Sunday, November 30, 2014

Guest Blogger - Amanda Hough (Author)

 I've had several readers tell me that while the SPECTRE Series is great for its plot twists, action, and adventure, it also has a romance component that romance readers enjoy. Although I never really thought about it as I was writing, I think it's an interesting premise.

So this week, I asked romance novelist Amanda Hough to give readers a woman's perspective on Cal "Spectre" Martin and his exploits. 

I hope you enjoy it!

 

Spectre of Romance

By Amanda Hough

I’m not sure how many female readers will admit this but, when they read a romance novel, they want to see themselves as the lead female protagonist. In fact, I would argue that it is the single most important point in engaging the reader. Well, that and a hero she can look toward to make it all better. That’s where C.W. Lemoine’s Cal “Spectre” Martin comes in. I will get to that in a moment.

Women want the hero and heroine in romances to be interesting and emotionally complex. They want them to ‘feel real’. Even if they are soldiers with bravery to spare, there must be an element of believability. The reader must engage with the hero. See yourself in him or in the man you imagine. C.W. Lemoine, somehow manages to do just that. Spectre can fly an F-16 and disarm a terrorist in a nanosecond, but he’s still human. The reader, somehow, can still imagine himself or herself as him or with him.
Spectre brought the paper up to his face as if to get a better look. It was time to kill. As his hands reached his eye level, he dropped the paper and instantly grabbed the man’s right wrist with his right hand and the barrel of the gun with his left. Falling to his side while securing the weapon, he flicked off the safety, squeezed through the double action of the fourteen-pound trigger, and fired at his shocked captor. The bullet struck the man in the throat and sent him stumbling back into the camera as he gasped through his last breaths.
           -AVOID. NEGOTIATE. KILL. 

What woman wouldn’t find that romantic? If he can do that with his hands, just imagine the possibilities.

As a romance novelist, I am consistently warring with my female characters. In fiction, as in life, I need her to be all things but still accessible. Smart yet self-deprecating. Strong but a little vulnerable. Adroit but not completely self-sufficient. She needs to be stunningly beautiful, exotic, sexy but somehow still the girl next door. You see, she needs to be an impossible combination of every woman and one woman. The woman reading the book.

For the longest time, I felt it was only the female characters who had to strike this balance. Spectre has changed my mind. Spectre without the humor, modesty and humanity wouldn’t be Cal. Instead he would be a man no one could relate to. Someone… unlikable. But Cal is supremely affable. In a deadly, hunted hero way.
As time has marched on (mostly on my face) my taste in heroes and heroines have morphed, as it should. I still read romance novels, of course. Frankly, I don’t know what I would do without them. However, the men and women seldom live up to the expectations I have for them. Even the women I write tend to acquiesce to the hero at one point or another.

At least physically, the heroes in romance novels have changed very little over the years. He’s strong, tall, dangerously clever, brave and achingly handsome. Of course, what the reader perceives as handsome varies nowadays. A tattooed ex-con who’s the leader of a motorcycle club is a new norm. Moreover, it is quite popular. The bad boy concept isn’t new. A lot of the heroes from my favorite novels years ago had bad boys. 

Sometimes they got the girl but often times they didn’t. He’d try to steal the fair maiden from the white knight only to lose the woman and his life at the end of the narrative. Typically, his death would come in the form of a rapier through his gut. But in his dying breath, he would see the proverbial light and repent. Realizing that the woman’s love would have been the prize, not her body.

Today the hero often lacks the qualities that I found so appealing in my youth and now my adulthood. Consequently, my disillusionment has drawn me to other genres, to feed the need. And no genre does a better job at heroes than thrillers. Military and espionage novels in particular.

In fact, I liken a good thriller as the flip side of a well-written romance. The POV in romance is often the females because, let’s face it, it’s our point of view that matters. In thrillers, we often get the male POV. When I read one of these stories, I get a glimpse into the inner workings of a man’s mind. But not just any man,  a real hero. A male protagonist with conviction, daring, loyalty and a kinship to both his country and his brothers in arms. Like Cal “Spectre” Martin.

