20 August 2017

How I Ruined My Summer Vacation (2017 Edition) Pt 3

How to Return

It seems much easier to go than to return. Rather, it is easier to go to some place new and different than it is to pack up and return home. At least, in my experience. When it was time for me to return home after I went to Beijing to teach a course at a university, there were enough problems to make a blog post!

Having scoped out the Beijing Capital Airport on my previous trips, I knew where to go, what the best timing was, and how to prepare for the gauntlet. My first trip I went through San Francisco, which meant a noon-ish departure from Beijing. This is actually impossible. Even when my Plan A was to go to a hotel beside the airport to save taxi time. (You can recount that ordeal in this blog post.) My second trip, I went through Chicago, which meant a 4 p.m. departure, which was much better.

This time, I made my way to the big, shiny Hilton Hotel next to Terminal 3 (the international terminal). I'm not a rich person or a celebrity but I like to play one when I'm traveling. Actually, I selected that hotel purely because it is literally the closest hotel to the terminal. So to make my send-off spectacular, after checking in and being treated like royalty, I invited a dear friend to dine with me in a very expensive restaurant on the premises. 

When she finally arrived (subway from the city to the airport, then hotel shuttle from terminal to hotel), we went to the lobby cafe for some tea. I just ordered "Oolong" which is about all the teas I know. The uniformed server brought us a full tea service. We just stared at it, not sure what to do. There was a pair of cups for each of us, one tall narrow cup upside-down in the shorter, wider cup. In the middle of the tray was a small teapot. To the sides were apparatus somewhat familiar. We sipped the tea that had been poured. Still confused, we asked for instruction. Ahhhhh! It all made sense! We continued drinking our tea until we felt hungry. (*See instructions below.)

Dinner was a multi-course extravaganza that mixed Asian and Western foods, plus the right wine to go with each course. First was the bread and salad, then soup, then main course of cod and lamb, then dessert. As delicious and artistically presented as the food was, however, the best part of the dinner was the thoroughly delightful conversation about very important matters, which made the dinner seem to last for years. In a good way, of course.

Alas, finally, it had to end. Strolling about the huge hotel, all the marble walls, floors, and columns echoing every secret, we knew it was time to part. Another summer visit done. It was truly sad - but also a happy evening. It was the perfect way to end my 4-week visit to Beijing and begin my travel home.

After pleasant dreams, I arose as planned and made my way to the VIP lounge for the breakfast buffet. Plenty of time, no rushing. I had packed my suitcase full of laundry already. So I went down to the lobby at the appointed time, carefully measuring everything like a billiard player. Check out, get on the shuttle, arrive at the terminal, go up the elevator, and walk over to the check-in counter of my airline. Piece of cake.

My impeccable timing had me arriving at the counter with no one ahead of me in line. I was between the flights! Mwah-hah-hah! After getting rid of my laundry (in suitcase), I strolled to the first of several choke points in the departure process. First was the gate beyond which only those with boarding passes may go. Then the tram to the outer terminal. And so on. (You can read about the steps required in this blog.)

Due to my perfect timing, everything went according to plan. I even had a spare set of clothes to wear after going through all of the lines and sweating out the clothes I began the day with. No need to wear "used" clothes during a 13 hour flight. Plus 3 hour layover. Plus the 2 hour flight to my home city. I had tried that one set of clothing for the whole 24 hour gamut and those sitting next to me were not pleased.

Boarding the flight, I took the window seat I had chosen, thinking I could lean that way and sleep. Unfortunately, the window well did not match with the seat back, so it made my neck twist at an uncomfortable angle. Not even the soft new neck pillow I got with my last Yuan helped. Then the seatmate arrived. He was scheduled to sit next to me, the middle seat, with a girl on the aisle. She quickly claimed an empty seat in another row and the young man in the middle seat graciously moved to the aisle seat to give us both more room.

Why was more room a good thing? Because from the time this young man boarded, he was sniffling. We had to wait about an hour before we could actually take off into the sky. In that time, he rushed to the lavatory twice, his hand clutching his mouth, a sure sign of oral evacuation. I do not wish to alarm the senses of my readers, so I will allow you to use your imagination. Flight attendants nursed him throughout the flight. I tried not to breathe the same air. He began with chills, shivering, blankets all around but later in the flight had discarded them for what cool cabin air there was to bring down his fever. 

