Open Wounds

On Writing

D is for Defensive Box

"No, not a real box - an imaginary box..."

“No, not a real box – an imaginary box…”

An imaginary box that encloses the combatant theoretically leaving no portion of the combatant unprotected, its walls being created by the placement of the blade when parrying. In theory, eight parries are needed to protect every portion of the combatant’s body, creating a defensive box.Actor’s On Guard, Dale Anthony Girard

Fencing has been called contact chess and is a wonder of mathematical angles and forces in motion – a combination of geometry and physics. The exact parries will come later in the month but know that there are only so many places you can attack (the body is in a finite space) and for every attack there is a defense (parry). When it comes to defense, all parries, whether the attacks are cuts with the edge or thrusts with the point – push, hit (called a beat), or slide the blade away from your body and outside your defensive box.

A good defense is essential to staying alive.

A good offense allows you to end the duel in a positive (for you) fashion.

Imagine your protagonist is not aggressive but has learned to defend herself well. What if her opponent is of the same character make-up. Both fencers will stare at each other, make tentative moves forward and quickly back. The audience (if there was one) might egg them on. To be aggressive in attacking your opponent’s defensive box and especially the mortal wound areas – head, heart, lung, liver – requires the desire and capability to try to kill someone. How does your character get to that point? How much can training prepare someone for this moment? Killing someone with a sword is a personal, face-to-face event. It is visceral. It is immediate. It has sound, texture, smell. Don’t ask my how I know this. Let’s just say I have a good imagination.

Use these things to make each sword fight, big or small, come to life.


C is for Capo Ferro

Lunge

Lunge

Capo Ferro has not nothing to do with Italian food or stringed instruments.

Lunge Capo Ferro

It, or rather he, has everything to do with what we know about actual rapier, rapier and dagger, and sword and buckler (shield) fighting from the renaissance period. Since we don’t have film from back then and no photographs, we have to go by line drawings and any books that were written that described it like the one above from Capo Ferro’s book Italian Rapier Combat originally published in 1610. I bought my copy in Portland from Powell’s Books (awesome indi and just a huge huge store). This book is a series of plates with short explanations of the positions and moves of Italian rapier fencing. The Italians were known in the 16th into the early 17th century to be the best with the sword. The French surpass them later but not for a long long time. Ferro was a fencing master in the city of Siena. My favorite are the many images that show (see below) what happens when you are successful in attack. Notice the three different angles the blade can take and the successful parry with the dagger.

capo-ferro-plate-92-600x360

Of course this is 1610 Italy so most people in the plates are fencing naked or mostly naked (very strategically placed scraps of cloth or leaf)- not sure I’d recommend that – must have been very hot in Siena.

Here are some words from the first section: Some Remembrances or True Advices of Fencing

First, if you are found at blows with your adversary; you must always have the eye on the sword hand more than in other places, all of the others are false, because looking at the hand you will see the stillness and all the movements that it does, and from this (according to your judgement) you will be able to determine what you will have to do.

Methods that one must hold against a brutal man:

If you have to encounter a brutal man who, without misura and tempo, hurls many blows at you with great impetus, you will be able to do two things. First adopt the interplay of mezzo tempo, as I will teach you in its place, you will strike him in his hurling of the point, either by cut in the hand or in the sword arm. Otherwise, you can leave him to proceed at emptiness with somewhat voiding the vita backwards, and then you instantly drive a point into the face or chest.

Needless to say, I chose Capo Ferro as a model teacher for my protagonist in my novel Open Wounds.

How could I not?


B is for Blade

stop thrust

What do you do with this thing?

You stick him with the pointy part.

Different types of blades were used in different ways. Let’s look at a typical one-handed medieval sword. It’s main weapon was its edge, not it’s point. The point wasn’t really used a lot during the middle ages. Armor stopped it. Big heavy swords were used more for smashing and hacking. Still for swordplay know that there are two ends of a sword one with a pommel (heavy enough to counter balance the blade and to smash into things like people’s faces) and the other with our famous point. The cross guard is nice for stopping opposing blades from sliding down and cutting your fingers off but also wonderful for punching into the face. You’ll notice a theme here. Pommel to dross-guard is the hilt. The blade has two parts a forte (or strong) bottom third closest to your cross-guard that is used to parry or block your opponents strikes and a foible (or weak) upper third for cutting your opponents in half. The sharp edge can be on both sides (two true edges) or one in which case the blunt side is called a false edge.

All swords in one way or another have these parts even if they look different and are different sizes. Some things to remember about sword fights whether they are with medieval swords, renaissance rapiers, small-sword from the 17th century or the American Civil War. You can fight clean or you can fight dirty. If you fight dirty because it’s an ambush on a city street or you’re a soldier in the middle of a large battle, you will use any and or all the parts of your sword to get rid of your opponent(s). If you are fighting a duel you will probably use the blade only but that depends on the upbringing of the combatants (royalty, upper class, training, personality). And different blades are used to do different things – the use of the edge versus the use of the point. To see visually how two very different blades and upbringing can influence how a fight happens see the following two films:

Rob Roy – the final duel between Rob Roy and the English antagonist is a duels between the past (a large two-handed claymore – which is a heavy hacking edged weapon) and the present (a long, thin, pointy small sword that uses the point to do damage). This is choreographed by famous English fight choreographer William Hobbs. These two characters fight the way their personalities tell them to. The fighting is not generic, it is character-based. A good lesson for all writer’s to learn.

