Open Wounds

Historical Fiction

10 – Part 2

Here’s my second set of five. Make of them what you will, but in no particular order:

Spartacus (Paperback) ~ Howard Fast (Author) Cover ArtSpartacus 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.

stand 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…

 

 

 

captain bloodCaptail 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 roomMake 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.

 

 

 

papillonPapillon by Henri Charriere is a magnificent adventure novel based on the life of the author – the only man to escape from Devil’s Island. Because of Papillon I wanted to get a tattoo (thought my wife wouldn’t let me – I know I know). “Welcome to the penal colony of …” from the Steve McQueen movie of the same name is just about perfect accompaniment also. This was one of the first real adult novels I read as a teenager and it fired my imagination.
There’s the last of my ten. Next week as I lie about on vacation (I will not check my work email) I’ll come up with my ten favorite reads of 2013. Never done it before so it ought to be fun.
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The Dust of Dogs and Human Insight

  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  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?

 


Z is for Zanbato or “horse-slaying sword”

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!

I am Zoro... without the mask. Really. Ask anyone...

I am Zoro… without the mask. Really. Ask anyone…


V is for Varvarinski

What happens to the Lefty's?

What happens to the Lefty’s?

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:

->—-
“Before I become master,” Nikolai said, “I go to Italy in 1908 and study in Rome. When I return to Russian court I can fence like no other. Russian nobles like devils to fight in duel. Want to be like French. Like devils to be French. Everything French. I call French fencing master coward and kill him in duel. His students come to me.”
“How many men have you killed?” I asked.
“Quiet! I not finished. I bring them fencing book, La Spada e la Sua Applicazione. Book by Greco. I show them to speak with sword must speak Italian. ‘First to be Italian!’ I say. My students live—opponents die.”
“But, how many men have you killed?”
“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.
“How many did you kill in duels?”
“Six or seven.”
“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!”
->—-
Nikolai is based on my mentor, Joe Daly’s description of a sabre teacher he had when he was a young man who had him take off his shirt for every lesson. “You will parry faster when you know a miss will hit your flesh.” I used this with Nikolai, whose teaching cry in Open Wounds is, “Too take off shirt!”

I is for Imbroccata

It's only a flesh wound.

It’s only a flesh wound.

Imbroccata is an Italian word for a downward thrust, generally delivered from the right side with the hand pronated over one’s opponent’s sword arm. Your sword hand is higher than your shoulder and the point of your sword is angled down. – Actors On guard by Dale Anthony Girard. It looks vicious in a stage fight and in competition I find it makes my opponents hesitate (as in what the hell is he trying to do now?).

I love all the Italian words for the different fencing moves. The opposite of the imbroccata is the stoccata (attacking from the bottom up under the opponent’s sword arm). Mandritti are cuts from the right side. Botta Dritta is the straight thrust. Botta longa is the lunge. Stramazone is a slicing or cutting blow made with the point/tip of the sword. Mandritti Squalembrato is a cut from the right side oblique and downward attack. Volte is a specialized foot movement to avoid a thrust – nothing to do with a battery. And finally Botta segrete or the secret attack – is the secret attack that only a few fencing masters know of that no one can defend against.

The language of fencing whether it’s in English, Italian, or French, is a language of textures, colors, aggression, and heavy breathing. Yes it’s very much a language of sex in addition to one of violence.

The rest I’ll leave to your imagination.