Posts Tagged ‘Twilight’

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.

The Enchanted Hour

June 12, 2010

It’s been called the Hour of Magic . . . the Enchanted Hour . . . that time when the sun only just peeps over the edge of the world, going or coming . . . when shadows take prominence, shapes become fantastic, the sky is painted with extraordinary hues, and the light is soft and strange. Even the words we have for it are beautiful: dusk . . . twilight . . . gloaming.

The transition time between day and night has always been seen as mystical. Ancient fairy-lore suggests it is a prime time for encounters with the Good Folk. How often it is recalled in story, song, and poetry! And I’ll just bet we all have some vivid memories of twilights — long ago or not-so-long ago. Among this crowd in this season, I think this topic could be one of our best times yet!

Since I’m wearing the blog conductor’s hat, I’ll start us off. First, I’ll go back to summers in junior high and high school. My dad’s favorite place in the world was the pond at the back of our ten-acre plot in rural Illinois. In the corner of the long, thin property, behind the field, and accessed by a quarter-mile of grassy lane, the pond was bordered on two sides by wild timber teeming with wildlife. Many’s the time we’d startle a deer drinking at the water’s edge. At our approach, it would spring away into the trees, a flash of tawny grace. The chorus of coyotes is typical night music there. I’ve met bright red foxes near the pond; opossums, raccoons, skunks, more snakes than I care to count . . . and you’ve heard, I think, of the adventure Mr. Brown Snowflake and I had down there on a moonless night, being stalked by a bobcat.

The hike down to the pond was the perfect length: long enough that you felt you were leaving the everyday world behind, but short enough that you could get there pretty quickly. Of course, we always had special pond vehicles: a barely-running car or a pickup truck with no doors (for easy jumping in and out of) — vehicles that were just for our land, not road-licensed; and, like most farm kids, I learned to drive them when I was about ten years old. [The problem with no doors on a farm truck is that wildlife thinks the truck belongs to it: more than once, we found discarded white snakeskins, disturbingly long — and diving into the truck without looking could mean diving through a giant spider web, spider present. In the country, you learn to keep your eyes open.]

But anyway, I was talking about my dad. He loved to go down to the pond and work: mowing with his weedcutter, sickling by hand, or reinforcing the dam, all of which we did together, and I’m sure there must be a place in Heaven for doing it again. As it got too dark to see the weeds, Dad would retire to a bucket seat out of some old car that he had placed on a high point a few feet from the water. He’d sit there wearing his ever-present bill hat, smoking a cigarette. (Can I say “cigarette” in a public forum?) From a long way off through the dusk, I could see the red spark of the cigarette’s end, a little beacon showing me where Dad was. If we’d stopped work early enough, while there was still light, I’d sit on a rock, or the concrete retaining wall — or best of all, on some piece of rusting farm machinery half-overgrown by weeds — and I’d read fantasy as the light faded. I specifically remember reading parts of Clark Ashton Smith’s Zothique and parts of Stephen R. Donaldson’s Lord Foul’s Bane down at the pond.

Mom, for her part, loved to pull weeds in the garden until it got too dark to see. Or to pull weeds in any of the dozens of flower beds she had all over the yard. She was a firm believer in pulling weeds, not cutting them. “You’ve got to get the roots out,” she said. I always tried to convince her that, if floating seeds and spores had planted the weeds there once, they would do it again — it was the wonderful way of the green world — and that cutting or mowing was faster (and much more fun!). But she’d have none of it. I think we were both partly right.

So I’d help her pull weeds as the sun went down, and we’d have itchy hands that smelled of plant juices, our skin needing the occasional spine or bur removed with tweezers in the bathroom’s yellow light. And Mom and I would do the same: when she’d pulled enough weeds, she’d sit on the porch with her cigarette glowing, and I’d sit on a lawn chair or a cart and read H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, Lord Dunsany. . . .

Childhood games were the best, weren’t they? Playing and playing with the neighborhood kids as the purple shadows deepened, as the sky shifted from gold to red to lavender to purple, and night came on with slow wings. If you were playing hide-and-seek, the twilight helped you hide. The dark made your dramatic charge back to home base all the more dramatic. And always, just before you finally surrendered and went inside to baths and beds, you would stop just for a moment and gaze in awe toward the west, where the last glow was crimson behind the silhouette trees, and the soybean mill stood like a black castle.

