adventures in dysthymia

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Targets

Poets and teachers and such are the most visible and obvious targets for a despot. This does not necessarily equate to their being dangerous (though they may flatter themselves that they are) to his rule but he does not care — he dislikes criticism.

Moreover, the populace who put him into power will applaud the destruction of these ‘others,’ these men and women who do not think as they do. There is nothing to be lost — in the despot’s eyes — in making as example of them.

(This is the sort of note I frequently make to myself, to be plugged into a novel down the line. There is a lot of politics in my books!)

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Arriving, a poem

Arriving

Crumbling asphalt gave way
to lime-rock further from town
and every fencepost stood
sentinel. I could not
tell you what sort of cattle
watched disinterestedly;
Santa Gertrudis I can recognize,
and Brahma, but not those
square dun grazers.
The house is up ahead,
you told me. I could see
the sun on the tin roof,
or was that a barn?
Surely there was a barn.
Tired giants sprawled
into the yard, resting
fern-clad arms before
the porches. You waited there,
as sere fields all around
awaited rain. And I? I am
always arriving, always
leaving, already gone.
I see you waving, on the porch.
There will be lemonade.

Stephen Brooke ©2016

Sunday, December 25, 2016

One Down

I am writing the new novel, GOD OF RAIN, to the same formula as the three Malvern novels, as it is a semi-sequel to those books. That is, it follows one of the secondary characters of the trilogy, the Mora warrior Hito.

Before I wrote most of the narrative I knew that I would be aiming for around 60,000 words spread over four sections and sixty or so chapters. I knew each section would have its own arc. This was the plan for each of the Malvern tales and I came very close to my goal on each of them. Yes, one had sixty-one chapters, the length varied from 57,000 to 64,000 words, but they fell into line with no great difficulty.

This method borrows some from Michael Moorcock (google his advice on how to write a novel in three days). He in turn borrowed from any number of pulp writers, Edgar Rice Burroughs included. The thing is that there was a plan before I wrote, a loose outline, a direction I wished to go.

And characters. The characters come first for me. Or perhaps I should say the physical part of the stories comes first, not only the people but the setting, the culture, the landscape, even the economy. I need my foundation before the story can be built. This is just the way I work, the way I think.

Then the characters can find their adventures. As, again, in the Malvern novels, there is a first person narrative. But whereas Michael Malvern, castaway on a ‘coast of spears,’ told the first three stories, this one is narrated by a native of that coast. That, of course, changes the tone. Hito is going to see things differently due to cultural differences.

But also differences of personality. That is perhaps even more important. Malvern was an artist and a man who wandered restlessly. Hito is more grounded, more practical, more ambitious. His story comes when those ambitions lose their importance for him and he can find none to replace them.

The first section, the first quarter of GOD OF RAIN is pretty much in finished form and came out to around 14,000 words. That’s about right for it, but I know the word count may grow slightly as I continue to edit. There will be passages where I feel the need to add a few words for better understanding. I will almost certainly plug in bits of description here and there to accompany the action. But for the most part, it is complete and will need no radical changes. On to the next part now.

* * *

I should mention that I now have a dedicated author page at FaceBook. I don’t know if I needed it but it’s there anyway: https://www.facebook.com/stephenbrookeauthor/

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Haircut, a poem

Haircut

My hair is growing out
to the ‘head-banger’ lengths
I would shake back casually

(making sure you were watching)
when I was younger. Maybe
it doesn’t look that good on me,

really, but at sixty-six
I still have it all and as they say,
if you’ve got it, flaunt it.

I wonder if some ninety year old guy
will look at me and say,
‘Get a haircut, hippie.”

Stephen Brooke © 2016

Silly, I know, and only a few minutes work. I'm in  full novel-writing mode at the moment and not turning out much of anything else.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Opening With Dialogue

One of those ‘rules’ of writing that some love to repeat is ‘never open with dialogue.’ Of course, plenty of quite excellent novels do start with dialogue. It can pull the readers straight into the story, which is good, but it can also confuse those readers.

This latter is why it is discouraged. However, if done properly, it can be an effective way to immediately tell one what is going on. I give you the opening lines of my own YA novel, ‘The Middle of Nowhere.’

It’s not much of a hill,” I whispered to Dad.

Mr. Akin heard me. “That’s about as big as they get around here,” he said, “but it gives a great view of the river.” Leave it to a real estate agent to turn the conversation into a sales pitch.

