28 November 2020

That NaNo Thing (2020 edition)

So, ladies and gentlemen, each November there is a competition for writers who strive to compose a story of 50,000 words (or possibly a little more). The National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo for insiders) is the Super Bowl for those who have no athletic skills [sic] but have an idea often expressed as "You know what would make a great movie?" 

NaNo was brought to my attention by my writer friends in 2014. Usually it is not a problem to write 50,000 words, even in a month, if I have a lot of free time and a hot idea. So I gave it a go, writing most of a sci-fi novel by the concluding tally of 55,396...which was not the end of the story. I put it aside and finally this year (yes, in 2020) I picked it up and finished it at 95,000 words. It will be available early in 2021.

Usually, I start something in February and write through the spring and summer and finish at the beginning of autumn, then edit and revise through the month of November, precluding my participation. But sometimes it works out. In 2016 I worked on a sequel to my epic fantasy tome and "won" with 52,077 words...but it remains unfinished. In 2018, I worked on a cynical autobiography, based a lot on Grandma's notes of her ancestors and my vague memories of childhood. Again I got to 54,275 words by the end of the month. Lots more to finish that book.

Last year (2019) I was engaged in preparation of my crime thriller novel EXCHANGE (out in May 2020) and skipped the NaNo. But this year...I had no alibi. So I looked at what projects I had started and needed to finish. I picked up my screenplay for a "1984" rip-off and decided to novelize it. We are allowed notes and an outline for NaNo so novelizing a screenplay is not cheating. With 2 days to go, it sits at 49,996 words. I think I can cobble together another 4 words in time.

THE LIE began long, long ago in a high school far, far away. Fresh from a class reading of George Orwell's "1984", I said to myself: "I think I can do better." So I wrote a story about a police state but mine was set in the United States instead of London. I had my own twists on the story so it wasn't entirely a copy. I typed it out on a manual typewriter until the ink ribbon was spent and the typed words faint. Single-spaced, it went to 66 pages - the longest piece of writing I had ever done to that date. I stapled the pages in the top left corner and shared it with a couple guys in my sci-fi nerd circle. They liked it. Others asked to read it so it was passed around for the rest of the semester.

However, I got busy with other things. You know, the usual: college, jobs, relationships, other writing projects, travel, career, family, more writing projects.... 

Back up. In a return to college to take a screenwriting course, I used the story as the plot for my screenplay (see above). The professor of the course had Hollywood ties and he helped some of us get attention. My screenplay was "optioned" by a production company, which meant they paid me for the rights to it for 1 year; if they did not move forward on it within that year the rights reverted to me. Guess who got reverted?

So it went back to the shelf. I ran the high school pages through an OCR system to try to make it able to be edited on a word processor but the optical character recognition system did not recognize very much of my typing. Now (NaNoWriMo 2020) I cannot even find that poor OCR'd file, but I do have the screenplay. So I read the scene in the screenplay format, then write it out as a novel scene. Lots of description needed to be filled in along with the thoughts and feelings of the characters - which the actors and director would take care of in a film production.

Like past projects for NaNoWriMo, I will not finish it by the time I complete the month. But I will get my 50,000 words to win the competition. The project interests me, has a unique take on the basic dystopian themes, and so I will likely finish it eventually - unless a new idea hits me from out of left field.

So that is how I have been spending my November, if anyone wondered where I was. I was assuming you were deep inside one of my latest novels, EXCHANGE or the just launched YEAR OF THE TIGER (read more here), and simply did not realize I had not posted on my blog until now. Next month I will return to that first NaNoWriMo novel, the sci-fi story, and prepare it for launch in 2021.

(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.

31 October 2020


Yes, tonight is Halloween, which still comes every October without fail. The customs and rituals remain the same. The weather may be different (we suffered through an ice storm here a few days ago), and nobody has invented new candy. If you want to read a Halloween post, I can recommend one I wrote previously (click here).

Instead, because nothing is normal this year, I've launched my latest novel, YEAR OF THE TIGER, an action / adventure story about the hunt for a man-eating tiger in 1986 (which was, in the oriental calendar, a year of the tiger). Of course, it is much more than that simple straight-forward plot, as compelling as it may be. The theme of hunting can also be taken as the search for pride, power, revenge - anything a human desires and is willing to fight for, including love.

