Tag Archives: ghosts

Women in Horror: LindaAnn LoSchiavo

WiHM11-Scalples-wvToday’s guest is LindaAnn LoSchiavo, who hails from New York, where she writes poetry and does dramatic presentations as well.

When did you discover poetry and who influenced you?

As a toddler, I discovered rhymed verse in books and on Hallmark cards.

My first poems were written at 3 ½ years old. My parents, who were living in the basement of a building owned by my maternal grandparents, quarreled often. Invariably I retreated  to the peaceful second floor to be with my native Italian grandparents and my two unmarried aunts. My Aunt Fay was, like her father (i.e., my Grandpa Umberto), artistic and always sketching. My first poems were written to coordinate with her drawings: ballerinas, clowns, balloons, flowers, the Statue of Liberty, Coney Island’s Ferris wheel, dogs, cats, swans, birds, or squirrels.

My first stage play was written at 9 years old; it was seen onstage for 11 months in Brooklyn, NY.

Why do you write poetry?

I write poetry (as well as fiction, stage plays, drama criticism) because I have many things to say and a unique viewpoint.

However, I write ghost poems because of many encounters with wraiths.

What do you think is the most difficult aspect in writing poetry?
The ever-changing, increasingly fragmented marketplace. And the disappearance of good journals where many poets felt welcomed.

Do you explore particular themes? What are they and why?

My poems constellate into images orbiting certain themes: Italian culture, Catholicism, erotica, romance, disappointed or abused women, mythology and other speculative themes.

My upcoming event (March 21, 2020) is called “Verses Sacred & Profane: A Spicy Literary Lushness for Lent” https://www.eventbrite.com/e/verses-sacred-profane-a-spicy-literary-lushness-tickets-89928964955  I’ll be reading Catholic poems with a Lenten theme as well as erotic poems from my two new books.

Concupiscent Consumption, Red Ferret Press, 2020, is a collection of erotic poetry. This 24-page chapbook starts with kissing and explores seduction, temptation, the genitalia, bondage, whipping, adultery, etc.

A Route Obscure and Lonely, Wapshott Press, 2020, focuses on spec-po. This 54-page collection explores a variety of fantasy, sci-fi, mythology, and dark horror themes. Since you are spotlighting “Women in Horror,” let me mention some of my ghastly poems in this book: “Unquiet House,” in which two vampires pose as home-buyers in order to sacrifice a real estate agent; “The Tale of the Vintner’s Daughter,” which takes the Jane Austen marriage plot approach to an eligible bachelor named Count Dracula; “Footprints in the Snow,” about an abused wife who returns to haunt the home she was murdered in; “Embodiment,” about a woman slain by her boyfriend, who returns at bedtime to sleep in her younger sister’s room;”A Ghost Revisits a Tattoo Parlor,” a victim of domestic violence watches his new bride, who is getting her husband’s name tattooed; “Endless Night,” the frightening one you’ll never wake up from.

I hope someone who reads this interview would like to review my book.

The Tale of the Vintner’s Daughter

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a foreign bachelor,
in possession of a drafty castle, must be in want of a wife.”

She overheard her parents mentioning
A vast estate, long vacant, just changed hands.
Inheritance. Fortunate foreigner,
Related distantly. A gentleman —
Aristocrat — whose bloodline staked his claim,
Will take possession soon of Mount Ardeal.

Townsfolk with daughters gave approval, sight
Unseen. A bachelor! Well circumstanced!
Considering an heiress gets respect
At any age, she was insulted when
Her father dared to call her “an old maid.”
Inspecting manicured and chaste white hands,
Aware there’s merit in matched wedding bands,
Realities of warring unmet needs
Upbraid the tight lips of virginity.

Receptions will be held, bite-size buffets.
This heir, unknown, is suddenly “a catch.”
The vintner’s daughter can sense life’s about
To change once she’s in a relationship.
Enchanting friendships could lead to courtship.

Her early childhood memories were filled
With bone-dry men admitting they had come
To slake their thirst, which is unquenchable,
She learned, while watching mother pour and pour.

Vacationing at vineyards tutored her.
She watched the women kneeling to tie off
Vines —  how their expertise was in the knots
Not grapes —  enduring, bending, bowing low,
And salving calloused hands at quitting time.

Admiring the fruitfulness of their
Harvest on horseback, they see an ornate
Black carriage pass, its curtains tightly drawn.
It must be him, the heir they’ve heard about.

Born in Romania, this bachelor
Inherited five castles, acreage.
Unlike the grapes, their ripening athirst
For sun, he shuns daylight, potato like,
Basks in his soft cocoon of native soil.

Their fête won’t start till red horizon’s drained
And autumn air’s electric with decay.

Assuming his disguise, Count Dracula
Arrives, polite, attired properly,
Seductive, well turned out considering
He can’t see his reflection. Mirrors won’t
Hold him. Avoiding long engagements, he’ll
Tell ladies he prefers to sleep alone.

Echolocation guides his strong black wings
To candle-lit bed chambers. Milky white
Breasts, pleasure’s playthings, don’t stir his manhood.
Sharp fangs seek virginal smooth necks. Always
His type, blood’s sustenance is what he craves,
Imagining the process from the grave.

He’s parched when entering the ballroom.
Delaying satisfaction sweetens it.
Unmarried females study him, inspect
His gold ancestral jewelry engraved
Impiously. Flirtatious words affect
The vintner’s daughter, nodding glassy-eyed,
Intoxicated. His gaze penetrates
Until she’s under his hypnotic sway.

The heiress has arranged to meet the Count
In private. At eleven they will mount
Their horses, undetected, take a ride.

Discreet, she’ll hide in the orangerie,
Alerting him to the romantic grove
By a rose petalled trail, a daring ruse.

Excited to imagine his caress,
The dark dissolving inhibitions, she’s
Startled by flapping wings overhead.

Peculiarly, her petals were consumed.

Spotting a white handkerchief on a chair,
She rests her rosebuds there — a silent prayer.

## from A Route Obscure and Lonely

What is it about dark (speculative) poetry that you think attracts people to read it?

Presented via stage plays and motion pictures, dark horror attracts viewers who enjoy being scared–but from a safe distance.  There was a time when you could not access these spooky, goose-bumpy plays or films at home; you had to be in a theatre.

But you could always take a harrowing thriller or dark poetry to bed, beckoning the boogeyman (page by page) into your own private space, challenging yourself to picture the blood, the monstrosity, the ever-present evil–and somehow cope with it.

Personally, I like to re-read dark poetry to learn something about what type of demon unnerves me the most.

This scientific explanation fascinated me.  According to Dr. Steven Schlozman, a Harvard University professor and the author of The Zombie Autopsies: Secret Notebooks from the Apocalypse, that’s because those are two very different experiences at the neurological level.  He said, “I expect a much stronger kind of physiological arousal from a horror film.

