This week’s column is out! For all those people who wonder where I had the time to collect some of my more eccentric skills… Enjoy!
I am both horrified and thrilled that my fellow writer-in-crime, C.A. Floyd, has taken it upon herself to tag me in the Facebook demand of the week. The demand is simple, all I have to do is make a list of ten significant books in my life. I decided not to cheat and therefore left off any of my own manuscripts, although I consider them to be of extreme personal significance.
Instead, I have, over two days, somehow produced such a list. Now, these are not necessarily my favorite works, but they are all extremely memorable. I’ve read more books than i can count (cause I’ve read a lot of books, not because I can’t count very high) and I can’t immediately recall most of them. But the books in this list are the ones that never go away; never fall into the black hole of my memory; the ones that are never are far from my consciousness. Now that I look at the list, you can probably plot a decent portion of my personal development through these titles.
Compiling this list was both difficult and amazingly easy. In the end, it really brought a smile to my face to think about all these wonderful books that effected me so profoundly. May you all be half as amused as me.
“Dune” by Frank Herbert
If you ask me my favorite book, if you ask for a recommendation, if science fiction or epics come into the conversation, if I’m awake…then this is the book that is on my mind. It was the book that made me love science fiction. I can still remember how it happened. We were all at the ranch, staying in the less-than-amazing trailer-house there while we gathered and branded and weaned all the calves. A hundred miles from home…I ran out of the books I’d brought with me! So, I picked up the one my Dad was reading. We stole it back from each other for days, until we were through, and the rest is history. I think I’ve read it at least four times now…and I don’t make it a habit to reread. It’s never gotten old or less epic or less amazing. It’s one of those rare works that no matter how many times you’ve read it, it’s full of new stuff every time. It made me the science fiction fan that I am.
“A Wrinkle in Time” b Madeline L’Engle
Wormholes, time and space as a flexible construct, parallel dimensions, and hey, a young girl who was smart and adventurous? Count me in. This book is more than a little responsible for my teenage obsession with astrophysics, string theory, and all the theoretical physics I could get my hands on (literally, as in books, I read tons of them on the subject while I could have been in high-school.)
“The Original Adventures of Hank the Cowdog” by John R. Erikson
So, I learned to read, but I hated it. Apparently Aesop’s Fables was not my kind of thing. Then, thank goodness, my cousins told my Mom about these books. I got the first two adventures of this brave ranch detective and then my Mom, so pleased to see me enjoy reading, ordered me the rest of the (then 30-something) book series, in hardback. I devoured them, and its still on of my prized collections.
“The Three Musketeers” by Alexandre Dumas
As previously mentioned, I read a lot as a young’un, and so did my Dad, and my Mom the mathematician, had an all too accurate idea of how much money we spent on books… So, anytime i could bargain my way into getting her to buy me more books, I happily did so, even if it meant not getting the books i wanted (sci-fi) and settling for what she thought I should read. In one particular case, we were in a Barnes and Noble and there was a display of BN Edition Classics. I was told that I could have something off that rack. And I possibly argued for “two” off that rack… What I took home was my first Alexandre Dumas novel and “Little Women.” I’ve been a Dumas fan ever since.
“Lone Star Planet” by H. Beam Piper
In amongst the spoils of my library-book-sale deal of legend (Thirty boxes of mostly classic sff for $30, thank you auction bargaining skills), I found this and many other books, but this one tale, that I picked up one day, is still one of my favorite stories. –and I proceeded to happily scour the many boxes for more by Piper and I even more happily found them and read them.
“A Fire Upon The Deep” by Vernor Vinge
Probably my first entry into the harder side of science fiction, this book was a gift from my second cousin (and science fiction fan) when he found out that I liked to read sci-fi. Since it was the norm in my family to read a lot, the few instances when other people decided to reward my reading obsession by going out of their way to give me books are special to me.
“The Dresden Files” by Jim Butcher
Despite it’s newness, this is now one of my favorite series and one of the few variations on Urban Fantasy that I really enjoy. A snarky wizard-detective who likes to carry a .44? How could I not like it? It is also one of the few recommendations that I took from a friend and never looked back. Thanks to her for that. And I’ve done my best to pass it on.
