There are different kinds of waiting games that writer’s play and none of them are fun. Well, for me most are painful, mixed occasionally with moments of pleasure, but not fun. Definitely not fun. What do writer’s wait for? Here’s four to start with.
- a response from an editor -This is painful because it means potential rejection and the more neurotic you are the more you focus on this part. Raise your hand if you are in the more rather than less. Also it creates more anxiety the longer it goes on and it can take weeks, months, and yes, sometimes years for them to get back to you. Some never get back to you. Some get back to you with foul language in a long letter with a large coffee stain on the center of it. Okay that only happened once. What’s good about waiting for a response? Your work is being considered and there are short bouts of hope. Hope, hope, hope. Got to have hope.
- a response from an agent – see editor above. This one holds even if the agent is your agent. Actually it’s worse in some ways if it’s your agent because they’re supposed to be responsive to you. How many emails should it take to get your agent to respond? How long should you have to wait? One day? One week? One month? One year? Should you ever call? Can you text? How about face time? Is it okay to visit the office? Mind you I don’t have the answers to these questions. I use to, but then all my answers were proved wrong. I will say though, that stalking is right out wrong. If you’re at that point you should probably be looking for another agent.
- a response from a reader of your manuscript. If it’s a friend, partner, spouse, writer’s group colleague, or family member, and you’ve given them a time limit (reasonable, be reasonable!), and they’re kind (only ask them if they’re kind), then waiting should be shorter and easier. It helps if they’ve read your manuscripts before – or any manuscript before and it helps if they owe you money.
I’ve written about this before. I must have. Unless I haven’t and it’s all been in my mind. I do a lot of talking in my mind but not out loud. I think writer’s do this a lot.
The third piece of the story.
My best friend, Joe DePalmo, was hit by a train when I was 13. We were the kind of friends who saw each other every single day. Living on the same block helped. He left school on a day filled with rain and thunderstorms. I don’t know why he left. No one does. He wore thick glasses. He crossed a railroad track and was hit by the LIRR. They announced it over the loudspeaker in 8th period while I sat next to his empty seat in math class.
Write what you know.
I wrote about it in 10th grade for an essay competition in school. I didn’t win because my spelling was so terrible – seriously I placed but didn’t win. I’m so grateful for spell-check now. The piece of writing is gone. I never got it back. I’ve tried to rewrite the essay a few times but just can’t do it. So it worked its way through my subconscious, into my conscious, and after 42 years into the life of Illya Kuryakin Cruz-Archer – IC for short. IC’s 16. He plays a tabletop miniatures game called 40-K and he practices yoga and his parents are HIV positve and Brad Sologashvilles just gave him the Mark of Zorro.
The hit was one of the ideas to start the novel I’m working on, but not the only one.
Four years ago Evelyn Fazio, WestSide Books Editor and all around wonderful person (she did publish my first novel Open Wounds!), told me to write about my HIV/AIDS work. We’d just had lunch and I’d told her about my day job. “Write about it,” she said. Her suggestion stuck with me.
About a year later I wrote this line:
Did you ever wish you could be invisible, like The Invisible Man from that H.G. Wells book? He wrote that in 1897. Unfucking believable, my uncle Hatch would say. Both Wells and Hatch knew something about the need to disappear.
Then I wrote ten pages about a boy named IC whose parents were living with HIV. Then I found the hit tucked away in an electronic file. Maybe it found me. Something told me to put it in front of IC. It came first. I started at the end. Then I wrote two hundred pages – forward up to the opening scene, finished it, and kept going into act 3.
I wanted to write about HIV but not about someone who had HIV. HIV is much more a chronic illness today than it ever was and there’s a whole generation of long term survivors who are in their fifties and sixties who are dealing more with old age, albeit accelerated by their HIV, than HIV. They’re also dealing with AIDS Survivor Syndrome and loneliness and depression, and … It truly is a time when we can end the epidemic. Inhale exhale.
I’ve worked in the public health field of HIV/AIDS for over 25 years.
Write what you know. There’s a third element. I forgot about it. It’s unpleasant so I forgot about it even though it happened in reality before the hit did. It’s another expedition into the wormhole. I didn’t realize until now it was these three things that begged to be written about that came together into one story. I’ve kept them separated in my head where all the work it partitioned off. I’ll get to the third part because they all tie together under the write what you know label. Just not right now. I need to circle around just a little more.
