The Lucky Lad

adventures in dysthymia

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Echoes, a poem

Echoes

Each name shouted into history
echoes, echoes, returning as
a whisper. Each fades into the white
noise of time, and we ask,

What was that? Did you hear
something? A wind, perhaps, to carry
today away, carry us
toward tomorrow and our own echoes.

Only wind, blowing through
the trees, up there on the ridge.
We can go across it tomorrow
and shout into the valley beyond.

Stephen Brooke ©2019

thrown off quickly and entirely likely to be revised

Wilk: a Profile of a Character

The character known as Wilk makes his debut in THE DICTATOR’S CHILDREN (coming May 4). Although this will be the first novel with him as the lead, it is set relatively late in his career — he is in his fifties by the time it takes place, 1948. There should be more Wilk novels, set both before and after ‘Dictator.’

Who is Wilk? He is a Pole, born in the German-controlled part of that nation, near Danzig (Gdansk, now) in 1894. Jan Patrokowski is the name then. Though Polish, his upbringing is largely German as a member of a prosperous middle-class family. As such, he enlisted in the German army at the outbreak of World War One. By this time he had a couple of years of higher education under his belt, studying engineering.

His expertise in things mechanical quickly got him posted to the air service, working on engines. From there, it was a short step to flying himself. Jan — or Hans, as the Germans officially had him — spent most of the war in two-seat aircraft, eventually serving in a ‘battle flight’ of Halberstadt attack-fighters. It was here he received the nickname Wilk, meaning wolf in Polish (he did use the German pseudonym Hans Wulf later on).

It is to be noted that he was not involved in any of the Polish nationalist movements of the time, such as that headed by Pilsudski, but remained more-or-less loyal to Germany. The confusion of the postwar period found him traveling east to briefly join the Reds in Russia, before being sent on to China as an adviser and goodwill gesture by the Bolsheviks. (This period might be the setting of the next Wilk novel.)

The young fellow gets around, doesn’t he? I am trying to avoid making him sound like Young Indiana Jones! At any rate, after two or three years adventuring in China he makes his way home — going the long way round, across the Pacific. There he returns to school, in Berlin, eventually achieving his doctor’s degree in engineering. At the same time, he begins working for Polish intelligence in various capacities. That is, until Pilsudski essentially engineers a coup and becomes de facto dictator of the country.

At which time, Wilk resigns in protest and makes his way back to China, where a post has been offered. He has been using Wilk as a name off and on by this time, first choosing to be know as Jean Wilk (with a hard W rather than the original V sound) on his original visit to China. He also uses Jan Wilkowski as a sometime alias and, later, adopts the English name of John Wilkins. But he is called Wilk throughout.

When he returns to Europe in the early Thirties, it is both to work with the Polish opposition, including Paderewski, and to work in the family business — something becoming more difficult with the growing Nazi presence in Danzig. He spends a good deal of time in Paris during this period and also becomes engaged to his best friend’s sister. These are of a Jewish family, which complicates matters, and the bride-to-be flees to America in time. Wilk is too involved with his causes to follow her.

Instead, he returns once again to China in 1937 and takes part in the fight against the Japanese. He also marries there, but the wife is lost and presumed (rightly so) dead in the turmoil of war and its aftermath. He serves in various capacities in the Pacific area through the war (he is no longer a young man, mind you) and settles in Australia after, being awarded citizenship, to open a ‘consulting’ business. He also searches for his missing wife.

This is pretty much where we find him at the start of THE DICATOR’S CHILDREN. He marries a year or so later (the bride-to-be is introduced in the novel), and has a bunch of kids who speak Aussie. These are in addition to his stepdaughter whom he retrieved from Macau, postwar. After that? The only tale I actually have projected is one that takes place in 1966 in Vietnam, when Wilk would be in his seventies. That was, in fact, the origin of the character but I decided to write other stories about him first. He does live just long enough to see communist rule ended in Poland.

Physically, Wilk is not a big guy, somewhat wiry, dark-haired, and keeps himself fit (almost obsessively so). He wears a mustache pretty much from the time he makes his first trip to China. Good at languages, good at all things mechanical and a bit fascinated by them at times. He appreciates a well-designed firearm and carries a Browning Hi-Power as his sidearm of choice from the mid-Thirties on.

So that is the bare-bones story of the character’s life, the basis of a ‘canon’ if you will. It is world-building every bit as much as what I might do for a fantasy novel, and a framework on which I could build quite a few stories. Will I get to them? That may depend on how many other projects get in the way, but I certainly intend to revisit the character. In the meantime, one can purchase this first novel and get to know him better.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Novel and Novella

I tend to write short novels. Not novellas, for the most part, though I have seen some categorize work in the fifty thousand word range — or even sixty thousand — as such. Those can be called ‘short,’ to be sure, but I would not consider them novellas.

It could be argued that there are differences in form between novella and novel. However, I am not going to get into that discussion; ultimately, a novella is a short novel, defined by an arbitrary word count. What cut-off point do I prefer? Thirty-five or forty thousand seems a good upper limit. That is also around what many literary awards use.

