18 December 2010

Facebook is not The Dream Land

...But there is a relationship, nevertheless!

As if by technological magic, there is now a Facebook page devoted to the Dream Land series!

Search for "Stephen Swartz". Or click here: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000118979225
and go to Notes or Photos. Check out the author and the books. Includes graphics such as maps and flags, and other background information for the series.


17 December 2010

Editing (Again)

Now that the semester's work is done, I expect to have time to finally complete the "final" edit of the Dream Land II manuscript. The main focus is to reduce the size of the manuscript. I am cutting out some redundancy. When you start a book and then put it aside for several years and return to finish it, there is a tendency to want to remind yourself, as you write it, what happened before. These act like signposts, useful during the composition but not in a final version. I trust my readers to follow the story across multiple dimensions and multiple time zones. Then I shall return to the final "final" edit of Dream Land I.

30 November 2010

Thanksgiving and Beyond

Now that the annual homage to the American bird has passed--and homage to any and all presumptions of historical fact versus convenient fiction and those who would mock it and protest against them--it is time to get down to business.

This is final papers and final exam prep week. Those who return from the holiday festivities are often overwhelmed by the return to what should be natural yet usually is not. Nothing we instructors can do can undo the sloth of previous weeks. Yet we must try to review 14 weeks of instruction in 2 class periods.

Hence, there is so little time to write the really important memos that keep life organized. Nor is it possible at this time to dive into any new writing. And just as the final exams are slipped silently into the lower drawers of many desks on campus, here comes the Christmas thing to again take away our precious writing time!

19 November 2010

Time Flies . . . often with a broken wing

Time. Usually that's enough said. Everybody follows it--grammatically time then happens before we react to it. Many people curse it. Some love it. Only the truly narcissistic among us worship it. Time is measured in the accumulation of gray hairs or loss of hairs--such minute items representing such a mighty entity! Time is measured in wrinkles formed and anti-wrinkle cream purchased. Time is measured by sunrises and sunsets, as the Fiddler on the Roof so blithely intoned. Time is the one constant in a swirling fiction plot.

The Dream Land series has some time-shifting aspects to it. It did not start out that way. Yet our hero, Sebastian Talbot (a.k.a. Set-d'Elous) and his long-lost love, Gina (a.k.a. Queen Jinetta of Fenula) find themselves in different time periods with each adventure. In the second volume, the time traveling goes viral, as they say. Wanting to prevent a war that has already happened, Sebastian/Set returns deliberately at an earlier time--intending merely to spend more years with the love of his life, Ghoupalle wife Zaura-Matousz, then serendipitously encountering the evil Empress Basura-Kanoun as she appears in her innocent youth. The opportunity presents itself and he acts.

In many time-stream tales, the repercussions of "changing history" are profound. The same is true in the Dream Land. At first, everything seems streangely serene, apparently unchanged. Only gradually do the changes present themselves, multiplying and rising to a horrible crescendo that causes our hero to realize that the changes are worse than the original. There are a few twists in time shifting--e.g., can someone who fought in the war still remember it after history was changed to prevent the war? These events lead him to send a team of mercenaries to undo what he has done, with mixed results.

In the Dream Land series, the time travel is accomplished by entering/reentering different tangents, each leading to not only different physical locations but also different temporal "time zones." Marvelous machines are not needed for the transformation. The same conundrums exist, however, regardless of the vehicle.

Time shifting in fiction is necessarily complicated--more so in reality. Even the Author is sometimes confused. Writers typically (or so I've heard) write out far more information than gets into the book. The author needs to understand deeper layers, perpendicular storylines, and unconscious motivations in order to create a compelling, plausible story. That does not mean the reader needs to see all of the bars and braces beneath the facade, of course. The same with time. The Author of the Dream Land series tries desperately to cheat. He has created a detailed timeline across several papers--with many cross-outs and arrows indicating changes in that timeline. Going through the manuscript as editor, the time shifting becomes even more problematic: the Author wishes readers to be able to follow the story yet does not want to hit readers over their heads with a calendar on every page. Appropriate time cues are thus given in characters' dialog, the expository passages, and, if absolutely impossible to avoid, as numerals denoting years.