“The studies of what your brain looks like when it’s experiencing a story told visually vs. a story told through written narrative — so reading as opposed to having it read to you — are pretty clear,” Schlozman added. “Although reading horror lights up the parts of the brain that deal with space and time, ‘When you watch a movie, those areas don’t get as engaged, in part because it’s already been done for you on the screen. So if you’re into your own kind of worldbuilding, like imagining something without it being shown to you, then you read the story. If you want to have the challenge of pattern recognition not making sense, then you watch the film.'”

Source:  “Why Do You Love Horror Even Though it Freaks You Out? Here’s What the Experts Say” by K.W. Colyard, posted in Bustle  on Oct 30, 2019

What projects (publications) are you working on or have coming up?

Launching two books at once, a.k.a., wearing the winged Author Hat, involves organizing events, seeking reviews, and creative marketing. However, I am eager to return to these long-form projects on my desk:

(a.)  “Elfriche” [narrative poem in blank verse]–after a fairy watches a naked male washing his genitals in a stream, her curiosity spirals into infatuation, then lust.  Her yearning makes her seek out a troll who sells love potions. Unintended consequences result. Genre: Fantasy and horror.

(b.) “The Pryderi Solution” [short story]–after her healthy husband becomes bed-ridden due to low-lung volume, Annie’s life spirals downward.  Her best friend, who has mysteriously recovered from her “incurable” auto-immune disorder, tells Annie about an expensive untraditional healer, Tamiesin, who can sell her a permanent cure, the Pryderi Solution. In order to pay for this solution, Annie decides to do some reprehensible things. Unintended consequences result. Genre: Fantasy and horror.

(c.)  “The Pianist and the Djinni” [novella]–the Reeding family has inherited a 19th century haunted house where Ewan Reeding (the paterfamilias) has grown up. Since his business travels often take Ewan Reeding abroad, his lonely wife Desiree takes a lover and becomes pregnant. Terrified that the birth of this love child will tear the family apart, teenage daughter Carnella tries to stop this illegitimate son from being born, unaware that there are opposing dark forces who have their own feelings about this illegitimate heir, and that she will be forced to bargain with violent spirits who intend to keep the house’s monstrous history buried. Deeper complications arise as Carnella begins to fall under the spell of the ghost of her great-uncle Ainsley Reeding, the dark lord of the house.

This fast-paced novella, set during Desiree’s final trimester, is based on my own stage play with the same title. Genre: Fantasy and horror.

(d.)  “Nightfall at Shadow House”  [screenplay]–Since female portraitists never seem to advance in the NYC art world, Jennice Mortimer accepts an invitation from an uncle she’s never met (who spent his career in India), who claims his British art world connections will help her. A bachelor, Harrison Mortimer resides in rural England on a dilapidated estate that Jennice will inherit.

Right before she flies to Britain, Jennice’s fiance dumps her but she decides to visit Uncle Harrison Mortimer all alone.  It will take Jennice awhile to realize that this affable, generous gentleman is not her uncle but an impostor. Also unknown to her, the Hindi-speaking residents of Shadow House have been under investigation for stolen antiquities, looting, and tax fraud.

A detective, hired to track this art thief, assumes Jennice is his accomplice and follows her to England.   Still in the dark about this charming impostor, Jennice rebuffs the detective, at first.

However, by accident, she resurrects the former resident of her bedroom at Shadow House, a peerless pastelist who meddles in this affair by using Jennice’s art supplies to paint clues. Complications will ensue before Jennice realizes her ghost-cousin is protecting her, the detective is falling for her, and the impostor has her real Uncle Harrison chained up and starving in a shed.

Is there anything else you would like to say about horror or poetry or writing?

I’m not alone in wishing there were more zines that offered payment to poets. And when I see the same SFF bylines dominating the good magazines, I can’t help but wish these editors were more welcoming to new names. I’ve written two plays about Mae West and maintained this daily blog for over 15 years.

LindaAnn LoSchiavo is a dramatist, writer, and poet. Her poetry chapbooks Conflicted LindaAnn_with_cat_TExcitement, Red Wolf Editions, 2018, Concupiscent Consumption, Red Ferret Press, 2020, and A Route Obscure and Lonely, Wapshott Press, 2020, along with her collaborative book on prejudice [Macmillan in the USA, Aracne Editions in Italy] are her latest titles. She is a member of the Dramatists Guild and SFPA. Her speculative fiction has won two Honorable Mentions from Writers of the Future.  Her ghost poem “Footprints in the Snow” won an award from Dually Noted (March 2019).
* * Interview: https://www.thepoetmagazine.org/interview-with-lindaann-loschiavo Her new website LindaAnnLoSchiavo.com is forthcoming.

GoodReads: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/110279531-lindaann-loschiavo Amazon author page:  https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B084WSGD5K

Leave a comment

Filed under entertainment, fantasy, horror, myth, poetry, Writing

Women in Horror: Denise Dumars

WiHM11-Scalples-wh

Denise Dumars is today’s guest poet. She talks about her love of poetry, interests in weird themes and being considered strange.

When did you discover poetry and who/what influenced you?

I honestly don’t remember NOT knowing about or reading poetry. In my day it was common for people to learn to read before starting school, and children’s books are full of poetry. My favorite poem when I was a little girl was called “Overheard on a Saltmarsh” by Harold Monro. It’s about a goblin who is just dying to get these green glass beads that a nymph is wearing. He’s howling and freaking out and the nymph tells him to shut up because she stole the beads from the moon. So, yeah, fairly dark poem for a little girl. I guess I haven’t changed. I went on to favor Poe, Lovecraft, Baudelaire, and especially Emily Dickinson. Dickinson lived in a repressed era in which formalist poetry was pretty much the only poetry, and so she made up her own forms and lived her life her way. When she discovered that the neighborhood kids were whispering about her, she started wearing white to add to her “legend.” She also had an unrequited love for a married clergyman. Dark romantic all the way!  I discovered the small press in the late 1970’s, and found so many poets that I felt a kinship with and who wrote work that I admired. There are too many to name, of course, but some names for Women in Horror month that pop up immediately are Corinne DeWinter, Ann K. Schwader, Marge Simon, Stephanie Wytovich, Linda Addison, Deborah Kolodji, Nancy Ellis Taylor…I could go on and on. See also my answers to the last question.

Dumars solarWhy do you write poetry?