Watch any of the fights in Game of Thrones and then watch the scenes of Arya training with Syrio. Two-handed medieval broadswords are weapons of strength while Arya’s Needle is more point than edge  (swords from two very different time periods but hey, it’s a fantasy novel so you can do whatever you want!).


A is for Actors On Guard



The DuelActors On Guard, by Dale Anthony Girard – a great book on the use of the rapier and dagger for stage and screen.

A young man, a kid really, is doing choreography with a rapier, musketeer blade (double wide épée), cup hilt. He does the choreography well with his partner, an experienced actor and stage combat veteran named Dave. Dave is waiting for the kid to start his schtick.

“What’s the real thing like?”

So it begins.

“I bet I could hold my own in a fight with one of these.” The kid’s looking at the blade with confidence.

“Sure you could,” Dave says. He’s tired from almost three hours of fencing choreography – two classes, a beginner’s class and an advanced. This is the advanced class. He’s sweating and perspiring. He worked all night at his seventeen-year proofreading job, graveyard shift. He won’t go to sleep until that evening – if he can last. Its been 24 hours since he slept.

“Seriously, Dave,” the kid says. “Why won’t Joe fence against me?”

“Just stick with the choreography.”

“I bet I could fence against you.” The kid thrusts his blade tip at Dave’s chest.

Dave bats it away with his hand – his leather gloved hand. He’s more awake now. “You’re not a fencer,” he says with just a bit of an edge. “You’re an actor.”

“I’m pretty good,” the kid’s bouncing on the balls of his feet. “I could fence.”

“Joe,” Dave shouts and turns away from the kid. “Kid wants to see what it’s like to fence.”

An older man, probably in his seventies – the decades speaking in the lines of his face – rouses himself from reading the paper at the teacher’s desk. He slaps the newspaper shut and stands up, pushing his chair back. “David,” he shouts back. The rest of the class stops their work on the days choreography to see what’s happening. “Get the kid suited up.” He smooths back his white hair with his fingers and walks over to a locker, pulls out his gear. Dave gets the kid suited up with fencing jacket, mask, glove, competitive sabre. The old man suits up in similar whites. His fits loosely, like he used to fill it out more. Still he wears it with familiarity. He walks past the kid with his helmut under his arm. He turns smartly. Dave has pushed the rest of the class back so they’re all against the wall – out of range. All except the kid. Dave’s put him in the center with the old man.

“We’ll do three touches,” the old man says. “Dave, you’ll judge.” Dave nods and the old man salutes him, the kid, and the audience, then puts on his mask. The kid, a huge smile on his face, copies him.

“Fencers ready?” Dave asks.

The old man nods and says, “Yes, sir.” He is still. His sabre in the line of three.

Dave repeats his question to the kid. The kid is nervously swaying back and forth, the blade moving from side to side.

“Fencers ready? Dave asks him a third time.

He nods finally.

Before the kid can take a step forward the old man slashes his sabre’s edge across his chest. The kid stumbles back a step clutching his chest with his free hand. He rubs it smartly.

Dave hears him breathing shallowly. He knows that one hurt, even with a canvas jacket on.

“Fencers ready?”

The old man cuts the kids arm and the kid grabs the place where he was hit.

“You ok?” Dave asks sweetly.

The kid nods.

Third go.

The old man waits this time. He drops his guard down, inviting the kid in to an open target.  The kid attacks. He cuts to the old man’s head. The old man parries easily in five and smacks the kid hard in the head, hard enough to make him stagger back a step and to make the rest of the class gasp.

The old man swipes off his helmut and throws it to Dave. “Carry on,” he says and retreats back to his desk where his paper waits for him.

Dave directs the others to go back to their choreography. He walks up to the kid. “Ready for choreography?” he asks.

The kid nods. He’s still wearing his mask. He still hasn’t moved.

For the A-Z challenge I’ll be talking sword-play, every letter of the alphabet. I love to fence and I love to do the choreography of stage fencing. Outside of playing rugby there’s just about nothing better. As a writer who’s first book has more fencing and stage combat in it than most I hope this unique expertise can help others figure out how to write about the use of the sword whether it’s a small sword, a foil, a broadsword, a bastard sword, or a rapier and dagger. Maybe it’ll help with your next fantasy novel or historical. If you have questions, ask. Otherwise onward tomorrow to B.


Chasing the Moldy Warpe

Product Details

Reading Railsea by China Miéville is like taking a course in world-building.

I loved this book. It is the kind of book that took me 50 pages to get hooked on but I was intrigued enough from the opening line to get there.

This is the story of a bloodstained boy.

Spectacular opening line.

The reason it was challenging to get into was the same reason it was so fascinating. Miéville creates a world that is told to us by a narrator using a language similar to English but different enough from it that I stumbled through it until I caught its rhythm. I can truthfully say there are a number of things that I read that I truly still do not understand after finishing the book but I don’t care and it in no way took away from the beauty of the book for me. Actually I liked it even more.

Yes, it’s a dystopian world and I like them. Period.

Yes, it has to do with trains and trains are cool.

Yes, it has to do with Moby Dick and the searching for a philosophy or white whale. I liked Moby, even the whale parts.

And yes, the main character is not a superstar, gun and sword wielding hero. He’s pretty mundane, and every-boyish and that’s what makes him so wonderful.