What makes this story special (you may quote me in your review) is the magical realism aspect in which the main character and the tiger seem to share a consciousness. I say "seem" because we are left to wonder whether it is real or if it is only the man's delusions. In the end, does it really matter? Or does it make everything that has happened up to the end matter deeply? 

One Beta reader (two revisions ago) remarked that everyone in the story is corrupt and unlikable. I took exception to that characterization of my characters. Everyone has good reasons for the way they are and why they act the way they do. I chalk it up to basic human foibles which in some of us are taken to extremes. They all have some redeeming quality, too, whenever the situation allows.

Not even our tiger protagonist (part of the story is told through the tiger's point of view - yes, anthropomorphism run amok!) is saved from the curse of being a bad actor. He is, after all, a man-eater - but not without plausible reasons which drove him into that role. Still, he wrestles with himself over his actions and whether they are right or wrong. A tiger that shares its consciousness with a human mind can do that.

Some have described this tale as a "slow burn" while at least one colleague has elsewhere eschewed the "slow burn" description for wasting readers' time setting up the final section which actually is interesting. Yes and no. In the case of YEAR OF THE TIGER, tension does build more or less continuously throughout the story as our heroes get closer to achieving their goal, but events interspersed throughout ratchet up the violence and anticipate the next event. There is no wasting of readers' time with trivial side tracks. That is what revision is for. 

If you like your Halloween with a side of something scary, this novel has its frightening moments - scenes as visceral as any I have ever written, and, perhaps more unsettling, the moral dilemmas which unfold as a result. In the end, we all die a little and yet feel strangely reborn.

Of course YEAR OF THE TIGER is available on Amazon in both ebook format for Kindle and in paperback. In time, the paperback may be available from Barnes & Noble's website - but not in their brick and mortar stores despite me being a "local author". You can read more about the history behind this novel in previous blog posts beginning with this one.

(Note: There seem to be a few other books on Amazon with the same or similar title. Do not be confused. Mine is the only one, it would seem, that actually involves hunting a tiger. You may need to scroll down a bit - or just click on the link at the top right corner of this blog page.)

(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.

25 October 2020

YEAR OF THE TIGER proofs arrive!

This may be the season of ghosts and goblins, with Halloween at the end of the week, but over here in book land, it's a countdown to a launch! In this case, I refer to my forthcoming action/adventure novel YEAR OF THE TIGER.

As a kind of scary tale, our reluctant hero finds himself in dire straits, faced with a slow death by insanity or the very real possibility of death if he goes out to kill the tiger that haunts his dreams. Imagine the situation - the great conversations you would have - if when you closed your eyes to sleep at night, your eyes opened in a beast half a world away and you lived its life - even as it hunted and killed people. How to rid yourself of this terror? 

In the writing game, authors are told to keep ratcheting up the conflict - what some may call a "slow burn" - until the final climactic scene. Our hero here faces that upward climb to the final goal, from getting out of his present restricted situation, traveling half-way around the world, locating the particular tiger in all of India, passing himself off as a real shikari (professional hunter), then going into the . . . .

Wouldn't want to give away too much!

Suffice to say, the theme of this tale - the hunter vs the hunted - plays out with every character, human and feline, making this novel a taut, visceral polemic on the effect of human conquest upon Nature, and the dark heart of mankind. The tiger's world is bright, vivid, beautiful, while the world of the humans is rigid, full of deception, and consumed with greed. But there is hope following the carnage . . . .

Almost said too much again. Well, there's the start of someone's book review, anyway.

YEAR OF THE TIGER is due out on November 1, give or take a day or two, depending on the vagaries of the electronic publishing quirks. Look for it in both paperback and as ebook for Kindle.


You will have to excuse the "Thou shalt not resell" banner wrapped around the proof copy.

(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.

10 October 2020

YEAR OF THE TIGER coming soon!

In my previous blog post, I gave you the whole sordid history of the story that became a novella then a screenplay then a novel and finally a Much Better Novel (read it here). It is the story of obsession, of desire, and of desperation as one man fights to possess his soul, a soul he believes he shares with a man-eating Bengal tiger. 

