Posts Tagged ‘autumn’

October Sun

October 18, 2011

The days of October tumble down and swirl away on the breeze, just like the leaves all around. I park my car under some trees that have been dropping bushels of leaves for a good month now, and they still have quite a few more to lose. I don’t mind at all that my car is always covered with the red, green, orange, and yellow foliage every time I go out to it. I clean the leaves off the windows and leave the rest (heh, heh, heh!) — they make a festive, autumnal decoration for my vehicle. On wet days, the leaves are pasted to the hood, trunk, and roof; on balmy dry days, they’ve mostly fluttered off by the time I turn the first corner.

I greatly appreciate the weather we’ve been having, with the warmth hanging on. I love not being cold. I love seeing the sun, though I noticed today how low it hangs in the sky in October, even at high noon. I’ve watched it slowly changing its mind on where to set. In summer, it went down behind the giant cross at St. Mary’s Cemetery; these evenings it’s falling into the woods.

On gray days, mist hovers and floats.

A dark day in October

I have new neighbors who moved in downstairs, and they’re very nice people! I’m glad the lower floors are occupied now. I feel less like a ghost haunting a vacant building.

Anyway, here’s another book that’s good for October:

A Night in the Lonesome October, by Roger Zelazny

A Night in the Lonesome October, by Roger Zelazny (Avon, 1993), comes to us courtesy of my friend Nick, who remembered loving the book years ago. It’s a little hard to acquire these days; but Nick, like another well-known adventurer/scholar, is — how shall one put it? — an “obtainer of rare antiquities.” He relocated a copy for himself and even an extra one for me, which he most kindly sent! The idea is that several of us are reading the book together (though we’re in far-flung places) during the month of October, after which we’ll compare notes.

The book lends itself well to that, because it’s divided into 31 chapters, named “October 1,” “October 2,” “October 3,” etc. Most are just a couple pages long, so it’s something even I stand a good chance of getting through (though not quite on time — I’m already well behind schedule). I’m reading a few pages just before bed each night.

Zelazny dedicated the book this way: “To — Mary Shelley, Edgar Allan Poe, Bram Stoker, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, H.P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch, Albert Payson Terhune, and the makers of a lot of old movies — Thanks.” Pretty cool, huh? Isn’t that dedication quite an endorsement? The work also includes delightfully strange illustrations by Gahan Wilson.

Anyway, like some other October books we know, this one is a loving tribute to the Hallowe’en season: in particular, to the iconic characters of horror, mystery, and spookiness. In this tale you will find Jack the Ripper, a terrifying Count, a Good Doctor who harnesses lightning for his questionable experiments, Mr. Larry Talbot who keeps a close eye on the moon, a Great Detective who smokes a pipe, and even some betentacled Great Old Ones. Some of these characters are “Openers,” bent upon letting horrors out of mirrors and closets when the time is right, which will unleash devastation on the world; some are “Closers,” dedicated to keeping the evils locked away and the world safe for humankind. It’s fascinating to find out which are which — the book is full of surprises.

What caught my attention right from the start was the skillful rendering of the tale’s narrator, a watchdog named Snuff. This faithful and formidable canine deserves a place among the ranks of the all-time great non-human protagonists such as Hazel-rah and Chaunticleer.

I understand that it’s pretty expensive to buy nowadays, but there are perhaps library copies to be found.

Anyway, let’s head back on out into October (foggy nights and days of the lowering sun) with a few photos and random flotsam:

One of my jack-o'-lanterns this year, 2011

 From my story “The Bone Man”:

“John is a skeleton,

John is dead,

All bony fingers,

Bony head;

No life in him,

Not a breath.

Lazy in life,

He’s restless in death.

All bony fingers,

Bony head —

Hope he’s not standing

By your bed!”

The other of my jack-o'-lanterns, 2011 (If I'm carving two, I usually try to make a friendly, happy one and a darker, less charitable one; Good Cop, Bad Cop . . . a Closer and an Opener, if you will.)

From “The Bone Man”:

“The skull’s eyes and triangular nose were simply the orange of the paper showing through, but they suggested a glowing, infernal light inside, like a jack-o’-lantern’s flame. The mouth was an exaggerated comb-like grid of orange lines. The image triggered a memory . . .”

"Sometimes I would rest my chin on the warm lid of a jack-o'-lantern and gaze out over the waving millet, searching the blue crystal stars . . ." -- from DRAGONFLY

From “The Bone Man”:

“The skeleton was just standing there, close enough to touch, but not reaching out, not bending forward, not really even seeming to look down at the kid. Just standing, standing. No skin, no rags of clothing — just two or three wisps of hair stuck to the skull, wiggly black lines . . .”

