adventures in dysthymia

Monday, July 09, 2018

The Lost Map

Last year, I had almost simultaneous failures of both my desk PCs, the office/writing/design machine and the dedicated music one. This meant I lost some data. The writing, and most of my documents, were pretty recently backed up so that was mostly safe. Graphics were another matter. I hadn’t kept quite up to date there.

So, recently, I got the hard drives from the music computer mounted and was able to retrieve back ups I had stored there. That helped; they were not the most absolutely recent versions of things but better than what I had otherwise. In fact, there is only one thing I truly regret having lost and that is the map I made of Cully Beach, the fictional setting of my novels ‘Shaper’ and ‘Waves.’

I could redo them, I suppose. There is enough description in the books and a fairly decent map in my head. Moreover, the town is loosely based on Flagler Beach, Florida (with a bit of Cocoa Beach mixed in), so I have a starting point. If I get onto a third Cully Beach novel, I just might try a reconstruction.

The floor plan for ‘Shaper’ Ted Carrol’s home and surf shop is still extant (but not his neighbor’s, which I also laid out — that doesn’t matter so much), so there is that. Incidentally, I also did maps and floor plans for my other ‘Florida novel,’ ‘Asanas.’ Those were not lost.

There probably will be a third Cully novel. It is not high on the list right now. But we do need to get Ted and Michelle happily married, after all, while solving yet another crime.

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

The Tsar

It's time to tell one and all that I shall have another book out in a couple months — exact date to be announced shortly. I'm finishing up all the work on the narrative, getting the publication chores begun, and so on. This is one of my relatively light fantasy adventures (though a tad grimmer than the average), to be titled TSAR OF THE EMPTY LANDS. The name is a reference to the protagonist, some of whose followers jokingly refer to him so. More details on the story down the line, but here is (probably) the finished cover:


Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Novesl I Like

These are novels (not plays, short stories, nor anything else) that I particularly like and feel have particularly influenced my own writing. It is not a list of the ‘best’ novels.

The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien — I love The Lord of the Rings but this was the book that made the initial impact and has been more of a model for my own writing.

The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway — For me, the first and the last of Hemingway were his best: the first novel, The Sun Also Rises, and his late-life novella, The Old Man and the Sea. One could disregard all the novels between, not that some of them were not decent enough.

Vanity Fair, W.M. Thackeray — A relatively late entry for me, and not a book I read when young. But it might well be my favorite novel of all. No one better at giving insight into characters.

Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh — Not necessarily his best but it made the most impact on me. I do love his more typical novels too, the humor, the style, but the nuanced ideas of Brideshead speak to me.

The Left Hand of Darkness, U.K. Le Guin — This novel made a big impact on me when it first came out and I was young. This was (and is) the sort of thing serious speculative fiction should do. The Dispossessed may have been even better, and those Earth-Sea books, but this one got got to me first.

A Princess of Mars, E.R. Burroughs — Pretty much where my love for speculative fiction starts, and a surprisingly well-crafted piece of writing with a sense of wonder. Burroughs’s sly humor puts him a cut or two above most writers of adventure.

Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen — Yes, I seem to have a thing for English novelists with a bit of sarcastic tone. Thackeray, Waugh — but they both owe Miss Austen.

Kim, Rudyard Kipling — In terms of prose style, I can think of no one I like better. And I do like stylists. The short stories of the Jungle Books provided the original impact as far as Kipling goes.

There is probably no sense in adding more to these eight. Yes, I know they are all English language writers. Yes, I could come up with a different list a different day. And I could more easily make a list of well-known authors I do not like that much and have influenced me as examples of what not to do. We learn as much that way as any other — figuring out what turns us off and avoiding it in our own work. But I won’t mention my dislike for Dostoevsky or Conrad or anyone else here.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Character-Driven

My fiction is very much character-driven. I tend to create my characters first and then find things for them to do. They interest me more than the stories. I am certainly not the only writer to put characters first; it is something of a trademark of so-called ‘upmarket’ fiction.

The publishing world would most certainly put my adult Florida novels, the two Cully Beach titles and the recent ‘Asanas,’ in that marketing niche. They are relatively leisurely in their pace and not driven by their stories as much as they are by the growth of their characters. I would be inclined to call them upmarket or middle-brow or something of that sort myself. They are not literary fiction nor are they ‘commercial’ genre novels.

So what of my fantasies? Darned if I know. There has always been a strong literary element in the fantasy genre (quite unlike science fiction). Dunsany, Eddison, Cabell — I could name names all day. I would not go so far as to call my own fantasy novels literary fiction. At least that has never been my intention! Ultimately, they too are more about their characters than anything else. Never mind that those characters may sometimes be wizards or gods. They are still pretty human.