The rebellion, revolution, annexation, and wars occur between the Ghoupalle years 1481 and 1556. Soreg College students Basura-Kanoun and Diert-Gangus marry in 1548, but Set-d'Elous arrives to intervene. After acting, Set returns to 1570 to wait for Gina, who is supposed to be passing through town in 1574. The mercenaries, however, must go to 1457 to stop Set. One scene in Dream Land II "recalls" an adventure he undertakes in 1602, spoken as though it has already passed. Imagine: "I remember, on this night in 1493, that trip I took in 1650," and so on.

And so it goes. I am continually engaged in the counting and recounting of years in the manuscripts. The only thing more tricky, more disconcerting, more potentially dangerous, I suspect, would be duplicating the actual time shifting that these fictional characters do so easily!

04 November 2010

Political Questions

Given the mid-term elections a couple of days ago, readers might expect a rant about politics on this blog. However, because this blog is about the Dream Land series, I cannot comment on American politics. (I may have nothing of value to say, anyway, though I tend to lean conservative in many issues and consider myself a moderate overall.)

On Ghoupallesz, in the dominant Ghoupalle society, the kingdom of Sekuate has a monarchy with a parlement that represents the people. The parlement is divided between a house for those elected by the citizens of each district and a house for those appointed by the Mexas/king. It is an imperfect system, naturally, which is why some young college graduates felt compelled to start a revolution. Once the Gangus "Council of Five" gained power, the system because closer to the communist ideal in post-revolution Russia, with some empirical ambitiousness of Napoleonic France thrown in. There is no "natural" view of democracy on Ghoupallesz because, like many societies of similar sophistication, they have the assumption that order needs to be maintained for the common good.

Other societies on the planet follow generally authoritarian regimes. The only theocracy, perhaps strangely, is that of the Zetin, whose warrior society (loosely based on Klingon culture from the Star Trek series) is nevertheless formed around spiritual rituals and traditions. There are many references to ancient wisemen, prophets, and priests. The head of the government is the high priest. Other offices are filled by those who have been approved by the priests. Even military ranks equate to theocratic ranks.

The Roue culture is tribal and perhaps the closest to a democratic system on the planet, yet when they act in the society of Aivana, for example, they follow the monarchy system imposed by Sekuate. Of course, we also understand that the foreign sovereigns in Aivana (Tammy and Jason) enjoy the priveledge of rank that a monarchy brings, yet uneasy rests the crown when the people become restless and unsatisfied! This conflict erupts in violence at the end of the second volume of the Dream Land series.

As we see, simply locating on another planet will not introduce weird new governing systems. Humans everywhere will strive for similar guarantees of the freedom to exercise their own personal agency. Small groups join together for mutual support, sharing values and customs, then join with other larger groups which likewise assert common goals and manners. Those coming to reside among such groups are expected to adapt to the majority. Shared governance is then based on shared goals and traditions; outsiders who do not typically share those have no say in the laws. This follows a natural pattern of development from primitive tribal units to small city-states. Once the entity grows large enough to include people who are not of the same culture, traditions, or views, more pressure is required to maintain order and preserve homogeneity over diversity. The natural trend is to maintain similarity rather than invite diversity. This is the pattern seen on Ghoupallesz. One exception that is described is the conflict between the ruling Ghoupalle people and the minority Danid people, which is highlighted in the second volume of the Dream Land series.

03 November 2010

Map of Sekuate (circa 1481)

This map covers the majority of the empire of Sekuate, divided into northern and southern states. The angle is a bit skewed for purposes of fitting it onto the paper upon which it was drawn and later scanned, so the direction of true north is slanted to the right (following the grid lines). Near the top left corner is the city of Selaue. Down along the coast is the large metropolis of Seas. South of Seas are the two small nations of Forivor and Ere (with the marshes). The large political unit south of the marshes is the southern part of Sekuate, wherein lies Lyas. South of this region is Aivana, the site of much action in the second volume of the Dream Land series.

You can click on the map to enlarge it for closer viewing.

Map of Gotanka (Northern Zissekap)

This is a portion of the larger map, constructed by the author, of locations important in the Dream Land series. The "beak" shaped peninsula to the left and the land extending from it across to the right are collectively called Gotanka. It is also the northern region of the continent of Zissekap. Much of the action occurs in the city of Selaue, which is south along the coast from the "eagle's beak".

You can click on the map to enlarge it for closer viewing.

21 October 2010

To Delay is Divine...

...because it usually means you are keeping busy and staying out of trouble.

Since last we encountered our rugged individualist, he has been engaged in the work for which he is best known and least appreciated: grading student writing.

