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


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


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.