Are You Sensitive to Your Food?

By Cammi Woodall

Most patterns in life are good, right? Knowing the UPS carrier will bring your package around 4:00, the toaster takes exactly 1 minute 14 seconds to achieve perfect toastiness, or you can go 27 more miles once your car dings “I’m empty!” The food you eat can trigger patterns as well. Some good, some bad.

Chocolate can give you a sugar rush and satisfy that creamy, sweet-tooth craving. But for some people, indulging in this delectable treat will guarantee pain, nausea, fatigue, and intestinal problems. Oh, sweet chocolate! How can you deceive us so?

Six years ago, I noticed I had a pattern in my life but it wasn’t a good one. Every month I had to take sick days due to headaches and an upset stomach. It was not uncommon for me to have headaches. No big deal – take a Motrin and go on about my day. But a migraine episode was different. Migraine pain is unique and personal to each person. When I get a migraine headache, I basically fall apart. The top of my head clenches so hard I feel like it is cramping. I can’t open my eyes all the way because the light hurts so badly, plus the muscles in my eyelids hurt. Sounds are magnified. Simple typing on a keyboard sounds like a machine gun, and people talking in normal voices feel like they are shouting through a bullhorn at me. My bones and joints hurt. Any move I make sets off a reaction in my stomach and… it is bad. I won’t go into details about that. Just nausea and sickness. So much sickness. And during all these symptoms, the top of my head is still cramping, my face feels like it is going to implode, and I am dizzy. After the initial pain, my headaches for days and the top of my head feels bruised for a week.

My medical tests were okay – gall bladder and thyroid checked out fine, blood pressure good. Medical professionals had the same basic diagnosis – exercise and lose weight. Who hasn’t heard this before? My sister and my mother urged me to start a diary, keeping track of what I ate, where I ate, stress levels, and how I felt afterward. That is when my pattern emerged.

So what was common about my sick times? Certain foods appeared each time – processed meats like bacon and sausage, highly processed food, and ranch dressing. (I will also admit I had a slight addiction to Doritos. I would keep a bag open on my kitchen cabinet and go by several times a day, grabbing or two to munch on.)

I realized I have a food intolerance or food sensitivity. I am sensitive to two things –

1.      Nitrates/nitrites – a chemical in processed meats that are used to keep meat fresh and gives it that nice pink color. If sensitive, they trigger migraine pain by expanding the blood vessels in your brain.

2.      Monosodium glutamate or MSG – this is the chemical that makes food taste good. Almost all boxed foods on the grocery store shelf have some form of MSG. The chemical makes you crave more of what you just ate. If you suspect MSG sensitivity, check the ingredients lists for monosodium glutamate, the word hydrolyzed, the word autolyzed, yeast extract, or carrageenan. There are others, so do some research into the ways MSG can be hidden in your food.

Both sensitivities come with controversy. With nitrates, many companies are following a new food trend of ‘uncured’ or ‘no nitrates added.’ Some companies have completely stopped using synthetic sodium nitrate and used powders derived from celery root or cherries. Doubters say that these vegetable compounds have the same amounts of nitrates as the manufactured chemicals. They probably do. But I know how my body reacts when I eat a turkey sandwich made from the different ingredients. I do not get headaches if I eat the turkey or chicken or roast beef cured with vegetable powders. I do if eat luncheon meat cured with synthetic nitrates.

MSG is even more hot topic! Glutamates occur naturally in food, so naysayers to MSG sensitivity say any pain is nonexistent. Again, I can only go by what my body has experienced. I can eat a portion of food with MSG and I get migraines. So I study labels. I now avoid Doritos (weeping in the distance), most canned soups, flavored rice, seasoning blends, and most salad dressings. I look at labels whenever I go shopping.

There are no definitive studies that show scientific proof linking MSG and migraine pain. That does not stop my pain.

I would like to say now that I am not a doctor and there is a difference between a food allergy and food intolerance. The two share many of the same symptoms of headaches, such as nausea, lightheadedness, and head pain. But food allergies can be deadly. They are your immune system’s response to a foreign material your body considers harmful. Symptoms occur immediately upon eating the food and include hives and face/tongue swelling. You can go into anaphylactic shock. So please consult a doctor for any possible food allergy.