If Madeline L’Engle got me started, then this book cinched the deal. Parallel Dimensions both as scientific theories and as settings for stories are still fascinate me. Even got my Mom to subscribe me to Scientific American, Discover, and Popular Science for years. (and yer I did read them cover to cover.) Sadly, I lost the extra time and energy I needed to read all that reference materiel all the time when I started college. So, I’m no longer up to date on the newest intricacies of theories of everything, but I’m getting back to it, even if I may never be as much of an expert as teenage me.
“The Gunslinger” by Stephen King
Back in the day, before eBooks were cool; before most people even knew that such a thing existed; back when I carried a Palm Pilot *moment of silence* I thought buying digital books was really cool. One of the first was Roland’s inaugural adventure. I remember reading the short online description where it described the novel as a cross between a Sergio Leone film and J.R.R. Tolkien. It occurred to me that if it was true, I had found the perfect story. It was a great story and only later did I realize how famous it already was, but I didn’t read it because of the author or the hype, I read it because I found it and it sounded good. It was a good choice—and I may or may not have fallen in love with dark fantasy then and there.
“The Dirk Pitt Adventures” by Clive Cussler
My first full-size author obsession. When I started getting tired of kid-sized books (and by that I mean I read them all and Mom couldn’t keep enough of them on hand for me) I harassed my Dad until he decided that it would be okay if I read Clive Cussler’s books. I honestly don’t remember which book I read first (it was a long time ago, when I was like seven or eight) but I do remember that I quickly read them all. I’m still a fan of great adventure and thrillers, and I write them too, and I can trace it all back to that day my Dad handed me a Dirk Pitt novel.
Behold! Another column!
I’m proud to present…links to this week’s column. Enjoy!
Where was I? Oh, yeah, I was training. Been doing too much of that lately. Gonna be doing a lot more over the next couple of months. (and I am no longer the alternate for 4th Dan patterns, so add another layer to the training cake.)
But I’m at work and apparently they frown on flying kettle bells in the tutoring center… Alliteration is a different matter entirely.
Lucky for someone, I’ve decided to write about fighting rather than the alternative.
Here we go.
The Fight Itself
There is nothing quite like a fight. Not even another one. Because no two fights are ever the same. Each is a war unto itself; a timeless battle that takes forever, but is always over too soon.
When you are writing about a fight, there are two very different perspectives that you might take. To put it simply, there is inside the fight and outside the fight; the observer’s perspective and the fighter’s perspective.
Let’s start with the easy one. *heh*
The external perspective on a fight is description; the fighter(s) did this, then that happened, and eventually it appears to be over, one way or another. It varies, depending on the personality of the character POV that is observing.
The question of course, is how do we figure this out for a character so that is helps us write about the fight from his/her specific perspective?
Let me give you my answer, then I’ll show you how to get there.
Know the character’s focus.
We’re talking about observation and description here, frequently the most boring kind of writing. All showing, no telling, right?
Eh, hopefully not so much.
Here’s my process: Ask the character questions. Use those answers to color the description with focus and voice.
How does the character react to the fight? To the fact that it is happening? To the fact that it is close? Or distant?
How does the character react to the fighter(s)? Fear? Envy? Disdain? Respect?
The answers can tell you a lot about the character and consequently, give you a great opportunity to convey some of that character to your reader in a subtle, enjoyable fashion.
Let’s invent a basic description and then color it in for various characters.
Basic Description Example:
The two men squared off to fight. The blue fighter attacked with a kick to the gut followed by a punch to his opponent’s head. But before the punch could land, the red fighter stepped to the side and landed a pair of his own punches. Then he kicked the blue fighter once and then retreated.
Okay, that’s boring. That’s the point. It’s just the bare, observed facts. It’s also out of context and therefore stakeless. With nothing important riding on the outcome, it is emotionally hollow as well. So, can we make this short, boring exchange between two anonymous fighters more interesting? I’m gonna go with yes.
There are an infinite number of types of characters that might observe this fight. Let’s pick a few and see what we can do with them.
How about another fighter; someone who knows something about what is going on, but without any investment to speak of.
The two men squared off to fight. The blue fighter immediately went on the offensive, landing a side-kick to the solar-plexus before shooting a short jab intended for his opponent’s jaw. Red is quick, he dodged to the side and left Blue wide open for a counter. One punch low, one punch high, and then a kick out.
