11 August 2018

How I Ruined My Summer Vacation - 2018 (part 2)

Everything begins with a departure and an arrival. For my summer trips to Beijing to teach a university course, every year is the same. Get the visa first - which is a trip in itself. There is no express or same-day service at the visa office, so I must wait four days. A mini vacation, a chance to get some writing done. They almost know me by now.

Then comes the day of travel. Two-hour flight to the hub airport, couple hours of layover, then the 13-hour leg to Beijing. I can never pick the right seat. Less success choosing the right seatmates. Going, I had a Chinese high school exchange student in the middle seat and an older professor from a northeastern university on the aisle. When they both were awake, he regaled her with tales of university life and which university she should apply to in order to continue her studies in the US. I was too tired to correct some of the ideas he had for her education. Instead, I watched four movies - two I had wanted to see and two which I endured almost to the half-way point before just ending it already!

Thank goodness there is something new every time I arrive in Beijing's Capital Airport. I actually felt good at the end of this flight, even with only four cat naps of about 20 minutes each. But the two-kilometer walk through the huge complex upon arrival always zaps my goodwill. This year foreign arrivals first must use automated machines to record their fingerprints prior to entering the immigration lines. (I suppose refusing fingerprints would have caused me to be sent back on the next flight.) Not all the machines were working - certainly not the ones I tried. Then, with receipt in hand proving we had offered up our most intimate details, we should have been allowed to proceed.

However, foreign passport holders had to wait in a weary bunch as Chinese passport holders went ahead to the immigration counters. It wasn't as though we competed for the same lines. I did not complain - too tired. Once in the long foreigners' line, I passed easily because I'm a nice guy and a regular joe. I also got my bag - historically I'm always near the last - and passed through customs - nothing to declare except my contempt for the hassles of travel. The international flight was 13 hours; from exiting the plane to exiting the secure area of the airport (including the shuttle train that takes us from the outer area of the gates to the inner portion for immigration and customs) took 1-1/2 hours.

My decision to stay in Beijing was eventually rewarded when I finally exited into the public area and easily found my student assistant for this summer there to greet me. "Serena" got me and my bags to a taxi and then to my hotel, which is across from the UIBE campus. It was an overcast, humid afternoon as we went from the airport to the hotel, a situation which did not change much during the course I was to teach. This year, I was asked to teach the same course in two weeks instead of four - I presumed it to be a way to save on my hotel bill, which the university paid.

Back to the Yinghua ("Cherry blossom") Hotel, my old nemesis. The staff knows me well, understands I like good a/c. I also care about feng shui. My free time during these summers includes a fair amount of writing in my room so feng shui is important. My first two years I was in room 424 - I actually requested it the second year - which had great feng shui; I wrote the greater part of two novels those two summers (A Girl Called Wolf and Epic Fantasy *With Dragons). However, last year's visit was a terrible room-shuffling experience (read about it here), but I still managed some good writing production during the room changes. This year, only one room change.

More on the room experience next post!

(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.

04 August 2018

How I Ruined My Summer Vacation - 2018

As many of my dear readers may be aware, I was on vacation last month. That is my story and I'm sticking to it. In my last post, I offered you a fine selection of books to entertain and enlighten you while I was away. Yes, I do notice if anyone has added one or more of them to a to-be-read list, and those of you who followed through with your reading scheme, I thank you. 
This is your vacation on rain.
Actually, I was working - so let's call it a working vacation. I traveled to Beijing, China for three weeks to teach a university course called "Business Writing in American Context" (Chinese translation). My course, like all those taught at the University of International Business and Economics, was in English. Students must be fluent enough to be successful in their classes. I went last year, as well. And the year before. Yes, it seems it is becoming a habit. However, I have vowed that this visit (2018) would be my last - unless I get a very good reason to go through all the hassles to get there again.

