The tickle of curiosity. The gasp of discovery. Fingers running across the keyboard.

Showing posts with label Weakest Lynx. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Weakest Lynx. Show all posts

Saturday, January 23, 2016

The 6th Sense in Your Plotline: Psychics 101 for Writers

English: Energy Arc, central electrode of a Pl...
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Fiona - 
I would like to introduce a friend of mine. I will call her "Winter". Like many with psychic abilities, Winter prefers to remain anonymous because she holds an executive's job and there is a stigma to having 6th sense abilities. Winter has inspired many of the scenes in my Lynx series. 

Lately, I have been reading a lot of works that include 6th sense abilities and thought a writer's primmer might be helpful. 

Winter, would you tell us about your psychic strengths and back ground (in a general way).

Winter - 
Hello! Growing up I was a very emotional tween and teenager. I never knew how I would feel or what was causing me to feel, but it was all so intense and exhausting. I remember my mom saying to me, "This isn't the real you." But I didn't know what she meant.

Years later, in my twenties, I learned that I was an Empath and Highly Sensitive Person. An Empath is someone who doesn't just empathize with someone else's plight but who actually feels their emotions in his or her own body, often confusing them for his/her own emotions because they are so vivid and real (an Empath can't tell is she's angry or if that guy next to her is angry). A Highly Sensitive Person is someone who is sensitive not only to other people's emotions, but also to the energy of the environment around you.

Being psychically aware of both my environment and the people around me was draining, exhausting, overwhelming and made me feel crazy until I learned how to manage it.

Now, I would say that being able to pick up on what people are feeling and the general vibe of any situation or environment is a strength that serves me in everything I do in life, as long as I'm able to stay in a neutral observer role and witness the information instead of experience it in my body as if it were my own.

Fiona - 
You are also clairvoyant can you define that term and give us a list of other abilities someone might experience as a 6th sense?

Winter - 
Clairvoyant means being able to see energy and pictures in your mind's eye that give information about a situation or person. Some of the other ways of processing 6th sense information could be a strong knowing in your gut or mind without being able to say how you know it, hearing information in your mind, empathy which I mentioned already. Also information could come through dreams or through objects or places that hold an energetic impression. Also someone might experience the ability to give others healing energy.

Fiona -
Here's a short list of some skill set terms your character might have developed so you can do your research (with folks who actually have the skills). 
  • Reading auras - Perception of energy fields surrounding people, places and things
  • Auto-writing - Writing produced without conscious thought.
  • Astral projection also called OBE or out of body experience - in which an "essence" or "soul" becomes separate from the physical body.
  • Clairvoyant - to see
  • Clairaudient - to hear
  • Clairsentient - to feel
  • Divining - Gaining insight into a situation, most commonly through a ritual or use of a tool such as a pendulum or cards
  • Dowsing - Ability to locate objects, sometimes using a tool called a dowsing rod, pendulum etc.
  • Energetic healing (such as Reiki) - Healing by channeling energy. This is often accompanied with information such as clairvoyance, clairsence, or clairaudience.
  • Channeling (medium) - Communicating with spirits.
  • Premonition and precognition - Perception of events before they happen.
  • Psychometry - Obtaining information about a person or object, usually by touching or concentrating on the object or a related object.
  • Remote viewing - Gathering of information at a distance.
  • Retrocognition - Perception of past events such as crime scene investigators. In my Lynx series, Lexi's mentor uses retrocognition to solve crimes.
  • Scrying - Use of a reflective item to view events at a distance or in the future. Crystal balls, puddles of water, mirrors can be used for srcying, for example.
  • Telepathy - Transfer of thoughts, words or emotions in either direction.

Using the sixth sense is on a continuum. Some people, like yourself, Winter, are born with or grow into their psychic abilities. Some are jarred into their abilities from a traumatic experience. In most people I speak to, it's not a "gift" at all. Being psychic is quite overwhelming and invasive. Some people will think they are going crazy and self- medicate with alcohol and drugs to make the feelings go away, others like Lexi in my books, and you in real life, train and practice to understand their abilities and use them proactively. Can you discuss training?

Winter -
Sure. I was motivated in my 20's to start training because I was so uncomfortable and unhappy. I started with something simple - meditation. I found that making quiet space every day helped me start to be able to tell the difference between what was mine, and what feelings belonged to others. I started studying with different teachers to learn as much as I could and find techniques to try to manage what was happening to me. There are teachers out there approaching this stuff from every angle, and now that we're all online it's easy to find a teacher or class or book or exercises that you can experiment with on your own. There's no one practice that fits all - it's going to vary based on your particular situation and what works for you with your lifestyle and maybe even belief system/religion.

What was helpful for me personally was studying how energy moves around the environment and in the body with a Qi Gong teacher and then further with the Reiki system. I found the Reiki principles to be particularly helpful as a guidance system for how to handle tricky situations I found myself in with too much information about other people and places. And my daily meditation practice has been a centering force in my life. I start every day with meditation so that I know what is "me" and can hold onto that awareness as I move throughout the world. Also included in my daily meditation is an important aspect that I consider as essential to well being as brushing your teeth: a practice of grounding, helping the body connect to the earth and feel safe and deliberately releasing all the energy that isn't yours that you've picked up through your daily life.

I believe the key to managing your sixth sense is trial and error and experimentation until you find practices that work for you. Then practice them every day, but also give yourself permission for your practice to evolve as you evolve.

Fiona - 
You've read my Lynx series and while I pushed the envelope in that Lexi is visibly physically hurt when she connects with the victims she's trying to help, this does happen in true life. Can you talk about taking on other's pain?

