adventures in dysthymia

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Qu'orthseth

The demon Qu’orthseth — known in some parts as Akorzef or Cahorsus, and affectionately called Cory by its human companion (not exactly its master) — goes way back in my writing, back to a short story I sketched out and never finished, long before I wrote any of the novels. The name Qu’orthseth, admittedly, was a joke, a parody of such over-apostrophed names in fantasy fiction.

But Big Q itself (it is asexual, about eight foot tall, and wine-red) was first titled ‘the red beast’ in a tale I intended to write of Corad of Lorj, one of the sons of Saj and Marana, who are the protagonists of ‘The Eyes of the Wind’ and the upcoming ‘The Jewels of the Elements.’ Essentially, the idea was for the demon to be a caregiver for its senile human master, keeping the elderly wizardly alive via less than ethical means. Why? Because as long as the old man held onto life, the demon could remain in our world — much preferable to returning to its home!

I never followed through on developing that tale but Q did show up in a different story, ‘The Book, the Beast, and the Burglar.’ By the time I got that short piece to where I considered it complete, I recognized it really was the beginning of a novel (that happens to me rather frequently). The novel became ‘The Ways of Wizardry,’ and it detailed how Qu’orthseth and the wizard Im came to be bound to each other. Now Im and the demon have shown up, a thousand years later, in ‘The Jewels of the Elements.’

And both are near the ends of their lives, though still reasonably vigorous and capable, magically and physically. The original ‘red beast’ story would have taken place twenty years or so after the events in ‘Jewels;’ the question for me now is whether to follow on with that scenario (even though I might never get it written) or have Qu’orthseth come to a different end in the final pages of the novel-in-progress.

I’ve put in quite a bit to ‘humanize’ the demon, to show that a millennium among men and, especially, as a companion to Im, has rubbed off on an essentially amoral creature. So a ‘sacrifice’ at this point is very tempting. It also seems just a tad cheap but, after all, we all have to die sometime. Even demons. It does save it from being whisked back to its home, too, and I can admittedly think of other (and maybe better?) scenarios for Im’s final years.

So it is likely Qu’orthseth will meet its end in this novel. This will not prevent it from appearing in all those stories set in the thousand years between ‘The Ways of Wizardry’ and ‘The Jewels of the Elements.’ That, you may count on.

Saturday, September 01, 2018

Nobles and Names

In ‘The Crocodile’s Son’ and ‘The Eyes of the Wind,’ I chose to use Irish/Gaelic titles for the old Sharshite nobility — titles that had been outlawed by their Muram rulers. Now the Sharshites are not Gaelic. Let’s get that out of the way right now. The actual titles would be different in their own tongue. But I did want to give a bit of a Celtic feel to them, thus the choice.

Is there some Celtic ancestry for the native folk of Sharsh? Possibly, but it would be far removed and much mixed with other cultures by the time of our tales. ‘Gauls’ almost certainly passed through the Ural Gate, the passage between worlds, at some point, as would Romanized people of that heritage a little later. Both would, however, be thousands of years removed from the time the novels are set.

Similarly, I employed more-or-less English titles for the Muram and post-Muram Sharshite aristocracy. Count, Baron, etc. were used in the Donzalo books but not in the aforementioned novels, which are set more than a millennium earlier. I do make mention of the actual Muram title for King, Celos. I also used Thegn here and there as an older title and one the Mura allowed for the ‘new’ Sharshite nobility that supported their rule. The title survived as Thane among the Cuddonians of ‘Donzalo’s Destiny.’ (The Cuddonians are, at least in part, descendants of Sharshite refugees who crossed the mountains.)

And there is Dux, from the Latin, which I used for Muram military governors. Not unexpectedly, this comes down as Duke in later Sharshite usage. The ruler of Muradon is an emperor, also of Roman origin; for that matter, I use the Roman equivalent of knight, equester, for mounted Muram lancers. There was certainly an intention to draw some parallels between the empires of the Romans and the Mura.

Not that they are at all the same! The Mura are more akin to Asiatic nomads than they are Italians. But using references from other cultures is a useful sort of shorthand in writing fantasies. It helps prevent the created cultures from seeming too odd, too alien — and then, everyone (well, almost everyone) in the ‘D-World’ is descended from folk from our own ‘E-World.’ Nonetheless, be assured that I have created new languages to some degree for these cultures (although bits of Basque, Etruscan, and other tongues pop up) and that the cultures themselves are pretty much created from the ground up, and are not directly based on historic models. Nor am I going to be stealing historic events, a la Game of Thrones, and presenting them as as new. I reckon I can make up better ones myself!

