19 December 2013

13 reasons to enter the Dream Land

Late at night, or more often early in the morning, I have nagging doubts about the meaning of the Dream Land. The title seems at once somewhat vague and suggestively poignant. Is it just a story where the hero awakens at the end only to discover the whole trilogy has been a dream? Absolutely not!

Sure, there's a lot of playing of that theme, back and forth along the border between reality and...umm, what we might as well call "dream" for lack of a juicier word. What could be wrong with juxtaposing reality, or one reality with another reality? And then what is so awful about calling one of those two realities "The Dream Land"? 

So The Dream Land trilogy is a story about reality...and another reality. While looking for a secluded spot to make-out one summer, two young people discover an abandoned quarry with an odd phenomena. When the circumstances are just right, a point of light marks the spot where the reality of Earth (and the quarry itself, which is to the east side of Kansas City, Missouri, USA) can be pried open to reveal the other reality: what the natives call Ghoupallesz, a planet much like Earth but 101 light-years distance if one bothered to travel by spacecraft.

Anyway...what do these two young people, Sebastian and Gina, do there? Being scientific-minded geeks, they study the place, learn all about it, gradually fit in, eventually function there like it was their own world of Earth. But things are different enough that Gina wants to stay, wants to make it her home forever. Sebastian, the younger of the two, is hesitant to stay, remembering what awaits him back on Earth: his scholarship to college and a career in science. So he returns. 

But there is a bug set inside him that keeps him returning through the "tear in the air" at that quarry and having his own adventures there. One time he is forced to join an army during a war. Another time he meets a beautiful woman and has an affair. Another trip, he marries her, has children, does his best work as commander of a cavalry regiment--where the animals they ride seem a cross between donkeys and rabbits. He has a knack for getting into trouble, of course--Gina recognized that. Despite that, he manages to return and rescue Gina time and again from her adventures. 

Still, they do not, cannot remain together; each must partake separate journeys, it seems. And that is where our trilogy begins. Sebastian is stuck at a third-shift clerk job at the IRS service center when he feels the familiar sensations of a cosmic calling from Gina. He knows what comes next but it has been a while since he last walked through the interdimensional doorway. But Gina is his Long-lost Love, his soulmate, so he must go and, if necessary, save her. Simple enough, right? 

First, he must get through the doorway, then round up some of his former soldiers to form a team of mercenaries. Then he was lead them across the towering Zet mountains and enter the plateau kingdom of Zetin, sneak into the castle of the Zetin warlord and free Gina from wherever she might be held in the castle. And then get out. For this mission, he must put away his pencils and adding machine....

I must leave you hanging, of course. I am not allowed to leave spoilers just laying about.

That was Book I, a sprawling epic of twin universes and choices with no easy options, and all the magic and terror of alternate reality. In Book II, the adventures of Sebastian continue as he tries to right wrongs and undo evil. You can probably guess that he actually makes things worse. Hence, the need for Book III.

I loved inventing this story, creating the characters (yes, some based on people I've known), and molding the world of Ghoupallesz into a playground of devilish delights and angelic horrors. Playing with words is what I am happiest doing. And I hope you enjoy the result. Tell your friends and family; invite them into the Dream Land too!

Oh, wait! I promised thirteen reasons to enter the Dream Land, didn't I? Sorry; got carried away....

1. Science-fiction on an epic scale: two worlds and a cast of millions.
2. Steampunk and cyberpunk duelling for control of your mind.
3. Geek romance (PG-13 in Book I and II, borderline R in Book III).
4. Old fashion chivalry versus New Age feminism--see which will win!
5. Strange flora and fauna...what would you expect on another planet?

6. Explore the weird lives of third-shift IRS service center workers.
7. Relive the 1980s: the music, cars, fashion, hair styles, attitudes, historic events.
8. Sweeping battles, military strategy, manly manliness, blood and guts.
9. Existential angst.
10. Alien marriage customs!
11. How to use exotic drugs for pleasure and pain.
12. Interspecies romance (mostly in Book III).
13. How to deal with a fatal comet (Book III), politically, socially and technologically.

For Kindle (also in paperback):

US links:

UK links:

(C) Copyright 2010-2013 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.

12 December 2013

Cyberpunk meets Steampunk in Geek Romance...Say what?

As my better judgment would have it, I have dared to list THE DREAM LAND Trilogy under the categories of Science Fiction and Fantasy, and also Steampunk. Then, after some thought, I went further, labeling the trilogy as being also Cyberpunk. I cleverly announced to the reading world that my trilogy was "Cyberpunk meets Steampunk" in a vain attempt to draw in both audiences. Then I dared further and added "in Geek Romance"--which may [I know I'm seriously tempting Fate by writing this] have gone too far and crossed a line many readers are not prepared to cross.

Now I'm kept awake at night worrying whether or not the new readers of THE DREAM LAND Trilogy will accept my "version" of Steampunk or Cyberpunk or Geek Romance. Perhaps the trilogy could use a bit of explanation, just so we get our sub-genres straight.

