Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Less, a poem


Who could name the person
I yearned to become?
Add up all my past —
I’m less than the sum.

Nothing to be learned
from my deconstruction,
willing participant
in my own abduction,

making action movies
none will ever see,
setting off explosions
that maim only me.

Too late to be rescued
from the things I do;
let me drown again
trying to save you.

For it is the natural
state of all these things
to remain unnatural,
fly with stunted wings

in pursuit of nothing.
What’s left to assess?
Add me up again —
I remain far less

Stephen Brooke ©2016

This would be one of the poems that took a while, built line by line over several weeks, when I felt inspired to dabble at it. I come back to the WIP and may or may not get ideas to carry on with it. And, perhaps, better understand what it is about with each visit for, as is typical, it started with words and phrases in search of a concept.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Intelligent Design

If there is a creator god, then all things would result from ‘intelligent design’ — assuming that creator is intelligent, of course. This does not mean that God is hands-on, nudging his creation along in the direction desired.

Indeed, if it were properly and ‘intelligently’ designed, it would operate as it should from the beginning and need no tinkering. Would not an omnipotent, omniscient god get it right on the first try? But that argument is somewhat meaningless in that God is not constrained by time.

For such a deity, all existence would be ‘at once.’ God does not have to wait and see how things play out! So one could, I suppose, say that the creator is always involved in his creation. But actively smiting evil nations and guiding evolution? I rather doubt it!

Let me return to my point about the creator being intelligent. I shall admit that I do not necessarily believe this, and have written of it elsewhere, as well as suggesting that it probably doesn’t matter. If we posit infinite being, then all things would exist. There would be no design or, rather, each instance of that infinite multiverse would be ‘designed’ differently.

Whether those universes actually exist or remain potential until they are observed may not matter either. Perhaps we could say that an omnipotent god would be one who can observe each and all of them, giving them existence. Or not; again, it doesn’t matter much, does it, except as a thought experiment?

Intelligent design, as promoted by some ‘conservative’ Christians (and other faiths, for that matter), is simply unnecessary to our understanding of how things work (as opposed to why). It is not science, at least not in the sense we use the word today, but more a philosophical question and should be presented as such. And philosophy should most certainly be taught — just not in biology class.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

On Castro

I knew Cuban refugees when I was a little kid. Not refugees from Castro’s Cuba but refugees from Battista’s. The youngsters thought Castro was about the greatest thing ever. Understand that this was when I six, seven years old. People came to different conclusions about Fidel Castro over the next few years; my family, however, had moved to Ohio and I was no longer among the Cubans of Florida. At that age, it was an out of sight, out of mind situation.

I shall not judge Castro. He was something with which I am uncomfortable, I shall admit, a ‘true believer.’ Those sort of people do a great deal of wrong in the name of doing good. Yet, there was good in the programs of his socialist government. Castro did not rob the Cuban people as had his predecessors.

But he jailed them, silenced them, executed some (though there were not the bloodbaths we saw under other regimes). Some of that was no doubt a response to the hostility from his near neighbor, our own United States. Having a super-power committed to deposing one would make one a bit paranoid, I should think.

In all, Castro was another Latin American dictator and better than most of those. Forget the ideology — look to the results. The very fact that he held onto power so long suggests that the Cuban people largely approved of his government. Life was improved for the majority, maybe despite the imposition of socialism.

Socialism — I have mixed feelings about ‘true’ socialism (i.e. government ownership of the means of production). Not so much because of any ideas about private versus public ownership but because it will inevitably lead to abuses of power when imposed from the top. It’s the whole ‘big is bad’ thing. I do not mind common ownership on local levels, such as the greens that were once found throughout England, open to everyone to graze their animals, but were enclosed by the wealthy (especially during the Tudor reigns) as the feudal/manorial system gave way to early capitalism.

Leninist/Marxist socialism (which is way more Leninist than Marxist) is top-down socialism, controlled by the centralized state. Economic power equals political power in all societies everywhere and any time, and so the central bureaucracy wields concentrated power. It is accountable to no one.

We have already seen the socialist state of Fidel Castro move away from a stricter Marxism (and Cuba was never fertile ground for totalitarian concepts). That is undoubtedly a good thing as long as it doesn’t go too far the other way — we don’t want the corrupt crony-capitalism of an earlier day to return!