Look at what Miéville does with point of view. It’s 3rd person omniscient through Sham (the bloodstained boy) Ap Soorap’s perspective through the half-way mark and then the narrator tells us it’s time to switch – as if he’s an actor talking to the audience and breaking the 3rd wall. Then the story splits into three stories until they all converge back into Sham. It’s an incredible narrative risk that works spectacularly.

So listen to his narrative. You don’t even need a context:

“No such animal’s crossed our paths,” she said. “Be assured I know now your vehicle’s name, & at the first sign of that beckoning metal in a sinuate mustelid eruchthonous presence, I shall take careful notes of locations. & I shall get you word. On my honour as a captain.”

And then there’s this one from captain Naphi about her “philosophy” the great moldy warpe Mocker-Jack:

“How meanings are evasive. They hate to be parsed. Here again came the cunning of unreason. I was creaking, lost, knowing that the ivory-coloured beast had evaded my harpoon & continued his opaque diggery, resisting close reading & a solution to his mystery. I bellowed, & swore that one day I would submit him to a sharp & bladey interpretation.”.

He uses the symbol & instead of the word and, and then two-thirds into the book explains why he does.

From word choice, to the rhythm of the narrative, to the way characters speak, to the characters themselves. This world is built from top to bottom and bottom to top. Read it as a reader for pleasure. Read it as a writer for a course on world-building. Read it for the bloodstained boy and the moldy warpe.


Eat Sympathetic Gurus

May I be Happy: a memoir of love, yoga and changing my mind, by Cyndi Lee is a memoir about why women hate their bodies and a primer on how to take your yoga practice and use it in your daily life.

Let me put this out there.

I picked this up because Ms. Lee is a yogi who is internationally known for her teachings (yoga and mindfulness meditation) and I’ve read and enjoyed two of her previous books, Yoga Body Buddha Mind (which I loved as a book about yoga and practice and mindfulness) and Om Yoga: a guide to daily practice (which I have used in my own daily practice). I took classes and workshops at her Om yoga studio (before she lost her lease last year and now has a wandering studio) and it was one of the nicest studios I’ve ever been too.

So I think she’s great.

But here’s the thing.

This memoir is written by a dancer, yogi, celebrity with connections to Cyndi Lauper and Jamie Lee Curtis, who travels to India and is in Japan (Tokyo to be exact) during the horrible earthquakes two years ago. She meets famous gurus (because she can). And is obsessed with her body – she has been taught, to just like so many women by our wonderfully patriarchal misogynistic society. She comes from a privileged position at the top of her field so take that into consideration too.

What am I saying?

I tried to read Eat Pray Love twice and both times I couldn’t get more than twenty pages in. Why? Because I just didn’t care about the main character. She was like the three women in Sex and the City – I just didn’t care about them. Okay, okay. I’m a guy so that’s a problem too. It was hard for me to connect but still. The Sarah Jessica Parker character always complained about her life and I found it hard to feel sorry for her. She lived a good life, in a comfortable home, had plenty of money, dated lots of men, had good friends. What was she complaining about? Anyway a sympathetic character helps to keep the attention of this reader. Also, I know, I’m not the target audience for these shows/books so know that too.  As a reader I’m in the minority as the book Eat Pray Love is a best seller and people have told me how much they loved it – just not me.

Back to Cyndi Lee before I go off again. I read within the context of my experience. I can’t help that. But I also can learn. That I can help.

So Cyndi…  She wrote her memoir about why she hates or why “women” hate their bodies because she does and was taught to. As a “role model” to so many women, she thought it would help other women to explore this issue. Again, I had a hard time during the first part of the book because she is so successful and whining about her squishy parts (her term). This is a woman who does not have visible squishy parts. But she is also dealing with aging, and a mother who is dying, and a husband who has issues – let’s just leave it at that. These aspects of who she is, when taken as a fuller tapestry of who she is were fascinating and brave to speak about. I read on because I wanted to learn more about her. These other stories made her more vulnerable to me, as a reader. She puts herself out there and that is a brave thing to do.

But the most interesting aspect of the book and the main reason I read on was because she used a yogic filter for all of her experiences and that filter was fascinating. I teach in yoga class that we practice in class so that we can take it out into the world. She does this and uses herself as an example. She lives what she teaches and this direct application of yogic philosophy hooked me. Anything else would have been an interesting memoir but this raises it above that status and into another – at least if you’re a yogi or yogini.

One other thing from a writer’s perspective also caught my eye. She leaves out information about her relationship with her husband at a key point of the book which I will not reveal as it’s a spoiler for the memoir. But the absence of information is powerful in how it allows me to see her. Deep pain can be described or it can be inferred. It’s like in a movie when the director has a choice to either show the murder or show a shadow of the murder. Each can be powerful but what is  not shown is filled in by the imagination of the reader. Some readers of Cyndi’s memoir may get angry because she leaves this out. As a writer I was fascinated by the story the shadow told me.

Now here’s a question for you. With a little punctuation, how many different meanings can you make with the title of this blog post?


Breaking Bread not Heads

ASK THE PASSENGERS by AS King

I finished Ask the Passengers a few days ago by A.S.King. I’ve been letting it percolate and settle. Her novels do that to me. I won’t tell you what the ending is but I will tell you it is perfect. I didn’t expect it, the way A.S.King wrote that ending – having her cake and eating it too. If you read the book, and I highly recommend you do as it’s wonderful, I’d like to know what you think about the ending.

