31 December 2011

The End is Near. Long live the Future!

Greetings and salutations bloggers, bloggettes, and bloggophiles (and the Freudian-slipped mistyped bloogers)!

I had sincerely believed I had put away the blogosphere for the year, having made plans to do unto others what has been done unto me, shorthand for making merry in the holiday tradition of my kinfolk. But, twas not to be. With a funeral trip and a lengthy stay in the sick bed (had an outstanding assortment of weird dreams), some quick final editing of my debut masterpiece AFTER ILIUM and even quicker academic conference proposal dashings off pre-deadlines, my break from the Day Job has hardly seemed the thing of endless possibility it began as. (I love long sentences, don't you?)

So now that the end is near, I feel rather jittery, full of unspent energy I barely used the preceding three weeks. As I spent some time perusing the proof copy of my novel AFTER ILIUM and finding a dozen spots to correct, it occurred to me that there may yet be a sequel in the works. Mind you, it won't likely be as intense in either sex or violence as the original. In fact, it would not even include any of the same characters, although I reserve the right to bring in the mythological undead, as hero Alex Parris often did in the original book.

This sequel would be titled WAY AFTER ILIUM. It would concern the journey, nay, odyssey of the author of AFTER ILIUM as he travels from his home away from heart in central Oklahoma to the deep south, to a town appropriately named Troy, in the state of Alabama. There he has planned an event at the local institution of higher education. Among the buildings of that institution squats a small yet magical Barnes & Noble store, ostensibly for the procurement of textbooks and the sordid what-nots of student life, of course. However, because it has gained a phenomenal reputation for magically launching the first works of several famous artisans, writers, skilled people of all makes and models, the Author of AFTER ILIUM wishes to likewise partake of the magical influences of that sacred venue.

The trip, of course, would be the bulk of the story. All manner of adventures might test him, everything from car trouble to bad weather, criminal mischief and indulging temptations, the innocent misdirections of well-intended community leaders and snarky local cops--all providing as great an odyssey as poor Alex Parris faced on his unexpected journey across the Turkish coastline, hoping to be reunited with the woman he loves--yes, that older, mysterious, exotic Greek woman he meets on the cruise ship to Istanbul and whom he sees as his personal Helen of Troy (perhaps, she's from Alabama, after all)--until his own physical survival must become foremost in his mind. Indeed, another morality play. The world of literature is full of them. One more won't hurt, eh?

"Never look a gift horse in the mouth," they say...because you may find Odysseus staring back with some choice-yet-unkind words to give!

Look for the original AFTER ILIUM coming in January! Available from the publisher Fantasy Island, and from Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. (The Amazon "preview" is glitchy but will be fixed shortly; don't let that dissuade you from diving in.) Available both as ebook for your new holiday Kindle and in traditional paperback that you can take to the beach or read during class behind your textbook.

And the sequel WAY AFTER ILIUM will be forthcoming in a couple years or so. Well, at least after the Author has lived through the adventure--because we all know writers must write about what they know in order for it to be authentic and believable, right?

Until we meet again in print or ebook, may you all (especially my potential readers!) have the merriest end of year celebrations you can safely have, and may the coming year be full of amazing adventures and many purchases of books (especially of mine, thankyouverymuch!), and good fortune in all of your deeds, sordid and otherwise.
The Author of AFTER ILIUM pretending he has just found a kick ass novel on the shelf in the local Barnes & Noble store, hoping others will wonder what he is reading and open a dialog with him through which he might tell them exactly what he is reading and perchance they might wish to read it, too, because miracles never cease and sometimes stars fall from the sky, long before Hell might one day freeze over!

(C) Copyright 2010-2012 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 December 2011

Greats Stories for a Great Cause!


Not much time has passed since my last post, but here is something I must add!

The anthology from Fantasy Island Book Publishing is now available at Amazon.

Here is the link: The Story Tellers' Anthology

Shaun Allan - Final Entry
Shaun Allan – The Tooth, The Whole Tooth and but The Tooth
Alison DeLuca – Crown Phoenix
Alison DeLuca – Beta Test
Stephen Swartz – Rendezvous
J Darroll Hall – Appalachian Passages
Connie J Jasperson – Long Hard Run To Alpharse
Connie J Jasperson – Once Upon A Time
Lynette Ferreira – All Over Again
Marilyn Rucker Norrod – From The Ashes
Lisa Zhang Wharton – The Adult Book Store
Lisa Zhang Wharton – Butterflies: A Surrealistic Writing Class
Nicole Antonia Carson – The Last Five Pounds
Nicole Antonia Carson – Women of Wal-Mart
Rachel Tsoumbakos – Mildred the Ghost
Danielle Raver – The Enchantress
Kathleen Barker – O Canada
Joan Hazel – The Orbs of Taliesin
Elaine Gannon – Bits on Display
Ceri Clark – Mind Games
(and a fantastic cover by Ceri Clark, too!)

You might notice that one particular name and story title is in boldface. Mine. (Well, this is my blog, right?) Just wanted you to know, in a non-threatening way, that one of my stories is included. Now, that's not the only reason to click on over and download that baby. (My story is "Rendezvous"; it's my only entry in the urban fantasy genre, trying to impress my Twilight-obsessed daughter with my own vampire/reincarnation hybrid tale.)

The real reason, aside from some great stories in a variety of genre, is that all proceeds from the purchase of this anthology are going to a charity, Samaritan's Purse, whose focus is on providing safe, clean drinking water in devastated areas. You can learn more here: Samaritanspurse.org

So...Happy Reading!  And thanks for your contribution to good stories and clean water!

(C) Copyright 2010-2011 by Stephen M. Swartz. All Rights Reserved. No part of this blog, whether text or image, may be used without me giving you written permission, except for brief excerpts that are accompanied by a link to this entire blog. Violators shall be written into novels as characters who are killed off. Serious violators shall be identified and dealt with according to the laws of the United States of America.

08 December 2011

December Muse Tells All....