We all know what "Geek" means; it's commonly used in popular media today. To me, the word refers to a person possessing scientific or mechanical expertise, whose expertise and attention to such interests waylays his or her interest in other, more popular activities. Another term, "Nerd," is similar in the focus on the scientific and mechanical at the expense of the social and popular but with the added characteristics of lacking in attention to social mores, personal hygiene, and relationship options. Correct me if I'm wrong; neither term existed back when I was in school. And we have "Romance," which is an oft-mistaken word, originally referring to an heroic journey yet today meaning a love relationship. 

Those terms being clear as slightly muddy water, let us proceed to the more disputed terms and their designation of variety of punkness.

For the most part, each term seems to designate the kind of power source used by a society; that is, after the wheel and the horse and all manner of delicate clockwork devices and whatever else there was, there came steam. Specifically, the steam engine: heat some water, make some steam, the steam pushes turbines or pistons and around and around we go, providing endless energy! This coincided historically with the so-called Victorian era (and includes Edwardian, depending on the strength of the purists) in the latter portion of the 19th century and early 20th century--in Earth history.

Hence, STEAMPUNK is a categorization of literary genre, fashion, indeed, a whole lifestyle to some, which appears to be stuck in that era of steam-powered everything. Seeming to replicate that society, fashions include waistcoats, high boots, top hats, long coats, and goggles to protect the eyes in lieu of windscreens. Ladies also embrace the corset and all manner of dresses and apparel about which I am [officially] not privy. In short, Steampunk is the Victorian era revisited, or, as one aficionado put it: Steampunk is "what would have happened if technology had not advanced beyond steam as a power source" with or without advancement in other aspects of a society such as politics and military activity and other rubbish.

When I first encountered what I came to know as Steampunk, I had a simple definition: science fiction or fantasy set in an older (rather than futuristic) setting; that is, anything that did not make use of the kinds of technology we have today. No spaceships. Other good gentlefolk in the genre/fashion/lifestyle have sought to correct me, informing me that after Steampunk comes DIESELPUNK, which, as the name would seem to suggest, involves an advancement of technology to petroleum as a fuel for engines. Following that pattern, we would next come to...let's see...Nuclearpunk? Or...Dilithiumpunk? How about Ram'ot'ixpunk (probably the post-2130 version)? or dare I even speculate about Ogpunk?

Of course, all of these terms originate from CYBERPUNK, they and others playing with variations and derivatives of that first term "cyberpunk"--which appeared in a 1980 short story: "Cyberpunk" by Bruce Bethke. In it, the setting was a highly technologized world rudely contrasted with a dark, fearful cityscape of dilapidation. In essence, high tech crossed with low society. I've always seen the genre as one full of hackers and crackers trying to make it in a world not worth saving. Dreary, indeed--but what else would you expect from postmodern literati? The downward spiral began with T.S. Eliot and his Wasteland, after all.

(In one novel-length work of poetry I produced not too many years ago [Think Nabokov's Pale Fire on steroids], the poet-protagonist looks beyond that dreariness to a bright and optimistic future and dubs it Futurianism: the belief that everything will work out fine and until everything does work out fine we have not yet arrived at the Future. Yes, lots of esoteric gobbledygook, but it was poetry, after all, and I'm digressing....)

Therefore, if we were to proceed backward in time from Steampunk, pursuing a rough, retrograde path through the history of power and energy, we might find ourselves somewhere in BAROQUEPUNK. We would likely be required to wear huge fluffy wigs and too-short pants and play clavichords and lutes, and partake of stately dances. Think Johann S. Bach and you get the idea: a neat and elegant world of trivial lives playing out as stage actors, all the while the peasants starve and so on. It's always the so on that disappoints.... 

Or further backwards, we might land in MONGOL EMPIRE PUNK. They were all punks back in that era, I think most would agree. Not much to do other than ride horses across the steppes, wind in your hair...and once in a while crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentation of their women. If that sort of thing appeals to you, of course. Note: this is likely the instigating connection which allows stories set in the past or in a primitive world to be included in the otherwise futuristic category of "science fiction"--in my humble opinion. 

Needless to say, we could continue our retrogression through the lineage of punk, perhaps all the way back to CAVEMANPUNK, of which I have an interesting entry: a heroic novella of two caveman brothers who fight over a cavewoman, eventually splitting the tribe. It's set on the edge of the European ice sheet in Neanderthal days. Then the alien spacecraft arrives.... Well, it was quite well-received by two or three people who offered to read it, but I'm digressing once more....

Obviously, there are plenty of Cyberpunk derivatives from which to choose. 

Some people, I'm sure, would even dare to suggest there is a BREWSTERPUNK, named for that cuter-than-should-be-allowed girl of the same name. One would expect, given that theme, a story in which childish, playful energy was used to power everything and cuteness was both the lingua franca and currency of trade. Thankfully, it is not. But I dare digress....

