At A Loss

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Last week, Hugh Howey wrote a blog piece about themes in his writing and it got me thinking about my own. I have enough of a sample to draw from now, so I should be able to find some major themes and one stuck out like a sore thumb.

Loss.

Oh boy, that struck home big time. I suppose it’s something I’ve been dealing with my whole life. The presence of it in my writing shouldn’t surprise me, but the level to which it is intertwined in most of my stories was a little shocking.

This isn’t a woe is me story. I have it pretty good overall. But, I definitely find a sense of loss at the core of much of my writing.  

Take, for example, Mary from my story, The Veil. As a silo resident, she obviously has to deal with loss on a number of levels, some of which existed before she was even born (the loss of a life outside of the underground can). But reading through the story, Mary lost her father when she was just a young child. For me, this was a profound event. No, I haven’t lost my father, but there were many times in my childhood when he just wasn’t there. When my family left Arizona to move to Illinois at the end of my sixth grade year, he had already been working and living in the suburbs of Chicago for a year. His job certainly kept him at the office later than I would have liked as a child as well.

How about my very first protagonist – Kirk McIntyre in Perfect Game? I can’t go too deep into his loss without spoiling the story, but his loss is deeply personal and will last forever. The entire story is molded by what happens after his loss during his junior year in high school.

Kristina in my Dead Sleep series has lost so much. Her family…her childhood…her innocence. All because of choices her father made. Choices that were out of her hands when she was nine years old.

In all of these cases, the loss suffered by the characters shapes the narrative. It pulls the characters in directions they wouldn’t have normally gone and dictates what their roles in the story will be.

Just as the losses suffered in my life. I already mentioned my father, but the losses I went through in the early part of my life changed me and made me who I am today – whether good or bad. My family was and is stable. My parents are still married – going to celebrate 45 years of marriage at the end of this year – but the life I was given was not grounded. The first place I really remember living was in Michigan, but I apparently lived in at least two other states before my brain started catching on. Before I hit third grade, I was in Arizona, and then Illinois after sixth.

The loss I was handed as a child was that of the life I had developed and gotten used to. My best friend in Michigan was Mikey. I remember climbing trees with him and playing in the laundry chute in his house, talking about He-Man and altogether having a blast.

I’ve seen Mikey one time since 1987. It wasn’t the same. The trees were suddenly too imposing to climb. The laundry chute was too small (and what were we thinking – that thing was dangerous!). He-Man was old news and we just didn’t have anything in common. I wish I could have remained friends, but the bonds of friendship fell apart somewhere between Ann Arbor and Phoenix.

In Arizona, I had an amazing group of friends – Adam, Brent, Ben, Josh, and Brad. We all went to church together, played pick-up football after Sunday worship, had sleepovers, went to church camp, rooted for the Denver Broncos, and were inseparable. I moved to Illinois and we lost something. I actually did see them a few more times throughout junior high and high school, but each time we reconnected, the strands of friendship were a bit more frayed.

I actually went to college with two of them, but by then we were different people. I even took multiple classes with one and we had a good friendship, but there was a chasm between the acquaintances we were in college compared to the buddies we were in the desert.

I wish I could have those friendships back. I wish the time I’d spent making and cultivating those friendships hadn’t been put to waste. That is the loss I felt.

That sense of loss – from my father to my friends to my way of life – is perhaps the most resounding theme I have found in my writing.

But, throughout it all, I’ve come to look at it all with a sense of humility. I am not bigger than my family or my situations. And when you can step back from it all, you can use it all as a learning opportunity. Yes, I write with loss as a central theme, but in the end, there are always different ways to fill the void. With each character, the loss is part of them, but it doesn’t consume them. They learn to adapt, to grow, to make something of their lives. 

That’s the key. Loss is a part of all of our lives. My loss isn’t greater than anyone else’s, but hopefully writing through it can help others and entertain all at the same time. 

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Done.

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I’m finished. 

This is the one of the worst parts. Waiting. Seeing if anyone will buy the sucker and what kind of reviews it’ll get. 

ImageI officially released DEAD SIGHT today with much fanfare. (all true, except the fanfare bit)

I’m really excited for this one on a number of levels. First, it’s my second novel. I’d written DEAD SLEEP last year and got some pretty good reviews on it. I knew I was going to follow it up, I just didn’t know how soon. I didn’t even get the physical edition of DEAD SLEEP out until October, so it was still fairly fresh in my mind when I started on the sequel for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in November. 

That’s the next aspect that thrills me — this was a NaNo book. It ended up right at 68,000 words, but nearly 55,000 came during November or in the days immediately following. I finished it up in January and added the finishing touches in February, but the bulk of this book was written in a 30-day time span. If you ask me, it makes for a better book. More consistency and better flow. Definitely convinced me to try it again this fall. 

