Friday, October 28, 2016

"An Honest Job of Work"

“I’m just trying to write a series of novels which are good fun whether you look deep or shallow, but which keep their end up as an honest job of work.” ~ Lawrence Durrell

My feeling exactly. I want to write solid books, books that work on more than one level. Novels that both entertain and say something worthwhile. Novels that are well crafted. I shall keep attempting this.

However, I’m thinking that I probably shall not tackle the folk festival mystery novel right away. It needs some time to sit on the back burner and thicken up. Ideas pop up now and again, and I note these down — eventually, there will be enough for me to move ahead with it.

I am more likely to tackle the first of three probable “Mora” novels that follow my Malvern trilogy. These will not be Malvern novels, nor will they be the sort of continuing story that trilogy was. Rather, they are standalone tales of some of the peripheral characters in those books. These are fantasy adventures, of course, not ‘serious’ mainstream novels. Not that I don’t take them seriously!

I am glad that I did get around to writing my two more-or-less mainstream novels (even if they ‘officially’ listed as crime novels) set in Cully Beach. Are they good? Darned if I know, but I needed to get them out of my system. There may or may not be more novels set in that fictional coastal Florida town, which may or may not center around surf shop owner Ted Carrol. We shall just have to see about that. However, the mystery mentioned above may be related — I have not absolutely decided on that.

I did not delve as deeply in those novels as I might, nor as deeply as I originally intended. The first, SHAPER, ended up much lighter in tone than first envisioned and the sequel, WAVES, even more so (since I knew where I was going by then!). Yes, they deal with depression and alcoholism, corruption and crime, and, most of all, character growth, but I tried to keep the pair of novels entertaining as well. No one even dies in the second one, although there are attempts.

Anyway, some day I may write a darker novel or three. If I do, my ‘other’ Florida character, Branford Perry (who has appeared in short stories) might be the protagonist. Or I could invent someone quite different. We shall see about that, too.

Incidentally, I have also been dabbling at a sort-of sequel to THE EYES OF THE WIND, consisting of a series of letters between the former pirate queen, Qala, and the young noblewoman, Marana, who accompanied her ambitious husband, Saj, to a new home on the isle of Lorj. Whether I shall actually develop this idea (which is rather like a collection of short stories), I do not know, but I could cover a couple decades of correspondence, down to the time of the ‘great devastation’ that had been foretold. It could certainly work as a bridge to the tales of Saj’s sons, but could it be sufficiently interesting? It is something I will mess with from time to time, probably, and let go where it will.

So, off to work on GOD OF RAIN, the first of those Mora novels I said I might tackle next. And if I get sidetracked from those as well, so be it!

Monday, October 24, 2016

Murderers in the Ranks

We may be sure that many a serial killer lurked in the ranks of armies of old, using the chaos of war to cover their careers of rape and murder. Discipline within the ranks and the screening of recruits greatly reduces this in the armed forces of modern nation-states, but certainly a few still slip through. Guerrilla groups, insurgents, militias? The incidence of such individuals is bound to be higher.

The writer of fiction needs to recognize that men (primarily) of this sort exist. They are not the norm in the military. For better or worse, soldiers are like any other group of men. Some will be weak and do wrong, but they are not the sort of psychopaths of whom I am speaking.

One of the major characters in DONZALO’S DESTINY is — the sergeant of Lord Radal’s private guard turned mercenary captain, Sojel. A man who fled his home nation of Muradon and probably some other places, he lusts for pain and death.

He is not a sociopath, as we normally understand the word. Sojel values loyalty and is exceedingly loyal to (and fears) his dark master, the sorcerer Radal. He does not manipulate people. Perhaps he even empathizes with people, in his way. But he really, really likes to kill them.

By the way, we do introduce a sociopathic individual in the young diplomatic aide and fledgling wizard, Benawis, whose schemes exist solely for his own advancement. Let us just say that those schemes lead him elsewhere.