For 2018, they threw me a curve: to teach the same course in half the time. So my class went from 4 weeks (2 classes a week) to two weeks of 4 classes each week (one class was about 4 hours). That made the grading of papers for 62 students this year a challenge. In fact, I did little else during those two weeks but focus on the class. I knew that going in, so I arranged to stay an extra week beyond the end of the course to have some sightseeing, shopping, hanging out time.

I need not have worried about doing anything fun when I wasn't in class. Those two weeks were full of rain or such oppressive humidity that I would have preferred rain. I brought a collapsible umbrella which had served me well for several years. Unfortunately, I left it in the classroom when I went home (the rain had stopped) and only realized that fact the next morning when the deluge returned. The hotel, thankfully, had full-sized umbrellas for guests to use. Then the doorman pestered me about returning it even though I needed it for another couple of days before the rain finally stopped.

Everyone remarked it was the rainiest summer anyone in Beijing could remember. Students, however, were very courteous with their umbrellas, always lining the hallways in an orderly fashion. On one particularly heavy rainfall day, my class assistant relayed the consensus of the students asking if the class would be cancelled. I was already in the classroom - on time - so it was on, baby! I did not count anyone late and, in fact, I delayed the start for 15 minutes. At the end of the two weeks, one student gave me a lovely postcard with a message on it, noting among other things that I was always punctual "even in rainy day".

With jet lag waking me earlier than normal, I had time to write. I continued working on the first draft of the third book in my vampire trilogy. I had written a huge portion of book 2 last summer. I also worked on two different short stories. Cranked out about 75,000 words total in three weeks. After my class, it was lunch time so I would grab something simple, often from the nearby 7-11 store, then return to my room to relax, eat the lunch, take a nap, then get up and write. With little distraction (no substantial social media access, for example), it was possible hunker down and type those chapters.

Room 634, which had decent feng shui.
For my dinners, I had plenty of company. A new Japanese (mostly sushi) restaurant had opened next to my hotel since last summer, which became a regular hangout. A new Chinese (mostly Cantonese) restaurant had also opened up the street since last year and got a lot of my business. And there was always the big Pizza Hut several blocks north of my hotel to try - especially if I wished to show a Chinese lady how "real" American-style pizza is (it wasn't, but that's another blog post). At least I did not get sick like last year.

(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.

02 July 2018

Your Summer Reading List

It's that time again! Summer Reading Season!

I'm posting this before I escape on vacation in the hope that you or your loved ones (or anyone you know [or anyone they know {or all the other people you may cross paths with this summer}]) will get the word on these "purdy good" books of made-up stories they just might want to read this summer - because, as we all know, 95% of pleasure reading is done during the summer - and 82% of that pleasure reading is done near a pool or on a beach. Fact.

FYI, I write in several genre, whatever fits the story that my muses dictate into my ear, so there's something for everyone: romance, adventure, sci-fi, fantasy, paranormal, contemporary, literary, biographical, but not YA (sorry). Most of all, I try to write a compelling tale of people in crisis, strangers in strange lands, whether it is our contemporary world or a world of imagination. 
Below is your summer reading list! The links go to the ebook pages (a.k.a. Kindle) for all 10 books, but they also exist in quality paperback editions. Click on the book titles to be magically transported to a place where you can read a sample and elect to purchase the entire book. Happy reading! 

SUNRISE (new for 2018)
Book II of the Stefan Szekely, Vampire trilogy
(Book III being written as we speak...)

For Stefan Székely it is a fate worse than death: To be dead yet stuck with his dead parents. 
After 13 years Stefan can endure it no longer. He wants a castle of his own. But first he must visit his family’s bank in Budapest.
With endless strife rumbling across Europe, Stefan hardly recognizes Budapest, now capital of the Hungarian Federation. The world has changed. 
Nevertheless, he embarks on the reign of terror he always denied himself, living the vampire playboy lifestyle. Until he gets a stern warning from the local vampire gang. He is not welcome - unless he plays by their rules.
Should Stefan fight for his right to party like it's 2027? Or will an encounter with a dangerous stranger change everything about his new existence? As clashes between vampire gangs and State Security escalate, Stefan just might be the key to changing the fate of Europe forever!
. . . If he can survive three bloody nights in Budapest.
The sequel to A DRY PATCH of SKIN continues the trials and tribulations of Stefan Székely, Vampire.