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Sorcery and Chat Rooms

I recognize that the ‘speaking from afar’ that the sorcerers of my fantasy novels use is rather similar to chatting online — even to the existence of private ‘chat rooms,’ in the form of little empty worlds where they can meet. One needs to know the ‘address’ to find and speak to another wizard, generally, though powerful individuals are able to sort through thousands of worlds quickly and find where they need to be. A magical search engine, if you will. They even, in a sense, bookmark each other.

I had not really thought about any of that until now, but it is most likely it shaped my creation of the whole system. Of course, there are quite large differences, too. For one thing, their communication over distances involves actually sending a part of their physical being to those other worlds — existing in more than one universe at a time. The inherent ability to do that is largely the basis of all wizardly power.

And would it be possible to send a ‘virus’ to some other sorcerer? Pretty much, yes. Letting another wizard in is analogous to opening an infected email. He’s in your system and you may not be able to get rid of him. Spy-ware of a sort is common, and those spied upon may not realize it. Best to block certain users!

I suppose all this is in part a result of my personal need for a more-or-less logical system of magic. I may certainly leave some things unexplained in my tales, but they adhere to the concepts I have laid down. More traditional sorts of magic will not work in my primary fantasy world; this is not to say they might not in some less logical universe. Those will exist too (in potential, anyway) in the infiniverse. It is probably safer not to visit them. :)

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Sidekick, a poem

Sidekick

Every hero needs a sidekick;
I'll let you be mine.
It's not a demanding position,
I'm sure you'll do just fine.
I'll ask for your advice,
but follow my own design,
and. of course, I'll get the girl;
you'll console yourself with wine.

You'll share in my derring-do,
yes, each and every deed;
and be seen as an hero too,
although of a lesser breed.
My horse will be tall and fiery,
a truly worthy steed;
you'll ride a little behind me ―
a donkey is all you'll need.

And when you take that bullet
that was aimed at my breast,
I shall surely grieve,
tell all you were the best.
But I must find another
to laugh at my every jest;
for a hero needs a sidekick
to share in his quest.

Stephen Brooke ©2018


a bit of light poetry, a good bit of which I wrote in my head while mowing the yard

Saturday, August 04, 2018

Jewels Chapter

For no particular reason, a chapter from the WIP, 'The Jewels of the Elements.' This is Chapter Five, fairly near the beginning of the book, and is reasonably close to finished form.


* * *

“I shall kill you both, of course,” Orro told them. “As a priest of Asak it is expected of me.” His eyes slowly moved from the one to the other, the man savoring his power over them. “Had I the time I would torture you as long as possible. The Lord of Death asks us to make the extra effort, when we can.”

He knelt and began to methodically search their bags. “I have sensed the Jewels’ presence these days, known one of you carried them, but could not tell exactly where they might be concealed.”

“You are a wizard?” asked the Mur. It came out as a raspy whisper.

“Some might name me so, but before all I am a priest, the servant of Asak. Ah!”

He must have found the Eyes, thought Saj. He would have thought of more things had not a cheerful voice called from somewhere behind Orro.

“Ho there, young man. I do not think those belong to you.”

Saj could see a smallish man, an old man, leaning on a staff. He was wrapped in a dark cloak or maybe it only looked dark because of the night.

The Ildin turned to face him. “Begone old man,” he snarled. “This is no concern of yours.” A scornful laugh. “Or do you wish to go to Asak as well?”

“Those jewels were a concern of mine long before you were born, priest,” answered the newcomer. “And, I suspect, they will be after you die.” He slipped the cloak from his wiry body and raised his staff. Hair and beard were white and curling and neatly trimmed short, Saj could see, and his features — the dark skin, the heavy brow. He had seen such features before.

“A Tesran?” murmured Marana.

Saj only nodded. Was this man after the Eyes as well?

Orro took a step forward. With a sharp drawing in of his breath he stepped back again. Someone — something — loomed behind the old man. Saj could only tell it was exceedingly tall and somewhat man-shaped.

Their visitor held up a hand for it to halt. “I’ll tend to this, Cory. Hmm, first those bonds.” A casual wave of his hand and Saj felt his arms and legs suddenly freed. “And now, introductions. I am named Im.”

“The great wizard? Impossible!” laughed Orro. “Dead centuries ago.”

Im — if that was who he truly was — laughed as well. “You are free to believe what you will, Lackey of Asak. But you should believe that I can best you in any contest of wizardry.”

Saj sat up and grabbed the poke containing the jewels, lying where Orro had dropped it. He did not like being in such close proximity to them but best he keep them safe.

“And I’m not bad with a blade either,” continued the wizard, eyeing Orro’s knife. He said a few words, held out his hand, and a long sword appeared in it. “Drat, didn’t want one that big,” Im grumbled.

