This is the second time I’ve completed the A-Z Challenge (Thank you Matt from the QQQE for putting me on to the possibilities), blogging 26 letters of the alphabet this year on swordplay. It’s hard to believe the month passed so quickly. It’s my son’s 11th birthday tomorrow and I’ve finished just in time to plan his birthday party – an ode to Ratzo part IV. It’s a long story and you could check on my Dad-dito blog for more info but suffice to say I’ve got some work to do. Puzzles to make, dangers to create, some script and storyline to ponder for my son and five of his friends.
What was it like to blog the whole month of April on the A-Z? Exhausting and exhilarating. The word discipline comes to mind also. Hard work. A kick in the ass, also. This year I visited more blogs than last year, though it was much harder to do as the month went on. A good start helped. I pre-wrote the first five posts – that helped me to blog-hop the first week. The whole experience has put a smile on my face.
What’s amazing to me is that I also got some work done on my next novel. Sometimes other writing gets in the way. Other times it acts as a motivator. I’ve read a few good books also that I’ll talk about in May – a bit of non-fiction, a bit of fiction.
I am tired. Some of that is spring and a giant ahhh of exhalation.
It’s time to press on with my WIP.
The offer of help to anyone who needs it on swordplay in their writing is still open. I’m no fencing master, but I’ve learned a thing or two about blades and such over the last 30-years and how to put them into words that paint pictures and tell stories.
I know. I know. Zorro, right? But that would be too easy. So I went after Zanbato instead (thanks again to Urban Dictionary for the path). If you have never seen The Seven Samurai, by Akira Kurosawa, then you have never seen the most magnificent Zanbato in film. One of the samurai wields it. This is one of my favorite movies of all time – as is its American version, The Magnificent Seven.
So what is a Zanbato? Urban Dictionary: an especially large type of Japanese sword, the historical use of which is disputed. The sword closely resembles the nodachi or odachi, however it differs from the nodachi by having a ricasso of approximately 12 to 18 inches (460 mm). This lends more to the theory of the sword having a practical use in feudal Japan. The increased length of the blade, along with the extra grip, would give it dual use both as a sword and as a polearm for attacking advancing cavalry.
Horse-slaying sword. That says it all.
And so the A-Z challenge ends with the image of seven samurai looking down into a valley filled with poor peasants being over run by bandits. What will they do? Thanks to all who stopped by for this year’s challenge. En guarde!
A yielding or ceding parry is a parry executed against a flowing attack without separating the blades.
For example. You lunge and your opponent parries. As he counter attacks you remain in contact with his blade as you slide his foible into your forte and parry him in return. This is a move for point work (small-sword, foil, épée) and is a nice contrast to the sound of tick-tacking blades (if you were choreographing a fight…).
Two weeks have passed and I still haven’t written a blog post. I have been working on my book though, so that is something. Still, there’s time and distance to look at the experience and that, also is a good thing. So here are some thoughts on the A-Z challenge and blogging in general.
- Blogging is hard work. I don’t care what anyone says. It is writing and it is challenging, and it takes time and it is hard work. I know if I followed my wife’s suggestion and wrote short that I would be a better blogger but I tend to write long and meander. It is not a good blogger habit. So for 26 posts I tried to meander less and work quicker. When I was lost in side bars, side tracks, asides, and digressions I tried to find my way home and back to the point as quickly as possible.
- If was impossible for me to visit three blogs a day, much less five. I might have averaged out about 1 a day. It is only because I write slow and meander (see bullet one). But I did see 26 new blogs and found some great ones to follow. The blogging community is an eye-opening, huge group of absolutely crazy individuals with fascinating opinions and stuff (read – all kinds of shit, good shit and bad shit and all kinds of shit that’s in-between) to share with the world. My favorite blog to look at was Kristen Pelfrey’s, not because I found her blog during the A-Z challenge as I’d read her blog before… but because I found myself compelled to follow her post by post whenever I checked in on her work. She is a woman passionate about writing, about art, about learning, and about her angel potatoes. Each of her posts was a gem and worth going back for a second read.