But to return to our original topic — there will be serial killers and psychopaths hiding among the men of any army. It would be an attractive life for many of them, a license to fulfill their desires with impunity. This is a fact if we deal with an earlier era, or a fantasy milieu that borrows from history. At the same time, we must take care not to paint all the military with that same brush, especially in a more modern setting.

Take care with the psychopath, with the mass murderer, the serial killer. He is not the ordinary criminal, the mundane brute who indulges his lusts when the opportunity arises. That individual, too, exists as soldier, as outlaw, as the ordinary-seeming fellow down the street. But he does not live for such things. They do not drive him.

This sort of thug is common and likely to pop up in any adventure-oriented tale. And, in his way, he may be more interesting to write about than the psychopath because he can be redeemed. He is not broken beyond repair. The serial killer almost certainly is.

One more thing I might say is not to attempt to delve too deeply into the minds of these people. It almost always comes off as facile pop-psychology and soon seems dated. This is true of many of the ‘psychological’ novels of a century or so ago. Better to simply present them, tell of what events formed them, but do not try to explain them — at least not in any detail.

Do recognize, however, that they exist and that they would, in the past, have frequently been attracted to the ranks of the military.

A Good Heart

Intended as a comment on neither Buddhists nor Aztecs, but only on the connotations of the word 'heart.'

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Short Stories

I am not much of a short-story writer. Oh, I have tried. It is not my thing, I suppose; I think in bigger chunks. I think in terms of continuing stories. Indeed, my best attempts at the short-story, in my estimation, have dealt with characters who recur in other tales, tales that impact the current story (and vice-versa).

Some of those narratives have become back-story for characters and events in my novels. I have stories about Ted Carrol, the protagonist of my two Cully Beach novels, that deal with his younger days (one or two of them somewhat erotic), that inform the character that appears in SHAPER and WAVES. They tell me who he is, help me better draw the man he becomes.

But stand-alone short-stories? I haven’t been very successful, by my standards. I see longer tales as soon as I get into them — not all, admittedly, but more often than not. In many ways, I think the novella length is more suited to me. The whole DONZALO’S DESTINY sequence is truly eleven novellas and novelettes, put forth as a single novel (in four books, for publishing convenience).

For that matter, all of my fantasy novels are divided into distinct novella-length sections with their own narrative arcs — not only Donzalo, but also the Malvern books, my recent THE EYES OF THE WIND. They are novels, none the less, with an overarching plot. Not the Ted Carrol/Cully Beach novels, nor the related YA, THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE, however; those run right through in a manner more typical of mainstream novels. Which they are.

No doubt I shall continue to dabble at the short-story, but it is not my focus at this time. If I do finish some, they might end up incorporated into novels. It has happened before — SHAPER started out as a story of a guy nearly drowning while surfing, a story that now exists in altered form as one chapter.* Or they might become a sequence of tales centered around one character and published as one book. All that is of the future, if it happens at all.

So, I shall get back to writing something. I’m dabbling at the folk festival murder (which may become only attempted murder) but other ideas are milling about in my head, asking for attention. And I REALLY need to pay attention to my music and get some songs recorded for the Will McLean Festival!

*That story is based on a real life occurrence, though the rest of the novel is pretty much fiction. That is, nothing else that happens in the book is ‘real’ but some of the backstory derives from life.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Odd Boy, a poem

The Odd Boy

The odd boy can make no sense
though he wants to understand
sometimes and sometimes he doesn’t.
Sometimes he doesn’t care or says
he doesn’t, which comes to the same thing.
The odd boy knows the names of the birds
and can whistle their songs. He wishes
he could fly but wouldn’t like feathers.
He can make no sense of your words.
They are not like those in his books,
not readily seen. They are like the birds
that hide, flitting movement among
the leaves, too far away to identify.
The odd boy will ignore you, knowing
your puzzle is not worth the effort.
He has learned this, as he has learned
the names of the birds and all their songs.

Stephen Brooke ©2016

Friday, October 21, 2016

Two Shorties (poems)


Do not ask too much of the stars;
they will not answer when you
call roll and Rigel is not here
tonight. His mother sent a note.

