04 April 2020

The Solitude, Part 2

I didn't really expect everything would return to normal by this weekend. However, I did kind of wish I could use my time off from the day job to go traveling around, visit far-flung locations, schmooze with tropical gallivants, perhaps come up with a new story to fill my days. I did start writing a post-apocalyptic plague novel. But then so has every other writer I know. I have 4000 words so far.

Nevertheless, I promised to continue my yet-to-be-award-winning series on my particular writing process. Last blog post, I explained how I get ideas for novels. This post, I will describe what I do once I have the idea. I'm not suggesting here that this is the best or only way to proceed; rather, this is what has worked for me. Indeed, this is what I see happening time and time again when I'm beginning a new book.

Step 2
A lot of writers I know like to construct elaborate outlines of a book and follow their outlines religiously, allowing for an occasional detour. Not me. I generally have the whole idea in my head when I begin. I know where I'm going and the basic direction. However, exactly how I will get to the end and what I may discover along the way that I haven't thought of in the early stages is always interesting. By the time I reach about 10,000 words, I'm sure of how the story will end. I have changed the ending from my original idea in only a couple of my books. 
By this point, I have also listened to a lot of music and may have constructed a soundtrack, music which fits the scenes or which establishes the mood for scenes. I use music A LOT to aid my writing. Film music or music for video games works best, depending on the genre of the book. During the course of writing I will listen to the same set of music countless times and will be sick of it by the time I finished the final editing.

The post-apocalyptic plague novel I mentioned above is still in this exploratory phase, where I'm writing to see what ideas come to the forefront, what possibilities appear. A few stories end in this stage while others go on to be completed. If I don't hit some pay dirt at around the 10,000-words threshold, it's probably going to just sit on my computer forever.

I've found that, when I'm going to the day job, I seem to get more writing done by typing between classes than I do at home with a lot of free time, such as over a weekend. Yes, it depends on how deep into the story I am. I know the book is a 'go' when I'm thinking of the story - what happens next, or something I need to go back and put in - all through the day.

Now that I have time, maintaining the solitary confinement only a madman would put himself through, I find it difficult to be productive. Clearly I'm not far enough into the new book to let it pull me to the keyboard constantly. But we will get there.

I also have anxiety about the launch of my "current" novel, which has been pushed back due to the way this medical situation has filled everyone's minds with worry and fear. No room for something else, such as a new novel to read. However, some author friends have advised me that this is a good time to put out a new book because everyone has time to read, and wants something to fill their days. There is a fine line between adoring and abhorring this brave new whirly-bird.

Next post: getting the voice of the story.

(C) Copyright 2010-2020 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.

26 March 2020

The Solitude

So here we are with little to do, safely ensconced in our homey paradise. I'm passing the time by still teaching - moved online starting this week, a method of lesson delivery I've successfully put off until . . . well, now. I've also spent time writing and editing. Editing the proof copy of a novel whose launch has been delayed because of the pandemic crisis. Seems it's a poor time to get everyone excited about reading a new book - unless it's a post-apocalyptic plague novel, of course. On that note, the novel I've just started is a post-apocalyptic plague novel. Checking the social media. Also, longer naps. Counting each day how many meals' worth of food I have left. And generally mulling over life.

In my erstwhile day job, I teach college students how to write, mostly for academic purposes but I also encourage creativity. Indeed, a lot of my effort is to encourage young writers that they can write and that what they write is worth writing. My favorite saying (which I though I coined although I've seen similar statements attributed to Hemingway and Benjamin Franklin) is this: "If it's not worth writing about, it's not worth doing." To that end, I often talk about my books, especially how I get the ideas and develop them into a full novel. Sure, a 500-word essay comparing high school with college is tough. But try inventing an intriguing adventure tale in a made-up universe featuring a cast of 20 characters, each with their own motivations and agendas, that goes to 233,000 words. Sorry, boasting again.

So as I lay about at the end of the summer, I pondered a little weak, a little weary, what exactly was my process. I was well into a new novel (the one that's been delayed) so I could examine how and what and why I did this and that. I matched events and ideas in the story with real things happening at that time and found several uncomfortable comparisons. It was (still is) what I would call a "crime thriller", or as close to one as I'm ever likely to write, and I knew how it began. One day a what-if question popped into my head. I'm not sure what caused that pop-in, but shortly after there were two mass shootings in Texas, about a week apart, which caught me viscerally. That was the idea I had for my just-started novel, so I was shocked and almost put away my writing effort.

