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?