Any ‘ideas’ that are put forth grow out of those characters and their actions; I’ve never set out to intentionally ‘say’ something. Not that I don’t say quite a bit. I am quite as opinionated as the next author — I wouldn’t bother to write were I not. But both ideas and stories arise from humans and their interactions; that is why I start with characters.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Magic and Madness

One of the recurrent themes in my fantasy tales is that magic can lead to insanity. This is a direct result of how sorcery works — it is an innate gift that allows some to see and hear across the boundaries between the infinite universes. For the untrained, unable to block out those voices and visions of other worlds, madness can result.

But even for those who are trained to wield magic, the danger remains. The other worlds are always there in the background, the vastness of the infiniverse mocking those who seek through it. It is no wonder some wizards choose to serve the Void, hoping to escape into nothingness.

The great sorcerer Radal of the Donzalo’s Destiny novels was my first and perhaps most thorough example of this. His daughter Fachalana will share in that when I get around to writing the sequel (it will come!), but it will not simply be a repeat of Radal’s doom. Her struggle against his legacy will be a central element.

This not to say that all magicians flirt with madness. Some are better able to handle their gift than others. Some receive better (and earlier) training. The wizard Im of ‘The Ways of Wizardry’ manages to deal with all this quite well, partly due to his exceptional talent, partly due to being trained by a god, and perhaps partly by his bonding with the mystic jewels knows as the Eyes of the Wind (which appear in other novels, including one by that name) and the young woman who shares that bond.

Yet there are those who never know they have an ability. Some die by their own hand. Some lash out at the world, thinking themselves divine or at least divinely guided, misunderstanding the voices in their heads — real voices in those worlds where sorcery comes more easily than here.

That magic has a ‘price’ is very much a fantasy cliché. I see this not as a price but as a built-in danger. Many vocations have such dangers. Call them prices if you must, but not everyone pays. The soldier may live or die on the battlefield, come home maimed or lauded. The sorcerer is the same, yet different. It is part not only of his craft but of his being — magic and madness ever walk together.

Monday, June 25, 2018

He Who Counts, a poem

He Who Counts

The leper counts his fingers and his toes,
each morning’s inventory. He is whole
today; tomorrow will be as it goes.
There comes a reckoning in time, a toll,
and what choice has he but to pay? None throws
the dice when naught remains except his soul.
In morning’s gloom the leper counts and knows
he’s but a prisoner on his parole.

Have I not counted so the passing days?
They vanished in the darkness, as the dreams
I can recall no longer. Nothing stays;
all falls away, away, until it seems
we are no longer. I who counts and knows
has seen that naught remains except his soul.

Stephen Brooke ©2018

Living in Books


I didn't notice when I wrote this out that it is sort of in the form of a sijo.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Trolls, a poem

TROLLS

Trolls will eat anything,
including each other;
maybe their sister--
probably not Mother.

You may find small bits
of someone you know
stuck in their beards
that wag to and fro.

Those beards they are long,
those beards they are green;
they're never combed out
nor are they kept clean.

Trolls deny nothing
to their appetite;
pray you don't run
into one in the night!

So now you are warned
if a troll be your friend,
he just might eat you
too, in the end.

Stephen Brooke (c)2018


Trolls have been appearing prominently in my fantasy novel WIP, so this bit of nonsense popped into my head. Now back to serious stuff!

Monday, June 18, 2018

The Shaper and the Board

As anyone who designs and builds surfboards, Ted Carrol, the protagonist of my novels 'Shaper' and 'Waves,' has his own ideas and pet theories about how boards work. He is quite willing to share those theories with any and all. It does not matter whether they are at all accurate as far as the books go; indeed, being a bit of a crackpot is part of Ted's character.

The fact is just about anything works for surfing. One can ride a rectangular piece of plywood (not that I would recommend it). It's mostly a matter of learning the quirks of whatever one is on, and dealing with them.

Most design differences are about control. Surfers may talk about 'speed' but, in truth, boards have always gone fast enough. That speed needs to be controlled somehow; otherwise we are hurtling straight toward the beach, unable to turn! Bottom shapes, outline, fins--all these things play a role, each element interacting with the others. And to some degree combining them is guesswork. The only true test of a shape is in riding it. Even there, the skill and preferences of the individual surfer make a big difference.

And, of course, what he or she is attempting to accomplish. Tricks in small waves? Survival in huge ones? Or just cruising along--each calls for its own equipment. Ted would be glad to shape whatever you need! :)

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Two at a Time

I find myself working on not one but two fantasy novels at this time (but nothing 'mainstream'). One is a project of which I had not even conceived a couple weeks ago but it just came up, tapped me on the shoulder, and said 'write me.' That is a book almost certainly to be titled 'Tsar of the Empty Land.'

