27 July 2014

Are you itching to read A DRY PATCH of SKIN?

As those who have been following this blog must know (and those who spy on those who follow), I recently finished a new novel, my one and only entry into the genre of vampire tales: A DRY PATCH OF SKIN. (You can read more about it on an earlier blog post and here.)

The story is narrated by Stefan Szekely, the happy-go-lucky lab technician who one day notices a dry patch of skin on his cheek. Just as he is falling in love and building a wonderful relationship with local TV reporter Penny Park, he begins to suffer from a certain affliction for which he seeks treatment, if not an outright cure.

Let me share with you some trivia as the manuscript begins its journey from twisted mind to slick, published novel.

A DRY PATCH OF SKIN is a rare example (for me) of a title coming first and the text making use of that phrase in several places in the book. I knew from the start that I wanted to write more of a medical thriller of someone "turning into" a vampire rather than simply another paranormal romance. Here are a few excerpts:

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.
“A dry patch of skin,” I said glumly.

“Hey, you know who else is allergic to garlic?”
“No, who?”
She burst into laughter. Until she saw my stern face—with the dry patch of skin on my cheek. 

I was not going to let a dry patch of skin defeat me and make me miserable for the remainder of my life. 

In deciding to write a vampire novel, I had the challenge of avoiding everything that had been done before. That was not too much of a problem as I tended to want to spoof them--well, not spoof, exactly, but poke fun at them, just for fun. The characters are aware of Bram Stoker and Stephanie Meyer, of the TV shows and the movies, and frequently make comparisons between those and what is happening in my book. It often makes for great comedy.

Mother Park inquired about my ancestry, amused that my name was, for her, unpronounceable. She alluded to the Twilight books, suggesting I looked like that Edward Cullen character but with different hair—better hair. She went on and on about that series, practically telling me the whole story, as we consumed our dinner. Penny tried to intervene.
“He doesn’t want to hear about that vampire stuff,” she said, flashing me an expression of sympathy.
“I’m only saying there’s a resemblance,” said Mother Park.
“There is no resemblance,” Penny countered.
“If not that Edward then his father, the doctor, Mister Cullen. Since your boyfriend is older, he could pass for Mister Cullen. He’s a very handsome man—I mean, vampire. They’re all popular now.”
“No, it’s zombies that are popular now. Not vampires. That trend has passed.”
When they paused to take a breath, I spoke up:
“I think both of them merely play to humanity’s fear of the unknown, especially that age-old concept of the abnormal couched within the normal. That is, a real, biologically viable man who is yet again not a man but something undead. It’s the same with zombies: they’re normal for the most part yet they’re infected with some fatal flaw that renders what once was a perfectly normal, lovable family member into an unexpected, unthinking evil. That’s what scares people. That something normal can so easily be transformed into something abnormal. It’s got nothing to do with some disease or a weird appearance that someone might have. It’s the visceral fear of transformation into something hideous—and with no cure—that forces us to irrevocably face our mortality.”
They stared at me and we could hear the crickets all the way over in Korea warming up for the night’s chorus.
“He reads a lot,” said Penny.


“No, what is it? What skin disease do I have?”
She lifted a hand and placed it on my shoulder, the typical doctor-patient confidentiality pose. “I hate to break it to you, but it seems that you are a vampire.”
“A what...?”
“It’s circumstantial, obviously.”
She saw that I was not amused.
“I’m kidding,” she said, removing her hand from my shoulder.
“I hope you are.”
“It’s all those Twilight movies. And then they got shows on TV. Lots of rip-offs. It’s all pop-culture now. Can’t escape it. So many sexy vampire hunks and sexy vampire vixens. The Vampire Diaries; that’s what it’s called. Ever see it? Oh, and another show: True Blood. And I got a paperback out in the car that’s a vampire story. Heart Search is the name. Vampires in love.”
I remained unamused.
“Don’t worry, Stefan. I didn’t mean to tease you. It’s just a...a trend society is going through. You know, one of those vampire hunks is named Stefan, also?”

My original idea for the climax and conclusion of the novel did not please me once I got there. I struggled with what the characters were experiencing. Then, like so many other nights, a dream saved me. I awoke and went immediately to the computer to rewrite the penultimate chapter and make changes in other chapters to connect with the new storyline. That made the novel into a beautiful allegory. 

As such, you may find the number 3 used a lot in the sense of the Christian trinity. There are three acts. Key events happen at 3:33 a.m. or p.m. Our hero stays in three hospitals, meets three women, and so on. He visits three countries in Europe: Germany, Hungary, and Croatia. And he converses with God: at first teasing, then as equals, then humbly, making deals, begging to be saved from his affliction. This is not intended, however, to be a "Christian fiction" book.

Another interesting trivia thing that I noticed but did not really contrive to put in is the variety of modes of transportation our hero, Stefan Szekely, uses throughout the novel.

1. by foot
2. by bicycle
3. by personal car
4. by SUV
5. by rental car (twice)
6. by airplane (a few times)
7. by cargo ship
8. by express train
9. by local line train
10. by street car/tram

As a bonus, our hero, Stefan Szekely, flirts with riding a horse, but--pay attention, trivia gamblers; you could win a bet someday--the horse is spooked by his evil presence and so he cannot actually ride the horse!

NEXT TIME: Cover reveal and official blurb!

NOTE: My gamma reader approved the so-called final draft but then I took a knife to it anyway, trimming more fat here and there, a single word or sentence at a time. It is now in the hands of my delta reader...who [trivia note] is the model for Mother Park in the book.

(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.


  1. Oddly enough, I too read and enjoyed 'Heart Search'--glad to see it was part of your research! I am quite intrigued by this tale of psoriasis gone awry.