How to Access Science and Medical Research without Paying an Arm and a Leg for It

In past articles, I’ve mentioned that I spend much of my career poring over scientific and medical research.  This is equally parts invigorating and frustrating.  On the one hand, the Internet makes it possible to track down just about any research paper imaginable, whether it’s a paper from the turn of the century or one in pre-publication stages.

Unfortunately, this excitement is often tempered by frustration because access to most research papers costs a ridiculous amount of money.  More and more journals are adding free, open-access options, but many of the big hitters (Science, Nature) continue to charge exorbitant amounts for one-time access to individual articles.  As an example – I clicked on the first article from this month’s issue of Nature: “Verbal and non-verbal intelligence changes in the teenage brain.”  This sounded like an interesting article, the kind of thing many laypeople would be interested in, especially parents and teachers of teens.  Unfortunately, the cost for accessing that article is $32 USD.  For that price, you may as well buy a 330-page non-fiction book on the topic (which was published late last year, so it’s even up-to-date).

Sadly, $32 is reasonable compared to some journals.  I’ve seen journals that charge more than $50 USD per research paper – even for ones 20+ years old!

Thus the impetus for this article.  There are a number of ways to legally access scientific and medical research without paying ridiculous per-paper access fees.  I’ve accumulated a lot of these strategies over years of trying to track down papers for FDA regulation purposes.  Some might be obvious (especially to grad students or other researchers), but I still think it worthwhile to mention them.  My hope is to help people – especially those researching medical issues – find the information they need without spending thousands of dollars to do it.

Note: potentially illegal methods of accessing journal articles, including torrenting, Usenet, and other file-sharing techniques, will not be discussed or endorsed.

Step 1 – Finding relevant articles

Before doing anything else, you must first locate papers relevant to your research topic.  As someone who has skipped this step before, let me warn you – few things are more frustrating than spending hours tracking down a research paper, only to find out it doesn’t actually discuss what you want.

In my experience, the best place to start is almost always PubMed.  PubMed is a free research database service provided by the U.S. National Library of Medicine.  PubMed is incredibly comprehensive; as of October 2011 it has indexed more than 21 million records going back to 1809, with another half-million articles added every year.  Because PubMed is so comprehensive, many other science and medicine search services use it to fuel their own engines (EBSCO, Google Scholar, Ovid, etc).

The PubMed homepage has a search bar at the top – type the topic of your search there, then hit Enter to see what turns up.

Sample PubMed search for Alzheimers Disease
Here is a sample PubMed search for "Alzheimers Disease." Make note of the "5580 free full-text articles in PubMed Central" box on the lower-right.

PubMed works like Google or any other search engine – generic search queries will return many articles; more targeted search queries will return a shorter, more relevant set of results.

As with a Google search, you can freely peruse PubMed’s list of articles, but I tend to go straight for a particular box on the right-hand side – the one titled “free full-text articles in PubMed Central.”  Clicking on the “See all…” link at the bottom of that box will refine your search results to show ONLY articles whose full contents are available for free.  (Note: a shortcut way to do this is to select “PMC” from the drop-down box on the PubMed homepage.  However, the two clicks required to change the drop-down box is actually more cumbersome than a single-click of “See all…” on the search results page.)

PubMed Central, or PMC, is an awesome subset of PubMed that deals only in free full-text research articles.  PMC is an outgrowth of the National Institute of Health’s goal to make all publicly funded research available to – imagine this – the public.  Originally, researchers funded by the NIH were encouraged (but not required) to make their research publicly available.  This changed in 2007, when H.R. 2764 was passed, requiring NIH-funded research to be made publicly available within twelve months of publication.  I try to avoid political commentary on my site, but I’m not afraid to say that H.R. 2764 is one of the few unilaterally great pieces of legislation George W. Bush signed into law.

If you find what you need at PMC, great!  You’re all done.  Unfortunately, while PMC’s article database is growing at a steady rate, it won’t always have exactly what you need.

For that, we need to turn to something a little broader.

