adventures in dysthymia

Friday, November 17, 2017

A Choice of Narrators

I faced a dilemma when I began plotting WOMAN OF THE SKY: I had two major characters and was uncertain which to have as narrator of the story. There was Gordie, young castaway turned trader turned king-in-all-but-name, and there was Rahiniti, Kohari dancer adopted into Mora society. Rahiniti has been a unifying character of the Mora Trilogy, but this third and last novel is the one where she steps to center stage.

If Gordie were the main protagonist and first-person narrator, I could go with more direct action and adventure. Yes, the fact that he is male plays a part, but also Rahiniti is simply not the sort to get involved in that sort of thing. She is not trained as a fighter, would not have any reason to be on a battlefield. The female protagonist of the previous novel, ARROWS OF HEAVEN, was a fighter and took part in more than bit of action.

However, Gordie is simply not a very interesting guy to have telling the tale. There is tragedy in his life and he feels the pain of loss, but he is not introspective. He makes his choices and moves on. Rahiniti, on the other hand, has a rich inner life and plenty of thoughts to share. Moreover, she is in a better position to comment on what has gone before, as Gordie was never a part of what went on in the Mora nation, having his own interests well to the north.

So I went with Rahiniti and some major events have to be told third person, rather than directly, by messengers, by friends. We are with Gordie at neither of the naval battles that take place in the first half of the book and must rely on second-hand accounts. Those bits of action in which Rahiniti has a part — kidnapping and assassination attempts, and the like, she observes more than having an active role. If the book sometimes seems closer to a ‘relationship’ novel than a fantasy adventure, so be it.

There is no point in second-guessing these things. I made my choice and moved on, and am not even tempted to change. Currently, I am about two-thirds through the narrative, and expect to finish without any problems — I know where the story is going. Worked that out well ahead of time!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Halfway and More

I’m about halfway through writing the narrative on what should be the next novel (further than that in terms of plotting/outlining, of course). That will be titled WOMAN OF THE SKY and is the third book in my Mora Trilogy, finishing off that particular arc of interrelated stories. Once again, most of the characters, including the main protagonist, are of an Oceanic heritage — Polynesian, Proto-Malay, Aboriginal Australian.

All these peoples, however, have been in another world for varying amounts of time, and cultures have developed in their own directions there, as well as influencing each other. If one is sick of pseudo-European Medieval all-white fantasy epics, I offer an alternative! No ‘white saviors’ appear among my ‘natives,’ either (though the whole Malvern/Mora sequence begins with a bit of a Robinson Crusoe setup, as I wanted a 'modern' narrator with whom the reader could identify).

Only my Donzalo novels tend toward that popular European epic theme. That is one reason I set them in a post-medieval world, similar to the late Renaissance (i.e. the Sixteenth Century), and in a milieu more like that of central Europe at that time, a bit of a backwater. And yes, most of the people in that world are fairly white, though the Mura are vaguely ‘Asian,’ and Lady Fachalana, a lead character, has ‘southern’ blood. It would not surprising that nobles and royals would be of more mixed heritage than those they rule, as marriages between nations are common, both for political reasons and simply because the powerful get about more.

The soon to be released (Jan 6) THE WAYS OF WIZARDRY likewise has protagonists whose ancestors came from Oceana. It is the same world — most of my tales are set in the same world — but millennia later.

When will WOTS be out? No telling. Some other project might come along and slow things down. Shoot, a truck might run over me tomorrow. So it will be ready when it is ready — but highly likely to appear in 2018.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

From Self-publisher to Publisher

For three decades or so, I did the traditional writer thing. I sent stuff off and sometimes it was rejected and sometimes it saw print. But there were long waits and I had little control over what happened to my work. That is why I decided, eventually, to go the self-published route.

That is not to say that I didn’t continue to submit my writing. I had pretty much dropped out of the magazine article thing by the turn of the millennium, but I have had poetry and stories published over the decade and a half since. But I also put out my own first collection of poems in 2004. Printed it myself, that one, on a good laser printer. That was mostly to give to friends or perhaps sell a copy or two at readings.

Then I got serious. I went to a print-on-demand provider (Lulu, whom I still use), and eventually set up an actual publishing company, Arachis Press, purchased ISBNs, went more or less professional about it. This approach had already become common in the music industry and I could see print was going to go the same direction. The digital age assured that; not only the digital delivery of music files or ebooks, but also the ease of producing physical media as CDs or POD books.

Printing presses and vinyl stamping machines were no longer needed. Moreover, sales online could replace distribution (to some degree) to book stores and record shops. I do continue to have most of our products distributed anyway.

