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’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.
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.
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?
…is a defensive (mostly) move to the side. It’s an evasion of the blade by displacing your body left or right. In an advance you move forward. In a retreat you move back. In a traverse you move your front foot to the side while you parry. Then you keep going sideways and get the hell out-of-the-way.
Traverse left, parry two.
Traverse right, parry seven.
Attacks with the point tend to be direct, giving fencing a linear feel. The feet are lined up one behind the other and most movement is forward or back. Side-movements like traverses and voltes give transitional rapier and small-sword fighting more dimensions.
Broadsword and rapier fighting can be more circular. The stance is more squared off because it makes it easier to cut and move with a heavier weapon when your feet are both facing forward and your hips are squared to your opponent. Both feet advance.
is one of my favorite fencing terms.
It means to attack and attack again. If your first attack misses or is blocked you do not retreat or recover. You attack again without pause. That is a remise.
It requires great confidence and nerve, sometimes leg strength for a double or triple lunge. If you pause after missing the first time and hesitate, even for a second, you lose the initiative. The remise is finished. So don’t pause. Keep going forward and attacking until you touch your point to his chest (or wrist, or arm, or head, or, or, or…). It is thrilling to do and a bit frightening to have done to you.
To defend against the remise you retreat, parry, stop thrust, or some combination of these three in order to stop the juggernaut. Cut into his attack. Get out of distance. Make him pause and hesitate, so that you can take the initiative from him.
My books original title was Remise. My publisher said it had to be changed. “It is a French word,” she said. “Nobody will know what it means.”
Open Wounds is more brutal but Remise is elegant violence.
Here’s my main character, Cid Wymann learning about the remise from his old Russian fencing master, Nikolai Varvarinksi.
Open Wounds, by Joseph Lunievicz, Chapter 17
“Aldo Nadi says—”
“I am not Nadi,” Varvarinksi shouted and threw his glove onto the ground. “You want to take lesson from Nadi you find Nadi!”
“I didn’t mean—”
“Kónchit’! No more questions. You learn. I teach! Remise is attack, then attack.”
“What do you mean?” We had been working on parry-riposté drills, Nikolai pushing me to parry later and later, and to riposté faster and faster.
Nikolai picked up his glove and épée. He cinched his leather wrist strap tight and secured the grip against his palm. “With foil you extend arm before attack. Da?”
I nodded and rolled my eyes, having heard his explanation of foil what seemed like a thousand times before.
“Good,” he said, ignoring me. “You know difference between foil and épée?”
“Yes, yes,” I said, nodding and mouthing the words with him.
“If you parry, I withdraw arm, extend again before I attack in redoublement,” he said, showing me with his blade in quick, sharply etched movements.
“That sounds French,” I said.
“Quiet!” he shouted and launched an attack at my chest so quickly I barely had time to parry. Only instead of relaxing his arm back into en garde he kept his arm extended and attacked again to my hip. I stumbled back just in time to parry his strike in seconde and retreated again, now off balance, parrying another attack to my shoulder in sixte, only the third time I was too slow and his point touched my upper arm. Nikolai didn’t stop. His momentum threw him forward and pushed his point into my flesh. I tripped over my feet and fell to the ground. My arm felt as though it had been pierced.
“Remise!” he said, looking down at me, anger seething out of his lips.
“Remise,” I repeated, my own anger building in return. I touched the bruised skin of my arm. There was some blood where the point had hit. It was sore and would be black and blue in the morning. “Remise,” I said again, quietly. The world slowed down and my senses expanded. I heard the rasping sound of gravel shifting beneath Nikolai’s front foot and the dull thudding of my heart. His breath was ragged. A high-pitched buzzing floated by one of my ears and passed around to the other.
It seemed impossible for such a large and out-of-shape man to move that fast. In drills he pushed me with his own attacks, but they were timed and rhythmic, beautiful in their own way and mesmerizing in their patterns, but never blinding in speed. I’d thought he was fast enough to touch me only if I made a mistake. Now, watching him walk awkwardly away from me, his shoulders slumping forward, his belly hanging again over his pants, my anger grew. “Why don’t you try that again?” I said, the words seeming to elongate out in front of me as if in a dream.
Nikolai stopped in his tracks, then turned to face me. “You want to fight me?” His words were crisp, dangerous.
“Yes,” I said.
->— Open Wounds, by Joseph Lunievicz
Sometimes I spell it lung or lungee. I don’t know why. Perhaps because it’s late and it’s been a long week. Perhaps you know what I mean.
