adventures in dysthymia

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Time for Times

Times New Roman — almost all of us have it on our computers and almost all of us use it, at least occasionally. Obviously, it is a pretty well designed type face and has held up, but it has its drawbacks and misuses as well. Times was designed for newspaper use, to be legible in small sizes, with blurry printing, and is somewhat closely spaced to save room and work well in narrow columns. All these things also made it a pretty good screen font for the early days of the computer.

They also make it not so good for many of the everyday uses in which it is now found, such as business letters or school papers. Definitely not well suited to most books; the exception might be some school texts that are printed in columns, rather than full page width. Big blocks of Times can look like an impenetrable gray haze. I made the mistake of printing my first poetry collection in Times NR. I just didn’t know any better at the time — this was around fifteen years ago.

And it did not look that bad, as the lines were relatively short and uneven in length. Still, it was not ideal and seemed a bit bunched up. That book (Pieces of the Moon) was later reset in Gentium, a nice and somewhat artistic free font that is also widely used. It probably is not ideal for a poetry book either but it was close enough, from a size standpoint, to replace the Times without much redesign and definitely looks better. Being a bit condensed, like Times, Gentium could be an excellent type face for a magazine or something of that sort.

Not being a newspaper publisher, I have no great need for Times. I use it quite sparingly on my website, even though I do stick to large extent to ‘web-safe’ fonts. Yes, even in this day of webfonts I prefer to go with something that is pretty much foolproof. For an online serif, it’s usually Georgia for body text; Times may show up in a sidebar or for titling.

I would note that Times prints out more attractively than Georgia, letter for letter. It’s crisper, more detailed, having been originally designed for print. But again, the overall look can be crowded on a sheet of paper, and not so easy to read if the lines are too long.* There are many better choices, hundreds of them, some already on pretty much everybody’s computer, others readily downloaded for free (or bought, of course). I would take Microsoft’s latest standard, Sitka, over Times for almost any use.

It is interesting (well, to me) that not so long ago the standard for business letters and pretty much any other correspondence was something one would find on a typewriter. Monospaced, definitely, and quite likely to look somewhat like Courier. I suppose business women and men would be shocked to receive something of that sort these day! Times is kind of the standard there now but I really would suggest some other formal looking serif in its place (or even a relatively classy sanserif like Helvetica). Baskerville was chosen the ‘most trustworthy’ font in a recent poll, and that’s always a good thing (my personal choice might be the free Libre Baskerville, 10 or 10.5 point).

When it comes to using Times NR in books — especially fiction — I would be inclined to say ‘never.’ Not even in a text book or how-to manual. There are so many easier-to-read choices, some of which come with our computers (as the aforementioned Sitka), some easily found online. A decent Garamond can go a long way for fiction; it might be all one would ever need.

And leave Times New Roman for its intended purpose, the printing of newspapers. It will be happier there and so will you.


* The ideal length of a line for reading on a page is somewhere around 65 characters, including spaces. I would aim to not go too far above or below this goal — definitely not in a novel. A business letter or the like can, of course, go longer. But not TOO much longer!

Mora - What's in a Name?

In the upcoming (Sept 1!) fantasy novel, ARROWS OF HEAVEN, I sort of retconned the name of my quasi-Polynesian people, the Mora. It was just a made up name originally, meaning nothing in particular. Yes, it sounds a little like ‘Maori’ and I always recognized that, but it was originally intended to be an earlier version of ‘Molu,’ a name that I had applied to a people who appear later — language shift and all that.

But it sounds enough like certain real Polynesian words that I was able to give it a meaning, allowing for a language shift there, as well. In AOH, it is explained by the priest Hito, speaking to a non-native speaker of the Mora language, that it means — more or less — ‘sleeping sky’ or maybe ‘peaceful sky.’ The implication is that the words have connotations beyond their literal meaning, a common occurrence in the rather complex language of the Mora.

Here’s the passage where it occurs, a little past half-way into the book:

______

“You understand the meaning of Mora?” he asked.

“I think so.” Rahiniti sounded uncertain; the literal meaning was obvious but our language has many nuances.

“Mora is the name of our land but it also means us, for we are one. The land of the sleeping sky, a place of rest after the storm-filled journey that brought our ancestors here.” Hito paused and took a sip of his wine. “Hoka’s wives are going to teach me the making of this,” he said, before returning to our topic.

Hoka himself slept in the sun by his house, his breath rasping.

“It is not something we think of, most of the time.” He looked up at his wife, standing beside him. “Mehetu reminded me of it. She is full of old tales and wisdom.”

“But not old herself,” she reminded him.

“Certainly not.” I think that might have been a private jest.

______

None of this is particularly important, of course, and the passage was intended to provide a little glimpse of the Mora people’s past, not to explain their language. That was just a fringe benefit.

