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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Relearning to write


Since third grade, when I wrote my first horror story, in seventh grade when I wrote my first novel I have always known I wanted to be a writer. The journey of writing is a long trail that no two writers walk exactly the same. And like any path in the unknown wilderness, you can find that you must turn back and find new trail the follow. This is me today. Over the last ten months I have been relearning how to write. Like many writers, I hold down a day job a lot of my writing. On top of that I have also been providing an element of parental care to my surviving elderly parent. In June 2011, the level of care turned into a third job and threw my writing career into a whirlpool of chaos and the unknown.

Before June 2011, I had been working very hard, overcoming various obstacles put into my path by my day job, to prepare to novels to pitch at a writers conference in August. When the event in June occurred — my mother had multiple health issues erupt due to a fall and symptoms that were ignored by the hospital and a skilled nursing facility where she stayed and ended up even having to relearn to wall — my writing time vanished. In fact, my life changed in many ways. Along with my life, I found that the way I wrote — my methods and process — had to change and evolve. Between June and October most of my days were spent going from work to a hospital or skilled nursing facility and eventually home. My study of martial arts was nearly nonexistent and my writing time looked to be on the brink of extinction. My mother was finally released home right before Halloween. Almost instantaneously she ended up back in the hospital. It was the hospital stay that actually gave us the insight to figure out what happened to cause a domino effect that started in June.

While I can sit here and perhaps berate life and go "oh woe is me," things do happen in life for a reason. Looking back at my novel that I thought were ready before June (actually almost ready) I find that they needed to be reworked at least one more time. With that realization and with the fact that being able to leave home at any desired moment was no longer a possibility I have had to reconstruct my method of writing. Why? Simply put, in the past I have never been able to write at home. Additionally parental support for my writing endeavors has always been nonexistent. My parents had always been supportive in almost anything I wanted to do, but writing wasn't one of those things which they could understand as a career. Even as a child I found that I had to physically leave home, lugging along paper and very heavy manual typewriter, in order to be able to write. Today, my mother cannot be left at home alone for any extent of time paying for someone to be with her while I would go out to write would be a small fortune — especially with the fact that I would write at least another 40 hours a week.

So where did that leave me in November? At first I thought up the proverbial creek without the equally proverbial paddle. Then I decided that I would have to try a new way to write, in fact if you have been following along with blog you will have seen I have already talked about having to learn to dictate what I write. This is a whole new process for me. And sometimes this process is quite painful for two reasons: one, I know that I can type much faster than the dictation software; two (and this is a personal note that only my close friends might know about me until now), I really hate the sound of my own voice. Let me explain the second reason. As a child with learning disabilities and need for both physical and speech therapy I went through several years of learning to speak correctly. There are certain sounds that I could not (and sometimes still cannot) distinguish between hearing them and nevertheless learning how to speak them. Thus, having to play with the dictation software is a ball of fun when I know it picks up on might incorrectly spoken sounds. Regardless of where I am at today, or how I feel about dictation or hearing myself dictate stories, blogs, articles, and poetry that I write it is my available outlet. As people at work are often hearing me say, "It is what it is."

If learning to dictate was not a large enough change in my writing style, the adaption to my current situation had yet one other curveball in play. I have never truly been a writer who writes by the seat of his pants. If you have read my blogs in The Writer's Lens you may get the sense that one of the authors whose methods I have studied is Earl Stanley Gardner and he was a plotter. His plotting methods I adapted this fit my writing, but I have never truly been a plotter either. I would plug the story up to the point, in my over desire to dig right in would take over and I would start writing the story in figuring things out as I wrote. My new existence as a caregiver for my mother cannot allow that previous process to work. That previous process required that I would be able to focus during a period of time that would allow my mind to see the story and spill it through my fingers on the keyboard. In some ways I saw my writing more as a chronicler and a creator as it seemed I was more trying to write down defense as they were occurring to my characters in their universe than planning those events.

