adventures in dysthymia

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Ogress, a poem

Ogress

Don’t ogle an ogress, she might take it wrong
and snatch you right up to carry you home;
you know that an ogress is far too strong
to escape her arms. You’ll never more roam

but stay in her cave, to cook and to clean,
to mind all the lumpy children you gave her —
yes, every litter, they’ll come to sixteen —
and fear to explain that you no longer crave her.

When passion is dead, you may well be too,
another exile from an ogress’ bed,
and likely enough to end up in a stew;
at least the kiddies will be well fed.

Don’t ogle an ogress, eye-contact’s a risk,
but if it occurs, know it could be worse;
at least the love making is sure to be brisk
and a grunt is sufficient when you must converse.

The prospects of taking an ogress in marriage
would seem rather slim — that’s admittedly true;
but this is a warning you’d best not disparage —
there might be one out there looking for you!

Stephen Brooke ©2017

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Written, a poem

Written

Each memory has turned to words,
fixed its form upon the page.
How might I disagree with what
is written, all in twelve-point truth?

Too late to change a single phrase,
re-remember all that was;
I can only read again,
choosing to believe it so.

These are the lines I wrote to play
my role, the poignant platitudes
attached to every mist of you.
Each word has turned to memory.

Stephen Brooke ©2017

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Arc en Ciel, a story

ARC EN CIEL

She sang at the Arc en Ciel in Saigon and Peggy was in love with her.

That was in ‘66. I could have been there a couple years later, had things gone only a little differently. Some of my friends were and some never came back.

I’ve seen her in the snapshots, a Chinese lounge singer, her paper-thin body sheathed in silk, makeup disguising a very normal heart-shaped face. The face of a girl playing the part of a woman.

Lots of people fell in love in Nam. Young men fell in love, and the danger and the loneliness made love all the more urgent. There was not much danger for Peggy, working in an office in Saigon, compiling and cataloging data day after day, but how could she not be lonely? She was far from her home, her friends, back in Ohio.

She wrote back to us, her family, and sent photos. None were of Kathy, nor of her husband’s band. We saw only street pictures or snaps of her coworkers at the compound.  Why include photos of a little singer from Hong Kong who would hold her hand while the men talked?

In ‘67, Peggy was home again and the war went on without her. What became of Kathy, I can not say, for Peggy never mentioned her. She went back to being the solitary ‘bachelor girl.’ And how could she not be lonely?

But I have the photos and letters she kept in a shoe box and know of Kathy now.

Stephen Brooke ©2017

This very short tale contains a certain amount of truth. How much, I will not be telling. It also exists as notes toward a future novel.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Bells, a poem

Bells

Yesterday is only two blocks
over. If we would cut through the neighbor’s
back yard we might reach it before
it disappears. Hear its fading
ice-cream truck bells? They play
‘Pop Goes the Weasel’ over and over.

We have waited along our own streets
of green summer, listening
for each disappointment. You and I,
listing the flavors for each other,
counting our change — surely, time
must pass us by and take what we offered.

Run, before it turns at the next corner.
Two blocks over; I am sure I heard
it there, ringing each lost promise
into twilight’s mauve blanket. Later, our mothers
may scold us for spoiling our appetite,
but we know tomorrow shall never be as sweet.

Stephen Brooke ©2017

Yes, I know I've done the ice-cream truck imagery before, and the whole suburban childhood thing. Which is perhaps surprising as I had very little of that sort of life as a kid. But of course it isn't really about that.

Audience

When asked for whom he wrote, W.H. Auden said it was for people who liked his work. I can not think of a better answer than that.

Perhaps it is a tad ingenuous but it also true. Those are our readers. We can’t worry about all of those who might not like what we do. We can’t tailor our work to woo them.

We can only try to improve, to better our craft, to hone our ability to communicate. Maybe we can even be one of those people who like our work.

