I don’t usually crosspost what I wrote for him on my site, but this is something near and dear to my heart. If you’d like to read it on his site, this is the link.
Here’s the blog article:
Subtitle: The persistence of ideas.
Damien asked me how I got into making knives/weapons, and I was wondering how in the world I could take that question and swing the answer back towards writing. My “Not-A-Podcast” from yesterday provided the answer…but I might have to answer his question in a couple of parts.
As creative people, I’m imagining you’ve had a thought, idea, or project that wouldn’t let you go…hounded you…until you started it, and followed you until you were done. That kind of persistent idea drove me to write my first book.
A knife making forum I belong to featured a thread by Dee Hedges (a maker from Perth, Australia) about scavenging metal and making a serviceable blade during the zombie apocalypse. The thread grew into other craftspeople writing about what the zombie apocalypse was like where they live. It was funny, strange, and very interesting. I even added a few things.
Then it hit me: a big knife might not be the best tool for beheading zombies. The thing you’d get a lot of use out of would be a scythe-like weapon, preferably one that folded down for storage…a folding kama on steroids.
I’m pretty aware of my limitations as a craftsman, but I designed the “Man Scythe” anyway, and asked a few more experienced craftspeople to give me feedback on it. The general tenor of the replies was “Wow! Cool! Freakishly expensive to make one! The blade lock might not hold.”
Not having upwards of $700 to have the parts (without the blade) made, I decided to write about the weapon instead. Certainly cheaper!
That was the genesis of “Blood-Soaked and Contagious.”
So, in that way, much like I’ve written before: I began where I was. Then, like the persistent idea that started it all, the characters that evolved in the story became VOCAL and wouldn’t let me rest until I told their tale.
Now, the direct answer to Damien’s question.
I’ve always loved knives and swords. One of the clearest memories from my childhood is how sunlight looked on the blade of my father’s Bowie knife. (I snuck out to the car to look at it.) Truly, it was magical.
As soon as I could afford it, I started collecting knives. Unfortunately for me, I have an eye for design and quality, and even good factory knives aren’t inexpensive. So, I had the crazy idea that it would be less expensive to learn to make knives. That way I could have anything I want!
Allow me to dispel that myth, right up front. No. It is not cheaper. It is more expensive, time consuming, frustrating, blood, burn, and sketchbook-filled than buying knives.
It is also vastly more rewarding. There is a magic in making things with your hands that simply can’t compare to just buying a product. Things you make have a life of their own, much like things you write can rocket off in unexpected ways.
Again, like writing, making things will bring you into contact with some amazing and unique people. For example, I have a ko-katana (short katana) blade on my shelf that was forged by John Smith out of damascus steel that Jim Hrisoulas created (Jim is something of a legend in the community: google him).
I know Tony Swatton, thanks to my craft. Tony is the guy behind the swords for the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, and many other major motion pictures. He’s just another example of the amazing people who have come into my life, to say nothing of the people who’ve bought my creations!
Writing is doing much the same thing for me. I’m meeting and talking with some truly outstanding people that I never would have met any other way. Reach out, and they’ll be there. The best of them will teach you and help you move forward. You might lose a hero or two along the way, but you’ll make new ones.
I’ll wrap up this post with another fringe benefit of making things by hand that also applies to writing. You get to help other people find their craft, vocation, or voice. All you have to do is do what you love, love what you do, and talk about it when you have the opportunity. This is the heart of what it means to be a teacher.
Love. Learn. Practice. Teach.
Thanks for asking a great question, Damien!