Open Wounds

Writing Tools

Waiting Games

 

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.
  • inspiration.

Y Wormhole Y

I’ve written about this before. I must have. Unless I haven’t and it’s all been in my mind. I do a lot of talking in my mind but not out loud. I think writer’s do this a lot.

The third piece of the story.

My best friend, Joe DePalmo, was hit by a train when I was 13. We were the kind of friends who saw each other every single day. Living on the same block helped. He left school on a day filled with rain and thunderstorms. I don’t know why he left. No one does. He wore thick glasses. He crossed a railroad track and was hit by the LIRR. They announced it over the loudspeaker in 8th period while I sat next to his empty seat in math class.

Write what you know.

I wrote about it in 10th grade for an essay competition in school. I didn’t win because my spelling was so terrible – seriously I placed but didn’t win. I’m so grateful for spell-check now. The piece of writing is gone. I never got it back. I’ve tried to rewrite the essay a few times but just can’t do it. So it worked its way through my subconscious, into my conscious, and after 42 years into the life of Illya Kuryakin Cruz-Archer – IC for short. IC’s 16. He plays a tabletop miniatures game called 40-K and he practices yoga and his parents are HIV positve and Brad Sologashvilles just gave him the Mark of Zorro.

inhale exhale.


G is for Grip

Smoke and Mirrors

Smoke and Mirrors

Aldo Nadi, probably one of the greatest fencers of the 20th century, says in his autobiography The Living Sword, that you can tell a lot about someone by the way they hold a sword and the way they fence.

They reveal themselves.

Grip is both how you hold the sword and what the sword’s handle or grip looks like. The big three are French, Italian, and pistol. There used to be Spanish style also but from what I can tell that is long gone. Italian is right behind it. Notice in the picture that follows the French style is simple, straight, and conforms to the palm and wrist.

The classic duel is between French and Italian style – not gangnam style. Pistol grip replaced Italian around the 1970’s. Notice the Italian style in the picture has a crossbar and two metal rings for the fingers.

The myth is Italian style is no longer competition eligible. The reality is it has gone out of fashion and few make them any more.

The pistol grip is the most popular today because it gives a fencer more control over his blade. There are six or seven different types of pistol grips. My problem with the pistol grip (and note that I have used it on occasion – basically when I don’t have access to my own weapons because I’m traveling – hey it’s my excuse) is that it makes me feel like I’m firing a weapon and not fencing. I know, I know. That’s ridiculous. But Italian grip looks most like a real sword to me. I like to use my imagination in my swordplay. What’s a real sword? One that makes me go, “Ooooo.”

One of my fencing teachers, Joe Brodeth, gave me an old Italian dry foil (non-electric) that he used to use back in the fifties when he first came to the states. He gave it to me knowing I would carry on the tradition and use it too. I still do. I am not fully trained in the style but I’ve read Nadi’s book On Fencing. And I had Joe Brodeth give me some guidance in the form of lessons.

The grip and the pommel and the hilt can be ornate or they can be plain, unblemished or scarred. They can reflect the personality of the user, just as grip can. French style avoids the blade and is used with finesse. Italian attacks the blade and uses some muscle because the grip is stronger. Italian is strong enough to disarm. Pistol can do all of the above. Of course this is all modern competitive styles. The broadsword and rapiers were much simpler because mostly their purpose was to use their edge so little point control was required.


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.


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.


It’s shit or it’s good. You tell me…

Steve Jobs

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.


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.


H is for Hoplite

Hoplite is a heavily armed infantry soldier of ancient Greece. Wearing shield, tunic, breastplate, helmet. and greaves they wielded sword and spear in combat.

What does the writer wield? Here’s my equipment inventory for a session on the battlefield of words:

  • Pencil (I don’t use one, I just like having them around because you never know when the electricity will go out and pencils will be back in the game)
  • Pen (I prefer any pen from Levengers – expensive but worth every penny because, as Steve Martin says in Roxanne, “I need just the right pen…” – especially rollerballs) with refills…
  • Computer (iMac 27″ screen especially helpful when comparing two versions of a manuscript or looking at my manuscript late at night in big bold letters, or just not having to use my glasses or squint because I’m too lazy to put them on)
  • Comfortable chair (or wooden hardback if I’m feeling especially spartan) with wheels so I can roll back and forth in endless patterns of procrastination – but not too comfortable so that I easily fall asleep.
  • Notebook or pad of paper (yellow legal or white – again not necessary to use very often but in case something comes up I always have one handy.)
  • Writing software (Word, Scrivener, iA Writer – these are my big three – I use Scrivener now for first drafts of novels then shift over to Word when I’m approaching a third or fourth draft and I use iA Writer on my laptop or iPad when I’m traveling and want to write without thinking about formatting.)
  • WiFi connection (a direct connection to the oracle of the internet)

I have other things to distract me like drawing pads, colored pens and art markers, a bulletin board that collects dust, a pile of folders I don’t use but that seems to get higher as the weeks go forward – I don’t know what’s in the pile but it keeps growing. Reference books to the right on the shelf and some underneath the pile of folders (I think).

What are your warrior writer’s tools of the trade?