CORLAN, MASTER DRAGONSLAYER, the best in the Guild, the best in the Burg!

And yet, returning from his latest expedition, Corlan discovers jealous rivals have conspired with the Prince to banish him from the city.

Sent into the Valley of Death, Corlan conjures a plan. He and his new sidekick, a runaway boy from the palace kitchen, will trek the thousand miles to the far end of the valley, where a vast marsh provides nesting grounds for the dragon horde. Once there, Corlan vows to smash dragon eggs and lance younglings, ending dragon terror once and for all time.

And yet, as dangers, distractions, and detours harry him along the way, Corlan learns ancient secrets that threaten to destroy everything in his world. Even with the aid of wizards and warriors, he must use all his guile, his bravado, and the force of his stubborn will just to survive - and perhaps return home - no matter how the gods challenge him with their harshest tests.

Ice and snow are all 12 year old Anuka knows outside the hut in Greenland where she was born. 

When her mama dies, Anuka struggles to survive. The harsh winter forces her to finally journey across the frozen island to the village her mama always feared.

But the people of the village don’t know what to do with this girl. They try to educate and bring her into the modern world, but Anuka won't make it easy for them. She sees dangers at every turn and every day hears her fate echoing in her mama’s voice.

Her mama gave her that name for a reason. She is A GIRL CALLED WOLF who searches for the place where she belongs, a destination always just out of reach, on a path she will always make her own.

("A great book to read during hot summer days!")


When the handwritten letter from Japan arrives, Benjamin cannot help but flash back to when he lived in Hawaii and met Hanako, a Japanese stewardess. 

But Addy, Benjamin’s wife of three years, knows what the letter really means: a love child was born.

Now Benjamin must save a child he has never met, learn the truth behind Hanako’s death, and risk his marriage and his career to do the right thing. But venturing into the lonely woods of northern Ishikawa throws him into an ancient world of strict customs and tight-lipped villagers.

AIKO, a love story wrapped around a mystery, is a modern version of the Madame Butterfly story told from his side.

(the only medically accurate vampire novel)
The truth about being a vampire: It is not cool, not sexy. It’s a painful, miserable existence.

Good reason to avoid that situation, thinks medical technician Stefan Székely. He's too busy falling in love with TV reporter Penny Park, anyway. Until one day when she notices a dry patch of skin on his face.

At first it's just annoying, nothing to worry about, some weird skin disease he can treat with lotions. However, as his affliction worsens, Stefan fears that his unsightly problem will ruin his relationship with Penny.

If only that was all Stefan has to worry about! He soon realizes there is a lot more at stake than his handsome face. To save himself, Stefan must go in search of a cure for the disease which is literally destroying him inch by inch. If only his parents had told him of the family legacy.

Book I of the Stefan Szekely, Vampire trilogy!

Opposites may attract...but can they stay together?

Íris is a refugee from an abusive youth in Iceland, further abused on the streets of Toronto - until she sees Art as an escape. With a scholarship, she drifts from depression to nightmare to Wiccan rituals to the next exhibit. There's a lot she must forget to succeed in a life she refuses to take responsibility for.

Eric is settling in at Fairmont College, starting a new life after betrayal and heartbreak. Divorced and hitting forty, he has a lot to prove - to his father, his colleagues, and mostly to himself. The last thing he needs is a distraction - and there's nothing more distracting than Íris.

A Beautiful Chill is a contemporary romance set in the duplicitous world of academic rules and artistic license - in a roundabout way a prequel to A Girl Called Wolf.

Troy! Ilium! 3000 years ago Greeks and Trojans battled below the fortress city.

Now comes Alex Parris in 1993, freshly graduated and eager to tour the ancient site. On his cruise to Istanbul, however, he meets Eléna, a mysterious older woman who draws him into an affair.