- Choosing a theme was a good idea for me. My Greek theme played out well in helping me to structure my posts and give me a hook so I meandered less and actually, more than less, found a point to talk about. But… some letters were hard to come up with post for ( those with no Gods or Heroes or creatures beginning with the letters like Y, W, F and others). I find, though that constraints can sometimes be great creative devises. If I had left myself an open field to work with for each post I might have spent many more hours staring at the screen and imagining myself to be Stephen King (has anyone read his new Dark Tower book? I have to get that – I digress…). When I performed improvisational comedy with KLAATU my favorite improvs were the ones with more constraints. Free-form always troubled me. I liked a space to work within rather than the whole universe. It’s a different kind of creativity and one I work well with.
- I really enjoyed writing the posts. I felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment as I worked my way forward. Some of the pieces I wrote even ended up having some meaning to me and perhaps others – though more than anything I feel like I write to myself when I blog. I wonder if others do the same?
Finally there is the case of one Mathew MacNish, blogger extraordinaire, and the master of the QQQE. I tried the A-Z challenge because he was one of the masterminds in charge and if he was involved it meant I should probably give it a try. Mathew is a butt-kicking blogospherical expert and he hasn’t led me wrong yet. Plus he’s a friend and those two things together work magic.
On another note I read a bunch of wonderful books over the month that I’ll mention in future posts. But I will say that at least one was an adult novel and another, not the adult novel, my son can not read. On second thought my son can’t read either. Even though he’ll use his tried and true leverage, “But I read The Hunger Games” on me. It won’t work. Nope. Not this time. I will not fold for the YA book was brutal B R U T A L brutal.
And finally, I’m going to White House on Wednesday. Seriously. I am. I have a meeting with some colleagues about a project I’ve been involved with and we’ll be sitting down with Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP) members in the White House, on the other side of the wrought iron fence – a place I’ve never been and never thought I would go. The experience relates to writing in a very distinctive way. My day job (running a training institute at a non-profit that works in the fields of AIDS and Drug Treatment amongst other issues) is challenging and hard but also interesting and provides me opportunity to do work that I think is important in helping others. As a writer it’s good and bad to have a job like this, good because it’s good to work at something you care about. Bad because it can suck all your time and energy away from you. What’s the best job to have if you’re a writer? More on that another day.
For now, I’ve meandered enough and need to find my way back home. Now… which way was it?
Recently I read Gone, by Michael Grant and although it’s a real page turner one of the things that struck me (besides being a bit scared of the darkness inside, I’m not afraid to admit it!) was how several of the characters had faith in God (a male it seemed and organized Christian God). It wasn’t a large part of the book but it was part of the fabric of the universe for the main characters. What happened to them challenged some of their faith in a God. It made sense for that town and those characters but I am so unused to a discussion of God that it stood out for me.
My son wants to read Gone (after reading The Magnificent Twelve he thinks Michael Grant is the funniest writer in the universe) but we won’t let him. He’s very upset about this as he’s turning 10 in three days and has read Ship Breaker (my fault), The Hunger Games (my fault – I’m a bad Daddy), and all the Harry Potter books (okay – now he earned the right to read them so back off!). My wife, who is infinitely more wise than me, is the one who put her foot down and said no, not now, to Gone.
You see in our community a boy recently died. He was thirteen years old. The whole story is not known as we do not know the family well, but we had been to their home a couple of times with other families for school social events. The boy got an infection that turned into meningitis and he died. It all happened in one week and I am still shaking a bit about it because, as a parent, my first thought was – what if this happened to my son? These kinds of things make you question God(s)/Goddess(es) and faith. My son barely remembered the boy as it had been a few years since they’d last seen each other and the boy was three years older. My son seemed okay with the news. It seemed to pass by him and through him with only a small ripple. He was more concerned for us then himself, it seemed.
So in Gone (this is not a spoiler as it happens on page one) everyone over the age of 14 poofs – disappears and the world that Michael Grant creates is scary and fascinating. But not right now for my son. No poofs. Maybe next year or in the fall with some time and perspective. It is impossible to answer the question, why did a child die? How do you find a reason for that?
