27 November 2012

Just a friendly reminder that shopping for ebooks makes great holiday gifts for both your friends and family and to your favorite authors, old and reliable and fresh and new ones alike.

Here is my current offering: AFTER ILIUM, a modern tale of seduction and betrayal and a young man's desperate adventure on the wild Turkish coast. 

Alex Parris has been fascinated by the Trojan War all his life, but when he meets the seductive Eléna on a cruise to Turkey, he cannot help but see the two of them as a modern Helen and Paris. However, following seduction in Istanbul and their tour to the ruins of Ilium, Alex is forced to fight his way back to his lover—if he can find her, and if the rugged Turkish coast doesn’t kill him first.

Coming soon is the first volume of my science-fiction trilogy, THE DREAM LAND. The first book is titled Long Distance Voyager (named for a Moody Blues album). It's the adventures of a pair of high school sweethearts who discover a doorway to another world and learn to not only fit in but eventually dominate that new world. The problems they face, however, are the struggle to rescue each other, back and forth between Earth and the world of Ghoupallesz. It's a story of interdimensional intrigue, alien romance, and history shifting indolence marbled with layers police procedural and psychological thriller, culminating in the universal question: Where is the line between dream and reality?

Help me choose a cover for the Kindle edition!

A      B

C     D

Or none of the above....

At any rate, much thanks for your support. I hope you enjoy AFTER ILIUM and THE DREAM LAND trilogy (as well as my literary fiction A BEAUTIFUL CHILL, AIKO, and YEAR OF THE TIGER coming in the next year or so) because I write first and foremost to entertain, and if you are able to escape into a fictional world I create, even for a short time, I smile long into the night!

(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.

20 November 2012

Time Traveling on Turkey Day

If thou requirest a Thanksgiving-related post, clicketh thee here!

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

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

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

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

Time shifting in fiction is necessarily complicated--more so in reality. Even the Author is sometimes confused. Writers typically (or so I've heard) write out far more information than gets into the book. The author needs to understand deeper layers, perpendicular story lines, and unconscious motivations in order to create a compelling, plausible story. That does not mean the reader needs to see all of the bars and braces beneath the facade, of course. The same with time. 

The Author of The Dream Land trilogy tries desperately to cheat. He has created a detailed timeline across several papers--with many cross-outs and arrows indicating changes in that timeline. Going through the manuscript as editor, the time shifting becomes even more problematic: the Author wishes readers to be able to follow the story yet does not want to hit readers over the head with a calendar on every page. Appropriate time cues are thus given in characters' dialog, the expository passages, and, if absolutely impossible to avoid, as numerals denoting years.

The rebellion, revolution, annexation, and wars occur between the Ghoupalle years 1481 and 1556. Soreg College students Basura-Kanoun and Diert-Gangus marry in 1458, but Set-d'Elous arrives to intervene. After acting, he returns to 1570 to wait for Gina, who is supposed to be passing through town in 1574. The mercenaries, however, must go to 1457 to stop him from stopping Basura-Kanoun. And in one scene in The Dream Land Book II: Dreams of Future's Past our hero "recalls" an adventure he undertakes in 1602, spoken as though it has already passed. Imagine: "I remember, now on this night in 1493, that trip I took way back in 1650," and so on. It plays with the mind.

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

May time be ever on your side!

THE DREAM LAND Book I: Long Distance Voyager
is coming in December 2012 for Kindle!

If thou still requirest a Thanksgiving-related post, clicketh thee here!

(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.

15 November 2012

Crafting the Perfect Title for NaNoWriMo!

Since the beginning of this month I have been hard at work on my NaNoWriMo entry.

I think I now have the title done. I’ve also given some thought to the story. I wrote some background notes on three characters and did some research on the setting. I also checked on some scientific aspects since it is what some would call a “steampunk” story, a story involving an alternate world where steam is the chief means of power, that is.