When the two lovers challenge Fate by visiting the ruins of Ilium, they are rudely separated – forcing Alex to embark on his own Odyssey. His struggle to return to Eléna becomes a fight for survival on the wild Turkish coast.

(sci-fi, steampunk, interdimensional doorways, world-ruining, political intrigue, time travel, battle hamsters & magic potions)

How far would you go to save the love of your life? Through a portal to another world?

High school sweethearts Sebastian and Gina discover a doorway to a new world. Adventure-loving Gina falls in love with the world of Ghoupallesz and wants to stay, but studious Sebastian fears losing touch with Earth, so he returns alone.

Years later, working the night shift at the IRS, Sebastian feels the cosmic pull once more. Gina is in trouble. Again. Of course he must return and save her! Perhaps this time, he hopes, they can remain together. Returning through the interdimensional doorway, Sebastian must gather his old comrades from the war, cross the towering Zet mountains, and free Gina from the evil Zetin warlord’s castle. 

Unfortunately, there are more questions to answer. Is his adventure on the other side real? Or is it just the dream of a psychotic killer? That’s what the police want to know when his friends and co-workers go missing.

THE DREAM LAND Trilogy is a genre-mashing Epic of Interdimensional intrigue and alien romance, a psychological thriller marbled through with twisted humor, steampunk pathos, and time/space conundra. 

NOTE: Check your local Amazon listings. You may be able to get these for free if you are a Kindle Unlimited or Amazon Prime member or just on my good side!

(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.

17 June 2018

Fictional Fathers for Father's Day

Last month, for Mother's Day, I waxed poetic on the three kinds of mothers I happened to have in my fiction writing. Well, turnabout seems fair play, so let me ponder the types of fathers I find in fiction and their source.

So I'm sitting comfortably at my computer, writing my new work-in-progress (book 3 to conclude my medically-accurate vampire trilogy), passing the 30,000 word mark, and it hits me! I should be promoting my Father's Day novel, the one titled AIKO. It's a kind of Father's Day story, after all. And because Father's Day is here again, everyone is doing a grad and dad marketing blitz. 

Everyone knows that grads are tired of reading. Dads tend to be reading averse, too. So maybe books do not make the best gifts. Job search books for grads, perhaps. A book on dad's current hobby, maybe. But fiction too often falls to the dark, dusty shelf of well-intended gifts. Next to the neckties. My own father would rather read through a stack of history and politics books before he would ever crack the cover of a novel.

So how many books are there that feature Father's Day, anyway? Or about fathers in general? Mothers are easy. Brothers and sisters are common. The sweet aunt and the generous uncle are often seen in literature. In my vast reading, Fathers are generally the bad guys, villainous, cruel, authoritarian, mean, and uncaring. They are more often than not portrayed as abusers. Sometimes they only appear as the bad memory of a protagonist and we get a couple of graphic incidents to showcase dad's unpleasantness. (I had to do that in A BEAUTIFUL CHILL and A GIRL CALLED WOLF because they were based on real people and their lives; however, fathers in my other novels are thankfully less abusive.) It's almost a stereotype. Fathers get a bad rap, I think. We tend to only hear about the bad ones. Think of Darth Vader, a.k.a. "Dark Father", and others of his ilk.

I think about the fathers in my other books. My protagonists seem to relate to their fathers much as I relate to my own. Funny, that coincidence, right? Or am I drawing on the only role model I have? (Curiously, I'm an only child and my protagonists tend not to have siblings, also - or siblings that are throw-away characters, mentioned but not active in the story. In AFTER ILIUM, the young hero dislikes his dentist father's strictness and is glad to be on his own touring Greece and Turkey. In EPIC FANTASY *WITH DRAGONS, our dragonslayer hero's father was a military commander killed in battle, so our hero carries only the memory of a violent, frightening man. In A DRY PATCH OF SKIN, my medically-accurate vampire novel (book 1 of the trilogy), our poor hero is transforming into a vampire. He is angry at his father for not warning him and for sending him away to live with an aunt. Otherwise, that fictional dad sounds an awful lot like my own father: haughty, disinterested, aloof.