The fact is, I must move past the "chronicler" stage. I mom's health has greatly improved, but she is in constant need of care and attention. I no longer get a night of unbroken sleep. Any mother reading this blog would probably be able to relate, and any of those mothers who are writers would relate even more, as I am having to and change the diapers of my mother multiple times a night just as if she was a baby — a 160 pound baby. When I return home from work, and relieve the caregiver who takes care of her during the day, I began another full-time job with constant interruptions (as an example, I was interrupted twice while writing these three pages) and fractures in the focus that I would need to write like I have been over all these years. I live my next step in this evolution is the requirement to become a plotter.

I hate outlining articles and I hate plotting, but I love writing more. As a result, I have been replanting the two novels that I would've hoped would have been ready back in August and as a result I believe I have made the plots stronger. I am close to finishing my replot of one of those novels and should start rewriting it from scratch sometime next month while juggling a much heavier workload at my bill paying job than I had previously ever known. So the need to become a plotter has grown even higher in necessity. I do not know if 2012 will be my breakout year or not. I do know that as a writer I find myself in a chrysalis from which I hope to emerge a much stronger and better author and poet.

Thank you for reading and please visit www.davidalanlucas.com and www.thewriterslens.com. Fiction is the world where the philosopher is the most free in our society to explore the human condition as he chooses.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Space: Our Forgotten Frontier of Manned Exploration?


Acknowledgment
I struggled with this blog posting for weeks, (which helped to make this a late entry) until I read a speech by astronomer Brian May, PhD, published in Astronomy magazine (February 2012) titled "What are We Doing in Space?" If you recognize the name Brian May and wonder why it sounds familiar, you may know Dr. May by his other career as the famed guitarist for the rock band Queen. Dr. May gave this speech at the first STARMUS Festival in the Canary Islands, where a distinguished group of scientists, astronauts, artists, and musicians had gathered from around the world to discussed the space sciences in a forum for the public. While Dr. May and I have different opinions about the future, I cannot disagree with his points regarding the nature of man and his affect on the planet Earth. Dr. May wrapped the thrust of ideas that I have been pondering, not only for the last few weeks but for many years, into his speech. This speech helped put my own thoughts into the structure of this blog.

Dr. May is the co-author with Patrick Moore and Chris Lintott, of Bang! The Complete History of the Universe and Chancellor of Liverpool John Moores University. You may also learn more about Dr. May and his opinions at brianmay.com.

Where Are We Going in Space Exploration?   
 
Dr. May has seen much of the world and is a professional astronomer, so how do I challenge him in his opinion.  I don't. In fact there is only one point of disagreement that I have with his position, and that is the need that we hold space exploration until the point when we can fix certain social, economic, and environmental issues and be better human beings. I wish with all my heart that I could agree that we could wait so long. I am not a professional astronomer. I have a minor, or had a certification to teach, general science, social studies, and language arts. I earned these certifications with my bachelor's degree due to my pursuit of science, history, and writing courses. I have been a student of history since late elementary school and astronomy since the first time I ever looked up in the space. My earliest memory is watching a rocket launch on the news.  I have no idea how old I was.  Half of my minor in general science was through the study of astronomy and astrophysics. But in truth, I am nothing more than an amateur astronomer (at best), writer, and philosopher.

The one problem with creating a better human being is the question of who gets to determine when we are better humans. This question has been used and abused over time by people who do not have the best intentions of humanity in mind. But to address Dr. May's vision, we would need to create a utopia. One problem with a true utopia is that it will lack the struggle that gives birth to innovation and creativity. In short it would be hell on Earth for all artists, musicians, and writers. The history of exploration is a history of mankind struggling to discover what is beyond the horizon, make a better world for himself, or discover resources that are needed.

I admit, wholeheartedly, the fact that political, business, and military or militaristic philosophy have always driven man's exploration is a sad truth of history. Man has explored this world, finding new resources and new lands to expand and colonize. Arguments can be made as to the rights of those governments to have colonized, and in many cases, exploited the lands and people in which they have found. On those lands they had warred with local inhabitants, conquered, and exploited — even to the point of slavery — the indigenous populations. This barbaric past cannot be forgotten.

