Did You Hear The One About Robert Silverberg, Georges St. Pierre And Chris Cornell?

Ogres may be like onions, but so are we, people. You know – Layers. Our lives unfold (at least without the persuasion of Alcohol of other un-inhibitor agents) slowly, as we get to know each other. We introduce ourselves by name, sometimes by country of origin, our profession, family situation, and other generalities. As our connection to each other deepens, more layers may shed, and we talk about elements of our belief system (though, some of it, likely leaks through our behaviors before), opinions on current events, or other topics, which continues to expose the core. Somewhere in this process, we talk about what we like. It’s this kind of conversation that makes some people raise a brow, when I share some of my more serious interests.
“Oh, you write? How interesting. What do you write about?”
“Yeah, what kind of music do you like?”
“Wait, what? M.M.What? is that the cage fighting? Hey, I know Conor McGregor!”

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At this point, some conversations seem to peter out. I thought about this for a while, and even to my brain, which is engaged in the general love of these three areas of interest, it did feel somewhat random. Literature and music are related as arts, but what about the people punching each other in the face?
Well, I could state the obvious (and I will) – M.M.A stands for Mixed Martial Arts. But this is not satisfactory. While musicians and writers create some “product” through their artistic process, the fighters merely meet inside the cage and try to beat each other, then leave. So, where’s the connection? Where is the deep meaning, that drew me, and kept my otherwise distracted mind engaged?
It started crystalizing, as I left the house for a walk the other day. I was more than a little irritated with the music (if you can call it that) my kids were playing on the computer. I won’t name names, but it was one of the more recent pretty faces, in skimpy clothing, bumping to some catchy, repeating computer-generated groove. I put on my earphones and hit play as soon as I closed the door behind me. Good, old Soundgarden for the rescue.
Bear with me people, I will walk you through my process.
As I listened to the wonderful progression of “Blow up the outside world”, I mused about what makes me like the musicians I do, as opposed to the ones I am not a fan of. And as I waited for a light to turn green, an internal one flash inside my head. It’s the tools of the trade.
Which musicians do I like? I can list many, but the point is – what do they all have in common? Well, the ones at the upper part of my list are musicians who write lyrics, play an instrument (or 5), sing and perform. I am not a huge fan of many “performers”, as in singers with great voices who “just” sing. Don’t get me wrong, I respect a great voice, but this alone does not me, a fan make.

Writes, Plays, Sings, Perform. Rest in peace Chris

This immediately resonated with the writer me. What makes a good story? Surely, it’s more than a good plot. It’s more than a relatable character. More than proper spelling. A good story is made, by using – there it is again – the tools of the trade.
And just like that, I found the connection. A mixed martial artist is another person, who needs to have the tools of his trade in order to perform well.
True. Art is not a competition – as opposed to MMA – but they are all arts. A writer, a musician and a mixed martial artist all present something pleasing by bringing all their capabilities, talents, training and passion to the table. If the musician plays the right chords, but sings out of key, or if the writer tells a plausible story about a flat and boring character, or if the fighter shows up with the skills but is out of shape… we will likely be disappointed with the outcome. But if they connect everything – and it doesn’t have to be perfect – we are almost guaranteed some fun.

Mixed Martial Arts

This was a nice little moment of satisfaction, in being able to identify something that links some of my main interests, logically. But it also started me thinking about the next question – can I use this?
Can I draw from what I’m learning of martial arts, and apply it to another? Can my appreciation to the martial artist inform my writing? Not just as subject matter, but as applicable knowledge?
Well, I begin by asking what does a good MMA fighter need? Skills in striking, wrestling, BJJ (That’s Brazilian Jiu Jitsu! Git yer head outta the gutter). He needs stamina, mental strength, discipline, patience. Practice is a must. I will stop here. I’m sure there’s more, even if the list as it stands is enough to deter anyone from even attempting…