First came stacks of papers (essays, mostly) from two composition classes, sereptitiously collected on the same day. This was followed, without ceremony, by the collection of papers from a research writing class. Then, before the actual grading could commence, the creation of a mid-term examination was required. Such examinations are then typically followed by the conducting of the examination, followed by the collection of and grading thereof said exams. This noble act was subsequently supplemented by the collecting of journals produced by two more classes of students.

A short trip to the Dream Land followed, which, by the secretive nature of such trips, shall need to remain secret.

Upon returning to the office in which he works, our hero once again set out to complete the tasks assigned to him with ardor and creativity, if not much enthusiasm. Now journals are graded and half returned. Research writing papers are graded and returned. Half the composition papers have been graded. Yet the process continues. Endlessly. The goal, as always, remains the same: to return papers to students before collecting the next set of papers.

Someday, however, the fiction shall return, and once again our rugged individualist shall blog.

24 September 2010

Test Case (The "Blurb")

I've been working on a blurb for the Dream Land series, or at least the first volume.

The Dream Land by Stephen M. Swartz

Book I: Long Distance Voyager

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

Sebastian and Gina, high school sweethearts, discover a doorway in an abandoned quarry and step through it to a world of magical beauty and terrible violence. She decides to stay while he, fearing losing touch with his home, chooses to return to Earth. Nevertheless, he finds himself drawn back time aand time again for his own neferious adventures and to rescue Gina from her sordid escapades. They must always help each other because, as Gina says, "soul mate outranks spouse or lover."

Hiding out as a night-shift worker at the local I.R.S. service center, Sebastian once again feels the pull of Gina in trouble. It’s been a while so he is hesitant to step through the doorway again, remembering all the horrors he experienced during previous journeys, such as the tragic romance with one of the natives of Ghoupallesz and being caught in a masssive invasion force as a regimental commander. So he enlists the aid of two co-workers who also need a place to escape. He must save Gina--this time, like every time!

But is the adventure reality or is it just the dreams of a psychotic serial killer?
That’s what the police want to know when Sebastian returns to Earth without his coworkers.

The Dream Land rides a growing wave of interest in parallel dimensions and imaginary worlds (The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Golden Compass are a few recent Hollywood examples) and will have immediate appeal to readers of Philip Pullman, Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, and the late Roger Zelazny, among others. The Dream Land also "works" as pure psychological thriller.

Stephen Swartz, sociolinguist and English professor, calls on his years of research into cutting-edge self and identity issues in psychology and the nature of consciousness, as well as quantum mechanics, parallel realms, alien languages, time travel conundrums, and near-death and out-of-body experiences. In his carefully drawn characters, Swartz presents a "realistic" portrayal of people who encounter the unbelievable and learn to move graceful within an alien world.

22 September 2010

A Week Later . . . (Come hither, Autumn!)

I've heard that autumn doesn't arrive here in central Oklahoma until a week before Christmas. For someone who likes it cold, that is a depressing thought.

I welcome that first crisp day with the sky bright blue, cloudless, and the trees touched by the first change of color. A year ago, living in upstate New York, that first day was beautiful. A year before that, living in western New York, I also experienced that first day of autumn as a great relief to my senses.  After all, I had struggled through several months of heat and humidity--too much sweating, too much weight gain! That kind of weather forces me to downshift, trying to relax, keeping cool by not being active and living in the artificial A/C environment, drinking milkshakes and eating ice cream, just trying to stay comfortable. When autumn arrives, I awaken from hibernation and become active, start eating healthy food, and actually begin to feel alive again. It is a beautiful experience to awake to life once more.

In New York, however, the autumn did not last very long; winter came early. Last year the first snow fell (but did not stay on the ground) the last week of September. The biggest snow storm, which dumped 24 inches on us, came at the end of March. And even on Mother's Day in May, snow was filling the sky most of the morning. I like seeing snow fall; I do not like driving in snow.  My years in western Pennsylvania, among the hills and forests of the Alleganies, seemed the perfect balance between a too-hot summer and a too-snowy winter. There, I had four equal seasons; I felt in sync with the world.

