19 November 2023

The Future of Money...

...And the Nature of Work

You may have noticed that I've cut back on blogging to write on my latest novel, a sequel to my pandemic/post-pandemic trilogy FLU SEASON. It follows after what happens in Book 3: Dawn of the Daughters and tells the story of the grown-up last child of our Book 3 heroine. As society returns to its pre-pandemic form and rebuilding brings us to a new era, we find a society much like the one depicted in Orwell's 1984. If you're going to rebuild a society, why not strive to rebuild the ideal society?

One of the big issues to deal with in constructing a futuristic society is how they get things done. That is, who does the work and how they are paid or otherwise compensated for that work. You find that as part of every science fiction world. The authors rethink what money is and how it may be changed in the future. The term 'credit' is often used as a synonym for money, which makes sense even down to when we get less actual physical money and more ghostly adjustments to the numbers we see on a screen which is a measurement of our account holdings.

However, just what does that account holdings represent? The short answer is how much we have worked. That is, I do this work in exchange for this much "credit" which is stored in my account. My account is now less of a physical place than a cloud collection of numbers, as easily wiped out as compounded by powers bigger than us. And different countries use different forms of money. At one time, according to my grandfather, people used nice seashells as money, which left me looking for very nice shells when on the beach and later finding that nobody would give me money for them. 

Most of us have entered agreements whereby we will do something on a regular basis in exchange for an appropriate amount of compensation. I, myself, have entered such contracts whereby I performed tasks (let's call it a job) and found the balance of numbers in my account increased periodically. Funny how that works. Even funnier is how my colleagues who seemed to do less of the same tasks actually got larger increases in their accounts. Granted, we each had our own way of accomplishing those tasks, so that may explain the differences. It wasn't as though I was offering my hands and my back to pick up and carry things for money. No, I had paid money to learn things and I was employed to teach those things to others. There seemed to be a need when I started doing that. Not like there was a fixed number of people who could do that job, not like the National Football League having only so many positions and a cap on how much money they could allocate to pay those limited number of workers (i.e., players).

We've heard many expressions concerning money and work:
  • "We keep you alive to row this ship!" intones the captain aboard Ben-Hur's galley in the movie of the same name.
  • "You don't work, you don't eat!" says the Pilgrim's leader at Plymouth.
  • "From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs," states Mr. Marx.
  • "Earned Income vs. Unearned Income" - an important distinction made by the Internal Revenue Service.
  • "We no longer use money. We work because we enjoy it." (paraphrased) from a Star Trek episode, Capt. Kirk or Capt. Picard explaining to aliens about the Earth economy.

Different views of this important relationship between effort and reward. I often played games (almost like games) when ordered to do a task by one or the other parent and to get me to do it I was offered an "allowance". I didn't want to do any chores, but I did like getting some money for doing them. It was a cheap thrill to mow a lawn and get a ten for doing it. Once the money was spent it never seemed like enough for the sweat I put into the effort. My first job outside of tasks for family was making French fries in a burger shack in an amusement park, a thankless job that never paid enough for the abuse I endured from surly coworkers, a devious manager, and hot oil. 

Eventually I was employed in a library while otherwise being a college student. I did mostly physical labor: returning materials to the appropriate shelf, which required less strength and more knowledge of the alphabetical order. I felt adequately compensated for my expert application of the alphabet. But in the future, perhaps I would not be compensated. Suppose I only got food for my work? I put in a few hours of work in exchange for a small box of food. Kind of like: if you help me I'll buy us lunch. Or, in more practical terms, call your friends up to help you move and offer them pizza - only some pizza.

I could recount each and every job I had but that would bore you - if you're not by now. But it does raise a recent phenomena I discovered just before I retired from my job. As a professor I often taught a class on doing research. One semester, when assigning a survey project in which students would design and conduct a survey by gathering information from other students, some students complained that they couldn't get anyone to help them. Their fellow students were demanding financial compensation for their time and answers to the survey. I assured them students love to give their opinions about everything - but I was wrong. We had entered the new economy: every effort, down to the most minute detail, was subject to payment. And that wasn't only if you had fans who would willingly pay for what you offered; no, that's commerce, buying and selling a product or service, not labor for compensation. Or is that the same thing?

That brings us to the near-future. After a ten-year pandemic and a couple decades of anarchy and war, there is no more physical money in society (see the FLU SEASON trilogy), nor is there any banking system. By the end of Book 3, society has returned to a basic system, printed new paper money which wipes out the old bills. In the sequel now underway, we move into the cash-less system. Our hero finds that is not a good way of doing things. He works at a menial job in exchange for mostly his weekly food rations. No work, no food. It becomes a dire situation, pushing him to take matters in a dramatic direction. In Orwell's "how-to" manual, the city is a run-down, depressing place but they have food, albeit poor selection at inflated prices. In FLU SEASON 4: THE BOOK OF DAD (coming in 2024), all is gleaming and clean. It is a gilded cage. "Everyone has a place and a place for everyone" goes the Ideal Society's motto. Work or you won't be given food. And there's no place else to get it.

