The Lucky Lad

adventures in dysthymia

Monday, January 16, 2017

Killing Them Off

Sometimes a character must die. Yes, even one we love.

Why? One reason only, really, and that is to promote the growth of another character. Just employing it as a ‘plot twist’ is not sufficient unless it serves such a goal. Well, that is unless it is a very minor character who does not impact much of anyone or anything in the story. Someone has to die in the battles, after all.

I have knocked off both primary and secondary characters on occasion. Hmm, the first? That would be Percos, brother of Perdos, in the first Donzalo’s Destiny book, ‘The Song of the Sword.’ It serves in all sorts of ways to thrust Perdos — a fairly minor actor to that point — into an important secondary role, first as a seeker of vengeance and then as a man who finds redemption.

In the next book in that series/novel, ‘The Hand of Asak,’ we have Donzalo’s true love kicking the bucket. Yes, it was always planned and was necessary to his development — and also to that of his primary antagonist, the sorcerer Lord Radal. It is the event that truly turns Radal into a man who wishes to destroy the young knight at any cost (including his own life and soul). The reasons for that, naturally, will not be spilled here.

Killing off the lover — I’ve done that elsewhere, too. It is a drastic measure, devastating to the lead character. Not to be overused! Only twice, so far, and no plans for more. Now, other primary characters and secondary characters can lose those they love, also, and that is certainly something that should occur. But be careful about using the device on your main protagonist — it can be a crutch, an easy way to change course.

People do die in real life and, therefor, in books. Fathers and mothers, lovers, friends. It would be unrealistic if no one ever passed on. But try to make the deaths serve a purpose. Even if they are seemingly random, they will impact others. They will change people. Our job is to explore how.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Sweet Jezebel



A new video from Mean Mary. She will be back in Florida in March, at the Will McLean Festival and other venues.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Written

Written

The further people slip into our past, the more they become characters in a book we once read. We build a narrative around them, remembering those words, that look, discarding the random parts that no longer hold meaning.

Could I have written you, in idle moments? Are you the print on my pages, the changeless black and white that I chose? I read, from time to time, and know it is only a story.

Maybe someday I shall get around to crafting a happy ending.

Stephen Brooke ©2017

Magic, a poem

Magic

‘Take a lover who looks at you like maybe you are magic.’ ~ Frida Kahlo

I stand spot-lit on the stage,
creating illusion. Look at me
and suspend your disbelief.

Maybe I am magic. Maybe I am
the dream you used to dream.
Let your eyes follow my deceits,

as I conceal more than I reveal.
Did I put it here or there?
No, it is in neither place.

My lovely assistant carried it
offstage, as every other night.
The audience will always cheer.

Stephen Brooke ©2017

Friday, January 13, 2017

Lightning, a story

this is a story I wrote a while back (and was published) but I thought it needed a little work so I pulled it out and revised it

Lightning

a Branford Perry story by Stephen Brooke

June feared storms. This shouldn’t be surprising as she had been struck by lightning three times in her life. I didn’t stand too close to her during bad weather.

We were doing a show down in Lisbon, at the old train depot. Arts and crafts — June with her silver jewelry, me trying to sell my paintings. All of this was familiar territory for me. I had done plenty of shows over the years. Not so much for June.

It seems that every little town the railroad used to pass through has an abandoned depot to turn it into some sort of community center or museum, something that will bring shoppers to what is usually the not-so-nice side of town. Craft shows can be a part of that, at least in the minds of their organizers.

I knew it was not at all the sort of venue where I should be showing the artwork. Wrong time of year, wrong sort of advertising, just the wrong place altogether. Better to spend ones time and money on the shows in larger cities, the ones in the artsy downtown districts. But June wanted to do a show with me, maybe thinking it would be something new and exciting.

Yeah, I knew better. I said yes anyway. Lisbon was close enough to home and pleasing June was something I liked to do. Maybe it would be okay, I thought, as I parked my truck near the depot, freshly painted in white and green. All ready for the next train to pull in.

It didn’t take much time for me to set up my tent, that gorgeous summer Saturday morning, put out a table for June’s trinkets, hang paintings on my racks. Too little time, perhaps; I’m used to organizing and doing things myself and, although I did my best not to show it, June was mostly in my way. I tried to share the experience because I was, after all, in love. Still, it’s in my nature to be efficient and self-contained.

She took charge of our cards and fliers, arranging them on the card table up front. June had designed them, that being the sort of thing she did for a livelihood. I’ll admit, though, that I thought I could have done just as good a job on them. We were both artists and both had reasonably high opinions concerning our own work.

Once we set up, there was plenty of time to look over some of the other displays. It would be a while before  the potential customers showed in any numbers. A few spaces down from ours, an older woman in dark attire – pretty much the regulation artist uniform – was setting up jewelry cases. “Good morning, ladies,” she cheerfully greeted us with a wave of her multi-ringed hand. At that time of the morning it was probably still real cheer. “Let me know if I can help you with anything.”

