28 February 2014

The Top 10 Reasons to Make a Top 10 List

How to make a Top 10 List in 10 easy steps!

They're all the rage these days: the lists, the numbers, the numbered lists, and all the advice given out in the form of lists of 10 or 7 or 5 or 3 things you need to know about anything, absolutely anything at all! 

Here are the 10 steps to making a Top 10 List:

1. Type the number 1.
2. Type one example of your idea, or whatever you want to make a list about.
3. Add more numbers and more items until you have compiled ten of them.
4. Arrange in order of most important to least important, or, if you wish, put them in reverse order.
5. Go have lunch, or, in the alternative, a drink of your favorite beverage.
6. Review the list; edit, proofread as necessary.
7. Take a nap. In the alternative, daydream.
8. Practice reading your list aloud; if bored, use a voice with a foreign accent or a cartoon character.
9. Run spellchecker; or, if you choose, start the entire project over from scratch.
10. Sit back and admire your list. If flexible enough, pat yourself on the back.

Seems easy enough, right? Anyone can do it. The beauty of such lists, of course, is their flexibility. Say it with me: Flex-I-Bil-I-Ty! Stay flexible. Anticipate changes. Embrace alternatives. Reward yourself for absolutely anything you can. And always count to 10 before and after making such a list.

Lists of 10 are useful for many different things. For example, steps to do something.

To demonstrate (etymology: "to strut like a demon") the process, I shall construct a list of the 10 steps I go through when I am writing a novel. I choose this topic because it's one of the few things I actually know how to do. Also, I was thinking of it recently as I began a new novel.

I spend a lot of time teaching the Writing Process and reinforcing the Writing Process for multitudes of college students who worship my model of the Writing Process, especially for its flexibility and all of the fun diversions that are de rigueur in any true process.

This is the usual pattern I have discerned from hindsight:

1. Get idea, write for fun, see where it goes.

Usually it's something I read, hear about, or a life experience that gives me the idea that something may make a good story, hence I should write a novel about it. For example, AFTER ILIUM began in a Classical Rhetoric class where we studied the Encomium of Helen, a speech in support of Helen being a victim and not a co-conspirator in the Trojan War instigation. So I thought: Wouldn't it be weird if a guy named Parris met a woman named Helen today on the way to Troy? A BEAUTIFUL CHILL began with my actual experiences on campus, then turned into a what-if kind of scenario.

2. If it goes somewhere, keep going, form longer idea.

Like the step states, I write and see if it goes anywhere. A fruitful idea will go and go and never stop until I just plain get tired of typing. A weak idea will usually run out of steam rather quickly; then I'll dismiss it.

3. Pause to research, write a little.

Eventually I'll get to a point where I cannot write further without checking some facts, doing some research, making sure I'm on the right track. So I'll pause in writing to do that research. I'll continue writing, of course, but usually in smaller portions and with longer intervals between the writing sessions.

4. Repeat step 3.

Yes, I do repeat that step. Because it's an important step. I cannot write if I do not know what I'm writing about, so in this stage I am switching back and forth often between the researching and the writing. While working on THE DREAM LAND III, which involved a comet's approach and a planet-wide evacuation plan, I researched spacecraft requirements, life-support systems, astronomy and inhabitable planets, and naturally comets, all rather extensively...and continued to write pages between the researching.

5. Write longer portions using research.

After sufficient research has been done and the relevant knowledge incorporated, I'm able to writing in more extended sessions because I now know the details. I still might pause to check some facts.

6. Keep going until done.

Now comes the long haul of writing. Writing sprints are helpful. Also helpful is no distractions or disturbances or poor health. On a good day I can write forever. It's fun and I am reading a new story as quickly as I am typing it out.

7. Edit.

Yes, I usually edit a bit as I go; each writing session I edit the previous portion of text as a warm-up to the fresh composition. But here, in this step, I do a serious deep edit from start to finish. Much rewriting may occur, including cuts to some "darlings" and additional text added.