It is in the same spirit of past exploration and colonization that mankind had first ventured into space. After the Second World War, the nations of the United States of America and the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics along with their allies were engaged in the Cold War. The rivalry for prestige, military power, and advancement of national goals lead the Soviet Union and the United States to venture into space and eventually land on the Moon. The original capsule launches looked like something that could have been found in a novel by Jules Verne. Even the Apollo mission capsules that landed on the Moon would be primitive by today's technology.

The landing on the Moon was as much about politics and military might as it was about scientific exploration. This fact does not take away anything from the bravery and spirit in which the astronauts traveled to the Moon nor the same courage expressed by all of the astronauts and cosmonauts that led the Apollo missions into space and all those which followed after. Yet, after the great achievement of man first walking on an extraterrestrial body and opening the door to space exploration beyond the near space of Earth, after 50 years, we have not returned. In fact after the Apollo 11 mission, funding for the remaining Apollo missions and other space exploration waned. As if the Apollo mission sounded a death knell, the Soviet Union's plans to land on the Moon faded as fog burned by the sun.


Dr. May pointed out in his speech, "Those 50 years have seen thousandfold leaps in expertise, computer technology, the birth of the Internet — how come this outreach into space stalled? Buzz [Aldrin] told in his address that after the clear objective of the first Moon landing had been achieved, it became harder to be clear about the objective and harder to keep the support for the continuing exploration going. Yes, that must be so. But it's tempting to also theorize that the political powers -that - be did not see any immediate advantage in pursuing this path any further. They turned their eyes into other directions. And they were actually quite open about it. [President] Kennedy spoke of man's ambition to explore the cosmos in pursuit of pure knowledge, but the word Star Wars was coined to describe the ambitions of the development of unmanned weaponry in space designated by President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s...meanwhile, the mighty Saturn rockets no longer roared, and the Moon was left alone."

It was sometime from the time in which the Apollo missions ended and the birth of the Space Shuttle program in the United States. With the rivalry between the United States and Soviet Union less intense in the space race, the people as well as the government of the United States seemed to lose interest in manned space exploration. Instead we launched robotic probes to the far reaches of our solar system, satellites around the Earth, and left exploration in the hands of those who could press buttons or maneuver joysticks in remote control.

Maybe it is because I came from people who ventured everything to explore the New World and create a new life on a new continent, either my Native American heritage that came to this continent over an ice bridge during the Ice Age or my European heritage of immigrants who came to the New World over two centuries, gives me the view that it is exploration that pushes man more than anything can be done by a sterile remote control and it is this spirit of independence that explorers all share in the exploration that defines mankind beyond any political, business, or militaristic shortsighted philosophical objectives. Mankind is meant for more than sitting and watching events unfold around him. It is human — the very definition and nature of our curiosity that has led us from the Stone Age into the Industrial Age — to explore and overcome the obstacles that the new and the unknown create for us. 

The Collapse of the Manned Space Program

The United States finds itself in a new day and age of space exploration, for better or for worse, where our government has turned away from NASA manned missions, not yet replacing the Space Shuttle, and is looking to the private industry sector to take man to the next step of this endeavor. Before it sounds as if I am anti-private industry in space, let it be said that I believe such a step of private industry launching into space is long overdue. History has shown us that were first the explorer goes he is soon followed by the merchant prince in independent trader. Like any other visionary who looks upon the face of the Moon standing on Earth, I do not want to see the golden arches of McDonald's or a huge shopping mall suddenly appear in the Sea of Tranquility. But despite such dreamy visions of space exploration being conducted for the purpose of scientific exploration is at best a naive dream. Even if mankind, through a single nation or through some form of an alliance, actually colonized the Moon, or an asteroid, or another planet in the solar system, with the sole purpose of scientific advancement and discovery the merchant would soon follow.

Yet, manned space exploration lays in tattered ruins as we primitively cling to the cradle of mankind like a baby scared to take more than his first steps into a new world. With the end of the Space Shuttle program, and the fleet of Space Shuttles in moth balls, the United States must turn to its old rival of Russia to place astronauts on the International Space Station. Meanwhile, NASA would need to rebuild its man space program, including the training of said astronauts, unless the United States acts quickly to restore the program in some manner. To do this now would require a lot of money. To do this later would require an even larger monetary investment.

