adventures in dysthymia

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Dark Ages

The early Medieval period is sometimes referred to as ‘the dark ages,’ yet it replaced a Roman world where crucifixion and gladiatorial games, slavery and pederasty, were viewed as normal. Were people still cruel? Were people still ignorant? Of course. Culture is slow to change and human nature does not change at all.

Christianity was a moderating influence on the world of Late Antiquity. It did teach forgiveness and love. These were not new ideas but now they had the backing of a popular religion. It became more difficult to justify cruelty and bloodshed, not that people did not attempt it!

And technology continued to improve. There was not the economy, the resources, to permit the grandiose projects of the Roman Empire, but small, practical advances continued. Water wheels and wind mills, better ship building and sailing techniques, and countless other changes in everyday life appeared. In part, the end of slave labor necessitated the development of more efficient ways of doing things — or perhaps the more efficient ways made slave labor no longer necessary nor cost effective.

Europe and the Mediterranean world was chaotic through this period — let us roughly define it as the time between 400 and 800 AD. The ‘Pax Romana’ no longer held, even in the Byzantine half of what was once the Roman Empire. Too many restless peoples were on the move, crossing and erasing old borders.

Serfdom became commonplace. It was what worked at the time and, despite its shortcomings, was better than the slave-based economic systems that preceded it in many areas (including those outside the Roman sphere). There was a mutual obligation between serf and noble; they commoners did have rights and could not summarily sold or removed from their land. That provided a needed stability to rebuild society from turmoil.

The whole feudal/manorial system did become overly rigid later on and ceased to serve a purpose. But do not see it as ‘unenlightened’ nor a product of ‘dark ages.’ It was how humanity survived. And to progress, perhaps? Progress can be an illusion, this idea that we are ever moving toward something better. All that is certain is change — and how mankind deals with it.

Stephen Brooke ©2017

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Summer Night Concerts

The first concert I ever attended — at least so far as I can remember — would be of the Ohio State University orchestra and chorus. I would have been eight, and our family was living on a farm a good sixty miles from Columbus but we made the drive several times for their summer concerts. I suspect that they were free, which would have helped.

It was music my father could get behind. He was not a musical person whatsoever, but pops concerts were okay with him. If some Sousa marches were on the bill, all the better. Incidentally, he had attended OSU and had degrees in business and economics from the school — though he admitted he never really learned anything there and spent the better part of his time becoming a table tennis champion.

So into the Rambler we would all climb, Mom, Dad, five kids (unless my oldest sister had a date). An hour and more of driving it was, up through Lancaster and on to Columbus and the night. Do I remember the concert hall? Not the outside, nor ever entering, but the seats, the stage, those I can recall. Red cloth on the seats, I think, or maybe the mind has colored in that detail at some later date.

Do not ask me to remember a single tune that was played. Not by name. That there were marches and show tunes and light classical, we can be sure, and I remember the audience clapping along to pieces. I didn’t care so much about the music; it was the going somewhere that mattered, somewhere things were happening. It beat sitting at home, watching the one or two grainy black and white television stations we could pull in. Read? No, not much in the evenings with a house full of siblings sharing the lamp light. That, I could do during the day, and definitely did.

And drew and wrote my first story and explored the hills and caves when I could (though I was not supposed to go wandering). Other summer nights I had the concert of the whip-poor-wills, out in the hollows of the hills, the frogs down at the creek. The city remained, distant most of the time, but a place I knew existed, that I could experience. One world is not enough.

Stephen Brooke ©2017

Monday, March 27, 2017

Crocodile's Son Chapter

A chapter from the fantasy adventure I am currently editing, 'The Crocodile's Son.' This is at the end of part three of four (I sometimes use Michael Moorcocks's four-part structure but I haven't managed to write one in three days yet!). Short, as my chapters tend to be — our protagonists had just replaced Qala's kidnapped son with a changeling when things go quite awry.

45.

There was another making an entrance, not easily as did the gods, but laboriously pushing its way through to another world. A misshapen head could be glimpsed, and tusks, amid the shifting images.

The nurse sprang to the crib and grabbed up the changeling. “I’ll keep you safe, little one!” Her eyes darted here and there, wildly, uncomprehending.

A banging of the door, the stamp of many feet, as Flawum and his men burst in. “We heard a scream,” spoke the Pretender, gazing upon the confusion within the chamber.

Qala had just enough Sharshic to follow what had been said. “I have thrown shadow around us,” whispered Lenco to her. “We could try to slip out but it may not be possible with all this turmoil.”

