Saturday, April 30, 2016

Eyes, a story


Worn hollow by emphysema, my aunt would travel no more. She had been the odd one, the adventurous one, the cultured one. She was the one who let her work carry her around the globe, too much in a rush to ever marry, to have any family other than nieces and nephews and pen-pals in Vietnam or Hong Kong or Australia.

Too independent, as well, she had been, not letting any help her until she could help herself no more. Always thin, now her skin hung on her frail form, only her proud aquiline nose still jutting from a sunken face. “Am I dying?” she whispered to me, as I kept vigil by her bed. How could I answer?

It didn’t matter. She slipped once more into sleep, closing her pale eyes. They were the same color as my mom’s, the color of sky after summer rain. She did not open them again.

Stephen Brooke ©2016

More a vignette than a story and not intended to stand alone anyway, this is the sort of thing I am inclined to jot down and have ready to plug into a longer story or novel.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Riddle Songs

BRAND NEW DAY – a song by Mean Mary

If I gave an inch
and asked to go for a mile,
would you cross that sea
to carry me
forever and a while?
If I close my eyes,
If I close them tight,
would you stand near,
stay right here,
and make my darkness bright?

Would you marry me
before you kiss me?
Would you wait for me
before I’m gone?
Would you celebrate
all the things I should have won,
and start a brand new day with me,
before the old day’s done?

If we lost it all,
if we had no home,
all the world would see
is you and me
together on the road.
And if we lost our way
in life’s blowing sands,
all the world would see
is you and me
in a desert, holding hands.

Would you marry me
before you kiss me?
Would you wait for me
before I’m gone?
Would you celebrate
all the things I should have won,
and start a brand new day with me,
before the old day’s done?

a song by ‘Mean Mary’ James from her album ‘Sweet’ ©2016 

I had to share this lyric (not that there are not plenty of other good ones on her new album release) by my niece, Mary James. All her own (some she co-writes with her mother, Jean James) , lyric and music. A riddle song --- which made me think of a riddle song/poem I wrote and tucked into the first Donzalo's Destiny novel, THE SONG OF THE SWORD. Who knows, maybe I inspired Mary to turn her hand to a riddle song of her own. :)

Be that as it may, it did inspire me back to pull out my effort and decide maybe it should have music. A couple of the song pieces in the Donzalo books do have music. The song that actually inspired the title of the novel, 'The Song of the Sword,' was written well before I started in on the book. And I sometimes play a song I wrote for one of the later novels, titled 'I Who Was Young.' I'll probably trot it out in public someday.

I am working on some sort of tune on this one right now. Maybe it should have a title too, huh?

What shadow does a shadow cast?
How long does forever last?
Where sleeps the wind before it blows?
Where is love when it goes?

If I passed beyond the sea,
would you wait and watch for me?
If I crossed the mountains high,
would you pray for wings to fly?

Who am I without my name?
Are the gods or we to blame?
Why must dreams fade with the dawn?
Where is love once it is gone?

If I passed beyond the sea,
would you wait and watch for me?
If I crossed the mountains high,
would you pray for wings to fly?

Could a man count every star?
Why are all things as they are?
Do you love me when you sleep?
Answer these or silence keep.

Stephen Brooke ©2013

By Ourselves, Together, a song

By Ourselves, Together

Let’s go out by ourselves, together,
catch a movie, have a bite;
then we needn’t wonder whether
we could find a date tonight.
You might sit a cross from me
and listen to your own conversation,
while I keep myself company,
with complete self-fascination

Our evening shouldn’t be any more boring
and lots less stressful than most dates,
with neither thinking about scoring,
no one seeking prospective mates.
So let me pick you up at seven,
or you get me, it doesn’t matter;
if we met there, it would be heaven —
we could avoid each others chatter.

Yes, let’s go out and ignore each other,
you can treat me like a brother;
we’ll have no concerns about tomorrow
and parting will be neither sweet nor sorrow.
Enjoy a meal, be at our ease,
but with separate checks, if you please;
let’s get off our respective shelves
and go out together all by ourselves.