The priest of Asak answered with a wave of his own hands. Saj could actually see the magical fetters he tried to fix on his opponent, glowing a sickly green. It must be the influence of the mystic stones he held. This was why he liked to keep his distance from them!

The wizard swept the bonds away as they were nothing. “Cobwebs,” he chuckled. He tipped his head and peered at Orro. “Oh, so you’re going to call on your god.”

Saj could see a glow growing around the priest, the same ghastly green hue as before. Im glanced toward the Mur and held out his hand. Saj knew what he wanted. But should he? Could he trust this Tesran wizard?

Yes. He was not sure why he chose his course but Saj tossed the Eyes to Im. At once, a glow sprang up around the wizard as well, a glow of four colors, the colors of the jewels, red and gold and green and blue.

The men advanced on each other, blades in hand, auras leaping above and around them. Saj could see the wizard’s companion move forward now. Not a man, that was for certain. Its skin shone, reflecting the magical lights, so he was not sure of its true color. He was sure it stood a head taller than any man he had ever seen.

Orro made a sudden cast of his dagger, cursing when it was deflected by Im’s aura. Im smiled and tossed his own sword aside. It disappeared a moment later, pulled back to whatever realm he had drawn it from. A dome of sorts was forming above and around the dueling pair, a dome of light and fire, the jewels’ colors contesting with the cold pale green that must come from Asak’s realm.

Now two great — creatures, shadowy, unreal, began to form above the two combatants. That of Orro was manlike but misshapen, horned and clawed and terrible. Saj suspected maybe it was the form of Asak himself. Or a form. Gods had forms, true forms, he knew. He had spent time around one.

The shifting colors above Im made it difficult to tell just what it was. The form was that of a man, though, that was certain, a man of white light, and a rainbow-hued sword in his hand. No, no, not a man. A woman. Wasn’t it? Saj had to turn his dazzled eyes away.

When he looked back again, yes, it was a young girl he beheld. Had she something to do with the Eyes or was she of Im’s making? A goddess? It mattered not right then.

Orro’s demon held a sword too, a black sword with eddies of poisonous green light creeping up and down its blade. Both avatars seemed to be growing more solid, while the men below them were locked into some sort of trance. Saj realized all at once that these were manifestations of an invisible struggle going on between the two sorcerers.

Could Marana see all he did? Saj had been born with the second sight. He was of wizard blood. Perhaps his natural talents were modest but that did not matter. He never intended to pursue the study of magic. A gift of foreseeing was quite enough.

Thrusts and parries, feeling out the opponent. Saj suspected Orro was doing most of the feeling out. The elderly wizard Im seemed rather sure of himself. Slabs of spark were thrown up when the swords met, crashing with the sound of thunderclaps. Then a great wide swing of the black sword. Rather than ducking away from the blade, the woman brought her own weapon up and against it with all her own force. Saj was blinded for a moment. Deafened, too.

When he saw again, the demon, the manifestation of Orro or Asak or both, was gone, and the priest himself lay inert on the sand. The aura around Im was slowly subsiding. “Here, you’d best keep these,” he called, tossing the little bag of jewels back to Saj. The Mur chose to hand them over to Marana at once. He would prefer not hold them more than necessary.

Im knelt beside his foe’s body, listening to his heart. Saj could see the wizard’s large companion better now but still had no idea what it was. It seemed to be reddish. “No, not dead,” announced Im. “Had I not chosen to strike the sword he probably would be.”

“You should slay him anyway,” came an incredibly deep rumble from the red creature. “Safer.”

“I think not. Better he return to his fellows in the high mountains and inform them who guards the jewels now.”

The thing’s chuckle sounded like distant thunder. “If there are any more decent wizards among them, they already know.”

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Monospaced

I like to use a monospaced typeface for my writing. There are a few reasons for this. One is that it is useful for composing songs and poetry, as it allows one to line up breaks between feet or bars, and thereby keep track of the meter. I also like to print out songs for performance with those breaks. It makes it easier to stay with the rhythm, sing the right word in the right place.

For prose, a monospaced font helps the eye see mistakes. Yes, it is slower reading with monospaced type but that’s a good thing in this instance. The drafts of my recent novels (and poems) have first been typed out in Century Schoolbook Mono, 12 or 13 point. I liked the font for this purpose though I am sure plenty of others would work. Were I a writer of code — another application where monospaced fonts are useful — it would most certainly not be the choice.