What also gets me excited about this book is family. I suppose these first three novels (DEAD SLEEP, DEAD SIGHT, and the last, DEAD SEARCH <—- what’s that, a title spoiler?!) are all in some way a dedication to my wonderful family. Not only my wife and children, but also to my mom, dad, brothers, sister, aunts and uncles and grandparents. DEAD SIGHT takes place in South Dakota, which is where my dad’s mother spent the latter part of her life. We traveled through many times (as well as North Dakota, where my mom’s family lives) and it became a very familiar place. You can see me in the main character, Jack, but you can also see bits and pieces of my other family members in the other characters as well. What this book has also done is bring me and my brothers and sister closer together. I’ll probably save the bulk of that for another blog sometime, but the interaction between me and my siblings has been fantastic ever since I started writing. 

I’m also excited because I decided to give my readers a break. I priced both DEAD SLEEP and DEAD SIGHT at just 99 cents for the next couple weeks. If you haven’t gotten the first one, you can get both for cheaper than one cost yesterday. Go get them now!

Thanks so much for reading and for following my adventures. This book is for you, my readers. 

Perfektion

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So here I am, nearly ready to publish my next novel, DEAD SIGHT, just waiting until some beta readers finish up, I do a few more edits and then rush off to hit “publish” on my Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing page. 

And then it happens. 

I am told there are errors in my book. No — not the one that hasn’t been published yet. 

ImageDEAD SLEEP — the book on Kindle since July 1, 2013 and in print since October. With numerous proofreaders, a few beta-readers, dozens of ACTUAL readers, I was handed a list by two different people this week of a few errors in the book. 

Gut punch. 

Just kidding. Sorta. 

I mean, who doesn’t want a perfect book? I worked really hard to make sure everything was just write on that book. Even when I had it formatted for print in October, I found a dozen or so errors desperately in need of my attention, and they were fixed. Or so I thought. 

None of the errors were atrocious and some were ones that most people would miss, but regardless, they were still errors. Like “the South Dakota,” for example or “class country music,” instead of classic. Fairly minor, but still problems.

The book has been fixed in Kindle and will soon be updated for future print editions, but that brings me to the issue of perfection. Of course, I, as a writer, strive for perfection. I can’t tell you the actual number of people who have read through that book without seeing or mentioning those errors until now. As an author, it isn’t something you want to hear, but it’s necessary to learn and grow.

I read a book in September the first weekend it was out. I’m not going to say what book, but the author was also independent and is considerably more successful than I am. As I was reading, I found two or three errors. I was shocked. Surely someone with the writing ability such as he does not make errors and certainly someone who has sold as many books as him can get all the errors fixed before publishing? I was taken aback. I tried to forget his success (although he might call his success small, compared to mine, he is enormously successful) and his sales and thought of him as another person. A fallible person.  

I sent him an e-mail and addressed the errors, telling him, “if it was me, I would want to know.”

The author was grateful and agreed with me. 

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I am not referring to any particular book. I just wanted to use Grumpy Cat on my blog.

Next thing I know, I published my next short story a few weeks later, ANT APOCALYPSE. Three days later, this author contacts me with a few mistakes he found and suggestions for improving the story. Obviously, I wood have liked to have fixed all the issues before I published? Sure…but here’s the thing. Whether the book has been out three days or almost eight months, there is bound to be a few errors in it. Thankfully eye found them quickly, revised my manuscript and re-published that night before I’d even sold a dozen copies. 

Mistakes are bound to be in nearly anything, and it doesn’t matter if it is self-published, like me or my friend, or traditional published. In the fall, I read a book being pushed by some in the media as “the next Harry Potter” series. It was interesting and I did review it on Amazon. (I don’t know about the whole “next Harry Potter” thing, but okay…) Anyway, I was probably about 75% of the way through it (sidebar — I now judge many books on how far percentage-wise I am through it) when I found a glaring misspelling. Not just a mistake. No — an honest-to-God misspelling that any spell check program would have noticed and put a red squiggly line underneath. 

We’re all prone to mistakes. It happens. 

But it is how we react to and fix those problems that defines us. 

ImageDEAD SIGHT, my next novel — hopefully very mistake-free — will be out on Kindle next week and in print soon after that.

I’m no anticipating any, but if you dew find an error, hit me up on Twitter @wswardstrom or my e-mail. I’d love to hear from you even if you don’t find any errors, and I’d especially love a review on Amazon or your own blog. 

 

Chatting with Will Swardstrom

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Carol Davis did an interview with me a few months back and has it up on her brand new site. Not too bad — I don’t think I’ve published anything else since her and I talked back in the fall.

