The Next Big Thing!

This is fun: writers answer ten questions about a new or upcoming project, then tag other writers to do the same.   Sherwood Smith was kind enough to tag me, and the writers I’m tagging will be listed at the bottom of the post.  I’ll link to their answers next week.

Here we go:

What is the working title of your current book?

Sword and Chant

Where did the idea come from for the book?

Different parts came from different places.  The central characters and their relationships came from a horrid, derivative, pseudo-Celtic fantasy novel I’d written years and years and years ago.  It was my first attempt at a novel.  The characters and their relationships were interesting but everything else was…  Ugh. 

Worst of all, I actually sent it to a couple publishers.  Once I’d learned enough to know how terrible it was, I lived in fear I’d someday hear it read aloud at one of those “It Came From the Slush Pile” convention panels.

Many years later, while writing four other novels that shall one day be revised, I became interested in the social and political dynamics of the Kashmir region, Afghanistan in the 1990s and the events surrounding Six Day War.  Those ideas freed the characters of my first attempted novel from the prison of derivative plot, and I combined them with different elements of setting and culture.  Some beta readers have said the setting feels like Turkey, and some say it feels like northern Africa.

The primary antagonist—the Chant—evolved from musings about the nature of sacrifice: the cost to the one making the sacrifice, the one causing the sacrifice to be made, the one accepting the sacrifice, and the willingness of all parties to participate in the sacrifice. (Those ideas will get more stage time in the sequel.)

What genre does your book fall under?

Fantasy, most certainly.  Epic fantasy, I suppose.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

First of all—movie! Woohoo!  Unless, of course, it’s one of those horrid adaptations.  Then it would be awful, and the actors actually playing the roles wouldn’t want to admit their involvement.

Anyway.

In my mind, the characters look and sound like themselves, not actors, but I can come up with a couple ideas for the secondary characters.  I could age Grace Park many, many years so she could play Nikala, one of the warlord-chieftains.  Andre Braugher could to play Yasid Sword, and Joy Bryant could play his daughter.  But for the main characters…  I’m clueless. 

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Seriously, it took me months to write a blurb that was under 200 words, and even then someone else had to fix it.  One sentence?  Gah.
It could be: Jaynes will do anything to avenge his father’s murder, but his triumphs as a warlord didn’t prepare him to face the threat of civil unrest, foreign invasion, and the seductive promises of the exiled god of sacrifice.

Or it could be: Shala Sword emerges from hiding to prevent the god of sacrifice from conquering the tribes, but finds the most brutal battles are against mortals intent on exacting revenge for sins committed a generation ago.
Or it could be…  Well, you get the idea.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I chose to self-publish, for reasons outlined here.  It’s currently available as an ebook through online retailers and in multiple formats.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Once I decided what I wanted to do with the old manuscript, I futzed with the opening chapters for about three months.  Then 9/11 happened, and the last thing I wanted to do was write about asymmetrical warfare, insurgencies, and guerrilla tactics.  When I was finally ready to face it again, I tore into it with a fury.  It was the first novel I’d written from a detailed outline. I finished within three months, and came in at nearly 160K words.  I later cut out enough words to make another short novel, had those chopped words not been so worthy of chopping.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Yeesh, I hate doing that.  It’s epic fantasy with a large cast of characters, gods who speak with mortals, battles and arguments, love and loyalty and loss, and a subtle form of earth magic.  It’s like other books with those things in it.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My own internal debates.  What happens when lifelong enemies decide they’re tired of fighting, or when the leaders want to end the fight but those they lead don’t want to?  What are the personal costs of fighting a weaker opponent who refuses to give up?  What are the moral implications of fighting an enemy who is weaker but more ruthless than you are?  What are the moral implications of not fighting, if that choice enables the enemy to hurt someone else?  When is it ethical to sacrifice your life—whether through action or death—and when is it ethical to use the willing sacrifices others make?  When does the act of defending one’s self cross the line to excessive aggression?  Why do people insist on saying, “It’s really that simple” when it obviously isn’t?

Odd as it sounds, I think about these things a great deal.  However, I very rarely discuss them because folks usually want to deal with real-world examples, and as soon as real-world examples are used, the discussion becomes one of politics.  And once politics enter the picture, Someone Must Be Right.

Sword and Chant lets me explore what happens to a culture, and to individuals, when they can’t find solutions that are good and right, and find themselves instead trapped doing what is ugly and necessary.

What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

It’s filled with women and men who have families and friends, who argue and fight, who fall in love and defend one another, who are sometimes proud and sometimes ashamed, who have to lead with confidence even when they know they haven’t a clue what to do next.

And there is the Chant—god of sacrifice and patron of unfulfilled dreams.  He controls a skilled assassin who has an attitude, who’d be a pretty cool guy if he weren’t a god-enthralled killer who’s quite good at his job.

Who did you tag? I tagged two of my VPXV classmates–LaShawn Wanak and Stephanie Charette–and my longest-running critique partner and VPXVI grad Sandy Skalski.  There are a couple others I’ll be adding to the list, too.

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Five Things I’ve Learned About Teaching Self-Defense

1.  People who haven’t fought at speed have no idea how fast a fight moves. In the time it takes to count one-Mississippi, you can be struck quite a few times.  You can be maimed.  You can be killed.  There is no moment to come up with a plan. The advantage goes to the one who doesn’t need to think about what should be done next. (Critical consideration, since the average 911 response time can be around seven to eight minutes.)

2.  The instinct to duck is incredibly hard to overcome, even though it results in losing sight of one’s attacker. The ancillary to ducking–closing one’s eyes–has the same result. Truth is, it hurts as much to get hit with your eyes closed as it does when they’re open. Alas, effective blocking is a difficult skill to acquire, and practice often involves accidentally blocking with one’s face at first.

3.  Folks learning to fight have a seemingly irresistible urge to explain at length why and how what they’re being told to do will never, ever work.  We’re so accustomed to processing everything through language that we assume an idea isn’t valid if we can’t.  It takes awhile for folks to trust the mind will follow the body’s lead.

4.  It’s easier to teach hunters of fast-moving game than it is to teach non-hunters.  It has nothing to do with the psychology of hunting, or gun-carrying, or aggression.  It has everything to do with experience.  Someone who hunts is used to judging, in an instant, things like speed, distance, and trajectory.  That’s an incredible asset in a fight–for both offense and defense.

5.  “I’m afraid I’ll be too aggressive” usually means, “I’m afraid of what the attacker will do if I’m aggressive.”  I hear this often from folks with violence in their past, where fighting back resulted in more severe abuse.  But it’s easier to say we fear our own power than our own weakness, and keeping a clamp on aggression keeps a lid on the fear, too.  In those cases, I’ll often be the person’s partner, or partner them with a student I trust to communicate openly about intensity, force, and such.

Actively Wondering

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