So how do any of these terms possibly relate to THE DREAM LAND Trilogy? That is the question at hand. I have said aloud (and often out loud) the tag line for my "sci-fi" trilogy: "Cyberpunk meets Steampunk in a Geek Romance." How does that all fit together? What laws have been broken? Let me explain.

In Book I ("Long Distance Voyager"), our protagonists journey to a world which is, for most of their adventures, not as far advanced technologically as the world of the late 20th century USA they left. Their new world has primitive vehicles, including steam-powered cars and airships. There are no cameras, radios, motion pictures, telephones, or advanced military apparati. In that respect, I choose to equate that setting with Steampunk, even though the story unfolds on a world different from Earth. Their new world does have a Victorianesque quality to it. So I think I am within the bounds of the broad definition of Steampunk. In fact, I went out of my way during edits to make sure the comparison held true.

In Book II ("Dreams of Future's Past"), our hero revisits that "earlier" era I've just described as Steampunk, so there is not much change from being Steampunk. 

In Book III ("Diaspora"), however, after wrapping up the story lines of the principal cast members from Books I and II, the novel boldly launches into the story of the heroine, Gina Parton, and her adventures in the far future of that world. Ah hah! Her world is full of technological marvels yet the society around her is crumbling and decadent. The reason? A comet is on its way to destroy the planet. They have about 40 years to go when we meet her and begin following her in this era. That high tech / low society dichotomy fits the bill for calling this volume of the trilogy Cyberpunk.

However, our heroine is not a computer whiz, nor is she any kind of cyborg or part machine. Nevertheless, she does carry a few nifty devices, such as communication and personal defense devices. The communication gadget, however, is anachronistic; just for fun, that society's inventors created a device with no direct voice-to-voice connection but, rather, a mechanical interface which artificially replicates vocalization much like a robot voice. Meanwhile, people are giving up and going rogue: doing drugs to forget their fears, praying to the gods and goddesses, digging tunnels, lighting themselves on fire, fighting over food, competing for a seat aboard one of the evacuation spacecraft--

Wait a minute! Spacecraft? But she flies around on an airship, doesn't she?

What's wrong with airships? On a world where petroleum reserves are much more limited than on Earth, society would not be so quick to rely on airplanes for travel. Or gasoline engines in automobiles. Besides, air pollution from such petroleum fueled engines would be dangerous, they may have decided, and so they are perfectly happy with airships and steam-powered cars. And magnetic monorail systems within and between metropolises! 

Cyberpunk enough for you? Steampunk fitting nicely? And Gina Parton, our lovely heroine, certainly fits the model of geek. She and her hero, Sebastian Talbot, provide the proof of the "romance" designation--geeks attract geeks. Something about all that science.... 

And there you have it: Cyberpunk meets Steampunk in a Geek Romance. Wonderful, isn't it?

Paperback or Kindle ebook

US links:

UK links:

And remember to rewind some kind for our Myrddin Publishing charity, WATER IS LIFE, by getting a great collection of holiday stories in Christmas O'Clock (Kindle or Paperback).

(C) Copyright 2010-2013 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 December 2013

Christmas O'Clock - holiday stories for a good cause!

And now, for something completely different, I present the annual holiday story collection Christmas O'Clock, full of stories by my fellow Myrddin Publishing authors.

It's a completely charitable publication dedicated to Water Is Life, an international organization devoted to securing access to drinkable water around the world. As someone who drinks a ton of water every week, I certainly take it for granted. Help out the people who don't have clean water (especially those suffering from natural disasters around the globe) and get some great holiday-themed stories to enjoy!

Try this link for the lowest paperback price: https://www.createspace.com/4546231

Otherwise, you can still enjoy the collection of holiday stories for Kindle here and paperback here.

Myrddin Publishing Group has been instrumental in helping bring THE DREAM LAND Trilogy to your favorite neighborhood Amazon webpage. Also through Myrddin is my contemporary romantic adventure novel AFTER ILIUM (paperback here) and my forthcoming literary novel A BEAUTIFUL CHILL. Thanks so much for your support, encouragement, and all the jokes.

(C) Copyright 2010-2013 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.

28 November 2013

Have you escaped reality today?

The following should be considered a Public Service Announcement because reading the following novels will help the public be happier, more in tune with the universe, and gain insight into problems that will manifest themselves in the future. 

This announcement is also intended to serve as holiday shopping advice to ease efforts to please the discerning readers in your family.

The Dream Land Trilogy

An eloquently efficient epic of interdimensional intrigue and world domination by a pair of high school sweethearts, filled with twisted humor (think double-helix), some steampunk pathos, a patina of psychological thriller (imagine a police procedural gone bad), passionate romance (tears will be shed!), graphic violence (de rigueur in battles scenes with a cast of millions), and the inevitability of quirky conundrums of time and space.

