adventures in dysthymia

Sunday, July 31, 2016

To Vote, To Write

To vote is to claim I have the right to tell others what to do, as well as acknowledging that they have the right to tell me what to do. I am willing to accept neither assertion.

* * *

This is not necessarily something I personally believe but it is a viewpoint I can understand. It is an anarchist viewpoint, a consistent viewpoint.

I jot down things like this from time to time. They are important for my fiction writing as they help me understand motivations, the inner workings of characters. Yes, there is some anarchist in me but there is also a monarchist and, sometimes, I even tend toward democracy. And much of the time, I don’t really care — the human race runs on.

It is entirely possible that the above statement on voting will show up in a novel or story down the line. Which one? Hard to say; there are political elements to pretty much all my adult novels. Yes, most are fantasies but fantasy needs to be true to life to be believable. People — and fairies — are political creatures.

I think it is valuable to be able to step back, to be disinterested, to be able to understand a variety of views, some in complete opposition to each other. We need to be willing to explore these. Otherwise, ones writing becomes narrow.

And what I do personally believe is liable to slip in between the lines anyway.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Swimming, a poem

Swimming

As the shark that must keep swimming
(yes, I know that is a fable),
so I could not breathe were I
motionless, no longer able

to move forward. Soon enough comes
rest and then we move no more,
strive no longer. In its time,
in its time, and not before,

shall I so rest. A mindless hunger
drives the shark: to eat, to mate,
to continue. That is all.
My seas are not so clear. My fate

is in these currents, bearing me
across the days I may not number.
No scent of blood has kept me swimming,
drawn me from the shores of slumber

I so fear; no, naught but my own
need to span the night, complete
this journey, swim till there is no
more need. Swim on till each defeat

and victory has faded, slipped
beyond the grasp of all the fates,
into dark, elusive depths,
and only an end awaits.

Stephen Brooke ©2016

This is one of those poems where the words moved it along more than any concept or idea I might have had. Structured poetry, especially rhymed poetry, can be like that.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Friend

Several years ago, I met a woman I rather liked online and attempted a long-distance relationship. It was probably not the best idea; what with the physical distance between us and the demands of being a caregiver, I could see it was unworkable and called it off. It was, in fact, the only relationship in my life that I ended on my own — I much more used to being dumped.

Perhaps with good reason, as I tend to be self-absorbed and distant at times. But that is beside the point.

Might I have fallen in love with her? Maybe I did, maybe I only wanted to, but either way, I could not allow it. It would have been a disservice to both of us, as proven by the increasing demands of my duties in the following years. But we remained online friends, even if our interactions grew fewer.

Until a few weeks ago when she simply ‘un-friended’ me on Facebook. Why? I’ve no idea. Perhaps just clearing the clutter and I was no longer relevant to her life. It did hurt a teensy to lose her so unceremoniously, but so it goes.

And life goes on and I go on. But I do hate losing a friend.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Chapbooks

I am about to have my fifth book of poetry published, or sixth if one counts ‘Awful Alvin,’ the little collection of poems for children. On September First, ‘Fields of Summer’ will see its official release. As always, it will be showing up here and there in both print and ebook form before that date.

Aside from, perhaps, the children’s book, none of these are ‘chapbooks’ — not in the strict sense. They are a bit too long, though still fairly short books. How long should a true chapbook be? Some say as many as fifty pages, some say no more than thirty. At 36 pages, ‘Alvin’ might make the cut.

As might my very first collection, ‘Pieces of the Moon,’ at 48 pages. Barely — the others are all longer and ‘Fields of Summer’ will be the largest poetry book yet, at 98 pages. I would be unlikely to do a collection larger than that, unless it were a book that pulled together two or more collections inside one cover, or a ‘best of.’

Originally, chapbooks were published because of the lesser cost. This was especially true for poets who self-published or very small independent presses. Indeed, until recently, more than a few little poetry books were actually printed and assembled by the poet. Improved printers, and then computers, made this feasible. I first put out ‘Pieces of the Moon’ that way, using a laser printer, but a couple years later went to the print-on-demand approach and set up Arachis Press (though it was called Nihil Crocodile Press for a while).

