adventures in dysthymia

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.