17 February 2019

The Future of Vampire Stories (a continuing resolution)

Now that the more exciting half of the month of February has passed, there is only the President's Day non-holiday to give a nod toward. (I say non-holiday because most of us still must attend to work or school.) But fear not, for here is a blog post which empathizes with you. Suppose instead of presidents there were an emperor. Now suppose he had absolute power over everything in your world, including your life and, more importantly, your blood.

In writing the conclusion of the Stefan Szekely Trilogy - which began with my medically accurate vampire novel A DRY PATCH OF SKIN, set in 2013-2014 - I had to imagine the future of a vampirian society in 2099. Book 2, SUNRISE, was set in 2027-2028, when the problems of our current time were seeing fruition in a world in chaos.
In Book 3, SUNSET  (coming in late February), we see order restored but at a heavy price: oppression at home, wars on the frontiers. Imagining the future, whether utopian or dystopian, is always an exercise in cause and effect.

In Book 2, human-led society in the Hungarian Federation made use of the latest technologies. However, in Book 3, the vampire-led society of the Empire of Europa, has railed against modern advancements, decrying much of what we take for granted today and in its monstrous transformation by 2028. By 2099, at the centennial celebration, and the council of governors meeting that follows, we learn what has happened in the interim.

Excerpts from SUNSET, 
Book 3 of the Stefan Szekely Trilogy

Case #1: surveillance

[His Holiness speaks:]
 “Perhaps you are too young to recall when citizens were monitored at all times, forced to sign their names hourly, compelled to indicate their approval or disapproval on trivial matters by pressing a finger to a painted icon on their monitors. That was not freedom. Fail to sign in and police would hunt them down, examine them for cross-thought or bio malfunction. If found disabled, they would have their amusements suspended. Likewise, if the amusements consumed too much of their nightly tasks, the amusements would be suspended. Yet we learned it was these amusements which compelled many to rise at all upon the dusk. How great the inventions of the past! How the imagination of the Most High corrals us, mends us, makes us into obedient servants despite our best efforts to rebel. How we must free ourselves from the tyranny of technologics! The answer, as we now know, is only in a determined return to the past, to our traditions, to our heritage, to a new society based on the best of the old.”

Case #2: making a world more vampire-friendly

     “Every day our factories are pumping out millions of cubic meters of dark matter to feed the Black Storm. We have managed to blot out the sunshine an average of three-hundred-seventeen days each year, days with seventy-five percent of more darkness. As you know, the natural wind pattern continually blows it eastward. Thus we must continually replenish it. The Russians complain instead of welcoming our efforts to contain the sunshine. Look at what we have wrought on our own soil. The empire is now sixty-two percent fallow, a great improvement over the past decade. Some of the bloodlings complain. They beg for plants, for their crops, for pretty flowers to beautify the yards. Yet fruit and vegetables do not satisfy the vampirian palate. You cannot get blood from a turnip.”

Case #3: artificial intelligence, surveillance

     “Indeed, I recall the electric days of my youth—when everyone was monitored and conditioned and manipulated into all sorts of behavior not ordered by their own minds. The mindless youth, we called them, assembling in hordes to rain destruction upon whatever target their electric masters deemed worth destroying. A violent age. All of their petty demonstrations arranged locally by electric messaging! Yet we have extinguished the grid and freed the masses. Is that not a worthy goal? Cameras everywhere. Spying on us all. Drones flying the skies, often so thick we could not know exactly which of us they surveilled. People deigned to stay indoors to avoid official cameras—and privately commanded drones, too, snooping into windows, reading over your shoulder from kilometers away! 
     “Yet even there, in our own homes, we were constantly watched, our choices on the electric venues noted, our searches for information captured and used against us in the political correction courts and re-education camps. They did not know what they had created, nor did they surmise how their lives had become not their own but merely tools in a government toolbox, each of them put to use as needed, when needed, and put aside when no longer needed—given over to pointless games, animations of birds and puppets and pieces of candy, not to mention the shooting galleries and bat games, all to satisfy an abhorrent need for constant stimulation. While I endured thirteen years with only some books.

     “That was not living—meaning in the old sense of existing inside a prefabricated society that considered us as bits and bytes in a program designed by ‘artificial intelligence’. Oxymoronic drivel! It was called ‘A.I.’ in those days. Do you understand what I say? The electric boxes we now outlaw were common fodder in those days. Ubiquitous. We used to communicate through those machines. Without a machine we could not communicate. And without a code number, we could not use those machines. Predictably, all our communications were checked and double-checked for correctness and compliance with standard norms, and when out of parameters a friendly drone would knock on your door, zap you to unconsciousness when you opened the door, and off to re-education camp you went.
     “No, I mean the term ‘artificial intelligence’—a machine acting like a human brain acts, the machines and the instructions to operate them independent of human thought, in essence a self-operating machine, much like the vehicles designed to carry us about our nightly tasks.
     “Yet such automated machinery can also bring about our demise. Hence we outlawed them. All the A.I. machinery. You may not recall that incident—it was famous, notorious as an example—where the English's prime minister sent the image of his sexual organs to the queen through this electric system—quite by accident, he insisted. It was the work of this artificial intelligence, certainly, yet the queen was not amused. That prime minister had to lose his personal parts to make amends. Pity. Yet we see what can be accomplished without our knowledge or our will. Embarrassment is the least of our concerns...."