The United States is not the only one in the position of not having a manned space program. (I am not ignoring the continued participation of astronauts on the International Space Station, I am referring solely to the fact that United States and other nations do not have a delivery vehicle at this time.) The European Space Agency, the China National Space Administration, the Indian Space Research Organization and many others have to either build or rebuild their manned space program. In fact, from what I have been able to research, it appears that only the Russian Federal Space Agency is currently providing manned missions into space.

However, despite the prestige of being the only agency to be able to actually place its own astronauts (cosmonauts) as well as those astronauts of other nations into space, the Russian Federal Space Agency is facing huge budget crunches due to the cost of continued operation of the International Space Station and the collapse of the world economic markets over the last few years. If Russia decided to discontinue its ability to put man into space on its own, and follow in the footsteps of NASA, stepping beyond the threshold of Earth may be even further off than we first ever dreamed.

At some point soon, it is my hope, private industry will have the ability to shuttle personnel to the International Space Station and beyond. The reliance on a private company to be the sole explorer of space and the planets in our solar system is as dangerous and distasteful in my mind as relying on the goodwill of shortsighted politicians with their own political and militaristic agendas. What is the solution? 

The answer lies in the hands of those who would be willing to push for man to reach out beyond our planet back into space as those who lived in the United States and Russia did in the race to reach the Moon. This is an expensive endeavor. I can hear many readers arguing that before we go into space we have a lot of work to do here on Earth in conquering poverty, pollution, social issues, and finding a way to live peacefully among ourselves. Those of you who would propose such requirements before we venture further with manned space exploration are in line with the thoughts stated by Dr. May in his speech. I would propose to you that such a position is only slightly less shortsighted than a political or militaristic agenda would be.

Why Not Focus on Our Problems Here?

I am not ignoring the fact that we, as human beings, have a lot of maturing to do. We still war on each other because of a difference of opinion, religion, the color of our skin, or over precious minerals and resources. We still face overwhelming poverty around the world, epidemics and pandemics, nations more interested in keeping power than giving their people freedom and liberty. We still have slavery in this world. We have problems with our politicians and militaristic ambitions. And regardless if global warming is a reality or scientific error based on the evidence, the fact is we have done a lot of damage to this world which is unique and precious and our birthplace.

One day, we will strip this planet of all the resources that we have. We will run out of oil and gas. We will run out of other minerals and organic material such as forests and animals. We will run out of coal and other energy sources that are nonrenewable. This isn't some "liberal" expression of treating mother Earth better. It is a simple fact that there is only so much resources available on this planet. If I were to take a gallon of gas from a gas tank and say that this is all the gas that is left and people were to use an eyedropper to take what gas they wanted from that gallon of gasoline I have in my gas tank, no matter how rationed the gas might be, or how few ounces and eyedropper may take, it will be drained eventually.

Our population on this Earth is growing and growing and growing. We are pushing our planet and its resources to the envelope's edge. Someone once compared the concept of "pushing the envelope" to a real envelope. When you push the envelope you are raising things to the upper right-hand part of a chart. When you consider that same chart to be an envelope itself, is not hard to remember that it is the upper right-hand corner where the postage is canceled. I do not believe that we have the time to wait for us to solve our social issues before we go any further into space.

Poverty is a dangerous social issue. Some of those impoverished are there because they don't know how to get out of the cycle of poverty and others are in poverty because of circumstances in life beyond their control or expectation. We have tried to solve poverty and social issues for thousands of years. We have failed. Failure does not mean to stop attempting to find a solution of some kind. It is a fact that as long as there is a form of currency that represents man-hours and resources, poverty will always exist, though it may be redefined on its levels. The likelihood that currency won't ever go away is as unlikely as an asteroid not burning up in the Earth, falling through my roof, and striking my head as I am typing this at this very second.

The social issue of human slavery still exists. Over 150 years since the abolishment of slavery began and spread across the world, to finally be outlawed in international law in 1948 as provided in the UN Declaration of Human Rights Article 4, mankind is still found a way to enslave its brother and sister. There is still forced labor, child slavery, and sex slavery in this world. We have come closer to ending slavery today than we have at any other time in our long history on this Earth. Despite that, I do have to wonder if we will ever solve it. Regardless if we go into space or not, the question of slavery, I think, will always be with us in some form. Our enhancements in computer technology, robotics, quantum physics, and DNA manipulation can easily lead to the creation of something else that could be used in place of a human slave. While I do not wish to get into the philosophical debate at this moment, I will raise the question that if we create either a sentient robot or are able to create a living species design to do our manual labor for us, will we not be enslaving this new life?