Looking back more recently, I found the file where I just typed out a short "blurb" - enough to remember the idea for when I could have time to write it out and see where it went. From that "note to self" I knew the idea probably formed when I was planning for a friend to visit me from overseas, someone I had met and worked with in China the summer before. We met two summers before that when I was teaching a class at a university in Beijing. (You can scroll back through these many blog posts and find the details, if you're interested.) So the note went a little like this:
Foreign student scheduled to stay in US arrives just after wife & daughter die in drunk driver crash, so only the husband/father is host.
That premise seemed intriguing to me at the time, in the initial stages. The situation seemed awkward and rife with possibilities for exploration of many issues. At first, I imagined the wife and daughter being killed in a car wreck. Then the shootings happened. I changed the plot to have them killed in a mass shooting. Sorry. If you're a fellow writer, you understand; there's nothing personal in the decision, no attempt to exploit real events, no making coin off someone else's tragedy. In fact, those questions eventually are raised in the novel. 

Back to the process - the Writing Process (trumpets blare!). In class we spend a lot of time understanding where ideas come from. I give lots of examples from my own writing, academic papers included. Even a grocery shopping list starts from some idea, maybe what you need most urgently. Then you expand on that item. I didn't have enough corn chips to finish the guacamole, so chips is what goes on the list first. With stories, as Wordsworth (poetry comes from "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility" - Lyrical Ballads, 1805) and T.S. Eliot (e.g., the analogy of the catalyst from "Tradition and the Individual Talent", 1922) have declared, it is a strange and unpredictable cross-pollination of disparate items that in the writer's mind become melded together as something entirely new. Half the time, this is how I get an idea for a novel. The other half of the time, I am told or directed to a particular idea and I work from that.

Last semester, I composed a set of steps in my personal writing process. Here is step 1:
An idea comes to me from somewhere, seems like an idea worth developing, so I think about it, maybe start some "test writing" and see where it goes. When I know it can be a good book-length story, I set up a file and think of the opening scene, type it out. I rarely outline or plan the whole story out, but I do think ahead chapter by chapter. After reading a lot and writing other books, I find I have a feel for the pace of a novel, the arcs of characters, and the place for certain things to happen. Usually before each day's fresh writing, I edit the previous chapter, then go straight into the fresh text.

Yes, it often seems that one-third of the entire effort is coming up with the right premise, the log-line of a fiction work, asking the best question which the novel when written will answer. I like to raise questions and take 100,000 words to answer them through a grand illustration.

More on The Process next time.

(C) Copyright 2010-2020 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.

08 March 2020

The Little Virus that Could

A lot has happened since last we blogged. I've been unaffected personally by all that has been going on in the world, the country, and my small circle of annoyances. I've been busy proofing my latest novel and always seem to find something I missed the previous read-through. I have other projects I need to finish, too. So I would be good if I had to self-quarantine for 14 days due to the latest health scare. A fortnight's staycation might be just the ticket to aiding me in getting over other matters unrelated to virus-whatever-cool-name-they-give-it. But I do have friends in China and Japan, and a Chinese friend who went to Europe, and friends in Canada who I'm concerned about. So far, all of them are healthy and safe. But they have no book to proof, sadly.

Last year, at the end of the summer, I became ill with a strange malady which, in hindsight, seems uncannily similar to the current pandemic's list of symptoms. It was mostly coughing and, at first, a bone-crushing headache and fever. No sinus problems, no sore throat, none of the usual cold or flu symptoms. I attributed it to a strong mold infestation in a hotel I stayed in, which had been damaged by Hurricane Harvey but was supposedly renovated. I got over it in about a month and thought nothing more of it until the news started filtering in from China of a new strain of an old strain of something strange.

As someone who has read a lot of sci-fi and written sci-fi, I find myself in the business of imagining, coming up with plausible scenarios based as much as possible on known science and speculation of future science. I and my colleagues in the field have role-played plagues and apocalyptic visions already, so nothing that presents in the news today seems too surprising or far-fetched. There's even been a meme going around social media mentioning a passage in a 1981 novel by Dean Koontz describing a bio-weapon coming from Wuhan. The more sci-fi/ dystopian/apocalyptic tropes go around, the more they stay around.

