adventures in dysthymia

Wednesday, July 17, 2019


One thing I have eschewed in all my fantasy fiction is the use of ‘spirits.’ By this I mean, all sorts of incorporeal beings, whether ghosts, demons, angels, human souls, elementals, what have you. As I do not believe in such entities in ‘real life’ it feels hypocritical to include them in the stories.

Rather, any and all beings of this sort are as solid as any other creature. They simply exist in other worlds. They are whole beings, not spirit joined to physical body — there are no souls moving from body to body or anything of that sort. I simply will not use that concept, nor will I base magic on any ‘spiritual’ force. Both allow way too much leeway and too many opportunities to fudge things.

As does all the paranormal stuff, telepathy, and so on that uses some sort of ill-defined ‘energy.’ All my magic is thoroughly mechanical and in some way relies on the ability to seek and/or travel through the infiniverse (and I do find the concept of infinite universes at least believable). Those are the boundaries I have set myself and I have stuck to them.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Warrior Theme

Before I start in on my narrative I sometimes write a preliminary/partial blurb just to help me focus on the central theme of the story. Here's what I have for 'Warrior of the Moon'—

Since he was small, Maratoa had held one desire above all others: to become a great warrior like his heroic father. Yes, he knew he had inherited sorcerous powers and, yes, he been trained in their use. But there was no place for a man with such abilities in Mora society.

Now the greatest of all wizards had crossed the ocean, on a mission that will decide the fate of their world. Does the fate of Maratoa also hang in the balance?

I'll revise and add stuff to that, of course, when the tale is finished. Maybe mention headhunters, lost aviators, etc, as best fits. Been doing more editing than writing the last few days (and watching tropical disturbance formation!) and it's also time to shift some attention to the release of 'The Crocodile God' in Sept.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

It's a Mystery

The one thing I most definitely learned in the writing of ‘Smoke’ is that one needn’t know the solution to a mystery when one starts a story. I should say that ‘Smoke’ is my first true mystery (and could probably be called a ‘cozy mystery’), whereas the two previous Cully Beach novels were about crime but there was never much of a ‘who done it’ element. Our protagonist simply blundered along as things unraveled.

Not so with Smoke. Oh, I knew why and how our victim was murdered, just not quite who did it. I had four primary suspects and each in his or her turn I thought would end up the murderer. That’s not counting Ted himself, whom some police think a pretty credible suspect! But we knew he didn’t do it, right? So I kept building around those four, suggesting things about each that might be incriminating. Actually, the one I originally thought I would make the murderer — the most obvious suspect — I eliminated from consideration in my own mind fairly early. It wouldn’t have been much of a mystery otherwise.

One of the others I eliminated by the time we visited the Florida Folk Festival. That one, too, I had briefly decided should be responsible, but no. Just didn’t feel right and the logistics of it were a little tricky. That left two and one seemed obvious to me. So, of course, it ended up being the other. I was pretty close to the end of the writing by the time I finally decided on — or discovered — the culprit. The fact that I had kept all of them viable as suspects right up to the end meant rather little rewriting was necessary. I’d kept my timelines and motivations straight.

Had I stuck with the original plan, had I known who did it right from the start, I doubt I could have maintained the proper tension. Better for me to figure it out the same as the readers. It’s their turn now.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Jewels and Jewels

The cache of stolen jewelry in my recently completed (more-or-less) mystery, “Smoke,” is essentially a ‘McGuffin.’ That is, in and of themselves they have no role in the plot other than to be searched for. A box of chocolate bars would have worked every bit as well. Unless they melted, of course. In this, the jewelry is like the statue in “The Maltese Falcon.” It is an interesting bit of hardware but does not really have any influence on the plot. Its role is entirely passive — it exists only to be chased after.

On the other hand, the four jewels known as “The Eyes of the Wind” and “The Jewels of the Elements” in the two fantasy novels of those names, are completely tied into the plot. They are sought because of the power they can bestow on their possessor, and that power is used in the books. They also appear as an important element (but not driving the main plot) in “The Ways of Wizardry.” It is certain that they will reappear in that novel’s sequel(s).

To be sure, there is not a thing wrong with incorporating a McGuffin into ones work. It is quite common, in fact, and the basis for countless stories. But having an active object adds an extra layer of interest. It creates more incentive for those who seek it. A lost child or a time bomb needs to be found; a statue of a bird, not so much. That’s a matter of degree also. Some objects will be more critical than others. The fate of the world depends on who possesses the jewels of the elements.

But we can’t always be saving the world, can we? Sometimes, it will just be that valuable McGuffin someone has hidden away, and that is okay — as long as the story is told well.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Smoke and More

I have a complete and somewhat edited manuscript of SMOKE, my third entry in the Cully Beach mysteries series. Weighing in at 68,000 words (I feared it would come in too short but that's a decent length). The novel is likely to see publication before the end of the year. Stay tuned for more on that.