But that’s not the only thing, however veiled I’m being about gobsmacking perfect endings, that I learned from her latest book. Actually all three of the books I’ve read of hers, Everybody Sees the Ants, and Please Ignore Vera Dietz, included, demonstrate a great narrative writer’s technique.

I’ll get back to it. Hold on.

I met a Flannery O’Connor award winning author early in my writing career (long aside in progress so watch out for piratical brussel sprouts) named Rita Ciresi. I met her at a writer’s conference in Connecticut – but I don’t remember the name of it as it was a good 20 years ago. In one of her workshops she said, “One of the things I like to do the most is put my characters in a room together and let them eat. All kinds of things happen.” Let them break bread not heads. Now I know you’re thinking, he couldn’t remember the name of the conference but he could remember what Ciresi said. Hmmm. Well, deal with it.

Now it’s back to Ask The Passengers. A.S.King uses meal time – who eats what, with whom, in what room, with what drinks – to paint a tapestry of relationships that are mostly dysfunctional – though watching how they change over the course of the book is one of the subtle joys of the story. They do dishes, cook sometimes, go out into the backyard, lie on the picnic table and stare at the planes passing overhead and send them the love they cannot give to the ones they want to. She is brilliant at creating situations at home that cause her characters to interact. As a writer and reader I watch and marvel at her ability to do this.


Hookers, Language, and Naked Acrobats

Memoirs of a Rugby-Playing Man by Jay Atkinson is not your ordinary memoir – at least not here in the US. In England there are plenty of memoirs of famous ruggers but here in the US? I don’t know if there is even one – either famous ruggers or memoirs about them. Regardless, Atkinson surely has the credentials and the longevity in the sport to be an expert voice on it.

A friend of mine – someone I faced on the rugby pitch many times over the years and with whom I share a love of the sport – gave me this book for the holidays and I read it quickly and with great enjoyment. I especially enjoyed the perspective of a hooker (a position in the scrum that is responsible for “hooking” the ball back to his teammates when the ball is sent into the scrum. It’s a brutal position simply because of the physics of the scrum (all the pressure of eight players pressing into the shoulders and necks of the front three players and the front row center player is the hooker). I played rugby for 13 years and for all but maybe four or five games played with the backs at wing, fullback, or center. I played 2nd row once (my ears wouldn’t allow me to do it a second time) scrum-half once (now that was fun even if I was terrible) and flanker two or three times. I say this because as a back I especially enjoyed the peek into what it was like to be in the front row and hook.

Memoirs of a Rugby-Playing Man: Guts, Glory, and Blood in the World's Greatest Game

But what does all this mean? It means Mr. Atkinson had a tough sale to make about a sport that is not real popular here in the US. And he sold it anyway. It helps that he’s published a few novels, some of which have been successful critically and sales-wise (I’m going on record to say that I’ll be reading one of his novels this year …)

What I was amazed at was how heartfelt the memoir is. Now hear me out. Heartfelt and rugby don’t necessarily go together but let me see if I can explain. Atkinson’s book wades through drinking, partying, and sex scenes (there’s one in particular with a naked hand-standing acrobat… ) one after the other for most of the first two-thirds of the book – which is a lot of what rugby is about – mayhem – but it is a bit of an onslaught. Still it is not a sport for the faint hearted and does linger in alcoholic mayhem post play. I think I’m too attached to that word, mayhem. But war stories like this can be tiresome after a while. What’s the point? How do they build the overall story of this man’s life? In a novel wouldn’t some of them be cut to make sure the narrative moved forward?

Atkinson’s story snuck up on me. The backbone of the rugby life laced with stories of his family and his writing is what did it for me. His relationship with his father and with the writer Harry Crews (his teacher) became the emotional thread that built and peaked the narrative in the third act. It made his story a coming of age story that resonated with me deeply. It gave the memoir shape, it gave it form.

It also reminded me of what a writer friend told me once when critiquing my “rugby” novel a long long time ago (it was a novel that never sold but got me my first agent), “Put in all the rugby language and don’t worry if people don’t understand exactly what it means. Fuck ’em.” What I see in Atkinson’s use of the language of rugby – which by the way is the same language that Andrew Smith so skillfully uses in his book Winger – which has its main character play rugby – is how beautiful language can be when it’s unique to an activity – even when it’s brutal. It is language that even if not understood in a direct word for word translation tells a story with texture and depth.

Oh. And what about that kick-ass cover? I remember one game almost drowning in a good foot of water and mud on a flooded field in Bayonne New Jersey…


Ciaphas Cain, Rob Petrie, and Unreliable Narrators

For The Emperor: A Ciaphas Cain Novel

What do Dick Van Dyke and Ciaphas Cain have in common?

Who the hell is Ciaphas Cain? Though it’s a terrific name, don’t you think?

And why oh why is there a brussel sprout on my shoulder?

Why do I read memoirs or biographies? Especially of actors? Mostly because of the story they tell of time and place. Dick Van Dyke was born about the same time as my character, Cid Wymann in Open Wounds, was born yet his life was so different. Dick Van Dyke  as he says, was in the right place at the right time to be chosen for some choice roles – from Rob Petrie to the chimney sweep Bert in Mary Poppins. When actors tell their own story I learn about their character from how they portray themselves, how they seem to want to be seen, what they leave in and what they leave out. For example, Van Dyke starts off saying he’s not writing a tell-all with lots of dirt to uncover then tells – in his first bit – how he found out when he was in high school that he was conceived out-of-wedlock. Memoirs are great for teaching me how to not only get inside someones head but how to shade a narrative so it presents (either knowingly or unknowingly) a certain face to the reader.

