23 August 2014

A Dark Night in Seoul

The new school year has commenced and I am, as always, thoroughly overwhelmed by its newness. But you don't want to read about such things. Meanwhile, I am awaiting the final approval of my so-called horror novel* A DRY PATCH OF SKIN. Then it shall be released to the masses like some kind of nasty plague!

Until such time, I must fill a blog page with something, right? 

Recently I got into a discussion about Korea. I visited a few times back in the early 90s when everything was pre-post-cold war-esque there. That is, before the North's sabre rattling and other miscellaneous events in the region. I was living in Japan at that time and teaching English as a foreign language to middle school students of Saga City. I was making a trip back home to Kansas City during the August school break. My first visit to Korea was only supposed to be as a transit point.

Here is the desperate tale for your amusement, straight from an ancient journal I kept....

A Dark Night in Seoul

 I was trying to save money on the airfare, so I went through a travel agent in Seoul, Korea, whom other teachers had used before. The price was right, but I never figured in the price of all the extra hassles.  
First, I had to buy separate round-trip tickets from Fukuoka, Japan to Seoul.  
Once in Seoul, I had to wait 3 hours for my Northwest Airlines flight. The brand new Boeing 747-400 (the largest commercial airplane in the world) arrived late, so we had to wait longer, finally boarding an hour late. The crew was going through their preflight checks when all of a sudden all the power went off—engines, lights, air conditioning. We sat in silence for 40 minutes, quite sweltering inside the plane, before they off-loaded us. 
After 45 more minutes, they reboarded us.  We started to back away from the terminal gate when everything went dead again! I was thinking, as I’m sure many other passengers were, “We’re gonna be flying non-stop over the Pacific Ocean for twelve hours, so let’s make sure the power’s not gonna go off somewhere out there!” After ten minutes, they kicked over the engine and we continued, and it was a VERY nervous takeoff!
The airplane never did lose power again, thankfully. The pilot explained that we would be taking the Great Circle route, sending us north across Japan, up over Alaska, and down across western Canada to Detroit, our final destination.  
Because of our 3 hour departure delay, all the earphones for music and the movies were free (usually $4). But, also because of our delay, most people would be missing their connecting flights. I had a three hour wait for my flight to Kansas City, anyway, so I thought I could still catch it. 
After dinner, news program, two movies (“Accidental Tourist”—slow but interesting—and “Beaches”—slept through half of it), an intermission snack, breakfast, and a magnificent sunrise over the crescent horizon 40,000 feet high, we landed in Detroit. I had an hour and a half to catch my flight, but I knew we had to go through immigration and customs. The lines were screwed up and all the foreigners went ahead of us. I tried to get as far ahead in line as possible, and I made good time. They should have let those of us who could still catch our flights go first, but.... 
So I rushed through the terminal, knocking over kids and leaping over old ladies. I slid up to the check-in counter, my boarding pass for Kansas City in my hand. 
"Don’t tell me flight 1149’s left already!” I called out.  
“Five minutes ago, sir,” they replied.  
Why is it that CURRENT flights are always late and ALL connecting flights are always on time!?!?  
So I still had a 3 hour wait—as originally planned—for the next flight to Kansas City. At least they felt sorry for me enough to give me a meal voucher, which I used to get a rather good steak dinner. When I arrived in Kansas City, my cousin was waiting--3 hours!--because in those days there were no cell phones (and once he left home to pick me up at the original time, he would not be there to answer the land-line phone in his house).

Returning to Saga, Japan at the end of my vacation was even more exciting.  
Back in Detroit again to catch the KAL flight to Seoul, there were heavy thunderstorms so all planes were grounded as the thick curtains of rain passed overhead. Then they started to get the plane ready; another 3 hour delay! 
When I checked in at Detroit, I found out that the flight stopped in Tokyo! My dumb travel agent didn’t even know—or care. I thought, that’s great! I could go straight back to Saga from Tokyo (my Fukuoka-Seoul ticket was a full fare ticket so it was exchangeable).  But—big problem—my suitcase had been checked through to Seoul when I got on in Kansas City. They said in Detroit to check when I got to Tokyo. 
When I arrived at Tokyo-Narita Airport, I did check, but I forgot that I was now in Japan, the land of “Let’s be Trendy” and “Don’t Stand Out or Rock the Boat,” so naturally, they weren’t too excited at my plight. ‘Let’s be One of the Group’ they seemed to be saying—no special favors here. 
So they wouldn’t call down to the plane and have them extract my suitcase, even though we had a FOUR HOUR layover.  Yes, I could get off here, and yes, my ticket could be used to go straight to Fukuoka (and Saga) this very night, and yes, the other airline even had plenty of seats available, but...if I wanted my suitcase, I had to go all the way to Seoul to claim it! 
So I went, mad-as-hell, but I went to Seoul.

