Archive for July, 2011


Last week I said that I’d write about the self-defense/fighting skills Layla would use and I’d like to get into.  I also said I’m not too wild about going back to regular martial arts.  Instead, the more real world-style of Krav Maga is a possibility, especially since it deals with the realistic situations of an attacker having a weapon or pinning you to the ground or a wall.  But you know what I also wouldn’t mind checking out?

The fighting style Matt Damon uses in the Bourne movies.

I mean, are those fights scenes scary good or what?  Especially in the first Bourne film, when Matt Damon takes on the guy in his apartment and uses a pen like a knife (okay, so that’s also an “eww gross” moment).  Then there’s the one when he’s asleep on the park bench, two cops wake him, and you can see how in an instant he sizes up where each of the two men are in relation to him and in — what, three seconds? — he’s knocked them down and out.

For me what makes these scenes so compelling is that they don’t look choreographed.  Of course in reality they are — right down to the smallest step and punch.  Still, unlike movie scenes involving a pure martial art form, the fighting style looks like something a person in merely reasonably good shape could use. There are no flips or running up walls or flying splits or other fancy-schmancy tricks.

Anyway, it turns out that what Damon and the other Bourne actors trained in is Filipino Martial Arts, apparently also called Kali or Escrima/Kali.  Being a fencer I instantly noticed the similarity to the French word escrime, which means fencing.  And yes, the art uses not only a lot of fencing moves but similar footwork.  That makes sense to me.  I’ve seen guys in fencing do blindingly fast and far-reaching lunges with simultaneous blade thrusts that are deadly.  And in fencing you learn to WATCH your opponent’s every move, including his footwork.

So this was good news for me!  It means I already have some background in the basics of Kali.  There are even a couple Kali schools here in Denver, which is kind’ve a moot point, since I can’t afford squat for a while.

What I’m gonna have to do instead is take the ultra cheap route and see if I can get some Kali and Krav Maga books and DVDs.  Turns out the library has some books, and on Ebay there are a few semi-affordable DVDs.  So in the next few weeks I should be able to start learning more basics on my own and maybe practice moves with a friend.

Sounds rinky-dink, I know. But hey, if the guys in Limitless and Chuck can suddenly start doing fantastic self-defense moves by merely accessing parts of their brains that’s recorded books and movies on the subject, then there’s some hope for me.

Real World Defense

on July 18, 2011 in Misc Comments Off

This is the kind of news story you don’t get to read often enough:

A woman used her martial arts training to fight off a would-be rapist who broke into her home in the middle of the night.

It happened a few nights ago in a suburb of Denver, and I wish I could tell you more, like exactly HOW did she fight him off?  What moves did she use?  Did she injure the guy?  But to protect the anonymous woman and concentrate on catching her attacker, who got away, the police won’t go into details.  I can respect that.

Meanwhile, three cheers for this wonder woman.  She seems to have survived a situation unscathed that’s pretty much the worst nightmare for any woman I know:  being attacked by a stranger in the dark in her own bedroom.

The story also got me thinking about what martial arts training I’ve had.  Do I know enough to truly defend myself?  If an attacker comes at me this way or that, what move do I use?  Layla is deadly at defending herself and often carries a knife.  For kinda obvious reasons, I don’t carry any weapons (real world vs. fiction world going on here).  Still, I should be doing more.

As you know, the few classes I had in Aikido flamed out when I was severely injured by an idiot fourth degree black belt (who then chickened out and lied about injuring me, may he rot in coward’s hell).  In all honesty, I’ve been prejudiced against Aikido ever since, which may not sit well with my blog friend and fellow writer Robert who has studied Aikido.   But years ago I also had six intensive months of Tae Kwan Do, and not only do I remember most of that training, there’s a fair amount of it stored away in my muscle memory.  Put me in a dicey situation and it instinctively moves through my body like gangbusters.

Then again, training myself in action hero skills means that, sooner or later, I gotta get back into the game of  self-defense.  Maybe I should be taking classes, but two impediments stand in my way:

1)      LACK OF MONEY! Okay, so that’s the same old story with me.  But this last week my already shaky financial security went to hell in a handbasket by a MASSIVE, and I mean MASSIVE car repair bill.  It’s put me on a tight budget for months to come.  Then there’s the problem with…

2)      My growing doubts about the value of concentrating on any one martial art.  Yes, most of them gives a person solid self-defense skills (see news story above).  But each has limitations.  That’s a fact most of the teachers seem unwilling to admit, yet a lot of advanced students who’ve studied two or more martial arts readily attest to.  For real all-around self-defense skills, they maintain, a person has got to mix up the different schools and philosophies.

The thing is, when these same students and even teachers talk about their arts’ “philosophy” I throw up my hands in frustration and figure I’d be better off studying a down-and-dirty non-martial arts self-defense skill like Krav Maga.  Which could happen.  Or a short, hands-on practical self-defense course, preferably one taught by some ex-military dude whose hand-to-hand fighting philosophy is, “Kill the enemy before he kills you.”