Monday, July 17, 2017

When I'm Gone Away, a lyric

When I’m Gone Away

I do not try to impress at all,
it just comes naturally;
and when I’m walking down the street
crowds gaze in awe at me!
As I grow older I also grow
more glorious, you see;
and by the time I kick the bucket
near-godlike I shall be!

Oh, when I’m gone they’ll build me shrines!
They’ll say the sun no longer shines!
Each woman pines, each puppy whines,
when I’m gone away,
oh, when I’m gone away!

I’m sure you’ve heard — it’s widely said —
the best in life is free,
but in the end, I do suspect,
you’d gladly pay my fee!
We all shuffle off this coil,
even I must flee,
oh, I’ll hate to leave you folks
without my company!

Oh, when I’m gone they’ll remember my name!
They’ll say that things are not the same!
Yes, it’s a shame, they all will claim,
when I’m gone away,
oh, when I’m gone away!

I’ve never been one to toot my horn
at least not normally,
nor be the center of attention —
surely you’ll agree.
In this life we should be humble,
keep it all low key,
so it is I’m widely known
for my modesty!

Oh, when I’m gone they’ll build me shrines!
They’ll say the sun no longer shines!
Each woman pines, each puppy whines,
when I’m gone away,
oh, when I’m gone away!

Stephen Brooke ©2017

Maybe a song lyric, maybe a bit of light verse. Probably best sung to the strumming of a banjo-uke.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

A Forced Marriage

Rape is rape, and a coerced marriage is rape. I recognize this. I also recognize that culture and circumstances will always be in play in such a situation. My protagonist in ARROWS OF HEAVEN faces a forced marriage at one point.

Now, rape occurs in some of my other books, mostly the Donzalo sequence. These are straightforward, violent encounters and do not require any special handling, other than to condemn the perpetrators (and off them later!). But this instance required a little more thought — more so, in that is narrated by the female protagonist herself. That’s a minefield I guy like me should have avoided, perhaps.
In the end, I decided both culture and temperament would lead Teme to take a rather matter of fact view of her choices, and decide that she could always get vengeance down the line. Of course, she plans to escape in the mean time! It seemed right for her character; another might have decided to slip a knife into the groom come the wedding night. Yet another might have used that knife on herself. And, it must be admitted, some would simply have accepted their fate. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to something like this.

Teme is a noblewoman with a quite high regard for herself. Her self-esteem would be likely to remain whole no matter what happened to her. So how does she ultimately deal with the situation? Well, I do think you’ll have to read the book to find out. Coming September 1, in case you have not been paying attention.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Cully Beach

My two ‘Cully Beach’ books (SHAPER and WAVES) represent my primary foray into the ‘mainstream’ novel. They are not exactly the first, as they are rather distantly tied to my very first novel, the Young Adult title THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE. Also, there are contemporary (more or less) short stories, some of them related to the same Florida setting and characters.

Ostensibly, the two novels are ‘crime’ stories, and marketed as such. The crime element is to give some structure; they are not aimed at the mystery genre, nor are they action thrillers. They are also tales of contemporary Florida (though set nearly two decades ago), of surfers and small beach towns. Should one write what one knows? Sometimes, perhaps, and the Cully Beach novels are my attempt to do so.


They follow a few months in the life of Ted Carroll, middle-aged surf shop owner and builder of surf boards, known to most as ‘Shaper.’ Ted thinks he is okay, that he has things under control at this point in his life and has put the demons of his past to rest. Things change when a body shows up in the vacant house next door and, a few days later, a woman and daughter with a mysterious past reopen the motel across the street. Things change more when Ted falls for that woman.

I readily admit that when I first envisioned and began to plot out SHAPER it was going to be a much darker novel and the ending pretty much a downer. That changed pretty quickly (though I almost ended with a breakup, meaning to fix it in the sequel) and a fair amount of humor found its way into the story. But Ted still suffers from depression and tends to cling to the safe little world he created for himself.

So, was there any point to writing a sequel, WAVES? I left enough threads dangling at the end of SHAPER to weave a new story and, again, there is a crime element centering around land development and political corruption. Plenty of relationship stuff too, naturally, as that is really what these books are about, with an old flame showing up and that sort of thing. There might or might not be a third Cully Beach effort. If so, there will be more crime, and part of it might take place at the Florida Folk Festival of the year it is set, 2001. The focus might also shift some from Ted to his adopted daughter, Charlie, future policewoman (though he would continue to narrate the tales). The title? I thinking maybe SMOKE.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Hurry, two poems

Hurry #2

Too many great ideas
pop into my head during sex;
I could stop and jot them down
but I am sure it would vex

if I picked up paper and pencil
or, heaven forbid, my phone!
So I’ll simply try to remember,
and later when I’m alone

write them all out, if I can.
And if I seem distracted
when I should be focused on you,
believe me, I’m still attracted,

but I have this line for my novel
or maybe it goes in a song —
if I hurry, I’ll yet get it down
so, please, let’s not take too long!

