Escrime d’Halloween 

On October 21, Sara Kass will be hosting the 18th Escrime d’Halloween youth fencing tournament. The pre-registration numbers for this year’s event have exceeded expectations, which is a mixed blessing for Kass.

“I’m already at over 150 entries, and 120 athletes. This is an amazing comment of the growth in youth fencing!” said the owner and head coach of Cyrano’s Place fencing club in Lakewood Ohio. Both numbers (an athlete can enter multiple events) are well over fifty percent higher than last year’s, an increase which Kass attributed in part to the US national team earning four medals at last summer’s Rio Olympics. “I’m going to be running 10 strips [the 14 meter long and 2 meter wide playing field for fencing], which is 3 more than I needed last year.” Typically an energetic woman who speaks rapidly as if racing to her next appointment, her pace suddenly slows. “A hundred entries, maybe 125. That’s what I expected. But I’m at 150. And we’re still two weeks out.”

Yet when asked to recall the first youth tournament her club attended, Kass resumes her rapid-fire rhythm. “There was a fencing club in Indiana that had a bunch of youth fencers, as did Cyrano’s. We discussed having a tournament, and they agreed to host and have us travel. They found us a cottage house, where our kids camped overnight in sleeping bags.. There were maybe 30 fencers. It was an amazing weekend — I remember the smiles on the kids’ faces, as they learned some wonderful lessons about competition and camaraderie. It was very much a developmental event, and still is. The following year, was my turn to host. The club in Indiana did not want to host again, so the Escrime [the French word for fencing] became our annual event.”

Kass has built a strong youth fencing program over the last two and a half decades. “Other clubs have kids, but we have the greatest numbers, specifically 12 years and unders. It’s fun to watch kids start in youth events, and go on to college programs. But even the kids who don’t stay with the sport, and get into other things — they take with them life lessons from fencing. Like how there’s always someone coming after you in some way, and you have to decide how to deal with them. The fencing mentality is to adapt, keep going forward, do what’s right. I enjoy knowing when kids walk out my club’s door, they are better citizens because of fencing.”

And as one of few female fencing coaches in Ohio, Kass particularly enjoys seeing her young women realize their potential. “Men have athletic advantages over women — they’re typically bigger, faster, and stronger, but women can negate those advantages through strategy. So I jokingly tell my female students, ‘when you’re in grammar school, boys are there. When you’re in middle school, they’re there to compete with, and when you’re in high school, they’re there to compete with and beat. When you’re older, I’ll tell you about college.’”

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Taking Shape

Finished drafting chapter 9 of “Gray Metal Faces” this evening — and that means I’ve reached a significant milestone.

Nearly seven years ago — the exact date was October 16, 2010 — I posted a character study for what would eventually become Coach Dan. This was the start of a novel I’d been contemplating for years, and knew I would never be satisfied unless I actually wrote the damn thing. With tonight’s post, I have completed the initial draft of “Gray Metal Faces.” It’s not finished, and it certainly ain’t pretty, but it now has a sense of completion it lacked before tonight.

It’s like seeing the shape of a bowl emerge on a pottery wheel. You know it requires a lot more work, but it’s no longer a lump of clay. It has a recognizable shape — it’s a bowl, and seeing its shape emerge gives you a burst of inspiration. That’s where I’m at now with “Gray Metal Faces.” I can see its shape, imperfect as it may be, but still, there it is, after seven years of work.

Experience has taught me to take a step back and catch my breath after reaching a milestone with this novel. Not sure when I’ll get back at it (the next milestone will be a revision of the eighth and ninth chapters), but that time will come. For now, I’m going to exhale, and let myself appreciate this accomplishment.

Finish Strong

In a good position with chapter 9 as I head into the next to last weekend of the month. The first eight of the nine scenes have been drafted, leaving just the final scene in the novel’s final chapter. But I’m still climbing up a hill, rather than coasting to a conclusion; in many ways, I’ve been leading up to this last scene through all the years I’ve been working on this project. I can see the finish line, however, and I’m feeling a surge of psychic energy that I hope will allow me to finish strong.

Goal for this last scene is 6000 words (and I’ll say it again — having word count goals has been extemely helpful), a daily average of a little under 700 through next weekend. One last kick…

First of Many

Reached a milestone today — my first rejection. This is not failure, but progress. It’s now time to read the submission guidelines for the second journal, format my manuscript to get it in compliance, and submit that story again.

I’ve got 99 more rejections to accumulate in the coming year, so there’s no time to waste. On to the next rejection, and the next, until I finally get an acceptance, and then move on to my next series of rejections.

Getting There

Got a good start on chapter nine this holiday weekend. Eight hundred words or more each day, another five hundred the first day back to work. I’m at around twenty percent so far — still a long way to go, but at least I’m not playing catch up yet.