By contrast, food intolerance occurs anywhere from one hour to 48 hours after you eat your suspected food. It may not even occur every time you eat that particular item, or only if you eat a large amount. Food intolerance may be painful, but it is not life-threatening. 

Like I said earlier, each circumstance is personal to each person. I hope I helped you to know that certain foods can drastically affect how you feel. If you think you might be sensitive to a food, try eliminating it for several days and see how you feel.

And if you find a tasty replacement for MSG-laden Doritos, please let me know!

Prompt: I knew I shouldn’t have eaten the whole thing!

Genre Month: Horror, Part Two

By Cammi Woodall

It was a dark and stormy night. It automatically sets the mood, doesn’t it? Horror as a literary theme continued into the 1900’s and gained  in popularity.

The late 19th and early 20th century saw the rise of the Penny Dreadful, mass produced periodicals that made popular fiction available to a much larger section of the population than books. Lurid tales of werewolves, vampires, and ghouls helped spur sales. Due to their low cost, sales of the magazines skyrocketed. After purchase, the magazines could then be passed around for many to enjoy, escaping the uncertainty and fear of the Depression and the World Wars.  

During the 1960’s and 70’s, elements of horror in literature became more visceral. Supernatural and creepy overtones were no longer enough for the reading public. Intense moral situations, vivid descriptions of gore, and stories based on real-life tragedies flooded the best sellers list. The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty, The Amityville Horror by Jan Anson, Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris, and Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby contained graphic accounts of adult situations more extreme than previously depicted in mainstream literature. The public responded favorably, with several horror novels reaching epic sales during this time.

Click to tweet: What do you think is the bestselling modern horror novel of all time? Names like Stephen King or Clive Barker may come to mind, but that title goes to a book published in 1979. V. C. Andrews wrote Flowers in Attic. #horror #amreading

Due to intense moral dilemmas, the book was banned from many schools and reading fairs. The shocking tale follows the Dollanganger children. The unexpected death of their father is only the first of many calamities that follows the siblings through the five book series.

No article about horror fiction would be complete without mentioning Stephen King. He is the master of horror with over 50 best selling novels. Just a few of his titles include The Shining, Cujo, Carrie, Misery, Needful Things, Thinner, Salem’s Lot, It, and The Running Man. His tales range from a rabid dog terrorizing a town (a real-life horror we could all encounter) to a post apocalyptic America fighting a maniacal evil (something I hope we never face). Often knocked by critics, especially for his earlier work, King’s stories resonate with the reading public. People who do not typically read horror will read Stephen King.

Even kids want to get scared. R. L. Stine published his first scary teen novel, Blind Date, in 1986. (Tagline – It wasn’t a date! It was a nightmare!) It was an instant success. He went on to write the Fear Street series and the Goosebumps series. Both series spawned movies, television shows, and merchandise that were extremely popular. The Fear Street series remains one of the best selling Young Adult series of all time.

This article only touches on a few writes of horror literature, but I am running out of room! There are countless other authors to explore – H.P. Lovecraft, Clive Barker, Frank E. Peretti, Shirley Jackson, Peter Straub, RAy Bradbury, Dean Koontz, Joe Hill, Seth Grahame-Smith… Well, you get the idea. There are horror novels for whatever ‘fear level’ you want. Your public library is a great way to check out a new author and see if you like their style.

So, after this history lesson, you may be wondering. Why do we read or write horror stories? Isn’t real life filled with enough despair, mistrust, uncertainty, and cruelty to fill dozens of horror novels? Yes, unfortunately. I hope none of us will face a killer clown crawling out of the sewer, or have a family member converse with skeleton parts, or conduct cadaver experiments in our creepy lab. These are abstract horrors because they are not liable to happen.

But we will experience grief as we lose a loved one, terror if we are attacked, loneliness, despair, regret, anxiety, betrayal… By reading horror, you escape the everyday fears we face. Writing horror allows the author to exorcise demons they hold within. When you hold a book or an unfinished manuscript in your hand, your are the master of that tiny little section of your universe. The story can allow you to escape for minutes or hours; the heroes and heroines may save the day and defeat the horror. If it gets to be too much? Simply close the book. Stop writing or reading. You control the horror.

