12 December 2014

Year End Review

Have you ever gotten to the end of a year and stopped to wonder whether January was, like, about five years ago?

Or, perhaps, January was somewhere between yesterday and the blink of your eyes when you read the first sentence of this blog. 

Either way, the year is winding down and the final page of the calendar sits ready to be replaced by a Brand New Calendar possibly from your insurance company, who patiently wait for your mishaps to accrue in their carefully arranged actuarial tables. I know mine does.

So for my only blog this month, hence the final blog of the year 2014, I would like to remember some highlights. Forgive me if some of mine are not necessarily some of yours. Then again, I am fully aware that none of these may be highlights to most of you dear, sweet, loyal readers. That's just the nature of serendipity.

I began the year no worse for wear from the previous year--actually, I was sitting rather comfortably in my DREAM LAND TRILOGY pajamas, having finally gotten the third and final volume out of the womb and into the world. The third one was the easiest to push out. No drugs were needed, but the comet did hurt a little.

I began the year by exchanging blog posts with my writer colleague Kate Bittersauthor of Elmer Left. I also entertained author Joan Hazel's new book Burdens of a Saint, the second book in The Guardians series, which involves shape-shifting werewolves. Those were good times. Then everything went downhill.

I dared put out my "sexy" "campus" "romance" book A BEAUTIFUL CHILL just in time for Valentine Day but that "sexy" "campus" "romance" trend had sailed. So I ignored all the naughty spanking jokes and waxed poetic on the trials and tribulations of choosing character names as well as a humorous post on making Top 10 lists. I followed those [ahem] "highlights" with a stream of complaining through March about anything and everything, yes, even as I tried foisting books upon hyper-excited Spring Break readers. It was not a pretty picture.

By April I was well-underway on a new novel which eventually became my contemporary Vampire tale set in Oklahoma City. The idea had been boiling for a while, the desperate need to explain to the world the true nature of vampirism, the real disease which exists, and the poor unfortunate protagonist who suffers from it. Thus, more and more of my blog posts revolved around the topic of vampires, blood, skin diseases, and medicated lotions.

In May I got tagged by the blog tagging monster and forced upon pain of pain to write about my writing process. That produced a plethora of paragraphs on purple prose that primarily got me banned for life from the writing life. It got some play. Or, as Gordon Gekko quips in the film Wall Street: "It's good for a five-point pop." If I had a nickel for every penny I have.... No, seriously, it was well-received. In fact, that post garnered the highest number of retweets ever in the history of my lonesome Twitter feed!

By June I had finished the draft of A DRY PATCH OF SKIN and felt pretty good about myself. I had gone from the dreaded "I'll never ever write again" to the smug "Yeah, I can write a 100,000-word novel, no problem." Then came all that revision, editing, and proofreading. The usual game. (I usually win that.) More of the same through the rest of the summer: vampires, blood, skin diseases, scratch scratch. An unhealthy number of juxtapositions between the story line of the book and the real events of my life made it a more or less miserable period. 

A couple more posts came in the autumn to remind us that blog posts exist to preach to the choir. Mine addressed such pearls of wisdom as shoving that profound message right on up through the heart of an otherwise fun story. Or why you shouldn't. Or how to slip it in without a reader even feeling it. I also wrote lucid comparisons between the film Dracula Untold and my vampire novel. 

Then NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) appeared on the horizon and I jumped into it for the first time and burned through a cheap pulp sci-fi book to win the thing with 55,555 words, give or take. So my blog posts were about that silly sci-fi story and the NaNoWriMo experience. 

And that brings us to the end of the year. 

Normally I would wish each and every one of you a happy and healthy holiday happening, but this year... Well, all right, I'll go ahead and wish you a happy and healthy holiday happening yet again! Had you worried a moment, didn't I? Sorry. Here's a holiday bunny for you: Scrooge McBun.

As I shall be traveling through time and space for the remainder of the month--not all of it will be interdimensionally, however--I shall not be blogging until next year.