Don't you just hate when that happens?

As a young sci-fi aficionado, I asked the what-if question that started it all back when I was a teen writer with a big imagination. What would it be like if a regular guy shared his soul with an animal. Of course, it is more (or different) than sharing a soul; it is sharing a consciousness - the ability to see each other's world, share each other's thoughts. 

The story of working out a scientific paradox could only be expanded into the hard realities of a hunt for a man-eating tiger. Lots of reading and a lot of research later, I learned about hunting, about the lifestyle of tigers in the wild, all about India, and the operations of a mental hospital in the 1980s. Once the central conflagration is sparked - by the act which makes our feline hero into a man-eater - the hunters begin to converge.

So here is the blurb - now that I've pre-explained it - which goes on the back cover of the paperback.

In the lottery of souls sometimes mistakes are made. Sometimes one soul becomes split between two bodies.

Karl has strange, violent dreams. He sees the world through the eyes of a Bengal tiger and it's driving him insane. Fortunately, his sexy wife knows a hunky doctor who can help - help her have Karl committed, that is. Locked up, the nightmares worsen as the tiger hunts down the men who killed its mate.

Karl has a plan to save himself. All he has to do is escape, get to India, find that one tiger and kill it. Only then will he have the mind they share all to himself.

But others are interested in joining the hunt. The doctor who put Karl in the mental hospital, fearing Karl will reveal his crimes. And famous big game hunter Colonel John Barrington will come out of retirement, with worldwide media in tow, for one last chance at a man-eating tiger!

And the first page of the text, a prologue of sorts, which sets the stage and the theme: the hunter vs the hunted.

YEAR OF THE TIGER is in press as I type this and should be available soon - like, umm, before the end of this month. Because in a pandemic all we really have is a to-be-read pile which needs to constantly be restocked.

(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.

27 September 2020

Origins: Year of the Tiger

Remember back to those heady days of high school science fiction? After reading everything I could get my hands on, mostly set off-world or in make-believe worlds, I decided I wanted to write science fiction stories, too. I wielded a non-electric Smith-Corona typewriter in those days and typed out all kinds of stories late into the night. Father was happy to hear the constant clicking of keys all evening but Mother had to knock on my door repeatedly and tell me to go to sleep. But I couldn't stop. I had stories the world needed to read.

My longest typewritten effort was a "1984" rip-off that went 66 pages, single-spaced. I double-stapled the pages together and passed it around among my circle of science fiction aficionados at my high school. Of course they loved it. That was not a time for criticism. I was encouraged to write more. One story I wrote was probably the result of cross-pollination of four stories I had read, likely by Robert Silverberg, Brian Aldiss, Roger Zelazny, and Isaac Asimov. Who can say for sure now?

That story had a regular guy - an adult, rather than a teenager - fighting with himself over a monster that torments him every night, haunting his dreams. (Shades of teen angst?) To rid himself of the unpleasantness of his sleeping hours, he becomes determined to go kill that monster. The problem is that the monster lives on another planet. Also, people on Earth think he is crazy and so he is locked away. (More teen angst, no doubt.) But in the futuristic setting, anything is possible and he does escape and boards a spaceship for a hunting expedition on an alien planet. I titled the story "Doubles".

I used that story in a Creative Writing class in college and got all kinds of constructive criticism. I got a B overall on it, along with praise for my great imagination. The professor suggested that I relocate the story to Earth because, with the amazing setting of the original story, what the protagonist does doesn't seem so difficult - and we want the protagonist to struggle. So I took my 35-page single-spaced typewritten manuscript and did a very hard rewrite to set the story on Earth. I thought of what creature on Earth would be close to the monster on that alien planet and I came up with... a Bengal tiger.

I tried. I really did. But such a drastic shift proved too daunting for a typewriter, even the refurbished IBM Selectric my parents got for me for Christmas. However, graduation and a return to college to learn something else gave me the opportunity I needed. I took a Screenwriting course with an adjunct professor who had worked in Hollywood. We all had dreams of getting a movie deal from our screenplays. (I actually got my "1984" rip-off turned into a screenplay optioned for a year; then the script was dropped.) I used what I learned in class on my "Doubles" novella and it became a feature film screenplay.