Step 2 – Google Scholar

Google Scholar (scholar.google.com) is a specialized version of Google’s regular search tool.  Google Scholar indexes research articles from standard indices like PubMed, then cross-references those articles with Google’s massive database of regular web pages.  This cross-referencing comes at a trade-off – on the one hand, it will generally return many more articles than a comparable PubMed search.  However, a lot of those extra discoveries will be irrelevant websites, questionable corporate marketing materials that sound like research, alternative medicine books, and an occasional patent or legal opinion.

The big advantage Google Scholar has over PubMed, however, is if a free copy of a research article exists anywhere on the web, Google will usually be able find it and associate it with its actual paper.  Let me demonstrate.  Below is a screenshot from a Google Scholar search for “Alzheimers Disease Coffee.”  I chose this search term because a growing body of research has associated coffee intake with a reduced risk of Alzheimers Disease, and I wanted to learn more about it:

Sample Google Scholar search
Google Scholar results for "Alzheimers disease coffee."

If you look to the right of the search results themselves, you’ll notice that two lines have a additional light blue link.  The first says “[HTML] from oxfordjournals.org” and the second says “[PDF] from indiana.edu”.  These little boxes are Google’s way of notifying you that they think they’ve found a full-text version of this particular article.

The second full-text link – the one associated with “Managing care through the air” – is a fine example of how Google Scholar can help you find papers.  Trying to access that paper through its title link takes you to a “sign in to purchase this article” page.  However, clicking on the PDF link to the right of the title takes you to a PDF version of the paper, which happens to be hosted on a course website from the University of Indiana.

This kind of cross-referencing can help you find papers that would be almost impossible to otherwise locate.  Sometimes an author will chose to provide a modified copy of the paper on a personal website, or perhaps the corporation who funded a paper will choose to make a copy available on their corporate site.  I have personal experience with this; a paper I co-authored on vitamin D supplementation is still in the pre-publication stages, but a poster of the research (containing most of the relevant data) is available from the Science section of the company that performed the research.  Google Scholar can help you track down these “hidden” copies of research articles.

While Google Scholar is very useful, a caveat is in order.  Sometimes Google will link you to copies of a paper that may not have been obtained legally.  Oftentimes these are hosted on questionable non-English sites.  Whether or not you choose to access papers via that method is up to you.  The legality of something like that is questionable; the morality of it… well, a discussion of the morality of copyright is beyond the scope of this article.  :)  I’ll leave it up to you whether or not you choose to make use of those kinds of Google search results.

Step 3 – Contact the paper’s authors (or even better, the financial sponsor)

This step applies specifically to privately funded research.  Many times, the organization who funds or performs research will keep copies of the paper on hand for marketing purposes.  All companies I’ve worked for did this, and I’m certain others do as well.  When we were emailed questions about research we had performed and/or funded, we typically replied with a copy of the paper.  Some journals also give paper authors a set amount of free copies of their article, which the author rarely has use for.  (After all, they wrote the paper – they know what it says!)  Send that author a nice email, and you might be rewarded with shiny PDF for your trouble.

Step 4 – Try your local library

This step is very much a YMMV one, but it’s still worth a try.  Some community libraries have access deals with research journals or conglomerates like EBSCO.  These deals allow library patrons to access any research journals that are part of the library’s access package.  In most cases this is limited to the big journals, like Science and Nature; few public libraries have the funds to provide access to specialized journals.

Still, it’s always worth a try, and if the library doesn’t have what you need, a librarian may still be able to help you in your search.

Step 5 – Find a college student or professor

I debated leaving this step for last, since it’s probably the most foolproof way to access science and medical journals… but because it is contingent on knowing (or being) a university student or professor, it may not work for everyone.

While local libraries don’t often have funds to pay for unlimited access to thousands of medical journals, many university libraries do.  Again, this will vary from library to library, but university libraries are capable of negotiating very favorable access to a wide range of research journals.  This is obviously in their best interest – the more research students and professors have access to, the stronger their ability to learn and perform their own research.  Some have argued that library quality should be a major aspect of a student’s college selection.  I agree.