Let us hope that many things about our world improve significantly in the next year. In the meantime, let our personal worlds be filled with joy and bounty! (But not too much bounty; New Year resolutions await.)

See you on the other side, and thanks for the egg nog!

(C) Copyright 2010-2014 by Stephen M. Swartz. All Rights Reserved. No part of this blog, whether text or image, may be used without me giving you written permission, except for brief excerpts that are accompanied by a link to this entire blog. Violators shall be written into novels as characters who are killed off. Serious violators shall be identified and dealt with according to the laws of the United States of America.

30 November 2014

Are You a Winner, too?

As many of you know, November has been a particularly arduous month, mostly because I chose was compelled to join in all the fun of the National Novel Writing Month. I've had to decline in previous years because November is a busy month in the academic calendar.

However, this year I needed something to jump-start the writing juices after giving birth to my Vampire novel A DRY PATCH OF SKIN--which is still viable even a month after Halloween. (Get it for your loved ones for the holidays; they'll scratch you for it. Makes a great gift for relatives who have skin issues.)

So into #NaNoWriMo I dove with an opening scene and some notes of how it proceeds leftover from junior high school. I started off at a good pace, then that day job and its attendant duties reared its ugly head as I knew it would. I struggled to add a few paragraphs between classes. I worked in the evenings to cobble a few pages more. Weekends were all writing time. Suddenly I was hooked on the story and the writing became an obsession. 

My simple sci-fi tale of the little alien guy captured and taken away from his home world for no apparent reason, forced to work hard labor, who learns and grows, and is determined to escape and return home, filled my mind for most of every day. Part of the fun (of making him suffer, ironically) was inventing his home world's landscape, flora and fauna, social life, and religious beliefs. I tried to rethink how this society would see the universe and how they would communicate. I did not want to invent a whole new language as I had done for THE DREAM LAND Trilogy (e.g., Ghoupallean, Zetin, Roue, and Danid). (Makes a great #CyberMonday gift or a nice box to stuff under the tree!)

Inventing a new world slowed down my writing so I gave myself permission to write crap. Just get the story out...err, umm, down. Tell what happens, toss in a scene here and there, charge ahead to that 50,000 word goal line. And so I did. In fact, I hit the 49,999 word mark just three weeks into November and rested with my toes barely touching the line for a couple days. Then I leaped ahead. I always knew I'd have the final week free to write thanks to a full week holiday break from school. I knew no matter what I achieved in the month, I could catch up then. I even dared to edit out a few hundred words, lowering my word count. Cocky, I know.

By the time I entered this extended Thanksgiving break, I was past 50,000 words. I dared take a couple days off. I knew this story would not be finished at 50,000, not even at 55,000 words. I settled at a comfortable total of 55,555 words but upon validation on the NaNoWriMo website, I was credited with only 55,396 words. However, based on where I am in the story, I predict about 75,000 to 80,000 to finish it. And the final two twists will Blow Your Mind! (This is the fun part of writing: blowing readers' minds.) 

Originally, I was setting the story on the same world that I used for THE DREAM LAND Trilogy but in its NaNoWriMo incarnation, I made it an entirely new world, a warm, lush, vibrant planet where the indigenous intelligent life runs around half naked. Too bad for our mild-mannered hero Toog that he is taken to a cold, frozen wasteland to labor with a menagerie of beings taken from many different worlds or kept in a frosty stone-walled prison cell until he is needed--or that he must hide in a chilly cave after he escapes the prison and the work camp. Now how will he get off the planet to return home to his family? 

That is THE MASTERS' RIDDLE, of course. (Spoiler: It involves an interdimensional doorway, similar to that central trope used in THE DREAM LAND Trilogy.) And if Toog does make it home, what will he find there? Will his society have left him behind? Or will he suffer the same kind of time-differential the astronauts in the film INTERSTELLAR experienced?

Coming to an ebook reading device near you probably sometime in 2015.

