What Does “October” Mean?
“Octo” in Latin stands for the number eight. In the original Roman calendar, Octubris was the eighth month. Thus, the month of October exists in English with a mismatch between its meaning and its current position as the tenth month in the modern calendar. The Romans attempted over time to change the name of the month, devising different names based on emperors’ names, but none of the names ever stuck. Remember this as a writer when you are choosing names. Choose meaning and memorable names for characters, titles, places, and events that your readers can remember.
October is a colorful month, because of traditions that have carried on through time despite changes in religion and culture. In the United States, individuals and businesses decorate their surroundings with orange pumpkins, white skeletons, straw scarecrows, and black witches that reflect the changing leaves and barren branches of fall. Children and adults dress up in costumes that suit their inner fantasies and parade around their neighborhoods yelling “Trick or Treat.” The Halloween holiday is a celebration of change, and contrast, and ends with the passing of souls on All Saint’s Day.
October in Fiction
Grant Allen’s Moorland Idylls (1896) contrasts the original placement of the Latin month Octubris as the beginning of spring and the current October as a celebration of fall. With careful forethought, he turns the idea of the deadness of fall into the reality of nature’s vitality, hidden but ready to spring forth when the earth has completed the rotation and tipping that shifts winter from the north to the southern hemisphere six months later:
“The year used once to begin in March. That was simple and natural—to let it start on its course with the first warmer breath of returning spring. It begins now in January—which has nothing to recommend it. I am not sure that Nature does not show us it really begins on the first of October.
“October!” you cry, “when all is changing and dying! when trees shed their leaves, when creepers crimson, when summer singers desert our woods, when flowers grow scanty in field or hedgerow! What promise then of spring? What glad signs of a beginning?”
Even so things look at a superficial glance. Autumn, you would think, is the season of decay, of death, of dissolution, the end of all things, without hope or symbol of rejuvenescence. Yet look a little closer as you walk along the lanes, between the golden bracken, more glorious as it fades, and you will soon see that the cycle of the year’s life begins much more truly in October than at any other date in the shifting twelvemonth you can easily fix for it. Then the round of one year’s history draws to a beautiful close, while the round of another’s is well on the way to its newest avatar.
Gaze hard at the alders by the side of this little brook in the valley, for example, or at the silvery-barked birches here on the wind-swept moorland. They have dropped their shivering leaves, all wan yellow on the ground, and the naked twigs now stand silhouetted delicately in Nature’s etching against the pale grey-blue background. But what are those dainty little pendulous cylinders, brown and beaded with the mist, that hang in tiny clusters half-unnoticed on the branches? Those? Why, can’t you guess? They are next April’s catkins. Pick them off, and open one, and you will find inside it the wee yellowish-green stamens, already distinctly formed, and rich with the raw material of future golden pollen. The birch and the alder toiled, like La Fontaine’s ant, through all the sunny summer, and laid by in their tissues the living stuff from which to produce next spring’s fluffy catkins. But that they may lose no time when April comes round again, and may take advantage of the first sunshiny day with a fine breeze blowing for the dispersal of their pollen, they just form the hanging masses of tiny flowers beforehand, in the previous autumn, keep them waiting in stock, so to speak, through the depth of winter, and unfold them at once with the earliest hint of genial April weather. Observe, though, how tightly the flowerets are wrapped in the close-fitting scales, overlapping like Italian tiles, to protect their tender tissues from the frost and snow; and how cleverly they are rolled up in their snug small cradles. As soon as spring breathes warm on them, however, the close valves will unfold, the short stamens will lengthen into hanging tassels, and the pollen will shake itself free on the friendly breezes, to be wafted on their wings to the sensitive surface of the female flowers.”
In The Fairy Babies (1924), Laura Rountree Smith uses the school year to mark time, beginning with September and ending with summer vacation in June. She begins each chapter with a short poem, which for October reads:
“October, October, you gay little rover,
You are welcome, the wide world over;
Merrily, merrily, school-bells ring
And children all delight to sing.
The Ink-Bottle Babies are absent to-day,
Or perhaps they lingered upon the way;
I heard the Ink-Bottle Babies sigh,
‘We are busy bidding the birds good-bye!’”
When I started reading this children’s story, I was delighted to discover lines from a poem that my mother used to recite to us when we were children:
“Cross-Patch, pull the latch,
Sit by the fire and spin;
Cross-Patch, pull the latch,
Open the door, come in.”
This poem is the first resource I have found that I might be able to use in one of my novels which takes place when this book was popular.
My Writing Goals for 2022
Publish my second book of poetry:
Over the past month, I reworked the introduction to the poetry chapbook.
Finish, request feedback, and send my first novel out for review:
This month, I reworked how to emphasize the major sections.
Continue to work on my other novels:
I was embarrassed in September because I forgot to log on to my critique group even though I had sent them my two thousand words and had critiqued their pages. I did send my comments on their work to the group members and told them that we could go over my pages at the next meeting. Fortunately, I was able to receive feedback on this section during our early October meeting.
I also spent time working on my third novel, trying to create good blocks for the sections.
Continue to develop a network of kindred spirits in the world of writing and publishing:
Boulder Writers Alliance: I attended the BWA Off the Shelf Book Club for a discussion of Talk Like TED by Carmine Gallo. Debra Kahn graciously stepped in to lead the discussion which was informative. It is an important book for potential speakers.
I presented a workshop on Goal Setting for Creative work for Boulder Writers Alliance and led a Poetry Circle on Ekphrastic Poetry based on the painting Mourning Picture by Edwin Romanzo Elmer and the correlative poem by Adrienne Rich.
Denver Women’s Press Club: The DWPC had a wonderful schedule of events on their calendar this month which I was unable to attend. I did read the newsletter.
Women Writing the West: I read the member e-list. Members’ resource lists are informative. I am enjoying the interaction with the novelists in the critique group I joined.
Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers: I followed the conference on Facebook reading comments and enjoying looking at photos members posted.
Document my writing progress through my blog and post it on the seventh day of each month, one blog per month in 2022:
Today is October 7, 2022, and I am posting my tenth blog of 2022. This past month, international disasters and household repairs have interrupted my normal flow of work. It has been disconcerting and disturbing. Thankfully, our weather has been mild with just the right amount of moisture. On October 7, 2022, my flower garden, at 5300 feet of elevation, is still flourishing.
Today in History:
Sherman Joseph Alexie Jr., the author of Reservation Blues which received the 1996 American Book Award, was born on October 6, 1966.