He pulled his car into the bumpy driveway and asked if we were ready for a look.

And that is how I ended up living in the middle of nowhere.

So, we establish right away who the speakers are (more or less) and what they are up to. A kid and his father are being shown property by a real estate salesman. We also have an inkling as to the geography of the area. We have a name, we have some physical description (the bumpy drive) of the property at which they are looking. Nothing very confusing there.

I make no claim that ‘Middle’ is a great book. It was my first published novel and I see various things about it that might have been done better (such as more concrete details). But I like the beginning. I could have dropped it, I suppose, and started with the next passage but it is not nearly as interesting! I feel that this snatch of dialogue pulls one in better.

A snatch of dialogue — that’s the thing (my sample barely qualifies as dialogue at all). Don’t make it a long-winded conversation that will baffle the readers. And don’t let it be a gimmick, just to catch the readers’ interest — it needs to serve a purpose in the narrative.

I’ll admit that I have employed this approach quite a bit, maybe in about half my novels. It’s just another way of doing things, not good nor bad in and of itself. Like any other technique, it can be misused.

As can dropping the readers into the middle of any sort of action. The same rules apply — you have to make sure they know what is going on. A fight scene may be exciting but one should have some idea of why it is happening and who is involved. Dialogue is, essentially, a form of action, characters doing things.

So ignore the ‘rule,’ if you wish, but recognize why it and all rules were invented in the first place. They are warnings, reminders to be cautious of the pitfalls found on certain pathways. So keep your eyes open and recognize those hazards when you spy them!

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Wind on the Prairie, the Wind on the Sea

The Wind on the Prairie, the Wind on the Sea

The wind on the prairie, the wind on the sea,
the wind swept away all that’s left of me,
away across the ocean wide,
away across the great divide.
The wind will never let me be —
the wind on the prairie, the wind on the sea.

The wind of morning called one day,
whispering of a distant shore,
and the wind carried me away,
away from a home I’ll see no more.
Oh, that wind, it knew my name
and promised to make me whole;
Yes, it called me and I came,
called out to my restless soul.

Across the restless waters it blew,
wrote a fortune in sea foam;
my heart told me it was true —
with the wind I’d ever roam.
Weary, I have sought to rest,
sheltered in some headland’s lee;
the crying gull above the wave’s crest
calls me to my destiny.

Once I was a cowboy, riding,
Silver spurs hung at my heels;
painted stallion beneath me striding,
going to find what dawn reveals.
Yes, I rode a fine tall horse
across a wide and empty land,
followed a river to its source,
where the snow-gripped mountains stand.

Wagons rolled across the plains,
storms rolled above the broad expanse,
and I faced the droughts and rains,
watched a distant devil dance.
Their canvas gleamed like snowy sails
on a sea of grass, wind-swept,
and all of my forgotten tales
night sang to me as I slept.

Every ship needs sails and anchor,
every bird both earth and sky,
and this heart at times must hanker
to see my home before I die.
What compass points to all I’ve lost,
on what tides should I now sail?
What divides must yet be crossed,
how long must the winds yet wail?

Far across the mountain heights,
prairies where the lost winds weep,
across the vast and starry nights
I’ve watched rise from the oceans deep,
could I find familiar sands,
where I once dreamed on the shore,
might I find the distant lands
where I hear the wind no more?

The wind on the prairie, the wind on the sea,
the wind swept away all that’s left of me,
away across the ocean wide,
away across the great divide.
I pray for that wind to set me free —
the wind on the prairie, the wind on the sea.

Stephen Brooke ©2016

It's a poem, it's a song lyric, it's kind of long --- it's something I've been working on (or off and on) for quite some time. The title was originally going to be a used for an album combining the sea songs and cowboy songs I had recorded over the years, but I decided they weren't good enough and scrapped the idea. But not the title! I kept thinking I should do something with it.

So this is where it ended up. Yes, there is music, though that is still in flux. Yes, it is sort of bloated but I knew it would be and embraced the fact. The  chorus --- the opening there --- repeats every couple verses, by the way. Anyway, it is a finished product. On to something else.

Scalloping, a poem

Scalloping

The sea-grass seems almost black
at this depth. A cold hand gently
presses. I look up at blue distortions.