And so I won...like everyone does who plays...similar to a youth soccer league, I suppose. And here is my certificate to prove it! 

Also available for your #CyberMonday consideration are two non-sci-fi novels that will leave you tearful and distraught by the final page: AFTER ILIUM and A BEAUTIFUL CHILL.

(C) Copyright 2010-2014 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 2014

'Tis the Time to Tickle the Turkey!

(free recipe included)

This week many will be slouching and slumping and snoring or snorting, content in the afterglow of their gluttonous indulgences and warm family camaraderie they put off for most of the days this 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 do not indulge much on these 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 rock named Plymouth, yet did not travel there in a Plymouth automobile.

Nevertheless, holiday traditions die hard (though turkeys are 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 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.

Some highlights of Thanksgivings past:

  • 2003. Stuck in my doctoral program in the snowy hills of western Pennsylvania, it made no sense to travel back to Kansas for three days. Especially when I had final papers to write. So I just made burritos and kept typing.
  • 1988 and 1989. I was living in Japan so it wasn't even a holiday. And turkey was an unfamiliar bird in that country. I cannot recall exactly what I ate on those days yet it was likely something with teriyaki sauce on it.
  • Sometime 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. 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.

Or, as the early founding chefs  decided 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.

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

And now, as promised, here is the recipe for...

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.) 

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!

Happy End-of-November Holiday!

(C) Copyright 2010-2014 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.

17 November 2014

Where is Toog today?

Having nothing much to blog about, I thought I'd update you on my progress in the National Novel Writing Month, a.k.a. NaNoWriMo, which I have joined for the first time in my recorded history.

And it goes a little bit like this:

Toog is from planet Sebbol, a member of the race called Aull who sprang from the womb of Great Goddess Aull. One night he awakens with a bad feeling. He goes out of his abode to check on things but is suddenly, as he feared, captured by a mysterious alien race known only as The Masters. (This is totally unrelated to golf, by the way.) They seem to be all-powerful and just as mysterious.

Poor Toog awakens in a dark cell, literally bolted to his bed. Eventually he meets another prisoner who teaches him how to survive. There is more to getting through his ordeal, Toog learns, than simply conversing with his inner Ru. Soon he is at a labor camp in a frozen wilderness, a difficult situation for someone from a tropical world. But there at the work camp he meets beings from across the galaxy. Toog leads a rebellion and...is taken back to the prison. (Yes, NaNoWriMo can be rough on protagonists.)

At the risk of offering spoilers, suffice to say that Toog escapes, rounds up other beings and mounts a full-scale assault on the prison and the Masters. Now what? They seem to be stuck on this prison planet, even though they have escaped from the prison itself. Now they must discover the secret power of the Masters, the way they can go from world to world collecting a diverse alien labor force. Maybe that is the riddle that will show them the way home.

But wait! There's more! 

What will Toog find when (if) he makes it back to his home world? Will time have passed him by? Will his mate have waited for him? Will his infant daughter remember him? Yes, I know, shades of Interstellar--where young father returns to find his daughter now in her old age. However, I planned this novel during my teen years and wrote the opening scene plus a couple pages of notes. What is included in the notes is what Toog finds when he returns to his home world (Spoiler, sorry).

So there you have it: NaNoWriMo updated. Word count: 32,233 and climbing!

(C) Copyright 2010-2014 by Stephen M. Swartz. All Rights Reserved. No part of this blog, whether text or image, may be used without me giving you written permission, except for brief excerpts that are accompanied by a link to this entire blog. Violators shall be written into novels as characters who are killed off. Serious violators shall be identified and dealt with according to the laws of the United States of America.

10 November 2014

How NaNoWriMo is like being in Interstellar

I have not fallen off the face of the Earth. It just feels that way. To me and probably to all of you--any of you--well, you know who you are. Feels like I lost 23 years as I fitfully slept last night.

