Posts Tagged ‘October’

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!

October Sunset Walk

October 8, 2010

This time I’m going to go completely visual and let the pictures take center stage.

One of my favorite courses for my hour-long daily walk is one I call the "Summer Trees Course." This is a view from near the beginning.

The pictures were taken late in the day, at about the time I normally walk. I often pause at this point to peer into the trees, listen to the insects, and admire the evening light. Whatever I'm working on at the time is turning in my head.

The path leaves the first group of trees and heads into the setting sun. This is a pavement permanently blocked off from any car traffic, so kids and families from the apartment building at left often play ballgames here.

This is a look back in the direction of my place. It's a view I ordinarily see on the return trip.

Now I'm out on the main part of the course. A long, narrow park of sorts has been built along the Shinano River (Japan's longest river, which reaches the sea in Niigata City). Nice rock gardens and wooden footbridges abound here.

This evening as I passed this location just after the sun had set, a crow was sitting atop one of the rocks, silhouetted against the light western sky with willow branches beside him. It would have made a fantastic picture. I'll have to be content capturing it with words.

These log benches are ideal for lying down on. You lie in the notched part, and the raised section at the end makes a perfect pillow for your head. You can put your hat over your face, or else leave your eyes uncovered to gaze up at the shifting clouds.

Sunset approaches. Lord Dunsany wrote of "Those godlike shapes among the sunset's gold." In Japan, willow trees have ghostly connections. They're the trees beneath which ghosts appear.

Sunset on October 1st: warm, yet cooling. The sunset takes on a new character.

Beside the path, this little circular course is designed for relaxation and good health. The railed-in walkway has a variety of textures to stimulate pressure points in the soles of the feet. You take off your shoes and walk around it over inlaid rocks -- some rounded and smooth, some sharp, some rather agonizing -- and you come away a better person.

The Sunset Gate. There it is: the gate you need to go through to reach the setting sun.

The Shinano River: Here, we're looking toward the sea.

The pale sunset of October.

Briefly, the path dips away from the riverside and follows this stone wall.

Off and on over the years, I've heard the notes of the riverside trumpeter. Some trumpet player has discovered he can practice without disturbing anyone beside the river; and he can get amazing acoustics under one of the bridges. I've never encountered him close up, but I've often heard him at a distance, playing his scales and melodies across the river. In years past, I did the same with my trombone.

Scenes of solitary beauty lead one to reflect on how amazing life is: the things one is given to see and experience in our brief span of years.

This is my favorite part of the course, with trees on one side and the river on the other. The trees are dense and filled with singing insects. Fish splash at times on the river's surface. The sky is amazing.

When I was a kid, having seen JAWS at age 9, I dreamed of becoming a shark fisherman. I'd while away my days out on the sea in a little boat like this one, and I always pictured myself between battles with sharks, sitting in the cabin and reading the latest published Frederic S. Durbin novel, which, in my daydream, was a paperback with a silver cover. So I'm not sure if my fantasy was more about shark fishing or more about being a writer . . .

Walking is, for me, an essential part of writing. It's when I work things out; when I unravel those vexing problems of plot; when I begin to understand where the book or story is going.

Throughout this wonderful, hot summer, I walked this course. Since it's fairly private, I could be noisy if I wanted. I sometimes worked on my vocal impersonations -- specifically, Christopher Walken and Al Pacino. Yes, I practiced those two quite a lot in the summer of 2010.

Bobby Frost: "The woods are lovely, dark, and deep, / But I have promises to keep, / And miles to go before I sleep, / And miles to go before I sleep."

Sorry about the "Bobby." I'm still thinking like Al Pacino. The sun really starts talking once it's down.

At the very beginning of this blog, I quoted Bilbo and his thoughts about the road that "goes ever, ever on." This is a part of it.

Yes, this is the part of the road that runs along beside the Shinano. Followed far enough, it runs beside your door; and it runs to the deserts beyond Faraway; and it leads to Elvenhome.

This is a factory that makes cement. This is just about at the 30-minute point, where I turn around and head back to hearth and home. In the twilight, even this factory seems an enchanted place, with piles of rock and silent machines, with chutes and bridges and sometimes a late workman putting a saurian machine to bed.

This bridge marks the terminus; this is where I turn around. Sometimes the ghostly trumpeter plays here, though always on the far bank.

Have you ever seen such amazing colors? This, my friends, is October. October in the sky; October in the water; "October is In the Chair" (fantastic story by Neil Gaiman in FRAGILE THINGS). You know, this would be a good time to read DRAGONFLY. Does anyone have a story about how you first encountered that book? I'm thinking of the wonderful anthology titled OCTOBER DREAMS, edited by Richard Chizmar and Robert Morrish. There's a beautiful October sky on its cover, too, and its contents are the quintessential October experience.

And now the path turns homeward.