Long after the class had ended, I was still working on that screenplay. With my parents away on summer vacation, I pushed myself to finish the remake of the hunting story, staying awake 5 hours and sleeping 3 hours...for five straight days. I thought I would be famous just for that determined effort. Fortunately, the result was a fully reset story opening in New York City and ending in India with a tiger as the antagonist. I was proud to have made the switch - even though it was no longer science fiction. Later I would learn about the genre called "magical realism" and feel much better about the whole project.

But wait! Not even close to half way yet. Not getting any interest from Hollywood, I realized I should turn the screenplay into a novel. The prospect of crunching out 60,000 words scared me. That's why a screenplay was so much better to attempt. Now I just had to fill in the scenes that were already outlined in the screenplay. Easy-peasy. Of course I worked on other stories through all of this, plus I was working at a full-time job, too. Life took a lot of my time but I returned and returned again to the "novel" many times during my young adulthood.

When I got the opportunity to live in Hawaii (Thanks, U.S. Army!), the tropical scenery sparked my imagination and the writing of the novel progressed rapidly. (Yes, I could not put my writing on hold for several months of full-time duty, so I packed my manual typewriter and a spare ink ribbon cartridge in my suitcase and my fellow soldiers in the barracks enjoyed the key-slamming after duty hours almost every night.) Out in the wild areas of Oahu, I could see a tiger and feel what it would be like to hunt and be hunted. When I returned home, I was close to finishing the manuscript. When I did, I sought an agent for what I had renamed YEAR OF THE TIGER, having learned about the oriental calendar while in Hawaii.

In those days of yore, still pre-internet, we printed out the manuscript, double-spaced, and put it all in a box and included return postage if we wanted it returned. (Later, agents would state up-front that they would "recycle" the manuscript rather than send it back.) Mailing a box of paper cost about $25 at the time, plus the $25 in postage stamps for the return, slipped inside the box - with a self-addressed stamped envelope for the letter accepting or rejecting the manuscript, sent separately from the 4th class postage returned box of paper. Sending that baby around took a lot of time (6 months was average) and costs added up.

Finally I got an agent who was interested and, after paying a modest reading fee because I was an unknown author, they offered to represent my novel to publishers. Hot diggity dog! My agent tried for a year to push it, then gave up. A list of criticisms had to be addressed. I fixed everything and sent it back - but that's not how real life works. No do-overs. Once rejected, always rejected. So I put the manuscript away and worked on other things. I let life take over, let it come close to ruining me. I moved on to other science fiction stories - and in my MFA program also contemporary, literary stories to broaden my oeuvre. 

Much happened. Then, in 2011, I got excited by Amazon's novel competition (ABNA) and submitted what I thought was my best novel, A BEAUTIFUL CHILL, a campus relationship story that was my MFA thesis. I got a little ways through the competition before failing. Next year, same deal, different novel. I went sci-fi, using my interdimensional novel THE DREAM LAND, and got a little further before failing. But I got noticed and - long story highly shortened - I hooked up with a publishing group and my first novel, AFTER ILIUM, a contemporary adventure with age-gap romance and an exotic setting, which had been rewritten from a novella inspired by a graduate course in Classical rhetoric, was published. Thus, I was encouraged to go back to my manuscripts and see what else would be good to publish.

I gave them a good revision and sent them off. I finished a long-forgotten book and I wrote completely new books in several genre. But YEAR OF THE TIGER still sat on the shelf while newer ideas took my attention. When I went to Beijing, China to teach a summer class at a university there, I had plenty of idle time in my hotel room. I had seen the sites on two previous vacation trips so my desire to write and revise was stronger than my desire to go out in the smog and heat to see places I had already seen. So I took out that manuscript - on my laptop - and read & revised. It was pretty good in this iteration, just needed some polishing, some tightening. I felt it was ready to go.

But then I got involved with the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) competition and started something new. I put the tiger tale aside. A couple years later, I returned to it and gave it one more pass. A beta reader had some concerns so I addressed them. Magical realism covered some of them. My earlier research on India and tiger behavior was supposed to cover others. But I double-checked everything anyway. I checked the characters' accents, too: American, British, Scottish, Australian, and Hindi. (I'm a linguist, after all.) I decided on a new format which, I felt, would make the story more mythical - the "magical" part of magical realism.