Carol Davis / Author

Back with another author spotlight, featuring the authors of the Silo Saga fanfic – as well as a wide spectrum of original work! This time: Will Swardstrom, whose Ant Apocalypse is climbing the Kindle charts. You can find his author page right here.

ddeb5659574f0ad8986c6c_L__V380005273_SX200_While I’ve been getting my e-publishing career underway, I’ve met people who’ve gotten into writing fairly recently, while others have been at it since they were first able to pick up a pencil.  What’s your background?

Well, I was born at a very early age…

Okay, seriously…I’ve loved writing for a long time and have always had dreams of being an author. After college I worked over six years at the local newspaper. I definitely was able to improve my writing chops during the time, but writing thousands of words each day about school boards, tax laws, high school football, and many other topics really takes…

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Reader Requests!

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So last week, I petitioned my Facebook friends for a blog topic. I ended up using half of one of their suggestions and wrote about my daughter’s first day with her “brand new/very used” saxophone and the family legacy that went along with it.

So, in order to satisfy Facebook, here are the rest of the topics in order:

Forbes West wanted me to write about “Sperm whales look stupid.”

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Here is a picture I saw last week, ironically a day after I saw Forbes’ suggestion. Above is a pod of sperm whales, doing their best popsicle impersonation. Apparently the BBC caught these whales in this position, sleeping.

Sleeping.

I mean, who does that? I tried to sleep vertically underwater once and it didn’t work.

Stupid sperm whales.

ImageLisa Schilt wanted me to write about the Biggest Loser result.

Now to be fair, this was a lot bigger news last Tuesday evening when the NBC show had their season finale. The winner ended up being Rachel Fredrickson, who lost 60% of her body weight during the show’s run. That is a TON of weight.

(Not literally. A ton is 2,000 pounds. Compared to that, Fredrickson lost a mere 155 pounds.)

Now as you can see from the photo here, she looks not just thin, but skeletal. I’m adopting a child from Africa and I can only hope he looks a little healthier than her by the time he gets to the states. I think she may have pushed it a bit too far, but as someone who can’t seem to shake 10 pounds, I don’t have much room to talk.

Christopher Boore wanted me to talk about Forbes West.

Forbes West is not one to simply be talked about.

He once financed an entire vigilante group in a mid-sized Mexican city to take down a cartel.

He keeps pet sharks in his toilet.

His mother is allergic to him.

Forbes sunk the Titanic.

He can drink E-85 gasoline, but doesn’t get as good as mileage as regular unleaded.

Forbes magazine may or may not be named after him.

The reason McDonald’s has a “special sauce” on their Big Macs is because Forbes once spat in a fresh batch.

He had a twin brother named Forbes East, but killed him to found Rome.

Forbes is the stuff of legend and the center of nightmares for children worldwide.

ImageJae Michels wanted me to talk about junk food.

I bought a package of Combos yesterday. I suppose, ala Zombieland, if I had a food that I might hanker for in the post-apocalyptic wasteland of the United States, Combos just might be the food of choice. I love me some Combos. I had Cheddar Cheese Cracker Combos yesterday, but I’m also a big Nacho Cheese and Pepperoni Pizza fan as well. I suppose the Cracker varieties are more preferred to the pretzel varieties, but I like to mix it up every now and then.

There it is – a scattershot blog, all due to your requests.

I am Inadequate

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I am Inadequate. 

As a teacher, a writer, a friend, a husband, a father, a Christian, a son, and a brother. I will never live up to the standards the world has set up for me. I’ll never look like Channing Tatum. Shoot, I’ll never look like Jonah Hill for that matter. Even Charles Barkley has outdone me in terms of weight loss. 

I waste time like nobody’s business. Candy Crush? Oh yeah…totally killed that game. Until it stopped me on Level 275. Bejeweled Blitz is my weakness right now. I got time for a one-minute game…and then it turns into 5 and then 10. Television sucks me in and suddenly I’ve wasted an hour sitting watching something I really didn’t care about. 

I purposefully limit TV shows I record on my DVR and I have intentionally NOT subscribed to Netflix. I know I could burn through seasons of a TV series in a few days’ time, so I stay away. 

I am Inadequate. 

I’m a pretty good teacher. My last few evaluations have come back with some pretty good marks, but at the same time, I know of my weaknesses. I am great teaching out of a book. I am not great with classroom conversations. 

As a writer, I wish I had the ability to weave words like others. I find myself reading certain books and becoming jealous of the amazing writing ability of other writers. Why can’t I write like that? 

I am Inadequate. 

As a child, my family moved around a few times. I was lucky enough to experience life in a few different places in this great nation, but at the same time, I left friends behind. Friends I never got back. Facebook and email didn’t exist then. I didn’t call. I didn’t write letters. I lost those friends. Even years later when I met up with them again, there was something gone. Something missing. I failed as a friend. 

I am Inadequate. 

I live in an area now where a lot of the people I know have family nearby. My best friend lives across the street from his parents. (like Everybody Loves Raymond. Seriously.) Another friend has his grandmother at his house nearly every day. The closest family member to me is almost 6 hours away. I sometimes don’t call my mother for weeks at a time and the time between calls for my brothers and sister can be even longer. 