I’ve had a favorite character for many years now, Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon, an art restorer and former Israeli assassin. For heaven’s sakes, he can kill his enemy with his bare hands and appreciate the differences between fauvism and impressionism. What’s not to love?

It is that same contrasting balance that draws me to C.W. Lemoine’s Cal Martin.
We start with a soldier, dedicated to his nation who is much maligned by a bloated, corrupt system. He is a hero whose dedication to service is used against him. We all feel, at times, a victim of the political/social system that we built through balloting, shortsightedness or apathy. Cal fights that power to restore a balance in his life. He doesn’t concede his moral center. And his resolute, fearless stance wins him the woman. And Michelle Decker is quite a woman.

She is a heroine who would be utterly at home in a romance novel today. What female reader wouldn’t want to imagine herself as Michelle? She has all the desirable physical attributes a man craves. However, she’s also steadfast, brave, clever and funny. A perfect combination.

Together she and Cal could (and may) take the story beyond thrills and add an element of romance. Knowing C.W. Lemoine’s work, I’ve no doubt he will avoid clich├ęd overtures that do little for the plot, but I can see these two working together to save the world. What a dynamic, and dare I say romantic notion that could be?

Amanda Hough is a romance novelist from Ohio. She is the author of The Mikhailov Trilogy, The Ferrara Brothers Novellas and Fight to Win, a military romance with proceeds proudly going to K9s for Warriors. She welcomes email at Houghromances@gmail.com, visit her website at www.amandahough.com or find her on Facebook.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Why Krav Maga?

Why Taylor Swift Uses Krav Maga


I’m sure we’ve all wondered, how does Taylor Swift stay so fit while fending off the screaming fans and skinny jeans wearing guys?

Today, we'll explore that very topic!

I’m just kidding. I have no idea and don’t care. After the constructive feedback from the last post, I promised my fans I would return to my bubble and not write anymore Taylor Swift posts, so this blog is not about that.

Instead, let's talk about why I chose Krav Maga as the preferred fighting style in the SPECTRE Series.

Knife takedown
 


“I know,” Baxter said as he calmed down.  “But I was kind of hoping Cal would do some of that Kung Fu stuff on him just for the hell of it.”
“Krav Maga,” Decker corrected.  She frowned at Baxter’s weak attempt at a joke.  “And we certainly don’t need any of that today.” 
“Kung Fu.  Krock Macrotch.  Karate.  Whatever.  That guy just needs an ass-whipping.”
 -      Special Agent Sean Baxter talking to Michelle Decker in AVOID. NEGOTIATE. KILL.


It’s a conversation I’ve had many times before when discussing my training in Krav Maga. When talking about the Israeli self-defense system, the responses have ranged from “Say what?” to “So does that mean you can kill me with a thought?”

In my SPECTRE Series thrillers, main character Cal “Spectre” Martin is a black belt in Krav Maga, so today I thought I’d go into a little more detail about it and explain what it is and what it isn’t.

What is Krav Maga?


Practicing a defense against a slashing knife attack during class.
If you’re not one of the people who stumble over the pronunciation and look at me like I’m speaking Klingon, you’ve probably seen or heard of Krav Maga in popular culture.

On the TV show Archer, ISIS agents are trained in Krav Maga instead of Karate, with Archer calling Karate the “Dane Cook of martial arts.” Krav Maga has also been featured in the hit TV series 24 and in the Splinter Cell video games. As it has become more prevalent in pop culture, more schools across the United States have begun to pop up.

Pronounced “krahv mah-GAH,” the words Krav Maga are Hebrew for “contact combat.” It is a fighting system developed by Hungarian-Israeli Imi Lichtenfield as a way of defending the Jewish quarter against fascist groups in Czechoslovakia in the late 1930s.

When Lichtenfield immigrated to Israel in the late 1940s, he became an instructor for what would later become the Israeli Defense Force. His tactics focused on real-world situations with extremely efficient and brutal counter attacks.

Although Lichtenfield is the father of Krav Maga, Krav Maga in Israel has become as common as Karate in Japan, with many students branching out to form their own derivatives and methods.