I remember the summer of 2006, after both my parents had passed away, and I was living in our old house, slowly cleaning it out, discovering all the old relics of our pasts — long lost toys, photos, Dad’s early writing, the treasures of my parents’ combined libraries. . . . By then, the pond was overgrown — ringed round with new trees, high with weeds — but still there, a haven for the deer and the foxes and the birds, which would make Dad happy. Weeds had taken over much of the yard, sharing the space with Mom’s flowers, some of which are still coming up unassisted to this day. (In her last years, when Mom was too arthritic to do much weed-pulling and Dad was too frail to mow, Mom declared that she was deliberately letting the yard grow into a “restored historic Illinois prairie,” which was a good thing, recommended by ecologists. Always looking at things from the best possible angle, my mom!)

During that summer, I nearly always made it a point to be outdoors when the sun neared the western horizon. I’d walk around the yard, studying the trees and the weeds, always accompanied by the dogs, who understand a person’s moods at least as well as any human being. Sometimes they’d wag and jump up and ask for petting; sometimes they’d sit quietly beside me on the sun-warmed road, peering west across the fields, watching the light go behind the bean mill.

And the fireflies! At our place, they come out by the thousands — yellow-green, Earth-bound stars! Winking and winking, far and near, high and low, from the trees to the fields to the forest. They are the heralds of things ancient and timeless, things whispered and read and re-told, the emissaries of Faery.

Give us what you’ve got: stories, memories of the dusk — all the tales that are meet and right to share! (Dawn is okay, too!)

Encouragement

January 13, 2009

Yes, it’s a lame title, I know. But good titles are hard to come up with, aren’t they? Just a little while ago I was complaining to a friend about the trouble I’ve had finding a title for one of my works-in-progress. I was calling it The Fires of the Deep until an editor told me I’d better change it so that no one would confuse it with Vernor Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep. Recently, I thought I had it all figured out: I was going to call it The Twilight. Beautiful, right? But what is every girl and her mom in America reading right now?–yep, a little something called Twilight. Sigh. Anyway, titles fascinate me. (Back in the early days of this blog, I asked readers what some of their favorite titles were. Anyone else want to ring in on that? I still say the current reigning champion is The Pillars of the Earth. I’m not talking about content, mind you: just sheer titular awesomeness.)

But anyway! I’m overwhelmed with thankfulness this week for the letters that continue to come in, either to Cricket (which Cricket very kindly forwards to me) or on the Web site (www.cricketmagkids.com/corner/frederic-s-durbin). Now, to keep things in perspective, not 100% of readers like the story. On the Web site, in some of the discussion threads, there are a few readers who say they haven’t read it — that they’ve avoided reading it — which is understandable. As a kid, I was put off by continued stories. I disliked them in comic books, I disliked them on TV, and I disliked them in magazines. I much preferred stories that ended inside one cover. Long was fine, but I never wanted to see “to be continued.” So I understand where those readers are coming from.

There are also some readers who say “What’s all this fuss about ‘The Star Shard’? I don’t like it.” Those always upset me, and that’s human nature, I suppose: no matter how many kids say they love it, when one comes along who says s/he doesn’t, I’m all aargh and ouch. I walk around for the rest of the day with one of those smoldering cartoon balloons over my head — the kind that are just full of dark scribbles. The worst was one who said she didn’t think Cymbril acted like a real girl. Coming from a real girl, that hurt! Another wrote that she didn’t think Cymbril really wanted to escape from the Thunder Rake — and actually, that’s quite a fair and astute observation. Cymbril does have mixed feelings about escaping, and that’s an important part of the story for me. It explores the true nature of happiness. What is the difference between a blessing and a burden? Is there always a clear difference? Can there be an overlapping of the two? What is the nature of freedom? “Stone walls do not a prison make, / Nor iron bars a cage.”