Put it aside again to work on EXCHANGE, a contemporary crime thriller, based on an idea that suddenly hit me in 2019. I had to work on it Right Then! Ok, now it is YEAR OF THE TIGER's turn to hit the websites. For reals. It's finally going to happen. The long-awaited second-cousin of my all novels.... 

In fact, it was the first novel-length manuscript I ever produced. I did have a long post-nuclear apocalypse story (call it a novella) prior to YEAR OF THE TIGER. As an early work of mine, it is a favorite; perhaps that was the reason I keep returning to this story of madness in its many forms. There is a deeply human element embedded in the story which I kept pulling out a little more with each revision. I like how its beauty juxtaposes its visceral aspects. I like the obsession of its characters. I like the final twists. Now it is ready.

NEXT: The Blurb

(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.

14 September 2020

What I did on My Summer Staycation

Even after shifting to an online version of teaching to finish the spring semester, I still had big plans for summer travel. Then, week after week, I kept putting off hitting the road. Until the summer had waned and I was back to the same ol' same ol'. So, instead of driving to parts unknown, I stayed home. 

Staying home is not a great hardship for me. It's what I do whenever I do anything. I can easily occupy myself with the usual writing and editing, along with reading and some movies on DVD. At first, I thought I would start a new novel, something apocalyptic - obviously. I got a good start but the idea ran dry. I started reading other apocalyptic books to get inspiration. Good books, but it didn't work.

Next I thought I should use my time to finish some unfinished manuscripts. I settled on a sci-fi story I had started in a National Novel Writing Month competition a few years past. I even made a tentative book cover for it. As expected, I "won" by hitting the 50,000-word threshold, then I got distracted with other projects and left it unfinished. I always intended to finish it but I left it at a crucial point where I realized how off track I had gotten. But first, before I returned to the novel I had titled THE MASTERS' RIDDLE, I told myself I should work on one more revision of my already finished manuscript of an action-adventure magical realism novel titled YEAR OF THE TIGER, which will be coming out this fall.

All right, done. I completely revised, edited, and formatted that ancient manuscript and polished it to within an inch of its life. It is now ready to go.

So...back to the sci-fi book about the little alien who is captured by mean invaders and just wants to go home....

I always liked the idea but writing it was taking too much of my soul. The protagonist was, after all, a non-human character, forcing me to think way outside of boxes. That was a fun aspect of writing the story, of course, but challenging. As a professional linguist, I love playing with languages and alternate ways of thinking. And world building? Don't get me started! But by the time NaNoWriMo ended, my alien had slowly shifted into a regular human. Sure, I was hurrying to finish the competition; I knew I could revise it later, but the way that portion turned out left me puzzled about how to shift it all back on track.

So there I was with a whole summer and nothing to do, nowhere to go. I did try to work on it more than a year before. I had gotten a great new idea and just started in with a whole new scene. That was interesting and it worked. I would make the two storylines dovetail. But I got distracted again by other projects. So now, in 2020, I thought I might as well work on it. So I picked it up where I had left off with the new section from a year ago - where my protagonist is back to being a little alien. (I knew I would work on the original "left off" section and make it fit the new section later.)

With a rough outline from previous planning - which is odd, because I don't usually plan and I don't usually outline, at least not more than what happens in the next scene, or this section will go from here to there - I headed on from what would be the exact middle of the story. It was like going to see a play and in the middle of Act II, the whole cast changes costumes and starts forgetting their lines, and the director just stops and tells the audience to come back next year and it will all be fixed. You return and pick up the play in Act III and everything seems fine for Act III but you wonder what happened in Act II the year before. Anyway, I was willing to proceed with Act III and write it all out to the end. Then I would go back and fix the section where my alien hero slipped into being a human.

So I did it. Just finished it. The ending that happened turned out to be a very satisfying conclusion although not the one I had originally planned. How we get to that conclusion also had some twists I had not imagined originally. Happy little coincidences. But all the more powerful - I mean visceral. I think it is a "happy" ending in some ways but raises disturbing questions, too. I like those kind of stories.