The fact that our population has been exploding beyond anything we have ever seen in history gives me only a little pause. Nature has a way of correcting this over balance. Mankind has had war and disease has ravaged our population before. We've improved medical science to the point where many of these diseases are no longer prevalent in our lives, but they still exist and can evolve into something more dangerous. Furthermore, terrorist and governments do experiment in toxic biological agents that can be weaponized. Despite the fact that nature, or the nature of man, can rebalance the population, we cannot forget another method. Not long ago, in the terms of history, nations sent their overpopulation or their unwanted to the colonies. Those colonies evolved into new nations. I believe that this process will happen in space exploration, regardless if we wish to do it or not, and as a result will reduce the strain on our planet.

The problem with the environmental damage that we have done to this Earth cannot solely be solved by sitting here in the middle of the mess we created. When you have created such a mess that you must clean up, sometimes you have to step outside of the mess to even begin to correct it. I know I am being over simplistic when I use the idea of a broom and a dust pan in relationship to the amount of pollution and damage that we have done, but how easy have you ever found sweeping up the mess when you are standing in the center of it? Usually, it is easier to attack from the edge of the outside and slowly sweep the mess into the dust pan. I will explain how space exploration and colonization would be more beneficial to fixing this mess than simply trying to sit here and solve it by political treaty or governmental regulation. Anyone who believes all it will take is political treaty and international cooperation to solve this issue needs to look carefully at the growing economies and their treatment of the pollution issue as well as a failure of cooperation in the Kyoto Protocol — didn't Canada just leave that protocol?

It is more than likely we will take these problems, as well as problems in which I have not addressed, with us in the space. It is a part of our racial culture and history. It is a part in which I can wish that there was some kind of giant eraser or big delete key that could somehow fix this part of mankind. There isn't. And every time we tried to make man "better" we somehow make things worse. So the idea of waiting until somehow we are able to kick ourselves in the backside and get our act straight may as well be waiting for doomsday to occur. I believe our civilization will continue to evolve. Even if we have a new dark age of some kind, mankind will find a way to mature. But it is the act of exploration of ourselves as well as our environment, which now includes space, which will lead us to this maturity.

We Must Go!

It may have appeared that I have laid out the very arguments that many have used to explain that we are not ready for space exploration. Guess what? I have. The fact is the human race will mature at its own speed. We all have our formative years growing up. We all could not wait until we reached a certain age in which then we could do something. Maybe that something was to drive, vote, get out of school, have a family, or whatever. There's always been something that drove our individual maturity and I believe that there will always be something to promote and push our maturity as a race of humans. Regardless of our maturity level now, we need to go back into space. The reason for this is simple.

Space technology has advanced technology in other industries. This space technology and its adaption to our lives as it could be on the Moon or other planets and asteroids could be used to help fix or discover new ways to correct the pollution issue that we face as a race on Earth. If global warming is as dire as many have made it out to be, then what are we waiting on? We should be adapting and exploring the technology that would be needed for colonization and space exploration and applying them in those endeavors as well as that of cleaning up our mess.

In addition to our pollution issue there is a phenomenon in which I find sad to the point of almost pathetic in which space exploration and colonization can help solve. Maybe it is just me, but have you noticed how much of our focus in this world is on doomsday? Maybe this is just a European or American thing, but I don't think so. I have lived through at least five predicted doomsdays and, assuming everyone is wrong about 2012 being the end, I am about to live through my sixth. 

Despite all the predictions of doomsday, there is one fact that cannot be ignored. There will be a doomsday for this Earth. We might blow ourselves up, make the world uninhabitable either by pollution or biological weaponry, nature may change the world to being uninhabitable in response to our pollution, or one of the million other events may occur. The fact is our universe and our world is dangerous. We could be hit by an asteroid, a nearby star could go supernova and send massive radiation our direction which would end our lives, or we might commit racial suicide.