A lunge is an attack that elongates the body and subsequently the blade towards your opponent with the hope of skewering him. Okay I’m feeling a little aggressive so we’ll work with that. From en guarde you extent your sword arm then the front foot kicks forward and up while the back leg straightens advancing your blade toward your opponent with the hope of skewering him. I know I said that twice but the image stays with me.
There are two cool ways to practice lunging. One is to have someone stand in front of you just out of reach with a glove in their hand. From en guarde you have to wait until the glove drops and then lunge and try to grab the glove before it hits the ground. The second way is to place a quarter under the heel of your front foot and when you kick your front foot forward and up you have to lift your toes first and push hard with the heel to send the quarter skimming forward. This practices the explosive part of the move.
The lunge is a quick and efficient attack that can use all kinds of combination attacks with it including deceptions of the blade, feints, beats, and glissades. Usually books talk about three types of lunges, the demi (or short) lunge, the grand lunge (it is what it sounds like), and the standing or stationary lunge. You can throw in the passato sotto or rear lunge (which is really an evasion – a duck) also as a personal favorite. In the passato sotto rather than lunging with the front foot kicking forward, you duck and kick your back leg back, extend your sword arm while you bring your free hand to the floor for balance. Your opponent runs on to your blade – always helpful.
Did they lunge in medieval times with long swords and broadswords? Nope. They would use the point only after their edges were dull and they got tired of trying to crack each other’s metal shells and started trying to stick the point into the creases between the plates in the throat and the underarm. Who needs a lunge for that?
Besides the lunge wasn’t even invented until the 16th century, when they figured out that the point of the blade moves faster than the edge. Think about it. It does. And you can see a cut coming but just looking at the point it’s harder to figure out distance or target to defend against. Oh and the Italians invented the lunge. Capo Ferro’s prints are the first to document it. Gotta love that guy.
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.
I’m reading Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. I’m almost finished with it. It took me half the book before I finally got to the point where I had to finish reading it. The first half of the book stopped myself repeatedly from throwing the book out the window. I kept telling myself to keep going. Just a little bit further.
I picked up the book because a friend of my son’s named Austin, (age 11) a real entrepreneur himself, read most of the audio book and recommended it to me. He knows I like Apple computers. I’d also heard it’s a good book on leadership, a text-book of sorts in the making, and I teach leadership and team building workshops so I figured, what the heck? Maybe I could use it as source workshop material. Besides… I love all things Mac.
So why was I ready to throw the book out the window? Jobs was an asshole. A big one. He had few social skills and saw the world in black and white with very little grey. Things were either shit or good. It was that simple. Oh yeah, he was also a design, marketing, and creative genius. It’s amazing how so much can be forgiven if you are a genius. I’m not sure if that is a good thing or not but it happens, frequently with brilliant individuals (usually men). That’s why I didn’t give up. That’s why I’m almost finished with this fascinating, frustrating, throw it out the window, book. I have also cried and laughed while reading it remembering where I was in my own personal timeline when each of the Macs appeared. I owned the Macintosh SE/30 as my first computer. When I worked at Gay Men’s Health Crisis, it was my desktop computer for four and a half years. I wrote my first novel (still in a closet somewhere never to see the light of day again) on this same machine. I have owned a Mac and written on one ever since.
Reading how smart Jobs was in creating products (simple, elegant design and fewer products each done perfectly) and the way he orchestrated his comeback is compelling material. I’m eating it up. I wish he had been a nicer guy. But isn’t that the key to good storytelling? The contrast in personality and the ability to get things done? Would his story be more compelling if he’d been a nice guy and a genius? More havoc necessary!
I’ll tell you how the story comes out when I’m finished. I know we all know the ending but who knows what surprises are still in store for me. The story of Jobs and Apple is brilliant. Isaacson’s book carries it off. As long as you don’t throw it out the window before you are swept away.
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.
Two weeks have passed and I still haven’t written a blog post. I have been working on my book though, so that is something. Still, there’s time and distance to look at the experience and that, also is a good thing. So here are some thoughts on the A-Z challenge and blogging in general.
- Blogging is hard work. I don’t care what anyone says. It is writing and it is challenging, and it takes time and it is hard work. I know if I followed my wife’s suggestion and wrote short that I would be a better blogger but I tend to write long and meander. It is not a good blogger habit. So for 26 posts I tried to meander less and work quicker. When I was lost in side bars, side tracks, asides, and digressions I tried to find my way home and back to the point as quickly as possible.