Stop working and you will receive no food. You will die eventually. Annoy your leaders enough and you may be sent for rehabilitation. Or a labor camp where you work for nothing, but they feed you as part of the process to keep the work flowing. Think of your present job and how you are compensated for what you do. Lots of laws put in place to enforce fairness, equity, freedom from unsafe practices and harassment and prejudice. But what if the only job in town is you straining your body every day - and they give you a meal? 


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(C) Copyright 2010-2023 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.

14 October 2023

"1984" Reinvented as FLU SEASON 4

Probably not what you're thinking about today. You're likely focused on football, colorful leaves, Halloween, and pumpkin spice lattes. Certainly not the novel 1984 by George Orwell or countless movie versions of the story of a repressive society in the near future. To be honest, neither am I. However....

Like many teens, I first read 1984 for a class in high school. It was one sci-fi novel  which "felt" like a "normal" story - not my usual fare of space operas or heroic fantasy. What I liked about it was the dire setting; perhaps it fit my teenage mood of hopelessness. Our teacher pointed out the features of the story, what it is famous for, what this really means, and so on, but I never got the implications. Perhaps that was because in that decade we had no realistic fear of life changing too much from the way it was. I also was fascinated with the deliberate changing of the language for political purposes. I first dabbled with making my own language. (I would eventually create alien languages for my own sci-fi novels and study linguistics in graduate school.)

Later, when they made a new movie of the novel for the actual year of 1984, I was ready to understand all that it was suggesting. It wasn't that life had changed enough for me to see something new, something represented in the movie. For me, the movie was more about the downfall of a city, the cold and dull lives of the characters, and how depressing it all was. Seeing that film version prompted me to look for but not find my copy of the book, so I had to buy a new one. Even Apple, the computer company, had a 'Big Brother' advertisement in the Super Bowl of 1984. (By the way, I looked for one of those two copies for my research and did not find them so I had to buy yet another copy.)

More books and movies had a similar 'collapsed society' setting with idealistic characters who fought for a better life - either to destroy the new but cruel society or to take it over in the believe that they could undo the terrible changes. I liked the settings, but not the plots. These newer presentations were not new but rehashes of tropes from Orwell's novel. The main point in them was that if we the people do not stay aware, we could be repressed into a pointless existence. We could no longer live our lives in peace and safety, not to mention in comfort.

For the past few weeks - indeed, for nearly two years - I've bothered you with blog posts and promotional material about my latest creation, FLU SEASON, a trilogy about a family's struggles in an extended pandemic and the lawlessness that follows. In the second half of the third book, however, society is getting back on its feet again and life looks promising. But is that any way to end a trilogy? A happy ending? Really?

No, there's more. What seems to be good is, in fact, merely a facade which hides the evil machinations of a group of politicians who strive to achieve the ideal society - with them at the cushy top of the hierarchy, of course. That's the plot of many futuristic novels and movies. The difference I'm trying for is a natural extension of the story covered in my trilogy. Thus it is not strictly an imitation of Orwell's book but what would seem to me a logical progression from the way everything is at the end of Book 3: DAWN OF THE DAUGHTERS. Perhaps if I manage to set up the start of this slow revolution in my new "sequel to the trilogy", the story might then become like the situation in Orwell's book.

When we experienced our own pandemic in 2020 and I wanted to write a story based on it, I decided to start my story in the sixth year of the pandemic - when society had already gone downhill quite a bit. Following a period of anarchy, opposing territories begin to rebuild, fight a new civil war against each other, and finally settle into a more cohesive society. Technology that had been lost is reinvented, sometimes better. Other technologies are deemed less important in rebuilding (e.g., airplanes can wait). It is a society where there is electricity and there is a 'streaming' system (the equivalent of over the airways TV but not internet). There are also cameras and sensors everywhere - for citizens' own safety, of course, both in public areas and within each person's housing unit. There are roaming human safety monitors.

In this new Book 4, working title The Book of Dad, the story centers around Fritz, the last child of Isla Augustine Baumann (born in Book 1, grown narrator of Book 3). When Fritz is older he makes a documentary of his mother (Isla) telling about her life during and after the pandemic, thinking it is good to preserve the history of that era. But he learns it is the wrong history and some powerful people do not want it to be available. The result is trouble for Fritz. Trying to make a new life for himself after 'rehabilitation' and losing everything because of it, he is assigned a street sweeper job - because everyone must have a useful function in this new Ideal Society. Most of all he wants to know why he was targeted and who ordered him arrested years after the documentary was widely praised. What Fritz learns makes for a couple shocking plot twists that will blow the mind of readers of the trilogy. But no more spoilers.

