21 February 2015

Another Twisted Romance!

Last weekend, the so-called Valentine's Day weekend, I participated in an online event on Facebook which among other activities served to promote my latest novel, A DRY PATCH OF SKIN.

The event was called EAT YOUR HEART OUT and had the theme of Twisted Romance. I was invited to join, based on me having written a "twisted romance." 

Of course, I wondered what exactly that meant. Romance as a genre has certain conventions, one of which is that everything works out fine in the end. I took "twisted" to mean things do not work out fine in the end. That describes my non-science-fiction novels perfectly. It's not that I like tragedy or that I just cannot allow two fictional people to remain together. Rather, it's that in fiction which approaches verisimilitude (the appearance of reality), life takes twists and turns that render endings just as often unhappy as happy. 

For this event, I answered a few interview questions. 

What makes your novel a “twisted romance”; how does it stand out from the crowd?

It's a vampire story...sorta. The central character is in a serious relationship but when he begins to transform into a vampire--and he doesn't want to--he fears it will destroy his relationship with the woman he loves. She must accept a lot of ugliness during his transformation, too. But eventually, he decides to save her by letting go of her...and running off to seek a cure.

What got you into writing romance or books with strong romantic themes?

After focusing on sci-fi in my youth, I eventually realized that relationships are the core of any good story (or a story I'd want to read). I'm a romantic by nature so it came easy to me. No matter what genre I'm writing in (sci-fi or literary or, in this case, literary horror), the central couple is the reason my hero/heroine do what they do: because of the importance of beginning, maintaining, or recovering the relationship...even if it doesn't work out in the end. Although "not working out in the end" is supposedly a romance genre faux pas, I prefer to call it an anti-romance--which is more realistic.

Who’s your favorite character from your book and why?

Writing "A Dry Patch of Skin" began with me dabbling with some episodes from my real life, and grew into the story as you find it now: Oklahoma City in 2013-14, where I actually live. As such, Stefan, the poor protagonist, is as close to the real me as any hero I've written...for better and worse. It may be no coincidence that he has a name similar to mine. And yet, I do not have his unsightly affliction. Nor do I have the love interest he has--or had. 

Then I had fun posting items related to my novel during my 15 minutes of fame. As more than 99% of the reading population did not attend this event, I have reprinted my contribution here and hope you enjoy it.
Top of Form

Bottom of Form

Welcome to this online bookish affair, where the twisted and the folded are equally bent! This is my first time doing something like this so please bear with me--but not exactly like a bear would. You know what I mean.

My offering here is A DRY PATCH OF SKIN - a kinda vampire novel but not like any of those others. This novel has been medically researched to bring you the purest, most accurate depiction of vampirism according to history, legend, and modern science.

And it is all wrapped around the sad tale of a new, passionate romance about to be ruined by the transformation of the man into a vampire. It is not a pleasant experience. Physical pain, hideous appearance, psychological torment, and loss of his identity and bodily integrity--

Heavy, heavy stuff! Good thing Stefan Szekely possesses a wry sense of humor and delicious vision of the irony around him!
Top of Form

A truly Twisted Romance!

Because it happens to be set in Oklahoma City 2014, the local newspaper reviewed it:

And my colleague here at Eat Thy Heart Asunder also reviewed it:

What's the title about? It is a reference to the first symptom. The phrase appears throughout the book. Here are some examples:

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.

We stared at the two of us in the big mirror. It was the measure of our existence: here are two humans, one male and one female, of average attributes, two examples that have copulated previously and might copulate again if not for a dry patch of skin or two. Or thirteen.

I used a fair amount of music as a kind of soundtrack while writing A DRY PATCH OF SKIN, much of it lush and romantic, the kind of film noir score you might hear from the 50s. I also used rock music.


I would use this track by In Fear and Faith "Bones" while the opening credit show. As the music begins we zoom slowly through a night sky toward the ruins of an old castle. As we approach an open window--and suddenly the music bursts into loudness--a swarm of bats explodes out of the window!


I like the songs on this album because they do an excellent job of giving us the primal anguish of our hero's transformation into a monster!