Indeed, the opportunity to create a new world, regardless of its positive nature or hideous transformation, is one of the reasons I got into this author business. I liked imagining and stepping into a new situation, an escape from the mundane reality of junior high school or, as it is now, from the workplace. And some of us still enjoy playing God - or at least Emperor!

To be continued...

(C) Copyright 2010-2019 by Stephen M. Swartz. All Rights Reserved. No part of this blog, whether text or image, may be used without me giving you written permission, except for brief excerpts that are accompanied by a link to this entire blog. Violators shall be written into novels as characters who are killed off. Serious violators shall be identified and dealt with according to the laws of the United States of America.

12 February 2019

The Anti-Valentine Rant

February is rife with celebratory occasions, from the Super Bowl (shoulda been Chiefs over Saints) to the Chinese New Year (Go, Pig, go!) to Valentine's Day. However, as we approach the day of reckoning, the most dreaded day of the year for many of us, perhaps it's of some comfort to realize that it's all based on someone being executed. 

Why the fuss? Well, long ago Mr. Valentine was killed for daring to marry couples in secret against the wishes of the government. Romans, you know. So strict. Strange how what goes around comes around. At any rate, he paid for his crimes. And there is nothing more romantic than that, right? Dying for love, for the cause of love. So, well, there's that. Otherwise, it sucks.

Chocolate, flowers, tokens of affection, greeting cards, love notes.... Most of this slush funding comes as crass commercial putsch, of course. Marketing 101. It's all just a crummy money mill. Invent a season and sell stuff for the season - or else you will be labeled a rube, called insensitive, shown the door as the truly despicable person you are! It's foolproof inasmuch as only fools fall for it. And there are so many fools among us. Especially this week. I fall for it every year. But not this year! Oh, noooooo.

So this love thing.... What is it? Science tells us it's nothing more than a firing of neurons. It's a biochemical reaction to a certain stimulus. See a pretty face, feel happy. A pretty face is determined based on genetic programming and environmental quirks. Also cultural sensitivity training, perhaps. We know what we like; we have been taught what we like. For men, it's easy: there are ass men, boob men, and so on. For women...well, I've read they like broad shoulders and a non-physical attribute called confidence. Perhaps also some cash in the bank. I've heard that. Magazines can be wrong, I've also heard. Or it's all fake news. 

Even so, it's a walking stimulus.  Advertising is based on walking stimuli; Valentine advertising is based on sex-related stimuli. The problem is that such stimuli exists year-round, so what's the big deal with the focus being on one particular day of the year? Because, dear lovers of love, if you do not demonstrate said love to said lover on or near this special day of love, then you are identified as a dolt at best and an ex-lover at worse. There is no middle ground, only a pit of ruin, an abyss of regret. And that pit is not filled with chocolates - not even half-bitten chocolates.

Yet never fear! We have the means to solve your problem. Just like the commercials now on radio and television and with increasing annoyance the Internet (every ^&@#$%^&* web page!) there is a message that you (me? yes, you!) have a problem. You did not know you had it but you do. And it will zap everything that makes you the you that you think you are right out of you! You do not want that problem, do you? Obviously not. Well, as luck has it, we can cure you of the problem you did not know you had.
So for a certain amount of money we can give you something which will solve that problem. Drug companies seem to do this, too, and clearly have mastered the art. You go along with your simple, unadorned life thinking it's just a matter of getting older, not having a quality sleep, suffering a poor diet, not having enough friends, or at least not enough cool, hip, advertising-worthy friends (but who can ever have enough of those?), and then...BAM!!! It hits you. No, it's not your fault, so don't worry. Besides, we have a solution. 

Buy this! Plenty to choose from. Eat this! Drink that! Take this! Wear this! Drive that! Look this way! Pay me! Pay us! Pay all of us! Or else you are not the person you want to be. Or else you can never be the kind of person you think you are! Give us money and we will roll back time, give you a make-over, prep you for your big re-debut, help you sweep the lover of your dreams off his/her feet! We will make you a god/goddess! 

Give us your money. It's that easy. Oh, for shame. Got no money? Well, then you don't count. Never counted, in fact. And who would want you in his/her life anyway? That is, without all the money to buy all the solutions you need to fix all the problems you obviously have in order to fit into this perfect, virtual society we have constructed and dutifully maintain for the glory of all who worship the almighty Valentine and his many minions of M√ľnchausen mania! Only then will you become worthy of membership in the Valentine Club. 

Just click off the obstinate media and return to your humble, quiet existence. Perhaps cuddle up with a wonderful, understanding book boyfriend/girlfriend. Many do. It's not that weird. Three-hundred pages or so will definitely last longer than an awkward round of that sexercise thing you used to do - well, that was before that Valentine thorn stuck in your side and started to hurt. Here's to that box of chocolates you eat all by yourself! You might also indulge in a vampire trilogy. I happen to know of one, in fact, so.... 