To my business. They are easy
to see if one knows how. There,
the sand settles, barely perceptible,

marking a passage. My gloved fingers
slip another scallop into the net
bag trailing at my waist.

Up for breath, all the way up,
not just through the snorkel.
Where is the boat? Momentary

disorientation. Used to that.
I prefer the shallows, I think,
wading the flats that seem

to extend forever into the warm
Gulf waters, green-straw, the gulls
wheeling and wheeling.

Down again, to depths of filtered
summer sun, to dark grass beds barely
acknowledging the sluggish current.

Nothing marks my passage, here,
a parting of water, a parting
of life, all flowing in behind.

Stephen Brooke ©2016

Ha, if one were to remove the line breaks this could be a passage from one of my Cully Beach novels.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Turn for the Better, a lyric

Turn for the Better

Take a right in Birmingham,
you'll reach Nashville by dawn;
maybe you don’t give a damn
and you’ll just travel on.
You’re who you are, I’m who I am,
what we had may be gone;
but if you call from Birmingham,
I’ll watch for you at dawn.

If you drive on,it’s understood,
the choice is up to you;
take a left, you’ve left for good,
I'll know that we are through.
And I’ll know that each falsehood
is now a debt come due;
If I had done the things I should,
I’d be riding with you.

If my life takes a turn for the better,
you’ll be driving home to me;
there are those who said ‘forget her’
But how could that ever be?
I hope and pray you’re homeward bound
and what we lost can still be found,
if my life takes a turn for the better,
if my life takes a turn for the better.

As you sit waiting for the green
at some traffic light,
think on what we used to mean
when choosing left or right.
What’s to be remains unseen,
but I’ll watch through the night,
and pray to hold you by the sheen
of the sun’s first light.

If my life... (repeat chorus)

Stephen Brooke ©2016

A straightforward Country music song of a rather old-fashioned variety. I've been dabbling at this off and on for, well, years --- the original concept seemed interesting but not much of anything I ever did with it. It is still somewhat a WIP, including the music. And I have driven through Birmingham on my way to Nashville on a few occasions.

Victims, a poem

Victims

I had convinced myself I cared
but she knew better. We are always
the first victims of our seductions.
How else could we carry on?

For her, I counted the stars. Did she
believe my tally? I did; every
time, I did, even though
it never came out quite the same.

In the dark, her breathing told
me lies. If only I could sleep
they might come true. The ceiling
mocked me as I turned again.

Victims of the moon and stars,
and of each other, we shall make
believe as long as necessary.
How else could we carry on?

Stephen Brooke ©2016

Yeah, it's a poem and maybe on the edge of overblown. Or maybe it went over the edge. I don't know.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Steinhatchee

My song Steinhatchee can be heard at Reverbnation or maybe embedding it below worked. Demo-quality  piece I wrote and recorded about the little town in Florida's 'Big Bend' where I used to live.



Maybe I'll enter this one in the Will McLean Festival 'Best New Florida Song' contest. I'll probably be going to the festival in March anyway.

Friday, December 09, 2016

Writing and Recording

As both an author and a sometime recording engineer, I can note the similarities between the two processes:

Writing a book is like recording the tracks for a song — getting it all down but not yet integrated into a whole.

Editing/rewriting that book is like mixing the tracks, getting each to the correct volume, properly panned left and right, adding a touch of reverb or other effects to pull it all together.

And, finally, line edits and proofreading are the ‘mastering’ phase of the project, catching any small mistakes, anything that is out of balance, in a finished work.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Blabbing On

I find the dialogue in many novels to be quite unconvincing. People — at least for the most part — do not speak in these long-winded paragraphs of which some writers seem overly fond (Dostoevsky!) but are rather inclined to short fragments of speech, with plenty of pauses. Realistic dialogue should reflect this fact.

Now, realistic dialogue may not always be the aim. My fantasies tend to go with more formal speech, at least for the upper class individuals. Even so, I would rarely make a statement more than a couple sentences long. There is very little speech-giving in the course of conversations.

Television writers seem to recognize all this. They strive to write short and tight dialogues for their characters. No, it does not always come off as believable (especially when an info-dump is spliced in) but it is certainly more realistic than what is found in many novels.

Humans do tend to be incoherent. Accept that fact. They rarely have ‘talking points’ planned out before they open their mouths. They misunderstand each other. Yes, one of the goals of the fiction writer should be to make it all more comprehensible, but not at the expense of making it artificial.