Twelve hours later I was sniffling. My throat felt scratchy. I tried to hold on. Indeed, I made it through the connecting hassles in Chicago and made it all the way home. The next morning I experienced what that young man must have been feeling during the flight. Stomach malady, with chills then fever, and evacuation from both ends. A miserable existence. I doubt I picked up his digestive illness; rather, it was yet another bout of "Mao's revenge" that I had been fighting throughout my visit. 

It is unfortunate that while we cannot choose our parents we also cannot chose our neighbors on an airplane. Nor can we be comfortable with whatever we may eat. That is what makes the world so exciting. Will one need to rush home at a moment's notice? Or will one need to make a pit stop in order to remain polite and decorous? There are maladies a plenty, something for everyone. At least I was not so indisposed for my wonderful send-off evening! Nor for the entirety of my 24 hours of travel back home!

Next: Mao's Revenge

*Instructions for the tea service. The tall, narrow tea cup which was presented upside-down in the short, wide cup is meant to be removed and sniffed. Yes, to enjoy the scent of the tea which has collected inside the tall, narrow cup. Then, when satisfied with the fragrance, the tea leaves are compiled into the holder inside the teapot. Hot water is added. Time will turn the tea leaves and water into "tea". Pour the tea from the teapot into the short, wide cup. (Frankly, the short, wide cup only holds one sip's worth of tea; I use a super-sized mug from the airport gift shop [see photo].) To keep the tea leaves from infusing the hot water too long and creating a bitter taste, the strainer inside the teapot should be removed and set upon the holder (on the left in the photo of the tray above). Continue to drink tea until the teapot is near empty. Because we sat in a tea cafe a hostess visited regularly to refill our teapot with more hot water. It could have been an endless, bottomless teapot but for our need to transition to solid food for the next phase of the evening.

(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.

13 August 2017

How I Ruined My Summer Vacation (2017 Edition) Pt 2

As many of my dear readers may be aware, I was on vacation last month. That is my story and I'm sticking to it. Actually, I was working - in a sense - so let's call it a working vacation. I traveled to Beijing, China for four weeks to teach a university course. As the class was only twice a week, I had plenty of time to get into trouble.

First, however, I had to get there. That part I had easy. At the early morning hour leaving Oklahoma, the lines were almost zero and the airline employees at the check-in were quite friendly and helpful. One woman, when learning I was headed to Beijing, thought to impress upon me that she was really a Ph.D. candidate studying economics. Her dissertation explored Chinese influence on global economics. We chatted a while on the topic, having plenty of time and nobody behind me in line. It was 4:30 a.m. 

Then the security checkpoint. I whizzed on through, having a kindly countenance and a lingering gait. I saw that my boarding pass had the "VIP" indicator on it. So, feeling like a VIP, I relaxed on my first flight of the day, napping until arrival in Chicago. As a connecting flight, I walked out already in a secure area and so I could continue to relax, even grab a Chicago-style pizza for my lunch. 

As I sat on a bench next to a bank of charging stations to eat my pizza, trying to stay away from the crowds, a woman arrived and sat on the floor beside the chargers to charge her phone. I invited her to sit on the bench instead of the floor. We talked, of course. She appeared to be Chinese so I thought she might be on the same flight with me. No, she was transiting between Syracuse, NY and Denver, Colorado. But she was born in China, so I got that much right. She was a masseuse, she said, so I told about the fabulous massage I had just before my trip, at a "Chinese" massage spa (the style is remarkably different than the standard fare).

On board the Beijing-bound flight, I was in the window seat, chosen so I could lean that way and sleep. I brought my neck pillow just for that purpose. There was still too much of a gap because the seats did not align sleepily with the window. My seat was one of a pair, not a trio, in the first row of the coach cabin. That meant no storage under the seat in front of me. In fact, while everyone else had a video screen in the back of the seat ahead of them, we had some funky metal arm which swung up like a tentacle. With the tray tables also swinging up, it became quite a mess juggling all of the appendages. But we got 'er done, as they say, and I was not too wrung-out by the time we arrived in Beijing. 

Apparently, four airplanes arrived about the same time so the line at immigration was long. They had all the gates open, however, so it was better than previous visits. Then I followed all the usual steps to get to the outside world. In Beijing's Capital Airport, advertised as the largest terminal in the world, you get some exercise. From gate to immigration line was about 3 kilometers. From immigration to the tram is about 1 km. The tram takes you about 3 kms. When you exit the tram, it is time to get your luggage and go through customs inspection. That is about 2 kms. As usual--this has been the case since my first day in public school where I sat at the back of the room alphabetically--my suitcase was the last one coming out of the chute. My ID tag had been unceremoniously ripped off the handle and the little TSA-approved lock had also been removed. 