Robert Silverberg

The focus of this exercise is the writing itself. Not the writer (I hope we already agreed there are parallels between the three professionals). So, what can we take from this list of skills, capabilities and habits, in order to help a story work? I’ll start with patience. The reader may not have it, but patience is the ability to act when appropriate, and wait when necessary. It’s in the pacing of the story. We don’t want to spill it all in one hurried stream of consciousness (well, not in a novel I’d say) on the one hand, but we also don’t want to keep the reader waiting for something to happen.
But the story needs to move forward, right? Just like a fighter who wants to win. Here is where some other skills come into play. The first thing that pops to mind is the art of the takedown. Sometimes you want to “floor” the reader. There are ways to do it. One is to sneak up on him with great speed, changing the level of your approach, grabbing him and putting him on his back. Other ways to do it is by using the great striking skill call “fake”. A jab might do the trick too. The idea is to let the story throw your reader slightly off. Not off the story, but a little off guard. A red herring is a tried and tested fake. slowly, teasing action, foreshadowing, is like taking jabs, preparing the ground for a good power shot. This also helps with pacing, so it’s a win-win situation.
What about Jiu Jitsu? There are a few things it could teach us. One of them is the shift of the power balance. If the story has your hero on his back, trying to avoid submitting to the antagonistic forces of the story, there’s a way you can help him turn the tables. The magic is in the steps. Normally, the fighters don’t just trade places. There’s always a struggle, both of force but also – even more so – technique. If you want to escape a dangerous position, and reverse the balance of power, you have to know the steps, and execute them one by one. Sometimes it will work, and sometimes it may fail, as your opponent may (and likely should) be at least as skilled and powerful as you. Let your character learn these skills. In fact, it’s a must if you want a character that develop over time. A white belt will rarely sweep a black belt without proper training and practice. This is also where mental strength comes into play. Your character may not be very strong in the beginning, and even if he doesn’t end as a very strong character, he will need to “toughen up” some, in order to handle the multiple obstacles, you put in his way.
So, there you go. I love music, literature and mixed martial arts. Not only does it make perfect sense, I can even apply lessons I take from one and implement in the other.


Weighty Topics And No Excuses

I don’t know about you, I love me some podcasts. There are some great sport related ones that I follow, and others that are completely unrelated. An excellent example of the latter is “Writing Excuses” which from my perspective is a “Brandon Sanderson and friends” kind of deal. I learned of this podcast quite recently (as in sometime in 2018. You’ll have to excuse me, at my age one starts to forget details), and for the most part, I really enjoy it. It’s kind of short (which is the point really) and focuses on a specific writing related topic in each episode. It’s also ordered by seasons and episodes, which I find fun, and while I’d never recommend to take any podcast as a bible, one thing this one offers is some perspective. Out of what the team has to offer, I may or may not take advice, but even if I disagree with some things (and I do), I still enjoy the contrast, even if only as a test to my current held position. You should definitely check it out if you’re interesting in the topic of writing at all.
Having said that, I listened to the episode “How To Handle Weighty Topics” from Sunday, August 12th, 2018 on my way to work and it (as it often does) made me think. I’m not necessarily challenging anything said on the podcast, or saying “you’re wrong”. I merely offer my thoughts on the topic.
As the topic of weighty topics is… weighty… I’d like to break it down a little (well, more than a little). First, what did they mean by weighty? My understanding is – At any time one writes about a person or persons who are not of his “group” (we’ll get to that), or something that is outside of his existence which is of sensitivity to one or more groups, the topic becomes weighty. Of course I could be misunderstanding, but that – in itself – doesn’t mean it’s wrong.
With the above assumption in mind, let’s start touching the weighty topics.
One of the best questions asked during the podcast was “Why is it so important for the writer?” and I think that this is the fundamental question each of us should ask ourselves before embarking on the project. Are we writing about racism because we want to “be cool”? or perhaps because we “have a message”? Are we writing about racism, or is what we write racist (or can be perceived as such)? mind you, this applies to most all isms. Is one of our characters racist? “just a little”? Outright obnoxious, racist, pig? and if so, what does that mean for our story? Do we write that character in “to have a racist character”? There are a lot of “whys”  we should ask ourselves before even going into a weighty topic (more on that later).
For me, the decision is made based on one question – Does it  serve the story in any meaningful way? whether it’s the plot, character or settings. If the answer is yes – you will see some ism in my book. If not, I’m not even going there.
Another question that really interests me, and I’m hoping some of you may want to give me possible answers (I’m really asking) is, do we really need to address the isms every time? What I mean is this – If I’d elect to write a story featuring, say… a gay person. If I illustrate the discrimination and suffering that person may experience, I may be misrepresenting it, or perhaps worse, over simplifying it. If I tell a story, in which a character just happens to be gay, why does he have to be gay? (and excuse the usage of male, that’s just my habit). How does the character, being gay, contribute to the story, other than to be a “hey, I included a gay person in my story” (Do we really have to choose a “pet minority”?). And If I chose one group, or three, and not others…
What I’m trying to say is, inclusiveness is fun, and I go back to that question – does it serve the story in a meaningful way? if so, why the hell not. As a reasonably new writer, I tend to write more of what I know, and I do not know enough yet to pretend to get in the head of some groups. I feel that, until I’ve spoken to, learned about, understood people better, I’d rather stay away. That way I am – at the very least – significantly reducing my chances of falling into the trap. One day I will know more. On that day, I may take the plunge.
The most insightful and meaningful comment I heard on the podcast (and excuse me, I don’t remember who said what – they are all interesting) was regarding the fact that, though we all may be (whether we want to or not) part of certain different groups, we have so much more in common than we are really different. I totally agree that, from a writer’s perspective, if we write our characters with that in mind, the chances of our writing being offensive, or perceived as such, are reduced. I want to say it clearly again – there’s a huge difference between writing an offensive character (which is perfectly fine) and writing offensively (which I don’t recommend).
So far I focused on the writing itself, as it relates to weighty topics. But There is still the question of what is the writer’s role in the discussion of a certain weighty topic. My personal opinion is that it’s up to the writer. Some may feel a burning need to address a weighty topic because it may hit “close to home” for them, or perhaps the opposite – choose to stay away from one, for the exact same reason. I don’t think that everyone should necessarily write about them, but I do expect from any book that I write to be true to its reality. If a character in our story is of a group that suffers blatant discrimination, I expect to see him as such. I don’t need a militant activist of any faction for that. I just expect that the character will not be “just another guy”. Otherwise I will ask again – why does he have to be part of a specific group?
I’m not a big fan of preachy fiction. I identify with causes, but I do that in real life. In fiction I’d like to read a story that is informed by whatever reality it exists in. I can identify with a suffering character, as long as it’s not meant to “educate” me. It’s more about empathy to a character than a “message” that the writer wants to send.

