Category Archives: Dragons

#flashfiction friday: St. Patrick’s Day at the Drunken Sasquatch

There’s something about St. Patrick’s Day that brings out the crazies, even in Seattle. Or, should I say, especially in Seattle. If there is one night of the year when were-dragons should stay home and avoid the tavern, it’s March 17th.

Now in a place like Seattle, folks like me usually go unnoticed because the Emerald City is just that kind of town. The people are relaxed and accepting here. It’s like they don’t even see us.

Oh, sure, a few members of my community aren’t the kind of people most folks  want to know. Being a reporter, I tend to come across them in the course of my work, and let’s just say it’s not all rainbows and unicorn farts for  some of us anymore.

Modern society has ruined the weaker minded. You didn’t hear this from me, but some of the most unusual and largest thefts of metal can be laid at their door. Ever hear of the wholesale disappearance of live electric wires for the length of a city block? How about an entire condominium’s worth of  electric water heaters going missing?

In some cases, that stolen metal isn’t being sold for drug money, as the ordinary folk assume.

That would be normal, and being what we are, we don’t really do normal that well.

No, instead of financing drug habits, it’s worse.

This stolen metal shows up at Renaissance Fairs and Fantasy Cons all over the West Coast in the form of knock-off medieval armor, pseudo-medieval jewelry, and fake regalia, hawked by elves wearing obviously plastic Spock ears and cosplaying as Legolas.

But I digress—we were talking about St. Patrick’s Day and why a were-dragon like me avoids the Drunken Sasquatch on that day. I admit that bar is my second home under ordinary circumstances, but this is not a normal holiday. And while the Drunken Sasquatch is in what is known as the Scandinavian side of town, these normally sober, morally upstanding leprechauns of the Lutheran persuasion seem to come out of the woodwork.

These are people who have no knowledge of how things work in a neighborhood bar. Ignorant of the proper protocols, they will blithely sit on a regular’s favorite barstool with no remorse or fear of reprisal.

Don’t look at me like that. You’re thinking, “Dan Dragonsworthy, don’t be such a curmudgeon. They’re leprechauns–it’s their big holiday. Why shouldn’t they celebrate a little?”

Well, I’m not a curmudgeon. I’m smart.  First of all, these folks never set foot in Ireland. They’ve been here for three generations, like the rest of us.  And once they start pounding down the beers, these leprechauns do something no sane person would consider hanging around for.

Karaoke.

You know you’ve died and gone to Irish Hell when a marauding band of leprechauns, drunk on their entire year’s quota of green beer, takes over your favorite watering hole and turns it into a karaoke bar. There is no agony like that of ten drunken leprechauns, all insisting on singing the same three Sinead O’Connor covers over and over again, all night long.

Bloody Bill doesn’t even try to fight it anymore. He just lets them set up their machine and puts in his earplugs.

Me and all the rest of the regulars—we meet at Alfredo’s house for a little BYOB party, play a little cribbage, and listen to his collection of Pogues CDs all night long. For a vampire, he’s a pretty good host, and provides us with all the little Vienna-sausages and microwaved popcorn we can consume.

So, St. Patrick’s Day is the one night of the year when you will not find me in my usual chair at the Drunken Sasquatch. Instead, I’ll be drinking my orange juice at Alfredo’s and watching Harry Wolfe try to beat Grandma at cribbage.

He won’t of course. He never has and and he never will. No one can beat Grandma at her favorite game. Of all people, Harry should know that, seeing as how she wears his stepdaddy’s hide to church every Sunday.


St Patrick’s Day at the Drunken Sasquatch, © 2017 by Connie J. Jasperson, All Rights Reserved.

Green Beer, b y SpaceAgeSage from USA (Green Beer) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Skunk Fur Coat, By unknown / –Kürschner (talk) 19:02, 3 June 2009 (UTC) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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#amreading: Stephen Swartz, EPIC FANTASY * With Dragons

Today I am talking with a dear friend of mine, author Stephen Swartz. Along with myself and twenty other authors, Stephen is a founding member of Myrddin Publishing. We have been down a great many rough roads together since those early days of taking the plunge and leaving our former publisher. Not a day goes by that I don’t communicate with him in some way, and he always has a way of making me laugh.

His most recent novel is an ambitious project called EPIC FANTASY *With Dragons which was just launched. I had the opportunity to be a beta reader and liked the book in its proto version very much. I am enjoying the book in its final form immensely. The world it is set in is barbaric and exotic. Corlan is a solid character, a great protagonist who is unlike most squeaky clean, modern heroes. In a purely human way, Corlan has faults and blind spots. But he attracts an odd assortment of people, wonderful characters who force him to see the world more realistically. In his travels, Corlan becomes a worthy hero, but never loses his human nature.

CJJ: EPIC FANTASY *With Dragons is an awesome title for the book. Your dragons are most definitely not the friendly sort of dragon Anne McCaffrey wrote about. How long did you toy with the idea of this book before you began writing it, and what made you decide to embark on such an ambitious project?

SW: The fact is the title was the first thing I thought of. Because I was challenged to write an “epic fantasy” I started with that as the title, more of a spoof, I suppose, but also a focus. I imagined poking fun at the tropes of the epic fantasy genre. Of course, that’s not what I ended up with: it was not a spoof but a serious work of daring-do over a harsh landscape.

I had never been a fan of dragons as a story element. Too many dragons were cute, affectionate, like pets to humans, or the opposite: dragons hoarding gold, talking to humans. I couldn’t deal with those. So I went full biologist and reimagined dragons as perfectly wild beasts following the laws of physics and biology. Then I let them be nuisances, then terrors. I imagined a life where dragons constantly flew overhead, snatching children and livestock, setting thatch roofs on fire, depositing their waste everywhere. People would not put up with that for long. Hence, the need for “gamekeepers” to keep them in check.

As is often the case for me, I had an image in my head, the opening scene. It had to be a fantasy world. Some guy doing his thing in that fantasy world. So I thought of dragons flying by and there is our hero, sitting on the side of a cliff shooting them down. And then what happens? I thought for about a month, then continued: he goes home and faces all kinds of trouble, a bad weekend in the city which ends with him being banished by the prince.

Now that I’ve finished Epic Fantasy *With Dragons, I’m finally reading McCaffrey’s books. Long ago, when I was a child, I showed my mother a story I had written and when she said it reminded her of The Hobbit, I swore never to read The Hobbit so nobody could say I got my story idea from Tolkien. Now, however, we do research. Even so, I don’t think my take on a dragon tale is like any others that I’ve read or heard of.

CJJ: The works of yours I am most familiar with, Aiko, After Ilium, and A Girl Called Wolf are contemporary fiction, set in our real world, as is your vampire novel, A Dry Patch of Skin. You’ve also written an epic Sci-Fi series, The Dreamland Trilogy. This book is a real departure from those novels, as the prose is far more formal and literary. Corlan is a compelling character, and the story moves along at a rapid pace, but I would say it is not a quick read. What kind of reader were you writing this for?