Stephen Brooke ©2017

Obviously, a silly bit of doggerel but there are all sorts of directions I could have gone with this 'idea.' Before writing the piece above, I turned out this one:

Hurry #1

If I hurry I might
remember all the ideas
that flooded my mind

as we made love.
We’re done? Where are
my pencil and paper?

Stephen Brooke ©2017

I won't waste any more time on it. Maybe.

A Dream of Malibu

I have said on occasion — not that it comes up in conversation that much — that if I could live in any time and place, I would choose California in the Fifties. Oh, there would certainly be drawbacks. There are for any period. But for a surfer that would be the perfect time. The surfboard was finally being perfected; that is, the fiberglass construction still in use was introduced. Boards were fitted with fins as a regular feature, making for a rather radical change in the way they were ridden. Yes, they were still long but weights dropped to an half or even a third of surfboards from the wood construction era.

And there were no crowds in the water. A decade later, the surfer population boomed and has continued to grow. One could slide across a Malibu wave back then without competing with a dozen other riders for the privilege.

Dave Sweet and Buzzy Trent, Malibu 1951

Fifties California was certainly no utopia. It was one time in history like any other, with its good and its bad, and time travel works one direction only, as we all keep moving to the future. Times change; that’s the one constant (and, yes, a cliché).

What does any of this have to do with anything? Maybe nothing. Maybe it’s but nostalgia for an era just slightly before my time. But it is also an exercise in imagination and in understanding — things that are important to creativity of any sort. I know why I would choose that time and place. I recognize why it would call to me.

Or any other time and place, even an imaginary one. It is all well to dream, to leave the aura of mystery about such things, but it is also useful to understand the dream, at least in part. That is the starting point to creating our own realities, in paint, in words. And maybe someday I’ll even write a novel set in California in the Fifties, or maybe I won’t. That doesn’t matter much; I have plenty of other worlds to explore!

Stephen Brooke ©2017

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Two Trilogies

The novels that make up my Malvern trilogy are something of a continuing story. This is not to say each can not stand alone, with a self-contained plot. However, there is an overarching storyline of Michael Malvern in the world of the Mora, his adventures, explorations, loves, all brought to a conclusion in “Hero from the Sea.”

Then, a year or so later, I started in on another trilogy set in that same world but not focused on Malvern. These do not really share a plot, though they are the same ‘story’ in a broad sense. A ‘history,’ perhaps. Each has a different protagonist/narrator, but their tales do interweave. There is one left to complete and then I shall probably leave the world of the Mora behind. It was a world I liked, a quasi-Polynesian society that was — somewhere else.

A parallel world, maybe we would say. Another bubble in the multiverse. Whatever. I would probably be repeating myself if I attempted to squeeze more stories out of it. This is not to say I wouldn’t visit the Mora people in a later age when their society has changed, grown into something different, if I came up with something interesting to say about it. I also might revisit, in some manner, the sorcerer Hurasu who mostly lurks at the edges of these books (but is a major character in “Valley of Visions,” the second Malvern novel).

I have just put the wraps on the second Mora novel, “Arrows of Heaven,” which takes place about five years after the end of the Malvern series. The last book will take up the story somewhat later, maybe fifteen years or so. And that will be that.

It can be noted that all these novels, the five completed so far, are quite similar in structure. I sat down planning, from the first to the latest, to come out with about 60,000 words in four parts — each with a plot arc — and 60 chapters. I have ended up very close to this target each time. It seems to come natural; indeed, a lot of my stuff is divided into novella-sized sections.

As for “Warrior of the Moon,” the final Mora book, it is entirely likely to appear in 2018. We’ll see — lots of other pots are crowding it on the back burners!

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Arrows of Heaven Release

Okay, it is official: my latest novel, ARROWS OF HEAVEN, will be released on September 1, 2017.

The back-cover  blurb:

The end of every epic is the beginning of another.

Who was Teme? A noble girl, sister to the High King of all the Mora, and of an age to marry appropriately? Yes, she was this, but also a renowned archer, acclaimed by her people as a hero of the recent civil war, named in the epics bards sang across the land.

Warrior or woman? Was it possible to be both? Through intrigues and adventures in the realm of the Mora and beyond, Teme has one quest above all others — to learn who she truly is.


This is another of my 'fantasy adventures,' the second Mora novel (there should be three in time), following GOD OF RAIN, and continuing the stories begun in the Malvern Trilogy. As those, about 60,000 words.