 

I also don’t view the writer as a pacifist. What I mean by that is that, I am not actively looking to offend people. As I mentioned, I do not intend to write offensively. But I don’t believe a writer should “hold back” when it comes to writing about weighty topics. It boils down to target audience I guess.
If the story justifies it, a character will say the most horrific racist slurs and will behave in a despicable manner. Because the character is not the writer. That character may even be successful in his endeavors, because – it’s fiction… and yes, some people may be offended.
Beside the fact that people get offended more easily these days, there’s also the question of why should the writer compromise on a story that could be stronger should it included things that might offend some people? Again, target audience aside, I think the story should be told, IF – and I will try to close a little circle here – the writer has a satisfactory answer to that question: “Why is it so important for the writer?”
A Facebook friend of mine posted a couple of days ago about people who say that, when it comes to people, they are “color blind”. Meaning, we don’t see a black or white or whatever person as a black or white or whatever person. She challenged them, and I agree with what she said. This color blindness is mostly reserved to the privileged, to people who are part of stronger populations. Because it’s much easier. Like her, I choose to see colors, and religions and sexual orientations and other points of conflicts.
Is it not the ability to recognize the differences and yet look past them, understanding that indeed, these are far less than the things we have in common, and kill our prejudices the way to get rid of racism and other isms?
And also, how do we expect to empathise with a person who is marginalized, categorized and mistreated if we fail to recognize that he is? by being blind to the differences, we also have to be somewhat blind to problems that need to be addressed.
Now, I don’t see a gay person ONLY as gay, of course. That’s part of the problem. But I’m not going to ignore the fact that he is. Not as a person and not as a writer. As a person, by doing that I’d be ignoring the issues and basking in my privilege. As a writer I’d miss – at the very least – on two of writing’s most valuable aspects – conflict on the one hand, and empathy on the other.
Hopefully no one’s offended. You know no offense was meant.

Mixing Business With Pleasure (Bloodline on Netflix – No Spoilers)

Hello world.
Netflix could be really irritating. There could be six months stretches of nothing new but semi amusing stand up comedies and straight-to-video “blockbusters”, during which I find other things to do with my time. Then, there could be bursts of releases that make it difficult to find the time to handle all that wealth…

Continue reading

(Fear The) Fear The Walking Dead

Hello world.

No preamble today, as time is of the essence.

I don’t like Zombies. I don’t like Zombie movies. I don’t like Zombie books. That’s me. But there are a couple of exceptions. Among the very few is the series “The walking dead“. Continue reading

About Those Resolutions

Hello 2016, Goodbye 2015, Happy New Year everyone!

I’m here to confess another little tidbit. I’m an amateur guitar player. I’m very serious about being an amateur, I’ve been doing this for close to 30 years now. Never had the time, nor the inclination to become professional about this either. It’s too much practice if we want to get down to it, and quite frankly, I am not one to play for a crowd of any kind, so why bother? So yeah, I can pull off some pretty nice tunes (rhythm guitar, forget solos), but that’s just for me, myself and I. Continue reading

Two Faces Of The Same Coin

Welcome back folks,

Hope you’re well on your way to get all your holiday shopping done (cause God knows it ain’t about the holiday anymore…). If you got a minute, I’d like to let you in on a little (not very secretive) secret. Continue reading

Guest Post – “Writing: Agony Or Ecstasy?” by Christina Ranallo

Happy Monday everyone!

Today, I want to share a motivational post, written by my friend Christina Ranallo of PenPaperWrite. No further preamble necessary. Here it is: Continue reading