26 April 2011

No, wait! There's More!

Once in a while the purveyors of The Dream Land invite other manuscripts to visit. This week's visitor is a novella called After Ilium, named for the actual name of ancient Troy. It's a modern tale, however, of a young man who gets lost, and all of the adventures that follow. It's by the same author as The Dream Land, so enjoy! Here is the first portion of it.

Chapter 1

Rage, O Goddess, sing the rage of Achilles, murderous, doomed, that cost the Achaeans so many losses, who sent down to the House of Death so many sturdy souls, the souls of great warriors, but made their bodies carrion, food for dogs and birds, while the will of Zeus pushes ever to its end....
He was muttering again, he knew.  The words played over and over in his head and he absently repeated them.  Then he opened his eyes, suddenly, as though he expected they might not see.
Alive!  At least I’m alive....
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 began to feel some vibration in the ground 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.
The vehicle that just missed him had a loud, banging engine as it went on down the road, a narrow route that wound along the coastline.  The bus rolled to a halt, its engine sputtering then settling into a more harmonious noise.  He heard the door creak open and some people bound out.  They ran to him, striking up dust which hovered over his body, blocking the sun with their bodies.
The men’s voices were gruff, thickly accented.  Their breaths were heavy as they pulled his broken body out of its spontaneous grave.  They were careful as they laid him on the roadway.  He could no longer open his eyes because of the blinding sun overhead, but he felt one man searching his pockets.  Another dripped water on his face and wiped it away with a grubby, gnarled hand.  Next, a fat finger, with rough skin and a wart, forced his mouth open and water followed—a warm, awful liquid he could not swallow.
Then he was floating, as though angels had come to gather him and take him home.  He kept his eyes tightly shut, feeling the heat of the sun on his face.  Eight hands lifted him into the air.  He levitated over the dirt road, up the slope he had been about to mount before he collapsed, and into the welcome shadow of the bus.  Voices, curious cackles, shot at him from the bus windows, all words he could not recognize.  He was taken aboard, after some anxious discussion in the strange language, and the bus lurched into gear and backfired as it pulled away.
Perhaps, with some good fortune, he might return to his home, even if it took years.  Yet just knowing he was on his way made his heart burn with hope.  As his body fell limp against the floor of the bus, his lips, cracked and bleeding, twisted uncontrollably into a thankful grin, a silly mask he could not control.