If you know a college student or professor, provide them a reference to the research articles you’re interested in and see if they can help you track down a copy.  If you live close to a university – especially a public one – see if the school’s library allows non-students to sign up for library cards.  Most state schools have provisions for this.

Finally, if you are an alumni of a university or college, you may still have certain access rights to the school’s library.  A phone call or email may be all it takes to get a copy of a research article for personal use.

Conclusion

We live in a golden age of scientific and medical research.  Each year, tens of thousands of top-quality articles are published in peer-reviewed journals.  Many of these articles are directly funded by your tax dollars, or indirectly funded by your patronage to a particular business or institution.

It saddens me that most of this knowledge is kept out of the public’s reach by poorly built websites and ridiculously overpriced journal subscriptions – subscription costs that don’t go toward funding more research, but paying for outmoded things like printed copies of thousand-page medical journals that will sit, dust-covered and unread, on the back of some library shelf.  It is even more frustrating that the laypeople most inclined to search through medical literature – those currently suffering from illness or injury – are often the least capable of affording what many scientific journals charge.

As a researcher myself, I am certainly interested in researchers being paid for their hard work – and they are, by the universities and companies that employ them.  When you pay $30-50 USD for a journal article, that money does not go to the researcher.  Even worse, it has even been argued that such subscription costs lead to sensational science instead of good science.  I strongly recommend reading the linked article if you are interested in the dynamics of science publication.

Anyway, I hope this article helps anyone interested in scientific or medical research.  Additional suggestions are always welcome; feel free to use the comments section or my contact page.

On Writing

I’ve been asked by a number of people how progress is coming on my latest project, and it seems I never have a very exciting answer.

Until now, that is.  I’ve decided to finally compile my entire sordid story here, in one central place, to save myself having to relate it multiple times.  (Plus, this way I can make all my embellishments official!  Haha!)

I’d be lying if I said I’d always dreamed of being a writer.  Certainly I’ve always enjoyed writing, but as a kid I had any number of career goals (astronaut, president, film composer, NBA all-star, the list goes on…).

This isn’t to say I didn’t write a lot, because I did.  The problem was this: early on in an American male’s life, he learns that skills associated with reading and writing aren’t exactly…”cool.”  In 5th grade I won the school spelling bee and almost started crying – half from embarrassment, half from excitement.  In 6th grade I let my mom talk me into entering a poem in the “Reflections” contest, and the poem went on to win the school competition, district competition, and regional competition.  (I still have the trophy in my office.)  But poem-writing is not exactly among the coolest things a 6th-grade boy can do, and when I was told I had to read my award-winning poem in front of the school I wanted to die…especially because the poem took almost ten minutes to read (it was an epic poem, of course).

Based on input from my wonderful 6th-grade peers – most of whom are probably in jail now – I made the mistaken assumption that writing poetry was not among the list of skills that I should lay claim to.  Loogie-hocking, foreign curse word repertoire, and humorous names for human anatomy were much more in vogue at the time, so I didn’t pursue creative writing much throughout junior high and my freshman year of high school.

By 10th grade I had matured (slightly) and I think I finally realized that popular opinion among my peers was useless when it came to assessing career skills.  Not coincidentally, I also started work on my first video game project – what would be the first of several.

It was in 10th grade that I was first introduced to the RPG genre of video games and Final Fantasy 7 in particular.  If you’ve never played a Final Fantasy game, I pity you.  The name is a bit silly, but the game itself is a brilliant accomplishment on every level.  FF7 tells an intricate story of life and death through the age-old mechanism of epic conflict between good and evil, but it does so in an interactive medium that is hard to describe.  The artwork is beautiful, the music transcendent, and even the gameplay is a phenomenal balance between simplicity and strategy.  The game – though 12 years old – continues to inspire fan art, spin-off games, even full-length films, and while none of these comes close to the original, all are welcome tributes to what may be the most influential RPG in history.

FF7 was inspirational to my 10th grade mind on a multitude of levels.  I am still amazed at the way that video games (well-made ones, mind you) are capable of blending the visual and aural arts with interactive storytelling.  Games are a peerless medium, one too often used to less than its full potential.