That was what I call announcer mode. The observer knew something about what he was seeing, but didn’t care very much, he was just there to relay the facts, albeit with a more trained focus. I gave him three focuses that any fighter ought to have.
Number one was specific targeting. This is a big difference, in my experience, between trained/experienced fighters and not.
Number two was a how he used strategic jargon to describe each fighter’s actions like “offense” and “counter.” He also used more specific language to describe the techniques used. and last but not least, he showed a comfort with the subject as he shortened and summarized automatically, even to the detriment of the less informed.
Number three was specific technique references. He didn’t use all generic terms like ‘kick’ and ‘punch.’
Now, let’s try on a little bit more of an insider.
The two fighters squared off. Blue went straight in with a side-kick that shoulda knocked out some air, or even some ribs. Red didn’t let it slow him down. He sidestepped that jab and opened Blue up good. High, low, and out.
This observer is mentally in that fight. He’s not seeing the through the eyes of a spectator, he’s seeing it through the eyes of a fighter. Right off, he calls them for what he sees and expects. Unlike the others so far, he doesn’t even mention the fight itself. It’s a given. That’s what fighters do, but it’s not the point. And that’s what he thinks of them as, “fighters,” not competitors, not opponents, just “fighters.” What does that say about our observer?
This observer is really focused on one thing, immediate consequence. He’s not looking for points, or pretty techniques, he’s making and then evaluating predictions. It’s not about the kick, it’s about how much it probably hurts, then its about how the Red fighter isn’t phased by the blow. Describing the counter setup, is when we see our observer in the shoes of a fighter for sure. He’s seeing the openings, the possible targets, not the specific techniques Red decided to use. (Not that doesn’t know the specifics, it’s just not his highest priority. How the move works rather than what the move is called.)
This type of observer, this fighter, could easily drop some judgements in as well. He might mention what he would have done instead of what happens, or even think of it before it happens. If he’s watching the fight long enough, and he’s an experienced strategist, he could start making predictions about a fighter’s moves, and when he starts getting them right, adding plans to counter the predictable moves, and after that, after he has a plan to deal with a move he thinks he’ll be able to see coming, he might even come up with a plan to force such a move. Three moves ahead.
Depending on how experienced, and how, shall we say, good, your fighter-observer is, you can change how correct such observations are. A good fighter with lots of experience might make a surprisingly accurate and thorough strategic analysis of the fight. A less effective or less experienced observer might make both good and bad predictions, and not go quite as deep.
If there is any one way to clearly differentiate level of experience, I would say it is in the depth and ease of such strategic thought.
I’m going to leave it at that for today, but consider other viewpoints for an observer. What about a complete stranger to fighting. How’s his or her pain tolerance. Maybe he or she empathizes and focuses on the perceived pain, or the possible damage. Does (he) have a personal interest for some reason in one of the fighters? Maybe (his) empathy is one-sided, maybe (he) even feels good about the other side getting hit/hurt.
We could keep going and going and going. The possibilities are rather large, but the idea is simple. Figure out what you want to say about the character observing the fight, and then pick one or two focuses that somehow illustrate those chosen facets of a character.
(And we will discuss the inside-the-fight perspective…eventually!)
Next time: Writing About Fighting III: One Ring Strategy To Rule Them All
You know one of the things a writer loves to see? His or her words in print. Real print. Ink on pulverized pulp. So guess what, I’m having a good time lately. A few weeks ago, I kinda got recommended for a columnist position–and they read my blog (this one…) and they didn’t run away screaming, they hired me.
You (and me…hehe) can find my words in print, every Friday. They can also be read online at pntonline.com and cnjonline.com. So, check out the Portales News Tribune and the Clovis News Journal.
Not that it matters, but the titles are not always mine. Sometimes they keep them, and sometimes they change them.
For your convenience, here are links to all the columns so far. Enjoy!
My Intro Column:
Some less known facts about longhorns:
An Introduction to Kow-rate, the art of punching and or kicking cows:
Some perspective on wheat harvest:
How to get a 30′ header through a 20′ hole:
The stories that arise from encounters with rattlers:
My campadre, C.A. Floyd, had made it into the excerpt portion of the 2014 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. I tip my hat and suggest that everyone read and review her entry.