Now everyone is preparing to shut down the schools, cancel conferences, concerts, maybe sporting events, to keep people from congregating. Passengers on cruise ships have been hit hard. So, too, people collecting at ski resorts in the Italian Alps. Definitely not enough hand washing going on, I surmise. There have even been several infographics demonstrating proper hand washing techniques. If you didn't learn that from Mom long ago, you're not likely to change your habits. 

And people are making a run on toilet paper, which some say comes mostly from China.If the virus originated in China, why hoard the paper products also from China? Toilet paper? Come on. You're just going to throw it away, anyway. Stocking up on hand sanitizer and masks seems a little more sensible, but the act of hoarding itself, especially for non-food items, seems to smack of fear-mongering. A lot of people are making a lot of money off the frenzy. For those of us in the book business, I've seen memes about "panic-buying" books, presumably to have enough to read during a quarantine. I say you don't need to panic-buy books, just buy books. You should always have a 14-day supply of reading material - minimum.

And here's where I would suggest a sampling of my shelf (see upper right corner of this page for links). But in these fearful times, that might seem gaudy or self-serving. Listen: if you buy some books to wile away the hours, your purchase could help a soapless author get some supplies and maybe live another day, perhaps write more. Then, those who survive might get a new book for the next outbreak.

Keep calm and wash your hands.

(C) Copyright 2010-2020 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 February 2020

The Anti-Valentine Rant

As we approach that day of reckoning - the most dreaded day of the year for many - perhaps it's of some comfort to realize that it's all based on someone being executed.

Yes, Mr. Valentine was killed for marrying 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. 

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 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. I see one in the mirror each day. I fall for it every year. But not this year! I've finally awakened from my stupor.

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. We know 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. Magazines can be wrong. Social media is more accurate these days.

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 about one particular day of the year? Because, dear lovers of love, if you do not demonstrate said love to said lover, you are a rube at best and an ex-lover in the making at worse. There is no middle ground, only a pit of ruin.

Yet never fear! We have the means to solve your problem. Just like the commercials on radio and television with increasing annoyance the Internet (every single @#$%^&* web page!) 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 you from you! You do not want that problem, do you? Obviously not.
So for a certain amount of money we can give you something which will solve that problem. Drug companies do this, too, and clearly have mastered the art.

You go along on your simple, unadorned life, thinking it's just a matter of getting older, not having a quality sleep, suffering poor diet, or not having enough friends, or not enough cool, hip, advertising-worthy friends (but who can ever have enough of those?), and then... BAM!!! 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 solve your problems. 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 and all will be resolved. 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 anyway? That is, without the money to buy all the solutions you obviously 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 the many minions of Münchausen mania! Only then will you be worthy of membership!

Just click off and log off the obstinate media and social media and return to your quiet humble existence. Perhaps cuddle up with a wonderfully understanding book boyfriend/girlfriend. Many do. It's not that weird. (I have 10 books I can recommend.) 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 the Valentine thorn in your side started to hurt.

Yes, I know I like to rant. Sometimes it helps. Sorry. Probably there's a pill for that. And I have some money squirreled away for just such a solution to such a problem - a problem I never knew I had, couched in a Valentine I never requested or expected, from a person I have yet to meet, smeared with chocolate melted in a hot car then re-solidified later. At least, I think it's chocolate. It counts.

(There do not seem to be any memes for "book girlfriend" FYI.)


P.S., For those who take this blog post as a desperate cry for help, I can confirm that I'm a l l  r i g h t. Besides, I've got an unopened tub of ice cream just waiting for consumption. And a backup tub in case I need it. And directions to a donut shop.

(C) Copyright 2010-2020 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.

08 February 2020

That Super Bowl

It's been only a week and still seems like a dream. Being older, I can handle dreams better now. It's been such a long time coming that for many of us in Chiefs Kingdom it still doesn't seem quite real: winning Super Bowl 54 (a.k.a. LIV) much less even getting there in the 2019 season.

For me, it brings back distant memories. Super Bowl I, back when everyone still used Roman numerals, between Kansas City and the Green Bay Packers was the only title game broadcast by two TV stations, one for the AFL and one for the NFL. Packers won 35-10 that day. But it was game on for the new AFL!

I was a little boy who played football with other boys in the neighborhood. Often I would go through the streets and backyards gathering a few boys so I could be the star quarterback to their receivers and halfbacks. If we found enough boys we could have a pick-up game in an abandoned field.