The book I’m working on now is about God, tangentially. It is about loss of faith and maybe (I don’t know yet how it will work out) gaining of faith back. It’s a real challenge for me as I was born a Jew, brought up Methodist, tried some Catholicism (youth groups have girls in them and I was a teenager but I really did go on that retreat to ask some questions of the priest – which I did. For example: Why do you say there’s only one God if there’s a father, son, and holy ghost? Isn’t that three? And what about the virgin Mary? What’s up with that? I was not popular and I did not get a concrete answer. I digress.), wandered into paganism, studied Buddhism and Hinduism and presently believe in a higher cosmic spirit of the feminine kind.
What I love about Greek mythology and all polytheistic practices is the ability to have all these different aspects of the great cosmic soul. Zeus of the lightning bolts needs all the other Gods and Goddesses to balance him out. They balance each other, yin and yang, water and fire, a satvic existence on the higher plane. without balance there is chaos. And yet in our lives, there is chaos. It seems in one way or another, in one corner of the world or another, with violence and death there is chaos. There are plateaus of balance and seemingly random acts of chaos. It makes me wonder as a parent and it makes me wonder as a human and it makes me wonder as a writer.
This is my last post on the A-Z challenge and I’ve made it through 26 posts relating to or pertaining to things that are Greek, at least from my perspective. I hope you’ve enjoyed the journey even half as much as I have.
Tartarus. The prison of the cyclops and the 100 headed giants and then the Titans. A place of great darkness – a deep, gloomy place, a pit, an abyss used as a dungeon of torment and suffering that resides beneath the underworld.
What is the writer’s Tartarus? What puts chains and shackles on our arms, our legs, our thoughts?
Osho, a spiritual leader from the 60’s-70’s says about creativity, that all children begin life creative and able to be artists, but that society and the way we are taught in school drives this out of us. We are told to color within the lines, not outside; play with trucks or dolls; wear blue or pink; be embarrassed to dance or play sports; that we can read, or can not.
Kindergarten starts the process, standardized tests finish it.
Osho was on to something. I have seen all these cultural beliefs (based on social values, not nature) placed upon my son by teachers, other children, by parents, sometimes even myself. Everyone is influenced by them in some way even if we do not act upon them to the same degree. Conform or be sanctioned (looked at differently, nobody will be friends with you, made fun of, verbal abuse, physical violence).
We start off as creative beings and lose sight of that wonderful freedom, so says Osho. Many think Osho was crazy too. I think he was a mystic, a crazy mystic who journeyed inward.
For me, writer’s block, the inability to write, is a personal Tartarus – a cell in the underworld with a grill that lets in only a sliver of light. It’s like Steve McQueen’s cell in Papillon (one of my favorite books and movies).
Loss of faith in myself and my work and a publishing system that grinds up writer’s and eats them for breakfast helped me to place myself there. I say place myself there because I own that the space is mine. I created it and I have existed in it. It is a part of my process. I know my own process of writing has ebbed and flowed over the 34 years that I have been writing and sometimes publishing. A few years ago I lost faith in myself – in my writing. In Papillon, Steve McQueen paces back and forth, eats cockroaches and water-bugs, talks to himself while his teeth fall out and he waits for his opportunity to escape.
I’m not big on water-bugs or cockroaches, even if they are high in protein. And I’d like to keep my teeth.
What saved me in my cell was that although I couldn’t write much in the way of new fiction and could not start a new book, I could still edit and I could still write other things. I kept my muscles working, even if only a little. I paced in my own way and looked up at the sliver of light that came from the grill.
I wrote blog entries about my son and being a father.
I wrote poetry.
I drew a lot – Faber Castle markers have always been my favorite. What I couldn’t put in words I put in pictures.
Until I found the door to my cell was no longer locked. I pushed it open, looked outside and started writing again. My process had changed. The words have not flowed as easily. But I have a deeper faith in myself. To me that’s the only way to get out. It’s better than waiting for Zeus to get you out. He’s got other things to do. He’s a God after all. And Greek.
