adventures in dysthymia

Thursday, September 21, 2017

A Thought on Thought

I happened to watch an episode from ‘Star Trek: the Next Generation,’ a couple nights ago. One from fairly early in the series, where the ‘Traveler’ visits and reveals young Wesley’s future importance. The Enterprise is also catapulted into a place (so to speak!) where thought and reality are too closely linked for the crew’s survival.

A decent enough episode, but the underlying idea is the truly interesting thing — the concept that space, time, and thought are all part of one continuum. In other words, consciousness is essential to the existence of, well, existence. This is a rather serious idea that has been tossed about by both philosophers and scientists in recent time.

I am no way near being an expert on anything quantum-related, despite basing a fair amount of my fantasy writing and world-building on some of the better known concepts. The idea that something does not exist until it is observed would be one. That is put badly, I am sure — this is why I prefer to weave such things into a fictional narrative rather than attempt to speak of them in essays. Yet here I am, attempting just that.

I would certainly applaud the ST writers for working the concept into their own story. How many watchers actually pick the idea up and think about it? Most, I suspect, just see it as another plot device and do not think about it again. I missed the point myself when first I watched the episode, years ago.

And I could never say how much validity there is to the whole concept. By its very nature, it must remain conjecture, unprovable, it would seem. A little too close to religion for some folks, too, I suspect. It challenges the rational, mechanical universe of the Enlightenment.

That too, after all, was just conjecture, a metaphor, another attempt to understand. That model of the universe is one aspect of something much larger, true so far as it goes. We are limited by our senses, ‘seeing’ only a little part of the whole of reality — which is, of course, infinite.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Dwarfs

Although there has been a mention or two in my fantasy books, and although they have always been a part of the world-building, my latest novel, THE WAYS OF WIZARDRY (to be released January 6), is the first in which dwarfs have actually appeared.

There have been other ‘Others,’ of course — trolls and ogres and kobolds (lots of kobolds — which is another name for goblin, for those unfamiliar with the word) and Fay of varied sorts. But those reclusive dwarfs have stayed out of the picture until now. Not that they have a major role in the story; they are a convenient device to move things along at a certain point and do not impact the tale again (although they do make a brief later appearance, for continuity’s sake).

So — dwarfs. What are they? Small, stocky men is how most would tend to visual them, probably with beards. Good enough. That pretty well describes mine, as far as it goes. Actually, the dwarfs of my world are Neanderthals. Small Neanderthals, admittedly, who have undergone millennia and millennia of change and now stand about chest-high on an average ‘human.’ That is the ‘classic’ dwarf I utilized. In my world-building there are many branches beside these; moreover, trolls stem from the same ancestral line, splitting away sometime in the dim and distant past.

Be that as it may. My dwarfs do look rather Neanderthal. Not only the barrel-chested stocky build but also the heavy brows and big noses. And, of course, light of skin and sometimes redheaded. They still frequent caves, as well, but now it is as miners.

It is more than likely the race (or a race) of dwarfs will show up in future books. I had no reason to include them up to this point, and I do not throw things in unless they serve a purpose. So they will!

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Ways On Its Way

I’ve another good more-or-less finished draft of a novel ready, a somewhat typical ‘light’ fantasy to be titled THE WAYS OF WIZARDRY. This is the book I had no intention of writing, that I had had not added to my queue nor even never thought of.



But it came out of me anyway, with less planning and outlining than usual. Oh, the outline did come; that is inevitable with the way I work. And I had a clear concept of my main protagonist from the start — the wizard Im has been referred to in other novels but never appeared before. And a young Im was the protagonist of my short story THE BOOK, THE BEAST, AND THE BURGLAR from which this novel grew (it is now the first chapter).

A journey of discovery (I do that a bit!), bordering on YA (Im is but 17 when the tale begins), with varied threats against our hero’s existence, his first love, hints of a darker future but ending on a high note — that’s pretty much the book. I was not that far into the process when I realized it was the first installment of a continuing story, an epic even. So expect sequels!

Length was a fairly typical 60,000 words for this sort of book. Why I think in stories of that length, I’ve no idea. On going back through, I know that I am likely to add very slightly here and there, fleshing out places I might have rushed through a little. At most, the narrative might grow by a few hundred, maybe a thousand, words. That’s if the process goes as it normally does. It could be published as-is, really, but a little polishing never hurt. Nothing big; the story itself is solid.

So we’ll get it ready and out the door at Arachis Press. Release date is set for January 6 next year. That’s plenty enough time (and it is a good idea to set myself deadlines). Before then, my poetry collection VOYAGES will be appearing, on Nov 1, 2017. And on to other projects!