(C) Copyright 2010-2019 by Stephen M. Swartz. All Rights Reserved. No part of this blog, whether text or image, may be used without me giving you written permission, except for brief excerpts that are accompanied by a link to this entire blog. Violators shall be written into novels as characters who are killed off. Serious violators shall be identified and dealt with according to the laws of the United States of America.

19 January 2019

Re-Writing the Vampire Genre

In the world of vampire stories, there are two kinds: the purists who insist that vampires must be this and that, have this and that, and be able to do this and that. Or those who believe vampires can be something different than the so-called traditional creature the purists put on stage. For most of my reading life the genre of the supernatural has not very much interested me. I've read some I've seen movies, and they always seemed hokey. Yes, I went there.

As a science fiction aficionado, anything that did not seem based on science or scientific plausibility was phony and fake. I could not enjoy something that did not resonate as possible. Even fantasy novels (The Amber Chronicles, etc.) I could enjoy only if the explanations of "fantastic" phenomena made sense within the context of the setting. In my career of encountering vampire literature, mostly tangentially, I did like the story possibilities but they seemed more like "magical realism" than anything else: a realistic story that relied on one significant "magical" feature. Now, if the magical element could be explained in medical terms.... Then add cyberpunk, dystopian tales, and the push of YA literature, and the urban horror genre was born. (In my opinion.) Certain tropes became required - which is a challenge to me; I must go differently!

So in 2014 I had little interest in writing a "vampire novel". My academic colleagues had a good laugh when I stood up to announce my publication - anathema to their scholarly work, of course. The reason for A Dry Patch of Skin to even be written was my outrage (yes, outrage!) at the latest incarnation of the stock character in the Twilight novels and subsequent movies. My young daughter was hooked and I tried to explain to her the true nature of the affliction. A real disorder I had seen a report on years ago. I tried so hard to explain that I began writing a story to illustrate the transformation, basing everything on research into legends and into the medical side of it.

Most readers (including 4 doctors) have been satisfied with my realistic depiction of a normal guy being cursed with poor family genes which cause him to transform into the hideous creature visually identified as a vampire. And he was all set to start enjoying his life, with the love of his life, when the first symptoms of the transformation appeared. What a tragedy! One other feature of the book was that I was writing it in the same time and place as the story, as the story was unfolding: Oklahoma City in 2013-2014. The story literally ended a week after I finished typing the draft. (More about the research in this blog post.)

So, one and done, I thought. I had shown everyone how vampirism actually works. It had none of the supernatural powers many stories employed. But it was horrific nevertheless if the reader could empathize with the hero's tragic transformation. Satisfied, I went to work on other books in other genre. However, the ending nagged me. Tragic, yes, but what would happen to this fellow (a surrogate for myself, too obviously)? Eventually I began dabbling in the future. How would he be, say, ten years in the future from when Book I was published? More interestingly, how would the world be in ten years? Thirteen years on the calendar from when Book I ended; that is, 2027-2028.

Thus, the one-and-done became a trilogy. Once I started Book II, Sunrise, I knew it would have to be three. As any good author does, I put myself in the place of my protagonist, thinking as he would think, then allowed him to carry me through his adventures as I took dictation. I was never quite sure where he was taking me but I found the adventure interesting. As I kept to the dictum of "medically accurate", the story became more difficult to realize. I tried to keep it within the borders of biological plausibility (and I believe I succeeded), but the plausibility of world events was more unsettling in the future. (More about Book II in this blog post.)

Now Book III, Sunset (coming in February 2019), concludes the trilogy by taking readers further into the future to 2099, and with that timeline, more change in the world and less "medically accurate" elements. But I've not gone full-blown purist! In 2099 vampires are a distinct version of humanity, genetic superiors, worthy rulers of a subjugated "bloodling" underclass. Thanks to the Lord of Evil Himself, who has made the world over to benefit His vampire brethren, with help from His mistress. But that is not good enough (bad enough?) for others among the nobility of the Empire of Europa (encompassing the whole of Europe from the English Channel in the west to the Dnieper River in Ukraine, from southern Sweden south to Portugal and eastern Turkey), its skies blackened to prevent sunlight from ruining a perfectly good day. Most shocking is the abandonment of technology, the tool of surveillance and oppression of the prior generation, ugly symbols of the non-vampirian past.

However, all is not as it seems, scheme upon scheme in play, and I trust the reader will not be onto the true nature of the plot too easily. In the end, order must be restored, of course, or else there would be a fourth book. And yet, as I like to do, I left a twist upon which I might someday take up the keyboard once more....

(C) Copyright 2010-2019 by Stephen M. Swartz. All Rights Reserved. No part of this blog, whether text or image, may be used without me giving you written permission, except for brief excerpts that are accompanied by a link to this entire blog. Violators shall be written into novels as characters who are killed off. Serious violators shall be identified and dealt with according to the laws of the United States of America.

13 January 2019

Sloth & Indolence: A Grand Re-Imagining

Happy New Year! Like most people I know, I have been busier the past couple months than I would have expected or wished. No, it has actually been quite the opposite: a time of sloth and indolence with the best of intentions. Oh, sure, we had our holidays, full of the usual mirth and merriment, family squabbles and sporting events, and the ever-stressful shopping online for the relations. Books were offered up as suitable gifts and I missed the deadline.