8. Research, check everything for technical correctness.

In this step I tend to get a little paranoid, worried that some expert somewhere may read my book and shake his/her head at the facts I present. So I recheck crucial data, facts, and information--just to be sure. Also, sometimes new questions arise in the writing and so I return to research late in the process. This is also where I check for technical consistency. If the spacecraft is designated V-77 in chapter 23 I need to also call it V-77 in chapter 29, not V-75.

9. Edit for style.

I check for the voice of characters, vocal quirks, grammar, and so on. I make sure the voice of the narrator is consistent. I play with the wording of key phrases and sentences, choosing the best word(s) for the effect I want. This is a long step involving repeated readings of the same passages.

10. Proofread.

Beyond spellchecker. I read everything with my own eyes several times...and yet I still miss things and, embarrassingly, find them at the last moment while reading a proof copy of the book. A few tips to catch such errors: 1) read aloud; you will hear what your eyes do not see; and 2) read from the last sentence forward to the first sentence, at least within each chapter; forced isolation of the sentence, taken out of the flow, helps pinpoint any flaws in syntax or grammar, as well as checking spelling and punctuation.

Then I am finished. At least with the writing! There is certainly another 10 List for publishing a book. Perhaps it has 20 items. I lose count after a while, anyway.

By the way, in my "just begun" novel A DRY PATCH OF SKIN (my "vampire" story), I am at step 3: after a good run to get the story started, I'm pausing to do research before continuing with the writing. Meanwhile, of course, I have five novels to offer you for your weekend entertainment. Please click a link in the upper right corner of this blog. Thanks! And enjoy!

Oh! I almost forgot to give you the Top 10 reasons for making a Top 10 List. Sorry for that slip. That's probably worthy of a list itself. Well, here they are, but I'm sure you'll find them quite mundane.

1. People like Top 10 lists.

2. Compartmentalizes information in an easily digestible form.
3. People can count to 10.
4. Counting creates excitement.
5. People are often bored.
6. Counting prevents boredom.
7. People hate boredom.
8. Counting gives people a sense of progression.
9. People like the word 'top'!
10. At the conclusion of a Top 10 List, people are likely to debate whether the items should be on the list.

(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.

22 February 2014

What’s in a name? Sometimes, everything. (Updated)

[Note: This blog post originally appeared as a guest post on The Bitter Blog by Author Kate Bitters.]

As a kid, I never liked my name. It was too easy for other kids to deliberately mispronounce just to tease me. So once I started writing stories, I thought up several pen names to replace the name my parents had foisted upon me. However, I gave up eventually, deciding I needed to use my real name so family and friends would believe I actually wrote the books.

But the subject of names continues to impact my life, especially my writing life, and as writers know, names are important. After all, Adam was tasked with naming the flora and fauna of the Garden of Eden, and with each pronouncement, it became real. Each time we cast a label on something, we could be said to name it. And naming creates powerful associations. Our characters’ names are no different.

Perhaps not every character fiddles with his or her name; thank goodness they seldom complain. I imagine, however, that characters do what real people do, and fiddling with and changing and using just the right name is important to a lot of us. Sometimes a name is actually a crucial element of a story character's psyche, motivation, or raison-d'être.

For example, in my forthcoming novel A BEAUTIFUL CHILL, the heroine, Íris, is from Iceland and the correct Icelandic pronunciation of her name matters to her. As it turns out, her name is about all she has that is truly hers, so she firmly corrects anyone who says her name with the English pronunciation; her friends know how to say it and by that quirk she marks them as friends. “My name is Íris. Like the letter E,” she scolds the male protagonist early on. It is literally a defining moment for her: Get my name right, or we’ll have nothing to do with each other.

In another example, the young man in THE DREAM LAND trilogy who takes over from our hero is named Chucker. It's a nickname used by his mother since he was a little boy, and since he is searching for her on another world, it has meaning to him.

“What do they call you in school? Is it Chuck or Charlie?”
“Chucker is what they call me—but I hate that name. Mom was crazy naming me that. Chuck R. Tucker. The ‘R’ stands for René. Sissy name, ain’t it? That was her dad’s name. Her name was Tucker, and after she got married it was McElroy. Then she changed it back to Tucker. My dad’s name is Chuck. That’s what Grandma said. So everybody calls me Chucker Tucker—ya know, like Chuck R. Tucker?”