Now, I'm not exactly the sort of person to jump into piles of leaves--especially if I spent time raking them into piles, nor am I obsessed with Halloween or pumpkins. However, the arrival of autumn signals to me that closure is coming. Throughout the spring and summer everything is growing, everything has potential, nothing has an end to it. That first nip of cool air in the morning gets my attention and lets me know that the end is coming. And that means I must hurry to finish whatever I may have started. I must refocus on achieving something, anything, before the circus of New Year resolutions arrives. Autumn is a time for reflection, for settling accounts, for adjusting expectations. Autumn is the time for accepting reality.  It is also the prime measure of my life: How many autumns have I experienced? Indeed, in anyone's life there are but a couple dozen autumns that are lived, remembered, and enjoyed. Others pass, certainly, but we are too young to recall them, too busy to enjoy them, too harried to live them as we might wish to. We notice--and fully appreciate--only a handful of autumns during a lifetime. When an autumn rolls to its end I feel a pang of regret at missed opportunities, at beauty faded, at a life yet unfulfilled.

As I look ahead from today, I see maybe 20 more autumns I can experience. But I also know that some of them will be rainy, others will find me kept inside working, or I might be busy and not get much opportunity to live in the season. I will see it passing and wish to stop what I am doing and go out and play in the season, but I will tell myself I have next year for that. Someday, I will be too old: I could see the signs of autumn outside my window, perhaps, and I might even persuade a nurse to open the window for me, but those will be my final touches of autumn. The end of my life will surely come with the end of the year, I feel. It seems symmetrical that way. I like having balance and, as John Keats wrote in his Ode to Autumn, ". . . with patient look, / Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours," I, too, shall watch with keen interest the fading light, the vast orange sky over the black gloaming landscape, and close my eyes slowly as the sun drowsily blinks shut on the last autumn night of my life.

15 September 2010

Being Happy on B'day

So here it is again: the ubiquitous birthday.  Same day every year.  Why are we not tired of it already?  It returns each year like a plague, with swarms of expectations threatening to overwhelm us.  Nevertheless, it seems quite reasonable that each of us deserves a special personal day--no matter how naughty we may have been.  One day of the year.  That's all.  24 hours, give or take.  That's harmless enough, isn't it?  Everyone should get a day off from work, school, hassle, red lights, dirty laundry, taxation, crying babies, etc.

My history, however, proves that my birthday is usually the worst day of the year for me.  I've analyzed the reasons for this phenomena.  It probably has to do with the higher expectations I have for the day.  Or the timing of the day among the starting of the school year or the football/autumn season.  Things seem to happen at this time of the year.  One year there was a flood that drew everyone's attention away from my day.  Then there was the terrorist attack on September 11th.  I'm not claiming that those events occurred exclusively to thwart celebration of my continued aging.  Just coincidences.  My birthday was a coincidence: my mother often tells the story of how I was "due" eleven days earlier.  If only I had been born on time!  Perhaps the world would be different now.

So, given the randomness of a birthday and its almost obligatory acknowledgement, what can we do to properly deal with the many expectations and the certain failure we have to meet them?  Some would go to extremes to indulge themselves.  It's only fair.  Others would gather family and friends and have a round of cake and ice cream.  One day won't hurt.  Some will lie about the advancing years, hide their true age as though it were some fatal disease.  My father still insists with every passing birthday that he is "turning 39"--again; which makes me, what? six? year after year.

No, what I want is quite simple:

Just let everything go my way, just for one day.  I don't care about a party; I'm an adult now.  I don't care about gifts; I can buy what I want now.  I don't need celebration; It would either be trite or downright embarrassing.  I'd rather pass the day alone, locked in my home, safely away from the world.  Inside my fortress of solitude, of course, I'd indulge myself in various ways.  Sleep late.  Watch a favorite movie.  Eat my favorite foods.  Play video games.  Read a book I've been waiting to get to.  Do something absolutely unimportant and unproductive.

And so, for the mother who suffered through labor, for the teachers and classmates who had to deal with me from nursery school through college, for the relatives who alternately tolerated, or were horrified or amused by my life events, for the strangers who happily avoided me, for the colleagues from university and work and extracurricular activities who with some disdain endured the annual rituals of self-abandonment on this day, for all of the people I have encountered, for better or worse, let me say a humble thanks for not getting in my way on the one day of the year when I really do wish, with the maximum amount of sincerity and straight from the gut, to say to the world: "Leave me the hell alone! ...at least for 24 hours."

Thanks, and see you all next year.

10 September 2010

Example of Irony

Yesterday I was sick. Cold, with all the usual symptoms. A messy proposition, so I called in "sick" and loaded up on drugs and vitamins. A few hours later I realized that I could be doing more than just being sick.  I could be using the time to do some business.  With the medicine working well, I did not feel too bad.  So I got myself ready for public display and headed out to take care of some necessary errands.