Winter -
Thankfully, I have not experienced the degree of physical damage that Lexi experiences in my life, but you're right that without the right "tools" people can inadvertently take on other people's pain.

When we haven't built up the psychic muscles to keep ourselves distinct from a person we are trying to help (or who just happen to be in our proximity), we can get overwhelmed and all the signals crossed so that we are feeling their physical discomfort and pain as well as their emotional pain and suffering. We might actually be such great "healers" that we allow others to consciously or unconsciously use us as a vessel for dumping their pain, so they feel better. 

This is how ancient/traditional shamans worked - sacrificing their own well-being for another's. While noble, this is not necessary for helping others. In fact it really ends up being unhealthy and detrimental. There are other ways of helping others that don't come at a cost for you personally. I loved how in the book series Lexi is eventually exposed to more advanced ways of working with her psychic abilities that weren't so painful for her.

Fiona - 
When you read a book or see a show that includes a character with psychic abilities - what do you see often portrayed incorrectly?

Winter - 
Hmm great question. What comes to mind right away is a show I loved, where I feel the character was portrayed correctly! It was called Ghost Whisperer with Jennifer Love Hewitt. In the series, she faced many challenging situations, but she always knew that she was safe and could yell STOP to reign in the visions she was receiving when they were too intense and painful. She trusted her abilities, and while they sent her on adventure every episode, her faith and confidence in herself was very empowering to watch as someone with six sense abilities.

A lot of what is portrayed incorrectly is how otherworldly information is communicating with us - it's not usually big and dramatic and furniture moving type communication. It's a hunch or a whisper or an insight that gives us a subtle clue, and then we can use our tools (like meditation, or oracle cards or pendulums etc... ) to dig in for further information. We are detectives a lot of the time. Also characters with these abilities are often shown as evil or using their abilities to hurt others, but I believe most people with a six sense want to help themselves and their families with the information they receive. They just don't always know how.

Fiona - 
How does someone with psychic abilities use the information they receive?

Winter - 
How we use the information we receive from our other senses is an important topic. Most of us are compassionate people, and we want to use it to help others. But we have to be very careful to stay neutral and allow others to grow or heal at their own pace. We have to be careful we don't become invested in changing someone or their situation because of the information we have received, as a lot of the time it is not about us. And we have to let others have their own journeys.­­­ Sometimes we receive information that it's just not our place or the right time to share with someone else. Or sometimes they just aren't ready to receive the information. There's a lot of moral and ethical gray area here about how to proceed. ­­­­­

Fiona - 
Along that vein can you talk about psychic ethics and why they're important? I remember a scene from Practical Magic where the woman is warned by the aunts that a love spell "making" a particular person fall in love with them was a bad idea.

Winter - 
Yes! I agree with the aunts on that completely. As human beings we have free will - to grow, to heal, to learn our lessons, to love etc... Trying to put our own agenda on another person is manipulation and unethical. It interferes with how the Universe works. 

Our jobs are to become the best versions of ourselves, not to change others. That never goes well whether manipulation is done psychically or verbally or abusively, the energy becomes warped and twisted and it's just not going to produce the results someone hopes for, even with the best intentions. A better approach to a love spell or healing would be two parts - to focus on removing barriers inside yourself to falling in love or being healed - and to open yourself up to receiving the love or healing you desire in whatever form the Universe finds fits you best. Then you are not manipulating free will, and you are focused on yourself. The Universe brings you the solutions when you are ready to receive them.

Also when it comes to healing, one important thing to know is that healing is not the same as curing. We can sometimes help others heal by sharing information, love, compassion, even healing energy - but it is a healing on an energetic or spirit level. The free will is still here - the journey that person's spirit chooses may or may not include the curing of the body or saving of the life, and we can't force an outcome we prefer.

Fiona - 
What did you hope I'd ask but I didn't? What w
ould you like writers to know when they write a character with psychic ability?

Winter - 
Well one thing I'd like writers to know is that not all of us with psychic ability are easy to spot. We aren't all wacky, burning incense, dressed in robes with moons and stars on them ­and known to be eccentric or weird. So many of us have regular jobs, do normal things like go to gym, try to figure out what's for dinner, and pay the bills. 

This private other side of us isn't apparent to most people meet us. We don't divulge or let people in on this side of us, unless its absolutely necessary or we trust and know the person is open minded or has similar abilities. Look around a room and there is probably someone in there with psychic abilities that you would never have guessed.

Fiona - 
It's true, if you met Winter, you would never guess how much she can know/read about you. Luckily, she is highly ethical. Is your character equally ethical with their 6th sense?

As always, a big thank you ThrillWriters and readers for stopping by. Thank you, too, for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Drawing from a Side Holster: Information for Writers

Hi ThrillWriters,

I just watched a movie with hubby, and as you might guess, the
person wielding their weapon was doing a pretty scary job of flagging (letting the barrel of the gun pass over) all the good guys, putting them in danger. 

And I would swear that he shot himself in his own hand  a few times.

But AMAZINGLY every single bullet out of his gun hit bulls eye. WHOOP! LOL

So I thought I'd go over the steps so if you're writing a heroine drawing her gun - that you can keep everyone safe.

BTW I put this picture up here at the top to tell you this little story. In my holster class (regularly required at my gun range in order to use the tactical ranges.) we are required to shoot from this position in one of the drills. It's actually #4   in the progression (we'll get to that in a second). The idea is, the villain is charging the heroine, and she doesn't have time to get her gun into position. So one shoots two bullets from here, then steps back for the rest of the steps.