I had this student who always wore cat ears to class. I asked her one day, “Why do you always wear cat ears to class?” She said, “Why not wear cat ears to class?” She had a point.  It’s like that with poetry, and people look askance at you for writing it almost as much as they look askance at someone wearing cat ears every day. But seriously, I think poets are born, not made. Poetry is just something I do; it’s part of my identity. No matter how much fiction and nonfiction I write, people primarily think of me as a poet. And I haven’t had much time to write in the last few years. I still have to make a living, and most of my free time has been spent taking care of elders in my family and managing their lives. I’m just now getting back, gradually, to my writing. My most recent book of poetry came out in 2012, and was nominated for an Elgin twice, and then later that same year my aunt got sick and I became her conservator. I’ll spare you the details; right now I’m trying to manage my late father’s estate and see that my mother is cared for. It’s a full-time unpaid job. I’ve been recently published in Star*Line, Dreams & Nightmares, Space & Time, Eternal Haunted Summer, The Literary Hatchet and several other genre and mainstream poetry journals. Not having time to write has almost driven me over the edge, I’ll admit, so I guess I could say that poetry has saved my life multiple times.

What do you think is the most difficult aspect in writing poetry?

Well, except for the fact that people in the U.S. think you’re weird for writing poetry, I think getting in a poetic frame of mind is hard, especially if you’ve been writing a lot of prose. Few people really encourage you except when you write fiction and nonfiction, so when I write a lot of that I find it very hard to come back to poetry. I’m working on a couple of novels right now and have several new short stories I’m revising. I also have to write a second volume of one of my most popular nonfiction books, The Dark Archetype. Teaching doesn’t help. It’s really been the kiss of death for my vocabulary. I can’t spell anymore, either. A colleague warned me about that when I first started teaching and I thought she was kidding, but now that I’ve taught college English for 24 years I find that it’s true. Thankfully, I’ve been nominated for a Rhysling several times and even won a second-place Rhysling once.

Ghost Riders

They’re not what you think.
Transparent Hells’ Angels,
Dude may have weighed 280 in life
But now weighs less than a feather.

A last member of the Hessians’
“One percent” is on his oxygen tank today
Telling me how he saw his late friend,
The one Jim Carroll wrote about,
Who came looking for him
Right there in Intensive Care,
Transparent as a hooker’s raincoat.

You don’t tell him that you’ve seen them
As they laugh through red light cameras
Disappearing into the Milky Way
Out around Yucca Valley,
Heading toward the honky-tonk
At Pappy’s Pioneer Town,
Leaving you in the dust of life

Out where the sky
Is vaster than the afterlife,
Darker than the demons
That compelled the ghost riders
To leave the mainstream world behind
Even while they were alive,
None fearing the end
That inevitably comes too soon.

You taste salt and Reaper Ale
On your tongue, grow claustrophobic
Beneath a sky you had no idea
Was so fucking crowded,
And the hollow roar
Of phantom engines nearly drowns out
The Gram Parsons tribute band
At Pappy’s, and you are the one sad
Mutherfucker alone in the crowd.

You could disappear
Into the tarantula darkness
Of the Mojave,
A vision quest
Beneath the great chaotic
Smear of the night sky,
Or you could stop awhile
And listen to their voices
Before going back to the bar,
“Last call,”
Just too damned ironic,
Then the long, dark
Lonely road home.

Don’t worry; they’ll be here
When you travel the dark highway
Again. You’ll start to feel the freedom
Of coming and going as one pleases,
Without corporeal limits.

It’s a trap; don’t believe it.
Every one would come back full-throttle
Sell his weevily soul
For just one more taste of Jack Daniels
One kiss from the girl singer
In Daisy Dukes.

Finish your beer; say a prayer;
Give them the middle-finger salute
Or any other gesture
You feel is appropriate,
And let them fade, fade,
Headlights lost in the Milky Way.

## I wrote this poem in memory of my late cousin, James Hicks, who was a biker. It appeared in my book Paranormal Romance: Poems Romancing the Paranormal, 2012, White Cat Publications.

Do you explore particular themes? What are they and why?Dumars para

My latest book of poetry, Paranormal Romance: Poems Romancing the Paranormal has a theme: paranormal investigation in the modern world. It just cracks me up the way ghost hunters nowadays use a plethora of electronic devices to talk to ghosts! They go hollering down hallways and banging on walls. Whatever happened to séances? Whatever happened to being quiet and listening? I find the whole thing hilarious. Overall I tend to write dark work: horror, dark fantasy, dark SF. I prefer the supernatural and the mysteries of nature and the universe, but I do write some mainstream poetry. As for themes, I think alienation, melancholy, loneliness, decay—you know, the usual! All of my books are out of print except the ones I still have copies of to sell. However, I do a lot of poetry readings. Check out my website or my Facebook page for info. I started performing with Casketeria, a dark romantic poetry performance troupe that also delves into humor. They’re an offshoot of a troupe I read with back in the 90’s called Undead Poets Society. Poetry is part of the oral tradition; it’s meant to be heard.

What is it about dark (speculative) poetry that you think attracts people to read it?

It’s the same frisson you get from reading a horror story, watching a horror movie, listening to Goth music or viewing dark artwork. It’s all about the emotion; horror is a feeling, not a genre, really, and I forgot who first said that! Poetry is uniquely suited to evoking feelings, so if those feelings are dark and creepy, poetry really brings those emotions to the fore in an immediate way.

Dumars bookWhat projects (publications) are you working on or have coming up?

I mentioned novels and short stories and nonfiction, but as for poetry, I have a couple of collections working, and I’m promising myself that in 2020 I will submit far more poetry and get some of my chapbooks and book-length stuff together to submit to publishers. As for a themed collection I keep thinking of goofy crazy things—I have one called Heisenberg’s Phone Bill and another called Cajuns in Space, but I’ll probably finish a darker collection first—Kali Yuga Raga. We’re living in the Kali Yuga—the time of troubles. According to Hindu lore the Kali Yuga started on my birthday—Feb. 18th—around five thousand years ago. A raga is a Hindu pattern of notes that can be played for, oh, several hours to several days! I have a very dark view of our society and the future right now. That definitely does factor into my poetic themes. I’m a Lovecraftian, also, but as much as I try to stay away from Lovecraft these days the themes of cosmic horror keep sneaking up on me. My column on finding speculative poetry in mainstream magazines is published in each new issue of Star*Line, so look for that.

Is there anything else you would like to say about writing, poetry or horror?

I really believe in the beauty of decadence in its literal sense of decay. It’s a romantic thing; the love of cemeteries and ruined buildings and famous people whose lives ended tragically. I can be pretty harsh in my writing, but I think it all goes back to the darkly romantic. I was “Goth” before the word had begun to be used to describe the subculture. I like that science is now able to observe decaying orbits and suns and things like that, so that we can enjoy the beauty of the decaying cosmos. I love Paris, like all poets, but I also love Mexico and New Orleans, both of which display some of the same cultural tendencies toward dark romanticism. New Orleans is a part of my heritage on my father’s side, and it shows up in my poetry a lot. I keep a picture of his aunt Josephine on my bookshelf guarding some of my contributor’s copies. It’s an eerie picture of her in her nun habit in the fog—like the ghost of the Flying Nun! A sizable part of my interests also run toward surrealism and Dada—Andre Breton, the founder of surrealism, went to Mexico and famously said, “This country does not need our movement.” In Mexico they have meet-ups for all the kids who wear black—it doesn’t matter if you’re emo or Goth, a metalero (fan of heavy metal), a witch, a vampire or whatever–wear black and come to this coffee house at such and such a time on such and such a day. How poetic is that?

Denise Dumars is a college English instructor, poet, fiction writer, and writer of Dumars biometaphysical nonfiction. She is the author’s liaison for the academic journal Coreopsis: Journal of Myth and Theatre, and writes a quarterly column for Star*Line. She also helms Rev. Dee’s Apothecary: a New Orleans-Style Botanica, available online at www.DyanaAset.com and https://www.facebook.com/RevDeesApothecary/. She has a blog that no one reads at https://dyanaaset.blogspot.com/. See these links and her own website, www.DeniseDumars.com, for more info and book sales. She was born and still lives in Los Angeles County’s  beautiful South Bay region, but her heart is in New Orleans. She has published two collections of short fiction, several poetry chapbooks, one full-length book of poetry, and two metaphysical texts, one co-authored with Lori Nyx. Many years ago she also had a screenplay optioned, co-authored with Nancy Ellis Taylor. She can be found grousing and muttering to herself at https://www.facebook.com/denise.dumars.

Leave a comment

Filed under entertainment, fantasy, history, horror, poetry, science fiction, Writing

Women in Horror: Shannon Connor Winward

WiHM11-GrrrlWhiteToday’s guest is the well-published and award-winning Shannon Connor Winward.

When did you discover poetry and who/what influenced you?

Do you know—I’m only just making this connection now, but it was probably Shel Silverstein who truly showed me what poetry could be. I remember they had an album of his poems from Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic at our local library (which was pretty much my personal temple when I was a little girl). I must have borrowed that album a dozen times; I loved listening to it at night before bed, with all but the closet’s light off in my room. He had such a powerful, spellbinding voice, and an uncanny ability to tap into the imagination of children—that’s why he was (and is) so hugely popular and beloved. Obviously my tastes evolved (and darkened*) as I grew older, but I guess I must credit him with igniting the spark of my love for poetry.

*(To be fair, though, lots of Silverstein’s poems are pretty freaking dark!)

Why do you write poetry?

I write poetry because I was born a poet. That might sound romantic or grandiose or whatever, but that’s really what it comes down to. 🙂 Every part of my personality is built to observe the world and paint it with language.

What do you think is the most difficult aspect in writing poetry?

The biggest obstacles to writing poetry are self-doubt, real life, and politics. Self-doubt is the mind-killer, so many of us are kept silent or slowed down for too long. Then, there’s the struggle to find time to write, and to keep that commitment. Beyond that, the many many rivulets of politics and personalities in the poetry world make it extremely challenging to be heard as a poet, to say something relevant or useful, to be a good literary citizen, etc. It is definitely not an endeavour for the weak-of-heart.

Session

Last night I was in a field
under a heavy sun
surrounded by people chipping at the ground
people sifting dirt through a screen
people trying to make tableaus from shards of pottery
though there were never enough pieces.

I told them where to dig.
They uncovered the remains of a woman
and I knew
in the way you know in dreams
that she was me.
I knew also that there were others
so many more
a field of fragments

and they were also me.
I knew that men, like you, would come,
doctors,
that you would want to bring them up
that you would want to catalog them
ask me what I felt about them
and what I think it means

as if it were only
a metaphor.

I think you should look more closely.
Sometimes a cigar is also
a cigar.
The remains tell a story.
See, here, how the skull is not quite fused?
I was a child.
And yet, here, in the space between my hips
(where you measure with your fingers, like this
yes, just like this.)
I bore children. At least one.
Probably more.
Probably hundreds.

Open my mouth, look, and read
what I ate, or, sometimes
what I hungered for.
Sweetness, rotten
gaps, bits
gnawed and worn down to the root
charred bread and mistletoe, bits
of his hand
bit-back words, here
lodged in the throat.

Take my hand,
arthritic, my hand, useless, my hand
shattered, here; a defensive wound
my hands
clutched around my knees and frozen
on bright alpaca blankets, my hands
bound behind my back,
at his feet, my hands
scoured with wine and Nile salt and
laid gently on my breast

gutted,
courage and rancor encapsulated
in an ivory vase behind my head
(but not my heart. No.
That I keep).

I think that you should consider
the psychology of forensics
the anatomy of history.
Examine the lines on my face
the hollow of my eyes.
Peel back, gently
the layers of my resting-place
I will not fight you.
I will not move.
I am in situ
I am

a testament. See, here,
I lived, here
I felt, here I was broken and here
I endure.
The remains tell a story
and mine say
See.
I was here.

## first published in The Pedestal Magazine, 2011

Winward bookDo you explore particular themes? What are they and why?

I explore a variety of themes in my writing, as I’m sure most of us do.  Some of what I write is dark, some less so. Personal experience and preoccupation drives that kind of thing. For my part, I tend to be preoccupied with things like: mortality, life after death, the meaning of life, lust and pathos, and the urge to leave the world a better place than I found it. I was the girl scout telling ghost stories around the campfire over a mouthful of s’mores. In many ways, that’s still exactly who I am.

My chapbook, Undoing Winter, is a katabasis—a journey down into the dark places of the spirit and back again into the light. Like much of my work, it combines speculative themes (gods, ghosts, monsters, and so on) with stories of personal experience and reflection.

My full-length collection, The Year of the Witch, is similar in themes and tone but on a broader scale and with more cheekiness. It is structured to mimic a “New Age guide to the lunar ritual calendar of modern witches” so it has a sort-of faux educational, “homage to the seasons” riff, overlying poems both personal and speculative.

What is it about dark (speculative) poetry that you think attracts people to read it?

It’s funny, I brought up “pathos” twice now recently. The other day I was talking to my 13-year-old, who is tasked with giving an oral presentation on Dr. King. He didn’t know how to begin, since his go-to narrative voice always skews toward the funny. “There’s nothing funny about Dr. King!” he cried. In my best philosopher-mom manner, I told him that, in my opinion (at least at that moment), the opposite of humor is pathos—a good speaker can capture an audience by jokes, sure, but also by tapping into our love of a good tragedy.

