It's all in a day's work for the average hack: recycling gore from old movies and books...without any sense of the real pain involved.
I, on the other hand, was bitten by a Viper and stabbed over and over and over again while writing Caesar's Ghost. The book features some tactical weapons I'd researched online for months. Was that good enough for the Ghost? Not a chance. The Ghost wanted me to own them. How could the scenes be lifelike if I hadn't actually held these things? Could I even guess at their real power if I hadn't felt their heft and weight? I needed more of that verisimi-something.
Well, before I knew it I'd shelled out a small fortune on a slew of lethal 'toys' illegal in many states. And I approached the action scenes with a little more strut in my stylistic walk.
Example: Caesar's Ghost features a stun gun and I'd purchased three. Reviews, research and instincts told me that two of the three weren't right. One, designed like a cell phone, felt flimsy and weak. One was too big for my female character and was known to lose its battery charge. The ViperTek, though, felt just right. I liked the safety finger grips and loved the crackling display of white sparks.
I knew all I needed to know, I believed. The Ghost, however, disagreed--and made its point in the most shocking way. As I was leaving home one morning, only half awake, I retested the gun's charge. Too bad I didn't notice my left hand was on the terminals.
Contact was roughly a second but I screamed as I fell to my knees and I remained dazed for a minute. But I now had a real, not cerebral, idea of how the recommended jolt of 6-8 seconds would feel.
End of lesson, right? Not quite. The Ghost had other plans again. In the months of writing my book, one major theme had evolved: the undying impact of the way that Caesar died. He wasn't only stabbed, he was stabbed 23 times--and not just by his enemies. Neither a man nor his returning ghost would ever forget the horror of that murder. Every move the ghost made in its new living form would be grounded in that memory and in the lessons learned: to appear more vulnerable...to seem less ambitious...to veil one's power discreetly.
The Ghost smiled grimly: You're close to tapping into the helplessness and horror. But unless you've been stabbed, friend, you haven't a clue. So write about somebody else.
I wanted to argue: 'I've known pain! I've had more broken bones than any three writers I know.' And yet I knew the Ghost was right. I'd never been stabbed and so I couldn't know in any meaningful way. Was I condemned to be a fake writing of a dreadful death while sipping Starbucks tea?
Or...could I get at the truth through another door?
If direct experience were the only avenue, then we'd all have to crash our cars, shoot ourselves or contract terminal diseases for similar scenes in our books. But could there be something else...for want of a better name, translational experience? And could TE allow us to translate foreign pain into our tale's language?
Interesting theory, the Ghost said. Grab that tactical pen on the table and let's see if you can translate. Don't forget the magic number, kiddo--23 times or bust.
The cruel Ghost had pointed to my second favorite toy: the 6.1" Smith and Wesson Military Tactical Pen with a 1" striking point.
Now, I had no intention of re-enacting JC's death with a knife. The challenge was one of translation. So I thought to play out another scene, where a criminal's hand is impaled. I'd be damned if I'd back down. I stretched my palm out, raised the pen high--and swung. Needless to say, I swung a lot more slowly--and did not impale my hand. I did draw a bead of blood, though...got to scream one more time...and had the TE that I needed. Jabbings translated to stabbings, I thought.
But was the Ghost happy? Of course not. Give me 22 more, it sang. 22 more!
I tried my best, I truly did: controlled jabs to thighs, belly, arms, shoulders, chest..I stopped in agony at 12.
And thus ended my schooling in TE...at least for Caesar's Ghost.
CLOSING HOLIDAY TOUTS
Take advantage of my special holiday Amazon Countdown Event on the Boss MacTavin series, starting at $.99 for two days...and then going up in increments. Here are the brand-new covers:
12/14, 8 a.m. PST: $.99 each
12/16: 12 a.m PST: $1.99 each
12/17: 4 p.m. PST: $2.99 each
12:19: 8 a.m. PST: $3.99 each
Sale ends 12/21 at midnight PST and price bumps to new regular price of $4.99
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