October Stories

October 10, 2009

000_0597BThis entry will, I hope, be more comment than posting. First, just to set the mood, here’s an excerpt from my story “Uther.” This “Fred” character isn’t me: he just happens to have the same name.

Fred checked his jeans pocket for his key, then quietly exited by the back door and locked it. He threaded among the leaning rakes, mower belts, oily rags, and generator parts. The sagging porch groaned under his added weight. Someday soon, all this junk was going to crash into the crawlspace below.

The leaves were mostly down now. Fred’s high-topped sneakers sank ankle-deep in their crackly carpet. The moon rode high and round through the limbs, but the night wasn’t as clear as he’d thought. Piles of cloud slithered like dirty snow in a stream, and a clammy breeze rustled the cornstalks his father had lashed to the porch posts for Hallowe’en and Thanksgiving. There was no art to the decoration: just a pickup load of dead stalks bound thickly to every support, like phase one of building a pyre.

[In this story, Fred is an inventor. He remembers a night from the previous August, and goosebumps break out on his arms.]

Fred was playing then with a gadget he’d impishly called “night vision goggles” — not because they helped you see at night, but because their prisms warped ambient light, helping you see night visions. The effects were wild and disturbing: objects had colored auras, tree branches seemed to reach toward you, and shadowy figures hovered everywhere, the mirages and residues of things beyond the lenses’ peripheries.

The goggles were downright creepy. It hadn’t been too smart to wear them into the hilltop cemetery. As Fred had scanned the tombstones, watching the marble angels breathe, their robes seem to flutter — watching the ground ripple, as if the dead were trying to claw their way up — he’d glimpsed two figures.

[Later in the story, Fred visits one of his favorite haunts, where he often gathers parts for his inventions: the town junkyard.]

Still, the illumination of the distant town brought comfort: the winking red light on the radio spire, the water tower like a Wellsian Martian war machine, the glowing windows of the five-story St. Francis Hospital. Human habitation, he mused. A little circle of warmth around the campfire, and beyond our cave, the bottomless night.

He followed the road toward the grain elevator, but turned off on the gravel lane leading toward Huggins’ Salvage. This track, which angled through an apple orchard on the town’s outskirts, was deeply rutted from the passage of heavy trucks, the caravans of exotic plunder — dead freezers, discarded furnaces, the obsolete and unwanted.

A chain-link fence and gate barred the main approach, but they were only a facade. The original Huggins had been dead for a decade, and his sons had done away with the fences on the sides and back of the salvage yard. Trucks could drive freely among the corrugated buildings now, and off to where the compound dissolved into mounds and canyons of trash brought with no expectation of payment.

The apple harvest had just ended, the ground still littered with the bird-pecked, the worm-eaten, the withered rejects. Fred trudged beneath the low, tangled limbs that drooped over the fence on his left, branches groping down toward the wrecked cars. The pulpy, overripe smell was strong here, the shadows deep; even leafless, the trees formed an interwoven roof.

At the snap of a twig, he spun.

[And later. . . .]

His heart leaped. Someone stood watching him, utterly motionless, a bald head and shoulders outlined between two cars.

Fred backed up, ready to run, hunching for a clearer view. The person made no move and seemed not even to breathe, as calm as. . . .

A mannequin. Fred slumped against a burned-out Chevy, knees going weak in his relief. He’d seen the dummy before, a thing with no arms, no face, and only a stick for a lower body. He was just too jumpy tonight.

Nor did it help that he was within sight of a feature he called the Gallows. It loomed to his right, a locust tree that had pushed up through a stack of chemical drums, a plastic-sheathed clothesline wire ingrown into one outstretched limb, swinging in the wind. He always looked to see if anyone had looped the wire into a noose.

Okay, let’s leave Fred there, because the situation is about to get very grim indeed.

And let’s go to the wonderful first lines that the readers of this blog have suggested so far! These come from comments to the posting two back from this one, called “Boo.” Here they are:

1.) The tree was weird.

2.) There shouldn’t have been a crack in the sidewalk. It hadn’t been there yesterday. The odd squishing sounds I had heard during the night came back to me as I leaned in for a closer look.

3.) It was a night when the white moon sucked all color from the world; a haunting melody was riding the breeze, but nobody in the car seemed to hear it but me.

[Those first three were submitted by SwordLily.]

4.) At the first exhibit at the grade school haunted house, Billy knew his hand was dunked into a plate of cold spaghetti, and not “body parts,” as his cousin claimed, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that it seemed as though some of the strands were warmer than others, and had tightened slightly around his fingers.

[That was from Marquee Movies.]

5.) It was a dark and stormy night.

[From Jedibabe and Daylily.]

6.) No one walked past this particular house even in daylight but I knew someone lived there, though I’d never seen them.

7.) It wasn’t dark yet; the sky was gray and looked like static as the wind screamed past us, rattling the old boards at the end of the street.

[Those two are from Shieldmaiden.]