Stephen Brooke ©2016


Love is neither a dog nor a cat
but it must be fed. Then maybe
it will sit in your lap and allow
you to pet it, thinking it will stay.

Stephen Brooke ©2016

As the title says, two shorties. Little bitty petite poems. Which is redundant.

Hiding, a poem


Daylight runs into the sea,
hiding unless I call its name,
call across the breadth of this dark
sky. It always returns, holding
hands with the stars. They slip away,
those stars, but most return as well.
I have never needed to call them.

Stephen Brooke ©2016

A short piece, though it could have been shorter. Or longer. Yeah, it could be longer too.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Performance Enhancing

The claim that Hillary Clinton was on ‘performance-enhancing drugs’ during her debate appearance is rather silly. Not only because it is unlikely but because it would not be a bad thing if she were. I would want my president working at maximum efficiency and if a not-particularly-dangerous drug helped in that, I am all for it.

Most of us take a PED every morning — caffeine. It is effective and pretty safe but does, of course, have its drawbacks. We know the side effects, the mild withdrawal symptoms. Should it be banned?

Note that large quantities of caffeine ARE banned by the organizations that control amateur sports. These people, in my opinion, are far more stringent than necessary and the reason for this is the idea that the use of drugs is somehow ‘cheating.’ There should be only one reason to prohibit a substance and that is because it is dangerous.

Otherwise, it is no more than a form of ‘effective nutrition,’ as we used to refer to such things in the gym (yes, I was a very serious bodybuilder at one point). It is no different than taking vitamins or, for that matter, eating better and training harder than the next competitor.

If Ms. Clinton did take something to help her in the debate (and, again, I doubt it), it would not be cheating. It would be using what was available in an effective and sensible manner.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Eggshell Boats, a lyric

Eggshell Boats

Launch my eggshell boats
on an endless ocean,
speak a prayer once heard
murmured in devotion.
Look to my horizons —
nothing lies beyond;
mists conceal the mornings
that have never dawned.

Sail my eggshell boats,
watch them disappear —
empty coracles
nameless winds may steer.
Drive them from these shores
I can never quit,
laden with the losses
I can not admit.

The sea is but a pond,
my vessels only toys;
the roar of surf beyond,
no more than a noise.
Each ripple a great wave,
each breeze a mighty wind;
who knows if I am brave?
Who cares that I have sinned?

Risk another cargo,
launch this fragile craft;
have the wheeling gulls
known the truth and laughed?
No star stands to guide me,
every voyage fails;
send my eggshell boats
forth with tattered sails.

Stephen Brooke ©2016

This would be a song lyric, rather than a poem in the literary sense. The third stanza would serve as chorus or bridge or whatever term one prefers (rhyme scheme etc is changed for it). A tune? Maybe...

Friday, October 14, 2016

Broken Stings

Having completed writing WAVES, I have no need to revisit the novel’s protagonist, Ted Carrol aka Shaper, in further books. If I go back to Cully Beach, the focus would be on peripheral characters, not Ted — though I might keep his first person voice as narrator.

At any rate, I would expect no further drama in his life. Carrol is definitely not going to make a habit of crime-fighting, nor do I want to turn his ‘life’ into a series of mystery novels (though, of course, one never knows). We leave him in a good place and he can stay there.

I shall note that there are short stories, complete or partial, that deal with Ted’s earlier days. They are not crime-related, not mysteries. I could simply look on them as ‘back story’ and never attempt to get them into publication. Time will tell there.

It is fairly certain that my next novel will be the murder mystery set at the Florida Folk Festival. I have mentioned previously that this was originally going to be the third Ted Carrol novel, to be titled STRINGS, and set in 1992. That idea has been abandoned.

Instead, I am moving it up a year to 1991 (which, incidentally, was the first year I attended). Why that year? Mostly because of the heavy smoke from forest fires — ideal cover for nefarious deeds! The title is tentatively set as BROKEN STRINGS. That can change.