I wrote ‘the end’ yesterday. A lot of writer’s talk about it, the feeling they have when they write ‘the end.’ I find a bit of sadness and a bit of anxiety and a bit of satisfaction as in. It’s not a first draft but it’s not a last. It’s a draft that says to me,
I wrote ‘the end’ yesterday. A lot of writer’s talk about it, the feeling they have when they write ‘the end.’ I find a bit of sadness and a bit of anxiety and a bit of satisfaction as in I can’t get no. It’s not a first draft but it’s not a last. It’s a draft that says to me, I need to be read and validated and edited now.
Overall it’s a pretty good feeling.
It weighs in at 301 pages and about 70,000 words in courier font because courier reminds me of a manual typewriter. It’s taken two and a half years to get here and a couple of wormholes and a few false starts – though I wrote the opening page about nine years ago. It’s funny how that works.
My first reader is my wife, Karen. Always.
She asks me, “Am I going to get upset?” I nod. Of course. She knew the answer before she asked. I could tell you about the plot but it doesn’t matter because it’s really about my friend who died when I was twelve. His name was Joe, same as me, and I still, 42 years later, think about him.
I’ve been working hard on this book, pushing, since June. Since June I wrote the last act, some 80 pages, and read through/edited three times – lunch-time when I could. Some late nights. Some weekends. I made time. I gave up some other things instead. I found a good rhythm – one that, as a novelist, I haven’t been able to find in a while. It feels really good to find it again.
Now I don’t know quite what to do with myself except wait and try not to ask Karen, “Did you start reading yet?” I asked her this morning. I have no impulse control about this. Really, I don’t – never have.
Bethany Hegedus (author of Between us Baxters and Grandfather Gandhi) asked me to write a blog post for her series Rejecting Rejection at www.thewritingbarn.com. Bethany was the reader who read Open Wounds for Westside Books and told them they should buy it. She helped me break the rejection streak and I’ll be forever grateful. Check out the other posts on Rejection. They are inspirational, some funny, and overall give me the feeling of being in good company. Everybody deals with the big R. Everybody.
Also take a look at The Writing Barn. What an awesome place to go on a writer’s retreat…/
I’m sitting in New Orleans Louis Armstrong Airport with Max and Karen waiting for Jetlbue flight 576 to arrive to head back to New York. It’s a long story and I’ve only got the energy for a short version.
Drug Court conference for the state of Louisiana. I did a plenary for the whole association (some 400 practitioners) on Cultural Competency and LGBT clients – a workshop for about 100 on Young Adult Developmental Issues. I said the words penis and vagina out loud. You had to be there to get the context but it was a moment I’m proud of.
Karen and Max came down here with me. It was their first time here. We did Mardi Gras, and a swamp tour, and Max held a baby alligator, and we ate beignets (Max laughed and made the powdered sugar go all over the place), and we caught beads thrown from parade floats, and walked the French Quarter.
Grant proposals are due. My work as Ex Dir is giving me constant brain freeze. I’m running out of steam.
I haven’t posted since December but I’ve been writing. That’s good.
Half of one book (Cid prequel) and half of another (modern-day). I’ve been marking new pages on a note app and am up to 42 this year on the modern-day newbie. That puts the total for modern-day up to about 135. Writing is good.
Finishing is better.
I’ll work some on the plane ride home. I’ve promised myself that. That and a movie – perhaps a comedy. We could all use a good laugh. We’re heading into the cold and a coming snowstorm.
I read The Bully Pulpit – by Doris Kearns Goodwin – a massive tome about Taft and Roosevelt. It was a long long tough read but totally worth it – even if Teddy R comes out looking like an ass at the end. Small print and many hours reading later…
Taft was an introvert. Long live the introverts. They are different kinds of leaders and good ones too.
It’s 2014. Two months in. 42 pages. Have to catch up.
The only book in order is my top choice for the year and one of my favorite of all time (I know its only been out a few months but I read it over two years ago and it rocked my world then and continues to so do or do so or doe-si-doe). The rest are arranged in the order that I thought of them.
