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.

Why a Novel in Sonnets (and how you can help)

Bucket - Aaron Strout
“Shall I compare thee to a metal pail?” (“Bucket” photo by Aaron Strout, CC by 2.0)
I have a bucket list. It isn’t like most: I’ve already gone many places, seen wondrous things, met amazing people, found my true love, raised a family with her, owned a motorcycle, rode it through the Rockies, held multiple occupations (factories, nursing, military, game design, education), presidented the WI Fellowship of Poets, won some game-design and poetry awards, and so on.

My bucket list is to write a handful of novels that have been hanging fire while I did those other things.

Now, one great way to master novel writing is to write copies of what masterful novelists have written. Steven Pressfield (The Legend of Bagger Vance) typed out passages of Hemingway for practice. Jack London hand wrote copies of Kipling. Robert Louis Stephenson and Benjamin Franklin copied authors they admired.

I’m trying something different: In my first novel, I’ve been applying poetry skills to write chapters as sonnets, and aggregating those slowly but surely into an overarching plot. The result is The Pastime Machine, an irreverent mashup of Dante and Wells. It’s roughly half done at the time of this post.

After completing this first novel, I’ll tackle the next ones in prose. Before I die, I hope to finish at least Van Helsing’s Confession (an iconoclastic take on Dracula), L’Académie des Arcanes (an adventure story of modern-day magical police, based on the D6xD6 setting), and Suzie-Q Suzuki (which may well end up as a series). I’m sure other titles will come.

In our social-media world, many artists, musicians, filmmakers, and even game designers are supported in their work by a community of patrons. To fund my own creative dreams, I’ve set up a page at Patreon.com.

So, if you’re a friend, or a fan; if I’ve touched your life in some positive way in the past; please consider pledging $1/mo. at Patreon.com/LesterSmith to help make these things a reality. I promise to do my level best to make the rewards well worth your while. Thank you.

Ancestor Spirits

—Lester Smith

Jason stalked across the yard, a haunted expression in his eyes.

“Grab your toys and get inside, Linda.”

She stooped and clutched her raggedy bear, gazed up at him.

“It will be okay, Linda,” he said. “Let’s just hurry and get inside.”

He quickly helped gather her blocks and cars, tossing them into a plastic bucket, then took her free hand and marched her up the stairs, across the porch, and into the house. He set the toys on the hall rug, turned, and locked the door, pressing his hands and head against it.

The daylight dimmed, and a breeze sighed across the porch. It set the bamboo chimes to rattling like bones.

Let us in, Jason, he heard it whisper.

“Never,” he muttered.

“Daddy?”

Don’t disobey us, Jason, it insisted. Do as you are told!

“I will not.” He planted his feet more firmly.

“Daddy?”

You need to be disciplined, Jason. Spare the rod and spoil the child. You need respect!

He remembered the whippings of his youth, the angry welts left by his father’s frenzied switch—themselves the echoes of whippings by his father’s father, and countless generations before …

“Respect is earned,” he growled.

“Daddy?”

The wind whipped up, and the light darkened further.

Who are you to judge us? You are our offspring! The fruit of our loins! What makes you think you can choose your own way? Fool! You cannot oppose the weight of ages. You are what we made you!

“I am nothing like you!”

“Daddy!”

“Goddam it, Linda!” He spun toward her, fists clenched, teeth grinding. “What? What!”

She sat down hard on the rug, pale-faced, eyes wide with tears.

“Daddy, I’m scared,” she whispered.

He turned away, slumping his head against the door with a sigh. The ghosts had fooled him. They had found their way inside after all.

“It will be okay,” he lied.