I’m actually to the point now where I am going to be publishing books with other people’s names on them. That had always been my intention, truly, but I was too busy writing my own stuff to get around to it. Not a lot but maybe a couple titles a year — we’ll see how it goes. I’d prefer to go with poetry right now, for the most part. So I’m keeping myself busy though I am supposedly retired.

And now I’d best get back to writing.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Wizardry Chapter

I'm putting up a short chapter from the upcoming 'The Ways of Wizardry' for the amusement of anyone who might drop by. This is somewhere near the middle of the tale. 'Ways' will have a January 6 release date.

27.

“There’s not much at Arlak-Port,” reported Borob. “Ships stop there to take on loads of lumber or turpentine. That sort of thing. The ports further east see more commerce.”


“Like the one the dwarfs were headed toward,” said Im.

“They need not have gone all the way to the sea,” Xido felt. “I’m sure there are trade centers inland.” He looked about. “Temple towns like this serve that purpose to some degree.”

“So it is,” agreed the priest. “The road east is well marked and much traveled. You should have no trouble finding your way.”

Na gave up. “Very well. To this shrine we will go. Or at least a different port!”

“To the shrine of Banat itself I can not give you accurate directions. I know it lies somewhat north of the road, in the hills above the Lantabee River.”

“Which takes us away from the sea. Ah, well.” Xido rose from his place by the fire. “There will be those who can direct us further as we draw near. In the morning?”

Both Na and Im nodded agreement. Borob let his eyes linger on the woman for only a moment before deciding to rise as well. “I think I shall not see you again before you go. I sleep with my fellow priests tonight, and with the memories of a festival well worth attending. Farewell.” With that he plunged into the throng of revelers celebrating the eve of the Festival of First Fruits. This apparently involved much fire and much dancing and a fair amount of wine.

“We’ll miss the festival tomorrow,” observed Na, once Borob disappeared.

“It’s all religious stuff then,” Im told her, having quizzed a priest earlier. “The celebration is tonight.”

“We’re not going to sleep with all this racket,” decided Na. “We might as well celebrate too.”

“Don’t get separated from me, Im,” Xido warned.

The boy nodded. He knew well there was still danger. Part of him wanted to go find Qu’orthseth and start the next leg of their journey right then. He wouldn’t ask that of his companions.

“What is that stench?” asked Na, as they joined the crowd.

“Someone is burning sulfur,” was Xido’s answer. “I’ve no idea why. A ritual maybe.”

“You need to be all-knowing like your cousin Banat,” said Na.

“All-seeing,” corrected Xido. “And to see is not to understand.”

Im had to ask, “You’re not really cousins, are you? That’s like what you were saying about ancient gods visiting different worlds.”

“Exactly. Perhaps very distantly, we are related. Maybe all life everywhere is.” Xido stopped to survey the happy throng all around them. “Life is the important thing. Banat was saying something along those lines. Existence. Whether one believes that Being is an ultimate god or not.”

“Not all those here believe in life,” said Im.

“That is so everywhere. These followers of Asak, or of Dekata or the other gods of the Void, are just more straightforward about it.”

“Dekata?” asked Na. “Is that a goddess?”

“Goddess of darkness and hatred. Some call her the daughter of Asak.” He looked about. “I don’t see any of her priests here. Or priestesses, more commonly.”

“But anyone here could be a follower,” mused Na. “Not really different from any crowd, anywhere.”

“That is so.” A great blaze of a bonfire lay ahead, and musicians played for those who cavorted in clumsy, drunken dance, played on flute and drum and bells. Na and Im gaped; dance in Hirstel had been very formal, exact movements passed down from their ancestors.

Xido, however, jumped right into the moving mass, writhing and jumping with the others. Im did not think he could do so, even with the aid of much wine. Na, however, looked like she was considering joining in.

Someone slipped between the two of them, an Ildin man, nondescript save for being somewhat fat. A knife appeared in his hand and drove into Im’s side. Screams. People fell back, as Im slumped to his knees. That may have saved him from a second, fatal thrust.

Na careened into the would-be assassin’s back, throwing him off balance, sending him staggering forward a couple steps. The man recovered and turned back, intending to finish his work. Too late! Xido bounded forward and grasped the assailant by his neck. With one arm, he lifted the fat Ildin from the ground and shook him.

“Who sent you? Speak!” he ordered. His muscles were tensioned rawhide ropes beneath the glistening black skin.

“I serve Dekata!” the man choked out. “An assassin of the temple.”

There were gasps from the crowd. It was widely believed that Dekata’s priests could be hired for murders and vendettas.