Anyhoo...our alien hero struggles to get home, but how do you get home when home is another planet far, far away? Even if you get help from other kinds of creatures that have escaped... Even if you form an army to fight against your captors... Even if you find and capture the machine that enables your captors to go through an interdimensional portal to other worlds and kidnap creatures for slave labor or experiments... how do you get home? And what will you find when (or if) you do get home? Totally depressing possibilities make for a great story.

At least you have the cast of other alien beings from several different worlds, speaking different languages, having different cultures. Could there be any story with more diversity? So I got to invent different species, each with its own way of doing things in their normal lives on their home worlds, with different languages, and so on. World building! That was fun. Easy enough to describe beings from tropical worlds, desert worlds, frozen worlds, watery worlds, and so on. How they are mostly "upright" and mostly "intelligent" is solely because those are the kind of creatures the invaders choose to bring back as captives.

Languages and how they communicate was both the most frustrating aspect and had the most clever solution. IMHO. They speak (verbal utterance) in their own language, of course, but some have telepathic ability. Others are intelligent enough to convert the symbol patterns of one language into the patterns of their own language and thus understand. Some creatures pass pure ideas to other creatures without the idea needing to be coded into a language system. And so on. The hardest part was deciding how to show each different kind of communication on the page.

All right, enough teaser! I will save the big twists for another blog post sometime in my fallcation. In the meantime, look for my action-adventure novel of manly daring-do where a man-eating tiger with vengeance on its mind takes on a crazy cadre of inept hunters (warning: not a comedy) in YEAR OF THE TIGER.

[Note: This is my first blog post using the new design of Blogger. It is what it is.]

(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.

18 July 2020

Your Summer Reading List

It's time again for Summer Reading!

I know it's rather late but, as we all know, in these challenging times of new normal, we can't just hop on a plane or in a car and go somewhere, forgetting everything and just lazing about like library walruses. However, 
I still have a little time left before I'm summoned back to the campus for more of something which has not as yet been wholly defined. 

I'm posting this before I escape on my staycation in the hope that you and 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 which 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 especially 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 the 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! 

EXCHANGE (just launched in 2020)
An Unspeakable Crime.
High school teacher Bill Masters and his family have a comfortable life in suburban Oklahoma City - until his wife and teen daughter are killed in a mass shooting.

Overwhelmed with grief, Bill struggles to put his life back
together - or construct a new life from what remains - even as he must combat continuing crime that threatens him and his home.

A Second Chance.
When exchange student Wu Ting "Wendy" Wang arrives from China for her year at an American high school, she has no idea what has just happened to her host family.

She's a constant reminder to Bill of why his family is gone. Yet he is determined to protect her at any cost - ready to use his father's gun. And he will not fail this time.

SUNSET (2019)
Book III of the Stefan Szekely, Vampire trilogy
Midnight 31 December 2099.
As the Empire of Europa celebrates the new centennial with battle lines in Ukraine and preparations underway for invading England, the Emperor in His capital of Budapest welcomes His guests, the elite of vampire society.

Yet all is not well in the empire. Different factions agree the time has come for new leadership. As rabid mobs protest and attack palace guards, Emperor Stefan and his closest staff huddle in the imperial suite, awaiting rescue.

But how do you get away from the clutches of the supreme demon who lives forever and exists everywhere? If Stefan can free himself, the world may yet be saved. If he fails, the destruction will continue...until the Anglo-American Union falls and vampire society rules the world.

SUNRISE (2018)
Book II of the Stefan Szekely, Vampire trilogy
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.


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)
Book I of the Stefan Szekely, Vampire trilogy
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.

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!

(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.

12 July 2020

The Solitude, part 8

As you all must be tired of reading, last summer I was driving through Canada thinking about what my actual process was for writing a novel - and then I did write a novel, ironically. So I wrote out my process and have been sharing it step by step this year during my stay-at-home solitude. In the previous post here, we covered the agonizing revision and editing steps. Now comes the most difficult steps of all, which I must share before I can go on my summer staycation.