Based on previous research, I went to the office nearby where I could get a new license plate (sometimes called "tag") for my vehicle, now that I've been here a month.  It was an involved process, of course, but I got through it with little difficulty.  Next stop was the driver license office several miles away.  I waited there for almost two hours to transfer my license from my old state to my new state.  No pictures taken, however.  No, I was required to go back to the first office, show them the paperwork from the second office, and they would take my picture and make a driver license for me.  The picture was servicable.

During the four hour errand-running period, I got my car tag, my driver license, an electronic box for the turnpike charges, and registered to vote (and, subsequently, to be eligible for jury duty). Then I headed home, with my meds quickly wearing off and illness returning.

However, it was some new illness that disturbed my afternoon, something of the gut variety. I was forced up from my nap to deal with what some may describe as a stomach flu--or food poisoning.  What had I eaten?  I couldn't match up the before and the after.  I was just glad to be rid of it.

This morning the irony finally hit me.  Feeling better, I was determined to go back to the office, so I got up and got ready and hit the road.  I was using my turnpike pass for the very first time.  I was on the highway, had just passed by the toll booth where I usually had to stop and throw coins at the machine but now could whiz on by, and was excited to have such freedom when I suddenly was confronted by flashing lights. A highway patrol car had approached me from the other side, had turned through the median, and was now coming up behind me!  I checked my speed: 77 in a 70 zone, usually not enough to raise eyebrows.

I am not a criminal, I thought.  I produced my new driver license and my proof of insurance.  I explained that I had just gotten my driver license the previous day, had gotten my car tag and my turnpike box also the previous day, that I was new here, that I really had not intended to speed (I usually put the car on cruise and don't worry about it), and I was able to negotiate a "warning."

Besides, twenty cars pass me in any given trip to one car that I pass.  So many other drivers come up behind me (I'm in the right lane, the "slow" lane) and tailgate or flash their headlights to express their derision that I am going "only" seven miles over the speed limit.  Then they will swing out into the left lane, and charge angrily ahead, then bluntly back into the right lane--once in a while accompanied with a select finger of salute.  I, on the other hand, am a good driver and have not had a real ticket in more than ten years. But the irony still remains.

And I just spilled some grape juice down the front of my new white shirt!

03 September 2010

Evil Comparisons! (Part II)

Finally the summer spell is broken: a thunderstorm followed by a cold front blows through during the evening!  So I can return blithely to the subject at hand.

When the idea for the first volume in The Dream Land series came to me during a dream, I rushed to craft the storyline, drawing partly from my childhood fantasies and partly from my [then] modern sensibilities with regard to plotting.  I was careful not to drawn from any sci-fi on TV or film. Of course, I believed my own idea was unique and did not want to dilute it by making allusions to other sources, or by borrowing any ideas, no matter how minor. However, just as I was completing the manuscript in 1993 and revising it for submission to publishers in 1994, I was suddenly bombarded by the trailers of a new sci-fi film coming out: Stargate.

One irony of this event was that I had already had my characters speculate what to call this portal they had discovered. While I settled on tangent as the main reference and "tearing the curtain" as euphemism, my protagonists, Gina and Sebastian, also tried the name "stargate". They referenced Watergate, a common shared experience in the '70s, but ruled out "stargate" because it referred to transportation to a star--where a voyager might "burn his ass off" [sic]. (In the last major revision, this phrase was sanitized, along with the change of the "stargate" reference to sci-fi usage in general.)  But there was the film, seen by millions, and which eventually even spawned a TV series on the cable TV's Sci-Fi channel.

Stargate (1994) follows the adventures of a team of mercenaries and a scientist as they travel through a "portal" that leads to a quasi-Egyptian landscape ruled by a kind of pharoah/alien character with special powers. Much is made of the similarities of this new pseudo-world with Earth's ancient history. Obviously, knowing Earth's ancient history makes it easy to create a world that approximates that ancient Earth history, all the more to compell discussion of who or what gave rise to the first civilizations on Earth. Theories of ancient astronauts, advocated by Erich von Daniken and later Zecharia Sitchin and others, seemed to fit some of the quirks and curiosities archeaologists have found, as well as references in the Bible.

