Take Me to the Fair

As far as I know, this is a wellspring of memories we haven’t yet drawn from on this blog: carnivals and county fairs. Over the years, I’ve tried to capture some of those recollections, first in an unfocused attempt at a literary short story, “County Fair” (more than a dozen years ago now!), and more recently in a story called “Glory Day,” which is out of the nest and under consideration.

But fairs and carnivals, particularly when we were kids and teenagers. . . . I suspect we’ve all got some fond mental pictures. I think July is when the fair comes to my hometown, so we’re early — but for many of you, I know the weather already feels like July (you fortunate people!). [At least I haven’t had to use my kerosene heater for three days now.]

Taylorville is the seat of Christian County, so the county fair is held on our fair grounds every summer. When I was little, Mom would take me out there. Usually we’d end up going at least twice during the week the fair was in town. We’d go after 9:00 p.m., when the attendant opened the gate and admission was free. As we’d drive west down Main Cross Street, we’d start to see a glow in the sky over the west end of town. Then we’d hear the snatches of calliope music, the growl of tractor engines running the rides, and the dozens of intermingled game noises — beeps and tweets and boiinnngggs. It seemed so wonderful and magical to me then — all the lights in the dark, velvety prairie night . . . the food, the rides, the haunted house with weird laughter and screams coming out of it . . . the carnival people with their tattoos, urging people to play games and win prizes. The field’s grass would be pressed down by the tread of hundreds and hundreds of feet, and flattened paper cups and cigarette butts were here and there.

My mom liked to play a game where you put a coin on a color of your choice, and the game-master (usually a tough-looking fortyish lady) would let some random player from the crowd throw a ball into a net, from where it would wander down through a hole onto a spinning color wheel (like a roulette wheel). (Or like Wheel of Fortune.) The ball would stop on a color, and the person who placed a coin on that color patch would win, and all the other coins would get swept up and dumped into the carnival lady’s apron pocket. Depending on the denomination of the coin you’d wagered, you could choose your prize from various hanging tiers of toys. I remember having a medium-sized, pale purple teddy bear that I loved as a very young child; it had come from the county fair.
 
I’ve been back to the fair as an adult, and it always amazes me how small it is. Was it always so small? Back then, it seemed to stretch on and on. But it’s still somehow fun to go, and find scraps and patches of the old magic drifting here and there between tents, like strands of dandelion fluff stuck to thistles. Even now, I can turn around and hear just the right sound, or catch just the right whiff of something, and the present melds with the past. Things get all Bradbury.

I remember one teenage year on the night of the Miss Christian County pageant. The show was over, things were winding down, and the midway was thinning out. I ran into my friend (we’ll call him “R”), a guy I’d known since gradeschool. We were talking near the all-but-empty grandstand, when who should call out and approach us but the girl who’d just been crowned Queen . . . Miss Christian County! She was a year or two ahead of us in school. She may have been in chorus with us — I’m no longer sure — but of course we weren’t friends. We were geeky guys who played D&D and read books and stuff, and she was this gorgeous person who probably wouldn’t have noticed us in the school halls. (I’m not blaming her; that’s just the way life is, right? Kids — and grownups — move in different circles.)

But anyway, she says hi to us and calls us by name, as if she’s really happy to see us, as if we’re her best friends. We stand and talk and congratulate her. I’m sure R and I are both wondering why on Earth she’s alone after just winning the pageant, chosen as #1 among 30 or 40 of the county’s finest young women.

She asks if we would walk her back to her car. (!) The midway is muddy and uneven in places, and she’s wearing impractical high-heeled shoes and a long evening gown. She hands one of us her giant bouquet of flowers to carry, and she takes each of us by an arm, and we escort her across the fair grounds as it’s all settling down for the night, going to sleep, the engines shutting off, the lights starting, in places, to wink out.

That’s all there is to the story — we don’t save her from a marauding motorcycle gang or anything. We escort her safely back to her car, and she thanks us, and we say goodbye. She drives away, and we go on with our school lives, and I don’t recall that we ever talk with her again. Who knows why she was driving away alone on a night that has to be quite a glorious experience for a Midwest teenage girl? Probably she was meeting up with family and friends somewhere — we’ll never know. The point is, for a few minutes that evening, we two frogs from the pond got turned into princes and defended a princess against darkness and mud.

 We had funnel cakes at our fair. There were corn dogs, of course, and popcorn (which no one got, because you could get it year-’round at the theater); there was cotton candy (isn’t that mystifying stuff, the way it just disintegrates when you put it into your mouth?), and there were lemon shake-ups (lemonade with ice and slices of lemon floating around in it). Best of all — the absolute KING of fair food — was something called Indian Bread. It was a local thing: a man named Les C. had a secret recipe for making it. Imagine a big, doughy square of cakey bread — deep fried in a vat, so it gets all wavy — then taken out and liberally slathered with semi-transparent white icing. You’d get that on a big napkin. It was piping hot, so you were in pain as you tore off a piece. For a while, the icing was still liquid and dripping. Halfway through the piece, it would harden into a nice, white, opaque frosting. Les C. has passed on now, but Mom used to play Bingo with his daughter. I asked her at one Bingo session if she had Les’s secret recipe for Indian Bread, and she said, “Oh, yes!” But I wonder if she ever makes it. . . .? I never see it at the county fair any more. We just have funnel cakes, which are a poor vestige.

I could go on and on, but I’ll stop there. I would truly love to hear any memories — daytime or nighttime — of magical (or mundane) fair or carnival experiences that you’d care to tell!

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58 Responses to “Take Me to the Fair”

  1. Eunice Says:

    The Western Washington State Fair is held in September, and is a big deal. I still enjoy going yearly, but it’s not quite as magical as when I was a kid. Years ago, it had a kind of “tunnel of love” ride called the Old Mill, which you went through in boats. I remember riding it as a little girl, but I’ve forgotten all about it except at one point a stuffed donkey kicks at the riders in the boats. This ride got burned down during an off-season fire many years ago. How I wish it could be recreated! The fair still has a functioning very old all-wood roller coaster, with an old painted wooden sign saying, “Hang onto your hats!” I’ve heard they’re going to do something with this roller coaster, but I’m not sure what.