My first consideration is always Will This Be Interesting? Next, I think about how the story embedded in the book will say something to readers beyond what happens in the novel. I don't write a novel to express philosophical ideas or push a message - but messages do appear on their own in the course of writing and I let them stay if appropriate. I also find, sometimes long after publishing, that a novel I wrote has a theme I never anticipated and certainly did not deliberately put into it. Book 3: Dawn of the Daughters has that hidden theme woven throughout that only on the fifth reading have I noticed. (Nope. Not going to tell you. Read it for yourself and see if you notice it.) In Book 4, I'm not pushing any 'watch out' warning; we already know what Orwell was telling us. But the way the drastic change sneaks up on us is what I'm going for in my Book 4 - rather than entering the story with everything already in a terrible condition, like in Orwell's book.

I hope Book 4: THE BOOK OF DAD will be out in Summer 2024...or what I like to call "our second 1984". As of this blog, we are close to 50,000 words.




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(C) Copyright 2010-2023 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.

24 September 2023

Avez-vous des souvenirs?

Got souvenirs?

This topic has been bugging me for some time. As you may know, I went on a road trip at the beginning of the summer with the intention to visit some places I had visited long ago and some places I had yet to visit but had always wanted to see. I never planned to take lots of pictures and create an amazing travelogue, something to equal tourism pamphlets. It was a personal trip. I only started taking pictures to send them home to prove I was where I was at each major stop, such as the Badlands of South Dakota, Devil's Tower in Wyoming, and Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks.
I also did not plan to gather souvenirs. Yet I did. I should've known better, given my recent battle with souvenirs. But what do we mean by 'souvenir'? From French, the word means 'to remember'; hence, a thing that helps you remember a person, place, or event. A memento. Fair enough. But we have photos on our phones (if not in our cameras), and we have memories stuck in our heads. We have music which holds memories, too. So why the need for tactile objects ("objects-de-tactile") to place in our homes and look at occasionally, perhaps pick up and rub in our hands to briefly restore that ephemeral vision of a lost time and place?

It began with my grandparents who traveled around the world from the early days of commercial aviation to well into their retirement. They collected souvenirs from everywhere they visited - long before the shift to limiting how much you could bring onto an airplane. They stuffed souvenirs into every nook and cranny of their home. They gave many souvenirs to my mother (their daughter) and some to me. I was fascinated by all the things from far-away lands. That probably was what got me interested in traveling like them.

My mother tried to follow the family pattern by going on her own trips to places around the world. And she collected souvenirs - some of which I thought worthless. She put them around her home. She bought a curio cabinet just to display some of them. Looking back, I might suggest she was trying to keep up with her parents. The difference was that her parents brought back things which were unique, items you could only get if you went to those far-away places. By the time my mother did her international traveling, those same items could be found in stores in any suburban mall and weren't so unique.

When it was my turn - I actually lived overseas for some years - I tried to be more selective. For example, I brought back boxes of dishes and other typical kitchen items from Japan, intending to replicate a Japanese-style kitchen back home in the US. I bought plenty of other things, too, focusing on what would remind me of this or that adventure in the place. And, once home, how did I display them? With limited space and an apartment rather than a house, I couldn't hang them up or put out everything to remind me of the trips I'd taken. Move after move required me to put them into boxes anyway; gradually, I stopped unpacking those boxes.

And that brings us to the Hurricane that swept through the Texas coast and destroyed my parents' retirement condo just off the beach. I spent a lot of time salvaging the souvenirs from that place. Who cares about clothing on hangers or dishes and cups? What about the sacks of bank records, or every kind of receipt imaginable? No, it was that curio cabinet's wares that I took. Also, my mother's coin collection she thought would be valuable one day (her father had collected rare coins, too, but her brother inherited that). I carefully packed the souvenirs into boxes - only the souvenirs I personally thought were "cool".

The boxes of my parents souvenirs remain unpacked. No room for them. So I'm passing them down to the next generation. I've traveled a bit and will pass along those things, too. But a t-shirt reminds me where I was and I can wear it now. A magnet stuck to the fridge reminds me where I got it. (A magnet given to me has no power; only those I buy for myself while I'm at the place work.) A book, even if unrelated to the location where I bought it, jogs my memory about where I bought it. For example, at the visitor center in the Badlands National Park, I happened to see a book I'd been searching for off and on and bought it finally. I can wear my Montana State University t-shirt and remember that perfectly fine day in early June when I walked the campus, devoid of students, and enjoyed myself.

The point I dare make is that we don't need souvenirs. Sure, they bring a thrill in the moment, and perhaps a few moments later on. But we already have those memories; we can just bring them up to the surface. Maybe seeing a thing can help, maybe it doesn't matter. What does matter is that souvenirs pile up, get boxed up, get passed along, and unless destroyed by a hurricane, tend to last forever - and that's a mighty-long time. Even so, I still bought another t-shirt and mug on my latest trip back to that condo on the beach - sold and repurposed as a rental unit - just to have some closure to the place where my parents last lived.


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(C) Copyright 2010-2023 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 September 2023

The Retirement Project vs The Sunset

When I was thirteen and full of stories, I had one idea which I knew was too big for me to work on as a teenager. I started writing the story at thirteen, then put it away, overwhelmed by its scope. When I was in college, I wrote more on it before putting it away again. I knew I had plenty of time. Then I wrote it all out as a screenplay because at that time I was interested in going into the movie business. From that screenplay, I started a novelization but put it away. I never felt bad about putting it away because I designated that story to be my "retirement project" - what I would work on during my retirement to keep me busy and out of trouble. So now that retirement has arrived....

I have kept to that plan, except I haven't returned to it. Honestly, the whole Game of Thrones series of books and TV episodes took away much of my project, dealing with a medieval society not in a fantasy world like Westeros but in a future America after the destruction of our modern society. It could still work, I suppose. But now readers would make comparisons to Martin's story - and arguably he does it much better than I could. My story, titled A Time of Kings (from a piece we played in high school band), is a different story: identical twin princes fight to win the whole kingdom after their father dies. But there's a lot more to it, of course. The story appeared as the historical backstory in my novel EPIC FANTASY *WITH DRAGONS (2017).

But I have a Plan B. I've just finished my third trilogy - the trifecta! - yet there are story elements remaining for me to make some hay with. I'm calling it a sequel to the trilogy rather than re-titling the trilogy as a tetralogy. Too much trouble to redo book covers and republish, you know. It may only be a short novel, involving a character from the trilogy, and thus not take up much time in my retirement, yet it does lend itself to allowing me to continue using the world I created for the trilogy by inventing other stories set there.


Now that my pandemic trilogy
FLU SEASON is complete (all three novels are available), I have a page for the series. You can get paperback and Kindle editions for all three books on one page: right here, go on now, click it, there ya go!

If you're new to this trilogy, here's a summary:

Remember that pandemic we had in 2020-22? Well, what if it didn't end but got worse in every way? Besides all the vaccine mandates and mask wearing rules, there are shortages of gas and food, there is rampant crime by both ordinary citizens and government authorities. Life becomes unbearable.

Now let's follow autistic teen Sandy (as narrator) and his single mom as they escape a city in chaos for what they think will be safety in the countryside. Of course, things do not go the way Mom expects and they must shift to a plan B. And plan C. It is a dangerous world, but if they can just find a sanctuary and wait a while everything will go back to normal...Mom dares to believe.

BOOK 2: THE WAY OF THE SON

Fleeing a city in chaos in Book 1, Sandy must now face the savage outerlands without Mom to guide him. He struggles to provide for his young family among the ruins of a collapsed society, and a journey to reconnect with his aunt goes very wrong. In typical heroic fashion, Sandy learns how to be a man, how to be strong, and how to forgive. He finds the way to the future.

BOOK 3: DAWN OF THE DAUGHTERS

Hiding away in the forest of a national park in the 9th year of the pandemic, Sandy's family waits for the world to return to normal. But they soon discover other families have the same idea. As the survivalists of the national park work together, Sandy's family faces new challenges and opportunities. They suffer through the vagaries of marauders and war between territories and Sandy is caught up in the fighting. The conflict splits the family into divergent destinies, leaving Sandy's daughter, Isla, to carry the family into the future where they witness the reconstruction of a new society.

BOOK 4: (tentatively titled THE WAY OF THE DAD) work-in-progress!

Isla's youngest is all grown up and getting into trouble in a rebuilt society where government authority reigns supreme, much like in Orwell's 1984, pushing our hero to rebel....

So there is enough to keep me entertained in these final years, as I look harder at each sunset, waiting for the final one to slip away. If I finish, I finish. If I don't, you still have the books I've already written and this blog and perhaps a few memories of my twisted writing advice here and there - like in this post from the past week for fellow Myrddin author Connie J. JaspersonNumber 1 advice? Write now, fix later.

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(C) Copyright 2010-2023 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.

27 August 2023

FLU SEASON 3: Dawn of the Daughters

LAUNCHING Sept. 1, 2023!

The conclusion to my pandemic/post-pandemic trilogy is about to launch. Officially it is September 1, 2023, but you can pre-order the Kindle edition now. Paperback edition will be available on September 1, too, so you will have something to read over the long weekend.

If you have read Books 1 and 2, then you know what's been happening and will feel right at home on page 1 of Book 3. Although the years aren't clearly spelled out, Book 1 covers roughly 2026-28 and Book 2 the adventurous year of 2028-29. If you haven't read Books 1 and 2, you could still jump right into Book 3 (roughly 2030-2103) and the characters will get you caught up on what's been happening. As a family saga covering the life of the main character, Book 3 is on the long side but reads fairly quickly in my humble opinion (148,000 words). Only my epic fantasy novel is longer (233,000 words). I've already started a "sequel" to the trilogy which will continue the story further into the future.

WHAT'S IT ABOUT?

Book 1 FLU SEASON: THE BOOK OF MOM
The pandemic of 2020-22 has ended, thankfully for us - but what if its worst days continued, extending to 6 years? Follow autistic teen Sandy and his sassy single Mom (& her tuba) as they flee a city in collapse for the hope of sanctuary with relatives in the countryside. But even there, chaos follows them and a crucial Plan B takes them to other relatives' homes, then to an island sanctuary where they hope to wait out the pandemic.

Book 2 FLU SEASON 2: THE WAY OF THE SON
Sanctuary from a pandemic is only good if you can stay there. Rules are harsh, jealousy abounds. When Sandy and his young family are exiled from the island, he struggles to find a way to save them while they face the worsening situation in years 7 and 8 of the pandemic. Without Mom to guide him, Sandy must take on all the responsibilities for their survival in the lawless outerlands. He tries his best but the best-laid plans seldom go as expected.

Book 3 FLU SEASON 3: DAWN OF THE DAUGHTERS
There is no safe space - except maybe hiding away in the forest of a national park. Sandy and his young family settle in a dug-out home and life is briefly idyllic. But when others have the same idea, Sandy's family faces a variety of new opportunities and challenges. While Sandy gets caught up in the civil war between North and South, marauders harangue the survivalists in the national park. As the post-pandemic world starts to recover, it is Sandy's daughter who must carry the family forward, no matter the difficulties she must face protecting her mother, sisters, and their daughters.
You can click over to the series page here, or to the Book 3 page here to read a sample. But I'll give you the first 2 pages right below here. Then you can click over to get a copy for yourself. (I prefer the paperbacks so I can carry them around and show them off to everyone, but that's me.)
The narrator in Book 3 is Isla Augustine Baumann, born in a later chapter of Book 1 and carried around through Book 2. In Book 3 she tells the story of her parents, her siblings, the friends and enemies she encounters. Starting at age 2, she takes us through the full experience of living - or trying to live - in a collapsed society bent on rebuilding but not quite there yet. Nothing will be the same as it was before the 10-year pandemic. That age is finished, forgotten. And with Isla at age 79 so is the oral history of that awful time.

The FLU SEASON trilogy could be seen as science fiction because it deals with a situation in the near-future. It could be classified as dystopian fiction because of the way society falls into ruin and how people must struggle to survive. It could also be called a family saga because it covers about 80 years and four generations of the same family. In these days of genre smashing, I think I've achieved a satisfying melding of all of them - with natural humor and occasional joy as much as horrors and sacrifices. While there is no message in particular I wish to push in this novel, the characters repeat a few that they take to heart - but I'll let you come upon them on your own. I do not take sides but allow Good and Evil to spar on a neutral stage for the entertainment and possibly enlightenment of readers.

I sincerely hope you enjoy reading this dramatic trilogy. If you do, please leave a review on the Amazon page and tell your friends. I appreciate every reader who takes a chance on whatever I create. Thank you!

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(C) Copyright 2010-2023 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.

20 August 2023

THEN & NOW

The Journey is Complete

Now that FLU SEASON 3: DAWN OF THE DAUGHTERS is finished and available for pre-order (delivered to your Kindle on September 1, 2023; paperback also available on that date), I can shift from my summer travelogue to a reflection of the writing life. It's been a long journey and, like the tip of an iceberg, most of you don't see everything going on beneath the surface of 'Here's my book, please read it."


THEN
How It Started

Even as a young boy I was annoying. I made up stories. Some were like stories I read or saw on TV (having 3 channels), but others were invented from thin air. I liked playing in situations that were not available in real life. It likely began when my mother, a church organist, insisted I attend church every Sunday morning. Bored, I drew on pads of paper a kind of story that was more like a comic three panel strip. After the service, I would give the comic to the pastor on our way out. Sometimes I didn't get to give the paper to him so I kept it. At school I made up stories, partly recounting stories I'd read. It was a way to be popular. This was long before video, computers, games, or cable TV. One 66-page single-spaced story of mine that was a variation on "1984" was passed around, on typed pages stapled together, among friends in my high school and garnered a lot of praise.

In school I always excelled at English, especially when we had to write a poem or a story. Teachers praised my stories and I grew emboldened. In real life I tended to see myself moving through an imaginary world populated with annoying real people getting in my way. Gradually I matured and took on the roles expected of me in society. But I continued to enjoy imagining different scenarios. I wrote some of them as stories, mostly with a fantasy or science fiction theme. This continued up through college. My only limitations were how much pounding the manual typewriter could take (later an IBM Selectric) and the cost of ink ribbons/cartridges. 

I had one grand story in my head when I went to Japan to be an English teacher and I finally got it out and onto a floppy disk - several of them as each file could only hold one chapter. I printed it out on the dot-matrix printer I had, bound it at the local copy shop, and put it on my shelf. It was a monument of sorts. I thought that sci-fi tome might be my ticket to the kind of life I'd dreamed of: author. That was THE DREAM LAND (first version completed in 1990). But with more years in Japan, I also crafted a contemporary literary love story drama set in Hawaii and Japan. It took a few years but eventually, with revisions, I got it published as AIKO.

Thanks to the notoriety of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award competition, which I did not win, I was noticed (thankfully or not). After a few detours I managed to get my first novels published. All were written before the ABNA but I still revised them thoroughly. First of these was AFTER ILIUM, a short novel I offered as a test (first written in 1998). Next came my steampunkish interdimensional sci-fi tome, THE DREAM LAND (which went on to become a trilogy). Then my MFA thesis, much revised, came third: A BEAUTIFUL CHILL, a campus affair anti-romance (written in 2000-02). My actual first-written novel, YEAR OF THE TIGER (from a 1980 short story and a 1983 screenplay; first novelized in 1987), remained on the shelf until I had time to give it a serious rewrite, then finally published it during the pandemic era when people needed lots of reading material (2020).


Between these first four novels and my present trilogy, I wrote an arctic adventure, an epic fantasy, a vampire trilogy, a modern crime thriller, and a hard sci-fi novel with a non-human as the main character. Then I sat around thinking what to write next.

NOW
How It's Going

I've just finished the third volume of my pandemic trilogy. Three books in two years. Very proud of myself. Not in a boastful way but simply amazed I could do it. I've blogged about the origins of this trilogy in other blog posts. Suffice to say, a lot of pressure is now off of me. I would hate to announce a trilogy and then not get that third book finished. But I did, and it turns out to be my second-longest novel (148,000) after my EPIC FANTASY *WITH DRAGONS (233,000). It's long because it covers a lot of years of the main character's life (age 2 to 79). Not good to just say "Grandma was born and got married then had kids and grew old and died." Not too interesting that way. So I wrote out many of the episodes in her life - as you would expect for any family saga covering three-plus generations. (I believe, however, that it reads fast; lots of action and dialog vs long descriptions, etc.)

Now what shall I do? I have other unfinished book manuscripts to work on. I also have some short stories I might put together in one volume. I have a lot of poetry, maybe enough good ones to make a thin chapbook. I've dabbled on a kind of autobiography but not sure how much to share. I've started a sequel to the FLU SEASON trilogy (Isla's youngest's story). But no matter what I do in these final restless years, I've completed my third trilogy, the trifecta, and that might be my crowning achievement.

TO RECAP

The FLU SEASON trilogy begins in the sixth year of the pandemic that started for us in 2020 and, thankfully, ended in 2022. But suppose it didn't end and all of the worst experiences we had then kept going and got even worse? Eventually life becomes so unbearable that a single mom and her autistic teen son choose to drive out of the city with her prized tuba, hoping to wait out the pandemic in the countryside by staying at the grandparents' farm. 

Book 1 THE BOOK OF MOM

When autistic teen Sandy & his single Mom flee a city in chaos they find plenty of dangers in the pandemic ravaged countryside. Gathering relatives, they arrive on a resort island, believing they are safe there but they are confronted by a community with extreme utopian views.

Book 2 THE WAY OF THE SON

Sandy and his young family are exiled from the island and must find sanctuary in the savage outerlands where there are no laws and it's every desperate person for themselves. But Sandy has a plan, what he calls 'The Way of the Son' - definitely not the way his mom would go.

Book 3 DAWN OF THE DAUGHTERS (preorder; delivered Sept. 1, 2023)

There is no safe space - except maybe hiding in the forest of a national park waiting for the world to return to normal. But when others have the same idea, Sandy's happy family faces a variety of opportunities and challenges. As the pandemic world recovers and the country erupts into civil war, it is his daughter who must carry the family forward, no matter the difficulties she must face.

NEXT: More about FLU SEASON 3: DAWN OF THE DAUGHTERS

ALL BOOKS ALSO AVAILABLE IN PAPERBACK!

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(C) Copyright 2010-2023 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 August 2023

On The Road Again - 8

My Summer Road Trip, part 8

The hardest part of any endeavor is the end. As a writer, deciding when to end a story, much less a novel, is hard. Deciding when you've said enough and any more would detract from the whole is hard. This includes going on a trip. When have you had enough?

As I traveled I devised bigger plans, grandiose ideas, lofty goals. Yet by the time I had checked off the main destinations on my list, I began to feel anxious and eager to return to the comforts of home. I could've gone farther. I had enough money and maps. Gas prices were tolerable. I was wracking up hotel points. But settling into my hotel in Missoula after a long day going through Glacier National Park and the Flathead Lake area, I knew the end had come.
Awaking to a sunny morning with clear skies, I chose to head east rather than west and called it quits. It would still take two or three days to get home, so I chose a slightly different route than what would've been the most efficient. I continued my pattern of revisiting places first seen in my childhood (reported below). I drove on the accursed I-90 gauntlet back to and through Butte, with the same rocky formations on mountainous curves I dare not try to photograph while driving! I continued on to my second home, Bozeman, and continued on to Billings and turned south as the highway bent, aiming for Wyoming.