One such derivative is Survival (Hisardut) Krav Maga. This is the fighting style that Cal “Spectre” Martin employs in the books. It is also the method in which I am both a Certified Instructor and Brown Belt.
Me with Sensei Miki Erez

Survival Krav Maga was founded by Miki Erez in the mid 1990s. While in the Israeli Air Force, Miki Erez was a student of Imi Lichtenfeld in Krav Maga. Miki Erez studied and earned his 3rd degree black belt in Hisardut directly under Grandmaster Dennis Hanover.

In addition, Erez earned his 6th degree black belt in Mas Oyama’s Kyokushin full contact Karate and World Oyama Karate under Shigeru, and Yasuhiko Oyama. Erez incorporated Oyama Karate with more Thai kickboxing into a modified form of Survival Hisardut, called Survival Krav Maga.

This advanced form of Hisardut is enhanced by the addition of new facets of overall survival, and combat fighting. It is intended to give its students the skills, techniques and the ability needed to escape from almost any threat virtually unharmed (including firearms, knives, clubs).

I was introduced to Sensei Erez in 2009. I had just come back from my first tour in Iraq, and one of the pilots had been telling me all about his training in Krav Maga and how useful it could be in real world applications, especially as fighter pilots.

At the time, the world had been changing for fighter pilots flying over combat zones. Gone were the days that a pilot could expect to wind up as a Prisoner of War, should he end up downed over enemy territory. The video of the beheading of journalist Nick Berg at the hands of Al Qaeda terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had taught us that much. An American fighter pilot captured in Iraq or Afghanistan would be nothing more than propaganda for them.

My response in country had been to carry extra ammunition. I always carried five magazines for my Beretta M9 as opposed to the issued three. It made my survival vest a bit heavier, but it was much better than the alternative. My plan had always been that I would use every bullet, saving the last one for myself should it come to that. My flight leads always briefed that whoever was still airborne would do whatever it took to keep the bad guys at bay until help had arrived, but at the end of the day, it was a personal choice to make.

So the idea of adding another tool to my arsenal seemed like a good plan. I had read about Krav Maga on the internet and watched YouTube videos, and it seemed like something I might enjoy. I had also trained in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in college and Karate as a kid, so I knew it would be both a physical and mental challenge.
  
The first day of training lived up to everything I had been expecting. I arrived at the address my squadron mate had given me to find that classes were being held in the garage of the now retired Israeli. He had all of the pads, mats, and equipment perfectly lined up everywhere with side-by-side American and Israeli flags as the backdrop.

I shook Miki Erez’s hand and introduced myself. The first thing I learned is that we shake with two hands, a sign of mutual respect. Sensei Erez was larger than life – a big Israeli with an awesome mustache and bodybuilder physique. I would later learn that he had been doing competitions late into his fifties.

Erez’s story was inspiring. He had been paralyzed from the waist down in a helicopter accident in Israel in 1973. Although he had been told he would never walk again, Sensei Erez managed to rehabilitate himself to the point of not only walking, but later competing in the Israeli Olympics in Karate.

If that’s not enough of an inspiration, he would later reinjure himself in the 80s while swimming, causing another long rehabilitation stint in which he defied doctors and got himself walking again. He once told me that later in his life, a Miami doctor looked at his MRI and X-ray and wanted to operate on him, saying, “You shouldn’t even be walking right now.” Sensei refused, and although he walks with a pronounced limp and little to no feeling in his feet, still has a very functional life.

When the training finally began, Sensei pushed me to my limits almost immediately. Although I prided myself as a fitness geek who went to the gym five days per week, I found myself completely out of shape. The basic warm up of air kicks, pushups on the fingers, sit-ups, air punches, more pushups (on the fists this time), and more kicks had me hoping I would make it through the whole hour and a half without puking – especially since I was training with a senior fighter pilot that I liked and respected.

As we moved on to the basic moves of the system, I learned that it was effective because of its simplicity. The system was designed for any Isreali, of any walk of life, to be able to quickly defend him or herself and move forward. After all, Israel is a small country surrounded by enemies. In war, there is no time or ability to retreat. They must be able to neutralize a threat and move forward. And so I learned the first basic tenant of Survival Krav Maga: attack your attacker.

