Open Wounds

Historical Fiction

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.

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Sights, Sounds, and Smells

Fencers engaged in match

My friend and mentor Dr. Digby from CW Post LIU (my alma mater) has asked be to take her small English class to Manhattan to see the world of Cid Wymann first hand. They’re reading Open Wounds now. I’m going to talk to them about how you can make the past come alive in a historical novel.

I’m very excited about it (not the amount of work I will put into it – more than I need to probably but that’s my problem). I went to talk to The Fencer’s Club (on 28th) folks today to see what time on a Saturday October 20th, would be good to bring a dozen non-fencers to watch the goings on and maybe get a short talk about the history of the club – and… not get in the way of the fencing.

I’ll have them sit and listen to the sound of fencers going at it. I love that sound. Then there’s that smell of sweat from fencers who haven’t cleaned their uniforms in ages. Ahhh.

Then the Hotel Chelsea where Cid lives with Lefty down on 23rd. It’s under construction with a new interior renovation and new owners so we can’t go inside but at least the outside looks the same.

Then two avenues over to where I placed the fictional Gotham Fencer’s Club but where at some point prior to 1930 there was an author’s club near 28 West 24th Street.

Then down by subway – the R train – to the bloody angle (not from Gettysburg) in Chinatown on Doyers where the Rescue Society Mission used to be and where I placed an alley that leads down and deep underground to an opium den where Lefty tries to disappear from the pain of life.

Finally we’ll end up a little north at the lower east side on Grand where Siggy lived at the Amalgamated and over to Orchard where he worked selling pickles from a push-cart.

I might be a little too ambitious.

We’ll see.

I’ll let you know as I get closer.

Oh… and just ignore the fact that I’ve been away form a month and some. I’ll tell you about it later.


Indie Excellence Gone Bzrk

2012 Indie Excellence AwardsI’ve been away in my mind for the last two weeks. That’s what bloggers say when they’ve been away from their blog – at least that’s what this blogger says. Yes, I am a blogger. I’m surprised to see myself write this but it’s true.

So, I’ve been busy with my day job and putting words on paper for my new book – more day job than new book but I have clocked in my first  100 pages so I’m pleased.

I’m in Nashville right now, at a Starbucks Coffee mixing with the mall rats from across the street’s giant Greenhills Mall and just visited Parnassus Books (in a small mall on my side of the street)  – an awesome indie with a saleswoman who was nice enough to take two copies of Open Wounds and put them on the shelf and consider stocking them – consider, I can ask no more.

It helped that my book has just been announced (no megaphone or loudspeaker, just a quiet facebook mention from my beloved publicist Julie Schoerke at JKSCommunications) as a finalist in the historical fiction category of the 2012 National Indie Excellence Book Awards. I’m very excited, especially since I’d completely forgotten that I’d entered my book in the contest. Julie had recommended that I do so and I’m glad I did.

So I was at Parnassus looking for Michael Grant’s Bzrk and they had the book (many indies have not, I’ve asked at five so far) but only at the warehouse. I couldn’t buy it because after the conference I’m presenting at is over tomorrow I’m heading home and the store is out of the way (two bus rides for this writer and an hours travel). But you can bet they’ll have it stocked on the floor tomorrow. My search for a non-Barnes and Noble purchase of Bzrk goes on…

Oh, but I did buy a book while there (I have to support the indies!). I bought the new Stephen King book in the Dark Tower Series – my favorite books from Mr. King.

Now it’s off to the bus stop and back to the Opryland convention center where workshops on LGBT Issues, Teambuilding, and Cultural Competence await me.


M is for Molṑn labé! (Come take them!)

Still of Gerard Butler and Vincent Regan in 300Molṑn labé!

“Come take [them]!”

King Leonidas of Sparta says this in response to King Xerxes of Persia’s demand that the Greek army lay down their arms before the Battle of Thermopylae. Tens of thousands against 300 and they say, “Come take them!” What were they, out of their minds?

The movie 300 (see it if you haven’t because it’s awesome) is one of the most chest-thumping, testosterone filled films I’ve seen in the last year. Maybe I don’t see many chest-thumpers or maybe it is just that visually stunning (it is). Or maybe it’s the classic story that grabs me in which 300 come-back-victorious-or-on-your-shield Spartans hold off a swarm of Persians at the small pass of Thermopylae so that their armies back home can organize. They buy time now for victory later. And… spoiler here … they all die in the process. It’s brutal. But the dialog is just amazingly chest-thumping. There’s so much testosterone in this film it is overflowing.

What’s fascinating to me is how caught up I was in the characters, the father and son, the two friends who are like brothers (they are all like brothers), the king who willingly sacrifices himself and his warriors for the greater good of his country, and the cripple who wants so bad to be a soldier and betrays them all.

The reviews were mediocre of this film when it came out so I did not see it until recently. Everyone said it was visually spectacular but that the story was weak. I didn’t see that at all. I saw tremendous violence surrounding characters, hard as nails, that I cared for. That’s what story is all about. Characters you care about placed in danger in some way that they have to somehow get out of or through or around – even if they do not survive. Extreme, yes, in this case, but also, compelling.


Api tou heliou metastethi (Stand a little out of my sun.)

It’s all Greek to me.

This is my first post on the A-Z challenge and I’ve got my own theme for the month that comes from the book I’m working on now that takes place in 1914 England where Greek and Latin ruled as education in the “classics”. How each of these sayings deals with writers today will be my own stretch. So stop by and see what I come up with.

Api tou heliou metastethi (Stand a little out of my sun.)

So replies Diogenes the Cynic when asked by Alexander the Great if he had any wish he could fulfill. You gotta love that with a rim-shot for punctuation.

Something I recently overheard from a writer at a conference who was published with a big house when asked about the kind of support and publicity campaign she was receiving: “Oh it’s great except they always put me next to the (choose your megastar writer – there are only a few) so I might as well not even be there.”

Me I like being next to the megastars. At Charlottesville, being next to Alma Katsu (The Taker) on a panel meant people on her line (long line) sometimes drifted over to my line when they finished having her sign their book. Hey. You gotta start somewhere. Alma is a very cool writer whom I’ve had the pleasure to meet twice at two different conferences. I can stand in her shadow any day, ’cause one person’s shadow is another person’s sun.

Where is Diogenes when you need him?