Despite all of those predictions, either religious, scientific or pseudoscientific, in all the arguments that experts will make about the environment, economics, or any social issues mankind faces, there is one fact that we can agree on: whether it happens tomorrow, a thousand years, or billions of years from now, the burning plasma ball that we call our sun will expand into a red giant swallowing the Earth and retreat into a white dwarf in its death. Our sun will use up its hydrogen and grow cold. When this happens, it won't just take the Earth or whatever remains of humanity. It will take Michelangelo, Aristotle, Tennessee Williams, Mark Twain, Lao Tzu, Einstein, Hawkings, Charles W. Chestnut, Buddy Holly, the Beatles, Nelson Mandela, Homer, Leonardo da Vinci, Strauss, Tchaikovsky, Tolstoy, and William Shakespeare and all that we have been through as a race  — all of our tears, all of our sweat, all of our toils, and all of the generations before us and those that will follow us with all of their dreams and hopes — will have been for nothing unless we find a way to get all of our eggs out of this one basket that we call Earth. "Earth is the cradle of humanity, but one cannot live in a cradle forever."-- Konstantin Eduardovich Tsiolkovsky

Thank you for reading.  There is still time to enter the contest for  a chance to win a free signed copy of A Man of His Word.   Click the hyperlink to learn more.

On Saturday will be another posting and on February 1, will be a new contest for a free book.  This one will be by a Hemingway First Novel Award Author.  

As always, please visit www.davidalanlucas.com and www.thewriterslens.com. Fiction is the world where the philosopher is the most free in our society to explore the human condition as he chooses.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Writing the Fight Scene-Part 1 (Understanding the Character Motivation)

Everyone is an expert in at least one thing. We bring that expertise to the stories and articles we read and to the movies and television shows we watch. Speaking for myself, when I see or read something that is clearly wrong I want to shout, "That's wrong!" Often times I fight myself from stopping my enjoyment of the story and moving on to something else. Watching or reading a fight scene is one of those things that catches my eye and often makes me groan (to say the least). Often times, friends do not want to go to a movie with me if there are a lot of fight scenes--or at least not ask me what I thought of them. Often times, the look on my face says enough. Why am I this way?

I started studying Martial Arts over thirty years, about the same time I started writing. I have dabbled in a few different fighting styles, including fencing, Iaido, and various hand to hand styles. At the time of this blog I hold a third degree black belt (Sandan) in Tracy's Karate, which has always been my foundation in training. I have spent much of my life, in one way or another, studying how to fight and how not to fight (including when to run like the devil was after you). Despite all of this, even I catch myself writing a fight scene wrong. 

How do I write a fight scene, as an expert in fighting, and how do I correct it when I go wrong? While I would imagine there is a book on how to write a fight scene, I haven't seen it. So, I am going to tear apart the process as best as I can over the several months. Before I begin to outline it, let me be very clear: Writing is an art. Martial Arts is an art. There is no one way to do anything. Take from this what works for you, knowing that, like all writers and marital artists, we all walk our own path.

The first thing I do with writing a fight scene is to understand who is involved. When people fight in real life, everyone has a set of skills, a way they think, and a motive to be in the fight. Let's work this backwards and start with motive. Why does your character want to fight? 

Let's think about your character and about fighting. Fighting is dangerous and painful.  How dangerous? Allow me to share with you a true story.  How many times have you been somewhere . . . a park or a bar . . .where some people break out in a fight and you hear the spectators cheer on, calling to the world, "Fight! Fight!"  The story I am about to share is not about one of the combatants but one of the spectators.  As the spectators gathered around to cheer on the drunken fight, one of the bar room warriors pulled out a knife and swung it blindly at his opponent.  Instead of cutting or stabbing his opponent, he slit the throat of one of the spectators--someone who had gone out for a few drinks left his life's blood pooled out like a pool of sticky dark blood all because he wanted to watch two morons fight over  . . . what?  What were these drunks fighting over and what had been worth so much for someone to die?

