adventures in dysthymia

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.