Snake Oil

“Snake oil or Memory Elixer anyone?” photo, Wesley Fryer, CC by 2.0
A couple of years ago, when Candace, my “Belgian” daughter was visiting, she asked me repeat to her boyfriend the swimming hole story I had told her as an adolescent. I couldn’t remember, until she reminded me. It goes like this …

I said, “As a boy, I was staying with a great-uncle in Kentucky, and a bunch of us went to the local swimming hole. I jumped in first, and discovered that a nest of water moccasins had taken up residence. I immediately swam for shore, but the snakes surrounded me, closing in, and they began biting me with their deadly venomous fangs!”

Candace asked, “Oh my god, Dad! What happened?”

I told her gently, “Well, Candace. I died.”

State of the Smithy

“Blacksmith at Work” photo by Derek Key, CC by 2.0

A year ago, I had an audacious plan: Finish translating Aquelarre, write a sonnet weekly for The Pastime Machine, release a monthly 6-page D6xD6 RPG expansion, publish another poet or author monthly, launch a D13 RPG Kickstarter this fall, manage an annual Halloween anthology, attend a half-dozen conventions, and possibly publish a dice game and a couple of Monster Con card game expansions.

Today, I’m staring at a bucketload of unfinished business. My Aquelarre translation is overdue. I’m behind on The Pastime Machine. The monthly D6xD6 schedule is on hold after just two releases early in the year. I have a stack of unpublished poetry books and novels (including one posthumous title by an old friend). My D13 RPG project is delayed indefinitely (with a half-dozen illos already paid for). I’m barely able to leave my house. And the dice and card plans are in limbo (also with some art finished). While this year’s annual Halloween anthology, Lupine Lunes, is still a go (with family help), that project is much lower key than in the past.

So what happened?

You may know that I’ve have a neurological condition for a decade—a diagnosis of “more-than-migraine/less-than-seizure”—and over the past two years I’ve suffered some related prescription side effects. Add in new family responsibilities—including a daughter’s foot amputation—and I’m fairly overwhelmed.

As a generally upbeat, hopeful guy, I kept planning for the future, expecting things would sort out eventually.

I still believe they will, but the sorting out is taking longer than I had hoped. And part of that is facing the idea that I just can’t keep up the pace. I’m at diminished capacity. It’s sobering, but I can’t keep expecting to “recover.” This may be my new reality.

I love my work. Translating Aquelarre has been the opportunity of a lifetime, but I’ve been talking with Stewart Wieck (the publisher) about getting help. On the side, I’ll continue drafting a sonnet a week for The Pastime Machine. And with family help, we’ll finish Lupine Lunes. I can’t even think about the rest right now.

But one last thing: I apologize to everyone who was counting on me for more. That weighs on me. I’ve done my best, and my best wasn’t good enough. I’m truly sorry.

Sincerely,

Les

Halloween 2106: Lupine Lunes

Lupine Lunes KS bannerIt’s that time of the year again—Halloween season! And for the eighth year in a row, Popcorn Press is holding an open call for horror poetry and short fiction. This year we’re featuring werewolves and lune format—but we welcome nearly any horror subject and form.

If you’re new to our “Popcorn Horror” event, it started back in 2007, during my second term as WFOP president.

Not having time to prep a Halloween party, I was struck by the idea of celebrating by publishing an anthology in one short month: start taking submissions on Oct. 1, and have an ebook delivered by Oct. 31, with files to press for a print book that same day. It was a crazy amount of work—on top of a day job and the WFOP presidency—but it was also a joy, and all sorts of people took part, even those who don’t normally think of themselves as writers or poets. There’s something about Halloween that inspires people to wear an identity they wouldn’t try the rest of the year.

On a related note, for years now I’ve been of the opinion that about 100 years ago, academia stole poetry from the general populace (and maybe creative writing in general). This annual Halloween project is one small way of stealing it back.

So, mark your calendars for Oct. 1, and get ready to submit something of your own! Or help make the project a success by pre-ordering copies so we can pay our authors. You’ll find all the details on our Lupine Lunes Kickstarter page.

Thanks, Happy Halloween (and clap for the wolfman).

Faux Paris Story

"La Vie En Rose" photo by August Brill, CC by 2.
“La Vie En Rose” photo by August Brill, CC by 2.
Caveat: I do not remember writing this, though I found it today in my personal freelance folder, dated 14 Jan. 2013, and it feels vaguely familiar, like a dream I woke from. Or maybe you wrote it …

He is sitting with a middle-aged black couple at an outdoor cafe. A taxi almost sideswipes their table but manages to brake in time. The cafe proprietor chews the driver out in French. They are almost certainly in Paris.

The couple are driving him someplace—probably the airport. It is probably a rental car. They are probably returning home from visiting him at school in France. But no, they take him to their home. It is Washington, DC, the night before his flight back to France for school. And he tells his mother he feels their lives are being invented as they go, even the back stories. She laughs.

The couple are dropping him off at the airport the next day, giving him directions to his flight, its gate. They say goodbye. He enters the crowd. But his plane is redirected to a different location for a medical emergency. He’s made to wait for a new plane. And the one he would have been on explodes on take-off. His mother says, “We never saw our son again.”

He’s with a group of homeless street performers, almost certainly in Paris. They’re acrobats, perching on fences and such. He’s such a natural, more limber and fearless than even the leader, which causes some tension. All he carries in his pockets are a few coins, a comb, and an illusory left thumb (he has convinced even himself of the removable thumb trick).

They’re climbing a fence, and their combined weight begin to bring it down. So the rest of the group flees, leaving him to prop it up so it won’t be noticed for a while. A pair of elderly women, tourists, approach and ask him about the locale. He realizes that he knows details he hadn’t realized.

He goes searching for the street performers. Along the way, he happens upon an outdoor cafe. They are begging among the patrons. He slips inside, unnoticed. A waitress asks him is he would like a seat. He says no, that he would like work, if possible. She says with relief that they really need someone to help cook, but wouldn’t he like something to eat first. He confesses to having no money. She says in a motherly way that she can cover a meal—some soup perhaps?

He fills out the job application and realizes that a.) he is still in Washington, DC, and b.) he is a semester short of a Masters degree in International Studies. There is no thumb in his pocket.

He finishes the first half of his first shift and asks to borrow the phone. He dials his parents. A recording says, “We’re sorry. This number is no longer in service.” The waitress finds him crying. He feels something, at last.