The big gate in Seoul, South Korea.
With all of the delays, our flight was the last one of the night at Kimpo Airport outside of Seoul, and after we all went through the airport, the security guards with rifles were going to close it. Everybody outside! 
I tried to call the hotel that this same travel agent had supposedly made a reservation for me at (same place where her office was), but they did not have a reservation for me, nor did they have ANY rooms! 
It was rather a bad feeling to get off a twenty-hour flight in a strange city and country where you don’t speak the language, with the airport closing and there's no room at the inn. Taxi men were constantly coming up to me with my bags on a cart asking if I needed a taxi. Well, that certainly seemed suspicious! I kept telling them in English I didn’t need a taxi until I had a destination. But with the airport closing, destination or not, I had little choice.
One guy who was patient enough to stick with me without scaring me, asked which hotel I was going to and I said I didn’t have a hotel anymore. He replied, “We go find hotel—got phone in car—we go hotel.” 
So I said OK. 
He called three hotels from the car, found one with a room—about three blocks away from my “first” hotel. He shouted at the bellboys to grab my bags when we arrived and he ushered me inside and up to the front desk and spoke Korean to the desk clerk, getting me a room with a discount rate (it was just after midnight, so half price—about $25). 
During our drive we talked, and at the hotel he confirmed with me when my flight left the next day. I told him 3 (my confirmed flight was really at 6, but I was hoping to get on an earlier flight), so he insisted on picking me up at the hotel at 12 noon.  
The next day, just as I finished my brunch at 11:30, there he was. He carried my bags down from my room and loaded them in the taxi and off we went. 
In the daylight, he pointed out all the features of Seoul that we passed, including some of the Olympic facilities and the US Military compound. At the airport, he grabbed a cart and piled my bags on it. Naturally, for all his unexpected, extra, but valuable assistance—he single-handedly turned my nightmare night in Seoul into a reasonably good experience—I tipped him well, though tipping is not the custom in Korea.  
I did manage to catch the earlier flight so I went home to Fukuoka and Saga.

True story. And it still counts as a blog post, right? I suppose times are very different now, both in East Asia and in the airline industry. Later, while again teaching in Japan, I took an extended trip across the southern tier of South Korea, from Pusan to Mok'po, and that just might become another blog post! 

아름다운 하루 되세요!

*As for the genre called "horror", I remain a bit confused about exactly how scary a story must be to be in this category. Because it involves someone's transformation into a vampire yet without all of the usual paranormal trappings, beta readers have called it horror or even "literary horror". If anyone reading this is a confirmed Horror reader, please advise. Thanks.

(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.

18 August 2014

Back to School Blues

First day of classes. Enough said. 

Enough blogging.

Thanks for your patience. I shall return.

But for the day job go I.

Meanwhile, please go to my friend's blog Life in the Realm of Fantasy and read Connie's take on moods. 

I remain nonplussed at the moment.

(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.

09 August 2014

Does this cover make you itch?

Life is full of choices, some people say. One of them may be whether to read this forthcoming medical thriller/contemporary vampire tale. The tropes are the same, as required in the genre, but each volume, no matter the author, must play with them in different ways. 

In A DRY PATCH OF SKIN, the main character does not believe in vampires. Then he does not believe he will become one. Then he fights against becoming one. The conflict is generated by our hero's desperation to stay normal, both for his own comfort and to be able to stay with his new lover. It's a complicated process. Each of the usual characteristics (tropes) of a vampire, and becoming a vampire, are examined in various scenes and accepted as plausible or disproven as medically impossible by the characters in the scenes. And yet, there is always "magical realism" to fly in, rather like a bat out of hell, to save the day!

Today I reveal the latest cover for this so-called vampire novel. Because the title refers to a diagnostic situation, I thought to use some medical-related image. I received many suggestions for syringes dripping blood. Squeamish myself, I dismissed those ideas. I found several truly hideous faces, people with advanced disease disfigurement, but I did not want to scare away readers from even opening the cover. I also did not want something too obviously related to vampire tales. I was not rewriting Twilight or Dracula, after all.

The twists in the plot lent to the cover art design the idea of Gothic horror and the sub-culture Goth. I looked at a lot of Goth girls--I was doing research!--and searched for a duplicate of the character in the novel. No such luck--because my imagination is much more vivid than my mundane reality. I returned to the "love story" aspect and continued searching for something that would speak volumes about some major theme of the novel, until I found what you now see: a couple embracing, maybe for the last time, as their situation becomes dire.

So I went with a basic black and white design, adding a catch-phrase line in blood red just for the amusement of those vampiriacs who cannot drink the words. Yes, I'm sick that way.

And now...without further adieu...the cover!

The actual line from the novel which has been repeated on the cover goes a little like this:

It was easy to drive to the hotel where a room should still be waiting for me, although I had yet to spend a night in it. The hotel staff would be happy to keep charging my MasterCard for whatever days my name was associated with the room. At least I could get a cold shower and change into fresh clothes. Then I would decide what to do next. After all, life has choices, I often told myself. But so does death.