“What is it?”

“A mafadwi. A monster from my world,” the god told her. “And the mother of the changeling, if I am not mistaken.”

Mawa remained visible, her slender body standing between them and this monster. “She can not match the mafadwi in that form,” said her brother.

“Then I will stop it,” declared Budo, taking form beside them. He again held his heavy club. The massive god shook his head. “Stupid Mawa!”

“I agree,” spoke Lenco. “I shall try to get Qala and her son out of here.” The men who had entered were ranged around the door now, uncertain, staring at what was going on. It would be impossible to slip through them. “We must wait.”

Qala only held her boy tightly and remained quiet. But she longed to be able to have her knife in her hand, to stand and fight whatever threat she and Zedos faced.

The mafadwi now was completely in the room. She was tall, taller than the bulky Budo, and long of arm and leg. Short, heavy tusks sprouted from the lower jaw, curving up toward surprisingly large eyes, and both fingers and toes ended in claws. The lean, muscular body was naked and hairless — and was that a tail Qala glimpsed, restlessly waving back and forth?

“Mong!” she shouted, her voice like the wind through a deep chasm. Both babies cried loudly at the sound. The mafadwi looked about, confused by this.

Budo stepped forward, brandishing his cudgel. “Do not make trouble here, Ir!”

Mawa glanced at her half-brother, standing at her side, protecting her, though he had little reason. “You know this monster?”

He answered not, but Ir, the mafadwi, did, glaring at the goddess. “You took my Mong!”

“I was only borrowing him for a little while,” claimed Mawa. “You know he would have popped back.”

“Want him now!” The mother mafadwi’s eyes went back and forth, resting first on the cringing nurse and then going to Qala.

“She can see us,” the Mur whispered.

“So it seems,” was Lenco’s only answer.

The monster stepped forward. Budo’s club swung, only a warning. “Go back, Ir,” he told her. “I’ll fix things.”

“No. Give Mong now!” She fixed her great golden eyes on Mawa. “Or I eat sister.”

“Do not make the Spider come forth,” warned the goddess, “or you will be one who is eaten.”

The mafadwi was not going to be reasoned with. Qala could see that; would she be any different, placed in the same situation? Why didn’t they just let her take her little one, now their plan had gone so awry?

Budo apparently had the same thought. Not as dense as his siblings thought, was he? “Take him and leave,” he ordered. “But hurt no one here!”

“I didn’t know a mafadwi could cross worlds,” whispered Lenco, musing only to himself, perhaps. “She must have followed the bonds that connected her son to his home.”

Ir stepped forward slowly, cautiously, showing she meant no harm, while Budo kept a watch on her. Mawa had backed away now, clearly exasperated by the way her plans had played out. The mafadwi stared at the nurse, huddled on the floor, protecting as best she could the child she held. “Mama,” spoke Ir, nodding her head, and turned away.

“Mong!” She leaped toward Qala, her long arms reaching. Too late did Lenco try to get between them; far too late did Budo even realize what was happening. And Qala’s strength could not begin to match that of the mafadwi. Zedos was taken from her arms and Ir disappeared in a cloud of disorienting images.

Seconds later, Mawa did the same.

“We must hide,” said Budo. “Shadows, brother.” He and Lenco held the distraught Qala, too shocked to make any sound.

Flawum came forward, staring at the empty space where he had lately beheld monsters, monsters such as he would never have believed existed. It is notable that the Pretender was the one with the courage to do so; he was not so useless as many thought him. He knelt by the whimpering nurse.

“Were there two babies? I thought I saw two.” Flawum picked up the changeling and peered at it. “This — does not look like the same child as before.” The little being growled at him. “It doesn’t even look human!”

There came a sudden sound like a great wind. There was a flaw in the air, a broken place, opening like a ravenous mouth, ready to devour. The changeling child was pulled into it and Flawum the Pretender went with him.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

We Say Nothing, a poem

We Say Nothing

Let me make mistakes with you,
leaving the regrets of tomorrow
to tomorrow. They will come.

To say nothing, beautifully,
says enough. The flame yet kisses
what we threw upon the hearth,

yet devours each hope. We only
mark our foreheads with the ashes
and go forth to sin no more.

We say nothing of tomorrow;
We say nothing, beautifully.

Stephen Brooke ©2017

Two From One

For some time, I’ve been playing around with the idea of writing a mystery — probably a murder — set at a folk music festival. None of the scenarios I came up with, however, seemed quite right. This, in part, was because I wanted to set it an actual time and place, the Florida Folk Festival of 2001, and also incorporate characters from other novels.