- If was impossible for me to visit three blogs a day, much less five. I might have averaged out about 1 a day. It is only because I write slow and meander (see bullet one). But I did see 26 new blogs and found some great ones to follow. The blogging community is an eye-opening, huge group of absolutely crazy individuals with fascinating opinions and stuff (read – all kinds of shit, good shit and bad shit and all kinds of shit that’s in-between) to share with the world. My favorite blog to look at was Kristen Pelfrey’s, not because I found her blog during the A-Z challenge as I’d read her blog before… but because I found myself compelled to follow her post by post whenever I checked in on her work. She is a woman passionate about writing, about art, about learning, and about her angel potatoes. Each of her posts was a gem and worth going back for a second read.
- Choosing a theme was a good idea for me. My Greek theme played out well in helping me to structure my posts and give me a hook so I meandered less and actually, more than less, found a point to talk about. But… some letters were hard to come up with post for ( those with no Gods or Heroes or creatures beginning with the letters like Y, W, F and others). I find, though that constraints can sometimes be great creative devises. If I had left myself an open field to work with for each post I might have spent many more hours staring at the screen and imagining myself to be Stephen King (has anyone read his new Dark Tower book? I have to get that – I digress…). When I performed improvisational comedy with KLAATU my favorite improvs were the ones with more constraints. Free-form always troubled me. I liked a space to work within rather than the whole universe. It’s a different kind of creativity and one I work well with.
- I really enjoyed writing the posts. I felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment as I worked my way forward. Some of the pieces I wrote even ended up having some meaning to me and perhaps others – though more than anything I feel like I write to myself when I blog. I wonder if others do the same?
Finally there is the case of one Mathew MacNish, blogger extraordinaire, and the master of the QQQE. I tried the A-Z challenge because he was one of the masterminds in charge and if he was involved it meant I should probably give it a try. Mathew is a butt-kicking blogospherical expert and he hasn’t led me wrong yet. Plus he’s a friend and those two things together work magic.
On another note I read a bunch of wonderful books over the month that I’ll mention in future posts. But I will say that at least one was an adult novel and another, not the adult novel, my son can not read. On second thought my son can’t read either. Even though he’ll use his tried and true leverage, “But I read The Hunger Games” on me. It won’t work. Nope. Not this time. I will not fold for the YA book was brutal B R U T A L brutal.
And finally, I’m going to White House on Wednesday. Seriously. I am. I have a meeting with some colleagues about a project I’ve been involved with and we’ll be sitting down with Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP) members in the White House, on the other side of the wrought iron fence – a place I’ve never been and never thought I would go. The experience relates to writing in a very distinctive way. My day job (running a training institute at a non-profit that works in the fields of AIDS and Drug Treatment amongst other issues) is challenging and hard but also interesting and provides me opportunity to do work that I think is important in helping others. As a writer it’s good and bad to have a job like this, good because it’s good to work at something you care about. Bad because it can suck all your time and energy away from you. What’s the best job to have if you’re a writer? More on that another day.
For now, I’ve meandered enough and need to find my way back home. Now… which way was it?
Recently I read Gone, by Michael Grant and although it’s a real page turner one of the things that struck me (besides being a bit scared of the darkness inside, I’m not afraid to admit it!) was how several of the characters had faith in God (a male it seemed and organized Christian God). It wasn’t a large part of the book but it was part of the fabric of the universe for the main characters. What happened to them challenged some of their faith in a God. It made sense for that town and those characters but I am so unused to a discussion of God that it stood out for me.
My son wants to read Gone (after reading The Magnificent Twelve he thinks Michael Grant is the funniest writer in the universe) but we won’t let him. He’s very upset about this as he’s turning 10 in three days and has read Ship Breaker (my fault), The Hunger Games (my fault – I’m a bad Daddy), and all the Harry Potter books (okay – now he earned the right to read them so back off!). My wife, who is infinitely more wise than me, is the one who put her foot down and said no, not now, to Gone.
You see in our community a boy recently died. He was thirteen years old. The whole story is not known as we do not know the family well, but we had been to their home a couple of times with other families for school social events. The boy got an infection that turned into meningitis and he died. It all happened in one week and I am still shaking a bit about it because, as a parent, my first thought was – what if this happened to my son? These kinds of things make you question God(s)/Goddess(es) and faith. My son barely remembered the boy as it had been a few years since they’d last seen each other and the boy was three years older. My son seemed okay with the news. It seemed to pass by him and through him with only a small ripple. He was more concerned for us then himself, it seemed.
So in Gone (this is not a spoiler as it happens on page one) everyone over the age of 14 poofs – disappears and the world that Michael Grant creates is scary and fascinating. But not right now for my son. No poofs. Maybe next year or in the fall with some time and perspective. It is impossible to answer the question, why did a child die? How do you find a reason for that?
