The Idea for “A Man at Arms”

Readers ask me sometimes if there’s any individual character among all those I’ve written with whom I identify most. 

There is.

It’s the solitary mercenary of the ancient world, Telamon of Arcadia, who appears in the fourth century BCE in Tides of War, re-appears unchanged sixty years later in The Virtues of War, and even makes a cameo in The Profession (still unchanged) twenty years into our contemporary future.

For years friends have asked me, “When are you going to do a book just about Telamon?”

I’ve wanted to. I can’t tell you how many outlines I’ve started or concepts I’ve scratched onto yellow foolscap pads.

But I never could find the right story or the proper time period.

How could I bring this dark, haunted, indeed doomed character out of the shadows and into a possible resolution to his fate?

Then one day, about three years ago, I began thinking about another character–a nine-year-old mute girl, in the first century CE, tasked with delivering a certain letter to a certain beleaguered community.

I thought, “This is the story. It’s not about just him. It’s about him and her.”

Remember, a couple of months back, we did a series of posts in this space whose theme was

Get to “I love you?”

The idea of “Get to I Love You” is to take two characters who are as far apart as possible at the start of story … then structure the narrative in such a way that, by the end, they have come together.

The two characters don’t have to be lovers.

They can be a father and a daughter.

A child and a wild animal.

A cop and a gangster.

The dynamic can happen even within a single character.

This new book is called A Man at Arms. It comes out in March 2021. 

What made it work as a story, what gave me the confidence to write it, is this idea of 

Get to “I love you.”

How could I crack open the skull of Telamon, the one-man killing machine whose philosophy is essentially to believe in nothing?

The answer (unless I’m crazy) was to set across from him an innocent child who believes in everything … and make the man and the girl, somehow, come together in the end.

DO THE WORK

Steve shows you the predictable Resistance points that every writer hits in a work-in-progress and then shows you how to deal with each one of these sticking points. This book shows you how to keep going with your work.

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A short book about the writing of a first novel: for Steve, The Legend of Bagger Vance. Having failed with three earlier attempts at novels, here's how Steve finally succeeded.

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Steve shares his "lessons learned" from the trenches of the five different writing careers—advertising, screenwriting, fiction, nonfiction, and self-help. This is tradecraft. An MFA in Writing in 197 pages.

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Amateurs have amateur habits. Pros have pro habits. When we turn pro, we give up the comfortable life but we find our power. Steve answers the question, "How do we overcome Resistance?"

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23 Comments

  1. Peter Brockwell on November 4, 2020 at 2:02 am

    I feel quite inspired after reading this. What a great concept, and illustration of the get to ‘I love you’ framework. I look forward to reading this novel. I’m evaluating my own W.I.P. from this viewpoint, and it needs a lot of work, and new ideas. Thanks Steve!!

  2. Joe Jansen on November 4, 2020 at 5:35 am

    “…unless I’m crazy.”

    Nope. You’re not.

    Very excited to hear that this new novel is on the horizon. I see that Norton has a page with a brief synopsis and (dang) some fine early endorsements: Mattis, Willink, Carr, Holiday): https://wwnorton.com/books/9780393540970

    When I read that synopsis (a hardened mercenary and a nine-year-old mute girl), I felt the sparks that Steve talked about in his 28 Oct Writing Wednesdays post (“Alone in a Room, Wearing a Mask,” referencing Paul Schrader, Taxi Driver, and sparks between two wires).

    Maybe coincidentally (or maybe just Schrader making the rounds), but Schrader and Taxi Driver were also featured two days ago in a video released on the “Behind the Curtain” YT channel (they look under the hood of well-known scripts to help the aspiring screenwriter/novelist with insights into story structure and technique).

    In that video (https://youtu.be/ErfH5djFS7E) at 1:48, Schrader talks about creating stories through metaphor. He says: “It’s like two wires. You have the problem and the metaphor. They have to get close enough for a spark to jump across. If they’re too far apart, there will be no spark. And if they’re on top of each other, there will be no spark. So you have to tease them, and play with the sparks.”

    I read the short description of “A Man at Arms” on Norton’s web site (https://wwnorton.com/books/9780393540970/about-the-book/description), which goes:

    “Jerusalem and the Sinai desert, first century AD. In the turbulent aftermath of the crucifixion of Jesus, officers of the Roman Empire acquire intelligence of a pilgrim bearing an incendiary letter from a religious fanatic to insurrectionists in Corinth. The content of the letter could bring down the empire.

    “The Romans hire a former legionary, the solitary man-at-arms, Telamon of Arcadia, to intercept the letter and capture its courier. Telamon operates by a dark code all his own, with no room for noble causes or lofty beliefs. But once he overtakes the courier, something happens that neither he nor the empire could have predicted.”

    Dude. May I say honestly: “I felt the sparks.”

    Something else… Steve has written a number of times about how Telamon of Arcadia is his “secret alter ego.” To see Telamon now coming to center stage made me think about something else in this “Behind the Curtain” episode. At about 10:53, Paul Schrader says:

    “You, here, are your own material. Your material is not elsewhere. Your material is not in the newspapers or the TV shows or the books or the manga. Your material is essentially yourself.”

    Looking forward to meeting Telamon in some greater depth.