Now I'm trying to make amends by pushing out my next here in the early year. I hope that the third book of a trilogy would be enough excitement to get readers of the first two books to the keyboard to click a Kindle into their lives or else to order the full paperback version for its tactile pleasures. Aside from that New Year's wish, I should take time to reintroduce myself.

What is The Deconstruction of the Sekuatean Empire?

When I first hammered this blog from hell's own fire and brimstone, I had in mind a place to post the "back material" for my sci-fi interdimensional drama THE DREAM LAND Trilogy. Because the trilogy is set partly on another world, where the chief political entity of that world, known as the Sekuatean Empire, becomes a focal point. Hence, the title of this blog would make sense: taking apart the history, geography, culture and customs of the place where much of the action of the story occurs. However, as time has progressed, other books have come to the forefront which have nothing to do with Sekuate or its hard-working rebels. It seemed at the time to be too much effort to create a wholly new blog from whole cloth.

You will also note the list of book titles with convenient hyperlinks in the upper right corner of this blog page. They are not simple decoration but actually serve as keys that open doors to my dementia. Experience them and be enlightened forever more! Or, at the least, be entertained, perhaps even enthralled. My writing strives to enfold profound truths of the human condition within pages of action and adventure, liberally marbled with reasonably applied sex and romance while sprinkled with haughty pontifications and jokes best left on the cutting room floor. That sounds a lot like a warning, doesn't it? But it's all in jest. I can assure you that 99.9% of the words are spelled correctly and good grammar is always in use - except for the dialog of those characters who have not been well-educated and then only for the sake of authenticity.

To update you now, the conclusion of my "medically accurate" vampire trilogy is about to launch. The conclusion to the story which began in Book I, A Dry Patch of Skin (2014), and continued through Book II, Sunrise (2018), follows a romantic phlebotomist with a dark family history through his transformation into a vampire (according to medical plausibility) and, in Book II, into his playboy years. Book III takes us up to the year 2099 when he has gained a sizable reputation for cruelty. With Book II being titled Sunrise, Book III's title seems obvious: Sunset. More on this trilogy in my next blog post.
Aside from the latest novel hitting the electronic shelves soon, I have also written science fiction, fantasy (indeed EPIC fantasy!), and a few contemporary (a.k.a. literary) dramas and what I would call action/adventure tales about real; people with real problems in real settings. You know the genre. (You can read samples of other books on the other pages of this blog.) I dabble at poetry. I've written a few screenplays, too. I love to invent stories, generally as a way for me to tease out the answer(s) to an assortment of "what-if" questions. For example, what would it be like if a man and a tiger could read each other's minds? This premise will be available to sort out in my next novel, Year of the Tiger, by the way. Because I am happiest when I am deep in a story, fighting my way through to an end that comes too soon, I will always be writing. I have ideas for the next five years. By then I will have ideas for the next five, and so on. I call these my "five-year plans".

I strive to post a new entry once a week, all the better to take advantage of certain Twitter hashtags (@StephenSwartz1) such as   #SundayBlogShare,  #MondayBlogs,  #TuesdayShares,  #Wednesdayblogs, and  #Blogorama. I do not hold to this schedule religiously, however - as this month's fare will attest. But I try. You know how life tends to interfere with your best intentions? It's doubly so for writers and teachers. Worse yet if one is both a writer and a teacher. But I'm not complaining. Not really. 
In keeping with a "best practices" model of book promotion, I shall attempt to keep blatant marketing efforts to a minimum - except when something new is launched. As always, I expect followers of this blog to read everything I produce and go forth to gather all their family members and friends, coworkers, and just about everyone they encounter in their daily lives, and make them also followers of this blog, readers of these books, and all-around nice people who live to love and love to live, helping all of us enjoy this wonderful world we occupy and yet still be prepared to battle the interstellar aliens who will invade us circa 2345 2217. The choice is yours, as always. But I have high hopes for you!

Thanks for your attention to these matters. Now carry on making the world a better place for me. And I shall return the favor wholeheartedly!

(C) Copyright 2010-2019 by Stephen M. Swartz. All Rights Reserved. No part of this blog, whether text or image, may be used without me giving you written permission, except for brief excerpts that are accompanied by a link to this entire blog. Violators shall be written into novels as characters who are killed off. Serious violators shall be identified and dealt with according to the laws of the United States of America.

19 December 2018

The Year's End of Kind of a Review

There comes a time in every blogger's life when the blogging is easy, and that time is known as the Year End Review or some variation on that topic. You simply recount everything you have done, and/or blogged about, during the year. It's a chance to rewrite history or boast on yourself, or perhaps humbly beg for more readers.

For me, this has been a difficult year - and yet I have persisted, keeping my claws locked in the edge of the cliffs time and time again. Fortunately, my actual life and my writing life have coincided strangely. When I don't feel well, my protagonist has difficulties, too. When something goes right for me, my hero has a good day, too. It's eerie how that alter ego keeps me going. But I suspect many writers role play a happier life (or, at least, a more invigorating life) through the fictional personas they create. Am I right? Am I?