But on that day, I entered the living room and saw a football game on our black-and-white TV with the three channels available by rabbit ears. "What's that?" I asked my parents, sitting on the couch. My father turned and said, "They call it the Super Bowl." I asked who was playing and when I heard it was our team (we lived in Kansas City then), I learned my city had its own football team, the Chiefs. I was a fan from that day forward.

I missed Super Bowl II due to playing football with boys in the neighborhood, but I watched all the others. Well, except for one in the eighties because I didn't care who won so I offered to cover the shift of a coworker. But the others I watched, whether to cheer for a team or shout curses at a team hoping they would lose. Like with many Americans, it became a mid-winter ritual.

As a boy who loved playing footballI was such a fan that I went to training camp at William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri just to get autographs. Trudging up from the field to the locker room at the end of a long day was Len Dawson (QB and Super Bowl IV MVP). I shyly stepped forward and asked for his autograph and he did not hesitate a bit to sign the notebook I had. Thank you!

Now, after many generations of players and coaches, some coming close and others far from it, the latest incarnation of the Kansas City Chiefs have returned to the big game and claimed the crown in dramatic fashion. There are plenty of written accounts and video highlights elsewhere if you wish to indulge in descriptions of the game. Following the protocol I had developed during the season, I avoided guacamole during the game - but chips and queso were permitted. I wore my gray sweatpants and a red t-shirt (alas, not a Chiefs shirt but still red) - the same outfit I wore when they won the game that started their winning streak culminating in the Super Bowl.

We have suffered through many bad seasons and, perhaps worse, the winning seasons that ended too soon or in unbelievable fashion (I'm looking at you 2018). But now it's happened. It's finally happened. If your team is regularly in the playoffs and if your team has been in a Super Bowl in recent years, you don't know the feeling of this moment. I even splurged on souvenir championship shirts and a cap - which I will likely never wear, keeping it clean and safe for another generation.

Congratulations, Kansas City Chiefs!
I always knew you would get there!

(C) Copyright 2010-2020 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.

30 January 2020

Welcome to 2020

Good evening. I suppose you're wondering why I've called you here today. We have unfinished business which has been overlooked for far too long.

When last I posted, it was May in the year 2019. I posted an assortment of material based on April being National Poetry Month. Apologies for verse which was, shall we say, not exactly the worst but not quite the best. Some were from the vast world of Twitter where there are strict limits on what a poet might do.

After that post, I had the best of intentions. I planned to continue the effort more or less on a three posts per month average schedule. However, I quickly became busy with personal matters. Besides, it was summer by then and I usually have taken a month off, anyway.

But summer went on and on, especially since I did not go to China to teach a summer class as in past summers. I was left with time on my hands. And I didn't know what to do. Unfortunately, more blogging never occurred to me. I decided to travel. I can share more of that adventure in upcoming posts.

At the end of the summer, I became stricken by a strange illness I later attributed to ineffective treatment of the hurricane-stricken interiors of the hotel in which I stayed. The coastal town had been battered and the hotel suffered damage. Alas, the hotel appeared completely rebuilt so I gave them my business. Upon departure, I noticed the first of what would become a long list of awful symptoms. First, I had to suffer through a week of horrible misery worse than anything I've ever imparted on any protagonist I've written.

The experience of weeks of recovery derailed again my desire to blog like there was no tomorrow. That is my story and I believe I shall stick with it. Or, in the alternative, I kept thinking I should get back to blogging but, like so many other blog attempts, I feared something would happen - meaning a tragic event - so it seemed inappropriate to post.

I missed my chance to blog again in 2019. Now I am about to miss my last opportunity to start blogging again with the first month of the new year. But as this is the Year of the Rat (or Mouse, if you prefer), I should get started again because . . . because there's probably some link between blogging and this particular mammal. It's in some ancient Chinese text somewhere. 

Therefore, you find yourself reading this post - unless you have already bailed out. If you have chosen to endure, kudos to you! 

For 2020, I shall commit to posting once a month. More often if the mood hits me or you start begging for more. Besides, I have a new novel coming out soon so it makes sense for me to get the ol' blog-a-thon rolling again. The usual suspects will likely appear: writing, my writing, amusing anecdotes, extreme diatribes, rants on the nature of nurturing, and a bit of alliteration. It is possible I may post something of interest to you at random.


