17 September 2017

How I Ruined My Summer Vacation (2017 Edition) Pt 5

I need to slip this blog about my summer vacation in between hurricanes. With only two classes each week, I had time for sightseeing but because I had seen everything before, it was harder to find something else to see. Fortunately, I had a friend guide me to a new corner of the city: the 798 Art Zone.

During my first summer trip to Beijing I had cravings for tacos but quickly discovered that the only tacos in Beijing were at a handful of cafes run by ex-pat Westerners. One of them was located in this corner of Beijing but the subway route to get there required 4 lines. As it turned out, this was in the Art Zone.

I met my guide, codename: Maria, outside my hotel on a Sunday morning. She arrived on one of the millions of rental bikes (where you dial in a code number on an app on your smart phone and the bike is unlocked). 

We walked up the street to the bus stop to go to the Art Zone. I've always been wary of riding buses because I don't know where they will go. But with my guide, I felt safe. I used my subway pass for the bus. It was a 40 minute bus ride, no changes. 

Going to see more of the northeast corner of the city, off the edge of my map. I saw us pass a sign marking the division between Chaoyang district and Wangjing district, near Wangjing park. 

Finally we got off the bus and walked a bit, looking for a place to have lunch. We decided to find the Art Zone first, then look for lunch. We backtracked and crossed a wide avenue and entered the 798 Art Zone, where a big sign indicated the district. If you had been looking right at it you would've seen it. Lots of old brick and tile factories had been converted into artists’ studios and small galleries. Lots of cafes and bars, too. 
Translation: "The First Breakfast"
"The Four Moods of Stephen"
Searching for a good place for lunch, we paused to get drinks: latte for me, fruit smoothie for her. We went next to a café and ordered a Hawaiian pizza with a Caesar salad. Nothing more American than that. It was very good and exactly like what I would have had in the US. I almost forgot I was in China. 

Then we walked around looking at strange public art, taking photos, entering small galleries—hoping people would buy the art—and joking together about what we saw. It was nice to have a leisurely day out looking at art. 

Eventually, we got thirsty so we stopped in at a place for a drink. Instead, we got a large dish of mango sherbet with cubes of mango. Very delicious! As it turned out, none of the cafes or restaurants or even the galleries had much A/C going. Outside it was the usual hot, humid weather. The galleries seemed to have only enough cool air to be able to make the claim it was on. We talked about all sorts of trivial topics, including how to interpret modern art. I think we are supposed to imagine what the artist was thinking and/or drinking when he or she painted it. We must use metaphor and personification, even if it hurts. Many tags next to artwork suggested the inspiration came from a dream.

Once upon a time I learned about art from a real art student, but I had to throw all that out the window in this district. I saw a lot of red and a lot of Mao-suit-influenced designs. The melding of old and new was a common theme. Attempts to create the fantastic, to shock or provoke introspection, appeared on every corner and in half the galleries. I eventually reached the threshold of interpretation and gave up.

I did not buy any art: too big, too bold, too expensive for my meager means.

When we decided to go back to the campus, I suggested we have dinner there in one of the small restaurants around the campus. But as we walked in the direction to exit the Art Zone, we saw a restaurant promoting gourmet hamburgers. One was a Mexican hamburger. I was hooked. We decided to have our dinner there. But we were not yet hungry, so we continued to walk around, visit some shops, see other streets and alleys, and circled back to the hamburger restaurant. We got cold drinks first, talked, then ordered our hamburgers. It was a good dinner.

The dinner gave us some more energy, so we could start walking back to the bus stop. On the way, she saw a McDonald's in a shopping mall so we went in to get some ice cream as our dessert. Instead of the small vanilla cones I expected, they were promoting large fancy cones, with some decorations, so I got a mango dessert cone and she got a green tea cone. We finished our desserts sitting inside, then we continued on to the bus stop.

Waiting at the bus stop to return to the campus, we talked about everything important in life, such as my vampire book and the sequel I was writing in my hotel room. She is a fan of vampire stories, so I offered to let her be a character in the sequel. Talk of how I got the idea for the book led to discussions of current geopolitics. 

Still we waited for the bus. Several others stopped but they were not the one to return us to the campus. I was just happy to chat longer. I felt sad when our bus finally arrived and we got on it.

To see yourself in the Hanged Man is a good omen, right?
As we arrived at our stop by the campus and got out, we went to the crosswalk and said our goodbyes. A sad moment. It was a long but fun day, the best day of my summer vacation. I did something I never could have done by myself, plus I enjoyed being with Maria. 

After walking with her through the campus, I returned to my hotel. On the way back, I see the corner laundry is still open so I pop in to pick up my clothes for the coming week. A win-win!

That night, I reflected on all that I had seen during the day, and all that I had felt and said and heard and thought. It was a lot. Then I wrote poetry. It's what I do. It's what we all do when visiting the 798 Art Zone.

(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.

10 September 2017

How I Ruined My Summer Vacation (2017 Edition) Pt 4

Because there is likely to be some bad news every week, I cannot delay further telling about my little summer vacation. Apologies to those without the electricity to read this. My heart truly goes out to you; I've been in your shoes. 

When I go to Beijing, China in the summer to teach a course in business writing for American audiences, I arrive as planned on a Saturday but with little fanfare. I meet the first class on Monday full of jet-lag and improve greatly for the second class on Wednesday. Then I have a four-day weekend looming. Since I've seen all the big sites of Beijing, this first weekend I decided to check out a few small places I found on my map.

