adventures in dysthymia

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Adobe's 'Free' Fonts

The term ‘free fonts,’ to some, is a warning sign. To those less knowledgeable of type design and usage, caution is definitely a good idea. There are a lot of not-very-useful free fonts out there — especially not useful for printed text, which is going to be our main concern here. We can also find many that are quite good and entirely suited to printing out a book. For those who remain wary, we can point to a couple of free typefaces that come from a completely trustworthy source — Adobe. These would be Utopia and Source.

Minion and Myriad are not included in this; though quite nice fonts and bundled with various programs from Adobe, they are not exactly free. They can be used in many projects but not as the typeface for a print book or magazine (without paying). Not that one couldn’t embed them for use in print-on-demand and probably get away with it. I don’t see much point in that — one can find plenty of alternatives. Minion and Myriad are also, perhaps, a little too familiar, a little too common, though not to the extent of Times, Calibri, Arial. We all know not to use those, right?

Utopia has had an on-again-off-again status as a ‘free’ font. There is an official paid version, with the most recent refinements. There are also free versions — completely free to use as one wishes — that Adobe donated in the past. Utopia has somewhat of a resemblance to Baskerville, but simplified a tad for early computer and printer use, and with features that also suggest ‘Modern’ typefaces of the Didone sort. The original development statement called for Utopia to serve as a general purpose office font, rather as Times New Roman has over recent decades. I would say Adobe’s font is definitely preferable to Times.

And could certainly be used for all the same tasks — correspondence (if one still prints it), papers, resumes, etc. It looks good; one might even say ‘classy.’ I would note, however, that a nice text-oriented Baskerville (Libre Baskerville, e.g.) would do as well. Utopia is also a serviceable book font. It may not be a first (nor even second) choice for fiction or poetry, but one could do far worse for nonfiction use.

The Source family from Adobe is totally free, free to download, free to use as one desires. It includes sans and monospaced fonts but, for books, we are interested primarily in Source Serif. Source Sans is a decent ‘Gothic’ style of font but was designed more with user interfaces in mind than printed text — which is not to say it can’t be use in that capacity, just that it does not shine in it. The monospaced Source Code is geared for writing code, primarily (as opposed to a typewriter-style font).

Source Serif Pro (to give the typeface its full name) is inspired by the Eighteenth Century designs of Fournier. This is the period of Caslon, but the two are only distant cousins. One might accurately describe Source Serif as a ‘utility font,’ suited to a variety of applications. There are certainly other excellent free alternatives in this category, such as Charter.

But Source Serif might be a tad more attractive for novel text than some of these. Its bloodlines show, so to speak. Our next title to be released at Arachis Press, the science fiction novel ‘Alienese,’ (by Oliver Davis Pike) is set in Source Serif. But, as with Utopia, it should be a good choice for nonfiction too. If one can’t (or doesn’t want to) lay out money for something like Adobe Caslon, Source Serif is certainly a decent alternative.

Both free typefaces are easy enough to find with a quick internet search, and easy to download and install. You just might find one or both useful.

Friday, May 17, 2019

The Undead

I have never been big on including the ‘undead’ in my fiction. For one thing, they don’t actually mesh well with the rules of my primary fantasy world (or this one, for that matter). It is to be admitted that somewhere in the ‘infiniverse,’ in less logical worlds, there must be such beings but that is beside the point.

In Norse/Germanic folklore, an undead human might well have been a witch in life, already a person with magical power. They are filled with avarice and an unwillingness to relinquish wealth and existence, so they hide in a mound and guard their treasure after death. That is quite similar to the ‘barrow wight’ Tolkien wrote into ‘The Lord of the Rings.’ Such beings were sometimes referred to as ‘trolls’ in ancient lays, the name not having the connotations it does now.

The trolls in my fantasy fiction, by the way, fit the modern concept of a race of creatures of the more or less magical sort — denizens of Faerie. I could see folk mistaking my gray-skinned homely troll folk living in the ground for undead creatures (and may well include it in a future tale).

But the undead of those old tales — they do not and can not exist in my world. The dead do not come back.* Vampires? One might have magical beings that fit their description but they would not be dead (or undead) humans. They also most likely would not originate in my primary world (the ‘D-World,’ as I dubbed it) but find their way there from elsewhere.

Then there are zombies. The only zombies I have created have been in the mold of the original concept of such creatures, that is, corpses reanimated through magic. They are puppets. The sorcerer sends part of his being into corpses to control them. That, to be sure, is dangerous if he gets stuck there! I had one such appear in my second Malvern novel, ‘Valley of Visions,’ but have not revisited the concept. If needed, it’s still there.