For the Emperor is a story set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. It’s a memoir translated through a narrator who has edited it and included footnotes and other accounts to balance out the memoirist point of view. The author has done a fascinating thing with Ciaphas Cain, the writer of the memoir – a Commissar (high-ranking Emperor’s man usually working with Imperial Guard units across the galaxy). Cain is an unreliable narrator. Here’s how he starts his narrative:

One of the first things you learn as a commissar is that people are never pleased to see you; something that’s no longer the case where I’m concerned, of course, now that my glorious and undeserved reputation precedes me wherever I go. A good rule of thumb in my younger days, but I’d never found myself staring down death in the eyes of the troopers I was supposed to be inspiring with loyalty to the Emperor before. In my early years as an occasionally loyal minion of his Glorious majesty, I’d faced, or to be more accurate, ran away screaming from, orks, necrons, tyranids, and a severely hacked off daemonhost, just to pick out some of the highlights of my ignominious career. But standing in the mess room, a heartbeat away from being ripped apart by mutinous Guardsmen, was a unique experience, and one that I have no wish to repeat.

And so we are introduced to a character who is heroic in spite of what he says, self-serving, caring, and always trying to surround himself with warm bodies in case the bullets start flying and he needs a shield to protect himself from them. It starts off with perspective, clear voice (amusing also), and action.

The narrator who finds and annotates Cain’s memoir is a colleague of his – only to what degree, we have to wait until the end of the story to find out. Short asides of secondary characters are inserted to fill in information about what is happening in other parts of the city Cain ends up in. They give us further views into Cain’s world, Cain, and the narrator. It leaves me with a fuller picture of what probably happened and keeps me smiling at the number of times Cain would like to (as in a Monty Python movie) run away, but ends up charging forward instead.

Finding new ways to tell a story is like stealing a golden chalice from Smaug’s treasure horde under the Lonely Mountain – satisfying in the dark and even more so in the light of day.

 


There Ain’t No Sanity-Clause

I’ve thought about this a lot.

There are a lot of writers out there writing about how to write novels, how to write stories, how to write right, how to write wrong.

I’ve written some posts about the writing process in this blog and as a guest poster for some friends but no matter what angle I write about I just don’t think I’m bringing much new to the discussion. The best of them, like Andrew Smith’s “How to Write A Novel parts 1-4 and counting…) make me laugh at the absolute insanity (there ain’t no sanity-clause) that is the world of publishing and the writing life (whatever that is).

But I keep feeling like there’s something I can offer. I’m just not sure what I can bring to the table.

Salt and pepper?

Artichokes?

Brussel sprouts? Okay I really don’t like Brussel sprouts so let’s not talk about them ever again. Seriously. I can eat just about anything but brussel sprouts. I get a gag reflex just thinking about those little green balls of sprout. So let’s stay off the brussel sprouts.

Here’s two bits of advice I can give. It’s not much but it’s only January 20th so work with me.

Both bits of advice you’re heard a million times before – I’m sure – so I’ll try to give each a different context to make them sound important and fresh. Or at least not stale. I’m not sure why I’m stuck on food analogies but hopefully they will work their way off… the table.

The first bit of advice comes from a man named Pattabhi Jois who died in 2009 and was one of the great yogis (not as in bear but as in the yoking of the physical and the spiritual) of our time – and developed the style of yoga called Ashtanga yoga. I never met him but I wish I had. I have been to yoga studios that he taught in and spoke in so I got to soak up some of his vibe but that’s about it. Still his influence on yoga in the 20th century has been great.

Anyway I digress. Whenever students asked him when they would achieve the next level of anything in their yoga practice (or their life) he would say, “Practice and all is coming.” I think it works the same way for writing.

The other bit of advice I’ve been told and passed on to others just like many many other writers is if you want to be a writer you need to read – a lot. The only thing I can add to that is to read everything, not just the classics, but all genres, good writing and bad writing. I say this because it has worked that way for me. Everything I read is like a short course in how to write, what works and what doesn’t. I can’t help myself. If I was a Brussel sprout farmer I would see all food through the lens of a brussel sprout. As I writer I read on two levels, for pleasure, and to understand why I like or dislike what I’m reading. This can be summed up as, do what works for you as a reader and don’t do what doesn’t.

For example, I read Robert Jordan’s first book in the Wheel of Time Series (many friends recommended it to me) and was driven crazy (there still ain’t no sanity-clause) by the number of characters that muttered. He muttered. She muttered. We muttered. They muttered. You familiar muttered. So… I try not to have characters mutter. I also learned from that book (I only read the first book in the series so I can’t say if this is so about the other books in the series) to make sure that things happen in my writing. Jordan was a beloved writer, just not by me. Little happened in that first book and it was a long book for little to happen in. So… having things happen is good. Not having things happen is bad. I try to make sure when I write that things happen.

So this year I’ll be trying something new on my blog in my own personal attempt not to mutter, to make things happen, not to eat brussel sprouts, and to bring back the sanity-clauss.

I’ll be writing about the books that I read during the year and telling you what I learned from reading each of them. And if there’s one thing I know about my own writing it is that I have a lot to learn.

Maybe this is something I can bring to the table.