I began with the idea of a simple, powerful title, like War and Peace, but it was taken. So I went with a “The” title. You know, The Something. I thought it would be mysterious and attract readers. Here is what I came up with:

The Wavering Wizard of the Western Wastes

That seemed too juvenile and since I planned on having sex in this book it would not do to make it attract the YA audience. So I changed it to:

The Western Wastes

However, the impression my Beta readers had was that it was too vague. Wastes, of course, was meant to convey a sense of wilderness, a vast expanse of nothingness. That idea led me to change the title to this:

The Nothingness

Again, Beta readers felt it did not tell enough about the story, so I returned to the drawing board and came up with these possibilities:

The Nothing
The No Thing
The Not Anything
The Almost Barely Something
The Barely Bare Things
The Bare Bears
The Berenstein Bears
The Berensteins
The Baron’s Stein
The Baron
The B-man
The B
The Bee
The Nothing but B

Nothing was working except the nothingness, which seemed rich with possibilities. So I returned to my drawing board and I tried again:

The Something
The Ever-so-light Something
The Ephemeral Something
Something this Way Ephemeral Comes
The Ephemerati
The Everlasting Something
The Thing

Nothing was working--except the nothing part (again!), so I stuck with it and brainstormed more:

The Nothing
The Being and Nothingness
The Being from Nothingness
The B-man from Nottingham
The Nottinghammerite
The Nottinghammerung
Das Nottinghammerung
Das Lied von der Nottinghammerung
Das Lied
The Song
The Song of Something
The Some of All Things
Something of Nothing
Some, None

Then I went minimalist, taking my cue from the NaNoWriMo nickname:


Beta readers hated it, so in a panic I drank a lot and found myself the next morning on a street corner handing out sheets of poetry I’d written during the night on bar napkins. Then it hit me, just before the truck did, the title of my NaNoWriMo novel:

The  Somnambulist

Now I must get to work on the first chapter. Actually, the first page is crucial; even the first paragraph matters so much. However, I shall labor on that first sentence until I get it exactly right, for in the end the beginning matters most!

First draft:

Late one night, Monsieur Emile Dubois went to sleep sitting in a wrought-iron chair outside a closed café on the Rue Morgue and dreamed of Death dancing the tango wearing a pair of pink pajamas spotted with red hearts and clutching a teddy bear with a red ribbon around its neck.

Beat that!

(Good luck to my fellow NaNoWriMoites!)

(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.

06 November 2012

How would your protagonist vote?


For citizens of the United States, today is election day. A president, as well as senators and representatives, and possibly local candidates will be chosen. The campaign process has gone on for a year and I think a lot of people are ready for it to be over. Meanwhile, a lot of support has been shown for candidates of all affiliations, sometimes to the point of media overload, and occasionally resulting in the undoing friendships.

I have tried to fly below the radar and remain publicly neutral. I have my views and my opinions and I think I weigh issues fairly. However, I also know that approximately half of my friends may not agree with me. As someone who is now selling books, I do not want to turn off half of my potential market by foisting my politics out there. If I did, half would agree with me—at least, I estimate—and sales will continue; those who would then disagree would likely refuse to buy.

Beyond the issue of an author’s politics—short of writing a political thriller, say, where politics becomes a crucial factor in the story—comes the politics of fictional characters.

I could be wrong, of course, but I think there is a tendency for authors to make our protagonists reflect the author’s view of the world. That only makes sense; we write about what we know. I suppose an author could wish to advance a certain agenda by portraying a hero in a certain way, have certain experiences which illustrate a certain viewpoint. It’s not much different than all the political ads propagating across our televisions every day.

A clever author, however, would make characters have views which serve the story. If the story works better having a conservative protagonist, for example, who then faces challenges by her liberal sidekicks, it could be an effective plot device. Likewise, a liberal character could be faced with a lover who turns out to rather conservative. How are they ever going to work it out?

What characters believe in regard to the same issues of the day real people concern themselves with is part of the background and persona of the character. How would he speak about this issue? How forceful would she be asserting her view of that issue. How easily would either compromise? Just as in real life when people disagree about social or political stances, fictional characters also need to argue. Or, if not actually arguing, they still have beliefs and opinions which inform their actions. Those actions need to be consistent with the character’s personality and behavior.

There can be so-called oxymoronic situations, however, such as when a character acts in a surprising way, signaling a shift of viewpoint. In my literary fiction work A BeautifulChill, the female protagonist, Íris, a pregnant Wiccan with seemingly liberal views, must make nice with her opposite number, Sandra, a Christian right-wing colleague to gain a favor. A clash of politics ensues:

“Next week there’s a rally and the Salvation Corps”—Sandra’s vice-president of the campus student group—“will be spearheading it. Because you’re a new mother-to-be, I’d really like you to join us. Iris, you don’t have to be Christian to participate. We have some Jewish people. A few agnostics, too. Anyone who believes that Life is sacred. That’s why I thought you’d be perfect.”
“Me, perfect?” Now Íris is suspicious. “What do I have to do?”
“I’m hoping you’ll give your testimony,” she says, voice full of joy, “about choosing to carry your baby to term rather than turning to abortion as a solution to your unexpected pregnancy.”
“My testimony?”
“We’d like to hear your thoughts about Life. About five minutes. Just tell us what it’s like to be a witch and still be pro-life.”
“What are you talking about? Witches aren’t pro-death. I want this baby because he’s mine. Not because of politics.”
“It doesn’t matter, Iris.” She is so sincere she believes what she says. “I’ll help you get back together with the father of your baby because you stood up for Life. We need people to speak out against abortion, even those who don’t happen to be Christian. That makes you the perfect witness. We need your testimony. Will you help me help you?”
Íris regards her a moment. “Do I have a choice?”