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

The Dream Land I "Long Distance Voyager"

Sebastian, that quiet tax examiner at the corner desk in the IRS service center, carries a dark secret: once upon a time he and his high school sweetheart Gina found a rip in the universe and stepped through it to a strange world of magical beauty. 

Far from being a Disney-esque playground, the world of Ghoupallesz bursts with cosmopolitan elegance, alien perversions, and political strife. Gina, the adventurous one, falls in love with the adventurous possibilities. Not Sebastian; always practical, he insists they return to Earth. Gina refuses so he goes back alone, vowing never to return. Yet he finds himself drawn back repeatedly--he calls it “research”--and often crosses paths with Gina. Sometimes he saves her, sometimes she saves him, forever soul mates. 

Now years later, life on Earth hasn’t gone well for Sebastian. Then the headaches revisit him, with flashes of memories from Ghoupallesz. Gina is in trouble again, he senses, and he must, as always, save her. Meanwhile, a pair of too-curious IRS co-workers have accidently overdosed on the Elixir of Love he brought back on his last trip and the antidote exists only on Ghoupallesz. With these co-workers in tow, Sebastian returns through the interdimensional portal, fearing it may be his final adventure. He must gather his old comrades from the war, cross the towering Zet mountains, and free Gina from the Zetin warlord’s castle before her execution. Perhaps then she will stay with him.

But are his adventures to the other side real? Or are they just the dreams of a psychotic killer? That’s what the police want to know when Sebastian returns without his co-workers.

Kindle- http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00AH1V78Q

Paper- http://www.amazon.com/dp/1939296226

Kindle- http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00AH1V78Q
Paperback- http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1939296226


Kindle- http://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B00AH1V78Q

Kindle- http://www.amazon.ca/dp/B00AH1V78Q

No Kindle? Get "Kindle for PC" and read on your computer or tablet!

The Dream Land II "Dreams of Future's Past"

After his adventures in Book I, Sebastian Talbot (a.k.a. Set-d’Elous, legendary warrior and Sekuatean cavalry captain) has exiled himself to a desolate island, content to laze away the days writing his memoir. Until the emissary from Queen Tammy arrives with a mission he cannot refuse. Tammy, the IRS clerk he took to Ghoupallesz along with Michael in Book I, wants him to go fetch her son who she left on Earth. How could she return for him? She married the King of Aivana.

That mission raises desperate questions for Sebastian: If he can go back and forth through these interdimensional doorways and arrive in different time periods, perhaps he can do something to prevent the big war he fought through, the war that destroyed his family and millions of others. So he returns to his Ghoupalle wife, Zaura. While on patrol duty, he comes upon a young poetess he knows will become the rebel leader who helps overthrow the monarchy and causes the wars. 

Meanwhile, back on Earth in another timeline, Sebastian awakens from a coma and is helped in his recovery by Dr. Toni Franck. An affair develops—just as his opportunity for escape comes along. Later, as Sebastian/Set escorts teams of mercenaries back and forth to conduct their history-changing business, he tries to meet up with Toni again only to realize the police are still in pursuing him. Desperate to see her, he arranges a meeting only to have a SWAT team show up, cornering him. Can he escape through an interdimensional doorway this time?

Paper- http://www.amazon.com/dp/1939296269

Kindle- http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00D94Y06O
Paperback- http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1939296269

Kindle- http://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B00D94Y06O

Kindle- http://www.amazon.ca/dp/B00D94Y06O

No Kindle? Get "Kindle for PC" and read on your computer or tablet!

The Dream Land III "Diaspora"

Set-d’Elous (a.k.a. Sebastian Talbot) finds himself paralyzed and mute, tormented daily by the mocking spirit of the evil Empress—his wife. His only hope is to be rescued, but all his fellow Voyagers have been blown to other places, some back to Earth. They awaken to a world they had left and now cannot comprehend. Tammy’s son, Chucker, awakens in the jungle, however, and in his years there realizes what went wrong in his team’s assassination attempt on the Emperor of Sekuate: they shot the wrong guy. 

Feeling guilty, Chucker tracks Set-d’Elous to Earth, where he is locked up in a prison hospital, let out once a month for a day with Dr. Toni Franck, his former psychiatrist now wife. With the aid of a retired cop, Chucker must rescue Sebastian in order to counter the rise of a violent prophet’s cult back on Ghoupallesz. Only a final battle will decide the truth—a truth that permeates the next few centuries.... 

Legend tells of a comet that will cleanse the world, and governments realize it is near. Fortunately, Jinetta-d’Elous (a.k.a. Gina Parton, Interdimensional Voyager), a struggling mother of two, comes forward to offer assistance. Leading the aerospace commission, she tries to drive forward Ghoupallean technology from airships to interstellar spacecraft in the time remaining. However, success has its price and as the clock counts down, Gina must rescue her daughter from the evil Overlord and secure seats aboard the last spacecraft departing before the comet strikes.

