The Lucky Lad

adventures in dysthymia

Saturday, February 17, 2018

'Genre' Versus 'Genre Fiction'

The term ‘genre’ can be confusing, for it is used to mean two different things in writing and publishing. In one sense, the broad sense, all writing fits into one or more (usually more) genres. These divisions are a part of the critical understanding of a written work, ways to better analyze it.

Genre tells one what the work is about, explores its themes. ‘Genre fiction,’ on the other hand, is more about publishing categories than critical statemens. Romance is one of the latter, or the Western. There are pretty strict expectations about what these would include as works of fiction. Were I to write a novel set in the Old West, it would certainly fit the genre of Historical Fiction but would be most unlikely to be a genre fiction Western.

To some degree, I see this as similar to what exists in music and the music industry. We have true genres, such as the blues or jazz, and we have ‘formats,’ like Americana or Easy Listening. Literary Fiction or Young Adult are essentially formats, not genres. The name tells who they are written for, not what they are about.

Many of the classics that would be lumped with Literary Fiction these days were written as popular entertainments. They can also be readily assigned to true genres. ‘War and Peace’ is certainly Historical Fiction, among many other things. The authors of not so long ago were concerned simply with writing good stories, books people would read, not with fitting some publishing niche.

The bulk of my own work (not all, by any means) could broadly be termed Fantasy. Is it of literary worth? Might I call it ‘Literary Fantasy?’ Yes, there is such term, such a publishing niche, and some would see it as a ‘genre.’ Works that fit such a category would certainly include Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ or any of the work of James Branch Cabell or Lord Dunsany. I would not be willing to self-describe my writing as such but recognize that some would. I simply try to write good stories, with at least a few actual ideas tucked into them, and well-polished language.

Entertaining my audience is important, but is not my only goal. That, I think, is what sets genre fiction apart — it is primarily escapist, intended first and foremost to entertain, not to communicate anything. I myself would not write if I had nothing to say.

So you will see many of my novels marketed as ‘fantasy’ or ‘fantasy adventure,’ and some listed as ‘crime’ or some related term. That’s okay. Place them in whatever genre you wish — but do read them first!

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Woman of the Sky Chapter

A sample  chapter from the fantasy adventure novel WOMAN OF THE SKY, coming on March 10! This is near the end of the tale.

57. The House of Rebels

“There will be a battle,” said Gordie. “Soon.”

“Not if you agree to be Mai’iro’s ally,” I pointed out. “It could all be avoided.” We sat side by side before this house of Mai’iro and his men. The House of Rebels I had named it in my mind.

“I fear to make any decision until I have word on Malee,” my companion replied. “I do not wish to lie either.”

Meaning he might? “He will wish to fight the smaller force, Aranu’s men, before anyone else arrives,” he said, continuing his first thought. “Maybe we can get you away during it. You must promise to care for Malee if you do and — and I don’t.”

“You must escape too,” I said. “That will take care of everything.”

“I agreed to stay, remember?” Would he stay true to that promise still?

“At his camp. Not here.”

Gordie laughed rather loudly at that. “Ah, what an excellent little sophist you are, Ranadi!” I did not know the word so I took it as a compliment. “I don’t think that is quite acceptable.”

But he was tempted, I could tell. “Then the only other solution is to kill our host,” I informed him. “You never promised not to do that.”

“This is so.” He was quiet for some time. Perhaps he was thinking of ways to murder Mai’iro. Then he looked up, as if something had caught his attention.

I followed his eyes. The tall gates of the stockade were being swung closed. “Aranu and Bafa must be here,” I whispered.

One of Mai’iro’s lieutenants approached. “You two. Inside,” he ordered. I could see he was a man of mixed blood, as many of those who served Gordie. Had he been promised the life of a Mora warrior? Maybe even nobility? Mai’iro would probably promise anything — and I would believe none of it.

We returned to what passed for our room in the structure, an open spot with a pair of sleeping mats. A woven mat, with many holes, hung on one side to afford a slight illusion of privacy. It had been assumed Gordie and I shared a chamber. “So we wait,” was all he had to say.

We had too much of that, I wanted to reply. I held my tongue. Instead, I asked my fellow prisoner, “Do you think Lady Ma’ave will come to live at the House of Gordie?”

“She would have to visit, at least.” He chuckled. “The real question is whether I would go live at the House of Pua.”

