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.

14 April 2019

The After-Reading Party

I came, I read, I answered questions.

I'm the sort of person who doesn't like crowds, especially doesn't like speaking before a crowd. I can handle a classroom of inattentive students, say, up to about 25, which is my day job. So I worried about the reading opportunity that was foisted upon me this past Tuesday. I prepared by selecting which scene from each of my three books I would read, something short yet evocative and which demonstrated in a couple pages my great craft.

My event made the campus jumbotron!
Then obstacles ensued. The largest was a faculty meeting the hour right before my reading. In fact, as faculty meetings tend to go, it could run long and thus extend into my scheduled reading. I wondered whether or not I should leave the meeting a little early to be at the appointed place at the appointed time. But then, I feared, the university vice-president, who leads these meetings, might call me out for my reading and if I were not present it could be a major faux pas.

However, everything went as the proverbial clockwork. I attended the meeting, sipping on a caffeinated beverage throughout. As the clock ticked down, the VP did indeed call me out to say a few words about my new/latest book. "Give us a couple sentences," he said. Knowing my colleagues were anxious to exit, I just gave a two sentence summary of my event and all were pleased. 

I returned to my office to grab the three books of the Stefan Szekely Trilogy, plus another trio to be used as a raffle prize. I thought to carry the box I had of other copies but thought I could sell them later, after the "show" or the next day, rather than carry the box across the campus. (In hindsight, no, I did not sell any books afterward; I believe I could've sold some if I had them there at the event - mistake number one.)

When I arrived at the student union for the event, I found everything set up for me, thanks to the English Club! I'd worried that I would be walking into an empty room and would need to announce myself and gather passers-by to form an audience. My colleague introduced me and acted as MC. First I told about my new/latest book, the third of a trilogy. That led me to explain where it started, where I got the idea (anecdotes about my daughter being hooked on Twilight, etc.), and an overview of the trilogy.

Then I read a scene from the first book, which I felt showed the style and tone of the story quite well: the first time my protagonist seeks medical help for his skin problems. I paused to explain what happens next, intending it as a lead-in to reading a scene from the second book. However, a hand went up so I called on that audience member and answered her question. That led to other questions, divided evenly between questions about my writing process (in general and for this trilogy) and the process of "getting published". The questions continued and I never got to read more in the hour-long event.

Given that the audience was mostly students, I had worried how attentive they might be at such an event. I know how they can be in my own classes. I also knew that my colleagues had offered "extra credit" for attending, so I had little expectation of an enthusiastic crowd. Their questions, however, seemed genuine and not off a script. Several were apparently very interested in writing stories and trying to publish them. I made generous offers to take a look at their work. One colleague reminded me to mention I would be teaching the Creative Writing course in the fall semester.

A Journalism professor attended and later suggested some journalism students would interview me for a feature in the campus newspaper. Great publicity! Especially for a shy guy who would rather write than speak. In any case, it was a comfortable experience. I urge anyone of similar temperament to go ahead and accept that invitation to do a reading. It will be over before you know it!

It was later than usual when I left the campus for the drive home, but I did not stop off at my neighborhood bar for a drink. I was not unnerved and in need of that stress-relief. Instead, when I arrived home, I indulged in ice cream. I could almost sense paparazzi outside my door. Almost.


(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.

07 April 2019

The Curse of the Author Spotlight

[NOTE: Strange transformations going on with Blogger, so be patient while we see how it all plays out....]

This week I've been invited to be the guest and chief entertainment for a session of what those who invited me have dubbed "Author Spotlight". Now, as an author, I am also somewhat of an introvert; I prefer to express myself on the page rather than, say, face to face, especially when the other is represented by multiple faces. Worse yet would be no faces. But colleagues have assured me that they are giving their students extra credit to attend my dubious carnival act.

This Author Spotlight came about when a potential English major asked a reasonable question at an English major reception: "So do any of you do anything? Like write?" To which I immediately raised my hand and uttered the fateful words: "The third volume of my vampire trilogy just came out." Of course, I was then pressed upon to tell more. Any Book 3 requires divulging the whole story: Book 1 and 2, the impetus for the entire story, etc. That led to several other questions. 