SW: I began writing science fiction, which was what I read as a child and teenager. I transitioned into magical realism by the time I entered an MFA program in college. There we were supposed to write literary fiction, introspective stories of real people in a real world. So that became my focus. There are good things and not so good things about each genre, something that satisfies me when writing each but also challenges for each genre. It comes down to the story: Is it better as a real story in a contemporary setting or as a sci-fi story in an invented world? I usually do not have the choice; the story comes to me already set in the genre it wants to be.

The novels you mention had some basis in my own reality. For Aiko I lived in Hawaii and then in Japan. After Ilium began with me studying Classical rhetoric and the epics of Homer; I transported Homer’s ancient tales to a modern setting. A Girl Called Wolf is really the biography of a friend; I felt her story of hardship growing up in Greenland would make a great novel. I encouraged her to write it but she gave up and insisted I write it for her.

One thing I did learn in that MFA program was that all stories are about people – not the setting, or the technology or the aliens or the dragons. That made a big difference in the writing I’ve done since then. So in Epic Fantasy *With Dragons I focused on my protagonist, making him a real person with real problems but also, as per the epic fantasy rules, some dark secrets, some stubbornness, and some talents. The Dream Land Trilogy, although sci-fi, also focuses more on the characters and their relationships than on the interdimensional doorway and the world they discover and come to rule. Perhaps it is all a matter of growing older myself and experiencing relationships. Who knows?

With the epic fantasy genre comes the criteria: a strange landscape, a variety of odd characters, a quest, and a lot of words to get the reader to the destination. When I began, I decided to aim for 200,000-plus words. I was half joking at first, just like with the title. But it really did not take so long or was too much effort to put that many words on paper. As a quest tale, the right number of episodes would naturally add up to the designated word count. I wrote quickly and did not linger to write lavish descriptions of places or a character’s fashion; I kept my focus on action, dialog, and moving to the next scene.

Like everything I write, I try to do two things, with regard to readers: give them a story that is compelling and within the criteria of the genre, and do something different, enough different, to make it not the same old thing they have read before. I think I’ve achieved that with Epic Fantasy *With Dragons. There is a deeper story that gradually boils to the surface by the end. I hope readers will enjoy the familiar elements of an epic fantasy and then appreciate how I’ve toyed with those elements to make some new and different.

CJJ: Now we get to the question I really want to know the answer to. At what age did you start reading, and what books influenced you most as a young reader?

SW: Being the child of a pair of teachers, I began reading at an early age. It wasn’t too soon after I began writing my own stories. They were comic strips at first: drawings with dialog. Then I dropped the pictures and added more words. All my teachers liked the stories I wrote, often having me read them for the whole class. In 7th grade I invented a superhero: Micro Man who could shrink himself to get out of tight jams. Everyone awaited the next episode every Friday. As a teenager I read sci-fi and fantasy…as well as some of the unabridged Classics on the shelves of my house. Ben Bova, Robert Silverberg, Roger Zelazny, Michael Moorcock, Damon Knight are the authors I remember always reading. Plus Homer, the Russian novelists, especially Dostoevsky, and some Italians like Dante. And I tried to write better stories than what I read. Or at least as good: “Write the stories you want to read.” That’s what I do.

CJJ: How did these books influence your early writing?

SW: Aside from some stylistic tricks and some phrasing quirks from the authors I named, I was shown many (more) ways of seeing the universe than I ever could in my simple world of Missouri. And that’s the reason we read, especially sci-fi and fantasy. Technically, I still use the “two-fer phrase” (He dipped the cup into the stream, drank it.) that I learned from reading Zelazny. I got a literary lesson on how, in a conflict, the side that seems morally right at first glance is not always morally right, courtesy of Moorcock (The Eternal Champion). As an only child who spent a lot of time entertaining myself, I loved reading and writing. Now I teach others to enjoy reading and appreciating literature and to write academically and creatively.

CJJ: I like that. In the opening chapters of EPIC FANTASY *With Dragons, Corlan is possessed of that raw self-centeredness that many of Roger Zelazny’s protagonists embodied. Do you ever take a vacation from writing? Do you have a current work in progress?

SW: The only vacation from writing I take are the agonizing weeks between projects. I might slip into a depression, fearing I’ll never write again. Maybe I’ll have no more ideas. Gradually an idea will emerge from the vagaries of daily life and once again I become excited at inventing something that did not exist before. I’m in that slump presently but I will soon be able to get back to work on something.

Work-in-progress? I hesitate to mention it because that in itself might prove to be a spoiler, but I have ideas and a plan for a sequel to Epic Fantasy *With Dragons. I have tentatively titled it Epic Fantasy 2 *Without Dragons. Now that the dragon situation has been resolved, our hero will turn to problems in the north. We will also learn more of the War of the Five Princes…mapped out in 1973, long before George R. R. Martin thought up his Game of Thrones.

CJJ: What would you like to say in closing about EPIC FANTASY *With Dragons?

SW: EF*WD started as a spoof, then became a serious tale of a quest. Then began the painting of patina of philosophy under many of the scenes, letting characters discuss the issues relevant to them and by extension to all of humanity. That is why I remarked at the close that I had said everything I wanted to say. And that, I believe, is something of the requirements of the epic fantasy: to make a statement about the human condition (without being preachy, of course) that gives the reader far more than a simple quest tale with action and romance. Perhaps that’s what I like most about writing fiction: juxtaposing the mundane reality of our present world with the vivid possibilities of the fantastical world and finding somewhere between them, in the cracks, a few universal truths. Then I can sit back and muse: “My work here is done.”

Stephen Swartz, thank you for stopping by and talking about your work and especially about this wonderful new novel.

Stephen can be found blogging regularly at Deconstruction of the Sekuatean Empire, where he discusses all aspects of his travels and writing life and also illuminates the darker corners of the craft of writing.

>>>|<<<

EPIC FANTASY *WITH DRAGONS

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.

Stephen Swartz grew up in Kansas City where he was an avid reader of science-fiction and quickly began emulating his favorite authors. Since then, Stephen studied music in college and, like many writers, worked at a wide range of jobs: from French fry guy to soldier, to IRS clerk to TV station writer, before heading to Japan for several years of teaching English. Now Stephen is a Professor of English at a university in Oklahoma, where he teaches many kinds of writing. He still can be found obsessively writing his latest manuscript, usually late at night. He has only robot cats.

CONTACT Stephen Swartz at:
BLOG

http://stephenswartz.blogspot.com/

TWITTER

@StephenSwartz1

FACEBOOK

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Author-Stephen-Swartz/149555308427639

STEPHEN SWARTZ BOOK LINKS 

Amazon Author Page:
http://www.amazon.com/Stephen-Swartz/e/B007391TQK

Goodreads Author Page:

EPIC FANTASY *WITH DRAGONS (Mar. 2017)
paper https://www.amazon.com/dp/1680630253

kindle https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06XF5FQ57

A GIRL CALLED WOLF (Dec. 2015)

A BEAUTIFUL CHILL (Feb. 2014)

paper http://www.amazon.com/dp/1939296307

kindle http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00I6M4R9Y

A DRY PATCH OF SKIN (Oct. 2014)

AFTER ILIUM (2012)

paper http://www.amazon.com/dp/1939296218

kindle http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009SDW1KC

AIKO (May 2015)

THE DREAM LAND TRILOGY

BOOK 1: Long Distance Voyager (Sept. 2013)

paper http://www.amazon.com/dp/1939296226

kindle http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00AH1V78Q

BOOK 2: Dreams of Future’s Past (Nov. 2013)

BOOK 3: Diaspora (Dec. 2013)

paper http://www.amazon.com/dp/1939296277

kindle http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00GVJGP9E

 

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#flashfictionfriday: Christmas at the Drunken Sasquatch

Vampires have a sick sense of humor, especially Alfredo, although he pretends to be cultured. Just over a year ago he got me banned from here, by switching my orange juice for an orange soda… that dirty trick was more than embarrassing. Covering the cost of the damages to the scorched floor, replacing the furniture, and buying Sylvia Wannamaker a new coat ate into my hoard quite heavily.

