Tag Archives: Stephen Swartz

#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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#amwriting: poetry in prose

MSClipArt MP900390083.JPG RF PD Both poetry and prose have evolved over the last two-hundred years. In 1816 words were art, and they were frequently crafted into a piece  as if you were decorating a house–the author placed them in such a way as to be artistic as well as impactful.

Think Dickens, and Byron, and Mary Shelley.

A random comment in another forum led me to think about poetry and prose, which of course, led to a blog post.

Much of the time, modern poetry doesn’t rhyme. And even without rhyme, some authors write poetic narratives. But if it doesn’t rhyme, what makes poetry “poetic?” And where does it fit into modern prose?

As always, I turned to the “college of the internet” and did some research. Wikipedia, the fount of all knowledge says, “Poetry is a form of literature that uses aesthetic and rhythmic qualities of language—such as phonaesthetics, sound symbolism, and metre—to evoke meanings in addition to, or in place of, the prosaic ostensible meaning.” (End quoted text.)

In his April 19, 2012 blog post for Harriet, (the Poetry Foundation’s blog for poetry and related news) titled The Difference Between Poetry and Prose,  Martin Earl says a number of things.

Quote: “Prose is all about accumulation (a morality of work), while poetry as it is practiced today is about the isolation of feelings (an aesthetics of omission).” 

Well, that didn’t help. Taken individually, I understood each of the words that make up that sentence. Unfortunately, I didn’t understand what Mr. Earl intended to say by combining them so incomprehensibly.

I realized I would need an interpreter. So I prevailed upon Stephen Swartz, author, and professor of English at a well-known university, who is also a good friend of mine.

Stephen explained what Martin Earl may have meant: “I can only take that to mean that the writing of prose is, e.g. like a description, a compiling of details. a productive activity. I agree with the definition of poetry being a limitation of words/details in the service of presenting something esoteric such as thoughts and feelings, abstractions rather than the concrete. For prose, we accumulate words; for poetry we try to do more with less.”

Now THAT made sense to me.

However, I did find a portion of Martin Earl’s post to be understandable without the aid of my friendly neighborhood professor. Toward the middle, he explains the evolution of how poetry became prose, places it in a historical context and then explains that continued progression away from poetic prose in modern literature.

Earl writes, “In both classical and modern languages it is poetry that evolves first and is only much later followed by prose, as though in a language’s childhood, as in our own, poetry were the more efficient communicator of ideas.”

He goes on to say, “With the spread of the printing press after 1440, texts no longer had to be memorized. Poetry’s inbuilt mnemonics (rhyme, meter, refrain, line breaks) were no longer essential for processing and holding on to knowledge. Little hard drives were suddenly everywhere available.” (End quoted text.)

That makes complete sense to me on a personal level. I can remember anything I can set to a rhyme, or make into a song.

I believe using rhymes as mnemonics (which is defined as a memory device) is fundamental to human nature. We developed complex languages within our tribal communities while we were still in Africa, before the great diaspora. It was there in the earliest stages of our humanity that we gained the ability to describe the wider world to our children. With that, we had the capacity to understand and describe the motives of another person.  We could explain the how and why of an incident. We saw the divine in every aspect of life and developed mythologies combining all of these concepts to explain the world around us and our place in it.

Printer_in_1568-ceWe learned ways to memorize  and pass on ideas as abstract as legends or sagas. Through those stories, we could learn larger lessons from the mistakes and heroism of our ancestors.  My theory is that we developed poetry at the same time as we developed language.

Every tribe, every culture that ever arose in our world had this same tradition of passing down stories and legends using rhyme and meter.  Rhyme combined with repetition and rhythmic simplicity enabled us to remember and pass on wisdom to our children.

Wikipedia describes poetry as: “a form of literary art in which language is used for its aesthetic and evocative qualities in addition to, or in lieu of, its apparent meaning.”

It also describes prose as: “the most typical form of language. The English word ‘prose’ is derived from the Latin prōsa, which literally translates as ‘straight-forward.’”

In poetry, saying more with fewer words forces us to think on an abstract level. We have to choose our words based on the emotions they evoke, and the way they portray the environment around us. This is why I seem to gravitate to narratives written by authors who are also poets—the creative use of words elevates what could be mundane to a higher level of expression, and when it’s done well, the reader doesn’t consciously notice the prose, but they are moved by it.