No great advantage comes from putting out a really small book, a true chapbook, now. There is not much in the way of savings; indeed, one sixty page book would be somewhat more economical than two thirty page books. Of course, at times, the material might be suited to a more limited number of pages. The content is always the most important consideration. A book should be as long as it needs to be.

I could see Arachis Press publishing chapbooks but I would rather see longer collections. Not that we have been publishing anyone’s poetry lately but we are always open to the idea of doing so. But that should be something I talk about at the publishing blog!

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Voice From a Dream


A violin piece composed and performed by my niece, 'Mean Mary' James, and filmed in Northern Ireland during her recent tour. 'Voice From a Dream' is on her new album, SWEET.

Friday, July 22, 2016

What Lasts?

Every song is also a poem.

Pop music is the poetry of the people, some of it good, most of it forgettable. But it speaks for a time and for a place as much as the poems written for the pages of literary journals. Maybe more than those do.

Most of those serious poems will also be forgotten, forgotten as surely as the latest pop drivel. This is inevitable.

I know better than to take myself too seriously. Maybe I shall write something good, something enduring. Chances are, none of it will last. Not the poems, not the songs, not the stories.

But who knows? One keeps on. One must.

Stephen Brooke ©2016

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Altar, a poem

Altar

The altar is stripped, the vestments folded
and put away. Your chalice has
been shrouded, housed in gold, to await
our sacrament. Shall I be priest

again? Shall I speak once again
to heaven? All that is made flesh
seeks consecration, yearns to join
as one. A moment — we know god

one moment and the moment slips
into eternity. The altar
is bare, the nave grown dark, and you
are but a statue, standing in shadow.

Stephen Brooke ©2016

It is inevitable that my Catholic upbringing occasionally shows up in my poetry.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Song and Story

I received proof copies of both the paperback version of DONZALO’S DESTINY and the print edition of the upcoming poetry book release, FIELDS OF SUMMER, in today’s mail. Both look fine, both have been approved, and both should show up at retailers ‘everywhere’ in anywhere from a month to two months.

This works with the revised release date of September 1 for FIELDS. I shall upload the ebook versions next month and, ideally, they should show up at online sellers at around the same time. I should mention that all these editions become available directly from Arachis Press almost immediately — one can purchase both print books right now at our shop at our distributor: http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/arachispress

That distributor is the ‘print on demand’ company, Lulu. We have found them to be the best solution for small press distribution. Despite being a POD provider, they are not exactly our printer — that is farmed out to various companies, both in the US and abroad. Nor are they a publisher, though they will act as such for those who request it. We have our own publishing company and our books bear our own ISBN numbers. But Lulu does act as distributor, sending both our print and digital books to retailers and providing a storefront solution for Arachis Press to sell directly.

In the mean time, I am plugging away at the next contemporary Florida novel, WAVES. Not plugging very hard, I must admit, as other things have been getting in the way. But I’ll get it done and move onto something else, probably another fantasy. I am also getting myself ready to record soon, the first project probably being a couple songs for the Best Florida Song competition at the Will McLean Festival. Yes, I shall give it another shot. BTW, the niece, ‘Mean Mary’ James, has pretty much committed to performing at the festival next spring — but probably not the Florida Folk Festival. :(

Wind, a poem

Wind

Wind was a god, creating, destroying, moving
upon the water. Each moonlit ripple held
its universes, impermanent reflections
appearing, dissipating, into night.

What infinite worlds shine and die before us,
what bits and pieces of reality?
All fades; dark seas of entropy lie calm
once more and what could be has been. Remember

the wind. Remember what you can, and sleep.

Stephen Brooke ©2016

This started out as a very, very different poem, of which only a few words remain.

Friday, July 15, 2016

The Dualist Metaphor

I occasionally refer to myself as a Zoroastrian. I am not in the formal sense, in the go-to-Zoroastrian-temple sense, but I do consider the concept of all-powerful evil pitted infinitely against all-powerful good (or god) to be the most satisfying religious metaphor. It answers most of the questions about evil, pain, and so on that arise from Abrahamic monotheism.