But that is another topic for another day.

As a fairly accomplished musician and a closet writer, I remember the epiphany that accompanied my first play-through of Final Fantasy 7: here was a medium where I could combine a love of good music with a desire to tell complex and engaging stories, all through a medium made possible by my growing interest in computer programming.  It was then that I resolved to someday create a video game that would do for others what FF7 did for me: awe, inspire, and entertain.

Unfortunately, creating a complex story-driven video game is not well-suited to being done in the spare time of a high school student.  To combat this, I tried assembling online teams to help me on my path to world video game domination, but surprisingly people weren’t very reliable while working for free.

Imagine that.  :)

Years passed, and video game project after video game project slipped out of my grasp.  I tried every combination of local teams, international teams, professionals, amateurs, hobbyists, men, women, adults, teens – and never could I assemble the right mix of people to make my dream video game.

The problems with these various approaches are obvious now, in retrospect.  I suppose I was a bit of a narcissist in my leadership endeavours.  I thought that my perception of the ideal game story, score, artwork and design was clearly best, and that undoubtedly hampered my ability to work in a team environment.  I also had a bad knack for getting people really excited about these projects, recruiting tons of participants, only to realize I had no idea how to run a project of that size and scope.

I also realize now why there are so few well-made video games.  Coordinating the logistics of production with a vision of what makes a great game is an unimaginably difficult task, and those who do it are truly remarkable individuals/teams/companies.

Anyway, during my years of attempted video game production I amassed a number of meaningful souvenirs.  One of my favorites is the free collection of original music now available on this site.  There aren’t many places online where you can find 2+ hours of quality original music available for download – especially places that allow you to download, copy, and distribute that music without legal entanglements.

Another souvenir is the thousands of lines of free programming resources also available on this site.  It’s no coincidence that most of my programming tutorials and examples are game-related – after all, most of these examples stem from video game projects of varying scope and size.  I have (literally) hundreds more examples and tidbits lying around, and I hope to someday get the bulk of these posted to this site.

Finally, perhaps the best souvenirs from the entire era are a collection of original stories that have never seen the world outside my hard drive.  Some of these stories are complete and almost ready for publication; others are mere frameworks around which a compelling novel could be wove.  I spent a weekend several years ago reading through my archives of original literature, and wow – I really think there is some great stuff there.  (Of course, this could just be my nostalgia speaking… :)

By no coincidence, this epiphany happened during my senior year of college.  I was less than a year from completing my degree in bioinformatics, and I was starting to have nagging doubts that a career in bioinformatics was right for me.  Deep down, I still dreamed of a career in media, something that I had decided against years before because of the logistics of making a decent living with a liberal arts degree.  (No offense intended to all you liberal arts majors out there – I’m sure there are tons of jobs for people with degrees in medieval literature analysis!)

And then it hit me – one doesn’t have to be an English major to be a successful writer.  Some of my favorite writers (Michael Crichton, Terry Brooks, William Forstchen) are guys with normal careers who turned their expertise and interests into brilliant and compelling storytelling. Michael Crichton in particular is a great example of this.

So I made the decision to finish my degree in bioinformatics, but under an important condition – that I would have my first novel written before I graduated.

I didn’t quite make that goal, but I was able to finish a complete draft by the end of September 2007 (I had graduated in April).  I immediately embarked on sending out my masterpiece to agents and publishers everywhere, hoping that one of them would sign me up and I could forgo having to commit to a so-called “real” job.

Thus began my first eye-opening experience (of several) related to professional writing.  Almost no agents responded to my queries, and those that did used form letters that meant nothing to me.

After several weeks of going about this, I finally received a reply from a small publishing house in the northeast.  To summarize it, the email read something like this:

Dear Tanner Helland,

Thanks for sending us the 20 pages of your manuscript.

I liked the prologue very much–the tone and the content–I wanted to read more and hoped the rest of the book would live up to it.  Unfortunately, it didn’t for me. . . I felt the setting was unrealistic, and it seems to me that fantasy only works in a setting where most of the details are realistic.