'Tsar' follows a group of Stalinist Russian refugees who were headed to the gulag but instead find their way to another world. This is the same world and approximate period as that of my Malvern and Mora novels; I mentioned in those the existence of a 'gate' on the far side of the world, so I had to use it, right? :) The book (or books maybe) will tie in to the earlier work, with the ancient sorcerer Hurasu making an appearance—he's been worried about the gate, what with humans becoming more technologically advanced, and intends to ward it against more entry.

The other novel is  the one I am supposed to be working on, the sequel to 'The Eyes of the Wind,' to be titled 'The Jewels of the Elements.' I honestly do not know which I will finish up first. One is in progress on the office PC, the other on my laptop. And I think it is good to be working on multiple books, as their is a cross fertilization of ideas; indeed, I always have several projects in development, jotting (or typing) down plot ideas, bits of dialog, etc. for later use.

So  certainly expect one before the end of the year. Even if I finish both,  I'd need to hold back the publication of one for a little while!

Friday, June 15, 2018

Pieces of the Moon

I have put an online edition/archive of my very first book of poetry, originally published in 2003, PIECES OF THE MOON. Of course, the print and ebook versions are still available through Arachis Press. It is my belief that poetry should be shared — and is not a money-maker anyway — so I am sharing this book. I might put up some of the ones that followed when I get ambitious, and also  have plain text versions for free download.

The for-sale editions are close to being at cost anyway. I see them as 'loss-leaders' for my novels! :) You can find the PIECES OF THE MOON site at: https://piecesofthemoonpoems.blogspot.com/ . Visit anytime.

Monday, June 11, 2018

The Depressed Surfer Novel

Depression, drugs, suicide, have been in the news and on people’s minds lately. Those who actually know me would not be surprised that these are among the themes of my contemporary (more or less) Florida crime-and-surf novel, ‘Shaper.’ Some of that is from my own life.

I’ve had serious bouts of depression, yes, and have thought about suicide pretty much every day since I was a little kid. It’s just something I live with, check on to make sure I’m still okay, like a leper checking all his fingers and toes each day. Keeping busy, being creative, has helped keep it under control; if I couldn’t work any more, I’m not sure I would want to go on.

And I manage the depression with a small amount of medication and a lot of activity. I’ve said before that bodybuilding may have saved my life. I continue to work out most days, take long hikes or bikes. I should surf more but the beach is just a little too far.

Drugs or alcohol? Never had any problem. Maybe just luck there, my genetics or something. Never even cared for pot, but I do drink a small glass of wine occasionally. My protagonist in ‘Shaper,’ Ted Carrol (Shaper, himself), is pretty much based on my own experiences with this sort of thing. Nothing to hide there. Of course, he isn’t actually ‘me.’

But we have other characters with problems. The alcoholic daughter of Ted’s girlfriend, as well as said girlfriend’s junkie ex-husband, play roles. I’ve tried to understand these people; however, I took care not to delve too deeply into them. That always rings false. There are no facile explanations for very complicated situations. It is best just to present them, maybe let them explain themselves, however flawed those explanations may be. Then let the reader figure them out, as possible. That is how it is in real life.

‘Shaper’ was published a couple years ago and is available from Arachis Press, as are all my books. At Amazon, etc. too, of course. And there is a sequel, ‘Waves,’ which explores some other directions while the depression and addiction themes go more into the background. A third ‘Cully Beach’ novel will undoubtedly appear one of these days.

Monastery, a poem

Monastery

My aesthetic is ascetic
fit for a monastery;
I choose to pray each and every day
at Vespers, and not tarry.
I think I look good in robe and hood,
and I’m thankful I needn’t marry;
for having a bride at my side
seems quite unnecessary!

Stephen Brooke ©2018

This bit of light verse sat in my notes for a while in case I came up with more lines. But it didn't need any.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Lights. Camera. Action!

The biggest problem with incorporating action into a story — especially starting out with a bang — is the likelihood of things bogging down later. Rushing from event to event, attempting to escalate the action, can only go so far. It is fatiguing to the reader.

But slowing things after that big bang beginning can be a bit of a letdown and lead the reader to lose interest. That is why I prefer a slow burn, a leisurely pace. I am more interested in exploring the characters anyway. My two crime novels set in mythical Cully Beach amble along somewhat and that was my intention. I avoided turning them into action stories.

This is a particular problem, I think, with crime and mystery tales. Everything that happens pretty much needs to further the movement toward a solution. Subplots tend to be neglected — and I’m pretty big on interweaving subplots. I much doubt that I would ever write a straight detective novel.