And on that cheerful note, I’ll sign off for today.  In my next posting I’ll talk about what fighting skills intrigue me and what I might be able to work out for myself.

Wow.  I’m almost there.

Sometime in August, I’ll be getting my first real, live, OMG this is it hard copies of my very fat novel The Compass Master.  Both the hard and electronic versions will be on Amazon.com – along with a gazillion other books. Then within a few more weeks I hope to make it available electronically at Barnes & Noble and Smashwords.

Yesterday I finally applied for the copyright.  I’ll have one more read-through of the entire text whenever CreateSpace gets the final layout to me.  And that’s it.  Time to concentrate on what promotion (all free, with my budget) I can muster.

You know, everything was so much easier when Bantam published my first novel.

I mean, I had an agent who had my back.  An editor who blue-penciled my manuscript like a crazy woman.  A copy editor.  A marketing department.  An artist to design the cover.  The sacred imprimatur of the publisher to mark my book as a thing worthy to be sold in bookstores.  A few book reviews in substantial publications.

I can not tell you how different the process has been this time around.  Self-publishing has been really challenging.  Hell, it’s been expensive and TOUGH!  All those advertisements and testimonials you hear about how easy it is to self-publish these days are full of crap.  Yes, it’s easy if you have low standards and delusions of literary adequacy.  But if you want your self-published book to be taken seriously by anyone, you must try to maintain professional standards as high as those of the big guns in New York.  That way maybe your stuff will be almost as good.

But ya know what’s kinda ironic?  For all the challenges and expenses of self-publishing, a part of me now believes that every writer should at some point self-publish something.  Here’s why.

Only now, when I look back to my Bantam days, do I realize how passive I let myself be in the publishing process.  I had already done the hardest work:  I’d written the book.  So when the professionals stepped in to take care of everything else, I felt overwhelmed, certainly amateurish, and figured just let the experts do their job.

When you self-publish, on the other hand, you have to rewrite and edit and copy edit and proof and polish your manuscript until it’s ready to go to print now.  If you’re like me and can’t afford a professional editor, then you have to question every friggin’ sentence, every punctuation mark, every character and story twist and yes, you must even keep questioning and doubting what you take to be your writing talent.  You must never be satisfied with what you’ve written because that can lead to complacency, which is literary death.

You must also really THINK from all angles about what you’ve written because YOU’RE the one who must figure out the artwork for the cover.  Does it grab the potential reader?  Does it convey the heart of your story?  And the title better be something that sticks in readers’ minds.  And the blurb you write for the back cover and the Amazon/whatever webpage must grab and hold them.

Then there’s formatting the text.  The title page.  The acknowledgements.  What kind of headers do you want?  What kind of font for the text?  What about the chapter numbers?  You don’t want gimmicky but you also don’t want bland.  What are the physical measurements of the book itself?  White or cream paper?  What about the electronic version – will the pages still look good?

And through it all be sure to retain the rights to your work.  That way your book is always yours.  If you want to take it to another publisher-for-hire, you can do it.  If a big publisher in New York or a small indie press gets interested in your book (and they’re starting to look at self-published works), you’ll be free to sign with them.  Buying your own ISBN number instead of being assigned one by the publishing service is also a good idea.

And I haven’t even gotten to the promotion angle yet.

Then again, traditional/legacy publishers have for a long time now expected authors to do most of their books’ promotion anyway.  The onus is on authors to pay for or design their books’ websites and make themselves heard across the internet, get interviews, get reviews, you name it.

I could go on and on about this whole legacy vs. self-publishing issue.  But I’ll do y’all a favor and just summarize my experience, to whit….

I’m glad I’ve self-published.  Because of all my hard work I’ll be able to point to The Compass Master and say this is MY book.

Except for the wonderful guidance of some friends who read the manuscript and gave invaluable advice (thank you especially Ann and Rich and Robert), this baby is mine.  I didn’t just do all the historical research (and there was a shitload of it), I didn’t just write every last blessed word, I rewrote endlessly and edited and copy edited it.  I hired the artist for the cover.  I made all the final decisions on how the physical book looks.  I’m getting it Kindle ready.  I’m doing the promoting.   And I really, truly feel like I’ve accomplished something good and solid.

Of course the odds are overwhelming that The Compass Master will sell no more than 50 or 100 books, tops.  But you know what?  I think I can live with that.  When my Bantam novel didn’t sell that publisher dropped me like a stinky turd.  If this self-published novel doesn’t sell it’s no big deal.  I’ll still be comforted by the simple fact that my novel is no longer sitting around uselessly on my computer and in a manuscript pile on my desk. It’ll be out there and a few people will read my baby and I hope they’ll love it.

End of story.

Went to see Dr. Chiropractor yesterday and HE FIXED MY LEG!

