Have you ever wondered just who this guy is? Here’s a page with links to the brave souls who wondered the same thing and asked him.
Historical fiction author Kathy Owen has a must-read post at Jami Gold’s writing blog. Owen reminds writers that readers of historical fiction KNOW THEIR HISTORY, so any mistakes in your story will turn off the very people you’re trying to reach.
Of course, that advice is true of any genre. Not long ago, in a manuscript I was critiquing, I read how the protag raised a 2×4 over his head to protect himself from a street thug’s nunchaku attack, but the “numchucks” broke the board in half.
No. Not even Bruce Lee could whip a flailing weapon hard enough to do the work of a sledgehammer. I’ve been studying martial arts for thirty years, and though I don’t compete any more, I still do katas, both empty handed and with kobudo weapons. In the picture above are my favorites. From left to right, we have the sai, short stick (a length of pipe, ’cause I’m cheap), tonfa, nunchaku, and staff (bo).
Fantasy fiction fairly bristles with primitive weapons, including dirks, daggers, swords, staffs, and many others. Many of your readers will know the capabilities and limitations of those arms. Some details in a story can be faked, but many cannot. And if you are truly fascinated with your subject, you’ll want hands-on experience, experience that will make your stories come alive. Jean Auel amassed a vast knowledge of primitive survival skills after she determined she wanted to write about prehistoric peoples. I, on the other hand, was taught tracking and hunting skills as a boy, and later took up backpacking. In my early 20s, I studied Isshin-Ryu karate. Only much later did I write fiction based on those passions.
The point is that you have to have not only practical knowledge of your subject, but a love for it. The reader can sense that, and will enjoy your story more as a result.
There’s a scene in Aztec Midnight when Jon Barrett, the protag, must escape his captors and find his kidnapped wife. With only seconds to act, and with an armed guard nearby, he improvises a bola:
There was no time to breathe, no time for a second try. I hooked a weight from the scales into the hole at the end of my leather belt.
Gabriel groped under his vest.
The hook on the second weight slipped into the hole on the other end of the belt.
Gabriel had the gun in his hand.
I dropped forward, crouching on one knee, and used the momentum to swing my bola toward Gabriel.
It snapped in my hand, and I released it. It spiraled through the air and across the room.
The pistol fired and filled the room with an ear-splitting crack.
The bola slapped against Gabriel’s knee and coiled around his legs. The second weight whipped around and smashed into his calf.
Gabriel bellowed and dropped to his knees, eyes clenched shut. I saw him open his eyes, eyes wrinkled in rage and pain, and he leveled the gun at me for a second shot.
I think that worked nicely. It never would’ve sounded believable without 1) my fascination for the subject and 2) knowing what I was writing about, which gave me the confidence to tackle such a scene.
From Beth’s Book Reviews:
“This novella is small but packs a definite punch. From the very beginning it draws you in and keeps you interested. It also resolves things quickly and cleanly by the last page so there are no loose ends to leave you wondering after you close the book.”
Anne R. Allen has a must-read post for both new and intermediate writers. She lists and discusses self-defeating practices of many newbies, such as: relying on well-meaning but uninformed advice from friends and family, overlooking the advantages of seeking out other writers for support and mutual critiquing, and failing to create and regularly UPDATE a writer’s blog.
But the mistake that stood out for me was “Writing Novels Exclusively.” Here’s what Anne says:
Once I decided I wanted to have a writing career, I dove right into writing novels. I left short stories and poetry behind. People told me they were for amateurs. …
I was short-sighted. If I’d had more publishing credits and contest wins, I would have found a publisher for my longer fiction faster.
I’d also now be sitting on a goldmine, since short stories, novelettes and novellas are hot commodities.
Anne’s absolutely right about this. I’m not claiming prescience here; in fact, I started out writing novels as well. (And I have the rejection slips to prove it!) I turned to short stories as a way to get the hang of writing for an audience as well as learning how to make my manuscripts stand out from the slush pile. I have to say it was a winning strategy — after getting a half-dozen short stories published, I tried long fiction again, and my book Aztec Midnight was finally accepted. Now, in addition to writing short stories, I’m again working on longer pieces.
But there’s another value to publishing short stories, one I learned in my previous career as a manager in the insurance industry. The most important thing you look for when you interview potential employees is a history of getting hired and promoted. A good record tells the interviewer that other professionals in the industry have put their stamps of approval on the person under consideration. Similarly, a consistent publishing history is a testament to a writer’s dedication and ability to write stories other editors like.
Seeing that other editors have accepted your previous manuscripts doesn’t guarantee an editor will accept your next submission, but it might just tip the scales in your favor.