I think pathos is the lure of dark poetry for much the same reasons. There’s something about dwelling on the sad things, slowing down to look at the traffic accident. It’s as entertaining as it is cathartic—a means of coming to terms with the inevitable tragedies in our own stories.

What projects (publications) are you working on or have coming up?Winward_Shannon_Connor_Cov comp

Right now I’m entering the second year of a medical situation that has severely impacted my day-to-day life. Unfortunately, this includes my professional and creative lives. I’m not involved in much of anything outside of the orbit of my illness. Still, I’m doing my best to stay connected to my literary communities, local and virtual, in the hopes that all of that will still be there if and when I get well again. I’m looking forward to the day that I can pick up a pen or rock a mic, and I am awash with ideas for future issues of Riddled with Arrows.

Winward bioShannon Connor Winward  is the author of the Elgin-Award winning chapbook Undoing Winter (Finishing Line Press, 2014) and the Elgin-nominated full-length collection The Year of the Witch (Sycorax Press, 2018). She has won the SFPA Poetry Contest for speculative poetry in multiple categories, and has a quiver full of other nominations and awards, including an Emerging Artist Fellowship by the Delaware Division of the Arts. Her writing appears widely in places such as Fantasy & Science Fiction, Analog, Pseudopod (Artemis Rising), Strange Horizons, Star*Line, The HWA Poetry Showcase and elsewhere. In between parenting, writing, and other madness, Shannon is also founding editor of Riddled with Arrowsa (sometimes, gleefully, dark) literary journal dedicated to metafiction, ars poetica, and writing that celebrates the process and product of writing as art.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under entertainment, fantasy, horror, myth, poetry, Writing

Playground of Lost Toys Interviews: Lalumière & Parisien

Lost ToysToday’s authors from Playground of Lost Toys are Claude Lalumière and Dominik Parisien. Their tales range from terror to nostalgic, but both cover grief in very different ways and look at the strong ties of family.

Claude Lalumière has authored many stories and several books. “Less Than Katherine” is a very visceral story, and disturbing. I like stories that make me think and leave a lingering sense, whether of joy or horror.

  1. What was your main reason for submitting a story to Playground of Lost Toys?

I have an obsession to try to be on the table of contents to as many Canadian (and sometimes non-Canadian) theme anthologies as I can. I love flexing that imaginative muscle, to try to find my own stories to tell within the context of a theme I might not otherwise think of.

  1. Does your story relate at all to anything from your own childhood?

Not at all. I have no idea where “Less than Katherine” came from. From Claudesome dark recess of my imagination I don’t have full conscious access to, I suppose.

  1. What theme or idea were you exploring in your story?

That’s for the readers to discover. Whatever I put in the story, consciously or subconsciously, has little or nothing to do with what readers will bring to it, what ideas and themes they will find in it.

  1. What else would you like to say about your story or the theme of the anthology?

The deadline was nearing for Playground of Lost Toys, and I feared I might not come up with anything. Then, one morning, probably too close to the deadline, I woke up with “Less than Katherine” in my mind, completely unbidden, and I wrote it as fast as I could, in three sittings.

  1. What other projects do you have in the works, or pieces people can buy, or places to find you in the coming year?

I’m the author of Objects of Worship (2009), The Door to Lost Pages (2011), and Nocturnes and Other Nocturnes (2013). My fourth book, Venera Dreams, is coming out in 2017 from Guernica Editions. Aside from Playground of Lost Toys, other recent Canadian anthologies that feature my work include: Licence Expired: The Unauthorized James Bond, edited by Madeline Ashby & David Nickle; Fractured: Tales of the Canadian Post-Apocalypse, edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia; Tesseracts Seventeen, edited by Colleen Anderson & Steve Vernon; Chilling Tales: In Words, Alas, Drown I, edited by Michael Kelly; Dead North: Canadian Zombie Fiction, edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. My website is at claudepages.info. I’m going to be at Eurocon in Barcelona on the first weekend of November 2016 (some other 2016 appearances are already scheduled, but I can’t talk about them yet).

Dominik Parisien’s story is ephemeral yet latches onto your heart and pulls. Ghosts may not be something you think of with toys and games, but the games of make believe are sometimes our most vital and imaginative.

  1. What was your main reason for submitting a story to Playground of Lost Toys? And What theme or idea were you exploring in your story?

Memory is a recurring theme in my work in general, but particularly in how it relates to children and the elderly. As Colleen mentioned in her introduction, the “playground of thoughts” is an ideal environment in which to explore memories, for individuals of all ages, so that’s what I decided to do here for Playground of Lost Toys.

2. Does your story relate at all to anything from your own childhood? 3.  What else would you like to say about your story or the theme of the anthology?

Dominik_ParisienI’ve wanted to write about a drowned village for years. My late grandfather, Alfred Joanisse, grew up in le Chenail, a village by the Ottawa River that was submerged (relocated for the most part) when the government built the Carillon dam near Hawkesbury. I grew up hearing stories about the village – he even brought me to the remaining stretch of land on several occasions and I still visit when I can–and le Chenail has haunted my imaginative landscape ever since. I tried writing about it repeatedly, but the emotional core of the story eluded me. After grandpa passed I could never quite manage to write about him, or his village. It felt too real, too close. Eventually, I decided to try my hand at the story again (it’s been five years since his death). This time everything clicked. The village here isn’t exactly le Chenail, it’s a composite of that and some of the Lost Villages of the Saint Lawrence River. The people here too are composites, drawn up from family, friends, and some of the elderly I’ve done volunteer work with over the years. It might just be my favourite thing I’ve written so far.

4. What other projects do you have in the works, or pieces people can buy, or places to find you in the coming year?

Other than “Goodbye is a Mouthful of Water,” I have several editorial projects coming up. The first is the very first anthology of Canadian steampunk, Clockwork Canada. The ToC can be found here and it includes two PLT writers: Rati Mehrotra and Kate Story–Clockwork Canada on BlackGate.com.  Clockwork Canada will also be published by Exile Editions in May 2016.

In addition, I co-edited an anthology of original fairy tale retellings with Navah Wolfe for Saga Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. The book features an all-star group of contributors and the ToC is available here: The Starlit Wood. It will published in October 2016.

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture, family, fantasy, horror, memories, Publishing, Writing

Tesseracts 17 Interview: Dave Beynon

ghost stories, horror, lighthouses, cultural mixes, speculative fiction, fantasy, Canadian authors

Dave Beynon’s tale tells of a great love, and horror born of desperation.

“The Lighthouse Keeper’s Wife” is a classic tale in many ways. Yet you have made it very intimate and human. Do you have a strong connection to lighthouses?