My colleagues knew about the first book, A DRY PATCH OF SKIN, because it had been reviewed in the local newspaper, The Oklahoman, as part of a short list of Halloween-themed books. As it was set in Oklahoma City where I live and work made it all the more topical. It garnered enough curiosity, in fact, that the STEM-obsessed Dean of our Arts & Sciences School, mentioned it at an all-faculty meeting, even holding up a copy for all to see - as I slunk in my seat to keep out of view (the introvert thing). I then wrote two other books, unrelated to the vampire genre, and thought I was finished with vampires.

But the ending nagged me. I had to know what happened next, having ended the story in 2014. By the time I got the idea of what would happen next, it was already 13 years in the future in the story and 3 years in my real life. With a vampire as the main character and narrator, there were only two ways I could go with the continuation: treat him as a vampire, ugly and miserable, scraping by on the blood of peasants, or have him fit in somehow with polite society. Either could have been an interesting discourse, but I chose the latter and Book 2 was born: SUNRISE.

In the first book, I allowed my protagonist, Stefan Szekely, to get into conversations with God, who he jokes about initially then comes to blame for his worsening affliction. Thinking he has made a deal with God, he discovers to his horror that God has backed out on the deal, leaving him to his fate. In the second book, Stefan still converses with God - or believes he does - but it is a mocking diatribe this time, no longer taking God as a kindly grandfather but a spiteful menace. In SUNSET, the third book, when the situation demands another bargain be struck, Stefan believes it is being made with God. Unfortunately, it is with God's number one interloper, Lucifer, who sees the potential in him. In the third book, that potential is realized, much to the world's chagrin. Chaos and cruelty reign! 

Now, when pressed upon to be the featured guest at this campus function designed around a book series, I was immediately concerned with our well-discussed conundrum of our students disdaining reading long passages and how I might get students interested in reading my books. Of course I will read a short scene from each of the three books, something stand-alone and interesting in itself. There is a great deal of dark humor, irony and sarcasm in the telling of the story, so I worry they would not see it as a dramatic tale of man becoming vampire becoming holy terror personified. No monsters leap out of closets. Since part of the story is set in Oklahoma, I shall read one scene set there which involves our hero, Stefan, and a lowly grave digger - thereby allowing me to use my well-trained voice to affect the Okie accent. I may otherwise use my vampire voice while reading other parts. I've mastered how to speak the classic phrase: "Good Eeeeeving."

Other than reading short passages and telling how I got the idea for the books, I will likely talk a bit about my childhood interest in reading and writing. Then I should segue into how they should be writing something, starting with events in their own lives - perhaps change the names and call it a story. I want to get them to see the potential they have in expressing themselves. Sure, they can make videos, come up with songs and spoken-word poetry, share raps, but those are all short-form expressions. Can they create an extended form with a complex, layered narrative? I will challenge them. Perhaps my inspiring words will translate into better classroom productivity. Who knows?

Lastly, I shall take questions from the audience. I have no idea what they may wish to know. I will have explained much already, so . . . I must be ready for anything. I must deflect any questions about the Penny Park (pseudonym!) affair recounted in Book 1. Hopefully, I shall be done with the session before my glucose drops and my head goes foggy and my voice cracks. It is the author's equivalent of a marathon. And I have not been training much. The only thing that might save me, give me an edge, is that I will know some of the audience already. The other saving grace is that I sure do love to talk about myself!

(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.

24 March 2019

The Future of Vampire Stories (a continuing resolution) Part 2

With a welcome weekend off for the St. Patrick's Day celebrations (There are no naturally occurring Irish vampires, thankfully!), we return with Part 2 of our continuing resolution on the future of Vampire literature: A look into the Future Society.