“The House of Naio,” I corrected him. “It is her husband’s house, officially.” I now became a bit serious. “Both of you would be welcome at the House of the High King, I think. And, of course, at Marareta’s home.”

“And you will live by A’auwa, won’t you?”

“Perhaps,” was all I was willing to answer to that, for truly I did not know.

“And Ma’ave and I are also still ‘perhaps,’ are we not? I shall worry about that when we are gone from here.”

Surely the Mora woman would not reject him! But then, I had — and there was no going back on that. The house was almost deserted for all the warriors were at the walls. Where the few women I had seen might be, I had no idea. A shadow approached, moving through the dim-lit spaces, moving from the concealment of one roof post to another.

“Master,” came a throaty whisper.

“Pahe?” Then the immediate question. “Malee?”

“She and Lady Ma’ave are safely with Lord Beka, who was coming north with warriors. His scouts came upon us, hurrying south.” He squatted beside us and continued. “And then I was the one to hurry back north again!”

“How did you get in here?” I asked.

“I simply walked in earlier with some of the men who serve here. They are very lax.”

“Never had reason to be cautious before,” felt Gordie. “Now you are trapped here.”

Pahe answered cheerfully. “Only until Lord Beka and Lord Ponu bring their men to climb over these walls.”

“Mai’iro will surely take his own warriors out to attack those already here before they come,” Gordie said. “He greatly outnumbers Aranu’s force. And I fear he has more men coming, maybe from beyond the hills.” The next words came reluctantly. “Some of them men who once served me.”

The familiar scowl returned to Pahe’s face. “Traitors,” he spat.

“But I can not blame them too much. I never made clear my intentions.” He smiled thinly. “I do not think I was sure of them myself. Now I am.”

“That is good, Lord Gordie. What do we do?”

“For now, wait. Opportunities do arise and we must be ready to make the best of them.”

That sounded like Gordie, indeed. I hoped he was right.

Maybe we could get out when the gates were opened for Mai’iro’s warriors. Or get out over the wall while they were occupied. These thoughts came and went in my head. But Gordie would again refuse to escape with us. Of this I was fairly sure, and I suspected it was not just because of a promise.

“I need a weapon,” he said after a while. “You have only a knife, Pahe?”

“Yes, lord,” came his reply. “It should be easy enough to find some here. Possibly lying about in this house.” With that he slipped away.

“You must keep out of the way when there is battle here,” Gordie told me. He sounded certain there would be. Pahe returned in a few minutes with what implements of war he could find.

“I managed a spear,” he told us, holding it up. “A knife for each of you. The edges are not too good.” I was glad he thought of me, even if I was supposed to stay out of the way. “A club in the Mora style. Would the Taona Marareta were here to wield it!”

“You will have to do, Pahe. The spear is probably the better choice for me,” said Gordie. He gazed toward the sunlit yard. “We can get closer and see what is going on. No one will pay attention to us now.”

Probably true, as long as we did not leave this house. As I stood beside him, gazing out at Mai’iro’s gathering warriors, he leaned down and whispered, “Now I know Malee is safe, I do not fear to act. Maybe I will not live past this day. I do not know, Ranadi. Remain safe.” He kissed me then, the first time and the last.

“They are ready to march out,” he said. “When the gate is closed behind them, we act.”

Pahe nodded. I am sure he had no more idea what his master intended than did I.

We watched as the the heavy gate of split logs was closed and barred. Lord Mai’iro came walking back from it with a handful of retainers. I was not too surprised that he had not chosen to go out and fight himself.

Gordie stepped out into the way. “Mai’iro!” he cried out, brandishing his spear. “Face me!”

Friday, February 02, 2018

Woman of the Sky Blurb


This is the back cover blurb from the upcoming fantasy adventure novel and conclusion of the Mora Trilogy, WOMAN OF THE SKY.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

The Amateur Detective

One of the problems with a continuing series of mystery/crime novels is that, eventually, it becomes unbelievable that our protagonist would become involved in so many crimes. It’s workable, of course, if he or she is in law enforcement or a private detective; then, it becomes a part of their job description. Not so much if we are working with an amateur as our main protagonist. That is, we would expect Poirot to keep solving mysteries, but it is a bit odd that Miss Marple gets involved in them over and over.