And when the end comes, we might nod
a friendly farewell before we part;
never mind that it’s all a fraud,
there was no danger to either’s heart.
No need for us to stoke a fire,
no secrets we yearned to discover —
once more we managed to avoid the mire,
alone together, but not with a lover.

Stephen Brooke ©2016

Well, I said that poem I posted yesterday had the seeds of a song in it. So this lyric is what grew, three verses and a chorus. It will, of course, need polishing. And a tune --- haven't really been inspired in that direction yet. I would have to admit that this song echoes one I wrote a few years back called "A Make-Believe Affair." And I would also have to admit that "Affair" is really a better song, so I'm not feeling a great urge to work on this one right now.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Together, a poem


We could go out by ourselves,
together. You sit across from me
and listen to your own conversation
while I enjoy my company.

It shouldn’t be any more boring
than some dates you’ve been on, and lots
less stressful. Yes, let’s go out
together and ignore each other.

And at the end, we might nod
a friendly farewell — parting will be
neither sweet nor sorrow. But it
will be separate checks, please.

Stephen Brooke ©2016

the perfect date? :)

Addendum, next day: It occurred to me (in the middle of the night, of course) that this might be an idea for a song. Maybe I'll try to mess with that amid all the other projects taking up my time.

Not a Bad Day, a short story

Not a Bad Day

It wasn’t a bad day. Some will claim that any day at the beach is good. Those are people who don’t spend every day there.

But, again, it wasn’t a bad day. The sun shone all morning, as it usually does, and the afternoon sea-breeze brought its storms. One does appreciate those daily rains, the cooling of the air, and then the clearing into a night of stars, thrown against the black silk sky. Far below them, ankle-high waves softly whisper to the sand.

The Gulf is placid in summer. Once, life had been placid in this little town, but I had seen, had felt, things slowly change around me. When had I realized it was no longer the same? Maybe it hit me when they put in parking meters at the beach. Long before, though, access had become more limited, the trails I had walked as a boy were closed off as high-rises and golf courses and Northerners with money changed the landscape.

Never mind that most of my friends had been born up north. This was where I grew up and if I belonged anywhere, it was here.

Or had once belonged. Failure is failure, wherever one goes. Even if it is home.

I probably should have grabbed a nap. I would be tired at work tonight, sitting in a lonesome toll booth. It generally wasn’t a bad night, either, out there on the edge of the Everglades, listening to the frogs and the barred owls and, yes, sometimes the gators. It was a temporary job, I had told myself, and that was probably still true.

Wasn’t everything temporary, really?

Larry King would be on the overnight radio and I might or might not listen. Vehicles were few, and fewer as the night progressed. I would welcome the break in my boredom when I went in and cleaned the restrooms.

I might try to write. It never seemed very urgent when I was there. There never seemed much reason to focus.

There was still time to eat, time to get cleaned up. I didn’t need to leave just yet. I would listen a while longer to the little waves, murmuring their way around the pilings, before heading back to my trailer, out past the airport, past the industrial park.

Yes, there was still time. It wasn’t a bad day. Not a bad day at all.

Stephen Brooke ©2016

One of my 'Branford Perry' short stories---a very short one! I have like a half-dozen in more-or-less final form and will undoubtedly turn out more. And maybe a novel eventually. This would be set, as it is, in the fictional town of 'Genoa' around the early 80s...or the real town of Naples

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Mary and Joey Aboard the Boat

I posted a music review over at the Eggshell Boats blog:

This is for a pair of Americana (more or less) CDs, one by Mean Mary and one by Joey Errigo. Two artists I rather like, so the reviews are pretty favorable. Aside from the 'Americana' thing, both have ties to Florida. I hope to continue posting reviews of, well, whatever, there and eventually actually get the magazine going!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016


Some well-known and well-respected authors claim that we should not write for an audience, only for ourselves. Others, equally respected, have stated quite the opposite and feel we should have an ideal audience in mind, even if it is only one person. Given these two contradictory viewpoints, I would assume it doesn’t matter much.

But I myself tend toward the write-for-the-audience view. I am telling stories and I want them heard. I have before mentioned the metaphor of the storyteller, seated in the marketplace, with his circle of listeners. This is still my idea of what and who I am — or want to be. I am crafting tales (and this includes the poems and songs) that are meant to be not only heard but also understood.

