The Lucky Lad

adventures in dysthymia

Monday, September 26, 2016

A Pile of Bricks

Art that must be explained to be fully understood is perfectly fine. Art that must be explained to be appreciated is bad art. Anyone can enjoy an Impressionist painting without understanding the theories behind it. They can even appreciate the complete abstraction of a Mondrian, the rhythms, the colors.

But who gets anything from an unmade bed? What is there in a pile of bricks placed in the middle of a gallery? These pieces have no intrinsic value. They depend in total on theory, becoming dissertations, not art.

Concept is good. All art must have concept or it is no more than craft. But concept by itself is not art. It is only a pile of bricks.

Stephen Brooke ©2016

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Blackest, a poem


Bring me the blackest thing man’s eye has seen,
blacker than space where comets careen;
black as a raven’s feather in flight,
black as the soul’s darkest storms of night;

blacker than caverns that never knew day,
blacker than depths where leviathan lay;
black as the hearts of three-dozen dragons,
black as the beer in winter’s last flagons;

blacker than black and then blacker yet,
blacker than faceted gems carved of jet.
Bring me the blackest thing man’s ever known,
hidden away where no light has shone.

Stephen Brooke ©2016

Monday, September 19, 2016

Sci-Fi and I

Much great science fiction, from Frankenstein on down, is conceptual. It starts with an idea and explores its ramifications. This is something sci-fi does well.

It does not have to, however. There is nothing wrong with a straight-forward adventure set in the stars. Ideally, it should include more than just adventure or there is no point in it being science fiction at all! The setting, futuristic or otherwise, should at least bring some interesting speculations to the page. It allows the author to bring in thoughts that might not work in another genre.

I don’t write sci-fi. Not yet, at least, though I have notes toward possible novels and stories. Yes, I do have a ‘concept’ for a novel. But I’m mostly about characters, about people and their interactions. I probably don’t really think like the best SF writers. Even ones who created great characters, such as Le Guin.

What is my concept, you might ask? I came across the ‘thought experiment’ of medieval philosopher Avicenna, known as ‘the floating man,’ the idea that an intelligent being with no senses or experiences, ‘floating,’ would still be self-aware. I would be inclined to disagree (being with Aristotle on this one that “there is nothing in the mind which was not first in the senses”) but it is certainly a concept that could be explored and science fiction would be a good place for that exploration.

Of course, it is tied to a tale of espionage and adventure, with a working title of ‘The Floating Mind.’ I may get around to actually outlining it fully and tackling a narrative one day. Or not — so many other projects to work on!

Fantasy, I shall continue to turn out. In many respects, it is more suitable to these sort of philosophical questions, the ‘big’ ones of existence and god and all that. It’s myth. Everyday life certainly may be investigated endlessly but with fantasy one can step back and ask how much of it is real. To use a complete cliché, one can look at the forest instead of the trees. And, having recognized that the forest exists, cross the hill and find another one!

To me, fantasy is very akin to poetry. It explores more with metaphor than do most forms of prose writing. Perhaps that is its personal appeal.

In honesty, however, I feel myself more and more drawn to writing mainstream fiction. At the moment I am writing, rewriting, and editing on a new novel of that sort, to be titled ‘Waves.’ It continues the stories of the characters introduced in ‘Shaper,’ published last year, the surfers and others in the little (fictional) Florida coastal town of Cully Beach. And I can get away with a different style, more stream-of-consciousness and less action. That actually makes it a little harder to edit, to decide what should stay in and what should go — with a fast-paced adventure, those sorts of choices tend to be obvious.

When I finish it, who knows what I’ll tackle? Most likely, another fantasy adventure set in the world of my Malvern novels. I have a new trilogy (of sorts) planned there and would like to make a start. But I must get back to a Donzalo sequel eventually, and I have a whole series of spy novels I’ve been thinking of, and a western or three.

And just maybe that science fiction novel.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Waves Coming

Aiming for a December release.

Novel, a poem


The latest novel from the poet
appeared today. Who will remember
his verses? The words are so few,
when held up for comparison.

Or will some future reader, looking
up from the page, tell her companion,
He also wrote fiction, I understand,
but it wasn’t very good.

Stephen Brooke ©2016

Thursday, September 15, 2016

On Paper, a poem

On Paper

My poems on paper were ever
a bit of a mess —
arrows pointing here and there,
crossings-out, slashes
added and removed as line
breaks slid forward or back.
A list of alternate words
and phrases had to be scrawled
about the margins or at the bottom,
and question marks abounded,
the nuts and bolts of creation.
Yet they came together, as surely,
as the neat lines now on my screen.
They came together and I named
them ‘poem’ and wrote another
on the next piece of paper.

Stephen Brooke ©2016

It's true. Stuff rarely just flows out.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Differeent, a poem


You are different
but it would be easy
to fall in love again.
I, too, am different.

We could be strangers, learning
each other all over, comparing
each other to those half-
forgotten lovers we were.

Let me call you, sometime,
and we can get together.
Your number has changed, too,
hasn’t it? Yes, sometime.

You are different.
Everything is different.