If you have a sense of humor, it’ll be enjoyable.
Download it free for your kindle at Amazon.com.
Twenty-Fourteen is already well underway and in fact, I can’t believe it’s already April.
A lot has happened and there is a lot more to come.
On the writing front, I have a complete manuscript (Tough Target) and although edits will continue indefinitely, I’m just about to work up the nerve to start sending a few queries out.
Also, I’m in the process of compiling and editing a collection of my published (and a couple of new) short stories. I will be publishing it as an ebook as well as in print, so look forward to that!
If that wasn’t enough, me and my so-called partner in crime, Courtney Floyd, are looking at going ahead and publishing Alamok. In that vein, I’ve been working on a cover and other such things to prepare for that eventuality.
And all the while, I’m plotting and writing on new stuff.
In the small portion of my life that is not related to writing (he he *sarcastic eye-flutter*), there is absolutely nothing going on.
Except for the fact that I now have a job most of the time (Yeah, yeah. Shut up.) working as a professional tutor in just about everything.
And…as if that wasn’t enough, I just made the US Team (again…) in Taekwondo. Luckily, that means Rome this summer. Thus, for the next four months, I am going to be training, a lot, and fundraising too. But it’ll all be well worth it to represent my country once again and maybe even win back my title as Power Breaking World Champ. Either way, Rome is going to be a hoot and I can’t wait. (And I’m learning Italian.)
There’s also a little 3-Gun I have to throw in too. Thanks to my generous sponsor, New Beginning Gun Works, who built me a beautiful rifle to shoot, I need to make my presence known in that sport too. So, I’m headed to Liberty Hill, Texas in a couple weeks to kick off that party. Then, as soon as I get back from Rome this summer, I’m shooting the exciting Rocky Mountain 3-Gun World Shoot. Five days and fifteen stages of natural terrain in Raton, NM. Combine ‘yikes’ and ‘yeehaw’ and you’ve got the idea. Then back to Texas in the fall and maybe even Las Vegas, we’ll have to see how that one hashes out.
So, there’s the update. Once again, I’m way busier than is reasonable, but it’s gonna be a fun year. Onward!
Before I go, I want to give a shout out to my dear Courtney, who has made the second round of the 2014 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award with her Mystery novel. Congratulations to her and here’s hoping that she makes it all the way!
This post is brought to you by the letter ‘M.’ Not for Micha, not for Murreita, no, today M is for Michael Mann’s magnificent movie ‘Manhunter.’
Hannibal smannibal, I say. Despite all the praise and notoriety that Thomas Harris’ masterful madman has garnered since the success of Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal in “The Silence of the Lambs,” I dare to say that he is not the most interesting character at play. Indeed, I posture the heretical argument that Hannibal is far too simple to be as interesting as everyone seems to think. Rather, the most interesting character conceived of Harris’ brain is the underplayed and rarely considered, Will Graham.
Which is perhaps the reason why I am rather enamored of the new “Hannibal” tv show. While Hannibal the cannibal himself is certainly a main character, he is countered wonderfully by a well-portrayed Will Graham. The duo together and against each other makes for a tense, fun-to-watch, psychological train wreck.
Will is smart, capable, and good-looking, but none of those things make him so interesting. What I love about the character is the looming chasm of darkness that he is constantly threatened by and even better, he knows it, sees it, and his own self-control and intelligence are what protects him. Even when he’s sick or being manipulated, he never gives up that internal control. He may choose to step off into the abyss, but he will not be forced.
If Will chooses to do everything that he does, that leads us to a place of stark truth. His actions cannot be excused as the fault of another. His atrocities may serve a purpose, but he cannot be absolved. Will Graham is infinitely changeable, the definition of possibility, and a great character.
“Supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.”
- Sun Tzu
Or it this fighting about writing? Wait, no.
I’m mostly planning to talk about one-on-one, hand-to-hand fighting. Why? Because I just got back from the ABQ where I watched a good friend of mine dominate his first pro-mma fight, so guess what’s on my mind? Yeah. The same thing as usual. The other reason I want to talk about such nigh-palendromic, highly-hyphenated combat is because it’s the kind I like to do. Yeah, get over it. I like to hit people in the face—it’s not my fault if they cry. They need to toughen up and quit blocking with the face.