Winger, by Andrew Smith. This is a great book that perfectly captures the voice of adolescence. Ryan Dean’s voice is wonderful and authentic and did I mention there’s rugby in the book? Everyone should read this book. It is poetic and brutally powerful.
The Chaos Walking Trilogy, by Patrick Ness (including The Knife of Never Letting Go, The Ask and the Answer, and Monsters of Men). I’m cheating. This is three books but they really are one epic science fiction story that will make you cry and break your heart and keep you turning the pages right up until the end. This is how great sociological science fiction is written. And it happens to be a YA book. The gender politics (everyone can hear what men think but nobody can hear what women think) and the commentary on the nature of being human cuts through you right from the beginning. Then there’s the alien race and consciousness. Wow.
Railsea, by China Miéville. I have to say right from the start that this author is not everyone’s cup of tea and… I read another book by him that I liked and another that I couldn’t finish (rare for me). What does this mean? The language is difficult to get the hang of but once I did I really found this story of White Whale hunting and metaphor mapping to be a wonder. But the language… stay with it. I found it an original work of really great and unique science fiction.
11/22/63, by Stephen King. Two friends recommended this to me. I held off until I was ready to travel to Seattle and had 5 hours on a plane facing me there and 5 hours back. So… I have to say this is vintage King writing historical fiction with a vengeance. I loved the main character and would have followed him anywhere after the first couple of pages. Early hook, King never let me go. Time travel, butterfly effect, the 1960s (I was born in 61) all used to good effect. I was sad to see this one end and I’ve recommended to everyone I know since. It’s a long novel and that is a very good thing.
The Wind Through the Keyhole, by Stephen King. First know that I love a good western and I love the Dark Tower Series. Given that then you can understand why I loved this King coming of age again story. It is chilling and beautifully written.
Out of my Mind, by Sharon Draper. The story of a disabled child stuck in a wheel chair, unable to speak or communicate yet incredibly smart and aware of what’s going on around her and nobody knows it. This story is so powerful. It’s told from inside the young girl’s head, how she sees and knows the world rather than from the outside in and this makes the experience raw and challenging. I especially liked the ending and its realistic, no Disney fireworks conclusion.
The Dust of a Hundred Dogs, by A.S. King. Reality Boy was terrific too (so I’ll sneak in a quick recommendation as A.S. King rocks with all her books) but I have to tell you Dust of 100 dogs just rocked my boat. I’m a sucker for a western but I’m also a bigger sucker for a pirate story. And this is a love story also! This is told from the protagonist’s point of view from three unique angles (many dogs perspectives, a modern-day teenager, and a pirate from the days of swashbuckling). This is not a story for the squeamish (rape and pillaging abound) but man did it grab me. I saw the ending coming but felt so satisfied when it arrived that I didn’t care.
Calico Joe, by John Grisham. I know I know. John Grisham? Hey, what can I say. I really enjoyed this baseball book about father-son relationships. I can’t believe how fascinating this story was. My father-in-law hated this and I loved it. The insight into why players do what they do was terrific.
Buddha, by Osamu Tezuka (including Volumes 1-8, yes, you read that right, 1-8). I’m cheating but I’m not really cheating. It’s one long epic graphic novel in 8 volumes. And it’s the story of Buddha. And the covers were all designed by Chip Kidd. How can you go wrong? This is the Buddha story with a vengeance. It’s all manga from the grandfather of manga, filled with inside jokes about school in Japan, and part Monty Python’s The Life of Brian. It’s also a deep book about religion, it’s uses and misuses and yes, about why we fear death and how we as human beings can come to terms with it. My son and I read these together. Take your time reading the story and enjoy the pen and ink on the full-page panels. The detail is incredible. This is an amazing lifetime achievement.
The Drowned Cities, by Paulo Bacigalupi. Even more brutal and disturbing than Ship Breaker – more violent if you can believe it. And so disturbing reading about children making war on children. This is total heart of darkness time. Keep one eye half closed as you read, but do read it and hope that Bacigalupi writes another story that takes us back to this world. Just… no more chopping off of fingers, please! Ouch.
Well, that it for 2013.
I’m looking forward to the reading list for 2014.