 I love lighthouses and I think they come with a romance all their own.  They are by nature lonely, isolated places but they are also a symbol of connection.  The function of a lighthouse is communication.  The light reaches across dark waters to the seeking eyes of mariners.  It’s a connection that reminds sailors that they are not alone in the night but the lighthouse’s light is more than that.  It’s also a warning.  “You are not alone, but don’t come too close.  There is danger here.”

Lighthouses are rugged places, exposed to the elements, isolated – just begging to be haunted.  They stand at the edges of things.  Light and Dark.  Land and Water.  Civilization and the Unknown.  Why shouldn’t a lighthouse stand at the edge of Life and Death as the one does in “The Lighthouse Keeper’s Wife?”

CA: In regards to the human, and inhuman aspects, you deal very gently with cultural attitudes and a great love. Do you think that if we did have means to supernatural “fixes” that more people would be driven to take desperate measures?

Absolutely, yes.  I think we only need to look to science and medicine.  People without brain function and with little or no chance of recovery can now be kept alive almost indefinitely.  It’s easy to say that in a situation like that the plug ought to be pulled so that families might get on with the grieving process.  That’s a cold and rational, if realistic, way of looking at it.  I think part of being human kindles the hope that, despite evidence to the contrary, there’s still a spark of the person that we love somewhere inside that body hooked up to all those machines.  We’ll use those machines to keep that spark alive.

I think if there was a supernatural (or a scientific) way to bring a loved one back from death, it would be doomed to end badly.  If

anthology, speculative fiction, SF, fantasy, Canadian authors

Tesseracts 17 is now out with tales from Canadian writers that span all times and places.

personality, consciousness and a sense of self could somehow endure beyond death, I imagine death—the whole act of life ending, either traumatically or peacefully—is the sort of journey that might change a person.  I don’t think the person you’d get back would be the same one you said goodbye to.   You might not recognize them—or worse yet, they might not recognize you.

CA: This tale is about fighting death but on a visceral level, with terrible consequences when a foreign curio comes into play. Do you think that in earlier centuries various foreign objects were seen a mystical or supernatural, only because they were unknown?

When I was a kid, I was fascinated by mythology, legends, and fairy tales.  That fascination led me down the road to Egyptology, complete with Howard Carter and King Tut’s tomb.  I was fortunate enough to see the Treasures of Tutankhamen exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario back in 1979.  I remember pressing my hands and face against the glass cabinet that held Tut’s burial mask.  There’s no doubt about it.  It was magical.

I think we tend to have two reactions to things we encounter beyond our cultural experience—awe and fear.  Usually a combination of the two.  Can you imagine the first European to encounter Chinese fireworks?  The first native North American to see a gun fired?  Curious objects abound and if we can’t figure out their uses it’s easy to imagine supernatural uses.  Why are there standing stones scattered all over Britain?  Why did the people of Easter Island commit such time, effort and resources into carving and placing their iconic moai statues around their island?  How would we really view an alien piece of technology if one fell into our hands?  Would we consider it technology or would the workings be so far beyond us that it would be indistinguishable from magic?

Nowadays (look at me using old-timer talk) we have instant access to cultural databases.  If we encounter anything mysterious or intriguing from a different culture, we can dissect it immediately, if we choose.  In the past researching a mystery would be a length process that might raise more questions than answers which would add to the idea of mystery or the supernatural.  I guess what might border on mystical or supernatural now would be googling a person or an object and finding absolutely no information.   In our information rich world, that would indeed be odd…almost magical.

CA: While this is not quite a ghost story, have you dabbled in other tales that deal with the dead in one form or another?

I have a number of real life ghost stories that I love to share on stormy nights and around campfires in the woods.  While I haven’t written a traditional ghost story (yet…you’ve got me thinking about one, Colleen), I tend to write stories that deal with people who have suffered the profound loss of loved ones and their different ways of coping.  I don’t think there’s anything more impactful than the loss of someone close and by exposing a character in a story to that type of loss you get to see what he or she is made of.  In that way, I guess, there are ghosts in my stories because my characters are visited by the memories of those they’ve lost and what is a ghost if not the vivid, enduring imprint of someone who has died?

CA: What projects are you working on now?

I have a number of short stories that I’m working on and there are always more short stories waiting to be written.  I have a wonderful skeletal novella about the last hours of a Paraguayan dictator awaiting execution that I’ll be fleshing out to novel length some time next year.  In the background, I’m always working on a novel.  The current novel is called Doc Merl’s Rolling Apothecary.  It’s the King Arthur myth transposed to an old west full of rival land barons, displaced Indians, mysterious railway surveyors, sabre-toothed cats who avoided extinction and the weirdly motivated, pan-dimensional Hoodoo men.

Dave Beynon is a writer of speculative fiction of varying lengths and genres.  In 2011, his time travel novel, The Platinum Ticket was shortlisted for the inaugural Terry Pratchett First Novel Prize.  Dave lives in Fergus, Ontario with his wife, two kids and Willow, a golden retriever who manages every aspect of his life.  Find out more about Dave at his website www.davebeynon.com or if Twitter is more your thing, he’s @BeynonWrites.  Fair warning, though – he mostly tweets about crappy weather and stupid things that piss him off.

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture, entertainment, fantasy, horror, people, Publishing, Writing

Tesseracts 17 Interview: Mark Leslie

Tesseracts 17, ghost stories, Ontario writer, Canadian authors, fantasy

Mark Leslie takes a caper with dramatic ghosts in Hereinafter Referred to as The Ghost.

Today, I interview Mark Leslie, the first of four Ontario authors in Tesseracts 17, and a ghost hunter of a sort.

CA: Hereinafter Referred to as the Ghost is of a very popular trope; ghost stories. In fact, we could have had a full anthology of just ghost and zombie tales, so choosing one of quite a few good ghost stories was a bit of a feat. While your tale is of a haunting, it’s jaunty and fun. Why did you choose such a well worn subject to pursue?

 Though I have always written horror fiction, I rarely have ventured into what might be considered the standard tropes of the genre. I have avoided writing stories of vampires, ghosts and zombies and other standard and traditional “monsters” that grace horror fiction. But when I have drawn upon then, I’ve tried to approach the story from what feels like a unique perspective. For example, the first successful “haunted house” story I had published was called “Requiem” and was about a man who collected haunted artifacts. The story explores what might happen if a bunch of different ghosts were thrust together and forced into the same space. Sure, it was about ghosts, but it explored a “what if” that intrigued me. In this case, the idea was whether or not ghosts could be territorial in nature.

In a tale I co-authored with John Strickland called “Til Death Do Us Part?” we explored what might happen if a married couple who constantly fought continued to fight and bicker in the afterlife, and what it might be like for their only son who, believing that his quarreling parents had finally come to an end not only witnesses their postmortem bickering, but gets drawn into it, yet again. It’s a very dark humor treatment of the ghost trope.