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Hurricane Waves

The biggest waves I have ever ridden were hurricane surf in my hometown of Naples Florida. Yes, on the Gulf Coast.

When was this? Honestly, I am not quite sure. In the Eighties sometime and I think it was the swell from Hurricane Gilbert in ’88. That is because of the board I was riding at the time — that, I remember! But I suppose it could have been Allen in 1980. I’m just not sure I had that lime-green long board by then.

Hey, it was long ago and the date doesn’t really matter. The waves were breaking out beyond the end of Naples Pier and that is one long pier. Feathering out there, really, not breaking hard until one got inside, past a couple more sandbars. There was no way to catch one on a short board out there but I stroked into a few, knee-paddling on the long board. It was altogether the wrong board for those waves, a thick, round-railed, flat-bottomed design that was great for the typical tiny Naples waves but couldn’t hold into a big wave at all.

And, as I said, they were big, the biggest I’d ridden then or since. We’re talking maybe double-overhead. But not particularly dangerous aside from the extremely long swim if I messed up and lost the board out there somehow. I have surfed far more life-threatening waves in the range of maybe eight foot or so on the Atlantic Coast. Surf sessions I thought I might not survive.

I wrote a fictionalized version of one of those times years ago as a short story. It wasn’t a very good short story as it originally stood, as it didn’t give the reader much beyond a blow-by-blow account of the attempt to survive. That is, the protagonist’s character and thoughts were underdeveloped. When I went back to a rewrite some time later, it became a chapter in my novel ‘Shaper.’ Fitted much better there, I think, though I suppose it works in stand-alone story form.

‘Shaper’ is set in a fictional Florida town that is inspired by several different East Coast spots I’ve visited or even lived in briefly. The most similar would have to be Flagler Beach and that is where the incident I turned into a story actually occurred, right by the pier there on a big day. Broken leash, way outside, lots of swimming — that’s pretty much the story!

I’m not young anymore (though in better shape than anyone my age I happen to know), so I am unlikely to be paddling out into ten to twelve foot surf again, wherever it might be. But one never knows.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

To Go, a poem

To Go

If it’s time that I must go,
at age an hundred and ten or so,
I would choose to slip away,
surfing on a sunny day.
Waves double-overhead, of course —
thrown at last, by that wild horse,
driven into the patient reef,
neck broken in a moment brief.

Yes, that’s the way I want to go,
at age an hundred and ten or so,
and who’s to say, I just might!
Or failing that, a barroom fight —
a jealous husband knocks me dead,
bottle broken over my head
(let it be anything but Merlot!) —
that’s a suitable way to go.

I know when all is done and said
I’m likely to die in my own bed
stricken down by heart attack;
as long as I’m not alone in the sack,
I’ll consider it well enough played
and hope the girls aren’t too dismayed,
when it’s time that I must go,
at age an hundred and ten or so.

Stephen Brooke ©2017

Obviously not too serious

Monday, August 28, 2017

Cover Story

My own background in art and design may actually hurt me when it comes to creating book covers. I’m not inclined to be satisfied with the all-the-same approach that is so often seen and even advocated for genre fiction. The argument is made that YOUR cover should look like other covers in your genre to guide those poor not-so-bright book buyers. As if they couldn’t read the description!

I do prefer the more abstract sort of approach one may see with mainstream/literary fiction. Not that it shouldn’t relate in some way to the subject matter but we don’t need another generic girl with a sword to sell our fantasy novel.

My top priority in this day of online book sales is that the thumbnail be quite clear and understandable, with title and author large enough to be read. Many typical covers become indecipherable when reduced in size. This is another argument in favor of a more abstract approach, with bold, simple designs. Some number of my covers are essentially done as silhouettes, black on solid color, with title and author name as large as I can get away with.

I recognize that no one is going to walk into a bookstore and buy one of my books by its cover. It’s all online and that simply calls for a different approach. How it looks at Amazon or on the publisher’s website is what matters. And we must keep in mind that the material WITH the cover is as (if not more) important than the cover. A good blurb, the right keywords — that is what we need. Readers want words, after all.

Until fairly recently in history, book covers had no pictures at all. That practice sort of slipped over from the magazine business and was, perhaps, influenced as well by movie posters. When racks of paperbacks became ubiquitous, so did the cover illustration, and it is just as important now on the internet. Yes, a cover does need to attract attention, still. And maybe looking like every other cover is not the way to achieve that.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Galliard

I’ve been chugging along on the next novel, another ‘light’ fantasy (not the mainstream I thought I would work on), almost certainly to be titled THE WAYS OF WIZARDRY. It is quite likely we could get it out before the end of the year but there is probably no point in doing that; January 2018 is more likely. We’ll see.