We see that despite their inherent opposite positions on abortion they manage to fall into collusion if only for this one event. It’s a compromise.

The final point to make concerns a question I’ve been thinking about for a while. Who buys books? Is there actually a majority of readers, hence book purchasers, who lean left or lean right who will buy only books which have characters or story situations that reflect the same values and views of the readers? I’m not referring to non-fiction books but to novels. In short, only certain stories would appeal to a segment of the readership: books which align with those readers’ position. I suppose the same would hold true even if the story did not concern anything overtly political.

Then again, as one internationally famous economist I once heard speak said: “All politics is local.” Hence, every act can be seen as a response to the particular way a person, even a fictional person, interacts with the world. How that person interacts depends on so much, far more than a wheelbarrow in the rain, and sometimes it depends solely on the mindset of the author, that puppeteer at the other end of the strings.

And now, without further adieu, I am off to visit my voting venue. I hope we can still be friends tomorrow morning.

(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.

01 November 2012

November--The Merry Month of Manuscripts

November 1 is a day for anniversaries and deadlines. The end of hurricane season and the end of summer (in the south). Halloween festivities are done and Christmas decorations are being set up. Turkeys are milling warily about the barnyard, and students have decided once and for all whether the semester is salvageable--or not. Trees lose their leaves and the leaves are pressed between the pages of books....

It is also the start of National Novel Writing Month for those who nervous fingers cannot avoid the lusty keys. I have never been able to participate due to its unfortunate scheduling. I could write a draft of a novel in a month--if I had no day job to tend to, if I had no other disruptions, and if I had the idea in advance of the month. I would like to give it a go one of these years.

In an alternate universe years ago, before NaNoWriMo was invented, I cobbled together a longish short story with mini-chapters (12,000 words) for a summer writing workshop, which I called AFTER ILIUM. It took approximately three weeks of a few hours' daily effort. I easily outdid my classmates with their simple 3000 word stories. However, I always knew the story was too big to be contained in a short format and so I worked to expand it into a novella of 48,000. More recently, I decided to throw it into the gladitorial arena of self-publishing and filled out a couple underperforming chapters and added one more to round out the story. The result was 67,000 words, a short novel. This is what I could write were I to indulge in the NaNoWriMo timetable. But alas!

I was always concerned with 1) being accused of padding a simple story, and 2) actually padding a simple story just to make it longer(*). With editing it seems to be a fully-realized story with layers and complexity. It is lean and has no fluff or padding. Although it is on the surface a simple story of young man meeting older woman on a foreign trip, the  linking of the contemporary story with ancient epic gives this book its depth and profound qualities. [See footnote.]

However, the currents of the ebook seas, indeed the entire publishing ocean, were seasickness-inducing. I was tossed and turned and vomited much. I found some boats offering to rescue me and others refusing me. I battled sharks and welcomed dolphins. Now I hope where I've landed is a fruitful isle full of coconut bikinis and roasted pigs, a bounty fit for a Bounty crew.

So, here is an appetizer. Young Alex Parris is with his new lover, the older, Greek woman he met on the cruise ship to Istanbul. In her hotel room, where they spent the night together, they are up and preparing to join the tour group sightseeing Istanbul. Next they will visit the site of the ruins of Ilium, also known as ancient Troy, and that is where everything goes bad.

More samples are available at an oasis in the Amazon jungle. The full course may be had for less than the cost of a latte. Book and latte will provide you a pleasant afternoon or evening.