[See below for more on naming "alien" characters in THE DREAM LAND trilogy.]

And in the ultimate example, Alex Parris is in love with everything about the Trojan War in AFTER ILIUM. In fact, when he meets an older woman named Elena on a cruise ship bound for Turkey, where he will tour the ruins of Ilium, he cannot help but imagine himself as young Paris carrying off his prized Helen to the storied walls of Ilium. That name association is the start of a whole lot of trouble for Alex.

So let me suggest, when you select a character’s name—whether it’s some common Anglo-Saxon name, a Biblical name, or something Chinese, Indian, or Slavic, perhaps—keep in mind the associations the name itself may have. Think about how the character carries his or her name. How picky is your character about how the name is used? Also, what nicknames may ensue. How do they react to other people using or misusing their names? Names become another element, another layer, of a character’s identity.

Because what is a name but a marker of identity, a proof of existence, and for a fictional persona brought magically to life in the pages of a story, existence is everything.

My fellow Myrddin author, Connie J. Jasperson, has a lovely blog post about naming characters, too--which prompted me to repost mine again but with the following update.

In the trilogy THE DREAM LAND, part of the story is set on another world called Ghoupallesz by the dominant ethnic group. Faced with "people" of another culture, I invented a system for names early on. This went part and parcel with inventing the language they would use, including a complete lexicon and a complex grammar. Granted, this is not a fun project for most people, only a little better for science fiction authors, but a pure heavenly delight for Yours Truly. After all, I have some background in the structure of language, having studied linguistics to the edge of madness. But I digress....

Generally, I followed these rules:

1. Male names end with consonants (ostensibly because they are tough) and female names always end with a vowel (again, because the culture perceives females as untough). I'm sure to get complaints about this stereotyping, but I am not depicting a perfect or ideal society so much as I am depicting a society where stereotyping also exists. In my favor, however, the "untough" females demonstrate time and time again how tough they can be.

So the common Gotankan name Latol (male) and Latola (female) or Metour and Metoura are good examples. Not every name has a male and female equivalent; some are only male and some are only female, for example: Dassex is only male and Gouo (pronounced "Goo-oh") is only female.

As for the names themselves, I followed the rule of "no more than 2 consonant phonemes in a row." And I use diphthongs liberally (i.e., two vowel sounds that are merged, as in the o and u of Metour). Author's insider tip: The names were created purely by how they sound: Sam, a common easy-going name, becomes Samot; Aaron becomes Aroun; and Aisa (pronounced "EYE-za") is merely a misspelling of Asia. By the way, Metour is, in my head, the equivalent of Michael, for anyone who is counting.

2. I also used derivatives. That is, the formal name and its likely short forms. For example, the common southern Sekuatean female name Sitsou is often shortened to Soso. (Tolstoy and all Russian authors would appreciate this feature; their novels also use a long list of name variations.) 

One major character in Book II is from the ethnic group Danid and her formal name would be Abarasa. At one point, she explains to her lover about names, different names for different situations (and the whole point of doing this as an author is simply to give it all a more realistic feel--because we do the same thing in our own language):

“My name is Basura,” she replied. “Because you are my intimate friend, you may call me Basii from now on. After we copulate you may call me Bai when we are alone.”

3. Family names were generally taken from places of origin or primary ancestral traits, just as we do/did with English names. For example, Smith comes from the occupation blacksmith.

Our hero's sidekick, Aroun-de-Sotos takes his name from his place of origin: The South. And the Sekuatean generals Tatandellus and Brounadar also take their family names from where their families originated.

4. A common pattern of name structure must be adhered to in order to approximate realism. In other words, just as Johnson and Jackson both use -son to indicate the father's name has become a surname, I also used a similar "clue" in naming names.

In Book III, our heroine meets a Jepolissan man, a fellow scientist named Vazak-Mixorran. In that culture, males have given names of two syllables. Later she meets one of his polyamorous ex-wives, Zif-Exorran. Females have given names of a single syllable. But notice the similarity of the endings of their family names: -orran. The explanation is simple: -orran means 'offspring of' --thus, Vazak's female parent was Mix while Zif's female parent was Ex. In Jepolissan culture surnames are based on the mother's name, not the father's--which would make sense where polyamory was common: children would know their mother better than their father.