So rest in peace, Fidel Castro. You did wrong and you did right, as do all of us. We shall have to see how it plays out now.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Thanksgiving Recording

No Thanksgiving dinner for me; Thursday was pretty much just another day, in most respects. So I did a little recording that afternoon, fussing around in the office, rather than going into the studio. I moved that office last week, out of the art studio where it had been gradually been taking up more and more space! I placed my desk (where I do most of my writing) and peripherals in the almost-never-used dining room. Being by myself in this house these days, I never have reason to eat in there.

Anyway, the recording — I had to mess around a bit getting my drivers set up properly. Upgrading to Windows 10 gave me some problems. Or more problems than before. I generally do these quick ‘scratch’ recordings in the Power Tracks DAW, both the recording and mixing, as it is fairly easy to use and has pretty much all the features I need (it is also quite nice for working with MIDI but that was irrelevant here). But it has been stuttering with the standard Windows MME/WDM type of drivers, at least using my cheap Behringer USB mixer as an interface. Not the recording, mind you, but the playback.

I had ASIO drivers that Behringer provides but had never installed them so that I gave them a try. And they worked BUT there was a noticeable high-pitched whine in the playback as long as the USB was plugged in — not just in Power Tracks but in every program. And just in my monitors, not my headphones! It was annoying but, since it was not being recorded, I could live with it.

The result was a couple of songs, just demo-quality and mostly for archiving. That is, until, I listened back to both later, decided one wasn’t good enough, and deleted it. The other was okay, but with a few small problems. I definitely got too close on the mike, a Samson VR88 ribbon, and got some overblown proximity effect in a couple spots. It’s probably not the ideal microphone for my voice, anyway. Be that as it may, I uploaded the result to my Reverbnation account:

The song is called ‘Saw Grass to Wire Grass,’ about the two parts of Florida in which I have lived, the Everglades in the south end of the state, and the ‘wire grass’ in the Panhandle. The lyrics have appeared here already, a few months back. I have decided to enter it in the song contest at this year’s Will McLean Festival. Chances are it will be ignored as were past entries. :)

Chances are, also, that I shall re-record the song I deleted and enter it as well. When I get to it — needs to be done before the end of the year.

Back to the problems with my drivers: I deleted the Behringer ASIO driver and went to their site to see if they had a better/updated version for my mixer, only to find that they no longer offered a driver of their own but had ASIO4ALL available for download instead. So I went to the ASIO4ALL website and got a newer version than the one at Behringer and it works pretty well. There might or might not be a little noise when I play back from the DAW (again, it is not recorded) but none at all in other apps. So I’m okay with it.

And just a reminder here, the official release of the second Cully Beach ‘surf noir’ novel, WAVES, is only a week away (well, plus a couple days). But it is available pretty much everywhere in print and ebook right now!

ADDENDUM (about a month later): I started having problems with the ASIO drivers on following recording sessions and was eventually able get the Windows drivers working properly and went back to them. Who knows whether they will continue to be trouble-free (I suspect not!)? I may not record in the office much anymore, anyway.

Saturday, November 19, 2016


One of the most common mistakes people make, both in real life and in creating fictional characters, is to confuse average differences with intrinsic differences. Take the sexes — are there differences between men and women (aside from the obvious anatomical ones)? If there are, they are on the average. For example, men are taller than women on the average, but there are short men and tall women. It is not an intrinsic difference between the two.

This is true of pretty much any groups of people, any populations. Even if we posit differences, they would be averages. This makes them essentially meaningless. We have to remember this both when creating fictional humans and when dealing with ones in our everyday lives. Do not judge according to some average. Do not assign certain characteristics to an entire population.

Tolkien was bothered later in his life by the fact that he had made his orcs intrinsically bad. He recognized the insurmountable difficulties this had presented, that it made them less than thinking creatures, creatures with souls (in whatever sense one wishes to use that term). Even if they were soulless animals, it is not really a good choice to make them all bad. That would be similar to those who claim all pit bulls are bad and dangerous.