Sisyphus was one ruthless, murderous (at least three people and children as told in stories about him), sly, crafty, iron-willed, Machiavellian, power-hungry, bastard of a Greek king. He was an absolute evil genius that regularly outsmarted Gods (Zeus and Persephone in particular) and mortals alike. Of course he took a fall eventually and Persephone (Goddess of the underworld) took him to task (after he played her the fool twice) and made him pay for all his trickery. His ultimate fate is to roll an immense boulder up a hill and upon getting it to the top watch it roll all the way back down, only to roll it back up, again and again. He’s probably (probably?) still at it right now. Now there’s a story to be written (Rick Riordan are you listening?). A Sisyphean task is one that is endless and can never be completed, no matter how hard you try.
Sometimes writing a novel seems like a Sisyphean task. It seems endless with restarts and stops. It is soul crushing at times (dealing with writer’s block), humbling (critiques and rejections, oh my), and the words the end seem like they are unreachable, no matter how close you get or how hard you try.
Which is why when you finish a first draft and write the end, it is so damned satisfying. No matter the rock rolls back down the hill for draft two through nine-teen. Because it doesn’t roll back down all the way and although the peak gets higher, it is a new peak to push the rock up to. And eventually, if we do our work well enough, we get to a top (after copy editing and final final editing and final final final editing with a publisher) and the damned thing doesn’t roll down at all.
Of course then it’s time to create a new rock to roll up the hill.
But for a few moments, on top of the hill, rock firmly in place and unable to roll back down, the view is pretty damn good and the air is very very sweet.
Rhea is the mother of the Olympian Gods (7 including Zeus) and wife of her own brother, Chronos. I mean, how many titans could there have been to choose from? Chronos eats all his kids but Rhea feeds him a stone (large one) swaddled in blankets instead of her last son, Zeus. Zeus escapes and as we all know from the Percy Jackson Tales (at least that’s been my refresher course) he rescues his siblings and puts the titans in their place. Saved by mom and a big swaddled stone.
Its made me think of mothers and their place in the books I’ve read recently. I just finished Michael Grants Gone – a wonderfully creepy story about kid survival practically without the presence of any mothers (or fathers) at all – even though one mother’s actions are key to the plot and kids act as “mothers” of different types. Mr. Grant can spin a tale and take it down some dark paths. But his tale represents the absent mother motif.
The present and struggling mother comes from A.S.King’s Everybody Sees the Ants – in which the mother swims to cope. She is not the protagonist but the story could not be told without her struggling presence. I love this book.
There’s also the mother with the heart of gold, the evil mother, the step-mother (good, bad or indifferent), the replacement mother, the oh my God what a mother (okay I just made that up), the mother who dies in the first scene or before (thank you Disney – that’s their speciality). How many others can you think of?
How do you write these characters as authentic human beings? Read King’s book to see. The mother is called the squid but she is not defined by her squidiness. As with any character in a book, so too in real life.
“Come take [them]!”
King Leonidas of Sparta says this in response to King Xerxes of Persia’s demand that the Greek army lay down their arms before the Battle of Thermopylae. Tens of thousands against 300 and they say, “Come take them!” What were they, out of their minds?
The movie 300 (see it if you haven’t because it’s awesome) is one of the most chest-thumping, testosterone filled films I’ve seen in the last year. Maybe I don’t see many chest-thumpers or maybe it is just that visually stunning (it is). Or maybe it’s the classic story that grabs me in which 300 come-back-victorious-or-on-your-shield Spartans hold off a swarm of Persians at the small pass of Thermopylae so that their armies back home can organize. They buy time now for victory later. And… spoiler here … they all die in the process. It’s brutal. But the dialog is just amazingly chest-thumping. There’s so much testosterone in this film it is overflowing.
What’s fascinating to me is how caught up I was in the characters, the father and son, the two friends who are like brothers (they are all like brothers), the king who willingly sacrifices himself and his warriors for the greater good of his country, and the cripple who wants so bad to be a soldier and betrays them all.
The reviews were mediocre of this film when it came out so I did not see it until recently. Everyone said it was visually spectacular but that the story was weak. I didn’t see that at all. I saw tremendous violence surrounding characters, hard as nails, that I cared for. That’s what story is all about. Characters you care about placed in danger in some way that they have to somehow get out of or through or around – even if they do not survive. Extreme, yes, in this case, but also, compelling.