Please realize that any editorial judgement is idiosyncratic and that another editor might leap at your manuscript. Of course we wish you the best of luck in placing the book elsewhere and appreciate your letting us see it.

Sincerely…

To this day, I am extremely grateful for this simple email.  The advice was spot-on, and exactly what I needed to motivate a strong rewrite of the text.  Unfortunately, I had already submitted my manuscript to the first ever Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award competition, but that didn’t prevent me starting work on a much-needed revamp of what had been a hasty and somewhat ill-conceived first shot at a formal novel.

While I feverishly wrote and rewrote my novel (“v2.0” as I thought of it), the original manuscript progressed nicely through the ABNA contest.  It made the first cut (5,000 people) and then progressed through to the second round (~800 people).  As part of the semifinalist reward, I received a manuscript review from Publishers Weekly.  It read as follows (this is verbatim):

In this promising debut, clearly the first in an intended series, fifteen-year-old Teal and his family move to the city in hopes that doctors there can save his gravely ill father. Seeking refuge in the janitor’s closet from a bully, Teal and his friend Eddie discover a portal that leads to an underground labyrinth built by an alien race called the Zargansk. Soon, they are on the run from men in black suits determined to kill them. Sixteen-year-old Kyralee saves them, but her presence raises more questions than answers. Teal’s feelings for Kyralee weave through this action-packed narrative, reminding us that while he is humanity’s best hope against the Zargansk, he is still a typical ninth-grader. Though the novel doesn’t break any new ground in the genre, the fast pace and cool gadgetry is enough to keep the reader engaged and rooting for Teal and his friends to the very end. — manuscript review by Publishers Weekly, an independent organization

As part of the process, I was also entitled to received a short (and somewhat useless) review from an Amazon Top Reviewer:

Very well written, but just not my cup of tea, as I don’t care for science fiction stories. But the author has a good imagination and excellent writing style and I liked his use of dialogue – it was appropriate for the characters.

In addition to those two pieces of “formal” critique, I participated in “story swaps” with over 30 other writers – where I’d swap them a chapter of my book for a chapter of their book, and we’d trade comments.  That was an immensely useful process, and by the end of it I had a MUCH better idea of what my fledgling manuscript needed.

My manuscript didn’t progress beyond the semifinalist round of the ABNA contest (genre fiction in general faired very poorly – apparently the judges were interested primarily in literary fiction), but that was okay because I knew the story needed a serious overhaul in several regards.  One of my first orders of business was changing the POV from 3rd-person to 1st-person, a decision that I believe fits the tone and style of the story much better.  I also rewrote the entire first half of the book with a renewed focus on character and setting, striving hard to create the realistic world to which my first customized rejection letter alluded.

I also took into account the Publisher’s Weekly comment of “…the novel doesn’t break any new ground in the genre…” by working in some new ideas, things I had never seen before in middle-grade fiction.  I’m hoping these improved the overall novelty of the novel (sorry for the awkward wording).

This “v2.0” rewrite took almost as long as it had taken to write the book the first time, but I believe both I and the story were much better for the experience.

Once I had the novel at a point where I couldn’t stand to read through it another time, I cashed in my final prize from the Amazon contest (a free self-publishing contract with Amazon’s new CreateSpace service) and got myself a real printed copy of Teal, my first novel.  (You can pick up a copy yourself from Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Teal-Zargansk-Wars-Book-1/dp/1434886956)  I mostly did this so I could see my name on the cover of a book – and it has admittedly been fun to hand out copies to friends on family – but I have always intended for Teal to be published properly, and that is where my story sits today.

Before continuing, I should mention that in the months since self-publishing I have come to realize that revising is a horribly addicting process.  I know now that the back cover of my self-published book has a typo (d’oh!), and there are a number of minor issues with the novel itself that I’m itching to change.  But if I continued to fiddle with the story, it wouldn’t serve much purpose.  I need to let Teal rest for awhile while it treads through its second round of horrible, painful, ultra-humbling query letters.

