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Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Siege Begins

After weeks of re-plotting and months of having my life turned upside down, the first words of a novel is being written from the beginning again. I have gone back and changed the characters to make them rounder and altered some of the plot lines — in fact I discovered that one subplot is actually a novel in itself. So, why do I call this the siege? Why am I so nervous? After all I have written a number (more than I want to thank) of practice novels to grow my writing ability.

A master science fiction, Ben Bova, once wrote, "Writing a novel is like laying siege to a town." (Or was that city?) Having written many novels, I testify that he could not be more correct! The novel writing and editing process is a long drawn out affair. That is just the beginning. Any writer today will tell you that the sale to agents, then to publishers, and then getting the book to market can take a long time as well — assuming it even gets there. On top of that, writers are now marketers — we have to be our own salespeople. While this is all going on, the professional writer is also climbing back into the trenches to plot and write another piece.
                                                                    
Why am I nervous? Since June 2011, my life has been turned upside down. For all my adult life I have had two full time jobs: one pays the bills and one is of the writer (which I want to be the one that pays the bills). In June 2006, I moved back home to help my mother after my father died of leukemia. I am an only child and I have no children of my own. So taking care of her has always fallen to me as her only blood family. In June 2011, my mom felt that the steep downward turn. She has since (after five months in and out of hospitals and skilled nursing facilities) improved enough to be home, but never alone. Since her return, I have now obtained a third full-time job – her caregiver. Over all the month, I have had to adjust all I do. In fact, I would be a liar if I didn't admit that I came close to taking a hiatus from writing. But, writing is the breath of my soul. I can't live a fulfilled life unless I am telling some story.

Living now on sleep deprivation, and I am the night shift and weekend shift of her caregivers, and under more intense pressure at the bill paying job, I entered the breach of the novel siege again. It is with great hope that the next blog on my projects in March will report that the rough draft is done. I might be overly optimistic, but that is the target I am aiming for.

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.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Is the Freedom of Press Under a Quiet Attack?


I will readily admit that I am not one who follows scandals. I usually have way too much on my plate to care about most of the scandals they get dragged through the mud of the public consciousness and paraded like a circus to entertain those who are unable to keep their eye away from the glamorous. This blog is not about a scandal but rather about the effects that are sending ripples through the world of journalism. I am not a professional journalist--I am an armature at best-- and many could argue that I should leave this musing blog to those who are or who teach journalism. I am certain in our colleges and universities that teach journalism the events, both ethical and legal, or classroom fodder that may have even changed some of the curriculum.

What scandal could cause such a great effect and would suddenly appear on my musing blog, especially since this was not the original topic I planned to blog on? For those who are like me who do not follow the "scandal of the day" that "rocks the world record", let me give you a very short summary of events. In Great Britain there is a news agency, which has a branch in the United States and probably elsewhere in the world, which was caught in a phone hacking scandal. Out of all this, one of the newspapers related to his agency was closed and the sister news agencies owned by the same group find themselves under extreme legal and social pressure. This news agency hacked into cell phones and listen to people's voice mails to obtain information for sensationalized stories and have reportedly either bribed or blackmailed various people at all levels of government.



Before the reader believes that this blog is about such tactics, please rest assured it is not. Instead, this blog is about the ramifications that have come out of the scandal. What are those ramifications? The ramifications threatened and shake the professional journalistic society to its core. The ramifications are, under legal pressure, the management of one of the sister news agencies has surrendered the names of the confidential sources of their reporters without their reporters permission.

Great Britain and the United States, and other nations who practiced modern democracy, usually understand the necessity of the freedom of the press. It is this press that keeps, or should keep, the government of that nation in check and answerable to the people. It is not just the nation that answerable to the people, but also all levels of government. Is the freedom of press that uncovers the dangers the people would not otherwise know of and face the social issues of our day. It is the freedom of press that allow of a free society to debate what a national or societal response should be to an issue. One of the protection under the freedom of press and reporters have held as sacred as any oath taken by a physician or attorney or anyone who has sworn to protect the public good is the oath to protect their sources. Journalists have faced jail, suffered torture, and even sacrificed their lives to protect their sources.