"We gave them scary faces, happy, sad, laughing, scowling, crescent-eyed, zigzag, mouths fanged, toothless, froggish. Then, with the falling of the dark, we set them aglow . . ." -- from DRAGONFLY

From “The Bone Man”:

“It was dark ahead of him, though fire still hung in the vanished sun’s wake.”

"We definitely had a problem. There were unearthly noises almost every night, increasing in volume and frenzy as the lightless bottom of the month drew nearer . . ." -- from DRAGONFLY

From “The Bone Man”:

“All around him, it was as if veils dropped away, and Conlin was walking back into the streets of his childhood. Here, under the breeze-shivery maples and oaks slouching toward cold, it was no longer the age of the Internet and little phones in your pocket . . .”

Illinois oaks, 2006

“Besides the autumn poets sing,

A few prosaic days

A little this side of the snow

And that side of the haze.”

— Emily Dickinson

We’re still in the market for Hallowe’en thoughts, stories, eerie tales, descriptions, autumnal musings, howls, sepulchral mutterings . . . and to that we’ll add an invitation to quote us a passage from a well-loved autumn book (scary, beautiful, or otherwise [or both]) . . . a favorite Octoberish poem . . . or just to tell us about a time when a storyteller gave you a chill for which you were grateful!

Happy Hallowe’en!


DRAGONFLY: The Commentary Track

May 30, 2008

Dragonfly was conceived and written on two continents, on opposite sides of the world. Come along with me on the official fan tour of historic locations relating to the book! What you’re looking at here is one of two “Birthplaces of Dragonfly.” This is the one that’s easier to get to if you live in Japan. This little grove of trees is in front of the Humanities building at Niigata University’s Ikarashi campus. As the story goes, I had come to the university that day with two friends who were attending a special seminar on how to make kimchee. This is so far in the dim past now that I don’t remember why I tagged along, since I had not intended to go to the kimchee session. While my two friends were indoors learning how to bury cabbage and spices with the full intention of digging them up again, I was wandering around in the location you see, and the ideas for the book began to flood over me. It started, as I recall, with the two names Dragonfly and Mothkin. I glimpsed in my head something like a cutaway diagram of cellars or levels descending into the Earth. I knew Dragonfly was a girl who was going to journey down and down into a place that would be peopled with werewolves, vampires, and other Hallowe’en boogey-folk.

An early idea that I later discarded was that Dragonfly would spend much of her life in Harvest Moon —DRAGONFLY was conceived in this evergreen grove near the statue known as VICTORY. that she would live, have a job, marry, and have children there. I imagined her pulling a cart with onions to sell. The phrase “Onion Years” swirled around in my mind. In the finished book, Dragonfly does get into a bit of agricultural commerce with Sylva, but she doesn’t become the mother of a new generation of werewolves. (If they had had a child, what would they have named the little one? Maybe “Glamis” after Grandpa Cawdor, in keeping with the Macbeth theme? Or perhaps it would have been twins, Mac and Beth?)

What follows here are some views of fall in the place I grew up. This is what autumn looked like to me as a child. So this is the other half of the tour: the sights and settings that colored the (overabundant) descriptions in Dragonfly. I loved the fall — not as much as summer, but I loved it — and Hallowe’en was its crowning glory. I’d already be thinking of costumes in July or August. I’d figure out what I wanted to dress up as. It was usually something from whatever book I was reading: a Skull-Bearer from The Sword of Shannara,  Gandalf, C-3PO, the shark from Jaws (those are all real examples). . . . Mom and Dad would lend their grownup engineering expertise. Dad would build things like Skull-Bearer wings, and Mom would open the trove of ancient family clothing and props. She also knew how to shop the Goodwill and Salvation Army stores for excellent costume raw materials–such as the Styrofoam dinosaur head that I wore in one Hallowe’en parade, or the shaggy fur coat that, when snipped and re-stitched in the right places, became a wondrous full-body gorilla suit for my gradeschool-sized body. Dressed as the gorilla, I emerged from the darkness near Memorial School where people were lining up for the annual parade, and I remember some kids reacting with a bit of genuine fear.

What a wonderful holiday! The parade is a long tradition in our hometown, going back well before my time. When I was little, one family heirloom was a hideous rubber crone mask — wrinkled brow, melancholy eyes, cucumberish nose, jutting warty chin, etc. My maternal grandmother used it once to freak out her husband. He was a Taylorville policeman. On the night of the Hallowe’en parade, he was directing traffic at the parade lineup. His wife, my grandma, approached him in full costume, wearing the mask (which apparently he didn’t know about), and proceeded to “get fresh” with him–patting his face, being very clingy, etc. I smile to picture this proper, serious policeman (in the black-and-white photo I’ve seen of him, he wears his uniform, a pair of glasses with tiny round frames, and a Hitler moustache) beginning to squirm as his unknown “assailant” begins to cross the line from holiday merriment into “This-is-most-irregular.”