I’ll give more info on the story, do a cover reveal, etc. in a while. I do have a cover more-or-less ready. I also have the formatting worked out. That is no problem because I am carrying over the template from THE EYES OF THE WIND and THE CROCODILE’S SON. Some differences in titling but the pages will be laid out the same and I will use the same typeface for the body text.

That would be Galliard, of which I am rather fond. It is the prolific Matthew Carter’s (designer of Charter, Georgia, Sitka, and a whole bunch of others) take on a Granjon style. More lively than a classic Garamond, it seems quite suited to this sort of subject matter. There are, of course, other Granjon-inspired fonts out there, including ones that bear that name, but Galliard has a more up-to-date feel for me. Chances are it will continue to be one of our go-tos at Arachis Press.

Incidentally, the five Malvern/Mora fantasies, which are a tad more ‘serious,’ were set in Garamnod No.8 from URW++. This was one of the fonts the company donated to the Ghostscript project quite some time back and is totally free and free to use for anything. It is a solid font and I would definitely recommend it as a starting point for anyone looking to design a book interior. I could see using it for almost any body text. Especially if one does not have the funds to buy a typeface!

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Pimp, a short story

Not at all my normal sort of thing, this sort of popped out of me this afternoon. Certainly liable to further editing, down the line.

The Pimp
Stephen Brooke ©2017

I never intended to be a pimp. It was my sister who wondered Who will protect me and How else will we survive? So I did as she asked but could not protect her from all things. The consumption took Elaine one December morning when the sun barely limped into overcast skies. The priests refused burial to her worn husk and so she went to an unmarked pit outside the city walls. I have since donated moneys for a graveyard for such as she.

Others I protected since and I always treated them well, taking only my due. They were not ‘mine,’ as another man in my trade might claim; rather, I was theirs, their servant, their agent. As ever, some prospered and some wasted. That was not for me meddle in. I could protect them from many dangers but not from themselves.

Is it so far from helping women sell their bodies on the street to aiding those who would sell them on stage? There was Kate, one of those for whom I procured and protected, who first spoke to me of being an actress. She was no great talent and long forgotten, but I found her a role and took my usual cut. Oh, aye, she needed as much protection in the theaters as she did on the streets!

Broad-hipped Kate led to others and soon I was handling two groups of women though, indeed, more than a few passed back and forth from one to the other — or worked both careers at the once. That mattered not to me. But, increasingly, I found myself leaving the career of pimp for the semi-respectable one of theatrical agent.

I found lodging in the theatrical district and made one of my two small rooms an office. On the third floor it was, the least expensive choice, but I enjoyed the view, for I had made sure to take rooms that looked onto the street. It was a street of theaters, and crowded with light and bodies much of the night. So it was I slept days, mostly — no change there from my old life. There was a sign by the ground floor, directing one up the steep stairs, and another on my door. Merely my name, Mr. R. Bailey, and Agent beneath it. In my way, I was still pimp, I knew. That had never bothered me before — not since I first chose that way of life — and bothered me not now.

So you find me today, owner of two theaters and of properties scattered through the city. Shabby tenements, many; yes, slum lord you might call me but I try to take care of the places. Never be it said I did not give a square deal. My offices now fill that entire building where first I rented and I myself have a good-enough house. Not a grand house, mind you, for what would be the point of that when I’ve none to share it with?

None save the ghost of Elaine, which has followed me from lodging to lodging. I see her homely, heavy-jawed face, the big head perched on the twig-thin body, as pale as the day she died. Oh, lovers have come and gone but how could I have any of them stay when she hovered close? I hear her cough in the night and wonder that others do not. Elaine, hacking up the ruin of her lungs — I remember the blood on her lips each morn. I look for it when I glimpse my sister’s specter but see none. Perhaps there is none left.

Does she resent my success? It was Elaine who set me on the path, chose to name us whore and pimp, and then fell by the roadside. There is no blame due either of us. I have done what I thought best, what I could, what I must. But regrets crowd ’round when I sense her spirit with me, continuing our journey, even though her body gave up. I am not old; I could yet find a wife, have children, build that grand house I do not need. What point, otherwise?
 
I should not be wandering this house in the hours before dawn, alone. Alone with my possessions, the art that covers my walls, the fine porcelain in its cabinets, the silken robe wrapped about me. All this should be shared. Ah, Elaine, would that I could have shared it with you.