Monday, July 03, 2017

The Sailor's Love


A fairly old piece but one that will appear in my upcoming collection VOYAGES, scheduled for publication on Nov 1, 2017. Yes, that graphic will be in the book (and that Bembo type, for those interested in such things). This will be the premiere offering from Eggshell Boats, the new poetry imprint of Arachis Press.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

crumbs tanka

my trail of bread crumbs
leading back to you has fed
the hungry nestlings

someday I might follow them
when at last they take to flight

Stephen Brooke ©2017


a poem in the tanka form—whether it could actually be considered a tanka is up to the reader (I might argue that any true tanka, haiku, etc. can only be composed in the Japanese language)

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Hank WIlliams, Updated

Hank Williams, Updated — to the tune of “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still in Love with You)”

Today I passed you on the street,
And you posted an angry tweet:
“Why can’t that crazy stalker leave me alone?”
Somebody else stood by your side,
And he held you as you cried,
“Why can’t my crazy stalker leave me alone?”

A memory from the past when you betrayed me
Came as I stepped in your no-harassment zone;
Then suddenly you found your ‘Mace’ and sprayed me—
“Take that you crazy stalker and leave me alone!”

I know I may have stepped over the the border,
And then the cops had me handcuffed and prone;
But it’s hard to stick to that restraining order—
Why can’t this crazy stalker leave you alone?

Stephen Brooke ©2017

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Of Fiction and Politics

I’ve little doubt that many of my friends and acquaintances think I’m some sort of moderate liberal. If they read my books they might change their minds about that — I don’t talk much about politics in ‘real life,’ preferring to put that sort of thing into my novels.

But there it is characters speaking their various views about things, and those views might or might not be mine. In truth, I reckon that life and the human race are going to muddle on and the politics doesn’t really mean that much. It can be an interesting show in the meantime.

Let us say that I am definitely not a libertarian — though I have a certain fondness for the TRUE libertarians, that is, anarchists. Still, I don’t have enough faith in human nature to desire an anarchist society. I threw some anarchists into the mix in my recent fantasy adventure, THE EYES OF THE WIND, and admittedly poke a bit of fun at them even while admiring some of their ways.

I tend to poke fun at lots of different sorts in my fiction. People generally make that rather easy. Too easy, some times! It’s not good to take shots at the easier targets, and one is too likely to fall into clichés and caricatures when one attempts it (this is one of the criticisms I have of Mark Twain).

So what am I, actually, from a political viewpoint? It doesn’t matter. Humanity is best observed and understood from a variety of vantages. An agenda only serves to get in the way of that. And I am very much aware that there is no perfect way of life, no ideal system. Imperfect humans create an imperfect society.

A society and a culture that constantly changes. This too must be recognized. Lord Doufan, in my DONZALO’S DESTINY epic, says, “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.” It is how we ride that horse that most interests me.

May we all ride well! *

--------

* Ha, this reminds me of a song I wrote thirty years ago. One of the very few that was ever recorded by someone other than myself!

THE RIDER, THROWN

Faith doesn’t come easy and the truth isn’t free;
Answers aren’t handed to you and to me.
We spend our lives searching for something to trust,
Hoping there’s more than ‘dust unto dust.’

But the knowledge we seek has been well hidden,
For life is a steed not easily ridden.
Though some may ride far, in the end it is known
Each man is unhorsed, each rider is thrown.

So try to ride boldly and try to ride well,
Keep firm in your seat where other men fell;
Then maybe before you go down to the dust,
Before you go down as all of us must,
You’ll have learned just enough to know the time’s near
To let loose the reins and to go without fear.

When we take the long fall from saddle to earth,
Can it mean the end of all that’s of worth?
Believe what you will, but the truth won’t be shown
Till we share the fate of the rider, thrown.

Stephen Brooke ©1987

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Arrows Blurb

A rough blurb for the upcoming fantasy novel, ‘Arrows of Heaven’ (which now will probably appear before the mainstream ‘Asanas’):

The end of every epic is the beginning of another.

Who was Teme? A noble girl, sister to the High King of all the Mora, and of an age to marry appropriately? Yes, she was this, but also a renowned archer, acclaimed by her people as a hero of the recent civil war, named in the epics bards sang across the land.

Warrior or woman? Was it possible to be both? Through intrigues and adventures in the realm of the Mora and beyond, Teme has one quest above all others — to learn who she truly is.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Vast

The universe is vast, incredibly vast, beyond any human understanding vast, yet finite. But consider that there may be an infinite number of universes. That is larger — infinitely larger!

Do they exist? Maybe, in that magical quantum sense, they both do and don’t. Or we might say they exist in potential. All that is the language of guesswork, essentially. In that, in a philosophical (or even religious) sense, I accept the concept of infinite being, the idea of infinite universes seems to follow.

So what do we call this infinite array? I am not fond of the old term multiverse; there is nothing wrong with it but a multiverse could be finite. Infiniverse is better, even if it sounds clumsy and many won’t get what the word means. Or we could simply call it the cosmos, perhaps. Any way it is named, the idea is the same: infinite being in infinite variation, one universe differing from another is as tiny a difference as the position of a single sub-atomic particle.