Easily understood? Not necessarily. If things were easy to understand, there would be no point to any of the arts. Our role is to help our audience see the difficult a little more clearly, to add another brightly-colored tile to the mosaic.

For we do not see reality. We see a picture of reality, a construct of metaphor. It’s the old blind men and the elephant bit. The elephant IS all the things those gropers in darkness thought him; each metaphor they created helped them to further comprehend ‘elephant.’ No one can ever completely understand that creature or anything else.

So we help them along as best we may, giving our audience a rope or a tree or whatever is needed to better understand their own elephants. And if we help ourselves in the process, well, that’s all the better.

Stephen Brooke ©2016

Scat, a poem


The lounge singer’s drunken scat
has lasted too long. Someone
whisper the right words to him
so we can get on with the song.

Stephen Brooke ©2016

A little poem thingy. I suppose one could see it as a metaphor for all sorts of things. Or maybe it's just about a drunken singer.

Skinks, a poem


A big boy skink has been
pursuing a big girl skink
all around my studio floor,
patiently but persistently.

His head is broader than hers
but both are broad-headed skinks
and I suspect that more
broad headed skinks are in the offing.

Boy artists have been know
to pursue girl artists here as well.
I return to my canvas and hope
the broad-headed skink has more success.

Stephen Brooke ©2016

Just some silliness I threw off in a moment or two this morning. And all sorts of critters roam around my place. This old farmhouse is pretty porous.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Firewood, a poem


The tree of knowledge came down
in last night’s storm. Now I
must get out the chain saw,
cutting good and evil

into manageable lengths
of firewood. Will you
sit before that blaze
with me? It might burn

as brightly as the angel
guarding the gates of Eden.

Stephen Brooke ©2016


The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt. ~ Sylvia Plath

Sylvia...would you have ever written anything without the self-doubt that lived in you? Those who do not doubt their ideas, their worth, do not become artists. Not good artists, anyway.

We must fear the words we write, be disturbed by them, doubt them; then we must give them to the world, regardless of all that. To face our doubts, to dare to explore them, is the way to creativity.

But we will continue to feel those self-doubts. Without them, our art becomes complacent. We must continue to force ourselves to step over that edge, even if we don’t know where we will land. We must ever doubt ourselves.

Stephen Brooke ©2016

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Invented History

When I speak of creating a thorough backstory for my novels, especially the fantasy ones, it includes working on the language and alphabets, a la Tolkien. Now, I wouldn't necessarily go as far with it as he did (not being a linguist, after all), but I recognize the need for some structure there. In my Malvern Trilogy (and the upcoming Mora sequel-esque trilogy), I mostly borrowed from Polynesian and other Oceanic languages, attempting to be fairly consistent about how the words might have changed over time (but not being too fussy about that).

However, for the second Malvern novel, VALLEY OF VISIONS, I needed a completely different language, invented largely from scratch, for the ageless sorcerer Hurasu to create for his people. I will admit that I borrowed some from ancient Etruscan for this, while trying to maintain the concept that it was a logical invented language, not an organic one. Of course, there would have been an alphabet created to go with it.

I have not gotten around to working up a definitive version of that alphabet. It may not be needed --- it certainly wasn't for the novel. I did, however, create a system of numerals that the people of the valley used. It is possible that Malvern might introduce them to the Mora people (the more-or-less Polynesians with whom he has settled). Or maybe not, but I am ready if need be. The numbers use a base-twelve system, not base-ten as we are accustomed to. There are many advantages, really, to using 12 but I mostly wanted it to be, well, a bit alien to us. Hurasu did, after all, come from another world. Here they are:

I did not need to make these up but it's kind of fun, and it makes it all more 'real' to me. If it seems more real to me, then perhaps I can convey that in my writing. The more well realized my worlds are, the better.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Foam and Fiberglass

Foam and fiberglass — that sounds like this should be post about building surfboards, doesn’t it? Something I know a bit about.

But, no, I am going to write about sound treatment for a recording space. I dabble at getting my studio into shape, but there are so many other things taking my attention right now that I haven’t been working at it as I should. Nor doing any recording, of course. One thing I have done is build some ‘super-chunks’ for my corners, to act as bass traps.