As much as I gripe, this second round of query letters has been much better than the first.  After two months of waiting, I received a full manuscript request from the top agent on my list (an expert with YA fiction, including – gasp – YA science fiction and fantasy!) and I am now trying to be as patient as possible as I wait to hear what he/she thinks.  (I’m keeping anonymous so he/she has a chance to review the manuscript fairly!)

While I would give my right arm (and maybe my left one too) to work with this particular agent, I realize now that writing is not about being published.  Writing is about doing what you love – about telling a story that only you can tell.  This is what all great writers have done, and if they are “published” then that’s just the icing on the cake.

Great icing, to be sure – but icing nonetheless.

I have already started work on a new novel totally unrelated to Teal.  This one is much less science-fiction, much more modern thriller.  My experience in bioinformatics should prove especially useful for this book, and you can bet I’ll post more about it as progress continues.

And that’s where my writing efforts are as of now.  Did I miss anything?

Finally, while I’m thinking about it I want to leave a short bit of advice to any would-be writers out there – something that I wish others had shared with me.

Get your first book done as quickly as possible.  Write as fast as you can possibly write, and don’t worry about anything but storytelling.  Dump that first story out of your brain and onto your computer/notebook ASAP.

Once that’s done, review your manuscript while it’s hot and make sure you are okay attaching your name to it.  Assuming you are, throw together query letters for any agent that might accept your manuscript and send ’em out like gangbusters.

It won’t take long before the rejection letters start pouring in.  In my case, about one agent in four actually responded with a form rejection.  None sent customized rejections until they had requested a manuscript.  The vast majority never responded at all.

Regardless of how this works for you, wait several weeks, and when it seems like the rejection letters have finally stopped, take a deep breath.

Then smile.

You’ve successfully survived your first round of rejection letters.  It’s painful – really painful – but at least there is a light at the end of your tunnel.  By now, you’ve had some time away from your novel.  You should have a good idea of what can be improved and what areas need the most help.  You’ve also survived the horrible pain of rejection letters – and best of all, you can shrug the majority of them off because you know you can do better.  Hopefully you’ve also gotten a good taste of what it takes to write a quality query letter, and you can keep that in the back of your mind as you work on revisions.

I think I made the mistake of placing too many hopes and dreams into the first version of my first novel.  I felt like I had gotten it to perfection, and that made the initial round of rejection letters more painful than they probably needed to be.  There’s something to be said for rushing a product out the door, then being able to blame the “rushed launch” for any problems that arise.

Is that horrible advice?  I hope not.  I wish I had known what query letters entailed before I started writing Teal.  I think that would have helped me a great deal.

I also could have used a greater sense of detachment from that first novel.  It would have allowed me to be a bit more severe in my trimming and rewriting, and then I think the entire revision process would have been much more seamless and streamlined.  As it stood, I was much too sensitive to properly revise the first draft, and it wasn’t until multiple readers pointed out the same problems that I finally relinquished and fixed some glaring flaws.  I hope I can spare you the trouble of having to experience the same.

At any rate, sorry for the enormity of this post, and I hope to have good news regarding Teal in the “near” future…

OpenOffice.org is ALMOST perfect for writing a novel

As some of you may know, I have spent the last 9 months revising the novel I entered in the “Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award” competition (where it was nominated as a semifinalist).  I finished up my latest draft on the morning of the 12th, and spent the rest of the day formatting the book for Amazon’s CreateSpace service.

(One of the awards for being a semifinalist is being able to receive a free proof copy of your novel from Amazon’s CreateSpace self-publishing service.)

For this complex formatting task, I used OpenOffice 2.4.  I know, I know – v3 came out this week, but I generally have a policy against downloading new software for the first 30 days after its release.  I like to make sure that any grievous bugs and security errors are given time to show themselves before I jump on a new version bandwagon.

All-in-all, OO’s Writer performed remarkably well.  Adjusting page margins, layout, complex font issues, kerning, and spacing was all a breeze, and OO’s repagination was surprisingly fast and accurate (for a book looking to end up somewhere between 300 and 400 pages).

