, 1940.
Nellie Tayloe Ross, Director of the Mint, the first woman to have her name on the cornerstone of a US government building, 1936.
Sybilla Masters, the first woman to obtain a patent—for a machine for cutting and cleaning Indian corn, 1715.
And many others, in books such as this.
Alternatively, one could go to any field of interest—from playwright to astronaut—and find the first woman in those fields.
FOR THE WRITERS OUT THERE
Consider these pioneers as inspiration. What sort of character does it take to be a first? What might daily life be like for the first woman licensed as an electrical engineer? What price might such a woman pay in terms of family or love relationships? And ultimately, is it a story of triumph or tragedy?
Please share other first women in the comments or on social media. Please tag me on Facebook and Twitter to continue the celebration of first women.
Fact: Suicide is not gaining sudden prevalence. Fewer people are committing suicide today than a hundred years ago.
Suicides are most common during the winter holidays.
Fact: The rate is consistently highest in the spring.
Most suicides are impulsive acts.
Fact: Most people who attempt suicide have a plan, even if the act appears impulsive. Nearly half visit a doctor in the month before their suicide, and nearly two-thirds tell someone they’re thinking about it.
There is a suicide gene.
Fact: There is no such gene—although a family history of suicide does put people at elevated risk of suicide.
We know how to prevent suicide.
Fact: We are not yet able to spot or stop it.
Actual factors that put people at elevated risk for suicide, besides a family history, include depression and substance use.
So, with facts in hand, consider your myriad plot options—especially all the emotional turmoil that might swirl among those left behind: guilt for not stopping it; anger that s/he did it; grief at the loss; anxiety about financial strains; shame that a spouse/child was that unhappy; but maybe also fear about something that might be revealed, or that suicide is somehow “catching.”
Suicide can fit any genre. If you write mysteries, an apparent suicide might actually be murder—or the result of any number of nefarious acts by self or others. If you write magical realism, maybe someone is dead but not departed. If you write action/adventure, death is a staple; how might suicide twist that? The possibilities for literary fiction are so numerous, I won’t even go there.
The bottom line
As a plot device, suicide is too valuable to ignore.
Yes, the Radford Reads Festival had the expected panels, speakers, and workshops (which I’ll get to soon), but it had so much more–just ask any of the attendees who came for the classic cars. . .
. . . or the blacksmithing, music, quilters, or Civil War reenactors.
There were crafters selling soaps, lotions, jewelry, and leather goods—and books, of course.
This breadth resulted from the joining of Radford Reads with the Celebrate Radford Festival, two events in their 3rd and 4th years, respectively. Both events are free and open to the public.
And then there was the location!
Both events were held on the grounds of the Glencoe Museum, housed in the post-war home of Brigadier General Gabriel C.Wharton, C.S.A., built in the 1870s. The museum includes an art gallery, and for the festival, there was art on the grounds as well.
I arrived a day early and toured the museum and art gallery with great pleasure. Even in the midst of preparing for the festival the next day, Scott Gardner, director of the museum, and Maryann Whited graciously guided me.
I loved the woodwork—and the 12 to 13-foot ceilings—as well as the objects, such as this horn, carved in the shape of a fish.
And fascinating historical artifacts—fascinating for me anyway. Note the exhibit about niter (also called saltpeter). I mentioned train loads of niter in my story “War and Murder at Nimrod Hall” in Virginia is for Mysteries: Volume II.
But to the book festival itself.
Because you are reading this, I assume you are a reader and/or writer, so these are the things that might interest you most.
Karen White presented the keynote address. She was terrific! If you have an opportunity to hear her, do. She’s had a number of best-sellers. Her most recent is Flight Patterns. A number of seats had slips of paper taped under them, each giving the holder a free copy of her book—and I was lucky enough to get one! This seems like a great ploy for speaking events. Karen White’s favorite author is Diana Gabaldon, and she says she tries to write the sort of book she likes to read, so I am looking forward to this gift read.
Immediately after that, Linda Thornburg and I presented our workshop on pathways to publication. I thought the attendance was a bit light, but the festival organizer was quite pleased with our attendance compared to the subsequent workshops. Several members of various Sisters in Crime chapters were there, even though our Central Virginia Chapter members were all busy elsewhere. Other workshops covered writing poetry and memoir.
At 1:00, I spoke on the mystery panel. The moderator/host of all the book sessions was David Horton. He was amazing. He had really done his homework on all the presenters. He even mentioned that we share a love of carved wooden Santas!
I enjoyed sharing the panel with Webb Hubbell, Stewart Goodwin, and Mollie Cox Bryan. Check out their books. This panel was sponsored by the Rockwell family.
Other sessions were for writers of children’s and young adult fiction, Southern fiction, memoir, history, and poetry.
The festival had many sponsors. Radford Reads was inspired by the Rockwell family in honor of Jean Rockwell, a former Radford Public Library employee who loved the Virginia Festival of the Book. Besides the Rockwells, other sponsors were the Cheryl Blackwell Book Club, the Jervey Family, Ben Crenshaw Art Studio, The Lamplighters, Radford University Foundation, the Radford Heritage Foundation, Ridge and Valley Reader, the Radford Visitor’s Center, and LaQuinta Inn & Suites—at which I had a very pleasant stay!
It was a real community and family event. Reader or Writer, next year, check it out! It’s a two-fer, and the price is right.