Interview with EJ Patten at GotTeenFiction

If you haven’t had a chance to take a look at my interview of EJ Patten, author of Return to Exile – one of my favorite books of last year. I tried to think of what would make for a different interview and come up with this more in-depth format. I think you’ll like it. EJ is a fascinating writer with some interesting things to say about life, writing, monocles, and wargarous. Here’s some book trailers from his site and a song to my favorite character, Phineas Pimiscule. PS: Book Two. The Legend Thief comes out in the late fall… Oh yeah, he asks me questions too.

The interview is on GotTeenFiction.


The Dudes

As you walk into the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (an avenue long by an avenue wide huge monster of a pre-war, pre-war finished 1888 building) you can’t help but be impressed by the picture of these two dudes while you’re waiting to be scanned and wanded through the second stage of security. The sign below them cracked me up. HELP. Need I say more? The rest of the small print says, “…keep our floors clean.” But I couldn’t resist. These guys need all the help we can give them.

So… no, I did not meet the Dudes. I only saw their very real and life-like pictures. And though I didn’t get into the White House I did get into the building where all the business is done next to the White House and I did soak up some of the powerful office space air and the wheezing breath of history. It was cool.

In a strange bit of serendipity one of the two White House ONAP (Office of National AIDS Policy) committee members that our team met with, I actually knew from my days working at Gay Men’s Health Crisis. We realized we knew each other towards the end of the meeting when he mentioned The House of Latex Project (Long story for another time but let’s just say I won trophies for realness and my trophies went down with the world trade center but my memories of winning them did not) and I mentioned I had worked there. We looked at each other, named a few colleagues from the early nineties that we both remembered and smiled. “You had a pony tail and long hair?” he asked. “Yes,” I said.

And so it goes.

What does this have to do with writing? Everything we live and breathe makes it into our work. Everything. The Eisenhower Building becomes the Palace of Falling Chandeliers that lies beneath the cascade falls where seven thousand bound and manacled civil servants in rags bang away on manual Smith Caronas typing the letters, “I will not forget my photo ID,” over and over again until the overlord in dark grey pinstripes and wingtips tells them they can go to their meeting at room 207 (the room we met in) just past the restroom where civil servants go in and none ever comes out.

 

Now check out the picture of the long hall. The picture doesn’t do the reality of how long this hall is justice. It is easily one hundred yards long – an endless hall of bureaucracy with marble floor, hanging lights and door after door, after door…

What will come of the meeting in my day life as a public health worker? I don’t know. Was it worth the trip? Every second of it. Did it give me more material to write about? Always gathering, always using, always thinking, even when my eyes are glassy and I’m daydreaming about someplace else, where typewriters clack and black ribbon snakes spin.


A-Z Retrograde

…motion in opposite direction of the motion of something else…

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?


Z is for Zeus

Do you believe in God(s) ? It’s an interesting question and one I find in my reading that few authors deal with. Maybe it’s just the books I’m choosing.

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.


Y is for Yakoots

There is no letter Y in Greek, either ancient or modern. And what’s interesting is some posit that that’s why there are so few English words beginning with the letter Y – since Greek and Latin are root languages for English. So why Yakoots and what’s the connection. Work with me, Ill get there.

First, Yakoots is a word for a nomadic Mongolian tribe native of Northern Siberia most likely of Turkish stock who are also mainly pastoral in their habits (which I like to think means they listen to a pastor a lot, but I could be wrong). There is some Mongol in my heritage – being a Jew whose family was pushed, plundered, nudged, conquered, and pogromed from one part of the Ukraine east, south, and north from Poland to Hungary and Rumania (and eventually to the US but I’m pretty sure that was by boat right around 1900 – hello Bronx and Brooklyn!)

Second it is one very cool sounding word that could easily be a curse if you think about the way it sounds – it is almost spit out of the mouth.

Third is reminds me of Yakutsk from RISK which is one of the great world conquest and domination games ever made – just behind Diplomacy which if you’ve never played you haven’t fully lived (it is a great simulation of the diplomatic wrangling of pre WWI that should be played in every World History class). Any word that reminds me of the game RISK is a good word.

Fourth, in Greek the word for nothing is tipota. And Yakoots with it’s image of life in Northern Siberia, desolate, cold, harsh, reflects this for me. As a writer being faced with nothing – the blank page – is both the most exciting and horrifying of prospects. Exciting because we will cross into Siberia and put footprints across the snow, filling that page with words. Horrifying because the journey may very well take us deep within ourselves and every inward journey is a journey not to be taken lightly.


X is for Xerxes

Xerxes is son of Darius who attempted an invasion of Greece and conquered a good part of the ancient world stopping at Greece (oh those damned stubborn Greeks). At 36 he took over his dad’s job and became self-proclaimed king of Persia, Great King, King of Kings, and King of Nations. Let’s just say he had a thing for being king. But the Greeks defeat him eventually and he goes back home only to be murdered by the commander of his royal bodyguard. It’s not always good to be a king.

So Xerxes is not Greek but he is an antagonist for the Greeks and the one for which great and heroic acts are required to be performed in order to defeat him – take Thermopylae for example and the stand of the 300 Spartans. And that’s just the one gets all the press. The naval battle at Salamis is a pretty neat little fight also and on a grand scale (let the Greek Fire loose!).

