Checkered Scissors - Author

More information about Douglas Schwartz

Douglas Schwartz

Writing History
For a complete list of currently available fiction, please see the Fiction section.

Stage Production Scripts
(co-written with ASMC script committee):

Who is this Doug guy, anyway?

Douglas Schwartz lives in Austin, TX. During the day, he provides software quality assurance. In his off hours, he not only does he write fiction, he designs table-top games and puzzles for his hobby company, Pegamoose Games. He is a board member of the Friends of the Wells Branch Library, where he also heads a peer writing group on the first Wednesday of each month.

When Douglas writes, it is usually crazy early in the morning. When he is not writing, working, or volunteering, he spends his free time with Julie (his wife) and their two children. His superpower is the ability to get things done while no one is watching. Also, he is a Time Traveler who prefers to travel through time in chronological order.

Great Writing Moment - First Novel
I was in middle school when I realized I wanted to write a novel. Back then, I wanted to write a novel that had something to do with time travel. But, what kind of story about time travel? know...traveling in time. I couldn't come up with a decent plot about time travel to write anything close to novel-size. Probably not even anything pamphlet-sized, either.

It wasn't until my junior year of high school that I had the dream about the Checkered Scissors. The first chapter is similar to that inspiring dream. I knew for years I wanted to write about those amazing Checkered Scissors from my dream. It took me over a decade to find just the right story to tell.The first version of Checkered Scissors was only about the main character stuck in a dream world, going after the scissors in order to get back to the real world. It was more of a collection of scenes and ideas, but not much in the way of a plot. There was a bad guy who had the scissors, but in that early version, he wasn't as much of an obstacle.

Pondering on the subject, I thought about what other kind of characters would want the scissors. I have the hero trying to get back to the real world. I have the villain also trying to escape the dream world. Who else? What if there is a dream character stuck in the real world also trying to get home to the dream world? After mulling the idea around in my head, I developed a parallel story structure in which there are two of each, dream characters and real world characters, each going after the scissors trying to get to where they want to be. This structure worked much better than the original and created a much better story. Plus, the variety of characters, each with their own needs, helped develop a much richer world. They each are heading somewhere different, but meet at the crossroads--the Checkered Scissors.

When I tell people I wrote a novel, many of them seem impressed, even if it's just a little bit. Even other writers offer a pat on the back and say, "Good job! You did it!" And, it is a great accomplishment. That's thousands and thousands of words to organize! I can't even keep my desk that organized. Not only that, it's being able to play god and create a new little world with new little denizens living (and, in some cases, dying) in it. But, it's not only that, either...It's also creating a work of art. When I went back to read through the edits, I enjoyed reading my own story. Plus, it feels wonderful when I hear from other people that they enjoyed reading it, too. It's plenty to make a fella feel proud.

Every once in a while, I meet someone who tells me they would like to write a book...someday. I tell them, "Go for it!" I give them as much encouragement as I can. I suggest some of the books that I've used to help them shape their story. A funny thing about indie authors...There are ones who are like me, full of encouragement who want to help our fellow writers. And, there are the ones who grumble and complain about the other authors flooding the market. Sometimes, we wander between encouragement and competitive territories. I think the difference between the two are the ones who help other writers just love what they do. They understand and want other writers to love what they do, too. The grumblers are the ones struggling to be successful at it, and want to earn a living at writing. To be successful enough to make a living? I think one possible solution to that...Keep doing what you love.