  2. Tim on West Main Cross Says:

    As a former resident of (far) West Main Cross Street, I remember the Christian County Fair’s annual visits well. I know my parents disliked the rowdy traffic and ridiculously loud tractor pulls, but I remember the smells most clearly.

    During the day the fair gave off a distinctly barnyard aroma. Curiously, this smell lasted for a couple of weeks after the fair was over, which probably tells us something about the lax environmental regulations of yesteryear.

    In the evenings the siren song of burgersdogsbarbequeandfunnelcake wafted in my bedroom window, carried along by the indecipherable patter of the MC revving up the crowd. Alone in bed, I wanted desperately to be there, but when I hopped the fence and wandered the midway, I felt more alone than if I’d stayed at home.

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Thanks, Tim! I’ve often wondered what it must have been like to live right beside the fair. Now I have an inkling.

      Your comment is beautifully poignant, especially in how it ends. You know, my own experience is similar. Nearly all my memories of the fair, although they’re treasures, are all bound up with loneliness and heartache. I have sharp memories of frustrations concerning my high-school girlfriend, whose name you know. Farther back, I have memories of two older kids who stole my cotton candy when I was really little — one ran by and snatched half of it, and the second ran by and grabbed the rest, and I was left there stunned, staggered by the random cruelty of the world.

      I remember revisiting the fair in my thirties and running into a girl I hadn’t seen since high school. Just seeing her made me oddly sad. In elementary school, she was an angelic being that all the boys were in love with. She was impossibly beautiful. But as an adult, she looked somehow haunted, her little girl’s face stretched over a woman’s skull — it was disconcerting, disturbing.

      But most of all, this: do you remember how I used to have that business doing puppet shows? At the height of my career, I was making decent money playing gigs at birthday parties, events sponsored by civic organizations, etc. Well, they used to have the Little Miss Christian County pageant (with girls like 4, 5, or 6 years old) during the half-time of the regular Miss Christian County pageant. The organizers hired me to do puppet shows backstage to entertain these tiny girls, to keep them from crying and running around and getting their dresses muddy on that track.

      Well, at the time I was, like, 11 years old or so. I remember the big Miss contestants, these beautiful teenage girls in their swimsuits, lining up backstage and peeking in through the curtains of my puppet house. They’d see me and giggle and comment on the “cute little boy.” I remember my sharp feelings of longing and anticipation then, my supreme confidence that it was only a matter of time, that someday before long I’d have such a girl as my companion, my wife.

      When I went back to the fair in my thirties, I’d passed up those Miss contestants in age. If they looked at me at all, they no longer saw a “cute little boy.” They saw an aging man whom they quickly looked away from and gave a wide berth to.

      So, yes — there’s more of loneliness and heartache to the fair than anything else. Is the magic of this world rooted in such?

    • Chris Says:

      Tractor Pulls. The longer I live outside of the midwest the more weird that concept becomes. Try to describe the “point” of a tractor pull to just about anyone who doesn’t live in a rural area and it doesn’t feel right.

  3. I remember the CC fair Says:

    And I remember that Tim, before landing on West Main Cross, originally hailed (am I right?) from Nebraska, where “fresh country air” is prevalent.

    Fred, you MUST email me and reveal the names involved! I am dying to know the ID of the Queen and the impossibly beautiful babe from North School.

    I recall sadness at the fair, too. In the summer after 7th grade had ended Miss A.W. chose being at the fair and in front of a pile of her girlfriends as the opportune time to break up with me, leaving me to search out anyone to hang with while she sauntered off, laughing at my agony and stepping on my heart. (That a certain local real estate magnate’s eldest daughter felt sorry for me and gave me a still-remembered smooch… or two or three) before I left the grounds that night DID take some of the sting away.

    INDIAN BREAD! OMG OMG OMG. Sometimes called “elephant’s ears” because that was the size they were! Those things were awesome and had only 2500 calories each! Funnel Cake in no way comes close!

    But you forgot the Demo Derby, the best grandstand attraction!

    And, Mr. Blog host, did I not see you and a certain young lady — who also just happened to live on West Main Cross — enjoying the fair once?

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      I can’t believe she chose that time and place and methodology to break up with you! How awful! But three cheers for the one who came to your rescue!

      Yes. Sigh. You did see what you think you saw.

  4. Marquee Movies Says:

    Goodness gracious, I sure enjoyed reading this, and the responses. The stories, Fred, you tell here (and have told before of other summers you visited the fair) always tug my heart up and down. My memories are less poignant, but pretty strong. Probably not a month goes by that I don’t think about the pool cue I won and left behind. I was visiting a fair by myself when I was in high school – one of the games required a player to hit a cue ball, and knock it out so sharply that the half dollar coin sittting on it would drop straight down into the circle the ball was sitting on. I did it on my first shot. The carny seemed genuinely impressed – sure, that may have been an act, but then he handed me a cue, saying I had won it. It was the type you have to screw together, so the two ends were side by side in a rumpled plastic sleeve. I thought, Wow, that was easy – so I thought I’d go again. So I paid my whatever, and took a shot again. This time, I didn’t hit the cue ball squarely on, and the coin went rolling off somewhere. The guy made some commiserating comment, and I shrugged, and walked off – LEAVING THE CUE I HAD WON BEHIND! Still bothers me. Although I’m confident that had I taken it that day, it’d be long gone by now – but still….. Fred, I LOVE the fact that your mom would take you after nine o’clock, even as a kid. That’s very cool! And the story of escorting the beauty queen to her car is quite touching.
    One last comment – I’ve worked in this general area for about 25 years now. There’s a church on Greenwood Avenue that every summer, right at the beginning, right about now, hosts a carnival. And for years and years I’ve driven past it, often several times every June, and I always get a kick out of seeing it, and being a little let down when I see the empty, matted down grass just after they’ve left. But it seems that in the last ten years in particular, the speed with which I see that carnival come by has grown to a frightening pace. Again and again, I see it, and I think, “Already? We’re already at that time?” I’ve never visited it. I’ve only ever driven past, on my way to work or home. But summer and carnivals keep coming, faster and faster and faster. (Cut to a carny, with a cigarette dangling out of the corner of his mouth, in a dirty blue vest, with his one good hand on the lever that controls the speed of the seasons, calling out, “You wanna go faster? Faster? FASTER?!?”)
    No, I don’t – but I will try to enjoy it while it flies past. God bless the summer – may our love for it last forever!