Last time I was pulled to the keyboard by the blog muse, I teased you with news that I had taken a leap of faith into the black hole that is the National Novel Writing Month competition. Competition is really a misnomer because, like youth soccer leagues everywhere, we are all winners--as long as we hit 50,000 words by midnight of November 30 (by time zone). I thought I could crank out 50,000 sorta-good words in a month, even with a day job that requires me to read stacks of student papers on a fairly constant schedule during the month of November. I thought I could be heroic.

Then came the film INTERSTELLAR (official website)(early teaser trailer #1 and trailer #2), which I knew I would see as if my life depended on. I knew that at the instant the first trailer passed my eyes months ago ahead of another, much lesser film. The opportunity finally came on Saturday. But no! Two-thirds through the film--and I was into it hook, line, and quantum physics--it all stopped. The theater went dark, the screen went dark, and for a minute or so all anyone could do was make-out. We all expected the problem would be corrected and the movie would continue. 

Not a still from the film INTERSTELLAR but a shot of Iceland where the film was, umm, filmed.

Then emergency lights came on and youthful theater thugs told us to get out. Actually, they asked us to "carefully evacuate." Everyone walked through the bowels of the mall's multiplex to the exterior door--just as the Ranger spacecraft would be docking with the mothership, Endurance, which kinda resembled a bracelet of Pandora ornaments. We feared to exit the safety of our theater for the cold of the parking lot. Outside, there was chaos as people did not know what to do. Wait to be called back in to finish the film? Wait for fireworks? Rush to cars and get in line to exit the mall? It was pandemonium without even a single panda! 

Long story short, I had been expecting to piggyback my evening's writing session on the inspiration from that film. I've noticed that seeing a movie or reading a book can spark that part of my brain that I also use for writing stories. It has nothing to do with the kind of story or film, or what the story or film is about, just that it fires neurons in the same part of my brain. But no movie--no conclusion, that is--so no writing session.

Why did I latch my writing session to a film like Endurance?--I mean, Interstellar

Because my little NaNoWriMo novel is a sci-fi space opera, too. Except there are no humans, no Earthlings in it. (I reserve the right to add a throw-away human later in the book.) In my working-titled novel THE MASTERS' RIDDLE, an ordinary guy, Toog of planet Sebbol, is captured in the middle of the night and awakens in a prison cell. What has he done wrong? he wonders. Lots of time to wonder, bolted to a flat surface in a dark chamber as he is. 

I know what happens next, of course; I've worked out the details about that already. But it would be cruel to give you those spoilers. Suffice to say, this story is about a diverse group of beings from across the galaxy who must work together to escape their awful circumstances. The only way to do that is to solve the riddle of who the Masters are and what their power is.

Which brings me to my slacker word count. Granted, there is the day job and its attendant duties, but evenings and weekends are free, one may argue. But it's just not as simple as that. My recently launched anti-vampire novel A DRY PATCH OF SKIN was easy to start: I was essentially writing about the quirky things I experienced last spring, then veered off into the Gothic. I even ended up in Hungary, by golly, without ever leaving my computer! But this so-called "easy knock-off" novel is tough going--much like the 130% gravity of the Waterworld our heroic astronauts encounter after passing through the Saturnalian wormhole (Nope, no hints about the Masters' riddle here, ahem!) 

So I'm struggling to make the word count each day. As the NaNoWriMo website calculated last night, I will achieve my 50,000 words somewhere after December 5--which is like January 20 in non-NaNoWriMo time! The deeper into November one gets, the slower word count rises. Coincidentally, the faster the month seems to go, too!

If you do not hear from me again, I probably slipped on the ice on some far-off planetary stage and landed head-first in the orchestra pit. Nevertheless, I shall endeavor to produce the necessary word count to pull my novel through that *wormhole, kicking and screaming, no matter what the organist is playing, nor the crop burners burning, nor the scientists scienting! As any blight-stressed, dust-choked farmer might say, "I'm gonna getter done!"