The Manhattan with a twist blog offers readers “an all-encompassing perspective on living in New York City.” The site’s book review section, The Twisted Library, features this reaction to Aztec Midnight:
The novella follows Dr. Jon Barrett, an American archaeologist who was asked to come down to Mexico and retrieve an ancient, valuable (Aztec) weapon before the drug cartels get to it first. I found myself thinking, “well, this is fun to read” while reading, often, and, given the subject matter, that is a feat. Not many people would view a book that combines history, violence, criminals, and mystery as “fun,” but it truly was. Each page was like another step on an exciting journey, and, as a reader, I really did not have any idea where the story would turn next.
I also particularly enjoyed how the author throws in little romantic parts between the narrator and his wife. For example, when Jon returns home from a tiresome excursion, he walks in on his wife relaxing on the couch, and he takes a moment to simply admire the way she looks. He said it even temporarily alleviated him from the stressful thoughts and events that made up his day. This was a very nice touch, in my opinion. It reminds the readers that although there is a great deal taking place, and whole lot of drama, Dr. Barrett’s number one priority at the end of the day (literally and figuratively) is his wife and his love for her. This knowledge of his character plays an important role when, later, a few of his most prized possessions are put in jeopardy.
This novella is short, but filled to the brim with action and intrigue. Tuggle blends edge-of-your-seat scenarios with realistic and genuine dialogue. The characters are authentic and believable, while the story is unique and undoubtedly fascinating. No matter what your usual genre of books may be, “Aztec Midnight” is worth checking out.
Aztec Midnight is available in ebook and paperback. Check it out!
Yes, spring is here, and things are popping out all over. First this from my publisher, The Novel Fox:
Our favorite adventure novella, Aztec Midnight, is now literally a page-turner!
Aztec Midnight is available in both ebook and print. Purchase your paperback copy here…
Yes, 2016 is off to a good start. So far, I’ve sold three sci-fi/fantasy short stories to three different publishers. One, The Clincher, came out in early March. A second is due in late May, and another will appear in a print anthology in September. I’ve completed the final edits and signed the contracts, so it looks like full steam ahead. Here’s to a productive 2016!
What are the Alebrijes so excited about? Their favorite novella, Aztec Midnight, is now available in paperback from Novel Fox. Of course, the Kindle version is cool, and it’s nice to be able to carry a library in your reader or iPhone, but there’s nothing quite like the feel of a real book in your hands. That cover is truly a thing of beauty.
Now, about the Alebrijes: They’re fantastic monsters folk artists in Oaxaca carve from copal, a wood Oaxacans believe is magical. Some, such as the lizard monster center right, are made of papier-mâché. They were “discovered” by the traditional art world when a gallery owner from Cuernavaca (where much of the action in Aztec Midnight takes place) started buying them in the 1930s. Mexican artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo found inspiration in them and helped further popularize them.
The magical creatures shown above are from my wife’s collection.
By Jaguar MENA
Steven McIntosh, writing in the BBC News, poses an interesting idea for writers looking for that little something extra:
Could writers benefit from the same tactics as method actors, who immerse themselves in extreme surroundings in order to prepare for a role?
Every February, as the Oscars roll around, movie fans revel in stories about actors who have gone to extreme lengths to prepare for parts.
Daniel Day-Lewis learned to track and skin animals and fight with tomahawks for The Last of the Mohicans, while, more recently, Leonardo DiCaprio plunged into an icy river and sank his teeth into a hunk of raw bison while filming the Oscar-nominated film The Revenant.
Actors going to such lengths has become more common in recent years and a cynic might argue it certainly did not harm their film’s publicity, but given the apparent success of their technique, could working in a similarly immersive way also benefit novelists?
While I’ve always thought there’s much common ground between acting and writing, what McIntosh is suggesting takes the idea a step further. I think he’s right. Knowing how to do the things you describe your characters doing certainly adds visceral detail to your story. I’m reminded of the research Jean Auel did for The Clan of The Cave Bear. Like her protagonist Ayla, Auel can weave baskets and make her own stone tools. Auel has said that mastering such skills gives her writing an “informed subjectivity” that she could not otherwise achieve. I agree.
I thoroughly enjoy researching my stories, and sometimes that involves more than simply nailing down a particular fact. Despite many years of hunting, backpacking, and hiking, I’d never rappelled before I taught myself while writing my flash fiction piece Cameron Obscura. In fact, all life experience can be put to work in your writing. My career in computer programming and artificial intelligence in the insurance industry no doubt informed my sci-fi pieces, and certainly prompted my misgivings about the dehumanizing effects of technology, as expressed in Snake Heart.
And I have no doubt that my travels in Mexico, as well as my experience with firearms and primitive weapons, livened up my novella Aztec Midnight with sensory details and authenticity you just can’t get from online research.