The question is whether to use previously introduced characters in the novel. I could make a clean beginning, not link it to Ted nor anyone else. However, having already created these people, why not use them? Quite possibly the narrative (which should be third person and tightly written, unlike the Ted Carrol novels) will center on Pat Edwards, artist and banjoist, and/or young Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Jackson, future police officer. I do intend to revisit Charlie in later novels. There are also the young people from the little village of Ruby, whom I introduced in THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE. Betty and Pat Edwards reside there.

As does Branford Perry, who has popped up before, mostly in short stories. And he would be with love-of-his-life-who-later-dumps-him June at that point, so she should attend too. They would be peripheral characters, not central.

Will any real life musicians show up? I might mention some in passing. I remember that Jim Billie played that year and the Bellamy Brothers (an odd choice for a folk festival) headlined Saturday night. So, a mention in passing perhaps. As for the many Florida folkies, some of them friends, I am less certain. To be honest, I didn’t know most of them — okay, any of them, really — yet at that time so I don’t have clear recollections of who was there. Better to use ‘analogs’ of some of them.

Of course, the Makley family performed. I can always mention them, even if I don’t remember seeing them! I didn’t meet Bettina et al until later that year, when I started to become acquainted with other Florida folk musicians.

So, on to plotting now. Who gets murdered and how and why? Well, you can find that out next year!

* * *

Incidentally, the work on WAVES is essentially done, editing, proof reading, design. We should be getting all the materials to the printer by the end of this month and have a paperback on its way to us to approve for distribution (though it will be available at our Arachis Press store almost immediately). The ebook version will go out for distribution next month and everything should be ready for purchase by our somewhat arbitrary release date of December 5.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Airports, a poem


I do not know airports.
Other people hurry through them,
one scene in a novel
or TV show or life.

They catch a plane. They catch
a taxi to home or to hotel.
I don’t know taxis either.
They are a foreign country.

I never sat in their back seats,
looking out at a city.
I have never flown over a city;
I have no business there.

I do not know your lives,
you who hurry from place
to place, you with your luggage.
I do not know airports.

Stephen Brooke ©2016

It's all true --- I have never flown in a plane nor ridden in a taxi. Yet we see so much of such things in our culture, in our books and film and so on, that it seems a normal part of our lives. Incidentally, the poem grew from the first line, a phrase that popped into my head with no particular meaning attached. Much of my poetry (and songs as well) grows from words in this manner.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Bad Language

Anyone who knows me knows that it would be an extremely rare occurrence for me to use strong or ‘vulgar’ language. I don’t even like to have the characters in my books use it! Sometimes they do, of course, as part of their character, their unique voice.

The protagonist of coming-soon novel WAVES, Ted Carrol, does not use any expletive harsher than ‘darn.’ Yes, there is something of me in Ted (though he is not me, you understand); it would not seem at all right for either of us to come out with a string of profanity! But those around him do use the occasional ‘damn,’ sometimes a ‘shit,’ and so on. Nothing much stronger.

The closest I get to anything sexually vulgar is when Ted thinks of a smart remark about ‘rods’ and wisely chooses not to make it. That was intended to say something about who he is, someone who prizes self-control (Yes, I thought it was a tad humorous too. I’ll admit that.).

No one in my books talks like Donald Trump’s remarks that recently came to light. I know there are those who spew such stuff, apparently hoping to impress someone — a twisted version of the male dominance display. Someday, I might need to include such a character in a novel (some of the pirates and bandits in my fantasies have come close). Quite possibly when (if?) I sit down to write the Western novel that will probably be titled ‘Sergeant Parnell’ I may need a character not unlike Mr. Trump (racism/chauvinism is going to be a plot element).

My protagonists do tend to be people trying to maintain order in their lives, with a chaotic world around them. That may be part of this, why some are practically monastic in their habits (not in the sexual sense, for the most part). Coming to terms with their world is a big part of the conflict. Just as in real life, eh?

