16 June 2017

What's the deal with Father's Day?

So I'm sitting comfortably at my computer, writing my new work-in-progress (a sequel to my 2014 vampire novel), passing the 10,000 word mark, and it hits me! I should be promoting my Father's Day novel, the one titled AIKO. It's a kind of Father's Day story, after all. Father's Day is here again and everyone is doing a grad and dad marketing blitz. 

Everyone knows that grads are tired of reading. Dads tend to be reading averse, too. So maybe books do not make the best gifts. Job search books for grads, perhaps. A book on dad's current hobby, maybe. But fiction too often falls to the dark, dusty shelf of well-intended gifts. Next to the neckties. (My own father would rather read through a stack of history and politics books before he would ever crack the cover of a novel.)

(Sure, AIKO is a novel about a man discovering he is a father and the many obstacles he must overcome to really make it true, to go get his child, but that would be my pitchman talking. Ignore him.)

So how many books are there about Father's Day, anyway? Or about fathers in general? Mothers are easy. Brothers and sisters are common. The sweet aunt and the generous uncle are often seen in literature. In my vast reading, Fathers are generally the bad guys, villainous, cruel, authoritarian, mean, and uncaring. They are more often than not portrayed as abusers. Sometimes they only appear as the bad memory of a protagonist and we get a couple of incidents to showcase dad's unpleasantness. (I confess doing that in A BEAUTIFUL CHILL and A GIRL CALLED WOLF; fathers in my other novels are less abusive, thankfully.) It's almost a stereotype. Fathers get a bad rap, I think; we only hear about the bad ones. (Think of Darth Vader, a.k.a. "Dark Father", and others of his ilk.)

I think about the fathers in my other books. My protagonists seem to relate to their fathers much as I relate to my own. Funny, that coincidence. Or am I drawing on the only role model I have? (I'm an only child, as well, and my protagonists tend not to have siblings, also--or siblings that are throw-away characters, mentioned but not active in the story.) In AFTER ILIUM, the young hero dislikes his dentist father's strictness and is glad to be on his own touring Greece and Turkey. In EPIC FANTASY *WITH DRAGONS, our dragonslayer hero's father was a military commander killed in battle, so our hero carries only the memory of a violent, frightening man. In A DRY PATCH OF SKIN, our poor hero, transforming into a vampire, is angry at his father for not warning him and for sending him away to live with an aunt. In AIKO, our hero discovers he is a father, then struggles to find his child. There is a brief mention of his father being stationed in Japan after WWII--as my own father was. After the war, my father went to college on the G.I. Bill and became a social studies teacher--later, a librarian. 

When I think of my father, the image that comes most readily is of him sitting in his reading chair, reading: reading in such a focused, determined way that nothing could disturb him. Thus, he was apart from everyday activity, on the sideline, uninvolved in my experiences. And that is what I learned of fatherhood: 1) provide the income, 2) relax at home after the job away from home, 3) fix things around the house and yard when needed. Also, 4) be master of the castle, 5) enforce the rules, and when necessary (6) represent the family like a knight in shining armor when some authority or institution challenges us. He is the (7) champion, the protector, the lord of the manor. And that is, for better or worse, how I portray the fathers in my books: powerful yet distant. Art imitating life!

If you've been following this blog you probably know I'm a dad. It's a weird feeling knowing there is someone living in the world partly as a result of my actions. Sure, we can imagine clones, or cyborgs, but another human? That's crazy. Like us and yet not like us. And eventually they go their own ways and have their own lives and we scratch our heads and think What just happened? Now my offspring is in college, studying to be a nurse. This is after going through Army training to be a combat medic--a course I doubt I could've made it through if I were the same age!

As I think back on the past 20 years, I can pinpoint a few things I did that may have helped raise this baby to adulthood. But there are just as many other things I did that I have no clue about. Maybe they helped, maybe they hurt. Only my grown child can tell. If it is even possible to figure that out conclusively. But I'm pleased, even proud, of how this googly little bundle of joy became this awesome adult who vaguely resembles me in appearance and words and behavior. 

So for now, I must pass the reins over to my protégé. No longer do I need to concern myself so much with me doing great things and achieving this and that and tell my child about, you know, the things I can boast about. Now it is time for me to boast about my grown child, to note what this new adult is doing, and praise the new things, the new deeds, of this adult--to praise and be proud of what my child has done more than being happy at what I have done. Oh, I'll still write books; I must or die trying. But now it's no longer all about me.

(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.

03 June 2017

The Deep Dark Secret Truth

Lots of people ask me why I write and how I write. Well, I can never seem to understand exactly what is going on behind the scenes but I'm glad the muses are hard at work on my behalf. I think it all began with the first sparks of a story in my childhood which became, in 2012, my second published novel The Dream Land. As the story continued through a trilogy, this first volume was re-titled Long Distance Voyager, or The Dream Land Trilogy Book I: Long Distance Voyager ...if you want to be accurate. Just this week I happened to pull a copy of it off my shelf and began reading it for the giggles. Nostalgia, I suppose. I am rather enjoying reading it, amazed at my youthful self and the strange stuff I thought up back then. 

The Dream Land Trilogy began as a simple YA story, safe and innocent for adolescents. It was a tale of a boy who was visited one day by "aliens" - the aliens in the story resembled mice, or perhaps, the hamster he once had as a pet. In actuality, the boy was me and I was not actually visited by alien mice. 

Well, that's one of the secrets. What that boy did do was to take some pipe cleaners and yarn and make some play creatures that looked like mice: clawed feet, fuzzy bodies, tiny ears sticking up out of their fur, and a yarn tail. Evolution then caused them to gain clawed hands and lose the tails. The boy's mother told him that his story was like one she had read long ago: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. The boy had never read it - and refuses to read it or see the film version even today as an adult, chiefly for political purposes - because he feared people would say he was just copying the idea.

As the boy grew, he kept the story secret, lest anyone steal his idea or accuse him of stealing someone else's idea. And as he grew into a high school student, the alien mice further evolved into more human-like beings, though still small in stature, something akin to child-sized adults. They described their world to him and explained all of their customs, and this allowed the boy to create maps of their world and flags of their nations. He was even able to design football helmet logos for their football teams - which was a shocking development inasmuch as they did not play the sport on their world.

And speaking of their world, the boy-turned-teenager somehow heard the name incorrectly from the alien mice visitors, something like "Gupal". He used the word to indicate the visitors themselves ("I played with the Gupals all afternoon.") and their planet ("My friends all came from the planet Gupal.") and so on. In high school, however, as the teenager was becoming more widely read (but never The Hobbit!) he began to decypher the language of his Gupal friends. His more sophisticated understanding of linguistics allowed him to be more correct, more precise in his construction of the language. Thus, "Gupal" became the significantly cooler word "Ghoupalle" and the planet whence his companions originated became "Ghoupallesz" and their language was "Ghoupallean."

Then, one dark and stormy night, a story began. It was years later and he was a working adult, far from his stories. While home for Christmas vacation from his job teaching English in Japan - after high school, after college, after a few years working at a dead end job (during which he continued to develop the world of Ghoupallesz and its features, including beginning a bright colorful new map series and creating dictionaries of Ghoupallean and other languages of the world) - he had a dream. 

He had long wanted to tell the story of his Ghoupalle friends and their adventures, of course. Yet as the boy turned into an adult, his interests also changed. Now the adventures of Ghoupallesz consisted of political intrigue, wars, magic, and sex. There was no longer a YA planet to write about. Prior to that dream - of course, that is the origin of the series title - he had been looking for a starting point to get into the story, a story he already was expecting to be a series of books, each about a separate adventure his alter ego would partake of.

