After yesterday’s interview, here’s another one. This one fits into the series I did on “So you want to be a writer.” I figured it would be helpful to ask one of the most successful writers in martial arts and self defense for his take on the craft. So here’s the interview with Loren W. Christensen. Enjoy!
Q: How did you start out writing your first book?
A: The year was 1976 and I was on leave from the PD because I had broken my knee in a martial arts sparring match. I had been thinking about writing a book on police defensive tactics because at that time there were only two on the market. Part of my desire was to write about DT and the other part was that I just wanted to write a book.
During my three years in the Army I had taken a writing course and had sold a small piece to Reader’s Digest. Five years later I received a check from them (not all publishers are this slow), which was the same week I decided to write the DT book. I took the payment, bought a cheap typewriter and a year later my first book was born.
For the next several years I wrote only magazine pieces, focusing on the martial arts, survival, bodybuilding, nutrition, and police techniques. Ten years later in 1987, I wrote another book and then another and another. Today, I’ve had over 40 books published by five publishers and I’ve written dozens of magazine articles.
I would suggest that new writers begin with magazine pieces and stories for their community newspapers. It’s better to get experience writing smaller pieces first than trying a book. When you jump in hard and fast with a huge writing project, you’re more likely to crash, burn and give up discouraged. Instead, take your time to learn and practice, and things will naturally fall into place for you.
Q: When did you decide to write full-time and how did you reach that decision?
A: Because of some incorrect information I’d received, I thought I could retire from the PD after 20 years. When I had about 18 years on, I began planning a full-time writing career, with a side gig of teaching martial arts privately. At 19 years on the job, I was told I couldn’t retire until I had 25 years in. Six more years!
I was seriously depressed about this but I nonetheless kept my dream alive. To see what writing full-time would be like, I wrote most weekends, holidays and I took every personal day I could from the PD. I also wrote on the job every chance I got: lunch breaks, desk duty, hurry-up-and-wait times, and waiting to testify in court. I managed to put out one book a year, sometimes two, during these “extra” years I had to work as a cop. Although these weren’t ideal writing conditions, I was even more convinced that writing full-time was the gig for me.
To back up a bunch of years, I knew in the sixth grade that I wanted to write. It was one of the few things I was good at in school (actually, I was pretty good at getting into trouble) and the teachers always picked my writing to read to the class. I loved that. I loved making the other kids laugh, feel sad or chorus, “Gross!”
Through middle and high school, I wrote about movies and TV shows I’d seen as if I’d made up the stories. My parents hadn’t seen the movies or TV programs so they praised my “creativity.” I liked that, of course. In college, I chose classes that involved lots of writing because it was easy for me, and I got good grades.
When I first began writing articles and books for money, I had only a fuzzy thought about doing it full time. I knew I had to learn a lot more about the craft before I could depend on it for a living. So I wrote on a variety of topics for every outlet that would buy my efforts. I wrote pamphlets, community newspaper pieces and filler pieces for magazines. Once I got comfortable with that, I branched out to magazine feature pieces and began writing a monthly column for a police newspaper.
All the while I was getting experience, I was studying the craft by devouring, what I call “How 2 Rite Gud” books and magazines.
By the time I had written several books and magazine pieces and edited a newspaper for a while, I figured I was ready to make the leap to full time.
Q: Have you ever had writer’s block and how do you deal with it?
A: I haven’t and I don’t know why. When I sit down before the PC, stuff just pours out of my typing fingers. There have been times, and this still spooks me a little, when I sit down at 8 o’clock in the morning to begin hacking on the keys. After what seems like a moment, I look up at the clock and it’s noon.
However, there have been millions of times that I’ve been stuck on how to make something work. For example, I just spent three days trying to make one lousy paragraph read right. It’s not a martial arts book, but a rather heavy-duty piece of writing in which that paragraph makes or breaks the chapter. It was one of the most frustrating periods I’ve had in a while. I swore, punched my bag and struggled not to throw my chair through all three of my computer screens. I stuck with it, though, and now it works. I think.
