My Invisible Foes Fear Me: On Swordplay and Storytelling

You’ve never fully lived until you’ve leapt across Brooklyn rooftops with a sword in your hand. In retrospect, midday beneath a hot summer sun, it was not my cleverest idea, but at the time it seemed like the only thing that made any sense. I was renting a top floor apartment with three of my best friends in the late nineties, a period both glorious and deeply dysfunctional—hence the thinking it fine for me to leap over the low walls between buildings with a Thai short sword. I guess I was going through my fantasy hero stage. For better and worse, I’m not sure it ever ended.

I’d bought the sword on the streets of Chiang-Mai while on a spoiled-kid trip to Thailand in high school—meant to teach me about the world as I learned the value of service working in a refugee camp. I learned all sorts of things, and got into all sorts of adventure along the way. Broke my collarbone playing musical chairs; made out for the first time on a beach in Ko Samet; chewed beetle-nut with a group of monks and town elders as they laughed at me; got my palm read by the most convincing psychic I’ve ever met. I had, until that point, spent much of my time in a distracted fantasy, focused on worlds within books, movies, myths, and RPGs. I think that trip, and specifically that sword, introduced me to the glorious potential of reality—but only part way.

Back home, I took the hand guard off the sword with a hacksaw, reinforced the wobbly hilt with green duct tape, and set to wielding it against my invisible foes. It was not sharp or well crafted, but the balance was just right and it was mine. That little blade and I became as one, except when it spun out of my grip to clatter across the floor or clipped an unintended inanimate object. By the time I’d made it to those Brooklyn rooftops, I was seven years deep into my fake training and ready to find my way to the world next door.

I’d made it across four buildings and had started to get cocky with my slash-and-stab routine before a concerned homeowner decided to see who was dancing about his roof like a moron. I have little doubt that if I’d been a person of color, the guy would have called the cops or worse when he found me leaping between his topiaries with the 19″ blade cutting my unseen foes with satisfying snicks.

As it was, the poor fellow freaked out pretty hard, ill prepared to face the crazed, four-eyed white boy that greeted him with sword in hand. There was an edge of panic in his voice as he began shouting. I promptly dropped the blade, put my hands in the air and started apologizing. I talked him down from calling the police and quickly slinked back the way I came with the blade dangling limply at my side. I like to believe that he thought I was pretty impressive with my moves before he’d interrupted, maybe even wondering, who was that guy as I retreated, but in a cool way.

I was not dissuaded. In fact, a cohesive blend of fantasy and reality, myth and the here-and-now, seemed like the answer to all of my big questions. One Halloween, a year after that, I dressed in a tattered rabbit costume and brought the blade into Prospect Park at night to look for monsters. I’d rigged a way to strap the wooden sheath handle down beneath my burnt and torn bunny suit, ready for an underhand draw. I crept through the woods and across fields just because I thought I could. Always half-cognizant that I was surely to be seen as the very monster I was hunting were anyone to notice. Luckily, nobody but the invisible goblins saw me that time, and they didn’t live to tell the tale.

On another mission, I spotted a car thief from my regular perch on the roof and stopped his nefarious deeds with the haunting words from above, “I see you, car thief”. That was the best I could do in the moment, but you know, heroism.

You should see the way the blade almost cuts through a tissue box. And a balloon, forget about it! I’ve learned the height and reach of every ceiling and wall I’ve lived between, and no roommate or the wife has ever commented on the nicks in the drywall I’ve left behind from my battles.

The scabbard has long since broken, and I tried and failed to give the blade a proper sharpness a few years back, but that trusty sword still rests against the wall within arms reach of my desk. I’m not saying it’s a magic sword, but I’m not saying it isn’t either. Every famed blade deserves a name. I named my sword Li’l Bastard after my dear dead cat and the cursed Porsche 550 Spyder that James Dean died in. I’m sure Freud would have plenty to say about all this.

Perhaps I believed in the fantasy a little too much, convinced that if I tried hard enough, trained right, and searched it out, that I would find real magic along the way, and that when I did, I would be ready to answer the call. I thought that maybe I was destined for grander things, other worlds calling to just me—places and beings that I could almost see and feel, but not. My understanding of the ratio of effort and expectation was always a bit light on the former and tipped to the ladder, and the slow comedown was filled with plenty of claws and self-evisceration as the years ticked by.

Somewhere along the way I settled a bit, stopped tilting at windmills quite so much, and figured maybe I should try to write instead of struggling to live a story that never quite came into focus. In time, that ratio balanced out and then finally tipped toward productivity. My thirties have come and gone, wife, kid, couldn’t afford to stay in Brooklyn and write—the cookie-cutter standard. I’m still not even sure if I’m a better fake sword fighter or writer, but the writing thing seems to make more sense these days. Lot of stuff I hope to get down on paper, many invisible enemies yet to kill…but I still like to keep my sword arm on the cusp of ready, you know, just in case.

I may not have become the super hero I probably am in an alternate universe, but my pre-arthritic carpel tunnel wrists can spin that little sword with deft cuts that would have wowed both the unsuspecting man and the idiot boy on that Brooklyn roof twenty years back.

I never found my battlefield to become the hero, but I suppose I’ve found a new way to slay the army of goblins and dragons in my mind. And I’m pretty sure my invisible foes are more scared of me than ever.

This post originally appeared at Tor.com:

 

Plummeting Over the Tipping Point

There is something so engaging about a blank word document. It invites and promises not to judge. Before anything is established and the rules are set, the unspoiled page is the ultimate symbol of possibility. Blank of drivel or filler, free of a meandering narrative that doesn’t know where it’s going, just moving along for the sake of movement itself. True, there is no genius on the page either—but the potential for genius has never been closer to grasp…

But this is not true when that blank page is the first page of a sequel. The blankness is an illusion, and all the baggage, rules, character struggles, and failures of the previous effort are there in the margins waiting to be dealt with. Writing sequels is hard, but hard writing is good writing, or at least that’s what I tell myself in this current state of my writing life. I am halfway through Book 2: The Five Claws, of The Tipping Point Prophecy series, and it is by far the hardest book I have yet tackled.

To date, I have written three and a half novels. The first was an almost 900 page epic fantasy novel that I wrote in a vacuum and thought was a work of seminal genius, only to later discover that it was, in fact, a rambling mess that couldn’t find a champion and now waits to be revived in a dark box… Learned a lot, picked myself up, try again. The second book was The Elementalists, which managed to fight its way to the light of day with the help of agents and publishers alike, and continues to battle its way out of obscurity to earn an audience. The third was a fast and mean dark-fantasy exercise that was a joy to write and will hopefully soon be a joy to read. Then there’s the fourth book…

Having a story to share and enough words to tell it has never been my problem. I have always thought in epic terms—multiple characters, high-stakes, changing perspectives and world building, blending of reality, myth, science, and magic. I seem to write big books in big stories that will take multiple titles to tell. Even that first 900 pager was just book one of a trilogy. But now, with Tipping Point Book 2: The Five Claws, I am finally putting my fingers to the test and expanding a world into fertile series territory.

Inspiration cannot be waited on and in my experience should rarely be trusted when it finally shows. The only way forward is “ass in chair,” though I’m not sure who I’m quoting with that one. I’ve written the first half of this book twice so far—once to get all the characters, events and radical shifts of the world onto the page, and a second time to make sense of all the moving pieces. Now I get to go ahead and write the second half of the book, and I’m thrilled at the look and feel of the blank page once more. But I already know that I’ll have to go back again to make those first 170 pages of material not just make sense, but sing at the same time. It’s been like pulling teeth and I still have a few teeth left to yank.

Certain chapters of that hefty chunk of book have been torturous to get through, (I’m glowering at you 10a, 11b and pretty much all of 12) but I bet that when this whole thing is done later this year, and I begin to share it with my beta readers, that those sections will stand out as some of the best I’ve written. Not because it came easy, or flowed the way some passages seem to as if I’m taking dictation from a cockier version of myself that rarely sticks around for long, but precisely because it sucked to get down on the page. All the hair wringing, hand biting, and pensive stares out the window forcing me to do better, write truer, and fight against the page to earn whatever audience these words will be lucky to one day receive.

The white of the page is meaningless, it’s finding the rhythm in all those little black letters that has the potential to make someone other than myself care. Most sequels are less good than the book that came before, and a lot of first books don’t deserve the sequels they’re given. I’d even say this is true for some of the best selling titles out there—those lucky few whose first book goes big because the fates aligned in your favor.

I’m not one of them, though I wanted to be, as we all do. Instead, this series will benefit from my ongoing battle for every reader I get. I will try my best, and I promise that this story will only get bigger, better, and bolder as it goes.

I promise to not talk down to you—you’re too smart for that. I won’t flinch away or gloss over the hard topics or challenging moments. Teens, adults, ancient dragons—all real characters with struggles and nuance. The world didn’t end fifty years ago with a new dystopian hierarchy conveniently reconstructed in its ashes—it’s ending now, around us, every day, and we are the only ones who can do anything about it.

I’ve gone over the tipping point, and before I hit the bottom of whatever is on the other side, I’m going to earn your eyeballs and drag you over with me. It should, at the very least, be a good ride down.

Top Favs with C. Sharp

Here’s an interview I did for Chapter by Chapter about books, writing, and the like.

You’re home alone, there’s a fire!  Top 3 things you’d grab and save from the fire.

My computer, my wife’s grandmother’s bracelet, my daughter’s stuffed dog. (Depending on location of fire, I may forgo the stuffed dog for the “magic” staff I whittled as a child and use nightly in daughter’s bedtime ritual)

Top 3 Favorite authors (dead or alive) and why

Dan Simmons: is the author who I have read more books by than any other. He’s had a long, varied and always impressive career that flits between sci-fi, horror, fantasy, literary fiction, and on. Not being so easily pigeonholed as a writer of one genre is hard and impressive and he pulls all of it off with competence and moments of genius. I aspire to one day have such a career.

J.R.R Tolkien: I have always loved fantasy novels, and this fellow laid the groundwork for most of what came after. Not always the best writer or most disciplined storyteller, but no one can beat him for the sheer scope and genius of his world building. The elves he created are real, with language and history and sorrow. His contribution has informed the subconscious of all writers to follow.

H.P. Lovecraft: This guy makes the list for the same reasons as J.R.R above, but H.P. was an even more egregiously sloppy writer and at times lazy storyteller. He was also by all accounts a fairly horrible human in his personal beliefs, but for the deep lasting effect he’s had on moulding the horror genre, he must be recognized. His twisted, occult saturated, and cosmically bleak Cthulhu mythos have had a strong and lasting effect on my imagination. Many of his themes of ancient, sleeping, godlike beings, that will one day wake to destroy mankind have directly informed and influenced the Tipping Point Prophecy series.

Top 3 Favorite snacks while writing and why

Cold water and plenty of it. For me, water, not coffee, is the staple beverage of sitting at a desk all day/night. Lot’s of water, lot’s of trips to the bathroom – it keeps the juices flowing, LITERALLY. I’m not a huge desk snacker, but when I snack it’s Snyder’s of Hanover Sourdough Hard Pretzels and Haribo Gold-Bears – because they are the best snack items in creation and I DEFY you to deny it!

Read the rest of the interview at Chapter by Chapter.

 

The Age of Dragons: C. Sharp on the Allure of These Popular Creatures

Here’s a little piece I wrote on the allure of DRAGONS for the RT Book Reviews site. I’m a nerd. Happy Halloween!

What is it about them that make us, young and old alike, fascinated with the concept, form and imagining of dragons? Legends of dragon-like creatures have existed in almost every culture across the globe for thousands of years, likely carried down via prehistoric oral tradition prior to that. They touch upon something at the core of our human psyche — equally as fascinating/terrifying/alluring to my five-year-old daughter as they are to me. They are the elements personified, apex predators, as well as the physical embodiment of magic, wisdom and the unification of all animals in one perfected shape…

Read the full piece at RT Book Reviews.

D-Day (D for Dragons)

This is an odd thing to write, as I’m well aware that no one, to date, is actually following this blog. I am, I suppose, writing this purely to, and for, myself, with the sidebar hope that perhaps someday, someone might care enough to wander along and find such things. Tomorrow my first book will be published and available. THE ELEMENTALISTS (by C. Sharp—who’s that clown?) is, in fact, the second book I’ve written, the first being a 900 page epic dark-fantasy novel that waits for redemption in a drawer. This one was supposed to be short and easy by comparison, but of course it became an almost 500 page epic in its own right, with multiple sequels to follow. I guess that’s just how I roll.

I’ve been at this writing pipe dream now for twelve active years — writing at night after long grueling day jobs, and often sacrificing my social life and career goals in the pursuit of some sort of creative expression. I have made a lot of stupid, self defeating mistakes along the way, and have discovered that I’m not nearly as good at writing as I had at first believed.

Lessons have been learned, expectations have been checked, but I still can’t seem to shake the, sometimes torturous, belief that I am meant to write stories for people to possibly read. I think I’m getting better at it as I go. I think this YAish dragon book is fun and that a not insignificant group of people out there would really enjoy it if they get the chance. In a hugely bloated market, where most books struggle to reach the surface for years, and then breach the water for a moment only to be sucked back down by the current, it will be a hard-fought battle to find/earn eyeballs and attention.

So much depends on luck, timing, a vocal readership, and a good product (that I may or may not have) but I am thankful that I have this opportunity to sink or swim and for the people along the way who have helped me to navigate the choppy water.

I love you all, and since I am likely the only person paying attention today, that means I love you too, me. That’s something that I’ve struggled with above all; a struggle that seems to be endemic to many writers—loving yourself. Still working on it, but getting better.

I have many more books to come. I believe that one day I will impress you. Maybe that day will be tomorrow? Maybe twenty years from now? But it’s coming. You’ll see.

HUZZAH!

-chris

When They Brought These Wolves Into The Park, They Had No Idea This Would Happen

For those who argue that humans can’t change/effect environment, here’s a small example of how we can so easily throw the whole system out of whack. Now think of our influence on the way things work or slip into disfunction on a global scale… Sobering.

40,000-Year-Old Asian Cave Paintings Shock Archaeologists: Reconsidering History – The Epoch Times

Across the world, people were making art at least 40,000 years ago. I find this oddly reassuring.

malformalady:

A boxed-set of 50, circa1880, antique prosthetic glass eyes

Almost Halloween: put some Witches’ Brew in your ear-holes!

 

Man survives lightning strike that knocks him clear out of his boots