Worst of all, I was banned from participating in November’s pool tournament.

However, I’m a dragon. We like our revenge served up cold and well calculated.

The anniversary of my disgrace has passed, which would have been the obvious day for me to seek retribution. Most people have forgotten the whole incident.

But not me.

I know I look like any other old has-been, going on and on about the glory days. While that observation isn’t real flattering, it’s true. I drink more orange juice than is good for either of my livers, and I hang out here at the Drunken Sasquatch because I have nowhere else to go.

I don’t discuss it for obvious reasons, but during my years in the Middle East, Dan Dragonsworthy was far more than just a flying battle wagon. I spent a lot of time on covert missions, and one thing I learned was how to be patient, and how to spot the chinks in your opponent’s armor.

I’ve been watching Alfredo since New Year’s Eve when Bloody Bill finally lifted my punishment. I don’t intend to harm the old blood-sucker, but I’m going to give him a taste of his own medicine. There are substances vampires shouldn’t ingest, and Alfredo may have forgotten that.

A vampire tripping on chocolate is bad for everyone. I’d never do that, even to Alfredo. Fortunately, they don’t like the flavor of it. However, they do have a passion for maraschino cherries, which can cause problems for the weaker willed vampire since those fruity morsels of goodness are frequently found wrapped in dark chocolate. With one exception, the smart ones don’t succumb to temptation inside the Drunken Sasquatch, because Bloody Bill won’t tolerate that sort of behavior.

Most importantly for my purposes, vampires can’t tolerate coffee. On tiny amounts, they tend to pee themselves copiously, which the rest of us find hilarious. Vampires get quite huffy when their vampiric dignity is besmirched.

As if MY dignity meant nothing to me.

When you want to impress Alfredo, you buy him a jar of the special maraschino cherries from Italy, made with the best cherry liqueur. He can smell maraschino liqueur from anywhere in the room and, being a vampire, he lacks a conscience.

No maraschino is safe from Alfredo.

http://cookdiary.net/chocolate-covered-cherries/

The annual Christmas party and the gift exchange drives him mad. Every witch, wizard, or elf has a recipe for that most wonderful of traditional holiday treats, maraschino chocolate cordials. These kind friends are always generous with their gifts to those of us who lack their magical culinary skills.

It’s more than his old vampire heart can stand, and despite having received his own jars of cherries sans-chocolate, he takes incredible risks.

I’ll give Alfredo credit—he’s good. I’ve watched him sneak up behind Grandma and suck the cherries out of a box of cordials without getting his fangs dirty. She suspected it was him, but could never prove it. Fangs do leave holes, but it could have been any vampire.

It takes a brave (or desperate) vampire to mess with Grandma. I’d tell you to ask the Big Bad Wolf, but you can’t.

She’s wearing him.

So, anyway, last week, Grandma and I had a chat. I got on the internet and ordered the finest ingredients. They were delivered the day before yesterday, and she immediately got busy in the kitchen.

This year, one unattended box of cordials under the tree at the Drunken Sasquatch will have cherries in liqueur with unique centers. This particular batch will be vampire safe—no chance of accidental hallucinations here. Grandma created white chocolate shells filled with Cherry brandy, with a maraschino cherry floating in the middle. Each cherry is filled with a special coffee liqueur center.

It will be a joy to watch Alfredo try to deny his culpability in this year’s draining of the maraschinos as the evidence spreads around his feet.

cherry-suisse-advert-1969I hope vampire pee isn’t too acidic, although I’ve heard the stench is an excellent Zombie repellent, and no matter how you scrub, it’s impossible to get rid of the odor. Sylvia Wannamaker swears by it in a diluted form as a slug repellent in the garden, as using it there will turn your hydrangeas the brightest blue. They don’t make good cut flowers though, as they smell too bad to keep in the house.

I’m sure a pool of vampire urine won’t be as dangerous for the innocent bystanders as when he caused me to inadvertently belch fire in close quarters.

Come the day after this year’s Christmas party at the Drunken Sasquatch (even though his cash outlay won’t come near matching the damages I had to pay when he slipped me the Mickey) at least Alfredo will be out the cost of a new pair of boots. And if he can’t find a good drycleaner, he’ll be out the cost of replacing that gaudy, lace-trimmed, purple velvet suit he thinks is so stylish.

Grandma and I are both looking forward to this year’s party. Christmas could just become my favorite holiday.


Christmas at the Drunken Sasquatch, © 2016 Connie J. Jasperson, All Rights Reserved

No vampires were harmed in the making of this tale.

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#flashfictionfriday: The Iron Dragon

Because it’s November, and National Novel Writing Month is in full swing, I am reposting a story I posted in April of 2016. This story was actually written during NaNoWriMo 2015. If you’re curious as to my word count, feel free to click on the image to the upper right, the one that says NaNoWriMo Participant. In the meantime, enjoy  The Iron Dragon.

Leaf_Decoration 1_clip_art_small


Earl Aeddan ap Rhydderch turned his gaze from the mist to the strange iron road that emerged from it, and then to where the road entered the cave. “Tell me again what happened.”

The peasant who had guided the earl and his men said, “The mist, the iron road, and the cave appeared yesterday, sir. We saw the beast entering its lair, and a fearful thing it is, too. No one dares approach it, but the monster can be heard in there. It’s a most dreadful dragon — we found the carcass of a large wolf that had been torn to shreds, trampled until it was nigh unrecognizable.”

The man’s companion said, “Everyone knows wolves are Satan’s hounds. It must have angered its hellish master. We found it lying cast to one side of the Devil’s Road.”

Aeddan looked back to the iron road, seeing where it emerged from the mist. He walked to the low-hanging fog bank, seeing that the road vanished just after it entered the mist, leaving no marks upon the soil. He turned and strode back to the peasants. “I agree it’s the work of the Devil, but why does the Lord of Hell require an iron road that leads nowhere?”

A faint grumbling sounded beneath Aeddan’s feet. “A light! Look to the mist!” shouted one of his men.

Turning, Aeddan saw a white glow forming in the fog as if a large lamp approached from a great distance. “That’s no ordinary lantern. Mount up!” Moving quickly, he leaped into his saddle and turned his steed to face the demon. He freed his lance from its holster and settled it in the arret attached to his breastplate under his right arm. His fingers fumbled as he struggled to fasten the grapper, but at last it held firm. The peasants, knowing they were no match for whatever approached, had run for shelter up the hill.