“Your name?” came the voice outside the bandages, shaking him back to consciousness.
He wasn’t asleep, but he didn’t know exactly where he was, either, not being able to look out at the world.  Feeling the bed beneath him and the scent of medicines around him, he guessed he was in a hospital or clinic.  He took in a deep breath, pulling himself into more alertness, and tried to clear his head.  Things did not feel right.
His first act was to see if his jaw would move.  It wouldn’t—or, barely would.
“It’s wired,” came the answer to his unspoken question.  “You can speak, yes?”
He tried again.  He could move his jaw, he discovered, but the sudden shot of pain warned him not to do it again.  Concerned, he raised his head off the pillow and felt all of the blood rush out of his brain, and fell back.
“It’s on this side, by your ear,” the man’s voice explained, and Alex felt a fingertip lightly tap his jaw.  “It will heal.”
He wanted to say something, like “Thanks,” but he feared the pain of opening his mouth.
“Your name?” the man repeated.
“A—lex,” he managed after some time testing how much pain he could endure.  The name sounded familiar.
Aleksa?  Ah, like El-Xandar, the Macedon, yes?”  The voice laughed.
He didn’t know what the man was talking about at first.  Gradually he understood that he shared his name with Alexander the Great, who had in 334 B.C. conquered this region of the world, leading an army of 10,000 at the age of twenty.  He just knew it, he realized.  It had been part of his Senior Seminar, a few weeks ago.  He should have been out conquering something, instead of only writing about it.  Instead, he was lost in Turkey, he recalled as if waking from a dream, and the land seemed to have conquered him.
“Where...?” he whispered.
“This, aaa, Edremit Hospital,” the man answered.  “You American?”
Alex could not answer, too afraid and too much in pain.  He did not know of any town named Edremit.
“You are lucky boy.”
Alex didn’t feel so lucky.  Why was this man he couldn’t see asking him such stupid questions?  He started to go off on the litany of his lucky breaks: the cool summer jobs at CyberAmerica, being high school salutatorian, getting into a good college, the Webber scholarship, vice-president of his fraternity, getting a first date with Suzie Olmeyer, their sexual episodes.  None of them were due to luck, he argued in the voice of his proud parents; it was his hard work, his dedication—
“You alive, yes?” the man interrupted.
Alex wasn’t sure about that, but he would take the stranger’s word for it.  He felt too much pain to think for himself.  For now, he could not see who he was speaking to, but he assured himself the man must be the doctor who bandaged his wounds.  He tried to smile, not with his mouth and jaw, his lips and straight teeth, but with his mind and spirit hidden beneath the bandage that covered his eyes.  From inside his fortress he could regroup and prepare to continue the campaign.
He listened to the man exit, detecting amusement in his voice.
Campaign? thought Alex, his head feeling heavy.  What the heck was he doing on a campaign?  He had already finished college, he told himself.  No more homework, no more tests.  Stop all this history stuff, he ordered himself.  It was one thing to be interested enough in something to study it and achieve a degree in the subject, but it was very different to infuse one’s daily life with everything learned in four years of college.  No-one who might hear him would understand anyway, he decided, remembering he had been touring the site of ancient Troy when he lost his way.  A degree in ancient history?  What good was that?
Alex tried to sit up, wanting to get some assurance from the medical staff that he was not dreaming.  A sharp bolt of agony shot across his cheeks.  The dull ache behind his eyes exploded into a sharp stabbing pain that sliced down his neck to the small of his back.  He froze.  Then screamed—using a mouth which could only mutter a moment before.  He was not dreaming.
The doctor rushed in.  He had a nurse give Alex an injection which left his head swimming and his body numb.
“You are bad boy, yes?” the doctor grilled him, almost with a chuckle.
Alex wondered what he meant.
“You have bad fall?” the doctor asked him, and burst into a snickering laughter than made Alex feel very uneasy, even as he slipped into a relaxed stupor.
If by ‘fall’ the doctor meant physically, like down a well, then no.  But a fall from grace, perhaps?  That was not out of the question.  If only he could speak to the doctor—to anybody.
Alex was conscious enough now to fear his present circumstances.  He wanted to speak whole paragraphs to them, not just one or two grunt responses.  If he could just make them all understand what happened to him, maybe someone could do something.  He did not belong here, he would confess.  Right now, in his pain and fear and confusion, he simply wanted to go home.
It was not his fault, Alex wanted them all to know.  He was not clumsy.  He had not fallen down a well, as the doctor had supposed.  He could not trip over a small rock and land face first into a ditch.  He was certainly smart enough to not walk in front of a bus.  Filled with anger, Alex could not relax, and that made him continue to feel pain.  The drug was weak, he decided.  He still felt pain, lots and lots of pain.  But even as he tested the threshold for pain tolerance, he began to understand that much of the pain he felt was not from his body but from the wounds to his spirit.
Now, nearly immobilized in his sweat-soaked hospital bed in a stale room with no air conditioning, Alex did not believe he was going to survive.  The sickening perfume of the medicines and ointments, along with the spicy, greasy Turkish food being handed out to each patient, made him conjure an eerie world where the gods and mortals continued playing their mythic games.  The ho-humness of the staff, and the chuckling of his doctor, whom he was forced to rely on for any communication, made him think he was on his way down to Hades to mingle with its zombie-like hordes.  The doctors and nurses who came and went seemed like denizens of the Underworld to him, faceless voices, touching him at random.  In his mind, they condensed from an opaque gray background, as though stepping on stage, and after making their case for his injuries, just as fluidly coalesce with the background.
His mind was racing, spinning out of control as the drugs took effect and wore off and were injected again.  How many days had it been since he had set out to visit Ilium, the site of the ten-year siege of Troy?  It was three thousand years earlier, yet this dusty, dried-out, strangely fragrant land with its exotic charms and hidden dangers was the same.
And what alarmed him most about his situation and the state he had come to was his realization that they had both begun with a woman named Helen.