Admittedly, ‘evil’ is not the best word to use here. I prefer ‘non-being’ or ‘the void,’ and see evil as a twisting of that which is. It is that part of being that strives to be no more (another metaphor, there). Whatever terms we use — and all terms must fall short — the idea is still there: the duality of being and non-being, existence and the void.

Having accepted this basic premise, I have no problem finding useful teachings in any and all religions. I certainly do not reject the wisdom of those who have gone before. Even when they get things very wrong, we may learn from them.

Metaphor — I used that term a couple times here. All our understanding of the universe is ultimately through the metaphors we create. Even the ‘truths’ of science are metaphors, words, symbols. It is we who give structure to reality, sort it out, name it.

And so I choose this metaphor to give myself and my world structure. Sometimes, that structure shakes a bit, sometimes it threatens to come down around me. But it is stronger than any other I have built.

Stephen Brooke ©2016

Cautious Man, a poem

Cautious Man

Call me Cautious Man.
My super-power is to see
the flaws in every plan,
what can and will go wrong.

I flew over you, once,
enumerating the dangers,
and traveled on, traveled
to my solitary fortress,

thankful that I had escaped.
Cautious Man’s adventures
are like that. I’d advise
against buying the comic.

Stephen Brooke ©2016

Up, up, and away. Very far away!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Mean Mary at Roberts Hall

I shall be going down to Roberts Hall in Lynn Haven this coming Sunday afternoon, July 17, when my niece ‘Mean Mary’ James will be performing, kicking off a month-long Florida tour (she resides in Nashville these days). Chances are I’ll perform two or three songs also, assuming my allergies don’t close up my throat again.

Probably be taking my inexpensive Kramer acoustic, a cutaway dreadnought. It’s a decent enough guitar, solid cedar top, and essentially an Epiphone by another name. What I like most about it is that it is well suited to my uniquely inept style of finger-picking — nice wide shallow neck that is easy to play. Much like my nylon-string acoustic-electric, which I would play if I could hear myself better there. I learned not to use it at Roberts Halls some time back. And its built-in pickup sounds pretty awful.

Another guitar I do not use for performing is my ancient cheap Ovation Celebrity. Twenty-five years old and still as solid as ever. Built like a tank and sounds only slightly better, with its thickly polyurethaned plywood top. But the sound is not why I don’t play it much anymore; no, it is the narrow neck. I just don’t feel comfortable with it.

Actually, if I slap in a magnetic sound-hold pickup, it can do a reasonable imitation of an archtop. If I ever get out playing rock again some day — which I kind of doubt — I might break it out for that. But it is also a bit uncomfortable to wear for very long, having the deep bowl body. I would be tempted to purchase a better ‘super-shallow’ Ovation for playing out if they did not also have the narrower necks. So it goes.

Anyway, I’ll be there and Mary will be there and her mom, my sister Jeanne, will be there (Mary and Jeanne are also the authors of several novels. Not as many as me, but several.) And of course, our hosts, Maggie and Mike McKinney, aka Lucky Mud, and a large crowd, let us hope. If you are in the area, come on by. Mary starts at Four PM, we open-mikers at Three.

There will be snacks and beer and wine and stuff too!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Big Book

I received a proof copy of the hardcover edition of DONZALO’S DESTINY yesterday and it all looked pretty good. Not fond of the default typeface used on the inside ‘linen’ cover but otherwise nothing to complain about. And, after all, I designed everything else!

So I went ahead with a paperback version. The proof for that should be on the way shortly and then it can be distributed pretty much everywhere (the hardcover is only available direct from Arachis Press and can be purchased now). These are pretty big books, coming out to 716 pages, 205,000 words.

Perhaps I could have reduced the font size by a point but I found other ways to slightly reduce the length — otherwise it would not have fitted the printer’s 740 page maximum! Reduced the margins just a teensy, did not use separate title pages for each ‘book.’ Yes, book, for this volume included all four of the previously published Donzalo novels: THE SONG OF THE SWORD, THE SHADOW OF ASAK, THE SIGH OF THE ARROW, and THE HAND OF THE SORCERER.

