adventures in dysthymia

Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Stupid Phone

I seriously considered upgrading to a smart phone. Really, I did. For three years now, I have depended on the stupidest and cheapest of phones that I rarely use for anything — it's there for emergency use and because one must have a phone number for all sorts of things. It was cheaper to have the prepaid cell than a land line or I would never have changed over.

And internet via phone line never became available here, even though AT&T promised it was immanent when I moved in eight years ago. If cable internet were available, I would probably get an online number and use that, but VOP does not work well with a satellite connection, which is pretty much my only option out here in the boonies.

For that matter, my cell reception is pretty iffy here, or I might have had more reason to go to the smart phone. Not much good if one can't get a connection, is it?

So I depend on a big and somewhat powerful desktop computer most of the time to stay in contact with the world. I need that for graphics work, music recording, etc. anyway. What would I do with a smart phone? Well, I could take credit card payments when I'm out on the road with my books. Or music, if I ever get myself back into that. And I could text my friends without cursing that tiny keyboard that always makes me mess up something.

Anyway, it was time to pay up for another year of prepaid service. I did peruse the smart phones that I could move up to. But instead, I laid out 150 bucks and now have service for not one but two more years. Even if that service kind of stinks. If I need it, I'll upgrade some other time.

And if I can afford. That's always a factor!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

I Could Do Worse, a poem

I Could Do Worse

I could do far worse than you,
far worse, my darling, it is true;
so why should I seek someone new?
Yes, my darling — you will do!

Women come in many sizes —
some of these, men consider prizes;
you might be large but compromises
must be made, one recognizes.

Fair faces inspire many a verse;
yours may be plain but I could do worse,
for ample, too is the size of your purse —
being penniless is my curse!

I would not scorn to share your bed;
just leave room enough to lay my head,
and from that day we're lawfully wed,
both of us shall be well fed.

At least I know you through and through,
thick though you are; I've naught to rue.
Yes, my darling, you will do —
I could do far worse than you!

Stephen Brooke ©2015

Another bit of somewhat silly light verse that might appear in a novel, eventually. In that context, of course, it not PC-ness is permissible. :)

Monday, November 23, 2015

Decipher, a poem

Decipher

My story is written in invisible ink,
seen only by the heat of the flame.
Be my candle this night and we shall read
each secret message, decipher all

the hidden words of my heart. Other eyes
have not glimpsed these lines; no spy
has learned the truths I wrote upon the day.
Read them for this ink will fade

in time, become invisible once again.
So are the words of those who lurk
along the edges of life, trusting few
to decipher what is written.

Stephen Brooke ©2015

Of course, when I am turning out lots of poetry I am not getting any work done on the next novel.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Monkey King, a poem

Monkey King

Life is a tree-full of monkeys
and I am the king of them all!
I climb to the highest of branches,
I know where the best fruits will fall.
Each monkey girl adores me,
they come to me when I might call;
Is anything better than being
a king in a tree standing tall?

I am the king of the monkeys,
against me no others avail,
for I have the sharpest of teeth,
the longest and most curly tail.
And if by misfortune I spy
the face of some poor lesser male,
I chase him along leafy ways;
the monkey king never shall fail!

Life is a tree-full of monkeys,
where I sit high on my throne;
the females all vie for my grooming,
so I don't sit there alone!
I'm sure I shall be king forever,
the greatest that my kind has known —
the mightiest monarch of monkeys,
and no tree as fine as my own!

Stephen Brooke ©2015

Friday, November 20, 2015

Grains of Sand, a poem

Grains of Sand

I have been in the desert,
counting the grains of sand.
They mark the days of exile.
They whisper in the night
of an oasis.

She is there, say the dunes,
shifting ever slowly.
Among the palms shall you
find her, and she will feed you
of the sweet dates.

As a wandering tribe
I passed from land to land.
Where does tomorrow grow,
I asked, beside shaded waters?
None could say.

Further on, they tell me.
They point to the setting sun.
There lie all the wonders
we fear to seek, as many
as grains of sand.

All I had has blown
away, crossed that horizon.
The desert has no end.
I have counted the grains
of sand, and know.

Stephen Brooke ©2015

First Person, Fantasy, and Feminism

Telling a tale in the first person, with a male protagonist, presents some difficulties in the portrayal of women. Their characters are always going to be filtered through his perceptions. Any conversations between women that he might report will be colored by his presence.