Why that particular venue? First, because it was the year of heavy forest fire smoke that obscured many things — good cover for a crime! Second, because it would follow by maybe six weeks the events in my second Cully Beach novel, WAVES. So it would be suitable for working in the characters from both that series and my related YA, THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE.

Incidentally, it was also the first time I ever attended. My introduction to the Florida folk community.

But I’ve given up on that whole concept. There are, I realize, two different books. So I will write the murder mystery, in time, and retain the current working title of BROKEN STRINGS for it. It will introduce new characters with no ties to my current titles (probably!), including a lead couple that might work out for further adventures. We’ll see how that goes. The exact when-and-where is to be determined.

Then the other story line will be truly the third Cully Beach novel, narrated by Ted Carrol (whom I had intended to sideline). Likely title is SMOKE (in that the smoke would also be found over at his home base on the Atlantic). There will be some sort of crime element, most likely, but definitely no murder mystery.

Which shall I write first? No idea! I’ll think about both, make notes, write up ideas and plot points, and eventually one will say, ‘write me!’ But I have other stuff in the pipe at the moment, so who knows when that will be?

______

In other news, I finished one rewarding edit/rewrite pass on THE CROCODILE’S SON (which, incidentally, topped out at 58,300 words, just under the 60,000 word target). It will be put aside now for a few days before I look at it again — from here out it becomes less a matter of editing and more one of proofreading. And I will get to work on something else in the mean time. Maybe even update the website!

Friday, March 24, 2017

Snowflakes

Someone in an online writing group mentioned the ‘snowflake’ method of turning out a novel, so I had to investigate (I won’t explain. Google it!). Not really like my own approach, I realized. I don’t write a good sentence and expand from it.

No, I am more likely to write a bunch of disjointed words and phrases and shape them into sentences, paragraphs, pages, later on. Rather similar to the way I would write poetry or a song lyric, actually. It is a sort of outlining, I suppose, an informal way of laying out the structure-to-come. These are the notes from which I work, the material from which I build my story.

I have mentioned before that there are some similarities to the technique used by Nabokov, updated to the age of the computer. The ‘painter’ approach, dabbing here and there, bringing the work to completion, rather than following a linear start-to-finish path. I am not very strict about this, admittedly. Still, I do ‘under-paint’ by creating some semblance of an outline.

How closely the finished story will resemble that outline is hard to say. As closely as it needs to, I guess! All that matters is it works for me.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

I Wanted Fantasy

I describe my Malvern/Mora novels as ‘adventure with a fantasy element’ because the fantasy is not essential to the stories. Most of what goes on in the stories is normal human interaction, albeit in a rather exotic setting. I could truly have told these tales without introducing the fantastic at all but it gave me more space for my ideas to develop.

Some of my other novels are more purely fantasy. Magical concerns somewhat underly the plots of ‘The Eyes of the Wind’ and the soon-to-be-released ‘The Crocodile’s Son.’ To a slightly lesser degree, this is also true of the Donzalo books. The latter could probably have been shaped as historical fiction of some sort, had I desired; a certain ‘magical’ event (a prophecy) gets the plot moving but some other device could have been substituted.

But I wanted fantasy so I wrote fantasy, and certainly do not regret it. Some other day, it is likely that I will turn out an historical of one sort or another (I have concepts sketched out). I shall also write more fantasies. Stay tuned for further developments!

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Tolkien's Choice

There are many thoughts, both large and small, in the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. The largest of these is the warning against embracing evil in hopes of doing good. In other words, the end does not justify the means.


We see where it leads Saruman, or Boromir and his father. We see that many are tempted and some have the strength to turn their backs on the wrong kind of power. Not on power itself, mind you. Legitimate power, such as that of the returned king, is embraced.

Just what power is legitimate is harder to see in our world than in that of hobbits and wizards. But even there, it is not always easy. We see failings and redemptions among our heroes, and learn that the little choices of ordinary individuals also count. We must all turn from what is expedient for advancing our own agendas, if it is not also right.

And what is right? I suppose we must each work that out, though there is plenty enough advice! The thing is to actually think it through, not jump at the easy answer, the one that looks attractive at a glance but makes compromises of one sort or another with evil.

When we do, we have chosen the wrong side.