The light deep within the fog grew and strengthened, as did the rumbling noise.  It waxed brilliant, and the earth shuddered as if beneath the pounding of a thousand hooves. Smoke filled the night air, reeking of the sulfurous Abyss, combined with a howling as cacophonous as the shrieks of all the damned in Hell.

Dragon-Linda_BlackWin24_JanssonWhat emerged from the mist was impossible — an Iron Dragon of immense height and girth.

“Courage men! For God and King Gruffydd!” His bowels had turned to water, but Aeddan and his men stood firm in the face of the demon, sure that death would be their reward.

The fiery light emanating from the burning maw lit the night, and the ground shook as the beast roared and raced ever closer. As the beast sped toward him, a burning wind blowing straight out of Hell knocked Aeddan and his horse to the side of the Devils Road and using that opportunity, the Iron Dragon thundered past him, heading into its lair.

Stunned, Aeddan scrambled to his feet, staring as the length of the beast passed him by, the body taller than a house and long, like an unimaginably giant, demonic centipede. The length of the beast was incomprehensible, lit by the fire within and glowing with row upon row of openings. The faces of the damned, souls who’d been consumed by the ravening beast peered out as they flashed by. Sparks flew from its many hooves.

Terrified his men would be crushed by the immense creature he shouted for them to back off, his voice drowned by the din.

Abruptly it was gone, vanished inside its lair. In the sudden, deafening silence, Aeddan wondered how such a thing could possibly have fit into the cave. Yet it had done so, and other than the stench of its passing, there was no sign of it.

He remounted and settled his lance in the holster beside his stirrup, then turned to his men. “Rouse the village. We must seal its lair with stone and mortar. We may not be able to kill it, but at least, we can stop it from marauding and decimating the countryside.”

>>><<<

Mist shrouded the small valley just outside of the village of Pencader. Engine Driver Owen Pendergrass looked at his pocket watch and opened the logbook, noting the time and that they had just departed Pencader Station. He said to the fireman, Colin Jones, “We should be approaching the tunnel, though it’s hard to tell in this mist. We’re making good time despite the fog. We’ll be in Carmarthen on schedule.”

“Sir! Look just ahead! What…?” Colin pointed ahead.

A group of mounted men dressed as medieval knights, complete with lances lowered as if prepared to joust, appeared out of the mist, attempting to block their path. “God in heaven — what next!” Blowing the whistle to scare them off the tracks, Owen pulled the brake cord, but there was no way the train could stop soon enough. In no time at all, the train was upon the knights, scattering them and blowing past. Owen looked out the window, to see if they’d survived, but they were gone as if they’d never been.

“Vanished,” said Colin. “Like the ghosts when we passed through here yesterday.”

Hiding his trembling hands, Owen shook his head. “It was a close call, but no harm was done. We’ll not be mentioning this to the authorities, eh? Not after the way our report was received yesterday. It’s a haunted valley, but it’ll do us no good to mention it to anyone important.”

Colin agreed and turned back to fueling his fire, shoveling coal as if he could work the fear out of his mind.

The connecting door opened and Harrison, the chief steward, entered. Pendergrass told him the same thing, and the old man agreed. “We got in enough trouble at the yard yesterday for mentioning the ghosts. I’ll go soothe the passengers.”

“Tell them it was just the mist and the dark playing tricks on their eyes.” Owen shook his head and glanced out the window, seeing they had emerged from the tunnel into a clear, cold evening and would soon be at the next stop, the village of Llanpumpsaint. “Playing tricks indeed.”


“The Iron Dragon” © 2016 Connie J. Jasperson, All Rights Reserved

(first published Apr. 1, 2016 on Life in the Realm of Fantasy)

Art: Dragon By Linda BlackWin24 Jansson [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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#flashfictionfriday: The Iron Dragon

Earl Aeddan ap Rhydderch turned his gaze from the mist to the strange iron road that emerged from it, and then to where the road entered the cave. “Tell me again what happened.”

The peasant who had guided the earl and his men said, “The mist, the iron road, and the cave appeared yesterday, sir. We saw the beast entering its lair, and a fearful thing it is, too. No one dares to enter, but the monster can be heard in there. It’s a most dreadful dragon—we found the carcass of a large wolf that had been torn to shreds, trampled until it was nigh unrecognizable.”

The man’s companion said, “Everyone knows wolves are Satan’s hounds. It must have angered its hellish master. We found it lying cast to one side of the Devil’s Road.”

Aeddan looked back to the iron road, seeing where it emerged from the mist. He walked to the low-hanging fog bank, seeing that the road vanished just after it entered the mist, leaving no marks upon the soil. He turned and strode back to the peasants. “I agree it’s the work of the Devil, but why does the Lord of Hell require an iron road that leads nowhere?”

A faint grumbling sounded beneath Aeddan’s feet. “A light! Look to the mist!” shouted one of his men.

Turning, Aeddan saw a white glow forming in the fog, as if a large lamp approached from a great distance. “That’s no ordinary lantern. Mount up!” Moving quickly, he leaped into his saddle and turned his steed to face the demon. He freed his lance from its holster and settled it in the arret attached to his breastplate under his right arm. His fingers fumbled as he struggled to fasten the grapper, but at last it held firm. The peasants, knowing they were no match for whatever approached, had run for shelter up the hill.

The light deep within the fog grew and strengthened, as did the rumbling noise.  The light waxed brilliant and the earth shuddered as if beneath the pounding of a thousand hooves. Smoke filled the night air, reeking of the sulfurous Abyss, combined with a howling as cacophonous as the shrieks of all the damned in Hell.

What emerged from the mist was impossible—an Iron Dragon of immense height and girth.

“Courage men! For God and King Gruffydd!” His bowels had turned to water, but Aeddan and his men stood firm in the face of the demon, sure that death would be their reward.

Dragon-Linda_BlackWin24_Jansson

Dragon, Linda Jansson PD/CC via Wikimedia Commons

The fiery light emanating from the burning maw lit the night, and the ground shook as the beast roared and raced ever closer. As the beast sped toward him, a burning wind blowing straight out of Hell knocked Aeddan and his horse to the side of the Devils Road, and using that opportunity, the Iron Dragon thundered past him, heading into its lair.

Stunned, Aeddan scrambled to his feet, staring as the length of the beast passed him by, the body taller than a house and long, like an unimaginably giant, demonic centipede. The length of the beast was incomprehensible, lit  by the fire within and glowing with row upon row of openings. The faces of the damned, souls who’d been consumed by the ravening beast peered out as they flashed by. Sparks flew from its many hooves.

Terrified his men would be crushed by the immense creature he shouted for them to back off, his voice drowned by the din.

Abruptly it was gone, vanished inside its lair. In the sudden, deafening silence, Aeddan wondered how such a thing could possibly have fit into the cave. Yet it had done so, and other than the stench of its passing, there was no sign of it.

