The Lucky Lad

adventures in dysthymia

Thursday, May 25, 2017


I can legitimately style myself an ‘award-winning writer.’ I’ve received real awards from real organizations, not ones that exist just to make money off those who enter their contests, the awards equivalent of vanity publishers.

Admittedly, my awards are for poetry, not novels or stories. I also have a box full of ribbons of varying hues — including a good number of blues — from art shows. Those are nice but have little bearing on me as an author (though I do my own design, illustration, etc).

The poetry awards? I still consider myself a poet more than a novelist, and maybe a songwriter more than a poet. It certainly colors my prose style; I consider that a good thing but all readers might not agree! I don’t enter contests anymore, and rarely submit poetry to magazines. I have enough literary magazine credits as it is.

To be honest, I dislike the idea of awards. They are quite meaningless and exist primarily as an advertising tool. I am in a competition with no one. The publicity element is hardly worth it. Mentioning an award on my site or in a blurb of some sort would be without meaning to most. However, having an award announced by some organization could provide a momentary boost in visitors who come through curiosity.

There are cheaper ways to achieve name-recognition, ways that are both more effective and more reliable. Sales, of course — the more one sells, the more one will sell! Reviews are quite useful. Public appearances might help, if one is good at that sort of thing. Maybe even if one isn’t.

This is one reason why I attempt to keep up the other creative parts of my life. Getting out and playing music makes me more visible as a writer and vice-versa. As does having an online presence and posting this sort of thing. But vanity awards? Not for me, thank you.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The MacGuffin

The name may have been coined (by Alfred Hitchcock) for the movies but it applies as well to books. What is a MacGuffin? An object (in a very broad sense — it can be a person) that is being sought, typically by more than one group, as a basic element to the plot. The statue in ‘The Maltese Falcon.’ The ring in ‘The Lord of the Rings.’

There can be more than one to a tale, of course, but we don’t want to dilute the plot and distract the reader. In a way, every tale has an object of a quest. Someone is always searching for something, even if it be as nebulous as ‘happiness.’ But that is not quite the same thing. Indeed, it might be argued that a ‘true’ MacGuffin is not intrinsic to the plot, has no meaning in and of itself. In that sense the falcon statue is a MacGuffin but the ‘one ring’ is not. In ‘The Maltese Falcon,’ those same characters would have done the same things if pursuing some other object. Not so in ‘The Lord of the Rings,’ where the ring and its power underlie the basic plot.

My own novels, of course, are not exceptions. In ‘The Eyes of the Wind,’ our protagonists are searching for four magical jewels — those could be seen as making up one MacGuffin, even if they are scattered to the four directions of the compass. In my shortly-to-be-released ‘The Crocodile’s Son,’ it is the kidnapped infant son of Qala, former Pirate Queen, who becomes the MacGuffin, with three different groups contending and sometimes cooperating in retrieving him. And in the epic ‘Donzalo’s Destiny,’ Donzalo himself is definitely the objective, to be assassinated or saved.

Those are fairly obvious uses of the MacGuffin. It is more subtle in the Malvern/Mora novels, my other fantasy series. Hito, in ‘God of Rain,’ is off searching for a source of metal. This is but a pretext to get him out where adventures can occur and not really intrinsic to the plot. We could have used another pretext. In a way, that is the truest form of MacGuffin, purely a device to get the action going. It is not actually essential to the story and he could have been off looking for something else entirely.

Malvern, in the trilogy in which he stars, is mostly seeking knowledge, seeking to unravel the mystery of the strange world into which he has been thrown. But there is also the woman who becomes his wife, and who is bound up in the whole thing to a considerable extent. He does pursue her quite a bit; indeed, in the second book, ‘Valley of Visions,’ he follows her and her kidnappers over the mountains and then has to vie for her with the powerful ruler of the land beyond. So Rahaita, the Mora woman, serves as a MacGuffin of sorts, at least in that novel.

But how about the more mainstream books (ostensibly ‘crime’ novels) of my Cully Beach series? One might think at first there are no physical MacGuffins in ‘Shaper.’ But the heroin shipment that never shows up until near the end is pretty much a MacGuffin. Most of the actions, most of the plot, really depends on the plan to smuggle in drugs through the motel Shaper’s girlfriend manages. In the sequel, ‘Waves,’ it is missing evidence — that one is fairly obvious. To some degree, these are intrinsic to the story. It would not be the same if some other objects were being pursued, but I do not think the plots would have needed to be changed all that much.

We don’t think of MacGuffins that much, either as reader or writer, as they are somewhat woven into the fabric of any story. The author should be able to recognize when one is being employed, however, and whether it makes sense. An unbelievable MacGuffin will undermine the plot before it is even begun. We have to recognize why it is desired, why it is being contended for. If there is no good and logical reason, well, then we had best find a better MacGuffin!

Monday, May 22, 2017

Discarded Covers

These are a couple of dummy covers I designed for possible use on an upcoming novel — not necessarily the next book but eventually. I used my 'trademark' silhouette approach, as in several books we've published before, but decided against them for this novel (and any sequels). Where I have used this sort of thing before, I would do well to stick with it, to maintain a continuity of cover design in a series. My Donzalo and Malvern/Mora books are examples.

But it is probably not ideal for this sort of mainstream-with-chick-lit-leanings novel. So I am going with a slightly more conventional look, with photographs of actual women doing yoga. The novel revolves around a yoga class (and, yes, I used to teach yoga classes though it has been something like thirty years) and a pair of friends who attend it.

The graphics, the silhouettes will still probably show up small on the back cover. Incidentally, I almost decided to issue this novel under a pen name, what with it being different from any of my other stuff, but decided if it is good enough to publish, it is good enough to have my name on it!