All this research has made me want to re-visit some old favorites. I think I will curl up with my dog-eared copy of It. Wait, do I hear a tapping at my chamber door? It is a dark and stormy night, after all.

Writing Prompt: The pounding on the door stopped. The sudden silence was more unsettling than the rattling door.

Genre Month: Horror, Part One

By Cammi Woodall

Ho, ho, horror! Not your typical December greeting, is it? My topic for today is horror literature. The first part of this article focuses on classical horror, up to the 20th century.

We are all scared of something. Maybe your fear is something concrete – spiders, clowns, darkness, thunder, taxes. Maybe you are scared of intangibles – loneliness, death, imprisonment, hatred, racism.  A typical definition of horror is ‘a painful and intense fear, dread, or dismay.’ Horror writers attempt to make some sort of sense of the senseless, bring order to the chaos, and scare the daylights out of you!

Horror in literature actually dates back to ancient Sumer with tales of a supernatural being called Emikku who could inhabit dead bodies. Its roots began in early Church essays describing how to combat witchcraft and devil worship. Works such as Dante’s The Divine Comedy took these essays and put the Church’s warnings into a fictional account of the atrocities of Hell and Purgatory.

William Shakespeare might be an odd choice for an article on the horror genre, but the Bard’s work has several overtones of horror – the Weird Sisters of Macbeth, the Ghost of Hamlet’s father running around plotting and encouraging revenge, Hamlet’s slow descent into madness.  Alas, think of poor Yorick! Hamlet stands in a cemetery speaking to the skull of his dead companion while he contemplates the finality of death. It doesn’t get much creepier than that! His macabre elements still inspire authors today.

The first true horror book is often credited to Horace Wadpole.  His Gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto, was published in 1765 and contained the elements that would become standard for Gothic novels to come. A creepy mansion, underground passages, maidens in distress, ghosts, and mistaken identity depicted a supernatural fantasy at a time when most authors strove for realism. Critics considered the story in poor taste, but the public loved it.

The early 1800’s saw the rise of horror’s most well-known author, Edgar Allen Poe.  Poe’s use of short, staccato sentences and use of first-person view throughout his work heightened the tension, drawing the reader in to the terror happening on the page. Stories and poems such as The Fall of the House of Usher, The Cask of Amontillado, Annabel Lee, and The Tell-Tale Heart still enthrall readers today. Who can ever forget the epic poem The Raven, never flitting, still sitting, and the ever lost Lenore?

The 19th century saw a turn away from Gothic elements to what is considered modern horror. Tales such as Jane C. Loudon’s The Mummy, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and H.G. Well’s The Invisible Man relied less upon creepy atmosphere and drew inspiration from science and alchemy. Many of the novels during this time went on to become iconic classics immortalized in film, stage, and television.

No article on classical horror would be complete with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Both are available as public domain books, so no true sales figures exist, but together they are considered the highest selling horror novels of all time.

Frankenstein is considered by many to be the first modern horror novel, as well as the first science fiction novel. During a bout of bad weather and boredom, Shelley’s companion Percy Bysshe Shelley a contest for best ghost story. Mary was fascinated with galvanism, a scientific fad at the time of using electrical currents on animals and convicted criminals to stimulate muscle contractions. Study of her journals also reveal that she constantly thought of a baby she’d lost a few years earlier. Her emotional state helped her craft a true tale of horror, with both Dr. Frankenstein and his creation.

Bram Stoker spent seven years writing his masterpiece, Dracula. Many believe he based his story on Vlad the Impaler, and that is was the first vampire story. Actually, Transylvania and its famous nocturnal inhabitants had been popular in literature for many years. Stoker just took these basic elements and crafted a true tale of horror and suspense. His influence lives on today, with popular vampire stories like Joe Hill’s Nosferatu, Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot, and Stephanie Myers Twilight series.

Horror even spilled over into tales for children. The stories written by the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen have been sanitized for today’s market, but children gathered around their mother’s knee or tucked into their cozy beds in the early 1830’s were familiar with very different versions of these beloved tales. The Little Mermaid suffered excruciating pain with each step, her feet bleeding, till she flung herself into the sea after her prince married another woman. The Evil Stepsisters cut off pieces of their feet to make the glass slipper fit, only to have their eyes pecked out by birds at Cinderella’s wedding. The Wicked Queen is forced to wear red-hot iron shoes and dance till she dies at Snow White’s wedding.