I recognize this problem in both my Malvern fantasy series and in my two contemporary Florida novels. There were reasons to go first person with them and I do not regret the choice, but it makes for a less feminist-friendly end result. Not that women do not play important roles. No slave girls cling to burly barbarians in my books.

The “Donzalo's Destiny” series is another matter. One might almost say that, despite the title, the novels focus more on the pair of Lady Fachalana and her friend, the spy Ansa. Certainly, much of the plot is centered on them — they are, in a sense, Donzalo's destiny.

There are, of course, quite a few other female characters, some in leading, some in supporting, roles. And there are many conversations between them, ones that have nothing to do with men or romantic interests (though those do show up). They pass the Bechdel test with no difficulty.

My four Donzalo novels (really, one long novel) are fairly sprawling and have quite a few interweaving plot lines, so one could not really say that anyone is the actual hero. Donzalo? Even if the tale centers on him, he is often swept along in it, not the individual making things happen. Indeed, he tends to resist change. Fachalana is far more inclined to jump in and move things along.

And, as a result, we also get to know her. I am hoping my readers will get to know her better when I return to Lama with my writing. Donzalo himself has found his 'destiny' and will be no more than a supporting character in any sequels. Fachalana, on the other hand, has all sorts of interesting events ahead of her. I keep thinking of new ones all the time!

So, expect a fiery swordswoman and sorceress to take the lead. We left her somewhat damaged, recovering in the caves of the Fays at the end of the last Donzalo book. The Lady Fachalana is bound to come out of there and raise her customary ruckus soon.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Books Keep Coming

I have started the process of getting my files for VALLEY OF VISIONS uploaded for printing and distribution, with hopes of the book being generally available by the time of its official release date, January 2. That might or might not happen, though it almost certainly will be in our own store well before then.

I am reasonably pleased with VOV. Perhaps it is not quite as tightly plotted as the novel to which it is a sequel, COAST OF SPEARS, being a tad episodic. As it is based around a journey, this should perhaps be expected. It does follow the same basic setup, being in four somewhat distinct sections, each with its own arc, and adding up to around 60,000 words. In other words, I followed the Michael Moorcock model again, to some degree.

VALLEY does answer many of the questions posed in COAST, but does not bring the Malvern story to a close. That should occur in the third novel, HERO FROM THE SEA. Still in outline stage, so you will have to wait a little while.

Simultaneously, I have been revising all four of the “Donzalo's Destiny” volumes for wider print distribution (and fixing minor flaws in all editions, while I am at it). The first two books (I won't call them novels, for the whole Donzalo tale is truly one novel of a bit over 200,000 words) are up and I am currently getting the third one uploaded. The revised versions are immediately available at the Arachis Press store (at AP's distributor, Lulu Enterprises) but take varying amounts of time to appear elsewhere. Probably the fourth and final book will be ready early next year. This will mean almost all my books will be available everywhere both in print and ebook formats (including Kindle) at last. The one exception is THE ART OF K. PAGE BROOKE, the retrospective of my mother's art career. That would not have wide enough interest, I think, but of course it is available direct.

Lots of novel projects in my mind right now. I should pick one and start writing on it.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Four Stupid Little Poems

Four Stupid Little Poems

Prices

I am here, each day,
selling myself to the world.
It's time I cut my prices
once again.

The Word

I sought le mot juste,
the right word, the needed word.
No one could understand
what it meant.

Awards

My awards and diplomas
have finally proven useful.
The backs are good for jotting
down grocery lists.

Girlfriend

I found the same drawback
with every girlfriend.
They wanted to go places
and do things.

Stephen Brooke ©2015

In form, of a sort. Little thoughts that didn't seem worth the working up of anything longer.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Not the Hero

I have be rereading “King Solomon's Mines” lately. The second time, I am pretty sure, unless one counts the Classics Illustrated version I had when I was perhaps eight or nine. I'm sure I read through that more than once, or even twice.

Anyway, I am recognizing that I cribbed a bit from it for my latest novel, “Valley of Visions.” Not the plot, you understand, but the setting and the crossing of the mountains, including the finding of the road on the far side. I had quite forgotten that detail but, sure enough, I put it into my story.

I think my Michael Malvern may also have been, in part, inspired by Allan Quartermain. Both are competent but neither quite steps into that cliched role of 'white savior' that they might. Quartermain tends to play something of a supporting part in H. Rider Haggard's novel, not the hero, and that was always my intention with Malvern. I just hadn't thought about where I might have stolen that idea!