I needed gas and stopped at Hardin, MT, close to the Little Bighorn Battlefield Memorial, part of the Crow reservation. After filling my vehicle's tank, I spied a Taco John's and decided to grab lunch. Same item as each location where I ate: the super burrito combo. I must say, this out of the way location was surprisingly good in both the experience with staff (the manager definitely Crow, the staff mixed) and the high quality of the food. I would give it my top score among all the Taco John's on my trip. Excellent!

From there, my destination for the night was the same hotel in Sheridan, Wyoming, just over the border. The next morning I continued on but unlike my west-bound trip coming from Devil's Tower through Gillette, I continued south through Casper - where my 2019 trip troubles began - and veered off toward Nebraska. 

Coming south in 2019, I planned to stop at Casper for the night, but no, the city's hotels were full due to the state baseball tournament. So I drove on. Same, same. I got tired of stopping and checking, decided to go on to Cheyenne. But Cheyenne was full, too, because of the rodeo being held there. Thus, as dusk settled around me, I fill up the tank, grabbed a sandwich and heading south into Colorado. But I quickly discovered the interstate going to Denver was a hellish mess of construction - at one point all traffic was forced to exit the interstate for a detour through back country roads and out to the highway again; I could not have found my way in the dark if not for following everyone else. I thought of stopping, did stop twice, no rooms, continued on until I was arriving in Denver late in the evening. I saw the exit for I-70 and took it, heading due east to Limon where I got the last hotel room (a family suite) but damn glad to get it. In total I had driven from Great Falls, across Montana to Billings, spent 90 minutes at the Little Bighorn Battlefield, then ended up driving all the way through Denver to Limon near the Kansas border. Whew!
I refused to go through Colorado again and took the exit to a state highway that took me to Fort Laramie - near the Nebraska border, far from the city of Laramie in the south-central part of the state. I visited this historic site as a boy, maybe ten or eleven, the perfect age for playing cowboys and cavalry. This time, many years removed, I was surprised to arrive and see the roundabout that took visitors to the site with souvenir shops all around the circle. It jogged my memory! The same place as many years ago. I remembered that roundabout being there way back then. I didn't tour the site again but had a good look. Then I continued on until I entered Nebraska.

Now, folks like to say that Kansas is the most boring drive in these here United States, but lemme tell ya, it's actually Nebraska. That I-80 might be a humdinger of a road over in the east but once you get outta Omaha it ain't nothing to write home about no matter what postage is these days. It almost put the orange-barreled I-90 to shame! Yessiree, I-80 crossing Nebraska is a sight to unsee. But arriving at Scottsbluff, however, there were some sites to see: the geologic formations the area is famous for. On a carefully unfolded paper map you might notice how the Badlands of South Dakota kinda continue southward across western Nebraska and reach this southwest corner.

I continued on, as is my tendency, and decided to stop for gas at Ogallala, NE, where the tall signs tooted $3.04 a gallon. I pulled up to the fanciest of the stations around that exit and found the price was actually $3.74 per gallon. Don't know what the problem was but that ain't right. Collusion, I suspected. Well, I was too fed up to care and filled it anyway. Just for curiosity's sake I went over to another station: same deal with the price difference. Next, I slipped over to the Taco John's there, which was drive-thru only because of a sign on the door saying "short staff" - though I suspected there were no height requirements to work there.

And I continued on, soon realizing that I would not get all the way home by tonight - unless I was willing to drive in the dark several hours. The route I planned to take not being familiar to me, I chose to stop in North Platte for the night. The next morning I continued on, turned south at York to enter Kansas, and made my way to Concordia where I stopped for gas and lunch. More hassles at the pump; I'm supposed to know exactly how much gas I will put into the tank so I can pay in advance rather than swiping my card at the pump? Ridiculous. I guessed low and got $20's worth, which miraculously got me home. I also went to the Taco John's down the street - which was the worst of all of them I stopped at, measuring the condition of the place, the service, and the quality of the food.

Driving on, I encountered more of the orange-barrel curse, plus a few jerks driving aggressively along the gauntlet, cutting me off at one point to get in line ahead of me, including a well-placed finger to indicate their undying love. Mindfulness, baby, mindfulness! And soon I recognized the wonderful exits of Salina, KS, which meant I only had a couple more hours to go. I breathed easy, enjoying the sunny afternoon as I arrived home. I collected a big batch of mail from the box and ordered pizza delivery for dinner, believing I had definitely earned it.

NEXT: The trip is finished so I will shift over to the launch of FLU SEASON 3: DAWN OF THE DAUGHTERS, the conclusion to my pandemic trilogy on September 1, 2023.


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(C) Copyright 2010-2023 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.

06 August 2023

On The Road Again - 7

My Summer Road Trip, part 7

No, wait! There's more! What can one do after destroying Bozeman and flirting with Yellowstone? Go north, young man! 

(Tip o' the Day: You can click on the pics to enlarge them.)

So I went. After a study of carefully unfolded paper maps lain across my hotel bed, I determined my next move in the great game. I got on I-90 once more, that accursed strip of asphalt, so orange-barreled and too much single-laned, and finessed a drive to the headwaters of the Missouri River. 

Now, the truth is that there are three rivers coming down from the mountains but it is not the Missouri River until the three rivers converge. Only then can we call it the Missouri River as it snakes north to the city of Great Falls and then east across Montana and into North Dakota and down into South Dakota, past Pierre (where I saw it) and by the "Dignity " statue at Chamberlain (where I crossed it), and down to Kansas City on the Missouri side where I once lived and often crossed and on this trip had crossed it, and on to St. Louis where some say it joins the Mississippi River but others (I'm talking scientists) say the Missouri River's current is stronger and so they believe it continues down to New Orleans as a single flowing river, old amateur geographers be damned.

I went to Three Forks, the place where the Gallatin, Madison, and Jefferson rivers meet and give us permission to call it the Missouri River - but in Montana. I came, I looked, I snapped pics. Then I drove on.

About the most scenic area I traversed on this long road trip was approaching Butte, Montana from the east, then exiting Butte going north, and later arriving at Butte from the west because of the mountainous terrain the highway winds through. Dramatic rock formations abound - more dramatic if you take your eyes off the steep up and down grades and curving pavement to take a look at the rock formations! I looked, but there was no way I could hold up a camera or my phone to snap a pic, as much as I wanted to. So you have to trust me.

From Butte, I headed north to Great Falls. Back in 2019 when I drove down from Canada, I stayed in Great Falls. Then I drove east across the vast grasslands to Billings and on home. That drive was part of the reason I wanted to return. Oh, I expected the falls to still be there, but I had missed all of the mountain scenery. And we definitely want mountain scenery. And as I tried to replicate that 2019, I stayed in the same hotel and ate at the same restaurant for dinner. I did not, however, go further into town or stop to see the falls again (picture is from 2019).

Then I headed north, truly north, into the far wilderness, a road so isolated that I thanked my lucky stars I'd visited the Jiffy Lube earlier. Eschewing the interstate highway for a serviceable state highway, I gradually veered to the west until I could make out the mountain range that formed Glacier National Park. Until then, it was all grassland but with a dark overcast that lent drama to the drive. My plan was to traverse the park, as the highway went, again winding through mountain valleys. And, if I could, to turn deeper into the park for the more dramatic views I sought, ever the dramatic viewer wannabe.

As it turned out, the famous road through the towering peaks had just opened the previous day. I showed my Senior Lifetime Member card and was whisked blithely through the gate with a smile and a tip of the ranger hat. The "Going-to-the-Sun" Road is a splendid two-lane mountain highway, around 50 miles long, the only road that crosses through Glacier National Park. At the height of 6,646 feet, it crosses the Continental Divide via Logan Pass, which is officially the highest point on the road. It is not the kind of road you speed along; the turns are wild. Again, I did not have the luxury of driving while snapping pics. I could stop a few places, but once on the road you had to keep going, having plenty of other vehicles behind you. 
So I drove, patiently and carefully, so I would live to read another colorful paper map. Eventually our line of vehicles came to the famous lake everyone takes pictures of, and I followed suit, because who am I to go so far and at such great effort to merely look and not preserve for later the image gathered in my eyes and interpreted by my brain to be a mountain lake - or, to be more accurate, a lake among the mountains, with an isle in its center, a place forbidden to non-swimmers such as I who also possess neither boat nor kayak. Sometimes the gods, they mock you!


When the day began
, I expected to stop the next night somewhere on the west side of Glacier National Park. I had checked places in Whitefish, Kalispell, and even Polson at the south end of the large Flathead Lake. But I arrived on the west side of the park quite early. I should have taken more time to hike into the shade of the forest, call out some bears, and maybe step into a quick rushing stream for some fishing. That would have used up most of the day - and possibly ended my trip rather quickly. I did, savvy blog readers will be happy to read, stop for gas and a Taco John's lunch in Kalispell. Then I drove on, pausing at a dockside restaurant to not eat but photograph the lake. 
On my judiciously folded paper map, I noted the National Bison Range on my southward route, but when I got close I missed the sign and the turn-off and, thankfully, also missed the bisons. And continued on.... 

For the previous few days I had debated how far I would go on this trip. I wasn't limited by anything more than my own fatigue and interest. I thought I might continue on to the Pacific coast and lollygag on the beach somewhere. I saw I could reach Coeur d'Alene, Idaho easily for the night, then Spokane, and a long day crossing Washington. But my lack of stopping in Kalispell for the night threw off my schedule such that when I got to the bison range (actually, I missed it), I was tired and decided to just give it up and start back home. 

So I mounted that I-90 strip of paved civilization and turned not west, not north, but southeast and eventually arrived in Missoula for the night.

NEXT: The Road Home


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(C) Copyright 2010-2023 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.