We have no need to memorize our cultural knowledge anymore, just as we no longer need the ability to accurately tally long strings of numbers in our head.  We’ve begun to like our books with straightforward prose. Flowery language is no longer acceptable in the books we read.

This is also true of modern poetry.

The love of poetry continues, and new generations seek out the poems of the past while creating powerful poetry of their own.

Authors craft incredible narratives, often without knowing they are poets.

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss 2nd coverPatrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind:

“It was night again. The Waystone Inn lay in silence, and it was a silence of three parts.

“The most obvious part was a hollow, echoing quiet, made by things that were lacking. If there had been a wind it would have sighed through the trees, set the inn’s sign creaking on its hooks, and brushed the silence down the road like trailing autumn leaves. If there had been a crowd, even a handful of men inside the inn, they would have filled the silence with conversation and laughter, the clatter and clamor one expects from a drinking house during the dark hours of night. If there had been music…but no, of course there was no music. In fact there were none of these things, and so the silence remained.” (End quoted text)

That is some powerful prose. It is both straightforward, and poetic.

That is where craft comes in. Choosing words for the emotions they evoke and the way they portray the environment the author has imagined is what lends great narrative prose its power. We can still appreciate beauty combined with impact when it comes to our prose.

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#amwriting: Evoking Atmosphere and Place

Several indie books I’ve read lately impressed me with the sense of atmosphere the author managed to pack into their work, and the sense of place.

a girl called wolfThe book I am currently reading  is a contemporary novel,  “A Girl Called Wolf” by Stephen Swartz. In the opening chapters, Swartz’s Greenland has a harsh, ethereal quality. The environment is shown as unearthly, beautiful, and deadly, as are the people. The story of his protagonist Anuka (later called Anna) and her early life stands out sharply against the nearly cinematic backdrop, yet Swartz shows it with an economy of words.

Later, when Anuka is forcibly taken to civilization, that village and its poverty, as compared to her prior life, is clear in the reader’s head. It is seen through her eyes, although the villagers themselves don’t see themselves as poor in comparison–just the opposite. Swartz manages to get that across without overstating it: it simply is.

Conveying the mood of a piece and evoking a real sense of place is where artistry and skill on the part of the author comes into play. A book can be a simple recounting of events, or it can be an immersive experience. When a reader can see the world, feel the wind or sun, that author has created ‘place.’

In literature, ‘atmosphere’ has a broad meaning, covering both the overall emotional mood of a piece and the setting as described by the mention of objects and furnishings of a room, or the visual cues that fill the larger environment.

Think about the Harry Potter books: we know Hogwarts as well as we know our own home because J.K. Rowling not only showed us the furnishings and the building itself, she showed us the emotional mood of the residents. She did this through her protagonist’s eyes.

al-kabarA completely different kind of book from “A Girl Called Wolf,” is  “Al-Kabar” by Lee French. The tale is set in a mythical Persian-type of world, Ilauris.

“Al-Kabar” is unabashedly a fantasy, clearly a world of its own. As Stephen Swartz does with his work, Lee French conveys the world through her protagonists eyes. Fakhira’s world of Ilauris is harsh, and in this book, it is the characters that make it so. Fakhira experiences the world, and the reader does also, right alongside her.

What I like about Lee French’s approach in this tale is the way she conveys the environment: you the reader know this world because the protagonist knows it.

When it is done right, the emotional mood of the characters combines with the setting to create an atmosphere that pulls the reader in, making them forget they are reading. The trick is to dole out the scenery and the emotion as  needed. Treat them as you would the historical background information. If the character doesn’t need to know it at that moment, it probably does not belong in the scene.

the vision dean koontzDean Koontz is a master at this. Take this quote from “The Vision”published in 1986:

The woman raised her hands and stared at them; stared through them. Her voice was soft but tense. “Blood on his hands.” Her own hands were clean and pale.

Show us what the character sees, and feels. Show us only what needs to be there to advance the story. If the character doesn’t need to know it at that moment, it probably does not belong in the scene.

This aspect of the craft is what I am working on in my own writing.