So 2018 began for me with the finishing of the second volume of my vampire trilogy. Any Book 2 of a trilogy exists because something was not addressed in Book 1. And Book 3 follows automatically once the decision has been made to take the plunge into a 2nd volume after a so-called stand-alone novel fails to wrap up one or two crucial issues. So I did that, and launching Book 2 of the Stefan Szekely Trilogy was a pleasant diversion from the run of the mill runs around that old mill.

But seriously, then Book 3 stared me straight in the face, demanding what I would do for an encore. I said, "Here, hold my Merlot goblet." And promptly ratcheted up the rhetoric and the horror. For what could be more horrible that to be forced to commit evil every day lest you be punished? Everyone hates you for that daily act of evil yet you must do it or those around you whom you care for will suffer. It's an unpleasant conundrum. How to escape from this situation? Ah hah! And so Book 3 was born and shall be available soon enough (yet not so soon that you wouldn't have time to read Books 1 and 2 first). As with previous years, I went to China to teach a class in the summer and spent a lot of my free time alone in my hotel room typing away on the latest book. 

Besides the day job, that is what has occupied my time and attention for the bulk of the year. Except for the NaNo - the National Novel Writing Month - which I elected to indulge in by finally writing my autobiography. You know: finally a chance to write down all those little anecdotes you remember being told about when you were a baby or a toddler, and the adventures you remember from your elementary school days, and the first inkling of puppy love in junior high school.... Oh dear! I sense I'm getting into "spoiler" territory so I must cease. Well, it remains unfinished, as most good autobiographies are until the author ends it with a good whack or a doctor's note.

So what else did I do in 2018? You can look back through the blog posts of this year, down by count from previous years. As mentioned in a blog post or two, on too many occasions, when I planned to post a light-hearted entry about nothing important at all, something horrible would happen in the real world and my blog post seemed even more frivolous, so I did not post. I don't think the problem was my posts but, rather, the things people do to each other. What work of fiction can stand up to the reality we often face every day? It almost makes the writing of fiction a delicate luxury: a place to hide, or an escape into a mental landscape - which is good for a time, yes, but should not be a permanent condition.

Alas, as with every end of the year, the optimist I keep in my shirt pocket pops out his little head and grins precociously as if certain the new year will be nothing but merriment and mirth. I wish always to agree. And yet, as we so well know, it may not be. In each of our corners of the world, or in our own little neighborhood, try to take care of each other, share stories, be less suspicious and ready to wield weapons. Talk - for that was the reason the great Rhetoric was invented. Words are not sticks and stones; they're made of phonemes, which are soft and squishy and slide right off us unless we pin them to ourselves.

"Good night and have a pleasant tomorrow." 

-Weekend Update sign-off, Saturday Night Live

(C) Copyright 2010-2018 by Stephen M. Swartz. All Rights Reserved. No part of this blog, whether text or image, may be used without me giving you written permission, except for brief excerpts that are accompanied by a link to this entire blog. Violators shall be written into novels as characters who are killed off. Serious violators shall be identified and dealt with according to the laws of the United States of America.

25 November 2018

The End of NaNoWriMo!

Last night I won this year's National Novel Writing Competition (#NaNoWriMo), and I haven't even finished writing my novel. I did, however, attain the 50,000 word threshold of greatness. Of course, I knew I would achieve that mark. I don't enter competitions unless I intend to win. However, the competition is really (at least in my case) a contest against myself, and against the day job and all manner of vagaries that might interfere with my writing. Yet, once again, I have succeeded! (More on this year's entry below.)

Last year (2017), I was unable to participate. I was simply written out. (Read more about that situation here.) The year before (2016), I did participate and wrote what became my epic fantasy novel. Despite writing only about 55,000 words during the month of November, I eventually finished the novel at 233,000 words months later - which is about average for an epic fantasy, leaning heavily on the word 'epic'. I skipped 2015 but did give it my first try in 2014, producing most but not all of sci-fi story about a captured alien trying to get home.
My initial reluctance at trying to do such an intensive writing effort - not that I don't want to! - was that it falls in November, one of the busier months for those of us in academia. However, with a story idea, some notes, a plan or outline, it is possible to cobble out a rough draft in 30 days. That's about 1,700 words per day. Or, as my college freshmen like to say: "Well, you like to write, so it's okay for you." Indeed, I do like to write; it is the one activity that brings me peace and enjoyment.

So this year I thought to write an autobiography. Yes, many times I've borrowed from my own life for fiction I've written. This time, I really wanted to bring together the many stories and anecdotes from my life, especially my childhood. I'm not so vain that I expect to find my life of interest to others; however, that does not stop me from writing for myself. That still counts in the NaNo world. So, yes, I wrote, or started writing, my autobiography, beginning with the moment of birth told from the nameless baby's perspective.