I did not have any concerns about ancient astronauts in relation to the plot of Dream Land.  In the back of my mind, however, I had ideas. I had read Von Daniken's first book Chariots of the Gods and was intrigued enough to consider the possibilities. Readers of science-fiction regularly consider possibilities. I had no intention of deliberately working some of those ideas into the plot. My focus was on two young people randomly discovering a portal to another dimension--which according to the laws of astrophysics must be located on a valid planetary body somewhere. The focus was on their relationship, and what they do to try and stay together, then find each other, then live together on that other world.

(Note to self: you focused on the adventure in the original writing but after many years and two major revisions, you now accept that the story is, at its roots, a love story with elements of adventure, rather than the reverse.)

I did not whine too much at the time about the unexpected hijacking of my interdimensional doorway motif by Stargate.  Instead, I sought ways to exploit that similarity. Things usually come in threes in Hollywood and perhaps also in the book publishing business. So if people were excited by the Stargate film, perthaps they would grab a copy of my novel which had similar elements (though much different in focus and style, closer to what I like to call "literary sci-fi"). I marketed Dreamland (never considering a sequel) as another Stargate-like story. I got encouraging feedback and a few compliments on its style and scope, but ultimately I did not make a sale.

Time passed and I started other projects. Meanwhile Stargate: SG1 was showing on the Sci-Fi channel. I caught a few episodes by chance but never intended to become a fan. I felt that it was the enemy--though they had no knowledge of me or my universe. After several years the series ended. After several years I finally completed the second book in the series. The second book did draw on some elements that had, by then, entered the common sci-fi lexicon, notably the time-travel aspects of interdimensional portals (e.g., enter at a slightly different angle and you arrive in the same place but at a different time or in a slightly different place in the same time).

Nearing the completion of the second Dream Land book, I began to feel the continuation of the story into a third book. The idea was already there, having been stuck in my subconscious since just before the Stargate film was released, the idea of how this all got started. That is the reason for the third book's title: Diaspora.

25 August 2010

Life Getting in the Way of Living

Once again I am drawn to write something about nothing. That is, nothing much that is happening at all. I feel the pressure to not let so much time pass between the last posting and the next posting. However, life seems to be getting in the way of living.

As previously announced, I have moved half-way across the country to take a new job. The process of packing and moving, especially under rather rushed circumstances, was distressful enough. The reality of the new semester, with new classes (and a few switches of classes during the first week) and new students (some dropping, others adding, and all of them strangers to me) has further hindered my adherence to a regular writing schedule.

When I was engaged in writing the second volume of The Dream Land series, the story was constantly on my mind, in my head--working out plot kinks, reviewing previous text--even as I was going about my daily routine, with no apparent adverse effect on my teaching. My writing could be interupted and then I could go back to where I'd left off quite easily. With the completion of Book II, however, I don't have that momentum that drives me to keep going. Once stopped, it's difficult to get going again.

I teach college students how to write various kinds of papers in exchange for money, which I use to buy time to do my own writing. I have a scholarly article on the back burner and I have the first pages of Book III of The Dream Land on another burner. On the front burners are my current classes. I now teach (after a few switches and adjustments) 2 sections of Basic English, 2 sections of Composition I, and a section of Composition II. Also, I have office hours (such as during this present moment) and serve on two committees which have yet to meet this semester. The system is different from what I've gotten used to so I am spending time adapting to the way things are done here--which seem annoyingly ineffective compared to my previous institutions of higher education.

So it goes. I have 15 minutes until my next class begins, so I will stop now. Life intrudes.

17 August 2010


This is what almost happened with previous blogs created and given a few posts: Life, or a strange representative of it, boldly interferes, either by blocking access to the blog site (no internet access, etc.) or by blocking access to my brain. I've vowed not to fall to that situation this time, with this blog. But it has been tough.

I have completed the move across the country and started the new job. This is almost a good story in itself but this is not the venue for a travelogue. Suffice to say the goal was achieve. I drove my vehicle, pulling a trailer containing 90% of all my belongings, from upstate New York to the Midwest, 1482 miles at 55 mph, the final 400 miles with the temperatures rising into the 100s and the highway rising in elevation. I arrived alive, as they say.

Once arriving, however, the apartment I had arranged from afar turned out to be a dump. Fortunately there were plenty of other, nicer places nearby. I signed up for one but had to wait to be "approved" (surrendering all manner of documents to prove I can and will pay the rent without becoming a burden on society) and then to prepare the apartment (painting, carpet, repairs). Meanwhile, I stayed in a very comfortable but not too expense hotel much closer to my place of employment for several nights, going to the office during each of the days. Now that I've moved into the apartment, I had to suffer through the shopping. I did not bring much furniture with me, none of the major pieces, so I needed to replace them. So much spending even before I get the first paycheck!