I am working on something that may come close, so we shall see. It will not be fast-paced action; I promise you that right now. Now, there is plenty enough action in my fantasy tales. Duels and spells cast and ambushes and attempted assassinations — these are the sorts of episodes I weave into the plots to keep the readers’ attention. However, the novels are not about these things. No good novel is.

My goal, and that of any serious author, is not to entertain with my writing. Entertainment is a means to an end and that end is communication. The goal is to have something to say and to make it heard.

So my writing (though this applies to any and all art-forms) does attempt to be entertaining, yes, to get and keep the readers’ attention. More importantly, I strive to make it somewhat accessible . Some of it more so than some other, of course; the audience, the intent, plays a role in this. One novel or story might be more ‘literary’ in its style, and that style, of itself, is part of the process of communication. The medium is the message and all of that.

And the message is what counts. It’s the nutrition in our literary meal. The rest is the part that tastes good! So I’ll season it well, make sure it has an enticing aroma and is pleasing to the eye. I’ll even put it on an attractive plate — or behind an attractive cover. If action is what it takes, there will be action. But not so much action that the novel gets lost in it.

Incidentally, there is no action at all in the shortly to be released ASANAS. Oh, yes, yes, a drunk does get punched. That’s about it. It’s just humans doing human things and, ultimately, there is no better subject matter.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Will-of-the-Wisp, a poem

Will-of-the-Wisp

I’m will-of-the-wisp, there isn’t a ‘me;’
if you look closely, there’s nothing to see.
Made up of moonbeams, bound with cobwebs,
mists that arise, a dark tide that ebbs —
hear me go singing through empty night,
counting the stars, never knowing the light.

I’m will-of-the-wisp, I could be a lie;
men whisper so, in the hour they die,
following after what they know is true
through forest darkness, through bog and slough,
lost in their dreams — no, nothing here’s real.
Only Will’s laugh, as I away steal.

Stephen Brooke ©2018

A piece that started out to be something completely different, a more 'personal' poem. But Will took it over. Written surprisingly quickly.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

All Sorts

Virginia Woolf said “It is fatal for anyone who writes to think of their sex.”* She had a point, a valid point. The author needs to write about people as they are, to understand and become those people. That is impossible when they are reduced to types.

That includes the author thinking of him or herself as a type. She also mentioned ‘self-conscious virility’ in modern male writers (modern in the Twenties, that is). That is certainly something that is still with us — and not just in authors.

I’ll admit that I consider any differences between men and women, how they think, how tall they are, how well they might write, are a matter of averages, not intrinsic to their being. We are far more alike than we are different.

Some are able to see that as do I; some aren’t and are stuck with a binary view, seeing women and men somehow as opposites. As much as I love Kipling as stylist and storyteller, he most certainly wasn’t able to break away from his masculine view of things. He barely deigned to allow women onto the pages of much of his writing.

I suspect there are those who would complain that my male and female characters are too alike. I’ve seen that criticism of other authors, that their women are just men in dresses (not that a man in a dress might not pop up in one of my books). Those critics, I think, have a false view of just who and what men and women are, caught up in cultural stereotypes. They complain when female characters do not fit their idea of what women are.

But women come in all sorts. Men come in all sorts. They are all individuals, each different, each acting according to who they are, not ‘what’ they are. Let them do it — and don’t think of your sex.


*in ‘A Room of One’s Own’ — a highly recommended little book

The Dog God, a poem

The Dog God

Don’t take the Dog God lightly;
He is a Sirius fellow.
He rules over every canine,
black or brown or yellow.

Oh, you can trust the Dog God,
for he is a Good Boy.
He loves to fetch the Earth-ball;
it is his favorite toy.

The Dog God sends his angels
to live with men a while;
they wag their tails and go
and leave us with a smile.

But in the Dog God’s heaven,
they wait as we still roam;
wait patiently at the gate
until we all come home.

Stephen Brooke ©2018

I can write as silly and sentimental as the next guy

Monday, May 21, 2018

Reading

I’ve been reading a lot lately. I always read, of course, but the amount of time spent on it varies. It seems I read more when I have finished off one of my own books — no more writing, editing, design, formatting to keep me busy, and I don’t feel like diving into another project.

Not that there isn’t another project. There always is at least one going. I am feeling my way into a light fantasy — standing at about 10,000 words at the moment — and will undoubtedly get more serious about writing out the narrative soon. Incidentally, it feels a bit inconsequential after writing a ‘serious’ novel like ASANAS. But I know it isn’t, really.

Some of the books I’ve been reading are old print volumes from my own library (many inherited from my grandfather) and some are ebooks downloaded free from Project Gutenberg (or Gutenberg Canada which has some newer work, thanks to Canadian copyright laws). Invariably, I find myself attempting to puzzle out the typefaces employed in the print books. That’s not a thing with ebooks; if they do not default to the user’s own style settings, one can ‘look under the hood’ and find what is being used.

I just finished a book from the Forties, one by Louis Bromfield, and figured out fairly readily that it employed Electra. That’s a lovely type, and fairly new at the time. It was used for my own Cully Beach novels (actually BitStream’s clone, but it looks the same). With some, I’ve never been able to come to any conclusion. Many similar fonts in my collection but nothing quite the same. Incidentally, an historical I read last year sold me on using Caslon some time. It looked great set in Caslon Old Face.

Something else I noticed in a couple books I read recently is an absence of chapters. Neither was a particularly new book. Both used markers between scenes but there were no numbers or titles to indicate any sort of chapter. I see nothing particularly ‘wrong’ with this, though it does make navigation more difficult. Nor do I see myself ever doing it — but one never knows, does one? I considered using running chapters in ASANAS, that is, not breaking and going to a new page for each chapter. It would have saved some pages and I think it looks perfectly good in the books where I have seen it done. That, however, is a formatting and design choice, not anything to do with the writing.

I shall continue to read, undoubtedly, and dab away at ‘The Jewels of the Elements.’ At this point, I am still doing more in the way of outlining and coming up with ideas than I am actually writing out the narrative. The novel is taking form well enough. Expect it later this year. After that, who knows? Maybe I’ll just read some more.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Great Men

I have been reading H. Beam Piper’s ‘Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen,’ a science fiction novel from the mid-Sixties that explored the ‘multiverse’ concept. A forerunner of many books, both science fiction and fantasy, that used the idea (my own included), some good, some not so good. ‘Lord Kalvan’ teeters on the border of not so good.

The multiverse itself is handled well enough. No complaints there. But the story largely ends up being all about military encounters rather than characters — and I do not find the world building very convincing. That is not what I want to discuss here.

Piper was apparently a believer in the ‘great men’ theory of history, or at least puts it forward here. One must not assume authors always believe in the ideas they write about! He even has one of his characters make a derogatory statement about those who favor ‘vast, impersonal social forces’ as the engine of history. But I am one of those, myself.

Yes, I believe economics drives history. Perhaps I should say economics is history. The times make the man; the man does not make the times. If one ‘great man’ doesn’t come along, someone else will do something similar and things go on much the same way. Don’t think that World War Two would not have happened if Hitler had been assassinated. Maybe the Holocaust wouldn’t, but I wouldn’t count on it — and the Holocaust probably had little effect on history, in the long run. People have been killing each other for a very long time.

Does this mean I think individuals are meaningless? No, certainly not. Things are still done by individuals, after all, not some great god of economics. All I say is that those individuals are fairly interchangeable. But they are humans, with human lives and wants and loves; that is what I choose to write about.

And why one is unlikely to find ‘great men’ in my fiction.

Friday, May 04, 2018

The Infinite

Infinity can not exist in a finite universe. We may point to a mathematical infinity — such as a never-ending progression of numbers — but it would require infinite time to keep counting them. We do not have infinite time in this universe; it will come to an end.

So we could say that infinity exists only in potential within the finite universe. But is it a bridge to infinite being, of which our universe is only one finite speck? I might posit that being, existence, is itself infinite (filling, of course, an infinite void). All things can and do exist in that infinity that contains all — and not just in potential, though one might argue they do not ‘really’ exist until a consciousness observes them.

But then, perhaps being itself is conscious. After all, if it holds all things and all minds, should it not also be aware? Consciousness and existence are perhaps inextricably linked to each other. The fact that our own consciousnesses grasp the concept of the infinite may be as good evidence as any of its existence.

That infinite being — or consciousness — of which we are all part might be called god. It’s as good a definition as any. Not a creator, exactly, except of itself! If indeed conscious, aware of all that is — there would be no bounds on that in infinite existence, no constraints of time and space, both of which are constructs of a finite universe.

I have never been much of a believer in the afterlife. I certainly do not buy the popular definition of soul or spirit, that is, some sort of incorporeal entity that flits off on its own after the death of the body. However, if there is infinite possibility in being, then we certainly might continue to exist. In fact, we must continue, though ‘continue’ is probably not the proper word when we speak of timeless infinite being.

That is conjecture. The whole concept of infinite being is conjecture, truly. It is possible that only our finite universe exists (or a finite number of finite universes). But the fact that this universe does exist raises all these other questions. Existence makes no sense within those finite bounds. Why would anything be? Why would it start and end? Set that finite universe in an infiniverse, boundless, timeless being, and maybe we glimpse some answers.

