How to Chop off someone’s head with a sword

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Oct 232014
 

Christian Klaver has been a close friend of mine for many years, and he's one of those guys it's impossible not to like. He's friendly and gregarious and always has something interesting to say. He's also a terrific writer (you can find some of his work here) and a formidable martial artist. 

I sent him a message asking about katanas and samurai swords: "Hey, you know how in Walking Dead, Michonne is always chopping zombie's heads off with one swipe of her katana? Is that actually possible in real life? It seems like cutting someone's head clean off would be harder than that. I need answers!!"

His answer was so fantastic I had to share it here on the blog. Hope you get as much out of it as I did. Thanks, Christian!

"I can help. Mostly, yes. I totally think it would work, but not quite they portray it. And not indefinitely. A sword would certainly do damage to a person’s neck, though a decap would be unlikely. The proper stroke for a katana includes a pulling motion so the sword slides to cut. Think about the slide you have to do cutting food. (They always show it like she’s hitting with a bat, just straight through, which wouldn’t work on a person. On a super sharp sword, maybe once, maybe, before you dulled the crap out of your sword. Also probably not right through the skull like they often show. It would, sooner rather than later, just chunk into the flesh and bone like an axe into wood, and stick. (Especially if you don’t slide!) You almost never see that in the show. That goes double when you see her whipping it around with one hand. It’s meant to be used with two, hands spaced as far apart as you can for leverage. Now if zombies are decayed and gooier than people, that might allow a lot more latitude.
I was part way through this post and did a little research. You can find a ton of sites with people putting swords through bottles of water and occasionally a hunk of beef. It would do lethal damage to a person no problem. So certainly a zombie. Hell, even a non-sharp sword would do the trick if you had all the time in the world and weren’t worried about getting stuck. It’s when you want to do it repeatedly, with no hang-ups, then it gets unbelievable. Also, most of the time, these are made out of not great metal. So after a few dozen zombies, I’d think you'd break it sooner or later. (We just found out the Michonne found hers, which makes this even more likely.)
There’s a site with a real Samurai Master declaring “there are only a handful of people on the planet who could effectively use a katana in battle. For the rest of us it would be nothing more than a recipe for certain death.” I get where he’s coming from, but I think he’s overstating the case. He’s thinking of combat against an armed opponent that knows what he’s doing, where you’d be hitting metal (sword on sword, armor, etc). Zombie fighting is kind of the cake walk of combat, it’s only in attrition that they’re dangerous, right? Any length of metal will do the trick, Kouno, I’m pretty sure a katana could dispatch a zombie ok, buddy.

 If I had to pick for me, tomorrow, for under $100, my top choice would be the Kukri. (I like this one with the lanyard so you can lose it as easily.) Small enough you could get a good metal one. Or a good old machete.

If I had to pick out of my basement, I would certainly use my katana (with backup machete). And, you know, a fucking rifle and pistol. Sure, the katana won’t last forever, but it’ll last until I find something better.
 
Honorable mention to this tactical tomahawk, which wouldn’t ever break, I think, unlike the less-than stellar metal of the $30 Chinese Broadsword above
Practical, but not anywhere near as sexy as a sword.
That being said, I’ve never actually had a problem with Michonne’s swordwork in walking dead while I’m watching her. It’s a little bit of a stretch because she does it one-handed and she’s kind of skinny, but so cool that I’m willing to go with it."

My friends are awesome, right?

More behind the scenes at a publishing house

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Oct 232014
 

Yesterday and today we held the sales conferences here at Llewellyn Worldwide. Midnight Ink and Flux, our mystery and young adult imprints went yesterday. Today was the Llewellyn line and the companies we distribute for. But what happens at sales conference?

Sales conf power point

First we all gather in the conference room. Attending departments - sales, publicity, marketing, acquisitions, production, and art. Aren't we an attractive bunch? I stunned them into silence by telling them to shut it (my boys have rubbed off on me...)

Sales conf photo

Sales conference is basically me giving everyone else a sales pitch. Each editor has his or her own style. My style comes straight from being a bookseller. I give a short synopsis, but almost never any spoilers, and then some interesting facts about the author, the series, or the plot. Then the fun begins... anyone in the room can then chime in or ask me any random question connected to the author or the book. And let me tell you, the questions are often off the wall. I can talk about the Midnight Ink books or authors all day long - but the question time is the most nerve-wracking since I may, gasp, not know the answer!