But I wouldn’t count on that.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Genre and Me

Although I have been writing quite a bit of fantasy — around half my output — I read rather a small amount of it these days. That would be true of science fiction, too, of ‘speculative fiction’ in general. When I do, it is likely to be a reread of a classic, not something new.

Most of what is out there, new or old, fantasy or mainstream, isn’t particularly good. Mediocre and forgettable would be the words I’d use. Entertaining? Maybe, but more so if you are young and haven’t been exposed to the stuff that is actually good.

There are fantasy novels that can fall into the ‘great’ (or at least very good) category. Tolkien, of course — despite its flaws, ‘Lord of the Rings’ stands as a major novel. Who else? I could name favorites from Adams to Zelazny, and some are certainly worth reading. But so are quite a few mainstream writers. It is definitely a mistake to read only one or two genres and ignore everything else!

I don’t particularly like the ‘genre’ label anyway. That exists for sales promotion. I try to write ‘good’ novels, with worthwhile characters. Admittedly, one could expunge the fantasy elements and they would stand as literary novels, for the most part. I consider that an important test of any novel, that it could still exist as a good story stripped of any ‘genre’ elements.

If it depends on those elements, rather than the plot and characters, it may be an interesting idea but it will not be a great book. A fair amount of science fiction depends on ‘concept,’ to its detriment. In fact, many readers expect it — one reason I have never written SF (though I do have some ideas to explore one day).

My two Cully Beach novels could be called ‘mysteries’ or ‘crime novels’ — and were marketed as such — but the crime element is just there to give structure (a la Raymond Chandler). They are not so much about crime or solving a mystery as they are about the characters, their interactions, their growth. Needless to say, those expecting something typical of the ‘genre’ might be a bit disappointed. Indeed, they have seen some disparagement as ‘chick lit.’

That sort of thing is a little less obvious in the fantasies, where there is more action and less introspection. But really, if I wasn’t trying to say something worthwhile, I wouldn’t bother to write. I’d disconnect and go surf every day. Hey, I don’t even like to write (just as I hate to paint). It’s more like a compulsion to create.

I do have stories to tell, so I’ll keep turning out books. Fiction, nonfiction, genre, mainstream, poetry, whatever. People will read them or they won’t.

Just as I read something new on occasion.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Steve the Stevedore, a song

Steve the Stevedore

All the girls adore
Steve the stevedore;
Alice likes him a lot
But Nancy likes him more!

If into port you’ve rolled
with cargo in your hold,
from Bangkok or San Salvador —
Steve the stevedore!

Some men can lift mighty weights,
And brag of their handling of crates,
But Steve is sure to load more —
Steve the stevedore!

All the girls adore
Steve the stevedore;
Nancy likes him a lot
But Molly likes him more!

Though you be king on your ship,
On the docks don’t give him lip,
For he’s the top man ashore —
Steve the stevedore!

The biggest man on the wharf
compared to Steve is a dwarf;
he’s impossible to ignore —
Steve the stevedore!

All the girls adore
Steve the stevedore;
Molly likes him a lot
But Sally likes him more!

Arms like a mighty oak,
not one to provoke!
He’s the stuff of lore —
Steve the stevedore!

All the girls agree
he’s the handsomest man on the quay;
and they swear he doesn’t snore —
Steve the stevedore!

All the girls adore
Steve the stevedore;
Sally likes him a lot
But Susan likes him more!

Many pull their weight
when it comes to loading freight,
but one name’s in the fore
Steve the stevedore!

Yes, all the girls say
he’s the man for work or play;
any other is a bore —
Steve the stevedore!

All the girls adore
Steve the stevedore;
Susan likes him a lot
But Alice likes him more!

Stephen Brooke ©2017

A song lyric (and yes, I have some music for it) of some silliness. This is the sort of thing that could change in all sorts of ways — one could come up with many more verses (as long as we can rhyme 'stevedore').

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Feared, a poem

Feared

I feared her as much as I loved her,
counting my hours, hours
of freedom and of bondage.
To return, one must

run away. How far?
To the end of her soul,
to the starless voids
between our galaxies.