Dear Decembrists (if you're offended, you can google the term),

I kept looking at the calendar this past week, day after day, feeling as though I should write a blog post. It's been a while, though I have nothing much to confess. Or comment on. Problems everywhere. More of the same out there in the real world. Even the fantasy realms are somewhat boring this time of year.

The only news of any worthiness, I suppose, would be the fact that I recently sent back my so-called final look at the final manuscript version of my debut novel* AFTER ILIUM, the sordid tale of the innocent young man tricked by the evil older woman, and so on. Been done many times before. I've tried to put a unique spin on the template by creating a parallel to the Trojan War couple's story.

I had the idea back in 1998 when a few bits of impetus came together in fortuitous ways. My goal then was to have the modern plot parallel the ancient plot without seeming contrived. In other words, our hero had to see the parallels without the author intruding and saying to the reader "See how this parallels Homer's Odyssey?"

In a summer creative writing workshop, it became a fun exercise to me. As a what-if kind of story it was easy to plot...if one is deliberately plotting to follow the plot of a well-known classic. (In that summer, however, I only managed to put it into an 11,000 word story; definitely too much telling, less showing.)

1. Find a young man, recently graduated from college, a nerdy, geeky, bookwormish fellow who likes studying history, has some computer skills (I suppose that may be redundant with "geeky"), and sees the world always through rose-colored lenses. Give him the name Paris, but not too obviously. Make it a surname: Parris. Then send him to Turkey, to the site of the ruins of ancient Troy, often also called Ilium (hence the name of Homer's other book, the Iliad). So far, so good. What could happen?

2. Introduce a "Helen" character in a believable way. Can't name her Helen outright because that would be too obvious, so name her Elena--close enough. The young man, Parris, becomes enamored with this woman, of course: she is sexy in an older woman way, voluptuous, sensual, seductive. Let her be running away, seeking some adventure. And they meet. It's easy for him to like her, but she...? She will need to gradually warm to him, decide to flirt and seduce him, to toy with him for the few days of this trip.

3. Then, as young men are prone to do, this Parris fellow decides that this Elena woman is Ms. Right, especially after she lets him play with her in bed and other venues. Voila! They are a couple. Believable enough so far, eh? So, from this point, do they live happily ever after? Or does something else happen? In the Homer epics, they remain a happy couple until Paris, the Trojan, dies in battle. Helen is recaptured by her husband, Menelaus, and returned to her home. But here in modern times, there is no war to solve the plot conundrum.

4. Or is there? If not a war, then at least a fight. If this Parris fellow is so hot for that Elena woman, let him try to protect her when she seems to be threatened. Then he would get into a fight, say, with some men...yes, at the site of ancient Ilium! Perfect. But in a modern tale, what would likely happen? He would be arrested by the local police. That's believable. But just as Odysseus had a crew of sailors on his voyage back home to Ithaca from Troy, this Parris fellow needs helpers--some of the sidekicks who inevitable get killed off so the hero can live to the final credits.

5. So here we have this Parris guy, sensitive, intelligent, but not a leader or a fighter, mooning for his lady, trying to reason his way out of his predicament. He has to find his way back to her. That has "odyssey" written all over it. The rest is mere parallelism. In the Odyssey, Homer has his hero visit different places, each with unique challenges and each leaving him with new lessons learned. Eventually he makes his way home, of course, and even there he faces challenges. So does this Parris fellow, only his must conform to the realism and available technology of the modern era.

6. Instead of a cyclops, Parris encounters a constable with an eye patch. Rather than his crew being incapacitated from eating lotus plants, his odyssey buddies get stoned on wild hashish. A quartet of farmer's daughters take the place of Sirens. The stormy sea and the rugged cliffs Parris must traverse replace the monsters Scylla and Charybdis. And he is found washed up on the beach not by King Alcinous and his lovely daughter Nausicaa but by a lonely Greek fisherman. Instead of calling the gods for assistance with a message via Hermes, our Parris fellow gains access to a computer with internet connection. He is finally on his way back to his lady, Elena.

The ancient Paris never returned to Troy; he died there. Our modern Parris does return, expecting to find his lovely Elena there. Instead, he meets....whoa! What was I thinking? That would be quite an egregious faux pas, giving away the ending like that. Nobody likes a spoiler. However, to complete the point of this report, it is perhaps enough that you can now see how the challenge of retelling an ancient tale in a modern setting can be accomplished. Has it been done successfully? That is the only worthwhile question in need of answering. And I, unfortunately, am not allowed to answer it. Only our dear readers may do so.

And for that, I have much gratitude and appreciation, no matter the result. Enjoy your reading!

Available soon from Fantasy Island Book Publishing, and via ebook sites like Amazon and Barnes & Noble, with print format following quickly after.

*Although I have written 7 novels to date, After Ilium will be the first to be made available to the purchasing public. Some of the others will be published in coming years.

(C) Copyright 2010-2011 by Stephen M. Swartz. All Rights Reserved. No part of this blog, whether text or image, may be used without me giving you written permission, except for brief excerpts that are accompanied by a link to this entire blog. Violators shall be written into novels as characters who are killed off. Serious violators shall be identified and dealt with according to the laws of the United States of America.

30 November 2011

The After-Turkey Lull - Gift or Curse?

UPDATE (Dec. 3): Despite my assistance, my daughter placed 4th of 18 in her class of "engineering" students! (See below for details of the project.)

Or, how I spent my post-Thanksgiving days....

Now that the tryptophan-induced coma has yielded, I return to the real world with a line of gnomes carefully pinching me to prove I am in reality as we know it.

So what can we make of the post-Thanksgiving lull? Riots in shopping centers? Pepper spray as holiday gifts? Crowds of poverty-stricken materialists breaking down doors to get the latest things they don't need. Sure, it's a holiday season, which by definition is a "holy" day (but which by modern definition is a shopping day), so everyone seems entitled to his or her full measure of merriment and mirth, frivolity and fragmentation--which I mean in a good way. And football!