Click to tweet: Horror writers attempt to make some sort of sense of the senseless, bring order to the chaos, and scare the daylights out of you! Find out more about the genre known as “horror.” #horror #amreading

Not exactly the Disney versions, are they? Where are the grouchy lobsters or birds who help clean house? These stories often served as cautionary tales for children, much like modern day warnings of the Boogey Man.

The next part of my article tomorrow will focus on the 20th century. Stay tuned!

Writing Prompt – It was a dark and stormy night.

Motivated by Many: One Writers Perspective

By Cammi Woodall

This was a hard article for me. I am supposed to explain how an author inspired me. How do I pick just one? In Icebound, Dean Koontz wrote a scene of a man underwater struggling to break through the ice. I found myself holding my breath along with him! Stephen King’s imagery and turn of phrase has scared me, sickened me, enlightened me, and encouraged me. And who didn’t cry when Dobby died? How could you, J.K. Rowling?

I decided to fudge a little and write about three different ladies close to home who have inspired me.  Please forgive me, Jennifer and Betty (the blog administrators)!

In 2006, my sister and I took a class offered by our local Board of Education, called “As the Pen Spins”. It was a writing seminar taught by a great lady named Jane Carroll. To start the first class, we all had to stand up, introduce ourselves, and tell what we do.

I said, “Hi, my name is Cammi and I work in a bank.”

She challenged us to reintroduce ourselves and say, “My name is Cammi and I am a writer!”

I did not have the exclamation point in my voice when I stood up in class but much more of a question mark. Me, a writer? In my mind, that word conjured up the New York Times bestsellers list, contracts, agents, movie rights. I was a bank teller who scribbled ideas on scraps of paper and hid them away from the world. Who was I to call myself a writer?

Jane taught me that a writer is simply one who writes. Quantity doesn’t count, only the fact that you write and do not stop. Did you compose one line about the beauty of the morning sunrise? Did you write an article for your company’s newsletter? Did you pen a short funny story for your grandkids? Then, my friend, you are a writer. Stand up and say it out loud! Thank you, Jane!

Jennifer Hallmark, one of the moderators for this site, inspires me in several ways. She was in that first class with my sister and me. I can still remember her saying, “I’m really just interested in learning more about writing articles.” She has certainly done that in abundance, but Jennifer is also the proud owner of a book contract for a fictional novel. (I am not jealous, I am not jealous, I am not jealous!)

She has grown as a writer and gone down different paths to find her way. I never considered writing articles until she asked me last year to contribute to this blog. Now, thanks to her, I have a few articles posted here and am scheduled for more later in the year. This lady has definitely made me jump out of my comfort zone and find some new paths of my own! Thank you, Jennifer!

My sister Holly is a writer in a different situation. As a United Methodist preacher, she faces the challenges of caring for her congregation’s needs and helping them grow in the Lord’s way. Each week, she writes a sermon that is God-given and inspirational, and each week she teaches me something new. I face enough of a struggle writing an article occasionally for a blog so I admire the strength and courage she brings to her calling.

Holly also inspires me with encouragement and gave me my favorite compliment I’ve received about my writing. While looking over an article I’d done about Stephen King’s The Shawshank Redemption, she said, “You have such an easy style. It reminds me a lot of Stephen King. Not the horror, but like you are sitting here with me telling a story. I like reading your work.” Bring on the tingles of excitement, tears of joy, and the blush of embarrassment! A simple compliment but one I hold close to my heart. Thank you, dear sister!

Do you have an author who inspires you in your writing? I certainly hope so. But how about this? Go be that inspiration for someone. Give encouragement, offer to read, spread the word about their accomplishments. You never know what action you take will resonate with another and stay on their heart. Who knows? You could end up in an article!

Writing prompt “At least it is over now.”

She shook her head. “No, I am afraid it has just begun.”

Click to tweet: Go inspire someone, a writer. Give encouragement, offer to read, spread the word about their accomplishments. You never know what action you take will resonate with another and stay on their heart. #amwriting #motivation

Happily Ever After or Not?