Random Facts
Random facts about Douglas Schwartz
  1. From before we moved in to the house I grew up (at the age of 2 or 3), I knew it was haunted. I told my parents, "I don't wanna live in a fook house" (in that child-like way that sounds borderline dirty). In our time in that house, mom and I both claimed to have seen ghostly images of people staring at us in the middle of the night. We had a can of Pepsi spontaneously leak all down the bookshelves. And, we never did find the knob holding the shower curtain to the wall when it decided to fall in the middle of the night.
  2. As long as I can remember, I've been quite artistic. In elementary school, I won art lessons at the University of Houston by winning the Texas Livestock Show and Rodeo art contest. I wrote a poem for a girl in high school. I painted a mural on the wall of one of my kids' bedrooms. I designed table top games and browser-based games. I recreated my childhood home in Minecraft. My artistic nature still runs strong.
  3. In high school, I was once issued a hall pass granting me permission to fly a kite as long as I stayed out of the view of the classroom windows.
  4. In hopes of not jinxing it, my luck seems to be I get what I need around the moment I need it. For example...I had exactly eight dollars to fill up my car (back in high school when eight dollars could almost completely fill my car). I tried to get as close as I could to $8, but ended up going over by ten cents. As I put the cap back on the gas tank, I looked down and found a dime. That is an example of the power of the "Schwartz Luck".
  5. After watching the movie Sneakers, the best anagram I can make of my full name is "The Czar Wudd grows salad."
  6. In 1993 (or maybe '94), the Super Bowl pre-show had a mock coin toss from the Space Shuttle in which the tossed coin went flying all about in zero-G. The coin was a bicentennial, JFK half-dollar. How do I know this? Because I'm the one who loaned NASA that particular coin and I have it safely tucked away with the certificate from the astronauts thanking me for the contribution.
  7. I've had two premonition dreams of great disasters. The first was the eruption of Mt. St. Helen, the other being the space shuttle Challenger disaster.
  8. One of the strangest, most vivid dreams I've ever had involved a necktie writing the word "Broccoli" on the front door with a big, black crayon. I have yet to work that into a story.
  9. In a college English class, we were given the assignment to write a paper with a subject related to our major. I wrote a paper on the flaws of movie Time Travel theories, and I got an A-. I would have had a better grade because the teacher said it had nothing to do with my major, to which I claimed was undecided at the time.
  10. Back in college, when other people were giving things up for Lent, I tried to give up saying words containing the letter E. I did it for about a day or two. It was difficult, but good food for thought to think of particular words. Look...My last bits of writing do not contain that particular non-consonant.
  11. I do not drink alcoholic beverages by choice. My sister thinks I must be adopted.
  12. I once passed an interview by showing someone a picture of me hanging sideways from a lamp post. No camera tricks. No wires or mirrors. Just me and the lamp post. Take that gravity!
  13. I have held three of the coolest jobs: demographer (i.e. paid to watch movies), music reviewer, and game designer.
  14. I was offered and turned down a job with the mafia. Honestly, it probably wasn't really the mafia, but the evidence strongly favored that it was, at least in my mind. This was back in college while I worked at Babbage's Software. One night, I was restocking the shelves when a man in a very nice suit approached me and said, "I could use a guy like you working for me. Here's my card." The name on the card was "Dino F. Scardino" of Scardino Enterprises. It was towards the end of my college career, so I sent him a resume. I get back information that, to me, looked like selling Amway. I sent him another letter telling him politely, "Thanks, but no thanks." If Mr. Scardino is out there reading this, I apologize for my overactive imagination and any false impressions or associations.
  15. I am within six degrees of Kevin Bacon. The line goes from me to my parent's friends and co-workers from NASA (who all know me). And, they all worked with Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, and Kevin Bacon on the movie Apollo 13.
  16. I once placed within the top 30 people for the Silliest Uses of Silly Putty contest for submitting my idea for a bean bag chair stuffed with Silly Putty.
  17. A few days after I was laid off from a job, I proposed to Julie in the form of a treasure hunt through the house. We were married less than a year later (with the help of the severance package) in Estes Park, CO. The wedding was less than two weeks after 9/11.
  18. Julie is very cool. Who else can claim to have sung at Carnegie Hall, played Texas Hold 'em with Wil Wheaton, parked Clifford Antone's car, and had been a cake at a party attended by Brad Pitt? Anyone? I didn't think so.
  19. In my book Checkered Scissors, I mention I am inspired by four authors: Douglas Adams, Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, and Terry Pratchett. Stephen King is the only one I have yet to meet in person.
  20. I have a jar stuffed full of old fortune cookie wrappers. I decided to use these to tweet for FortuneCookieFriday.

Great Writing Moment - Poetry
I started writing poetry in high school. Most of it was pretty cheesy, but there are two particular pieces I wrote back then that I am proud of.

In high school, I had a huge crush on a young woman in my grade. She was one of the popular crowd, and I was a scrawny band-geek. To express my love to her, I wrote her a poem. Not only that, but I hand delivered it to her. In those awkward teenage years, do you know how crazy that was? That's huge to put something so very personal into a poem and then share it with someone. Decades later, I'm ashamed to say I couldn't tell you what the poem said, only that it was written from the heart. If I have kept a copy of the poem, it's lost in a pile of other writings and doodlings, in a box, in a closet, slowly yellowing with age.