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Into the Woods, a fantasy anthology

MyrddinAnthologyECoverWe at Myrddin Publishing Group are starting the new year with the launch of our anthology, Into the Woods. We’re even having an all-weekend-long Facebook party, with Myrddin Authors dropping in and out over the course of the next few days. There will be gifts, and prizes and just fun and games with the Myrddin crew. The online Facebook Party starts here, so stop on by and and hang out with us!

This collection of amazing tales came about almost by accident.

One day last summer I was looking through stock images I’d found for a cover I was designing for another author. I came across a wonderful image of a lonely house set in the woods. I’m not sure why, but suddenly, like the proverbial dog after a squirrel, I was off looking at images of houses in the woods–like that was going to get any work done.

Of course, my brain is hardwired to write stories, so I found myself imagining all sorts of scenarios and plots to go with these amazing images. Then, it occurred to me that if I was inspired to write by these images, my fellow authors here at Myrddin Publishing would also be.

I threw out a challenge to the group: Write a short story about a house in the woods. The only caveat was the tale had to fall under the genre of fantasy, and the theme was “a house in the woods.”

And wow! What a response– I received nine wildly different tales, ranging from humor to ghostly, to romantic, to horror. These ten tales are some of the best I have read.

In the first tale, “A Peculiar Symbiosis,” Alison DeLuca gives us a moving story of a man who discovers he loves his wife–but only after she is dead.

“The Forest House” is my own take on the Tam Lin tale. Tam Lin is a character in a legendary ballad originating from the Scottish Borders as collected by Francis Child, but there are many tales from all over northern Europe featuring variations on his name, and the story will have slight variations. It is also associated with a reel of the same name, also known as Glasgow Reel. I had always wondered if Tam Lin and the Faerie Queen had a child, and if they had, what would have happened to it when Janet rescued Tam?

In “A House in the Woods,” Stephen M. Swartz takes us back to the 1960s with this dark fantasy. Two boys playing in the woods come across an abandoned house, and discover a true ghost story.

Irene Roth Luvaul takes us deep into the forest in “The Guardian.” A woman discovers her family’s history, and the terrible secret a cabinet once held.

Ross M. Kitson offers up a A Matter of Faith.” In this dark prequel to Kitson’s epic Prism series, an uptight paladin must find a way to work with a free-thinking druid, if he is to be successful in finding and killing a demon.

In “If I Have to Spell it Out” Austin musician and author Marilyn Rucker lightens things up with her hilarious take on two cousins quarreling over the tenancy of their family home, via letters.

“A Haunted Castle” by Lisa Zhang Wharton shows us that a house can can also be a haunted castle in the Bavarian Forest, in her hilarious, hallucinogenic tale of ghosts, rottweilers, and a costume party.

Myrddin Publishing Group’s own master of horror, Shaun Allan, swings us back to the dark side with a horrifying twist on the Hansel and Gretel tale, with “Rose.” Told with his usual flair for words and style, this is a chilling story of demonic magic. Definitely not your mama’s Hansel and Gretel!

In “Hidden,” Carlie M.A. Cullen takes us deep into the woods, where two young women take shelter from a storm in an abandoned house, with terrible consequences.

For the final tale in this treasury, fantasy author Lee French presents us with a post-Civil War tale of star-crossed love, in her magical tale, “Forever.” Tara and Marcus share a forbidden love–and only one place is safe for them.

I am continually amazed and awed by the talent of the wonderful authors I am privileged to work with at Myrddin Publishing Group. You can purchase this wonderful collection of short stories at Amazon by clicking on the buy button below:

Into the Woods: a fantasy anthology

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How I came to fall off the Earth (and why I don’t care)

The Arc of the StoryWow–what a wild week this has been–28k words written on my NaNoWriMo manuscript, and a dip into a culture that is nothing short of amazing.  What a challenge–to write a great story well enough that people will want to read it, and to do justice to a whole culture.

We should have challenges in our work–if it comes too easy it’s fluff. A lot of people are happy with fluff, but not me, and I suspect, not you!

As you all know, I have written some very difficult scenes in the past, not for the gratuitous effect, but because those situations made my character who they were. They were life altering moments where the path suddenly changed, and everything that followed was driven by that incident.

A friend recently asked me how I handle writing such scenes.