Or at least very many questions.

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Of Orcs

You will never find an Orc in any of my fantasies. The name is far too closely identified with Tolkien, who essentially coined it for modern use. Yes, it originated from a few brief mentions in Old English (including in Beowulf, which he knew well and translated). Those old Anglo-Saxons may have borrowed it from the Latin Orkus, a sort of demon. Tolkien was skeptical of that but I am rather inclined to believe it.

It may be noted that the name Ogre comes from that source as well, via the French. I would much prefer to use ogre in my tales, though so far only one has appeared briefly in my Donzalo's Destiny novels. Ogres there are essentially a largish variant of the the goblin/kobold fairy family. Goblins and/or Kobolds do appear also, in more than one of my novels. I prefer the latter name but they mean essentially the same thing and the same type of being.

Tolkien, remember, used goblin instead of orc, originally. So they are named in 'The Hobbit.' I can certainly understand his desire to use a term with less baggage when he got into 'The Lord of the Rings.' Everyone has preconceived ideas about just what a goblin is (which, again, is why I prefer kobold).

A final question here: are orcs (or whatever analog) inherently evil? This was a question with which Tolkien wrestled and could never quite come to a satisfactory answer. There are no inherently evil beings in my fantasies (except possibly some gods — the jury is out on them). Kobolds come good and bad, as do the Fay, ogres, trolls, dwarfs, and, of course, humans. Admittedly, some demons are essentially amoral (like Qu'orthseth in 'The Ways of Wizardry'), but we needn't explore that right now!

So, no orcs. I won't let them near my computer. If someone else wishes to borrow them from Tolkien, that is their affair. I suspect I have borrowed enough else from him already!

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Whiskey and Wine

I've been reading Raymond Chandler recently and noting how much whiskey is consumed in the pages of his novels. It made me realize that there is almost no hard liquor in any of my own novels; the only instance I can bring to mind is the sharing of a flask of 'corn liquor' in one of the Donzalo's Destiny books. It was a bit of a curiosity in the the time and place the incident was set.

That undoubtedly is part of the reason I don't have much liquor in the tales. Distilling is either unknown or still 'new.' There is, however, a great deal of beer and wine disappearing down my characters' throats in pretty much all my books. The Mora are forever serving millet beer at their meals (which tend to be feasts) and a certain amount of palm wine makes an appearance. Beer, ale, wine — these are all common in the fantasies. People drink them with their meals. And at other times, too.

Indeed, one of the major Donzalo characters comes from a family of wine merchants. So that clan not only drinks it but speaks of the wine business, of vineyards, of transporting it. It makes a useful device for exploring a larger pattern of trade in that world.

But what of the other novels, the more or less mainstream ones set in Florida? Yes, wine is consumed. Even a little in the Young Adult 'The Middle of Nowhere.' But not by the kids, of course! 'Shaper' Ted Carrol always has beer and wine in the fridge, as do his neighbors (they are likely to smoke a little pot too, but that is another matter). He does have to be careful of keeping it on hand once his girlfriend's alcoholic daughter moves in. Out into the workshop it goes, into a padlocked fridge (not because of the girl so much as the fact that lots of kids hang around the place).

I might mention that Ted is a very temperate sort who only allows himself one small glass of wine a day. Yes, I pretty much copied that from my own life. I'm not a drinker. I don't think I have touched hard liquor in a decade. That is as much about being cheap as anything else.

What of the latest novel, the contemporary 'Asanas'? Much the same pattern, to be honest. Wine is served, wine is drank. I'm not sure I even mentioned beer anywhere; just not a part of my main characters' drinking habits. I do suspect that when young Race Hadley gets drunk and makes a scene, beer was involved. Incidentally, there is a secret about Race that I have told no one. And may never; I'll just say he is not quite the person most readers might imagine him to be.

That's getting off the track, and that track was alcohol. Now I have noticed this, well, sameness to the drinking in my stories, I should remember to mix it up a little (ha, that could have a double meaning) at times. Maybe someone will have a bottle in their office desk, a la Philip Marlowe. Or at the campground in that mystery-set-at-a-folk-festival I'm developing. But only if it serves the plot; that always come first.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Hurry, a poem

Hurry

I'm not the sort to saunter nor amble,
to aimlessly stroll nor even to ramble;
I'll always hurry to go nowhere
and never stay once I get there.

I'm easily bored, I must admit,
not at all inclined to sit,
to shoot the breeze, to watch the stars,
to count the headlights of passing cars,

not even when I'm next to you—
I shouldn't say that but it's true.
There's someplace else I ought to be;
You wonder where? Don't ask me.