When will it show up? No idea; I might keep plugging away at it or find that some other story takes my attention for a while. And there will definitely be another poetry collection out toward the end of the year (or early next).

Sunday, May 21, 2017


In a sense, Love does not exist. It is not a ‘thing;’ it has no physical substance. It is a construct, a word we fill with what meaning we will, attempting to describe a range of emotions and desires.

The same is true of ‘art’ and ‘faith’ and a thousand other abstractions we use every day, pretending they are real things. Perhaps it is true of ‘god’ as well.

I can hold a woman but I can not hold love. I can open a book and call it ‘mystery’ or ‘literature,’ but it remains paper and ink. My naming it something other produces no transubstantiation. Canvas and paint is ‘art’ only in my head.

We tend to confuse words with things, ideas with the concrete. It is true that all ‘reality’ is ultimately built in our minds, made of the metaphors we create. Still, one can not pick up a piece of love nor peel faith like an orange.

There is most certainly a place for the sort of magical thinking that makes things of ideas. Our world would be an impoverished place without it. But it is ‘being’ that matters. The rest serves to help us understand what is, brings us bits of truth to add to the reality we construct.

For love may not exist, as a thing, but such ideas hold the things that are real together.

Stephen Brooke ©2017

Notes toward an idea, not particularly finished (and perhaps never to be).

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Vanity, a poem


Vanity is not such a serious sin.
Pride’s little sister, she likes
to play dress-up, pretend before the mirror.

Here, take a selfie with me, she calls.
I smile and make sure to flex for the camera.

Stephen Brooke ©2017

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Tarzan's Home

Where did John Clayton, Lord Greystoke, Tarzan of the Apes, live and have his adventures in Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Africa? Before answering that we must note that Burroughs seemed to have a fairly rudimentary knowledge of the ‘dark continent’ when he started out but improved as he went on. This inevitably leads to inconsistencies.

Jungle — we spend a lot of time in jungle in the early books. Exactly what the word denotes is not clear, but it generally does not seem to be the sort of deep rain forest of which many of us immediately think. The descriptions are more often of a scrubbier sort of forest, a drier climate. This is the type of forest, mingled with patches of grassy savanna which covers much of tropical Africa so that’s not so badly done.

We are given the latitude (more or less) of Tarzan’s birthplace in ‘Tarzan of the Apes,’ and it is on the coast of northern Angola. That works okay; again, the ‘jungle’ there is close enough to what we need. ‘The Return of Tarzan’ is also, in part, set in that area, but Tarzan ranges eastward to discover the lost city of Opar. We can assume it is somewhere in the mountainous areas of southeastern Congo or northern Zambia. Indeed, most of the lost civilizations created by Burroughs would seem to be in those then-remote mountain lands, which stretch northward between east and west Africa as far as Uganda.

He also comes across the tribe of the Waziri who become his followers and live on his African estate in the novels that follow. ‘The Jewels of Opar’ gives us some clues as to the location of Tarzan’s estate when the primary antagonist decides not to go south toward Greystoke’s home nor west into the Belgian Congo, but east into British East Africa, i.e. Kenya. This suggests that his holdings are either in the Rwanda-Burundi area or in Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia — not Kenya as is sometimes posited.

The fact that Greystoke fights alongside Rhodesian troops against the Germans (who occupied Tanganyika before World War One) in ‘Tarzan the Untamed,’ would further suggest that his estate lay more southerly than sometimes assumed. It would seem throughout the novels that Tarzan spent a certain amount of time in the lands along the eastern border of the Belgian Congo, traversing them on his way here or there.

In ‘The Beasts of Tarzan,’ as well as ‘The Son of Tarzan,’ we find ourselves further north along Africa’s western coast, apparently north of the Congo River — no exact locations are mentioned. In ‘Son’ it is reported only as a little south of the equator, perhaps what is now Gabon (true rain forest country) although it could have been below the Congo, back in the Angola of ‘Tarzan of the Apes.’ The action remains there through most of ‘Beasts’ but eventually finds its way to the Greystoke estate in ‘Son.’ That, admittedly, might argue for a more northerly location, as would the plentiful Arabs. But there is no reported crossing of the mountains nor of the more densely populated areas of Uganda and points north, so, again, Kenya does not seem a good candidate.

Beyond those books, clues are less common, as our protagonists do not travel outside of Africa. We have no ports nor coastal positions to help orient ourselves. Greystoke has an estate on a plain, somewhere, below the mountains and he travels about central Africa, ranging as far north as Abyssinia. In some of the novels, he does not visit his home at all.

So I vote for Zambia. That general area would be the region for H. Rider Haggard’s African adventures and lost civilizations, as well, it would seem. Just how close King Solomon’s mines lie to Opar, however, I could not say!

Monday, May 01, 2017

And the Sea, a poem

And the Sea

Of life and death and the sea I shall speak,
of those who wander and those who seek
the further shores of eternity,
coasts of what is and of what can be.

Of fickle winds, the phantom shore
we once might glimpse and see no more,
I’ll speak of these, though I know naught
beyond the dreams where I have sought

the golden sands no man has trod,
a paradise known only to God,
yet one thing I can tell you, Mate,
we’re all adrift on the Seas of Fate.

Aye, many a searcher gallantly sailed
and every man of them has failed,
yet sailed on knowing full the cost
of seeking still for that they lost

on voyages past. Beneath a vault
of troubled sky, the scent of salt
upon the wind, I knew the sun
of other lands, of days undone.

I speak of life and death and the sea,
what never was, what never can be —
there’s one thing I can tell you, Mate,
we’re all adrift on the Seas of Fate.

Stephen Brooke ©2017

Yeah, I keep writing about the sea, don't I? My next poetry collection, aptly titled 'Voyages,' is going to include a number of my nautically-inclined poems (but maybe not this one).