Skip ahead a few years and a few more cheesy poems later when I attended community college. Another young woman was stranded at the campus with no way to get home. This was in the days before cell phones were commonplace. We were both poor college students, so it's not as if she could afford a cab. Plus, she couldn't reach any friends or family members to take her home. When I offered her a ride home, she expressed her concern that I could be an axe murderer. I assured her I had nothing against axes and certainly wouldn't kill one. Before driving her home, we both gave our information to the campus security desk in case of "incidents on the journey home". I don't remember why, but I shared this cheesy poem with her on the ride home. She loved the poem and how much imagery it invoked. After that ride home, we hung out a few times and she introduced me to a real coffeehouse. She encouraged me to share the poem on open mic night. I'd like to say I did, but nope...I have terrible stage fright and couldn't do it. But, that cheesy poem is very special to me, because it was something I had written that some random stranger had appreciated. That appreciation is a great compliment I will always value.

Skip ahead several more years to around the time my wife and I met. Before we were married, she went with me to my high school reunion and got to meet many of the people I knew from high school. Remember the young woman I mentioned earlier that I had a huge crush on? I hope you remember, because this blog isn't too long, and I'll start worrying about you if you've already forgotten. Anyway...Sometime after the reunion, possibly on the way home, I learned that the Julie had talked with that same woman at the reunion. It could have been awkward, but wasn't. The woman told my wife (or, at the time, soon-to-be-wife) that because of high school politics, it never would have worked between us, but she still had the poem I had written for her. To have someone cherish something I wrote and keep it for years, that is another great compliment. I might have been disappointed back in high school when I gave it to her, and the sentiment seemed to fall flat, but to know she held onto it and really did appreciate something I had written for her makes it all worth while.

Two things to take away from this...One, if you want to be a successful writer, embrace taking chances and sharing your work with others. And two, if you are a reader, please take a moment to share your opinion with the author. Writers appreciate knowing what people think of their work. If the opinion is favorable, it encourages them to continue writing more. If the opinion is less favorable, but constructive, it pushes them to write better.

Great Writing Moment - First Workshops
All novice writers should attend a writer’s workshop or peer group. It is a nerve wracking thing to do, because not only do you share what you’ve written with people, but you invite them to be honest about their opinion of it. When this kind of feedback group is done well, it can help writers improve. When not done well, it can be devastating. I owe a lot to the workshops I have attended for helping me improve my craft. And, that's not just having my own work critiqued, but listening to the feedback of other people's stories, too.

Over a decade ago, a friend told me about the ArmadilloCon Writer’s Workshop. I decided to take my writing more seriously and sign up. One of the requirements was to submit a sample of writing to the group and then go over the feedback at the workshop. Other than my cheesy poetry and school assignments, this was the first time I would share a sample of fiction with people I didn’t know. I wrote and submitted a short story called Glovebox of a UFO (included with the Pickled Bananas collection). The submissions are sent weeks in advance to give everyone plenty of time to read and write down any comments. Then, at the workshop, story-by-story, we go over all the feedback.

On the day of the workshop, the feedback sessions were broken into a morning and afternoon session. Not only did I have to wait weeks to know what anyone thought of Glovebox, I had to wait until the afternoon session. Not all the feedback was favorable of the submissions. It was a mix of positive and negative comments. The more I listened to, the more nervous I got. I felt like I slapped together Glovebox. I mean, I worked on it over a few days, but it was something I quickly came up with for the sole purpose of sharing my style of writing with others. What if they didn’t like mine? What if it was mostly negative?

When it came to my turn to receive feedback for my story, it turned out I didn’t have much to worry about. There was a few areas of improvements, but the feedback was mostly favorable. These random strangers enjoyed reading my story. Hazzah! Not only that, but this one story led to other offers. Rick Klaw wanted to publish the story on Revolution Science Fiction. Plus, I was invited to attend Turkey City.

For those not familiar with Turkey City, it is the boot camp of writer’s workshops. To attend, it is invitation only. That was big time! What did I submit? I chose the first chapter of the early draft of Checkered Scissors. It was the story I was determined to write, and I wanted a professional opinion.