My shortest novel is right at the fifty thousand word mark. That would be the fantasy adventure “The Eyes of the Wind.” A few more are between fifty and sixty thousand words. All these I consider short novels, not novellas. I recognize that many publishers do not like books of this length these days, but many great novels of the past were no longer (and James Patterson still churns out short-ish books).

I’ll just mention the novelette here, in passing. It is, of course, even shorter than a novella, and longer than what would normally be called a short story. Here, I feel, form does matter; to me, a novelette is a long short story whereas a novella is a short novel. The novelette focuses on one plot without turning aside to explore. Some of Robert E. Howard’s best stories are novelettes and I would recommend them to anyone who wishes to better understand the form.

So, do I write novellas at all? It could be argued that my “Donzalo’s Destiny” epic fantasy consists of eleven novellas and novelettes telling a continuous story, each with its own arc and conclusion, but not resolving the overall plot. Indeed, even in my shorter novels I sometimes employ similar sections. ‘Donzalo’ was actually published as a series of four somewhat short books, which might or might not be called novels. Or maybe the entire thing should be called a novel. I’m not sure! It was eventually published as an all-in-one edition that is definitely not short, weighing in a two-hundred and six thousand words.

The same sort of thing is not quite true of my other series. The books of the Malvern Trilogy do make a continuing story but there is a definite resolution for each one, so I consider them stand-alone novels. Be that as it may, they and most of my output are short novels, not novellas. It seems natural for me to turn out books that run between sixty and seventy thousand words; by far the greatest number of them fit in that range. Indeed, only two (not counting the aforementioned ‘Donzalo’) exceed seventy thousand. My longest novel is the second Cully Beach mystery, “Waves,” at just over eighty-thousand words.

Honestly, I don’t see why authors need to run as long as they sometimes do. I dislike wordiness for the sake of wordiness, and the tendency to tell too much. This is not to say long novels are in anyway ‘bad.’ Only some of them — and the same is true of short novels.

Anyway, back to the work-in-progress. I can already predict it will fall into about the same size range as the previous novels — and I am not about to add ‘filler’ to inflate its word count.

Saturday, March 09, 2019

Morning Bike Ride, March 8 2019

Some pics I took (with my little Fuji XP) while on a bike ride along the dirt roads east of my home:

 Little Alligator Creek, west branch, looking north (upstream).

 Little Alligator Creek, west branch, looking south

 Little Alligator Creek, east branch, looking north. Pine plantations beyond.

 Cows and calves. Not so long ago this was a field full of pregnant cows.

 Little Alligator Creek, joined into one stream, one road south. Looking  upstream.

Little Alligator Creek, looking south, downstream. It flows off to eventually add its water to Holmes Creek and on to the Choctawhatchee.

Sunday, March 03, 2019

Action

It must be admitted there is not a great deal of action in the first section (around 16,000 words) of THE CROCODILE GOD (my fantasy novel WIP). The only violence occurs offstage, a report coming back about an attack on Qala’s friend who has traveled south on a diplomatic mission. Much of the story revolves around her two-year-old demi-god son discovering his powers and his divine relatives. And there is stage-setting for what is to come.

There is also more sex than is typical for me. That’s action of a different sort. Be that as it may, the pace does pick up in section two, with a kidnapping at around the 20,000 word mark that should set up the plot development for the rest of the novel. Fairly late for a so-called inciting incident but so be it. The first part of the book may drag for those not already invested in Qala’s story, so I do recommend reading THE CROCODILES’S SON first (available, don’t you know, from Arachis Press).

Finding a balance between keeping the plot moving and saying what needs to be said is never that easy — and it is genre dependent, to some degree. A more leisurely pace is certainly tolerated to a greater degree in a mainstream novel than in a fantasy adventure. I’m not sure it should be — a story is a story. I feel less need to, well, pander to arbitrary genre demands these days.

So I shall keep on with the novel, writing, revising. I always revise a lot as I go along, rather than first drafting. I know where I’m going and there is no rush; best to get it right. And eventually it will all be ‘right’ and ready for all of you. I would not be at all surprised to have THE CROCODILE GOD released before the end of this year.

Saturday, March 02, 2019

Mice, a poem

Mice

Mice do get caught,
they can’t be taught
to always elude the cat.
Their little feet
may not be fleet
enough, and that is that.

Here they hurry
and there they scurry,
seeking a crumb or a mate,
knowing today
but not what may
be tomorrow’s fate.

Cats do catch mice —
that is a price
the species has payed before.
But my, oh my,
how mice multiply
and soon there will be more!

Stephen Brooke ©2019

Light verse. Very light.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Qala

Qala is the protagonist of my current fantasy novel-in-progress, THE CROCODILE GOD, sequel to THE CROCODILE’S SON and the second book in the Crocodile Chronicles (there may be only two, but they are interwoven with the two novels of the Sajam Saga). However, she first appeared as a secondary character in THE EYES OF THE WIND and proved too interesting a character not to revisit — and allow to star in her own stories.