Of course, we also need infinite non-being for this infinite being to fill! I tend to refer to that as ‘the Void.’ Where do I call it that? In my fiction, reader. Where else might I write about the Infiniverse? It is a basic concept to my fantasy novels and stories (although, theoretically, a finite multiverse would work quite as well).

In an infiniverse, anything can be. Indeed, anything must be — at least potentially. As in Roger Zelazny’s similar concept in his Amber novels, if his Amberites could think of a world, they could ‘go’ there. Whether it already existed or they created it was left unanswered. But I am not fond of the twin poles of order and chaos in his version of the infiniverse; for me it is being and non-being. That is more basic than anything else, the zero and the one of a cosmic mathematics.
Never mind that I have set almost all my stories (the fantasy ones, that is) in one specific world with its own specific rules. Fiction needs its structure, its created reality, and the infinite beyond need only be hinted at. It is enough to know it is there.

Stephen Brooke ©2017

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Donzalo Poems

As a freebie that has absolutely nothing to do with anything I am currently writing, here are (most of) the poems that I wrote for the epic fantasy DONZALO'S DESTINY, in ebook form. Both epub and mobi are in the folder, take your pick.

Incidentally, some of these are songs and do have music. Maybe I shall get around to recording them someday.
 

Two Books

Although I intended to complete my ‘mainstream’ novel, ASANAS, I find myself simultaneously working on another fantasy adventure, to be titled ARROWS OF HEAVEN. That would be my second Mora novel, following GOD OF RAIN but with a different central character, Teme, who is also the narrator.

Teme is, for want of a better description, a ‘warrior princess.’ The princess part is a late addition to her identity, occurring when her brother Poneiva is chosen High King of all the Mora (who are, essentially, Polynesian). Primarily an adventure, the novel also deals with Teme dealing with the demands of her position and her (well-deserved) heroic reputation — a heavy burden for someone just turned twenty.

Which book will be finished first? I would tend to say ARROWS but one never knows. I am working on it on my laptop, mostly later in the day, and ASANAS on my office PC. The latter being longer and more ambitious is going to take a while. One will definitely see print (and ebook) before the end of the year — possibly both. I also should have another poetry collection out toward the end of 2017 or early in 2018. More on that later.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Caslon

I have been reading through a print copy of an older historical novel, ‘Arundel’ by Kenneth Roberts, first published in 1930 but my edition printed in the mid-Fifties. It is a decent tale of the Revolutionary War period but that is not what I wish to write of here.

What I immediately noted was the attractive typeface. It seemed — felt? — perfectly suited to the subject matter. And it was not overly difficult to identify: Caslon Old Face. As Caslons go, I would be inclined to favor it over most of the modern alternatives available from Adobe, et al. Good fonts, some of them, to be sure, but with a different feel. It would definitely be on my short list of typefaces for certain sorts of novels (including perhaps Westerns). And I do have rights to use the BitStream clone, which helps.

Caslons, in general, are good choices. More versatile than the plethora of Garamond variants out there? I don’t know, but pretty much up there with them. Caslon, in one form or another, has a long history of being a preferred nonfiction font, and has seen wide use in textbooks. Another variant of which I am somewhat fond is Imprint, a font in the Caslon style designed in the early Twentieth Century.

On the subject of typefaces, I received an order of a few copies of my novel ‘God of Rain’ a couple days ago. Now all my proofs had been perfect, as had my last order, but the fonts were messed up in the books I received this time. Why? It is hard to say but I can probably blame the Infini face I used in places — headers, footers, some titling. The text, in tried-and-true URW Garamond No.8, was fine. Lesson learned: stick to the safe stuff as much as possible for the book interiors and, maybe, avoid mixing fonts too much. It may have been a fluke, a bad printing batch, but I am redesigning GOR with pretty much all Garamond inside — that gave me an incentive to do another proofreading go-through, so that’s to the good.

Covers are, of course, another matter. Use whatever one wishes there!
It’s going to be converted to a graphic anyway. But if using the free (and sometimes less professional) stuff, be careful of kerning and so on. Anything can be made to look decent with a little effort — but a good Caslon is still a great choice.

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Asanas Cover

A few  days back I posted some dummy covers I had created and rejected for the upcoming mainstream novel, ASANAS. The decision was to go with something more conventional (and maybe a tad boring?). Here's the likely way we'll be going:


It will be a while yet—and there is always the chance that the project will be set aside while I turn out another fantasy novel—but ASANAS should appear before the end of the year.

Today, June 3 2017, however, is the official release date for THE CROCODILE'S SON, a 'fantasy adventure.' Print and ebook available pretty much everywhere!

Friday, June 02, 2017

Naught, a poem

Naught

We are the glass that one day shatters,
the flame that burns to ash and scatters,
with no regret, for nothing matters.

The little mouse’s midnight patters
that, drowsy, we a moment hark
will fade forgotten in the dark.