Warning, this paragraph is a name dropping zone, but I drop them just so you understand more about what an honor it was to be invited to this group. I arrived at the Turkey City workshop. I was welcomed into a community of well-established, science fiction/fantasy writers. I met people like Lawrence Person, Chris Nakashima Brown, Cory Doctrow, and Bruce Sterling. Who was I, this newbie, to be invited to such a group? I felt like I was nothing compared to those around me. Yet, someone noticed the potential in my writing to invite me to Turkey City.

When it came time to the feedback, they were brutally honest with each other. I was nervous enough about the ArmadilloCon workshop, but that was a cakewalk compared to Turkey City. Brutal. Honesty. This was big league, make ‘em or break ‘em stuff. That early draft of Checkered Scissors? It wasn’t good, and they told me so. But, did that break me? No. It made me a stronger writer. I kept on writing more and more. I improved. Eventually, I wrote a much better version of Checkered Scissors.

Around this time, I also joined SlugTribe, a much milder, peer critique group compared to Turkey City that provided much constructive criticism. Even when I didn’t have a story to share with the group, it helped to listen to the feedback of other people’s stories. What to do. What not to do. All the feedback was good to listen to. SlugTribe was across town, and became more difficult for me to attend after we had kids. So, I helped established a new writers’ guild with my local library. This new group is made up of a couple people from SlugTribe and a few newbies, and growing bit by bit.

If you are a writer and do not have a peer group, I suggest you find one to join. If there are none in your area, I’m more than willing to share notes on the group that I helped create. Your writing peers, both professionals and newbies, can help you become a better writer.

Great Writing Moment - First Publication
Long before Pickled Bananas...Before Checkered Scissors was even a seed of a story idea...I had my first published piece of writing.

I took a journalism class in middle school. One of the assignments, maybe an extra credit assignment, was to write an article for the local paper. I can't remember what the article was about. Heck, I can't even remember what I had for dinner two nights ago. I probably still have a clipping of that article buried somewhere among other random writing-related papers. From what I do remember, it was about a neighborhood event. Not a work of fiction, and nothing too important. What was important, at least to me, that was the first time I saw my name in a by-line in a printed publication. If you haven't experienced this sensation, it's like seeing your name up on the marquee where everyone can see it. You feel like you're really someone. And that's means so much more when you're an awkward, geeky kid.

Fast-forwarding to my college years, I met a woman who wrote for a publication that featured stories related to the local art and music scene. I told her that I enjoy writing and had some (not much) journalism experience. She hired me to join the staff. My first assignment was to interview musician David Garza and write an article for the paper. It was the only article I wrote for the paper before it folded (no pun intended) and went out of business. There is a brief reference to it in the short story "13th Floor CVO" (one of the stories in Pickled Bananas). This article I did keep. It is in a folder of other writing-related achievements. It wasn't much, but it was another special achievement for me. Now, everytime I listen to David Garza's This Euphoria, I think of those five seconds of fame.

What I remember most about this article was my mom's response when I showed her the printed version. By the way, my mom has a fear that when I become a famous author I will go on talk shows and tell embarrassing stories about her. Personally, I think she has more embarrassing stories of me that she will never let me live down and never hesitates to tell anyone, like the Story of the Last Nacho. Anyway...on with the embarrassing mom story. At the time, my mom worked at NASA in the public affairs office. She dealt with the press often and wrote many blurbs for the public. When I showed her the article, her response was, "That is a great f'bleeping lead. I've never written such a great f'bleeping lead!" (Of course, she didn't say "f'bleeping" and didn't say "fudging" either). Thanks, mom, for such a wonderful, colorful compliment!

I know I'm generalizing what I'm about to say, but I imagine when people think of writers and success, they think of things like publishing contracts, bestseller lists, and millions of readers. To me, sometimes success comes in the form of just seeing my own name in print and knowing at least one person honestly appreciates what I wrote.

Great Writing Moment - Wedding
The last bit of writing I am proud of is everything we wrote related to our wedding. Other than vows, how much writing could be related to a wedding? Quite a bit, actually.

The first thing I wrote was this poem as part of the treasure hunt for when I proposed to Julie. Each bit of that poem has meaning. When I read it today, nearly a decade and a half later, the content is still very significant to us.

