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.
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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!
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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.

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