All leave naught behind to mark
the passage; the igniting spark
dims and dies as we burn yet.

Consume, create, die, beget —
the sun of dawn must also set;
none of it matters — have no regret.

Stephen Brooke ©2017

Not my best, certainly, and something of a cliche; intended more as an exercise in form.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Asanas Chapter

For no particular reason, a chapter from the WIP novel, 'Asanas.' In that I do not do 'drafts' in the normal sense, I can not call this first draft (or second or whatever). I tend to  work on the whole novel, constantly revising, a la Nabokov — if anything could be called a first draft, it would be my outline where I work out any plot problems before starting on the narrative. I am hoping the book will be ready for publishing late this year but, of course, it will be ready when it is ready.

Chapter Ten

Where was the turn? She didn’t want to miss it in the dark. If she reached the spa, Karen would know she had gone too far. Pat lived at the spa. Lynn had told her that. He didn’t just teach there but acted as a handyman of sorts.

Small businesses lined the way here, interspersed with wooded vacant lots, dark trees silhouetted against clear predawn sky, before one reached Consonante Springs, proper. Here and there a security light provided stark illumination for a parking lot. An all-night convenience store, empty of customers, and the lone clerk out smoking in front, passed on her right. There was the cutoff that would take Karen out to the interstate, while Springs Road curved north and crossed the river.

A traffic light and a rival pair of filling stations, both closed, marked the crossing of Highway Forty-One. On to the east she drove, toward a promised sunrise. Karen felt she would like a cigarette but she had made it a rule never to smoke in her car. The odor would cling forever.

There was the interstate. She had not decided before starting out whether to turn south or north on Seventy-Five. Either would get her there. Well, it was decision time. Karen pulled onto the southbound ramp.

Dad would have gone the other way, she thought. He would have stuck to the interstate as far as he could before cutting off to the east. It was the quickest way, he claimed, and at the speeds he drove, she believed him.

She left the highway, turning back to the north and east at Port Charlotte. The horizon was growing lighter before her, a peach-tinged smudge on a sky of lingering stars. Who was that surfer boy who drove her this way once, back in high school? She could see his face but couldn’t come up with a name. Skip? Yeah. He had turned east at Arcadia and headed straight across state to the Atlantic. God, it had been a long time since she had seen the Atlantic.

Karen was tempted to head there instead of the farm. No, make it some other time. Flat land, farm land, lay on either side of the road. Now, cattle could be seen here and there, the humped backs of Brahmas, and the white cattle egrets stalking after them, hoping to nab whatever treats their passing might stir up. It was a part of Florida most people didn’t know, perhaps a part most wouldn’t want to know.

A tedious drive, as well, wasn’t it? And too far. She should put the property on the market; Karen was finding no more time for it than her father had. She could get an acre or two closer to home, maybe keep a horse. On she drove, into morning and the lake country of central Florida.

Yes, she did stop for a smoke, and for coffee, too, not far from her destination. It was nice here. She thought she liked it better further north, though, up toward Ocala. That was the area to have a farm. Her father’s place — her place — wasn’t really a farm at all. They had just gotten used to calling it one.

A decade and an half later, she still did. There was no longer even a sign at the dirt road. It didn’t matter; Karen remembered the way. She’d been here often enough as a teen, almost every weekend it sometimes seemed, though she was sure that was wrong. A lot less since.

If she had arrived earlier, she could have watched the sun rise over the lake. Singer Lake, they had been told was its name, but she and Dad just called it the lake. The sluggish creek on the south end carried its outflow on down through swampland to the Kissimmee and, eventually, Lake Okeechobee. Under a tarp behind the house still sat the canoe they had bought to someday explore it.

Dad’s big fishing boat she had sold after his passing. Karen could not see ever using it, of ever going out on the lake and casting for bass. But that had been the idea of this place. These twelve acres — almost twelve — could be developed into a fishing camp, a project to keep Dad busy when he handed the accounting firm over to her.

That was her father’s dream. She would never go through with it, though from time to time she thought she liked the idea. Yeah, best to put this place on the market.

Karen sat for a few moments in her sedan, looking the place over. There was work to be done. If she wanted — it didn’t matter much. She could just sit on the dock the whole weekend. Yeah, that was likely to happen.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Awards

I can legitimately style myself an ‘award-winning writer.’ I’ve received real awards from real organizations, not ones that exist just to make money off those who enter their contests, the awards equivalent of vanity publishers.

Admittedly, my awards are for poetry, not novels or stories. I also have a box full of ribbons of varying hues — including a good number of blues — from art shows. Those are nice but have little bearing on me as an author (though I do my own design, illustration, etc).

The poetry awards? I still consider myself a poet more than a novelist, and maybe a songwriter more than a poet. It certainly colors my prose style; I consider that a good thing but all readers might not agree! I don’t enter contests anymore, and rarely submit poetry to magazines. I have enough literary magazine credits as it is.