Whenever I’m having problems making a section flow, it really helps to leave my office area and do something physical. Sometimes I pluck weeds for 20 minutes out in the yard, and other times I go up and down the hallway practicing a kick/punch combination. Practicing my tai chi form helps, too.
In The Fighter’s Body, you and I wrote about a concept called “One-minute workouts.” These are great when my brain is feeling like pond sludge. I get off my rear and execute a two-part combination on my right side for 30 seconds and then on my left side for 30 seconds. I don’t do these hard so I don’t warm up other than to circle my arms a few times. I just do them quickly and smoothly to get in 15 to 20 reps of the combo on each side. Sixty seconds later, my mind is refreshed, my muscles full of fresh blood, I’m better able to see the problem, and I enjoy knowing that my combination is a little smoother and a little more ingrained that it was a minute earlier.
Q: What does your average day as a writer look like? Do you have a specific routine?
A: I wake up, go to the bathroom… Jumping ahead to 8a.m….After Lisa leaves for work, Rocky, our 4-pound Yorkie dog and Lexii, our 20-pound cat and I head down the hall to my home office where I’ll work until 4p.m., give or take an hour. I’m always writing at least two books, a magazine piece, a couple of Forewords and book jacket blurbs for other writers, book reviews, and product reviews for Amazon.com. We sell signed books and DVDs through our site, through substores on Amazon, and through eBay. We pack orders around noon and haul them to the post office in early afternoon.
My day is structured but not strictly so. I lived a structured life for 29 years working law enforcement so I have no intention of continuing that. What structure I do have now is one that allows for productivity. Training in the martial arts since 1965 has developed an iron discipline so I have no trouble working hard even when I’m ill.
Q: Have you experienced negative reactions from people when they know you’re a writer? If so, how do you deal with them?
A: Nothing like I got when I was a cop. When you’re a cop in a social gathering, people either scrunch their faces and stay away from you or they hang onto you like you’re a rock star and they’re a groupie. I disliked both reactions.
To answer your question, I can’t recall any negative reactions. People are usually very interested and want to know what I write. In fact sometimes, depending on the situation, I say that I work for myself. A couple of times I’ve been tempted to say that I own a chain of adult video stores just to hear what people say.
There is one reaction that annoys me. Someone will ask what I do and I tell them that I write. If the person is the type who reads a lot and is smug and arrogant about it, they’ll ask, “Really? Have I read you?” Have I read you? To my mind, asking that is more about them and their wanting you to know that they’re hardcore readers and, therefore, somehow superior to everyone else. Once, when I was cranky, I said to the woman, whose reading glasses hung from her neck on a bejewelled chain, “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe if you made a list of every book you’ve ever read, I’ll scan it and let you know if I’m on there.”
I know, I know, this makes me an asshole. But it’s a pet peeve and I can’t help it.
Q: Is there anything you would do differently in your writing career?
A: I would take more fiction writing courses in college. I’ve got over 40 non-fiction books on the market but I really want to publish a novel. I have written one and I’m working with a publisher, but it’s uncertain at this moment whether it’s going to be a go.
I would have tried fiction earlier before my non-fiction style got so ingrained. The two are not the same.
I would start reading earlier. Though I had a college degree before I went into the army, I didn’t discover my voracious appetite for consuming books until I was stationed in the Florida Everglades where the only thing to do was read and dodge snakes and other creepy crawlies. Today, I try to read one or two books a week. Writers read.
Q: You’ve written many books on martial arts and self-defense, and on police work, psychological training, riots, conditioning and much more. When you write about martial arts and self-defense, is it different from these other topics?
A: My martial arts writing voice is different than the one I use in my other books. It’s taken me 20 years to develop my martial arts voice, one that I’ve been told comes across like two friends talking, which is what I try for. I try to make it friendly, understanding, funny and serious. While I take the martial arts seriously – it’s saved my hide a few times and others have told me that my teaching has saved theirs – I don’t take myself seriously. There are more than enough big egos in the fighting arts, over-the-top claims, grandiose titles, and ugly criticism of others. I will not add to that.
I strive to write with an everyman voice. We’re all striving to be our best while at the same time we’re combating inner demons, such as fear, aging, health issues, laziness, physical limitations and every other frailty that is the human condition. These are as much our opponents as are our training partners. In my writing, I discuss these human elements and offer the best advice as to how to conquer them while at the same time presenting the best techniques I know for the particular slant of the book I’m working on. You and I did this in the books we worked together.
Q: What advice could you give beginning writers who want to get their first book published?
A: I get emails from people all the time asking, “I’ve written this fantastic book, now what?” That’s like getting dressed up all pretty like and then asking, “Now where should I go?”
I think it’s best to get a publisher before you write a word. An exception might be if you know – really know – that you’re a publishable writer, you know how to research a book, structure it, argue your points and so on, then it might be okay, though it’s still risky to write one without a publisher at least interested in seeing it.
Learn the business. Dean Koontz (yes, I’m name dropping) told me years ago that writing is as much a business as it is an art form. I listened to his advice and learned as much as I could about the many facets of the business. That knowledge has helped me choose book projects, choose the right publisher, include the right material in books, know how to talk with editors, publishers and agents, and how best to market.
Start small. Don’t start out trying to write the greatest book ever written because you’ll fail. I have never been able to determine which of mine would be good sellers. Some of my favorites, ones I thought would be popular, are not my top movers. Others I thought would sell just so-so, have been done really well. Don’t try to write the best book ever written but rather strive to write the best book of which you are capable. There’s a difference.
Know that some readers are going to love you (some scarily so) and others will think you’re cow caca.
Know that getting a book published doesn’t make you a genius, a god or better than anyone else. Writing is a learned craft, like painting, carpentry and cooking.
Q: Do you have any upcoming projects you can talk about?
A: I have four things coming out in the next few months.
Tentatively titled Hookers, Tricks and Cops is due out in September by Paladin Press. I have written on various subcultures over the years – street gangs, white supremacists, skid row, warriorhood – and this is another along that line. As the title tentatively suggests, Hookers, Tricks and Cops is about the mostly underground world where prostitutes, their customers, and law enforcement intersect. I worked in this world off and on for several years, so I’ve included lots of my experiences as well as anecdotes that I got from interviewing cops, prostitutes, and johns. I think the reader will find this world to be at once sordid, sad, shocking, violent, and funny.
We’re shooting pics as we speak for a book tentatively titled How to Fight Drunks, Dopers, the Deranged and Other Assailants Who Feel No Pain, which will be published by LWC Books. As hard as it is for some martial artists to believe, there are people out there who won’t feel your wristlocks, tornado kicks and killer punches. I’ve seen people shot, stabbed and run over by cars, and be oblivious to their injuries as they continue to fight. Drawing on my experience and the experience of bouncers, cops, high-ranking martial arts and a physician, I have compiled techniques and concepts for dealing with these monsters.
I cowrote a book with Lt. Col. Dave Grossman and psychologist Dr. Mike Askens called Warrior Mindset: Mental Toughness Skills for a Nations Defenders, published by Warrior Science Group, the publishers of On Combat. It’s at the printer right now; I’m guessing it will be out in September. As the old saying goes “Your mind is your best weapon.” I think of this book as performance psychology applied to combat.
I wrote a book a couple of years ago called The Brutal Art Of Ripping, Poking & Pressing Vital Targets, published by Paladin Press. We shot the DVD version last November in Boulder, Colorado and I’m told it will be released at the end of this year or the beginning of 2010. It’s contains a couple of hours of really nasty techniques that go way beyond kicking and punching, stuff like eyelid pinching, inner thigh tearing, nostril ripping and eardrum gouging.
These titles will be available through their publishers or through my site. I sign everything that we ship out.
Thanks to Loren for taking the time for this interview. I hope you got lots of great info out of it.