Xido regarded the man dangling from his outstretched arm, gasping for breath. Then, with a twist of his wrist, he broke his neck and dropped the body to the ground.

“We leave now,” he said. “How bad is the boy’s wound?”

Na was kneeling beside her young companion. “I do not know. I am trying to stem the flow of blood.” She was holding her own skirt against the wound.

Xido looked at that flow. “At least the color is good. Ah, his arm caught the worst of the blow.”

“And then the knife glanced along the ribs,” finished Na. “We’ll not lose Im tonight.”

“That is good to hear,” spoke the young sorcerer, before passing out.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Early Reads

I came across a mention of a children's book, 'The Story of Hiawatha,' an adaption of Longfellow's epic poem and remembered it as being one of the books I loved when I was five or six, one of the first books I read on my own. I kind of skipped the picture book phase and went right to chapter books


The other one would be 'Cowboys and Indians.' Both large-format books, with fabulous illustrations and good writing. C&W was illustrated by the artist, Gustaf Tenggren, who was responsible for the look of Disney's 'Snow White.' It also had some fine and thoughtful poetry in it. Hiawatha had some fine illustrations too. Here's one:


Imagination fodder for youngsters, both books, and undoubtedly influential in where I went later, reading-wise. I also read pretty much all the Thorton Burgess ('Mother West Wind,' etc) books as soon as I could read.

By the nest year, I was plowing my way through the adult books in my folks' library, but I do fondly remember these.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

All the Pretty Colors

I decided to go through my soon-to-be-released novel ‘The Ways of Wizardry’ and do a count of the color names I used. These are out of a total word count of a bit under 70,00. It is skewed a bit toward red because one of the main characters is a red demon (though I sometimes referred to it as crimson or ‘wine-colored.’). This is probably of no interest to anyone but me!

red: 38
blue: 23
black: 18
green: 14
gold/golden: 14
crimson: 12
white: 11
brown: 9
gray: 8
yellow: 7
violet: 3
wine: 3 (as a color—lots of references to the beverage!)
purple: 2
ruddy: 2
olive: 2
orange: 1
amber: 1
silver: 1
ebony: 1
slate: 1

Some golds, silvers, bronzes, referred to metals, not colors, so are not counted.

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Dive, a poem

Dive

If the money’s right, I’ll take
a dive in the second round.
Let me look good for three minutes.

Let the crowd remember how I used to be,
who I used to be. It’s not much.
It’s all I have now, that and the envelope

you leave in the locker room.

Stephen Brooke ©2017

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Some Recent Poems

Stuff I've written over the past week or so. As ever, not necessarily in final form.

A Start

The painful beauty of sunrise and women,
the ache of dreams unrealized,
has carried me this far. A brushstroke —
cerulean on gold. A start.

Another start. Each clumsy daub,
each faulty word, each sidelong glimpse
of all I hoped, had its beginning.
I tell myself it is enough.

I say life must remain unfinished.
Harsh comfort follows such a truth,
and such a start as I might make,
this day of beauty and of pain.

Stephen Brooke ©2017


Daggers

Tragedy and comedy
share my stage. Let the clown
fight the villain. Let him kiss
all the girls before he exits.
Hidden daggers will be wielded
soon enough. Act Three, I think.

Stephen Brooke ©2017


the horns of Hathor
foretell the advent of Ra
as I too rise

SB 2017


I have rewritten
the first draft of you and me
it still makes no sense

SB 2017

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Knowledgable Castaway

One of the staples of speculative fiction is the ‘modern’ individual thrown into a primitive culture, where he or she wows the natives with advanced knowledge and technology. Well — it used to be a staple. Not so much now, but it’s still around, appearing mostly in not-so-good attempts at fantasy or sci-fi novels. It smacks a bit too much of cultural chauvinism today, maybe.

But we might question whether that individual would actually be able to change the society into which he is thrown. I do think that cultures don’t change until they are ready; a printing press is useless in a world where no one reads, and that goes for pretty much any other advance one might attempt to introduce. It’s a matter of economics, in part. There is also the question of whether our modern individual would actually know how to make any of those items we take for granted.

My own Malvern/Mora books revolve around castaways (vintage 1914) thrown into a less-advanced world. They do introduce a few innovations, it is true, and it is not so much that some of them know how to make things but that they know things can be made. That’s at least half the battle, knowing what the end goal is! One, finding himself in a trade center where all goods are carried about in baskets on people’s backs, decides they need wheelbarrows and experiments — with the backing of the local leader — with developing one. There is little more in the way of modern technology introduced.