To the end of that branch
where twigs sway in the wind,
touching now and again.
I glimpsed a light between

the trembling leaves and wished
upon it for my death
or perhaps for hers.
One as good as the other —

all things come back in time
but not the same. Never
the same — that is what
I feared and what I loved.

Stephen Brooke © 2017

What's it about? Your guess is as good as mine.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Serifs and Poems

Serif typefaces have traditionally been divided into three ‘styles’ (not including the more recent slab-serif group) — Old Style, Transitional, and Modern. The thing to note about these is they are styles, not periods of time. A font such as Palatino may be ‘old style’ in its design but is thoroughly Modern in its era.

The Old Style typefaces originated in the Renaissance but continued through the Baroque. The Transitional fonts, however, truly are transitional from the Baroque to the Romantic Eras. Note that the Neoclassicism that informed the development of ‘Modern’ type is very much part of the Romantic movement (one side of the coin, so to speak).

I would tend to see the Garamond and Granjon fonts from the mid-to-latter part of the Sixteenth Century as the beginning of Baroque influence in type design — if they are not completely of the Baroque, they certainly foreshadow it and straddle the transition. By the time we get to Kis and Caslon, we are thoroughly Baroque, sturdy and solid. These are still consider Old Style type.

I was thinking about this as I was choosing a typeface for the next poetry collection. I generally prefer Old Style fonts for this application. Here are a few typefaces currently available that I was looking at —

Fonts of or derived from the Renaissance
— Centaur, based on a Jenson design from 1469 (I used this for my poetry collection, ‘Dreamwinds.’)
— Bembo, a High Renaissance typeface from around 1500 (Probably will use this one for the upcoming poetry book, ‘Voyages.’ If it’s good enough for Maya Angelou, it’s good enough for me!)

Fonts from the transition from Late Renaissance to Baroque
— Garamond, in its many variants
— Galliard, a modern take on a Granjon face from 1570 (I used for my novel, ‘The Eyes of the Wind.’)
— Granjon, also in many versions (one would be BitStream’s ‘Elegant Garamond’)

These Garamond and Garamond-like fonts are great for novels, maybe not quite so good for poetry; they tend to promote quick reading where one might prefer the eye to linger.

Baroque fonts
— Kis (Janson), ‘High’ Baroque from the 17th Century
— Caslon, later Baroque from the early 18th Century (the time of Bach and Handel)

Fonts from the transition from Baroque to Romantic:
— Baskerville, with definite neoclassical influences, from the 1750s

Early Romantic fonts with neoclassical elements (mostly considered ‘Modern’ typefaces):
— Bulmer takes up where Baskerville left off (a ‘Transitional’ face)
— also Bodoni, Didot, Walbaum etc.

My default for poetry would be one version or another of Palatino. It is a dependable choice, as Garamond is for fiction. But I do get tired of using it all the time! :)

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Motivations

Individual motivations are interesting but have little to do with what actually drives history. People in large numbers react predictably to economic factors; there may be any number of personal motivations but people would still act much the same if they had some different individual motivation, and the end result would be the same. Sociology and economics are the keys to understanding history, not psychology.


But psychology is important on the personal level. How people act and react to each other matters just as much as history, after all. Maybe more — living our lives comes first. What would life be without art, religion, emotion? Just economics, ants mindlessly marching to serve their colony and then disappearing into nothing.

Columbus used to be seen as a hero. Now, many regard him as a villain. It doesn’t matter. America still would have been ‘discovered’ and colonized in the same matter. The economic forces were there, the technology was there. It was inevitable.

Each of us, however, is in control of our own life. We choose our personal actions, good and evil, love and hate. So what if someone else wrote the play? There is plenty of room for improvisation in our parts, before we all take our bows.

Stephen Brooke ©2017

Friday, February 03, 2017

Awakening

The day I see as the beginning of Spring, the day halfway between solstice and equinox, is here. Some of the neo-pagans call it Imbolc; in my Donzalo novels it is named the Feast of Awakening.