For “Hereinafter Referred to as the Ghost” I took a similar exploration. I imagined an afterlife in which there are those who “live” their afterlife in quiet desperation, and others who seek more, who want their death to be something larger than they are—those are the dead who become “actors” and work at playing legendary ghostly roles. I thought it would be fun to look at the concept of a well-known haunted place, such as the Museum of Nature in Ottawa, or the London Tower, and explore some of the behind the scenes elements, with a somewhat tongue-in-cheek look at a struggling actor coming to terms with the loss of his long-held skills and abilities to properly perform the roles he seeks to play.

The story, for me, wasn’t about setting up a scary haunting, but rather exploring what it might be like for someone trying to succeed in making that haunting real for humans.  So, sure, it’s a ghost story, but it is not one mean to inspire chills in the traditional sense—it’s one that asks the reader to consider the “what if that perhaps ghosts aren’t what we believe them to be, but rather roles that virtually any “talented” dead spirit can play if only given the chance to strut their stuff on the “stage.”

CA: The story touches on drama, and theater cannot be mentioned without invoking the Bard. While you didn’t bring in Shakespeare outright, how involved was he with your vision for this story?

anthology, speculative fiction, SF, fantasy, Canadian authors

Tesseracts 17 is now out with tales from Canadian writers that span all times and places.

Shakespeare was at the forefront of my mind when I was working through this tale.  When you think of Hamlet, you might consider the thrill, for an actor, to be cast in the legendary role, or of the countless various actors over the centuries who have portrayed the prince in various manners and interpretations on both stage on screen.From Laurence Olivier and Peter O’Toole to Kenneth Branagh, Mel Gibson and Ethan Hawke, so many different actors have played this role as well as many other classic Shakespearean roles, each bringing something unique and different to that.

I imagined the dead auditioning to play legendary and classic ghosts in the same manner that actors might audition to do stage runs of Shakespearean plays, and thus the conflict between my protagonist, Patrick, and the surly “casting director” Snyder.

When I was thinking about actors and their desire to seek out coveted roles—after all, it’s much more prestigious to play the role of Hamlet than to be Horatio or, even worse, a role like Barnardo, one of the sentinels who encounter the ghost of Hamlet’s father in the opening scene of Hamlet.

I took the idea of the different roles actors aspire to and thought about what happened when an actor aged. How sometimes the actor could play the “leading man” roles, and how as time went on, he might be relegated to supporting role material.  You see the same thing with news anchors and in sporting professions.  Great figures that we admire grow old, drift off into the sunset while we seek out younger, fresher ones to take their place.

I tried to imagine how the same thing might happen for spirits playing the roles of various legendary ghosts around the world.  I drew upon the lyrics from one of my favourite Rush songs entitled “Losing It” that explores these themes with both a writer and a dancer, and how, as they grow old the precious moments, the echoes of old applause and everything they had built could slowly slip through their old wrinkled fingers, and I had some fun with it as Patrick faced those same things.

CA: Do you believe that ghosts do exist and if so do you think they have a lasting consciousness or are just after-images, an imprint of one’s life? Have you ever experienced an apparition?

I do believe that ghosts exist. As Hamlet expressed to his dear friend Horatio, there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophies. I’ve never seen a ghost, and, as I have explored in a few different stories that I have written, I believe that ghosts can be both a lasting consciousness stuck down here on earth, rather than being fully and properly released into the ether of the afterlife, but that they can also be imprints left in the universe around us, echoes of things that have happened. In my short story “Spirits” for example, I explored the concept of people leaving their spirits behind in a place they were somehow tied to, even without dying; that a place or moment in time or experience can have such a lasting and important impression that the spirit of a person, of a moment, of an experience, can echo in that spot for eternity.

No, I can’t say that I have ever experienced any sort of apparition; at least nothing that I couldn’t attribute to being over-tired or having an over-active imagination.

And that’s a good thing. Because I’m such a chicken that if I did see a ghost, I’d likely pass out or have a heart attack.

CA: Will we see any more escapades in this style of ghostly realm?

Definitely. I have been kicking around another speculative story about ghosts and the side-effects for those who attempt to control or contain poltergeists. It is, in many ways, a tongue-in-cheek exploration, like “Hereinafter” and “Requiem”—except, though it will contain a slight bit of dark humor, it’ll be darker and a bit creepier in delivery, much like a traditional ghost story.

CA: What else do you have in the works and what themes are you exploring?

I’m continuing to compile non-fiction paranormal explorations. My next book in that series of “stories told as true (a term that John Robert Columbo beautifully described this style of book) coming from Dundurn in 2014 will be called TOME OF TERROR and will focus on haunted bookstores and libraries around the world.

My forthcoming novel from Atomic Fez takes a look at how a teenager might deal with a bizarre death curse, where everybody he gets close to dies some sort of tragic horrific death.  That book, ironically, draws a great deal from Hamlet as well as from several texts I admire from several different science fiction and horror writers.

And, on Wattpad, I’m currently rolling out the novel A CANADIAN WEREWOLF IN NEW YORK. One might suspect, given that it’s a werewolf novel, that I’m using a popular trope. And I might just be, but the focus of the novel isn’t on the wolf, but on the side effects of being a wolf. The novel opens with my hero, Michael Andrews, waking up as a human in Battery Park with a bullet hole in his leg and no memory of the night before when he was wandering around the city in wolf form.  I wanted to focus on how he deals with not having any idea what his canine alter ego was up to, and the various frustrations of dealing with the logistics of having such an affliction while trying to live a normal urban life.  It’s a dark humor thriller more than a horror novel, but has been a lot of fun to write.  So far I’ve posted up to Chapter Twenty-eight, and the entire thing will be available to read for free here:  http://www.wattpad.com/story/3961496-a-canadian-werewolf-in-new-york

Once I finish rolling out this draft I’ll be using reader feedback to do another re-write before either sending it to a publisher or commissioning an editor to help me revise the final version.

Mark Leslie fell in love with storytelling, and, in particular the brand of Twilight Zone style tales he often writes, at an early age, and has been writing pretty much since the first day he discovered the magic of stringing one word after another to create a narrative.  The editor of the anthologies North of Infinity II, Campus Chills and Tesseracts Sixteen, Mark has also produced a series of non-fiction paranormal explorations in the books Haunted Hamilton and Spooky Sudbury from Dundurn Press, with more books in that vein in the pipeline.  Mark’s One Hand Screaming, published in 2004, contains a selection of previously published short fiction and poetry, and his first novel, I, Death, is slated for publication in late 2014.