Kindle- http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00GVJGP9E

Paper- http://www.amazon.com/dp/1939296277

Kindle- http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00GVJGP9E
Paperback- http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1939296277

Kindle- http://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B00GVJGP9E

Kindle- http://www.amazon.ca/dp/B00GVJGP9E

No Kindle? Get "Kindle for PC" and read on your computer or tablet!

For additional information, check the Dream-o-pedia page, an index page of links to everything you want to know about the Dream Land.

in association with

*On a personal note, I really enjoy writing stories, especially those where I have free rein to plunge into fantastic worlds, as with the Dream Land trilogy. Since overcoming some medical issues, the desire to share this story was reawakened. Before that moment, Book I sat finished and Book II was started--then left on a dusty shelf deep inside my computer for almost ten years as I lived my life. With an encouraging kickoff via the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, I was able to climb into the saddle again (metaphors and all) and finished Book II. Then in 2013 I was able to ride the Muses through a hard six-week writing marathon that became the bulk of Book III. So I'm excited to have this trilogy complete, and I offer it now to those who enjoy quirky, weird, otherworldly, science-fiction, epic steampunkish stories of normal people doing things they probably shouldn't and regretting their actions, forced to fight both the environment around them as well as within them. I hope you enjoy reading as much as I enjoyed writing these books. Thanks!

(C) Copyright 2010-2013 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.

23 November 2013

Stuff yer own bird! (free recipe included)

'Tis the time to tickle the titillating turkey! 

This week many will be slouching and slumping and snoring or snorting, content in the afterglow of their gluttonous indulgences and warm family camaraderie the put off for almost 365 days each year. That is our holiday tradition in the north of America, no matter how the origins and historical developments and political corrections have affected it. I, for one, do not indulge much on these days called holidays; however, I always enjoy a day off from the usual.

I recommend this source of information about Thanksgiving because practically all of it is wrong, or considered wrong to someone somewhere. Or the official source, Plymouth Plantation, if you care to surround yourself with facts and speculations. They may yet be debated, if you have time after dinner and between the games.

A bit of personal connection: I visited the Plymouth site in Massachusetts 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 (though the turkeys are fairly easy). From time immemorial I and all my relations would gather at the grandparents' residence with food in hand and have a grand feast. I recall dinners with a giant turkey and a giant ham and a hundred side dishes and a thousand desserts. I recall not having much leftovers, either. Now, however, I can barely finish a turkey sandwich and a side of sweet potato. Then my cousins grew up (and I suppose I did, too) and we all had our own families. By then, the grandparents passed on and 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!

Yes, this post is mostly borrowed from a previous year's celebratory posting. So, for this year, I've sweetened the deal with my own stuffing recipe!

Stephen's Stuffing 
[please, no weird puns, ok?]

Ingredients: a loaf of cheap bread, stick of real butter, medium summer sausage, bag of dried apricots, bunch of celery, little jar of sage, a bottle of orange juice, salt & pepper to your tastes. (You could substitute cooked/dried cranberries for the apricots, if you wish; in that case, skip the OJ and use cranberry juice.)

Spread butter over several slices of bread. Tear up the bread into little pieces, putting the pieces into a large bowl.

Cut up the sausage; slice then dice. Put that it the large bowl with the bread pieces. Cut the apricots and celery into little pieces and put the pieces into the large bowl. Shake in a good amount of sage, salt, and pepper. Mix up everything in the large bowl.

Take the mixture from the bowl and put it into a small pan, something like 8x8 inches will do--or 9x9, 10x10, 12x12, whatever fits the size of your appetite. (I do not recommend stuffing the turkey itself because it is rather gross when you think about it and you don't know for sure what is still inside the turkey.) Then sprinkle some sage on top. Pour some orange juice into the pan; not a lot, but get everything wet. The OJ will make it slightly tart; you can skip the OJ if you want to and it will still be good.

Put the pan with the stuffing in it into the oven and bake until it starts to smell good, perhaps 30 to 40 minutes at 350*F. I'm going on memory now, so be careful. Putting foil over the top may help it along. It seems to me that we always put it in with the foil-wrapped potatoes for the same time and temp, so try that.

Or, you could layer each ingredient in the pan: bread pieces first, then the pieces of sausage, celery, apricot, sage, and repeat. Pour the orange juice over the top, let it soak down into the mixture, then bake.

NOTE: I am not, nor have I ever been, a cook, chef, or baker. However, this recipe is a hybrid of recipes I assisted with in my youth, standing alongside one or the other grandmother, so it checks out. You will not get sick from eating it. Enjoy!

(C) Copyright 2010-2013 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.

16 November 2013

Are you better at wasting time than me?

Forgive me, for I have not blogged for a couple of weeks. I did not intend to worry anyone. I assumed that you would assume that I was busy. And we both would be half-right.

No, the truth is much more glamorous than that: I have been un-busy. Slothsome, in fact. Sure, I've held up my end of the bargain at Ye Ole Day Job, so that may count as some form of recreation. I go through my paces, saying the right words, smiling at the right moments, interacting as though I live and breathe. But it may be construed by any astute observer to be a very good act, perhaps worthy of an Oscar. (That Acting 101 class finally pays off!) I confess to using more and more of my office time to see what great things are happening in the world of social media...and find myself more often than not rather disappointed in humanity.