In AIKO, our hero discovers he is a father, then struggles to find his child. There is a brief mention of his own father being stationed in Japan after WWII - like my own father was. After the war, my father went to college on the G.I. Bill and became a social studies teacher, then later a librarian. Now he is deep into retirement, having put his books away for poor eyesight and sleepier days, not to mention the devastation of a hurricane.

When I think of my father, the image that comes most readily is of him sitting in his reading chair, reading: reading in such a focused, determined manner that I could get away with literally anything because nothing could disturb him. Thus, he was apart from my everyday activities, always there but on the sidelines, uninvolved in my youthful experiences. And that is what I learned of fatherhood: 1) provide the family income, 2) relax at home after the job, 3) fix things around the house and yard. Also, 4) be master of the castle, 5) enforce the rules, and when necessary (6) represent the family like a knight in shining armor when some authority or institution challenges us. He is the (7) champion, the protector, the lord of the manor. And that is, for better or worse, how I portray the fathers in my books: powerful yet distant. Art imitating life!

If you've been following this blog you probably know I'm a dad. It's a weird feeling knowing there is someone living in the world partly as a result of my actions. Sure, we can imagine clones, or cyborgs, but another human? That's crazy. Like us and yet not like us. And eventually they go their own ways and have their own lives and we scratch our heads and think What just happened? Now my offspring is in college, studying to be something in the medical field. This is after going through Army training to be a combat medic - a course I doubt I could've made it through if I were the same age.

As I think back on the past 22 years, I can pinpoint a few things I did that might have helped raise this baby to adulthood. But there are just as many other things I did about which I have no clue. Maybe they helped, maybe they hurt. Only my grown child can tell, but she calls less and less. But I'm still pleased, even proud, of how this googly little bundle of joy became this awesome adult who vaguely resembles me in appearance and words and behavior. 

So for now, I must pass the reins over to my protégé. No longer do I need to concern myself so much with me doing great things and achieving this and that and telling my child about, you know, the things I can boast about. Now it is time for me to boast about my grown child, to note what this new adult is doing, and praise the new things, the new deeds, of this adult - to praise and be proud of what my child has done more than being happy at what I have done. Oh, I'll still write books, of course. That will never change. I must or die trying. But now it's no longer all about me.

(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.

10 June 2018

The Great Depression

I go away for a week of errands and pleasures and nothing has changed when I return. I fully expected that everything amiss would right itself and welcome me back to enjoy a refreshed world of merriment and mirth. Because the world does not obey, will not follow my directives, and refuses to comply with my whims, I must create a world that does. That is the beauty of fiction.

Granted, plenty of folks will say, "That ain't real" as though it shouldn't count. But I beg to differ. The invented world, whether a science-fiction planetary system or a variation on the contemporary here and now of Main Street USA, is a refuge for the weak and weary. I do not mean to suggest we go quietly into that good night, hiding in a fantasy world and ignoring, forgetting the real world outside. What I mean is that the invented world is a safe space - even if it is found in a horror novel - a place we can rest and recover, take stock, make plans, and re-armor ourselves.

For the outside world is cruel, needlessly so perhaps, yet so vicious that few can affect their daily existence in any meaningful way without severe trials and tribulations. It's hard out there, out there in the jungle. It's a doggy dog world out there! A dog-eat-dog world would be worse. What we need is a bunny-infested world. People would be required to pet a bunny at least twice a day. Or a puppy. Or a kitty. Or a whatever.

Then there is the dulling determination of the drug industry with a pill for every condition, even the conditions that did not exist before a cure could be found. Somewhere there is an herb we could grow in a backyard and make a tea from it which would cure all our ills. Yet if we could monetize that herb, we could make a whole boatload of money - no matter if anyone finds their life path improved. The other escapes are liquid, with no better results.