Maybe that crazy Daniel Day-Lewis is on to something …
“I read in a book once that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but I’ve never been able to believe it. I don’t believe a rose WOULD be as nice if it was called a thistle or a skunk cabbage.”
― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
Selecting a character’s name is the first step in making that character come alive. Of course, no one has done a better job than Charles Dickens, who gave the world Uriah Heep, Polly Toodle, Wilkins Micawber, and, of course, Ebenezer Scrooge.
This article on iconicity, the harmony of a symbol (word) and its meaning, suggests that evocative naming is the key to understanding the world around us:
The oldest documented discussion about iconicity and its role in constructing words is the Cratylus dialogue of Plato 1997. In the dialogue, Socrates is asked whether names belong to their objects “naturally” or “conventionally.” Though Socrates admits that convention and usage play a role in the creation of names, he confesses that he prefers the view “that names should be as much like things as possible” (pp. 433–435).
So of course the character’s name is essential to understanding that character. That’s one of the key elements I focus on when outlining a new story. I felt good about the name Jon Barrett in Aztec Midnight, and with Cam Taylor in Cameron Obscura.
I’ve always been fascinated with word play, especially with people’s names. In college, the Resident Assistant of our dorm hall was Curtis T—–. His job was to monitor our behavior, which included making sure no young ladies were still in our rooms after 1:00 AM, a job he seemed to enjoy a little too much. I gave him a name that stuck until he graduated, even though he quit being an RA his sophomore year: Curtis Interruptus, a nickname we pronounced with a Bronx accent.
I can’t help but think of what Christmas will be like for the 14 families who lost loved ones in the San Bernardino massacre last week, or for the families of the three who were gunned down at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood facilities last month.
Even for those of us who were not immediately affected, there is still that haunting reminder of the needless suffering we, as humans, inflict on each other.
And yet — and yet — we should not let ourselves give in to despair. Tempted as we may be to concede that evil appears entrenched in the human heart, we cannot surrender our hope that there is a spark of good in everyone, a spark worth noticing and perhaps even cultivating as best we can. As hard as it is to imagine, I believe the shooters in both tragedies thought they acted for worthy reasons.
Robert Dear, Jr., the Colorado Springs killer, ranted in court, “I’m guilty. There’s no trial. I’m a warrior for the babies.” Twisted? Yes. Egomaniacal? No doubt. But even this murderer believed he was protecting the innocent and helpless.
As for Farook and Malik, we can only speculate that they considered themselves warriors for their faith. Nevertheless, whatever was churning through their minds when they abandoned their six-month-old baby and drove to the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health with two .223-caliber semi-automatic rifles and pipe bombs, their actions certainly warranted the swift and decisive response the SWAT team meted out.
That said, we cannot ignore the powerful forces that work on terrorists such as Dear, Malik, and Farook. Modern alienation devastates the isolated individual, and many dedicate themselves to what appears as a last, desperate effort to accomplish something significant and worthwhile. In his article, The Psychological Sources of Islamic Terrorism, Dr. Michael J. Mazarr of Georgetown University writes:
Mass technological life tranquilizes people, drains us of our authenticity, of our will and strength to live a fully realized life. The result of this process is alienation, frustration, and anger. A few themes stand out from this broad concept.
One has to do with the burdens of freedom and choice. By breaking the chains of tradition and conformity, modern life offers a bewildering, paralyzing degree of choice about everything from career paths to marriage partners to fashion. When you can potentially be anything, the existentialists worry, you may in fact be nothing — and have no identity at all.
Alienation from tradition and from others is not freedom, but a curse. In our frantic pursuit of material gain, we lose sight of life’s true purpose. No one has better enunciated the antidote than the protagonist of A Christmas Carol, that classic fantasy tale of Christmas. After the three spirits teach him what Christmas means, Ebenezer Scrooge makes his famous vow:
“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!” ― Charles Dickens, from his novella A Christmas Carol
Stubbornly seeking the spark of good that’s buried even in the heart of old Ebenezer Scrooge gives us hope, real hope, because very often we do indeed find that spark if we simply open our eyes to it. That insight into human nature makes for better fiction, too. The best literature can be a means to form and strengthen social ties because it helps us appreciate the hidden feelings of others. In my novella Aztec Midnight, the protagonist, Jon Barrett, must find and deliver an ancient Aztec relic to men who have kidnapped his wife. However, a local militia stands in his way — not because its members are evil, but because the relic will empower the drug cartels that terrorize them. Jon Barrett’s dilemma is one we can all appreciate.
Want to help make Christmas the season of hope it was meant to be? You can start by reading a good book. Or better yet – by giving one.