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

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Two Trilogies

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Arrows of Heaven Release

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

The back-cover  blurb:

The end of every epic is the beginning of another.

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

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

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

Monday, July 03, 2017

The Sailor's Love

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