When it’s a tough scene, I write as much as I can when I first know what has to be written. Then I set it aside and come back to it later to expand on it and shape to my intent. For me, a scene has to be done in stages so that it flows naturally. At the end of my my last journey though a manuscript, I will have a seamless narrative that flows from one scene to the next, always building toward the final denouement and the conclusion.

a medieval keggerBut right now I have five bodies to get rid of, so I need to get back to writing. Hero set down his mug of mead and picked up the shovel. He looked first at pile of corpses and then at the sky. They didn’t usually fall from the sky and he wondered what Author was up to now, that he should suddenly have to dispose of so many. However, Author was inscrutable and Her mind mysterious. One could only go with the flow, and dispose of the corpses as they fell.

OH the endless agony–but for a little hilarity amidst the eternal darkness of November take a look at Stephen Swartz’s blog post this week:

How NaNoWriMo is like being in Interstellar

 

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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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Words

Ulysses cover 3I’ve been having a kind of rolling conversation with Professor Stephen Swartz regarding James Joyce’s Ulysses. It reminded me of what I realized when I was reading it in college–that it is a series of great one-liners strung together. It is nearly incomprehensible to folks like me when taken in a large chunk, but like all of Joyce’s work,  cut down to small bits, it’s got some hilarious, witty moments. So what is this fascination that I feel for James Joyce and his work? I’m a moderately uneducated hack-writer of genre fiction, but there is something about his way with words, a kind of addiction that keeps pulling me back.

Ulysses was never originally published as a single volume, instead it was first published as a serial in the American journal, The Little Review over the span of two years from March 1918 to December 1920, in 18 episodes, and was first published as a single volume in 1922. It’s an incredibly long book for the era, 265,000 words. Books of that length are much more common nowadays, but usually only in genre-fantasy. (Robert Jordan, Tad Williams.)

Ulysses 4Ulysses details the wandering appointments and encounters of Leopold Bloom in Dublin over the course of an ordinary day, 16 June 1904. Ulysses is the Roman name of Odysseus, the hero of a classic Greek heroic tale that was Joyce’s favorite as a boy,  Homer’s epic poem Odyssey. The novel establishes a series of parallels between its characters and events and those of the poem.  Leopold Bloom corresponds to Odysseus the Wanderer, Molly Bloom to Penelope (Ulysses’s long-abandoned, ever-faithful wife), and Stephen Dedalus, Telemachus (Ulysses’s and Penelope’s son who seeks endlessly for knowledge of his father.)

265,000 words to describe one day in the life an extraordinary Irishman.

But they are great words, a series of deliciously twisted, carefully structured phrases strung together in a delirious, stream-of-consciousness that hovers on the edge of making sense while entertaining you–if you can face the wall of words that is each episode.

“History,” Stephen said, “is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.”

Shakespeare is the happy hunting ground of all minds that have lost their balance.

Mr Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liverslices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencods’ roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine. 

“Can’t bring back time. Like holding water in your hand.”

“Bury the dead. Say Robinson Crusoe was true to life. Well then Friday buried him. Every Friday buries a Thursday if you come to look at it.”

“We were always loyal to lost causes…Success for us is the death of the intellect and of the imagination.” 

 

UlyssesJames Joyce’s prose is deliberate, shocking and full of puns, parodies, and allusions. He shows us his characters clearly, and depicts them with broad humor.

All of what James Joyce put into his work is what we, as modern writers, want to inject into our own work; only perhaps in a more accessible form that a broader audience of readers will enjoy.

It takes a special kind of obsession to wade through a doorstop like Ulysses for pleasure, as most people are forced  into it (as I was originally) by the requirements of a college class in literature. It’s the sort of thing no one does without a good reason.

For me, that reason is the fabulous one-liners that pepper the nearly hallucinogenic narrative. I simply open it to any page and start reading, letting what happens on that page sink into my consciousness, cringing or laughing as may be.

800px-Night_Sky_Stars_Trees_Quote

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What language are we speaking today? Understanding Stephen Swartz

Swartz_After Ilium_FrontCvr_200dpi_3inOne of my dearest friends is author Stephen Swartz, a true renaissance man. A professor of English and a linguist, Stephen’s work frequently involves foreign settings, and with those exoctic places, come the exotic languages. He has devised a chart (you know how happy charts make me) to keep the many languages his characters speak straight. It is an easy way to do so, and is a great way to make what editors call a ‘style guide’ when you are working in different worlds.