Don’t be afraid, that was my ring-attitude speaking. I invited her for this post. She is kind of, uh, how do I put this? Cool? Confident? Aloof? Unapologetic and supremely confident? A scary mofo? A mean b***h? Opinions vary—as intended. She is a character created to win a little thing I’m calling the attitude game. She is as much a part of getting ready to fight as stretching my legs. She is the persona designed to illicit fan-fiction…?
Let me tell you about her. She tries to scare her opponents before the fight even starts. She might be seen bouncing a little on her toes, rolling and stretching her neck (always intimidating), throwing a few nasty punches at the air, or if a friend is there, loudly reminiscing (and strategically emphasizing to perhaps convey an exaggerated tale) about all those times she beat her opponents to a pulp. She means to be intimidating. She will smile at you while she sticks her foot in your face. Hit her, she hits back harder. She is all business, all about the fight. She will enjoy making you cry and bleed and lose, but she’s not so bad… As soon as the fight is over, even if she loses, she’ll hug her opponent and grin and mean it. She has no ill will towards her opponents, she’d root for them if she was not the one to beat, and back behind the ring, she’ll spend a few minutes giving the best advice she can to her opponent. She will tell them how she won, give them advice on how to fix it next time, and wish she had more time to explain, but she has to get ready for the next fight.
That’s her. Once a tournament starts, she’s there, ready to play.
That’s leads me to my first point about fighting. One of the main components is attitude. Attitude, Conflict, and Feeling are the true heart of a fight. (and we’ll get to them all in time.)
Attitude is first because it comes into play before the fight even starts. It is a battle of it’s own, a preliminary to the face-pounding, and very important. It is also difficult to portay in certain mediums, because unless you are part of a big, televised, mildly scripted tv fight, the battle of attitude is almost invisible. They can be true or a lie, but unless they already know the truth of each other, it matters little the authenticity of the attitude. All that matters is perception in the pre-fight attitude game.
There are a few primary attitude archetypes.
Cocky / Annoying – There are those who will taunt and verbally harass their opponent, but they are not the ones to worry about, only the most timid will fall before the attitude of cockiness—or what I like to call, annoying. Though it can on occasion be triumphant, the cocky, annoying tactic is likely to backfire. Those who do not react with fear, are likely to react with a desire to prove the cockiness wrong. Most with this attitude are deluded or scared and I’d say it leans towards the former. Nonetheless, there are always a few, far between, who just like to be annoying, but can back it up.
Confident / Intimidating – This is ranges from the silent to the strategically intimidating. But it is not as in your face like the previously mentioned attitude. This is where I like to be. This is also the hardest to judge. Without making people mad, the confident attitude makes opponents wonder. Is she really that good? She seems very calm… The confident fighter is much like an effective writing technique. She does not tell, she implies, she alludes, merely influences the opinions that form. Her opponents are given enough room to create their own narrative. Over time, the narrative is cumulative and can become very powerful if handled correctly.
Timid / Plain / Sneaky – This is usually just what it appears, a fighter who is not confident, not cocky, and not even trying to pretend. This fighter has probably already lost. They can’t compete in the pre-game, why would they be up for the fight? It is possible, however, that this is simply a ruse, a disguise. The fighter may gain the advantage of surprise. Or the fighter may simply wish to abstain from the attitude game. Or they are so freaking awesome that they plain don’t care. They are rare, but beware the fighter who does not feel the need to vie for an advantage by playing the attitude game before a fight. (But it is a weakness. To give up any chance at advantage, not matter how small, is unwise.)
The Cocky presents a yes or no question. Is he as good as he says/thinks?
The Confident is the question. Who is she? And tries to present clues that lead towards her desired answer: She must be good.
The Plain does not want any questions. The fighter is not to be noticed or considered a threat.
The Plain is a low-risk strategy. The fighter risks nothing in the attitude game, and can only win if all the other players lose.
The Confident is a long play, but if played right, it can lead to the creation of myth and legend.
The Cocky is too direct, it does not grow and accumulate as a legend because it constantly begs to be challenged, to be disproved.
There are many common subtypes that exist within these generalities. Styles vary, emphasis varies, skill varies, and even the fighters sometimes change for one reason or another. But I think this give a good picture of the attitude game.
Next time: Writing About Fighting II: The Fight Itself