The book I’m working on now is about God, tangentially. It is about loss of faith and maybe (I don’t know yet how it will work out) gaining of faith back. It’s a real challenge for me as I was born a Jew, brought up Methodist, tried some Catholicism (youth groups have girls in them and I was a teenager but I really did go on that retreat to ask some questions of the priest – which I did. For example: Why do you say there’s only one God if there’s a father, son, and holy ghost? Isn’t that three? And what about the virgin Mary? What’s up with that? I was not popular and I did not get a concrete answer. I digress.), wandered into paganism, studied Buddhism and Hinduism and presently believe in a higher cosmic spirit of the feminine kind.
What I love about Greek mythology and all polytheistic practices is the ability to have all these different aspects of the great cosmic soul. Zeus of the lightning bolts needs all the other Gods and Goddesses to balance him out. They balance each other, yin and yang, water and fire, a satvic existence on the higher plane. without balance there is chaos. And yet in our lives, there is chaos. It seems in one way or another, in one corner of the world or another, with violence and death there is chaos. There are plateaus of balance and seemingly random acts of chaos. It makes me wonder as a parent and it makes me wonder as a human and it makes me wonder as a writer.
This is my last post on the A-Z challenge and I’ve made it through 26 posts relating to or pertaining to things that are Greek, at least from my perspective. I hope you’ve enjoyed the journey even half as much as I have.
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.
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)?
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.
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.
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:
- Stick from Stick by Andrew Smith.
- Vera Dietz from Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S.King.
- Phineas T. Pimiscule from Return to Exile by E.J.Patten.
- Nailer from Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi
- Winston Arnolf Leftingsham (Lefty) from my own Open Wounds.
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?
Tartarus. The prison of the cyclops and the 100 headed giants and then the Titans. A place of great darkness – a deep, gloomy place, a pit, an abyss used as a dungeon of torment and suffering that resides beneath the underworld.
What is the writer’s Tartarus? What puts chains and shackles on our arms, our legs, our thoughts?
Osho, a spiritual leader from the 60’s-70’s says about creativity, that all children begin life creative and able to be artists, but that society and the way we are taught in school drives this out of us. We are told to color within the lines, not outside; play with trucks or dolls; wear blue or pink; be embarrassed to dance or play sports; that we can read, or can not.
Kindergarten starts the process, standardized tests finish it.
Osho was on to something. I have seen all these cultural beliefs (based on social values, not nature) placed upon my son by teachers, other children, by parents, sometimes even myself. Everyone is influenced by them in some way even if we do not act upon them to the same degree. Conform or be sanctioned (looked at differently, nobody will be friends with you, made fun of, verbal abuse, physical violence).
We start off as creative beings and lose sight of that wonderful freedom, so says Osho. Many think Osho was crazy too. I think he was a mystic, a crazy mystic who journeyed inward.
For me, writer’s block, the inability to write, is a personal Tartarus – a cell in the underworld with a grill that lets in only a sliver of light. It’s like Steve McQueen’s cell in Papillon (one of my favorite books and movies).
Loss of faith in myself and my work and a publishing system that grinds up writer’s and eats them for breakfast helped me to place myself there. I say place myself there because I own that the space is mine. I created it and I have existed in it. It is a part of my process. I know my own process of writing has ebbed and flowed over the 34 years that I have been writing and sometimes publishing. A few years ago I lost faith in myself – in my writing. In Papillon, Steve McQueen paces back and forth, eats cockroaches and water-bugs, talks to himself while his teeth fall out and he waits for his opportunity to escape.
I’m not big on water-bugs or cockroaches, even if they are high in protein. And I’d like to keep my teeth.
What saved me in my cell was that although I couldn’t write much in the way of new fiction and could not start a new book, I could still edit and I could still write other things. I kept my muscles working, even if only a little. I paced in my own way and looked up at the sliver of light that came from the grill.
I wrote blog entries about my son and being a father.
I wrote poetry.
I drew a lot – Faber Castle markers have always been my favorite. What I couldn’t put in words I put in pictures.
Until I found the door to my cell was no longer locked. I pushed it open, looked outside and started writing again. My process had changed. The words have not flowed as easily. But I have a deeper faith in myself. To me that’s the only way to get out. It’s better than waiting for Zeus to get you out. He’s got other things to do. He’s a God after all. And Greek.