Similarly, the Ghoupalle naming custom follows this protocol: The first-born child receives the surname of the father. The surname given to each subsequent child, regardless of sex, alternates between father's and mother's surnames. 

Therefore, the first-born child of our hero, Set-d'Elous and his wife Zaura-Matousz, is Aisa-d'Elous, a daughter. The children who followed in their lifetime together were: Set-Matousz (male), Basha-d'Elous (female), Dunas-Matousz (male), and Seaso-d'Elous (female). The exception is when Zaura thinks her husband is dead and marries another man and has a son named Samot-Fredin (male), taking the surname of the new husband--who soon dies, poor chap. Discovering Set-d'Elous alive and returned to her, they resumed having children, picking up the naming protocol where they left off.

5. Following the custom (which I invented, albeit with some assistance from a tiny muse perched in my ear), the given name is joined by a hyphen to the family name. Thus: Set-d'Elous --literally, Set the Great. This is explained in our hero's journal entry in Book I:

           39th cavalry regiment and Yours Truly singled out for special awards; given distinguished title of “d’Elous” (the Great). They’re joking but I like it, think I’ll keep it. New name on Ghoupallesz: Set-d’Elous. 

Author's insider tip: d'Elous is a corruption of the word 'illustrious'--redrafted as 'great'!

And so you can easily see how much joy can be found among linguistic conventions of naming practices. There are, of course, only 24 hours in a day and seven days in a week, but surely some of those can be occupied pleasantly enough in the invention of alien customs. Give it a try. I strongly recommend it.

To check it all out for yourself, I welcome you to read THE DREAM LAND trilogy in either paperback or on Kindle. (Click the links in the upper-right corner of this blog.)

(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.

11 February 2014

When was your Beautiful Chill?

You know that Valentine thing coming up? Roses and chocolates, the usual? Red velvet cards and whispered sweet nothings.... Time to express your love to someone you hope will be happy to hear all about it.... 

This is probably the perfect time to introduce my newest novel, A BEAUTIFUL CHILL, available now in paperback and ebook editions...just in time for Valentine's Day!

It's a romance, after all. Well, sorta. People fall in love, don't they? Meh, maybe. They live happily ever after, right? Umm, kinda. So it's not really a "romance" - is it? More of an anti-romance, perhaps. Let's just say this is not your grandmother's campus romance.

Of course, the campus romance is certainly one of the most popular fiction subjects, more so if they involve the forbidden pairing of a professor and a student. Lots of room for sexy scenes and tempestuous trouble! Some have complained that the power is always with the man, or always with the professor. 

That may be true in many cases. But, forgetting for a moment which person may be older or in a position of authority, consider who really has the power in such a relationship, especially in this topsy-turvy world of gender politics and the casual mind games that can be cleverly hidden between sessions of Studio Art and Shakespeare classes!

So here is Íris, a refugee from an abusive youth in Iceland and further abused on the streets of Toronto - until she discovers Art and uses it as an escape. Now, with a scholarship in hand, she drifts from depression to nightmare to her Wiccan rituals to the next art exhibit. But there's still a lot she must forget in order to succeed in a life she refuses to take responsibility for. Time is running out as she nears graduation.

One night she crosses paths with Eric, the new professor, settling in at Fairmont College, starting a new life after previous betrayal and heartbreak. Divorced and hitting forty, he has a lot to prove - to his father, his colleagues, and mostly to himself. The last thing he needs is a distraction - and there's nothing more distracting than Iris. Besides, being the consummate Romantic by training and by temperament, he must always save the damsel - whether or not she wants to be saved.

A BEAUTIFUL CHILL - the moment when past and present dangerously collide - is a contemporary "romance" set in the duplicitous world of academic rules and artistic license - much in the same vein as Francine Prose's campus dalliance in Blue Angel and Elizabeth Rosner's artist/muse elegy Blue Nude. A BEAUTIFUL CHILL is a novel about choices, empowerment, and redemption. 