Now, as a result of some bad business-- criminal -- decisions and abuse of power an industry that is critical to democracy is now under serious threat. Let me stop for just a moment and explain that the laws of United States are intertwined with Great Britain. We may be separate nations but are social influences on each other does extend to the legal realm. What is happening in one nation at this level can easily bleed into the other nation. The sacredness of the freedom of press is something that any educated American should hold to their bosom as something that should never be defiled. What will happen to a free society where the freedom of press is destroyed? The freedom of press has been guaranteed under the United States Constitution. But does the constitutional right to the freedom of press protect the press far enough in light of this new threat?

While it is my hope and dream the journalists in the United States will still find themselves free and able to uphold their right to protect their sources by anonymity, and I am sure that many Constitutional attorneys would be able that such rights have been promised under some Supreme Court decision somewhere in our short history. But, or history has also shown that what one Supreme Court decides can be overturned by future Supreme Court. As for now, all that can be done is to watch the unfolding events of the ramifications of the scandal and how it may hamper or handcuff the freedom of press in our nation and in others in the democratic world.
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, February 11, 2012

Writing the Fight Scene-Part 2 (Understanding How Untrained Fighters Think)


In writing the fight scene part 1, I discussed the motivations of your characters—or even yourself—as to why they would want to engage in a fight. Once you have that figured out, the next question is to ask—how does my character fight?

The chances that your character is some super-powered sneaky ninja, unless you are writing about a super-powered sneaky ninja, are rare. The fact is most people, in general, have no idea how to fight. Nor have they had much practice at it. Your normal person on the street may have up to four (4) physical fights in their lifetime. Compare that to those who fight in a ring or train for such types of fights? While a boxer or martial artist may be sparing, they are spending hours fighting on a constant basis. Allow me to break it down simply. In less than a half hour of training, these types of fighters have seen more fights than your normal person on the street ever will.
How does an untrained fighter fight? While I am focusing on hand to hand fighting, the principles apply to fights with hand held weapons and firearms. 

Before we begin, let me give you a little note about the street and bar room brawler. These fighters are technically untrained. All of the information that will follow applies to them. The only thing different is that they are experienced.

The first question you should ask yourself is when and where your character grew up. If you are writing a historical fiction, you will want to do a lot of research on the popular fighting methods of the day. If you are writing science fiction or fantasy, what are the popular fighting styles in your universe? Why? The untrained fighter will try to emulate what is popular.

Let me address the modern day USA, and you will see why what I wrote above applies. If you are writing a modern fiction, when did your character grow up? The concept of "how to fight" has changed recently. If they grew up per-2000, then the common fighting methods mimic boxing and wrestling. Boxing and wrestling (various kinds) have been popular in the USA for over a century. Those who have not been taught how to fight (getting advice from your buddy or dad, etc, doesn't count as training) will believe that they think they know the basics and will try to copy them.

If your character grew up post 2000, the popular fighting style has been changing on the street. The street has seen the emergence of Mix Martial Arts being added to the "streets" arsenal of fighting methods. You don't have to be an expert in this style or boxing or wrestling to write about what the untrained fighter will do. Just watch a little on TV and you will be as well trained as they are. 

Let's move into the fighter's mind. The difference between how the trained fighter and the untrained fighter thinks is in their level of strategy. To the trained fighter, the fight is on the level of a game of chess in motion. To the untrained fighter, it is a game of tic-tac-toe.

The untrained fighter likes to grab. The trained fighter likes to keep their distance until they have to or are ready to grab. Why the difference? Trained fighters spend hours in sparring to learn timing and distance control. The untrained fighter has no clue. They don't know how far away they can be before they can punch. They think, and are right, "if I can grab you, I can punch you." They also use the tic-tac-toe strategy of strike and block and strike. The block can be with their arm or leg to block a blow or curl up into a fetal position. To them it is all the same.

Fear is inside the fighter's mind. The untrained fighter does not know how to control their fear. It is easy to talk a "good game" about a fight, but in truth there is an element of fear to any fight. Most untrained fighters do not know how to move past that fear. They think it is something they can rely on or it is something that will tie them up. 

They also do not have any idea of how to control their adrenaline. Adrenaline, which comes with fear and with a fight, will fill the fighter. In some cases this will make them super strong or able to take more damage than they could normally. Adrenaline is the greatest drug in the universe, produced naturally in our bodies. Unless you have spent time, like the trained fighter, learning to control it and use it, it can be very overwhelming. The untrained fighter is not prepared for the adrenaline that fills them nor do they know how to control it. That only comes with experience.

