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(For those who long to be home this Christmastime. A poem by Robert Louis Stevenson, 18501894)

The sheets were frozen hard, and they cut the naked hand;
The decks were like a slide, where a seamen scarce could stand;
The wind was a nor’wester, blowing squally off the sea;
And cliffs and spouting breakers were the only things a-lee.

They heard the surf a-roaring before the break of day;
But ‘twas only with the peep of light we saw how ill we lay.
We tumbled every hand on deck instanter, with a shout,
And we gave her the maintops’l, and stood by to go about.

All day we tacked and tacked between the South Head and the North;
All day we hauled the frozen sheets, and got no further forth;
All day as cold as charity, in bitter pain and dread,
For very life and nature we tacked from head to head.

We gave the South a wider berth, for there the tide-race roared;
But every tack we made we brought the North Head close aboard:
So’s we saw the cliffs and houses, and the breakers running high,
And the coastguard in his garden, with his glass against his eye.

The frost was on the village roofs as white as ocean foam;
The good red fires were burning bright in every ‘long-shore home;
The windows sparkled clear, and the chimneys volleyed out;
And I vow we sniffed the victuals as the vessel went about.

The bells upon the church were rung with a mighty jovial cheer;
For it’s just that I should tell you how (of all days in the year)
This day of our adversity was blessed Christmas morn,
And the house above the coastguard’s was the house where I was born.

O well I saw the pleasant room, the pleasant faces there,
My mother’s silver spectacles, my father’s silver hair;
And well I saw the firelight, like a flight of homely elves,
Go dancing round the china-plates that stand upon the shelves.

And well I knew the talk they had, the talk that was of me,
Of the shadow on the household and the son that went to sea;
And O the wicked fool I seemed, in every kind of way,
To be here and hauling frozen ropes on blessed Christmas Day.

They lit the high sea-light, and the dark began to fall.
“All hands to loose topgallant sails,” I heard the captain call.
“By the Lord, she’ll never stand it,” our first mate Jackson, cried.
…”It’s the one way or the other, Mr. Jackson,” he replied.

She staggered to her bearings, but the sails were new and good,
And the ship smelt up to windward just as though she understood.
As the winter’s day was ending, in the entry of the night,
We cleared the weary headland, and passed below the light.

And they heaved a mighty breath, every soul on board but me,
As they saw her nose again pointing handsome out to sea;
But all that I could think of, in the darkness and the cold,
Was just that I was leaving home and my folks were growing old.

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Partly due to my commitment to give my time and talents, partly due to my passion for the subject matter, I led the creation of a new event last October at Saugatuck Congregational Church, UCC where my wife Alison is pastor. Our church had held a wonderful homecoming event in early September 2012 outside on the grounds and there was interest in doing more events like it. I floated the idea of holding a Halloween event, except with a bit more meaning and substance than one so often finds in the plastic and sugar commercial orgy of the “Halloween Season.” Everyone involved in the conversation immediately said, “Yes!” and All Hallows’ Fest was born. It went well, given that we tossed it together in the span of a couple of weeks. One of the ideas we set aside was to use the church cemetery, which is just a couple of blocks away and can also be reached via a short hike through a park and over…wait for it…Deadman Brook. This year we featured it.

We held the 2nd Annual All Hallows’ Fest this past Sunday. It began at Evergreen Cemetery with the creation of a “Memory Grove.” Participants were encouraged to bring photos, drawings, sayings, or objects that symbolized someone whose life they want remembered. They could also use the materials on site. We provided base objects (picture frames, bird houses, large letters, etc.) for the participants to adorn with the materials and then they hung their completed object on one of five “trees” my wife and sons helped me build. About 30 people participated in creating the installation that evening. We put flyers in the neighbors mailboxes letting them know that something unusual was about to appear in the cemetery and that the installation will be there until November 1. We also invited them to add their own objects during the week. I visited the site today to add some explanatory signage that reads:

Halloween is a pop culture economic bonanza in our country, but its origin and rich themes are often overlooked. The name “Halloween” is a contraction of All Hallows’ Evening. Hallows’ is shortened from hallowed, meaning sacred. Thus, Halloween actually means “sacred evening.” Sacred because it was originally a time for remembering loved ones who have died. Holidays based on the idea of remembering and celebrating departed friends and relatives are found in cultures around the globe. Additionally, many of these holidays occur at the end of the harvest season.  The ancient origins of Halloween and related holidays are inspired by the cycle of the seasons. As plants withered and shadows lengthened, people labored to prepare for the symbolic death of winter. They feared the cold and silence to come, but knew that the rebirth of spring lay beyond. Thus, Halloween is a thematically rich holiday that explores our very human fear of death and our interest in what lies beyond.