So don’t let your characters blab on without taking a breath. It is unrealistic and it is boring. Let them pause and consider. Let facial expressions and body language be noted. A conversation is more than just words, after all. It is two (or more) people interacting in a variety of ways.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Aerialist, a poem

Aerialist

The aerialist, arms reaching out again
for the trapeze, leaps ever wider gaps.
Discipline must carry him across,
the trust in his own training, in his own hands,

knowing everyone falls. To challenge chaos,
to fly when God denied man wings, ignore
the roaring crowd, and be is all that matters.
For a moment, destiny is held.

Only a moment — then the illusion ends,
the hubris of control. Release it,
aerialist, and bow; the act is finished.
Let it slip into the net below.

Stephen Brooke ©2016

As this first came to me, and was partly written in my head, I was comparing a poet to an aerialist. But that was unnecessary to what the poem had to say.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

In the South, a lyric

IN THE SOUTH
a song lyric

verse (introduction)
When the tea is sweet
but not the corn bread,
you’ll know you’re in the South.
When the summer heat
makes you toss in bed,
you’ll know you’re in the South.
A smile when we meet,
the kind word said,
that’s my home in the South.
So plant your feet
where you’re born and bred;
that’s right here in the South.

chorus 1

Hear the bullfrogs boom,
smell the jasmine bloom.
Just kiss her cheek
as the crickets creak
‘neath a big old moon;
want to be there soon.
You can’t be wrong,
you’re where you belong —
yes, you’re in the South!

chorus 2

When the moon shines bright
on a sultry night,
with distant singing
to the banjo’s ringing,
if you spy a ‘possum
where magnolias blossom,
and the Spanish moss
hangs across,
why, yes, you’re in the South!

bridge

Do you feel that evening breeze
whispering through the live oak trees?
Do you hear that hound dog bay?
Old Blue knows I’m on my way!

chorus 3

No more I’ll roam,
yes, I’m headed home,
and if all goes well
gonna hold a belle
by the S’wanee River —
I’ve a kiss to give ’er!
I’d rather be there
than anywhere,
right there in the South!

Stephen Brooke ©2016

Intentionally full of cliches, of course. I was after the feel of Twenties and Thirties pop songs, including the structure — verse, chorus, and bridge had somewhat different meanings then than they do in current use. Still somewhat a WIP --- I wonder if I should work up the tune on the banjo.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Depart, my book

My latest book, the novel SHAPER, is officially out on Monday, Dec 5. Here is a rather tongue-in-cheek poem by James Branch Cabell (from 'Chivalry') about turning a book over to its readers.

Depart, depart, my book! and live and die
Dependent on the idle fantasy
Of men who cannot view you, quite, as I.

For I am fond, and willingly mistake
My book to be the book I meant to make,
And cannot judge you, for that phantom's sake.

Yet pardon me if I have wrought too ill
In making you, that never spared the will
To shape you perfectly, and lacked the skill.

Ah, had I but the power, my book, then I
Had wrought in you some wizardry so high
That no man but had listened...!

.                                        They pass by,
And shrug—as we, who know that unto us
It has been granted never to fare thus,
And never to be strong and glorious.

Is it denied me to perpetuate
What so much loving labor did create?—
I hear Oblivion tap upon the gate,
And acquiesce, not all disconsolate.

For I have got such recompense
Of that high-hearted excellence
Which the contented craftsman knows,
Alone, that to loved labor goes,
And daily doth the work he chose,
And counts all else impertinence!

James Branch Cabel

Philistia

Was Samson nothing more than another terrorist, murdering Philistines, destroying their crops? Perhaps Delilah is the true heroine of that tale, the undercover agent who finally brought him down.

Generations have been taught to revere the long-haired freedom fighter, God’s guerrilla, and think not of the darkness in him, that savagery. Would not most of us, in truth, have sided with those civilized Philistines, living a life not so unlike our own in their cities by the sea?

We would tend our olive trees, seeking only peace and profit, and scorn those barbarous Hebrews up there in the hills. But the Philistine cities died out, and the Hebrews and their ideas flourished. Do you feel the pillars of the temple shake? Our world, too, may fall about us.

Stephen Brooke ©2016

And we might ask the same of Judas Maccabeus, mightn't we? This is a thought that is possibly going to show up in a novel one of these days.