For more about Stephen’s chart and his books, go to:

DeConstruction of the Sekuatean Empire: What language are we speaking today? Understanding the worlds of Stephen Swartz

But what if we don’t work in earthly languages? What if our reality is, in truth, UNreality?

All the more important to make yourself a style guide for your project. This will ensure consistency, especially when you are making up words.  Readers will notice inconsistencies, even though we as authors rarely see them in our own work.

Some things to consider:

What words need to capitalized at all times? Temple

What words must be hyphenated at all times? Battle-mage

How do you spell that city’s name again? Ludwellyn

Stephen’s Chart can be adapted to create a style guide for your work quite easily.  I think I’ll have me some fun with excel today!

style guide for Neveyah

 

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My Writing Process Blog Tour

extra small caricature of connie  by street artist Stacey Denton

Today I am embarking on the  “My Writing Process” blog tour! In this blog relay, each author discusses his or her writing process and then passes the baton to three other authors. Last week, my good friend Lisa Koosis, passed the baton to me. Lisa is amazingly creative, as you will see when you click on the link to her blog, Writing on Thin Ice.  Please, do visit her blog, where you can read more about her exciting projects and her own writing process.

So, here goes…

1. What am I working on?

I am working on the third and final book in the TOWER OF BONES series, winding up Edwin’s story. This book has been very tough to write, because it keeps spawning new books! I can frequently be heard shouting, “NO! We must finish this book before we embark on a new one!”

I really do want Edwin Farmer’s story to be a 3-book trilogy.

*cough* Robert Jordan…Wheel of Time …fifteen books in the trilogy*cough*

There will be more books set in this world, I feel certain of it, but I intend to make each a stand alone book.  I love each of the characters so much in this tale, it’s hard to keep on task—but my self-imposed deadline is to have it ready for the editor by August. 

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre? Why do I write what I do?

First of all, I write from the point of view of a gamer—I am a freak for the great Final Fantasy PS2 and PS3 console games—Final Fantasy VII, VII, X/X2 and XII are among the great classics in gaming. I haven’t invested in a PS4, and I may not, as I haven’t had much time to play lately, and wasn’t impressed with 2010’s FFXIII.

I know what I love about those games, and want to inject that into my books. I want the action, the romance, and the drama of a full throttle action/adventure and I want it set in a sweeping landscape, with my characters beset by nearly insurmountable challenges. Magic must have limits and no character can have unlimited power. Those limitations are what drive the action, because the characters have to struggle to overcome them. The power of the story is in the struggle. The final redemption must be worth the struggle!

3. How does my writing process work? 

That’s where I went off the rails on this final installment in this particular series—I didn’t stick to my usual process, which was clearly outlined. But I had so many sudden brainstorms, I went way off track. Normally, when I first have the idea to write a book, I visualize it as the walkthrough for an RPG game.

I spend days writing down the ideas as they come to me, obsessively building the outline, the shell of the story. I make personnel files, descriptions of environments, designing the political and religious systems, creating the rules for magic, and drawing maps. Each world is unique, and I want to know what I am writing about.

I write the beginning and the end, and key action vignettes, fitting them into the framework of my outline.

Once I have that all done, I start at the beginning, and write, connecting the dots between the vignettes. When all the dots are connected, I have a book—albeit a raw rough draft of a book. I set it aside, as it is in desperate need of a complete rewrite, but I can’t do that until I can see it through unbiased eyes.

The second draft goes to Irene Roth Luvaul, who helps me shape it into a submission-ready manuscript. Then it will go to Carlie M.A. Cullen at Eagle Eye Editors. My work is linear, with a specific goal or “quest” and many obstacles in the way of achieving those goals. Some will live, and some will fall by the way—my task is to make it an emotionally gripping journey for the reader.

 

NEXT WEEK

Stay tuned for the next part of the relay as I pass the baton to three talented writers, who I have the good fortune of working with at Myrddin Publishing Group. Next Monday (May 12) they will answer the same set of questions, so please stop by their blogs to read more about their projects and their own writing processes.

