A question that most of us inevitably get asked at mixers, networking events, and virtually all social functions, is what we do for a living. It would be a whole other Blog post if I were to get into how I feel about that question, but I can’t see it going away anytime soon, so when I answer, I often tell people that I am a writer.
Human nature, being ever-predictably curious mandates that the first follow-up question to that response, is:
“Oh! What kind of writing do you do?”
Now, although it’s an easy question for me to answer, (I write articles for encyclopedias and reference books for an educational resource company), the implication behind the question, is that the questioner will gain additional insight into who I am, or perhaps my personality, based on the nature of my writing. By responding the way I do, I know that I immediately get pegged as an intellectual sort, with certain base characteristics and traits that might be consistent for somebody who writes encyclopedic content. Yet, the one trait that I wish more people could understand, is the need to be incredibly versatile — almost fluid, like water. Truth be told, I don’t simply just write reference articles, I also write fiction pieces, journalistic pieces, advertising copy, poetry, Blog entries (clearly), business letters, grant proposals, restaurant reviews, product instructions, recipes, and a myriad of other kinds of works that just wouldn’t fit into small talk at a noisy bar, over glasses of wine or beer. As a writer, I love all forms of writing, because each requires a certain level of creativity that changes from style to style, and depending on the audience or client (if I’m producing work for others rather than myself). In fact, having also done some acting and directing of stage plays, comparing writing to acting is not dissimilar. Whether you are an actor or a writer, both require you to immerse yourself into a persona — to become the character you are playing. I cannot speak for other writers, but as for myself, when I write, I try to write in character, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s a fiction piece or a newspaper article. With fiction, it’s easy. If I’m writing a murder mystery, I become the hard-nosed private investigator, cynical, jaded and rough, with an ex-wife and a two-pack-a-day habit. Non-fiction? Sure! When I write a recipe, I become a renowned French chef whose dishes command a premium price at one of the city’s premier restaurants. Yes, I might even write with an accent (at least in my mind), because as readers we often do the same thing. If I’m talking about Arnold Schwarzenegger and write that he said, “I’ll be back!” There’s a pretty good chance that your mind will read it in his voice and accent.
Fortunately, for those who enjoy reading as much as I enjoy writing, my website helps fill in some of those gaps that I don’t get a chance to express in the brief time there might be to socialize and exchange only a few words and thoughts. My last Blog entry was a bit of a departure from my usual fare of reference writing, and I tackled a short story in which the main character was actually an inanimate object, making it a rather abstract tale and exercise in the suspension of disbelief. But since I’ve received some nice, positive feedback about that, I thought I’d share with everyone another short story that I wrote, this one a little older (circa 2012), that was done for a writing contest that had some very specific (and esoteric) rules. While I wish I could say this was the winning entry, I had to satisfy myself with an honourable mention, which, given the number of entries, was still a notable achievement in my view. I was quite happy with the way my story turned out, and felt it would make a pretty good addition to my site for a couple of reasons.
This story, while very short (and almost poetic in its length, due to the very particular rules of the contest for which it was written), but being a historical fiction, required no less research and reading than many of the encyclopedic, non-fiction pieces that I do on a more regular basis. Indeed, this might be a good illustration of how being versatile, creative, and resourceful is equally necessary in writing a fictional piece, as it is for a reference piece to be used by students and business people. In this particular case, I had to research some of the samurai lineages, clans, alliances and warring factions. Even though the specific circumstance of the action is fictional, I had to be geographically consistent, which required looking at a few maps, and historically believable in terms of the battles and their aftermath and consequences. And while it could be argued that your average reader would never know the difference whether it were or weren’t well researched, I tend to approach my writing in the same way as Steve Jobs approached computer hardware design. For Jobs, even the insides of a computer, though nobody would ever see them, still had to look as elegant, pretty, and aesthetically pleasing, as if they were in full view of everybody. Likewise, nine out of ten readers may have never heard of the the people and places in my story (nor have any particular inclination to look them up), but I know, and it’s important to me!
In the future, I do hope I’ll be able to include some other styles of writing that have come across my fingertips over the years. For this Blog post though, enjoy a bit of Japanese historical fiction and join Nakazawa Masahiko of the Imagawa clan, as he fights a very personal battle!
Code of Honour
Masahiko Nakazawa squinted in the morning sunlight as he knelt in the soft sand of the beach with the powerful waves crashing relentlessly against the shores of Suruga Bay, roaring an almost meditative mantra within the warrior’s troubled mind. Once a noble protector of the Imagawa clan, Nakazawa could now only hope and pray that he might regain a sliver of honour – perhaps enough to provide for his young wife and child, through his own death in having accomplished the grim task set before him.
Nobunaga Oda had decimated the Imagawa clan at the Battle of Okehazama – a bloody massacre that Nakazawa wished he could erase through the same glorious death by sword that released some of his closest friends; a death that he might have been so fortunate to embrace if it hadn’t been for the sudden surge of unexpected fear that overtook him on that brutal day when Nobunaga’s forces descended upon their encampment with such terrible speed, he scarcely realized what had happened before he found himself in full flight with several other young, inexperienced samurai.
“Glory evades the cowardly” his own father had always taught him, instilling the traditional values of Bushido – a code of honour he was sworn to uphold since the moment of his birth until his eventual, dying breath. Outliving his own lord was perhaps the most cruel fate of all; now a ronin, his fate was surely sealed to fade into nothing, penniless, forgotten, stripped of all honour for all eternity.
Love was all that remained for Nakazawa – the love that still burned within him – love for Chieko, a flower so pretty that he could scarcely whisper her name without a tear welling up in his eye and slowly rolling down his searing cheek. In another time and another place, perhaps he may have been destined to see her again and seek solace in the soothing voice she softly sang their infant son to sleep, sweetly softening even the fiercest warrior’s heart in the same way the celestial swan Hagoromo disrobed and seduced the fisherman Hakuriyo with her dance in the moonlight before returning back to heaven.
Angrily, Nakazawa clutched the hilt of his sword as he rose from the sand, now filled with resolve and the desperate determination to bring this horrible nightmare to a final close; “May my father and ancestors forgive me for my oath to Sanada Nobutsuna of the Takeda clan, but their hatred of the Oda is rivaled only by our own!”
Desperately diving forward, his gleaming sword now one with his outstretched arm, Nakazawa lunged forward toward the completely shocked visage of Nobunaga himself; the last thing he saw was the glint of another steel blade from the corner of his left eye before his head struck the ground – content, finally peaceful.