Step 9

A lot of people think it's finished now. A lot of people think it's finished when the first draft is complete (haha), but then the revision and editing begins (mwah-haha). So even now, there is still much to do. The most difficult thing to do is write a blurb. That short copy is often more daunting than the 100,000-word book it's about. 

The blurb is a short description of the story intended for the back cover of the book but also may be used for advertising purposes. The trick is to suggest the main points without giving away the story. If this is for an agent or publisher, the blurb would be expanded into something longer often called a synopsis, which does include everything, spoilers and all, because the people you work with need to know the complete story.

The blurb, however, is only about 200 words. In submitting a book manuscript to a contest, for one purpose, there is often a limit on the word count for the blurb. For the back cover, you must be aware of the space which the text takes up.

For EXCHANGE, my JFW (just-finished-work, as opposed to WIP, work-in-progress), I dabbled with the blurb well before I even reached the middle of the writing. There is a basic template which helps sometimes, hinders at other times: Introduce main character and situation/setting; mention chief problem faced; discuss why it will be difficult to solve problem or what the ramifications will be if problem is not solved; end with a question, something like "But will he succeed?"

Here is what I've been working on for EXCHANGE and continue to tweak:

Bill Masters has a good life as a high school teacher in suburbia. But that life is shattered when his wife and daughter are killed in a mass shooting. Prepared to wallow in depression and drink himself into numbness, Bill must pull himself together when their foreign exchange student arrives not knowing what has happened. Forced to try to be a good host father, Bill finds Wendy Wang from China to be both a hindrance to his recovery and a boost to his will to go on. As Bill struggles through the stages of grief, however, he must battle on-going crimes and threats to his peace, giving him a second chance with Wendy. He will protect her. This time he will not fail - no matter what it takes.

That may look like a lot of text yet it is only 129 words. In it, I have who the story is about, what the situation is, the main obstacle(s), and a suggestion of possible love-interest or foil, and the direction the story will take. As it is, it's rather clunky. Tweaking continues. 

[Note: Because the book is finished and has been published, the tweaking has stopped and a much tighter blurb made it to the back of the book cover. See image below.]

Step 10

In the indie publishing world, we hire someone to make a cover for the book. If it's an ebook such as for Kindle we only need a front cover. If it will be a paperback, we need the full front, spine, and back.

Looking at recent covers of literary fiction in my local Barnes & Noble, I see the trend to have a single image which suggests the main character, the plot, or the setting. The title and author's name is enlarged to cover much of the image. Not my favorite style but it seems the trend today, so I'm following it.

Science fiction and fantasy are known for their elaborate and evocative cover art. Romance covers usually feature a couple. Crime fiction features some prop that suggests the crime. You get the idea. But literary fiction can be about anything as long as it is contemporary.

So, following the latest "rules", I have a front cover for my newest literary novel, EXCHANGE. The image is of one  character in a provocative pose. Actually, there is nothing particularly provocative about it, but readers may find it provocative because of the way other elements of the cover come together.

Breaking the title into three lines adds drama and symbolism. The letters could be seen as prison bars, which may add a mysterious tone. For colors, I went with gray to emphasize the nature of the gun debate: there are no black or white solutions. My designer made sure her eyes were not obstructed by the letters because eyes on a face are primary attention-grabbers for potential buyers. The required phrase "a novel" lets you know this is a work of fiction and not a book of essays on gun control. My author name gets a good location. A couple previous titles being mentioned can add to my Christmas bonus; I chose two from my shelf that are in the same genre (i.e., literary and cross-cultural romance). 

For the back cover, I like how the front cover image continues, but a different cover might have different art. Be aware that the back cover will have small text on it (the blurb) so the art should not be too complex to obscure the readability of that text. Note the "Gun Free Zone" tattoo on her shoulder. Glowing quotes from readers, serious author picture, publisher logo (in gray) are other elements of the back cover - plus the bar code, which has not been applied yet to this image (it goes in the white space below the publisher logo). Always check for the readability of the blurb (contrast, size, font). Then wait for things to happen. Meantime, start at Step 1 on a new project.

This concludes the Process posts. We hope also that the Solitude comes to an end, as well. Too much idle time makes Jack a dull boy, as they say.

(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.