Can I just say, this is very scary. Not so much for the men in my class, but having a pistol fired right beside the girls that way? Terrifying. Luckily, our instructor is a woman and she taught me how to cant the pistol a bit. Still. . . I close my eyes when I pull that trigger. 'Cause you know, closing my eyes will keep me safe.

written for a right-eyed shooter (not the same as a right handed person) reverse if your heroine is a left-eyed shooter.

1. Decide to draw.
Please note, I'm about to draw from my right side. As my hand descends toward the gun, 
my LEFT HAND isn't waving in the wind.
Your heroine makes a fist and puts it on her chest.

2. Position hand for the draw:

Right hand to grip (the handle) Left hand to chest. 

This is actually really important, how you place your heroine's hand on that gun in this moment will determine how well she's positioned to take the shot and get it on target.

See how far up the webbing between my thumb and forefinger I shove my hand up under the lip?

See that my trigger finger is NOT reaching for the trigger. I don't want to shoot myself in the foot. Lay the trigger finger along the trigger cage.

3.) Pull
Right hand pull. Left hand on chest. 

If the heroine is using a safety holster, this is the point where your heroine would release the safety device.

Draw the gun straight up by bending the elbow. 

4) Rotate to Target
Right hand turns the gun toward the target. Left hand to chest.

Release safety in case your heroine needs to shoot from this position.

Putting the gun on target prevents your heroine from flagging and possibly shooting the wrong thing.

If required, your heroine can shoot from this position. That works best, of course, if the target is very close. This is, for example, the position your heroine would shoot from if the target was right up on her. 

This position would also make it much harder for someone to get your gun from your heroine and turn the gun on her.

5.) Extend
This is the first time the left hand leaves the heroine's chest. The right hand extends and the thumbs come together on the grip.

The finger is STILL off the trigger, resting on the trigger guard.

The heroine will then punch out. Her eye is on her target and remains on her target as she brings the sights up. and she can line up her shot.

THE SHOT(S) is taken. If necessary, your heroine has changed magazines (which holds the bullets). The villain has fled or the threat is otherwise removed.

6) Sweep and Assess
The heroine turns her head and looks around her to make sure there are no other threats. 

Being trained, she will have her go-to means of doing this. She may:
a. Sweep with gaze and gun together
b. Sweep with gun held in front ready position
c. Sweep with her hands in low ready position as I am here in this photo.

Once the heroine has decided that the area is clear of imminent danger,

7.) Re-holster
Right hand returns gun to the security of the holster. Left hand returns to chest.

And as E.A. Lake kindly pointed out in the comments, if your heroine's gun has a safety, she'll want to make sure it's reengaged before her hand comes off the gun.

Now, can your heroine do this after reading my blog?
Can she do it after a quick class up at the range?

In order for your heroine to have these movements available to her in a threatening situation, she needs to have committed the moves to muscle memory. Muscle memory is stored in long term storage, yep, that means she needs to have practiced for at least 21 days. My master at TKD says that until you throw a punch correctly a thousand times -- most of that in very slow motion so each movement is correct -- then you cannot throw a punch.

A thousand times. That's a lot. She'd have to draw that gun 48 times a day for 21 days to get this down. See what I mean? It's not an "okay, I've got this" deal. You don't have to write that your heroine knows what she's doing. She could just wing it. But -- you can't make her a novice at one aspect and a master at another. She may be able to make perfect bulls eyes on the range, but doing it from a draw where the hands have to be precise, and the target needs to be acquired very quickly, that's a whole different skill set.

The nice thing about writing is when things aren't easy then the story becomes interesting.

Hope this helps! Happy writing.

And as always, a big thank you ThrillWriters and readers for stopping by. Thank you, too, for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Sorbet for Your Writing - Making Videos with Jina Bacarr

Sorbet for your writing OR yes, another way to procrastinate today's 2k words ;)

Amazon Author Page

Fiona - 
ThrillWriting welcomes author Jina Bacarr to talk about the many ways that an author is called on to express their creativity. While we all know it takes excellent words on a page, in our now publishing/marketing climate an author needs more tools in their toolbox. Jina is here to share some information about videos in the hopes that we can excite more readers and encourage them to read our work. Jina, how do you use videos in your marketing and publicity?

Jina - 
We live in a world of instant gratification -- breaking news, Instagram photos, texting. It's a total sensory experience. I like to use video to enhance the reading experience. Show the reader the "movie in my mind" with photos, music, and words from my stories. Give the reader a peek into the colors and textures of what I see and feel when I'm writing the story. 


For example, for my Civil War time travel romance, LOVE ME FOREVER, I want to take the reader back to 1862 and put on that hoop skirt. But see that world in color and taste it, smell it. Video gives me that opportunity. And, yes, I'm a ham. Southern style, of course, and I enjoy doing the voice-over and bringing the characters to life.

Fiona - 
How can an author get started with pulling out the least amount of hair, and shedding the fewest tears.

Jina -
Think of video as a story...there are many different ways to tell that story. POV, tense, novella vs novel. Same with video. You can make short videos or long ones, though I don't recommend anything over 2 minutes. Best for promotion is 30 seconds (we'll get more into that later). I've done some long vids 6-11 minutes that I'm proud of, but for
promotional purposes, let's say you start with 30 seconds. 

First up--a video editing program. Windows Movie Maker should be on your system as a starter tool (Windows 10 DOES NOT support this system). If you don't have WMM, your best bet is to download a free 30-day trial of a program such as Cyberlink Power Director 14 (latest) or Photoshop Premiere. 

I use Power Director and enjoy the added special effects available to enhance your project. Once you have the video editing program, next decide what visuals you want to use: Royalty Free photo stock or RF video, video you shoot yourself, photos you shoot yourself--I've done it all! The most important thing is to have fun. Don't try to be a Hollywood production--let your imagination guide you. 