He remounted and settled his lance in the holster beside his stirrup, then turned to his men. “Rouse the village. We must seal it’s lair with stone and mortar. We may not be able to kill it, but at least, we can stop it from marauding and decimating the countryside.”

>>><<<

Mist shrouded the small valley just outside of the village of Pencader. Engine Driver Owen Pendergrass looked at his pocketwatch and opened the logbook, noting the time and that they had just departed Pencader. He said to the fireman, Colin Jones, “We should be approaching the tunnel, though it’s hard to tell in this mist. We’re making good time despite the fog. We’ll be in Carmarthen on schedule.”

“Sir! Look just ahead! What…?” Colin pointed ahead.

A group of mounted men dressed like medieval knights, complete with lances lowered as if prepared to joust, appeared out of the mist, attempting to block their path. “God in heaven—what next!” Blowing the whistle to scare them off the tracks, Owen pulled the brake cord but there was no way the train could stop soon enough. In no time at all, the train was upon the knights, scattering them and blowing past. Owen looked out the window, to see if they’d survived but they were gone as if they’d never been.

“Vanished,” said Colin. “Like the ghosts when we passed through here yesterday.”

Hiding his trembling hands, Owen shook his head. “It was a close call, but no harm was done. We’ll not be mentioning this to the authorities, eh? Not after the way our report was received yesterday. It’s a haunted valley, but it’ll do us no good to mention it to anyone important.”

Colin agreed, and turned back to fueling his fire, shoveling coal as if he could work the fear out of his mind.

The connecting door opened and Harrison, the chief steward, entered. Pendergrass told him the same thing, and the old man agreed. “We got in enough trouble at the yard yesterday for mentioning the ghosts. I’ll go soothe the passengers.”

“Tell them it was just the mist and the dark playing tricks on their eyes.” Owen shook his head and glanced out the window, seeing they had emerged from the tunnel into a clear, cold evening and would soon be at the next stop, the village of Llanpumpsaint. “Playing tricks indeed.”


“The Iron Dragon” © 2016 Connie J. Jasperson, All Rights Reserved

For more stories involving what may or may not be dragons, check out today’s post by Chuck Wendig–he has posted a writing challenge and over the next two weeks the links to many great stories will be filling the comment section:

Terrible Minds/Chuck Wendig: Flash Fiction Challenge: the Dragon

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Comfort Books, the main course: The Wheel of Time, by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

The Eye Of The WorldFor the main course of this three course meal I’ve chosen a hearty 14-book trilogy. I warned you that many of the books I love and turn to when I need a good book are NOT comforting in any way, and for many people the incredibly long, epic series, the Wheel of Time, definitely falls into the UNcomfortable category. This is for a variety of reasons.

The Eye of the World was the opening volley in what would ultimately become one of the most controversial series in epic fantasy. Written by Robert Jordan and first published in 1990, this series of books has polarized the most dedicated fans of true fantasy into two groups: the lovers and the haters.  No reader walks away from this series unscathed.

WoT05_TheFiresOfHeavenThe story begins in the exceedingly rural village of  Emond’s Field. They are so rural that they have no concept that they are still considered to be a part of a larger country. The village is suddenly attacked by Trollocs (the antagonist’s soldiers) and a Myrddraal (the undead-like officer commanding the Trollocs).  These creatures are intent on capturing the three protagonists, Rand al’Thor, Matrim (Mat) Cauthon, Perrin Aybara, although why they are being hunted is not revealed at first. To save their village from further attacks, Rand, Mat, Perrin, and Egwene (Rand’s first love interest) flee the village, accompanied by the Aes Sedai Moiraine Damodred, her Warder, Al’Lan Mandragoran, and gleeman, Thom Merrilin.They are later joined by Nynaeve al’Meara, who is their village’s medicine woman.

WoT03_TheDragonRebornThis huge range of characters and the many, many threads that weave an incredibly tangled plot are what polarizes the reading community over this series of books. Originally intended to be a trilogy, it eventually expanded to encompass fourteen LARGE, long books.

Robert Jordan passed away in 2007 while working on the final book, leaving the series uncompleted, but he left the rough draft and enough notes behind that Brandon Sanderson was able to finish the series, eventually breaking that final volume into three very large  books, and bringing the story to a satisfying conclusion.

WoT10_CrossroadsOfTwilightSo what is the basis for the plot’s tension, what conflict could possibly draw the reader in and keep them reading for such a long, drawn out process? It’s Robert Jordan, folks–the eternal quest for power, and dominance through violence, religion and politics is the core of this tale. According to Wikipedia, the Fount of All Knowledge: The series draws on numerous elements of both European and Asian mythology, most notably the cyclical nature of time found in Buddhism and Hinduism, the metaphysical concepts of balance and duality, and a respect for nature found in Daoism. Additionally, its creation story has similarities to Christianity’s “Creator” (Light) and Shai’tan, “The Dark One” (Shaytan is an Arabic word which in religious contexts is used as a name for the Devil). It was also partly inspired by Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace (1869).”

300px-WoT08_ThePathOfDaggersI loved the first three books in this series. I both enjoyed and endured the next three, hoping Robert Jordan would get to the point and finish the damned series. I had become a little irritated with book eight, Path of Daggers, but by the time Winter’s Heart came out, I was resigned to never seeing an end to it, and was back to simply enjoying each strange plot twist and new random thread for what it was–just a great tale.

When Robert Jordan died, I was thrilled that Brandon Sanderson was the author tapped to finally bring that unwieldy mess together. There were so many different stories within the greater story that the task of winding up each thread must have been incredibly daunting, and he did it magnificently.

The reason so many devoted fans abandoned the series somewhere around book six , Lord of Chaos, was that Rand al’Thor’s story ( and Mat’s and Perrin’s) stalled, and Jordan was sent way off track by the stories of Egwene, Nynaeve, and Elaine Trakand. In fantasy, there is a large contingent of readers who want instant gratification are not going to wait around for eight more books. They proved it by jumping ship and trash-talking his work.

TheGatheringStormUSCoverThroughout the series, the quality of the writing never faltered. The depth of story and the intensely alive characters whose stories graced those pages never failed to intrigue me. The fact that it felt like the conflict would never be resolved was, at times, upsetting to me as a reader, and is a lesson authors should take to heart with their own work.

To write a story that is so compelling that readers become so violently polarized over it is quite an accomplishment.  I see this happening with George R.R. Martin‘s fans right now. Although I adore him as a person, I’ve never cared much for his style of writing, as he jumps around too much even for me. Have patience, people! It looks like George has a large story there too, so it may take him a while.

Towers_of_Midnight_hardcoverFor Brandon Sanderson to step into the wasps’ nest of controversy that was the Wheel of Time and complete the series with such grace and finesse is nothing short of amazing, and I am glad I stuck with it to the end. Brandon Sanderson has become one of my favorite authors because of what he did to wind up this epic series.

In the end, the final resolution was satisfying, and was well worth the journey.  I have gotten rid of most of my hard copies, and am down to only one room’s worth of hardbound books at our house. I don’t buy too many hard copies of books, being a fan of the Kindle, and  but I did make an exception for this book.   For me, some books need to be in hard copy form and the Wheel of Time Series is one of them, as are the Harry Potter books. There was a large contingent of people who were upset that the epub edition wasn’t released until 4 months after the paperbook, but this was a choice made by Robert Jordan’s widow and her publisher, TOR. It was a strange one in my opinion, but it was their choice.

