18 May 2011

New World, Old Idea

New worlds have always existed - or they've been perpetually in a state of being discovered - ever since science-fiction was invented. Now it's true again. Even scientists are satisfied that this time they've stumbled upon a world that is actually inhabitable. Rudimentarily liveable. Don't believe me? (Fiction writers are prone to lying.) Then check out these stories:




Of course, I knew it could not actually be Ghoupallesz, the planet featured in The Dream Land trilogy - I know it to be about 100 light years from Earth, give or take. But this is not a bad find. Twenty light years is doable. Traveling at a quarter of the speed of light, you have an 80 year journey. That's only one human lifetime. Cut that in half (traveling slower) and you have 160 years or about 5 generations living it up on a big spaceship from Carnival. You've read it in Arthur C. Clark and Clifford D. Simik stories (and plenty of others) and seen it depicted more recently in that animated flick Wall-E. So it may truly be possible to leave this world once we succeed in making it uninhabitable.

So start packing! It's not too soon.

13 May 2011

On the Naming of Names

I started writing before I could spell. I drew pictures in sequence like a comic strip. They weren't very funny, however. Eventually I was writing short, multi-paragraph tales of similar (cartoonish) material. I was big on illustrating standard jokes. Then, as my world enlarged year by year and stories lengthened page by page (those were the days of typewriters), I began to consider the Big Question: 

What name would I use as an author?

Perhaps that is not what most elementary school pupils have as their most pressing matter of importance. But it was mine. By the time I was in what we called junior high school, I was reading mostly science fiction and fantasy, as well as the classics of English literature and world literature translated into English. I was not a bookworm; rather, I was a book caterpillar. The authors I read had such wonderful names: Roger Zelazny, Robert Silverberg. Isaac Asimov, Miguel de Cervantes, Feodor Dostoevsky, Heinrich von Kleist, and so on. But I did not like my name.

Stephen Swartz. Two strikes. With my middle name (not to be repeated here), it was three strikes. I did not like Bible stuff to begin with, so having names from that book irritated me. When I learned that "Stephen" was the guy who got stoned (as in having rocks thrown at him, not smoking marijuana), I shuddered at using the name. That it was from Greek and meant "crown" did little to inspire me, either. My surname Swartz was a good German name that was conveniently misspelled at Ellis Island. The correct spelling would probably be: Schwarz. It means "black"--the color, or dark in general. Having ancestors from the Black Forest in southwest Germany (where the trees grew so close together they blocked out the sun, is what my grandmother told me) helped explain it--and I was always explaining it to everyone who mispronounced it or deliberate misspoke it by way of an insult. Swartz- Shorts - Sports - Snorts, and Warts.

So I embraced the Pseudonym, or pen name. What shall I be called? I liked the sound of foreign words, especially after I tried to teach myself Russian from an old Berlitz book. For a while I used the pen name Boris Khivitikov.  Briefly, the more exotic Krum Kiram.  As I began creating the world of Ghoupallesz, I borrowed some native names. Then I tried the unwieldy Stefan von Schwarz. I considered using initials, too. Soon it dawned on me that if I used some pen name, nobody who knew me would believe I had written the books with those names. I could not simply stand in a book store and point at a book "by Boris Khivitikov" and expect anyone to believe Boris and me were the same.

Therefore, I gradually learned to live with my names, and to accept the names given to me by my parents, the people least able to anticipate my adult naming needs. Stephen Swartz it is and, I guess, shall always be. I might flip the middle initial in there for one genre or the other that I write, just for show. Either way, I've always preferred the title to outshine the author name on book covers. It is the story that is all-important, not the feeble, innocent human (or elf, ogre, warrior, lackey, etc.) who pens it, copying furiously as the Muses whisper in his ear, lucky to catch even half of it all.

10 May 2011

Belated Mother's Day Blahhhhg

I almost missed the ubiquitous Mother's Day blog post, what I lovingly refer to as the blahhhhg. The day came a week early this year--just as easter came a couple weeks later than usual. However, after being quite busy with finishing the semester, going to final concerts, etc., I eventually got around to calling Mom. Instead of the sound of her voice I got a recorded message saying the number had been changed. My own mother changes her number and doesn't tell me. Well, maybe that was the point. As an only child it is especially painful. Long story short, too many prank phone calls caused them to change the number (No, none of those calls were from me.) and the ever-present gremlin named "Ill-get-to-it" tricked her so completely. The ruse lasted a week. I did, by today, finally tell her to have a happy day--belatedly but with correct grammar.

I also mentioned to her that this past week I seemed to have established some kind of future for a book that I wrote--although not the science-fiction tome this blog is designed to enhance. Yes, I also write "literary fiction," a form of storytelling that is generally contemporary and true to life, typically relationship tales and such. My entry is a novel titled A Beautiful Chill, about which I have devoted a few blog posts in the past. (Here) and (Here, too). It seems important now to mention it, so I am. Because I struggle to balance my cocky, overly confident side with my humble, modest side as a writer, I am walking a fine line in this post.

If I were to dream of success as a writer of fiction (I did try that as a writer of poetry and fell short), this is the novel I would hold up as the example of my best writing. Part of that is due to the subject matter of the book, which lends itself to a certain style which might be called aloof, disinterested, haughty, distant. When dealing with the creation and manipulation of two protagonists it seemed the best way to proceed.

Though it is, by definition, fully fictional, I have like most writers borrowed liberally from the environment surrounding me. That is, the setting in the novel approximates the setting of the place in real life. The characters in the novel are smashed compilations of several real people I encountered when writing the novel. (Send an SASE for the breakdown of characters by real life person.) Much research was conducted--as much, I felt, as for the dissertation I would later write on composition and identity--and incorporated into the minds, motives, and behavior of the two lead characters: a free-spirited female artist born in Iceland and nearly ruined in the strip clubs of Toronto, and a stodgy male English professor who wishes to break out of his conservative life. They struggle to find a balance in their awkwardly realized relationship. Opposites attract, people say, but the other half is that they seldom can stay together. A Beautiful Chill explores this concept in touchingly lean prose and alternating perspectives.

I just wanted to post something about my literary novel A Beautiful Chill. Now I shall return to the other side and continue dabbling in hysterical hyperbole. Thank you very much.

02 May 2011

Fantasize Reality

I know it's Monday morning, the Monday following a wild weekend of world events.

First the Royal Wedding, all the pomp and circumstance, the photography, and the fashion gurus debating fabric and jewels. Then the kiss and speculation about the family jewels, the mansion, and what ever shall we do the rest of our lives since we don't actually have to do much anyway talk.

Now we have reports that the most heinous henchman of the past decade has been killed. Grainy video and sincere spokesmen, speeches and genuine pictures straight off the Photoshop floor. Proof drowned in a burial at sea. No martyr here, so keep moving.

But seriously! There's a lot more to life than weekends full of glitz and corpses. Back to work, back to school, back to whatever you want to do. Like poetry (the previous sentence was almost some). Why worry? Everything will be settled by the end of the game. So just sit back and have a drink, contemplate reality as you would fantasize it. Imagine this and that, as some people say.

Everything is fantasy in the final analysis, so just believe. That's all we are expected to do anyway. Believe in the fantasies surrounding us. And smile in rabid delight. There is no man behind the curtain.