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Marquee, thank you for this beautiful, enchanting comment! Yes — the years fly by so quickly — the fairs mark time with their “constant” quality — in that sense, they’re like cornfields. Cornfields only come around in summer, and they’re always the same, no matter how much the rest of the world changes.
      You know what my all-time favorite ride at the fair was? It was the Rock-o-Planes. It (They?) were a giant Ferris wheel, but instead of being a round wheel, it was shaped like a star. The star’s outline was lit up with green neon tubing. It had many points, and at each point was a cage that would hold about two people (ideally, oneself and a girl). Not only did the star go around like a Ferris wheel . . . but ALSO, each cage could swing and rotate on its own axis. So as you went up and around the big circuit, you could also swing your cage as violently as you wanted, even causing it to roll end over end over end! There was a ring/lever inside that you could push and pull on to “help” your cage tumble. On Ferris wheels, you’re always told not to rock the cars. But on the Rock-o-Planes, it was encouraged! Man, did I love that ride! It wasn’t always there, though. In recent years, I haven’t seen it. I think it’s gone the way of “The Ocean Wave” at Manners Park, that delightful-yet-frightfully-dangerous ride that simply cannot exist in this Era of Litigation.

  5. Catherine Says:

    Being Eunice’s daughter, my memories are of the W. Washington State Fair. (We call it the Puyallup, locally. It’s shorter but harder to pronounce.) When I was a little one I thought that I would be grown-up once I rode the Swings. A big twirling disk, embellished with these fancy 18th-Century style ladies, holds the ropes to a good many swings, and you go flying out over the fair — or so it seems. My mother always loved the swings; however, you had to be a certain height to ride them, so for years I would ride the three rides I was allowed, then I would watch as Mum rode the swings. It was Mum’s ride.
    The year I was old enough to ride it I was terrified to bits. I told my father to stand under and wave to me. I have never, before or since, felt such simultaneous joy and terror. The ride was incredible — I was flying — the world went round and round; but I knew I would die if I wasn’t careful. But down at the bottom Daddy stood, holding my sister in his arms, waving up at me with his big hand, and that was my lifeline.
    I have to add that the W.W. State Fair has an official song and I used to sing it with great gusto and little attention to the tune. Recently I discovered that one of my musician friends played on the original recording. I have, unfortunately, never been able to find that recording . . .

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Wonderful story, Catherine! Thanks! Our fair had (and still has, I assume) those chair-swings, too! When I was in 5th grade and Star Wars came out, I remember riding on them and pretending I was in a squadron of X-wing fighters — the illusion worked well, because you’re flying in a nice formation, with a line of “ships” ahead of you and behind you! Yes, I love how you go flying over the fair, and when you’re at full speed, the ground is a vertical wall beside you, not below!

  6. Nicholas Says:

    Absolutely loved this week’s post, Fred–and the addendum in your comment.

    It brought back the memory of going on a haunted house ride with my dad. At that young age, I’d never have gone on it by myself, but with my dad it was okay. The cart would bang up against a wall and a monster would light up, then rickety rickety the cart would do a U-turn, cross and bang into another wall (another monster lights up). Like being in a scary pinball machine!

    The haunted house rides are my absolute favorites–I still go on them any chance I get, and usually scream with gusto just for the fun of it!

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      I loved that story, Nick! “Like being in a scary pinball machine”! Yes — that’s what those rides are like, and the rickety rickety motion seems to be a universal thing, too!

      I also still love haunted house rides!

  7. Mike on West Maincross Says:

    Thanks for this, Fred! I remember the fair as one of the highlights of the year in Taylorville. I would save up my coins for months so I would have money to spend on elephant ears, lemon shakeups and corn dogs. I remember going to see the harness races — do they still have those? My great grandfather Wilson trained harness racers, and one or two of his horses (Oakwood Boy and/or Hedgewood Gal) are buried on the fair grounds. If I remember right, the janitor at West School also worked at the stables at the Fair, and Tim and I visited him a time or two at the fairgrounds. He was an old man and he showed us those horses’ graves, and he also lent me a book on harness racing that mentioned those horses.

    I used to love the rides, and I remember well the one that you describe. I also remember one, I think it was the Cobra, that had a set of snake-like arms with cages at the end that spun around violently. I threw up while riding that one.

    I also remember the loneliness of being in the crowd at the fair. The fair was best at night, with the lights of the rides and the midway shining and the trash and mud of daytime hidden in the darkness.

    • Mike on West Maincross Says:

      Fact-checking from Google: the horses were named Lady Maude C and Hedgewood Boy. In 1917 they both made the list of 2:05 minute pacers, on the same page with Dan Patch.

      (p. 372, Horse Review Harness Racing Guide for 1917, Vol. VI, published by the Horse Review Company, Chicago, IL, 1918).

  8. I remember the CC fair Says:

    Oh boy! Now we have three of F of R on here, with Scott hanging around the edges. For my fellow Flails: On Sunday, June 6 I saw Robert Taylor and Pink Martini play with the Omaha Symphony. Awesome concert!

    ANYWAY (as he would say) Robert and I had a two-hour dinner after the show and guess what topic came up? He was intensely curious as to what all of you were up to (I hardly know myself) and wanted everyone in the old gang to know he is thinking of you.