Or, I have made a start on them. They can and will get taller. These are essentially slabs of fiberglass board stacked up in the corner. I went with squares, though triangles are more common. That was a matter of space utilization. I am putting them at the floor in all four corners of my one-room space (it seems unlikely I will ever expand into the carport, as originally envisioned).

More treatment will definitely be needed. I have some fiberglass panels across the open rafters in my room (a nice large space, by the way, 14’ by 22’) to act as ‘sound clouds.’ They help more than anything else I’ve put up so far to cut down on echoes and comb filtering. I have a stack of panels to use, yet; these were originally ceiling tiles, 3/4” thick, 2’ by 4’. Not sure how best to utilize them, maybe just cut them all into squares for the super-chunks and get something else for the rest of the room.

As I can afford it, of course. Nice fabric-covered fiberglass panels are not really cheap. Fiberglass, it should be noted, is rather more effective than foam. This is not to say that foam is useless, but it would take VERY thick chunks of it to control the deep bass response of a room. And every recording space should be controlled as much as possible. This is more important than any equipment one might purchase; indeed, the only thing more important is talent!

So it is where my funds are going for a while. When I have funds. In the mean time, I shall work with what I have, finish getting the equipment sorted out (LOTS of cables to get properly plugged into the patchbays), and just maybe record something.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Interviews and Anniversaries

Chugging along, sort of, on the writing of the next novel, THE EYES OF THE WIND. I could push myself more but I have lots of things to divert my attention right now. That's okay, the plot is like a bowl of dough, slowly expanding and getting ready to shape and bake in a while. I know how quickly I can actually churn out the narrative once I am ready.

I did a little 'author interview' for a blog over at Tumbler a couple days ago: --- just for fun, really. I eventually hope to interview creative folks for Eggshell Boats but right now that is yet another demand on my attention that I'm not getting to...

Today is my birthday, number sixty-six. Not a big deal and I tend to ignore birthdays and anniversaries, but two days from now is also the twelfth anniversary of this blog. Hard to believe I've been posting here that long.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Size, a poem


The size of the universe
is measured by the distance
from me to you.

Tonight, infinity
fills one room.

Stephen Brooke ©2016

A rather short piece in a vaguely tanka-like form. Not addressed to anyone in particular, just the 'ideal.' I and that ideal have had a long and tempestuous relationship...

Monday, April 18, 2016

Janus, a poem


Janus-faced Life, I think I know you
until you turn your head. You sing
your own harsh harmony, and which
is the tune and which counterpoint?

Look both ways, god of beginnings
and of ends. Look for me
on the road as I plod toward somewhere
else. It is beyond those hills

where even you cannot see.

Stephen Brooke ©2016

Now this is one of those poems that started purely from a phrase that popped into my head---the first three words here---and the rest followed pretty quickly.


Each of us stands in a different place, seeing what is from a different angle. This does not change what is. Nor does it mean that our view is wrong, just that it is only one view, one insight, into a vast reality.

We know that reality, our world, through the metaphors we create. The artist is in the business of crafting those metaphors, increasing our understanding, inviting us to see through the eyes of another.

These different views might be called ‘illusions’ but there is truth in every illusion, as there is illusion in every truth. It is we who create the structures of reality, hang this idea here, that one there, in hopes of understanding the whole. We never will, of course, but it is human to attempt it.

It is human to be an artist.

Stephen Brooke ©2016

A very short essay I also posted over at the Eggshell Boats blog. And at FaceBook and Tumbler, for that matter.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Selfie

Half a century ago, the 'selfie' — the self-portrait — was not so simple a process. We artist types could sit down at a mirror and sketch or paint ourselves, and often did, for want of a better subject. The selfie is nothing new for me.

Or, with a timer, one could utilize a film camera. That is nothing I did more than once or twice, nor did I ever encounter one of those photo booths one sometimes sees in old movies or television programs. I was never near the sort of place such a thing might be found.

The self-portrait has been democratized, for better or worse. I shall admit that I don't know how to use my phone to take a selfie, nor any other sort of photograph. I'm not particularly interested in doing it. I've never been very interested in taking pictures at all, preferring my memories and my sketches.