When we met her in EYES, she was the Pirate Queen, captor of our protagonists Marana and Saj, and, before long, lover to their companion Xit. Now Xit, as far as Qala knew, was simply a modestly proficient sorcerer but a quite proficient lover, a way to amuse herself amid the tedium of life in the hidden harbor of the pirate fleet. That she preferred women is not that important. Xit would do until someday she found that one she could truly love.

For Qala had loved before, loved the mistress of he who ruled over the pirates before her. It was his jealousy and his murder of the woman that led Qala to challenge and replace him. She had ruled since. Ruled until our trio appeared and were enlisted into her scheme to slip away into retirement before she, too, was pulled down.

So it is she ended up at her country estate, far away — and pregnant. Qala was in her mid-to-late thirties by then (she has no clear idea of her age). Soon she learns that Xit was no sorcerer but a god, and that her son will be something more than a mortal. All that weaves into the plots of the Crocodile Chronicles novels, with which we are not dealing here.

Qala was born across the Greater Sea, in the Old Muram Kingdoms, in the slums of a gray city by the sea. She is pretty much a true Mur*, though all her people were somewhat of mixed blood by that time. Who were those people? I hint that they are somewhat ‘Asian’ in appearance. Obviously, as there is no Asia in their world, that is not the best of descriptions. On the whole, they might most closely resemble Siberians or Native Americans but, like most humans of their world, they are very much a mix of various populations who passed through ‘gates’ from elsewhere. The Mura were a nomadic people a few generations back who swept in from the steppes and conquered the area that now comprises the ‘Old Kingdoms.’ Some adventurers from those cities later crossed the Greater Sea to found the Muram Empire, where our tales are set.

She is a fairly diminutive woman, slender, sinewy, and not tall, ‘coppery’ of skin, black of hair. While still wandering the Muram kingdoms before taking to the pirate life, she not only learned swordsmanship but became exceptionally adept with blades of all sorts. This has been alluded to in the stories. I am unlikely to actually explore that period of her life in any detail — no ‘Qala, the Early Years’ novel! Needless to say, she needed to be good at things other than weaponry to rule over a fleet of pirates; Qala is an able leader and politician.

Or was. Now she leads only the people of a mid-sized estate along the banks of the upper Chas. There she has found at least some meaning to her life, in her young son, in her responsibilities as the mistress of her little domain. And, perhaps, she will at least meet the love she has longed for. I believe I shall have to finish writing THE CROCODILE GOD to be certain of that.

* Incidentally, the word Mur means essentially ‘warrior’ in their language. It came to mean ‘noble’ among those they conquered and eventually to refer to them as a people. Some might recognize a Proto-Indo-European root in that.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Old Men Showing How It's Done

John Wilkins — Wilk — of THE DICTATOR’S CHILDREN is the oldest protagonist to so far appear in one of my novels, being in his early fifties. A quite fit fifties, to be sure. That makes him a couple or three years older than Ted Carrol of the Cully Beach novels. If I write any sequels, Wilk will, of course, be even older. One or more of those might be forthcoming, but so might tales of the Polish ex-pat adventurer set earlier in his career.

I did something with Wilk of which I would normally disapprove, and that is to allow him to have an affair with a younger woman. Okay, two of them actually (but not at the same time!). And I mean quite a bit younger, in her early twenties. The other is mid-thirties which is not near as much a reach.

Why does this happen? In large part because Wilkins lost his wife/love of his life in the recent war (WW2) and is somewhat at loose ends, feeling empty and bit sorry for himself. Naturally, all this says something about the women with whom is involved as well. The much-too-young Elena is probably not averse to recreational sex in the first place — I do not say this but it is somewhat implied. She may not even be overly serious about it all. But also she has a tendency to hero-worship, and to attach herself to people and causes. She too is searching for something or someone to fill up her life.

As for our other affair, that is run of the mill mutual attraction. There is tension between the two from the start and it takes its course eventually. Then it ends, largely on grounds of practicality, and that is that.

Nothing of this sort is likely to happen in any future Wilk novel. Certainly not a sequel, as he remarries not long after DICTATOR and is not the sort to cheat. And yes, the wife is fairly young (the novel implies who it will be). So no running around by our hero when he is even older. Earlier, he will also be married, from sometime in the middle of the Thirties up until the end of the war, when he searches for his wife, missing somewhere in China. I say only ‘missing’ in the book but, believe me, she is dead — it just takes him a while to completely accept this.

Before that? The woman of China he eventually married does pop in and out of his life, as I have laid things out (that could change when I get into plotting another novel). He will also be engaged for a while in Europe in the earlier Thirties when he is trying to make a ‘normal’ life. I did mention that in THE DICTATOR’S CHILDREN so I have to stick with it.

An older protagonist certainly has (in theory) more experience dealing with life. This can be a worthwhile trade-off against the vigor of youth. He can show the young’ns how it’s done. Of greater value, maybe, is the ability to make insightful remarks on things. And I very much like to make remarks on things!