Chapter 2

When he had awakened on the first morning of the cruise, Alex had looked out of his porthole, which sat just above the waterline, and immediately had visions of the oars of the Achaeans’ boats plying across the blue waters toward the shores of Asia Minor.  All for a woman.  Was it worth it? he pondered on the bright, golden morning he set out from Piraeus aboard the gleaming white cruise ship Aegean Princess.  He was thinking about his own adventure, not that of the ancient Greeks.

21 April 2011

Endless Possibilities, Limitless Potential

In the winsome world of fantasy, everyone can be a star. You can be whatever you wish: a unicorn, a fairy, a demon, a five-legged space alien with fifty-five fangs, an all-too innocent human being (homo sapiens sapiens ordinarius), or even a rusty old machine, a meat-eating plant, a square red rock, or vapor.

Given the wide range of possibilities, why is it that none have so far decided to take the plunge and accept my offer of immortality (see previous posting: 14 April 2011)? (Did you think I meant "immorality"?)

Sure, the uncertainty factor is great.

For assisting the Author in connecting with publication-advancing personnel, the Author will incorporate the help-mate into the story of The Dream Land III: Diaspora (in which our hero and friends assist an ignorant population in escaping their world as an approaching comet threatens to destroy it). Is that so bad?

One might wonder of the fate of such a fictional incorporation. The Author has promised not to kill off the character (you will survive the comet!), and the Author hereby promises not to show the character in any unfavorable, humiliating, degradating, or embarrassing manner or situation. Neither will the Author force the character into any unsavory relationship or require any particularly disgusting behavior, including the eating and drinking of certain unappetizing yet common gustatorial items of Ghoupallesz.

Heck, you can even choose a pseudonym, if you wish! Instead of John or Mary, you could be Samot or Sammu (fully acceptable Ghoupallean names).

So, come on down and make a deal. You could be famous. You could be in a novel on a shelf near you.

Imagine! You could take your friends and family there and point to the book on the shelf, then take it into your hands and turn to, say, chapter thirteen, and begin reading how the protagonist, one Set-d'Elous, meets you in a bar and buys you a drink in exchange for your tale of woe--or tale of joy. You decide. Won't everyone be amazed? You...in a book...acting and speaking...and living forever on paper--or in bits and bytes in the ebook version.

Think of the possibilities!

(PS--The above was written tongue-in-cheek and fingers-on-keyboard but the request for introductions, suggestions, recommendations, etc. is entirely genuine. Thanks for your support.)

14 April 2011

Exciting New Offer!

Dear Gentlereader,

I just had a thought, for anyone who may be in such a position to take advanatage of my idea. It's kind of like a silent auction but louder.

I am currently in the process of researching agents to sell and editors to buy my science-fiction series popularly known as The Dream Land trilogy. You've seen exerpts here and there on the internet, including this bloggish thing. As a trilogy, of course, there are three volumes. I will confirm here and now that Books I and II are finished, even finished editing, and are ready to go to press in my humble opinion--of course, an editor might say, "It's a fine first draft!"

Anyway, here's the deal: Why not be a good friend or fan and help me out? I welcome suggestions, links, recommendations, introductions, etc. to both agents and editors/publishers. All who deal with sci-fi are welcome. Also, there is the catch that I am an "unpublished" author (though I have published a few stories and poetry in literary journals, as well as some scholarly publications in my academic field). So send me info!

Please use the comment section to this post (below) or send to my email address: dreamlandtrilogy@gmail.com

(It goes without saying--but I'll say it anyway: please do not get any spam started.)

And what do you get in return?

If your suggestion or link or introduction leads to a deal--or, even perhaps to a request for a full manuscript (seems fair enough at this point), I will add you as a character in Book III of The Dream Land; it will be a good character, probably of the sidekick kind, or a chance encounter with a minor character. But you will be in the scene! One whole scene, minimum. I will be happy to use your real name or a pseudonym of your choice. And your character will not be killed off.

