adventures in dysthymia

Saturday, January 12, 2019


There is a long tradition of placing fictional locations in novels that are otherwise realistic. This has been done across a wide range of genres. Towns, lakes, mountains have been created and dropped into areas that are otherwise real. Even countries, such as the Graustark of ‘The Prisoner of Zenda.’ There are — as with most things — advantages and drawbacks to this.

The greatest drawback is that the places are obviously unreal (unless they are recognizable as actual spots that have been renamed and disguised). This can strain belief for some readers. But then, the characters are not real people, as well, so why shouldn’t locations be the same? I have littered the Florida of my fiction with towns and such that do not actually exist. Many, admittedly, are based (however loosely) on real places. You are not going to find Cully Beach or Tamarind on any map. This was done primarily to give me some leeway in depicting the characters who live in those places.

I was faced with a decision on this sort of thing in my latest, “The Dictator’s Children” (out in May). Although I strove for authenticity through most of the novel, depicting Florida and Cuba in 1948, I chose to create a completely fictional Central American nation as the origin of the deposed (and dead) dictator of the title. If I had placed him in a real country it would have been historically inaccurate. Does this make the whole thing less realistic? Yes, of course it does — but it serves the story.

I do not actually name the nation in the book, though the capital city, ‘Montellano,’ pops up in a few places. The description of the countryside is fairly generic Central American; there are resemblances to Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras. But it is none of these. Naturally, I did name it in my notes, even if I did not share that name. It is a good writing practice to know such things.

This was a major decision because it affects any future novels featuring my ‘Wilk’ protagonist, a Polish ex-pat who adventures through the Twentieth Century. Most of the projects I have envisioned for him are grounded in historical fact, but now I feel less need to set them amid completely real locations and events. I am aiming for authenticity, not historical accuracy.

So Montellano exists in the temperate central plateau of my fictional nation, and Wilk does visit the city, drinks the fine coffee grown in the lands that lie around it, visits the mines in the surrounding mountains. I have striven to make it as real a fictional location as possible, just as I would in my fantasy novels. I shall leave it to my readers to believe or disbelieve.

Thursday, January 10, 2019


When Florida and the town of Naples appear in my latest novel, “The Dictator’s Children,” it is the ‘real’ Florida, not one of the fictional Floridas in which I set my other contemporary realistic work. Cully Beach, Ruby, Tamarind are all fictional towns, existing in versions of the state I created.

However, I attempted to make the Naples and Miami of “Dictator” as authentic as I could — as they existed in 1948. I grew up in Naples (largely) and knew some about its early days, when it was a unique place. Now, it is much like everywhere else in Florida.

The writing team of Mary and Jean James (my niece, ‘Mean Mary,’ and my sister) put out an action tale set in Naples a while back, “Sea Red, Sea Blue.” It was inevitable that a bit of that was in the back of my mind as I plotted my own book, and also that I would consciously try to avoid any similarities. It is the same town, even if set an half-century earlier, so there are bound to be some.

Will I ever return to Naples, the real Naples, in my fiction? I have no reason to set any other Wilk books there. “The Dictator’s Children” only passes through the town, so to speak, with the bulk of the story taking place in Havana, Miami, and Central America.

But Naples is a part of who I am. It is found in my poems. It exists, unnamed, in my other fiction. It is with me, even if it is nearly thirty years since I last saw the town or walked its beach. And it is probably better as a memory, revisited only in the words I write.

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Murder in the Campground, a song

While coming up with ways to murder someone at a musical festival for a novel-in-development, I also came up with this song.

Murder in the Campground

verse 1:
It must be nearly midnight,
into your tent you creep,
with nothing on your mind
but a good night’s sleep.
But around each campfire
folks are carrying on;
you fear the way they’re going
they’ll keep it up till dawn.

verse 2:
They sure are mighty loud,
how can they make so much sound?
They’re keeping us all awake,
throughout the whole campground.
Isn’t there a lake over there?
Maybe they could be drowned —
if we weight them down
they might never be found!