Finally, the pseudo-undead. Humans converted (via drugs, disease, what-have-you) into a zombie-like state to serve or perhaps just wander about and create mayhem. That is something else entirely but should be mentioned. They might well seem undead, animated corpses, to some observers. This is more like the zombie of popular modern entertainment.

Revisiting the first version of the undead we touched on here, the witch/troll who dies but refuses to relinquish the world — though that concept, of itself, does not work, I could most definitely see sorcerers extending their lives unnaturally to become something not unlike those creatures (as did Gollum, in a sense). Not undead, strictly, but close to it! Whether I shall ever explore anything of that sort, I do not know. Right now, it is just an idea and not useful to any stories I have planned.

To be honest, I’ve never been big on the whole zombie/vampire/undead bit. I found it hard to get that ‘suspension of disbelief’ working with them. In other words, they simply didn’t fit any logic — and I’m big on logical world-building. So if someone undead shows up in my fiction, know that there is an explanation — even if I don’t give it to you.

*There may be a sort of exception to that in my upcoming ‘Fachalana’s Fortune’ sequence, in that a ‘part’ of someone with magical power could hide in another world when he or she is destroyed. In a way, that could act as a sort of ghost but (probably) only be sensed by other sorcerers.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Big Bend Rivers, a song lyric

Big Bend Rivers

I crossed the Apalachicola,
flowing mighty and wide,
headed down the Big Bend coast
where rivers meet the tide;
at dawn I set forth, by day’s end
I shall rest beside
the Suwanee, hear its subtle song,
at the end of my ride.

The Ochlockonee and Sopchoppy,
Saint Marks and Aucilla,
bars and camp grounds, weathered docks,
fishermen’s flotilla.
Econfina, Fenholloway,
dark Steinhatchee water,
eagle and the cormorant,
raccoon and the otter.

From deep in Florida’s wild heart
the rivers ever flow,
from the swamps and shaded bays
on to the Gulf they go.
From the springs that crystal lie,
the waters join and grow —
the osprey soaring high above,
the coasts we love below.

Stephen Brooke ©2019


A song lyric I recently completed more-or-less to my satisfaction. The music is done too but there may be some revisions there once I get to playing it more. The 'big bend' area of the Florida coast is where I used to live (in Steinhatchee) and I've driven along it on occasion.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Questing, a poem

Questing

To be with you proves one more task,
as I quest for my holy grail.
Had I but known, I might have spoken;
hope’s glamour will ensorcell those

who must ride forth, their words all sleeping.
A whispered light along the world’s
edge calls me forth to claim this day,
to name this day as ours. I shall,

I must, go questing once again
in you. It leads on to tomorrow,
across rose-tinted yearning dawns
with promise just beyond unreached,

unreachable, horizons. Go,
I tell myself; the quest is not
yet ended, the grail is not yet won.
I’ve set myself but one more task.

Stephen Brooke ©2019

Thursday, May 02, 2019

Fun-House, a poem

Fun-House

Art is life, glimpsed in a fun-house mirror,
twisted, stretched. Yet we say, That’s me!
Who could guess I looked so funny? Laugh
and move on. Each image warps its way

into truth. See how long my nose
is! Tomorrow our reflections peer
from the mirrors of the morning, asking,
Do you know me now a little better?

Stephen Brooke ©2019

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

Image, a poem

Image

I remember meeting
only because someone
took a picture. There
I am, at your side,

on folding metal chairs.
One convention or
another; I’m sure we talked
about books. I probably

called you ‘Chip.’ Or not.
The image has taken the place
of memory, become memory.
Do you remember too?

Stephen Brooke ©2019

This is about meeting a rather well-known author (who shall remain nameless) many years ago. And I very much doubt he remembers it. :)

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

The Late Talker

I am pretty much a text book example of a ‘late talker,’ aka ‘Einstein syndrome’ (though I’m no Einstein!). Whether or not this puts me on the autistic spectrum seems to be a matter of disagreement, nor does it matter much at this point in my life. Here is bit from the Wikipedia entry:

Late talker is a term used for exceptionally bright people who experience a delay in the development of speech. Commonalities include usually being boys, delayed speech development, highly educated parents, musically gifted families, puzzle-solving abilities, and lagging social development. Many high-achieving late talkers were notoriously strong willed and non-compliant as children.

The rest of the article is here. I don’t want to nor will I claim to be ‘exceptionally bright.’ I’m certainly not a genius, just a guy with some brains and some talent. And I am still rather non-compliant. :)

No one did anything about my aversion to speaking as a little kid. My grandmother thought maybe there was something wrong with me but my parents chose not to intervene. And, as most late talkers, I grew into language eventually.