Now you are up to date. Expecting a free ticket, I hope to return soon to start the film from the beginning again! Then I shall write a proper review. Your indulgences, please. Thanks.

*If you are interested in learning about interdimensional travel without using a spaceship and cryosleep while transiting to Saturn (as in Interstellar), then you may wish to visit this Facebook page: Interdimensional TravelOr you may wish to follow the adventures through an interdimensional doorway by reading THE DREAM LAND Trilogy.

(C) Copyright 2010-2014 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 2014

Why I joined the Nanowrimo cult

It pains me to use the word cult but perhaps that is the most accurate word. Let's try to keep things in perspective, however: it's a good cult.

November is the period of worship in the cult of Nanowrimo (what the uninitiated may call the "National Novel Writing Month"), chiefly for those whose nervous fingers cannot avoid the lusty keys. I have never been able to participate because of its unfortunate scheduling. You see, November is the fattiest meat of the fall semester and tough to cut; 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--and so, finally, I have joined!

I finished Halloween with sufficient aplomb, whereby my new vampire romance novel A DRY PATCH OF SKIN went viral like a patient with ebola (Thanks to those who downloaded or purchased it! Please post a review.), and so I lay exhausted and drained of energy, devoid of plot ideas. How could I possibly participate in this festival of wordcraft?

Until, alas, one ancient tale arose in my mushy consciousness late Halloween night not long after several diminutive alien costumes accosted me upon my doorstep, demanding healthy treats! The horror! And so was born the story which shall consume me lo these many nights of November!

The goal for celebrants of NaNoWriMo is to create from sacred mind-fire a 50,000 word book. By definition, that is the minimum length for something called a novel. That seems to be easy enough. My previous novels have been in the 72,000 to 122,000 range. However, let us not forget the time factor: one month--with the day job looming precariously over all.

When we are embroiled in the vagaries of daily life, we cannot simply 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. And they will not approve of the project until they have been adequately wined and dined, made indolent and subservient through pleasurable stimulations, coaxed and coerced into finally granting their favor upon me.

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. I wonder why I ever had doubts about writing again. It is what I do, after all. No matter what month it is. 

Therefore, to claw my way out of the grave of vampire novels, I enter this new house of worship with full knowledge of the many sacrifices required of me! 


My NaNoWriMo ritual is titled "The Masters' Riddle"
It is a sci-fi tale of captured aliens trying to escape a barren prison planet. And none of the characters are human.
Stay tuned for the amazing result!

(C) Copyright 2010-2014 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.

27 October 2014

What the Undead are wearing this season!

[NOTE: For Halloween, midnight to midnight, the Kindle edition of A DRY PATCH of SKIN will be Free! So get yours while you can and grab some lotion, too.]

The Free Promotion period has ended.

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

But wait! There's more! 

I have now become consumed by thoughts of life as an Undead... and it has taken root in my fingertips! 

Dry, flaky skin covers my body and I feel the need for blood! Let me find a good, plump vein for my supper! 

And you, too, may tarry within the pages of this new novel and fight off the desperate urge to scratch!

Read a review in The Oklahoman newspaper here

(The only vampire romance story to be set in Oklahoma City... among other places.)

Turn, Mr. Stoker! Turn quick in thy grave!

(C) Copyright 2010-2014 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.

19 October 2014

Dracula Untold - Explained

In keeping with the autumnal spirit and delving into the legend of vampirism this month, I finally took the afternoon to go see Dracula Untold, purportedly the story of what really happened to Mr. Vlad Tepes, a.k.a. Dracula (more info here and film info here). 

Having done a bit of historical research myself in years past and again more recently in writing my vampire novel A DRY PATCH OF SKIN, I could compare the film with a checklist of facts and suppositions from scholarly sources. As I watched the film, I was mentally checking off things that fit and those that did not.