The pace will slow as the weekday grind sets in. Four hundred words on the days I work, double that on days off — I’ll have to pick up the pace on more than a few days to reach my goal, but I can get there. May have to push myself that final week, but this chapter is going to drafted at the end of September.

And now, chapter nine of Gray Metal Faces

There’s one more chapter of Gray Metal Faces that remains to be drafted, and I plan to cross that task off my to-do list this month.

Like I did with chapter 8 in April, I’ll be drafting the ninth and final chapter on a private site. (I’ll get around to explaining why I’m doing this at some point.) If you leave a comment on this post, I’ll send you an invitation to the private site so you can see the work in progress.

Complete the draft by October 1, and I’ll be ready to update the final two chapters for NaNoWriMo in November. A completed draft of the whole damn thing… not sure what I’ll do when I get to that point, but I’m looking forward to that great unknowing.

One Touch

I’d look up the last time I wrote about fencing, but I don’t have room in my life for any more regret. So I’ll just go ahead and talk about a recent night at the club, an unusually successful evening, during which, for the first and quite possibly the last time, I defeated my coach.

We played a game of one-touch, which, as the name suggests, involves a running series of matches to a single score. There were a half-dozen fencers that evening, all adults (the kids will come back when schools come back in session). Our bouts began with the score tied at 14 (elimination bouts in tournaments go to 15 touches), and since we had some fencers with competition ratings, competitors were deducted a point for each level they had attained; an unrated fencer in a bout against a fencer with the next highest rating, E, would begin with a 14-13 advantage.

I drew the opening bout of our competition, and faced our coach, who also happens to be our club’s best competitor. With her D rating, I had a 14-12 advantage, meaning I needed to get her once before she scored her third. A difficult task, but hardly impossible; in our competitive bouts, I’ve earned one touch for ever four or five surrendered. But this was a different game, and coach always plays to win (as do I, but at a much lower rate of success). I’d have to catch her making a mistake, and when she made it I’d have to score, because there wouldn’t be another opportunity.

Our bout began, and I retreated on her approach, stepping forward a few times to break up her rhythm. She needs three, and all I need is one. I lunged out of distance, to see if she’d overextend herself on the riposte, but she was too good of a competitor to take the bait. Just one. I retreated, letting her advance…

And then it was there. My brain didn’t register the thought, but my vision combined with instinct and experience recognized that she had come in too close and left an opening on her right.  I pounced, disengaging under her blade, extending my arm wide, and leading the point of my blade to her right shoulder, on the edge of her target area. It was an action based not on any decision on strategy, not something I thought about, but more accurately something I felt.

The scoring machine to my right buzzed, but I didn’t know if I had landed on target (green light), or off (white light). I looked over — green light.

Some fencers claim that yelling or celebrating on strip is inappropriate. I don’t agree with that opinion, but still feel compelled to apologize after showing my excitement over a successful attack, especially during practice. But to knock out my coach, on the first bout, the first touch, of the competition, and win without relying on my handicap: YEEEEEEAAAAAAAAH!

I would lose my next bout to an unrated fencer, and over the course of that evening I probably lost more bouts than I won. But I did defeat every other competitor at least once that evening, defeating another D and an E. When the competition came to its end, we all agreed that the event was not only a load of fun but also an effective simulation of a close tournament bout. And for me, it was a rare opportunity to celebrate success. I’m not going to beat coach very often; I faced her three other times that evening, and never came close to scoring against her again. But for one evening, I could honestly say I beat everyone. Winning isn’t everything, but it certainly is a lot more fun than losing, and I had enough fun that evening to carry me through a lot of tough bouts to come.

Now, for part three

Wrote my pitch letters for part 2 of my freelance writing workshop last night. (Interesting observation: for the first part of the workshop two weeks ago, we had around 15 people. For the second part last night, for which we had an assignment, only four people returned.) Feedback on my pitches was largely positive (I need to clarify the angle for each of my stories), and I was encouraged to submit them to actual publications. Consider that part three of the workshop — applying what I’ve learned to the real world. Taking a workshop or course is definitely within my comfort zone, but the time has come to be more daring.

Grinding

Been a productive week. After submitting my short story, I completed a draft of the next chapter for one of my novels, and forwarded it to a writers’ group that meets on the second Saturday each month. Next task: pitch letters for two magazine/newspaper articles. And after that, spend Labor Day weekend starting the draft for the final chapter of another novel.

It’s tiring. At times I feel the reclinter and remote pulling me towards them, tempting me to turn on a ball game and put this crazy idea of making a living as a writer on the shelf. But I gotta keep grinding,  

One Closer to A Hundred

Finally submitted the story I’ve been writing to an online publication. Might sound perverse, but I almost want to be rejected — not being I’m a masochist, but rather because I know rejection is a part of the writing career. I’ve heard that a writer should aspire to 100 rejections a year, the assumption being that among all that failure will be several key successes. I’m not going to get to a hundred by the end of 2017, but 25… we’ll have to see.