Monday, August 4, 2014

I'm back! Action / Adventure panel at CWCL

The Catholic Writer's Conference, Live! action-adventure panel.

This will be an incomplete transcript of the entire panel, starring Declan Finn (me), Gene Wolfe, and John Desjarlais (French-Canadian pronunciation. Good luck) and Anthony Kolenc.

Now, there will be gaps here. I've forgotten most of what I've said, to heck with what anyone else said.  I'm going to ask anyone who was there to comment, and fill in the blanks. Anyone who posted to YouTube, please let me know, I'll post some here.

The moderator was the awesome and wonderful Ann Margaret Lewis.

Here we go.....

Q: Has a Saint's non-violence inspired you?

Declan Finn: Well, the closest I've ever come to that was with Thomas Aquinas. Like me, Aquinas was a nerd. He had only two real outbursts in his life.  One was when his family had hired a hooker -- a second one, because he converted the first -- only this one was more persistent in her job. Aquinas finally grabbed a burning log from the fireplace and chased her out, drawing a cross of fire into the door on her way out. I always liked that one if only for the comedy value. The second story was Aquinas at a party being held by King St. Louis. It was one of those "You've been invited. Go to the party, you'll have fun." During the party, he had a philosophical thought, rear up, and slammed the table, declaring "and that will settle the Manichees!" I've got a few characters who are also just as flakey.

Gene Wolfe: But the important part of that fight scene with the hooker -- and it was a fight scene, even if she just ran away -- was what was being defended!

JD: One of my earlier books was about a war that happened over a book. It was written back when I was still a Protestant. Who knew I was writing a Catholic novel?

Worst fight scene ever?
Declan Finn: Jack Higgins wrote a scene to the end of a family of villains who had been plaguing his heroes for books. It was a dark and stormy night, fighting on the roof.  The entire fight consisted of "They went at each other. They fought. They grappled, they rolled to the edge of the roof, and Rashid fell off."  He's been the bad guy for repeated books! I know fights are quick, but can I have a little more detail?

JD: The worst fight scene I've ever read was when a pivotal fight happened off screen, with no emotional payoff.

Q: Who can you give as an example of writing good fight scenes.
Lee Child's Jack Reacher.  Before every fight, there's a little dissertation on violence. It explains why he's targeting who he's targeting, and why he's hitting with what he's hitting.  And since Jack Reacher was 6'5" -- not Tom Cruise -- he was always being confronted by 5-7 people, and discussed group dynamics.

Ann: Do you think they stole that for the Robert Downy Jr. Sherlock Holmes films?

Well, for that, I can at least see Holmes doing it, because he's Holmes. He can play three-dimensional chess in his head.  As for stealing .... does Guy Ritchie even read? I know he was with Madonna for a while, so I wouldn't place money on it.

I also suggest James Rollins.  And for large scale battles, read Bernard Cornwell -- not John, Bernard -- who wrote the Richard Sharpe series. It was about the Napoleonic wars, and one of the few roles where Sean Bean did not die a horrible, horrible death.

[I got a few laughs there]

Q: Why do you write in your genre?
Declan Finn: Because thrillers are what people read. And I'm not going to write a romance novel.

What is your pet peeve about action scenes?

Gene Wolfe: When two guys are exchanging one-liners between punches. All of the one-liners in real life come before the punching starts. One of these days, I want someone to start a one-liner and get punched in the mouth.

[No, I don't remember what I said to that one. It's been a hard week]

Q: For science fiction and fantasy, it's easy to ignore tech or magic in order to have an exciting fight scene. (Remember how Indy shot the swordsman instead of the big scene they had planned.) How do you work around advanced tech that might make a dull fight?

Declan Finn: "I make it simple. I give all the advanced weaponry to the bad guys.  As for working around it -- the tech can be magical, but it's still run by people. People can be tricked. Confused. Or just plain stupid."

Gene mostly answered this question.  I don't remember his answer, though I want to have recalled it.  He also loved the Raiders swordfight cited above because that's very much how real fights go.

Q (from the audience): What makes a Catholic adventure?
JD: As Bilbo said in The Hobbit, "I'm going on an adventure!"  The first part of having an adventure is that you go out."
Me: I'm the simple one here. Catholic adventure? The priests aren't all Nazis. The Pope isn't evil.  There is good. There is evil. And evil must lose.

[I swear I had an "amen" at that point.]

Q (From the audience): "Have you ever had prayer, or angels, or a miracle to solve a problem? Something supernatural for a solution?"
Gene: "Yes, I did. I had one story where every time my main character would start praying, he would start to win."
Declan Finn: "Since I don't want it to be a deus ex machina, I do have a bit of a miracle in book three of my Pius trilogy, when the fecal matter hits the air impeller" [laugh].  "But it's like the old joke: A cop car goes up to a guy's house.  There's a flood coming. Get in the car. Guy says that God'll save me, God'll save my house. The next people to come by are in a boat, and they're talking to the homeowner in the second story window because that's where the water is.  Get in the boat, they say. Guy says that God'll save me, God'll save my house.  The next people to come by are in a helicopter, and the homeowner's on the roof. Guy says No, God'll save me, God'll save my house. Homeowner drowns.  When the homeowner asks, Why didn't you save me? God says 'I sent the cop, I sent the boat, I sent the helicopter, what more do you want?'  It's like that."

Then there were several great lines that I can't remember the context for......

JD: "The scene between Bilbo and Gollum in the cave is a buildup to Bilbo and Smaug later on, playing for much larger stakes. Setup, payoff."

JD: A fight has to either advance the story or the character.  You can't just have it to be there. It has to accomplish something.

[.... I hate him for that. He stole my line before I could say it. :)  Yes, I'm kidding. I love his novels Bleeder and Viper.  I should probably review then ... anyway....]

Declan Finn: "As was said by John, if it's going to bore the writer, it's going to bore the audience. I cut a scene from my novel Codename: Winterborn because there were too many fight scenes already.  But since the scene was something that had to happen for the story to move forward, and it was a navy SEAL versus some guys in the street, I boiled it down to a sentence of the aftermath, and moved on."

Gene Wolfe: "I'm glad to see that fighting men are wearing armor again. I had one of the first pieces of armor issued to the army. It was this big heavy nylon thing with lead squares, and it might as well have been made of solid metal. Anyway, during one time, this Lieutenant had come up on stage before the men, and he wore this bright green shining piece of armor with a string of grenades across the chest. It made him look like Flash Gordon. He had a truck of his new armor and he said "Is there anyone here who doesn't have armor?" I disconnected my straps, holding my armor up, and I shot up to the stage, saying "Me. I don't have armor."  And I got myself some shiny new armor, the first time it was given out to the enlisted men and not just officers.  Anyway, we made an about face, and marched out of the room, and there was my old armor, just lying there. The Lieutenant just laughed, picked up the armor, and threw it on the truck."

As I said, these are pieces and parts I recall from less than a week ago. Any help on filling in the blanks would be helpful

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing. And I'm impressed by the company you keep.


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