Of course, “Valley” is a completely different book, whatever inspirations and influences might have led to its writing. Don't expect any more similarities than those I have mentioned.

“Valley of Visions” is to be officially released on January 2 of next year, the first weekend of 2016. That's a good time to use those Amazon gift certificates, right? As usual, the book should show up at various vendors before that date, both in print and ebook. Definitely at Arachis Press as a direct sale.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Nothing in Common, a song-poem

Nothing in Common

I've nothing in common with you, my dear,
nothing in common at all;
You are the blithe springtime of the year
and I the cold wind of fall.

I've nothing in common with you, I fear,
for as you may well recall,
I'd far rather sit and drink my beer
while you yearn to dance at the ball.

I've nothing in common with you, and here
most likely is what would befall
if we were to whisper in a friend's ear —
you'd charm and I would appall.

I've nothing in common with you, it's clear,
the differences are not small;
indeed, I am inclined to cheer
at moments when you might bawl!

I've nothing in common with you, the mere
thought of you, perfect and tall
reminds me wherever I might appear,
folks tell me I make their skin crawl.

I've nothing in common with you, my dear,
and yet I long for your call;
no, nothing in common with you, my dear,
nothing in common at all.

Stephen Brooke ©2015

I wrote this with the thought of putting it into an upcoming novel, an eventual sequel to my Donzalo books. One of the protagonists writes comic plays and this might fit in as one of his songs.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

The Universe Laughs, a poem

The Universe Laughs
a sonnet

The universe laughs not at you and me,
my friend. We go unnoticed, specks of dust
who dream the dreams of motes, and sate our lust,
oblivious to all infinity
may find amusing. What was and will be
are met today, as it would seem they must
or not. Which does not matter; it is just
the same. It's the eternal joke, you see.

Between the stars, the laughter echoes faint
and we may strain to hear, yet comprehension
comes never. Every sinner is a saint
and every mortal, dying, seeks ascension
to heaven's promise, slipping this constraint.
The universe laughs not at our pretension.

Stephen Brooke ©2015

King Solomon's Island

The story goes that H. Rider Haggard, having finished reading 'Treasure Island,' stated that he could do better and sat down to write 'King Solomon's Mines.' Did he do better?

Well, Haggard's plots and settings are certainly more inventive than those of Robert Louis Stevenson. It must be admitted that RLS could be a bit predictable. Do not look to him for much in the way of plot twists.

Where Stevenson outstrips Haggard and most other writers of adventure is in characterization. There is depth to those who people his stories, both the heroes and the villains and, in particular, those who are a bit of each (a la Long John Silver). Yes, his protagonists can be somewhat boring. They tend to be 'everyman,' junior edition, with all the failings of real human beings.

One might complain, however, that they do not do much deep thinking. Haggard is certainly more interested in bigger questions of philosophy, questions better served by the fantasy elements in his novels. But those who seek the answers lack the complexity of Stevenson's characters.

Let us face it, most people, most of the time, have their minds on the more mundane tasks of life, such as staying alive. So what if Jim Hawkins doesn't ponder the meaning of life? He can do that when he gets home safely.

Both were decent writers of adventure, and influenced those who followed. We would have no Edgar Rice Burroughs without an Haggard. Mr Hyde is an enduring concept, emulated widely.

I am certainly not going to pick one or the other as my favorite!

Monday, November 02, 2015

On Socialism

I consistently see both liberals and democrats misuse the term 'socialist.' Sanders is a socialist, claims the left. Obama is a socialist, claims the right. One sees it as a good thing, the other as an evil. But neither fits the traditional definition.

Socialism means government (or common) ownership of the means of production — industry, natural resources, etc. It does not mean the welfare state or programs for the common good. The modern welfare state arises from the policies of such men as Bismark, not Marx. It exists to protect the capitalist system from socialism, to co-opt the socialist into the established order.

In essence, it is a form of corporatism. Democratic corporatism, if you will, rather than democratic socialism as many are referring to it. It very much protects big business and tries to promote a stable society in which it can flourish.

I also frequently see those on the left referring to the far right as corporatists, but this, too, is incorrect. Those 'conservatives' want to dismantle the partnership between government and business, and replace it with unbridled capitalism.