For me, it was an odd triad of days in which never-before-attempted efforts were brought to bear on the construction of a contraption based on the six simple tools. Trips to hardware stores, Walmart, lumber yards, and back again, combining parts, using tools, measuring twice, cutting once or more. What a weekend! I'm speaking of the father-daughter project known as "science project"--a quixotic attempt to make a small car go forward, ideally hitting a solid wall with such force that it ricochets backwards as far as possible. The total distance traveled will be measured and he or she who attains the longest distance shall be rewarded...what, with a turkey dinner? I hope not. But it was a worthy effort, no matter the results.

The weekend of turkey and stuffing was also filled with many conflicting thoughts. One step forward and two steps back? Or two steps forward and one step back? Hard to tell. Maybe sit for a few hours and see if the lighting changes. I'm being cryptic, I'll admit. Not sure what I can say other than a year of positive direction has suddenly begun to pitter. I'm waiting to see how chips fall, waiting for the sunrise. As any viking-wannabe, I remain stalwart and eager to sally forth (though not, obviously, with Sally, who dumped me back in college after only two dates) with battle axe and battle scars, ready to claim my territory on the bookshelves of distance lands, come what may.

So I remain a positive, cheerful fellow. I know that's strange and certainly unlike me to put readers through such an embarrassingly intimate revelation. However, as is common for me, I have time between the past and the future and tend to fill it, briefly, with words that on occasion have meaning and in other particular situations take on the feel of dictionaries cut apart and pages scattered to the winds. You know what I mean. And if you don't, stop reading. There are, after all, graphic novels available.

Finally, as you go out to shop for fun, for health, for promotions, for compliments, for self-fulfillment, be sure to Buy a Book! Either one of the traditional things full of paper or one of the new-fangled electronic compilations of faux paper called "ebook" will do. As long as it is something written/composed and intending to be read with eyes or fingers, let it appear on your shopping list. Keep the Art of Reading alive! Buy a Book! Buy many Books! Buy armfuls of books! Give out your extra books! Share your books! Have read-a-thons! Keep Reading Alive!

And, if you so choose, and the timing is fortunate, you may yet be able to buy MY Book, AFTER ILIUM.

It's a fun-filled tale of what can go wrong when Alex Parris, a naive young college grad goes on a summer trip to ancient Troy and means an exotic older woman he mistakes for Helen of Troy. What could go wrong, right? Half-romance, half-adventure, 100% Levantine pathos!

Next holiday shopping season, I will have another book to offer you! Stay tuned....

18 November 2011

Ready to stoke the turkey?

'Tis the season of the infamous turkey! 

This time a week hence, many will be slouching and slumping and snoring or snorting, content in the afterglow of their gluttonous indulgences, far and wide. That is our holiday tradition, no matter how the origins and historical developments and political corrections have affected it.

I recommend this source of information about Thanksgiving (<-click) because practically all of it is wrong, or considered wrong to someone. Or the official source, Plymouth Plantation, if you care to surround yourself with facts and speculations.

A bit of personal connection: I visited the Plymouth site as a child, gazed down upon the 1621-stamped big rock called Plymouth, yet did not travel there in a Plymouth automobile. The irony!

Nevertheless, holiday traditions die hard. From time immemorial I and all my relations would gather at the grandparents' residence with food in hand and have a grand feast. My cousins grew up and had their own families, grandparents passed on,and gradually Thanksgiving dinners became separate and self-contained. At some point it became pointless to go to the trouble of it, even at the risk of having no leftovers.

I remember the best of the worst:

  • 2003. Stuck in my doctoral program in the snowy hills of western Pennsylvania, it did not make sense to travel back to Kansas for three days. Especially so when I had final papers to prepare. So I just made burritos at home and kept typing my papers.
  • 2010. Nobody was interested in going to the trouble of cooking a big dinner, so I went out to the grocery and bought a portion of smoked turkey and side dishes from the deli in the store. Ended up I ate it all myself.
  • 1988 and 1989. I was living in Japan so it wasn't even a holiday. And turkey was an unfamiliar bird. I cannot recall exactly what I ate on those days yet it was likely something with teriyaki sauce on it.
  • 2007. I had the turkey dinner, which was fine. On the drive back to Pennsylvania, however, I had a flat tire on a rainy Sunday night passing through the bad part of Columbus, Ohio, and had to stay over to get the tire fixed the next morning. I ate at the Waffle House, but no turkey.
  • Another year in my youth I agreed to attend a "starve-in" at a local church. Young people would empathize with the starving masses of the world by not eating Thanksgiving dinner. At all. To help us endure our hunger we played games and had other entertainments. When it was done, I went home and dove into the leftovers my parents' had. I only went to that event to impress a girl. What a turkey I was!
  • Not sure of the year but it was while I was living at my parents' house, so I must have been young. We had a goose, at my request. Richer taste, oily meat, less meat for leftovers, a free portion of pate de fois gras (liver), and a bad case of indigestion which was later identified as ptomaine poisoning. Cook your bird thoroughly!
Or, as the early founding chefs had the menu, stick with venison and lobster! Or, in the alternative, try soybean pudding, sometimes called "tofu." Perhaps a turkey substitute could be created from various local vegetables and exotic fruits. Use your imagination. And don't forget the turkey chili . . . for the next two weeks!

No matter what happens this year, indulge in moderation and may your moderation be indulgent. See you on the other side.

11 November 2011

FIBP Author Danielle Raver's Book Launch!

Congratulations, Danielle!

not so breaking now BREAKING NEWS!

Anyone near Troy, Alabama, stop in at the University B&N now 11-11-11 & get Danielle Raver's new fantasy novel "Brother Betrayed"!

Danielle Raver (center), Author of Brother, Betrayed at her book  launch on 11-11-11.

Until then...check out this: "Brother, Betrayed"

Don't be a Betrayer

Buy this book! 