A_Memory_of_Light_coverAmazon’s early reviews of the later books in this series were rife with trolls and naysayers who couldn’t wait to emerge from the woodwork and have their say. Apparently very few of these people purchased the book, much less read it. That is the price of success and these days it’s almost an honor to have so many haters just spoiling to knock you down. But their strident caws and self-important rants should have no effect on the true fans of WoT. In my humble opinion these works are masterpieces and Brandon Sanderson’s three books are a triumphant finish to the series.

I love Brandon Sanderson’s handling of this series finale, and feel I more than got my money’s worth from this series of book, as I will definitely read it again and again–in my opinion it’s that good. If you love this series, you will love the way it ends!

The original cover artist for these amazing books was none other than the late Darrell K. Sweet, who was just as amazing a fantasy artist as is Michael Whelan. The newer covers are nice, but for me they lack the power of Sweet’s brilliant paintings.

And as we all know, I buy most books for their covers, even epubs, and then fall in love with the tale.

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Comfort books, second course: Dragonriders of Pern, by Anne McCaffrey

Michael-Whelan-Dragons-dragons-4284189-1204-827Today I am serving up the second course of our three course meal of books that are comfort food for my soul. Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series directly motivated me to become a writerNo other series of books has had a more profound effect on me as both a reader, and as an author.

The artwork gracing many of her later covers was done by the same brilliant artist, Michael Whelan, whose work graces many of Tad Williams’ books.

I have read the entire series every year since I snuck my father’s Science Fiction Book Club copy of Dragonflight in the summer of 1969. Since that time I have worn out 6 hardbound copies of The Dragonriders of Pern, a collection comprised of the first three books based on the fantastic Weyrs of Pern, and the people and their dragons who live within them.   I can’t tell you how many fellow Pern fanatics tell me the same thing, “When I think of dragons, I think of Pern.”

AnneMcCaffrey_DragonflightAnne McCaffrey’s 1968 novel, Dragonflight was the first book in the original trilogy, and is the book that launched an empire that now encompasses at least 23 novels and several anthologies of short stories that are just as compelling as the novels.  In 2003 McCaffrey began writing with her son, Todd McCaffrey and in 2005 Todd took over the series, and has acquitted himself well. I am still buying and enjoying the new entries in the series!

Dragonflight began life as a short story for Analog, Weyr Search which appeared in the October 1967 issue, followed by the two-part Dragonrider, with the first part appearing in the December 1967 issue. In 1969 the two award winning short stories were combined into the book Dragon Flight, and was published by Ballantine books.

Anne McCaffrey was the grand mistress of worldbuilding. Aspiring scifi and fantasy authors should read her work for the small clues and hints that are sprinkled within her work , the little brushstrokes that create the larger picture. She gave us a real planet, in Pern–and our minds built around her framework, believing the world of Pern to be as real as our own earth.

moretaPern is a planet inhabited by humans. In the forward of the book, we find that he original colonists were reduced to a low level of technology by periodic onslaughts of deadly Thread raining down from the sky. By taming and bonding to the indigenous flying, fire-breathing dragonettes called Fire-Lizards and then making genetic alterations to make them larger and telepathic, the colonists gained the upper hand. The dragons and their riders destroyed the Thread in the skies over Pern before it was able to burrow into the land and breed. The Threads would fall for fifty or so years, and then there would be an interval of 200 to 250 years.  However, an unusually long interval between attacks, 4 centuries in duration, has caused the general population to gradually dismiss the threat and withdraw support from the Weyrs where dragons are bred and trained. At the time of this novel, only one weyr, Benden Weyr, remains (the other five having mysteriously disappeared at the same time in the last quiet interval).  The weyr is now living a precarious hand-to-mouth existence, due to a series of ever weaker leaders over the previous fifty or so turns (years).

dragon flight 2The story begins with Lessa, the true daughter of the dead Lord Holder and rightful heir of Ruatha Hold.  She was ten years old the day her family’s hold was overrun by Fax, Lord of the Seven Holds.  Out of everyone in her family, she is the only full-blooded Ruathan left alive, and that was because she hid in the watch-wher’s kennel during the massacre.  Now she is a drudge, working in the kitchens or her family’s rightful home.  However, Lessa is gifted with the ability to use her mind to make others do her will; grass grows where it should not, and nothing grows where it should.  Every day of her life since the day Fax massacred her family she has used that power in secret to undermine him.  Now the mighty Fax only visits Ruatha when he is forced to, and has left the running of the hold to a series of ever more incompetent warders. Things have become quite grim there under Lessa’s vengeful care.

whitedragonThe action is vivid, the people and the dragons are clear and distinct as characters.  The social and political climate on Pern is clearly defined.  Each of the characters is fully formed, and the reader is completely immersed into their world. The way the dragons teleport, and their telepathic conversations with their riders makes for an ingenious twist in this seductive tale. And speaking of seductive, what I love the most about the entire series is the frank sensuality that never disappoints me.  Anne McCaffrey never drops into long graphic descriptions of the sex that is frequently part of her stories, and yet she manages to convey the deeply empathic and intensely sensual connection that the riders and their dragons share.

To the right here is the colorful book cover as was published in 1970 by Corgi.  I never liked this cover nearly so much as the Michael Whelan covers, though I did have several copies of this particular book.

This book changed my life as a reader of fantasy and science fiction.  I found myself incessantly combing the book stores for new stories by Anne McCaffrey, and eagerly read anything that even remotely promised to be as good as this book.  I read many great books in the process; some were just as groundbreaking, and some were not so good, but even after all these years, this series of books stands as the benchmark beside which I measure a truly great fantasy.

white dragon 2The Dragonriders of Pern series has captivated generations of fans. It was the first adult series of books my youngest daughter ever read once she left the Beverly Cleary books behind, having simply snuck them off my shelf (I wonder where she got that notion). Even though I have read the entire series every year since 1983, I find myself fully involved in the story.  Every year new books are to add to the series, and now if I were to sit down and begin reading the series it would take me two full weeks of nothing but reading to get through it, even as fast as I read.

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Comfort books, a three-course meal: 1st course, Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn

Dragonbone_ChairI’ve been reading a lot lately. I know, you’re surprised, right? Mostly I’ve been revisiting my old favorites. I have a group of what I call “comfort books.”  That is not to say these books are comfortable, because they’re quite the opposite: challenging, involving,  and at times a little horrifying. But they are books that I can go back to again and again and never be disappointed in either the writing or the tale. I always find some new thing, along with the themes and characters that enchanted me the first time I read them.

These are the books that inspired me to write, not because I thought I could write better, but because these authors were unable to keep up with my reading demand. So, in the lull between “real books” I began writing the stories I wanted to read. Today begins  the first course of this three-course meal. Two more will follow!

First up is Tad Williams’ epic masterpiece, Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn. This tale was so large he couldn’t fit it all into one book. Each book is quite large, and believe me, there is no fluff in any of them.