Ok, that rarely happens. Mostly because I over prepare so I am not in that position. The week leading up to sales conference, I create, with the help of Kelly (who does our contracts and a million other things we need to keep the machine running), a one-sheet. The one-sheet is all the information the sales department needs to sell the book:

  • physical description of the book (page count, trim size, price)
  • rights we have retained
  • synopsis
  • author bio
  • setting or location
  • comparable titles (complete with ISBNs and bookscan numbers)
  • audience
  • silver bullet (one line that sums up the plot)
  • series status (book 2 of three contracted, for example)

Usually while I am creating the one-sheets, I also create my powerpoint presentation. The powerpoint focuses mainly on the book cover, as well as key critical reviews or endorsements.

No rest for me though. I have six more launch meetings - three on Monday and three on Tuesday - and then the Fall 2016 catalog will be closed. Of course I still need to acquire a few titles for Winter 2016. Better get on that soon.

Tomorrow is one of the best things I get to do as an acquiring editor. I am road tripping down to Madison, WI with one of my authors for a signing. What makes this extra special - it's at the mystery bookstore I used to own. I haven't been there since I sold it and moved up to Minnesota. It has changed hands and names since I sold it, but nevertheless I am very excited. The following week is Halloween at Llewellyn, and let me tell you, that is a big deal! More on that next week. After Halloween I am heading down to Milwaukee for a little Murder and Mayhem with the Jordans (Crimespree magazine, frequent Bouchercon organizers and all around fabulous people). Bouchercon is just around the corner as well. Yep, this editor has a pretty full dance card. Just the way it is supposed to be.

Have a great week y'all! Happy reading.

Oct 232014
 
The Marksman #10: Open Contract, by Frank Scarpetta March, 1974  Belmont Tower Books The previous volume of The Marksman ended with Philip Magellan on the French Riviera, where he was planning to continue waging his war against the Mafia in France. So then it only makes sense that this volume opens with Magellan in Houston, Texas, with absolutely no mention of the events of the preceding two
Oct 232014
 
Singapore is the place today in our further adventures of Traveling the Globe. Singapore is also called the Republic of Singapore and is a sovereign city state in Southeast Asia. And it lies off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula.
 

Singapore Downbeat 
by Mark Corrigan


Corrigan and Tucker are in Singapore where they each have an assignment. He must look into the activities of a Mr. Sin, a man deeply involved in the smuggling of synthetic gold. She has to check out an event with a poisoned pen. Somehow they must find a way to help each other.
 
Two Died in Singapore
by John Sherwood 
 

Charles Blessington was tired of being in Singapore and wanted to go home from his temporary assignment. Then someone he knows is murdered and suddenly he determined to stay.

The Singapore Exile Murders
by F Van Wyck Mason
 

The area is Southeast Asia for this assignment which has Hugh North going against agents from a good assortment of nations, all vying for control of formula for greatly improved steel used in military armor. North gets promoted to Major in this adventure.

Suddenly At Singapore
by Gavin Black


The sudden, violent death of his brother and partner, Jeff, sends Paul Harris into action as he is determined to learn who was being the murder. Since the two brothers had for some time been involved in smuggling guns to rebels fighting in Malaysia, it seemed a sure bet the cause lay there.
 Posted by at 7:30 am

Craft Tip #4 – Dialogue

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Oct 232014
 

The key to writing good dialogue is putting yourself into the character’s shoes and becoming them when they’re talking. The secret to writing better dialogue is to be a ruthless editor who uses common sense rather than some set of arbitrary rules developed for academic or journalistic writing.

As an example, people often repeat the same word when they’re talking. Listen to any conversation. They also say things like um, and uh, and you know, and kind of, and like, all the rest of the “sloppy” catalog of things you’re advised to excise from your writing. The problem is that if you follow that counsel you’ll wind up with dialogue that sounds nothing like the way people talk. So you need to own your characters and pay attention to how people actually speak in the real world, which is easier than it sounds.

Stephen King is a master of dialogue, in that his characters immediately sound genuine when we meet them. They’re fully formed and consistent. There’s no pretension. They sound like people do. That should be your benchmark.