I will say that I think I never really ‘got’ language until I learned to read. Seeing those words laid out in an orderly fashion on the page made a lot more sense to me than people’s jabbering (I could say the same about reading and understanding music). I did — and still do — like to put things in order, which is sometimes a mark of autism. Again, at my age it matters not at all.

I wasn’t an ‘early’ reader — I didn’t get the opportunity — but once I started to read, I read voraciously. Anything and everything, kids’ books, adult books. I suppose I still didn’t talk that much, and still don’t. I do have problems with social anxiety (extreme ‘shyness,’ if you will, which is something quite different from being an introvert).

I was also early in physical development, walking way before most kids. I guess if I wasn’t ready to ask about things, I just decided to go and see for myself. I haven’t changed much there either.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Pests, a poem

Pests

Lice and mice and other pests
have long plagued mankind,
and they say our little guests
were by God designed.
But I think the devil may,
on some day God rested,
have let those vermin out to play
just so we’d be tested.

Yet the greatest pests of all
the Lord God created,
and their numbers should appall
for they frequently mated!
Mated and procreated they did,
now they’re everywhere;
the human pests we live amid —
the others can’t compare.

Stephen Brooke ©2019

light verse. I'm still turning out a poem (or sorts) occasionally.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Crocodile God Chapter

 A chapter from the recently finished THE CROCODILE GOD (to be released Sept 7), from around two-thirds of the way into the story. We enter at the aftermath of a rescue-gone-wrong.

Someone handed Qala her sword. She saw the mob of pirates divide, some moving toward her, some toward Quso. More than a few seemed unable or unwilling to decide.

“So you got yourself into trouble. I should apologize, shouldn’t I?” Lutanawa stood by her side.

“Helping us now would be worth more than any apology. Can you get us out of here?”

“And miss this fight? It looks like great fun! Which one is this Pirate King?”

Qala pointed him out. What was this fickle deity going to do?

“Ah. Not much to look at, is he? I went and sat on a mountaintop for a couple hours and realized what an idiot I am. So I came back.”

“We thank you for that, my lady,” said Galana.

“And you are better to look at than I realized. Oh well. I think they are waiting for you to make a move, Qala.”

Her side was outnumbered, with maybe a dozen men arrayed behind her. Maybe Looty would even up the odds. Qala raised her sword to signal the attack. There was no other course of action available.

Suddenly, Lutanawa was no longer at her side — not as the lithe goddess she knew. A massive snake raised its head, spread its hood, to peer toward Quso. The Pirate King gasped, immediately turned and fled toward the boats, the giant golden cobra following.

She really is going to eat him, thought Qala. Most swords had been lowered. The two factions no longer glowered at each other. What was the point? “Qala!” called out someone. Other voices repeated it, took up the name. This was not what she wanted either. Preferable to being executed, to be sure, but she would rather go home.

A small form appeared before them, stepping out of the shadowed night, a grinning Zedos. “Mommy!” he called. “Galana!” He giggled. “Galana-banana! Go.”

He held out his hands and each woman took one. A moment later they were standing before Lutanawa’s house, shining silver in the light of the twin moons. Mawa rushed out to them.

“I was watching for you from the porch. And I thought you were in bed!” she told Zedos.

“Had to save Mommy. And Galana-banana.” He laughed longer this time.

“That’s not a nice name for your mommy’s friend,” admonished the goddess.

“It’s alright with me,” said the noblewoman. “He can call me that anytime. If Sesa doesn’t give me a grandson soon, I may just steal this boy.”

“Looty?”

“She remains behind. In snake form.”

Mawa only sighed at this news. “I knew something was wrong when it took so long. Then she refused to answer when I called to her.”

“Looty hided,” spoke Zedos. He gave his mother a rather accusatory look. “Mommy too.”

“It’s a good thing you found me,” Qala said. “Let’s not play hide-and-seek again for a while. And lets get inside where we can tell our tales.”

“What’s all the noise?” Ramapee had come out onto the veranda. “Oh, you’re all back. And you got the little one out of bed?”

Qala had to laugh at her disapproving tone. “He got himself out and traveled to another world while you slept.” She turned to her son, knelt down to speak face-to-face. “You know it’s safe for Mommy to go home now.”

“After breagfuss. Little mafadwi fix.” He turned toward the house and chirped something Qala could not understand. From her look, neither could Mawa. “Ready soon,” he said, seemingly quite satisfied.

“How did you learn to speak to them?” asked Mawa, as they entered.

“Looty teached me. When Looty gum back, Mommy?”

“I’m not sure, my dear. She has, um, business to attend to.” To digest, more likely.

“It may do her some good to be the cobra for a time,” felt Mawa. “Though we might hope she doesn’t swallow too many mortals in the meantime.”