Stone_of_FarewellIn this gripping tale, Williams takes a traditional tale of a kitchen-boy turned hero, and turns it sideways, giving it depth and power. He puts his protagonist, who begins as Simon Mooncalf, though hell,forging strength of character and courage in a boy who always dreamed of adventure. Simon the dreamer is real, human; a man with flaws as well as strengths. As a boy he is afraid, but he is courageous when it counts. And as a warrior, Simon Snowlock is strong, and not always forgiving. He is a multilayered hero, as is the story in which he is set.

The quest for the swords of power, and the larger quest to save Osten Ard from the grip of Ineluki, the Storm King, are enclosed within the real dramas of human (and not-so-human) affairs.

What made this  series of books strike such a chord within me in the first place, was the way the world of Osten Ard reflects the history and folklore of our world. Several characters’ elements and experiences mirror the legends and mythology of Great Britain and other European cultures. I felt I knew these societies, and yet they were seen through a fractured mirror, similar, yet so different.

At the outset, the Erkynlanders are are the dominant society, and are ruled by King John Presbyter, also known as Prester John. He united them, but they’re still slightly clan-based and resemble the early medieval English of around the fifth to seventh centuries, with names that are  Saxon-ish and Biblical. It is a castle-based, feudal society right out of the dark ages. They have a religion that is similar to Christianity, as if they are a parallel reality.

To_Green_Angel_TowerPrester John is the man who united Osten Ard, and carved their society, but he is dying. Like the great Plantagenet kings of our history, he has two strong sons who have a deep-rooted quarrel, and this sets up the conflict that evolves and encompasses an entire world.

After his death, the dark secrets of Prester John’s own checkered history drive the plot, sweeping Simon up in events which he has no control over.  His growth over the course of this series makes a gripping, compelling story, as does the parallel story of Miriamele, Prester John’s granddaughter.

Green_Angel_Tower_P1The other people of Osten Ard who have recognizable real-world parallels in their names and cultures, and who have strong, absorbing story-lines are:

Binabik—a Qanuc (based on Inuit, or Eskimo)

Jiriki—Sithi (distinct from a branch of their culture, the Norns, who are the root antagonists.  Based on Asian, Japanese) Ineluki, the Storm King is Norn.

Maegwin—Hernystiri (Celtic, perhaps Irish or Welsh)

Sir Camaris—Nabbanai: I just fell in love with this tragic man. These people felt reminiscent of Renaissance Italy, quite Roman

Tiamak—Wrannamen: Indigenous tribal  people who live close to the earth,

Sludig—Rimmersmen: Norse and early Germanic , quite Viking

Also included is another culture, the Thrithings: Horse nomads, reminiscent of the Mongols.

This is not a series you can read in a day or even a week. It is easy to get completely caught up in this tale, to the point that you forget to eat, and don’t hear when the dog wants out. I originally bought The Dragonbone Chair for the artwork on the cover. It was created by the brilliant fantasy artist, Michael Whelan. All the covers in this series are incomparable, and to my great joy, so was the story within.

TadWilliams200And the best part is: Tad is writing another trilogy based in Osten Ard, set thirty years later. Quote from his blogpost of April 3, 2014 : “I guess the cat has been debagged. Several of you have seen and shared the news that, yes, I am returning to Osten Ard for a series of books called (collectively) “The Last King of Osten Ard”. It will feature many of the same characters a generation later (and many new ones as well). The book titles will be (as of now):

The Witchwood Crown
Empire of Grass
The Navigator’s Children

This is assuming I don’t do my normal try-to-squeeze-two-books-into-the-last-volume trick.”

I don’t care how you do it Tad. I am just glad you are still young, and still writing amazing books in a kijillion settings. I am waiting patiently for the emergence of this series. Do your crazy thing, madman! Take your time and do it right! I will have it on pre-order the minute it becomes available, and when it arrives on my doorstep I will dance all the way to my cozy sofa, where I will sit and read until I am forced to set the book down in order to feed the hubby. Then I will continue reading until the next meal must be served.

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Stephen Swartz, A Dry Patch of Skin

A patch of Dry Skin, Stephen SwartzToday, my dear friend, Stephen Swartz, author of the new book,  A Dry Patch of Skin has consented to answer a few questions for us. Stephen is a true renaissance man–an accomplished musician, and the author of seven published novels, he is also a professor of English at a well-known university in Oklahoma.

I became friends with Stephen in 2011 through ABNA, and we have remained good friends since. I find him hilarious, and I really enjoy his work. He has kindly consented to sit down and allow me to “virtually interview ” him. I am especially curious about his wonderful new book, which is a vampire tale. It’s most certainly not your mama’s sparkly vampires! If you are curious, here is my review: Best in Fantasy: A Dry Patch of Skin

CJJ: Tell us a little of early life and how you began writing:

Stephen Swartz 2007SS: It seems like I’ve always been making up stories, much to my parents’ chagrin. I began by drawing panel comics, then added dialog, then began writing paragraphs. I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy in my youth, plus the classics of literature. They influenced my writing mostly by pushing me to try to “out-do” those authors with my own stories. My early writing was limited by the limitations of typewriters and correction fluid. When I got my first computer in 1986, all of my vast library of stories finally could be written. And the world shuddered….

 

CJJ: Tell us about your most recent book.

SS: A DRY PATCH of SKIN is a contemporary vampire story, but not at all modeled after any of the current vampire TV shows, films, or the books they are based on. I deliberately tried to keep it real. Thus, I researched diseases which cause symptoms approximating the vampire’s condition. In that way, I wanted the reader to experience what it would be like to become a vampire. I decided to tell the story through the POV of a man who is transforming against his will into something he does not want to become. All the tropes and memes of vampire stories are there, but they are realized in a medically accurate fashion—as much as possible. It gets a bit religious at the end, so…call it magical realism.

 

CJJ: How did you come to write this novel?

SS: I had the idea in rough form ever since Twilight came out and I tried to explain to my daughter, who was hooked on the Bella/Edward story, what “real” vampirism was. For that explanation, I recalled a report years ago on one of those news magazine shows about a man suffering from porphyria, sometimes called the “vampire disease”; the medical explanations for his affliction made perfect sense in terms of why he might be called a vampire if he happened to live in a certain time and place rather than modern America. Watching that interview (he wore a hood to cover his face), I could truly feel the anguish of being in that situation, and given that my art is answering What-if questions, I sought a vehicle for illustrating that awful situation.

 

CJJ: Do you have a specific ‘Creative Process’ that you follow, such as outlining or do you ‘wing it’?

SS: For A DRY PATCH of SKIN, I worked a bit differently than usual. I began with snatches of my real life, anecdotes that were humorous or telling in some way, then fictionalized them. My initial goal was to explore the character I was inventing, to get down his personality, way of expressing himself, his identity, and so on. As a story set in 2014 in the same city where I live, it was quite schizophrenic to write fiction about the places I regularly visit.

Unlike some authors, I generally do not make lists of traits or compose background profiles of my characters; sometimes I do not know all about them when they come on stage and I get to know them as readers do. (Of course, I go back in revision and make it all fit together.) I do collect information as I create them but it stays in my head. Sometimes browsing the internet will bring me an image that fits what I see in my head.