Help a Betrayed Brother out!

Fantasy as Real as it gets!

Click for some Book Reading happening.

10 November 2011

Blogging and the Curse of 11-11-11

I have been getting emails and Tweets and Facebook messages (even a few Hallmark cards) asking me--indeed, beseeching me--to write another post on my blog.

It is a little surprising because there are not so many people in the world (Earth, that is) who even know this blog exists. That bespeaks volumes about the multiple reasons I had for creating this home away from house in the first place. And, with the venerable 11-11-11 time cue due to grace our lives tomorrow (11/11/11, that is), it seems completely unrelated.

Which brings me to my first point: not too much I ever write seems related to much of anything else. Especially all that I choose not to write. It seems to please some people more when I don't write. Sure, there is the occasional linguistic parsimony or the dabbling in daunting deliberations that tend to confuse and frustrate the prurient purists. However, in general, I am occasionally lucid and as engaging as a handful of sand. That may yet be my downfall. (Did I answer the question? Or shall I pose a question, then answer it? This is what I'm getting at.)

There are times when I post something about my writing, either an excerpt or a how-I-did-that discussion, or the more bewildering why-I-did-that report. Other times, I have news to share which is new (for a brief moment in time, that is), which typically has some connection to my writing, or to the writing of my friends and associates, or to the art and craft and science of fictionalization in all its many, many forms.

And still other times I seize upon the opportunity to throw down a bagful of words and arrange them--or try to arrange them--into something comprehensible and loathsomely profound. Such seems to be the case today, as I digress between preparing a lecture on analysis and interpretation for a research writing class and my own semi-serious babblings about the non-uniqueness of the 11-11-11 phenomena. (Yes, I actually did "tweet" that I was holding out for 15-15-15!)

There you have it: a post! Wasn't that easy? Wasn't that meaningful? Not really? Well, it felt good for me, at least, getting out the excess of words that had been building up. What else could I have done? Pondered the meanings of political candidates' guffaws and gaffes? The mistakes of misanthropes? Compared the passing asteroid to a summer's day? Ranted on all that riles my sensitive sensibilities? Complain about having tornadoes, hail, flooding, and earthquakes all happening around me in the same weekend (true, I'm unhappy to say)? Or something else....

Frequently there is a sense of satisfaction that, if I type long enough and use enough words, that something will make sense to someone. I have heard that a certain number of chimpanzees typing on a certain number of typewriters (obviously before the age of computers), would, in a certain number of years (given a reasonable amount of nutritional sustenance), produce the works of Shakespeare. That, certainly, is a major digression, especially when all I've sought to do today is exercise my fingers.

It is that time once again:

May you all have something better, something more enjoyable, more productive, entertaining or enlightening to do today than read this posting a second time. Doing that (the second reading) would likely label you a true fan of moi. Yet I would not embarrass anyone by repeating that label. Further explanation of such devotion shall have to wait until another empty hour in my pre-fab life unfolds unceremoniously and grins something akin to a Cheshire cat.

And so, without additional adieu, I fade....

P.S.--I wish to throw a hearty "Good Luck" to everyone who has scheduled some important event on 11-11-11, especially to fellow Fantasy Island author Danielle Raver, who will have her fantasy novel's book launch (Brother, Betrayed), and to those particular sci-fi films coming out on 11-11-11. I hope everyone has much success!

02 November 2011

The Interview

Must be the Halloween effect...spooky things happening, such as...the school newspaper wants to interview me tomorrow, especially about me teaching the Creative Writing course for the first time in 3 years. 

So...what are my qualifications? I have an MFA degree in Creative Writing and I have a novel coming out. 

See? Look at the cool cover (created by Claire Chilton):

From FANTASY ISLAND BOOK PUBLISHING (Click Here) and available soon at Fantasy Island Books, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and my closest street corner!

Thanks for your support! 

I hope you enjoy the story. If not, please rewrite it following your own sense of morality.

Cover design by Claire Chilton, fellow Fantasy Island Book Publishing Author (Whatever Became of the Squishies?, also coming soon) and FIBP Graphic Designer, Webmistress, and unofficial York tour guide!

23 October 2011






AND...If you still feel like participating in more contests, please click over to this one at Shelfstealers Books and vote on the book cover for my upcoming novel A BEAUTIFUL CHILL, an anti-romance set on a college campus, about two opposites attracting yet struggling to get along with each other because they have to. NOT based on Real Life! (Yeah, right....)


Have a fabulous Sunday!

19 October 2011

The Horror You've Always Craved...with a side of brains!

October usually means a breath of cool air, colorful trees, and a welcome respite from the rigors of academia often dubbed "fall break". 

Another aspect of the month is the inevitable saturation of Halloween/Samhain paraphernalia in shades of black and orange. It all comes to a climax on the 31st, of course, when literally all Hell break loose upon the world.

As we enter the final run-up to that festive occasion, I wish to help celebrate the depravity deep within us all by alerting you to an event that is truly keeping with the spirit of the evil spirits of the season. 

Some of my fellow authors have written suitable fair for the season, while I have not. (OK, sure, I did write one story* that would be in the "urban fantasy" genre, something about a vampiress returning to save an ex-lover from certain death--written well before the Twilight phenomena.) But I digress...

The publisher of my novel AFTER ILIUM, Fantasy Island Book Publishing is having a "scary story" contest!

Whether your cup of tea includes blood and gore or silent, simple psychological thrills or brutal, torturous knock'em-off one-at-a-time stealthy mayhem, the story you submit to the contest must be able to scare the pants off readers. Because we love seeing people's pants fall down. It's a complicated fetish. 

Digressing again!

Vampires, werewolves, zombies, serial killers and their cute pets, weird aliens and robotic machinery, psychopaths and their clones, or nefarious bugs and slithery snakes, colorful spiders and worrisome wraths, ghouls and ghosts, or that kid in third grade who you just knew would grow up to be trouble--anything is possible. 