Some people have complained about it being the times we live in. Yet each generation complains about the times we live in. New stresses, new obstacles - all the same just with different names. So why now? Why so many going away? An oft posted meme states something like this: We have no idea what each person is struggling with. Yet we do; we know it is the same pressures we all face. Some fight it, some negotiate, some give in. 

Or it's a chemical imbalance brought on by pollutants in our environment, our food, our medicine, everything we touch and what we breathe. In other words, our world is sick and little by little cleansing itself of the infection . . . which might be us. Might be. Seems reasonable to return to a less-industrialized means of food production - to save the children, you know. Yet who is telling us the truth about anything? 

Sometimes, when the evening is late, I feel a shadow in the room and it gradually comes up behind me and seems to sweep itself over me and everything changes. I hear the thumping of pistons at work in a galaxy far away, a cricket in the next yard warning me about tomorrow, a bit of paper blowing on the breeze in another town keeping my darkest secrets away from me and my attempts to destroy them, another cup of tea to calm a bitter soul - yet I sit back and realize it is all a ruse. It feels real, but it is not. Still, people die from dreams. And dreams unfulfilled.

Pick up a book and go to your safe place. And to everyone in every other moment, be kind, be supportive, lend a hand, say a compliment, let each other know we exist and we are valued. Pet a pet. Breathe the air and walk in the park. Don't think too much.

(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.

13 May 2018

Mothers . . . the good, the bad, and the ugly

Fictioneers tend to borrow from whole cloth the characters that inhabit their tales. At least, they are constructed from bits and pieces of real people who pass through our lives or perhaps stay for marked periods of significance. None more so than our mothers. 

I’ve taken a look at how I've depicted mothers in my own novels. While I usually strive to avoid stereotypes, the mothers have tended to be drawn as one of three types – all for the sake of the story, of course! For this momentous day, I’ve pulled out a few excerpts to illustrate these types. And no matter how you may feel about the mothers you find in any story you read, wish them all a Happy Mother’s Day.

In the real world, mothers can be cruel or nurturing...

Her eyes wander up to the windows high on the walls. They are painted over white—off-white: eggshell; cream, perhaps. She pretends drifts of snow cover them. A good blanket of snow can hide so much, she thinks. , like clothing. On the platform nothing is hidden. She holds her breath, counting heartbeats. Secrets, like scars, can be covered yet never erased. And every spring, when the snow melts, the scars remain—like wheel ruts cut into the soil, ruts that dry and harden during summer only to be covered again with the next season’s snow.
The Wheel Ruts of Summer—perhaps another painting she will do: two sienna lines cutting through the winter-gray grasses, a black storm on the horizon. She would stare down the storm—she with her pale, thin arms and legs, her body slender and white, without blemish. , like the pure snow covering the dirty road. There are no scars that are visible—
There was a day in school, back in Iceland where she was born, long before she and her widowed mother moved to Canada. Perhaps she was ten. She drew a picture of a mountain with snow on one slope, a forest on the other, and a fjord across the bottom. Her teacher praised it. At home, she proudly held up the picture for her mother. With only a glance, her mother dismissed it, suggesting she draw Jesus suffering on the Cross if she wanted to waste her time with colored pencils. And she never drew again—not until Toronto, when she would sit in the dressing room, waiting to go on stage and do her dance.