Stephen Brooke ©2017

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Mankind Was Yet Young, a poem

Mankind Was Yet Young

A tribe of two we were,
through long glacial night;
a cave become our world,
our sun the fire’s light.
Entwined in robes of fur,
bodies pressing tight;
cold winds howled and swirled,
this our one birthright,

to live and die and love
when mankind was yet young —
all this was enough
when mankind was yet young.

Stephen Brooke ©2017

I could see lengthening this, maybe, but not right now

Monday, March 13, 2017

Release Day and Covers and Stuff

So today the latest novel GOD OF RAIN is officially ‘out.’ Available ’most anywhere — your local bookstore could even order it for you (and that is fine with us — support local businesses!). Print and ebook, as usual. Try it, you’ll like it! (or any of my other books)

I’d like to say a few words about covers. Having an art background, I have designed my own from the start (and, I hope, improved to a high level of mediocrity). It should be obvious that I do not care for the generic ‘movie poster’ covers on many genre offerings, the girl, the soft focus background, all the cliches. I tend toward the abstract.

And I feel these are better at catching the reader’s/buyer’s eye. Large, bold, and simple elements. They don’t have to say anything about the text, just project a general sense about it, create a mood perhaps. This is all the more important online where the cover picture may be reduced to a thumbnail. I have used a silhouette approach on many of my cover designs; I am not particularly tied to it but want continuity between related titles in overall look, typefaces, and so on.

I am around half way through getting the narrative in shape for the next novel, another fantasy. More of a fantasy than some of my novels which I might better describe as ‘adventure with a fantasy element.’ It is a semi-sequel to THE EYES OF THE WIND, following one of the secondary characters from that book. Expect it to show up some time this summer; after that, who knows? I may be busy editing novels for other writers. I’ll also putter at getting another poetry collection together — no hurry on that one. Dates on all of this to be announced, sometime!

Friday, March 10, 2017

Change of Plans

I made a somewhat last minute cancellation of my plans to spend this weekend at the Will McLean Festival. The immediate reason was a fairly minor vehicle problem but it made me recognize that I don’t actually enjoy going to these events.

Willfest, and other music festivals, are an effective use of neither my time nor money. Not unless I revived my musical career and was a performer. So it is unlikely I shall visit the Florida Folk Festival this year either.

What do I enjoy? Not much of anything, admittedly. Accomplishing another goal, finishing another book — these might not exactly bring me ‘happiness’ but at least they keep me from falling off life’s steep edges completely. Those accomplishments are probably meaningless but so be it.

What I am accomplishing right now is getting the next novel, THE CROCODILE’S SON, ready for publication sometime this summer. Exact date to be announced eventually. This was not the book I intended or expected to be next but so it goes — it said, ‘write me,’ and I did. ‘Croc’ is a semi-sequel to THE EYES OF THE WIND, following a secondary character, Qala the Pirate Queen, now retired to a country estate. Here is a cover reveal:



This weekend does remain the official release date for GOD OF RAIN (Monday actually). It is available right now at booksellers throughout the universe or directly from Arachis Press.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

The Ural Gate

The 'world' in which many (ok, most) of my fantasy writing is set posits 'gates' that allow people from this world to enter that one. One-way only! I have kept those gates to two only, to keep the whole thing from becoming unwieldy (which is not to say more won't be introduced eventually, perhaps to other worlds), one located in the South Pacific and the other in the Ural Mountains — roughly opposite each other.

Now it has been relatively simple to posit lost sailors passing through the Pacific gate. Polynesian, Proto-Malayan, Australian aborigines, Melanesians. That is the premise of my Malvern and Mora novels. But what of that other Eurasian entrance? I have been looking at the Mal'ta-Buret and Yamna cultures as providing some of the earliest travelers into this new world. Later, Scythians, Turks, and so on. Note that for either gate to open a way, there must be great energy released, typically in the form of violent storms.

I would have the Mura of my novels trace back to the Mal'ta people, thus their resemblance to Native Americans, who seem also to carry much of the inheritance of that Paleolithic people of central Asia. Therefor, I am researching them some, as well as the later Early Bronze Age Yamna (Pit Grave Culture), who carried some of their genes (mixed, apparently, with Mideastern heritage). Having started out as an anthropology major many ages ago (before switching to Art History), this sort of thing has always interested me. Research is fun!

Btw, 'The Ural Gate' could be a neat novel title, couldn't it?

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Number, a poem

Number

I have calculated the number of elephants
needed to reach from here to the moon.
Who could round that many up?

They hide themselves in hedges and fence rows,
trumpeting their laughter. Might I
gather giraffes to fill the gaps?

Don’t even ask me about Mars.