Someone can be beaten to a proverbial pulp or lose their lives over trivial issues--like a pair of shoes, a spilled drink, or (as a guy I once knew discovered) looking at someone's girlfriend the wrong way. In St. Louis, Missouri a game among teens has developed where they go up to complete strangers and try to knock them out. Fights can start over imagined slights, being drunk, forced to protect yourself or a loved one, property and so forth. 

Why is your character willing to fight?

Before you decide to turn your character into a super hero or the next Jet Li, let me break down the motivation a bit. There was a story my Master Instructor once told me that I have never forgotten.

A man, who was studying Martial Arts and had grown so confident that he felt like he was bullet proof, was once asked what he would be willing to fight for. He was asked, "If ten men were leaning on your car and causing trouble, would you fight them?" 

He replied with confidence, "Of course I would beat the . . .." You can fill in the words.

His instructor then asked, "What if they all had chains and baseball bats and you were unarmed?"

The student thought about it and agreed he would not fight them. 

The instructor then asked one final question, "Take these same men, armed the same way, and now they are raping your wife. Would you fight them?"

His answer changed.

The circumstances in real life and in our fiction writing are what will determine if someone will be willing to risk their lives in a fight. What are you willing to fight for and lose your life over? If you answer that quickly, I personally ask--plead with you--to think about it a little more. What is your character willing to fight for? What is their line in the sand?

On February 11, we will begin to get inside of the fighter's mind--from the untrained to the most trained.  How do they fight? More importantly, how do they think about fighting?

If you have questions about writing fight scenes or about how various characters might act in a fight, please feel free to ask.  I will do my best to answer your question.  Your question's response may even lead to a blog entry in this series.

Thank you for reading and please visit www.davidalanlucas.com and www.thewriterslens.com. Fiction is the world where the philosopher is the most free in our society to explore the human condition as he chooses.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Having Coffee (or Earl Grey Tea) with New Author Sarah M. Anderson

This week I am happy to present an interview with brand new author, Sarah M. Anderson.  Writing runs in my family. I write. I have multiple cousins who write and one of my grandmothers wrote. Thanks to my cousin, Sarah M. Anderson finished our grandmother's book, Eleanore Gray, which was published it in June, 2011. Goldie M. Lucas, our grandmother, was a published poet whose works were printed in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Globe Democrat. Eleanore Grey was her first novel. The story draws heavily upon Goldie's childhood memories of growing up in Dean's Creek. Goldie died in 1960, leaving Eleanore Grey nearly finished. Now, over fifty years later, Goldie's final work has finally seen the light of day.

Sarah M. Anderson has now had her first novel of her own published by Harlequin Desire.  Her debut novel, A Man of His Word, was released in December 2011. She reviews western novels for Romance Novel News and is a founding member of the Authorial Moms blog.

Please grab a cup of coffee, or drink of your choice, and join me for a special Coffee with David author interview.

Question: What is the latest project you are have had published?
Sarah M. Anderson: In December, 2011, my debut novel A Man of His Word was published. It was the ninth book I wrote, but the first one I sold. Since then, I’ve sold two more books to Harlequin Desire. The second book, A Man of Privilege, will be out in July, 2012, and the third book, tentatively titled A Man of Honor, will be out in September, 2012.

Q: What was the hardest part of writing A Man of His Word?
Sarah: A Man of His Word is a category, or series, book. It has a strict word limit of 50-55K words. It was the first time I’d attempted to write a shorter novel, and it was a nerve-wracking experience. I had to significantly reduce the amount of supporting characters and subplots, so the challenge was to keep the main plot feeling substantial enough to fill out the novel.

Q: When did you decide to start writing modern western romance fiction?
Sarah: I didn’t ‘decide’ to do it, not consciously. I thought I was writing women’s literary fiction with strong romantic elements—a family saga going back three generations. It was terrible! Then I got to the granddaughter of the family, and she wound up out west with a cowboy who was also an Indian. That book really clicked—I enjoyed writing it, my readers enjoyed reading it, and I had three agents request the full. The first agent who requested it rejected it with the line, “I normally like westerns but this didn’t do it for me.” It was a thunderclap moment—I write westerns! Believe it or not, I didn’t realize it until I got that rejection. I retooled my query letter, dropping the women’s literary fiction with romantic elements and adding in contemporary romance with western elements, and it went from there. 