It comes late in the book, as our hero (or shall we dub him anti-hero at this point?) is reflecting on his life. Perhaps he had been thinking a similar thought earlier, in several instances, but it was not recorded in the first-person narrative because it did not mean so much until this later scene. I hope that is not any kind of a spoiler. It is, of course, not so much what happens as how it happens in these kind of stories. I trust the journey will be full of pathos, romance, horror, and gut-wrenching insight into the nature of humanity. 

Either way, I'll be starting on the next book soon enough. I think I'll try Epic Fantasy. Thanks for your support!


(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 August 2014

What We Gain From Loss

Life makes you take turns, wait your turn, and often turn around so much you get dizzy. Instead of rushing on into the heady world of publishing thrill, I've been forced to pause and consider everything in the world around me. Oh, the new novel is fine, waiting its turn. Summer vacation is full of the usual indolence. The day job is waiting like a closed oyster. And the laundry is done. But something is missing. There is a strange emptiness here.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt once famously said that all we have to fear is fear itself. The point was that worrying about something can be as crippling as the effect of the something actually happening. In the same way, fearing loss can be as debilitating as experiencing the loss itself. But loss is its own strange animal. 

Perhaps what a person fears most is loss of him/herself: loss of identity, loss of agency. When you are no longer who you are, who you have always believed yourself to be--when you lose that facade or mask you relied on for so long and people see you for who you really are, a kind of psychological nakedness--that kind of loss can be as real and as painful as death. Loss of agency, your ability to make a mark in the world, to make your own way, to act for your own benefit--can also be as devastating as a physical injury or paralysis yet it can come in psychological forms just as a loss of identity can.

Loss is the principal issue in many of my novels, it seems. It is easy to see in hindsight. Perhaps I chose that theme unconsciously or perhaps there was something intriguing about loss that drove me to explore it and its pain. After all, having a character lose something important and struggle to regain it is always a great way to introduce tension and advance the plot.

Of course there is the obvious loss of the significant other in a character's life. In AFTER ILIUM, Alex Parris loses Elena, the woman he has been having an affair with, and that loss drives him to take all kinds of risks to get her back. Along the way, he is threatened with the loss of his identity--how he sees himself, the kind of man he has been taught to be--and with loss of agency (his inability to act for himself, first by being in a jail, then by peer pressure to act differently than for his own interests, then by violence).

In THE DREAM LAND Trilogy, Sebastian is initially hurt by the loss of his love interest, Gina, but as he grows into his role as interdimensional voyager and accepts all that role entails, he becomes caught up with a life full of threats to his identity. He gets a little schizophrenic (mere IRS clerk or warrior on another world?) and from that wound also paranoid as he sees that others do not see him as he sees himself. Through the trilogy he is constantly losing and fighting to regain many things. It never gets easy. In Book III, Gina faces the loss of her daughter, who she gives up in order to save her.

Eric, the male protagonist in the campus anti-romance A BEAUTIFUL CHILL and his female counterpart, Iris, have each suffered loss in their lives. When they find each other one winter night, they think the losses will cease. They think they have plugged the gaps--only to find they become each other's worst enemy. Each has a plan for the other but they do not accept such plans because they represent loss of identity.

Now, in my new novel, A DRY PATCH OF SKIN, our hero, Stefan, faces the greatest loss of all: his own bodily integrity. As he fights against nature--and God--he fights against the loss of himself. He does not want to transform, against his will, into a hideous and grotesque creature of the night. Moreover, it is that transformation that will cause him to lose Penny, the love of his life, who he refuses to let see him as he becomes uglier. He sees himself condemned to a painful, miserable, lonely existence: complete loss of identity, agency, and love.

People lose lots of things. Some things are given away, purposefully or haphazardly, with or without regret. Others are taken away. Car keys, card games, a race to a traffic light, the city's sports team's championship. People lose first grandparents, then parents, sometimes siblings, sometimes children. Fathers lose wives, mothers lose babies, babies lose fights with nature. People lose jobs. People lose weight. They lose pets. They lose homes. They lose their sense of well-being. They lose their safety. They lose their peace. They lose a pair of shoes they somehow misplaced. But misplacement means the shoes still exist, only they are in another realm. And loss itself can be when something you have is destroyed, whether deliberately or accidentally. You no longer have it. When the tornado comes, people cry out that all is lost--and it often is.

Or loss can be when you hope or expect or anticipate having something and then it doesn't arrive. It's rather like a child's Christmas wish. You have sat on Santa's lap begging for that special toy and the big guy assures you that you'll get it. Parents confirm you'll get it. So you wait anxiously through the days, even counting them off, looking forward to that wonderful day. But instead of that gift you have desired, there is nothing. Not a lump of coal, not even a stocking hung with care. Nothing. It's as though Christmas has been canceled and all the trappings have been taken down. It's as though the holiday never existed and your hopes and dreams never were hoped, never were dreamed. And everything is as it was before. You are returned to the heat of summer and Christmas seems years away again. That is what real loss is: never having that one precious thing.

So grab hold of all you have and be glad for it. Take pictures and stencil id numbers on everything. Lock them away. Then stare into the nearest mirror and make sure you are who you want to be. And always love your bunnies.

(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.