One of the finest martial arts I ever studied was Kali/Eskrima. It's the art Kane uses in Crossroad Blues, though the bit where he talked about it didn't make the final cut of the story. Kali's a Philippine fighting style, and a big component involves taking the other guy's (or guys'-- dealing with multiple attackers is definitely something they work on) machete/knife/broken/etc away from him and making him regret he was ever born.
There's a tendency to push people behind you as you cut their throats. One reason is not to have flailing bodies in the way or blood spray blinding you as you deal with the dead guy's buddies. Another, maybe even more important reason, is so that the fighter doesn't have to actually see the results of the damage they do.
With that in mind, I'm not looking back at 2010. Too much blood on the floor, a lot of it my own.
So what's next for 2011?
I will bring out AT LEAST THREE more novels as e-books. (Since I've already got one *almost* ready to go, this one's not that hard)
I will bring out SERINA Vol. 1 as an e-book. (Graphic novels are an *enormous* pain in the ass to e-book, but it'll be nice to see them again)
I will finish my current WiP (I wanted another easy one-- of course I'm going to finish the latest novel) and last, but not least...
I will build that online awareness that will help people find my work. (This one's going to be the hardest for me-- I'm happy toiling away at all my various projects, but I suck when it comes time to market them. This year, I'll do whatever it takes!)
That's it. No resolutions about languages or classes, diets or exercise or love or sex. I want more people reading my books.
So I noticed something on my latest WiP (working titles A Madman's Mercy or Wrecking Ball): I'm most of the way through Act I and there's not a single bit of dialogue attribution. No 'he said' or 'she said', let alone 'whispered', 'shouted', 'muttered', 'growled' or any of the rest of it. It was an odd thing to notice.
This wasn't a conscious decision. I mean, I have definitely been moving away from the attributive excesses of my early work. In its recent rewrite, my first novel lost over eight thousand words of useless attributions alone. In the beginning, I was absolutely said-happy!
I certainly reined that impulse in early on, and apparently the process continues. These days I'm favoring what I call stage-business attribution:
"The fat man promised us Christmas off." Jackson's fingers brushed the butt of his gun. "We always get Christmas off." "You want to be the one to tell him?" "Shit, I look like I got a death wish?"
It's a way of sneaking in character, mood, tension, layers of extra meaning, whatever the scene needs right then, and I don't have to bother with said.
"The fat man promised us Christmas off," Jackson said. "We always get Christmas off." "You want to be the one to tell him?" "Shit, I look like I got a death wish?"
"The fat man promised us Christmas off," Jackson said. His fingers brushed the butt of his gun. "We always get Christmas off." "You want to be the one to tell him?" "Shit, I look like I got a death wish?"
Now, this is all down to individual style, but for me that second one (just using 'said') still delivers the 'punch line' at "death wish", but these could be Wal-Mart employees for all we know. The third does up the tension and the stakes with the gun, but it's just that teensy bit more flabby than the first example.
And I do try to keep my work lean.
Occurs to me now as I type, two of my recent Kindle-reads were No Country for Old Men and The Postman Always Rings Twice. Written forty or fifty years apart, in neither work will you find a single instance of 'he said'. The voices are clear and easy to distinguish, and if I found myself a bit lost for a moment, I usually caught up with a line or two more of dialogue...
So recently I (or one of me-- see my Facebook pages for the schizophrenic details) was moved to post on the wall of the Mighty Miss DeBow:
"This isn't a sprint, you. It's a long, grueling cross-country race, through forests and mountains and stretches of desert where the sand burns and the harsh winds shred your flesh. Run if you like, crawl if you must. No one cares that you entered until you reach one of the finish lines, but if you stop moving, well, the bones of others before you are piled high on every side..."
This may have been a little bleak, a little harsh. I've been pretty bleak and harsh of late. These things happen. Thing is, there's some truth in there.
So often, we creative types feel like we're in some kind of race. Like we should be going faster, harder. Like if we haven't made (insert milestone here) yet, we're somehow failing.
Fact is, this crazy life is not a race. It's not even the long-distance race I referred to earlier. It's more like a hike.
I'm a big fan of hiking. Here in NZ we call it tramping. (And yes, I'm also a big fan of complaining about hiking, but that's human nature, innit?) Thing about hiking is, you know you stand at the bottom of a bloody great hill and say to yourself, yeah I'm walking to the top of that thing.
So you start. One foot, another. A few steps and a few more. You walk until you start to get tired, or the sun starts to beat down on your head, or you decide you really, really need that drink of water. You look back. Hell, you've barely moved. That damn hill is still just as high, and your car is still terribly, terribly close.
So you turn your feet uphill and start walking again. One step after another. One stupid foot at a stupid fucking time.
You come to hate yourself. You wonder what you were thinking when you set out. Your life becomes a tiny, hyperfocused prism of movement. Step by plodding step. Every time you stop to look around, the peak still seems just as high, the car in the parking lot only marginally smaller. You don't even know WHY you keep going, only that you do.
After a time, you no longer look back. You don't look ahead either. You look at your feet, willing left and right and left again to carry you forward, step by step by stupid fucking step.
You curse a lot.
Bugs bite you. You sweat. The sun becomes a hammer against your skin. Sweat prickles and dries and itches. Your water bottle grows lighter, but you are no less thirsty. You forget about the summit. You quit thinking about walking. Every little piece of you is concentrated on lifting one knee, and then the other, just lifting it high enough to fall that little bit further forward.
You wonder why any sane human would do such a thing. And you suspect the answer is that no sane human would.
This isn't a race. It isn't a competition of any kind. If you were to say fuck it and turn around, no one would know or care. You're doing this for you, for reasons you neither care to name or describe.
And please, never mind those senior citizens who passed you on the way up and are now wishing you a good morning on their way back down. Don't even think about them. Just keep lifting those goddamn knees...
Every novel I've written has been like this. Hell, my whole writing career is like this. And my art career. And more than a few of my longer, cooler paintings and tattoos. The compressed narratives of Hollywood condition us to expect that success comes at the end of a montage full of 80's music. Real life is about bugs, and sweat, and long hard effort.
And yeah, it's effort no one cares about. The world doesn't care if you quit. It doesn't know you're the next Stephen King or Nuryev or Mozart or MC Hammer until you actually ARE. In the meantime, you're just another hiker on the trail. And don't for a moment doubt that they too are just hikers on their own trails. Just trying to lift one foot in front of another....
It's long. It's hard. There's no end in sight and there are probably better things you could be doing. But this is what you do. So do it.