Perhaps I'll know when I arrive,
perhaps I can no more than strive
and never find the place I'm bound.
Perhaps that place can not be found.

Stephen Brooke ©2018

Pretty much a quick throwaway, facile enough but without much depth. I thought it might be humorous when I started but that didn't work out.

Useful Writin’ Stuff

Recently, I have added a couple new tools for writing. Both of these are free, as well as being useful.

writer2epub

This is an extension for OpenOffice/LibreOffice (alternative search is a another useful extension but we won’t get into that one here) that produces quite usable ebooks in the epub format. If one uses OO or LO for writing — as do I — this is an excellent tool, if only to create a preview of how ones formatted ebook would appear.

However, the ebook itself is completely professional. If one wishes, it could be further edited in a program such as Sigil but I would have no qualms about offering a novel produced in writer2epub for sale. It’s not so good for poetry, I must say — that would require more editing. The ebooks it creates use the reader’s default style rather than imposing a typeface. I prefer this. Smaller files, less to go screwy.

I admit that I continue to use my distributor’s (Lulu) online converter for the ebooks I offer for sale. For now. I am limited to a trio of fonts there, which are specified in the ebook’s style, so I go with Garamond for everything (the alternatives, Arial and Times NR, are not fonts I would generally care to use, though they might be okay for some titling). I don’t like this much but the ebooks look okay and I run into no problems with them.

notepad++

Text editors such as notepad++ or gedit (and a bunch of others) are popular with folks who write code. I have not done that in many years nor am I likely to again. However, an editor that goes beyond (far beyond!) the capabilities of the Notepad app included with Windows is more than just useful for a writer. If nothing else, I can use it to create plain text backups of everything I’ve published, in a format anyone will be able to read on computers pretty much forever — no proprietary software required.

In truth, notepad++ offers all sorts of extras I neither need nor care about. Just being able to drag and drop blocks of text was enough to sell me on having a ‘super’ text editor. Now I find myself using it more and more for jotting down my notes and that sort of thing. To be sure, there are some drawbacks to working with plain text, such as defaulting to ‘typewriter’ style quote marks and that sort of thing. I know the ‘alt/number’ codes to type in, if it matters to me, or I can pick them by double-clicking on a list of characters. Both slow me down a little but sometimes I just need that punctuation.

I would not actually use it to write fiction. Maybe for poetry. Maybe for songwriting. Indeed, I am making sure to have text versions of all my songs, both for backup and so they might be readily shared. I always type out and save my songs, in whatever format, in a monospaced font — the ubiquitous Courier New — so things will line up properly whoever opens the file. Chances are I shall be putting text files of some of my work online for download eventually.

notepad++ can be downloaded from https://notepad-plus-plus.org/

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Those Jewels

THE CROCODILE’S SON carried on from the events in the first book of my ‘Sajam Saga,’ THE EYES OF THE WIND, but centers around one of the secondary characters, so I consider it the start of a different series, ‘The Crocodile Chronicles.’ Saj and Marana go off another direction and have their own adventures in parallel.

Those are to be told in the second Sajam book, THE JEWELS OF THE ELEMENTS (the current WIP), while the Crocodile story-line continues in THE CROCODILE GOD. Then we leave both series for a time.

To have them merge again, eventually, perhaps a couple decades later, when Borm, youngest son of Saj, travels north to meet Zedos, the son of Qala the Pirate Queen (and a certain trickster god) and the two have their own tale. Is this the third Sajam novel or the third Crocodile? Not certain — maybe both!

But as it is on Zedos’s home turf, probably it will be called Crocodile Chronicles #3. Not writing that one anytime soon, but am working on both the other books. There are plenty of possible stories of Saj’s descendants on the island of Lorj, too. Their history influences much of what comes later.

Incidentally, the second Sajam novel will also tie into the Wizardry series. THE WAYS OF WIZARDRY introduced the fledgling wizard Im, whose tale will be continued in time. He will reappear a millennium later, near the end of his life, in JEWELS. His fate has always been connected to that of the four ‘magical’ jewels known as the Eyes of the Wind.

Which are also a presence in my ‘Donzalo’s Destiny’ epic, though not actually named. They are the source, so to speak, of the prophecies of Cars that set things in motion there. We may or may not make that clearer when we return to that world. But now you know, anyway!

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Asanas and Romance

My latest novel, ASANAS (out June 16, Arachis Press) is not a Romance in the typical genre sense. Anyone who might expect it to follow the established rules for that sort of book would surely be disappointed. But there is romance in the story, to be sure.