“If they are as bad as that Quso, she is welcome to them,” declared Lady Galana. “Oh, what have we here? Monkeys?” The tiny mafadwi servants had appeared with bowls and baskets of food. Lots of fruit. Maybe Zedos had asked for it.

“Mongey-mafadwi,” the boy laughed. “Little mongey-mafadwi.”

Qala noted Mawa slowly nodding. Maybe there was something to the observation. The various stories — or different versions of the same story, more properly — were told over the next hour.

“I think,” concluded Qala, “Looty made up for her desertion the best way she knew how. I hope she does not remain a snake overlong. And I hope she decides to visit her old lover while she is in his world.”

“He might be the one who could bring her back from beast-shape,” spoke Mawa. “If he used those jewels they used to call Xido. Otherwise, her mind can not be reached, not by any of us.” She looked at her nephew, gnawing at a oblong ruby-skinned fruit. “Are you ready to take them back, Zedos?”

“Home?” he asked.

“No, the place where we slept last.” It seemed likely they would still be there.

“I shall tell Xido you are on the way. If he’ll answer.” Mawa was elsewhere only a moment. “He knows. I’ll stay a little while, just in case Looty comes back.”

“Bye little mongey-mafadwi,” called Zedos. “Bye Aunt Mawa.” He stood between Ramapee and his mother, offering each a small hand. A few vertiginous seconds later they stood in a dark room. “Damana?” asked Zedos of the darkness. “I taked you to Damana, Mommy.”

It must be one of the tack rooms at the hostelry. Yes, she could make out dim shapes, saddles, shovels, buckets. And in the corner, two figures who had pulled up a blanket to shield themselves. “Hi, deary,” called Damana. “You brought your mom back?”

“Yep! No more bad men now!” He was proud of his part, to be sure. Qala did doubt the part about no more bad men.

“Where’s the door?” she asked. “I do believe we are intruding, Lady Galana. Horos, you can report to me later. I can see you are far too busy at the moment.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he choked out as she stepped into the morning sunlight.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Spaces, a poem

Spaces

I am the empty space
to fill with yourself,
poured in like morning coffee.
Sugar and milk? I ask

and ruin it. Pour me
out again and this time
I’ll keep quiet and all
the times that come and go

through all the empty spaces
I can be. Shapeless,
meaningless, nameless—
know me by my absence.

Stephen Brooke ©2019

Friday, April 12, 2019

Distant, a poem

Distant

A distant storm arises, dark and full of thunder
on some horizon. Far away; there is no need
to look beyond our selves, no reason we should heed
that whispered warning rumble. Let tomorrow blunder

into today, as ever. Lightning does strike twice
eventually and we stand waiting, waiting on
each naked hilltop. All the rain has come and gone
yet surely comes again; we need but roll our dice

and hit the luckiest number. Roll them as the thunder
rolls distantly but don’t look up. There is no need.

Stephen Brooke ©2019

going 'formal' again and a bit obscure :)

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Psychology and Donzalo's Destiny

Sojel, top henchman of the ‘big bad’ of my Donzalo’s Destiny books, the sorcerer Lord Radal, is probably a sociopath. I say probably because he is a fictional character who acts in ways that would suggest such a diagnosis but I did not create him with the thought ‘sociopath.’ I created him as a person.

But he does tend to act like a sociopath. He can be erratic and impulsive at times, unlike a psychopath who typically is more methodical in his evil. He completely lacks empathy but has a deep devotion to his master. As many sociopaths, he is not well-educated (he neither reads nor writes) nor can he ‘pass’ in normal society. This does not prevent him from rising to the top among Radal’s hirelings (mostly mercenaries) and commanding them competently, thanks to his natural intelligence. Given a task and adequate instruction he can ‘do the job’ — but he needs that direction from someone.

There will be no more opportunity to analyze Sojel, as I killed him off at the end of the third book. His successor in Radal’s service is quite a different sort, a rather straightforward mercenary who simply drifted into his current situation and life. Dovolo is not really either sociopath nor psychopath, only a fairly normal sort who has been corrupted. This actually makes him more interesting but he didn’t get that much on-page time and now he’s gone too.

As far as true psychopaths go, we have the diplomat-turned-spy, Benawis. He is entirely willing to serve Radal and just as willing to betray him. He wouldn’t mind possessing the wizard’s daughter, either, in part for her physical attractiveness but more as a way to power. He is a schemer who even after he is found out thinks he will be able to run off somewhere else and find his way to the top. People are to be used. He probably thought so until the moment an assassin garroted him.

Then we have Lord Radal himself. Radal is, to use a technical psychological term, bonkers. It’s a fairly common occurrence among those who use magic, who open themselves up to the voices of the infiniverse. He is also somewhat of a Faustian figure, a man who sold himself for power early on and has no choice but to follow the path he made. That he was already a bit unstable even as a child seems likely, that he suffered bouts of depression is certain. He sees existence as hopeless and meaningless, and wishes only for total extinction, even though he suspects it is impossible.

