21 May 2017

The Junk Man Cometh

Have you heard that expression that one man's junk is another man's treasure? It pops up once in a while - especially when a flashdrive gets full and I need to remove files to make room for something new that is, by definition, more valuable than whatever I may select to delete. It's a conundrum of our modern technological age. Yes, I know that there is a cloud up there somewhere, but I don't live that way. I like my stuff to be in physical, tangible form, and under my constant control. 

But I digress.... 

Recently I was in that situation of reviewing old files to determine which I could part with. I had to open many of them to see if they were truly necessary. That led to an interesting bunch of hours perusing my backstory, revisiting the ancient history of who I was long ago. I pondered why this file was of interest to me back then. I had to tie it to that point of time in my life: where was I? what was I doing? who was I enamored by? what did I hope for my future? Not exactly a walk down memory lane. More like running a gauntlet of alternately embarrassing moments and painful days of yore.

So, rather than toss a few old files away willy-nilly, I decided to conspire with my past self to share the more maudlin ones with an unsuspecting public. You're welcome. And so, without further adieu, I present "Files from my old Folders":


“Life isn’t divided into genres. It’s a horrifying, romantic, tragic, comical, science-fiction cowboy detective novel. You know, with a bit of pornography if you’re lucky.”
Alan Moore (via eroticasa)
The answer to life’s question right there

I must have saved this as a useful retort to those folks who see clearly defined genre boundaries. Although I may categorize a book as sci-fi, for example, that's just for marketing purposes. The story will include everything from romance to horror to comedy to hardcore techno-babble to dreamy alien wisdom. Because that's what I write.


Call me crazy, but I just feel like liking everything today!

(That way, I will continue to be able to see them...thereby ruining the dreaded algorithm that decides what I like without me having to do anything like actually clicking the word 'like' to indicate my approval of the topic or my admiration for the poster or my sympathy in the case of sad posts or otherwise indicating that I have seen the particular post whether or not I took the time to read a link or pondered the headline or caption or smiled at a picture of a bunny or similar warm, fuzzy meme, or conversely turned away at a picture of tornado damage, sick children, or other similar images of the darker side of life's experiences, or otherwise left some meager sign of my existence in cyberspace, much less in the world of reality, which is, as Plato once demonstrated, nothing more than a snake oil salesman's compendium of incomprehensibility based on flawed human senses and a wild imagination....)

Have you ever logged on to your favorite social media abyss and just decided the heck with it and clicked the 'like' button on everything? Almost everything? And as you go down the wall/feed you begin to discriminate, to pick and choose what you will adorn with your approval? Truly an odd feature of these human things!


Mother's Day is a two-way street with intersections, ice cream trucks, and horse-drawn carriages, half in shade and half in sunshine, and people pass once or many times and never think of it again.

I have no doubt this was a not-so-well-thought-out rebuttal to all the holiday trimmings abounding that day, and by extension every holiday. Too many such days when we are expected to perform rituals, recite the words, offer up the usual platitudes. True feelings are more likely to erupt spontaneously at certain moments throughout the year, less so on the actual day given over to the display of familiarity.


Icelandic love phrases

I like you. Ég eins og Þú.
I love you. Ég elska þig.
I love you. Ég ást Þú.
I want you. Ég vilja Þú.
I need you. Ég Þörf Þú.
Do you love me? Gera Þú ást mig?
Do you want me? Gera Þú vilja mig?
Do you like me? Gera Þú eins og mig?
Kiss me. Koss mig.
Take your clothes off. Taka Þinn föt burt.
Have sex with me. Hafa kynlíf með mig.
I love cuddling with you. Ég ást faðmlag með Þú.
I love your touch. Ég ást Þinn snerta.
You smell good. Þú lykta góður.
You taste good. Þú finna bragð af góður.
You are beautiful. Þú ert fallegur.
You are handsome. Þú ert myndarlegur.
You turn me on. Þú snúa mig á.
You drive me crazy. Þú ökuferð mig brjálaður.
I’m falling in love with you. Ég er bylta í ást með Þú.
Will you marry me? Vilja Þú gifta mig?
I miss you. Ég ungfrú Þú.
You are so sexy. Þú ert svo kynÞokkafullur.