8.) I watched, frozen in silence, as a deformed black shadow inched its way up the street . . . but where, pray tell, was its body?

9.) Two large red eyes, missing their pupils, stared at the boy, a mouth with multitudes of reddish teeth slowly materializing in the darkness.

10.) The moon twisted and moved, forming impossible shapes in the cold night; something black, with small beady eyes, sat atop it.

11.) She screamed as something rose out of the black water, making as if to grab her with its white bony hands.

[These latest four are from Kyran.]

Thank you to all contributors so far! (You can still contribute entries; I’d suggest leaving them as comments on this post, so we can find them easily.)

The next step: anyone who wants to can choose one of these eleven beginnings and use it to start a paragraph (or a few paragraphs). Write the paragraph(s) as a comment on this entry. You don’t have to tell the entire story of what’s going on or bring it to any kind of conclusion: just add to the scene, perhaps deepen the mystery, increase the weirdness — and above all, have fun! Let’s not any of us feel that we “can’t write” well enough to try this — remember, the bumblebee “can’t fly,” either!

It’s okay to reuse certain ones if someone takes the one you wanted. That’s the great thing about electronic text: there’s enough of it to go around. But ideally, let’s try to use them all before we’re done!

Talk to you soon!

Howlets Nightly Cry

October 10, 2008

I’m back, and the new school term is underway, and it’s time to give you an update on the writing life in my corner of the world. First of all, if you’ve already read Dragonfly and Something Wicked This Way Comes and the December 2007 issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction and nothing else fills the great void in your reading life in October, then this is absolutely the year to scare up a copy of October Dreams, that amazing anthology of Hallowe’en stories edited by Richard Chizmar and Robert Morrish. This is a book I take off my shelf every year at the beginning of October. I’ve been reading it in no particular order — it’s a big, thick book, so if you read like I do, it will last you five or six Octobers, at least. Like a well-laden Hallowe’en goodie bag, it’s brimming over with treats of the season — a cornucopia of frightening tales by a huge range of writers, some whose names you know well, some whom you’re probably hearing of for the first time. Almost better than the stories themselves are the “Favorite Hallowe’en Memories” interspersed. When I finish reading something in the book, I make a tiny X in pencil at the top of the section. It will probably take me another year or two to get through everything, and by then, I will have forgotten enough that I can start all over again. By FAR the best story in the book — among many that are brilliant and delightfully creepy — is Richard Laymon’s “Boo.” It pretty well encapsulates everything there is to love about Hallowe’en: the mystery, the adventure, the chills, and that wistful nostalgia that the holiday forever carries for all of us who are too old to trick-or-treat.

Okay, other news: it’s been a delightful summer of answering the letters from young readers who are enjoying “The Star Shard.” They’ve been writing in steadily to Cricket‘s web site, and I’ve been doing my best to answer. If you’d like to follow the discussion there, stop in at www.cricketmagkids.com/corner/frederic-s-durbin. Cricket has recently invited readers to send in their own illustrations for “The Star Shard,” and the artwork will eventually be displayed on the site. I can’t wait to see what readers will choose to depict and how they’ll go about it!

One especial highlight in the publication run was the cover of Cricket‘s September issue — Emily Fiegenschuh’s illustration (for “The Star Shard”) of Cymbril on the bow of the Thunder Rake! Poster prints of that image are available at www.cricketmag.com/coverprints.htm.

My current writing project is expanding “The Star Shard” into a novel-length book. Through a connection made by my diligent and wonderful agent, an editor at a first-rate publishing house has made me some careful notes on what he’d like to see in such a revision. Every suggestion he’s made is right on the money, so I’m going at it. Please wish me well! I have ideas for what I think will be a five-book series — Lord willing!

Finally, I’m gearing up for Calgary and this year’s World Fantasy Convention at the end of this month. I’m looking forward to seeing how a Canadian WFC will be different from a U.S. one.

Now here are some pictures. This first one is of me and my cousin a few years back — I’m the littler one, with the “What’s out there?” expression.

Then come a couple images from the Dragonfly tour, this time from the U.S. side: the actual alley behind the bank (as featured in the book’s Chapter 1) and the funeral home on which Uncle Henry’s is directly based.

After that, some images of October in Niigata, Japan: the rice fields after harvest, persimmons, the track of the famous shinkansen or bullet train (not an October thing, but included, anyway), a view of the Shinano River (Japan’s longest), and willow leaves — included for the Hallowe’en connection, since in Japan, willows have a strong association with ghosts; they’re the trees under which ghosts often appear.

A warm seasonal “Boo” to all!

Rice field after the harvest.

Rice field after the harvest.

Bullet train tracks
Bullet train tracks

Persimmons
Persimmons

Shinano River
Shinano River

Sea of Japan at Niigata
Sea of Japan at Niigata
Sekiya Canal
Sekiya Canal
The Matsubayashi
The Matsubayashi