Q: Do your works share a driving theme?  If not, what are the themes you like to focus on?
Sarah: Every single one of my characters is scarred—usually mentally, but often physically. They all have their scars, but they do not allow the things that happened in the past hold them back in the present. When one of my characters meets their match, that’s the person that sees them as they really are. This is most explicit in my upcoming July release, A Man of Privilege. My heroine, Maggie Eagle Heart, is a former hooker and drug addict who still has the scars of her abusive childhood. But the hero, James, doesn’t see an ex-hooker when he looks at her. He sees the woman she’s transformed herself into—which is what Maggie really needs.

Q: What was your biggest fear when you decided to start querying agents?
Sarah: I started querying the very first book I wrote and my fear was that no one would read it and discover how totally awesome it was (it wasn’t). Form rejections were easier to take because I could justify that that agent didn’t know what they were missing. I had this huge fear of someone (besides my mother) reading it and telling me it was horrid. However, the more I wrote, the less that fear scared me. Plus, every rejection was useful—like the one that told me I wrote westerns!

Q: If you could have coffee (or drink of your choice) with four other authors from any time period, who would you choose and why?
Sarah: It’d be a delightful cup of earl grey! To this day, my husband cannot understand how I made it through grad school without drinking coffee or beer. If I had four authors to pull up a chair with, I’d chose Marguite Henry, Scott O’Dell, Dave Barry, and Jane Austen. It’s an eclectic mix, I know, but I grew up reading Marguite Henry and Scott O’Dell—those books had me hooked early. Austen was just such a wonderful collection of stories, and Dave Barry’s humor slays me every time.

Q: Who was the most influential person or persons in your writing career?
Sarah: I don’t want this to turn into some variation on an Oscar acceptance speech, so I’ll say that, more than one person, the Chicago-North chapter of the RWA has been the most supportive, welcoming group of writers I’ve run across yet. I was a complete and total novice when I found my way to their Spring Fling conference four years ago, and through every step of the way, they’ve encouraged me individually and as a group. And now I’m in the position to offer some encouragement of my own. It’s very encouraging! 

Q: If there was some advice that you could give to a fellow writer, what would it be?
Sarah: Patience. This is the advice I continually have to give myself, so I imagine other writers need to hear it, too! Publishing moves slow. It doesn’t matter if you’re going the traditionally published route, or if you’re doing it all yourself—you still need to be patient. If you rush a book, you’ll wind up with clichéd characters, stale plots, typos, and more typos. No matter what stage you’re at, you’ve got to take the time to make it right.

Q: What advice would you give a fellow writer about pitching a story either face to face or in a query letter?
Sarah: Don’t be afraid to let your voice shine through. That doesn’t mean go crazy in a desperate, look-at-me! free-for-all—the other part of that is be the professional the agent/editor wants to work with. If you’re begging and pleading and sliding manuscripts under bathroom doors, you’re going to get a ‘no’ no matter how good the story is because the agent/editor is not going to want the headache of dealing with you and all your issues. But if you’re locked down and afraid to even make a peep, then agents/editors will never get a sense of what you and your writing is like. So let your voice shine through, but keep that voice professional.

Q: How could my readers learn more about you and what project are you working on now?
Sarah:  I’m everywhere! I’m on Facebook, Twitter (@SarahMAnderson1), my blog, the Authorial Moms, and my website. If you can’t find me online, you aren’t looking!

Thank you, Sarah, for taking time to talk with me about your writing.

Sarah M. Anderson is going to be part of a panel of break out authors talking to the St. Louis Writers Guild on January 19, 2012 at 7 PM.  For more information about the panel, please visit www.stlwritersguild.org.
Next month I will be having "Coffee" with Hemingway First Novel award winner Rick Skwiot about his latest novel, which will be released this month.  Come back on February 4th, 2012 to have "Coffee" with Rick Skwiot.  

Thank you for reading and please visit www.davidalanlucas.com and www.thewriterslens.com. Fiction is the world where the philosopher is the most free in our society to explore the human condition as he chooses.