One of the first items on my agenda is the Kansas City Chiefs' appearance in Super Bowl 54, a mere 50 years after winning Super Bowl 4 against the Minnesota Vikings. This coming Sunday everything will be decided once more. I predict a victory for the Chiefs vs the San Francisco 49ers by a score of 38 to 24.

(C) Copyright 2010-2020 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 May 2019

April is the Cruelest Month

As most of you know, April is National Poetry Month. As most of you did not know, I always have high hopes for tremendous poetic output during the month yet usually fail a few days in. Life gets in the way, of course. That's my excuse, but it's true. What is also true is that Life is the fodder for poetry much of the time. Write about what is happening now, like a snapshot of the moment.

On April 1st, I composed:

I don't always compose poetry,
But it's April, the poetry month!
So here goes nothing, as I see
Hope you like my first attempt
...That doesn't quite rhyme
Or make any sense
But is a tweet
On Twitter

These days, poetry writing comes when I have time on my hands. When I have to wait for a while, for example, I'll whip out my phone and go to Twitter and find a poetry prompt and, rather like a brainteaser, I'll knock out a quick few lines of verse - sometimes prose, depending on the prompt. Lots of poetry or "very short story" prompt accounts on Twitter. Given the tweet format, short poems work best: limericks, couplets, quatrains, haiku, etc. When Twitter expanded tweets to 280 characters, the poetry world really exploded.

Sometimes I have to wait
Even if I fear being late
So out comes the phone
Like a dog's well-chewed bone
Tapping here and there
Entertaining myself ...somewhere
Usually it's tweets I do
Some for me, some for you--
Until I hear my name
And the world stops being the same

The only problem I encounter on that platform is the evil of predictive text which often ruins a perfectly fine poem in the nano-second I click tweet.

One of my favorite prompt places is @vss365 which means "very short story". With a daily prompt, I test my creativity. Eschewing the usual definitions and usage of the given word, I'll try to go for the bizarre or a pun. For example:

On April 22nd, I composed this one, playing on the prompt word "vague":

This tweet probably gonna be a little #vague because coffee out and sky being fuchsia with tens over twenties when Koolio was on the ramparts with Z.

This example may remind some blog readers of my love of purple prose. Twitter poetry is perfect as an outlet.

Her #ephemerality left him only a wisp of hope teetering on the edge of her grave, a sense of a scent of a scene long evaporated.

Because there is such a thing as a "prose poem" in the many genres of poetry, I consider these "vss" to be a form of poetry even though they tend to tell a story, which is the point. However, I still compose more traditional poetic forms - such as these "haiku":

Customer service
Teachers serving students
Super-sizing grades

Rather be writing
A vampire novel than this
Required lecture.

Accusative voice
Customer service lecture
I'll play on Twitter

I was stuck in a mandatory lecture/chastisement session and took the opportunity to complain about having to be there. While I know these are not haiku in an authentic sense, they fit the 5-7-5 syllable pattern which most people would call haiku. 

However, to be authentic the haiku must have some reference to the season or to natural beauty while presenting a question and answer form. Anything about modern life or thoughts of love or (in my case here) disdain would more properly be called a senryu

On April 7th I composed a more traditional poem, using rhymed couplets:

I blogged today
That's enough, I say
But others disagree
They don't really know me
I write when it's right
I sleep when it's night
That's how I roll
I'm not a troll
This is my Sunday verse
Not quite a weekend curse
Ready to log off now
Ready to take my bow

Again, I had time to kill so I just sat back I thought of how I felt, what I thought of my feeling, and how I felt about that. The rest was just finger tapping. Sometimes I'll incorporate into a poem what is actually happening, such as when I was pressed to give a lecture about writing and publishing on the excuse of my third vampire novel coming out, this time as a limerick:

Today is the big reading session
Reading from my new book is my mission
The words will be spoke
As long as people stay woke
Until I'm the last one to be leavin'

Not every day in April was a good day for poetry. But I even managed to use the non-poetic aspects of life to my advantage. The point is that anything can be fodder for a poem. And even a bad poem is better than no poem. For example, I composed the following on a bad Monday morning (April 15):

Monday is probably the worst day to write poetry
It's worse than Tuesday or ummm Wednesday
And not as good as, ya know, Thursday
Friday is good
Saturday maybe

Sometimes a thought comes to me which is too profound for some kind of frivolous rhyme scheme and out it comes (using the prompt word "veneer"):

Not every artist has a thick skin.
Most have had layers shaved off
Sharp tongue lash by sharp tongue lash,
Until only the thinnest #veneer remains
To protect the soul from the final straw.