East end of the long, long park.
This year, on my first weekend, I set out with map in hand to find a park which had the ruins of the Yuan Dynasty outer fortress walls. I had passed it previously but never gave it much thought. One hardly thinks of ruins as something to see. After conquering my first bout of "Mao's revenge" and trying to sleep through the night while someone was singing with a karaoke machine in the park across the street from my hotel room, I had to get out - for my own good. My plan was to go out early before it got too hot but with a poor sleep I slept in a bit, then got up to write/edit my latest novel, the sequel to my vampire novel A DRY PATCH of SKIN. Then the housekeeper came, always within 5 minutes of 10 am. Then it was 11. 

Finally I got myself ready, thinking I could at least go to the nearest McDonald's for lunch, something to do. I'm not a regular of McD back home but when in foreign countries it provides a brief semblance of normalcy. So I checked my official Beijing 2008 Olympics map, which had all the McDs marked for advertising purposes, and decided to try a route that would take me to a different McD which I had never visited. I left my hotel, crossed the big avenue, and ducked into the park that ran parallel to the avenue. That was the Yuan Dynasty ruins.

West end pavilion.
Well, not much of the ruins existed at that location. On the map the park extended quite some distance to the west from where I started. So I walked...actually, it was a gentlemanly stroll. Most of the route was shaded by trees, thankfully. I walked along the ruins of the ancient walls, worn down to about a meter or less in height, like old teeth. It made a really nice park along an empty canal, with trees, flowers, play areas for children. Many families were taking advantage of the park but it was not crowded at all. 

At the west end there was an expanded area with statues of Yuan Dynasty people in all their finery, of modern construction but still interesting. They stood on top of a pavilion, just as real may have done at that spot a long time ago. As a writer, trying to create fictitious or historical settings, I find being at the site of ancient things to be fascinating. Like, did those people long ago ever imagine that some tourist teacher from American would one day be wiping his sweaty brow while standing on their pavilion? Probably not. More important things to plan for. But the location did make for nice photos. I always like to contrast old and new in the same picture: the existential theme of the impermanence of permanence. Here and gone. Like the wind. 

A modern depiction of those Yuan folks!
I exited the park at a formal gate, drenched in sweat from the hot sun. A girl handing out hand fans with advertising for a fitness center on it, gave me one. Thanks! I really needed a fan at that point. Following my map, I planned and walked along the tree-lined avenue to my destination: a department store with a McD

Add caption
The McD was busy when I entered. At the sight of a foreigner they whip out the English menu but I knew what I wanted and simply pointed to the picture overhead of one of their specials. I was able to get a table, too, so I enjoyed a leisurely lunch although the food tasted as expected; I guess it had been a while so it wasn’t that good. Then I went down a couple doors to a coffee shop I saw as I arrived at the McD. Inside, it was very Western and the A/C was great! I ordered an iced latte, took a table and relaxed. I even read 2 chapters of a paperback I’d brought with me.

Next I planned to go further and check out a science & technology museum I saw on the map. There was also a temple nearby. When I walked to the big interchange where the museum was, it seemed to be under renovation. I could not see where to enter or if it was even open. As for the temple, I could not see any sign of it but for a square of trees among a lot of high-rise buildings. It was hot and late enough in the afternoon that I decided I had accomplished enough for the day. It was time to walk back, probably about 5 kms by then. I followed the map, choosing a different route just for variety, and there was a subway station! 

Public flower pots along busy avenue!
I checked my map and route chart in the station to see how to get home. The station where I was required 2 transfers to get to the station nearest my hotel. So I did that. Except I went one station too far, past the closest one. Remembering my error last year, I made sure of the directions before I set out along the busy avenue. It was a fairly pleasant walk, despite the temperature being 95. Much of the sidewalk was shaded by trees. Finally I arrived at the intersection I was hoping for: the one where the Starbucks is located. I was right! 

Bus stop. I don't trust buses because I don;t know where they go.
Feeling how wonderful an iced latte would taste right then, I walked south enough to be able to look over to see if the Starbucks was really there—it was—but then I could not cross the avenue. Barriers had been set up so nobody could cross. I decided I was close enough to home to just keep going. It was 5 pm and dinner time, but I did not want any hot food, so I popped in at the Subway restaurant near the campus and got a sandwich and drink. Then I went to the 7-11 for more drinks, then to the hotel. As it turned out, that Subway sandwich with all its "fresh" veggies, introduced "Mao's revenge" to me again.

NEXT: The 798 Art Zone

(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.

27 August 2017

The Week That Was...Or Shouldn't've Been

What a week! First the solar eclipse then the terrifying hurricane. Plus the day job. I need a break so here is some poetry from my Twitter (@StephenSwartz1). It's not great, obviously, but trying to fit a poem into a tweet is worth the challenge.


The eclipse is here
So be a dear
Bring me some glasses
As fast as
You can
Cuz I never plan

When the moon
Comes too soon
To the late afternoon
You must swoon
Like a loon
& sing a tune

Darken me now
O big moon cow!
Make the sun go away
Come again another day
It's a two minute wow!

The thrill has come
The thrill is done
Were we dumb?
Was it fun?
Just being a bum
Under the silly sun.

*The trick of poetry on Twitter is the 140 character limit.


It's Friday & Harvey comes to town
Make your way quick or you'll drown!
Stay high & dry
Or question why
Clime change follows you around!

(The following were not written on Twitter:)

The port of last resort:
Full mugs, laughs, a snort 

Before the winds blow hard
And the tide crashes in
"Thoughts and prayers," the bard
Cries loud, "We shall win!

Yet our revelry we must abort!"

Picking up the pieces, such a chore
Wish we were burdened with a bore

Scattered near and far
Missing our favorite bar
When we need a drink the most--

We survived! And that's our boast!

Awkward summers abroad and ill-thought doggerel composed between classes is how I fight off dementia, so be kind in your comments, as my parents might read them. Until next time, adieu! Stay high & dry & love thy neighbor.

(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.

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.