To be honest, I dislike the idea of awards. They are quite meaningless and exist primarily as an advertising tool. I am in a competition with no one. The publicity element is hardly worth it. Mentioning an award on my site or in a blurb of some sort would be without meaning to most. However, having an award announced by some organization could provide a momentary boost in visitors who come through curiosity.

There are cheaper ways to achieve name-recognition, ways that are both more effective and more reliable. Sales, of course — the more one sells, the more one will sell! Reviews are quite useful. Public appearances might help, if one is good at that sort of thing. Maybe even if one isn’t.

This is one reason why I attempt to keep up the other creative parts of my life. Getting out and playing music makes me more visible as a writer and vice-versa. As does having an online presence and posting this sort of thing. But vanity awards? Not for me, thank you.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The MacGuffin

The name may have been coined (by Alfred Hitchcock) for the movies but it applies as well to books. What is a MacGuffin? An object (in a very broad sense — it can be a person) that is being sought, typically by more than one group, as a basic element to the plot. The statue in ‘The Maltese Falcon.’ The ring in ‘The Lord of the Rings.’

There can be more than one to a tale, of course, but we don’t want to dilute the plot and distract the reader. In a way, every tale has an object of a quest. Someone is always searching for something, even if it be as nebulous as ‘happiness.’ But that is not quite the same thing. Indeed, it might be argued that a ‘true’ MacGuffin is not intrinsic to the plot, has no meaning in and of itself. In that sense the falcon statue is a MacGuffin but the ‘one ring’ is not. In ‘The Maltese Falcon,’ those same characters would have done the same things if pursuing some other object. Not so in ‘The Lord of the Rings,’ where the ring and its power underlie the basic plot.

My own novels, of course, are not exceptions. In ‘The Eyes of the Wind,’ our protagonists are searching for four magical jewels — those could be seen as making up one MacGuffin, even if they are scattered to the four directions of the compass. In my shortly-to-be-released ‘The Crocodile’s Son,’ it is the kidnapped infant son of Qala, former Pirate Queen, who becomes the MacGuffin, with three different groups contending and sometimes cooperating in retrieving him. And in the epic ‘Donzalo’s Destiny,’ Donzalo himself is definitely the objective, to be assassinated or saved.

Those are fairly obvious uses of the MacGuffin. It is more subtle in the Malvern/Mora novels, my other fantasy series. Hito, in ‘God of Rain,’ is off searching for a source of metal. This is but a pretext to get him out where adventures can occur and not really intrinsic to the plot. We could have used another pretext. In a way, that is the truest form of MacGuffin, purely a device to get the action going. It is not actually essential to the story and he could have been off looking for something else entirely.

Malvern, in the trilogy in which he stars, is mostly seeking knowledge, seeking to unravel the mystery of the strange world into which he has been thrown. But there is also the woman who becomes his wife, and who is bound up in the whole thing to a considerable extent. He does pursue her quite a bit; indeed, in the second book, ‘Valley of Visions,’ he follows her and her kidnappers over the mountains and then has to vie for her with the powerful ruler of the land beyond. So Rahaita, the Mora woman, serves as a MacGuffin of sorts, at least in that novel.

But how about the more mainstream books (ostensibly ‘crime’ novels) of my Cully Beach series? One might think at first there are no physical MacGuffins in ‘Shaper.’ But the heroin shipment that never shows up until near the end is pretty much a MacGuffin. Most of the actions, most of the plot, really depends on the plan to smuggle in drugs through the motel Shaper’s girlfriend manages. In the sequel, ‘Waves,’ it is missing evidence — that one is fairly obvious. To some degree, these are intrinsic to the story. It would not be the same if some other objects were being pursued, but I do not think the plots would have needed to be changed all that much.

We don’t think of MacGuffins that much, either as reader or writer, as they are somewhat woven into the fabric of any story. The author should be able to recognize when one is being employed, however, and whether it makes sense. An unbelievable MacGuffin will undermine the plot before it is even begun. We have to recognize why it is desired, why it is being contended for. If there is no good and logical reason, well, then we had best find a better MacGuffin!

Monday, May 22, 2017

Discarded Covers


These are a couple of dummy covers I designed for possible use on an upcoming novel — not necessarily the next book but eventually. I used my 'trademark' silhouette approach, as in several books we've published before, but decided against them for this novel (and any sequels). Where I have used this sort of thing before, I would do well to stick with it, to maintain a continuity of cover design in a series. My Donzalo and Malvern/Mora books are examples.

But it is probably not ideal for this sort of mainstream-with-chick-lit-leanings novel. So I am going with a slightly more conventional look, with photographs of actual women doing yoga. The novel revolves around a yoga class (and, yes, I used to teach yoga classes though it has been something like thirty years) and a pair of friends who attend it.