I knew from the start the direction A DRY PATCH of SKIN would go but I did not have the exact action of the climactic scene until I was mid-way into the writing. Once I “knew” how it would end, the direction of the plot shifted a bit to head toward that conclusion. I found by the end, fortunately, that I happened to have dropped some good seeds along the way which conveniently blossomed in the final chapters—much as Chekhov’s musket in Act 1 must be fired by Act 3. I suppose it’s a matter of how my twisted mind works; I’m not always conscious of the big picture under the cacophony of surface features, but my deeper self knows…because he sleeps with my muses.

CJJ: How does your work differ from others of its genre?

SS: A DRY PATCH of SKIN was a personal challenge, something in a genre I have not written previously. The saving aspect for me, however, was that it is, at the core, a tragic love story. (Is that a spoiler?) The trappings of vampire transformation become the vehicle for pulling off that tragedy. Or is it that the transformation, the struggle to avoid it or prevent it, is made more tragic with the love interest? At any rate, I’ve consciously tried to go counter to all the usual tropes of the vampire genre. In fact, the characters often mention, critique, and spoof some of the popular works of the genre during their conversations. I hope this novel will be both a fun “review” of the vampire literature as well as a realistic portrayal of a biological problem; in that sense, it’s a medical thriller.

CJJ: Why do you write what you do?

SS: A DRY PATCH of SKIN was a departure from my usual kind of novel (contemporary anti-romance or sci-fi on a grand scale). I was intrigued by the question and wanted to see if I could write it if only to see how such a situation might play out. I seldom write as a challenge or game, but this time I did. For writing in general, I simply want to follow my desire to see what happens next for the people I create and the situations I put them in. I know that sounds cruel, but that’s how I roll. It probably keeps me out of jail or the mental hospital.

Next, I’ve been challenged to write an epic fantasy with dragons. Epic fantasy is no problem; dragons are—because it’s in my nature to try to explain them in an authentic zoological way.

CJJ: I certainly can’t wait to see what sort of spin you give dragons! I know why I chose the indie route for my work, but I’m curious as to why you’ve chosen this path.

SS: Strange you should ask because while I have always done things my way (Thanks, Frank!), the results have not always been glorious. After a health scare a few years back, I realized what I wanted most in whatever time I thought I had left was to publish one of the books I’d already written. Years before that, I had gone through the lengthy process of soliciting with actual reams of paper in mailing boxes and the 6-12 month wait for a response by paper form letter. But just a few years ago, the world apparently  changed and querying and soliciting were being done electronically, which opened up a whole new world of possibilities. I was impatient, for health reasons, so I caught the attention of a small publisher with a book I entered into a contest. That did not go so well but I did get a taste of the brave new world of publishing. The rest is what some call history—and others call serendipity.

CJJ: What advice would you offer an author trying to decide whether to go indie or take the traditional path?

SS: I suppose there are all kinds of reasons and they tend to be settled on an individual basis. I described my situation, but even without that push from Father Time I’d probably still discover the small and indie publishers and hook up with one of them eventually. If I were young and had a market-ready book with a ready-made audience, I’d query that thing to the farthest star. If you are short on time or believe your work is specialized and thus out of the mainstream, you probably have to go indie.

My goal the past four years has been to make the books I’ve previously written available, at least that, not so much for my ego as for being able to check them off my so-called bucket list. Then I wrote something new! And made it available, too. And I wrote something new again! I have to give credit to the publishing of my early books for the spark of creativity that caused me to write my new books.

Thank you Stephen, for answering my questions! For those readers who are interested in reading more of Stephen’s writing journey, you can find him blogging at:

Deconstruction of the Sekuatean Empire

 You can purchase all the books written by Stephen Swartz from this page at Amazon.com

stephen swartz's books

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Infinite power equals infinite boredom

I attended a seminar on World Building this week offered by Lindsey Schopfer, local author and writing coach. One of my strengths is in that area, and I realized, as I listened to his talk, that it is because I use the same steps he does to make my world as real as is possible. I always know WHERE I am writing, WHO, and WHAT I am writing about.

I begin by drawing a sketchy map.This way I have an idea of where the towns are in relation to each other. Nothing on a map is ever finite, they are only approximations–artistic guesses.

Heart of Neveyah relief 3-4-2013 001As I write, my map evolves, becoming more complex as the topography becomes more clear to me. In Neveyah, I began with a pencil sketch, and that evolved into a relief map that gave me the opportunities for injecting tension into the tale that I needed. It also provided me with a detailed explanation of where the resources are, so that funding my country is not an issue.

I build their political and monetary structure, and the prevailing religion. I decide who has the power and privilege in that society, and who is the underclass.

As I create the power-structure and the maps, the opportunities for creating tension within the story also grow. I keep a list of those ideas so that when I run short on creativity I have a bit in the bank, so to speak.

Another thing Lindsey mentioned that I also do is to create a sort of personnel file. (I was an office-manager for years, so I think in those terms.) Is everyone human? If not, what are their species and how do they differ from humans? What are their origins and why are they all together on this world. This information will most likely not make it into the tale, but it is important for me to know.

personel file for Elena and LangleySome people draw their characters, but my artistic talents run to less realistic things. In some cases, I select an actor who best represents my character or who could play him/her well. I am a whiz at cartoons and maps, but not at drawing people or animals, so that’s why I resort to simpler methods to cement them in my head. Once I know who they are, that is where I stop. The reader will decide from the bare-bones descriptions I will give as to what they look like and that will be more intriguing than if I belabor their violet eyes and stunning cheekbones.

When I design a religion, I do it from the ground up.  I know who the gods are, what they require of their worshipers and the rituals that worship involves.  The same goes for the political system. Who is in charge of the country, and what is their power-base? What is their currency and how do they get it? Alternatively, how do they spend it? Are they despots or benevolent?

Then, there is the magic. Who has magic? What kind of magic–healing or offensive or both? What are the rules for using that magic and why do those rules exist? I despise books where there are no clearly defined rules for the magic, because infinite power instills infinite boredom in me as a reader.

http://www.hdwallpapers.in/

Ask yourself what sort of wild creatures will live in your world. What do they look like and how big are they? How do they survive, what do they eat? Are they hunted, or are they simply benign creatures that harm no one? What is their place in the ecosystem?

How are you going to name your people and beasts? Do your readers a favor and use spellings that look fairly simple and look good on paper. DO NOT USE THE CONVENIENT NAME GENERATOR websites that the internet is rife with. They provide you with hokey, ridiculous  names no barbarian worth his salt would claim.

How do they dress? Do they wear armor? How difficult is that armor to get on and off?

How do they travel? Horses or spaceships each have certain basic requirements–both require fuel of some sort and both frequently need maintenance, whether it is currying or cleaning the exhaust vents. Who does this?

In conclusion, assembling this background information is time-consuming, but once I have it all together, my work is so much easier. The hard work is mostly done at that point, so there is less stopping and starting. All I have to do is get my heroes off the sofa and out of the house to the final battle on time, so they can save the world.

 

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