And my own work moves forward, slowly, but surely. If I can just keep at it I should have two books in to my agent this year. Fingers crossed. Nose to the grindstone.
Here’s my second set of five. Make of them what you will, but in no particular order:
Spartacus by Howard Fast is a great book and a great piece of literature. I read this about fifteen years ago and was blown away by how evocative it was and how many layers it carried on it’s scarred shoulders. I loved the movie Spartacus (I’m Spartacus! The watches on the Roman soldier’s wrists in the big battle. The crucifiction after the horrific fight between Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis who still sounds like he’s in Brooklyn) and only saw the novel while digging for gold at a used bookstore on 19th street near 5th avenue. I couldn’t put this down. As a piece of historical and political fiction (yes and swords and sandals action – though less than you’d think) it blew me away. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy writing historical fiction. Note I’ve also seen the first season of the TV show and had a hard time watching it as the violence was incredibly intense and the story so upsetting. But then when was slavery ever anything but? This is the only novel I’ve read by Fast and it’s a keeper.
The Stand by Stephen King is wonderful. I’ve read it twice, once when I was a teenager when it struck me as the ultimate teenage angsty end of the world story. I loved the characters, was terrified and caught up in the story, and completely satisfied with the ending. This is King at his best. Then I read it again some twenty years later when he reissued it with an additional 400 pages in the “uncut” version and I loved it even more. This had one of the most gripping opening 50 pages ever. I can still picture the guys at the gas station watching the car with the… and the guy waking up at the hospital…
Captail Blood by Rafael Sabatini surprised me when I read it. I had seen the Errol Flynn film of the book when I was a kid about a dozen times and knew it by heart. When I wrote my novel Open Wounds I used the movie and the book as key plot points. The first half of the book Captain Blood, is almost word for word the screenplay of the movie. But, and here’s the good part, the second half of the book takes Captain Peter Blood to the edge of madness and home again. You’ve missed out on a terrific read if you haven’t taken this step past what is already a great movie story. I’m a sucker for a good pirate story.
Make Room, Make Room by Harry Harrison is absolutely brutal. The movie Soylent Green (Soylent Green is people food! says Chuck Heston from his stretcher) was made from a small piece of this massive, thought-provoking, and yes, depressing and dark science fiction novel. I picked the book up because it said, “Movie based on…” and because I’d read and liked Harry Harrison (Bill the Galactic Hero is a favorite). This is a gritty and powerful and cautionary tale all wrapped up into a crowded, unable to breathe in, novel.
With a nod to Matthew MacNish’s Facebook post on his most influential books from at least 10 years ago. Piece of cake for the first five but not so easy from there-after. They’re in order of how they came to me. First five today – the rest later in the week.
1. The Gods of Mars/The Warlord of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs. These are the second and third books of the John Carter of Mars series. I found a beat up hard cover copy of these in a two-book special issue on a dusty, lonely shelf in my seventh period study hall in 8th grade. It was the only study hall I ever took. I loved these books so much I took the hardcover with the Frazetta art on the front home with me. When my friend Joe died at the end of that year in a terrible train accident a small part of me thought he died because I took the book. I could come up with no other reason for losing my best friend. It has haunted me. Over the years I collected each of the Frazetta covered hardbacks in the series combing through used bookstores everywhere I went for those special editions with the line drawings illustrating the text. Frazetta did the covers for all Burroughs’ books in the 70s so I read everything he wrote, even if he wrote them all during the early 1900s.
2. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien. They are all one to me emotionally. The year before Joe died we read these one after the other. I still remember reading the Bridge at Khazadoom chapter in the car with Joe and my brother on the way to the community pool. We didn’t want to leave the car until we finished that first book.
3. Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. Nobody has ever captured the thrill of getting a new pair of sneakers on the first day of summer the way he did. I love lots of Bradbury books but this one was just about growing up, nothing more and nothing less and it was magnificent. His voice is so distinctive and poetic. I don’t write like him but I aspire to have a voice as singularly unique and an imagination as full of wonder. I got a lot tied up in him.
4. His Dark Materials Trilogy by Philip Pullman. This was the most powerful fantasy novel (and it is one long epic novel told in three parts) I’d read in a long, long time and I read it just before my son was born and before Harry Potter turned up. And it’s YA. And I cried at the end and stared at the ceiling afterwards examining the cracks and wondering about the world. Damn.