You can read more about this novel at Shelfari.com

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Check out other books from Stephen Swartz
both literary/romantic-adventure and science-fiction!

(Click on your favorite book's LINK in the upper right corner of this blog page.)

(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.

05 February 2014

Got Love? Or a mere semblance of its captivating illusion?

Here we are in the month of Love. Beats me why it was chosen in the middle of winter--perhaps for snuggling purposes, who knows?--but that's another blog entry. As it is, we must deal with the reality of the situation. (Coincidentally, on my Facebook page I've posting excerpts from the three books of THE DREAM LAND trilogy which relate to the proverbial "reality of the situation.") February, like it or not, is notorious for the amorous fling or memories of past flings.

To this "romantic" end, I wish to announce the pending publication of my so-called love story. No, not that Erich Segal melodrama. Not that Tristan and Isolde myth. Not even that Romeo and Juliet saga. MY love story! I'm sure there are others, but here I wish to present a new, more realistic kind of love story. The kind that may happen more often than not. Still, it has several criteria which may be found in the more traditional love stories, but also a few elements which are particularly contemporary, features more common in our post-post-modernist world.

1. Two people. (Yes, it is possible for one person to be a love story, as narcissists do exist--and they do tend to enjoy reading about themselves.)

2. They meet. (This may be a pleasant encounter or a rough or dispassionate crossing of paths.)

3. A relationship ensues. (Again, the nature of the relationship may be pleasant for both--in which case there is no story--or pleasant for only one of the two, or for neither of them; nevertheless they are locked into a relationship by distinction of knowing each other and being in the same place at the same time.)

4. Because of the relationship, other things happen. (These may, of course, be either pleasant or not so pleasant, as the situation may dictate. In a dramatic sense, there should be conflicts, and in typical fashion such conflicts help to develop the relationship into a stronger, more compatible association or, conversely, into a more destructive, possibly co-dependent desperation.)

5. Because of the other things that happen, the relationship arrives at a threshold or conclusion beyond which everything must change irrevocably: to continue in a new light or to be slammed back into the abyss of unrequited desire. (These two choices offer the most interesting reading experiences, however, they do not tend to represent relationships occurring in the real world of Earthling lovers.)

Which brings us to the reality of the situation. We like when things work out, when the two people find something in each other that will link them forever as friends or lovers or spouses--or simply co-dependents. It's a kind of symmetry which human perception rallies around. Balance is restored. The sunset awaits. The bedsheets are turned back. Lips press together. And the credits roll. On to the sequel....

Or not. Sometimes, try as they might, things do not work out. The relationship falters. Obstacles cannot be overcome. Or sometimes, someone is not in the right place at the right time, or someone fails to act or acts in the wrong way, makes the wrong choice, takes the misguided option, and everything explodes--or, just as often, implodes into atoms.

As a reader, that is your choice: 1) the ideal dramatic arc, or... 2) an approximation of reality.

Chocolates, flowers, jewelry, fancy dinners, violins, lingerie, candles, stuffed animal toys, paper hearts and/or heart transplants, power tools, major appliances, cleaning supplies, musical instruments, mp3 downloads and mix CDs, a well-cropped photograph, or even the softest, fluffiest itty bitty bunny wabbit--nothing has been proven to be the ultimate can't-fail elixir of love in the mundane world of cruel reality. You win some, you lose some. And some you just hope for the best or you hope it will end sooner rather than later. I do not embrace cynicism; I AM cynicism! (Sorry for the hyperbole. Just in case you are of a romantic mindset, here are some ideas for Valentine Day.)

Now go off and court thy love-object with earnestness complete! For thee and thou have a rendezvous with destiny! I wish thee the best of luck, which ever it may be!

Meanwhile, for those who may be interested, I shall be welcoming to the book-reading world my latest novel, A BEAUTIFUL CHILL, which has a long and notorious history (see future blog post). After all, it does deal with rather frank issues in an awkward relationship which perhaps was never meant to be. Can these two different people--opposites that attract one wild weekend--find a way to get along, or a reason to stay together? Can they make it work, or will they succumb to the reality of their situation and let Fate decide for them?

More on this new novel next time!

(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.