Whenever Eric paused to think, he could hear his mother bustling about the condo, preparing New Year’s dinner. The intoxicating scents of roast ham and candied yams was too distracting as he pounded the keys of his mother’s computer. He had to write while his blood was hot, while the muse favored him, deep into his Thorngren and Svana story.
The keys clicked like hard rain and he dared not stop to take a breath. Eric was the wizard, and Svana was the orange-haired woman named Íris. The rest was pure fiction. His stomach rumbled like the ominous thunder over that fjord, yet on he typed. The girl, Svana, cried out from the hilltop tree where she had been bound. The strongest men of the village lashed the wizard to the mast of their longboat at the command of Brendan, the Christian priest. Brendan cried his directives over the roar of a storm—
Eric stopped, fingers hovering over the keys, electricity sizzling through them. He realized there had been knocking on the door.
“He’s been in there typing for a good part of the day and night,” he heard his mother say. “He was up past three last night.”
“Let the boy be,” his father exhorted, resignation in his voice. “He’ll be out when he’s finished writing his damn stories.”
Meanwhile, the longboat set sail, was reaching the arctic wastes—the ice sheet, the glaring whiteness—the icy wind—the warriors numb with cold, sick with fear....
Eric sat back, pondering his story. When he finally cracked the door, the condo was dark and silent. His parents had gone to bed, the New Year’s dinner had been put away, and even the fireworks had subsided. In the refrigerator, he found a ham sandwich with a note from his mother taped to the cellophane: Happy New Year! He stared at the note as he ate the sandwich.

Even fantasy mothers have their quirks and ambitions...

The queen smiled, chubby cheeks flushing as they did whenever she was delighted.
“Let’s call her...Lumina. She is so bright. She lights up my life. How is that?”
“Lu-mi-na. Yes! I like it!” exclaimed the girl.
“So it is done. The naming. A lovely name for a queen. Almost as great as Adora. Now let the realm know my second daughter is to be called Lumina—Princess Lumina.”
The chief maid exited the slumber chamber to pass the news to the court crier who would make the official announcement.
“What will happen to the other babe?” asked Adora.
The nursing maids chuckled. Such a beautiful, naïve child, they seemed to suggest. Once she returns to her tutors, she will learn more of the customs of Sannan.
“It’s none of your concern. Go and make play for yourself.”
Adora turned to the basket on the floor beside the great slumber seat. In the basket the babe gurgled, threatening to cry, its tiny feet wriggling above the basket’s rim. She wanted to step closer and get a better look, to see if this one was as cute as the babe resting on her mother’s chest sucking the nipple.
“Sometimes the goddesses may bless us with extra measure,” the queen spoke in a soothing voice. “As always, we must dispense with males, all the sons and brothers, fathers and uncles, lest they return our great realm to ancient depravity and ring loud the bellicose bell. You must remember the history of wombkind.”
“I do,” said Adora. “I listen to my tutors always.”
“As you should.” The queen spoke to her maids a moment. When she turned to Adora, she said: “I pay much to hire only the best tutors for you, so you should trust what they tell you.” 
Adora stared at the babe in the basket. The queen saw her abject attention and waved at one of the nursing maids.
“Remove the waste,” commanded the queen.


When the pink smoke settled, Corlan dared open his eyes. In front was a large capsule, a bottle as tall as a man and twice as wide. All sides of the bottle were clear. Inside it was a pink liquid that was just thin enough to reveal the figure of a woman floating within. The woman was naked but her long, gray-streaked black hair covered most of her body. As she floated in the liquid, her eyes were closed.
At the final word from Hiro Ka, the eyes of the woman in the bottle popped opened. She immediately appeared angry.
“You!” came a voice.
“We meet again, Mother,” spoke Hiro Ka in a loud, steady tone.
“How long has it been?” the woman inside the bottle responded. The voice echoed around the room. Corlan ducked to avoid it, then stood up, feeling silly.
“Almost a year, I suppose. I have not been counting the days.”
“Have you birthed a child yet?”
“Oh, Mother, always the same demand!”
“You must birth children to continue our line.”
“I know, I know. It’s not that easy in a city with only wyma, you should know.”
“I see a man beside you. Is he real? Or illusion?”
Hiro Ka gave a laugh. “Oh, this one is real, I assure you. He is so wonderfully real. In fact, we come to you on this the third day of the protocol. I promised him I’d introduce you if he delighted me on the second day. And he most certainly did! My Mother, I can hardly walk!”
“You came all the way across the city and woke me from my sleep to tell me you finally got a man into your bed?”
“Well, yes, Mother. I thought that’s what you wanted.”
“It is.”
“I told this man you would tell him his future. Can you do that?”
“What do I gain from this act?”
She pursed her lips. “My undying love?”
“I had that already. For fifteen years. Then you went crazy.”
“I’m sorry, Mother. You know it wasn’t my fault.”