5. A Deadly Shade of Gold by John D. MacDonald. I started reading the Travis McGee series when I was in Honduras as a Peace Corps Volunteer. The PC library was four shelves of worn paperbacks sitting in the shade by the nurses office in Tegucigalpa. I don’t remember which number book this was for me but it’s the fifth in the series and I’d read a few before this one came along. As a writer this book blew me away because the mystery was cleared up half-way into the book. I was young and naively thought genre books like mysteries always followed a pattern. I had at that moment a blinding realization – that I didn’t care that the book had stopped following the pattern and that was because I enjoyed the main character Travis McGee so much I was willing to go anywhere plot-wise with him. He tore the genre formulae apart. Genre didn’t have to follow formulae. With a good character in hand you could do just about anything in any genre. I always tell writers to read Macdonald’s Travis McGee series. He was a master of genre fiction. You also watch him grow as a writer as the books were written over a twenty-year spread. Check out McGee, the dames who come to him looking for help and his houseboat The Busted Flush somewhere down the coast of Florida. Don’t forget the rum.
I know. I know. But tell me if you saw a book like this in the bookstore, that you wouldn’t pick it up to at least, you know, look.
I’ve been reading a book called, Ass-holes, A theory, by Aaron James and thoroughly enjoying it. James is a Harvard educated philosophy doc and takes a philosophical approach to looking at assholes and you either go with it or you don’t. I did. It reminded me of an extended, funny Monty Python sketch. He’s not going to tell you how to deal with assholes. He’s just going to examine them and identify them, and try to figure out why they appear in our world in such large numbers.
I can honestly say I have never seen the work asshole used in combination with so many other words so many different ways, all in one place, before. For example there is asshole management, are assholes shaped by enabling cultures, self-aggrandizing assholes, reckless assholes, delusional assholes, an asshole population, asshole CEOs, assholes within, corporate assholes, royal assholes, royal royal assholes, presidential assholes, asshole bosses, smug assholes, boorish assholes, borderline or half-assed assholes, the supreme court of assholedom, kingdoms of assholes, small assholes, full-sized assholes, individuals who have an inner asshole, moral assholes, have a proliferation of assholes, be a mere asshole, or be a part of asshole capitalism. And that’s just stuff from the first half of the book that caught my eye.
James sets up a hypothesis for what makes up an asshole as opposed to a psycho, tyrant, scumbag, or jerk. He likes to work from the middle of the spectrum of assholedom.
Why am I writing about assholes? It occurred to me while I was contemplating reading Ass-holes, that I should buy the iBook version and read it on my iPad – one less book to carry around while traveling. Then I realized once again – for I go back and forth on this over and over again – that if I continued this pattern I would not longer buy books from independent bookstores – which, if they no longer exist, would be the end of civilization as we know it.
Besides, I bought Ass-holes because I saw it in the window of Kramer Books on Dupont Circle in DC – a great bookstore, coffee shop and diner. They earned the purchase by their display, their wonderful sales help, allowing me to wander through their aisles for an hour, and their all around awesomeness.
So in a way, if I didn’t buy the hardcover I would have been an asshole without a cover.
It’s my rationalization and I’m sticking to it.
I was in Seattle two weeks ago for the third time in a year. It’s for my day job but I had the chance to do some book business. I love going to Seattle. It’s a beautiful city that smells of the ocean and clean air. I don’t know if it has clean air or not I just know it smells nicer than NYC which generally smells, well … ripe.
I did my workshop with the courts and my contractor promoting a federally funded blended (face-to-face and online) learning system, then had an afternoon to myself so … I wandered across the street to the Seattle public library with a copy of my book to see if I could donate a copy.
If you’ve never seen Seattle’s library it’s an awesome structure. I asked for the YA section. It covers most of a whole floor. I asked to speak to a YA librarian (not knowing the technical lingo for such – though librarian is a cool enough job title in my book, er, you know what I mean). Specialist Carol Lo came and saw me and after nicely hearing my pitch and my idea (I’d like to donate a copy of my book) said there was a whole process in bringing in copies of a new book into the library, but would be glad to take the single book I’d brought and make sure it got into the hands of some young people to read. Then she checked to see if they carried it (why did I assume they didn’t?) and indeed they had a copy.