    I have his contact info and I know we would like yours. Email me (sports@theperrychief.com) if you are interested in Brinn’s affairs and I will pass it along.

    P.S. — he STILL insists we drop everything and immediately head to The Black Stump! 🙂
    P.P.S. — Tim, Robert is fluent in German, and Pink Martini is playing a few dates there this summer. Check their website http://www.pinkmartini.com for more info!!!
    P.P.P.S. — Great to see the Governor has joined us! Welcome old friend!

  9. Chris Says:

    The Christian County Fair was, as you say, so big and important back then. I fear going back to see what it looks like now with adult eyes.

    The last county fair I went to was probably not a “county fair” per se, but rather a New England multi-state agriculture fair that my wife’s aunt suggested we take her. We gladly went thinking we were allowing Aunt Winnie relive her youth only to realize we hauled her halfway across Massachusetts only to learn from her that she’d never been but always wanted to go since she was younger. Still it was fun (Aunt Winnie is fun to hang with) and it was a big to-do in Mass.

    I haven’t been to the fair here despite the fact that it is starting up now and the fair grounds are literally right down the street from where I teach in the evenings. I don’t know if Californians can do a “fair” well.

    Speaking of Fairs I must highly recommend a book I read recently called “Devil in the White City” about the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. It does an excellent job of intertwining several relatively unrelated stories simultaneously. One about the architects responsible for the amazing fair of that year, one about the man who had moved into the area near the fair just a few years before and during that time was probably busy becoming the countries first serial killer, and finally the unghinged schizophrenic man who gunned down the mayor of Chicago at the ending of the Fair.

    An interesting read and lots of fun history!

  10. Daylily Says:

    Ah, yes, the joys (and otherwise) of summer fairs. I have enjoyed reading everyone’s fair reminiscences. One of my favorite things at the Minnesota State Fair was the display of elaborate sand carvings. And here in small town Woodstock, CT (where the fair produces the only traffic jams in the entire year), we have the sand carvings, too. And the giant pumpkins and squashes. And the displays of fruits and vegetables, and handicrafts like quilts and needlework pictures, and the antique tractors, and . . . the ox pull competition. Amazing to see just two oxen move thousands of pounds.

    Fair food: in Minnesota, we used to joke about “deep-fried fat on a stick,” because so many fair foods were served on a stick, including deep-fried cheese curds. One of the most wonderful things I ever ate at a fair or festival was a deep-fried Oreo. I don’t want to know how many fat calories were in that one little item! I haven’t seen one of those offered for years.

    Here’s a festival experience. Detroit used to have several ethnic festivals per summer downtown. My boyfriend and I decided to attend one. Didn’t pay a whole lot of attention as to which ethnic group was going to be featured. We just thought the carnival games and the food would be fun. Well, it was fun, but a very different experience. It was the African-American festival, and we two were almost the only white people there amid hundreds of African-American people. I felt very conspicuous and out of place. I’ve never forgotten that feeling, especially because I realized at the time that this is the way members of minority groups _often_ feel.

  11. I remember the CC fair Says:

    Ahh, yes, deep-fried Oreo! At the Iowa State Fair (which draws more people than my home state Illinois State Fair despite 1/4 the population) the following items were espied by yours truly in 2009: deep-fried pickles, deep-fried bananas (delicious!), deep-fried Snickers, deep-fried Twinkies (not so dee-lish) and ad infinitum “on a stick”.

    Then, of course, there is the giant Turkey Leg, which many buy but which is largely a giant inedible tendon.

    The king is, of course, CORN. For the low-low-low price of just $2 an ear (you can buy a dozen for $4 out of a pickup at nearly every farmers market) you get an ear of milk-and-honey (half the kernels are yellow, half white—yum) SLATHERED in melted butter. This comes on a wooden skewer, with a pointless little paper shard that is supposed to shield the hand from drippings… ha ha. I categorically state that it is metaphysically impossible to eat this manna from God without getting it all over yourself. Thousands stroll the grounds in Des Moines with nibblets in their facial hair, shirts stained by droppings and hands shiny in the greasy butter sheen. AHH … it is so good!!

    I go to the Iowa State Fair once a year with a press pass, which entitles me to the air-conditioned press rooms that contain FREE bottled water floating in horse tanks of half-melted ice (not to mention ‘on grounds’ parking! yay!) Meanwhile, out on the midway, people are shelling out $3 for 16 ounces of the most abundant resource on the planet. Ahh…capitalism!

    One last thing…I contend that it is impossible for me to submit a comment to this blog without the excessive and unnecessary use of elipses and parenthetical pauses, neither of which ever make my paid writing. Hmm. (Help Chris … there must be a scientific explanation!)

    • Chris Says:

      There is a scientific explanation! I am married to a grammar nazi (Obersturmbahngrammatiker Rita). She demands ‘active voice’ in all her writings and I tell her passive is the only way to go (try reading a scientific paper in a peer reviewed journal and see if you find any ‘active voice’).

      But here’s how it relates to your nested parentheticals and ellipses-laden pauses.

      The stuff that pays and that grammarians like SUX. Yes, I said it. It can be considered, on occasion, if needs must, that convoluted arabesques of, shall we say….INTERESTING grammar are more, as it were, appropriate to the conversation.

      The best part being, that if it were to occur that a particularly lengthy posting, replete with paranthetical asides, which, as you will note are often not asides at all but germane to the point, were to pop up on these pages of sufficient length (by word count) and depth (by conceptual count) it may, with no small bit of luck, cause the primary author (that being Fred, an author) to had an aneurysm and his head…explode!

      Or maybe, given sufficient space to type and, granted hardly “fair related”, enough electrons in the interweb to gather up, the author of said post might, while ambling along in a loping manner around the initial concept (wait for it), to circumnavigate some deeper point and, if done correct, completely lose, without ever actually doing so (which reminds me of a trip to the State fair once where I did, actually, get lost among the cow barns only to stumble upon the famed butter sculpture cow, making me realize the importance of dairy in our daily lives not only as a nutrient but also as a beacon of location to save us in our most lost moments) the original point!