I am already feeling this with my two Cully Beach novels. Ted ‘Shaper’ Carrol is not a detective, nor is the little ocean-side town of Cully Beach a beehive of criminal activity. I have Ted being part of two investigations over about a six month period in SHAPER and WAVES. Yes, the events in the first book lead the police chief to confide (and even trust) in him in the second novel, so I’m okay with what I have written so far. Maybe not with a third Cully novel, however.

But I do want to continue Ted’s story, aside from the crime elements. I should be able to wrap up most of that satisfactorily in a third novel. Having him stumble immediately into another crime (and probably a murder, for the first time) does raise questions. I mean, just how unlucky is this guy? One of the premises all along has been that he doesn’t want to get involved in any of these investigations and kind of gets pulled in. That would be true in book three, as well.

Then maybe he can go back to his uneventful life and I won’t inflict any more troubles on poor Ted. However, his adopted daughter, Charlie, has her eyes on going into law enforcement, so maybe a few years later...

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Showing

‘Show, don’t tell’ goes the oft-repeated writing advice. It would be good advice, I suppose, if it actually meant much of anything. Writing is telling, after all — storytelling. Movies show things.

What we are talking about, I would say, are two separate facets of writing: imagery and action. The first of these, imagery, is what one is likely to think of when we speak of ‘showing.’ Modern writing is rather big on the image, much more so than that of an earlier day, and the concrete image has become, perhaps, over-emphasized. This is true not only in fiction but also poetry (and song writing).

There can be a tendency to include too much concrete imagery in the attempt to make things more ‘real’ to the readers, to immerse them in the setting. Sometimes, it has the opposite effect — it pulls them away from the narrative, distracts from the story itself. It is a fine line and one which one learns to draw only from experience. I know I put in too little imagery in some of my early work; that was at least partly due to coming from a nonfiction background where one needed to impart information concisely.

As in poetry, a balance is necessary. Too much imagery overwhelms the reader and the plot; too little makes the writing flat and boring. I would suggest reading critically to see how this plays out in the work of other writers. Do they go too far one way or the other? Does the imagery they include actually have any reason to be there or is it nothing more than the author’s self-indulgence? Chekhov’s advice about showing the glint of moonlight on broken glass is all very well, if there is a reason for the glass to be broken.

Then there is action. To me, this is the more important — and more difficult — part of showing. The goal is to provide exposition through things happening, rather than static description. Don’t simply say the flowers are blooming, no matter how well one might describe them, no matter how many concrete details one might be able to throw in. Rather, describe a character’s reaction to them, how he or she notes their scent, their colors, what memories or thoughts they might bring up. Make it personal. Reveal things through interaction rather than observation.

This applies especially to characters. Let them show us who they are through their actions. That makes them more real than paragraphs of description every could. Think of how Becky Sharp was introduced in 'Vanity Fair.' The things she does in those first few pages of the novel draw a far better picture of her than mere description might.

Again, anything can be overdone. Sometimes straight description is fine, noting something and then getting on with the story. Indeed, the bulk of ones narrative might go that way, with imagery and action thrown in as the occasional accent. Too much of either can fatigue the reader. As for that matter, can too little. Change it up. Find the balance that works for you (and, of course, for your audience).

Find the balance that serves the story. Remember that the story comes first. All else serves the story, helps one tell it. Showing is a tool for telling, nothing more, so learn to use it as such, not an end in itself.

What the point might be of telling a story is, however, a completely different discussion. Some other day, perhaps.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Ethnicity in 'The Way of Wizardry'

Though I do not dwell on it, I describe my wizard and wizardess, Im and Na, in ‘The Ways of Wizardry’ as having dark skin and curling blond hair. Genetically, they and the people of their city Hirstel are essentially aboriginal Australians. The Tesrans, whose city and nation they seek, derive from the same stock, long separated. The blond hair thing does crop up among those of that genetic background and in the isolated city of Hirstel it had become universal.

The god Xido is not exactly of any ethnicity, being, after all, a god. He, too, I described as dark or as black. As are his pantheon’s primary worshipers, Xido is more-or-less Melanesian. Or, we might better say, he looks Melanesian — when he doesn’t turn into a crocodile. Although none of his people play a role in ‘Ways,’ they are know as the Bazu and are referred to as occasional visitors (and sometime pirates).