And I have a mirror, so I can look at myself anytime I wish. Why, then, take a photo?

More Malvern?

My Malvern Trilogy of fantasy novels was finished and published a while ago but I actually have a trilogy of sequels somewhat sketched out. These will not be told by Michael Malvern, the castaway ‘hero from the sea,’ as in the first trilogy. Rather, each will be narrated by a different secondary character from those novels.

The first is to be titled GOD OF RAIN and will follow Malvern’s sometime sidekick, the Mora warrior Hito. The plot is relatively well fleshed out there but, still, I would prefer to finish up some other projects before tackling the book and ‘The Mora Trilogy.’

It should be followed by a tale of Teme, the young girl-turned-warrior and sister to the new High King. Likely title is ARROWS OF HEAVEN. It should be set a few years later, as Teme is only fifteen at the end of the Malvern Trilogy. I hope I can pull off writing as a woman!

The third book will take up the story of Malvern’s son, Maratoa, which could be as much as two decades later — he is an infant at the conclusion of HERO FROM THE SEA. The planned title is WARRIOR OF THE MOON (which is what his name means in the Mora language).

I am tempted to launch into these novels in part because they are easier to write. They are relatively straightforward action stories, told in the first person. The interweaving subplots of my Donzalo books take a bit more work! I will attempt to get back to that world in time, having left the fate of Lady Fachalana somewhat up in the air.

But first, I must finish writing THE EYES OF THE WIND, set in the Donzalo world but somewhat over thirteen centuries earlier. It helps set the stage for that later world and the rise of the nations that dominate it. But the story itself does not deal with that, being a fairly simple romantic fantasy adventure. I think I have worked out my basic plot points pretty well now (essentially, it is a quest for four gems), especially the motivations involved.

Incidentally, I also have ideas for a couple sequels to my contemporary novel, SHAPER. One of these might just involve a murder mystery set at the Florida Folk Festival.

So, back to work. On something!

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Ballad of Jesse and Robin, a song


Between Missouri and green Sherwood
there runs a lonesome way,
where Jesse James met Robin Hood
on one timeless day.

Said Jesse, “I see that we are brothers
though I rob trains and banks;
we take from some and give to others —
those others give us thanks.”

“Though brothers,” said Robin, “we may seem,
we differ in one thing —
your rebel cause was a traitorous scheme;
I served my rightful king.”

“But weren't you known,” asked the outlaw James,
“to take the king's own deer?
You and his sheriff played deadly games,
no man of his did you fear.”

“My merry men no arrows aimed
at crowned head,” Robin swore,
“for we loved Richard and can't be blamed
if we loved his venison more!”

“The railroad had become our king,”
said Jesse, “and my foe;
would I'd had the strength to bring
such a monarch low.

“The bankers and the railroad men
would force us from our land;
their Pinkertons burnt and slew our kin —
this no man should stand.”

“And so it is that you must need
to fight still your war;
but,” said Robin, “mankind’s greed
will ever grind the poor.

“We have no choice but to be bold,
though we may never avail,
and enjoy our enemies’ gold
and a cup of golden ale!”

“Yes, so it is and so it will be
and if all comes to naught,
at least,” said Jesse, “we lived free;
at least men know we fought.”

Between green Sherwood and Missouri,
where runs a lonely way,
Jesse James and Robin Hood
parted on that day.

Stephen Brooke ©2016

A song lyric I've occasionally worked at over the past few months. I think it is done now or as done as it ever will be. No, I don't have a tune and I'm not sure it is something I or anyone else would ever perform anyway. A straight-forward ballad in form. 

Addendum, later in the day: Okay, couldn't help myself. Wrote up a simple tune (in D Dorian mode) and have played it a few times.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Tried, a poem


I should not have tried.
There were too many duties
tugging at my sleeve
for me to love you.

I should not have tried
to divide myself and give
a piece to you and another
to the world.

I should not have tried
when guilt told me I was
stealing time that I
could never repay.

There were too many debts
and I chose to slip
away from them all. I should
not have tried.