Antagonists then are the subject and Xerxes is the model. Is he evil? (Probably not but he certainly does have issues.) Does your antagonist have to be evil? (No, but it can make the story stronger sometimes if you’re playing up the good vs. evil angle.) Do you even need an antagonist? (You may not but you do need something for your protagonist to struggle towards or against even if it’s only him or her self.) Can your antagonist and your protagonist be the same person? (Yes, literally if you have a good Kirk bad Kirk going like that episode of Star Trek in the original series with William Shatner splitting himself and giving us smiling Shatner and sweating snearing Shatner. Or, as I mentioned before you can have your protagonist have to overcome his or her own limitations like lack of courage, or facing their past.)

Regardless of who the antagonist is, I like characters that I end up feeling for or seeing why they end up being who they are. It’s more complicated and nuanced a story but I find I enjoy them more. Would Darth Vader be the same if we didn’t eventually find out that he was Luke’s father and at some point regrets what he has done? Understanding why someone does bad things can help us feel for them, as uncomfortable as that can be. And if I feel for the bad guy I will feel that much more involved with the good guy. This is probably why a good bad guy can so easily steal a show, novel, movie. If written well, they are just so interesting.

Who are your favorite, authentic, fully fleshed antagonists (people, places, or pieces of self)?


W is for Word

There is no W in Greek but work with me. Words are fascinating. If you’re a writer or a reader then you already know this. As a writer we manipulate our readers through a use of language to make readers think, see, and feel. It is a great power that if used well can initiate revolution.

Why do and did people study Greek language, use ancient Greek words? The theory was and remains (though not as strongly anymore) that if you wanted to learn how to think critically and discover the great ideas you needed to study Greek and Latin because that’s when it (civilization) really began in a meaningful way. That’s when the first great thinkers like Socrates, Plato, Aeschylus, and Euripides (You rip a dese and I rip a dose nyuk nyuk nyuk) did their things. And if you read in their words, not a translation, then you read purely and without another’s perception of their words. I never studied Greek or Latin, just mythology and the great thinkers in the context of a history class, not a study of their ideas through words. In some ways I wish I had, or maybe… someday I still will. In any case, I’ve done that on my own since then because of personal interest. But words, for a writer remain a fascination.

Two books I’ve read recently take words as subjects unto themselves, make them plot points and character builders. They stand out for me as really great reads and partially because of the way this technique is used. Goliath, by Scot Westerfeld uses the word perspicacious in a fascinating way through the second and third books of his series. A Loris (read to find out, I won’t spoil it here but it’s a Darwinist genetically manipulated creature) is called perspicacious and the word is repeated enough times to know it’s important but you really need to read the whole book to understand its fully meaning in the context of actions and narrative. I loved the word and the way this one word stood out in the narrative like a bright christmas light calling to me to think, think, think what it might mean.

The other book is A.S.King’s Please Ignore Vera Dietz. Vera, the protagonist’s, favorite class in HS is vocab. She is a wordsmith and uses new words in sentences as part of the narrative to show us what she thinks and how she feels. Her father (spoiler here, though still mysterious) has a sign taped to his back at one point with the word parsimonious on it. It is a culmination of his story all wrapped up in one word. I love the way the author did this. When I finished this book I spent a while staring out the window and thinking how the lives I’d just finished reading about reflected my reality – what their stories meant to me.

The best stories do this and the words make up the tale and the tale is what makes us think.


V is for Venus

I was thinking vulpine (cunning) or vorpal (deadly) or valetudinarian (anxious about health) or vafrous (sly) but… I’m sticking with my it’s all Greek to me theme and working my way through the hard letters. A vastidity (vastness) of words in Greek starting with a V, there are not.  Actually there are none. There’s no V in Greek. So… I skipped a bit ahead in time and chose Venus who is the Roman version of Aphrodite, Goddess of love. Though because she’s Roman and not Greek she has her own spin on the love thing. She is not always venerous (lustful) or venary (in pursuit of sexual gratification), though she can be at times. She was not born but emerged out of the sea-foam, probably covered in varec (seaweed). But let us not vapulate (flog) the V anymore and use this as a vincular (connective) moment.

Just how important is a love story to your work? I’ve never thought of this in terms of my writing at least not in the context of do I write love stories? . I’ve not set out to write a love story (except for the first novel I ever wrote which must stay in the dark dark underworld of a drawer covered in dust and buried beneath later works even though it sometimes calls to me late at night to let it be free) before. Usually a story comes to mind and it may or may not have a love story in it. I find love in stories, happens, many times whether I want it to or not. What’s interesting to me is when I talk about this called love, I wonder who you, the reader imagine are the lovers and what kind of love it is. Are they male and female, two men, two females? Is it a love triangle? Love hexagon? Is there such a thing? What are the limitations we and society put on such things?

In my book Open Wounds my protagonist, Cyd Wymann, struggles with love – love from and for parents, parent figures, boys who are his friends and brothers, and a girl. Relationships are complicated and yet they are what make so many narratives pulse, whether there is love, ambivalence, or hate involved between the characters. A theme I find myself coming back to again and again in my work is the love of a boy for his father (or father figure) or what happens when there is none.

What are the themes of love that echo in your work? Which ones are violactic (flying above) and which are sequestered in the viridarium (Roman Garden)? Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.


U is for Uranus

What’s in a name?