The 1963 version of Jason and the Argonauts has an army of skeletons attack Jason and his sturdy argonaut crew. The skeletons area a creation of special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen. I saw this movie as a kid and it made my jaw drop open in absolute amazement. They looked real – still better than any CGI effects you can see today. They made the movie come to life. They made the whole hero’s journey work for me even though the lead, Todd Armstrong, was far from charismatic as Jason.
And the hero’s journey is what Jason is all about. Here’s a short-hand version of his life:
Jason is related to Odysseus (the hero of the Odyssey – not a bad lineage), tossed out of his kingdom by his uncle Pelion, is raised by the centaur Chiron, gets helped by Hera (always problematic), becomes the man with one sandal (kind of like the man with no name from a spaghetti western), goes on a quest for the golden fleece (just like Percy Jackson), gathers a band of burly argonauts including Heracles, Theseus, and the poet Orpheus (why is a poet on this adventure?), gets help from Athena (I thought she only helped women?), meets Medea and falls in love with her, plows a field with two fire-breathing bulls (one of which was in heat), sows the field with the teeth of a dragon (these become the skeletons in the movie!), snatches the golden fleece (snatches is a word that needs to get used more), marries Medea, takes his kingdom back from Pelion by tricking Pelion’s daughters into cutting him up into little bits and eating him (talk about issues for therapy) – take a breath from this long run-on sentence – has children of his own then falls in love with another woman (he can’t keep his you-know-what in his loin cloth), has Medea leave him after she in a fit of anger kills off all their own children, and finally ends up alone and lonely and kills himself by dropping off the end of his old ship the Argo. Whew. The hero’s journey.
Things need to happen to your hero/heroine. Whether it’s the journey to the corner drugstore, or the journey inside her head. Hero’s get chased by skeletons, big and small, real and imaginary and like Jason, they conquer or get conquered, grow, learn, or get dashed against the harsh realities of their existence. What is your hero’s journey like?
I can tell you this… mine will have white boned creatures with round shields and scimitars in there somewhere.
Icarus is a cautionary tale. Father Daedalus builds wings of feathers and wax to fly with – warns son, don’t go too close to the sun. Son flies too close and falls to the earth after his wings melt. Usually connected to the term hubris. Also connected to the term Icarus Complex (Psychiatry – A constellation of mental conflicts, the degree of which reflects the imbalance between a person’s desire for success, achievement, or material goods, and the ability to achieve those goals; the greater the gap between the idealized goal and reality, the greater the likelihood of failure.)
Sometimes I feel writers, all of us, are like Icarus, testing out our wings of wax and feathers, flying as close to sun as we can. The difference is our failures (those manuscripts we gave up on, or move on from, or let go of because we realized they just weren’t good enough – I have three of them that sit in my closet staring at me when I open the door and wondering if, when, I will go back to them, please, they say – take me out again!) we learn from and grow stronger from because we tried to see if they would fly. Testing out my work in the market place is the way for me to see if the wings are strong enough this time. If not, perhaps I just need to go back to the workshop and build better wings?
Notice when you’ve built better wings. It will carry you through the times the wings aren’t built good enough, cushion you on the nasty falls.
What does the writer wield? Here’s my equipment inventory for a session on the battlefield of words:
- Pencil (I don’t use one, I just like having them around because you never know when the electricity will go out and pencils will be back in the game)
- Pen (I prefer any pen from Levengers – expensive but worth every penny because, as Steve Martin says in Roxanne, “I need just the right pen…” – especially rollerballs) with refills…
- Computer (iMac 27″ screen especially helpful when comparing two versions of a manuscript or looking at my manuscript late at night in big bold letters, or just not having to use my glasses or squint because I’m too lazy to put them on)
- Comfortable chair (or wooden hardback if I’m feeling especially spartan) with wheels so I can roll back and forth in endless patterns of procrastination – but not too comfortable so that I easily fall asleep.
- Notebook or pad of paper (yellow legal or white – again not necessary to use very often but in case something comes up I always have one handy.)
- Writing software (Word, Scrivener, iA Writer – these are my big three – I use Scrivener now for first drafts of novels then shift over to Word when I’m approaching a third or fourth draft and I use iA Writer on my laptop or iPad when I’m traveling and want to write without thinking about formatting.)