Then I was going out the doors into the real world! Many family and friends and work colleagues await arrivals there. It makes for a huge crowd, so they have set up barriers to draw out the crowd. The effect is that of being a celebrity walking a runway, perhaps for 1 km, until the barriers end and you can go on out and join the crowd. Having everyone peruse you as you arrive--after a 13 hour flight, clothes ruffled and hair matted, a grim facade greeting them--is rather daunting. Not for the faint-of-heart! And yet the sight of my name on a placard caused a grateful smile to appear on my face. My student assistant was there to greet me and escort me to my home for the month.

My assistant, "Catherine", had it all planned. She led me in as short a route as possible to the taxi cue. She instructed the driver where to go. En route we talked about the class, since she was a student in the class as well as my assistant. We arrived at the same hotel as always, the Yinghua, and she helped me with translation during the check in process. It was late enough in the day and I was hungry so we dropped the bags in my room (324; see the discussion of rooms on my previous blog post) and went out to get some dinner at a sandwich shop. That was Saturday, so I had a lot of time until Monday afternoon when the first class would begin. 

Returning home, however, was a much more disagreeable experience....

(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 August 2017

How I Ruined My Summer Vacation (2017 Edition)

As many of my dear readers may be aware, I was on vacation last month. That is my story and I'm sticking to it.

Actually, I was working - in a sense - so let's call it a working vacation. I traveled to Beijing, China for four weeks to teach a university course called "Business Writing in American Context" (Chinese translation). My course, like all those taught at the University of International Business and Economics, was taught in English. Students must be fluent enough to be successful in their classes. I went last year, as well. And the year before. Yes, it seems it is becoming a habit.

The Game of Rooms

For our stay, the university puts us up in a Chinese-style hotel across from the campus. The Yinghua Hotel ("Cherry Blossom") is, overall, a comfortable and attractive place, Chinese enough to be interesting to a Western guest. But it has its quirks, I've found in a few stays, quirks which are not necessarily because its Chinese-style. The rooms where I stayed each had twin beds, desk and chair, TV, mini-fridge, Western-style bathroom, and Chinese decor with a good view of the campus across the street.

My first year I stayed in room 424, which had great feng shui. I was able to write in my free time, finishing my novel A GIRL CALLED WOLF, which I had begun months before. I had worried how I was going to write about an Inuit orphan girl in Greenland while in China. But I got 'er done! Packing a map of Greenland and a couple reference books, plus the soundtrack of the movie that will someday be made of this book, I was all set. When I got into the zone, it did not matter where I was physically in the world, I was in Greenland in my head. (Read more about writing in a strange place here.)

Room 424 after I moved in.

Last year, I again was working on a novel, my mighty tome EPIC FANTASY *WITH DRAGONS. In fact, I wrote about half of the 233,000 word book during the month, almost ruining my laptop. When I checked in, I was assigned to room 624 but it did not have the right feng shui. Actually, it did not have the right A/C. Fortunately, the next day I was able to move back into room 424 and enjoy my writing venue once again. I came prepared, with half a novel done and a plan to finish it. I hunkered down, often typing 6+ hours a day, and came to the end of the draft before I jetted home. (Read more about writing in strange places here.)

This year was a challenge. First, I had started writing a sequel to EPIC FANTASY *WITH DRAGONS, starting with my efforts in the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) event in November. Of course, I "won" by writing 50,000 words during that month. In fact, I had 57,000 words picking up the story from where the original book ended. I assumed that would be my summer project in China, as well. Then something weird happened. A chance encounter with dark esoterica, led me to consider a different sequel: a sequel to my 2014 "medically accurate" vampire novel A DRY PATCH OF SKIN. Again, a story presented itself and I decided to "play" write to see where it would go.