In the middle of the book, Stefan flees from his lover to seek a cure. To avoid airport scrutiny, he takes a cargo ship. I imagine an aerial shot of that cargo ship crossing the Atlantic as this track plays: 

The cover is intended to depict a passionate "last chance" embrace, Stefan and his lover, Penny Park the TV reporter.

A dark and stormy night....

At the end of the book, Stefan has reached his final destination...almost. I imagine the scene where he awakens in a completely dark room. The camera shows an extreme close-up of his eyes just as they snap open--matching the bass notes of the piano.

As the music on this track picks up, becomes more hopeful, we would see Stefan driving through the countryside of Croatia to his final destination.


Of course the images in these videos have nothing to do with the novel. I merely used the music as inspiration in the writing of various scenes in the novel.

Last but not least... If I had my choice, I'd use Evanescence's "My Immortal" as the closing credits music because both the music and the lyrics fit the final scene and the atmosphere:

The first generally accepted work in the Vampire genre was "The VAMPYRE" by John Polidori, published in 1819. Polidori was the personal physician of poet George Gordon Lord Byron and accompanied Byron while visiting and vacationing at the estate Diodoti in Switzerland with the poet Percy Shelley and his wife, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. 

The nights spent there have since become famous as the origin of both Mary Shelley's Frankenstein novel and for Polidori's vampire novella. Critics have said, and I concur, that Polidori described his undead character based on the brooding Byron's tall, dark, and handsome appearance--a stereotype employed by later authors, e.g., Heathcliff in "Wuthering Heights" and still later, perhaps, Edward Cullen in "Twilight."

Want to know more about the book, vampirism (disease), and other tidbits, give my blog post a look: 

Stefan Szekely is not me, but is the closest any fictional character has been written to the real me. Penny Park is based on Patti Moon, a real TV reporter--and she has yet to forgive me for that artistic license. I do not, nor have I ever had, porphyria or any other skin, blood, or autoimmune disease like Stefan has. Many of the scenes in the book, especially those in the B&N were based on real episodes I experienced in 2013-14. Patti will vouch for me on that.

Another interesting trivia thing that I noticed but did not really contrive to put in is the variety of modes of transportation Stefan 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, Stefan flirts with riding a horse, however (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!

AND AN EXCERPT (from fairly early in the book):

Mother Park [Penny's mother] 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.

By golly, that oughta do it for tonight! Don't want to cause any nightmares.

Except for maybe a picture of Alma. Who is she? Ummm, read and find out!

(C) Copyright 2010-2015 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.

12 February 2015

Why I hate the Valentine dude!

As we approach that day of reckoning, the most dreaded day of the year for many, perhaps it's of some comfort to realize that it's all based on someone being executed. Yes, Mr. Valentine was killed for daring to marry couples in secret against the wishes of the government. Romans, you know. So strict. Strange how what goes around comes around. At any rate, he paid for his crimes. And there is nothing more romantic than that, right? Dying for love, for the cause of love. So, well, there's that. Otherwise, it sucks.

Chocolate, flowers, tokens of affection, greeting cards, love notes.... Most of this slush funding comes as crass commercial putsch, of course. Marketing 101. It's all just a crummy money mill. Invent a season and sell stuff for the season--or else you be labeled a rube, called insensitive, shown the door as the truly despicable person you are! It's foolproof inasmuch as only fools fall for it. And there are so many fools among us. I see one in the mirror each day. I fall for it every year. But not this year! I've finally awakened from my stupor.

So this love thing...what is it? Science tells us it's nothing more than a firing of neurons. It's a biochemical reaction to a certain stimulus. See a pretty face, feel happy. A pretty face is determined based on genetic programming and environmental quirks. We know what we like. For men, it's easy: there are ass men, boob men, and so on. For women...well, I've read they like broad shoulders and a non-physical attribute called confidence. Magazines can be wrong, I hear.