And I've been dutiful in my duties at home, i.e., the book business. Things are progressing nicely, but I shan't explain more lest certain somebodies be tempted to rant that I am promoting again. That nasty P-word! I'm not after huge sums of cash; I only wish to share a good story or two--or three. Welcome to my [invented] world, and all that! Enjoy the ride. (You can click on links to the top-right of my page if you wish to escape reality.)

It is simply the time of year that it happens to be now. The mirth of Halloween is done, the upswing to the Thanksgiving shopping season is about to begin, and that leaves us (well, me, anyway) with not much to do. Last blog post, I waxed on waxed off about NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), lamenting how I could not participate because of my full schedule--then that full schedule never quite materialized. I look like a liar now.

So I made excuses. Sure, I've written 50,000 words in a month. No big deal. Sure, I've got papers to grade (well, those that have been turned in). Sure, I've got life issues to slap around--and, in turn, dodge the ripostes. Sure, the weather has been up and down, hot and cold, winter parkas and shirtsleeves. Sure, I avoid saying 'surely' so as not to link with that Airplane movie's tag line ("And don't call me Shirley!"). Still, they add up to no excuse, which is just a poor excuse.

However, I have been successful in one endeavor: wasting time. Of course, time is finite, and if you waste it, you don't get it back. It's a zero-sum game and you don't know the rules. Father Time is a cheater, too. (Truth be told, that time machine thing I mentioned a while back? Well, it's fictitious. I know you're shocked.) Clocks are evil, alarms like a musty foot out of hell. Calendars steal your soul. In a perfect universe time would be unmeasurable, one eternity as slick as one moment. Thus, what you waste is truly waste. And what a waste that is!

So one day last week, I found myself standing in the middle of my kitchen wondering what to do: at that moment, lost between one particular second and another particular second, wondering why it's called a 'second' when certainly there is a 'first' and a 'third' that will tick by just as blithely as the second second. Coffee, cocoa, or tea? Bagel, muffin, or oatmeal? See a movie, browse for books, or shop for groceries? Too many choices. And then it hit me: the insight I'd been waiting for:

When you turn the last page of a calendar, you're done. No more. The end.

Well, that probably was not as dramatic as it could have been, but it fulfills the goal of cranking out a crank blog post before my first sip of coffee. Notice I pasted an hour glass instead of a calendar? That's got to mean something. In the end I chose the muffin and the bookstore. I watched people come and go. Some of them stopped for a while, cracked book covers. Creepy! Others seemed as lost as me, wondering what to do between our lives, the here and now versus the whatever comes next. Some call it the weekend. End? Did someone just type 'w-e-e-k-e-n-d'?

Perhaps, I should have waited to write this until the first cup was finished. Then I would not need spellcheck. Then I could have been more verbose, more sanguine, more...whatever. I really should not blog on an empty stomach. Thanks for your patience. As always.

(C) Copyright 2010-2013 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.

03 November 2013

Navigating the Ne'ery Month of November

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 whose nervous fingers cannot avoid the lusty keys. I have never been able to participate because of its unfortunate scheduling. November is the fattiest meat of the fall semester; it's when I have the most day-job work to do. Sure, 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. I would like to give it a go one of these years.

I sorta, kinda did that last spring (i.e., 2013). Actually it started in mid-April and went on every night and some afternoons and the occasional morning all the way into June. The day job was an interference only in April and the first half of May. More importantly, I had the idea in advance and it was compelling enough to drive me through the story in dramatic fashion.

I'm referring to the final volume of THE DREAM LAND Trilogy, subtitled "Diaspora"--which suggests the evacuation of a planet's population in advance of a fatal comet's arrival. Whoops! Was that a spoiler? Not really. The story is what the people do and how they do what they do in dealing with that news. And perhaps the best part is that my heroine from Book I (and who appears a few places in Book II) comes back in full glory to lead their industry from airships to interstellar spacecraft--all the while managing a rebellious daughter and countering the evil Overlord. It's a page-turner!

The goal for NaNoWriMo is a 50,000 word book, by definition the minimum length for a "novel". It's not easy to calculate and compare accurately, but when I leaped into DL3 Diaspora, I skipped over the 10,000 words I'd previously written back during the afterglow of completing DL2 Dreams of Future's Past, the first chapter plus some ideas for other chapters, and I went straight to what interested me at that point in time: the final years of the planet featured in the trilogy. I researched everything I could find about astrophysics and advanced propulsion systems, striving to bring authenticity to the story--like all good sci-fi authors do. By the time I let the comet hit, I'd written 72,000 words. Comparing the time factor, that writing effort approximated the 50,000 words in one month that is NaNoWriMo writers' goal. Now just shift that calender.