The graphics, the silhouettes will still probably show up small on the back cover. Incidentally, I almost decided to issue this novel under a pen name, what with it being different from any of my other stuff, but decided if it is good enough to publish, it is good enough to have my name on it!

When will it show up? No idea; I might keep plugging away at it or find that some other story takes my attention for a while. And there will definitely be another poetry collection out toward the end of the year (or early next).

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Things

In a sense, Love does not exist. It is not a ‘thing;’ it has no physical substance. It is a construct, a word we fill with what meaning we will, attempting to describe a range of emotions and desires.

The same is true of ‘art’ and ‘faith’ and a thousand other abstractions we use every day, pretending they are real things. Perhaps it is true of ‘god’ as well.

I can hold a woman but I can not hold love. I can open a book and call it ‘mystery’ or ‘literature,’ but it remains paper and ink. My naming it something other produces no transubstantiation. Canvas and paint is ‘art’ only in my head.

We tend to confuse words with things, ideas with the concrete. It is true that all ‘reality’ is ultimately built in our minds, made of the metaphors we create. Still, one can not pick up a piece of love nor peel faith like an orange.

There is most certainly a place for the sort of magical thinking that makes things of ideas. Our world would be an impoverished place without it. But it is ‘being’ that matters. The rest serves to help us understand what is, brings us bits of truth to add to the reality we construct.

For love may not exist, as a thing, but such ideas hold the things that are real together.

Stephen Brooke ©2017

Notes toward an idea, not particularly finished (and perhaps never to be).

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Vanity, a poem

Vanity

Vanity is not such a serious sin.
Pride’s little sister, she likes
to play dress-up, pretend before the mirror.

Here, take a selfie with me, she calls.
I smile and make sure to flex for the camera.

Stephen Brooke ©2017

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Tarzan's Home

Where did John Clayton, Lord Greystoke, Tarzan of the Apes, live and have his adventures in Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Africa? Before answering that we must note that Burroughs seemed to have a fairly rudimentary knowledge of the ‘dark continent’ when he started out but improved as he went on. This inevitably leads to inconsistencies.

Jungle — we spend a lot of time in jungle in the early books. Exactly what the word denotes is not clear, but it generally does not seem to be the sort of deep rain forest of which many of us immediately think. The descriptions are more often of a scrubbier sort of forest, a drier climate. This is the type of forest, mingled with patches of grassy savanna which covers much of tropical Africa so that’s not so badly done.

We are given the latitude (more or less) of Tarzan’s birthplace in ‘Tarzan of the Apes,’ and it is on the coast of northern Angola. That works okay; again, the ‘jungle’ there is close enough to what we need. ‘The Return of Tarzan’ is also, in part, set in that area, but Tarzan ranges eastward to discover the lost city of Opar. We can assume it is somewhere in the mountainous areas of southeastern Congo or northern Zambia. Indeed, most of the lost civilizations created by Burroughs would seem to be in those then-remote mountain lands, which stretch northward between east and west Africa as far as Uganda.

He also comes across the tribe of the Waziri who become his followers and live on his African estate in the novels that follow. ‘The Jewels of Opar’ gives us some clues as to the location of Tarzan’s estate when the primary antagonist decides not to go south toward Greystoke’s home nor west into the Belgian Congo, but east into British East Africa, i.e. Kenya. This suggests that his holdings are either in the Rwanda-Burundi area or in Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia — not Kenya as is sometimes posited.

The fact that Greystoke fights alongside Rhodesian troops against the Germans (who occupied Tanganyika before World War One) in ‘Tarzan the Untamed,’ would further suggest that his estate lay more southerly than sometimes assumed. It would seem throughout the novels that Tarzan spent a certain amount of time in the lands along the eastern border of the Belgian Congo, traversing them on his way here or there.

In ‘The Beasts of Tarzan,’ as well as ‘The Son of Tarzan,’ we find ourselves further north along Africa’s western coast, apparently north of the Congo River — no exact locations are mentioned. In ‘Son’ it is reported only as a little south of the equator, perhaps what is now Gabon (true rain forest country) although it could have been below the Congo, back in the Angola of ‘Tarzan of the Apes.’ The action remains there through most of ‘Beasts’ but eventually finds its way to the Greystoke estate in ‘Son.’ That, admittedly, might argue for a more northerly location, as would the plentiful Arabs. But there is no reported crossing of the mountains nor of the more densely populated areas of Uganda and points north, so, again, Kenya does not seem a good candidate.

Beyond those books, clues are less common, as our protagonists do not travel outside of Africa. We have no ports nor coastal positions to help orient ourselves. Greystoke has an estate on a plain, somewhere, below the mountains and he travels about central Africa, ranging as far north as Abyssinia. In some of the novels, he does not visit his home at all.

So I vote for Zambia. That general area would be the region for H. Rider Haggard’s African adventures and lost civilizations, as well, it would seem. Just how close King Solomon’s mines lie to Opar, however, I could not say!