Sometimes I'll try my luck at other short prompt ideas, such as @hangtenstories, where the goal is to write a story based on the prompt but only using 10 words. It is often a challenge and I have committed a few faux pas by composing wonderful stories which - whoops! - have a lot more than 10 words. Here is one I scaled back to ten words, using the prompt "fathom":

Ishmael only dared to go 20,000 #fathoms under the sea.

I like to go for irony in these short stories on Twitter. It's in my nature, anyway. Looking for the unusual, the side view, the unthought thought, the hidden seam, the mangled lexicon - such as this doozy for "maelstrom":

He used to storm through a room, like any other male. But when he was drunk, when he couldn't type  correctly, he would write #maelstrom and slur the words together. Even so, they all knew what he meant.

And... well, because Life is full of life events, I composed a poem sharing my feelings about something real in my life (but not actually about vests; the prompt was "vestige"):

I'm impressed
You adore the rest
So I always wear a vest
Mostly when I'm out West
But that's no reason
To say it's not in season
Or rag on my quirk
Wearing vests to work:
A mere #vestige of my art
A desire that we'll never part
Yet your posts online
Tell me it's time

If you are into haiku, I recommend @haikuchallenge, which also gives a word you must use in the haiku. Here's one I composed on April 20 (prompt was "apart"):

#Apart from haiku
He writes long epic novels
And nothing between

There it is: truth with a lowercase T. Give it a try. If you try to avoid Twitter, just jot down your verse in a notebook, if not for the world then at least for yourself. Read them later. Share with the next generation. Not every line of words is a thing of beauty (to misquote John Keats) but they can last forever. Go for it!

(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.

04 May 2019

The 5th of the 5th of the 5th!

Sure, it's a made-up holiday, this May the 4th Be With You Day. It easily follows the laborious Labor Day otherwise known as May Day and its celebrations around the world. And which is followed in short order by the equally sanctimonious Revenge of the 5th Day (that is, "Revenge of the Sith" a Star Wars film phrase). And that coincides with the Mexican holiday of Cinco de Mayo, the 5th of May, the celebration of an old battle victory over the French invaders. (You can google it: the French actually tried to conquer Mexico.)

cinco de meow
Nevertheless, I shall celebrate my own day on May 5th (since I eat plenty of tacos throughout the year anyway). I shall call this day The 5th of the 5th of the 5th! On this day I shall reveal for public scrutiny the fifth paragraph of the fifth page of the fifth chapter of each of my completed novels...no matter what it may be, whether full of self-revelation or not. For your sake, I am willing to take that risk.

And so without further delay... here are the 5th paragraphs from the 5th pages of the 5th chapters:

1. The Last Song (written in 1981, not yet published; this book is divided into four "symphonic movements" so it does not have a 5th chapter; thus, I offer the fifth paragraph from the fifth chapter-like section):

    “I learned the theory of the music of the gods, from the Discovery," the old music teacher grumbled. "The real music! And now...now they’ve gone so far astray. It’s pitiful, downright pitiful. I pity all of them, those greedy, lazy free composers.  Music destroyers is what I call them!”

2. Year of the Tiger, an adventure tale of an obsessed hunter's pursuit of a man-eater in India (written first in 1983; coming later in 2019)

Between the dull throbbing in his chest and the steady ache in his head, his vivid consciousness began to waver. He slipped back and forth from the soothing pastel walls of his room to a steamy, vegetated world of jungle bird calls and the incessant thumping of native drums. Sweating profoundly, he listened to the drums, then the birds, then the rustling of the leaves around him. A breeze wafted over him, humid and heavy, pressing him deeper into his mattress. The drums faded away, then the birds.

3. Aiko (written in 1988; mercilessly drummed out of Amazon's 2014 Breakthrough Novel Awards competition; revised and published anyway!)

      It was the 80s, he considered, wondering where his youth had gone, already in his thirties and fearing he had missed something. Japan was opening up to internationalization, long past recovering from the ravages of war and hardships of reconstruction. Now Japan had stepped out as an equal among nations, pressing for leadership in the international community. Stereotypes were falling away. Slowly. No longer were images of geisha and samurai what people thought of; endless varieties of electronics and quirky pop singers with pink hair and thigh-high boots were the most noticeable imports. Ben had to smile: he had never had any interest in Asia—not the culture, not the food, not the people, their languages, their fashions, nor their ways of doing business. He had only limited experience, anyway. In college his girlfriend had roomed with an exchange student from Korea. And in high school there was a chubby girl by the name of Yoko, but he never considered she was half-Japanese; she was just another American to him. Then he’d arrived in Hawaii.