      SUMMARY: Grammar is for losers. Try picking up chicks with grammar-related topics. Trust me it only works on a few and when you marry one you do end up paying for it long-term.

  12. Chris Says:

    “have”, I meant “have an aneurysm”. (*&^%$$ grammar…or more appropriately *&^%$ keyboard of my computer!)

  13. I remember the CC fair Says:

    Chris (the person to whom this is addressed, although others will — of course — see this):
    Thanks.

    I HATED “Language Arts” in school. I wanted ‘literature’ not ‘grammar’ which (I was once told) is an old Slovak word for ‘horse apple.’

    And — lets face it — only authors (certainly a plurality, if not an absolute majority of statistically infallible super-majority), librarians and English teachers (hey, wait! that covers the blog host 2/3 of the time) love grammar.

    Guess I missed that part in school. You see, as our pal D.F. once wrote:

    “I was smoking with the boys upstairs/when I heard about the whole affair”

    Anyway — thanks.

    • Chris Says:

      Strange coincidence! I was just listening to “My Old School” on the iTunes here on computer!

      I find it strange in my own head that I love words but I don’t do so well with grammar. I have yet to figure that out.

      “And don’t you scream and shout,
      It’s nothing you can do about.
      It was there when you came out,
      It’s a special lack of grace,
      I can see it in your face.
      I can see by what you carry that you come from Barrytown”

  14. john c Says:

    Greetings,
    Apologies for the off topic(ness) of this post.
    I am a new fan of yours. It was at a small used bookstore that I stumbled upon “dragonfly” and the rest is history… I was instantly hooked.
    After hunting in vain for a second novel from you (it was a blessing that I found your original masterpeice – although I do my share of work for a fine story; often spending hours in a used book store to emerge empty handed or with only one-two treasures for my efforts) my efforts have morphed towards something I hope is more attainable: getting two questions answered by FS Durbin. There are actually four questions but lets see if you’re game for two first.

    ONE
    {foreword to question}
    I am inclined to support that which I find good. Dragonfly is good (surely this sentiment will hardly jolt or perplex any fellow posters hereabouts) so I will be purchasing a number of copies for friends.
    {dilemma}
    Dragonfly is not carried by major booksellers. Not even within their ‘online’ venues. Barnes&Noble, BooksAMillion, etc. This is certainly an unrealized dilemma for said sellers as well. Just think of the profits, in our tough economy, they unwittingly neglect by not surrounding this book with a fitting full fledged ad campaign during the hallows eve season.
    {conclusion}
    What way of procuring multiple copies supports you and promulgates your book best?

    Buying hardcovers directly from Arkham house, buying lots and lots of cheap used copies from Amazon thus rippling the giving effect to even more literate friends, requesting a large seller (books-a-million) to find a few copies of your book to sell to me, having said friends get their local libraries to carry said book, some other way?

    TWO
    {part one}
    How might one come by a copy of your other works… is there an easier way than attempting to order back copies from magazines etc, or, if sleuthing must be done, at least provide your readership with a concrete list of your works (omne), where they have appeared (or will appear), and where the carrying publication can be found (maybe just a complete list of your works on your wiki page if time is a deterrent).
    {part two}
    Your blog lists 11,000 visitors (which probably translates to 1,000 unique visitors?) either way it is a good number. Have you considered releasing “sacred woods” as an e-book/audiobook for fans to purchase until a publisher snaps it up? Is self publishing so frowned upon in the industry? Sites like blurb would allow fans to buy print copies at no cost and some profit to you… small sales would begin to grow your following as people share good reads & strong sales can even help induce reluctant publishers. (Richard P. Evans, an author who my wife enjoys to read, used this path to escape from rags to the point where he can now buy many of the smaller publishing companies)
    {part three}
    I would even suggest setting up a website for selling/promoting “wholesome Halloween stories” and include your work(s) among other favorites/recommendations of yours.
    {summation}
    Can you or a fellow poster provide me with a list of your current stories and where to hunt them?
    Can you make works such a sacred woods available in some form?

    Keep up the good work. It is appears carefully and painstakingly written. CS Lewis meets Lovecraft, says I; a unique combination that breaths new life into fiction and stands on its own feet.

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Hello, John C., and welcome to this blog! First, thank you very much! It’s always truly a joy and a humbling honor to meet a new fan of Dragonfly! And thanks for telling me how you stumbled upon the book. That’s always my question when someone new tells me they read and liked it: “How did you happen to find it?” I’ve heard some amazing tales of chance encounters. The book did decently well for Arkham House in its original edition; financially, it was a flop for Ace Fantasy — largely because I think it was packaged all wrong, and no one really knows what audience the book is “for.” But I have met some of my closest friends through the book, so I can only think of it as a resounding success.

      Anyone who spends hours in a used bookstore searching for overlooked treasures sounds like a kindred spirit! John C., I suspect that you are one of us!

      Let’s see if I can get your questions answered.

      As to the unavailability of Dragonfly: well, alas, the paperback is out of print. Copies can still be had through Amazon. That’s probably the best way to secure copies to give to your friends — and thank you for that! If Arkham House is still selling the original edition and if you’re willing to pay that price, I think the illustrations (and hardback cover) by Jason Van Hollander are well worth it. If the book reaches people who will enjoy it, I’m happy! If for any reason you can’t acquire copies, let me know. If I can establish myself with other successful novels, Dragonfly may well be resurrected. I hope someday it may be published in a paperback package that better represents its content.

      For now, I would encourage you to buy what copies you like/need through Amazon or from Arkham House. Put them into the hands of people who will read them. If you really want to help, consider donating a copy to your local public library and convincing the librarian that it’s a good book. 🙂 And thank you for that!