The next thing, for the rehearsal dinner, I wrote us a blessing. Like the poem, many of the items in the blessing are still relevant. Such as, "may our toughest decision be deciding what is for dinner" or "may our only financial difficulties be whether or not to wrap the change before taking it to the bank." It was a fun way to remind us not to sweat the small stuff. After reading all the blessings, I summed up with, "no matter the problem, big or small, we'll go through them together."

Julie and I are not very religious people. We tend to keep an open mind when it comes to our beliefs. Knowing this, neither of us felt comfortable performing a traditional wedding ceremony. Not only did we write our own vows, but we wrote a majority of the ceremony, borrowing bits and pieces from other ceremonies. The only thing not written by us was a reading by one of our close friends, a poem read by Julie's grandmother, and a portion of the ceremony where the minister could offer her blessing in her own words. It was a beautiful ceremony held outside under the bright, blue sky near a lake and surrounded by mountains. The religious bits by the minister were very light. And, most importantly, because we wrote it ourselves, the ceremony was very personal and shared with an audience of around 30 people.

The last thing I wrote was more recently and not really related to the wedding, but about our marriage. It was a short story I wrote especially for my wife. She had mentioned that if there was ever a story written about our life together, it would be titled, "The Ties That Bind". The title refers to the hand binding that was part of our wedding ceremony. The story that I wrote was a glimpse of a possible future. In the story, our youngest is graduating high school. In this future, I am a successful author and have been asked to give the commencement speech for the graduation ceremony. My speech is about the important "ties" we encounter in life: family ties, friendship ties, and even the importance of neck ties. It might not have been the vision she intended for the story, but I like it because it offers a glimpse of a hopeful future in which we are happy and content with our lives.

A friend once told me that some of the best things I've written are the things I wrote for myself. I get that, and I completely agree. Whenever I write something personal, whether it is a poem, a note in my journal, or a personal short story, I enjoy reading it again years later. It helps remind me of who I am and where I've come from. It captures my moods of when it was written. It reminds me why I live to be a writer.

Pegamoose Games

Douglas grew up with a love of tabletop games, from card games like Spades, Hearts, or Hand-and-Foot, to board games like Scrabble, Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit, or Dark Tower. In 1999, friends introduced him to indie games, like Kill Doctor Lucky and Munchkin. James Ernest of CAG posted on the company site something along the lines of, "If you have an idea for a game, don't send it to us. Do it yourself." So, he did.

In 2004, Douglas started Pegamoose Games to focus another of his creative talents--game design. Pegamoose Games released the first game, Snipe Hunt, a game in which players wander through a wacky hedge-maze of a forest looking for the Snipe with the intent of bringing it back. Other games followed in a print-it-yourself version, including a trick-taking game called 'Zards and a party game called Rules Are Played to be Broken.

From game design, he went on to design puzzles and for a couple of years posted a Puzzle of the Month. After growing tired with the upkeep of monthly puzzle design, he developed online puzzles, including a cryptogram solver, a hangman style game, and a word scramble. He combined his passions to create an elaborate treasure hunt called The Lost Treasure of Captain Pigleg Porter which starts with a short story of the fate of Pigleg Porter and ends up with construction of a treasure map and a set of instructions to decryption the secret clues.

In 2008, Douglas collaborated on an online role playing game called Urban Legions. The game allowed players to develop their characters into either heros or villains based on their choice of actions. Once again, it combined fiction in a choose-your-own-adventure style with game design. Unfortunately, the game grew too big, too fast and became unmanageable when it came to adding new content fast enough. The game eventually was taken down and shelved until it can be reinvented at a later date.

In 2011, he invented a game engine called Peggy which enables people to prototype board games in a web browser. The game engine allows game designers to easily define and manipulate game elements: dice, cards, pawns, and so on. The thought was to be able to produce and share his other game ideas quickly while reducing printing costs to nothing, only the cost of running a website.

In 2014, Peggy was refactored to make editing pieces easier along with the implementation of a new web design and other features. Unfortunately, further development of Peggy has been hindered while Douglas focuses on his fiction writing. He dreams of the day when he can do both fiction writing and game design as a career.

What Inspires Doug
Below is a list of some of the artists and media that inspires me, and how it inspires my unique style. This is not a complete list, but a good sample of the many things that sparks my interest.

Artists who inspire me:Media that inspires me: