Loren’s first novel came out a while ago and I finished reading it not so long ago. I enjoyed the book and asked him if he wanted to do aquick Q&A. He graciously agreed and here’s the result. Enjoy!
Q&A with Loren W. Christensen on his first novel:
Dukkha: The Suffering
Q: What made you decide to write a novel after well over 40 books of non-fiction?
A: I’ve written 45 nonfiction books, all the while itching to try fiction, in the same way some actors want to direct. However, I’ve learned in the writing biz that certain projects are all about timing. For example, I co-wrote ON COMBAT with Lt. Col. Dave Grossman in 2003, a complex book that I couldn’t have written in the ‘90s, probably not even in 2000. But in 2003, the experience I had gained from previous writing, such as interviewing, researching, and creating readable text out of transcripts, made it possible to tackle the 31-month project.
Likewise with DUKKHA: THE SUFFERING. I couldn’t have done it in 2000. By the time I began writing it in 2009, however, I’d read lots of how-to-write fiction literature, studied the styles of just under a kuhzillion novelists, and had matured to a place where I was comfortable creating a storyline. With those things under my belt, the novel just fell into place. Okay, it didn’t “fall into place.” It came out of my pores along with buckets of sweat and blood. And tears. And curses.
Q: Was there a specific event that triggered the idea for the story?
A: There are three shootings in the story. The one that triggers all of Sam’s emotional turmoil (duukha) was based on a real incident that happened here in Portland, one that shook the PD to its core and traumatized the citizens for months. I think I started writing with that incident in mind and built around it.
Q: What are the similarities, if any, between you and Sam?
A: There is a little of me in Sam, though he’s 30 years younger. He’s a police officer, as I was for nearly 29 years, and he’s a martial arts teacher, as I have been for the last 47 years. Also, Sam is a good cop, but not always. Sometimes his martial arts work wonderfully and other times not so good. That was my experience as well.
I’m also a little like his father in the story, same age, though I like to think I’m not as quirky, nor are my skills on a par with his.
Q: You stayed away from the cliche of the super-cop hero by describing Sam’s psychological troubles after he is forced to use lethal force. Could you give the readers some more information as to why you did that?
A: Most often in fiction, the hero punches a guy in the chops and never considers his trashed hand, then he blows a guy out of his socks with a 9mm and never gives it another thought. One of several objectives I had in writing DUKKHA: THE SUFFERING was to show what happens to a person, a good cop in this case, who desperately tries to do the right thing, succeeds in part, but then something terrible happens that is so awful and unspeakable that it threatens to destroy his soul.
Q: How did you go about creating the fight scenes?
A: The same way any scene is created: It simply unfolds. I’ve found that the characters are in charge most of the time and rarely lead me astray. As far as the fight scenes go, let’s say I sit down with an idea about two guys fighting in a car. Ten pages later, I find that the fight began in the car, continued out onto the parking lot, and concluded in the bed of a pickup. Most often, the scene ends up better than what I had in my mind because I let the characters do what they had to do. I know that’s a controversial approach, but so far that’s working out pretty well.
Except for Sam Reeve’s father, whose martial skills border on the supernatural (but aren’t), I try to make the fights as real as possible. I think of Sam’s fights as Everyman, if you will. The father’s fights are of the type we fantasize about.
Q: Did you base the fight scenes on your own experience on the job?
A: There’s a little of my experience in every fight, then I added to it.
Q: The book has an open ending. Can you tell something about the sequel and when it comes out?
A: The second book (no title yet) is completed, it’s been accepted by YMAA Publications, and we’re busy with the editing phase. It takes place in modern day Saigon and introduces an amazing group of old warriors with incredible fighting skills. At the risk of sounding like I’m over hyping it, there’s a protracted fight scene in it that bothered me so much as I worked on it that several times I had to take a break and go walk around outside.
I’m deep into the third book now that takes place back in Portland, and I have an idea for a prequel, which could be the fourth book or possibly one further down the line.
I don’t know when the second one will be out. In fact, the publisher is still deciding the best time to release the paperback version of DUKKHA: THE SUFFERING. It’s an e-book now that you can read on any e-reader or on your computer.
Q: Is there an underlying message to the book? Something you wanted the readers to definitely remember?
First, moral confusion. Are the actions of the protagonists right or wrong? Can they be both?
Second, there are often repercussions when doing the right thing.
Third, there are no absolutes in police work, in martial arts, or in family relationships. Fourth, violence takes a toll on the human condition.
Q: What’s next for you? More (non)fiction?
A: I’m going to concentrate on fiction for a while, though if I find an interesting non fiction I might do it. Turtle Press recently released an e-book of mine titled SELF-DEFENSE AGAINST A DOG ATTACK. It’s from a chapter I wrote in FIGHTER’S FACT BOOK 2, but with around 30 additional pages of techniques and info. I have a couple ideas for small martial arts e-books that I might publish myself or maybe go the traditional route with a publisher.
I find fiction much harder to write than nonfiction. With non, I shoot for four or five pages a day. With fiction I strive for two. In all types of writing, I enjoy the editing process the most, thinking of the first draft as a glob of clay on which to painstakingly etch in all the details of a face.
Q. Will Sam and the girl “get together” in the second book?
A: YES, YES, YES!! (was that too loud?) The sex scene was a tricky one to write. I had to find a balance between writing something that would make my kids go, “That was nice, dad” and make the warrior reader pump his fist, and shout, “Ooooh yeah. I can do that.”
That’s it. Thank you Loren for taking the time to do this.