So, not all goblins should be evil nor should all dwarfs be greedy. Maybe even dragons have their good sides (they do in my stories!). Nor is one human tribe or nation worse or better than another. Yes, there are average differences and these can be mentioned. Still, one runs into the occasional tall dwarf and the occasional muscular woman warrior, not to mention a few jumbo shrimp.

Friday, November 18, 2016


People voted for change because their lives sucked. There’s nothing complicated about that. Yes, racism and sexism and other isms certainly influence some individuals but those are not the real reason for Trump’s victory. Unfortunately, their lives are probably going to suck even more with Trump in charge.

What bothers me personally about Trump is not politics but morality. He may be president but he remains an immoral conman and sexual predator, a bully and purveyor of vice. It saddens me that the public was unable to recognize or care about this. It bothers me that so many ‘leaders’ were willing to make a deal with the devil for a few fleeting political gains. A morally bankrupt America has chosen a morally bankrupt president.

That is probably all I will say on current politics for a while. Back to my many, many fiction projects!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Discarded, a poem


My truth is forged of words discarded,
words forgotten, left unguarded —
I find them in the empty ways,
gather them in dark bouquets,
mold them into grotesque forms,
scatter them on rising storms
to fall, forgotten, as the rain,
to be forgotten, as my pain.

The sleeping crowd takes up my song;
words the same, the notes seem wrong.
Who remembers which are right?
Who remembers past the night
what is lost amid these dreams?
One voice, seeking morning, screams,
Stop, thief! as the felon flees —
we handed him all the keys.

A silver emptiness of the moon
crosses clear blue vaults of noon,
as I count invisible stars.
Let them rise, Venus, Mars,
to reflect in evening’s pond,
form again this fragile bond
of real and mirror, of truth and lie,
discarded words, uncaring sky.

Stephen Brooke ©2016

This was first written, a few days ago, as a song lyric but I was unsatisfied with that and completely rewrote — doing a bit of that ‘kill your darlings’ thing in the process.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Politics and Fiction

I don’t really get too excited about current politics. My view of history is essentially mechanistic, determined by economic forces to which humans in large groups react in predictable manners. This is not to say that politics does not appear in my novels; indeed, the plots are full of it.

But you will not find much in the way of value judgments on the various political systems that appear in the books. I am more concerned with how they work, how they came to be, the forces that change them. All of that does interest me.

More interesting are the individuals who live and act within those systems. Despite what I just said about economic forces, individuals are important. After, ultimately everything is done by individuals!

Never mind that if one individual didn’t do something that changed history, another would come along and do something similar and things would go on about the same. Hitler did not create the conditions in German society that led to Nazism, he harnessed them. If he had not, someone else would have.

Oh, the details would have been different. How different? Well, that’s a job for fiction to explore, maybe. I can not for a moment accept the premise in Philip K. Dick’s ‘The Man in the High Castle’ that a single assassin’s bullet could change the outcome of World War 2 and lead to Nazis dominating the world. It would take far deeper socio-economic forces to make that happen.

To me, exploring those forces would be kind of fun. Maybe not for my readers, however. (Neither one of them!) But I do tuck stuff like that into the novels, the fantasies. Not much room for that sort of thing in the mainstreams — although there is a good bit of local politics (and corruption) in my latest, ‘Waves.’

When it comes to exploring the politics of alternate worlds, I think Ursula K. LeGuin has done this about as well as anyone. The systems in ‘The Dispossessed’ or ‘The Left Hand of Darkness’ are both alien and well-conceived. They are believable. They are coherent, not just a jumble of ideas thrown together as backdrop to the action. To some degree, they are the action.

I am a great fan of LeGuin, both her concepts and her writing style. An influence? I suppose, though not an early, formative one. Still, ‘Left Hand’ was one of those books that was a bit of a revelation when I first read it. There are not that many of those.

On the other hand, as much as I love Tolkien, his world does not seem very workable — at least that part of it he shows us. There are some vaguely Distributist ideas there, and Sauron’s realm certainly reflected the totalitarian regimes of his time, but that was not really what he was interested in writing about. Which is alright but one needs to recognize that politics and economics are important components of any world we may create, whether quite fantastic or the everyday one which lies about us.

Most of the time, these things will be in the background. One need not know the politics of Jane Austen’s England to appreciate ‘Pride and Prejudice.’ But those politics were there and informed her world view and, therefor, those of her characters. It is good to be aware of them, as a writer, to know that they matter. They are an essential part of ones back story.