I could never stop with just one costume for the Hallowe’en season. I’d develop at least two: one for trick-or-treating and one for the school party. (Sometimes there’d be a third for the parade.) Although I knew full well the costumes I’d be making would be cooler than anything “off the rack,” I could never resist ogling the bright, simple suits that a lot of kids bought last-minute at the stores downtown. (People bought things downtown in those days, from the stores all around the town Square. This was long before we had a Wal-Mart.) You know those costumes, I’m sure: the face-masks secured by an elastic string around the head, the garish two-piece attire whose designs and colors don’t even try to simulate what the character is supposed to look like. For example, Frankenstein’s monster–instead of wearing ragged, mismatched, stolen clothing, the dime-store monster wears a shiny yellow shirt with his own menacing portrait on the chest, and scary-letters proclaiming him “FRANKENSTEIN!”

Well, I’d generally beg my mom to buy me one of those. If my cousin was visiting, he’d ask for one, too. Mom never indulged us in this request. She’d say, “No. You don’t want one of those sleazy costumes. We’ll make a better one.” Kids, of course, are always on the lookout for the proper names of things; I latched onto the term “sleazy costumes” and assumed it was the proper name for that type of dime-store costume . . . perhaps even a brand name. My mom often told the story of how my cousin and I ran after her along the bustling sidewalks of our town, both of us wailing, “I WANT A SLEAZY HALLOWE’EN COSTUME!” (We never got them. We ended up with not-at-all-sleazy costumes.)

Anyway, I wrote the first 80 or so pages of Dragonfly in Japan on my Ricoh N-10 word processor, a machine about the size and weight of a microwave oven. Most of the rest, as I recall, was written in Taylorville that summer, some at our dining room table, some at my aunt’s house, and some outdoors on a card table set up just behind “the cave,” the root cellar/storm shelter you see pictured here. (That may have been the year I bought the 75-foot extension cord to enable me to write outdoors. All through my twenties, I loved the idea of writing out in the open air, in the wondrous lights of nature — the golden sunlight, the purple shade, the green glow of leaves.)


Here’s the General Education building at Niigata University as it appears today. This is where I do most of my teaching and a fair amount of my writing-related thinking.

Naming (especially in fantasy) is fun. To this day, I’m still struck at odd times with names for Untoward pairs and wish I’d used them in the book. I honestly don’t know why Dragonfly (the character) has that nickname. I liked “Mothkin” because of its suggestion of someone “kin” to the fluttering moths of the summer night, winging out of the black to beat against the screens or cling there. It seemed a good image for a dark, streetwise Agent of the Peaceable Kingdom as Mothkin is. Angels, I thought as a kid, shouldn’t all be dressed in pristine white with never a hair out of place. And in church Christmas plays, they shouldn’t be portrayed by the blonde girl. I always wanted to cast an angel to look more like a veteran prize fighter, more like a pirate. Finally with Mothkin, I got my chance.

“Sam Hain,” of course, is a sort of joke based on “Samhain,” the Celtic Lord of the Dead. (I know that the Celtic name isn’t pronounced like “Sam Hain” looks. But Hain himself wouldn’t be above adopting such a name as a pun of his own, so I think it’s justifiable.)

Uncle Henry was based on a character of the same name, appearance, and profession in my first real short story as a legal-aged writer, a piece called “Maybe Tonight” (which makes a good performance piece to be read aloud on Hallowe’en night). But it later occurred to me that Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz also had an Uncle Henry. I don’t think it was a conscious homage. It’s more a tribute to the first name of one of my two favorite college professors. Uncle Henry’s appearance is based on the psychologist who evaluated me for the Volunteer Youth Ministry program to determine if I was fit for living overseas in a foreign culture.

Sylva’s name, of course, is meant to evoke woodlands and wildness. Eagerly Meagerly — well, my idea there is the juxtaposition of eagerness — to the point of being ravenous and rabid — with meagerness, a state of inadequacy or lack. If you think of a skeletal ghoul tormented by an insatiable hunger, you’ll have pretty much the picture I intended. Mr. Snicker: the double meaning of “laughing” and the onomatopoeic closing of a pair of scissors — he’s “one who snicks.”

“Noyes” is another of my favorite names in the book. It struck me as perfect for a vampire. First, it sounds like “Noise,” and he is a whiny, verbose character. Second, it’s a combination of “No” and “Yes,” which seems right for one who is undead–both dead and yet animate.

The two biggest influences on Dragonfly? I’d say Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes and Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn — particularly the part about the Midnight Carnival.

Until next time!