Because, well, sometimes you have to write a novel about a girl from Iceland and you want it to be realistic, right? So you do your research and you save all kinds of things just for that one page where you might type it in. Then it stays hidden in a folder within another folder on a flashdrive that needs to be cleaned. 


Hungarian Goulash

2 pounds top round beef, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup chopped onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon salt
0.5 teaspoon black pepper
0.25 teaspoon dried thyme
1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes, undrained, coarsely chopped
3 carrots, peeled and cut into 1-1/2-inch chunks
1 bay leaf
1 (8-ounce) container sour cream
Warm cooked buttered noodles

In a 5-quart slow cooker, combine beef, onion, and garlic; mix well.

In a small bowl, combine flour, paprika, salt, pepper, and thyme; mix well. Add to meat mixture, tossing to coat well. Add tomatoes with liquid, carrots, and bay leaf; mix well.

Cover and cook on HIGH setting 4-1/2 to 5 hours hours or on LOW setting 8 to 9 hours, or until beef is fork-tender. Remove and discard bay leaf. Stir in sour cream. Serve over noodles.

I know why I saved this recipe. I was writing my vampire novel; that is, a novel about a guy transforming into a vampire. At least, that's what he fears. Being of Hungarian ancestry, he eventually ventures to his ancestral homeland to seek a cure. I supposed I wanted to try the native dish to glean whatever I could of the culture, to better help me write the story. Then again, once I had made it, I realized it was very much like the stuff the cafeteria served us for lunch when I was in 3rd grade.

So there you have a handful of stuff I saved for whatever reason. Now that they are yours, please pass them on. Help the next person fill their flashdrive. 

(C) Copyright 2010-2017 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.

05 May 2017

The 5th of the 5th of the 5th!

Sure, it's a "made-up" holiday, this May the 4th Be With You Day. It easily follows the laborious Labor Day otherwise known as May Day celebrations and is followed in short order by the equally sanctimonious Revenge of the 5th Day (that is, "Revenge of the Sith"). And that coincides with the Mexican holiday of Cinco de Mayo, the 5th of May, the celebration of an old battle victory over the French invaders.

Nevertheless, I shall celebrate my own day on May 5th (since I eat plenty of tacos throughout the year, anyway), and I shall call this day The 5th of the 5th of the 5th! On this day I shall reveal for public scrutiny the fifth paragraph of the fifth page of the fifth chapter of each of my completed novels...no matter what it may be, whether self-revelatory or not. I am willing to take that risk.

And so without further delay...here are the 5th paragraphs of the 5th pages of the 5th chapters:

1. The Last Song (as yet unpublished, this book is divided into four "symphonic movements" so it does not have a true 5th chapter; thus, I shall offer the fifth paragraph from the fifth chapter-like section):

“I learned the theory of the music of the gods, from the Discovery," the old music teacher grumbled. "The real music! And now...now they’ve gone so far astray. It’s pitiful, downright pitiful. I pity all of them, those greedy, lazy free composers.  Music destroyers is what I call them!”

2. Year of the Tiger (coming soon)

Between the dull throbbing in his chest and the steady ache in his head, his vivid consciousness began to waver. He slipped back and forth from the soothing pastel walls of his room to a steamy, vegetated world of jungle bird calls and the incessant thumping of native drums. Sweating profoundly, he listened to the drums, then the birds, then the rustling of the leaves around him. A breeze wafted over him, humid and heavy, pressing him deeper into his mattress. The drums faded away, then the birds.

3. Aiko (mercilessly drummed out of Amazon's 2014 Breakthrough Novel Awards competition; published anyway!)

      It was the 80s, he considered, wondering where his youth had gone, already in his thirties and fearing he had missed something. Japan was opening up to internationalization, long past recovering from the ravages of war and hardships of reconstruction. Now Japan had stepped out as an equal among nations, pressing for leadership in the international community. Stereotypes were falling away. Slowly. No longer were images of geisha and samurai what people thought of; endless varieties of electronics and quirky pop singers with pink hair and thigh-high boots were the most noticeable imports. Ben had to smile: he had never had any interest in Asia—not the culture, not the food, not the people, their languages, their fashions, nor their ways of doing business. He had only limited experience, anyway. In college his girlfriend had roomed with an exchange student from Korea. And in high school there was a chubby girl by the name of Yoko, but he never considered she was half-Japanese; she was just another American to him. Then he’d arrived in Hawaii.