 

Dark Places Front Large (1)Shaun Allan, Author of Sin and Dark Places

http://flipandcatch.blogspot.com

A creator of many prize winning short stories and poems, Shaun Allan has written for more years than he would perhaps care to remember. Having once run an online poetry and prose magazine, he has appeared on Sky television to debate, against a major literary agent, the pros and cons of internet publishing as opposed to the more traditional method. Many of his personal experiences and memories are woven into the point of view and sense of humour of Sin, the main character in his best-selling novel of the same name, although he can’t, at this point, teleport.

A writer of multiple genres, including horror, humour and children’s fiction, Shaun goes where the Muse takes him – even if that is kicking and screaming.

Shaun lives with his one partner, two daughters, three cats and four fish!  Oh and a dog.

 

1 CP Night Watchman coverAllison Deluca, Author of The Crown Phoenix Series

http://AlisonDeluca.Blogspot.com

Alison DeLuca is the author of several steampunk and urban fantasy books.  She was born in Arizona and has also lived in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Mexico, Ireland, and Spain.

Currently she wrestles words and laundry in New Jersey.

 

 

 

 

Swartz_After Ilium_FrontCvr_200dpi_3inStephen Swartz, Author of After Illium, The Dream Land Trilogy, and A Beautiful Chill

http://stephenswartz.blogspot.com

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.

 

 

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Hawking Your Wares

Early hot dog merchant,  1936 by Berenice Abbott courtesy EphemeralNewYork.wordpress.com

Early hot dog merchant, 1936 by Berenice Abbott courtesy http://EphemeralNewYork.wordpress.com

Yay! It’s official, I’m an author now!  I wrote a book or four, I had them edited, I covered them, and I had them published.  Now all I have to is sell enough of the darned things and that Hugo award is mine!

So how do we go about that?  There is the tiny problem of that old “getting your name out there” thing…I stink at that.

Roy Huff, author of the Everville series, regularly uses Goodreads to publicize his work. All his Goodreads connections received emails last week like this:

EVERVILLE Roy HuffRoy has modified the event Everville (#3) TheRiseofMallory 99 cent promo begins Midnight Pacific The First Pillar FREE KINDLE PROMO starts in 12 hours.
Date: April 14, 2014 04:22AM

Description: A new promo has begun. You can join that promo here https://www.goodreads.com/event/show/… feel free to invite others to join. Details are below as well. Thanks so much!

FREE KINDLE PROMO April 15 to April 18th for Everville The First Pillar http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00BCOQSSQ
FREE KINDLE PROMO April 19 to April 22th for Everville The City of Worms [InD’Tale Magazine’s Creme de la Cover March Winner] http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00EQZ5T2E

99 CENT KINDLE COUNTDOWN DEAL April 15 to April 21th for Everville The Rise of Mallory http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00HYN 3NXC

Stay tuned on Facebook @http://on.fb.me/1ni21BT
Stay tuned on Twitter @evervillefans 

Well, I don’t know about you, but that seems like a good promotion to me, and I will be quite interested to see how well things go for him with it. Roy has a lot of connections on Goodreads, and he puts a lot of energy into promoting his work, so maybe he will do well. He has given me something to think about, in regard to the whole giveaway thing. One reason I made Tales From the Dreamtime, which is a novella, into the first of my audiobooks was the hope that it would generate some recognition for my brand, which if you remember, is my Author Name.

Swartz_After Ilium_FrontCvr_200dpi_3inAnother author friend, Stephen Swartz, is promoting his works too. Today is Tax Day in the US, so he is running a twitter campaign:

4/15 TAX DAY SPECIAL! 2 Books! 2 Bucks! ‪#‎Kindle‬ ‪#‎romance‬ 
‪#‎AFTERILIUM‬  http://bit.ly/AfterIlium_US
‪#‎ABEAUTIFULCHILL‬  http://bit.ly/BeautifulChill_US

He didn’t know if Amazon UK will honor the discount, but here are the UK links:

AFTER ILIUM kindle http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B009SDW1KC
A BEAUTIFUL CHILL kindle http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00I6M4R9Y

I will also find out from him how well that went.

So, I am going to continue the way I have been, promoting via twitter. I have paid for a Goodreads ad for Huw the Bard, for the next two weeks or so and will let you know how well that went. I will also try the Goodreads promotion route in May, and will keep you posted on that.

 

 

 

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