While the untrained fighter, as mentioned above, will strike and punch. (Note: so will many trained fighters, but I will go into that in the next blog) The untrained fighter will usually step and strike or they will try to tackle their opponent. The untrained male fighter will strike with a closed fist. The untrained female fighter will either strike with a slap, grab, claw, pull or punch with a closed fist. Almost all the targets they will strike at will be to the head. Sometimes they will strike at the body, but the fact is --at least in the USA--we tend to be "head hunters." I do not know if that has come from films (like the old John Wayne knock them out type movies) or where. It is a cultural thing. (Let me remind the reader, if you are writing in about a different culture, you will want to research this.) 

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, February 4, 2012

Having Coffee with Award Winning Author Rick Skwiot

This week, it is my pleasure to present an interview with award winning author Rick Skwiot.  Rick has won the Hemingway First Novel award, was a Willa Cather Fiction Prize finalist and is an acclaimed memoir writer.   His latest novel, Key West Story (which you have a chance to win a free copy of) was just released.

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


David Alan Lucas: Your latest novel, Key West Story, has just been released.  While, my readers can learn more about your novel at www.keyweststory.com, what was the idea behind this novel?

Rick Skwiot: Key West is a surreal place that serves as an ark and sanctuary for people escaping various ills: outstanding warrants, crappy weather, dysfunctional families, repressive governments, bad marriages, bad mortgages, etc. It’s the most culturally diverse place I know and the most insane. For those who don’t know the island’s underside, I wanted to show it to them. Think of Key West Story as a guidebook to its emotional life and soul.

DAL: What was the hardest part of writing Key West Story?

RS: The first 15 drafts. The next 15 were lots easier. What made the difference—and made it a lot more fun to write and, I hope, to read—was my conjuring up the ghost of a young Ernest Hemingway to act as a mentor and foil to my protagonist, a rudderless writer washed up in Key West. But actually trying to figure out what should happen in the novel you’re writing is sweet agony—the hardest part.

DAL: You are a veteran journalist. Do you approach your novel writing with a different mindset than you approach a journalistic story?

RS:  My mindset is entirely different. In journalism you strive to keep yourself and your opinions out of the story. In fiction you work to put the deepest parts of yourself into the story in order to arrive at some emotional truth. Journalism is more a matter of researching the facts of a story and then arranging those facts in an entertaining and/or informative way. In a novel, before you can arrange the facts, you have to make them all up, and that usually means digging deep into yourself and your experience. 

DAL: What themes in your fiction writing seem to drive you the most?

RS:  The search for home seems to dominate—which often includes a search for identity. In Key West Story, most of the characters are searching for home—Con, Cat, Eva, Aurora, Ricardo, Rebecca Hemingway, Marta, etc. And because it is a comedy and not a tragedy, most all of them succeed. 

DAL:  How easy was it to take the leap of faith to become a serious writer and chase this career? What did you find that you had to do to take the step?

RS:  “Leap of faith” nails it—but there was a lot of tip-toeing around the precipice trying to build some faith in oneself before making the jump. Coming from a working-class background, I never knew any writers, and working as serious novelist and memoirist wasn’t on my radar. But I built some self-confidence as a journalist and freelance writer (which I still am) that enabled me to entertain the possibility. Finally I was able to flee to Mexico and immerse myself in literature, creative writing craft and the artist’s life—that was the leap. I had to change who I was, to metamorphose from an aimless hedonist into an artist, in order to create art. A frightening step into nothingness, since I wasn’t sure who would emerge on the other side. I have chronicled that period of my life in my book San Miguel de Allende, Mexico: Memoir of a Sensual Quest for Spiritual Healing. I recommend it to anyone contemplating such a leap.

DAL: In your journalistic career, is there any story that stands out as the most interesting or compelling to you that you wrote?

RS: No one story stands out, but my cumulative work as a journalist—much of it interviewing scientists, academic researchers, doctors and other driven, accomplished, and passionate people—has made me more optimistic about the world’s future. If you read the daily news you get the impression that the world’s going to hell. But the reality is that over the long-term things are getting better—the world is becoming safer, healthier, better educated (we’re talking globally, here) and smarter. The big story is the explosion of computer science and technology over the past 30 years, which is changing the ways in which we do most everything and expanding our knowledge exponentially.

DAL: What was your biggest fear when you decided to first be published as a novelist?  Do you still have those fears with each new book or are there other fears that come up?