But he is devoted to his daughter and her future, and many of his actions stem from this. They are not always the best nor the most logical of actions, but he believes he is doing the right thing. His greatest fear is that Fachalana will be drawn into the same fate as he. Well he should fear, as the dark gods he serves would like nothing better (except they don’t actually like anything, strictly speaking). Radal’s final battle and death concludes and resolves most the action of the entire epic, but we may not be quite done with him. I shall, in time, write a sequel centered around the daughter (probably to be named Fachalana’s Fortune) and the legacy of her father. Let me say that Lady Fachalana will not be a villain in any normal sense (we all do a bit of wrong here and there). But she will struggle against forces that would turn her that way.

I know some authors like to ‘build’ their characters, using psychological concepts or even checklists. I find this completely backward. The people in my stories exist as people first, people I try to make feel true to life, and their ‘psychology’ is extrapolated from this starting point. This, I think, creates more realistic characters. Trying to fit them to some theory of personality or psychology will always result in simplifying who they are. It is better to look into ones own self to find understanding and motivation. Yes, even for sociopaths — to understand those without empathy, we need empathy ourselves!

Thursday, April 04, 2019

Words, a poem

Words

What good are words that serve, compliant little
words going about their business with a smile
and a bow? Tonight they wait on me, stand waiting
as I sate myself, help me to my bed, leave

and laugh, for I have won nothing, done nothing.
Give me words that fight back. Give me words
that use my words against me, sparring, scarring,
words that knock me down. I’ll go ten rounds

with such words. I’ll get up off the canvas
and go again. That wasn’t a ten-count. I’m good.
What good are words unless we struggle? What good
am I, if I only let them serve and smile and leave?

Stephen Brooke ©2019

Galliard

I admit to being rather fond of the typeface Galliard, Matthew Carter’s update/modernization of the traditional Garamond-like font generally known as Granjon. Granjon tends to be ‘livelier’ than most Garamonds, and Galliard carries this a step further, while remaining quite readable. I have used it for several fantasy novels of the lighter sort at Arachis Press. It suits them well.

Too lively, though, I felt for THE DICTATOR’S CHILDREN. So I went with a more traditional Granjon, Bit Streams’s ‘Elegant Garamond.’ This seemed like a good compromise. Does it actually matter that much what typeface is used, especially when the differences between two are rather small? Of course not, but that is no reason not to choose the one we think best suited to the narrative.

Incidentally, I tend to use Bit Stream fonts in a lot of our books for licensing reasons. There are some decent free fonts out there and I am not inclined to turn up my nose at them. Yes, there is also a lot of amateurish type that is not at all suited to text (but can sometimes work for covers or titling). I have said before that I could get by with nothing but the typefaces URW donated to the GhostScript project way back. They remain completely serviceable and I have used their Garamond No.8, a Stempel Garamond clone, in several novels. (Bit Stream’s ‘Original Garamond’ is nearly identical.)

The next novel with my name on it will be THE CROCODILE GOD. And I will use Galliard as I did with the previous book in the series. There will also be books forthcoming with other choices for type. I’m not so big on Galliard for contemporary ‘realistic’ novels, though it would undoubtedly work well enough. We are looking to put out a science fiction novel by Oliver Davis Pike in the near future and are looking into new and different choices there. Adobe’s free Source Serif is one — or we might just use Galliard. :)

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Three-Dimensional

Evelyn Waugh made a statement to the effect that we can not really understand a character, can not give a full three-dimensional life to her or him. Rather, we can view him from a couple different vantage points to get a better picture of who the character is. This is not so unlike what we do in real life, is it? We come away with a few images and extrapolate the rest.

This is why I am not big on delving into a character’s ‘psychology.’ We can’t know, truly, the motivations and thoughts. We guess at them from the evidence. This is even true in a ‘deep’ point of view, or when we write in first person. The character involved may have no clearer understanding of himself than any other observer. Every narrator is faulty. Every narrator is unreliable.

So what is the writer to do? Show what one can and allow the reader to make what he will of it. Try to be realistic in those views of the characters, from those different vantage points. Know that almost every character is conflicted in some way and may not stay true to type. They are all walking a fence and might fall off on either side. Most of all, do not try to explain everything. It will end up sounding pat and shallow — simplistic when life and people are complex.

Do keep looking at them from different perspectives. It is always possible to see something new. We should not fear this, thinking it will destroy this character we have created. What we have created was not complete. It never will be.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Another Crocodile

I have a pretty good draft completed of the next fantasy novel, ‘The Crocodile God.’ In that I do the bulk of my editing as I go along, it is fairly close to being in final form. I’ll do some more editing passes, of course; no hurry at all on getting to those.