      There’s a nearly-complete list of my published works on my website, http://www.fredericsdurbin.com. The one story that’s not on there yet is “The Star Shard,” which was serialized in CRICKET Magazine from April 2008 through April 2009 (ten parts). The Star Shard will be released in a much-expanded and revised form as a novel from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, in the fall of 2011 at current estimates — though I suspect the actual release may be a bit later. And I have a story called “World’s End” scheduled to appear this fall in Issue #15 of BLACK GATE Magazine. But take a look at my website — there’s a nice, neat list of everything else that’s been published to date. Most (all?) of it can still be tracked down from the publishers.

      As to self-publishing: it really can’t be done if one wants to actually publish the book. Publishers buy first-time rights, and if a book is published on a writer’s website or by other means, then the first-time rights can no longer be sold. So please be patient regarding The Sacred Woods. I assure you that I have the best agent in the business working hard on finding a home for it.

      And a title to watch for in the next couple years is The House of the Worm, which I’m working on even as we speak!

      I hope this has been helpful. Anyway, John C., thank you very, very much for your interest in my stories! I truly hope you will stick around on this blog. Me aside, there are some fantastic people here who are excellent company — it’s an exciting and interesting place, and it’s the best source of news for any future stories of mine that will be released.

      “C.S. Lewis meets Lovecraft” — I love it! 🙂 I’m a firm believer that “Christian horror” is a valid genre!

      • john Says:

        Good response. Informative & welcoming. I took your advise and ordered 8 books (2 hardcovers & 6 paperbacks).
        2 for the local libraries
        1 for a private library (homeschooling co-op library)
        5 for friends who shall read them & hopefully get them in their own respective library systems

        Later I’ll get a new copy from Arkham as my own personal hardcover edition.

        You believe in Christian Horror genre as viable, eh? Beautiful, doable, but oh so tricky.

        Can you or any fellow posters name some “good” books by other authors that would fall into such a category… chilling & suspenseful – yet – edifying & truthful, a book deep enough for adults yet clean enough for youth, purposeful enough for Lewis – yet otherworldly enough for Lovecraft, etc etc

      • fsdthreshold Says:

        Well, off the top of my head: have you read Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes? Looking back, I can see it was a huge influence on Dragonfly. What other books are out there? Help us out, readers! We’re looking for books that are “chilling and suspenseful,” yet okay for youth to read.

      • Nicholas O Says:

        John C., in answer to your question: “Can you or any fellow posters name some “good” books by other authors that would fall into such a category… chilling & suspenseful – yet – edifying & truthful, a book deep enough for adults yet clean enough for youth, purposeful enough for Lewis – yet otherworldly enough for Lovecraft, etc etc?”

        I can–two, in fact. Oddly enough, I discovered both of them around the same time that I found _Dragonfly_–when I was co-editing a small-press magazine called MOOREEFFOC (the title of which came from Tolkien, who was paraphrasing G.K. Chesterton). Though neither of them may still be in print, they can both easily be found on Amazon or other online booksellers:

        _The History of Our World Beyond the Wave_ by R.E. Klein

        _The High House_ by James Stoddard

        Both lean more toward fantasy, but with their share of chilling Lovecraftian moments–and they fit all the other criteria you list.

  15. john c Says:

    To make amends for my earlier “off-topic” post, if it makes it past editors, I should like to say, fellow posters, you have some varied very delightful memories.

    It would be quite interesting at some point to learn how you each happened upon dragonfly. A few of you have a talent for telling which finds the gems in the mundane, therein berthing stories.

  16. jhagman Says:

    I never enjoyed grammar, but remember: it is one of the seven original liberal arts! People I know who have enjoyed it (some are no longer with us), always seemed more organized in their thinking, and frequently fluent in more than one language. Like physics professors, I can really admire them (because they are educated), but I can’t understand them!

    • Chris Says:

      I, for one, will not allow grammarians to hold me back! If I want to comma splice until I achieve nirvana, then I’m gonna do it! I’m gonna end sentences with prepositions all I want! I’m going to gleefully split infinitives until there’s no discernible connection between the original particle “to” and the bare infinitive itself!

      I’m going to feed scraps of Strunk and White to my dogs; Aleister Growly and Dr. Tooth. Or at least the parts I don’t set on fire.

      (Shhh, don’t tell my wife. She’ll really hurt me if she sees this post! Wait… what was that noise? Oh no…she’s home! Just a sec dear…Oh, nothing…I’m just looking at the interne……urk….

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Oh, come on, you guys! Grammar is fun! It’s purty. It brings order to the galaxy. But I agree with Chris. I split infinitives with impunity and end sentences on prepositions with abandon. But neither of those things is an actual grammar violation. English grammar is much like Biblical Christianity in that way: there’s what it actually is, and there’s the mighty hedge of misconception built up around it by our culture.

  17. I remember the CC fair Says:

    Back to the Fair topic: Unstated by our host is that he loved the Christian County Fair, in part, because it was always murderously hot and tormentingly humid every year. The combination of those conditions helped create the pleasant atmospherics of which Tim on West Main Cross spoke.

    As for the Big Swing ride: I, too, enjoyed that ride, although, unlike Fred — who imagined himself an X-wing pilot — I fancied myself behind the stick of a Vought F4U Corsair, sending the would-be grandparents of Fred’s current students to a fiery death over the Pacific (heh heh heh).

    The Ferris Wheel was fun, too, if you had the right companion. I remember once spending most of the evening trying to work up the nerve to ask a certain S.B. to ride with me once. Finally summoning the nerve, I approached her and — glory be! — received a smiling affirmation! Lest you think the tale ends happily … at that precise moment her big, bad older brother showed up, said “we are leaving” and that was that. So, like most middle school boys, my life sucked.

    P.S. — Where oh where is our dear Shieldmaiden? Hath she been the target of some dastardly plot? Doth she not have faire memories to recall? Wherefore art thou, my lady?

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Well, except for her brother, you had better luck with S.B. than I did! If it’s the same S.B., I once asked her to skate “the Moonlight” with me at the old skating rink, and she refused. I guess we would have been in seventh grade at the time.