This made my day. Thank you for being so helpful, Carol Lo. And thank you Seattle Public Library for carrying my book.
I ran up and down the hills by the waterfront and Pike’s Market early in the morning while the fog was still covering the water and a good part of the city. Im not a big runner (I enjoy having run but not running unless I have a rugby ball in my hands and others are chasing me with the intent to tackle) but I find it’s a great way to check interesting parts of a city out. The waterfront is beautiful.
Dinner at The Pink Door with my colleagues and interesting side trip to a male burlesque show (don’t ask, don’t ask) capped the trip and sent me on my return trip home.
And I love Deli No More (look at the graffiti all over the walls and ceiling) inside the YWCA. Bacon, egg, and cheese breakfast sandwiches rock.
I’ve been reading A.S. King and learning how to write. Every one of her books is a meditation on the art and craft of the novel. She is wonderful. I just finished her first book, Dust of 100 Dogs, and her latest, Reality Boy – back to back. I’ve read all of her books inbetween also.
Dust is part pirate tale (female protagonist), part coming of age story, part love story, part dog story, part modern and part historical. How would you take being born aware that you were a pirate and then, because of a curse, forced to the live the lives of 100 dogs, before you were again born into present day remembering each of your previous iterations fully?
The pirate story and the modern story are told in parallel as are a number of dog stories. You know the ending at the beginning but it doesn’t matter because you still don’t know how exactly King will get you there. This is a great technique and very hard to pull off yet she did this with her first novel and in such an engaging way. I was so caught up in the story I kept thinking to myself, maybe it won’t end the way she said. I knew the way the story ended. She’s cursed and lives the lives of 100 dogs. But still… I knew how it ended in general, guessed the specifics, and still felt a lump in my throat when I got to the last page.
Reality Boy is so different and so visceral. You can read the synopsis on Goodreads. I’m not going to give it to you. It’s still too fresh for me. A good book will do that to me. It has to settle. I found tears on my cheeks a few times reading Reality Boy, and not because I felt manipulated but because the authenticity of Gerald’s (the protagonist) situation made me – feel. King is expert at capturing what it’s like to be in late adolescence (17). As an example. Gerald has a developmental insight at one point (he sees the world from someone elses point of view). I know this sounds mundane, but it’s hard to explain this kind of world view to adults and for me, King really puts us inside Gerald’s head and shows us his realization in such a painful and amazing way. And it is amazing, in a story telling world accustomed to cartloads of over-the-top action, explosions, and gun-play, how powerful a single moment of genuine insight from a character we care about can be.
What will she write about next?
I lost 90 pages of my WIP late in the summer – don’t ask how. Okay I’ll tell you. I can’t help myself.
Once, when my son was small, about four years old we had a small fish tank with a few fish in it. One fish disappeared one night. I mean … it disappeared. There had been casualties before (many, many, many casualties) but they always showed up on the surface, belly up. So one little guy, like a master illusionist, one night disappeared. I searched the whole tank, top to bottom, filter to gravel graveyard. I checked the floor for 6 feet in all directions. I looked for bones in hideouts.
I called fish experts.
They scratched their heads.
He was too big to be eaten by the two other fish inside the tank with him. So what happened to him? I don’t know. But sometimes, late at night when I’m just about asleep I swear I can hear him laughing and calling out to me, “So long sucker.”
One night in August I was working on my WIP. I left the document open on the screen, got caught up in watching The Big Bang Theory with my son and wife. I went to bed. In the morning…
So long suckers.
The document was there but 90 pages were gone. I looked everywhere. I looked on my screen, in my dropbox, in my WIP folder, in my other computer, in all my back-up files. I checked the floor for 6 feet in all directions. I looked for bones in hideouts.
Fortunately I had a hard copy. I just had to type it all in again…
I wish I was a faster typist. Mavis Beacon, here I come.
So long suckers.
Then a little while later he says, “If I write two pages a day – only two pages a day – I’ll write a novel in… ” I can see him doing the math in his head, “half a year.”
I nod. “It’s cool isn’t it?”