As I snatched a few minutes here and there to write more, I tended to jump around in the timeline. I wrote about my family's travels while I was a toddler, with a tongue in cheek attitude. I wrote about elementary school and the quirky kids I met there. I jumped ahead and told the story of, for example, how I met Carla, the funeral director's daughter, when I moved across town to a new school for 7th grade. I explained the family history according to both grandmothers. I named names, including actual relations (they'll never read this!). I was writing for me, for my entertainment. It has been self-satisfying and I make no apology for that. I'll continue through my college adventures and my various experiences living overseas (I kept journals). I may depict events slightly better than they actually were because who wants to read the complete unvarnished truth? (Oh, and I quickly made a cheap-looking book cover.)
You see, at the same time, during the same month, aside from the day job, I was finishing the final revision of Book 3 of my vampire trilogy. Also during the month, aside from this autobiography, I worked on a short story I owe for an anthology. Then, as I approached the 50,000 word goal line, I got drawn away to start a revision of an early novel of mine involving a man-eating tiger which I hope to publish in the near future. I also graded stacks of essays, literary analyses, and research papers. 

Because the words never stop coming. And I think, if they ever did stop, I would also stop. And that is not a possibility I wish to consider.

Next time: The Stefan Szekely Trilogy comes to a close with mayhem and melancholy!

(C) Copyright 2010-2018 by Stephen M. Swartz. All Rights Reserved. No part of this blog, whether text or image, may be used without me giving you written permission, except for brief excerpts that are accompanied by a link to this entire blog. Violators shall be written into novels as characters who are killed off. Serious violators shall be identified and dealt with according to the laws of the United States of America.

21 October 2018

The Beard Problem

As you may know, I am deep in the revision of my latest novel, the concluding volume of my vampire trilogy, ostensibly based on medically accurate and historical accountability. Like many writers do, I go through a manuscript in waves, focusing on different issues in each pass. In a later chapter, I realized I had made a dreadful mistake: I had failed to account for the beard. 

It is the future and the beard and cassock look has returned, at least in the Hungarian Empire of 2101. The chief prosecutor wears a red cassock and red skullcap in his duties in the High Court of Justice - and sports a long gray beard. So far, so good. However, later, when he has a prisoner in his quarters (the illegality of this situation is another story, obviously), nothing happens with his beard. I was shocked. Shocked, I tell you!

A long beard - which I've never had personally - will get in the way of many things. While dining, it gets in the food - unless I write a sentence mentioning how "he swept his beard aside". The beard would be stained with blood if he took a bite as any good vampire likely would. Crumbs would collect. These need to be accounted for. The only two fellows I've known who wore long beards (defined as hanging lower than the chin by an inch or more) have described these problems.

Then comes the seduction following the dinner. It is not meant to be an innocent affair. However, the beard again gets in the way. Hanging from the chin and cheeks, a beard would touch the other person when in close proximity, right? The beard would tickle at best, would scratch at worst. Probably it would be an unpleasant experience for the other person. Especially if the beard were soiled by various food dishes from the dinner. The other person would be quite distraught for that reason alone. 

It seems a lot of the male characters sport beards in this volume. Was his black or gray? Black with streaks of gray? And how long was it? Trimmed or unruly? Does he tend to give it a tug from time to time? Does it get caught in zippers? It really becomes a problem keeping track of all these different beard issues. It adds to the word count just by describing how he takes care of the beard in each scene. Next time I shall definitely make every guy clean-shaven. 

The problem exists also for women's hair styles. Does she wear her hair up in this scene? Is it up for the entire scene, or does it fall at some point, especially during the fight? Not being a hair stylist by any stretch of the imagination, I pay little attention to hair styles.Yes, I see the character in my mind's eye but somehow little of that image gets on the page. Long, straight hair, like my 7th grade girlfriend had, or flowing, wavy hair like a girlfriend in college had. Or the curly hair I've seen in a lot of shampoo commercials - that's the limit of my choices, it seems. I prefer to get on with the story.

Men's hair, too, may change with the physical action. If there is a ceremony, the well-coiffed might be more formally arranged, I imagine. For battle, perhaps a close-cut style to fit under a helmet. For an emperor, his long, flowing mane might add to his aura of masculinity. Long hair with a long beard suggests otherworldliness, a true warrior-king. It all depends on what you want as the author.  

And I'm not even going to get into clothing fashions. One thing that I appreciate with George R. R. Martin's Game of Thrones novels is his attention to details when it comes to what the characters are wearing. It almost becomes too much at times, but I still like that he went to the trouble to do it. That leads me to check once more whether her evening gown is black with red trim or violet with white trim. What is the dress material? Does it crinkle or swish as she walks? And when the dress is torn off, how does the maid know to have replacement clothing nearby? Perhaps, it's time for yet another pass through the manuscript.

And yet, for a vampire novel, it seems that the clean-shaven look is more appropriate. Men struck with the curse of vampirism tend to lose their hair much as a cancer patient on chemotherapy loses hair. For that matter, females would become hairless, too, for the same reason (based on my medical research into porphyria). Therefore, the typical depiction of the famous Count Dracula (played by Bela Lugosi) below would be inaccurate. Hair on the head but no facial hair would seem to be a fashion choice, not the result of any biological abnormality. Check your sources. Check the continuity and consistency of your details is today's lesson. After all, it's a salon out there!

(C) Copyright 2010-2018 by Stephen M. Swartz. All Rights Reserved. No part of this blog, whether text or image, may be used without me giving you written permission, except for brief excerpts that are accompanied by a link to this entire blog. Violators shall be written into novels as characters who are killed off. Serious violators shall be identified and dealt with according to the laws of the United States of America.