I thought a year ago that I would not be able to do this. My attempts to combine all four into one great unwieldy file were inclined to bog down — to some degree I would blame that on my slow hard drive (which also makes it difficult to do much music recording on my ‘office’ computer). I found, though, that it worked better when I did that much-maligned upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 10. The newer OS has been better for me in almost every way. I also went with keeping the file on a separate (but not faster) drive. Anyway, I got it to work.

Note that DONZALO’S DESTINY really is one novel that was broken down into manageable chunks for publication. The original four books will continue to be available separately, both in print and as ebooks. I did note enough little typos and such (the great bulk of them in the first book, THE SONG OF THE SWORD) to warrant putting out new editions, when I can get around to it. Next year, most likely.

And eventually, a semi-sequel will appear. Lot of other writing projects before then, however. I’d best get busy on them!

The Soul

The Soul

Consider this: it is said that every cell in the body is replaced over a seven year period. So, physically, you are not the same person as seven years ago. But you are still you, aren’t you?

That which is you is the soul. It has remained when everything else has changed. It doesn’t have to be a thing, you understand. It isn’t physical. It’s the idea of you.

An idea in God’s mind, if you wish. Or not; that doesn’t matter.

All that matters is that it does exist, this soul.

Stephen Brooke ©2016


Addendum: It seems that 15 years is the correct number for some of the oldest cells (in the bones) but the concept is the same!

Whispered, a poem

Whispered

Her mother leaned in and whispered,
I wish she had met you
before she married him.
It would have made no difference.

No, not even with all we shared.
Her mother passed sometime back
and I have not seen any
of our friends in years.

That, too, makes no difference.
I can’t even remember the husband’s
name, now, just the confidence
her mother once whispered.

Stephen Brooke ©2016

Not exactly an ambitious poem, nor a particularly good one, but an exercise in leaving things out. One of the great mistakes writers make is putting in too much information! 

Addendum, day or two later: slightly revised this piece. I frequently change bits after I post poems here (I consider these more or less first drafts) but usually don't come back and edit the posts. I did this time.

This, unlike many of my poems, is a completely true story. Many of my pieces have their roots in my life but don't necessarily stick to the exact facts. Be that as it may, remembering this incident gives me ideas for fiction writing to come --- this sort of thing could definitely be dropped into a novel or story, couldn't it? 

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Burroughs Appreciation

When I was a youngster, my older brother had a couple inexpensive hardcover editions of Tarzan novels, ‘Tarzan and the City of Gold,’ and ‘Tarzan and the Forbidden City.’ I made my way through both when I was about eight and I thought then that ‘City of Gold’ was a decent tale but ‘Forbidden City’ kind of sucked. Years later I learned that the latter novel was ghost-written and not by Edgar Rice Burroughs at all (though he provided some sort of outline or concept). I guess even a little kid could tell the difference.

Jump forward about four years and one has the ‘Burroughs Boom’ of the early Sixties, which saw all of ERB’s novels (even the really bad ones) reissued. I bought each and every one of them — that’s where my allowance money went (okay, there were also some model airplanes). And I enjoyed the Tarzan novels, which were entertaining and well-plotted (I learned much of interweaving plot lines from reading them) but my heart was really with Barsoom. Well, Pellucidar and Caspak too, but especially Barsoom. The novels set on Burrough’s version of Mars were inventive, even poetic at times, and frequently humorous. Alas, many seem unable to see that humor, even today. They also contain a fair amount of social commentary. That commentary often veers in a conservative direction, especially in the early work, but Burroughs was willing to skewer pretty much anyone.

Edgar Rice Burroughs was pretty much my gateway to speculative fiction of all sorts and perhaps to the literature of fiction in general. Would I be writing fantasy — or fiction of any sort — today, had I not been exposed to those books? Maybe, but it would be different, certainly. Perhaps the most important thing I learned from them is that one need not write ‘serious’ books to say serious things. There is nothing wrong with dropping them into an adventure — but make sure it is a good adventure.

ERB’s plots do tend to be rather similar to each other. For example, his two ‘Apache’ novels are practically identical to the first two Tarzan novels in their overall story, except with Indians in place of apes. (It should be noted that he treated both groups rather well — his apes sometimes show more ‘humanity’ than members of our species, and the Apaches frequently come off better than the ‘white men.’) He also had certain pet phrases and words he liked to utilize over and over. There is a great deal of ‘Stygian’ darkness in his novels! It is the imaginative settings, the worlds he created that raise the narratives above their plots, as well as the clever observations on human nature and society with which he sprinkled them.