For the most part, I found the film engaging on a visual level: the CGIs were breathtaking (I had brought a respirator, just in case) and the acting generally good. The occasional slip of modern language ("Are you okay?" to a fallen comrade) reminded me it was Hollywood fiction. The costumes were, to my eyes, authentic enough; to a historian of armor, perhaps not. Overall I was satisfied with the film, but there were anomalies that made me turn in my grave (metaphorically).

The general storyline is that Prince Vlad of Transylvania* refuses to give up his young son as a hostage to the Turkish Sultan, thus initiating an invasion by the Sultan's army. Vlad seeks supernatural power from a hideous hermit hiding in a cave at the top of a mountain. Great, I thought. This ugly vampire fits what we know of the medical/biological attributes of vampirism. And yet, the offering of blood by this cave dweller to our prince is his ticket out of the Turkish problem. (I did not care for this explanation; it leaves out answers to the inevitable question of who the first vampire was, the one who first began spreading this affliction.)

There is a twist which I suspect is not actually part of the presumed "untold" story but does make for convenient conflict complications: Vlad gets a three day trial using his new-found powers. Then he will revert back to his human self, no questions asked--or, if he gives in and drinks human blood within the three days, he will become a vampire forever, which is kind of a long time.

One of the superpowers he has is the ability to transform instantly into a swarm of bats. He is also able to control a separate flock of flying bloodsuckers and manipulate them into a giant fist that strikes down the Sultan's camp like the hand of God. Beyond that, he has superhuman energy, able to cut through the Turkish battalions like a hot knife through butter. Very impressive. Is there a role in the next Avengers movie for this Dracula?

However, in the final moments of the third day, his wife has fallen victim and with her dying breath she bids him drink her blood to be able to fight on and defeat the rest of the Turkish army as well as the particular Turks who sent her off the top of a tower to her doom below. Done deal: he is now a vampire forever--long after defeating the Turks. The final moments of the film take us to a modern city and he strides into the camera shot tall, dark, and handsome as ever! (Look around you; this is how you recognize who is a vampire today.)

Given that the story opened in the 1400s, Vlad has aged well during the subsequent 600 years. He does not have the hideous appearance of the cave dwelling vampire--which tells me this modern Vlad has been able to satisfy his blood lust at regular intervals. So...all the vampire tropes are there in the film, all the characteristics, the lore, the criteria, and so on, but on a basic level it is still a story of dark magic, not biological reality.

Conversely, in A DRY PATCH OF SKIN, a thoroughly modern story of vampire transformation, the medical technician hero, Stefan, has annoying symptoms which evolve into something hideous, driving him to seek treatment. As his desperation increases, he accepts ever riskier procedures. He eventually talks with God, making deals, but there is no magic involved. Again, all the tropes of vampire legend are explored and explained using medical, biological, psychological, and sociological causes. Having real, scientific explanations, however, does not help our poor hero very much.

They make a nice pair, this film and this novel. The old and the new. Something borrowed and something blue. I wish life were so easy, so beautiful.... 

If you wish to know what is really like to transform into something hideous, read A DRY PATCH OF SKIN --and keep the lotion handy.

*Bram Stoker sets his Dracula novel in Transylvania, the region northwest of the Carpathian mountains, but the historical Vlad was Prince of Wallachia, the land to the south and east of the Carpathian mountains from Transylvania. 

(C) Copyright 2010-2014 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 October 2014

A Dry Patch of Skin Launches!

It seems Vampires are still the rage! People cannot get enough of them. 

Except me. I've had enough of them--so I wrote this novel to put the thing to bed, as it were, even though it may very well rise again. You know how that meme works.

This week A DRY PATCH OF SKIN launches (Kindle edition, anyway; paperback coming soon Paperback now available!)--just in time for Halloween/Samhain and seemingly in time to ride the coat tails of the Dracula Untold film. While I have not yet seen the film, I was hooked by the trailer and will likely go see it soon, despite the mixed reviews of critics and friends it is getting. 