Now, I will admit that I do not feel particularly fond of socialism, capitalism, or corporatism. (I will not include communism — there has never been a truly communist nation, the Soviet Union, etc, being essentially socialist. Indeed, by Marx's definition, there can not be a communist nation because the state will 'wither away.') I am a sort of distributist, in essence — whether that makes me liberal, conservative, or simply crazy, I do not know.

I will also admit that words mean whatever we choose them to mean. If the definition of socialism has shifted, so be it. Things will go on no matter which words we use.

Things always go on.

Stephen Brooke ©2015

I rarely write anything of this sort anymore, preferring to tuck such ideas into my fiction. But here it is anyway.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Fonts for Writing

Fonts or, more properly, typefaces, may not be a major concern for writers but it is certainly useful to know a little about them. For those of us who also design books – for ourselves or others – the subject is of greater importance.

Many authors are quite willing to leave it up to their publisher or designer, but for publication purposes, it is pretty safe to say 'when in doubt, use Garamond.' That is, utilize some variant on the Garamond typeface for novels and other fiction; it is not necessarily a great choice for poetry or nonfiction or magazines, but it can always work. I'll get back to that.

But first, I wish to touch on fonts used for the actual writing process. Assuming one uses a word processing program on a computer (there are a few holdouts, I know), what would be a good choice? There are two concerns with any typeface, readability and legibility. These are not necessarily the same thing.

Garamond is very readable. It pulls the eye right along a line of text. This is great in a book but not so good for thoughtful editing. We need to be able to slow down and see everything clearly.

Now, for poetry or songwriting, I prefer to use a monospaced font. This makes it easier for me to show the rhythm of the piece, line up the accents and breaks in the text. And to make it simple to exchange song lyric files with other musicians and have everything show up in the right place, I use the ubiquitous Courier New. Of course, Courier is also pretty much the standard for screenplays, if one is inclined to their creation.

Courier is obviously not suited to publishing poetry, however. Nor would I use Garamond, as a rule, preferring something that makes the eye linger rather than speed-read! Still, it should be a good readable typeface, not something intended for display. I might be inclined to say 'when in doubt, use Palatino' here. It has, perhaps, been overused but it always works.

Not for novels, however — I actually laid out my first novel, the YA title THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE, in a variant of Palatino. That would be URW Palladio, from the same designer (Herman Zapf) who created Palatino. I would not use it again but it is not that big a deal. It still works well enough.

I also use Palladio for writing. It is legible on the screen, and easy to work with both in the writing and editing phases. That is just my personal choice; there are plenty of other good on-screen fonts. Georgia should be excellent for writing, as should some of the newer 'standards' that Microsoft has included in recent versions of Windows. But use something that is not cramped. Avoid Times New Roman and similar fonts intended for newspaper and magazine use. They work better in narrow columns, not in lines extending across a page. Your eyes will thank you.

That is equally true in a publishing context. I will admit that my very first chapbook of poetry, PIECES OF THE MOON, originally appeared set in Times NR. It didn't look that bad, admittedly, but I eventually replaced it with Gentium. This, likewise, is something of a magazine-oriented font but I chose it because it required minimal change to the layout. At least, I got away from that too-familiar appearance of Times.

Occasionally, that Times New Roman is needed, however. If one is submitting printed-out work to a publisher, it might be specified. That shouldn't matter, of course, in a digital file. I also prepare my files intended for EPUB in Times, simply because it always converts without any problems — and the reader can choose whatever typeface they desire, anyway.

Speaking of files, some publishers may insist on Microsoft Word for submissions. I refuse to use it on general principle. I work almost entirely in Open Office Writer (Libre Office is just as good), sometimes even laying out the final book there. I used to prefer Corel WordPerfect and will admit it does have some functionality advantages. But back to fonts.

And back to Garamond. My recent “Malvern” novels (COAST OF SPEARS and the soon-to-be-released VALLEY OF VISIONS) are set in URW Garamond No8. This, as the afore-mentioned Palladio, is part of the group of typefaces URW donated to the GhostScript project some time back and are completely free to use. A recommended download for anyone wanting a group of very usable, no-strings fonts (and part of the Scribus free desktop publishing program download).

There are any number of other good Garamonds out there, some free to use, some not. Look around. And there are Caslons and Baskervilles and so on, all of them perfectly adequate. If you are designing your own (or, again, someone else's) book, you'll want to give them some study. Or, when in doubt, use Garamond.