He shows me his new page(s) every night. He doesn’t usually show me his writing for school so this is a new thing for me. When I’ve ask to see his school work in the past he’s usually said, “No.” I’ve had to search for his stories and essays in his work folders after it’s been handed back to him and placed somewhere in his overstocked and overflowing backpack. Or my wife has had to tell me where it was. She knows. She almost always gets to read his work.
He’s finding real joy in putting his pencil to his page. He sits at the table at night staring out the window with his pencil eraser between his teeth, chewing and thinking. Every once in a while his pencil moves down and across the page leaving text behind. I sit with my back to him at my computer doing my version of the exact same thing with electronic text. I don’t chew on an eraser – though I’m not against it if it helps to think. I usually sip tea.
When he’s finished he wants me to read it, “Right now.”
He stands next to me and places his book in my lap. He points at it. “Now.” He watches while I read it, his hands together in front of him. He cracks his knuckles one after the other rolling from one finger and hand to the next. I laugh out loud when the story is funny. He smiles when I do that.
“Who should I kill off?” he asks, placing his hand on my shoulder.
“Let me finish reading,” I say.
“I’m not going to kill off anyone,” he says. “Maybe just have one of them lose a foot or a hand.”
“Shh,” I say.
“Read it,” he responds.
It reminds me of so many writer’s that I know, including myself. “Tell me what you think?” He asks and I have to tell him now. When I give my work to someone to read I want the same thing, now, only as an adult trying to show that I have impulse control, that I can be patient, that time is of no importance to me – I say instead, “When you get the chance.” Or worse, “There’s no rush.” What that really means is, “Now.” Trust me. it means, “Pick up the manuscript and start reading now. And don’t stop until you’ve finished. Because I want to know what you think – if it’s any good and I want to know now. I’ve been inside my own head for over a year, written 235 pages, and need to know it’s been worth the effort so I can write another 100-200 pages more of my epic – though it’s not really an epic I just think of it that way. And if you make me wait a day or a week or – God help you – a month to get back to me I’ll have to exist in silent scream torture mode as every day I check me email to see if you’ve sent me a note that says, “I’m done.” ”
My son is quiet while I read the rest of the page. He sits on the arm of my work-chair, reading over my shoulder. He asks me, what do I think, with raised eyebrows when I close the book and look up.
I was in Denver this week teaching Cultural Competency workshops to drug court practitioners. But I had my evenings free.
The first stop was The Denver Fencing Center (fencing is big in Denver with about 10 different fencing salles to choose from) and it was huge. I think they had 10-12 strips in four different rooms. Great space. Nathan Anderson is the Head Coach/Owner and he was a great host. I gave the center two copies of Open Wounds and a bunch of book marks. I fenced for two hours (group lesson and some open fencing) wheezing badly from the high altitude (yes, that’s why I fenced so badly – it’s my excuse and I’m sticking with it!) but really enjoyed the good company on and off the strip. Fencers are great company and this salle has a good feel to it. Before I left that evening one copy of the book was already gone – in someone’s backpack and out the door.
Second evening I was taken to dinner by Pam (aka: Joemmamma at Life Happens While Books are Waiting blog) and her wonderful family at a great Italian restaurant called Maggianos. We talked books, movies, and more books until the last piece of desert was finished. Pam’s blog named my book one of her favorites in 2011 and she was one of the first bloggers to review it. Thank you Pam.
Third evening I finished work early and headed out to the Tattered Cover Bookstore in downtown Denver on 16th street. There are three of these wonderful, beautiful stores in Denver and my last time in town I visited all three in the hope of getting them to pick up my book and carry it in their stores. They ordered the book and have been carrying it ever since. This year I was on foot and using mass transit so I was only able to visit one store.
I visited the 16th street store and my book was on the shelf. It made my day. I pulled it off the shelf and found Barry, the YA expert, and signed the book. She stickered it and I gave her a bunch of bookmarks to give away. Barry recommended a book titled The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a ship of her own making by Valente very strongly for my son and for me. I later found out she liked the book so much she had talked to every staff person in the store about it (even gave each of them a copy and said “read”). This is the kind of word of mouth that gets a book noticed. Hearing this story just made me smile. It’s one of the reasons I love books and bookselling. It’s why I keep stopping in indie-stores with copies of Open Wounds. If just one bookseller reads it and likes it – look at what a champion can do. I met the manager and thanked her for carrying my book and spoke to the baristas (who made a killer latte). I left the store flying.
Took the Lite-Train to Evans and walked to Navajo Street for some more fencing. I might have been getting used to the altitude or it could be I worked out some of the kinks from the last time there, but fenced another two hours – until I just about dropped but in a much more dignified manner.
Met a coach named Bob Block who knows Witold Rak, a fencing coach who runs his own backyard salle in Woodside near where I live. I found out the person who took Open Wounds to read two nights before was another coach Paul Von Rentzell (who also lent me his prize epee to use – it was awesome and now that I think of it – probably the reason I fenced better) and his review of my book was a big thumbs up.
Denver couldn’t have been better.
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…).
What the hell is a xiphoid? Let me tell you. Even my spell check doesn’t recognize it as a word… but it is. I had to dig deep for this one. Because really, there are not a lot of X-words out there and how many could really have anything to do with fencing?
All parries have numbers whether they’re in English, French, Spanish, or Italian. The numbers start low left (1) low right (2), upper right (3), upper left (4), head (5), head (6), middle left (7), middle right (8). Depending on whether you’re fencing or involved in stage combat they numbers may mean slightly different parries and have different positioning. Some parries have cool names too.
If someone strikes at your head the 5 parry, or head protect, is the most natural of parrys. It’s a classic automatic response parry. You raise your hand and your sword creates a line/barrier above your head so you don’t get hit. Now reverse the tip of your blade and your hand positioning (hand goes to the left of your face, palm now facing towards you rather than away from you) and you have a “window” (6 parry) to look out from and a slightly weaker and more awkward parry but an effective one none-the-less. It also sets up a nice back-hand riposte.
Now… take the window (or 6 ) parry and move your hand back to the right, letting the blade “hang” down protecting your right side and back. This is a hanging parry – taken from a cavalry parry (while on horseback). Look for this parry in the fight (link below) from The Count of Monte Cristo. The fight choreographer is the famous William Hobbs. It’s got elements of realism and entertainment – who could ask for more? The movie is pretty good too. Spoiler alert – this is from the ending so if you haven’t seen the movie or don’t know the story… you’ve been warned.
Today could be about the volte (evasion from opponents blade by moving the back foot to the right (for righty) or left (for lefty) displacing the body away from the line of attack and creating a new attack line for yourself)… but it’s not. Voltes are cool. But so is Varvarinski.
Nikolai Varvarinski is a fencing master in my book, Open Wounds. Here’s how he describes his philosophy of fencing to the protagonist, Cid Wymann:
“In war I lose count. It is what happen in war.”
“How many in duels?”
“In first duel I place my point in other boy’s chest”— he pointed to the center of his chest—“here. Into heart, I think. Blade go into body—go into body far. I let go of blade—stare at boy. He stare back at me but does not die. I think, why does boy not die? While I think, he put blade in my side and almost kill me.” He lifted up his shirt and showed me a thick puckered scar above his hip.
“You don’t remember?”
“There are many things I not remember.”
“What happened to your fencing school?”
He did not answer for a while, then his hand trembled a moment and he clenched it into a fist. “Enough talk. Now back to work!”
If your opponent knows you like to stop thrust and they expect you to counter in the high line (for their head or wrist) you under stop-thrust (really a reverse lunge or pasata soto) and go for the low line or hip or under his arm which if they’re parrying or attacking high goes under their defense. You’ve got to have good flexibility in your groin (okay just think about it – a reverse lunge that is deeper than your regular lunge and supported by your left hand on the ground – I’m thinking groin pull) or it’s gonna hurt. I’ve had a number of friends do this in a stage fight and get up very slowly afterwards. Just saying.
Can you use this in competition? Sure. Is it used often? No. Could it be effective in a real fight? You betcha, but it’s a move you use only once and it either works or you’re probably dead.
Now for a special treat watch this video – The Speed of Fencing. Look for the attacks to the toes, the duck and stop-thrust, the slow motion hits on the wrist and chest, and the graceful beautty of the dance. This is épée.