07 October 2018

The Wonderful World of Projection

In the world of science fiction writers there is the trope of the present reality being projected into the future. Take what is happening now and extrapolate how it might develop logically ten or twenty or a hundred years in the future. H.G. Wells did this with The Time Machine, speculating how humanity would divide into Eloi (dumb surface dwelling cattle) and Morlocks (hideous underground consumers of Eloi). Writers of both utopias and dystopias have done the same thing, as far back as Plato and The Republic. Why?

Perhaps it is a desire to assure ourselves, in the case of the utopia, that good times are coming, or, in the case of the dystopia, that our lives could be far worse than they are now. In fiction, when writers try to predict the future (in my experience as a reader), there are two ways: 1) leap far ahead in time so that nothing of today remains and there is no need to consider a timeline of progression of social, political, technological development. Or, 2) start with the way things are today and project them into the future in a logical way. The former works well if the story is set, say, ten thousand years in the future; the latter works best for a 20 or 100 year setting advancement. The point in this latter method, I believe, is expressly to show how today will become tomorrow.

So I've tried that method with my so-called medically accurate vampire trilogy. My point then was to expressly illustrate the medical aspects of vampirism. Book 1 starts in 2013-14, the same time period in which I was writing it. In previous blog posts I explained how I took the issues of today and projected them 13 years into the future for Book 2. In Book 3, we go to 2099 - not a huge leap in time but a significant chunk to deal with in terms of showing the changes that are possible. So a Book 1 which was grounded in science had to stretch a bit for Book 2, and now Book 3 is allowed to speculate much further and by necessity introduce some good ol' sci-fi (i.e., "speculation based on science"). 

And then there are the usual vampire tropes, or features, readers expect to see in vampire novels. There is a lot of blood, of course, lots of throat biting, lusting for blood, blood starvation, hibernation, etc. There is the trope of vampires being associated with bats - when the "vampire bat" was named after the fictional character and lives far away from Transylvania. There is the attempted explanation of the origin of vampires, of the legends which circumscribe the phenomena. There have been glittering vampires and those who have become hideously disfigured. There have been alternate histories written based on vampires rising to power in real places. In the genre it seems there is a vampire style for every reader. And we can enjoy them all.

I chose from the start to take the "disease" seriously, a genetic disorder which runs in families - which fits many of the ancient reports of vampire-like people (research!). There is also a curious correlation with the ethnic group residing in the isolated tracks of Transylvania, an area settled by large numbers of Hungarians, and that is the propensity to have Type AB blood - so rare that only 5% of people in the world have it. (Read Book 1 of the Stefan Szekely Trilogy for an explanation of how their blood type can change back and forth - and with the change comes physical abnormalities.) 

Then there is the projection: what is now becomes what will be. For example, take politics. Nationalism seems on the rise in the United States and in Europe, a backlash against recent government policies and the results of those policies. Regardless of how you may feel personally about such matters, for the sake of the story - the sake of a good, realistic, plausible story - let us say that trend continues. We then would find nations breaking out of the European Union and going their own way. Geographic and political pressures may force the breakaway nations to ban together. Project a little further and that group becomes an empire. 

Take another example: technology. We love our social media so much today but already we are seeing problems with data collection and misuse, with identity theft, with other internet-related commerce such as cryptocurrency. It would not take much for that grid to come crashing down. An electromagnetic pulse in the atmosphere would wipe out all electronic systems for miles around, crippling banking and utilities. Back to the pre-electronic age we go. In another way, social pressures could result in rebellion against such systems, or a government might ban the internet (already being limited to citizens in several countries today). It is easy to imagine - to project from today - a society where the modern, the electronic, the technological has been rejected. People would go about by horse and carriage again instead of electric cars. But I digress . . . 

"In the multiverse all possibilities can be projected simultaneously."
It makes for interesting thought experiments. The what-if scenarios are played out. The thinking goes that by projecting a situation into the future, we can see where problems today exist and repair them so the "awful" future that could happen will not happen. Projection of happier times and a more pleasant world, even a paradise of free love and ice cream for everyone, is also a scenario which may have dire consequences. For example, everyone is so comfortable that nobody works, nothing gets done, society falls apart, blame ensues, people form blocs and fight against each other, thus transforming a utopia into a dystopia within a generation. Or is that just me observing our world today? 

As one great writer reportedly said, "Every work of literature [regardless of its setting's time and place] is a reflection of the author's [present] situation."

(C) Copyright 2010-2018 by Stephen M. Swartz. All Rights Reserved. No part of this blog, whether text or image, may be used without me giving you written permission, except for brief excerpts that are accompanied by a link to this entire blog. Violators shall be written into novels as characters who are killed off. Serious violators shall be identified and dealt with according to the laws of the United States of America.

23 September 2018

The Future of Vampire Trilogies

I often feel as though half of my job as an English teacher is to get my students excited about writing. I do that by encouraging them to write what they have to say or by writing about the things they have done. I share my own writing adventures with them. I talk about my books, not in a salesman kind of way but as a writer sharing craft tips. The usual response I get is "That's okay for you, you like to write, but we don't." 