I have long saved and printed song sheets in Courier New. This was simply because everyone had that typeface and everything would show up properly if I shared files. But it is not at all nice for reading from, for practice or performance. I tried alternatives and finally settled on Courier Prime, an ‘improved’ version of the typeface. It was no trouble switching my default style to it in Open Office, where I do most of my writing. It is set as my default font for text files too, which I write and read in Notepad++ these days.

Does any of this make much difference? Of course not. It’s just nice to have things working at their best. I like efficiency. I’ll probably go right on writing my books in Century Schoolbook Mono. It has more of a traditional text serif look than pretty much any other monospaced typeface, and that’s a good thing — at least for me.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Cardboard, a poem

Cardboard

A puzzle someone put together once,
we made a picture. Nice, he said, and threw
the pieces back into the cardboard box.

The version on its cover did not do
us justice, but it’s all that now remains.

Stephen Brooke ©2018

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Admissions

A few things can be admitted about my upcoming “Tsar of the Empty Lands.” For one, as many of my ‘fantasy adventures,’ it follows a somewhat Michael Moorcock-like template of around 60,000 words (I ran a little longer this time, topping out at 68,300) divided into four sections, each with its own arc. This is an approach that comes somewhat natural to me and I will undoubtedly employ again.

Also, the plot has definite similarities to my Malvern novels, particularly the first, “Coast of Spears.” That is, a man from our world thrust into another, as well as into a somewhat unwelcome position of leadership. Josef Dobrov is certainly a different character than Michael Malvern. He is younger. He is something of a cynic, but one who finds purpose in his own life through duty. An existentialist of sorts, maybe.

This tale is set in the same world and approximate time frame as the Malvern/Mora series — on the opposite side of that world. Joseph and Michael are quite unlikely to ever meet; they do, however, share the acquaintance of the ancient sorcerer Hurasu, who plays a fairly large role in “Tsar,” as he did in the second Malvern novel, “Valley of Visions.” Hurasu should show up in the first of a new trilogy set among the Mora. In a way, this book provides a bridge to that one.

But I shall put off its writing for a while. I think! One never knows. I do have plenty of other projects to hold my attention. There might even be a sequel to “Tsar of the Empty Lands” one of these days.

I did something else in the novel I have done before, without thinking too much about it, which is make the ‘Big Bad’ only someone in the background, a distant threat, through the first two-thirds or so of the narrative. We know him through agents or indirect and mysterious actions. This builds suspense but at the same time we are not actually introducing a new character late in the story. We knew he was there all the time, even if were not sure who he might be or what he intended.

Gates between worlds again play a role. The existence of a second gate, opposite the one through which Michael Malvern passed in ‘Coast of Spears,’ has been part of my world-building from the start. It is first mentioned in print in the second Malvern novel, ‘Valley of Visions,’ where it is said to be located in ‘the land of the Scythians.’ This was refined in the upcoming ‘Tsar of the Empty Lands’ as the Ural Mountains.

The two gates are not opposite in the sense of an axis through the middle of the earth. They have their own axis which is not necessarily tied to this world. But still, they are on opposite sides of the world and I do have a sort of math worked out that led me to place them where they are. That’s unimportant to the stories.

Of course, I have posited many gates in the course of my other fantasy novels. These are just the two from the world we know (the ‘E-World’) to my primary fantasy setting (the ‘D-World’). For example, the gate from the world of Hurasu and Xahun (the ‘A-World,’ for Atlantis) to ours is located in Anatolia. This has to do (ostensibly) with land mass distribution in our world, a spot in Asia Minor supposedly being at the center of earth’s land masses. It worked out nicely for their back story too, their time spent in our world.

Incidentally, this would be different from finding the center of an hemisphere of our earth containing the greatest landmass. That would be in France, if someone hasn’t recalculated since the last time I looked into it. Not that any of this actually matters here. It’s fiction.

Now that all the work — aside from getting it published and out to the public — is done on ‘Tsar,’ I have moved on to other projects. One is my next poetry collection. I’ve tried to keep those to one about every other year. This book will be titled ‘Magic’ and is scheduled for release on December 1. Working on setting it up now. I have also gotten back to work on ‘The Jewels of the Elements,’ which I was writing simultaneously with ‘Tsar’ up to the points where both were a little over 20,000 words. Then the one started boiling and the other was slipped to the back burner. ‘Jewels’ might be the next novel, early in 2019, or I might find some other project. One never knows until it actually happens.

Roads, a poem

Roads

All the night I’ve driven, passed each ramp,
each with its whispered promise gone
among the headlights. Though I yearned to sleep,
I yearned more to find the dawn.
Count the markers to your destination —
unknown, it lies on maps not drawn.
Roads must end, whatever Tolkien said;
I can not go forever on.

Stephen Brooke ©2018

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!