The 3rd book, SUNSET, in the Stefan Szekely Trilogy opens in 2099 and extends into the 2100s, remarking often on the situation in the world and especially the Empire of Europa, born of the expanded Hungarian Empire, led by the vampire Emperor. His Holiness chastises his governing council, lectures them on how He has improved the world from the way it was in the days of His transformation in 2014:

Case #4

His Holiness, Emperor Stefan: “It needs to be controlled, this world of ours. I agree. Too much and for too long the scientists and the inventors sought to expand only leisure and sloth, leaving the masses unemployed and starving. Those who could work willingly worked for the lowest possible wage. Others were slaves of sloth: no will to enter the night, to make something, no, only the attention to divertissements. For each man and each woman must have purpose in their existence, so we have given it to them: make good your efforts to bear children prior to your transformation, raise them to obey, honor our traditions and maintain our heritage. A logical scheme. Look how we smashed the towers of commerce, those thirty-floor skyscrapers that were not a part of our traditions and our heritage. We return to the common architecture style which represents the best of our land, the best of our history—true art! And we should continue to make works of art and beauty and sing songs that glorify the empire and praise the Most High. Diligently make your specified production each night. Enjoy a sport or celebrate music in your hibernation. Notice the world around you and your place in it. Nothing occurs in isolation. This is what we do within the span of our existence. We do not seek to advance society into some strange new world full of strange objects and stranger beliefs. This is our home. Let us keep it clean and dark.”

Case #5

Later we meet Oklahoma grave digger Bucky Denham and learn of the wars that have been on-going in Europe: the Ukrainian front on the east and the front on the west coast in Frisia (northern Netherlands):

    “Oh, that?” Bucky thumbed to his shoulder. “I was o’er in Frisia for a year, fightin th’ Europa vampires. Got this here wound ’nd they sent me home. Yeah, don’t hurt now, but shee-yit shore did when it was still burning, I mean li’l blue flames rising from each hole, like to beggin for someone ta kill me right off. But I got ta th’ hospice in time ’nd they put out th’ flames ’nd bandaged me tight. Worst year of my life, lemme tell ya.” He shrugged to show it didn’t hurt now. “But they get me good now, takin half whatever I make diggin graves for folks no matter I did my service. My pops kicked off while I was o’er there. My baby boy had with a gal down the street, too.”
. . . 

   “Yessiree. Them vampire brigades come at us during night, firing flares ’nd shee-yit at us. Then they got th’ Black Storm going ’nd they started attacking during th’ day. But it weren’t like no day, black clouds coverin th’ sun, dark as night. They could go out then. Nothin we threw at ’em ever did much. We tried silver bullets but they just went straight through ’em. Silver’s too dang ’spensive. We had ta get some sabers ’nd go fer th' heads. Lop off a head 
’nd they stopped cold dead. Yep, true dead. We heard they kept ’em starved of blood then released ’em at us so they’d tear after us, ya know, ta get our blood. Ya never saw no more gore than th’ battlefields of Frisia. I mean, arms ’nd legs ’nd heads laying ever’where. So many gyawdamn crows peckin at shit.”

Case #6

Finally, as expected, more and more fundamental tasks will be taken over by automation - robots - thereby leaving humans to enjoy their leisure. Sometimes the technology works too well, or doesn't work at all:

    Twice a surveillance drone approached him. Finally, it flashed a red warning: MAXIMUM WARNINGS EXCEEDED. A security patrol drove up beside him, hovering over the pavement.
    “What’re you up to, fella?” asked the robot in a life-like voice.
    “I like the scenery on this street,” he said in as calm a voice as he could conjure, imagining the robot might detect voice stress. “So I’ve been walking this way for my daily exercise.”
    “Residents have complained. Please choose another route.”
    “Yes, of course. Sorry. I meant no harm.”
    “No harm is not no harm,” the robot replied like a Zen koan, eyes blinking. “Residents feel harm even if you intend no harm.”
    “I suppose that’s true,” he said with a smile.
    “Please choose a different route. You are forbidden from this route from now.” The robot’s arm telescoped out from the hovering vehicle, a tablet attached to its hand. 
    “Apply chip here.”
    He was wary of the authenticity of his chip now and stepped back from the neighborhood patrol. He turned his back to the robot and walked quickly down the slope, around the curve, back to his Hoverina parked on the street—recharged with his old paper money converted to credits at a bank, where he was advised to get a replacement chip since his was not connecting properly to the grid.

