Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Cardboard, a poem


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


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


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.