Yay – no hint of shingles recurrence!

At first I was worried because the old right limb seemed so out of whack and hurting around my knee and hip and front shin that something unusual was up.  But he just needed to do a few extra twists and yanks, and voilà!  The pain was gone.

And yes, once again he emphasized that I should be doing my piriformis exercises, which I really let slide when I was sick with a head cold.  No excuses here.  Just because I was a slobbering mess of phlegm doesn’t mean I couldn’t have done the sitting-or-lying-down version of those stretches.

Anyway, taking off early from work to get my leg fixed had an added advantage:  I avoided the BIBLICAL DELUGE that hit Denver right around rush hour and just plain wouldn’t stop.  We’re talking sheets of water coming down, people.  Flash flooding.  Three inches of water in one rainstorm, which may not sound like much in some parts of the country, but in Colorado we can go for months with maybe a half inch of wet stuff.  But hey, water in the West is good.  Far better that than the Wrath of God dust storm that descended on Phoenix. Did you see the film of that thing?  It looked like a Stephen Spielberg special effect as in Here Come the Aliens in War of the Worlds.

Yesterday was also good in that I uploaded once again (at an expensive fee – my bad) my CORRECTED, THIS TIME THOROUGLY PROOFED manuscript.  Plus before going off to work I had a phone conversation with someone at CS about the final changes to my cover.  I think it’s gonna look really cool, but then I’m prejudiced.

I asked the CS lady about putting the price on the back, and she said that most CS self-published novels don’t have it; then again, a lotta bookstores don’t like stocking books without a posted price on them.  Well, since I’ve paid for the extended distribution option I should go for pricing the thing.  Trouble is, my book is going to be such a fat trade paperback there’s no way I can price it as cheaply as I’d like.  And I’m certainly not fooling myself into thinking that ANYONE beyond a few relatives and friends will buy this baby (HELLO! SELF-PUBLISHED!).  At least it’ll also be available as an e-book for only a few dollars (I’m think $3.99 tops?  Maybe $2.99?).  Maybe in that cheaper format it’ll attract a few extra readers.

And by the way, in the last couple months I’ve read a few popular novels published by big presses that had one or two typos/mistakes in them.  I actually felt kinda good when I found them.  See?  Nobody’s perfect.  Not even the professionals.

My body has felt better.

As I wrote in my last entry here, I had one hell of a head cold last week.  So bad that I didn’t even do any exercise at all for about five full days.  That’s unusual for me ‘cause if I don’t at least do a few stretches every 24 hours my body lets me know it.

But for six semi-miserable days my body was having other issues, so I let myself turn into a slug.  It was even a strain for me to use my brain on my job and while proofing The Compass Master.

And by the way guess who didn’t proof TCM carefully enough before submitting it the first time to CreateSpace so she’s going to have to pay fees to resubmit the corrected one.  My bad.

Anyway, this last weekend I finally started getting back into shape.  Since I still wasn’t pumped with energy I didn’t push myself.  Hence I can’t explain why my right leg is hurting off and on so badly it woke me up at night a couple times this weekend.

Damn, I feel like such a weakling wreck.

One thing I am SO HOPING is that this leg pain is, per usual, something that can be fixed by my chiropractor.  Similar crud has happened to me before, after all, and he fixes me up in five minutes, bless him.  But see, the thing is I’m kinda paranoid about my right leg ‘cause several years ago I had shingles in it.

I know what you’re thinking:  shingles is an old person’s disease.  But I’m here to tell you it ain’t.  You can be in your twenties and get it.  And what’s so horrifically painful about shingles is that the virus attacks a particular neural pathway DIRECTLY — an oh, what a difference that makes in the level of pain.

In my case, it was the nerve that runs from my lower back down and around through my right leg.  Well, it was the weekend, my leg felt as if it were being ripped off, and I was blaming myself because I’d thought I’d overstretched in a yoga class.   So Monday morning I went limping like Quasimodo into a sports clinic.   A couple hours later I was taking FOUR prescriptions.  Those beautiful pills saved me.

But now my right leg is acting up again.  And when does the pain start? At the beginning of a three-day weekend.

I tell you, there are times when I wish I lived in France where they have a 24/7 medical system where doctors make house calls at any hour, anywhere.

But today I’m feeling better, my leg doesn’t seem to be having a recurrence of shingles (THANK YOU GOD or GODDESS or GREAT SPIRIT!), which would’ve been unlikely anyway, and it’s a quiet day at work which means I can have a nice long workout at lunchtime in the basement mini-gym.  Maybe my leg will feel better by then, but to be safe I’ve got a chiropractor appointment.  And I’m lucky because I know people more athletic than I am who’ve had knee surgeries, shoulder surgeries, and for a couple guys hip replacements.  (Fencers seem prone to joint problems.)  I’ve also known people who, unlike me, sustained permanent nerve damage from shingles.   So I know I’m lucky.

I just hope my luck holds out.