The only thing that is NOT possible is for Fantasy Island's own authors to enter the contest. That would be like cheating, of course, because we ARE authors! You can be too!

So dig out that story you crafted in school, the one you secretly want to publish, the one that caused your grandmother to say extra prayers for you, the one that you know will make our blood run icy and our brains melt inside our skulls. 

Submit your story between October 22 and 30th following the instructions at the link:

*My story "Rendezvous" will be included in an anthology of stories produced by the editors of Fantasy Island Book Publishing.

12 October 2011

Got weather? ...making weather and seasons matter in plot!

Seasons change. Do they also change in your story? How does weather affect your characters? Or do they ignore it? Weather happens, but does it happen in your story?

On the calendar, it is the middle of October. By my internal circadian clock, I should be experiencing the full flourish of autumn foliage. The intellectual part of my brain cautions, however, that the dates will alternate based on where I am in the world. Raised in the Midwest, it seems right on time.

But, having recently lived in the Northeast, I feel it's behind schedule. Friends from the Northeast have shared their pictures and so I get some necessary fix. But it's never enough. Perhaps I should make it my business to remain perpetually in autumn by following the blossoming colors, wherever they may be: something like a pub crawl, only following falling leaves.

Surely that is madness! Is it? Why cannot one live in perpetual autumn? Or springtime, or summer for that matter. Winter is easy enough. And yet, as I consider the settings of science-fiction tales, it strikes me as odd that there are seldom seasonal changes. Of course, some stories occur safely within the bounds of a single season. Others are set on worlds where there is perpetual winter or summer. Yet none that I can recall are set in a permanent autumn. I vaguely recall a story by Arthur C. Clarke titled "Autumn Country"--or I could be way off (help me out, s/f readers). That one, I think, was merely metaphorical, not autumnal.

Perhaps that has a lot to do with the transience of the season. Given the finite measure of tree sap and the subsequent coloration of leaves, it would be nearly impossible to maintain that moment indefinitely. Although I am not an "outdoor" person, I take notice of the changing seasons--and the weather particular to each season. That makes me incorporate the seasons--and the daily weather--into the novels I write, whether science-fiction or literary. For some characters, of course, the weather is important. For some plot points, particular weather is crucial. Could we ever have a "dancing in the rain" moment if it were set in a desert with little rain for the whole year? And how can you make "snow angels" in a tropical location?

People go about their lives seldom paying attention to the weather. Such moments of attention seem reserved for storms or for the few "perfect" days. Here are some examples of incorporating seasons and weather into the story. It doesn't take much, but when it happens--much like a sudden thunderburst--readers take notice, along with the characters about which they are reading.

Eric stared out the windows of the fifth floor foyer,transfixed by the dark gray skies, the ominous clouds drifting over the campus. He decided this was the first authentic day of autumn, a day when the pure gloom of the season saturates everything. He wanted to go out, walk the campus as Albright suggested, and take in the delightfully cold, blustery afternoon. But he had papers to grade.

In the above excerpt from A Beautiful Chill, the protagonist equates his mood with the season; they are in lockstep.

After the rain stopped, Íris makes her way to the hill overlooking the canteen, and takes off her clogs, stands barefoot in the soft, wet grass. She wiggles her toes and feels like a little girl again as she gazes up at the gray clouds, churning as though they regret dropping all of their rain so soon and not saving any to spill on her. She raises her arms to the sky and chants the spell of making and the pale sun burns through the clouds for a minute.

In this second example (above) from A Beautiful Chill, notice how the weather (rain) has affected the mood of the protagonist. It is a crucial shift of attitude which makes what happens next plausible.

Eric was surprised the Icelandic painter entered his mind as he swung his car onto the highway early in the morning, heading south for Thanksgiving break. A jagged line of thunderheads spread across the horizon before him. Soon the Oklahoma rain battered him. Four hours later, as he approached the Texas line, he knew why he was driving south. 

Weather and seasonal words and images can also stand in for ideas as well as moods. Here the image of the "line of thunderheads" is not only something real on the trip but something that serves as a metaphor for his state of mind: confused, threatened, stormy. The positioning of the weather images replaces a sentence in which we could have been given his direct thoughts.

In another example, images of weather and seasons set the scene, create a mood, and suggest the mindset of the character. This is the beginning of a middle chapter in my novel Aiko:

Outside, the wind was driving a light snow across the peninsula, singing in the woods, whistling through the eaves of the old house.
Hanako turned to the warm fire and held her hands near.  The kotatsu—the table with the electric heater underneath—was turning her legs toasty.  The house was silent, her obâsan long ago turning in and her infant daughter even earlier.  Now she was alone.

In After Ilium, set on the Turkish coast during July, all of the descriptions are designed to emphasize the dust, dirt, and heat of the location. There, the protagonist, Alex Parris, is eager to visit the site of ancient Ilium.

Although the story occurs all in the same location and season, without a drop of rain, the environment that is set up contrasts welcomely with images of water (the strait he paddles across), liquid (water from a stream, a cold bottle of beer), thirst (for a drink and metaphorically for other desires), and the comfort of home it represents. The differences between hot and dry and cool and wet create a subtle, continuous motif throughout the novel.

He breathed in dust and felt his body limp against an unyielding surface. His eyes saw mostly darkness. At the edges, a deep bronze light played with him. The surface beneath him was warm, wet with his perspiration. And his blood, he suspected. Soon he felt some vibration beneath him. It grew stronger and he realized what was happening. He broke through his stupor and, at the last possible moment, summoned what energy remained in him and thrust his weakened body over.
He felt the hot sun on his face. The noise and vibration continued and he knew he must go further. One more time, he urged himself, and rolled over again. Then again, and found himself quickly dropping into a shallow ditch filled with the powdery beige dust that covered everything in this Mediterranean landscape.

In Year of the Tiger, set in India, half of the story is told through the tiger-protagonist's point of view. I reasoned that animals would be far more attuned to the seasons and the weather and therefore always be noting its changes or stasis while the humans, busy with their everyday concerns, would be less attentive of seasons and weather patterns to the point of ignoring them.