And like writing, editing your video is so important to making the final product the best it can be. 

Fiona - 
Now that I have Windows 10, I went to Premiere, and I really like it. It was part of the process when I created this video:

Jina, is there a site to get free video footage?
(I found this blog article with a quick Google search.)

Jina - 
To be honest, I'm leery of anything "free" when it comes to videos or photo stock. My favorite site is They have RF photos and videos. 

Your best bet is their subscription service (you can subscribe to one month rather than ongoing). They run periodic sales and since Black Friday is coming up, I wouldn't be surprised if they run a great sale where you can get pick up video and photos for a great price. You have to download the photos/videos on a consistent basis to get the most from the subscription, so I recommend creating "lightboxes" where you pick out the videos/photos you want and have them at your fingertips when you subscribe. 

A sidenote: always check the license for a photo/video before you use it. There's usually no problem using a video/photo you purchase for a book trailer, website. book cover. A commercial license is different. There are other photo sites that are popular as well: iStockphoto and Shutterstock, to name two.

The bottom line is, it takes time and the desire to do it. Like writing...videos tap into your creative psyche and are time consuming. That doesn't mean you can't do it. Making videos can be the sorbet to clear your mind. Give you a chance to get away from the written page and yet still make your creative self happy.

Fiona - 
Can you drive the bus here Jina? What's the next things we need to know?

Jina - 
Okay, now for that bus ride. What you need: 

  1.  a video editing program
  2. RF stock/videos or photos/vids you take yourself 
  3. music -- RF (I like or Creative Commons License (e.g.
  4. your imagination. That magical fountain that ebbs and flows with ideas, hopes, and dreams. You'd be surprised what you can come up with if you give yourself the chance. 

Fiona - Video's made - Woohoo! Now, how do we use them?

Jina - 
Video is the new's everywhere. You can use it on your blog, website, Twitter, Vine, Instagram, Facebook. Again, 30 seconds is great -- Twitter only allows 30 seconds, e.g. I find Twitter videos are great for promotion.

Fiona - 
ThrillWriters, Jina made this special video with us. Not only can you see some dynamic video techniques, but she tells us about the audio portion of the video and offers resource sites.

Fiona - 

And now we need a story break, something harrowing, please.

Jina -
My Wild Mulholland Ride

    The moment the sexy Australian walked into the radio station, I felt his magic.
    Tall, dark, and handsome with a stubble beard. And that accent. Made me tingle down to my cowgirl boots. I loved hearing Max talk. The manager at the radio station where I worked had hired him for a guest gig to pull up our ratings with the female audience 18-49.
    He was AM. I was FM.
    I did radio commercials, filled in, wrote PR and commercial copy, acted in skits with the other DJs, including doing remotes like chili cookoffs and handing out trophies at the racetrack. I even got to be a pink-sequined mermaid in a parade during a promotional weekend in Catalina.
    But nothing thrilled me down to my lace undies as when Max asked me out on a date.
    Not to the local pizza joint, but backstage at a club on the Sunset Strip.
    Max was best buds with a band from New Zealand on tour in the States and he wanted me to meet them.
    We were hanging out at the house the band and their manager, Georgie, had rented in Laurel Canyon when Georgie ran out of smokes. Max volunteered to drive him down the winding, two-lane road to the store. Winking at me, he said he wanted to check out the view of L.A. from Mulholland Drive on the way back.
    Did I want to come along?
    Oh, boy, did I.
    The romantic music in my head turned up a notch. Then another when his lips brushed my cheek. I wiggled my toes in my boots.
With a secret smile curving my lips, I slid into the black leather bucket seat of his shiny, black Mustang. I loved sitting next to him. Every time he shifted gears, we’d take off like a speeding rocket over the bumpy road. Twilight hovered over the hills like an exotic dancer sliding down her pole, revealing just enough to tease.
I couldn’t wait till we got to Mulholland. I thrilled to the idea of Max holding me close while we enjoyed the city view. Then me sighing over a kiss or two while Georgie had a smoke in the backseat.
    I was so enchanted with my daydream—and hanging onto the door handle every time we rounded a steep curve—I didn’t see the truck’s blaring headlights heading straight toward us until it was too late.
“Hold on tight, baby!” Max yelled, his deep voice as hot as dragon’s breath. Every nerve in my body was suddenly on alert.
Zoom! He jammed down on the gas pedal and swerved to the right to avoid hitting the truck, grinding the gears and shifting the sports car into overdrive. With the wind in our faces, the Mustang took off like a roadrunner, flying over the asphalt and onto the grassy terrain on the shoulder.
    The scary, wild ride lasted only a few seconds, but it seemed like a lifetime.
    I knew this old road well. If we didn’t stop, we’d plunge over the steep hillside and go straight down Mulholland Drive.
    Five hundred feet . . . down into the canyon.
Broken branches. Scraggly bushes and overgrown vegetation might slow us down, but mud from the recent rains made the hillside as slick as a waterslide.
    We were goners if the brakes didn’t hold.
    Max never lost control of the Mustang. Talking to her in that smooth, sexy voice that sent females drowning in their lattes. I swear the car listened to him as if she were his best girl. Slipping and sliding, moaning and creaking, the black-hooded bombshell finally screeched to a stop.
    Sooo close to the edge.
    The city lights twinkling below us like fallen stars.
    Shaking, we got out of the car and stared down into the darkness, utterly freaked out . . . not believing how close we came to flipping over the hillside. Inches. Only by the grace of God and Max’s skill behind the wheel did we stop in time. His big, strong hands taking control of the steering wheel and making the Mustang purr . . . later I discovered what those hands could do.
    Heads bowed, Max led us in a prayer of thanks. Georgie, him, and me. The three of us held on to each other as Max’s big voice boomed our thanks out over the Valley. Our personal airwave to heaven.
    Afterward, Georgie got his cigs and we went to the show as planned. The band rocked the trendy club with their fast-moving techno sounds, but I never forgot that night. Or my handsome DJ.
    His soul-melty tones filling the air over Mulholland.
    And those hands of his.
    God bless him.