Sisyphus was one ruthless, murderous (at least three people and children as told in stories about him), sly, crafty, iron-willed, Machiavellian, power-hungry, bastard of a Greek king. He was an absolute evil genius that regularly outsmarted Gods (Zeus and Persephone in particular) and mortals alike. Of course he took a fall eventually and Persephone (Goddess of the underworld) took him to task (after he played her the fool twice) and made him pay for all his trickery. His ultimate fate is to roll an immense boulder up a hill and upon getting it to the top watch it roll all the way back down, only to roll it back up, again and again. He’s probably (probably?) still at it right now. Now there’s a story to be written (Rick Riordan are you listening?). A Sisyphean task is one that is endless and can never be completed, no matter how hard you try.
Sometimes writing a novel seems like a Sisyphean task. It seems endless with restarts and stops. It is soul crushing at times (dealing with writer’s block), humbling (critiques and rejections, oh my), and the words the end seem like they are unreachable, no matter how close you get or how hard you try.
Which is why when you finish a first draft and write the end, it is so damned satisfying. No matter the rock rolls back down the hill for draft two through nine-teen. Because it doesn’t roll back down all the way and although the peak gets higher, it is a new peak to push the rock up to. And eventually, if we do our work well enough, we get to a top (after copy editing and final final editing and final final final editing with a publisher) and the damned thing doesn’t roll down at all.
Of course then it’s time to create a new rock to roll up the hill.
But for a few moments, on top of the hill, rock firmly in place and unable to roll back down, the view is pretty damn good and the air is very very sweet.
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.
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.
There 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?
1611 Monster, I do smell all horse-piss; at which my nose is in great indignation. — Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act 4, Scene 1.
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.
Odysseus is blackmailed into fighting in the Trojan war and the siege of Troy. If he doesn’t go his son will be killed. He even faked madness to try to get out of it. He’s not interested in war, has a lovely wife, and idyllic home. He just wants to be left alone. On top of which an oracle tells him if he goes he’ll be gone a long long long time. So to save his son he goes. And the Gods are not happy after they sack Troy so they are all punished, Odysseus especially. He’ll travel for 10 years, lose all his crew, face Sirens, Cyclops, Calypso, Phoenicians (those perilous Phoenicians!), storms from Poseidon and he returns home to have to kill off all the suitors for his wife Penelope – who stayed true to him even though the full court press was on for her hand in marriage.
Odysseus is the man. If you’ve never seen Kirk Douglas play him in Ulysses you haven’t lived. Or if you haven’t seen Oh Brother Where Art Thou from the Cohen Brothers – a 1920’s version that sings (sometimes literally) – you need to rent it right now. And then there’s James Joyce’s’ Ulysses which takes the hero’s journey to its most mundane – what most call a literary masterpiece about a day in the life of two men in Dublin in 1904.
The protagonist in the book I’m working on now defeats a bully by blinding him with mud and gets the nickname, Nobody – mirroring the deeds of Odysseus in defeating the cyclops Polyphemus.
The Odyssey has been an inspiration for my writing since I saw Kirk Douglas play the hero when I was a kid. What hero’s journey inspired you?
By the way, Ulysses is the name in Greek and Odysseus is the name in Latin.
Narcissus (Greek: Νάρκισσος) in Greek mythology was a hunter from the territory of Thespiae in Boeotia who was renowned for his beauty. He was exceptionally proud, in that he disdained those who loved him. Nemesis saw this and attracted Narcissus to a pool where he saw his own reflection in the waters and fell in love with it, not realizing it was merely an image. Unable to leave the beauty of his reflection, Narcissus died. The Greeks don’t pull any punches. No happy endings here.
I had no idea the words Nemesis and Narcissus were linked. Nemesis is one of the Greed Goddesses of revenge but specifically for those who showed arrogance before the gods (in this case hubris – another great word). Narcissistic means vanity, conceit, egoism, selfishness, but it can also mean healthy self-love – though probably not in terms of masturbation. Come on. Did that not come into your head when you read that? No? then it’s just me. Back to this concept of narcissus and narcissism. Do you think writers are, by nature narcissistic? I wonder about this. We spend a lot of time by ourselves, wrapped up in our own worlds, thinking about our own words, blocking much of the external world out for as long as we can, or dare (diapers have to be changed, kids picked up from school, lovers loved, day jobs shown up to). I have on more than one occasion been accused by my wife of having an affair with my computer.
I prefer to think of this as an act of balance, spending time with myself and my work, which if it is to be done, must be done alone (I can’t socialize and write at the same time, can you?). Back to the balance. Healthy self-love is a bit new age-ish but it works for me. And good old Narcissus, stuck by his pool, is a good warning. One foot in both worlds and balanced between.