It seemed brilliant in its simplicity. The best defense is a good offense. My basic police academy used to play on those words saying, “nothing good ever happens on defense.” I learned that moving forward, attacking, and moving on were keys to survival. It was a no frills, extremely effective system that had me hooked from day one.

After surviving the first day, I made it part of my life. I wanted to be in better shape. I wanted to add the tools of Krav Maga to myself defense arsenal. I wanted to embrace it.

I started out going to class just on Sunday mornings, but the more I learned the more I wanted to learn. The more I faced off against people twice my size and felt defeated, the more I wanted to master it. And so I began adding days, going from once a week to three days per week.

And then one day after class, Sensei Erez pulled me aside. He offered me an opportunity – to become a certified instructor in Survival Krav Maga. I had helped him give seminars to local security firms before, but he wanted me to be able to teach on my own. It was humbling and an awesome opportunity. I accepted.

I had some leave built up one month, and took the month off to train. I trained nearly every day, and some days twice per day. At the time, I was disappointed when he would have me sit down and take notes instead of physical training, but later I realized that the mental knowledge and preparation were perhaps more important than the physical side of things.

Some of these skills would translate directly into Spectre’s character. Specifically, the concepts of avoidance, negotiation, and then killing. My second novel is completely based on these tenants. It’s spelled out in the first chapter, but the theme of the novel is Spectre’s application of them.

Receiving my instructor certificate in 2011
I graduated with my instructor certificate in late 2011 and earned my Brown Belt shortly before leaving Miami in 2012. It was bittersweet receiving that belt, knowing that my time training regularly with Sensei Erez had come to an end. I was moving on to the Navy Reserve and to Louisiana. I considered him both a friend and mentor that I was sad to leave.
Receiving my Brown Belt in 2012

I never quite found anything close to that experience when I moved to Louisiana. The problem with Krav Maga is that it has become very commercialized. There are many “boutique” UFC gyms that boast Krav Maga instruction, when in reality, they’re nothing more than MMA gyms with one or two instructors who took a one or two day course and received a certificate, having never actually even met an Israeli.

My training now is mostly in my own garage. I often invite friends to train with me, and I teach based on the concepts and techniques of Sensei Erez. It keeps me mostly proficient and in shape, but I don’t think it will ever quite be the same. I have also had the opportunity to teach seminars for local law enforcement, which is challenging and rewarding all on its own.

Teaching a seminar for law enforcement
For now, my training and experience live on through Cal Martin as he fights, “attacks his attackers” and pushes forward through the SPECTRE Series books.  

What Krav Maga Isn’t


Krav Maga is not a sport. In UFC and MMA, it usually fails. The reason for that is that in Krav Maga, there is only one rule – survival.

Specific techniques taught in Krav Maga are banned in sport fighting because they are designed to cause serious or permanent injury. Krav Maga is a weapon to be used in self defense only. It requires just as much discipline as owning a taser, baton, OC spray or even a handgun.

This is the reason behind the Avoid, Negotiate, Kill concept. If one can avoid a fight, then that is always the preferred tactic. There is no room for ego in Krav Maga. Living to fight another day without having to engage the threat is by far the most effective method.

If that doesn’t work, negotiation is the second best option. Again, this technique stresses the need for a person to check their ego at the door. Sometimes people can talk their way out of a situation. If that is possible, then it allows the defender to fight another day.

Finally, if all else fails, Krav Maga teaches to Kill.  Kill their will to fight, kill their ability to fight, or kill them. This is where the idea of “attacking your attacker” comes into play. Once the decision has been made to kill, there is no hesitation. The idea now is to quickly and efficiently stand down the threat through violence and swiftness of action. It is unlike boxing or MMA where we can accept standing up and going blow for blow with the adversary. The idea is to use whatever means necessary to end the fight and move forward.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this blog post. Hopefully this clears the air and gives a bit more insight into the Cal “Spectre” Martin character. And if you have to ask, yes, I can kill you with a thought.

It was an honor training with Sensei Miki Erez who is now actively involved in helping those in wheelchairs to stay in shape and improve their lives. His story is amazing, and if you have time, I highly recommend visiting http://www.wheelchairfitnesssolution.com/ and checking out his revolutionary new wheelchair training system.