Stephen Brooke ©2016

Nothing special. I jotted most of this down on scrap paper last night after I had turned the computers off.  I admit that the germ of the idea came from someone's post on Tumblr a day or two ago. In a sense, a sort of a very short story, isn't it? It's anyone's guess how it ends!

Monday, September 12, 2016

The No-See-Um

The tiny biting pest known as the no-see-um is common in much of Florida, but especially close to the coasts. Like mosquitoes, they breed in standing water. There are many other names for the little insects, midges being one of the most common.

I am just far enough inland where I currently reside, in the Florida panhandle, to rarely see a no-see-um (that’s an oxymoron, isn’t it?). Only when there is a strong southerly breeze carrying them up from the coast do they appear here. But I have had innumerable encounters and bites in other parts of the state.

Where I grew up on the south-western coast, in the town of Naples on the Gulf of Mexico, we called them sand flies. The variety there was particularly tiny and could pass through pretty much any normal screen. In the days before air conditioning was common, it could be pretty uncomfortable trying to sleep at night with those tiny monsters freely entering the house. Not to mention the fun I had running an early morning paper route with sand flies thick in the air. At least they made me forget about the mosquitoes!

Later, I moved quite a bit further up the Gulf coast to Steinhatchee. A larger species abounded there, known locally as sand gnats. The bite was, if anything, even worse, but the swarms weren’t quite so thick. Generally, the no-see-ums would be most active when it started to grow dark — they do not show up much in the sunshine.

I remember many encounters with the no-see-um on surf trips to the east coast. We would usually try to make it to the Atlantic before dawn — or would attempt some form of overnight camping — so the midges would be out in force. One had a choice of sweltering in the car with the windows closed or opening them and being eaten alive. Ah, they are almost as strong in my memories of Sebastian Inlet as the waves themselves.

The no-see-um is a part of Florida life, or used to be, as surely as anything else. But what brought them to my mind, today? A mention of them on Facebook, on a page dedicated to Flagler Beach, one of my favorite places and sorta-kinda the template for the fictional town of Cully Beach in my novel SHAPER (and the upcoming WAVES). I realized that putting a few words about the no-see-um into a fictional narrative is just the sort of detail that helps bring it to life, to make it more ‘real.’ So FB is occasionally good for something.

Of course, they can also be symbolic of something. What might a no-see-um signify? If nothing else, that even a seeming paradise may not be perfect. There is always the hidden problem. That little things matter. And so on.

I rarely put any direct, overt symbolism in my stories but I also recognize that everything in fiction is a metaphor, on some level. I know I put this sort of thing in without actually thinking about it, sometimes, and only recognize the symbolism, the implicit meaning to it, on rereading. Then I might change a few things to support it, but never to make it obvious. Indeed, I might try to make it less obvious.

In ‘The Bonfire of the Vanities,’ Tom Wolfe includes a painfully wordy scene in which a swarm of gnats become just such an overt symbol. Some readers (and critics) may find that sort of thing impressive but to me it is just bad writing. Why? Because it does not really serve the story. It is a flight of self-indulgence, of ‘aren’t I clever?’

Maybe a symbol should be like a no-see-um, something you don’t know is there until it bites you. Or buzzes in your ear. (Now I am the one trying to be clever, aren’t I?)

The no-see-um is a fact of life in Florida. It may not get the press of the mosquito, but it is every bit as common. Whether as a realistic detail, a metaphor, or a pest, I know I’ll be dealing with it from time to time.

Stephen Brooke ©2016

Festival Mystery

I had plans — fairly nebulous but plans none the less — to follow up the current novel-in-progress with a mystery set at the Florida Folk Festival. This was to be the third in the sequence of ‘Shaper’ novels about surf shop owner, Ted Carrol.

Ted is the protagonist and narrator of SHAPER and of WAVES, the book on which I am working right now. The novels in which he figures are ostensibly ‘crime’ stories but they are really closer to being ‘mainstream’ or even ‘literary fiction.’ They are NOT tightly written in the style of an effective mystery story.

Anyway, the idea was to send Ted and new wife, Michelle, to the Florida Folk Festival the year after the events in WAVES, which would make it May of 2002, perhaps or perhaps not with Michelle’s daughter, Charlie, in tow (she has plans for a police career), probably spending time there with his artist friend Pat and his wife Betty. Exactly what the ‘mystery’ would entail, I had not decided but it would probably not involve murder.

I am thinking differently now. I still want to do the festival mystery but I need a faster paced and possibly third person approach. I think maybe there should be a murder (it would be hushed up, of course, which is why none of you Florida Folkies reading this ever heard of it!). Maybe Pat will the central character instead (or Betty or even young Charlie, if she attends). I would like to move it a year earlier to 2001, the year that there was thick smoke at the festival from forest fires. That would be a perfect cover for crimes and pursuit. It was also the year I myself ‘discovered’ the Florida Folk Festival, thanks to my girlfriend at the time. (There just might be a somewhat thinly disguised version of her in the book!)

Or I might stick to the original idea. Lots of other novels in my head and some of them are going to be written first. I’ll let this concept sit for a while and see what new thoughts I might have about it. I’m plugging away at WAVES and may or may not have a finished version ready for release this year. Then on to something else, probably another fantasy novel. Or that western or maybe the spy tale? We’ll see.