But we cannot usually just sit down at a given moment and type out a story. I, for one, am a slave to my muses. I cannot work unless they approve of the project. Once started, however, I can run on fumes until it's finished. Then, when it's finished, I fall into a useless funk, dreading I'll never write anything ever again. Months later I get another idea and run it by my muses to see if it passes muster. Then I wonder why I ever had doubts about writing again. It is what I do, after all. No matter what month it is. When I retire and have my Novembers free, I will be there. I have a few ideas sitting on the shelves, don't worry, waiting to be filled out as novels.

This blog post is sponsored by The Dream Land Trilogy:

THE DREAM LAND Book II "Dreams of Future's Past" has been available as an ebook and now is also available in paperback: Here's the ebook page on Amazon; click the paperback button when it shows up.

THE DREAM LAND Book III "Diaspora" will be available as both ebook and paperback simultaneously in December 2013.

AND don't forget where it all begins:

THE DREAM LAND Book I "Long Distance Voyager" is currently available as both ebook and paperback.

(C) Copyright 2010-2013 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.

28 October 2013

Halloween! (A Warning to the Unserious!)

'Tis the end of Octember and the spooks are about, so it seems the thing to do is to wax poetic on the Halloween and Samhain themes.

For the quick studies among us, I offer these "cheat sheets":

Some Halloween history   and    Some Samhain history

On the personal side, I haven't cared much for the day. Love the season, but not the rituals. I've never been a ritual kind of guy. But I have history on my side...my backside, thankfully.

First Halloween I remember (didn't know about Samhain then) was in a distant realm where costumes were crafted by hand. I perfected the robot by combining several boxes, a larger one for the body, a smaller one for the head, still others for feet. Arms and legs remained sheathed in cloth. In the second grade I won a prize for having the best costume. What was special about the robot costume was that the non-steam-powered device was also an early form of the personal computer. If someone were to write out a question and introduce the slip of paper through the designated slot in the body of the robot, the robot would [eventually] produce a verbal answer to the question. The robot proved to be 90% accurate, which pre-Windows, was a remarkable feat.

Then came other costumes full of commercial interests: characters from TV shows, classical monsters, space aliens (the fierce and loathsome kind, not ET), and finally the minimalist kind of costume. Minimalist? You know the type: you put on a clean shirt and glasses and say you are dressed as a "nerd". Later, as an adult, I graced one-maybe-two adult Halloween parties where others went full out as sexy witches and vampire studs. I was still dressed as a nerd--still long before nerds were cool.

I often went trick or treating with my cousin, but our chief goal was less about collecting candy than harassing his sisters. Gradually, we forgot the costumes and ran wild through the night, sending rolls of toilet paper up into the trees of houses where girls who did not like him lived. We could, by then, buy our own candy--and we did. Then the reverse happened.  We became candy givers! Definitely less fun. Ah, I have not given out candy for many years now. You see, congruent with my emerging adulthood came the cultural shift away from children ringing doorbells and begging for treats. Too dangerous now--pins in candy, creepy pedophiles, whatever.

Well, it was never really about the candy or the costumes, anyway, I soon learned while hanging out with people who called themselves witches.  Real witches. Though they dressed like "ordinary" people, they had many of the same beliefs I held at that time. None of us threatened people nor begged for snacks. A few preferred to dress in black year-round, and all wore the pentacle around their necks or emblazoned on their black t-shirts. All in all a friendly, charming bunch of social rebels whose chief activity was "raising awareness" of their existence, then complaining that everyone disrespected them.

Other cultures celebrate death and welcome back the dead at this time of the year. That's fine with me. I've had it both ways--err, well, perhaps not both ways in the way you might be thinking. Someday I will, of course. No, what I meant was the fun side and the serious side of the day. Now, however, it seems like just another commercial venture: Halloween "memorabilia" is presented in stores hours after Labor Day has ended. I can deal with fake cobwebs and spiders and bats, even a few talking skulls or laughing zombie heads, but let's be real.

Death ain't so great. That's what I was told by a rather decayed ancestor of mine who happened to pop up in the middle of the night beside my bed--a day early, no less--just to warn me that one of these Halloween nights I might not be around to celebrate much of anything. I said, in my sleepy voice, "Fair enough."

The laughter that followed my ancestor out through the cracks in the walls was unnerving enough to get me up out of bed. I had to splash cold water on my face and awaken fully, just to be sure I was still alive. Shaking my head in front of the mirror with all the lights on, I knew it had not been a dream.

So, carefully, I made my way back to bed yet lay awake for hours, unable to close my eyes, afraid of the next snap, crack, squeak, creak, breath, or sigh--most of them, thankfully, coming from my neighbors arriving home late when the bars finally closed.

And the dawn sprite told me to go to sleep; my time has not come.

17 October 2013

Censorship and a confusion of sexy words!

Once upon a time happens every half-year or so, it seems, when book retailers suddenly act insane and throw out a lot of books and their authors for no sensible reason. Panic attack!