This is the second Crocodile Chronicles book, the sequel to ‘The Crocodile’s Son.’ The stories of the crocodile novels interweave with those of the Sajam Saga (‘The Eyes of the Wind,’ ‘The Jewels of the Elements’) but feature Qala, the former queen of pirates as the lead character. All these novels are fairly short; ‘God’ came to a little over 65,000 words. If typical, it will grow slightly when I work through it, adding a touch more description and explanation here and there. A few hundred words, at most.

Or I might end up cutting a bit here and there. One never knows. I left a lot of ‘footage’ on the floor as I worked through the writing process, background material that I had written up which just did not fit into the narrative. No problem; it helps me know things about the characters and their world, and some of it will most certainly show up in other books.

So, on to other projects. Maybe not even writing-oriented ones, though I have to get the non-fantasy ‘The Dictator’s Children’ out the door, with the publishing date set as May 4. The next novel will probably not be on of my fantasies, but I have plenty of those in development. I am also doing some editing work on other people’s work.

For now, I am bidding farewell to the Crocodile/Sajam stories. Everything has been tied up pretty well for the time being, though with warnings of trouble coming in a couple decades. By then there will be another generation to deal with things, Qala’s demigod son and the large family of Marana and Saj down on the Isle of Lorj. But I have other worlds to visit before dealing with them.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Echoes, a poem

Echoes

Each name shouted into history
echoes, echoes, returning as
a whisper. Each fades into the white
noise of time, and we ask,

What was that? Did you hear
something? A wind, perhaps, to carry
today away, carry us
toward tomorrow and our own echoes.

Only wind, blowing through
the trees, up there on the ridge.
We can go across it tomorrow
and shout into the valley beyond.

Stephen Brooke ©2019

thrown off quickly and entirely likely to be revised

Wilk: a Profile of a Character

The character known as Wilk makes his debut in THE DICTATOR’S CHILDREN (coming May 4). Although this will be the first novel with him as the lead, it is set relatively late in his career — he is in his fifties by the time it takes place, 1948. There should be more Wilk novels, set both before and after ‘Dictator.’

Who is Wilk? He is a Pole, born in the German-controlled part of that nation, near Danzig (Gdansk, now) in 1894. Jan Patrokowski is the name then. Though Polish, his upbringing is largely German as a member of a prosperous middle-class family. As such, he enlisted in the German army at the outbreak of World War One. By this time he had a couple of years of higher education under his belt, studying engineering.

His expertise in things mechanical quickly got him posted to the air service, working on engines. From there, it was a short step to flying himself. Jan — or Hans, as the Germans officially had him — spent most of the war in two-seat aircraft, eventually serving in a ‘battle flight’ of Halberstadt attack-fighters. It was here he received the nickname Wilk, meaning wolf in Polish (he did use the German pseudonym Hans Wulf later on).

It is to be noted that he was not involved in any of the Polish nationalist movements of the time, such as that headed by Pilsudski, but remained more-or-less loyal to Germany. The confusion of the postwar period found him traveling east to briefly join the Reds in Russia, before being sent on to China as an adviser and goodwill gesture by the Bolsheviks. (This period might be the setting of the next Wilk novel.)

The young fellow gets around, doesn’t he? I am trying to avoid making him sound like Young Indiana Jones! At any rate, after two or three years adventuring in China he makes his way home — going the long way round, across the Pacific. There he returns to school, in Berlin, eventually achieving his doctor’s degree in engineering. At the same time, he begins working for Polish intelligence in various capacities. That is, until Pilsudski essentially engineers a coup and becomes de facto dictator of the country.

At which time, Wilk resigns in protest and makes his way back to China, where a post has been offered. He has been using Wilk as a name off and on by this time, first choosing to be know as Jean Wilk (with a hard W rather than the original V sound) on his original visit to China. He also uses Jan Wilkowski as a sometime alias and, later, adopts the English name of John Wilkins. But he is called Wilk throughout.

When he returns to Europe in the early Thirties, it is both to work with the Polish opposition, including Paderewski, and to work in the family business — something becoming more difficult with the growing Nazi presence in Danzig. He spends a good deal of time in Paris during this period and also becomes engaged to his best friend’s sister. These are of a Jewish family, which complicates matters, and the bride-to-be flees to America in time. Wilk is too involved with his causes to follow her.

Instead, he returns once again to China in 1937 and takes part in the fight against the Japanese. He also marries there, but the wife is lost and presumed (rightly so) dead in the turmoil of war and its aftermath. He serves in various capacities in the Pacific area through the war (he is no longer a young man, mind you) and settles in Australia after, being awarded citizenship, to open a ‘consulting’ business. He also searches for his missing wife.