I spend a lot of time thinking about names for my characters. I do it early in the process of writing a novel because I find the name informs the character and the character informs the name. I like to find a name with just the right sound to it, sometimes symbolic meaning, family background or ancestry. But first it starts with sound. It has to sound right, especially for my protagonist. Dickens understood this and unerringly was a master at naming his characters both primary and secondary. My favorite is Uriah Heap from David Copperfield but there’s also, Oliver Twist, Fagin, Ebenezer Scrooge, Edwin Drood, and Mr. Crummins. Here are a few of my recent contemporary character names from books I’ve read in the last year:

Which leads us back to Uranus. Uranus was the first Greek lord of the universe, first of the titans, god of the sky. He was created by Gaea in order to surround and cover her, but soon he became her mate and together they produced the remaining twelve Titans, three Cyclopes and three Hecatoncheires, hundred handed creatures – all of whom Uranus hated. So… he stuffed them back into Gaea’s womb. She had no choice. Cronus escapes, though, with Gaea’s help and eventually castrates Uranus while he’s sleeping one day and so son takes father’s place, all kinds of creatures spring from the drops of his blood and his genitals get thrown into a sea from which is born Aphrodite. I’m not kidding.

I did not know this about the word Uranus. I always thought it was simply the seventh planet out from our sun with the name that everyone had trouble saying out loud because the second half of it spelled anus. We should all say that out loud, just so we can practice. It’s a good word, long besmirched. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Excellent. Ahh the power of a name.

What are your favorite character’s names? What is it that makes them sing?


T is for Tartarus

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.


S is for Sisyphus

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.


R is for Rhea

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.


Q is for Questions

It’s late and I have had a cold for three days that has masqueraded as an allergy. Don’t you hate when that happens? I’m sitting with a tissue stuck in my nose. If you know me you know that means there is a prodigious tissue in front of my face , just below eye level. They don’t call me The Nose for nothing.

Questions.

Socrates was a Greek thinker from ancient times, a real smart dude who had a method (the Socratic method) of thinking that has been taken on by teachers worldwide – at least those who believe in having their students listen, think, respond.

Writers are great thinkers. If you write you are exercising your mind – asking questions of the universe great and small. Some through fictional enquiries and some through essays, some through the retelling of what has already happened and placing your perceptual imprint on it.

We ask questions of our selves and of the worlds we create, reflections or mirror images of what we see and perceive around us. I think one of the reasons writing is so hard is because of the amount of thinking required. So much has to live within our minds then get translated into words and placed on paper. It’s easier to let the mind run the way it wants to, harder to rein it in, even harder to make it think.

When my son writes I watch as small light bulbs go on across his forehead, some colored green and purple, others colored bright pink and orange- some the shape of sausages. He’s asking himself questions and answering them for himself, one after the other, maybe even taking a bite or two.

What questions lead you forward when you write?

For a look at the answers to my interview questions for Amalie Howard, author of Bloodspell, take a look at this link and see what colored lights go on around her head.


P is for Piss

OuthouseThere is a lot of versatility inherent in the word piss (Greek ὀμείχειν (omeikhein), “to urinate”). It also has a great sound. It sounds like it’s act when you focus only on the act of urination (onomatopoeia). But there are other uses far and wide for pissing. For example:

  • I piss.
  • I have pissed.
  • I am pissing.
  • In the process of pissing, I am a pisser.
  • I’ve been pissed on.
  • You’re a pisser (meaning funny or encourage-able).
  • Don’t piss around (waste time).
  • I’m pissed off (meaning angry).
  • Go piss off (get out of here).
  • I’m getting pissed (angry).
  • I’m getting pissed (drunk).
  • Let’s have a piss up (drinking session).
  • Don’t piss me off (as a warning).
  • It’s a pissing contest (either a real contest to see who can piss the furthest or longest, or a metaphor for a game of one-upmanship).
  • I’m standing in a pool of piss (either really standing in one or a metaphor for being in deep trouble).
  • I don’t have a pot to piss in (meaning poor).
  • You’re a piss pot (or a receptacle for piss)
  • I’ve engaged in piss play (a golden shower, a sexual act of pissing on another).
  • Don’t piss down my back (ruin what I’ve done).
  • You are a pissant (worthless person – comes from the 14th century word for a type of ant – pismire).
  • Those are piss-ants (large wood ants that piss alot).
  • This place smells like piss (olfactory usage).
  • Don’t be so pissy (irritable).
  • You’re a piss stain (insult).
  • He pissed his pants (fear).
  • Wicked pissah (really good thing).
  • Piss rhymes with bliss – I’m just saying.

Here’s from the King James version of the bible:

2 Ki 18:27 But Rabshakeh said unto them, Hath my master sent me to thy master, and to thee, to speak these words? hath he not sent me to the men which sit on the wall, that they may eat their own dung, and drink their own piss with you?

And Shakespeare:

1611 Monster, I do smell all horse-piss; at which my nose is in great indignation. — Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act 4, Scene 1.

or

1601 O Jove, a beastly fault! And then another fault in the semblance of a fowl; think on ’t, Jove; a foul fault! When gods have hot backs, what shall poor men do? For me, I am here a Windsor stag; and the fattest, I think, i’ the forest. Send me a cool rut-time, Jove, or who can blame me to piss my tallow? Who comes here? my doe? — Shakespeare, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Act 5, Scene 5.

A.S.King, in her book Everybody Sees the Ants (an awesome, brutal, wonderfully written coming of age tale) uses a bully pissing on the protagonists shoes as a key plot point. James Clavell, in Shogun has a scene early on of men pissing on the backs of prisoners – a scene that has stayed with me for over thirty years. These are writers using all the tools human beings in all their majesty, their light and their dark, have given them.

Sometimes human nature and the English language come together… beautifully.