4. The Dream Land (a.k.a. "Long Distance Voyager" - Book I of The Dream Land Trilogy), steampunk interdimensional adventure

“It’s...glorious,” she whispered, and he was surprised she could be so taken in by her own experiment. He had to agree, touching her hand and giving it a reassuring squeeze: it was beyond their expectations.

5. After Ilium, romantic adventure in Turkey

      Alex knew they were talking about him, even though the words were Turkish. They sounded strangely like the drunken mutterings of his fraternity buddies, and the shadows shifted to become his roommate, Nick, with a swarthy face and black, curled beard, like statues of the old Greek king, Agamemnon, that he’d seen in museums. Nick had been killed driving home from spring break six weeks before graduation, a trip Alex had reluctantly declined, citing an important paper that was due. The shadows shifted and Nick was replaced by the image of the doctor—the image of how he thought the doctor appeared.

6. A Beautiful Chill, a campus affair turned ugly

“We are lovers,” she says, taking his arm so there will be no confusion.

7. The Dream Land (Book II "Dreams of Future's Past")

McElroy lowered his head, seething. He had never hit a woman before, though he had come close several times. He had always managed to hit a wall or a door. Once he hit himself—his head—against a door to release his anger. He did not carry his pistol tonight since they were going out to dinner in a nice restaurant. But he could never hit a woman. He had too much respect for—

8. The Dream Land (Book III "Diaspora")

“No, course not.” Tammy giggled. “They are on another planet. How’m I supposed to have contact with them?”

9. A Dry Patch of Skin, the only medically accurate vampire tale.

       I resisted the easy double-entendre and responded thus: “My pleasure.” After all, I’ve learned over the years that the best way to assure anyone comes is to not make jokes until after it happens. (Oh, is that a dirty joke? I’m not sorry, nor am I offended that anyone might be offended. I did not come right out and say anything obscene. That is the beauty of the double-entendre: only those privy to the context find it clever. All others sit dumb-faced like wilted flowers. All right then, I apologize. Next time, bring your own jokes.)

10. A Girl Called Wolf, an arctic adventure tale based on a true life

       “Anna?” Somebody called my name, my Catholic name that the Lord of Denmark chose for me. I turned and there was a woman with red hair. She ran up to me and hugged me before I could move.

11. Epic Fantasy *With Dragons, an epic fantasy that has dragons, a dragonslayer, a boy from the palace kitchen, an old magus, a little princess, a valley of death, and a whole lot more!

    Corlan arose, weary and sore. He stumbled to the door, hung on the handle a few breaths, and realized as he opened the door that he was still naked. After the hours with Petula, he cared not. He simply wanted to keep that memory fixed in his mind, playing the afternoon tryst over and over.

Thus is revealed the 5th of the 5th of the 5th!

I encourage you to enjoy your tacos, your lightsabers, and should the mood strike you, go ahead and get yourself five books. Share with five friends and your life shall be made five-fold better by your generous acts!

(C) Copyright 2010-2017 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 April 2017

Naming Names in Epic Fiction Pt 2

In my last blogging twitch I revealed how I didn't like the name my parents gave me but gradually accepted it for tax purposes and more. I believe the consternation at my own name has influenced how carefully I name characters in my books. Especially in stories set on other worlds or fantasy lands where the usual English names should not apply. There, a name unfamiliar to us may yet carry some weight, be loaded with symbolism, and annoy its bearer to no end...right?

You would think coming up with names in a fantasy story would be easy: just throw some letters together and voila a character is born! You could do that, but does the name sound like that character's name? Does it make the reader believe this character will act a certain way? speak in a particular dialect? think in strange ways? Who can say? That is what makes naming more difficult for fantasy and science fiction. 

The easiest way to choose names is look at drugs. Xanax is a powerful commander of the Prilosec fleet of intergalactic warships. Or try choosing a "normal" name and changing a letter or two. Tom, Dick, and Harry could become Tam, Wick, and Darry - three Hobbits in a new fantasy tale. Back to THE DREAM LAND Trilogy: I made my own formal rules for "alien" names, partly to keep them straight in my head, whereby male names ended with consonants and female names with vowel sounds. For example, Samot and Aisa, two legendary figures in Sekuatean mythology. (Did you see what I did there? I reversed two letters so it is not Asia, the continent, but Aisa ["Eye-zuh"] the girl.)

Even in EPIC FANTASY *WITH DRAGONS names are important to the characters. Our hero is Corlan, a name I toyed with and finally settled on as something a rough and tough hero might be called. Surname? I hesitated for several chapters, then in a flash of inspiration I "unwhited" him. Or so I thought. Diversity being all the rage these days, I thought to make him "Asian" in a make-believe world with no Asia. I let him bear the family name of Tang. It sounds like a Chinese name and yet on an invented setting it could be anything. His auburn hair wouldn't exactly fit an Asian name, however, but that would just add to the mystery, eh? His name is eventually explained in the story - and makes perfect sense, of course.

I stayed with that scheme for the city of Covin, an all-women city where the few men allowed there are either slaves, dinner, or sometimes briefly a sire. At that point in my writing of the novel, the setting had shifted from something completely invented, like a slightly less Middle Earth, to a futuristic American landscape. So there was definitely no Asian anything - except as may have been "left over" from the world we know today. Who can say for sure? The Queen of Covin is named Hiro Ka, which sounds Japanese. All part of the story. Later we learn that these "trendy" names are just corruptions of longer names. For example, we learn that the Queen of Covin's original name was Hillary Kavanaugh. Make of that twist as you will, perhaps the "white" person wishing to be more exotic? Another twist, another mystery. And Covin is clearly meant to be the old Covington, Kentucky, right? Everyone can see that, true?

At one point in the tale, our band of heroes encounters the manly men city of Luval where they persuade the local regent to form a flotilla to go down the river to kill dragons. What is needed most besides ships are river pilots. And important river pilots must be given names. As they had limited yet crucial scenes, I needed to imbue them with a sense of personality with just a name and barely a sentence of description. My head was stuck on two-syllable names at that point in the writing so I decided on single-syllable names just for expediency: Bant, Durk, and Lond. During revisions, they grew on me and so I awarded them a second syllable, so they became Bantun, Durkin, and Londrel. As I put the names together I envisioned how each man would appear. For Bantun, I saw a shorter, chunkier man with a beard yet a bald head, a serious type. Durkin was livelier, a jester, while Londrel was tall with a hooked nose, and much too serious - and cowardly. 

There is a running commentary throughout the novel recounting the history of the age before the one in the story, called the Age of the Five Princes. This feature actually was to be a sub-story weaving through a much longer novel. Instead, it became a mere mention here and there. But the five princes "long ago" are instrumental in setting the context of the present story. In the medieval-themed novel I had planned as a teen, the princes were Terrens, Nicholas, Dellus, Ulrich, and Argus - and I have no idea why I chose those particular names. However, in transforming them to a make-believe world, I could not use "Nicholas" or "Ulrich" which are perfectly good Earth names. So I shifted them to Teran, Nilas, Darus, Urix, and Agor, which sound more exotic. It seems Urix made the greatest impression as our hero Corlan finds many people since that time named their sons after Urix  - to our hero's constant annoyance. 

And even our hero Corlan's sidekick, the boy from the palace kitchen named Tam, has a longer, more official name: Tamondarus!
“Who were the other princes?” asked the boy.
“There was Teran, the eldest, a half-brother only. And Urix, and Agor. Teran was the poet, the artist. Urix was the power broker, the mediator—alas, unsuccessful in the end. Agor was the general of the army of Nilas. Agor escaped from Inati during the trials. They all died in the end. Nilas lived the longest yet always in pain.”
“Oh.” Tam frowned.
“My grandfather and his grandfather were both named Urix after that ancient prince,” said Corlan automatically.
“I’m named after my mother’s grandfather!” sang the boy.
“Tam is a good name,” said Corlan.
“No, it’s really Tamondarus!”
Corlan laughed at the boy’s boisterous declaration. “You’re right. Tam is much better.”
“You can call me Tamondarus if you want to.”
“No, I’ll call you Tam. Or just boy.”
“It’s like that other Darus, the prince who died.”
“He was the evil one, you know,” said Joragus. “That’s the story. Stole Nilas’ betrothed, he did, then made a union with her, the poor maiden. That’ll start a war, all right!”
“Then what happened?” asked Tam.
“Nilas asked for her back. Darus refused.”
Corlan was ready to stop yet the glow on the boy’s face said he wanted to hear more. 

Every epic fantasy must have a wizard or a mage or, better yet, a magus! The one in my novel is named by little better a method than flipping cards into a hat: Joragus. As the chapters unfolded, however, his name began to have other associations. Being more than three-hundred years old, he can remember a lot. He recalls the way people in his past called him. Instead of Joragus, he is actually Jorge of the U.S. - with the name being pronounced as the Hispanic name "Hor-hay".

And then there are place names. In realistic fiction, we simply check a map. In a fantasy setting we throw some letters together - but again, does the name reflect the characteristics of the place? But sometimes there are places which are not shown on maps - big places which no god or goddess has needed to have mapped. In the novel, the interludes together tell the story of a little princess who flees her island home. Eventually she comes to understand through her lessons the true nature of . . . well, of literally everything. Using the egg-shaped "birthstone" - a magic object which every epic fantasy story must include - the goddess reveals the places only a goddess would understand:

She knew that nations were made of cities, and worlds were made of nations. Furthermore, the worlds she knew and worlds she did not know were all wrapped around things called planets, and they all spun around things called stars, which all surged within a mighty maelstrom called galaxies, which floated in a thing called universe, which balanced on the tip of a thing called O, which was kept locked away inside a small treasure chest called...what was it called? She suddenly forgot, and Hidel [her dragon] shifted awkwardly beneath her as if he sensed her distress.
There were other goddesses, of course, so she did not have to do everything herself. Yet it was quite clear that this land over which she soared was meant to be cared for by her. The goddess Sei Bo had told her so, and when a goddess tells you something, you believe it and you remember it—
Ah! The treasure chest is called Ah! And every person carried a piece of it inside themselves, said the birthstone in a strange new language she was still learning, full of squiggles and dots and checks and lines cut into pieces. They filled her head, made her want to sleep, even though she knew there would never be any sleep for her. The days extended for ages and the nights even longer.

Did you see what she did there? The universe is something sitting on the tip of something larger, vaster - which is contained in something very, very small. Thereby adding mystery to the story - and perhaps a new religion. Who can say? Epic fantasy is all about names, putting the right name to the right character, place, or object, thus bringing it into existence for the first time. Epic fantasy has a way of starting things, at least for those who can subtly sense its finer nuances. And understand the meanings of names given surreptitiously between sips of coffee on a Sunday morning. That's how the O turns sometimes. You know? 

(C) Copyright 2010-2017 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 April 2017

Naming Names in Epic Fiction

As a kid, I never liked my name. It was too easy for other kids to deliberately mispronounce just to tease me. So once I started writing stories, I thought up several cool pen names to replace the name my parents had foisted upon me. However, I gave up pseudonyms eventually because I decided I needed to use my real name so family and friends would believe I actually wrote the books.

The subject of names continues to impact my life, especially my writing life, because as writers know, names are important. After all, Adam was tasked with naming the flora and fauna of the Garden of Eden, and with each pronouncement, it became real. Each time we cast a label on something, we could be said to name it. And naming creates powerful associations. Our characters’ names are no different, never more so than in fantasy. 

In contemporary fiction, however, names are easy (supposedly) because they are familiar words friends and neighbors might bear. I used to read through baby-name books to find just the right name for a character. Surnames were tougher. I looked in phone books.

Perhaps not every character fiddles with his or her name. Thank goodness they seldom complain. I imagine, however, that characters do what real people do, and fiddling with and changing and using just the right name is as important to them as it is to a lot of us. Sometimes a name is actually a crucial element of a character's psyche, motivation, or raison-d'être.

For example, in my contemporary novel A BEAUTIFUL CHILL, the heroine, Íris (note the accent mark), is from Iceland and the correct Icelandic pronunciation of her name matters to her. As it turns out, her name is about all she has that is truly hers, so she firmly corrects anyone who speaks her name with the English pronunciation; her friends know how to say it and by that quirk she marks them as friends. “My name is Íris. Like the letter E,” she scolds the male protagonist early on. It is literally a defining moment for her: 'Get my name right, or we’ll have nothing to do with each other.' Her name is a major motif throughout the book.

In another example, the young man in THE DREAM LAND science fiction trilogy who in the last book takes over the story from our hero is named "Chucker". It's a nickname used by his mother since he was a little boy, and since he is now searching for her on another world, it has meaning to him. Visiting Earth on his travels, he meets up with a detective who agrees to help him.

“What do they call you in school? Is it Chuck or Charlie?”
“Chucker is what they call me—but I hate that name. Mom was crazy naming me that. Chuck R. Tucker. The ‘R’ stands for René. Sissy name, ain’t it? That was her dad’s name. Her name was Tucker, and after she got married it was McElroy. Then she changed it back to Tucker. My dad’s name is Chuck. That’s what Grandma said. So everybody calls me Chucker Tucker—ya know, like Chuck R. Tucker? Hate it.”

(For more instruction on naming the characters in THE DREAM LAND Trilogy, click to this blog post.)

And in the ultimate example, Alex Parris is in love with everything about the Trojan War in AFTER ILIUM. In fact, when he meets an older woman named Elena on a cruise ship bound for Turkey, where he will tour the ruins of Ilium, he cannot help but imagine himself as young Paris carrying off his prized Helen to the storied walls of Ilium. That name association is the start of a whole lot of trouble for Alex. Bearing the wrong name is as bad as being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

In my Japanese romance novel AIKO we again place a name at the center of the story. Of course it has to be a Japanese name. "Aiko" literally means "love" and "child" (愛子) - not an unusual name in Japan but one with other associations to English-language readers. Aiko's mother's family name also has meaning. Nakamori means "in the middle of the forest" if you translate the kanji symbols to their basic meaning. And, yes, our protagonist does search for her in the forest of northern Japan.

Names are important in another recent novel A GIRL CALLED WOLF. The young heroine's birth name means wolf in her native language. After struggling on her own after her mother dies in the harsh landscape of Greenland, she treks to the nearest village. In time she adopts a new name, a Christian name, Anna, but she continues to carry the "wolf" associations with her no matter what name she uses. The associations with "Wolf" are an important feature of the character - a character based on a real person whose real name was "Wolf".
So let me suggest, when you select a character’s name - whether it’s some common Anglo-Saxon name, a Biblical name, or something Chinese, Indian, or whatever - keep in mind the associations the name may have. Think about how the character carries his/her name. How picky is your character about the name? Also, what nicknames may ensue: Elizabeth is a noble name but it boils down to Lizzy. How does the character react to other people using or misusing their names? Will people see Stephen and pronounce it Stefan? Names become another element, another layer, of a character’s identity.

Because what is a name but a marker of identity? It's proof of existence, and for a fictional persona brought magically to life in the pages of a story, existence is everything.

Your homework for next time is to come up with names for the following stock characters in an epic fantasy:
  • The brave, burly hero who is good with swords
  • An old woman who mixes potions in her cave
  • Two little boys who like to play pranks on villagers
  • A beautiful prized mount (which may not necessarily be a horse)
  • The charming princess who may or may not have magic powers


(C) Copyright 2010-2017 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.

26 March 2017

Using Bunnies in Epic Fantasy

My writing colleagues often declare a state of "writer's block" or else request help in deciding what happens next in their stories. Just as often I suggest introducing a magic bunny. And rather more than I would like, my suggestion gets a polite chuckle and goes nowhere. It's sad, really, because bunnies (or, rabbits, in their scientific designation) offer so much in the twists and turns of a story's plot, especially in an epic fantasy.

In the early days of social media, when everyone of my friends were posting pictures of their dogs and cats, I reached point where I was feeling saturated. Then, as luck would have it, I happened to see a picture of the most cute, most perfect itty bitty bunny wabbit ever! (Look to the right->) And so I posted it, simply for its cuteness - and with contemplation of that cuteness came a certain lessening of my stress level. Little by little I sought out cute bunny pictures and posted them. I soon became known as the bunny guy, both loved and loathed - mostly loved.

Then came the dramatic tome known as EPIC FANTASY *WITH DRAGONS, which I have discussed at length here and here. Also here. (And here, if you are still curious.) Even though there are dragons in this mighty tale of daring-do, I found places where a magic bunny could make a significant contribution. After all, rabbits have a long history of portents in medieval people's lives - perhaps even further back to the dawn of bunnydom. Rabbits also have meaning associated with animal totems and sometimes serve as messengers of the gods ("More treats, please!"). Some of us place great meaning on the simplest of acts, such as "What Does It Mean When a Rabbit Crosses Your Path?" while conveniently forgetting a time long ago when mankind lived in fear of rabbits

But I digress.... 

I choose to use rabbits, nee bunnies, in much more wholesome roles in my Epic Fantasy novel. While always appreciated and adored, I've found bunnies work best as plot point prompts. In that capacity, they may be either a source of nourishment (if one is near starvation) or a harbinger of the future. They may also be recognized as symbols of fertility! (Recommended use: Have a bunny hop across the grass outside the bedroom chamber windows as your hero and the seductive queen begin their love making.) For further bunniness, I recommend this earlier post on this blog.

As a source of nourishment:

After some time on the trail, our hero and his cohort pick up a couple of rogues. The food they have to share is not too delicious.

    “I wish we had some drake walk across our path tonight,” said Gorral. “I need some meat. Real meat. Not this...this grandfather food, food for old men with no teeth....”
Corlan smiled at the boy.
“You need a magic bunny,” said Tam.
“What’s that?” asked Corlan. “A magic bunny?”
“Chef always said that. Whenever we would run out of food at the palace, he would pray for a bunny to appear in the garden. By magic.”
    “Did it work?”
    “Sometimes a bunny arrived just in time for dinner.”
    Corlan laughed and licked his fingers. “That would be magic.”

As a harbinger of the future:

At one point in the journey our hero and his cohort seek help from an old magus and body-stitcher, an ancient woman named Urma.

“I remember you talked about Yvella, but never said anything about Dreva. How are your powers now?”
“I haven’t gone up in flames yet.” Urma started to chuckle, then stopped herself. “Magic powers grow stronger as we count down the years. I have one-hundred-fifteen years now, with only fourteen more to live. So says the rabbit in my visions. I didn’t listen at first—who would take a rabbit seriously?—so I didn’t believe. Then she hopped ahead of me on a long trail and at each bend of the path sat a stone with my name on it, written in Luvali. Counting the stones, I came to the final number. The tally was complete. I knew then what day I shall be done with this life. That’s both a blessing and a curse.”

Furthermore, the qualities of the bunny can shed light upon a difficult situation:

In one of the interludes that together comprise a separate novella woven through the novel, we follow the adventures of a little princess and her faithful tutor as they flee the cruelty of the queen.

    “Some people, especially in the north and the east, believe we are born and we die, yes, then we are born again in a different body. It’s a great mystery. We say such people have twice-beating hearts. You could be one of them, little majesty. You are young in age yet much older inside. I have always felt that way about you, little majesty.”
    “Oh,” was the princess’s reply. “I always thought I was a bunny. I thought it was only a dream.”
    “Perhaps you were a bunny in a previous life,” said Jabuli.
    “If it’s true, I don’t remember it much. Vegetables is all. Lots and lots of vegetables.”
    “Do you still like vegetables?”
    “Oh, yes!”
    “Then perhaps it is true.” She smiled. “Now you are a princess.”
    Adora pouted. “I think I prefer being a bunny.”
    “Unless a dragon comes to eat you,” said Jabuli.
    “No, not then.” The princess watched the hillside, marked the city in the distance, the strait and the island beyond. “This is the farthest I have ever been from my slumber chamber. I never knew a world like this existed. It was only written on parches.”

In an earlier work of mine, THE DREAM LAND TRILOGY, I also used rabbits. In Book III, at a time of warfare, the opposing armies used giant war rabbits and battle hamsters, ridden by pilots and laser-archers. The beasts truly won the field that day! However, it is best to keep rabbits to a normal size and healthy disposition. Or else we might all succumb to the terror of the Middle Ages.
Not quite as I depicted them in THE DREAM LAND Book III, but...still impressive!
Therefore, when stuck in one's writing, always consider a bunny to liven things up. Fear not the hubris of old nor the salivation of culinary quislings, for it is only with the Zen of Bun that one may go forth with renewed vigor to face the world, a world which is often inhabited by decidedly unbunny-like dragons!

(C) Copyright 2010-2017 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.

19 March 2017

Plotting an Epic Fantasy With Dragons

Once upon a time there was no epic fantasy with or without dragons. Then, one day, there was! How did that happen? I'm still wondering myself. When my head clears of the sleepy cobwebs, my intellectual mind reminds me that it is a simple thing we like to call plot - or, in the superlative, plotting.

Plotting is the positioning of plot points (i.e., "things that happen") along a route through a tale. With a quest tale, it is considerably easier because you have an actual route to follow. Such routes are best laid out on maps. The first step to plotting is to have a good map of the quest area. Normally these are not laying about willy-nilly in a dusty cartographer's shop. No, you might very often need to make your own. 

The first step is to find a map of any ol' place. Let's take America, for example. Find a map of America, that ancient land of myth and merriment that scribes will not cease talking about. Now, we know from our basic studies that the world changes through the centuries. We know seas rise and mountains rise. We know also that rivers may flow away and become lifeless canyons. We know that once fertile fields may become inundated by the sea and turn into marshlands. Forests will fall in one place yet grow thick in another. 

The second step is to mess up the map. Create chaos. Let the seas rush in and the lakes overflow. Let mountains sprout and volcanoes thrash the land. Quakes will alter the landscape, as well. Cities may need to be rebuilt as others collapse into ruin. We are talking centuries, remember. Kingdoms rise and fall, borders change. Legends are passed from campfire to tavern to a fine court of ladies and gentlemen. And there are always stories to tell that explain the world we inhabit today - the today of our tale.
The lower valley in the Ancient Era.

The lower valley as we know it today.
The third step is to designate a starting point. Let's say it is a city at one end of the map. Then designate a destination, perhaps at the opposite end of the map - depending on the size of one's map. Bigger is not always better; remember the stamina of your hero/heroine and his/her cohort. Think of the dangers along the way: a longer journey must necessarily be fraught with more dangers. Something significant must happen at regular intervals which will cause the hero/heroine to press on. Yet what does happen at those regular intervals must also be entertaining in its own right, almost as though that scene were its own tale.

The fourth and final step is to draw a line connecting the two points: start and finish. Next, draw an X at regular internals. These Xs will mark where something significant happens, such as a dragon attack. Perhaps there are wild people blocking the route. Or interesting ruins that must be explored. There may even be a magus or two here and there. Or a city, grand and glorious, that no one in your hero's party ever suspected existed. Or another dragon attack. The possibilities are nearly endless - though do keep in mind the length of the route and give your heroes a break once in a while. 
The entire realm of the Americus, circa 9845.
Keep in mind that a good tale has ever-worsening events. This rule was invented by scribes long ago who had too much time on their hands and too much ink on their nubs. This rule is important for testing your hero. A hero is not so heroic if all he/she must face is a magic bunny. Let your hero face doom. It's really not so awful. Remember that you can enjoy it all from a comfy chair. For your hero, however, it is a blessing: the chance to prove himself/herself and reclaim that reputation once lost (hence the need for a road trip in the first place). The final plot points should take your hero down to his/her worst, ready to fail, ready to die. Then go get a fresh cup of tea and let your hero/heroine dangle a bit.

Now that you have your plotting done, wish your heroes well and send them on their way with ample supplies and a healthy dose of fortitude and bravura. Perhaps assign a comic relief (a kitchen boy?) or some other minor actor (a hunchback?) to divert attention from the blustering braggadocio of the dragonslayer - for who else is best suited for such a journey but a dragonslayer in search of dragons? As scribes long ago were wont to scribble: "It takes a whole cohort to slay a dragon!"

You, too, can ride along on this heroic quest to rid the world of the scourge of dragons by reading EPIC FANTASY *WITH DRAGONS on slices of shaved wood or as light upon a smooth stone. The choice is yours.

(C) Copyright 2010-2017 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.