A deep hacking echoes through the empty rooms. I hear that much, lately. It seems it is with me always. I look to my embroidered linen kerchief and note how much blood I have coughed up this time.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Cozy Mysteries

The ‘cozy mystery’ might be considered a sub-genre within the broad crime/mystery category of fiction. It is typically low on graphic violence and sex, the main protagonist is usually an amateur detective of some sort — often with some odd interest that plays a role — and it is commonly set in a small community. It is apparently somewhat popular these days. I didn’t know I was writing cozy mysteries with my two Cully Beach novels but they sort of are.

Except that the whole mystery part is somewhat played down in favor of the relationship side of the plot. So one might be as inclined to put them into the chick-lit/dick-lit category. Not that a book can not fit into more than genre, of course. They are set in a smallish town, the protagonist-investigator is an amateur with an odd interest — in this case, surfing — and they are not very graphic. So I guess I could have marketed them as cozy mysteries, eh?

If I get around to my folk festival mystery (which still consists of rather nebulous notes), it might well fit that sub-genre as well. And I do tend to put in a fair amount of humor, another common component of the cozy. I’m not really into heavy, violent stuff.

Now I think the novels of my sister and niece (Jean James/Mary James) comes close to fitting the cozy mystery category as well. Certainly their two ‘Pate and Faircloth’ books do. “Wherefore Art Thou, Jane,” and “Methinks I See Thee, Jane,” are set largely in rural Panhandle Florida, with a professional snake hunter as the main protagonist, and are unabashedly humorous. The upcoming “Hell is Naked” (out in November, I’ve read an advance copy) is borderline, maybe. Certainly not overly graphic and with a bit of humor, but set in the ‘big city’ (Los Angeles) and starring an ex-cop.

I suppose it is a formula of sorts — and I am glad I did not know of it before I wrote “Shaper” and “Waves.” They just are as they are because that is the way I conceived them. But I am happy to market them any way that might bring in more readers!

Saturday, August 12, 2017

A Quest! A Quest! (a poem)

A Quest! A Quest!

Name me a task, set me on the way
to my Holy Grail—
Through the night-dark forest to journey,
across the broad sea to sail,
and over the sky-kissed mountains to pass,
where the lost winds wail.
Name me a quest, set me a task—
one you know I shall fail.

A quest! A quest!

Give me a quest, show me a path,
tell what I must seek
along the roads beyond these roads
where I have proven weak—
these roads where we have walked and spoken
and found no more to speak.
Set me a path, give me a task—
let the way be bleak.

A quest! A quest!

Name me a task, grant me my quest,
send me where you will;
I sought elusive yesterdays—
the Grail lies distant still.
As distant as the morning sky
above the nearest hill—
to glimpse, to aspire, to name a quest
I never need fulfill.

Stephen Brooke ©2017

somewhat early-draft-ish — I am sure there will be eventual changes

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

House Plans and World Building

Thorough world-building needs be a part of any fiction effort, whatever the genre. It is not just for fantasy and science fiction! I took as much care laying out my fictitious Florida town of Cully Beach as I did in creating the world of the Mora or of Donzalo’s Destiny.

So I laid out a street map of Cully Beach with every place mentioned in the novels (‘Shaper’ and ‘Waves’) clearly marked. I also drew up floor plans for not only the Cully Beach Surf Shop but also Kay’s Korner. I worked as a draftsman at one point (before you had those CAD programs to let you cheat!) so it was not that big an undertaking for me. This would be the house as originally built in the Fifties, as it was when Ted Carrol bought it and moved in:



And this was after he renovated it into the surf shop, still living in the back (and adding a shed behind it for board building and repair).



It is very much a typical small block house of its period, flat roof, terrazzo floors. Rather like the one my own family moved into in ‘53! Having it sketched out like this helped me visualize things, like where Ted would sit at breakfast (a lot goes on in the kitchen area in the books, for some reason), where the aloha shirts would be racked in the shop, how one would access the restrooms.

For Kay’s Korner I actually use the same basic floor plan, assuming it was a stock design for a developer at the time, but the place was heavily remodeled with a second story added at some point. And the old house from the Thirties next to Ted’s place (where the DEA agents hang out for a while) is quite simply based on the place I live right now—didn’t need to draw up a plan for that one!

Sunday, July 30, 2017

An Unexpected Direction

Not so long ago I posted a fantasy short story (in various drafts), ‘The Book, the Beast, and the Burglar,’ online. A few days ago I was looking at it and realized I had been inconsistent on a detail on the demon (the ‘beast’ of the title) that plays a major role — that is, I sometimes referred to it as ‘he’ and sometimes as ‘it.’ It should have been ‘it’ throughout so I went in and fixed it.