Next I will return to the theme of this blog.

29 July 2010

Evil Comparisons! (Part I)

I finally got to see the new film Inception and I enjoyed it. When I first saw the trailer I knew I had to see it, though I did not really know what it was about. Just before seeing it, however, I happened to read a review online which gave more of the premise, dreams within dreams, etc., which made it even more intriguing for me. Having that set of tips in my mind, I could follow it very well. Also, I like to believe, I have developed skills in temporal dexterity as I created the Dream Land worldscape and so I could follow the plot twists better than the average movie-goer.

In Dream Land, the theme of dream vs. reality is constantly poking readers. Is our hero really experiencing this other world, or is he merely dreaming it? In Dream Land I, we tend to believe Sebastian Talbot, a.k.a. the Professor, may be an unreliable narrator who is fooling his coworkers into believing he can travel through an invisible doorway to another world, the planet Ghoupallesz. As the adventure develops we begin to believe him but when he returns after the big "mission" and is questioned by police regarding his missing coworkers, we are nudged back to disbelief. The guy is crazy, obviously.

Inception plays along the same lines, lines that I have to say I enjoyed. The universe created in the film is one in which we believe the fantastic is possible. I have tried to create a similar pseudo-realistic environment in the Dream Land series. Real people doing believably unreal things. In Inception, we travel with the cast's dream-selves into a dream they all share and interact in, then into a dream within that dream, and finally some of them travel into yet a deeper dream to finish the mission. I have personally had a few dreams that involved me dreaming I was dreaming within my dream--that's two levels from reality. That's the best I could do.

In Dream Land I, I began consciously creating a reality in which my hero does find a portal to another world; hence, what he finds is real. As I wrote, however, I began to realize that the plot also worked on another level: he is dreaming, not living, the experiences. So I allowed that dual-view to continue in a more deliberate fashion. I thought it might be fun for readers to keep guessing whether or not our hero is dreaming it all. Of course, that could also become frustrating to some, especially those who may be less patient with twists and further twists of the plot.

Now I worry that when this gets published, people will be saying "Oh, that's just like what happened in that movie, Inception." So I will be forced to declare that I had the idea for Dream Land back when I was a child. I have it documented. And the germ of the actual writing of the story was still back in 1993. Also, well-documented. Well, coincidences do exist, more so in the sci-fi realm. Nevertheless, there are plenty of differences between the dream theme (or "dream team"? plenty of opportunities for further play on movie and novel titles!) of Inception and my Dream Land series.

In the movie the dreaming is declared up front (well, after the opening teaser). In my novel, the dreaming is only a question: 1) the protagonist wonders if his experiences were just dreams, 2) the police question whether he was making it all up, i.e., dreaming it, and 3) the protagonist identifies some episodes as dreams, waking dreams, or even hallucinations. In the end, however, what is dream and what is reality is ultimately left to the reader to decide; I like to play both possibilities as fully and for as long as possible--an admittedly redundant statement, sorry.

The movie uses "dream" as a vehicle for solving DiCaprio's character's dead wife problem--which is reminiscent of his turn in Shutter's Island; he may be starting to be type-cast as crazy widower characters--and the corporate espionage scheme, which should be shocking to us, making us fear the technology that can insert ideas into our minds and make us act on them, believing that our thoughts are our own. Truly disturbing stuff.

(Part II is in regard to the original film Stargate and the subsequent television series.)

24 July 2010

New But Improved?

I managed to finish the latest, perhaps last edit of Dream Land I, trying to tighten and cut out unnecessary words--as we've always been told. I worry that for the first book it is too long to be accepted. I don't think there is much that is left that is gratuitous and cut-able.
I managed to finish the edit in time to pack and move half-way across the country to start a new job in 3 weeks.

After a lengthy job search effort in academia, seeking the elusive tenure-track position at a college or university, I have been approached by a school as desperate to hire someone as I am to be hired by such a school. It may be a perfect match in that regard at least. In other factors, not so much. I am glad that I am not in the middle of crucial series of scenes or an important chapter, then forced to stop for what may be a month or more.