Excerpt from Chapter 4

What the hell happened last night? Alex wondered, and as he recalled the night of passion, he became aroused again.
“I meant that you have potential,” said Eléna. “A lot of young men have potential. Many of them waste it on useless things. I have seen it happen. They play these games and try to make victories and defeats, scorekeeping their lives. I see that in you, Alex Parris. Already you are making a tally. Here is ‘one’ for Eléna, yes? Who will be next? If you have this potential, where is it? Show me. Be more than a hard penis. Otherwise, stick with playing your computer games.”
Alex instinctively turned away, hiding his softening crotch from her view.
“Computer games?” He suddenly regretted telling her about his future plans. It did not sound too impressive the way he described what he hoped to do as his career. Anyway, he was a long way from last night now.
“You have great imagination,” she said, seemingly uninterested.
“It’s not child’s play,” he attempted to explain. “It’s a business. It’s my job—or, it will be soon. As soon as I get home from this trip. The job is waiting for me. And it’s a real job. I should be making at least thirty grand a year to start. It’s also creative—like being a writer or artist. I use a computer to tell stories. Actually, what I write allows you, the gamer, to write your own story—within the perimeters of the game, of course.”
He watched her as he spoke, saw a glimmer of ease flash at the corners of her face. Perhaps she was tired of fighting, he wanted to believe.
“And what story will you write about us?” she asked.
“Well, these games aren’t exactly love stories. They’re mostly fighting.”
“Then you will likely be alone in your fantasy,” and she pursed her lips, off to one side, the way she did to show she was playing with him. He noticed that quirk already.
“But now I have you, Eléna,” spoke Alex in a quiet, hesitant voice.
The glance she shot at him would have hurt if it was any sharper.
“I am not here to play your games!” Eléna roared. “I am not looking for anything. Nor anyone. I want to be in limbo now. Do you not understand?”
She stared at him until he looked away.
“Okay,” said Alex.
“You said you want to see some old city, some rocks. You want to be someone like that. It is not for me. What I want is silks and satins, not dirty rocks and old bones. Can you not understand that?”
He buckled his belt, sat on the corner of the bed to put on his boots.
“But you had that,” he said, softly. “Before.”
Eléna was quiet. She quickly turned away to stare at herself in the mirror.
After their night together, he did not understand how they could begin arguing. Unless she simply enjoyed arguing with him. Anything to provoke him.
“I’m sorry, Eléna,” he whispered.
“You are a silly boy! You know nothing!”
She seemed to be sobbing.
Alex stood and went to her but she turned away, pouting. He recognized the act. Suzie Meyer had done the same thing when he went to apologize to her for his frat brothers’ misbehavior. She had acted as though it was all his fault.
“You make love with me and you can say such cruel things to me?”
Alex thought she might slap his face if he stood closer.
“I apologize. It was the wrong thing to say.”
She raised her eyes to him, a tear slipping out of one corner.
“You are forgiven...for this one time,” she told him.


Things tend to get worse for Alex. It's a novel, after all. Conflicts mount. Troubles compound and become desperate. Attempts to solve problems instead worsen them. Alex is driven to the edge of despair in both body and mind, and his spirit is about to be crushed. Can he survive all that happens After Ilium?

*Just wanted to add an extra thought I had while driving to my day job yesterday. I've been asked how I padded the story and why it isn't a better story in the original, leaner version.

First, the original story was rather superficial with only the most crucial scenes filled out in any kind of real time action. Thus, writing the details of a scene originally suggested was an easy way to "flesh out" the story without it simply being some extra text to make it longer. It's still a rather short, lean novel at 68,000 words.

Second, editors suggested places where unasked questions should be answered for readers, so I answered them. That effort extended those chapters by several pages. Conversations were allowed to run longer with the necessary inclusion of additional information that gave the characters and the situation more depth than in the original version. Along the same line was a suggestion that readers needed to "see" what happens in a couple of scenes rather than providing only a mention. So, again, I wrote out the action as new, full-fledged scenes.

Of course, all stories can be boiled down to a sentence or two--if readers really want to get it over with quickly. The point, I think, is to wallow in the story, to live alongside the characters and feel their pain and joy--or, in Alex's case, just pain. It is not a crime to lengthen a short manuscript into a longer one. (Perhaps it is in the reverse case.) I believe every story has its own inherent length that is appropriate to what happens and how it is told. This final version, now with a few clunky sentences fixed and a handful of continuity errors repaired, is the best version.

I did find more to say as I was inbound from a trip to Japan last spring. There is room for a sequel. Many years after 22 year old Alex's adventure in Turkey, having fashioned some kind of a good life for himself after the tragedy of that summer, he has another adventure...a cruelly similar one, perhaps, yet wholly different in several profound ways (which "spoiler" decorum will not allow me to divulge). It could be a kind of tale of revenge which, after those years of recovery, Alex sorely needs.

(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.