I am Inadequate. 

Everyday on Facebook, I find links to blogs for “simple solutions” and “life hacks” to make your life a better place. I see recipes and parenting blogs. Recipes I can’t possibly master and parenting advice I probably won’t remember when the time is right. Every link is a link to make your life better. A link to your perfect life. 

I am Inadequate. 

…But that’s Okay. Life is full of inadequacies. Life is full of failure. We shouldn’t accept it, but we shouldn’t obsess about it, either. 

I came to the conclusion long ago that I wouldn’t ever be a master carpenter. I would love to fix plumbing and carpentry problems myself, but I just can’t. It isn’t a failure on my part, as much as HGTV and Bob Vila would make me think so. I could be the best teacher in all of Southern Illinois, but I wouldn’t be married for long. I wouldn’t have a family because I would spend all my free time consumed with the desire to be the best teacher I could possibly be. I’m a good teacher and that’s got to be good enough. 

I am Inadequate and that is just fine. I can’t possibly be perfect in all phases of life, but I can be the best person I can be. It might mean failing from time to time. It might mean admitting I can’t do something. But, getting up each day, aware of those failures and striving to overcome them is the goal. Being the best teacher…the best writer…the best father, brother, husband, son…all key to accepting my inadequacies and moving forward. 

When I go to bed each night, I take with me the failures and regrets of each day. I could have spent a few more minutes editing my book…writing a lesson plan…cooking supper…paying attention to my wife and children. What I do with that regret is to put it to bed with me and let it go. When I wake up the next day, that regret has slithered off into the hole it belongs in. I have enough regret and failures tomorrow. 

I am Inadequate. And that’s just fine. 

The Saxophone is the Story

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Yesterday was a big day in the Swardstrom household. 

The sorting hat was placed upon my daughter Molly’s head and chose…the saxophone. Except there was no sorting hat. And it wasn’t chosen for her. Molly chose the saxophone, but in a way it was her destiny all along. After all the saxophone has been though, how could it not be?

The instrument she brought home yesterday was the same instrument that I took to elementary school on my first day of band when I lived in Arizona. 

…and it is the same instrument that my brother, Paul — eight years my elder — played as he learned the intricacies of music as well. 

It’s just a simple Yamaha alto saxophone. Nothing fancy, but a decent horn nonetheless.

ImageBut…its history in our family goes back almost 35 years. My brother started on the alto sax and used the instrument to soar to new heights. By the time I was ready to play, my parents purchased him a new, more professional model, and I inherited the original. A few years later he went on to college, majoring in music education. I still remember going to his senior recital at Arizona State University and thinking how amazing it all was. He’s taken that degree and used it to teach music, choir, and band at schools in three different states and instills the love of music in children still today. None of that possible without the companionship of that first saxophone. 

As for me, I started under the direction of Mr. Yunker in elementary school and kept it up into junior high and high school. I was never as good as Paul, but I can’t even imagine my life without the love of music and where that saxophone took me. I still keep in contact with a few of my high school band directors (looking at you, Mr. Timmins and Mr. Jones) and have lifelong friends from high school with relationships forged in the heat of summer band camp. I eventually switched to the baritone saxophone in high school, but the old standby served me well for pep band and the occasional jazz band gig. 

That alto saxophone is international — I took it along when my high school marching band was invited to the London New Year’s Day Parade my senior year. Coldest parade in 20 years, we were told. Trombone slides were freezing shut and trumpet valves were stuck, but the saxophones weren’t having those problems. As long as we had hot air, we could play. And we did. 

That saxophone came with me to college. I didn’t sign up to be a music major like my brother, but the desire to play stayed with me and I played all four years in my college’s concert and jazz band. I may not have been a music major, but my girlfriend (then fiance, then wife) sure was. Also a saxophone player, but a tenor player, not alto. 

All of those experiences. All of the friends I made. The love of music. The love of my wife. None of that would have happened had I not picked up that saxophone and took it away from my brother. 

For years this saxophone has sat in storage. I played a little after college, but it has been relegated to its case for a long time. That is, until the fourth graders had to choose their instruments. The wife and I had a suspicion she might go for saxophone (kinda runs in the family), so we had it fixed up — new pads, new springs, shined to perfection. It looks better than at any time I ever played it 20+ years ago. 

So Molly chose the saxophone.

Of course she did.

She brought it home and immediately took it out of its case and began to play. (If you can call that “playing.”) Right now she sounds a bit more like me than my wife or brother, (really, she sounds more like a dying goose) but I’m sure with practice she can eclipse her old man. With practice, she too can make memories with that saxophone. For her, the saxophone is just the beginning of a story. For me, we’re somewhere in the middle.