But all authors need a steady job, right? If writing is what I do best--of those things I do; not to say I am very good at it, only that writing skills are slightly more developed than any others I have--I do not want to do that as a job all week. Then I would have no interest in writing when I am home and writing on my own time. Teaching others how to write, however, is quite a different matter. 

So, as the future replicates the past, I will again be teaching first-year college students how to write, reviewing and/or correcting techniques not perfected in high school, and perhaps also changing their attitudes about writing.  It's a living.

Writing is a way of life.

20 July 2010

So it's like this . . .

My computer's anti-virus application warns me that if I go to my blog I could get harmful viruses. Is it my blog or my anti-virus that's the problem?

That made me wonder what I had written that could be so dangerous. Forced me to check this blog and, hence the inevitable, to write another entry. 

My intention originally was to write about my writing. I am currently revising the first volume of my science-fiction trilogy. There is a bit of irony in that I did not plan a trilogy when I started what has become the first book. It is also ironic that since completing the second book--by which time I had planned a third book--I have thought of further adventures that could become a fourth or even a fifth book.  What do you call a 5-book series?  A quintology?

I titled the first book "Dreamland" because I got the idea in a dream (back in December 1993) and decided to continue the dream vs. reality motif throughout.  Then I discovered others had used the name already.  There was a sci-fi novel about Area 51 and the Roswell aliens titled "Dreamland". There is also a book about the history of the Coney Island amusement park called "Dreamland".  So I changed my title, ever so subtly to: "The Dream Land".

So now we have the "Dream Land" series.

I'd had the idea for many years. I could even say it went back into my childhood when I fashioned creatures from pipe cleaners and yarn and role-played some of the adventures. It was embarrassing to state that for a while, but now I am comfortable with revealing the secret origins of the Dream Land series. I still have a bunch of the little mouse-like critters in boxes of childhood "memories".

The re-start of the idea as a book came in that dream in December 1993. Earlier in the day I had purchased a cassette (does that make my life look old?) of Enya's first album, The Celts.  I knew nothing of Enya at the time; the titles of the songs and the cover art compelled me to buy something I guessed I might like. I did. The strangely evocative music was like nothing I had ever heard before and it cut into my mind.

I heard the music playing during that dream, a dream in which I saw a Zetin maiden riding a Jepe (accented characters are not allowed in blogs, it seems) on a barren slope high in the mountains. That dream became one of the opening scenes of Dream Land I--as readers will no doubt recognize.

Prior to the music and the dream, I was having difficulty finding the right place to jump i nto the story. That is, the right place to begin. After the dream and the scene I quickly wrote upon awakening, I decided to set the first chapter in the IRS service center where I had once been employed. I chose to have our hero (who is NOT the same as me, though he often tries to imitate me when I am at my worst) have the same dream while napping during the graveyard shift's lunch break. Bingo! A plot was hatched.

Flash forward: After finishing the second volume I became aware that the first book was not as well-written as this second one. It lacked focus, sharp dialog, and what some might call a coherent story line. So I went back to punch it up, to make it the equal of Dream Land II. 

One thing I did was add a prologue where our hero discusses a dream with his psychiatrist. The reviews I received form agents and editors suggested my protagonist was not "sympathetic". Of course, we need to be able to identify with a character to go along with them through the story. I thought the prologue would show him in a more sympathetic way: a man who has had hard times and is struggling to make sense of the world--as many of us do daily. The scene with the Zetin maiden follows. That scene becomes a lightning rod which gets him to wake up and take action: he must rescue his long lost love from the clutches of the evil Zetin warlord.

Such as it is in sci-fi and sword/sorcery fiction. And yet, I didn't want it to be quite the same. I wanted to keep it grounded in "reality" somehow, so readers will feel a different connection, something more akin to a real Earthling having a real adventure in a real place which happened to exist through an interdimensional doorway.

14 July 2010


Once upon a time someone told me that when one is bored one should write about being bored.

Many attempts to start a blog ended with a few snarly remarks or a well-intended but too flowery, poetic, or overwritten fluff piece on the socio-political issue of the day. That truly caused boredom.

Now I have been inspired to try again. The topic of this blog will be my writing. I may share excerpts of my "serious" writing here, but this blog is going to be mostly about my writing, rather than the writing itself. How I do what I do. Why I do what I do. Why I keep doing what I do. What I should perhaps be doing instead of what I do. And so on.

In the event I publish something, people like it and want to know more about me or my work, they can turn here. Perhaps they could "google" me. That seems to work both in school and in the movies.

So here goes....