* * *

On that note, I need to pick my next project! I really should get into the studio and do some recording, but I am still in ‘writing mode’ to some degree. I feel a tad lost not having a book to work on at the moment. Maybe I shall start on ‘Parnell.’ More likely, the first of my followups to the Malvern novels, except I don’t really want to go immediately to another first person narrative, except in a very different voice. Writing something third person in between might be a good idea.

All I know for sure it that I will definitely be writing more.

Friday, October 07, 2016


Vladimir Nabokov somewhat famously (among writers — other folks wouldn’t be likely to know) wrote his novels on index cards, simultaneously developing scenes and passages throughout his books, rather than sitting down and writing start to finish. The author compared this to the way a painter works, applying brushwork here and there until the work is finished.

It is not unlike the way I work, though I am not nearly so formal about it. Moreover, computers make note cards unnecessary; rather, I type out bits and pieces that will be plugged into the final work. I leave gaps as I build the narrative, knowing I can come back to write that scene or chapter — after all, I have my notes. I may write a synopsis of sorts for a chapter, an ‘argument’ as E.R.R. Eddison called it in his related approach, and return to it later.

I could not imagine just sitting down, starting at the beginning of the story, and banging it out. I am no Stephen King, disciplining myself to write thousands of words each day. Rather, my approach is more akin to that of Michael Moorcock. Once I have things worked out, whether in notes/outline or in my head, I can type up the whole novel in one frenzy of writing, working all day, thinking of little else for as long as it takes. Which can be a rather short time, really, a few days, a week.

At that point, the project gets my entire focus. I will do nothing else. I live it. This is what works for me. Maybe I could compare it to mounting a stage show. Weeks of rehearsals lead up to the performance itself. I have learned my lines and deliver them for you, my readers.

Stephen Brooke ©2016

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Getting It Ready

So I have written and rewritten the new novel, WAVES, and am now into line-edits and formatting. Getting it ready for a December Fifth release date poses no problem. I am essentially pleased with it.

WAVES is a relatively wordy novel, my longest so far, unless one counts DONZALO’S DESTINY as one long novel (which it admittedly is). This one weighs in at just over 80,000 words — not really all that long, but most of my stuff is fast paced and tightly written and doesn’t run to such lengths.

This is a followup to SHAPER and, like that book, WAVES is ostensibly a ‘crime’ novel. The crime element, however, is even smaller here and exists more to give shape to a story of relationships. Both are pretty much ‘mainstream’ novels, truly — one might even say literary fiction (but I wouldn’t, would I?).

The pacing is relatively leisurely, with a certain amount of ‘stream of consciousness’ content. The plot? Well, more convoluted than in SHAPER. That’s for sure. And there is not a whole lot that really needs ‘solved.’ This is not a mystery.

Getting WAVES ready for publication is not a big deal. The covers were designed ages ago — before most of the narrative was written! ISBNs are allotted. Blurbs are composed.

And I am thinking about the next novel.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Sympathetic Magic, a poem

Sympathetic Magic

I wrap your name in a poem
and bury it beneath a new moon.

Let both wax. Let them shine
brighter than every distant star

foolish lovers might wish upon.
In time, we shall be full.

Stephen Brooke ©2016

Written in my head while mowing the lawn this morning.

Monday, October 03, 2016

Wave Release

The 'official' release date for my much anticipated (by me!) follow-up to SHAPER is now set for Dec 5. Expect to see WAVES pretty much everywhere by then (if all goes well).

This novel continues the story of Ted Carrol, aka Shaper, in fictional Cully Beach, Florida, his brushes with the criminal element, with an old flame who shows up, with his own past.

Just in time for holiday shopping --- but, of course, I would recommend reading SHAPER first. You have loads of time to get a copy before WAVES comes out!

Sunday, October 02, 2016

The Girl I Had a Crush On

The girl I had a crush
on in high school.

Beloved mother
and grandmother, I read.

What happened in the fifty years
that lay between?

Stephen Brooke ©2016

In a vaguely sijo-like form. And yes, I did Google someone from my past and learned of her passing.