Stephen Brooke 2016

A rather lightweight idea I got out of my system. A moment's work, compared to the days I spent laboring over the last poem posted here.

But sort of based on real events. I did make half-hearted attempts at relationships when I was a caregiver, first for my father, then for my mother. And I felt guilty every moment I was away. I could see how things were going, what my future held, and that it was unfair for me to attempt to be in a relationship. Indeed, I should not have tried.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Fallow, a poem


For a season, this, my field,
must lie fallow. Year to year,

I have seen its yield diminish,
yesterday's sweet memories

fade to sere reality.
Once I knew a vigor here,

in the fertile, fruitful soil
of my youth. What harvests grew —

truths sprang singing from that earth,
plucked fresh, savored. We devoured

summers past, the ripened days
bursting with their golden promise.

We, too, ripened in that time,
tasted of the sun, embraced

night's soft rains. The breezes whispered
subtle, honey-scented secrets,

rising as the moon and stars
slowly turned on heaven's wheel,

even as we rose and fell
toward tomorrow. All now fails

in me; our past is the dust
borne on a relentless wind.

This day has no words, no color;
I grow meager as my crops,

fitful as these dreams of you.
What was spent would be repaid —

field and man must sometime sleep,
heal and wake to bloom once more.

Soil and soul shall rest a season;
this, my field, now must lie fallow.

Stephen Brooke ©2016

This one took quite a bit of time and effort to forge. Who knows whether it was worth it?

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Location, Location, Location

Every piece of writing has a setting. It takes place somewhere. Even essays and opinions, really, have an implied location of some sort. But I’m not concerned about those right now. Nor am I going to write of poetry or songs though these, too, have their settings. Closely drawn sometimes, barely sketched at others — I think the best work of that sort finds a balance between the concrete and the universal. What I wish to explore here is stories. Fiction.

A tale needs to solidly grounded in a location to feel real. It can, of course, be a completely imaginary place but it had better seem to exist. This is one reason I would not begin pretty much any novel (and many short stories) without drawing a map. How can my reader visualize these places if I do not have a clear idea about them?

And that is not only broad topographical maps — mountains, rivers, cities, etc. It is also streets and shops and floor plans. I know the exact layout of the surf shop in SHAPER. I know how many blocks it is to drive from that shop to the pier and what is on either side of the road. Having these concrete details goes a long way toward making a story seem more real. Even if one doesn’t actually use them in the story, it is good to KNOW them.

I will admit that the Cully Beach of that novel is based on real towns on Florida’s Atlantic coast. I chose not to use one that truly exists so I might have leeway in my details, but it does owe a lot to Flagler Beach. Also to Cocoa Beach, where I lived for a time, and various other little towns along A-1-A.

Similarly, the town of Ruby, the setting of THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE (and mentioned in SHAPER), is a made-up place on the Gulf side of the state. Yes, it owes a good bit to Steinhatchee where I lived for many years, but also to Horseshoe Beach and any of a number of other small towns in the same region (the motel is lifted right out of Perry). Even the larger Crystal River — at least in the creation of the name. There are certainly many differences from Steinhatchee, just as there are a number of similarities.

And the ‘Genoa’ mentioned as Ted’s home town in SHAPER is pretty much Naples. I did consider using the actual city name but, recognizing I may set stories there eventually, chose to keep it fictional. I know of some novels set in Naples (where I largely grew up) and when I come across inaccuracies in them, it bothers me! It’s better to put some space between the ‘real’ town and the fictional one. But I do mention actual places, Panama City, Fort Lauderdale, Gainesville and so on, just to set the imaginary towns into the real Florida.

Of course, my other books are complete fantasies and have no relation to any place that exists in this world. If anything, this means I have to be even more meticulous about my setting. Not just maps are needed but one needs to recognize the implications of those maps. How will those mountains affect the weather patterns? Can wine grapes grow in that region? What sort of soil underlies that valley? How long does travel take from this castle to that town?

I am, admittedly, the sort of person who enjoys working out those details. The setting then become the canvas on which I can paint my story. Or a set for my actors, maybe. Whatever metaphor one fancies. One thing is certain, anyway — as in real estate, the first concern should be location, location, location.