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.
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!