Fiona - 
Thanks, Jina, I need to go drown myself in a latte now.

Okay folks, you came keep up with Jina at:
Twitter - @JinaBacarr

Also, you can see Jina's movies, read a fun exchange by her characters, and get some great recipes mentioned in her book from our FREE cookbook - KP AUTHORS COOK THEIR BOOKS.
The cover and link are just above on the right sidebar. (There's some Weakest Lynx backstory in there, too). ENJOY!

And as always, a big thank you stopping by. Thank you, too, for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Nature V. Nurture in Your Characters: Info for Writers

Nature V. Nurture is an interesting philosophical/psychological debate that has a great deal of import to the story lines that we are creating. Indeed, it is one of the themes that I am exploring in my new Lynx series, starting with Book One ~ Weakest Lynx.  

Buy It Now

In Weakest Lynx

What Lexi wants is a simple life. What she gets is simply terrifying.

Lexi Sobado is a 20-year-old experienced intelligence consultant with a special psychic gift. However, her gift couldn’t prevent her from becoming the focus of a stalker’s desires. With a death threat shoved in her purse, she finds herself caught in the middle of a sinister web of crime and corruption.

Striker Rheas, a seasoned special agent, is charged with keeping Lexi safe. But can he keep his personal life separate from his professional life as he finds himself falling for his assignment?

What Lexi hides, what she reveals, and what she keeps trying to uncover is a delicate balancing act as she tries to save her own life and stop the killer. Can Lexi learn to love, trust, and harness the power of her psychic flashes before it’s too late?


In Lexi Sobado I have crafted a golden girl. You all know at least one of these - the girl at your highschool who was a track star, an honor student, and the Homecoming Queen? But Lexi doesn't see herself as a standout amongst genetic award winners or even among those pushed and prodded by life's circumstances onto the awards' podium. She never got to show off on a public stage to get that kind of feedback. She thinks her skillsets are nothing special just different.

Lexi's parents kept her home to unschool her. Unschooling is like homeschool only less organized. Practically minded, her parents gave her a hands-on, real-world, useful education. She learned applied sciences from her dad, a mechanic, and creative expression from her mom, an artist. She also learned from her neighbors - anyone and everyone who had a skillset to teach her from martial arts by Master Wang at the dry cleaner to the locksmith across the way at the stripmall. Hairdressers, homemakers, primate zoologists are all part of the myriad  teachers who moved in and out of Lexi's life. Amongst them, Lexi's most beloved mentor was Spyder McGraw who trained her brain and her reflexes to follow her career goal of becoming a modern day Kung Fu Nancy Drew.

But here's the question - did Lexi's personal curiosity, drive, and acumen shape whom she became or was it her unusual background?

That's sort of like "which came first, the chicken or the egg?"
A person with low IQ and slow metabolism  would find Lexi's frenetic lifestyle impossible. A person who wasn't taught meditation and other stress management skills would have a hard time coping with the shit that kept hitting the fan in Lexi's life.

Obviously, the more we think about how our characters arrived at the people they are at the moment the story opens, the more three dimensional, believable, and interesting they will be for our readers. Think about your heroine.

  • What natural gifts was she born with?
  • Were they nurtured of left uncovered?
  • Did her life experience train her to overcome something she lacked in her genetic code?
  • What was her emotional state based on nurture?
    • How was she treated by the people in her life up until this point?
    • What would she expect of others in their reactions to her - the golden girl in high school may expect doors to open while the foster kid who changed schools every three or four months might expect all those doors to slam shut in her face.
    • What kinds of stresses had she endured?
    • Did her stress load teach her resilience? Or did it errode her ability to cope? 
  • What was her emotional state based on nature?
    • Gregarious?
    • Combative?
    • Assertive?
  • What was her emotional state based on her life's circumstances?
    • Was she taught to be demure and quiet?
    • Was she taught to fight for what she needs?
  • What are her physical capabilities?
    • Was she born with two-left feet?
    • Did her parents put her in every sports class they could find to help her develop stamina and coordination?
    • Is she more comfortable sitting on a couch and reading about/watching others in action?
    • Can she not sit still; does she always need to be in motion?
  • How does she interact with her environment?
    • Was she born a neat nick, feeling better able to cope when her environment isn't chaotic or does she prefer a lived-in look where she can feel more creative?
    • Did she develop OCD - an anxiety disorder - and need everything to be perfect?
    • Did she develop skillsets from a family who gave her chores? Or has she no clue how to do the basics because her mom preferred to do it herself or they had domestic help?
  • How does she interact with others?
    • Extravert?
    • Introvert?
    • Event dependent?
  • And what about the sixth sense?
    • Was your heroine born with the ability to read people? 
    • Does she get a "gut check" when things are going wrong?"
    • Was she trained to rely on data and weigh stats over using her intuition?
    • Where does she land on the spectrum of intuition and how is this augmented or downplayed by her spiritual background?
These types of questions can continue as you sit down and think about your character. Knowing their innate propensity can be a starting point - but what happens when nature conflicts with nurture? 
  • The boy who wants to play the violin and read books is born into a family of diehard football fans.  
  • The girl who wants to run and climb trees born into the family that wants to raise a princess. 
  • The family who raised a doctor - but that doctor only wants to paint.
Available for Pre-sale

Nature V. Nurture can create wonderful external conflict especially in the deeper relationships and in dire circumstances.  But also think of all of that delicious inner conflict that roils in the gut when our characters are pushed and pulled by sometimes opposing forces. Conflict makes for fabulous prose. 