Thank you for reading. Stay tuned for the next blog post.

Until next time.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

5 Things Every Author Can Learn From Taylor Swift





The people that are closest to me can tell you that when it comes to pop culture, I live in a bit of a bubble. Up until recently, I rarely ventured out of the rock music genre, and I still don’t quite understand the hoopla over a naked Kardashian.

But a few months ago, that changed over a conversation at dinner with my friend and his wife that went something like this:

Friend’s wife: You know who you should date?
Me: Who?
Friend’s wife: Taylor Swift! It would be perfect!
Me: Who?
Friend’s wife: Of course you know! The singer! You would be perfect for her.
Me: Okay, I’ll bite. Why?
Friend’s wife: Because you’re tall.
Me: ….
Friend’s wife: And she’s tall.
Me: ….
Friend’s wife: And you have blue eyes.
Me: Let me guess, she has blue eyes too?
Friend’s wife: Exactly! Perfect match.
Me: Are you using drugs?
Friend’s wife: No, check her out! I’m telling you.

So over dinner that evening, I used my phone to Google the most famous singer in the world, signaling to my Google Android overlords that I had become a Swifty and therefore needed daily updates pushed to my phone on a regular basis.

As the updates continued, I learned that Taylor was in the process of promoting an upcoming album called 1989. And the more I learned, the more fascinated I became with the process.

The results are in, and the album has been wildly successful. Aside from her unusual love of teenage hipster boy bands, it’s apparent that when it comes to marketing and promoting, independent and rookie authors stand to learn a lot from her genius. So without further ado, I give you the 5 Things We Can Learn From Taylor Swift:



1.      Shake it off.


Although Google told me everything I ever wanted to know about the pop icon, the first song that caught my attention was a song called “Shake it off.”

It happened after a particularly bad sortie in which everything just seemed to go wrong – from maintenance issues to weather to my own lack of proficiency. As I got in my truck that day to go home, “Shake it off” started playing on the radio.

My initial urge was to change stations. I was way outside of my comfort zone and needed the soothing sounds of Metallica or Five Finger Death Punch, but as I noticed it was one of the hyped new songs, I decided to take a listen. And in that moment, the twenty five year old singer taught me something that is applicable in both flying and writing – “Shake it off.”

I won’t get into quoting lyrics, but the general gist of the song is that no matter what you do, you will always have people out to criticize or demean you. The only thing you can truly control is how you react and whether you “just keep dancing.”

In flying, we call that compartmentalization. Dwelling on mistakes, what people will say in the debrief, or whatever trivial thing that’s made it to the front of your mind can be deadly in the cockpit. The only valid answer is to shake it off, keep flying, and focus on the task at hand.

In writing, that’s just as important. One of the many truths I’ve learned in becoming an author is that not everyone will love your work. Almost every author gets rejection letters from agents and publishers. Every author gets one and two star reviews. There will be fans and there will be “haters.”
But what we can learn from the record breaking artist is that no matter what they say, the only correct answer is to shake it off. 

As a fighter pilot, arguing in the debrief will get you nowhere. Instead, you will lose the respect of your peers and instructors. And as an author, the same holds true. The best way to torpedo a promising book campaign is to argue with a reviewer, thus inviting the wrath of the internet upon you to pile on more negative reviews.

From a girl that’s had as many haters as fans, I think that’s pretty sage and sound advice, regardless of the medium.

2.      Appreciate your fan base.


I was surprised to learn that Swift had actually invited fans to her house on numerous occasions in the weeks leading up to the release of her new album. I was even more surprised that she invited them there to get a sneak preview of the full album before its release, and that no new restraining orders had to be filed as a result.

Although the idea of an author doing that brings back images of Stephen King’s psychological thriller MISERY, the concept can be easily adapted. We just call them beta readers.

Inviting people to read your yet-to-be-released work is the best way to not only reward your fan base for sticking it out with you, but also to get feedback in the last days before release. Even editors can miss things that stand out to the untrained eye, and the feedback you get can be both rewarding and useful in putting the finishing touches on your novel.

But hey, if you want to have people go to your house to read your book in front of you, knock your socks off. It worked for Taylor Swift.