The dawn drew up blood-red, like the spilled essence of a great carcass laid across the canopy of the world, dripping, oozing down its palate onto a frigid horizon that soaked it all in like a reluctant sponge longing to be wrung.

Although the passage may seem overdone, the point was to demonstrate the heightened stimulation animals in the wild receive from the natural world to which humans are not attuned.

Weather and seasonal phenomena on alien worlds is a special case. For The Dream Land trilogy, much of the action is set on a planet revolving around a pair of suns, the larger yellow star and the smaller blue star. For a portion of each day the light from both suns combine to cast a range of greenish hues across the landscape. It becomes especially evocative to include such unusual phenomena in the story.

Here is an excerpt from when our hero, Set-d'Elous (a.k.a. Sebastian Talbot) attends his alien wife's dying moments:

On the second day of winter, the month of Gouo in 1481, with the pea-colored flurries drifting downward from the Kelly green clouds hovering against the horizon, imprisoning the suns at their final dusk light, he turned away from the window and took her hand once more, kneeling beside the qala.  In the darkening shadows their eyes met, penetrating deeply into each other’s souls.  He felt the squeeze of her fingers, the pull of her eyes.  He remembered every moment he had gazed into those eyes, and the first time: forty-one years behind the calm wake of his longboat, sailing the Ghoupalle River Styx called Fardomn-Iker.  A stroke of his silent oar, a smooth passage, journey of eternity.  So sang the man in the raelor robe who extended the GP insignia, hammered out of gold, over her prone figure.

As I look back through my catalog, I see that I can classify my stories as either "Summer" or "Winter" stories based on their general settings. Similarly, I used the season I was in as an aid to writing the story. It's a struggle to write a snowy scene in the middle of July, or a hot and dusty scene while bundled up with my stockinged feet up against the space heater. Likewise, I need those same seasons to make revision and final preparation for publication go more easily. We are affected more than we may realize, especially as writers, by all of this phenomena around us. (The one exception might be a story set completely indoors with no windows.)

Let your characters experience the weather and the seasons, just as we do. Let them comment on it. Talking about the weather is always a conversation starter, after all. Let the weather interfere with the plot: storms, floods, dust, rain washing out a picnic, snow making roads impassable--tornadoes, earthquakes and hurricanes and volcanic eruptions, perhaps. And beautiful sunrises and sunsets, too. And light spring dew. And brilliant autumn leaves drifting down upon the yellowing grass. Clouds of many shapes. The color of the sky, the angle of sunlight in each season and at different times of day. 

Without having your characters give a complete meteorological explanation of every phenomena they experience, let them acknowledge and be affected by what they experience. We are all moved, positively or negatively, by what we see and feel around us.

Let these become sidekicks to your characters, partners in crime, white knights or darkest evil. 

Mother Nature will thank you later. Maybe.

07 October 2011

On Apples and Jobs

It's October and I feel some pressure to create the first post of the month. This post will be a brief history of my involvement with Apple and Steve Jobs. No disrespect is intended.

Once upon a time--I think it was the early 80s--I was sitting around the barracks of my summer Reserve training base on one off-weekend, and I decided to go to the PX. I was killing time mostly, but I paused to look with delight at the latest magical artifacts from the future. There in the corner of the PX was a display of electronic devices called computers. Having spent the bulk of my communication time on a typewriter (writing stories, letters, etc.), and primarily a manual one at that, I was quite fascinated. It was an Apple product.

Noting all of its features and the promise of futuristic simplicity, I wanted to buy it. The price was prohibitive, however, so I gave up the idea. Later, when a relative died and left a little money for me, I went out and bought my first computer. It was not an Apple product; with the $1600 I had, I got a Tandy 1000 computer from Radio Shack. It had a monochrome monitor and two slots for the program floppy disk and the floppy disk where I could save my files. I also got a dot-matrix printer. The computer ran some DOS version more primitive than Windows, but I was in heaven. Later, when I went to Japan for several years, I took with me a "portable computer" weighing 16 pounds, also from Radio Shack.

Productivity aside, I kept to the PC path and eventually found myself back in the USA and in grad school in Texas. I had just returned from Japan--where I first encountered the computer accessory known today as a CD-ROM disk (I laughed at the commercials on Japanese TV, saying "Who'd buy anything that stupid? One scratch and it's ruined." That's right: I am not a visionary). With Yen in the bank, I purchased the best system I could afford: a PC-compatible computer with a hard drive of 1 MB, running Windows 3.1, and a color monitor and a ribbon-cartridge printer. Price: $3000. That was the mid-90s.

However, at my university, the computer labs were stocked primarily with Macintosh computers. At first, I found them difficult to work with; I was thinking too much, thinking of DOS code. Gradually I learned to work with Macs, especially for the graphical work I was doing. I always had to convert files to use them on my PC machine at home, of course. So I always carried around a couple boxes of 3.5" diskettes containing all my necessary files. Still later, I returned to using Macs at a different school, though they had only a few stuck in a separate room away from the main computer lab. For home, however, the Macs always remained out of reach financially and so I stayed on the PC bandwagon even as my friends and colleagues embraced the Macs and subsequent products with gusto.

When it came time to get a laptop for use while traveling, I considered the Macbook but bought an HP instead, then when it gave out, a Toshiba. I remember going into the Best Buy store with my lame HP laptop, hoping to get it repaired. As I waited, I wandered over to the big Apple display to have a look. A salesman there asked me if I were interested in their latest product. I could have made the perfect TV commercial for Apple by what I replied: "That's all right, I'm just here to get my PC repaired."

The iPod attracted me, a music aficionado, yet as less-expensive copy devices became available, I opted for those. The iPhone has more features than I would know what to do with, plus I already had a cell phone. I thought the iPad was cool yet I bought a Netbook. The iPad2, or whatever the official name is, further attracts me, yet as long as my Netbook is working I don't feel the need to go with my fanciful side and dive into the Apple barrel.