With about 15,000 words written and part of an outline, I left for a month in Beijing.
View from room 426 (looking southeast)

I did not get room 424, even though I had asked the powers-that-be at the university for it weeks in advance. It is my sweet spot for writing. Instead, I was given room 324. That seemed a step down from 424. In fact, at that level, all I could see was a wall. That was the butt end of the roof which stretched out from the hotel to the street. Above the wall, I could see some clouds and the tops of the taller buildings of the campus. In fact, when I first entered that room, the curtains were open and two men were crouched on that roof (the top of the wall) working on fixing an A/C unit. We waved to each other. I closed the curtains.
View from room 426 (looking east)

Immediately, I knew there would be no good feng shui in this room. Through the translation by my student assistant for this summer's class, who met me at the Beijing Capital Airport and escorted me to the hotel, I asked for another room,. Room 424 was occupied and would be for two weeks. Likely it was another summer teacher enjoying MY feng shui writing room! I fell into a deep depression. But then, thanks to the A/C not working very well, I complained again and was moved to 426 - the room next to 424. Close enough, I thought. I could absorb the 424 feng shui by osmosis, by sleeping with my head against the wall of 424. 
View from room 426 (looking northeast)

Well, 426 had good feng shui but the A/C was barely working. Even on the coldest setting I was down to undies and sweat.

Happy to be able to write, I tried to stick it out. 

Then one morning, after only a week, I was awakened by the steady drip-drip-drip sound of something leaking. The A/C unit was leaking! Water was coming down from the ceiling and making a puddle in the carpet. And as I waited until business hours to notify the appropriate personnel, the leak increased. I put down a cup, then another cup, to catch the drip. As I waited, I showered and got ready for the day, ready to tell the hotel people about the leak. I also packed up my belongings because I knew I could not stay in that room. At the least, they would be working on the problem in the room while I had to be away to teach my class.

Two men came to check on the leak. The water was coming down through a speaker (for the doorbell, I think), and so presented an electrical danger. As expected, a hotel supervisor escorted me to see a different room for my approval. I approved. So we moved my belongings to room 516. Once everything was settled, I went to my class as usual. After class, I grabbed dinner. Then I returned from the campus to the delight of my new room, where the A/C worked properly and the feng shui seemed adequate for my writing.
View from room 516 (looking left)

Room 516, where I would remain for the rest of my stay in Beijing, was slightly larger than the others. It also faced south. Rooms 424, 426, and 326 all faced east so the morning sun would awaken me and warm the room mercilessly even with the heavy curtains drawn. This 516 room was very nice. The view was of the side of the restaurant next door (FYI, I ate there last summer and this summer; excellent food and sumptuous decor inside), with all of its ventilation system on the outside, but I could still glance to the east and west from the window and know the city still existed. I could check the weather, see who came and went from the restaurant, and on weekends enjoy the soulful stylings of the karaoke parlor below.

View from room 516 
So I worked on the sequel to A DRY PATCH OF SKIN in earnest in room 516. With my class in the afternoon this year, I would get up early and type away, listening to my soundtrack, until the housekeeper knocked on the door. At check-in, I requested no housekeeper before 10 am, since I would be working in my room. So when she knocked at 10:03 (give or take a minute), I would let her in. She would see me typing and know I was not just some lazy slob who sleeps late; I was working. Just 10 minutes of straightening the room and bye-bye. Then back to writing. 

In all, I brought 72,000 words home with me at the end of the month. I completed two of the three acts, so room 516 had some decent feng shui - despite the almost constant annoyance of the chattering housekeepers in their office / hang-out room just steps away from room 516. 

Next: Arriving & Departing

(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.

30 July 2017

The Blurb of the Blurbs

I meant to post this before I went on vacation but I was already in the air when I remembered I hadn't. Anywho...at least I can have something posted in the month of July, just for continuity's sake. 

I write in several genre, whatever fits the story that my muses dictate into my ear, so there's something for everyone. Most of all, I try to write a good, compelling tale of people in crisis, whether it is in our contemporary world or in a world of imagination. 
Listed below are the ebook (a.k.a. Kindle) links for all nine of my books, but they also exist in paperback. Click on the book titles to be magically transported to a place where you can read a sample and elect to purchase the entire book. Happy reading! 

CORLAN, MASTER DRAGONSLAYER, the best in the Guild, the best in the Burg!

And yet, returning from his latest expedition, Corlan discovers jealous rivals have conspired
with the Prince to banish him from the city.

Sent into the Valley of Death, Corlan conjures a plan. He and his new sidekick, a runaway boy
from the palace kitchen, will trek the thousand miles to the far end of the valley, where a vast marsh provides nesting grounds for the dragon horde. Once there, Corlan vows to smash dragon eggs and lance younglings, ending dragon terror once and for all time.