Stephen Brooke ©2017

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

God of Rain Excerpt

In the spirit of shameless self-promotion, here is a chapter from GOD OF RAIN, to be released officially on March 13. This is fairly early in the novel.

8. Exercise

I would not exercise with young Toare today. I had been going too long without rest and might have no more opportunities to spend a day napping and drinking beer. Alas, those pastimes lost their charm by mid-afternoon so I walked in the garden, between rows of tall banana and papaya.

“Might I walk with you, sir?” came a soft voice.

“Certainly, my Lady Mehetu,” I answered. She was very formal, was she not? That was not a bad thing.

We walked a while in silence. “I have no place here,” she said finally. “I stay only through the kindness of Lord Marareta.”


I knew that but had not thought on it. “He would never turn you out, my lady.”

“No, he would not. He wants me here, I think. But not — not as a wife, you understand.”

Was she thinking of marriage with the taona? I did not see that happening. Mehetu went on. “And that is fine. But it leaves me with no official status.”

“Va’aru would always welcome you if things changed.”

She nodded. “I know this, Hito. But I would be a ghost flitting through the house of Va’aru, with no station and no substance.”

I could not help smiling. “It would seem your son is not the only one in your family who can turn a poetic phrase.”

Mehetu laughed outright. “Was it too dramatic? I listen to the storytellers too much, I think.” Then she added, in a more sober tone. “But it is true that I am no one now, and lonely.”

“That is not right, my lady,” I told her. “Not right at all.” For a moment our eyes met and made promises.

Promises kept that night when Mehetu came to my bed chamber. She was gone when I awoke and I had no time then to think of all that had happened and all that it meant.

Marareta kept only a small troop of warriors here. Fewer than twice ten were practicing their skills in the exercise yard when I joined them and Toare that morning.

The boy greeted me by taking up a pose of challenge, brandishing his club and sticking his tongue far out, as did the warriors of old, in an attempt to look fierce. I would not tell Toare he only succeeded in looking ridiculous.

Men of the kingdom of Anana and other lands to the north sometimes strike such a pose, but more frequently in dance than in actual combat. I had seen them and had no doubt Toare had learned it there. We practiced for a while with spear and then with club; the youth was skilled enough but over-eager. That sort of thing gets one killed, unless one is Aranu. Toare would never be Aranu.

Pairs of men wrestled nearby. One large fellow watched us for a while before calling, “Come face a real man, Toare.” There was scorn in his voice and in the look he gave me.

“Who is that?” I whispered to the boy.

“Taki. He sees you as a rival for my mother.” Toare glanced at the man with undisguised distaste and went on. “But she does not like him. She should tell the taona to dismiss him from his service.”

She would not, would she? Mehetu did not want to assert herself in a house where she and her son were now guests. Beggars, almost. I knew how that was; yes, I knew it well.

The boy continued, giving me a bit of a sideways look. “Mother likes you. You are serious.” That he — and Taki — knew of the previous night, I had little doubt, but neither of us was likely to bring it up.

Perhaps I might discreetly mention the man to Marareta. Perhaps I could deal with him right now. “Toare does not confuse boasting with ability,” I called back. It might have been foolish to do so. Taki was big.

And I am not, not by the standards of my people. It is true. The man did not reply but only motioned me toward him. The warriors formed a ring around us as I stepped forward. A silent ring — I suspected that Taki was not well liked by his companions. But I was unknown to them. The bulky warrior towered over me, hands opening and closing, ready to pull me into an inescapable embrace. I would not play that game with Taki.

I slipped to his left, took a thick wrist in both hands, put my foot against his ankle and took the man down. In a moment more, that wrist was behind his back and my arm wrapped around his throat. Ah, but it was not to be so easy.

Taki was fat but he was also powerful. He struggled back to his feet, with me clinging to his back like a child being given a ride. This would not do; the big man had all the advantage when we were both standing. Even more when he was the only one standing!

I slipped off and drove my knee into the back of his, taking him down again. This time I made sure to capture a leg, wrapping my own around it, and interlocked my fingers under a gargantuan jaw. Taki would not escape this, strain though he might. The powerful muscles of his neck fought surprisingly long against my grasp, his hands tried to reach back and claw at my face, but at last one wide palm slapped the dirt in surrender.

I have had opponents last far longer, men who knew how to wrestle. Yes, and some of those have defeated me but Taki had no skill, only size and strength. That can be deadly enough.

“Enough exercise for today,” I told young Toare. “I need beer.”