This is pretty much where we find him at the start of THE DICATOR’S CHILDREN. He marries a year or so later (the bride-to-be is introduced in the novel), and has a bunch of kids who speak Aussie. These are in addition to his stepdaughter whom he retrieved from Macau, postwar. After that? The only tale I actually have projected is one that takes place in 1966 in Vietnam, when Wilk would be in his seventies. That was, in fact, the origin of the character but I decided to write other stories about him first. He does live just long enough to see communist rule ended in Poland.

Physically, Wilk is not a big guy, somewhat wiry, dark-haired, and keeps himself fit (almost obsessively so). He wears a mustache pretty much from the time he makes his first trip to China. Good at languages, good at all things mechanical and a bit fascinated by them at times. He appreciates a well-designed firearm and carries a Browning Hi-Power as his sidearm of choice from the mid-Thirties on.

So that is the bare-bones story of the character’s life, the basis of a ‘canon’ if you will. It is world-building every bit as much as what I might do for a fantasy novel, and a framework on which I could build quite a few stories. Will I get to them? That may depend on how many other projects get in the way, but I certainly intend to revisit the character. In the meantime, one can purchase this first novel and get to know him better.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Novel and Novella

I tend to write short novels. Not novellas, for the most part, though I have seen some categorize work in the fifty thousand word range — or even sixty thousand — as such. Those can be called ‘short,’ to be sure, but I would not consider them novellas.

It could be argued that there are differences in form between novella and novel. However, I am not going to get into that discussion; ultimately, a novella is a short novel, defined by an arbitrary word count. What cut-off point do I prefer? Thirty-five or forty thousand seems a good upper limit. That is also around what many literary awards use.

My shortest novel is right at the fifty thousand word mark. That would be the fantasy adventure “The Eyes of the Wind.” A few more are between fifty and sixty thousand words. All these I consider short novels, not novellas. I recognize that many publishers do not like books of this length these days, but many great novels of the past were no longer (and James Patterson still churns out short-ish books).

I’ll just mention the novelette here, in passing. It is, of course, even shorter than a novella, and longer than what would normally be called a short story. Here, I feel, form does matter; to me, a novelette is a long short story whereas a novella is a short novel. The novelette focuses on one plot without turning aside to explore. Some of Robert E. Howard’s best stories are novelettes and I would recommend them to anyone who wishes to better understand the form.

So, do I write novellas at all? It could be argued that my “Donzalo’s Destiny” epic fantasy consists of eleven novellas and novelettes telling a continuous story, each with its own arc and conclusion, but not resolving the overall plot. Indeed, even in my shorter novels I sometimes employ similar sections. ‘Donzalo’ was actually published as a series of four somewhat short books, which might or might not be called novels. Or maybe the entire thing should be called a novel. I’m not sure! It was eventually published as an all-in-one edition that is definitely not short, weighing in a two-hundred and six thousand words.

The same sort of thing is not quite true of my other series. The books of the Malvern Trilogy do make a continuing story but there is a definite resolution for each one, so I consider them stand-alone novels. Be that as it may, they and most of my output are short novels, not novellas. It seems natural for me to turn out books that run between sixty and seventy thousand words; by far the greatest number of them fit in that range. Indeed, only two (not counting the aforementioned ‘Donzalo’) exceed seventy thousand. My longest novel is the second Cully Beach mystery, “Waves,” at just over eighty-thousand words.

Honestly, I don’t see why authors need to run as long as they sometimes do. I dislike wordiness for the sake of wordiness, and the tendency to tell too much. This is not to say long novels are in anyway ‘bad.’ Only some of them — and the same is true of short novels.

Anyway, back to the work-in-progress. I can already predict it will fall into about the same size range as the previous novels — and I am not about to add ‘filler’ to inflate its word count.

Saturday, March 09, 2019

Morning Bike Ride, March 8 2019

Some pics I took (with my little Fuji XP) while on a bike ride along the dirt roads east of my home:

 Little Alligator Creek, west branch, looking north (upstream).

 Little Alligator Creek, west branch, looking south

 Little Alligator Creek, east branch, looking north. Pine plantations beyond.

 Cows and calves. Not so long ago this was a field full of pregnant cows.

 Little Alligator Creek, joined into one stream, one road south. Looking  upstream.

Little Alligator Creek, looking south, downstream. It flows off to eventually add its water to Holmes Creek and on to the Choctawhatchee.

Sunday, March 03, 2019

Action

It must be admitted there is not a great deal of action in the first section (around 16,000 words) of THE CROCODILE GOD (my fantasy novel WIP). The only violence occurs offstage, a report coming back about an attack on Qala’s friend who has traveled south on a diplomatic mission. Much of the story revolves around her two-year-old demi-god son discovering his powers and his divine relatives. And there is stage-setting for what is to come.