It is a novel of relationships, first and foremost. There is no unrelated plot on which to hang those relationships, as in my Cully Beach novels (SHAPER and WAVES), which are, ostensibly, 'Crime' stories. In truth, ASANAS is not too different in tone from those two books, though told from a quite different point of view — the Cully Beach books are first person, with a male narrator and ASANAS is third person, as seen by two female protagonists.

Admittedly, there are some Romance-like touches here and there. I was playing just a tad with the brooding, solitary male romantic lead when I created the character of Jason Bruce. Jay, however, is not a major player in ASANAS but someone on the periphery of the narrative most of the time. If and when a sequel appears, he might just move up to a larger role.

And there is a certain amount of mooning over lovers. That is unavoidable. Also unavoidable, in that the main protagonists are female, is that it is women doing the mooning. Not that the guys aren't too, you understand, we just don't have the opportunity to see much of their inner workings. I do not like and do not use an omniscient voice in my books — we only see into the heads of our POV characters and even there I make no attempt to explain their thoughts. They have to do that themselves. Not surprisingly, they sometimes get them wrong.

ASANAS weighed in at 76,500 words, a pretty good length for a book of its sort. Of course, I used as many words as were needed to tell the story and did not work toward a certain target. I will admit I expected it to turn out around the 70,000 word mark. I've gotten pretty good at guessing how much will be needed!

The files for the print version have been sent off to the distributor and I should have a proof copy in hand reasonably soon. Once that is approved (let's hope it is!) the book can go into distribution. We'll hold off a little while before uploading the ebook version so both will be sent out to retailers around the same time. One could actually buy a print copy right now from Arachis Press but I would advise waiting until I've had a chance to look at it.

So it's time for me to move on to other projects. I am developing two novels at the moment. Or developing one and writing one might be more accurate. The one being written is a fantasy, THE JEWELS OF THE ELEMENTS, sequel to THE EYES OF THE WIND. The one I'm messing about with, working on characters, settings, plot developments, is a mystery set at a folk music festival. It will probably be titled THE DEPOT BLUES. Maybe I'll finally get some recording done, too. And work on the web site. And...well, plenty to keep me busy.

Asanas Cover and Details

The full cover reveal for Asanas. Coming June 16! All the associated files are on their way to the printer/distributor so watch for print and ebook editions to show up at your retailers. Or buy direct from Arachis Press.

For any interested in such things, the typefaces used on the cover are Berkshire Swash, Syntax, and Sabon. Syntax and Sabon are also used for the interior text. The paperback ways in at 76,500 words and 281 pages.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

STOP, a poem

STOP

I've been shown a sign
that the end is near:
red and with eight sides,
STOP written big and clear!
It's good to reach the end;
now all that I fear
is choosing left or right
and going on from here.

Stephen Brooke ©2018

light verse at its lightest

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The Unhappy Ending

For those who have not read it ― that would be most of you ― the concluding book of my Malvern Trilogy, ‘Hero from the Sea,’ has a decidedly unhappy (or, at least, tragic) ending. I agonized over that for some time but do not at all regret it now.

I won’t include any spoilers here. I’ll simply say it worked for the story. Tragic events in other novels have worked, as well, but I never ended on that sort of note. They were part of the protagonist finding his way to that more-or-less happy ending. Oh, sure, what happens in ‘Hero’ was also part of that process, ultimately, but it is only suggested that Malvern will go on to find some sort of meaning to it all.

Fortunately, there was another trilogy to follow and, although Malvern is not the protagonist in any of the novels, he appears and hints are provided of how his inner life has played out. The man may just appear as narrator of one more novel, if I get around to a third and final trilogy in the Mora world.

So, have I ― or would I ― do this sort of thing again? I very much intended an ‘unhappy ending’ for the first Cully Beach novel, ‘Shaper.’ It turned out quite differently and that was to the good. There is certainly no tragedy involved in my latest, ‘Asanas,’ (to be released June 16) though many of the plot lines end on an unhappy note. That is as much to set up a sequel as anything else (not that one is actually necessary ― the novel does stand on its own).

I am not out to write feel-good novels. Neither do I wish to turn out melodramatic tragedies that manipulate the reader’s emotions. The goal is to write good stories. Sometimes things end well, sometimes they don’t. The two tales in active development at the moment (one a mystery, one a fantasy) should end happily enough. Some down the line might not. Those will be dealt with I get to them. I will choose and I will not regret the choice.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Corner, a poem

Corner

Too long I’ve gone in circles,
round and round and round;
perhaps I’ll switch to squares
and by four walls be bound.
And if I like one corner,
why should I not stay?
I’ll think inside the box;
I’ll rest there while I may.

Stephen Brooke ©2018

A little throwaway piece