Even so, it's a walking stimulus. Advertising is based on walking stimuli; Valentine advertising is based on sex-related stimuli. The problem is that such stimuli exists year-round, so what's the big deal for one particular day of the year? Because, dear lovers of love, if you do not demonstrate said love to said lover, you are a rube at best and an ex-lover in the making at worse. There is no middle ground, only a pit of ruin.

Yet never fear! We have the means to solve your problem. Just like the commercials now on radio and television and with increasing annoyance the Internet (every single @#$%^&* web page!) is a message that you (me? yes, you!) have a problem. You did not know you had it but you do. And it will zap everything that makes you you from you! You do not want that problem, do you? Obviously not.

So for a certain amount of money we can give you something which will solve that problem. Drug companies seem to do this, too, and clearly have mastered the art.

You go along with your simple, unadorned life thinking it's just a matter of getting older, not having a quality sleep, suffering a poor diet, or not having enough friends, or at least not enough cool, hip, advertising-worthy friends (but who can ever have enough of those?), and then... BAM!!! No, it's not your fault, so don't worry. Besides, we have a solution. 

Buy this! Plenty to choose from. Eat this! Drink that! Take this! Wear this! Drive that! Look this way! Pay me! Pay us! Pay all of us! Or else you are not the person you want to be. Or else you can never be the kind of person you think you are! Give us money and we will solve all of your problems. We will roll back time, give you a make-over, prep you for your big re-debut, help you sweep the lover of your dreams off his/her feet! We will make you a god/goddess! 

Give us your money and all will be resolved.

It's that easy.

Oh, for shame. Got no money? Well, then you don't count. Never counted, in fact. And who would want you in their lives anyway? That is, without the money to buy all the solutions you obviously need to fix all the problems you obviously have in order to fit into this perfect, virtual society we have constructed and dutifully maintain for the glory of all who worship the almighty Valentine and his many minions of M√ľnchausen mania! Because only then will you be worthy of membership!

Just click off the obstinate media and return to your humble, quiet existence. Perhaps cuddle up with a wonderfully understanding book boyfriend or book girlfriend. Many do. It's not that weird. (I have three books I can recommend.) Three-hundred pages or so will definitely last longer than an awkward round of that sexercise thing you used to do--well, that was before that Valentine thorn in your side started to hurt.

Yes, I know I like to rant. Sometimes it helps. Sorry. Probably there's a pill for that. And I have some money squirreled away for just such a solution to just such a problem, a problem I never knew I had, couched in a Valentine I never requested or expected, from a person I have yet to meet, smeared with chocolate. At least, I think it's chocolate.

Happy VD! 

(There do not seem to be any memes for "book girlfriend" FYI.)


P.S., For those who take this blog post as a desperate cry for help, I can confirm that I'm all right. Besides, I've got an unopened tub of ice cream just waiting for consumption. And a backup tub in case I need it. 

(C) Copyright 2010-2015 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.

07 February 2015

Heart Search: Betrayal by Carlie Cullen launches!

After a well-deserved break for a not-so-well-deserved game of football, I return as ever-faithful to self-indulgence as I dare to be. Yes, indeed, I'm ready to dive back into the vast literary world! Look: I've got my trusty computer, my mug of coffee, my shy muses, and lots of time. All is well. 

No, wait! What is this? Rather than sitting on my laurels to absorb the praise for my dabble in vampire lore titled A DRY PATCH OF SKIN, I find competition once more! Paranormal Romance! Will the madness ever end? Shall vampires continue to whisk their capes through our haunted nightscapes? I thought not...until...now,

My friend and colleague at Myrddin Publishing, Carlie Cullen, has beaten me to the punch again with the launch of the third volume of her paranormal romance series Heart Search. Following Book I Heart Search: Lost and Book II Heart Search: Found, this next chapter of the series takes us into dangerous territory. (Want to know about the first two books? Click here for a video review of them!)

In fact, I have the entire kit and kaboodle right here! Take a look!

One bite started it all . . .

Joshua, Remy, and the twins are settled in their new life. However, life doesn’t always run smoothly. An argument between Becky and her twin causes unforeseen circumstances, an admission by Samir almost costs him his life, and the traitor provides critical information to Liam. But who is it?