      I agree! I miss Shieldmaiden and Jedibabe!

      • Jedibabe Says:

        I’m still lurking about, but deep in thesis writing territory and not much fun to be around. I’ve missed you all tons!

        I used to think I had grammar down pat, but these days I despise it when I get back my edited chapters, all full of my advisor’s cranky comments. I realize it’s al for the best, but I’ll be SOOO very pleased when it’s all done!

        My favorite part of the little Ravalli County fair in Montana, where I spent several years of my childhood, was the big horse show I rode in. It was the largest show in the valley at that time and looked forward to it all year long. My Mom rode on the local Mountettes Mounted Drill Team so she and I would prepare for the show together. Since she always detested horse show politics it was the one time I felt like we were on the same page, just for a moment. We prepared and practiced together and she was there to watch me jump my course.

        The midway made me puke, but the agricultural contests were fun; guessing the weight of the giant pumpkins, checking out who grew what and entering my banana bread against all the valley’s best old bakers made for an exciting week.

        Thanks for the brief respite from writing. I’ll be back for real in a month or so, once this thesis business is over. Meanwhile, I’m not above soliciting for prayers on my behalf on July 12th, when I’ll be defending my thesis and attempting to move on to the next level of academia!

    • Shieldmaiden Says:

      I love you guys! Brown Snowflake: you are so great! No, there has been no dastardly plot (not yet anyway). I am still here, and I will write something soon. My school year ends on Friday. I have been reading the posts and comments and they are fantastic as always!! And, I am glad you are still here Zoë and welcome to the blog John C. Loved your comment. Fred: what _do_ you think about a post asking readers to tell the story of how we found Dragonfly? I’m in. Maybe for the month of October?
      P.S. You KNOW my son flew the Xwing chair-swings too!!! Big time.

      • fsdthreshold Says:

        That is really something about how your son also played X-wing pilot on the chair swings! He and I are many years apart in age, but Star Wars spanned enough time that we each got to have it in our childhoods!

        I would certainly love to hear how different readers found Dragonfly! It might be a little too self-serving for me to launch such a topic, but if you all start talking about it in October, I’ll be all ears! 🙂

      • Daylily Says:

        Shieldmaiden, that’s our cue! Doubtless, Fred will post something in October honoring All Hallows Eve. I’m sure that one or more of Fred’s friends will remember to start the discussion of the finding of _Dragonfly_ in the comments appended to that blog entry.

  18. Morwenna Says:

    Hi, all! I’ve been enjoying the blog and the comments very much.

    E.B. White’s children’s classic Charlotte’s Web has many pivotal scenes at the County Fair. (Spoiler alert if you haven’t read the book.)

    Templeton, a lazy rat, must be lured from the barn to the Fair by Charlotte the spider to help her save Wilbur the pig. The way to the rat’s greedy heart is through his stomach. The old sheep tells him, “In the hard-packed dirt of the midway . . . you will find a veritable treasure of popcorn fragments, frozen custard dribblings, candied apples abandoned by tired children, sugar fluff crystals, salted almonds, popsicles, partially gnawed ice cream cones, and the wooden sticks of lollipops.”

    The joyful part of the County Fair is there. But the sadness and loneliness mentioned in some other posts hits home hard: Charlotte, too exhausted to return to the barn, dies on the fairgrounds. “The infield was littered with bottles and trash. Nobody, of the hundreds of people that had visited the Fair, knew that a grey spider had played the most important part of all. No one was with her when she died.”

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Hi, Morwenna! Thank you for a wonderful comment! I’m trying to figure out if you’re new here and/or if I know you! Are you a member of a certain large family I know . . . or not? 🙂
      Anyway, Charlotte’s Web! That was the first book — possibly the first story — that made me cry. I remember sitting there in Miss Logan’s first-grade classroom during “free reading time,” trying to keep quiet as tears spilled from my eyes, hoping no one looked in my direction. It was a new feeling — a terrible hurt, but a hurt that was at the same time wonderful, because I knew it had been induced by a story, some words on paper that had created a reality in my mind that could affect me so much. That was one of the moments when I first knew I wanted to do this with my life, this writing thing.

      How perfectly appropriate that you should bring up this book as an illustration of the intermingled joy and sadness of the county fair! I’ve also always liked that E.B. White made it a point to note that Charlotte was a writer. It was her writing that saved Wilbur. There’s that beautiful line at the end about how rare it is to find someone who’s both a great writer and a good friend, and “Charlotte was both.”

  19. I remember the CC fair Says:

    Well met again, fair Shieldmaiden! As for Jedibabe, methinks recalling that she hath been detained a la thesis or dissertation work. However, her spirit (her ‘Force’ is you will) is — no doubt — with us, even if her keyboard seeketh more intricate elaborations.

    John C. — welcome aboard! Fred has to stay neutral, but his friends do not: The Arkham House hardcover IS Dragonfly. IT is the copy you want…the illustrations are fantastic! Ace Fantasy kicked the baby with a silly cover and no real idea of how or where to market the masterpiece. If they lost money it was their own bloody fault and is certainly not the fault of the story itself.

    I ask us all who visit here to contemplate the following: Have you met anyone — anyone — who has read Dragonfly and who would not rate it AT LEAST three stars out of five? (3 out of 5 makes printers money … but they still have to know how to get it into enough readers’ hands)

    FSD: The S.B. to whom I refer is the North School S.B., not the cheerleader. Does that clear it up? Think Bidwell St.

    And for Zoe and Daylily: I have cleared the countryside of brigands and those few remaining are on the lam. The Marsh Dragon lies dead and the Trollfells of Tovey are littered with their dead. In short — it is safe for you to come out and join us here at any time. We all love your comments, and the female touch helps keep us ruffians in line 🙂

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      A-ha! I had meant S.B. the cheerleader! Yes, a different S.B.!