RS:  My biggest fear is making a public ass of myself, that is, the fear of putting out pretentious, overwritten, dishonest or unintentionally laughable stuff. Thank God for advance readers and editors! Luckily, I have here in Key West good friends who are accomplished novelists or editors and who save me from myself by reading early drafts and making good suggestions for revision. Of course, the only defense when some really inept work slips into print is, “If you think that’s bad, you should have seen the early drafts!” 

DAL: If you could have coffee (or drink of your choice) with four other authors from any time period, who would you choose and why?

RS: First and foremost, Colette—Champagne at her place. See why here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:ColetteReveEgypte1907.JPG... But perhaps you mean from a more literary viewpoint. Then number one would be Georges Simenon. His lean, pointillist approach greatly influenced my prose style. Plus he was a great man about town in Paris and loved to carouse…Mark Twain would be a hoot to have a drink with, and he liked to drink. As did H.L. Mencken, perhaps our greatest journalist, critic and man of letters. Henry Miller would be lots of fun as well—a man who had many instructive things to say about the creative process and with whom I share a transcendentalist bent. All three Americans were very funny guys, great writers and seemingly great companions. (And in Key West Story my protagonist Con Martens has such a dream come true: He gets to hang out with Ernest Hemingway sent from Writers Heaven to help him find himself again--fishing, drinking and sailing to Havana.)

DAL: You have been a professor teaching young writers creative writing and you are the co-founder of Key West Writers Lab, which is dedicated to coaching serious writers.  I can only imagine that you have a treasure trove of information that could be shared with other writers.  If there was one piece of advice that you could give to any fellow writer, what would it be?

RS: One boozy Mexican night circa 1988, my late and lamented friend Peter Kosovic—a former director and producer for the Canadian Broadcasting System—told me: “Work to perfect your vision, Rick, grasp it with all your might and shove it up their ass!” (I can picture his accompanying gestures.) Excellent advice: Be true to yourself and follow your heart; work with determination and intensity; and never ever give up.

DAL: How could my readers learn more about you?

RS: Read my books—memoirs and novels alike, but particularly the novels. A writer reveals more about himself or herself in fiction than in autobiography. Which is why it’s so scary publishing it. The deepest parts of you creep into the work—what’s really in your soul—particularly the stuff you’re trying to hide.   

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, February 1, 2012

First of the Month Book Giveaway: Comment to Win Key West Story by Hemingway Award Winning Author Rick Skwiot

For those who may be viewing Coffee with David for the first time: On the first of every month, I will post a contest to win a book.  I read multiple genres and the books you can win will reflect an eclectic taste.  I will offer books of various genres and from writers who are debut authors and from those who are well known.

This month, I am honored to present KEY WEST STORY, by Hemingway Award wining author Rick Skwiot:

"A Beach-Noir . . .  Hemingway reincarnate, Havana and hurricanes enliven this romantic island tale of love and redemption. In modern-day booze-soaked Key West, former best-selling author Con Martens finds himself down, out and in the bottom of a bottle. Stalked by a jealous lover and a propensity for trouble, Con needs an intervention. And intervention he gets in the form of the young Ernest Hemingway, an angel emissary sent from Writer's Heaven to help Con get back on track as a writer and a man. Blending past and present, the two young renegades forge a friendship as Con quests to recover his talent and integrity and find for himself a home. In Key West Story, we glimpse Key West life from the mangroves to the mansions, and a dark Havana, while spending quality time with Hemingway in his prime, hearing his timeless take on life, love and literature."

For more information, visit www.keyweststory.com.

On February 4th, I will post a Coffee with David interview with Rick.

How do you win a free signed copy of this novel?  To enter the contest, simply leave a comment or question on the Coffee with David blog between now (February 1st) and midnight February 29, 2012. Please include your email so I can reach you if you win. The more comments you leave, the greater your chance of winning the contest. If you refer others to Coffee with David who mention your name in their comments, I'll enter your name again in our random number generator along with theirs, also increasing your chances at winning! The winner will be chosen after midnight on Wednesday February 29, and the announcement made on Thursday, March 1st, when I will post the next contest. Good luck and comment often.

Next week, I will bring the next segment in the series "Writing the Fight Scene" blogs. Emails I have received asking questions have led to future blog posts.  So, keep the comments or emails coming and I will either answer you by email and/or make the question and answer 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.

The winner of A Man of His Word is . . .


I am very pleased to announce that the winner of a free signed copy of A Man of His Word is . . . T.W. Fendley

Thank you for your comments!

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.