4. The Dream Land (a.k.a. "Long Distance Voyager" - Book I of The Dream Land Trilogy), steampunk interdimensional adventure! (written in 1993)

“It’s...glorious,” she whispered, and he was surprised she could be so taken in by her own experiment. He had to agree, touching her hand and giving it a reassuring squeeze: it was beyond their expectations.

5. After Ilium, romantic adventure in Turkey (written for a college course in 1998)

      Alex knew they were talking about him, even though the words were Turkish. They sounded strangely like the drunken mutterings of his fraternity buddies, and the shadows shifted to become his roommate, Nick, with a swarthy face and black, curled beard, like statues of the old Greek king, Agamemnon, that he’d seen in museums. Nick had been killed driving home from spring break six weeks before graduation, a trip Alex had reluctantly declined, citing an important paper that was due. The shadows shifted and Nick was replaced by the image of the doctor—the image of how he thought the doctor appeared.

6. A Beautiful Chill, a campus affair turned ugly... (written as MFA thesis, 2002)

“We are lovers,” she says, taking his arm so there will be no confusion.

7. The Dream Land (Book II "Dreams of Future's Past")

McElroy lowered his head, seething. He had never hit a woman before, though he had come close several times. He had always managed to hit a wall or a door. Once he hit himself—his head—against a door to release his anger. He did not carry his pistol tonight since they were going out to dinner in a nice restaurant. But he could never hit a woman. He had too much respect for—

8. The Dream Land (Book III "Diaspora")

“No, course not.” Tammy giggled. “They are on another planet. How’m I supposed to have contact with them?”

9. A Dry Patch of Skin, the only medically accurate vampire tale!

I resisted the easy double-entendre and responded thus: “My pleasure.” After all, I’ve learned over the years that the best way to assure anyone comes is to not make jokes until after it happens. (Oh, is that a dirty joke? I’m not sorry, nor am I offended that anyone might be offended. I did not come right out and say anything obscene. That is the beauty of the double-entendre: only those privy to the context find it clever. All others sit dumb-faced like wilted flowers. All right then, I apologize. Next time, bring your own jokes.)

10. A Girl Called Wolf, an arctic adventure tale based on a true life.

     “Anna?” Somebody called my name, my Catholic name that the Lord of Denmark chose for me. I turned and there was a woman with red hair. She ran up to me and hugged me before I could move.

11. Epic Fantasy *With Dragons, an epic fantasy that has dragons, a dragonslayer, a boy from the palace kitchen, an old magus, a little princess, a valley of death, and a whole lot more!

    Corlan arose, weary and sore. He stumbled to the door, hung on the handle a few breaths, and realized as he opened the door that he was still naked. After the hours with Petula, he cared not. He simply wanted to keep that memory fixed in his mind, playing the afternoon tryst over and over.

12. SUNRISE, Book 2 in the Stefan Szekely Trilogy (the sequel to A DRY PATCH OF SKIN), in which the hero from Book I finds himself 13 years later in a changed world, trying to start living the vampire playboy lifestyle.

     Yet I retain the powers which my affliction has given me: first, the power to frighten. Dogs and children are easiest to disturb. Women are either seductively attracted or immediately flee in horror. Men stand their ground to fight me, especially if women and children are present. The weaker ones will likely flee. Second, within my thin, decrepit body I have strength no one would suspect. And surprising speed should I need to escape. And I cannot be killed. I do not feel pain—or much of any sensations, yet I can sense many things, like a clairvoyant. 

13. SUNSET, Book 3 of the Stefan Szekely Trilogy (the conclusion of the tale, available now!) in which we re-meet our hero in particularly dire circumstances many years further into the future...

    Nóra did not look up as she worked. “He touched the Letter.”

(Granted it is not such a telling paragraph, unless you are now curious about the letter. That could be inducement to give the trilogy a try. Who can say?)

Thus is revealed the 5th of the 5th of the 5th!

I encourage you to enjoy your tacos, your light-sabers, and should the mood strike you, go ahead and get yourself five books. Share with five friends and your life shall be made five-fold better by your generous acts!

(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.