I've never had anything against Apple, its products, or its founder Steve Jobs. I admired it all from afar. I've cheered their success, loved their advertising, smiled at controversies. I was an Apple/Mac wannabe. There was a certain cachet, a smugness, perhaps, in the users of Apple products, particularly in my early encounters, that I did not want to be a part of. Although I never felt particularly cool or comfortably a part of the crowd of PC users (or usees, in the more accurate vernacular), I was set early onto a path I felt I could not easily extricate myself from. And so much of my life has passed by as I waited for the right moment to make my move and join the 21st century.

Now, as if seeing my life pass before my eyes, founder Steve Jobs has passed away. We are close to the same age, close enough that I feel sad and awkward and find something missing in my world that wasn't missing a few days ago. I went out to eat dinner between a day at school and an evening of grading student papers. At the next table was a woman using an iPad2, the new, skinny thing that looks like half a placemat, something so delicate and fragile I'd be afraid to actually use it. I know how clumsy I am, after all.

The timing of all of this is not significant, yet I want to get something before it is too late for me. A major era in technology may have just ended, yet so much continues without diminishment. You can find elsewhere on the Internet lists of things Steve Jobs has done, foreseen, visualized, and made happen. My recent involvement in the Steampunk movement (where what's old is new again) makes the contrast all the more clear. And so, without further adieu, and having no other motive, I am on my way to make a purchase. I want something that will continue without diminishment, something that will keep me young.

29 September 2011

Are you easily impressed by technology?

It is September 29, 2011. Do know where your technology is?

I have discovered that, beyond all reasonable expectations, it is possible to teach an old dog a new trick. The hard part was finding an old dog. Especially one willing to learn a new trick. Then there is the issue of the trick. What might be suitable?

In my case, I learned how to create new pages on my Blogger blog (this one). So I made some new pages, one for each of my novels. I count the ones that are in some stage of the publication process. Two have been accepted and are on the assembly line, two others are tentatively accepted pending approval of the full manuscript, and one is my "baby"--the one through which I hope to grasp eternity. You can check them out (i.e., read what I have put on each page, not visit your library; they aren't that ready yet).

Thought you'd want to know. Not everyone, of course, will be easily impressed by my technological prowess, but someone might. Thus, I decided to post about it. I like when things go my way. It doesn't happen too often, which is all the more reason to celebrate. Tonight I shall drink until drunk, eat until satiated, and sleep the sleep of the dead. Tomorrow I shall learn something new.

26 September 2011

Is this a Hacker Trick or has Facebook gone Mad?

Moments ago I posted this on my Facebook page - yes, after finally getting back in!

For some inexplicable reasons known probably only to Mr. Zuckerberg's assistant's sister's ex-lover's grandfather's dog that channels some ancient Greek hero, I was barred from my page unless I offered up my phone number. Since I never gave Facebook any phone number, it would not have matched anyway. So I was offered, hours later, the opportunity to identify the pictures of my friends. Because I do not routinely peruse the albums of my business associates I have no idea how their children or pets, houses or vacation destinations look. Too many wrong selections and I was booted again. No problem, I did my proper work for my day job. Back again, more pictures to i.d., but I was given enough that I could identify and here I am!

(Along with great [that should be "great"] new changes, comes another round of security checks and the usual paranoia. Have a back-up plan, techies. The day will come when things won't work and you will be alone in the dark.)

    • Stephen Swartz ‎(And...I got a message pop up that said that the reason for the security check, in part, was to be sure everyone had only 1 page. I suppose with the new list feature, there is no longer any need to have a page for your family and a page for your perversions. Just so you know....)

Earlier today, I posted this bit of text, ranting about the misunderstanding I and Facebook were having:

Hey Everybody,

I thought I'd ask: Have you gotten a box pop up when you logged on to Facebook that asks you to log on again and when you click on it to log in AGAIN it asks for your phone number? I am not allowed to proceed until I give a phone number. I remember FB always hassling me to give a phone number "in case I forget my password" but I never forget my password.

I'm wondering if this is a hacker/spammer thing to get people's phone number. The explanation "Facebook" gives is that they want to assure that everyone has only one page.

Anyway, I have 3 pages: one for family/relatives, one for grad school friends, and one as author (plus my fan page). This has appeared on one but not yet on the others.

Let the world know I am locked out until I hand over my precious phone number. (I'm not going to give up my phone number because nobody needs to know that unless I want a call from them.)

Have a nice day!

NOW...in the alternative...Facebook wants me to identify my friends by their pictures...THEN it shows me pictures of their vacation destinations...no people!

I can't imagine how those who have thousands of friends can identify every picture shown.

The point, obviously, is that it is simply easier to give up your phone number to the global community, thereby sacrificing yet another bunch of numbers to corporate marketing, hackers and spammers, and stalkers.

All is calm now...but there is, like the urge to attend to the bathroom, always tomorrow!

19 September 2011

Color by any other Name would be . . . Music

It has come to my attention that not all blogs are created equal. Equality can never be assured if design templates are employed. Someone somewhere will always have the same look. One thing that can be changed, that also will have great impact (so say the soothsayers), is to change the color scheme of the blog pages. (Another change is to have short paragraphs, so...)

I've read on someone's blog page (I'll update the link when I relocate it, thanks!) that readers prefer dark text on light background - rather than what I had: light text on dark background. Thus, forevermore (quothe my raven), shall I use dark text on light background.

This becomes relevant in several ways. First, I make my readers happy, even though no-one has complained about the color scheme. Second, I may yet draw in more readers, those who might have initially been tempted to peek at a scrumptious headline's promising titillation. Third, I am able to satisfy my boredom with the existing color scheme, which has been on tap now for more than a year. And lastly, I am able to fulfill the goal of adding yet another blog post for the month of September.