It wasn’t the first time I’d been mistaken for female, being small-boned, long-haired, and fond of wearing aloha shirts. If she recognized her mistake, she didn’t correct it before we moved on to the next vendor.

We were both in those flowered Hawaiian shirts that day and wearing fanny packs, to boot. “I’m sure they suspect that we’re lesbian lovers,” I told June. “I’m the cute one in the couple, of course.”

June gave me ‘that’ look. She never really appreciated my humor. I don’t think she liked the whole idea of me being mistaken for a woman, either, nor my ‘who cares’ attitude about it. The truth is, I may be insecure about a great many things — oh, yes, that’s for sure — but my masculinity has never been one of them.

It truly was a lovely summer day. It was also a summer day in Florida which meant a good chance of rain, wind and storms later on. I knew about such hazards and had a well secured and covered set up for art shows. Too well covered, perhaps, as it got pretty hot under all those plastic tarps as the sun rose higher. Not much to do about that so I just sat and smiled at the browsers, hoping one might become a buyer. A long shot, to be sure, but I was used to this sort of waiting game.

June, on the other hand, was new to the outdoor show experience. Soon came boredom, followed closely by complaints. “You should talk more to people when they stop.”

“Maybe.” I wasn’t going to argue the point, though I know folks like to browse in peace, more often than not. No sense in putting them on the spot or making them uncomfortable. Nor am I known to be the most talkative person. No sense in putting me on the spot, either.

Be that and all other things as it may, I didn’t talk more to people when they stopped. Instead, I engaged June on the subject of the teenage boys playing energetic punk-pop on the old depot platform. “Sound a bit like Green Day,” I offered.

She didn’t know who Green Day was. Our conversations took such turns too frequently, I’m afraid.

I’m afraid, too, that June wasn’t finding much excitement in our day’s outing. She abandoned me, after a while, to stroll about and gossip with other exhibitors. I sat and watched the clouds multiply in the afternoon sky, first only a few puffballs, then larger cumulus towers and mounds, shifting from white to ever-darker shades of gray.

From the west, out toward the Gulf of Mexico, came a subdued rumble, sensed as much as heard. The breeze was picking up some and the chill of rain was in it. Well, it was about time to pack it up for the day, anyway. Sales had been few — prints, some small pieces of jewelry — but folks had picked up our handouts. Maybe something would come of that. Some do like to think about things before buying. Or they hope that they can get a deal if they wait.

June was nervous. I suppose I had never taken her fear of lightning very seriously; I love lightning storms myself, not that I would stand out in a field during one. That, however, was not my concern at that moment. I wanted to get our stuff under cover before the storm arrived. Trying to break down the display and getting it stowed away in the wind and rain is an experience to be avoided, yet all too common at outdoor shows.

Having gathered our equipment into orderly groupings — with June once again getting in the way of my all-too-obsessive routine — I went to get the truck from a parking lot around the block. I pulled it into the last parking space before the corner, not really that far from our exhibition space.

“Oh Bran, just move it forward,” said June, “and let’s get done quickly.” She seemed quite insistent that I should park illegally.

And I, just as adamantly, refused to park in the turn lane. After all, it would save, what, fifteen or twenty feet of distance? “This will do fine,” I replied. “Let’s load up.”

Light rain was sprinkling and the occasional thunder rumbled, still relatively distant. “Oh, come on. Please. I want to get out of here.”

I realized there was real panic in her voice, as well as a certain frustration with my ways. Still, I was loathe to pull that truck forward. I’ve always been a person who respected boundaries and hoped others would respect mine.

This was no time to explain things, assuming I could explain things at all. I knew that. Then again, I was also in love with June and men in love do things against their nature. And then do them again.

So, perhaps not as graciously as I might have, I started up the truck and drove it forward. All the while, I was thinking I could already be partly loaded up and fumed a bit that I could let myself be turned from my course.

Now, it was raining harder. And, yes, the thunder sounded more closely, as lightning flickered along the dark belly of an approaching front. We hurried to finish getting everything into the bed of the truck.

“Go ahead and get inside,” I told June. “I’ll throw on the tarp and tie everything down.”

To her credit, June didn’t desert in the face of fire, even though I took my time and perhaps tied things down a little more securely than necessary. I could tell she was impatient, none the less, and that she had her eye on the skies.

She probably never realized how hard it was for me to break the rules like that, even little, seemingly unimportant rules. She never realized a lot of things. Right then, that didn’t matter to me, as we drove through the storm to my place. We would spend the night wrapped in each other but not really knowing each other.

One thing I do know about her, though.

June finally did find some excitement that day.

Stephen Brooke ©2017

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Head Hunters

I’ve turned out four novels now in which Kohari headhunters appear and had never before addressed exactly how a stone age people hacked off those heads. Flint-edged ‘swords’ is the answer, of course. I had actually hinted at such weapons before, and described ones edged with teeth from sharks or crocodiles.


That was all in battle scenes, or in the narrative leading up to them. Those teeth-edged weapons would probably not work very well for head-removal. One needs a truly sharp edge for that and flint or obsidian or the like is the answer in a pre-metal civilization.