Fiona Quinn's Newsletter Link, Sign up HERE
Thank you so much for stopping by. And thank you for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.


Sunday, March 29, 2015

Sword Play: Information for Writers with Eric Gates

Eric Gates
After several readers tweeted me requests this week for information on swords, I turned to Eric Gates.

Eric J. Gates has had a curious life filled with the stuff of thriller novels. Writing Operating Systems for Supercomputers, cracking cryptographic codes under extreme pressure using only paper and pen and teaching cyberwarfare to spies are just a few of the moments he’s willing to recall. He is an ex-International Consultant who has travelled extensively worldwide, speaks several languages, and has had articles and papers published in technical magazines in six different countries, as well as radio and TV spots. His specialty, Information Technology Security, has brought him into contact with the Military and Intelligence communities on numerous occasions.

He is also an expert martial artist, holding 14 black belt degrees in distinct disciplines. He has taught his skills to Police and Military personnel, as well as to the public.

He now writes thriller novels, drawing on his experiences with the confidential and secret worlds that surround us. 

Fiona - 
Welcome, Eric. As a martial artist of (WOW!) fourteen different black belt disciplines, swordsmanship is part and parcel of your training. Does it make a big difference about style issues in how a sword is used? Or is a sword a sword and every culture manipulates the weapon in the same way?

Eric - 

Good question. There are many similarities in using a sword and many differences too, that vary according to the styles and characteristics of the weapons.

In Japanese swordsmanship, a Daito (long sword) can be used one-handed (Kiritsuke) or with both hands (Kiri). In the case of a two-handed grip, each hand has a distinct and separate role. 
  • The right hand, behind the guard, is used to guide the blade on its journey. 
  • The left is used, with a pulling action, to impart power. 
  • Both hands are used, by twisting the wrists in opposite directions without slackening the grip, to stop the blade’s motion. 
  • The space between the hands is used to help create a ‘lever’-like action to impart speed to the tip.

As with all swords, the cuts are delivered not with the arms and shoulders (sorry Arnie) but with the lower part of the body (hips and legs). This was why in Japan the wearing of Hakama (the baggy pants) helped cover the feet and thus hid any clue as to how you were going to strike.

In fighting with a sword, not just the edge of the blade is used. 
  • Strikes to the opponent’s hands, arms, body and weapons using the guard and the handle, even the back (non-sharp) part of the blade are employed. 
  • The use of other objects, from parrying weapons to throwing weapons (to blind or distract opponents – shuriken [throwing blade] in Japan) were common too. As is the use of ‘unarmed’ combat techniques (Japanese: Aikijutsu) to unbalance, even throw the opponent, or capture their weapon and disarm them. 

Most sword fighting, from Scottish Claymore, English Broadsword, Arabian Scimitar, Chinese Jian, to Japanese katana use the body's movements as the means to deliver the strikes, especially the lower body. 


The Samurai (which means ‘one who serves’) would be given his swords by the Daimyo or Feudal Lord. The two swords are known together as a Daisho and consist of:
  • Daito (the long sword, commonly referred to as a katana in the West) 
  • and the Shoto (shorter, one-handed sword). 
  • In turn these may be completed by a dagger or Tanto, often used to finish off the opponent on the battlefield by slipping its blade under the neckpiece of their armour once they are on the ground. 
All three are worn in the belt (Obi) in such a way they can been individually drawn without getting in the way of each other. In the Nito (or two-sword) Style both the short and long katana blades are used together, the right hand using the Daito and the left the Shoto, and both can be drawn simultaneously by someone trained in these styles.

Fiona - 
Do you think that a Japanese sword could find its way into a piece of modern literature? Or do you think it's best left to a different time period?

Eric - 
Japanese swords have been used in modern literature - the one that immediately comes to mind is Eric Van Lustbader's 'Ninja' books. Set in the present but involving a lot of ancient Japanese weapons, not just swords. 

Historically, Japanese swords found their way over to China and to Europe, and more recently, many American soldiers brought them home after WWII. So it's not completely impossible that they could appear. In Movies we have the Highlander series, the Bob Mitchum film Yakuza and of course Michael Douglas in Black Rain.

Fiona -
Who would carry such a weapon and what would their minimal training/background be (unless they were a wannabe psycho who bought a sword off E-bay?)

Eric - 
Many wannabes out there! Also many bad (i.e. dangerous) swords. Over here in Spain, there's a huge industry in Toledo dedicated to making replica swords - both of real weapons from history, and the sort that turn up on GOT or Lord of the Rings. Anyone can buy them, but most are useless as anything other than wall-hangers - they are made from poured metal (hopefully, but not always steel) using molds. 

It takes a good year to learn the basics of how to use a sword - and I do mean basics. Otherwise the probability of injuring yourself or others is very high.

Fiona - 
The sword is an intimate weapon. And by that I mean there are ways to wound someone hands-off, guns being the prime example. What kind of personality might gravitate to the use of a sword as their weapon of choice. It's so different than a knife - convenient, small, close proximity battle while a sword is a dance really - arms length, full body...

Eric - 
Yes, I agree. Swords are an intimate weapon. Anyone can shoot a gun (apologies, milady) but just to make a basic strike with a sword means learning a skill that involves both mental and physical expertise. To then face an opponent, similarly armed, requires understanding strategy, tactics, body language, internal energies, terrain managment and being better with your sword than they are with theirs. Above all it require two things: patience and absolute relaxation in your body and mind. Someone who impulse-bought a sword on EBay doesn't seem to fit the bill.

Fiona -
When you read a sword scene in a book, what makes you roll your eyes and skim forward? (I'm thinking things that defy physics and anatomy here)

Eric - 
Two basic areas: all this nonsense about swords being imbued with magical properties when they are made because they are dipped in human blood (which would cause a hot piece of steel to warp and break instantly) etc. No, all they ever used was water (salted usually) or oil. Second issue is really a multiple. All the nonsense people repeat because they've seen it in a movie. I’d like to highlight five common mistakes regarding swords that Hollywood especially has propagated throughout the years:
  1. When placed on a display rack, the Japanese katana swords should never be simulating a smile, rather a grimace (i.e. a bump in the middle). I see this constantly in movie & TV. The reason is simply you do not want the wood on the inside of the scabbard (saya) in contact with the cutting edge when in storage. 
  2. You can always tell when a non-Japanese has trained an actor in wielding a katana – both hands will be gripping the sword handle (Tsuka) together. A Daito (the long sword) is gripped with the right hand behind the guard (Tsuba) and the left at the end of the handle. The space between allows for greater control and leverage during the strikes. In fact, the left-hand little finger and heart finger are the most important in gripping the sword (which may be why the Yakuza, the Japanese mafia, so fond of carrying katana, have to chop off the tip of their little finger in penance if they screw up something – this would make using a sword efficiently extremely difficult and result in the decline of their importance in the organization). Usually when I see this, the instructors for the movie/TV show are Chinese as this manner of gripping the two-handed sword is Chinese, not Japanese, in origin. 
  3. A mistake made often by fantasy writers: in a battle scenario, the kind of sword you want to have is one which can slash and hack. The ‘coolness’ of a rapier-like blade is offset by its impracticality in this kind of situation as superficial cuts and stabbing don’t get the job done. This kind of weapon was employed for one-on-one duelling (especially in France) and is just not suitable (even for small girls, sorry GOT fans) as they are easy to break when they go up against a more solid blade. Incidentally, this is probably why certain writers imbue their dainty weapons with ‘magical’ properties. 
  4. Remember that scene in Kill Bill 2 in the trailer - just wouldn't happen. Anyone with a minimum of training can draw a sword within the width of their body, flip it around so the pointy bit is aimed at the opponent and strike... and do it quickly. Plenty of room to swordfight in a trailer - could this be a new sport? 
  5. Another fallacy - sword weights and the huge, bulked up people that many would believe are needed to use them. Most swords, worldwide and throughout history were between 1 and 2 kilos. Those big battle broadswords used in the middle ages rarely exceeded 4 kilos. You need to remember that moving something of a certain weight at a speed that would allow kinetic energy to help do some damage will tire you out even if you look like Schwarzenegger. (Incidentally, when he was filming Conan in Cuenca in Spain, he trained with a Japanese friend of mine at the Japanese Cultural Centre in Madrid - they didn't get on, to say the least - Arnie wanted a lot of twirling and stuff - useless - and the swordmaster wanted to teach classic swordfighting - Arnie left after a couple of weeks.)

Fiona - 
LOL - why does that not surprise me about Arnold? I love the phrase "terrain management" - I'm assuming this means you don't trip over the brambles in the pathway?

Eric -
Terrain management refers to the place where you fight. You see many movie fights staged on flat areas with no obstacles. That doesn't happen. The footing could be icy, sandy, rocky, uneven, a mountain track 
with a drop-off, a small room...You have to know how to use the environment to your advantage, and to the opponents' disadvantage as well 

After searching old backup copies of stuff on DVDs I came across the attached pic. It shows several interesting aspects of TM. The technique we did took place on the edge of a small wood on a very sunny day, relatively early in the morning - hence the dappled lighting effect. 
Now depending on where you were standing, your form and movements were diffused by this - instant camouflage as the human eye tries to adjust to the sharp localised differences in light.

I used this by applying an Aikijutsu technique which spun the other guy around so his face was pointed into the sunlight. I then applied pressure to his knees with my own, taking advantage of the slope of the hill and loose dirt underfoot, to make him lose his balance. Capturing his left elbow and steering it using the grip of my own sword, resulted in the point of his weapon piercing the earth, thus reducing its threat level to me. Finally, I moved in for the 'kill' cut with a reverse forward grip on my own Daito.

Fiona - 
So very interesting.
Thank you so much.
Learning in a Do jang. I often thought we should be training in real life situations. And real life clothing. I think that's a big hole in MA training.

Eric - 
The gear we wear for sword training, from the tabi shoes through the Hakama pants and wide-sleeved jackets, is exactly what was worn by the samurai when not using armour. The latter, even replica, is far too expensive for training purposes, so it's as good as it gets. 

When I teach self-defence, we do train with street clothing though, and common improvised weapons. That's the basic difference between (using the Japanese terminology) a -do (such as Karate-do, Ju-do, Aiki-do etc) and a -jutsu. It's not just about the former being focused on competition (even if it's just about doing a better Kata than the rest); it's a state of mind. 

Modern clothing is not designed for fighting, so it makes an interesting element to take into consideration both negatively (what you can't do) and positively (what your opponents can't do) and exploiting the latter is half of the fun. 

Also being able to fight inside vehicles, subways, aircraft, trains, and all the other places we take for granted in our lives is so different from what you learn on a tatami (for example, I learnt to roll out of throws on a marble floor - that way you get it right the first time or it hurts). The change in perspective is also remarkable: you see your world in a different way. That magazine on the table, the coaster under your drink, the coffee in your cup, the mug itself, the pencil in your pocket, the chair you're sitting on etc all become potential long as you know how to use them. 