On the other hand, there are subtle influences on such practices as archery and fishing. In every case, the Mora people are ready for such things — and they take these things and run with them, creating their own innovations. But they are the ones who know how to do things in their own world; there are going to be no radical differences introduced from outside. There will be no ‘white saviors.’

In related news, I am working on plotting/outlining (and even writing a little) on the third book of the Mora Trilogy (which followed the Malvern Trilogy set in the same world). This one will be called ‘Woman of the Sky’ and focuses on/is narrated by Rahiniti, the titular woman. She has been the common factor of the trilogy, but was a secondary character in the first two novels. Now she moves to center stage to complete the sequence.

There may be more Mora novels down the line, maybe another trilogy, but that is way down the to-do list. Lots of other books need my attention first!

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Evil Character

The most evil literary character ever created might by the demon-possessed Weston in C.S. Lewis’s “Perelandra.” It can be useful to remember the ‘banality of evil’ but Lewis points out its emptiness. Weston — who is truly Satan — is utterly empty.

Evil, of itself, Lewis shows to have absolutely nothing attractive about it. It can make itself so only by borrowing from that which is good, twisting it to its own purposes. Weston is filled with emptiness,* so to speak, a nihilistic hatred of all that exists. One could not create a truly human character like that and have it seem plausible. No one alive is quite that far gone.

But there is something of it in every villain. Every hero too, for that matter — let’s not get into that right now. This is where that banality stems from; there is no grandeur to evil, of itself. It may clothe itself in many ways, trick us into mistaking it for the good, but there is nothing underneath. It spoils what is, makes it mean, tawdry, ugly.

This is, I believe, what we must remember in creating our characters. If there is anything attractive about an ‘evil’ character, a villain, it comes from the good in him or her. This is why Weston is totally unattractive. I have written some fairly despicable sorts into my books but there is always at least a glimmer of some redeeming quality. Lord Radal (in the ‘Donzalo’ novels) might serve the dark gods but he loves his daughter, and many of his ill-considered actions stem from that. His henchman Sojel is about as bad as they get, a sadist, a murderer, a rapist, but he is loyal and has a certain pride in his ‘work.’

I suppose the ‘Wizard-Lord’ introduced in my upcoming fantasy novel ‘The Ways of Wizardry’ (out in Jan 2018) is about as far as one can go with an evil individual. I have made sure to point out that he is quite insane, so there is a little more leeway in dealing with his humanity (what is left of it). That is, incidentally, a bit of a trade hazard for wizards, who are sometimes overwhelmed by the vast infiniverse they are capable of glimpsing. Yeah, that’s a useful bit of world-building I’ve employed more than once in plot creation.

Obviously, I believe in good and evil. Not every antagonist is evil, of course, or no more than the rest of us. Some simply want something different from the protagonist. The antagonist can even be morally superior to our hero. But evil exists and so do evil individuals. Recognizing this and the nature of evil will aid us in creating our characters.

Finally, recognize that there is dynamic of good and evil. People change, succeeding at times, failing at others. Some repent, some don’t. Some are redeemed, others are lost. They remain human. Unlike Weston.


*I’ve used that phrase in one of my own books. Maybe more than one.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Fantasy Continuum

Just for the halibut, I made up a little infographic-y thing about my fantasy novels.


Saturday, October 14, 2017

By the Tracks, a poem

By the Tracks

Whether the trains were moving east or west
did not matter; they woke me in the night,
there in her house by the tracks. The rent was low

and that was good enough. That and the pool

where we sometimes skinny-dipped.
East or west — or was it north and south?

Let me orient myself here. Yes, east and west,
parallel to Highway 84, there on the outskirts
of Thomasville. It’s been a dozen years

and memories are a patchwork now, bits sewn
together to make a new picture every time.
When they woke me and I could not sleep again

I wrote and sometimes it was good
and sometimes I threw the pages out, come morning.
She moved on and I moved on, but the trains,

I suspect, still pass by each night and wake
whoever lives in the guesthouse by the tracks
where rent was cheap. And there was a pool.

Stephen Brooke ©2017

Addendum, Mon Oct 16: a couple days later, I saw various changes needed to be made - most of what I post here is early draft and often sees revision

By the Tracks

Whether the trains were moving east or west
did not matter; they woke me in the night,
there in her house by the tracks. The rent was low
and that was good enough. That and the pool

where we sometimes skinny-dipped.
East or west — or was it north and south?
Let me orient myself here. Yes, east and west,
parallel to Highway 84, right on the outskirts

of Thomasville. It’s been a dozen years
and memories are a patchwork now, bits sewn
together to make a new picture every time.
A rumble in the dark; it would pass

as all things are said to do and maybe
that is so. When I could not sleep again,
I wrote and sometimes it was good
and sometimes I threw the pages out, come morning.

