The Making of Savage Island

A book doesn’t come from one idea, but hundreds. After it’s written it’s hard to remember all that went into it, but I have a distinct recollection of one of the engendering moments of Savage Island. I read an article that stuck in my mind for many years, back when Los Angeles was plagued by numerous drive-by shootings in the wars of African American and Hispanic gangs. The article said that some high-level mafioso from Mexico sent word to Hispanic gangs in L.A., giving them their opinion that drive-by shootings were cowardly. They were not macho. And after that, Hispanic drive-by shootings decreased significantly.

Nowadays it seems that we need to invent new words for “courage,” and “hero,” since these now get applied to people who recycle in the rain. Courage, in a fighter, means that you are standing within the danger of your opponent when you engage.

Savage Island is the work in which I was able to pour my love and fascination with martial arts.

Savage_Island_Cover_03_revised copy FINAL

In this story, Jules van Allan challenges martial artists from all over the world to come to Savage Island and demonstrate the true meaning of courage to the world. Van Allan’s son and daughter were killed in a drive-by shooting, and Savage Island is both his object lesson, and his vengeance. James Grayson, who has seized the chance to be the Island’s sportscaster, uncovers what is really going on, with deadly consequences.

I began studying fencing when I was twelve, earned a green belt in Shotokan karate, and later a brown belt in Uechi-ryu. In college I discovered the SCA, the Society for Creative Anachronism, the non-profit educational group that re-enacts the Middle Ages, and took up broadsword fighting.

SCA broadsword fighters fight in real armor, using rattan weapons. We fight full speed, full power, and full contact. (It’s also safer than softball; our insurance company rates us with ping pong. Real armor works!)

In SCA fighting you are encouraged to learn all of the standard medieval weapons forms; sword and shield, axe or mace and shield, great sword, bastard sword, spear or halberd, etc. We fight tournaments, melees, and wars. I fought in the Estrella War where we fielded nine hundred fighters (the annual Pennsic War, back east, fields even more). It’s like Valhalla, where you fight all day, and then feast and sing at night with friends and foes alike. The endorphin rush of full-speed, full-contact fighting is memorable.

Lately I have been studying Toyama-ryu Iaido, the Japanese art of the sword, with a sensei who is working on short-sword fighting forms.

In Savage Island, I had the pleasure of figuring out numerous fighting styles and weapons forms, creating characters with all different kinds of fascination for the martial arts, and working out what would happen when they met one another in combat. I had discussions with SCA sword brothers, friends from various dojos, and people I met in cafes, about what kind of people might take up the challenge of Savage Island, if it were real, and go and fight there. It was some of the best fun I’ve ever had in working out a book.

Each combatant is given a number of points to spend from the Savage Island catalog, with which to arm and equip himself. The variety of choices, in weapons and tactics, caused many a character to run away with their bit of the story, and that was fun, too.

Savage Island is being released on Friday, July 8. The launch party is being held at CombatCon, the convention celebrating Western Martial Arts. This is the perfect venue to release Savage Island, since it embodies the values of courage, skill, and fascination with every iteration of martial arts the Western world has ever come up with.

The party is at noon in the Writer’s Room at CombatCon, at the Westgate Hotel in Las Vegas. See you there!

A Day in the Life of a Writer

It would have to be Saturday.

On Saturdays, my husband and I go down in the morning to Aikido Fresno, where we study Toyama-ryu Iaido, the Japanese Art of the Sword, with Shiomi Sensai.

There are many schools of Iaido. Toyama-ryu was founded about a hundred years ago, after the Japanese push for Westernization created an officer class who were not familiar with the use of the katana, the Japanese sword. The Emperor of Japan caused the school to be founded, to teach officers how to draw and cut with the sword. Consequently, Toyama-ryu’s symbol is the Imperial chrysanthemum.

Toyama ryu

Toyama-ryu is practical, and in part aimed at teaching how to draw the sword very fast, because if you have your sword drawn before your opponent does, that can be a bit of an advantage.

I have been studying with Shiomi Sensai for nearly six years, and have earned my third degree black belt.

When I was young I was told that a black belt means that you have mastered all the basic techniques of a fighting style, and now you are ready to really learn what it’s all about. There are many myths around martial arts, but happily, in studying with Shiomi Sensai, this one turned out to be true.

Classes are small, and since last spring, when our most recent new students (of four years ago), passed their shodan (first degree black belt) tests, it is now a class entirely of black belt students. Thus, by the end of class, we are usually very tired and sore indeed.

By noon, when class is over, we generally grab lunch from one of the many nearby restaurants, and do some shopping. By the time we get home, it’s time to get ready for WITL, Writing in the Library.

Our local library had a NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month – November) event several years ago, and to support writers taking part, the librarian, Sarah Lingenfelter, opened the library on Saturday afternoons (when it officially closed), for writers to come and spend a couple of hours away from distractions, writing in the library. WITL has been going on ever since. Six novels have been completed during that time; four have been published. While Sarah sometimes has writing exercises for us to try, usually we simply offer enthusiastic support for our successes, and companionship during the process of writing. To encourage production, writers decide by the end of each session if they’ve met their goals, and those who have participate in a drawing for little presents. If you win, you have to replace the present next time. It makes an enjoyable reward system for working productively at WITL.

At home we have sheep and chickens, who by the time we get home are overjoyed to be released from the pens while we do chores, and feed them, and shut them up again, with the enthusiastic assistance of our border collies.

Then we feed said border collies, and ourselves. If we’re not too tired, we sometimes play music together; my husband plays the dulcitar and I have been learning the fiddle. It’s fortunate our neighbors are too far away to hear, or at least to throw things.

Then, one more walk around the yard with the dogs to check the stock, and look up the stars, before putting the day to bed.

In the play Our Town, after Emily dies, she gets to go back to her life for one day, one ordinary day. For me, it would have to be a Saturday.

Where is my Very Fast Train?

http://www.hsr.ca.gov/Newsroom/Multimedia/maps.html

My very fast train was supposed to be completed in 2008. There has been a lot of we don’t need no fast rail talk, but honestly, when is California, and the U.S., going to join the industrial world? All through Europe, you can get from one major city to another by rail. In Japan you can get to just about every city, and all around the country, by rail.

Not to mention that laying rail is one way to create a whole lot of good-paying jobs. And these are jobs you can’t outsource to China!

Just imagine if I could take a very fast train from Fresno, to San Jose, or San Francisco. I could drive down to the station, catch the train, read or talk, get off in San Jose, have dinner, see a show, or visit with friends, and then come back the same night.

I commuted to Foothill College three terms a year for ten years, driving in every week. Seven hours of driving, 180 miles each way. It is a pleasant drive. Pacheco Pass is beautiful. But I would much rather view it from the train.

If we had a very fast train, people could live in Fresno, and work in the Bay Area. We could go to Los Angeles on a day trip. China is building fast trains! Why are we stuck in the pre-industrial age?

Bring on California’s very fast train! Let’s finally enter the 21st century!