By Cammi Woodall

“…and they lived happily ever after.” Sigh! How satisfying is it to reach the end of a romance book and the main couple embrace in front of a golden sunset?

But what about when you reach the end of a romance and the couple is not together? Or one of them is dead? Or they broke up? Is this still a romance book?

Let me warn you – this article will contain spoiler alerts about various novels. Proceed with caution!

I did an informal poll among my friends and asked, “Does a romance have to end happily ever after?” The most common response was a puzzled, “Well, isn’t that what makes it a romance?” Another common response was a disdainful remark, “I don’t read romance books!” (Why do people look down on romance novels so much? That’s a post for another time!)

After the poll, I looked at the website for Romance Writers of America. If anybody knows how a romance should end, it should be them. Right? According to the site, the definition of a romance contains two basic elements: a central love story and an emotionally satisfying, optimistic ending.

So, Romeo and Juliet or Gone With The Wind are not romances? What about more contemporary novels like Me Before You or The Fault in Our Stars? Each story contains the love between the main characters as the main element, but none include an HEA optimistic ending!

(Confession time – at age twelve I thought Romeo and Juliet was the epitome of romance. A handsome boy defies his family, compares her to a rose, and dies for her? Pitter patter went my preteen heart! Now I can only see two hormonal tweens who got a lot of people killed.)

I have decided that my definition of a romance will focus on the second element defined by the Romance Writers of America – the optimistic ending. Optimistic means hopeful and confident about the future. So does an optimistic ending mean the main couple is together? Do they get married, build a dream home, have a passel of kids, and spend their twilight years rocking away on the front porch?

Maybe they do. Maybe they don’t. Don’t get me wrong. I love romance books! I grew up reading Barbara Cartland and Glenna Finley. I expected those books to end happily: i.e., the couple together, the promise of a future, an epilogue with a wedding. It never occurred to me that a romance book wouldn’t end happily ever after!

What if an optimistic ending means that each character learned an important lesson from the relationship featured in that particular book? Every person you touch throughout your life will touch you also. From some you learn patience, from some you gain strength, others give you independence. Relationships, both romantic and platonic, give you the building blocks to become the person you are meant to be.

This is represented by The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Ask anybody who has read the book and they will probably say it is definitely a romance. The story focuses on Hazel Grace, a teenage girl diagnosed with thyroid cancer that has spread to her lungs. She struggles with her mortality, worried her parents will not be able to cope after her death. Hazel pushes people away because she knows they will be hurt when she dies. She meets a boy named Augustus Waters, who has osteosarcoma. He is cancer-free after a leg amputation. In contrast to Hazel’s internalization of her fears, Augustus wants to make his mark on the world. He fears oblivion and wants to be remembered. (Remember my spoiler alert warning at the beginning of this article? Take heed!) A logical conclusion to this book would be Hazel’s death. John Green, however, rips our hearts out. Augustus’s cancer returns and he dies.

Does anybody have a tissue? I have dust in my eye. Yeah, dust in my eye.

This is a romance book? Where is the miracle cancer cure for both Hazel and Augustus? When is the doctor going to rush in and say, ‘Oops! We made a mistake. He’s not dead, just in a temporary coma!’ Where is the Happily Ever After?

It is there, just not in the traditional sense. Hazel’s love for Augustus helps her realize she has been living in a shell. Her parents will be sad when she dies, but it is because they love her. She impacted their lives. She made her mark on the world. So did Augustus.

Seriously, a tissue? Anybody?

So does a romance have to end happily ever after? Some people will still emphatically shout YES! Nothing else will do! I used to be one of those people. The longer I live and the more I learn, however, I find I am changing my opinion. Or rather, I am changing my definition of Happily Ever After.

You have to live and learn in your life, but most important you must love. Love is the glue that will get you past sickness, heartache, stress, or anxiety. Romantic love between two people, love between parents and children, love for your best friends.

Just open your heart and let love in. That way you can live your own Happily Ever After, whatever that may be.

Writing prompt – I love prompts that can go in a hundred different directions. Here is my idea: The note wasn’t signed. It simply said ‘Meet me. You know where.’

Click to tweet: Does a romance have to end happily ever after? Cammi Woodall of the Inspired Prompt Crew shares her views. #romance #amwriting