When you’re done with a dialogue-heavy scene, read it aloud. Act it out. Be the characters. How do they sound? Like some bad version of a Mamet play, or like real people? If they sound anything but genuine and natural get out your red pen, because your job ain’t over. You gave birth to these people. You’re responsible for them being believable.

And of course, when you write dialogue, you should apply the same question you do with everything else: What’s the point? If you know the reason you have dialogue in a scene, whether to move the plot along or to offer the reader insights into some aspect of the characters’ inner workings via that verbal window, understand the objective before you write the dialogue. It’ll go way better for you and the reader if you do.

There are countless books available on how to write decent dialogue. I’d advise you to read some of them, but if you don’t, I just basically told you what’s in them.

The only other thing I’ll add is that less is more in dialogue. If you can communicate things non-verbally, such as state of mind or attitude, do so. If a guy walks onto a crowded bus and seems like he’s about ready to explode with rage, how would we know it in real life? There would be nonverbal tells. Clues. We’d see things. Maybe his coloring. Maybe the way he looks at people. Maybe his expression. Maybe he sighs, barely controlling his anger. Maybe he’s breathing differently, or grinding his teeth, or his eyes are narrowed, his nostrils flaring, jaw muscle pulsing, lips thinning, whatever. There are dozens of ways to convey his state of mind so that when he does say something, we instantly know this man’s pissed, and his words are only a small part of the powder keg that is his temperament at the moment.

Dialogue is as much about what’s said as what isn’t. If you view every bit of it as an important opportunity to inform the reader of important clues about the characters, you’ll wind up with far more interesting scenes. And if you pare the dialogue down to what’s essential to getting the point across, you’ll be ahead of the game.

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10 for 10

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Oct 232014
 
I made the mistake of checking in on Facebook today, only to discover that there’s a new meme going around. The challenge, as Brian Lindenmuth of Spinetingler Magazine presented it to me, is to name your “top 10 favorite crime books from 2004-2013. Ten only. No cheating by squeezing more titles in.” I immediately went to my annual tallies of the works I’ve read and tried to cull out one per year … which immediately turned into two or three a year … which ultimately left me with 25 titles, rather than 10. I whittled away from that point, finally coming up with this imperfect list, in alphabetical order:

The Blackhouse, by Peter May
Bye Bye, Baby, by Max Allan Collins
City of Dragons, by Kelli Stanley
House of the Hunted, by Mark Mills
Little Green, by Walter Mosley
Peeler, by Kevin McCarthy
A Quiet Flame, by Philip Kerr
Rosa, by Jonathan Rabb
The Song Is You, by Megan Abbott
Wolves Eat Dogs, by Martin Cruz Smith

I’m not going to tag anyone with the responsibility of following me in this daunting venture. But if you wish to submit your own choices, please do so under the Comments tab below.
Oct 222014
 


What movies do you hate that everyone else loves?


Doesn't it make you crazy when there’s a movie out that’s real popular and all your friends love it but you don’t? It’s like you're totally out of step with pop culture – and is there a worse fate than that? I’ve listed some movies that were boxoffice dandies and zeitgeist zeniths but just didn’t do it for me. You’re going to look at this list and be outraged over a couple. But that’s the whole idea. I KNOW you and most everyone in the world likes these movie but for whatever reason I hate 'em.   Sorry.  I do.   I’ve also left out films from genres I just don’t care for, so it’s unfair to dump on SAW III. And I won’t go to see a Katherine Heigl or Nancy Meyer romcom. Just loathe ‘em.  I know what I’m going to get. And I’m never not being disappointed in being disappointed.

So this is my partial list. I’d be curious. What’s yours? And I’ll make you a deal. If you don’t rip me for not liking LINCOLN I won’t attack you for not liking AMERICAN BEAUTY (although, seriously, what’s wrong with you?).

ENGLISH PATIENT
Last Batman movie
Last Superman movie
CRASH
MATCH POINT
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
NEIGHBORS
LORD OF THE RINGS
LINCOLN
THE NATURAL
NEBRASKA
THE DESCENDENTS
MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING
LES MISERABLES
YOU’VE GOT MAIL
MOULIN ROUGE
LUCY
IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE