Friday, August 10, 2012

Fight Scene from Girl Punches Out (Sen No Sen)

They stared at each other for what seemed like hours, but was probably only a few seconds. Emily’s heart was divided. The loudest noise in her head demanded that she kill this woman, tear her life away. The notion that it might be the only way to end the threat she posed to her family and friends was not a part of this calculus, true as it probably was. A single strike to her throat would suffice. She found the prospect repugnant, even viscerally nauseating. Ba We would have struck her down in an instant, without any hesitation. Why couldn’t she?
As her breath moved in the familiar pattern, Emily could feel the hatred in Miss Park’s heart. She tasted her fear, as well as her resentment. But what did Miss Park resent her for? “She sought me out,” Emily thought. “She attacked my family, destroyed my life.” There was nothing to account for it. But deep down, without exactly knowing what it could mean, she felt how her apparent serenity galled this woman. Fear and resentment were not a stable combination. Emily waited for the attack she knew must come. She remembered Connie’s warning about her skills.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Cover Variations for 3rd Emily Kane Story

Kusanagi, Song of Death is almost done and I've been tinkering with cover possibilities. They're sort of opposites of each other. Don't ask me how that happened. Let me know which one looks better.

The central image is taken from a photograph by Angelo Colucci, who has generously given his time to help me with this project. I found a version of this image on Flickr and was immediately struck by the combination of weariness and resoluteness it expressed. Emily Kane is a reluctant warrior. She doesn't take up her sword lightly, but once she begins to fight, she finishes what others have started. The girl in the image holds her sword with a combination strength and weariness: strength enough to hold the sword in one hand, weariness visible in the way the jacket hangs off her shoulder. She looks out the blank windows, as if she's just finished one battle and wonders whether she'll have to fight another.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Sneak Peak, Ch. 1, Girl With A Blade (Kusanagi)

Here it is, at long last. The first preview from Girl With A Blade, the third book in the Emily Kane Series. It's just a draft, so please forgive any rough bits. Also, here's an early version of the cover. I'm still tinkering with it, but this is getting close to final version. Any feedback on the text or the cover is welcome, as always.

Chapter 1
The Roadhouse

“You sure you want to go through with this?” Connie asked. “I mean, it’s not like you owe these guys anything.”
“I’m not so sure. That night by the lake, they had that coming. But they don’t deserve to die for their mistake.”
“I get that. But is it really your problem?”
Emily said nothing. A glimpse into the darkness swirling at the bottom of her eyes was the only answer she had for her friend.
“Fine. You get three minutes. Then Ethan and I are bringing the cavalry. Now get going. We’ll be right behind you.”
Half an hour later, she tapped on a metal door with one knuckle of her left hand. The ride through the West Virginia countryside to get there had been breezy, buggy and exhilarating. Now she stood next to one of those steel frame structures with corrugated siding, probably a warehouse originally, then a machine shop or some sort of mechanic’s lair. The greasy dirt in the yard suggested as much. These days it contained a roadhouse, really an enormous bar, big enough to accommodate dozens of motorcycles out front in one long row, like tilted metal dominos. Her dirt bike held down the end of the line, upright and incongruous in that company.
The office abutted the main building on the far end, little more than a metal shed added on as an afterthought. Some loud grunting presaged the grizzled and quite large, paunchy fellow who eventually opened the door. He squinted at her in the afternoon light.
“Whaddya want?” he snarled. “The front door’s that way.”
“I’m here to see you,” she said, pressing lightly on his chest.
Tiny as she was in comparison, it should have been easy to keep her out. But, for whatever reason, he stepped aside and followed her in.
“Would you turn off the security cameras for me?”
“Get outta here,” he said, and reached out to grab her.
She parried and twisted his wrist until she could enforce compliance with a light thumb pressure applied to the back of his hand. His forehead hit the concrete floor. A slight, further twist brought tears to his eyes.
“I’d rather not have any record of what might happen in there. Shall we smash your equipment?” she asked, tipping her head toward the computer terminal on the desk. “Or just unplug it?”
One more twist and he nodded compliance. She released him and watched as he dusted himself off. As she expected, he lunged at her again, apparently thinking to pin her against the wall. Connie’s words echoed in her head: was it really worth this much trouble to help these guys? Another parry and twist, she controlled his wrist much more aggressively this time, and he found himself tumbling head over heels. After an awkward landing on the edge of the desk, he fell to the floor with a thud. As if through a dense fog, he looked up at her, until she struck him sharply across the nose with the heel of her palm. With blood oozing from his nose and mouth, he subsided into a heap and troubled her no more.
At the desk, she brought up the program to disable the security cameras. Another one sent a short web video, which was the whole reason she had come here in the first place, to the TV screens in the main room, set to repeat. When she entered through the door behind the bar, the video was already playing. All heads were turned to watch it as she made her way through the middle of the room.
On the screen, they saw a young woman fight off about a dozen of their number in a dimly lit parking lot. The violence was intense, even gruesome. Some of them cringed at what they saw. Broken limbs and joints, the girl left a bloody wake behind her as she spun through the crowd. The gang finally capitulated, limping off carrying their maimed, though that was not entirely captured on the video. The final image showed the girl glowering, an unholy fire in her eyes. Whoever held the camera must have flinched at the sight and stopped recording. A caption appeared under her face: “Do you know this bitch?”
She stood directly in front of three men at a table off to one side, a smaller man with a bandaged throat and an arm in a cast, and two large, muscular men. These must be the leaders of the gang, she was pretty sure.
“I got your message,” she said in a loud voice, pointing a thumb at the large screen on the wall behind her. “I’m here. What do you want?”
The room came to a hush as people gradually recognized her. Hard looking men moved toward her from all directions. A female voice cried out from across the room.
“It’s her, that bitch! There she is.”
The crowd in the bar was rather larger than what she faced that night by the lake, perhaps forty or more people. But they seemed perplexed by what they saw on the big screen. Some must have been there, and hung back this time. Others stood staring at the images on the nearest screen. Among the rest, a delicate suspense hung in the air, an inability to act against her. It surely wouldn’t last long.
“Don’t just stand there,” shrieked one of the women who kept company with the gang. “Do something! Grab her!”
Two men stepped forward, one reached for her tentatively.
“Last time you made me fight, it didn’t turn out so well for you,” she snarled at the three men still seated at the table. “And it could have been much uglier, if you’d made me fight to the end.” The bandaged man winced as she said this. The large man seated next to him raised his hand to the men gathering around her, as if to forestall any new violence. Not everyone was appeased by this gesture.
“What’s wrong with all of you?” the same woman cried. “You saw what she did.”
She charged at her brandishing a knife. Emily stepped to the side, controlled the wrist and the knife, twisting down and around, sending her sprawling head over heels onto a nearby table. Ordinarily, faced with such an attack, she would have broken the wrist, or the elbow, maybe dislocated the shoulder as well, and forced the hand holding the knife to slash through the hip or stab her attacker in the ass. She let the woman off easy, merely treating her to a hard, awkward landing.
By the time she turned to confront the men crowding toward her, her eyes were on fire with a hideous fury. The similarity to the final image of the video was unmistakable, though experiencing it in person could bear no finite relation to watching pixels on a screen. No one moved.
The rumble of several large vehicles was audible in the quiet. A moment later, the double doors burst open and a team of heavily armed men in body armor rushed in, as if on cue, followed by Ethan and Connie. They stood silently at one end of the bar, gun barrels leveled against the crowd. Everyone in the room backed away, anxious to appear less than usually threatening. The girl addressed the main table again.
“I’m not here to fight,” she said darkly. “I’m here to give you some friendly advice. Take that video down before it brings you real trouble.” No one said anything. After a moment, she continued. “There are people looking for me, nasty people, much nastier than you, who will trace that website back here. And when they come, they will rain destruction down upon you.”
Still silence. She turned to the large man who had forestalled any fighting with his hand. After a long, cool stare she asked his name.
“Luther,” he replied in a little voice.
She leaned over to touch his hand and surreptitiously slipped him a card.
“Here’s how you can get a message to me,” she said in a much softer tone just for him. His face relaxed noticeably as he looked into her eyes.
“What’s your name?”
“Emily,” she whispered. “Emily Kane. My friends call me Em.”
She turned and walked directly to her companions by the front door. The crowd parted, apparently eager to avoid touching her or impeding her progress. She smiled at Connie. A finger snap, a sharp gesture from Ethan and the armed men followed her outside. A moment later they were gone.
The mood in the roadhouse could not easily find a suitable register after she left. No one quite knew what to say. Most eyes looked to Luther for some sort of guidance. Prior to this moment he had not been the leader of the gang. But Emily’s attentions practically anointed him, against his will and much to the consternation of his bandaged chief. Later, in private, he burned the card after committing the information to memory.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Chapter 6, Girl Punches Out (Sen No Sen)

Chapter 6

It had been a mere two weeks since the tournament in Norfolk. Emily won the black belt kumite, fighting in the men’s division since there were no other women competing at her level. Her victory, her total mastery of her opponents, had been little short of amazing to everyone there. Of course there were videos of her matches, lots of them, circulating on the web. They would go viral soon enough. A few kids in school had already seen them. Eventually everyone would see them.

Chapter 5, Girl Punches Out (Sen No Sen)

Chapter 5
Bows and Arrows

The ceiling of Emily’s studio was only partially finished. The area over the kitchen, bathroom, walk-in closet and dining table was overhung with standard acoustic tile under joists covered in turn by a rough plywood floor. It was just exposed rafters over the sofa, coffee table and the sleeping area. There were a few recessed lights here and there along the walls, but most of the floor above the ceiling was clear. She had often mused about moving the bed, or at least the mattress, to the attic and creating a sort of loft. The area under the peaked roof was barely high enough to stand up in near the center. But for a bedroom it would be high enough. On the downside, there was only one small window at one end which was shaded by a large magnolia tree. No direct light ever entered there, and very little air either. In the end, this reflection always ended with Emily deciding it wasn’t worth the trouble to move the bed, even if it would have added to her usable floor space.

Chapter 4, Girl Punches Out (Sen No Sen)

Chapter 4
Tea in the Kitchen

She sat in her pickup truck in the driveway musing about the doctor. She was so nosy, so insistent on tests. What was she not saying? Maybe that’s just how doctors always behave. What would those tests show? Could they provide answers to her own questions? It probably hadn’t occurred to her beforehand that a routine doctor’s appointment might become an existential inquiry.

Kusanagi, Sword of the Goddess of the Sun

The Shinto story goes that Susanoo, the god of sea and storm, wanted to make up with his sister, Amaterasu, the goddess of the sun. They had been bickering for ages and she hardly trusted him at all. He presented her with a gift to win her over: a magnificent sword he found in the tail of a dragon he had slain. She named the sword Ama no Murakumo no Tsurugi (which means "sword of the cloudy heavens)

Later she gave the sword to her son, Ninigi, who was lord of the earth, which consisted at the time of an archipelago in what is now called the Sea of Japan. The sword was handed down in his family through the generations until it came to his great great grandson, Jimmu Tenno, who is usually thought of as the first emperor of Japan.

Centuries later, during the reign of the twelfth emperor, Keiko Tenno, Ama no Murakumo no Tsurugi was given to the warrior Yamato Takeru when he was sent to pacify treacherous warlords. In a famous incident, the warrior is trapped in dried grassland ignited by flaming arrows. He uses the sword to cut a fire break in the grass, but discovers the power to control the wind. He uses the sword's magic to drive the fire onto his enemies and destroy them. The sword was renamed Kusanagi no Tsurugi (or "grasscutter sword) to commemorate this event.

Kusanagi became one of the official symbols of the Japanese imperial family, along with the sacred jewel and the Yata no Kagami (or "eight-hands mirror"). Kusanagi is kept at the Astuta shrine, but is not available for public display, and its very existence is impossible to confirm. It is not even known what the sword would look like if it were to be displayed. It could be an enormous Nodaichi (or long sword), or a double-edged broadsword, or even something quite different. It may seem anachronistic to imagine it as a Katana, a sword style of the late middle ages, though this is a common representation. But since it is really a magical sword, we might as well say it can have any appearance.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Emily's Dream, from Girl Punches Out (Sen No Sen)

That night she brought the dingy old family sword to bed with her. It’s not that she feared losing it or having it stolen. She wanted to make up for lost time. It had been there, with her for so long, and she’d never paid it any attention. It needed to become a bigger part of who she is, that much was clear. She slept heavily, blankly, probably for several hours, until a dream of great intensity seized hold of her. She walked through the glade and the meadow, the familiar sound of the stream burbling. Two shapes awaited her in the distance, one warm and bright, the other barely a shadow. As she approached, the light grew brighter, shockingly bright, but didn’t seem to hurt her eyes. The shadow grew dark and huge, like a hole in the world. She wasn’t afraid.
She turned to the shadow and began to speak. She heard herself say: “You love my mother, so I must love you. You will show me who you are.”
She turned to the light and said: “You love my father, so I must love you. I know who you are. You are Amaterasu Omikami, and you love me. I’ll call you Granny. Thank you, both of you, for sending Kusunagi to me. Show me what to do with him.”
In a voice sweet as fire, the light shrilled at her: “The true master takes life when necessary, but gives life when it is good. You will walk on water as if it were land, and on land as if it were water. No one will be able to trick you.”
She knew how the saying ended and cried out: “Am I to be without friends forever?” Tears streamed down her face and on to her arms. She was holding a sword in one hand and a mirror in the other. Her tears rolled down the sword, and where three drops landed in the grass three luminescent women sprang up. Her tears rolled down the mirror, and where five drops landed in the grass, five luminescent men sprang up. They clasped hands in a circle around her, dancing and chanting her name:
Michiko, Michi-san, Michi-sama, Michi-kami,
Michiko, Michi-san, Michi-sama, Michi-kami,
Michiko, Michi-san, Michi-sama, Michi-kami…
She looked up to see the light and the shadow towering above her at opposite ends of the sky. She saw her place in the world now with more clarity than ever before and whispered: “Thank you, Granny.”
She woke with a start, drenched in sweat, tears streaming down her face. Sitting upright in the dark room she ruminated on what she had just seen. It was just a dream. The dingy old family sword glowed like fire next to her as she drifted off to sleep.

A bit of Sword Mysticism from a Japanese monk

“…the true master wields the sword but does not necessarily kill. He wields the sword so as to give life. When he must kill, he kills. When he should give life, he gives life…. Walking on water is like walking on the ground, and walking on the ground is like walking on water. If he achieves this freedom, no one on earth can confuse him. But he will know no friendship.”

Taia-Ki (Chronicles of the Sword of Taia)

Takuan Soho