I also have warriors carrying stone axes in the series (i.e. the three Malvern novels and the new ‘God of Rain’) and those would certainly do the job — if they were the right sort. The heavy ones carried by some men are more like maces, meant for hammering at the enemy rather than cutting. But lighter ones, again with heads of quartz, flint, volcanic glass, would behead handily.

Now that flint-edged sword or ax is utilized ‘in the field,’ but would it be used for the ritual sacrifices in the Kohari temple? Those people do make some use of copper, primarily for ornaments, and hold the metal sacred to their goddess, Mihasa, the Sun Bird. Her image in hammered copper stands above her altar. I could see a copper ax being crafted for the neck-severing blow in their ceremonies. Is there one? Irrelevant at this point but we might find out someday.

Or not. I’ll probably never include such a ceremony in one of my novels. I don’t even see revisiting the temple, even though I have two projected novels to go in the new ‘Mora’ trilogy. There are more important questions, such as ‘how do they make their beer?’ or ‘how are dogs treated?’ (as a food item, I am afraid). Things of this sort have more to do with who a people are and how they live. They are far more relevant to the story.

And also we might ask, ‘why are these people headhunters?’ That might be the most important question of all!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Cancer

I learned just yesterday that the ex-long-term girlfriend had been in the hospital, undergoing surgery for breast cancer. Very few of her friends had been told, apparently, and I am well outside of her closest circle.

Not that we haven’t remained friendly, at a distance. We haven’t actually spoken to each other in person for a decade and a half, though I glimpsed her once or twice at events and thought better of going over and saying hello. Should I have? Who can say?

She will always be ‘the’ XLTGF, even though I have been in longer relationships. Maybe that’s why I kept my distance. It seems her surgery was successful and I hope that is an end to it, that she lives a full and happy rest of her life.

Interestingly (or maybe not!), she is the reason I have many friends in the Florida folk music community these days. She had been an acquaintance of the late Don Grooms and I attended my first Florida Folk Festival in her company. I fear she also is the reason I quit painting (it happened pretty much the same time we broke up) and turned to poetry. Had to express those feelings somehow, maybe.

These things happen. It’s life, and as our chunk of life melts away, we see more of them. But we are never quite ready for them.

First and Latest

First novels, it is said, are usually bad. I would not say that about mine, although I can certainly, a decade later, see things that could be improved. I could have plugged in more description, especially concrete imagery. I am okay with the story, though.

The thing is, I was already a writer so I was not really feeling my way. I had a lot of magazine articles behind me — and those called for a more stripped-down approach. It took me a while to get away from that, but it was good training. I learned to put in what was needed and no more. That is where I learned my craft.

In a roundabout way, however, I think it was really poetry and song writing that brought me the last of the skills I needed for fiction. I threw myself into that sort of thing in the 2000s and learned a great deal about using the right words, creating the image, telling the story. I still consider myself a poet first and a novelist, well, somewhere further down the list.

GOD OF RAIN is ‘in the can,’ so to speak. Final edits and proofreading done, print and ebook formatted and ready to go. I need to upload the PDF of the print version and have a proof copy in my hand to approve next. That and finish off the details of the cover when I have the exact dimensions and and an ISBN code to add. I do design my own covers, having an art background. Corel Draw is the program of choice for that.

GOR is a little less action-oriented than the three previous novels set among the Mora (my more-or-less Polynesians), the Malvern trilogy. Definitely fewer fights and battles, though a few make their way into the narrative — this is more a journey novel. Our hero, Hito, is searching for many things, both physical and spiritual. More natural dangers (landslides, typhoons, griffins, crocodiles, etc!) appear.

And the greatest danger of all, of course — love.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Novel Lengths

For no particular reason, I was looking at the length of the novels I have turned out. Well, probably because I just finished another (should be sending a PDF to the printer to get a proof in the next week or so) and it was on my mind (and I'm not motivated to start another project immediately). Anyway, here they are:

49,900 - The Eyes of the Wind
54,400 - God of Rain
55,000 - The Middle of Nowhere
56,900 - Valley of Visions
62,800 - Coast of Spears
64,000 - Hero from the Sea
68,000 - Shaper
80,400 - Waves (I was surprised when that one ran as long as it did)

205,900 - Donzalo's Destiny – published in four books:
..46,000 - The Song of the Sword
..47,400 - The Shadow of Asak
..48,800 - The Sign of the Arrow
..63,700 - The Hand of the Sorcerer
DD is really one novel, though it is in eleven distinct sections of novella and novelette length. The word count puts it at about the same length as Moby-Dick. But there is way more action! :)

Of course, if one puts together the three novels of the Malvern Trilogy (Coast of Spears, Valley of Visions, Hero from the Sea) it adds up to more than 180,000 words. But they are really distinct novels, despite having a continuing story.

None of these would I call a 'short novel,' which I would use to describe work between 35,000 and 45,000 words in length. Shorter than that goes into novella territory. Most are not particularly long --- as long as needed, I hope, and no longer!