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.