There is also more sex than is typical for me. That’s action of a different sort. Be that as it may, the pace does pick up in section two, with a kidnapping at around the 20,000 word mark that should set up the plot development for the rest of the novel. Fairly late for a so-called inciting incident but so be it. The first part of the book may drag for those not already invested in Qala’s story, so I do recommend reading THE CROCODILES’S SON first (available, don’t you know, from Arachis Press).

Finding a balance between keeping the plot moving and saying what needs to be said is never that easy — and it is genre dependent, to some degree. A more leisurely pace is certainly tolerated to a greater degree in a mainstream novel than in a fantasy adventure. I’m not sure it should be — a story is a story. I feel less need to, well, pander to arbitrary genre demands these days.

So I shall keep on with the novel, writing, revising. I always revise a lot as I go along, rather than first drafting. I know where I’m going and there is no rush; best to get it right. And eventually it will all be ‘right’ and ready for all of you. I would not be at all surprised to have THE CROCODILE GOD released before the end of this year.

Saturday, March 02, 2019

Mice, a poem

Mice

Mice do get caught,
they can’t be taught
to always elude the cat.
Their little feet
may not be fleet
enough, and that is that.

Here they hurry
and there they scurry,
seeking a crumb or a mate,
knowing today
but not what may
be tomorrow’s fate.

Cats do catch mice —
that is a price
the species has payed before.
But my, oh my,
how mice multiply
and soon there will be more!

Stephen Brooke ©2019

Light verse. Very light.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Qala

Qala is the protagonist of my current fantasy novel-in-progress, THE CROCODILE GOD, sequel to THE CROCODILE’S SON and the second book in the Crocodile Chronicles (there may be only two, but they are interwoven with the two novels of the Sajam Saga). However, she first appeared as a secondary character in THE EYES OF THE WIND and proved too interesting a character not to revisit — and allow to star in her own stories.

When we met her in EYES, she was the Pirate Queen, captor of our protagonists Marana and Saj, and, before long, lover to their companion Xit. Now Xit, as far as Qala knew, was simply a modestly proficient sorcerer but a quite proficient lover, a way to amuse herself amid the tedium of life in the hidden harbor of the pirate fleet. That she preferred women is not that important. Xit would do until someday she found that one she could truly love.

For Qala had loved before, loved the mistress of he who ruled over the pirates before her. It was his jealousy and his murder of the woman that led Qala to challenge and replace him. She had ruled since. Ruled until our trio appeared and were enlisted into her scheme to slip away into retirement before she, too, was pulled down.

So it is she ended up at her country estate, far away — and pregnant. Qala was in her mid-to-late thirties by then (she has no clear idea of her age). Soon she learns that Xit was no sorcerer but a god, and that her son will be something more than a mortal. All that weaves into the plots of the Crocodile Chronicles novels, with which we are not dealing here.

Qala was born across the Greater Sea, in the Old Muram Kingdoms, in the slums of a gray city by the sea. She is pretty much a true Mur*, though all her people were somewhat of mixed blood by that time. Who were those people? I hint that they are somewhat ‘Asian’ in appearance. Obviously, as there is no Asia in their world, that is not the best of descriptions. On the whole, they might most closely resemble Siberians or Native Americans but, like most humans of their world, they are very much a mix of various populations who passed through ‘gates’ from elsewhere. The Mura were a nomadic people a few generations back who swept in from the steppes and conquered the area that now comprises the ‘Old Kingdoms.’ Some adventurers from those cities later crossed the Greater Sea to found the Muram Empire, where our tales are set.

She is a fairly diminutive woman, slender, sinewy, and not tall, ‘coppery’ of skin, black of hair. While still wandering the Muram kingdoms before taking to the pirate life, she not only learned swordsmanship but became exceptionally adept with blades of all sorts. This has been alluded to in the stories. I am unlikely to actually explore that period of her life in any detail — no ‘Qala, the Early Years’ novel! Needless to say, she needed to be good at things other than weaponry to rule over a fleet of pirates; Qala is an able leader and politician.

Or was. Now she leads only the people of a mid-sized estate along the banks of the upper Chas. There she has found at least some meaning to her life, in her young son, in her responsibilities as the mistress of her little domain. And, perhaps, she will at least meet the love she has longed for. I believe I shall have to finish writing THE CROCODILE GOD to be certain of that.

* Incidentally, the word Mur means essentially ‘warrior’ in their language. It came to mean ‘noble’ among those they conquered and eventually to refer to them as a people. Some might recognize a Proto-Indo-European root in that.