And by the time I was done I had continued the story in my mind and kept writing. I’m about 21,000 words in now, with almost none of my usual outlining (one did develop some as I went along). It is entirely possible it will end up novella-length, rather than being a full novel, but that’s yet to be seen.

This story segues with my previously published fantasy novels. The god Xido who appears here is an important character in ‘The Eyes of the Wind,’ and is an offstage presence in ‘The Crocodile’s Son’ (being the ‘Crocodile’ of the title). Im, the young sorcerer who is the primary protagonist in this new work, also is mentioned in ‘Eyes’ and should play a role in its sequel. Those books take place nearly a thousand years after this story!

It also looks back to the Malvern/Mora novels and, particularly, to the ancient sorcerer Hurasu who appears in ‘Valley of Visions’ (and should pop up in the upcoming ‘Warrior of the Moon’). Those take place thousands of years before the tale I am writing, so it should act as a sort of bridge.

Am I satisfied with what I have written so far? Pretty much. It does take a while for much in the way of stakes to appear; the overarching plot is simply the young wizard Im looking for a place to settle in and practice his craft. But there are subplots of more interest, never fear. The working title is ‘The Ways of Wizardry.’ That may be applied to a book in which two or more novella-length tales appear. We’ll see about that.

None of this is anything I intended to be writing now. It wasn’t even on the list of possible ideas for later on. But one should not look gift inspiration in the mouth.

Indent, Intent

The first paragraph of a novel chapter — should it be indented as other paragraphs or not? This is a question more for book designers than authors, but should be of interest to the latter. Moreover, some of us hold both jobs.

Some ‘experts’ will claim it should not be, that the professional approach is to align that first line fully left. That is certainly a common practice but I have looked over a rather large number of professionally printed novels from the past century and found that indenting is also common. I personally prefer to indent that first paragraph, to make it like every other paragraph — usually.

It really depends on what looks best on the page and, particularly, how it interacts with the titling elements. And sometimes it depends simply on personal preference. The one time we would definitely align left is when there is some other typographical difference from the following paragraphs, as when drop caps or small caps are used. Then, go left, most certainly; indenting those would look odd.

I generally avoid that sort of thing. Does it actually add anything to the reading experience? Yes, it can sometimes enhance the appearance of the page — and sometimes distract or even seem pretentious. It is also something else that can go wrong when the book goes to the printer, in a PDF to Print on Demand setup. That was not a consideration in the days of physical typesetting.

So there is no answer. Indent or don’t indent, as you feel proper. Change it up from one book to another (but keep those in a series consistent). And keep in mind that the reader comes first in any design decision.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Cully Beach and an Imaginary Florida

Cully Beach, the setting of the novels ‘Shaper’ and ‘Waves’ is completely fictitious. It is based on a number of towns along the Atlantic coast of northern (more or less) Florida. It is to be admitted that Flagler Beach is the most similar to this invented town, both in size and approximate location, but it definitely owes parts of its ‘look’ to other towns (including the whole Cocoa Beach area).

The Jumenoto inlet (Boca Jumento) that supposedly lies south of the town is also made up. There are no inlets like it in that general vicinity. It likewise owes to various passes along the coast — Sebastian, Boca Raton, Matanzas, Ponce de Leon, Boynton.

Scott City has a vague resemblance to Bunnell, mostly in its location, but it could pretty much be any little inland town in the northern half of Florida. Vasco, a bit down the coast from Cully Beach (beyond Jumento Inlet) is fictitious, as well. All we can say for certain is that both towns are north of Ormond Beach.

I have set all this down in a ‘real’ Florida, referring to actual towns such as Daytona, Gainesville, Jacksonville. I have also tied it to the fictitious towns mentioned in my young adult title, ‘The Middle of Nowhere,’ located on the Gulf side of Florida, and to places I have invented in the southwest part of the state. As with Cully, none of these are exact analogs for real locations.

Could I have let all these tales take place in actual Florida towns? Undoubtedly, but I like the leeway my approach gives me. I have read novels set in my hometown of Naples Florida and the little inaccuracies here and there do bother me. Better to avoid that sort of thing, I think — especially if I am slipping in characters based on real people!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Raccoon, Rabid, a poem

Raccoon, Rabid

Thin, staggering along
the center line of the blacktop —
it would not last much longer.

Should I have swerved
and ended it instead of slowing
and then driving by?

When summer’s heat drives
other creatures into the shadows
I and the raccoon are here,

each with our own sort of madness.

Stephen Brooke ©2017

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