Once again someone complaining about a self-published book of erotica caused a panic in the industry. The result? Of course the book in question was burned. Then other books of erotica were tossed. Then any book that was self-published was given the heave-ho. The "reasoning" seemed to be that because erotica is generally self-published that by association all self-published books are suspect. After all, there are no purveyors of "good taste" to filter the good erotica from the back alley variety.

Naturally, there was an uproar by self-published authors of all genre, not only erotica. Unfair, they claimed, that all self-published books were taken down from online retailers Kobo and W.H. Smith in the U.K. Sales are hard enough to come by without such negative publicity and removal from the sales venue, even if, as the retail entities were quick to explain, the books would eventually be made available again "as soon as possible." We know how that goes.

Sure, this could be seen as "par for the course"; we've been through this kind of mass censorship before. A few of my colleagues declare this is not censorship because retailers can sell whatever they wish to sell, and no one is forced to sell someone else's book, erotica or any other genre. That's true; they are in business, after all. And yet, "censorship" comes not in some political definition but as more common sense jargon. Those retailers chose to make products unavailable for sale based on a hot, rushed decision made from scantily clad evidence related to a particular slutty book. (So the story goes....)

They have that right, yet I would still call it censorship because their actions were because of the content of those books, hence touching upon freedom of speech--which, of course, has never really existed except in some limited, brief conditions. They determined that others should not have access to that content. Someone deciding that someone else cannot have something made by a further someone is censorship, regardless whether a government entity is responsible for it or a business. Said another way:

Joe won't let Mary read the book Terry wrote because Joe thinks the book is not suitable for Mary. Joe does not allow Mary, therefore, to judge Terry's book for herself. Thus, Mary does not get the experience of reading the book and Terry does not get the benefit of compensation for writing the book. Joe, however, gets the satisfaction of affecting control over both Mary's pleasure and Terry's livelihood. In the end, only Joe gets off cleanly...though in a dirty way.

Well, I was not personally inconvenienced by this latest incident. And it did not seem to raise as much of a storm as the previous episode did. Perhaps we self- and indie-published authors take it as the cost of doing business. The rush to judgment, casting the widest possible net to catch any and all who may have slipped in a clever double entendre or an innocent first kiss or the simple delight of a bodice-ripped heroines pining for manly men in Romance novels is the offending act. I noted in subsequent discussions online that erotica written by better known authors (e.g., E. L. James) and published by traditional publishers (the popular Fifty Shades series) was not thrown out.

That certainly smells like a double standard. Is traditionally published erotica more (or less) sexy than self-published erotica? Which is more dangerous? Are the fantasies of midnight novelists somehow less wholesome than those of 24/7 erotica authors who are promoted onto bestseller lists by big company marketing departments? And in the final analysis, isn't all erotica the same? Aren't there only a few basic moves and all the rest mere variations on what seems, practiced over millennia, to work best? Granted, there are "how-to" books which may offer some tricks and gimmicks to dress up the behavior of the undressed. Even so, one aroused person's trick is another aroused person's fetish. Right?

I've even dabbled in some nasty bits, but I tend to "keep it real"--plausible, that is. Nothing that is physically challenging for the more idealistic acrobats of the bedroom--or, as the case might be, in a janitor's closet in a foodcourt restroom in a shopping mall...or whatever.* I tried using metaphors in my romantic adventure novel, AFTER ILIUM, but nobody figured out what was going on. Not good erotica, I suppose. Here's a sample from the big sex scene:

He continued collecting souvenirs as she directed him southward, showing him a lush garden of delicious, juicy fruit to sample, even daring him to taste the puckered kumquat. The festive banquet of Eden spread before him! Drowning in the sea of pleasure, she sighed, like the wind in the sails, and encouraged him to gather all the treasures that he could. He responded by lapping furiously at the fountain of youth, growing not younger but older, gaining maturity. And when he feared he might finally be satiated, she called for him to return to port, to push hard into the harbor until his vessel was fully docked and his wares completely unloaded. (p. 41)

It's all sailing terminology! What is so objectionable about that? Docking...harbor...unloading ware...?

So, in the end, everything remains the same: business as usual: you get what you pay for. Unless someone decides it's not worth your money. Granted, there are subjects, especially in erotica, which make me uncomfortable or disgusts me. I have a threshold. So I don't read them. I don't buy them. But I'm not about to set up a wall to keep people out. Their business is none of my business. Unless...?

On the other hand, I trust people--I want to trust that people are reasonable, that they don't like certain "filth" (rape, incest, abuse, etc., as alleged by the complaint) because of a desire to act out what they read, that they are not likely to be as bad as characters in fiction might be. Faith in humanity. Yes, we've been fooled before by people committing heinous crimes, but we must hold fast to the basic belief in the rightness of the majority of our neighbors. Or we stop being human. End of lecture.

Now, everyone please turn to Porn #69 in your hymnals....

*Did not really happen!

(C) Copyright 2010-2013 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.