And yet, as dangers, distractions, and detours harry him along the way, Corlan learns ancient secrets that threaten to destroy everything in his world. Even with the aid of wizards and warriors, he must use all his guile, his bravado, and the force of his stubborn will just to survive - and perhaps return home - no matter how the gods challenge him with their harshest tests.

Ice and snow are all 12 year old Anuka knows outside the hut in Greenland where she was born. When her mama dies, Anuka struggles to survive. The harsh winter forces her to finally journey across the frozen island to the village her mama always feared.

But the people of the village don’t know what to do with this girl. They try to educate and bring her into the modern world, but Anuka won't make it easy for them. She sees dangers at every turn and every day hears her fate echoing in her mama’s voice.

Her mama gave her that name for a reason. She is A GIRL CALLED WOLF who searches for the place where she belongs, a destination always just out of reach, on a path she will always make her own.


When the handwritten letter from Japan arrives, Benjamin cannot help but flash back to when he lived in Hawaii and met Hanako, a Japanese stewardess. 

But Addy, Benjamin’s wife of three years, knows what the letter really means: a love child was born.

Now Benjamin must save a child he has never met, learn the truth behind Hanako’s death, and risk his marriage and his career to do the right thing. But venturing into the lonely woods of northern Ishikawa throws him into an ancient world of strict customs and tight-lipped villagers.

AIKO, a love story wrapped around a mystery, is a modern version of the Madame Butterfly story told from his side.

(the only medically accurate vampire novel)
Sequel coming soon!
The truth about being a vampire: It is not cool, not sexy. It’s a painful, miserable existence.

Good reason to avoid that situation, thinks medical technician Stefan Székely. He's too busy falling in love with TV reporter Penny Park, anyway. Until one day when she notices a dry patch of skin on his face.

At first it's just annoying, nothing to worry about, some weird skin disease he can treat with lotions. However, as his affliction worsens, Stefan fears that his unsightly problem will ruin his relationship with Penny.

If only that was all Stefan has to worry about! He soon realizes there is a lot more at stake than his handsome face. To save himself, Stefan must go in search of a cure for the disease which is literally destroying him inch by inch. If only his parents had told him of the family legacy.

Opposites may attract...but can they stay together?

Íris is a refugee from an abusive youth in Iceland, further abused on the streets of Toronto - until she sees Art as an escape. With a scholarship, she drifts from depression to nightmare to Wiccan rituals to the next exhibit. There's a lot she must forget to succeed in a life she refuses to take responsibility for.

Eric is settling in at Fairmont College, starting a new life after betrayal and heartbreak. Divorced and hitting forty, he has a lot to prove - to his father, his colleagues, and mostly to himself. The last thing he needs is a distraction - and there's nothing more distracting than Íris.

A Beautiful Chill is a contemporary romance set in the duplicitous world of academic rules and artistic license - in a roundabout way a prequel to A Girl Called Wolf.

Troy! Ilium! 3000 years ago Greeks and Trojans battled below the fortress city.

Now comes Alex Parris in 1993, freshly graduated and eager to tour the ancient site. On his cruise to Istanbul, however, he meets Eléna, a mysterious older woman who draws him into an affair.

When the two lovers challenge Fate by visiting the ruins of Ilium, they are rudely separated – forcing Alex to embark on his own Odyssey. His struggle to return to Eléna becomes a fight for survival on the wild Turkish coast.


How far would you go to save the love of your life? Through a portal to another world?

High school sweethearts Sebastian and Gina discover a doorway to a new world. Adventure-loving Gina falls in love with the world of Ghoupallesz and wants to stay, but studious Sebastian fears losing touch with Earth, so he returns alone.

Years later, working the night shift at the IRS, Sebastian feels the cosmic pull once more. Gina is in trouble. Again. Of course he must return and save her! Perhaps this time, he hopes, they can remain together. Returning through the interdimensional doorway, Sebastian must gather his old comrades from the war, cross the towering Zet mountains, and free Gina from the evil Zetin warlord’s castle. 

Unfortunately, there are more questions to answer. Is his adventure on the other side real? Or is it just the dream of a psychotic killer? That’s what the police want to know when his friends and co-workers go missing.

THE DREAM LAND Trilogy is a genre-mashing Epic of Interdimensional intrigue and alien romance, a psychological thriller marbled through with twisted humor, steampunk pathos, and time/space conundra. 

NOTE: Check your local Amazon listings. You may be able to get these 
for free if you are a Kindle Unlimited or Amazon Prime member!

(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.

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.