Before I return to 'Smoke' for rewrites and edits, I am giving a final proofreading to the formatted manuscript of 'The Crocodile God.' The last task (I hope!) to make it ready for publication. Official release date is September 7.

Then, I'll probably tackle 'Smoke.' As I edit a great deal as I go along, I doubt there will be much change. It's going to be more line edits, fixing words and phrases, than any actual rewriting. But I might want to drop in just a tad more of some of the romantic subplots of the youngsters. No more than a line here and there, most likely.

And I am also starting in on the next novel, another fantasy and the start of a third trilogy set among the quasi-Polynesian Mora people. Title almost certainly to be 'Warrior of the Moon.' Mostly organizing my notes at the moment! There is also another poetry collection to prepare—I've been aiming for one every two years. The next is to be titled 'A Poet's Day.' Any British readers will recognize a bit of a joke in that title.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Alienese, a book review

 Alienese, a science fiction novel by Oliver Davis Pike

'Alienese' is a rather short novel, not quite a novella but bordering on it. There is, of course, nothing wrong with that. It seems to be as long as it needs to be. It is also not at all a fast-paced adventure. Cliff-hangers are few.

It is fairly straight-forward science fiction, but with a fair amount of humor of a low-key sort — not an outright comical novel nor farce. It is much more about the relationships between people (human and otherwise) than anything else. It also is an interesting portrait of its lead character/narrator, a has-been country singer abducted by aliens. ‘Alienese,’ incidentally, is what he calls the language they teach him.

Then he becomes romantically (more-or-less) involved with one of them. No more on that for fear of stepping into spoiler territory. I’ll just say that the two go on the run, both on and off Earth. There is a certain amount of cliché in the tale but it is rather obviously intentional, spoof or irony or whatever term one might choose.

All of this is in the wry voice of our country boy narrator (who is certainly no redneck dummy). I admittedly like it. It's pretty much up my alley as fiction goes.

'Alienese' is by Oliver Davis Pike, and comes from Arachis Press. The official release date in July 6, 2019 and it will be available in print and ebook.

Finally, a fairly large caveat: I was involved in editing this novel and getting it released, so I have my prejudices about its merit. I suggest you read it and form your own prejudices.

Saturday, June 08, 2019

The Wind's Gonna Blow, a song

The Wind’s Gonna Blow
a song for hurricane season

That storm’s moving closer to the coast
and all we can do is raise a toast:
Here’s to the hurricane, whatever it’s named
and here’s to the folks who live where it’s aimed!

It’s no good to sit and worry,
go nail up plywood, better hurry!
The wind’s gonna blow and it’s sure to get wetter,
it’s gonna get worse before it gets better.

Worse than I hoped, better than I expected,
got no reason to feel dejected.
Preparations thoroughly inspected,
family safe and all collected.

Make sure we’re ready for the gale;
Tie everything down or it will sail!
And make sure to stock up on the liquor,
though it won’t make it get here any quicker!

Got the radio to inform;
nothing to do but wait out the storm.
The wind’s gonna blow and it’s sure to get wetter,
it’s gonna get worse before it gets better!

Worse than I hoped, better than I expected;
hurricane has to be respected.
If we’re lucky, it’s redirected
and our maps can be corrected!

Stephen Brooke ©2019

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Give and Take, a poem

Give and Take
a simple song

Laugh when you are happy,
cry when you are sad;
rejoice in what you have,
remember what you had.
Life will give and take
and life will go on;
night will follow sunset,
day will follow dawn.

Now is but a border
drawn on the map of time,
dividing all that is,
an ever restless line.
Dividing what once was
from what is to be;
no one can live there,
not you, no, not me.

I’ve turned life inside out
to know its emptiness;
if there’s something more
is anybody’s guess.
The sun shines ever on,
though we hope and fear;
you’ll see it rise tomorrow —
I may not be here.

Stephen Brooke ©2019

the first part there can be repeated as a chorus

Monday, June 03, 2019

The 'Bears'

‘Smoke,’ the third Cully Beach mystery is pretty close to being finished, mostly written and to some degree edited. I would expect it to be ready for the public sometime around the end of this year. That assumes I keep working and don’t get distracted.

I had always known that Charlie Jackson — ‘Shaper’ Ted Carrol’s stepdaughter-to-be — had a half-brother she had never met. Nor even heard of. That latter was a detail that became fixed once it was included in the narrative of ‘Smoke.’

The half-brother is named Sebastian. Sebastian Furr. Charlie was born Charlotte Furr but changed that after her late stepfather, Bradley Jackson, officially adopted her. The birth father, Doug, was dead by that time.

