29 June 2014

How and Why to Unmurder Someone

As many of my 35,000 followers, likers, G+ers, tumblrites, fellow writers, beloved readers, and their assorted dogs and cats, and children of all ages know, I have been writing a new novel which I have decided to title A DRY PATCH OF SKIN.

I've written (i.e., blogged) previously about the origin of this story and its name.

About a month ago I finished the first first draft, which is always a writer's first truly significant milestone--or word count stone? page number stone? Well, woo hoo and hurrah! Right? Nope.

Now I can begin the real work. I like to imagine a potter getting all his wet clay together and finally tossing it all on the spinning wheel. Yes, it's all there but it's hardly finished, and it hardly looks like something anyone would want. But you have all the clay there. Good for you! Now you work with it, shaping it, fashioning it into something beautiful, something which has value, something people would want.

As many of you who craft these novel things know, sometimes things just don't fit together neatly. Yes, I got my hero to the intended destination but not in the smoothest or most convincing way. Plot holes haunted me. Now, I'm not admitting there are any; I admit only that I knew there were spots I would return to and fix once I reached the end. So I did. Fixed. But it took a whole rewrite of a chapter, and in that process, a nameless young man got to live rather than die.

Yes, I unmurdered someone. It felt good, too. It's not as though he was essentially a good and decent person anyway. That was not the reason for his unmurder. I revisited the scene and looked at it from a couple different angles--much as a film director might go stand over there or there to see how the stage looks. For me, it was a matter of practicality.

You see, murder is a big deal, whether in real life or fiction, and it has consequences. My hero would be pursued, arrested, questioned, perhaps go to trial, lose and be locked up. And is that any way for a novel to end? Sure, I suppose there's some irony in that scenario, where the hero does not get to fulfill his journey's goal. But that is not what I can allow to happen. So, rather than a fight than ends with a young man dying, it may be enough that the young man suffers a serious ass-whooping and runs off.

Then our fine hero can mope about how he almost killed someone but did not. It's enough that there is blood sprayed. Besides, he knows God would approve of him showing mercy upon the young man. That's a fresh angle to the story: the tests that God may or may not be setting in the way of our hero's desperate journey to save himself from the steadily encroaching disfigurement of his disease. No, ladies and gentlemen, he does not want to transform into a vampire. He would prefer to find a cure for his medical condition and be able to return to his Beloved for a long, happy life with her.

Any more would likely take us into Spoiler territory.

However, I can offer the first page of this forthcoming medical thriller / vampire tale.



The priest stood before me in his black suit and white collar. His eyes studied me as I approached, strolling quietly up the aisle of this small chapel set high on the hills above the resort town of Makarska, on the Dalmatian coast of Croatia. Far below the open doors of the chapel stretched the picturesque town of red tiled roofs and gray plaster buildings, its sandy white beach bookended by massive granite cliffs where dozens of vacationers took in the sun and swam in the turquoise sea.
With a curt nod to acknowledge our meeting, he started to speak, could not find the words, then recovered.
“Mister Székely,” he spoke, “I’m terribly sorry for your loss.” Then, as if only at that moment remembering, he handed me a beige envelope with elegant black writing on its face. The logo of a Hungarian law firm was printed in the corner. “This is from your parents. I am to give it to you as soon as you arrive. Before the funeral service. I hope it is not rude of me.”
“No, not at all, Father.”
“Thank you.” He gave another curt nod.
“I’m sure glad you speak English,” I said sheepishly, “because I don’t know any Croatian.”
I took the envelope, glanced at it, and wondered what value it might have. Mother was always fond of writing letters, sending cards, but during the past dozen years she had dwindled down to only birthday and Christmas.
I turned the envelope over in my hands, felt how thick it was, which could only mean it was longer than most of her letters.
“Does this letter explain what happened? I mean, why they committed suicide?”
“I do not know the content of that letter,” said the priest. “They only wished me to give it to you. Also, they wished for you to take a week, or more, if you can, and enjoy a richly deserved vacation. Your room has been reserved and everything is paid for the week.”
“How kind of them. They must’ve believed I would travel all the way here to see them off.”
“You work so hard, they always told me, thus you need a good break.”
“But there’s no need to kill themselves just to get me to fly over to Croatia.”
I tore open the end of the envelope and pulled out a trifolded letter of three pages wrapped around a generous gift of cash. The letter, written in my mother’s hand, stated almost word for word what the priest had just told me.
“Yes, I supposed it’s my duty,” I said, looking up from the letter and casually folding the cash into my front trouser pocket. “Me being their only child…. It’s an obligation. So….”
I took a few deep breaths.
“You’re a good son,” said the priest.
“At least they were old—old enough, sure, but not too old to be able to make a rational decision. Probably they were simply tired of all they had endured.”
“Indeed, Mister Székely. I’m sure it was for the best.”
“Please, Father...call me Stefan.”
We shook hands and he assured me that everything would be ready for the service the next day.
So it was without much amusement that I came to accept the truth of my parents’ situation. I did, however, fully appreciate the irony involved. Reclining on the bed in the hotel room they had arranged for me, I reread the last letter.