They could be...
bludgeoned with a banjo,
strangled with a string;
firewood is handy,
or just whatever you bring!
Each one could be fatal
and they’ll no longer sing;
they’ll not sit up all night
to make the banjo ring!

verse 3:
The saw mill and cane crusher
can dispose of a body;
they’re ’sposed to be educational,
so learn to think like John Gotti.
Or maybe we could stuff ’em
down the porta-potty;
plan the perfect murder in the campground —
don’t let your crimes be shoddy!

Stephen Brooke ©2019

Monday, January 07, 2019

The Dictator's Children

As many a despot before him, Raoul Guzman came to think of himself as infallible, indispensable, the savior of his people. It was a shock when the coup came. Even as he boarded his private plane, escaping into exile, he told himself, It was the Americans who did this. My people will see their mistake. They will call me back.

He still believed this two years later when he died in a Miami Beach hotel room, two prostitutes in his bed. The gold watch once presented him by the Russian ambassador was never found.


So go the first two paragraphs of my latest finished novel, THE DICTATOR’S CHILDREN. I wrote them more than a year ago and let them sit, occasionally thinking about them. Then I sat down and churned out the rest of the novel in less than three weeks. Admittedly, it is a short novel at 54,000 words.

And now pretty well rewritten and edited too. We are looking at a May 4 release date for this action novel of espionage, the first (I hope) to feature the Polish expat and adventurer Wilk.

One thing I recognized while writing this novel (though I knew it already) is that is not necessary to clear up every little detail if it does not effect the plot. It is okay to say ‘the mafia might have gunned him down or it might have been the secret police.’ Hey, they may have both had good reason and he’s just as dead!

I think just a touch of ambiguity adds to the realism. Our protagonists can’t know everything, but they muddle on anyway. Just as in more-or-less real life.

Poetry Ebooks

I never expect to profit from my poetry and am quite willing to let it be read or heard for free. This is why I have no problem with posting pieces on line.

However, it does cost me to put it into books. So, I charge a fairly nominal price for my collections, to cover my work in designing and formatting and, of course, the cost of an ISBN and of the print copies.

They can also be seen as ‘price leaders’ for my novels — for which I have quite different expectations!

I have come to the conclusion that there is little point in selling the low-cost ebook versions and was, moreover, never happy with the compromises in formatting required for distribution. Therefor, I and Arachis Press are withdrawing them from the market and will make free epub copies available for download. If the reader enjoys them, perhaps she or he will pay for a print copy.

If not, then they are still completely welcome to the ebooks. They may share them if they wish. I’ll get around to getting those ‘better’ versions up as I can (and they will replace the plain text files already being given away, as well as the Blogger version of ‘Pieces of the Moon.’). And the next collection, probably out in 2020, will be free from the beginning.

That’s to be titled ‘A Poet’s Day.’ Just in case you wondered!

Everything, a song

a duet from an imaginary musical

I’m gonna climb a tree
And from there I’ll see
Everything! (Everything)

I’ll climb up there too,
Then both of us can view
Everything! (Everything)

I’m gonna climb real high,
So high that I can spy
Everything! (Everything)

And I’ll be up there at your side,
Where the air is rarefied!
We shall see all the world wide,
Yes, Everything! (Everything) (Everything)

Come climb a tree with me
And from there we’ll see

Stephen Brooke ©2019

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Splinters, a poem


Some loves are splinters, more
relief than pain when they
are drawn from our tender
flesh. Ah, but some

have barbs. Some leave a wound,
slow to heal, aching
through the nights. Some remain
beneath the skin, to be,

at the last, absorbed,
transformed into who we are.

Stephen Brooke ©2019

Again, my satellite-based internet has been out for a couple weeks while stationary fronts draped themselves across the Florida Panhandle and rained incessantly. Maybe I remain hooked up for a little while now.