Case #7

Toward the end of the novel (not to give away any spoilers), a major character travels to Moscow and we see that Russia has not suffered the degradation of a vampire society:

This train ran smoothly, she noticed, a much better vehicle than the old one they had ridden from Budapest. Someone mentioned the train sailed over jets of compressed air. She was entering a modern world. Arriving in Moscow, she could not believe the architecture that had sprouted up like a great forest. There were the Seven Colossi marking the old wall towers of ancient Muscovy, silver office buildings rising fifty floors, topped with great communication towers. Nothing like them existed in Budapest or anywhere else in Europe; the empire disdained anything modern. In the center of the city stood the 800-meter tall statue of Saint Vladimir, savior of the republic. Below the feet of the statue and its mountainous hill of earth and granite blocks, the walls of the Kremlin were crumbling, finally allowed to decay as an unwanted symbol of the Communist era.

She exited Okhotny Ryad station at the north end of Red Square and found the streets crisscrossed by driverless trolleys, stopping to pick up anyone who waved. After strolling the square and assuring that St. Basil’s Cathedral was still as colorful as she remembered—it was, undamaged; Lenin’s Tomb, however, had been occupied by the latest iconic figure—she rode to the west, then north, past the huge Bolshoi Theater extension—the arts were flourishing again, it seemed—and a grand new Orthodox cathedral on Neglinnaya Avenue dedicated to St. Vladimir. Another trolley took her past blocks of solemn gray high-rise apartments where she thought she had lived with Yevgeni. She became confused. Eventually she realized her location and stepped off.

So we see that a vampire tale - its logical, if not unexpected, conclusion, that is - must necessarily describe a transformed society, as well. In this respect a vampire tale must cross over from mere urban fantasy or a paranormal genre into science fiction. Rather than bedazzle readers with the amazing inventions of the future, a vampiric society would, when it had the chance, I believe, return wholeheartedly (no pun intended) to an early age culturally and practically. Yet it is the principal characters we must follow as they function within and attempt to alter the world that we know in 2019.

The Stefan Szekely Trilogy is complete!
(Look to the upper right on this blog for links.)

(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.

10 March 2019

How to Write a Medically Accurate Vampire Novel

Spring is not usually the time in which we think of vampires - or the undead in general. However, it is not only October, or specifically the season of Halloween, that brings out our less lively kin. Oh, no. The vampire is a stock character for all seasons, for the vampire is not a seasonal being sent to frighten us on one occasion but to serve as a constant reminder of what can happen to the rebellious, evil abominations who walk among us.
The Stefan Szekely Trilogy is now complete! 
Get Book 3, SUNSET, at an Amazon link near you today! 
(Kindle lovers click here: SUNSET.)

When we think of the vampire, we have many models from literature and cinema to cast in our mind. From legends far and wide comes the idea of someone who has died returning to life or of someone not truly dying but settling into a degree of existence between life and death, what many have termed the undead. It is a frightful situation, indeed, both for the poor sucker [pardon the pun] who must "live" such a "life" as well as for those who may encounter him or her. (Read more information here.)
Back in 2014 I awoke from a nightmare - actually, fell off the darn mare and hit my head on a stone - and I had the idea of writing a vampire tale. Much in the vein of my paranormal-writing colleagues, I sought a story of Gothic pathos, a horror tale of bloody delight! Alas! I could not, however, in good conscience, create something along the lines of more recent vampire fictions. They were too much filled with magic, melodrama, and frou-frou accoutrements than suited my sophisticated tastes. I needed a real vampire.