    Last thing: I see recent press releases that they’re making Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried” into a film (https://taskandpurpose.com/entertainment/the-things-they-carried-film).

    Another resonance with “You, here, are your own material.”

    • Joe on November 4, 2020 at 5:57 am

      And endorsements from Ann Scott Tyson and Jim Gant (just dug into their stories together and equally as fascinated). A year on Mars is 687 days, so I may have to hitch a ride there with Elon so I have more time to read.

    • Joe on November 4, 2020 at 6:08 am

      I swear, I see my productivity today slowly spiraling down the drain:

      https://www.huffpost.com/entry/afghanistan-jim-gant-american-spartan_n_5008520

      ***
      “Working in insurgent-controlled valleys in Konar Province, Gant and his teams of American and Afghan fighters operated far beyond the reach of reinforcements or air support. Their own security: absolute trust that each would fight to the death for the others.

      “Tyson went with them. She took a leave of absence from The Washington Post in September 2010, and flew to Afghanistan, where she gathered material for the book. Under Gant’s supervision, Tyson learned to fire ‘almost every weapon’ the Special Forces team used, she writes. On missions with Gant and his team, she wore U.S. military fatigues and tucked her hair up under a ballcap. Her job in a firefight was to pass ammunition to the turret gunner.”

      ***
      If I ever write a book, THESE are the kind of people I’d hope to have providing endorsements.

    • Abilene Harper on November 4, 2020 at 10:55 am

      Thank you greatly for the YT channel recommendation. I am an aspiring storyteller and I could really use insights regarding story structure and technique.
      Much appreciated!
      Cheers 😘

      • Joe on November 4, 2020 at 11:50 am

        You bet, Abilene. The insights there pair nicely with the insights here.

    • Brent Cantrell on November 21, 2020 at 12:25 am

      As deep calls to deep. Crazy calls to crazy. I see the look in Steve’s eyes sometimes and he is a mad man. How do I know? Cause I’m one myself. But purely speculative, but I think Mr. Pressfield would consider it a compliment as I intend for it to be. Mr. Pressfield may not be the Chief in the Army of Madness, but he is a ranking officer that deserves respect.

  3. Advait Deshmukh on November 4, 2020 at 8:53 am

    Like movie WOLVERINE!

  4. Jule Kucera on November 4, 2020 at 9:51 am

    Steve, you are not crazy. Even just this brief description gives me chills.
    Looking forward to March!

  5. Andrew lubin on November 4, 2020 at 9:52 am

    A March release date? Gotta move it up!!

  6. LC on November 4, 2020 at 10:34 am

    Can’t wait for this book! And thank you for this concept—I will keep this in mind in all my writing (and interactions!)

  7. Regina Holt on November 4, 2020 at 10:51 am

    Cannot wait!!

  8. Vlad Zachary on November 4, 2020 at 11:03 am

    Well – it’s not just about him, though, is it? What is the little girl’s arc? Is it maybe like in the Game of Thrones – the Hound is the heartless fighter/warrior/killer, till he goes on a trip with little Arya Stark. He gets to “I love you” but also – in the process she becomes a fighter/warrior/killer … I guess the question is – how is she changing so they can converge and get to I-love-you.

  9. Yvonne on November 4, 2020 at 11:05 am

    Your upcoming sounds fascinating!

  10. Skip Raschke on November 4, 2020 at 11:42 am

    It’s about time you wrote something!

    Just kidding, of course.

    Will read “A Man at Arms” next Spring!

    TY!!!

    Semper Fi,

    sr

  11. Brian Nelson on November 4, 2020 at 1:25 pm

    Steve,
    Perfect timing–at least for the announcement–with all the uncertainty many of us feel right now, have felt for months–we have something to look forward to with certainty. Cannot wait.

    Your efforts have greater impact than any of the talking heads telling us how to think right now.

    Bless you.
    bsn

  12. Bill Pace on November 4, 2020 at 5:12 pm

    Can NOT wait to read this new book Steven!!

  13. Brad Graft on November 4, 2020 at 7:51 pm

    Joe– man, you were all over this one. And Steve– sorry I’m late to the game on this post. But I just can’t wait for this book. It’s going to be fantastic. Semper Fi.

    • Joe on November 5, 2020 at 7:40 am

      I’m noisy on this one. Just seeing connections all around.

  14. Joe on November 4, 2020 at 7:58 pm

    Just came across this trailer tonight. It seems powerful themes appear synchronously. I think of it as you ring a big gong in the center of a room, and the crystal and the chandeliers and the strings of the guitar in the corner all start vibrating too.

    https://youtu.be/zTZDb_iKooI

    • Andrew+Lubin on November 5, 2020 at 5:01 am

      Joe – thanks, but please; no mas! I’m not getting my writing done today as I log-in here repeatedly to follow your and everyone else’s YouTubes, reviews, and comments! (or perhaps Resistance is kicking my ass…?)

  15. Brad Graft on November 4, 2020 at 8:24 pm

    Joe– thanks for the find. We know of one Christmas time movie we’ll be watching.

    And interesting that Steve once said that the “Romans do nothing for me…” Until he found the right story and the right character, where the Romans fit. As always, proud of you, Steve. SF

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