There are no such mixed reviews of my contemporary vampire novel, fortunately. Not yet, at least. Perhaps never. Perhaps that is because some fear the possible consequences of going against Stefan Székely, the hero or anti-hero of the story. However, he really is quite harmless. Or is he? 

(Or is he? [One never knows what powers one has until forced to use them, eh?])

Accompanying this grand smashing of champagne bottle against book spine, I have been interviewed and an Advanced Review Copy review has been posted. Many thanks to fellow Myrddin author Connie J. Jasperson.

Life in the Realm of Fantasy (Stephen Swartz interview)

Best in Fantasy (Review of A Dry Patch of Skin)

The previous post of this blog has additional information and amusement.

The two questions I seem to be asked most are:

1. What genre is this novel?

2. What does the title mean?

Answers may be partly found in the interview. For those click-phobic few, I offer the short version:

1. I call it a vampire novel, but that is because that category gets across the essential elements of the story. There is constant discussion of vampires, vampirism, history and legend, medical and biological considerations, and theological concerns throughout the book. It could qualify as a medical thriller. Also as a Christian allegory tale. There is also a love story at the center: What would you do to be able to stay with the one you loved? What risky medical procedures would you willingly endure? 

Most of all, I tried very hard to keep it brutally contemporary: 2013-14 for the time setting and Oklahoma City (my present abode) as the place. The story also involves travel to other places, such as New Orleans and Hungary. Die-hard fans of Twilight and other recent vampire TV shows, films, and books may not adjust well to the spoofing of those media that the characters in my book do. Or, they may just as well enjoy the satirical pokes. 

So, in the final analysis, it is what I always tend to write: a genre mash-up. This outing, it's about a man turning into a vampire but he doesn't want to.

2. The title came very early in the writing and I felt it was quirky enough to be a good title. Other options included "A Big Boil on the Skin" and "A Troubling Rash" but I dropped those fairly quick. Briefly considered "But I don't wanna be a Vampire!" So A DRY PATCH of SKIN was the medical winner. 

The phrase "a dry patch of skin" shows up in multiple places in the book, almost always in an ironic sense. Here are a few of them:

      What will be the first sign? Will it simply be a dry patch of skin? An odd blemish? A discoloration?

“I do care about you,” she whispered.

“Thanks,” I said, trying to sound positive. “We can’t let a dry patch of skin get between us, now can we?”

“So...what brings you here this morning?” asked the perky physician’s assistant, blond and leggy.

“A dry patch of skin,” I said glumly.

We stared at the two of us in the big mirror. It was the measure of our existence: here are two humans, one male and one female, of average attributes, two examples that have copulated previously and might copulate again if not for a dry patch of skin or two. Or thirteen.

So you see that it serves as a kind of motif or meme that appears here and there in the text to signal to the reader what kind of significance a small, simple thing that represents all the ugliness and pathos of the world boiled down to an affliction cursing one particular individual can have. But I digress....

Here is the full cover for the paperback edition, coming soon: AVAILABLE NOW!

The blurb:

The truth about being a vampire: It is not cool, not sexy. It’s a painful, miserable existence.

Good reason to avoid that situation, thinks medical technician Stefan Székely. He's too busy falling in love with TV reporter Penny Park, anyway. Until one day when she notices a dry patch of skin on his face.

At first it's just annoying, nothing to worry about, some weird skin disease he can treat with lotions. However, as his affliction worsens, Stefan fears that his unsightly problem will ruin his relationship with Penny. 

If only that was all Stefan has to worry about! He soon realizes there is a lot more at stake than his handsome face. To save himself, Stefan must go in search of a cure for the disease which is literally destroying him inch by inch. If only his parents had told him of the family legacy.

At this point, I must clarify that any and all skin products readers may find they need while reading this book are entirely at their own cost. However, Stefan Székely recommends the products available at Bath & Body Works. Also, no animals were killed in the making of this novel.

Apologies to those who skin begins to tingle or feel itchy. Check with your doctor.

(C) Copyright 2010-2014 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.