The Ildin are vaguely Mediterranean or Mid-Eastern. I see them as having a quite varied heritage, as do most populations in their part of the world. There is some Iranian (in the broadest sense) ethnicity involved but certainly others as well. The lighter-skinned ‘Charcha’ (who later become the Sharshites of my Donzalo books) are also a mixed lot but might include Greeks among their ancestors, along with many other groups.

All this stems from the idea that all human ancestors in that world came from other planes, the bulk of them from this world of ours. There are two ‘gates’ leading from ‘here’ to ‘there,’ one in the South Pacific — through which only boats are likely to pass — and the other somewhere in the vicinity of the Ural Mountains. This latter is likely to have admitted only one or two individuals at a time, over thousands of years, so we do not have any large-scale entry of one ethnic group or another there. In the Pacific, not quite so — a boat might carry several people and the Mora are recorded as having arrived in nine large canoes. However, passage would be a lot less frequent occurrence in the middle of the ocean!

In both instances, it requires a manifestation of physical power to pry the ways open, such as a large storm. Not everyone came in that way, of course; those were just the two easiest doors to the world. Some of that is explored in the novel.

This leaves only the Dwarfs. Well, we know what dwarfs are like, right? Mine are sort of that way and sort of not. From a genetic standpoint, they are somewhat diminutive descendants of the Neanderthals. So I described them as such; we have a fairly decent idea as to Neanderthal appearance these days, thanks to having their genome sequenced. Light skinned, some of them redheads, stocky, heavy brow, and every bit as bright as other humans. Or as stupid, sometimes.

So that is it. Of course, it is a big world and there are plenty of other populations elsewhere, developing in their own ways, sometimes mixing and merging, building cultures, borrowing ideas and languages from their neighbors. Just as in our own world.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Festival Murder Mystery

I must work up one idea or another for the mystery-set-at-a-folk-festival novel I’ve been planning to write for some time. Originally, I thought to set it at the Florida Folk Festival the year it was thick with smoke from forest fires (2001) but I folded that into my Cully Beach series, to appear as an element in the third book (probably to be titled ‘Smoke’). That works with the chronology of the series as well as its overall concept.

And I couldn’t really see a good way to work a murder into the events of that weekend! So I came up with another scenario, set at an old resort hosting a festival down in the southwest part of Florida. Lots of possibilities there and I came up with a number of variants on characters and crimes. But I ended up cannibalizing that setting into another novel (to be published under a pen name so I won’t talk about it here). It was just too attractive a creation to use for this. And there were, again, some problems wrapping to wrap a plot around it.

Now, I’m a little closer but still trying on different stories and settings. The story is going to revolve around a couple, one law enforcement, the other a musician and/or artist. Haven’t absolutely decided which is which! The guy will probably be of Florida ‘cracker’ background (though I’ve considered Cuban too), the woman mixed heritage, with hippie parents (probably craftspeople who will show up at some of the fests). And the setting of the first book (which is tentatively titled ‘Broken Strings’)? It will be a festival named ‘Strings at the Springs,’ but I have not quite decided where ‘Twin Springs,’ the venue, is located. Up near Gainesville, like Ginnie Springs, maybe? Or further south? I don’t want our protagonists living too far apart if they are going to become involved!

And, of course, there is the crime itself. I’m not going to attempt to baffle anyone. I don’t do convoluted, hard-to-solve mysteries. A break-in and robbery masked by the festival is most likely, but what is worth stealing there? I’ve also considered something hidden in the springs, but that could be retrieved anytime, couldn’t it? (But it’s a good place to dispose of a murder weapon!)

Oh well, I’ll keep thinking on it and something might pop up soon or it might take some time, and I’ll write other stuff first. I certainly have enough projects ready for my attention! I tend to look these over, hoping to come up with ideas; sometimes one will just stand up and say, “This is how it will go. Write me!” So I do. The others can wait their turn.

Count On Me, a song

Count On Me

I have ten fingers and ten toes,
so you can count on me!
Two arms, two legs, but just one nose,
yes, you can count on me!

Tally up each body part,
list them, put them on a chart;
just remember that my heart
always belongs to you!

I have two eyes to see your smile,
so you can count on me!
Two feet to walk that extra mile,
yes, you can count on me!

I’ve all my parts, I can attest,
and in this I have been blessed,
but that one heart in my chest
always belongs to you!

Stephen Brooke ©2018

A little song-thing. It would surely become tedious if I attempted to stretch the idea to more lines.