In that dream, he saw a Zetin maiden riding the kind of horse-like creature (the "Jepe") that they have on Ghoupallesz, high in the mountains (well, that's where Zetin people live, as opposed to the Ghoupalle people living down along the coast) and she caught him watching her. The image stuck. Back in Japan, he set out writing the story, beginning with that scene on the mountain. That was something new, he realized, something that was not part of the adventures of the earlier mice-like Gupals. Instead, he was inventing new adventures...which eventually allowed him to introduce the "original" story, not of alien mice visiting a boy on Earth but of a well-intended teenager and his girlfriend finding a portal, an invisible doorway, through which they stumble quite surreptitiously and thus discover a new world.

Thus began The Dreamland, as it was originally titled, was completed in 1993 and sent out to a few agents. Shockingly, they all rejected it. A couple of them did add handwritten notes of encouragement. One even said it was "well-crafted" while another said the protagonist was not sympathetic. Because the protagonist was based on the teenager-turned-adult himself, that hurt. He understood the reason: the protagonist is a quiet, anti-social fellow but I did not reveal why he was that way. 

So he set about recrafting the story to make the hero more likeable - and more distinct from the author. Since the hero suffers many tragedies in the course of his adventures, the tragic qualities of the hero needed to be introduced closer to the beginning. But how does one get to know a character who is aloof, private, solitary? Lightbulb! Have his co-workers talk about him, speculate about his life, and even tease him!

As the rewriting continued, another heartbreaking discovery was made: "The Dreamland" was already being used as the title of a book about Area 51, the infamous location of alien crash victims. So he reluctantly changed the title to The Dream Land - which meant changing that phrase everywhere it appeared in the novel. Instead of the characters saying Ghoupallesz is the Dreamland, they had to say, in order to be politically correct, Ghoupallesz is the Dream Land. It was a big hassle. But he finished a major edit of the novel and was so excited that he rushed right into the next novel: The Dream Land II

The second book picked up right where the first ended: Did our hero safely escape back to Ghoupallesz through the interdimensional portal, or did he actually catch a bullet from the pursuing police and fall into a coma? Fifty or so single-spaced pages in and he ground to a halt. A plot conundrum stopped him cold. He was becoming busy with other matters of an adult life, anyway, and eventually the second book - and the first book - were left to languish on a dusty shelf somewhere in his computer. 

The boy-turned-adult went away to graduate school and became a professor who was tasked with teaching college students how to write essays and research papers. He still enjoyed creative writing - he had picked up an MFA degree by producing a slew of short stories with contemporary settings and a thesis consisting of a novel about a doomed campus romance (A Beautiful Chill). He dreamed of getting back to The Dream Land.

So he encouraged his students to write whatever they were interested in, something about their lives. One student happened showed him a story that superficially reminded the boy-turned-professor of his Dream Land story. Not too much, however, just enough to cause the professor to be curious and search for it on his computer. He read through what he had written of The Dream Land II, then continued writing right where he had left off ten years before. The plot conundrum that had stopped him now was cleared. He marched on to the end of the novel - all the while conducting research and writing his Ph.D. dissertation.

He managed to get the first book published. As he prepared the second book for publication, he immediately started writing the third book. The idea arrived fully formed in his head one bright afternoon. Like all good sci-fi Book III would not only wrap up the loose ends of Book II (Did he die again or survive?) but also deal with the universal question: What to do about an approaching comet that is likely to hit our planet? He also had grown as a writer, confident enough to let his female protagonist, who had major but short-lived appearances in the first two books, take the stage solo to answer this great question.

That brings us, humbly, up to the present era. Being busier than ever before with life and all its coquettish foibles, he turned to trying once again to deal with a publishing world that had changed so dramatically he no longer recognized it, nor knew what to do to get the first two books published. Good friends and their advice helped and the encouragement provided has sustained him. Book III practically wrote itself. The interdimensional portal still exists, however, and as the hero of The Dream Land ages, he has taken on a protege who can lead readers through the third novel of the series and perhaps into a fourth book. The universe is endless, after all - at least, according to the rules of the Dream Land. Imagination is the key...and the map...and the compass!

Note: I have not actually traveled through an interdimensional doorway of any kind, although some people I know suspect I have, I am quite familiar with theories involving the phenomena. I attempt to education the public about interdimensional doorways via this Facebook page. Thanks for your support.

(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.