1 Comment

Filed under entertainment, fantasy, history, people, Publishing, Writing

Afraid of the Dark

In 2000 I wrote monthly columns for an online magazine titled Fearsmag. I was paid to write whatever I wanted. This was a lot of fun for me. I decided to write on fears and would pick a different one each month. I started in October. Unfortunately, I only wrote four articles before the dotcom crunch swept away the magazine.

As a child were you ever afraid of the dark, of the things that lived in your closet? I was. I would always imagine the devil lurking beneath my bed and I had to try to look under it to dispel the notion without letting the devil grab my hair and pull me under. What of the dark of the great outdoors: I would sing as I checked on my rabbit whose pen was around the side of the house. In the dark where creepy unknowns leered and watched I would bravely sing my way through and thus conquered my fear.

We’re approaching that time of the year traditionally known for facing fears and shadows and for fear of shadows. The dark and night have always been associated with the unseen, both physical and spiritual. It represents fears, hidden desires and the underworld where anything is possible. One never talks of a lover’s sun but a lover’s moon, the brightness that lights the way on emotion’s dark swirling sea. Vampires can’t abide by sunlight, werewolves howl at the moon and roam only at night. All that is feared and evil and able to overpower our rational minds and our frail bodies crawls and creeps and flutters through the night.

It is an old fear, the dying of a season, the coming of the dark months, but one that has hit almost every culture and stayed with us in our traditions to this day. To the ancient Celtic people this time of year was known as Samhain (sow-en)*, or Summer’s End, the turning of the old year and the birth of the new. It was the darkest of times, the sun grew ever more reluctant to show its diminished face, the fruits had long abandoned the trees, and even the leaves fell in their death dances. Cold winds blew over the heath, rain fell like mourning tears and people filled their root cellars with preserves, the sheds with wood and they knitted warm clothing for the oncoming siege of winter. Who knew if the sun would ever return?

What could they do to coax back the sun? Samhain was the turning of the great wheel of time, but was there any surety that that wheel would continue to turn, or like a well worn wagon, would that wheel topple, never to spin again? Sensible people filled their larders, prayed to the gods and did what they could to appease the forces of nature.

From this fear of the never ending darkness came Samhain or the celebration of Hallowe’en (All Hallow’s Eve). As the wind moaned through the standing stones and waves dashed unheedingly into rocks, people knew that the souls of the dead were wandering closer to the land of the living. The underworld was nearer than ever, the veil that separated the living and dead drew apart and souls could once more traverse the land. And woe to the person who had caused a wrong. Everyone dreaded the departed returning for reparation.

As the earth grew brittle with cold and streams could numb limbs blue, it was only natural that such souls as had died that year might stop at the hearths of their loved ones to warm themselves before that final departure from the lands above to the underworld. Or perhaps they had already passed through that chilling veil and were stopping by for a visit, some attachment remaining still for the corporeal world.

 Many were the precautions that people used to keep the dead at bay. Some souls were friendly or helpful, yet others were malicious. One could sweep their thresholds, clean hearths, hang strands of herbs or leave something out for the wandering spirits. Not many people would travel on a night like all Hallow’s eve, and if they did, it was in groups. What better way to fool the spirits that might be looking to lick up another live soul than to act like you were already one of the crowd? Some of the earliest Samhain celebrations involved men dressing as women and women as men. Ghosts and skeletons, then ghouls, goblins, witches and nightmarish beasts—these were the first costumes of Hallowe’en.

Hallowe’en was a time of fortunes, to find what the year ahead stored in its larders for you. Who better than to let you know what the year held than those who were no longer snared by time’s net? That which lay barren in the ground would rise up with the soft kisses of the returning sun and would grow in the new year. By having one’s destiny foretold there was at least a certainty that the year would turn and the sun shine once again. Yet, it was with dread, I’m sure, that some people faced their auguries. Who wanted to be told that their loved one would die or they themselves? Yet, that knowledge was tempting. The future’s seductive lure of revealing what was in store has enticed many people to its bedside throughout the centuries.

One could prepare if the future opened its eyes to you. All this to stave back the impending dark, whether it was that of waning days or the black abyss of death that everyone knew lay somewhere “out there” for them.

Always one of the best ways to push back the veil of night was to light Jack o’lanterns, a practice that came in some time after the early Druidic festivals which included lighting large bonfires upon the hills. Jack o’lanterns, originally carved of turnips, kept those spirits or demons that lurked within the folds of darkness’s cloak at bay. Bonfires didn’t hurt and keeping one’s spirits up in large groups helped scare away any fears.

If you had done no wrong to the one who had passed on, you had little to fear from the souls of the dead who would visit at Samhain. Through most of Celtic culture a “dumb supper” would be held. There, people would lay out a meal of bread and honey and perhaps some cider or ale for the departed who were sure to stop by. A good and substantial meal helped one move beyond the world and at the same time made sure that the spirits weren’t slighted.

Gypsies during the Middle Ages used a similar custom. If they could not cremate the dead to pass the soul on its way, they would bury the person with all of their possessions. It wasn’t worth it to keep a treasured trinket only to have a mulo (ghost) come traipsing after you and demanding it back. To further keep the dead spirits happy, Gypsies would party and feast around the gravesite for several days, eating and drinking and leaving enough for the deceased to make sure the soul was appeased.

A guilty conscience might have been the reason many people left food for their deceased, but the underworld was beyond normal senses. It was dark and the unknown. Many people felt it better to err on the side of caution than to become the unwelcome host to the angered dead.

Besides warding off and appeasing the spirits, Samhain marked the time of stillness, of summer’s and sun’s and harvest’s and herding’s ending. Herdsmen killed off the weak, sick and old animals that wouldn’t make it through the winter and salted and preserved the meat.

Darkness left little to do besides mending and repairing and sitting around hearthfires telling tales, drinking and singing songs. When the revelry was done, or couldn’t be sustained the dark time of the year was a time of introspection. When animals burrowed into their lairs, the sap returned to the roots of the trees and sun drew farther away, it was only natural to contemplate life and one’s role, to think out new paths for the year ahead, to plan and to seek one’s fortune.

With all the activity—bonfires, costumes, auguries, dumb suppers and Jack o’lanterns, people had little time to think about their fears or actually encounter them. I bet there were more conversations with the deceased two thousand years ago or even one thousand years ago.

As Hallowe’en and the darkening months approach maybe you’ll have time to reflect upon them. The next time you encounter the ghost and goblins and things that go bump in the night, maybe you will have the sense to be afraid. Maybe you will have no reason to fear anything. If you’ve wronged no one, especially those who have died, then you might be safe. But don’t forget the darkness that can be the most frightening, is the darkness within yourself that can consume you.

 

*Samhain, the Celtic Feast of the Dead. Ducking for apples in water came from souls in the cauldron of regeneration.

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture, entertainment, fairy tales, Ireland, life, myth, Publishing, spirituality, Writing