Sound like fun? Hope so! Thanks in adavance for any and all assistance in bringing this tale of interdimensional intrugue to a shelf and/or ebook download near you!

Stephen Swartz

06 April 2011

The Deep Dark Secret Truth

If I wrote a compelling title then you are reading this sentence, most likely. Just had the idea of revealing something that has never before been known by anyone. There isn't a closet big enough for this secret. I'm talking about revealing for the first time the deep dark origins of The Dream Land trilogy's origins!

* * *

The science-fiction series began as a YA story, safely innocent for adolescents. It was a tale of a boy who was visited one day by "aliens"--though they were not called such back then. The aliens resembled mice--or, perhaps, the hamster he once had as a pet. In actuality, the boy was me and I was not actually visited by alien mice. Well, that's one of the secrets. What that boy did do was to take some pipe cleaners and yarn and make some play creatures that looked like mice: clawed feet, fuzzy bodies, tiny ears sticking up out of their fur, and a yarn tail. Evolution caused them to gain clawed hands and lose the tails. The boy's mother told him that his story was like one she had read long ago: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. The boy had never read it--and refuses to do so today as an adult, chiefly for political purposes--because he feared people would say he was just copying the idea.

As the boy grew, he kept the story secret, lest anyone steal his idea or accuse him of stealing someone else's idea. And as he grew into a high school student, the alien mice further evolved into human-like beings, though still small in stature, something akin to child-sized adults. They described their world and explained all of their customs, and this allowed the boy to create maps of their world and flags of their nations. He was even able to design football helmet logos for their football teams--which was certainly a shocking development inasmuch as they did not play the sport on their world.

And speaking of their world, the boy-turned-teenager somehow heard the name incorrectly from the alien mice visitors, something like "Gupal"; he used the word to indicate the visitors themselves ("I played with the Gupals all afternoon.") and their planet ("My friends all came from the planet Gupal.") and so on. In high school, however, as the teenager was becoming more widely read (but never The Hobbit!) he began to decypher the language of his Gupal friends. His more sophisticated understanding of linguistics allowed him to be more correct, more precise in his construction of the language. Thus, "Gupal" became the significantly cooler word "Ghoupalle" and the planet whence his companions originated became "Ghoupallesz" and their language "Ghoupallean."

Then, one dark and stormy night, a story began. Home for Christmas from his job teaching English in Japan--after high school, after college, after a few years working at a dead end job (during which he continued to develop the world and its features, including beginning a bright colorful new map series and creating dictionaries of Ghoupallean and other languages of the world)--he had a dream. He had long wanted to tell the story of his Ghoupalle friends and their adventures, of course, but as the boy turned into an adult, his interests also changed. Now the adventures of Ghoupallesz consisted of political intrigue, wars, magic, and sex. There was no longer a YA planet to write about. Prior to that dream--of course, that is the origin of the series title!--he had been looking for a starting point to get into the story, a story he already was expecting to be a series of books, each about a separate adventure.

In that dream, he saw a Zetin maiden riding the kind of horse-like creature (the "Jepe") that they have on Ghoupallesz, high in the mountains (well, that's where Zetin people live, as opposed to the Ghoupalle people living down along the coast) and she caught him watching her. The image stuck. Back in Japan, he set out to write the story, beginning with that scene on the mountain. That was something new, he realized, something that was not part of the adventures of the earlier mice-like Gupals. Instead, he was inventing new adventures...which eventually allowed him to introduce the "original" story, not of alien mice visiting a boy on Earth but of a well-intended teenager and his girlfriend finding a portal, an invisible doorway, through which they stumbled quite serendipitously to discover a new world.

Thus began The Dreamland. It was completed in 1993 and was sent out to a few agents and editors, who all rejected it. Although a couple of them added handwritten notes of encouragement, one even saying it was "well-crafted," all believed the protagonist was not sympathetic. Because the protagonist was based on the teenager-turned-adult himself, that hurt. So he set about recrafting the story to make the hero more likeable, and more distinct from the author. Since the hero suffers from many tragedies in the course of his adventures, the tragic qualities of the hero needed to be introduced at the beginning. But how does one get to know a character who is aloof, quiet, private, and solitary? Have his co-workers talk about him, speculate about his life, and even tease him!

As the rewriting was continuing, another heartbreaking discovery was made: The Dreamland was already being used as the title of a sci-fi book about Area 51, the infamous location of alien crash victims. So he reluctantly changed the title to The Dream Land--which meant changing that phrase everywhere it appeared in the novel. Instead of the characters saying Ghoupallesz was the Dreamland, they had to say, in order to be politically correct, Ghoupallesz was the Dream Land. It was a big hassle. But he finished a major edit of the novel and was so excited that he rushed right into the next novel: The Dream Land II

The second book picked up right where the first ended: Did our hero safely escape back to Ghoupallesz through the portal, or did he actually catch a bullet from the pursuing police and fall into a coma? Fifty or so single-spaced pages in and he ground to a halt. A plot conundrum (after the hero awakens from his coma) stopped him cold. He was becoming busy with other matters of an adult life, anyway, and eventually the second book--and the first book--were left to languish on a dusty shelf somewhere in his computer. 

The boy-turned-adult went away to graduate school and became a professor who was tasked with teaching college students how to write essays and research papers. He still enjoyed creative writing--had even picked up an MFA degree by producing a slew of short stories with contemporary settings, and a thesis consisting of a literary novel about a doomed romance. So he encouraged his students to write whatever they were interested in, something about their lives. One student showed him a story that superficially reminded the boy-turned-professor of his Dream Land story. Not too much, however, just enough to cause the professor to be curious and search for it on his computer. He read through what he had written, then continued writing. The plot conundrum that had stopped him almost 10 years earlier now was cleared. He marched on to the end of the novel--all the while conducting research and writing his Ph.D. dissertation.

That brings us, humbly, up to the present era. When the second book was happily completed, he rushed forward into the third book. Being busier than ever before with life, and all its coquettish foibles, he has turned now to trying once again to deal with a publishing world that has changed so dramatically he no longer recognizes it, nor knows what to do to get the first two books published. Good friends and their advice have helped and the encouragement provided has sustained him. The portal still exists, however, and as the hero of The Dream Land ages, he has taken on a protege who can lead readers through the third novel of the series and perhaps into a fourth book. The universe is endless, after all--at least, according to the rules of the Dream Land. Imagination is the key...and the map...and the compass!

For additional information about The Dream Land trilogy, you may enjoy visiting this page: 
The-Dream-Land-Trilogy on Facebook

04 April 2011

Switching POV

There is one thing that writers hate. I am a writer and I hate it, so I think it must apply the same way for other writers.  The overhaul edit.  That seems an appropriate word for it.  This form of edit requires the writer to go through the entire manuscript, making the same minor changes over and over, which will have a major effect on the final version.  It is something akin to producing a brand new manuscript.

In my case, I am converting from first-person to third-person limited.  In my literary novel, A BEAUTIFUL CHILL, I have split the story between two protagonist's point of view.  His side is in normal third-person and her side, because she has a unique voice that I wanted to get into the story, is in first-person.  I couched her first-person accounts as journal writing and talking with a counselor, or simply thinking her thoughts. Because the female character has certain issues that are the result of her particular experiences, experiences of a rather negative mieu, some readers have taken exception with my portrayal of her.

One comment that I read on an agent's blog--not something which was ever posted in relation to this novel--was advice not to write a female character from first-person unless you are one.  The same advice did not seem to apply to female authors writing male characters from first-person; perhaps men are so transparent that anyone can effectively write the man's POV. Anyway, I decided to try writing a new first chapter, completely new in style and also in third-person. I liked it.  Others thought it more powerful, more compelling. So I decided to proceed with the overhaul edit.

Half the chapters are from her POV, which meant that half the book needed to be converted.  It was not simply a matter of changing pronouns.  I also had to change verb forms to match the changed subjects of the sentences.  And other problems quickly became apparent, too.  I could not easily include her thoughts; I had to add "she thinks" a lot (I chose to keep her chapters in "present" tense, though much of the text has her recalling what has recently happened so those are in past-tense).  Eventually, I found an easy way to introduce her thoughts: I let her use her word "ja" to open a passage of reflection or analysis.

