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


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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Pimp, a short story

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

The Pimp
Stephen Brooke ©2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Cozy Mysteries

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 12, 2017

A Quest! A Quest! (a poem)

A Quest! A Quest!

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

A quest! A quest!

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

A quest! A quest!

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

Stephen Brooke ©2017

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

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

House Plans and World Building

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

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

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

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

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