However, I have one major complaint.  There is no easy way to suppress footers and headers for any page except the first.  In fact, the only legitimate way to do it is to use a complex array of page styles, and even then I had major issues.

This is compounded by the fact that I consider myself a grade-A problem solver when it comes to software use.  As a programmer, I have no problem spending hours debugging problems like this – but I simply could not generate a simple, useful solution to this problem after an entire evening of research.  I debated saving my novel as a .DOC and trying to remedy the problem in Microsoft Word – but lo and behold, they also can’t suppress headers and footers on select pages without major hacking.

How is this possible?!  Has no one ever noticed this problem?  In my mind, this problem is fairly trivial to fix – especially in OO.  On the page properties dialog, simply add an option to SUPPRESS A HEADER OR FOOTER FOR THIS PAGE ONLY.

How hard is that?  Not hard at all.

Anyway, I am now in the process of discovering a good way to submit my request to the OO development team.  With this change, I can honestly say that I could write an entire novel – happily – in OO.  No small feat for an open source competitor to the all-but-ubiquitous MS Word.

OpenOffice.org can be downloaded for free at http://www.openoffice.org/.  They have been a bit overwhelmed by download requests for version 3, so don’t be alarmed if you get a plain-text page instead of their full site!

Music for Writers

Several months ago I had the enjoyable – and enlightening – experience of reading through some 20+ excerpts at the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest (ABNA). It was very interesting to see firsthand the vast difference in raw talent among aspiring writers. Some of these people make you wonder why they’re not published already while others make you wonder why they’re writing at all.

Anyway, after returning and glancing through several particularly boring entries, I’ve decided that many aspiring authors could stand to listen to a bit of music while they work.

So as a courtesy, here’s some recommended listening for your genre of choice:

Science Fiction Music

Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through The Eyes of Madness

by Coheed and Cambria

While every Coheed and Cambria album is worthy of your listening, I found IV a particularly good album for writers. For those who don’t know, Claudio Sanchez (the band’s lead singer) is also a comic book author. C&C’s music tells the story of Claudio’s comic book series The Amory Wars, an epic space opera. Each album covers a wide array of styles; some songs are almost pop, others punk, some are really pretty acoustic numbers, and C&C’s classic metal sound is hard to beat. Even cooler is the band’s near-use of leitmotifs, as recurring themes throughout each album appear depending on the events and speakers.

Every C&C album is brilliant. Do check them out.

Fantasy Music

Final Fantasy S Generation

Anything Nobuo Uematsu, but I especially like Final Fantasy: S Generation

If you’ve lived this long and never heard of Final Fantasy, you’re lame. No really – you’re totally missing out on some of the most original music to come out of Japan in the last twenty years. Uematsu (the series’ long-time composer) was named as one of Time Magazine’s “Innovators,” and the recognition was well-warranted. Uematsu’s scores draw from a wide variety of styles and he’s done more to make video game music legitimate than perhaps anyone else in his field.

S Generation is a fantastic orchestral remix of songs from Final Fantasy 7, 8, and 9 – the games for the original PlayStation. I’m particularly fond of the beautiful orchestral arrangement of Aeris’ Theme, and the piano remix of Eyes on Me is second-to-none.

The otherworldly nature of fantasy writing could draw a lot of inspiration from the mystic beauty of Uematsu’s work.

Action/Adventure Music

Phobia

by Breaking Benjamin

This is perhaps the most epic rock album you’ll ever own. If you enjoy bands like Foo Fighters, Fuel, Evanescence, and 3 Doors Down, this album is especially likely to impress you.

Phobia is one of those rare albums where you can actually listen to the entire album start-to-finish without skipping a single track. Even stranger, the headline tracks from this album (Diary of Jane and Breath) aren’t even the best songs BB has to offer – Dance with the Devil and Evil Angel are both masterpieces, and the acoustic version of Diary of Jane almost eclipses the original.

This is perhaps my favorite hard rock album of all-time, and I wrote every action scene in The Zargansk Wars while listening to this killer CD.

More genres to follow in the future.