I knew there were some medical and biological causes of symptoms which are typically associated with those folk claiming vampirism. I did my research, both into legends and customs of Eastern Europe, and into the science behind such awful disorders as porphyria. Is there such a thing as vampirism as a medical condition? And, if so, how does one combat it? Is it genetic or does one catch it from someone who is already a vampire? (One valuable resource was the scholarly book by Paul Barber.)

So I deliberately sought to create a horrific tale as contemporary and realistic as modern science and my twisted imagination could make it. 

The result is the amazing true-to-life story of Stefan, an American of Hungarian ancestry, who is doomed to become a vampire - at precisely the wrong time in his life. Just when Stefan is falling in love with his Beloved, local TV reporter Penny Park, and they are planning to marry, he notices the first sign: A DRY PATCH of SKIN.

“I do care about you,” she whispered.
“Thanks,” I said, trying to sound positive. “We can’t let a dry patch of skin get between us, now can we?”

But I digress...

Check yourself. Check your family members. Look over the people standing close to you. Examine all with whom you come into contact. Look for the tell-tale signs of oncoming vampirism. To aid in your quest for avoidance, here is a handy checklist:
  • dry skin, in blotchy patterns and red-brown shades regardless of natural complexion
  • gaunt features, as though the skin were pulled back tightly against the bones
  • withering away of musculature, rendering the person unusually thin
  • loss of hair, head and body
  • protrusion of teeth as gums shrink
  • protrusion of eyes as sockets decline; loss of lashes and brows
  • semi-hunched posture due to less of muscle and bone integrity
  • heightened senses, especially of olfactory ability (smell)
  • metallic taste in mouth and bitter breath
  • decreased urine and fecal output
  • decreased hunger and thirst sensation
  • exposed skin sensitive to light, especially sunlight; prone to either drying and shredding or to melting
  • hands and feet painful due to swelling; nails may appear to protrude due to reduction of skin borders
  • bearing the scent of decay, mildew, etc. or alternatively a hint of sulfur
  • constant physical readiness for sexual activity
  • capable of periods of sustained activity (3 to 4 days without sleep) followed by prolonged sleep (2-3 days)
  • consumption of heme (blood) improves symptoms temporarily
  • contagious via exchange of bodily fluids
  • no cure, only treatment which offers brief relief at best
  • long-term prognosis: a lengthy, miserable existence filled with alternating nights of desperation and days of coma-like sloth
  • usually a normal life-span (90-120 years), barring attempts at suicide
  • onset usually 30s through 50s; fully symptomatic 2-5 years after onset; transformation complete after 7-10 years
Be aware of those around you who may appear normal yet may have begun the transformation. Take particular note of any strange discolored and/or unusually dry patches of skin upon the face. Avoid those who wish to sample your blood. Call for help should you be unable to extricate yourself from the magnetic aura of a true vampirism sufferer. It is not glamorous; indeed, it is a miserable existence, and in that misery boils an unholy rage, often exploding into violence.

For further information about transforming into a vampire, I recommend reading A DRY PATCH of SKIN.

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 Stefan Székely. He's too busy falling in love with TV reporter Penny Park, anyway. Until one day he has a dry patch of skin on his face.

At first it's 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 his family's legacy.

The next step in creating an accurate vampire trilogy was to
write books 2 and 3.
Keeping it medically accurate proved more challenging. With Book 1, A Dry Patch of Skin, being set in the same year I was writing it, 2013-2014, a sequel needed to be in the future. With only 13 years passing, in Book 2, SUNRISE, it was easier to formulate how much society will have been changed. 
By Book 3, SUNSET, existing even further into the future, I had to stretch myself. This future-creep required a more science-fictionesque approach. Thus, the vampirian aspects seemed to take a backseat to updating the new setting; then I could let my creature play in that setting. However, such a vampirian-led society might choose to return to an older, more stately style more akin to the times of their ancestors and not be so inundated with technological flamboyance. A cultural regression made the re-setting easier, yet I still needed to recount how the world changed back - rather like a clock once a year.

More about the regression next time.

(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.