3.      Put your heart into it.


Although any woman dating a skinny jean wearing teenage hipster elicits an eye roll and head shake from me, the experience(s) obviously gave the woman something to write and sing about. It doesn’t matter how painfully obvious the pending train wreck was to the rest of the world. (Although if she were to take up dating real men that have at least hit puberty, she might not have as many songs to write).

The pain, feeling, and realness of the feelings were exactly what her fans craved. It gave the words realness as people scrambled to figure out which lover she was singing about and how she really felt. 

Realness makes for good art.

In AVOID. NEGOTIATE. KILL., I left a piece of myself in the funeral chapter. Sometimes the truth is more compelling than fiction, and in that chapter, I took something that happened to me just over a year ago and made one of my characters go through the same thing.

I won’t spoil the ending for anyone who hasn’t read it yet, but the eulogy Cal “Spectre” Martin gives in that chapter and the final salute he gives at the end really happened. Not as a loss after a terror attack, but in my life as I lost my best friend, hero, and father. Putting that to paper was therapeutic, but also made for better writing.

4.      Your work has value, don’t just give it away.


One of the more recent scandals to hit my phone was Taylor Swift’s withdrawal from Spotify and her refusal to give her work away for free. Despite the criticism she’s received for that decision, I say kudos. And every independent author should take note.

Far too often, I see new authors on the Kindle Direct Publishing forums register and post their first thread, asking what the best way to give their work away for free is. Despite the hundreds of threads already started, it invariably creates the great debate – why?

People often argue that they do it for love. They write because they enjoy it and charging feels wrong. But who are they to devalue their work? Why is it ok to tell someone that they should pay (because publishing is expensive if you do it right with an editor, cover designer, etc.) for people to read their work?

It’s not, and it never serves that purpose. People love to download freebies, but they rarely read them because they see “free” or even “bargain” and think it lacks quality. So at the end of the day, all you did was pay someone to not read your work. It just doesn’t work.

Be proud of your work, present it proudly at a reasonable price, and you’ll get just as many real fans.

5.      Work the ground game.


The only reason I know anything about Taylor Swift right now, despite my bubble, is that her ground game leading up to her new album was unsurpassed. She put herself out there and made people aware and excited about its release.

People who write books usually aren’t pop stars. We generally aren’t extroverts that want to get on stage in front of millions of screaming fans. We want to be left alone, with our faithful furry friends, to create a world that people will want to escape to. Putting yourself out there is just not a natural thing.

But that’s exactly what separates a “Writer” from an “Author.”  Writers are comfortable living in the shadows, having their work seen, read, and enjoyed without all the fanfare. Authors, on the other hand, sell not only their writing, but themselves. They have to build an image – a brand. When people buy novels, they’re not just buying them for the characters, they’re buying them for the author. Authors need that exposure, through book tours, media events, blogs, and other media.

I am absolutely guilty of this, and this blog post and my new website are my first steps into the limelight. It’s infinitely more terrifying than anything I’ve ever done (including flying in combat.)

 I think it’s fair to say that most authors would rather let someone else do the leg work so they can focus on writing, but that’s only half the game. The other half – the half that Swift is a complete genius at doing – is building the buzz, getting the word out, and making people excited to click BUY as they countdown the days until release.

Well, it’s not quite a mega list, but in my brief exposure, I’ve been impressed by the effectiveness of it all. She seems to have struck the perfect balance of talent and marketing genius, and by taking just a few pointers from her, even small time writers can find success.

Above all, though, it really is important just to “Shake it off.” As Shakespeare wrote, “Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt."

Don’t let the fear of criticism, bad reviews, and failing stop you from putting forth your best effort and putting yourself out there. Just keep writing and everything will fall into place. I know I will try to just keep writing.

Okay, that’s enough time outside the bubble. Now someone please pass me a Sevendust CD while I go shoot paper targets at the range.

In other news, I’m finishing up the editing/publishing process of ARCHANGEL FALLEN and I’ve started working on Book 4. I plan on making more regular posts to this blog (Next up – Why Krav Maga?) and taking my own advice to work the ground game and reach out to fans more.

Until next time!


Spectre Series

There was an error in this gadget