But, of course, the stalwart fellow always gets the girl in the end. Those girls, incidentally, are rarely of the clinging and helpless sort — another point in ERB’s favor. But the books are, ultimately, romantic adventures, and do not disappoint the reader who wishes only to be entertained. There is nothing wrong with that. I shall note that Burroughs did make a few attempts at more weighty work, but that was not what his readers wanted. (The historical novel published posthumously as ‘I Am a Barbarian’ is an example. It sort of ripped off ‘I, Claudius,’ but is a pretty decent book anyway.)

I would not be inclined to plow through the twenty-some Tarzan novels again at this point in my life, though I admit to having reread all the Barsoom books recently. There are still things to be seen in them that can be of interest to a writer. Yes, they are better read when young and not jaded by ‘great literature.’ Would I have discovered or even appreciated an author such as James Branch Cabell without having first read Burroughs? Would Tolkien have struck me differently? Who can say? I only know that his novels did make a big impression, when I was impressionable!

Saturday, July 09, 2016

Changed, a poem

Changed

The sky, going home, was much like the sky
I saw, leaving. All else was changed.
Changed like a chameleon or like
the water at Cana? I could use

the wine of miracles right now.
I could get drunk upon it. The sky
may be drunken too, forgetting
its way home until tomorrow

morning. Then all things will be
as we remembered. Sleep on it.

Stephen Brooke ©2016

This is one of those pieces where I wrote the first two lines and then stared at them for a couple weeks. Then the rest came in a few minutes. I guess I just needed to figure out what the poem was about.

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Times

These are not the end times nor even the worst of times — the world has always been in crisis, always looked to the mythical golden age of its forefathers. As did they, in their turn.

Life goes on and, eventually, will no longer. In the mean time, it seems to struggle. Do not see movement as strife; that which does not move no longer lives.

All the turmoil, all the pain, will pass and someday our children’s children’s children will look back to our golden age. And the human race will muddle along a while longer.

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Donzalo in Armor

Hardcover armor, that is, though the picture I put on the front of the new all-in-one edition of DONZALO'S DESTINY portrays him in metal (it is a painting by Renaissance artist Sebastiano del Piombo). Yep, I've finally got that done, all 714 pages of it, and it is for sale at our Arachis Press store at our distributor (Lulu). However, I need to receive a copy and check it over carefully before an 'official' announcement and link.

There will be an upcoming paperback version, which should go for somewhat less than this linen covered, dustjacketed edition. We've got it up at $34.99 and there will be no discounts, as we are selling directly only. The paperback should go to all the usual retailers. Stay tuned for that, but definitely in time for Holiday Shopping.

THE EYES OF THE WIND is out officially in two weeks but generally available right now, at Amazon, etc, in both print and ebook formats. The release date of July 15 is essentially arbitrary --- I chose that weekend mostly because my niece, "Mean Mary" James will be performing nearby on the 17th and I might as well use her coattails, eh?

In the mean time, I'm muddling along with the  writing of a follow-up book to SHAPER, my Florida-set 'crime' novel. It wasn't really much of a crime or mystery book, but it's as good a genre to stick it in as any. Same with the new one; they are really about relationships and all that kind of stuff and the crime plot is just to add a little structure. It is almost certain to be titled WAVES and I'll probably get it finished and possibly published before the end of the year. Then back to fantasy adventures, most likely.

Which are much more tightly plotted and written. That actually makes them easier to write. If I find myself stuck on WAVES, I might just turn to writing one of those, probably starting with a sequel to the Malvern novels. I have three of those in development, each narrated by a secondary character from the first three books. Expect to see at least one of them next year.

But for now, plowing through the 'surf noir' of the SHAPER sequel. I use a relatively relaxed and wordy style on both my Ted Carrol/Cully Beach novels, quite different (I think) from my other stuff. And I am feeling my way more without the plot as fully outlined as usual. None the less, it's coming together --- but I may end up with more rewriting than usual!