Corlan stepped forward, arms lowered to catch the queen, to help her. He glanced sideways at Tam, standing near the serving girls. The boy shook his head from side to side and Corlan stopped.
“I only know how to protect my wyma from harm,” moaned the queen. “They worship me as their Great Mother.” She lifted her head, tried to look at Naka Wu but the stretch of muscle and sinew was too painful.
“My mother felt your cruelty.” Naka Wu spit. “You fed her to drakes at the Eve of Eve celebration, as entertainment for your courtly sisters. Yet not before she endured the whipping. The lashes your jester snapped at her, flaming strands of coarse wire, were unspeakable cruelty!”
The queen wavered on her knees, struggling to breathe with the lance through her belly. “Your m-mother? I didn’t know...who she was—”
“Because I was taken from her years before your soldiers brought her to the prison for a mere accident. Her last cow kicked one of your soldiers and broke her leg. They took my mother to the prison for that. When she was old, sick, trying to escape—she became your holiday entertainment!”
“The punishment was...fair,” moaned the queen.
“I know more wyma who tell the same stories.” Naka Wu turned to the two guards behind her, then gestured at the guard standing by the serving girls. “Uki Ma lost her mother to your warriors. I will not describe how they tortured her. Giko Song lost all three of her sisters to the cruelty of your soldiers. And Yuka Hei was tortured for seventeen days just because she dared look at a man—some useless man!—that you had brought to your chamber for the protocol. You see now she survived and has returned to meet you, and send you into the Beyond. And me: sold by my mother because she could not pay your taxes. Now we take back this city!”

Mothers...they mean well. They have your best interests at heart. But sometimes...well, they just don’t get it...

“Well, you should write her back, Alex,” his mother went on. “Ask her what this is all about. You have a right to know. Tell her you demand to know why she—”
“I already wrote to her,” he murmured.
“You did? When?”
“More than a month ago.”
“And...? What did she say?”
He scooted up, perched on the edge, and dug into his back pocket. Retrieving a crumpled letter he had been carrying around for a couple of weeks, Alex held it up for her to see.
She pulled out her glasses from her apron pocket.
Returned: No Such Address,” she read solemnly.
“No such address,” he mumbled. “She made the whole thing up.”
“Well, we’ve got to find her, Alex.” His mother was adamant. “Your father’ll be home soon. Then we’ll figure out what to do. We’ll get a lawyer—”
“No, Mother. It’s over.”
“Over?” his mother almost shrieked. “How can you say that? This woman hurt you and she should at the very least apologize.”
She let the echo of her sharp words come back to her and heard them clearly. Alex gazed at her: the words did not sound like her words, but his. His mother seemed to realize that.
“Well, you know you should write a nice thank you note to that Doctor Johnson in Turkey. Also to that man on that island who helped you. You did get his address, didn’t you? And your Navy friend—Benson, is it? Poor fellow’s in jail while you’re home free with the stroke of a pen. You should write him. That would make him feel better. Maybe tell him how sorry you are...?”
She paused, awaiting his response, then glanced about the living room. She did not know what to do with her hands.
“I know they’d all like to hear from you, Alex. At least know you arrived home safely.” Her gaze landed on the writing desk in the corner of the living room. “I see you haven’t sent a reply to that Mister Carter’s get-well card, or have you? It’s been nearly two weeks, dear. I don’t see any letters to go out.” She sighed. “Alex, you don’t want to get a reputation. People notice the little things. Shall I get you some stationary?”
Alex got up slowly from the sofa without a word, reached for his cane, and hobbled out of the cool, dark living room.
“Young man, don’t you walk out on me,” his mother scolded, then stopped, apparently realizing, as her son did, just how hollow the words sounded now.

It is always good to remember that a mother is a boy's best friend. 

Happy Mother's Day!

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