[cover artwork coming soon]

(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 June 2014

Are you still blogging?

This is the blog about blogging.

It's in my contract that I must blog about blogging no less than once per calendar year. Coming off my annual blogcation, in which I do not blog for a week or two, it seems a worthy topic and comes at just the right time.

Recently, an author friend of mine declared: "I really don't want to blog any more. Am I the only one?" 

That unleashed a plethora of responses (edited for clarity):

"I'm with you- I never get the time to commit to it."

"I don't like it, so I don't do it."

"I hate blogging."

"I used to blog weekly but then it felt like a chore rather than fun. Now I only blog when I feel like it....maybe once a month."

"I only like recapping TV shows" [or book reviews, etc.] "that's why I still do it. Otherwise my blog would be done for!"

"Blogging is how I blow off steam!"

"I don't blog as often as I'd like. My writing time is at a premium so I tend to be on my stories rather than the blogs."

"I like to blog when I'm not working on a book. I think feeling compelled to do that is partially responsible for my disenchantment with blogging."

"Author interviews generate a lot of initial interest, I think. But craft posts might have a more enduring appeal."

And my response (trying to be as clever as tolerable):

I have seldom felt pressure to blog. I just happen to have something to write about once a week, except this week, and maybe next week, but I call it a blogcation and I'm happy my few readers are happy not to have to read anything I blog about, because we all know it's mostly an exercise in overt narcissism--mine, not theirs--and so anything I write inevitably falls into the category of self-promotion, and we cannot have any of that by God! lest we be accused of self-promotion; but I ask you, and this is not a blog post by any means, if I do not promote my own work, wouldn't it stand to reason that I lack confidence in my work? I mean, isn't that what people would think? Or perhaps I'm just talking to the hand....

So it all seems to come down to two big questions: What / Why, and When / How. These further boil down to two opposing positions:

  • Blogging is necessary to have a "presence", to stay in touch with fans, to help other writers.
  • Blogging takes away time from my real writing, I have nothing to blog about, I've run out of ideas.

Please help me understand this blogging obsession. Comment below, if you feel the urge.

Question #1

Do you blog? If you blog, why? If you do not blog, why not?

My friends and colleagues who are writers seem to blog more than the usual everyday riff-raff, or maybe I just hangout online more with friends and colleagues than the usual everyday riff-raff. However, my friends and colleagues who blog tend to say one thing: "I blog to stay in contact with potential readers." Coming in second is "I blog because sometimes I have something I just have to say to the world." (my paraphrase)

In fact, my decision to start a blog long ago had little to do with my career as a writer. The idea of a blog was new to everyone at that time. I thought it might be fun. I could riff on whatever the topic of the day was. Just like recess; a play time. Then I learned that blogging is a serious business. I could even make money from blogging, some blogs told me.

I quickly realized, however, that I had few opinions about most things (politics, social issues, aggravations, etc.), so I lapsed. There were a few "gems" I'm still proud of. When my first novel was on the launch pad, the blog was there to help promote it. Probably my reason to blog now is so that, far into the future, there will be a steady stream of posts on whatever, without lapse, for the alien archaeologists to discover long after I'm gone.

Question #2

What do you blog about? When do you blog?

Blog topics! Here is the mother load of blog topic lists by Molly Green. Go here first if you don't know what to blog about. I'm serious.

Blogs on particular topics related to what I'm writing about, such as this one on the reality of vampires by Amarisgrey.

Blogs about blogging, such as this one about blog headlines by Josh Coffy.

Blogs often focus on what to do or not do in self-publishing or indie publishing. Here's an example from Kristen Lamb's blog. Or this example by James Altucher on ProBlogger which flips it around.

Blogs may offer advice about writing, writing craft, grammar and usage, or other topics of interest to writers. Here is an example from The Writer's Bureau by Janice Hardy.

Blogs on topics of interest to writers, such as what to do when querying an agent or publisher, such as this one by Rachelle Gardner (one of my favorite blogs).

Granted, many of our favorite blogs or the "best" blogs are written by someone with a company backing them up, someone with time and resources.

However, even the rest of us can blog about something. Who knows what will be of interest to our friends and colleagues? Even if not every blog stops me in my tracks, I still like to keep in touch, see what they are doing, and maybe glean some useful idea. So I want to encourage everyone who is blogging to keep blogging.

If you don't feel like blogging on any particular week, just post a cute bunny picture so we know you are alive and well. Or, in the alternative, post a link to someone else's blog, perhaps with a comment similar to "What she said" to give us some closure. Or just say "Howdy!"

Please take a look at the blogs I follow (in the column on left of this page) and give them a click, a read, a comment if you like what you see. They have all been personally approved by me.

(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.

08 June 2014

Got a Dry Patch of Skin?

I finished my novel yesterday afternoon. 

You know...my so-called work-in-progress? 

Well, it still is a work in progress as long as revision is on-going. But I can proudly say I have tied the beginning and middle to the end. That is to say, I worked through to the final chapter, in some fashion or other, and arrived there yesterday. It was really a kind of miracle. My goal for yesterday was only to finish the scene I had started and perhaps go on into the next scene, as well as return to an earlier chapter to add a small chunk of dialog. Instead, I ended up finishing the darn thing. Could not stop. So it's done. Pop that champagne!

A DRY PATCH OF SKIN is my vampire tale, my first, in fact. But it's more than a Twilight-esque fan fiction rip-off. It's also a medical thriller. And, where possible, I poke fun at Twilight as well as some other popular vampire novels. And wherever possible, I've dealt with the common tropes of the vampire mythos in either a medical way or an ironic way--or sometimes both, thanks to my sardonic hero, Stefan Szekely.

You see, in my book, the protagonist faces the daunting realization that all is not well. In fact, he seems to be turning into the kind of hideous personage (no sparkly vamps here!) which resembles a vampire --that is, a true, ugly-as-death member of the undead. Unfortunately, he just met his "Beloved"; naturally, it's not a good time to start becoming dead, at least in appearance if not in actuality. Thus begins a desperate search for treatment of his skin condition, which leads him to various locations. He also learns what really happened to his parents. As he seeks to reverse his condition, he comes to realize it's not going to be possible. Will his Beloved accept him in that condition? Will Love conquer all? Is there a work-around to being an Undead?

Simple enough. It's a love story, a medical mystery, a travelogue, a comedic-tragedy, and last but not least, a vampire tale. This is the first novel I've written set entirely in the here-and-now of my actual life: Oklahoma City, 2014. In his travels, however, our hero visits upstate New York (Utica and Rochester), New Orleans, Germany, Hungary, and Croatia. He travels by car, ship, train, taxi, bus, streetcar, airplane, and by foot. He endures several medical procedures all in the hope that he can remain a normal human being with a steady job as a phlebotomist at a medical laboratory and keep dating his fiancee, TV reporter Penny Park, who is hard enough to woo being consumed as she is with her career. Having a dry patch of skin appear on his face one morning is not a good sign of a pleasant tomorrow.

Let me pat myself on the back and get in some afterglow celebration time! Now the real work begins! Revision. This should take a couple years....

Seriously, I hope to have it ready for the end-of-year holiday book buying frenzy. Look for it!

[Meanwhile, try one of my other novels: literary adventure or sci-fi epic!]

It may be interesting to note that in writing A DRY PATCH OF SKIN, I have achieved my quickest 100,000-word+ manuscript. Indeed, from the day I created the computer file and started typing the first chapter all the way up to yesterday, it was only 106 days. And I did not write every single day. In fact, there were a couple times I went for two weeks without writing a word. Once was to do research, the other because I was too busy with my day job to focus on my "night job." That's worth a stiff drink, isn't it?

I also need to get a book cover that effectively shocks potential readers into giving it a try.

(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.