Most often, though, the naysayers then go on to rip on the illustrations — and if anyone starts ripping on those, which are breathtakingly gorgeous and perfectly appropriate to the story, then I know the commenters are just plain out to attack, and I don’t feel as bad. It’s like how, if someone starts spouting racial slurs, for example, you know you don’t have to worry too much about that person’s opinions.

(To be clear: most readers are saying good things about “The Star Shard” — I don’t want to give the impression that it’s a controversial story. To the best of my knowledge, the response to it has been quite good.)

But to speak of the illustrations brings me to another point: I am fully aware that a lot of the enthusiasm readers have for “The Star Shard” is on account of the pictures. Some readers have said, “I love this story — especially the pictures!” I can tell that some love Loric because of the way the artist has drawn him. If this story were published without the artwork, I don’t think it would be nearly as popular. One of the funniest things is how Cymbril’s dresses have built up a fan base among younger teen and pre-teen girls! That’s something I certainly didn’t think about when writing the story, but the fact that her Master dictates exactly what she wears at each of the markets is another significant part of the character’s development . . . and the artist has made the costumes all look so good that we get letters and fan art centered on Cymbril’s wardrobe! (If the series ever does well enough to generate a line of action figures, we’ll have to have Pink-Dress Cymbril, Green-Dress Cymbril, Puffy-Sleeves Cymbril. . . .)

Three letters this week have been particularly encouraging. One reader wrote: “I wanted to tell you that I am totally hooked on ‘The Star Shard’ (April 2008-2009)! It is one of the most incredible continued stories I have read. . . .”

Another was from a young person whose life was completely turned on its side recently when she was diagnosed with diabetes. Now she has to endure daily injections, and everything is different; but she says Cricket and “The Star Shard” have been a source of fun that she really looks forward to. When you hear things like that. . . .

Finally, just today I read a letter that said “The Star Shard” made the person start reading Cricket! She had always considered Cricket to be her sister’s magazine. One day she picked it up idly and read Part V of my story, and she was so captivated by it that she went tearing around the house digging through National Geographics in search of the earlier installments in Cricket! She went on to say that if this becomes a book, she’s definitely going to buy it.

And a great many fans have said that — they’re clamoring for a book. One wrote that it’s the sort of story one curls up with on a rainy day and reads even though one has read it many times before — wow!

So it continues to be an overwhelming, humbling experience. I never dreamed I’d be in this place as a writer — even a year or two ago, I wouldn’t have believed it. Soli Deo gloria — “To God alone be glory”!

By about the end of this week, Lord willing, I’ll be delivering the novel-length version of The Star Shard to my agent. If he finds no problems with it, he’ll pass it along to the editor who has expressed a significant interest in it (and whose detailed notes I used carefully in the expansion process). This is a critical phase: will the story stand up without the illustrations? Have I successfully built a novel — or rather, helped a novel to grow — around the more streamlined version? I feel good about it and would certainly appreciate the prayers of anyone so inclined that The Star Shard will find a publisher as Book One of a series — and that readers will embrace the book as they have the magazine story!

Okay, on a humorous note: my computer’s grammar- and spelling-checker cracks me up! It always goes nuts over my fiction, griping endlessly about my use of commas. It hates all reflexive pronouns, even when they’re used correctly — like photocopy machines made after about 1990, it thinks it knows better than any silly human what needs to be done. Again and again, my grammar-checker says to me, “You can’t be serious,” to which I reply, “I’m deadly serious. Now back way off.”

This is the hilarious part: this evening I was making a worksheet for my academic writing kids. It was a whole sheet of sentences with no punctuation whatever — my students will be adding the commas, colons, and semicolons needed. By force of habit, I ran the spell- and grammar check — and the computer instantly gave the green light to the whole page. No problems at all!

So there you are. If you want to be really correct, just don’t use punctuation. Don’t use any. None. Just don’t use it. Let your sentences run on and your clauses commingle.

It’s just like how our society believes that “I” is always more correct than “me.” Always, in every case. “Me” is for unschooled cretins. And every single “s” should have an apostrophe in front of it. In fact, I think they’re teaching the alphabet that way in schools now, aren’t they?

. . . O P Q R ‘S T U V. . .

On that note, until next time — many ble’s’sing’s!