This last item may yet prove to be the most significant reason. But I digress - even before I regress.

As this blog was birthed chiefly to shout to the world the existence of another world henceforth dubbed The Dream Land and procured and packaged into a trilogy of textual elements, known commonly as The Dream land trilogy, it seems appropriate, and not without some representative jollity, that a pertinent sampling of the same be offered here. It's a passage relating to color, light, and music.

In the first volume of The Dream Land (Book I: Long Distance Voyager), our heroes, two geeky high school sweethearts dabbling in quantum physics out at an abandoned quarry one summer, discuss the way music is actually sound, which is actually light, the manipulation of which could cause the fabric of the universe to tear. One portion reads thus:

Gina got him worked up thinking of the Theory. Now she was laughing at him, telling him it was a joke!  But here were the notebooks filled margin to margin with equations, charts, graphs—everything to prove her correct.  And she was not interested.  She wanted to continue her carefree college life learning how to treat mental illness with music.
“It’s Music Therapy,” she said firmly, “and it’s a real subject.”
“What does music have to do with anything?” he asked her.  “It’s nice and I enjoy it.  Remember my scholarship?  Yet, despite making life more pleasant, what does it really have to do with anything important in the universe?”
She shook her head, her blond hair tossed by the breeze.
            “You talk about the universe as though it was your own private garden, something you sow and hoe every day,” Gina snapped back.  “Sebastian, you can’t see the damn forest because of all the rotten logs falling on top of you!  Can’t you put the tiniest figures together long enough to see that music is more than some song you hear.  It’s math.  It’s more than math, it’s the rhythm of the spheres.  Planets spin to music, comets shoot to music, suns go nova to music, the whole damn universe is sewn together by a zillion musical strings—like a curtain with interwoven threads.  That’s why we study music—not because it helps us get through our days, but because it makes the entire universe exist!  It’s all connected; it all is—all the same thing.  You know that.  Don’t you?  Take middle-C: its frequency is 558.15 Hertz.  If you double it you get an octave higher, right?  If you double it forty times you get light, specifically the color of light we might call indigo. It’s the same with other notes, with other colors. Play with sound, with the light spectrum, and you’re playing with the universe!”

And there you have it! An excerpt to stimulate your musical sensibilities and brighten your day. May you always be enamored by the colors of your day, the hues of your moods, and the shades of your thoughts, feelings, and words - for they are all the same: light and shadow - colors.

15 September 2011

What's Up with Being Happy on Happy Birthday?

Being Happy on B'day (the repost)

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.

08 September 2011

The Allure of Time Killers

It is now September and I am feeling pressure to post the first blog of the month. Strange sensation, the pull of words! The push of perusers! The tickle of the morning light and how it calls the fingers to the keyboard even before the mind has formed thoughts, translated them into language, and sent them along the neural pathways to the fingertips. And yet...I'm doing it. It is less than an addiction, more than OCD.

These days, it seems, especially now that my so-called day job has exploded into a full-time monstrosity, a certain portion of each day must be spent on connecting to one's myriad electronic venues. There has always been email to check, and the more accounts one has--each for its own nefarious purpose, no doubt--but now there is also Facebook and its multiple personas to monitor and manage, and the same perhaps for MySpace, Tumblr, and other similar "social networking" sites. (I wish I had coined that term; could be making billions off the rights by now!) Plus Twitter--again with several separate accounts. Now there's Google+ which I'm still not sure how to operate. And for writers and readers, there are plenty of sites online such as Goodreads, of which I have recently become a member. I have also joined a site for those interested in Steampunk, a genre or sub-genre (no fights, please) of science-fiction or utopian/dystopian fiction. And don't get me started on all the blogs my friends and a few strangers have created, maintain, and add to often enough, occasionally intriguing or amusing me.

I find myself getting up earlier now than I really need to just to get myself ready for a weekday's normal effort simply to be able to check everything. I need to be sure the world is safe for social networking. I need to be certain that my previous comments have been commented on--or rejected--or, worse, ignored. I shun arguments on Walls--unless I'm right and everyone knows it. I must check that things are happening, that political views are in balance, that social issues are being taken care of by someone, someone other than me. And, for good measure, I usually check them all again, in order or perhaps only the most critical ones, before logging off and leaving for the day's Grand Illusion.

I feel refreshed, confident, relaxed, knowing that I have checked in, that my field of audiences have been informed that I still exist. (Some are no doubt surprised.) Perhaps that fact alone is enough to compel some to socially dismiss the network in favor of the other, older networks: what used to be the visual arena of ideas and entertainment, expanded a thousandfold. Yes, I speak of television, that splintered soul now languishing in the wastelands of electronica, hanging on for dear life with dancers and singers and Hollywood mavens of malevolence, or whatever else can be stood in front of a camera and later mocked. (It's endless, of course.)

And so there remains, for an escape, the ancient art of linguistic scribbles pressed into wood shavings. I refer to the ubiquitous book. Such pleasures I have known with a good book between my hands! Such adventures I have fled the world to enrapture myself in! And still, that paradise, that comfy bed of brain bliss, even that venue is changing! Yes, the sacred objet-d'art is joining the electronic universe! With a few tweaks and more than a few reconsiderations ("Do I really want to say that? Will anyone actually read this?"), any book written today may be sent through the vast airwaves to a handheld mechanical device upon which one's eyes may come to focus for pleasure, perversion, or perhaps a person's private pontification. The possibilities are perfectly pointless.

However, this is not the place (though it may seem to be, being one of those electronic utopias about which I rant) for a discussion of the nature of the newest Age of Books. (No, I'm not cynical; I'm Stephen.)

I must now click the "post" button and make my words part of the universe--praying that someday, some far-away intellectual fool on a far-away world, in some random, slavish moment of silence comes to encounter these words, translate them into ideas, and thereby know that I existed, once upon a very long time ago, a time which was less fairy tale than instructional manual, and closes its eye(s) in delightful calm after a good night's fine contemplation.