As Jakki’s visions begin to focus on the turncoat’s activities, a member of the coven disappears, and others find themselves endangered.

And when Liam’s coven attacks, who will endure?

Fate continues to toy with mortals and immortals alike, and as more hearts descend into darkness, can they overcome the dangers they face and survive?

Being stuck on vampire time, I somehow miscalculated the Cover Reveal date for Heart Search: Betrayal but I can show the cover to you today! (Cover design is by Myrddin Publishing's own Nicole Antonia Carro.)

Here is an excerpt from Heart Search: Betrayal.

“Pavel and his group are in danger. I need you to leave immediately, take six of Joshua’s guards, get to the manor and then go southwest. You should meet up with Rick and his men. We dare not fight them this night, unless there is no alternative – we just need to get everyone back to the manor unscathed.”
“On my way!” She ended the call.
Samir pocketed his mobile. In the meantime, Joshua had rounded up the rest of their group and were ready to leave.
“Let’s go!” Samir said. Within mere seconds they were ploughing through the countryside, pushing themselves to ever greater speeds, faster than the wind. The trees rocked on their roots with the momentum of the hurtling vampires. Small creatures took cover in the undergrowth and birds flew screeching into the sky. They were more than a force of nature.
A few minutes later, Samir and his group reached the manor, vaulted the wall and made their way straight to the library. No one had returned. They immediately turned around and zoomed out and across the grounds. Just before they reached the wall, Emile, Iskra, and Sophia leapt over and landed right in front of them.
“Where are the others?” Samir asked, his voice full of concern.
“Right behind us,” Emile answered. Joshua jumped to the top of the wall, his feet nimbly landing either side of the sharp spikes. His eyes swept the land, his anxiety levels spiking through the stratosphere. Movement in the trees drew his attention.
“Someone’s coming!” he called down, his eyes never leaving the dense undergrowth. Relief flooded through him as he saw Pavel, Jakki, and some of the guards rocketing toward him. They hurdled the wall and landed safely beside Iskra. Jakki showed signs of having been in combat; there were tears in her clothes and her hair was dishevelled. Pavel looked less than his normal pristine self as did the guards.
Further rustling from the bushes and trees caused Joshua to whip his head around. Rick and several of the guards from both houses were charging away from a larger mob that was chasing them. They sprang over the wall to the safety of the grounds, leaving the snarling gang baying for their blood behind them.
Rick did a quick count up noticing only two men hadn’t returned, one of his and one of Joshua’s. He was pleased no one else had fallen prey to the gang. It appeared the mob had begun to disperse, but Joshua didn’t trust them. He remained on the wall scrutinising their every move. A scruffy-looking Rick joined him and together they surveyed the area until they were convinced the danger had passed.

Like prizes? Carlie is featuring a splendid giveaway to celebrate the launch of book three! 

Take a look at this "book trailer"! 

Isn't that cool? I mean, darkly ominously cool? 

Carlie M A Cullen was born in London. She grew up in Hertfordshire where she first discovered her love of books and writing.

She has always written in some form or another, but started to write novels in 2011. Her first book was published by Myrddin Publishing in 2012. She writes in the Fantasy/Paranormal Romance genres for New Adult and Adult.

Carlie is also a principal editor for Eagle Eye Editors, as well as holding the reins of a writing group called Writebulb. They have published four anthologies so far, two for adults and two for children, all of which raise money for a local hospice.

Carlie currently lives in Essex, UK with her daughter.

You can learn more about Carlie Cullen and her work by following these links.

Twitter: @carlie2011c

Heart Search, book one: Lost: http://smarturl.it/HeartSearch-Lost
Heart Search, book two: Found: http://smarturl.it/HeartSearch-Found
Heart Search: book three: Betrayal: http://hyperurl.co/HeartSearch-Betrayal

Trivia: One character in my vampire book A DRY PATCH OF SKIN actually mentions she is reading Heart Search: Lost. I'm sure by now she has finished Heart Search: Found and is waiting for Heart Search: Betrayal to launch. Now I'm inspired to write a sequel.

(C) Copyright 2010-2015 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.