- WiFi connection (a direct connection to the oracle of the internet)
I have other things to distract me like drawing pads, colored pens and art markers, a bulletin board that collects dust, a pile of folders I don’t use but that seems to get higher as the weeks go forward – I don’t know what’s in the pile but it keeps growing. Reference books to the right on the shelf and some underneath the pile of folders (I think).
What are your warrior writer’s tools of the trade?
Phobos is the Greek God of Horror and Fear. Interesting. It’s also the name of one of the moons of Mars. Ph is the sound of F in Greek and there is no letter F. I didn’t know that until a few moments ago. Onward.
As a writer what do I fear? What makes me wake up in a cold sweat, shivering? Here’s my list – writer specific:
- Not getting published.
- Getting published (I know, I know. But sometimes when you get what you ask for its scary. Hey, I’m a neurotic New York Writer. What can I say.).
- Having writer’s block.
- Not having writer’s block. (because I’m thinking… when will I get writer’s block?).
- Getting a bad review (I’ve gotten rid of my Goodreads bookmark from my toolbar. I had worn it out from obsessively checking it. It’s like crack for writers.).
- Red pen marks (this is a hold-over from high school).
- Having to do social marketing (I’m getting over it but only slowly. I’m still not friendly with Twitter but at least we’re acquaintances. And I’m starting to know Facebook on a first name basis.).
- Letting go of the need for publication (if I let it go will it be more likely to occur just like the old tale that says if you want something let it go?).
- Not letting go of the need for publication (if I let it go will it not occur in which case this is a catch 22 and I’m screwed.).
- Losing my electronic manuscript and not having backed it up.
- Sending out emails that get lost in the electronic maelstrom of computer generated life and not knowing that they never reached their destination.
- Having to look for an agent again (don’t have to, it’s just a fear…)
What’s on your list?
Archimedes is taking a bath and he notices the level of the water raises when he steps – in so discovering that the volume of irregular objects could be calculated with precision (Wikipedia, List of Greek Phrases). He was so excited he ran out into the street, naked and dripping, shouting, “I have found it!”
I was never good at math so the volume of water thing is beyond me (though I can do budgets – work budgets, not home ones as my wife will remind me). But there are moments in writing when something clicks in your work and you want to run out of your home, naked, dripping wet, and shout, “I have found it!” or “Eureka!”
After my seventh attempt at writing an ending to Open Wounds I outlined my whole novel on electronic index cards (in Scrivener), noting the characters who were in each chapter, the purpose of each chapter (what needed to happen), and one sentence synopsis. I spread out the cards across my screen and stared at them for three months.
One day I saw it – the ending that had eluded me for so long. And it was right, and good.
I didn’t run out into the street naked as that would have caused a bit of a scene, and it was winter. But I did have on my phiz a huge shit-eating grin for about a week.
– If drooling counts as dripping wet, then I covered all bases.
When you do have your eureka moment, enjoy it. Allow yourself to be. They don’t happen that often and should be savored so they can get you through the long stretches of hard work in between.
This is my first post on the A-Z challenge and I’ve got my own theme for the month that comes from the book I’m working on now that takes place in 1914 England where Greek and Latin ruled as education in the “classics”. How each of these sayings deals with writers today will be my own stretch. So stop by and see what I come up with.
Api tou heliou metastethi (Stand a little out of my sun.)
So replies Diogenes the Cynic when asked by Alexander the Great if he had any wish he could fulfill. You gotta love that with a rim-shot for punctuation.
Something I recently overheard from a writer at a conference who was published with a big house when asked about the kind of support and publicity campaign she was receiving: “Oh it’s great except they always put me next to the (choose your megastar writer – there are only a few) so I might as well not even be there.”
Me I like being next to the megastars. At Charlottesville, being next to Alma Katsu (The Taker) on a panel meant people on her line (long line) sometimes drifted over to my line when they finished having her sign their book. Hey. You gotta start somewhere. Alma is a very cool writer whom I’ve had the pleasure to meet twice at two different conferences. I can stand in her shadow any day, ’cause one person’s shadow is another person’s sun.
Where is Diogenes when you need him?
Here are three blogs I follow: