13 May 2018

Mothers . . . the good, the bad, and the ugly

Fictioneers tend to borrow from whole cloth the characters that inhabit their tales. At least, they are constructed from bits and pieces of real people who pass through our lives or perhaps stay for marked periods of significance. None more so than our mothers. 

I’ve taken a look at how I've depicted mothers in my own novels. While I usually strive to avoid stereotypes, the mothers have tended to be drawn as one of three types – all for the sake of the story, of course! For this momentous day, I’ve pulled out a few excerpts to illustrate these types. And no matter how you may feel about the mothers you find in any story you read, wish them all a Happy Mother’s Day.

In the real world, mothers can be cruel or nurturing...

Her eyes wander up to the windows high on the walls. They are painted over white—off-white: eggshell; cream, perhaps. She pretends drifts of snow cover them. A good blanket of snow can hide so much, she thinks. , like clothing. On the platform nothing is hidden. She holds her breath, counting heartbeats. Secrets, like scars, can be covered yet never erased. And every spring, when the snow melts, the scars remain—like wheel ruts cut into the soil, ruts that dry and harden during summer only to be covered again with the next season’s snow.
The Wheel Ruts of Summer—perhaps another painting she will do: two sienna lines cutting through the winter-gray grasses, a black storm on the horizon. She would stare down the storm—she with her pale, thin arms and legs, her body slender and white, without blemish. , like the pure snow covering the dirty road. There are no scars that are visible—
There was a day in school, back in Iceland where she was born, long before she and her widowed mother moved to Canada. Perhaps she was ten. She drew a picture of a mountain with snow on one slope, a forest on the other, and a fjord across the bottom. Her teacher praised it. At home, she proudly held up the picture for her mother. With only a glance, her mother dismissed it, suggesting she draw Jesus suffering on the Cross if she wanted to waste her time with colored pencils. And she never drew again—not until Toronto, when she would sit in the dressing room, waiting to go on stage and do her dance.


Whenever Eric paused to think, he could hear his mother bustling about the condo, preparing New Year’s dinner. The intoxicating scents of roast ham and candied yams was too distracting as he pounded the keys of his mother’s computer. He had to write while his blood was hot, while the muse favored him, deep into his Thorngren and Svana story.
The keys clicked like hard rain and he dared not stop to take a breath. Eric was the wizard, and Svana was the orange-haired woman named Íris. The rest was pure fiction. His stomach rumbled like the ominous thunder over that fjord, yet on he typed. The girl, Svana, cried out from the hilltop tree where she had been bound. The strongest men of the village lashed the wizard to the mast of their longboat at the command of Brendan, the Christian priest. Brendan cried his directives over the roar of a storm—
Eric stopped, fingers hovering over the keys, electricity sizzling through them. He realized there had been knocking on the door.
“He’s been in there typing for a good part of the day and night,” he heard his mother say. “He was up past three last night.”
“Let the boy be,” his father exhorted, resignation in his voice. “He’ll be out when he’s finished writing his damn stories.”
Meanwhile, the longboat set sail, was reaching the arctic wastes—the ice sheet, the glaring whiteness—the icy wind—the warriors numb with cold, sick with fear....
Eric sat back, pondering his story. When he finally cracked the door, the condo was dark and silent. His parents had gone to bed, the New Year’s dinner had been put away, and even the fireworks had subsided. In the refrigerator, he found a ham sandwich with a note from his mother taped to the cellophane: Happy New Year! He stared at the note as he ate the sandwich.

Even fantasy mothers have their quirks and ambitions...

The queen smiled, chubby cheeks flushing as they did whenever she was delighted.
“Let’s call her...Lumina. She is so bright. She lights up my life. How is that?”
“Lu-mi-na. Yes! I like it!” exclaimed the girl.
“So it is done. The naming. A lovely name for a queen. Almost as great as Adora. Now let the realm know my second daughter is to be called Lumina—Princess Lumina.”
The chief maid exited the slumber chamber to pass the news to the court crier who would make the official announcement.
“What will happen to the other babe?” asked Adora.
The nursing maids chuckled. Such a beautiful, naïve child, they seemed to suggest. Once she returns to her tutors, she will learn more of the customs of Sannan.
“It’s none of your concern. Go and make play for yourself.”
Adora turned to the basket on the floor beside the great slumber seat. In the basket the babe gurgled, threatening to cry, its tiny feet wriggling above the basket’s rim. She wanted to step closer and get a better look, to see if this one was as cute as the babe resting on her mother’s chest sucking the nipple.
“Sometimes the goddesses may bless us with extra measure,” the queen spoke in a soothing voice. “As always, we must dispense with males, all the sons and brothers, fathers and uncles, lest they return our great realm to ancient depravity and ring loud the bellicose bell. You must remember the history of wombkind.”
“I do,” said Adora. “I listen to my tutors always.”
“As you should.” The queen spoke to her maids a moment. When she turned to Adora, she said: “I pay much to hire only the best tutors for you, so you should trust what they tell you.” 
Adora stared at the babe in the basket. The queen saw her abject attention and waved at one of the nursing maids.
“Remove the waste,” commanded the queen.