To this supposition I retort using a quote which I thought was my own invention but which apparently (much to my chagrin) has been credited to various people from Benjamin Franklin to Ernest Hemingway: "If it is not worth writing about, it is not worth doing." That is the gist of the student writing life: to get it done in as simple a fashion as possible. Sometimes what is "worth writing about" has not actually happened - perhaps can never happen. When I was young, I had not much life experience to write about. Most of it was not worth doing and so not worth writing about. I felt sad at my circumstances.

So I began to make it up. I had few really worthy experiences so I invented experiences. This was the start of fiction. I joined the liars club. No, I didn't lie about important things or even ordinary things, but it was easy to exaggerate, to put a spin on what I said and wrote. Teachers loved that about me: I always had an interesting tale to tell. Take 7th grade, for example, when our teacher liked to have the class write stories. On Fridays we would share our stories by standing at the front of the room and reading what we had written - which was also an exercise in heart palpitation and social anxiety!

Even today, someone will ask me how I got the idea for my book - whatever my latest is - and I shrug humbly and say something like, "Well, I had a dream, see, and . . . ." The truth, however, may be much more ominous. In the case of my so-called "vampire" trilogy, there are two answers. The first book, A Dry Patch of Skin (referring to the first symptom of transforming into a vampire) was intended as a stand-alone novel, a one and done, because paranormal or Gothic or horror was not my usual genre. I just wanted to explain to my teenage daughter who was hooked on the Twilight series that vampirism was an actual disease affecting real people, something painful and disfiguring, not glittery and glamorous.

The research involved took me through a lot of medical texts and anthropological accounts of legends and ancient reports to bring the truth about vampires to light - pardon the pun. My own doctor (who was working on an MFA degree on the side) read it and said I got the medical things correct. (You can read a blog post about the medical issues here.) The story ended with a proper conclusion. I believed the story was done. I moved on to write two more novels on completely different subjects.

Then I realized something from that vampire novel continued to pester me. What would happen next? That is always the bugbear for writers. We just cannot put it down, can't leave a sleeping bear alone, can't stop picking that scab. And so I conceived a new story, one that by necessity had to be less "medically accurate" and more along the lines of futuristic science fiction. Naturally I had to put myself in the shoes of my protagonist and hero, Stefan Szekely, who at the end of the first book, had accepted his sorry fate like a good trooper. How would he react to the passage of time? What would he want to do?

I've blogged previously about how I considered Book 2 here

When I decided to go ahead and write a second book, thus making it a series, I knew there would be a third book - to make it a trilogy. Trilogies are all the rage now; I wrote about trilogies on a previous blog. However, I did not sit down and plan out both books together. When I finished writing Book 2, I really had no idea what would happen in Book 3. It did not take long, however, for a dream to show me a scene that would become the starting point for Book 3 - and then I was off and running!

So the third book of any trilogy must:

1) further the adventures (or misadventures) of the cast, especially the main character of the previous book;

2) be an exciting, compelling journey in itself; and

3) bring all the story lines together in a satisfying, plausible conclusion - and possibly make certain there is no need for a fourth book.

The Vampire Genre has developed its own tropes, symbols, motifs, and customs, starting with John Polidori's invention "The Vampyre" and fully realized in Bram Stoker's turn in Dracula. Others followed until the preponderance of the evidence created a vast multi-channel marketing juggernaut that an outsider could never hope to penetrate. And yet, it is the variety of vampire themes and story lines that give the genre so much richness. No one is solely correct about what a vampire is or is not. Not even me, though I profess to have written (Book 1, that is), a "medically accurate" version where our tragic hero transforms against his will into what he does not want to become. I continue to try to keep it as "real" as possible.

And so I give you, the reading world, what I hope is an enjoyably different take on a vampire society. If medical accuracy was possible in a 2014 novel (set in 2013-14), then a story set in 2027-28 would have to include futuristic aspects. A Book 3 which is set in 2099 would take the differences to a much greater extreme, it would follow. Less Gothic horror in the traditional sense and more science fiction in the dystopian sense. I apologize; the usual tropes cannot be sustained in a futuristic setting ("Vampires on Mars" being one exception). However, like any good author, I bend over backwards to keep things as believable and plausible as possible given what we can and cannot know about the future and about our own predilections as humans - and as humans transformed into vampires.

The story must be compelling in other ways, too, not just extending the vampire "elements" into the 22nd century. Blood is still blood. Ways of getting it may change but the fundamental issue remains. Yet after that - after our lovely dinner of red - what next? Power! The rise to power. Because power means always getting what you want, what you need, assuring its constant supply. Absolute power, with a strong hand behind the throne, works best. However, power that is absolute necessarily corrupts absolutely, it seems. How can one escape such corruption? That is the focus of Book 3 in the Stefan Szekely Trilogy.

(C) Copyright 2010-2018 by Stephen M. Swartz. All Rights Reserved. No part of this blog, whether text or image, may be used without me giving you written permission, except for brief excerpts that are accompanied by a link to this entire blog. Violators shall be written into novels as characters who are killed off. Serious violators shall be identified and dealt with according to the laws of the United States of America.