I also took some photos, which I’m pleased to share here:

All Hallows Memory Grove 03 All Hallows Memory Grove 04 All Hallows Memory Grove 05 All Hallows Memory Grove 06 All Hallows Memory Grove 07 All Hallows Memory Grove 08

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April is National Poetry Month. So, while on vacation in Tucson last week I decided to write some. Time was scarce, being all caught up in visiting family and going out and doing fun and interesting things, so I decided to see how many desert-themed haikus I could write in one short session on the back patio of my sister-in-law’s apartment. I wrote the five below, which I present along with an author’s note after each. Enjoy.

Tucson Desert 02

 

husky in desert
sniffing at a saguaro
all the news is bad

(My sister-in-law has a beautiful female husky that had just sat on my foot, so I decided to include her. I like the humor of the image, but the truth is also that much of the news last week was bad indeed.)

unfamiliar birds
sing while they pose for pictures
taunting the tourists

(I had been enjoying all the unfamiliar bird songs of the local species and was definitely doing the touristy thing of shooting many, many pictures. Locals, including my sister-in-law, tend to be amused.)

every patch of shade
is a fleeting oasis
like so much in life

(After that last lighthearted haiku, I decided to try a more philosophical angle and seek truth in nature. Change is constant. We cannot remain comfortable in one place or set of circumstances for long.)

two black feathered birds
perched in the desert sun
lamenting their clothes

(Two black feathered birds had just landed in the tree above me and were having quite a conversation. I wondered whether it’s hot being a black feathered bird in the desert.)

washing the sidewalk
on a desert city street
while others wake parched

(Earlier in the day while my sister-in-law was running an errand, the rest of us sat in the car watching a city worker power washing the sidewalk. It struck us as an odd, sort of wasteful thing to do. When my sister-in-law returned, he offered to power wash her car, which was pretty dusty. She accepted and we laughed as we watched our impromptu trip to the car wash unfold, but I kept thinking about people who don’t have enough water.)

Tucson Desert 01

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Spaceports & Spidersilk - April 2013“The Awake Fairy,” my first published children’s story is now available in the April 2013 issue of Spaceports & Spidersilk (Nomadic Delirium Press).

Like so many children’s stories, “The Awake Fairy” is about a misfit of sorts. I had fun telling this story to my 10 and 7 year old sons and then more fun typing it out and giving it a polish. Thanks to Marcie Tentchoff for taking in this little fellow and giving him a home so that others can meet him.

Spaceports & Spidersilk is available on Smashwords and can be purchased and downloaded for your Kindle, iPad/iBooks, Nook, Sony Reader, Kobo and other eReader devices. It’s also available as a PDF or in HTML or in several other formats. Basically, if you have a computer or a phone or other device that acts like a computer, you can obtain a version that will work for you.

Enjoy.

 

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I’m having a fairly normal year for me, writing wise. In January, I was bursting with creativity and words were flying out of my fingers. I wrote more in a month than I did in half of 2012. Then February came. Illness and school vacation and competing agendas slowed my creative engine to a sputter. But then March arrived with improved health and a couple of submission deadlines I wanted to meet. End result: a second good month where I met all of my goals. And then….

Right. April has been lousy so far. For two weeks I was hopelessly sidetracked by a marketing project for my church. It’s good work to do, but it consumed far more of my time and spirit than I had anticipated. Add in the Little League season starting up along with a couple of projects for the school my sons attend and I’ve been getting almost nothing done on the writing front. (Including posting here. Twitter, by design, is easier to keep going even when busy.)

But April isn’t over. Heck, there’s more than half to go. So, I’ve plenty of time to restore order and regenerate momentum.