When the pink smoke settled, Corlan dared open his eyes. In front was a large capsule, a bottle as tall as a man and twice as wide. All sides of the bottle were clear. Inside it was a pink liquid that was just thin enough to reveal the figure of a woman floating within. The woman was naked but her long, gray-streaked black hair covered most of her body. As she floated in the liquid, her eyes were closed.
At the final word from Hiro Ka, the eyes of the woman in the bottle popped opened. She immediately appeared angry.
“You!” came a voice.
“We meet again, Mother,” spoke Hiro Ka in a loud, steady tone.
“How long has it been?” the woman inside the bottle responded. The voice echoed around the room. Corlan ducked to avoid it, then stood up, feeling silly.
“Almost a year, I suppose. I have not been counting the days.”
“Have you birthed a child yet?”
“Oh, Mother, always the same demand!”
“You must birth children to continue our line.”
“I know, I know. It’s not that easy in a city with only wyma, you should know.”
“I see a man beside you. Is he real? Or illusion?”
Hiro Ka gave a laugh. “Oh, this one is real, I assure you. He is so wonderfully real. In fact, we come to you on this the third day of the protocol. I promised him I’d introduce you if he delighted me on the second day. And he most certainly did! My Mother, I can hardly walk!”
“You came all the way across the city and woke me from my sleep to tell me you finally got a man into your bed?”
“Well, yes, Mother. I thought that’s what you wanted.”
“It is.”
“I told this man you would tell him his future. Can you do that?”
“What do I gain from this act?”
She pursed her lips. “My undying love?”
“I had that already. For fifteen years. Then you went crazy.”
“I’m sorry, Mother. You know it wasn’t my fault.”


Corlan stepped forward, arms lowered to catch the queen, to help her. He glanced sideways at Tam, standing near the serving girls. The boy shook his head from side to side and Corlan stopped.
“I only know how to protect my wyma from harm,” moaned the queen. “They worship me as their Great Mother.” She lifted her head, tried to look at Naka Wu but the stretch of muscle and sinew was too painful.
“My mother felt your cruelty.” Naka Wu spit. “You fed her to drakes at the Eve of Eve celebration, as entertainment for your courtly sisters. Yet not before she endured the whipping. The lashes your jester snapped at her, flaming strands of coarse wire, were unspeakable cruelty!”
The queen wavered on her knees, struggling to breathe with the lance through her belly. “Your m-mother? I didn’t know...who she was—”
“Because I was taken from her years before your soldiers brought her to the prison for a mere accident. Her last cow kicked one of your soldiers and broke her leg. They took my mother to the prison for that. When she was old, sick, trying to escape—she became your holiday entertainment!”
“The punishment was...fair,” moaned the queen.
“I know more wyma who tell the same stories.” Naka Wu turned to the two guards behind her, then gestured at the guard standing by the serving girls. “Uki Ma lost her mother to your warriors. I will not describe how they tortured her. Giko Song lost all three of her sisters to the cruelty of your soldiers. And Yuka Hei was tortured for seventeen days just because she dared look at a man—some useless man!—that you had brought to your chamber for the protocol. You see now she survived and has returned to meet you, and send you into the Beyond. And me: sold by my mother because she could not pay your taxes. Now we take back this city!”

Mothers...they mean well. They have your best interests at heart. But sometimes...well, they just don’t get it...

“Well, you should write her back, Alex,” his mother went on. “Ask her what this is all about. You have a right to know. Tell her you demand to know why she—”
“I already wrote to her,” he murmured.
“You did? When?”
“More than a month ago.”
“And...? What did she say?”
He scooted up, perched on the edge, and dug into his back pocket. Retrieving a crumpled letter he had been carrying around for a couple of weeks, Alex held it up for her to see.
She pulled out her glasses from her apron pocket.
Returned: No Such Address,” she read solemnly.
“No such address,” he mumbled. “She made the whole thing up.”
“Well, we’ve got to find her, Alex.” His mother was adamant. “Your father’ll be home soon. Then we’ll figure out what to do. We’ll get a lawyer—”
“No, Mother. It’s over.”
“Over?” his mother almost shrieked. “How can you say that? This woman hurt you and she should at the very least apologize.”
She let the echo of her sharp words come back to her and heard them clearly. Alex gazed at her: the words did not sound like her words, but his. His mother seemed to realize that.
“Well, you know you should write a nice thank you note to that Doctor Johnson in Turkey. Also to that man on that island who helped you. You did get his address, didn’t you? And your Navy friend—Benson, is it? Poor fellow’s in jail while you’re home free with the stroke of a pen. You should write him. That would make him feel better. Maybe tell him how sorry you are...?”
She paused, awaiting his response, then glanced about the living room. She did not know what to do with her hands.
“I know they’d all like to hear from you, Alex. At least know you arrived home safely.” Her gaze landed on the writing desk in the corner of the living room. “I see you haven’t sent a reply to that Mister Carter’s get-well card, or have you? It’s been nearly two weeks, dear. I don’t see any letters to go out.” She sighed. “Alex, you don’t want to get a reputation. People notice the little things. Shall I get you some stationary?”
Alex got up slowly from the sofa without a word, reached for his cane, and hobbled out of the cool, dark living room.
“Young man, don’t you walk out on me,” his mother scolded, then stopped, apparently realizing, as her son did, just how hollow the words sounded now.

It is always good to remember that a mother is a boy's best friend. 

Happy Mother's Day!

(C) Copyright 2010-2018 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.


  1. If you were MY son I would ask you why you're killing time on the internet when you should be writing. But that's just me.

    Love, OtherMother

    1. Dear OtherMother,

      I did write. Then I made this blog post after my prime writing time was kaput. You get what you get. Thanks for the inspiration!

      Love, OtherSon