Pillar of Salt, a poem

Pillar of Salt

Guidepost to a land
I can not revisit,
You stand on my borders,
singing to the past.

Time’s erosion slowly
carries you away,
taking each regret
on its desert winds,

every memory,
to the sullen sea.
I shall not look back;
only wastes remain.

Stephen Brooke ©2016

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Don't Quote Me on That

Just for the halibut, some quotes from my various fantasy novels (I don't go for these sorts of aphorisms so much in the mainstream stuff)


The Song of the Sword (Donzalo’s Destiny 1)

Only a fool wagers with his master. ~ Jobareth Nafal

You might be surprised at how divided ones loyalties can be. ~ Lareth of Sharsh

Depending on what happens most times has often gotten people into trouble. ~ Jobareth Nafal

The Shadow of Asak (Donzalo’s Destiny 2)

The best diplomacy comes on the blade of a sword. ~ Greneth of Sharsh

We each make our own dreams. ~ the Queen of the Fay

The Sign of the Arrow (Donzalo’s Destiny 3)

Democracy is only the freedom to choose your master. ~ Lord Doufan

The king is the servant of the people. ~ Greneth of Sharsh

The only proper course is that which our heart sets us. ~ Guesare the Minstrel

Mankind is but a flicker in the great darkness. ~ Lord Radal

If things didn’t break, there would be no potters. ~ Lord Doufan

The Hand of the Sorcerer (Donzalo’s Destiny 4)

People must be allowed to speak their minds. It makes them think that they are free. ~ Lord Doufan

The freest men are neither slaves nor kings. ~ Sir Pol

Even your own shadow leaves you when you are in darkness. ~ Lord Radal

History is a runaway horse and most of the time all we can do is to hold on. But now and then, perhaps, we may find ourselves able to give a little tug on the reins and turn it, ever so slightly, in our desired direction. ~ Lord Doufan

The purpose of government is to help create and maintain a stable society. All else serves that end. ~ Lord Doufan

Any weapon is only as good as the man who wields it. ~ Sir Blen

Coast of Spears

Humans are humans, wherever we find them. ~ Michael Malvern

Let the mountains keep their secrets; there is enough for any man here below them. ~ Lady Pua

Valley of Visions

One can not see all things. ~ Oorto the Shaman

Everyone is guilty of something. ~ Michael Malvern

It takes but one man to win a battle, if he is the one who survives. ~ Hurasu, Lord of Visions

Things simply happen, and sometimes all we can do is stand back and laugh at them. ~ Hurasu, Lord of Visions

All government is ultimately by threats. ~ Hurasu, Lord of Visions

Hero from the Sea

Too much imagination is dangerous in kings. ~ Michael Malvern

Many things that are hoped for do not come to be. ~ Rahaita

If the people have the things they need and are not mistreated, there is no unrest. ~ Lord Temani’itu

There is no stronger symbol than death. ~ King Va’aru

Every sailor seeks his home port, one day. ~ Poyo the Kohari

The Eyes of the Wind

The gods are often cruel. ~ Xit the Wizard

There may be things that can't be changed, but we shall never know that unless we keep trying to change them. ~ Xit the Wizard

Humans are inclined to interpret all things to suit their own ends. ~ Xit the Wizard

Most robberies consist of nothing more than brandishing a sword and intimidating ones victims. ~ Xit the Wizard

Just being alive is reason enough to be angry. ~ Qala the Pirate Queen

I could be angry that nothing matters, except it doesn't matter. ~ Xit the Wizard

We are but infinitesimal specks in the cosmos. Yet each of us is as important as any other infinitesimal speck. ~ Xit the Wizard

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Evil and Elections

The problem was not the racists, the misogynists, the ‘deplorables,’ but the well-meaning people who were willing to compromise with them, to compromise with evil, in hopes of doing good. That is always a mistake. As a result we have an immoral criminal on the way to the White House.

I am not a ‘liberal.’ I did not support Clinton nor do I support the establishment’s global corporatist agenda. I even agreed with some of Trump’s rather nebulous ideas about trade. But I would never vote for a man I consider evil.