I just wish I was wired a little differently. I wish I had enough endurance and could parse my brain space sufficiently to do it all. And sometimes I have the demoralizing sensation that if I just did less for other people, I’d be a more accomplished and successful writer. Lots of great artists are renowned for their selfishness and/or chemical dependencies. So, maybe if I turned my back on my family and became an alcoholic….

But that’s not me. And most of the time I love doing all of the volunteer projects and other work that I do. I certainly don’t know how to parent any differently. I have always poured massive amounts of time into being a dad. The results of my approach are pretty darn good, as the most recent set of parent/teacher conferences reaffirmed this week. (And, yes, I know I’m not solely responsible by any stretch, but I like to think I have something to do with their development.)

So what I’m left with is a writing life that takes place in fits and spurts, ebbs and flows. The rest of the time I’m busy with other parts of my life, all of which informs my writing in the end. And the artist in me always reasserts itself. That’s how I started this journey to begin with. I hadn’t written fiction for years until I woke up one day and had to and wrote what became my first published story. Having figured out that I am an artist and that writing is my primary form of expression, I know what’s wrong when I am busy for too long with other things and start to get bitter and depressed. I’m not taking care of myself. I’m not feeding the artist.

My family and I are traveling to Tucson to visit one of my sister-in-laws for a week. I’m leaving behind church marketing and youth baseball and Scouting and school art projects and the rest. But I am bringing my journal and my pens and my Kindle.

Time to feed the artist.

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Sigh….

Kids Dream Bookcase

Love this. If my Dad had built one, you would have found me like this quite often. I have a tiny fraction of his skill with tools and building things (though I surprise myself every so often) so it is unlikely I’ll be building this for my sons. Besides, they’re getting big…and I’d want to climb in there, too…and so would Alison. Which would mean I’d have to build one at least double the width of this and able to support hundreds of pounds in readers.

Sigh, again.

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Supernatural Tales 23I’m pleased to announce that Supernatural Tales #23, which includes my story, “Last Testament” is now available for you to purchase and enjoy. You can buy a digital flavor for your reading device of choice. You can also buy a print flavor. Both taste shadowy and pleasingly strange and will linger long after you brush your teeth, but you wont mind. (And if you are a fan of supernatural horror of the ghost and weird tale variety, consider buying a subscription.)

“Last Testament” is about a family awash in grief. It is also about secrets that cannot, despite all efforts, be kept hidden. And it’s about grappling with how to reconcile belief in God with a mounting belief in supernatural phenomena. There’s even a graphic novel hidden in the middle with no pictures except the ones you’ll see in your mind.

I’ll let the Marketing Department of Supernatural Tales tell the full story of what you’ll find inside #23. (I’ve shamelessly copied and pasted the below from here and hope the Legal Department of Supernatural Tales won’t sue.)

Supernatural Tales #23

Edited by David Longhorn

‘The Singing’ – Iain Rowan
A mysterious stranger who can’t – or won’t – speak is washed ashore on an island of fishermen and farmers. When he is taken to church, he reveals an extraordinary, wonderful, and – for some – disturbing gift.

‘Ilona’ – Tina Rath
An East European worker is mopping floors in an NHS hospital. She is an ‘illegal’, on a sub-minimum wage. What could be more mundane? But behind closed doors, an ancient evil lurks…

‘A Moment of Your Time’ – Katherine Haynes
Have you ever been waylaid by one of those people who ask you to complete a survey in the street? Or are they, in fact, people at all?

‘Screech’ – Gemma Farrow
When a couple are expecting their first child, it’s only natural for them to be possessed by irrational fears. Unfortunately, in some cases those fears are rather well-founded.

‘Last Testament’ – Craig D.B. Patton
An artist dies, and his relatives try to make sense of his strange legacy. Modern technology becomes the medium of supernatural revelation.

‘The Second Wish’ – James Everington
When a man returns to England to deal with the estate of his deceased parents, he finds himself sleeping in his old room, and reading a familiar book of eerie tales.

‘The Tempest Glass’ – Daniel Mills

‘Or, How Love Deserted the Reverend Danforth’. Set during the early part of the last century, this period piece riffs on the classic idea of a mysterious artefact with strange powers.

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