She moved on and I moved on, but the trains,
I suspect, still pass by each night and wake
whoever lives in the guesthouse by the tracks
where rent was cheap. And there was a pool.

Stephen Brooke ©2017

Thursday, October 12, 2017

An Extra Novel

After claiming I was not going to insert another novel between the projected second and third books of the Mora Trilogy, I am going ahead and doing just that. This will follow the recently published ARROWS OF HEAVEN and almost certainly be titled WOMAN OF THE SKY.

So does the fantasy trilogy become a tetralogy (or quartet or quadrilogy or whatever term one prefers)? No. I recognized that the original third novel, WARRIOR OF THE MOON, is the start of a new sequence. The action takes place a decade and an half later than the end of these Mora books, and features the son of our protagonist in the original Malvern Trilogy, which the Mora Trilogy follows. There might or might not be more novels following it; we’ll have to see about that.

Am I working on WOMAN? Well, I’m making notes and plotting and outlining and all of that. I may start on the narrative or I may let that wait while I finish some other projects. I am supposed to be busy with my third Cully Beach contemporary crime novel (to be titled SMOKE). And I might even try having a life one of these days! :)

Monday, October 02, 2017

High and Low

I do not write ‘low fantasy.’ That is, fantasy that is set in more-or-less our ‘real’ world, into which fantasy elements intrude (which is something a bit different from ‘magic realism,’ which is actually surrealism, not fantasy). The familiar tales of werewolves or vampires are part of the long tradition of low fantasy.

On the other hand, Tolkien wrote high fantasy. The stories are set in their own world, with its own rules. The popular ‘Game of Thrones’ series is, as well. Both high and low fantasy have long traditions and, not surprisingly, the border between them is sometimes blurred.

Roger Zelazny’s ‘Amber’ novels are an example of essentially high fantasy that impinges on our own world in a low fantasy manner. In that the underlying cosmology of the Amber ‘universe’ (of which our own universe is only one among a possibly infinite number of variations) is fully realized, it has to go into the high fantasy category.

The bulk of my own fantasies follow a rather similar pattern. The Malvern tales start in our own world, amid familiar events, but enters another realm with different rules. Somewhat different, anyway. This world of ours is always a part of the larger ‘infiniverse.’ Whether I will ever actually set a tale here is questionable — and I’m not sure whether that would be high or low fantasy!

I honestly have a problem with the basic premise of much low fantasy – that there are hidden things in our own world, magical beings or what have you. It bends logic and science. Fantasy must be believable. Alternative worlds with their own logical sets of rules allow that desirable ‘suspension of disbelief’ we need. I take care never to break those rules, once I have created them.

This does not mean everything is thoroughly explained (though I, the author, might know the reasons for things). Nor would the characters necessarily be knowledgeable of why things work as they do — ‘magic’ might be largely an empirical science. But it is an integral part of their world, an alternate world to this one.

The basic premise of the whole world of my fantasies (and they are all interrelated) is that, among the infinite possible worlds, magic is easier in some than in others. Why the differences exist is somewhat explained here and there in the novels; no need to get into it here in any detail, but it is largely about how closed off one world is from the others (ours being very much so). This is part of the basic design of each universe — with infinite possible worlds, some will be so and some won’t. Or, more properly, an infinite number will be and an infinite number won’t.

So I have an extremely large canvas on which to paint my high fantasies. Will I ever bring any of it back to our own world? I suppose it is possible — and of course I have jotted down ideas from time to time. There is something to be said for bringing the familiar into ones stories, for creating a connection to our own mundane lives. I have only done that so far in the aforementioned Malvern books but there is no reason not to explore it — if, someday, I find a reason.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Three Books or Four?

Having finished and published the second novel in my projected Mora Trilogy (‘Arrows of Heaven’), I was giving serious thought to plugging in a fourth book before the intended finale. It would have explored some of the secondary characters from the previous books, in particular the Kohari dancer, Rahiniti, who would probably have been the narrator. I went so far as to choose a title — ‘Woman of the Sky’ — and design a cover.

But I could come up with no compelling plot for it, just a lot of political and relationship happenings. In other words, it was largely backstory for the last novel of the trilogy (to be titled ‘Warrior of the Moon’). So I decided to treat it as such and just incorporate some of the bits that I had written out into that novel in some fashion, although it takes place something like a decade and an half later.

I am not sure just when I will write ‘Warrior’ and finish the series. After all, I have like seven series in progress and they all demand my attention! But there is a good likelihood that it will happen in 2018.

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.