      • I remember the CC fair Says:

        I thought so … I never recalled you showing any interest of that kind in the S.B. to whom I referred. “Your” S.B. never could stand me. A certain K.B. (the dresser) told me it was because I knocked S.B. over (I remember this as an accident for which I profusely apologized) during a co-ed volleyball game in PE. Oh well …

    • Daylily Says:

      I thank you, gallant Sir Brown Snowflake, for all your valour on our behalf! I am presently sojourning in the far reaches of Summerdark. Assuming that I do not lose my way in the cavern of green ice, I will return to enjoy the company of friends in the salon of FSD. 🙂

    • john Says:

      Thank you for the warm welcome! I have the paperback and now that the hardcovers are on the way… I am very interested in seeing if the desparity between the two editions is as extensive as you alluded to. I hope so as that would mean I’m in for a real treat with the hardcover.

      • fsdthreshold Says:

        Well, the hardcover was first, and it’s a collector’s item, as nearly all Arkham House books are. Jason’s illustrations are beyond wonderful, and his full-color cover makes one want to dive into the picture and wander there!

        Textually, though, the paperback is actually better. For the paperback edition, I made a couple small editorial changes, even adding some material in one place; and they allowed me to correct quite a few errors that crept into the Arkham House edition after I’d corrected the galley proofs. So there’s something to be said for both editions. It’s best to read the paperback and admire and cuddle the hardback!

        And thank you so much for ordering all those copies and for going out of your way to introduce others to this book! I am truly honored!

  20. Morwenna Says:

    Hi, Fred! No, you don’t know me (well, you do now). That was a first post, but I’ve read the whole blog and all of the comments.

    I can’t figure out how to put the title Charlotte’s Web into italics — how does that work? But anyway, here is the lovely quote you remembered: “It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.”

    Yes, it’s a wonderful book about the saving power of words.

    • Shieldmaiden Says:

      Hi Morwenna, thanks for your comments about Charlotte’s Web, it was lovely to read your quotes from the book. That story popped into my mind the moment I read Fred’s post, and wondered if any others had thought of it as well. I know Salsafy will stop by and say a few syllables about that great book if she sees this post. No matter the subject on this blog, books are always, always on topic. Or so it seems. I started reading the blog about September of 08. I enjoyed the posts so much that I kept up with the current ones, while on late sleepless nights I also started chunking away at the archives. It took me until about Christmas to read all the posts and comments but it was great fun. I didn’t know anyone here when I started, but eventually worked up the nerve to post a comment (probably about January of 09). This is the best blog and has the greatest group of readers ever.

      How to do the italics thing is hard to show you because if I do it you will only see the italics and won’t see what I did to get it. If you subscribe to the blog and get the emails of these comments then you should be able to see how it is done. I don’t think the italics code disappears in the email like it does on the blog. I will try to show you and we shall see what happens. Basically you want to put these two arrows in front and behind anything you want to wiggle (but don’t put in any spaces between the arrows) Charlotte’s Web You do however want to put spaces before and after the words you are italicising just as you would normally. To put the italics on you have to add a small letter i inside the first set of arrows (with no spaces) and to turn it off again, you put a /i in the second set of arrows. So you want: arrow left, letter i, arrow right = ON italics. And you want: arrow left, slashbar, letter i, arrow right = OFF italics. i inside /i inside. Hope this makes sense? And welcome to the blog! It’s great to have you here.

      • Shieldmaiden Says:

        Wow, the arrows disappeared from my comment. You want the arrows above the comma and the period on your keyboard. My directions won’t make any sense without them, and they have surely poofed… sorry.

      • Shieldmaiden Says:

        OK I think I’ve got it. I will use the parenthesis to illustrate, just substitute with the arrows when you do it:

        The book (i)Charlotte’s Web(/i) by E.B. White

      • Daylily Says:

        Hey, Shieldmaiden, thanks!! So I had to get up my courage to try this, because I am totally ignorant about writing code, and your explanation and directions worked on my welcome to Lisa! There is hope, even for the technologically backward. 🙂

      • Shieldmaiden Says:

        Hey, Daylily! Your welcome and I’m glad it worked. I have to give all the credit to our dear Tandamcat for teaching me the code. I as well am technologically backward, and would never have wiggled the words without great help.

        And, you are on for October… I’m ready with stories of Dragonfly and of finding this amazing book.

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Thanks for that quote, Morwenna! And wow!–I’m extremely honored that you’ve read the whole blog!

      I’m sending you by e-mail a message that just came in from Shieldmaiden explaining very clearly how to do the italics thing!

  21. Morwenna Says:

    Hi Shieldmaiden, and thank you for the warm welcome! Like you, I came to the blog after its start-up, and went back to read all of the archives.

    Also, thanks for your instructions on italics. I’ve just checked the boxes to subscribe to the site by e-mail and to be notified about comments. I hope that after I submit this, those mysterious arrows you’ve described will pop up. (Right now, all the screen offers is a cursor.)

    I’m so glad to hear that Fred’s county fair topic made you think about a certain “TERRIFIC,” “RADIANT,” and “HUMBLE” pig, and the loyal spider who rescues him. 🙂

  22. Morwenna Says:

    Hi Shieldmaiden,
    Now that my typed smiley face just got converted by the program, I think I’m understanding things a bit better. I’ll look at the italics code in the e-mails. Thanks again!

  23. I remember the CC fair Says:

    I just love the icons this blog puts by our names! Hey FSD, don’t you think our new friend john has an icon resembling the FofR ensignia?

    Sometimes when I am flying quickly from top-to-bottom I just look at the icons as they whizz by to see who is here … mine is the only Brown Snowflake, the only brown one at all, perfectly keeping my idiom as a brown stain on the world.

  24. Morwenna Says:

    Hi, Brown Snowflake,

    I’ve noticed the icons, too. Just yesterday, when I went to make my first post, I knew I’d be tagged with an all-important but random icon. I thought, “Please let it pop up green!” Amazingly, that bit of Celtic magic worked. The desired color not only appeared — it’s bright green! Thank you, leprechauns.

    You aren’t a brown stain on the world. You just look better in earth tones.

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