Yes, evil. Evil is real but I fear too many no longer believe in it. Too many no longer recognize it. How could the people who laughed at things Charlie Harper said on television be expected to condemn Trump’s statements?

Politics is about compromise, of course. We may speak of ‘the lesser of evils’ but it is rarely true evil we are speaking of, just differences in agendas. This is different. This is about character.

This is about who Donald Trump truly is.

Monday, November 07, 2016

A Question of Characters

One of Stephen King’s ‘rules’ for writers is that ‘The situation comes first. The characters — always flat and unfeatured to begin with — come next.’

This is quite the opposite of the way I work. I try to create fairly fully realized characters first, then find situations in which to place them. How else will I know how they will act and react if I don’t know who they are?

Indeed, I sometimes write short stories featuring characters to better understand them before placing them in a novel. Those short stories are not really intended for publication (and are sometimes a bit erotic). They are back story, character study.

Of course they will grow once they appear in a novel. It is inevitable that I shall learn more about them as I write. But I know enough when I start that they will not do things ‘out of character.’ Or if they do, there will be a good reason. It will be the sort of growth that makes sense. Making up a person as one goes along is not a good way to create a cohesive character, someone who seems real.

Unless one goes back and rewrites extensively. And who wants to do that? Get it right from the start, I say; know your primary characters.

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Vote Saruman

It can be noted that the dangers of compromising with evil in hopes of doing good is a major theme in Tolkien. But maybe it is an inevitable part of being human.

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Format or Not Format

Never format the manuscript of your novel-in-progress. Okay, okay, I know that is impossible — there is some sort of formatting going on as soon as you open a new file and start typing. What I am saying is don’t fool with formatting headings, typefaces, any of that sort of thing. Save those for the versions you (or whoever) prepare for publishing.

Instead, make it is simple as possible so it will be easy to export to whatever method one uses to prepare that file for publishing. It might be a desktop publishing program, it might be the same word processing program one used to write. But keep the two processes separate!

I generally write and format my novels in the same program, Open Office Writer. It’s definitely my preference for the writing part. Formatting? It does well enough for a normal novel, although I know it could be a tad more polished if I used a desktop publishing program. OO supposedly plays well with the powerful and free DTP application Scribus, but that is a more complex program than I really need for what I am doing.

Incidentally, WordPerfect might be about the best word processor out there for preparing a formatted print-ready manuscript for publishing. It is decidedly better than MS Word. I have set up books in WP in the past but I am so used to OO Writer now that the process has become very quick for me. And I may be too cheap to upgrade my rather old copy of WordPerfect.

So what sort of formatting do I have going on when I actually am writing? As I noted, very little, and that is primarily geared to making the process of typing and editing as painless as possible. I use an easy to read font and I make it big! I also prefer a monospaced (like a typewriter) font as I feel it is easier to spot mistakes that way. That’s a personal preference.

My current favorite — and likely to remain so — is Century Schoolbook Mono from BitStream. And I use it big, 12 or 13 point, with plenty of space between lines (but NOT double-spaced — that used to be preferred for manuscripts so editors had room to write their corrections!), everything aligned left. Incidentally, I prefer to leave a larger space between paragraphs rather than indenting on a manuscript-in-progress but this is also a personal preference. Use whatever works best for you.

Schoolbook might not be everyone’s cup of type. I would not suggest the ubiquitous Courier New. It’s not that easy on the eyes. There are ‘improved’ Couriers out there that might serve better if you want to go monospaced (such as Courier Final Draft or Dark Courier, both available free). If that is not important to you, then lots of other choices open up. Remember, you do not want something that reads quickly and easily; you want to take your time with what you wrote. You want to be able to see mistakes. That includes things like quote marks and other punctuation so make sure they show up strongly and clearly. Some typefaces that are great otherwise — frequently ones that are designed for onscreen reading ease — may have very short capital letters that can be missed when reading.

I don’t use Times New Roman, but there are worse choices for writing. And better ones. I definitely would not use it for publishing (a novel, that is — great for a newspaper). It is really a matter of what one likes, what works for one. If something about the way you are working bugs you, change it! I have learned a few new tricks with each of the twenty-one books I have turned out. Maybe I shall learn more on book twenty-two!