Yes, he was Douglas Furr. Let’s not dwell on that.

I also knew Sebastian was gay and that he had a boyfriend by the name of Alastair Brown. Where did I come up with the names you ask? Or maybe you didn’t but I’ll inform you anyway. These are the names of the two teddy-bears who inhabit a high shelf in my home. Alastair has been with us since I was a little kid; Sebastian, who is twice as big and grayish, belonged to my late aunt.

I could also note that his name is an homage of sorts to Sebastian Flyte, of Evelyn Waugh’s ‘Brideshead Revisited.’ Needn’t dwell on that either — I just tell myself these little private jokes.

What I hadn’t known when I started this novel was how large a role I would give the pair in the story. I knew they would be in it, you understand, but not whether I would use them much. They could have existed only to help flesh out Charlie and Michelle’s backgrounds a little. For the first half of the narrative, that is indeed about all they did. But I decided not to make the women’s past an important feature of the novel (that had always been one way I had considered going with it).

Rather, I decided to have them accompany Ted to the Florida Folk Festival. He needed backup and they were perfect for the job. More so when I gave Brown a military police background. After that, they slip more into the background but remain a presence — and someone Ted can depend on. I’m letting them hang around Cully Beach through the end of the book; they might even get jobs and stay on longer.

But Dot Dominguez, insurance investigator, has already suggested to Al that he could do well in the private security sector so he may be headed that way. Temporarily — I have other plans for the pair.

Not in a sequel. Or probably not. I have no Cully Beach sequels planned yet and if I do write one it will be set several years later. I’m still thinking about that. What I have in mind is a spin-off.

Sebastian Furr and Alastair Brown starring in their own mystery novel, having opened their own private detective agency. Maybe, on the agency angle but definitely on the mystery. Where they would be located I have no idea at this point. Probably in Florida; almost certainly not in Cully Beach. A larger city, ideally, and one I know well enough to make it convincing.

There is no hurry on any of this. A Furr-Brown novel is something I shall let develop in my mind, in my notes, for a while. A year or two from now, maybe it will be ready to write. We’ll all find out then.

Horizon, a poem


The sky stretches above, the earth
exists below. The mind creates
the line between. It is a line
we can not reach. We know that.

Yet we yearn to cross, to touch
that elusive illusion and know
what lies on the other side
of nothing. Which horizon calls

today? Only the one I created.

Stephen Brooke ©2019

Sunday, June 02, 2019

Static, a poem


People following the latest fanatic,
giving up logic for the charismatic.
How can a country be democratic
when every radio is tuned to static?

Spend my nights with a super model,
drinking wine from a screw-top bottle.
Not holding back, we’re going full throttle,
talking ’bout Plato and Aristotle.

Talking all night, like artists in a garret,
pass the bottle ’round, we’ll share it.
Nothing out there we’re going to inherit,
never gonna win on our own merit.

American dream was another illusion,
rich have robbed us in our confusion.
Gonna run away, gonna live in seclusion,
won’t let the world be an intrusion.

Makes no difference, they’ll find a replacement
while you hide down in your basement;
never understood just what the rat race meant —
survival of the fittest, universal debasement.

Who’s gonna bring us all together,
a flock escaping this change of weather?
We’ll fly away like birds of a feather,
fly till we reach the end of our tether.

World today is cinematic;
need to make every scene dramatic.
Society’s oppression is systematic
but every radio is tuned to static.

Stephen Brooke ©2019

Yes, a bit of a nod to old school. Didn't know I had it in me, did you?

Friday, May 31, 2019


Here's a new science fiction novel coming soon from Arachis Press, but (for once) not from me:

And here's the official blurb:

Dave Ladd, has-been musician, didn’t mind being abducted by aliens. Especially when those aliens had plenty of cash to compensate him. Let them keep whatever secret they seemed to have learned about Earth.

So he thought when he was returned to his home in rural Alabama. But he was already too involved in that secret — a secret that involved the survival of humanity — and soon was on the run with an alien girlfriend, first on Earth and then ‘out there.’ A solution must be found by the motley band of humans and aliens thrown together in ALIENESE, a science fiction novel by Oliver Davis Pike.

 As publisher and editor, I readily admit that I have a role in producing this book. It will officially be out on July 6 but may well appear here and there before then, online ebook retailers, Amazon, whatever. And, of course, at the Arachis Press site.

I like the novel, obviously, and also obviously I am a bit prejudiced. It is short (not quite as short as a novella) and fast paced, with a good bit of humor. Look for it! My own next novel will be 'The Crocodile God,' another fantasy, slotted for a September 7 release. After that? Probably the third Cully Beach novel, on which I am currently slogging along. That will be ready when it is ready.

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


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


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


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


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.”


“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


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


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!