And no, it's not about learning Jason Bourne-like techniques with a rolled-up newspaper; it's a mentality-shift, based solidly on science (physics, anatomy and math, mainly geometry) which can be taught and easily assimilated with a little practice. 

My own approach is what I call the "toolbox method." There's no point learning specific techniques to counter predefined situations because the odds of that situation happening exactly as you practiced are pretty remote. So the trick is to have a stack of options available, easily combined amongst themselves, to respond. Just like the handyman who is faced with a repair - he may not have the precise tool he needs, but he does have the knowledge of what needs to be done and what the capabilities of his tools he has will allow. It's the Swiss Army Knife/MacGiver mentality at work; all about breaking mental boundaries. 

Fiona - 
Funnily enough, I unschooled my kids and their education is based on what I call my "Toolbox Philosophy." 

I'm interested in the concept you mentioned  about being relaxed in mind and body. THAT is a task easier accomplished in a setting with a sparring partner - what does one do to prepare for a real battle with a vicious enemy? How does one learn to maintain or compartmentalize the adrenaline so that they can stay in their place of Zen quietude and perform at top level?

Eric - 
It's not Zen, as such. The Japanese call it Mushin (literally 'No Soul'). It's like a blank slate on which you are waiting for someone to write something. It is not easy to learn yet all competent fighters, of any discipline, usually have this. It frees your training and your body. Many 'arts' teach you to maintain a tense body position (Karate for example) yet any muscle group MUST relax before it can move a limb so tensing beforehand, then relaxing just wastes time. It's a dance, as you say. The more relaxed you are, the more you go with the music and integrate your movements with your partner/opponents then the better things will go for you. 

Fiona - 
What do you want us to know about the sword experience so we can translate it into our writing. By this, I'm really asking if you can share how it feels to you - the weight in your hand, the air whistling past the blade, what happens to your body when you are struck or conversely land a strike. This is a huge hard question.

Eric -
Okay, I'll give it a go: In combat, sword or otherwise, you strive to attain a state where you trust your training to keep you out of trouble. There's no time to think out a move, your body is being hammered with adrenaline too, as you say, which can play havoc with basic control. Then there's the amygdala and the fight or flight issue. If you choose to fight, you can give in to an adrenaline-fueled reaction (and become much easier to defeat). So maintaining calmness especially in your mind, and the body relaxed, opens the door to whatever you need.

When fighting, you are not conscious of holding a weapon. If you have trained well, it has become an extension of your own body, like moving a hand or foot. You don't think, just do. That sounded very Yoda-like, didn't it - I'm even turning green - must be the adrenaline!

 After it's all over, then you notice the adrenaline and throw up!

Adrenaline and heave definitely go together.

Fiona - 
Yes, my heroine from my Lynx series, Lexi, vomits a lot. Poor girl.

What do you wish I had asked you today?

Eric - 
Best sword in the world? 
This is a discussion that has been raging for, probably, centuries. Some say the Japanese katana blade, others those made from Toledo steel and yet others, the famous Damascus steel blades. For a combat sword to be outstanding, it needs to be both strong and flexible (did you know you can bend a good Daito blade sideways almost back on itself without it breaking), relatively lightweight and easy to maintain on the battlefield....

And, why do I look so fat in that video?
I have a habit of stuffing notebooks and coloured pens down the front of my training jacket to explain stuff in class - occasionally other weapons to throw etc. as a surprise for the students. What I had that day, I can't remember - probably as it was a Black Belt class, the notebook and pens.

Fiona - 
Before I ask the obligatory question about death-defying experiences, I wanted to tell folks that Eric's book won

GoodReads BOOK of the MONTH February 2015


Outsourced - 
Outsourced’ features a New York-based writer of thriller novels who receives a mysterious package from a fan. That fan turns out to be a professional killer. That’s just the start of the writer’s problems; problems that escalate way beyond anything he could have imagined on the pages of his novels, as death and destruction follow rapidly.

Just when matter cannot get any worse for the novelist, he learns a high-tech Intelligence agency has been tasked with obtaining the contents of the package too, and they will stop at nothing to achieve that goal. They have their own global agenda. The agent assigned to the task is out of her depth working on US soil and her methods are unsuited to a civilian environment. As pressure mounts for her to achieve results, she becomes more and more radical in her approach.

And, if that’s not enough… the sender wants it back, and his methods are even more direct and violent! He believes the contents of the package were used to try to kill him and his aim is to recover them and exact his revenge on the writer.

Fiona - 
Were any  of your scars made with the tip of a sword?

Eric - 
Scars - yes I have a few but can't tell you where or how I got them, sorry, (none of them from a sword though.) I do have the one on my forehead from when I did a science experiment at age 4 - what's the hardest, my head or a ceramic tile? Guess which won?

Harrowing experiences? Jumped between skyscrapers and got shot at on the same day when doing a security penetration test for a client... no more details available. Does that count? How about being scheduled to fly one morning, cancelling at the last minute due to clients' planning issue and aircraft falls from sky killing all aboard (I recently heard that it may have been a bomb with another passenger as the target).

Fiona - 
Yowza! Now here I am with the dilemma - if travelling with you, do I insist that we are side by side for my own protection? Or do I require my own car and separate hotels for my own protection? 

Eric - thank you so much for such fabulous plotting fodder. So incredibly interesting. 

If you'd like to stay in touch with Eric here are some handy links:

Fiona Quinn's Newsletter Link, Sign up HERE
Thank you so much for stopping by. And thank you for your support. Cheers,When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.