It very much looks like Spring in my part of the world, the panhandle of Florida. This is not the Florida of which most of you might think when you hear the name. We are ‘Deep South’ here, not subtropical. We have no orange trees. We have hard freezes in the Winter but, thankfully, light snow is a once-in-a-decade sort of occurrence.

My magnolias are blossoming, the azaleas are beginning to do the same, although the winter camellia blooms have not yet faded. Even the rosemary is covered with little purple blossoms. I would expect the pears to come out shortly, the first of the fruit trees to flower, and the hazelnuts to be putting out catkins. Let us hope we are not surprised by a late freeze — this is the mildest Winter I have experienced here, only two nights of hard freeze so far, but cold air could still find its way down to us.

It is time to finish transplanting any and all trees. I still have peaches I need to move and I should separate and transplant some of the hazelnuts. The native wild cherry trees that pop up here and there in my yard (thanks to mocking bird poop) should be relocated, as well. They make an attractive medium-height high-crowned tree that can be placed reasonably close to the house or work nicely on my property borders.

And then, new growth on the shrubs — the PG hydrangeas, the firethorn — needs to be clipped to make some starts. These are two plants that seem to hold up here through summer heat and winter cold when others fail, so I’m putting in more of them. Those and the nandinas which are all around my house as ‘foundation plantings.’ I start them from the berries with which they are currently loaded. All low maintenance sorts of plants!

Lots to do in this month, before getting out and about in March. Where I shall getting out to, I’m not sure, but I’ll almost certainly make the annual pilgrimage to the Will McLean Festival. What might come after that, I have no idea!

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Itty-bitty Humanoids

Okay, we all are familiar with the square-cube law of proportion, right? At least well enough to know that larger creatures need proportionally thicker bones or other supports and smaller ones can get away with thin ones. An ant can not only support itself with its spindly limbs but also lift weights considerably greater than its own. An ant proportionally blown up to human size would collapse under its own weight.

And a human proportionally taken to down to ant size would be incredibly clumsy and have serious troubles regulating its internal temperature. The tiny humanoids in Pratchett’s ‘Bromeliad’ trilogy are described as ‘sumo’ like. That wouldn’t work; they need to be just the opposite.

Think of those old illustrations of Brownies and other Little People. They are often portrayed with bulbous bodies and spindly arms and legs, a large head sitting on top. Those artists may not have known about the square-cube thing but they got it right. The pretty little fairies, however, would be an impossibility.

Well, impossible in our world. In one with different gravity, it would be another matter.

I do have Little People in some of my novels. The same Little People, actually, though named differently in different places and different eras — Malvern refers to them as ‘goblins’ when he meets them and his native friends have their own names. They are ‘poto’ in my latest novel, GOD OF RAIN. In the Donzalo books, they are referred to as kobolds.

They are the only ‘others’ that I have explored in much detail in the fantasy novels, though I mention trolls and ogres in passing. We might visit them some other time (my children’s book, THE CONTRARY FAIRY, is not part of this canon, but a variety of fairy folk show up in it). There are also the Fay, but they are pretty much human-sized, at least the ones that have shown up so far.

But my kobolds (my preferred name) do show up and interact in varying degrees in the Donzalo’s Destiny books, in the second Malvern novel, VALLEY OF VISIONS, and now in this new Mora book. They stand about waist-high to us, and dwell in warrens of burrows in the high mountains. The ones in the Malvern/Mora books, that is; I don’t get into much of their lifestyle in the Donzalo tales. Would they have thin arms and legs and thicker bodies? Absolutely. Wizened, hairless, large hands and feet, big noses, small ears — all adaptations to their size, their environment, their way of life.

In time, I shall probably explore them and other semi-human peoples further. There is much to discover (i.e. invent!) about them yet. But only if they serve a story; otherwise they remain in my notes.