Here are two passages, to show the difference . . . .

The Original Version:

I hear the branch of the big walnut tree outside my window tapping on the pane and I awaken suddenly, “with a fright” my mother used to say. The end of a week of pain has left me with a painful dream, and with a moment more to recognize where I am—still in my room, in my bed—I understand where I was—back in Iceland, on a hillside above Akureyri, in another life.

When I was nine or so, Magnús led me up through the pasture to see a newborn calf on his brother’s farm. We hiked the green slopes, dividing the sheep as we went. I wore my red boots with the silver buckles, a birthday gift Heiðr had brought from Reykjavík. My slicker was bright yellow and often hot so I hated to wear it, but since it was a cool, damp day, my father insisted. The silver pendant with runes carved around the rim and the five-pointed star at its center, usually hidden under my shirt from my Lutheran mother, bounced freely against my chest. On that day, and in my dream, Magnús wore his usual britches-and-braces, a dull orange anorak, and his blue sailor cap with the white brim. He looked ungainly on land, taking unsteady steps with his bowed legs, steps that took him increasingly farther from the fjörður and through a land thick with the spring grasses, full of blossoming wildflowers, and dwarf birches that clustered alongside a creek.

The New Version:

The branch of the walnut tree outside the window taps furiously against the pane and Íris awakens. Another bad dream.

The old house she lives in, the bike ride to campus each day, the pressure of competition, the paintings she tries to finish—or start—everything at Fairmont College is different than she expected. It is a Master’s program, she reminds herself, and with a year already completed she must push herself to create more works for the graduate exhibition, a showing that she must rely on to get more commission work or a teaching position somewhere.

After only two hours of sleep, she sits up, feeling the dream still hanging on her like a shadow. She was not in her bed, not in the long, narrow room that is hers, not in the large Victorian house she shares with six other students. She was back in Iceland, on a hillside above her hometown of Akureyri.

Magnús was leading her up through the pasture to see a newborn calf—just as he had done when she was ten. They hiked the green slopes, dividing the sheep. She wore her red boots with the silver buckles, a birthday gift Heiðr had brought back from Reykjavík. She wore the bright yellow slicker only because it was a cool, damp day and her father insisted. The silver pendant her father gave her bounced under her shirt, hidden from her Lutheran mother. Magnús wore his usual britches-and-braces, a dull orange anorak, and his blue sailor cap with the white brim. He looked ungainly on land, taking unsteady steps with his bowed legs through a land thick with the spring grasses, blossoming wildflowers, and dwarf birches that clustered alongside a creek.

To get the same information across requires some flexibility and even some subtle manipulation.  Since we are outside of her head in the new version, we need to decide whether or not to include some of the information or, if it must be included, how to convey it in a believable manner. In these excerpt examples there is also the problem of verb tenses. The original version starts in the present but not in present-tense, then shifts to past tense as she recounts her dream. In the new version, because I am using present-tense instead of normal storytelling past tense, it is a little more complicated.

Also, as the opening paragraphs of the chapter, and because I wrote a new first chapter in a different time and place, I needed to add some sentences to re-introduce her in her new setting. That results in a lengthening of the text compared to the original.

I have continued this kind of conversion and am now close to the end. This round I am converting pronouns and verb tenses, with some minor editing of other sentences, especially to convey thoughts in third-person that used to be in first-person. I will then go through the manuscript again to smoothe the text out and make sure it flows well in its new form. As I recently told a colleague, this is the rough cutting; next is the polishing.

If you wish to compare more, here are the links:

original opening chapters

new chapter 1 in 3rd person

01 April 2011

T. G. I. Friday

Judgment Day: Process essays are due!

Come on, how difficult is it to type out 5+ paragraphs on how to do something? A half-hour to draft, maybe 5 more to run spellchecker, print. This has been a 2 week project...so far, dear students of mine!

Cynically conflicted. If I get a lot of papers, there goes my weekend--but I feel validated as a writing teacher. If I don't get papers I have the week for my own writing/editing--but I'll feel depressed as a teacher.
A typical Friday conundrum.