Archive for the ‘Fathers and Sons’ category

I grind on

November 23, 2014

In the last week, I’ve more than doubled the number of (what I think are good) words in my latest Fathers and Sons story, “Twice Blest”. So many, many things remain unspoken in families, and in the case of this story, it’s good that they are. My character, though, is speaking them to his son, but the boy is only a few weeks old, so the father’s rueful, middle-of-the-night confessions are safely spoken.

That doesn’t make them any better though. I hadn’t realized this character had such depth and pathos in him. And it’s a good thing he does. Part of the struggle I’d been having with these stories is that the characters were too idealized, too perfect in their flawed ways. They didn’t feel real to me sometimes, so it was hard to take them farther down the road.

I have two friends from high school who are now Catholic priests. (Not so unlikely for someone who grew up in very Catholic St. Louis.) Should I ever see either of them again, I intend to ask them about the secrets of the confessional. Not specifics, of course, for they would never reveal that. But I imagine that the sins that burden most of the people in the world are, in fact, pretty common and even mundane. Most of us aren’t monsters. (Okay, maybe you.) Yet even the most mundane and commonplace mistakes can weigh heavily on our hearts. I expect my friends would tell me that they tend to hear the same sins from nearly all of their confessors (and I suppose in a way they are grateful for that — imagine receiving the confession of a murderer. What would you do?). Yet these people are individually deeply troubled by their guilt. They want to be free and clean and able to go farther down the road.

So it is with my character in “Twice Blest”. He must tell his son something that is, to him, horrible, though I suspect it is not at all rare among many fathers in the world. He has to unburden his soul, in this case to the only person who can actually forgive him, and then he has to live with this knowledge for the rest of his life. His life is his penance.

For a story teller, this is a good thing. This confession will affect and deepen every word of every story in the rest of the cycle. It will make this character much more fun to write. It will ripple through the stories and the relationships between fathers and sons and grandsons in ways I haven’t even begun to realize. I’m glad I’d decided to write these stories from first to last now (rather than writing whichever one I felt inspired about at the time).

Still . . . it’s been a grind. I had to force myself out of bed and in front of the laptop to work on the story. I no longer feel the pull of days past. It’s a struggle between me and the black dog of apathy that has been chasing me farther down the road this whole horrible year. And I’m not sure I’m getting any distance on that dog either. But I know about grinding. Running serves as a metaphor for writing in more ways than I’ve realized. I grind out the miles and I grind out the words, sometimes (most times lately) without knowing why the hell I’m doing either. Momentum, maybe, will get me there. If the dog doesn’t get me first.

movement

October 27, 2014

So I spent my money and got Word working again and all I had was my inner demons to keep me from working on my stories. And in the two weeks since I’ve been back in operation, the demons have won. I haven’t written a word. I’m barely even reading (although the book I have on the beside table is Under the Glacier by Halldor Laxness, which is a truly peculiar book by Iceland’s Nobel laureate). And I’m not even running much. In the three weeks since the Portland Marathon I think I’ve run under thirty miles. Thirty miles used to be my weekly goal, which I nearly always reached.

But something may have shaken loose. I seem to be getting some movement from the constipated bowels of my creative self. I’ve been making a lot of notes about the various Fathers and Sons stories that still need to be written. (I’ve decided that I need to write the remainder of these in the order of their chronology across the series. That leaves me with the first one to write, um, first. And I haven’t sufficiently imagined it in my head to begin. Or maybe that’s just an excuse.)

Even more amazing, one of my abandoned Finnegans mystery novels has been asserting itself in my head. I’ve been compiling fresh notes about that novel, and not just bits of dialogue or anecdotes to slip in, but thematic stuff, big stuff that can shore up the structure of the anemic novel. (Did I just mix a metaphor?) I had walked away from the Finnegans novels as too trivial, too lightweight to be worthy of my magnificent talent. Yes, I was that guy for a while. But the fact is that they would probably make an interesting series of novels about a husband and wife who stumble upon little and big mysteries every time they stay at a bed and breakfast. The research alone would be worthwhile, wouldn’t it?

So maybe I’m turning a corner. I have a half marathon to run this coming weekend, and if the knees don’t give up, neither will I. And if the words start to flow, I’ll stick with that too. Stay tuned.

hard core

August 18, 2014

I almost never tell people I know that I write. I think I’ve mentioned this before on the humble blog. In part it’s because the writing is my thing. I don’t want to have to share it with my immediate cohort. I also tire of the “advice” people (who know nothing about the process of the craft or the industry itself) feel they can beneficently bestow upon me to better my effort. (I get enuf of this from couch potatoes about running.) And there are probably plenty of other reasons that I’m not self aware enuf to know.

But I surprised myself some months ago after a Wednesday night group run, when the gang was busy rehydrating, as I confided to a fellow runner that, yes, I did write and that, yes, I wrote fiction and that, yes, some of it was even published. I blame the carb-loaded beer for my lapse in judgment. She immediately asked to read one of my stories, and since I had my usual supply of tiny slips of paper showing links to them (see my guerilla marketing post), and since, well, beer, I got brave enuf and gave her the slip for “The Lonely Road”, which I consider my best work to date. (I felt like I was baring my soul by sharing that.)

I think a couple of weeks passed before she showed up again at our Wednesday night run, and I asked her what she thought of the story.

She said she had lost the slip of paper with the link.

I gave her another slip.

Weeks passed before I saw her again, and she told me that she couldn’t make the link work. (It turned out that she’s not that computer savvy — she kept referring to the story as my blog.) So I took her iPhone and linked to the story on it to show her that it did exist. She subsequently confessed that she was not really much of a reader. I can see why she might not have pursued my story online.

Weeks passed, and I knew enuf to stop asking about my story. She didn’t bring it up, and I figured it was a lost cause.

But last week at our rehydration session, when most of the crowd had already staggered home and only a handful of us were left rehydrating, she said that she had actually started reading my story.

She said it was too hard core for her to get through!

Have you read “The Lonely Road”? I admit that it starts out coarse, but I did that deliberately to contrast it with the tenderness of the ending. Coarse, though, is not the same as hard core. Yes, the words “pussy” and “balls” and “hung” occur, and some frank innuendo passes between the rough characters and my innocent protagonist, but I think we all know people like this and have found ourselves in situations as I depict in the start of the story.

Still, I was surprised at her reaction. Granted, I don’t know her very well (she’s a much faster runner than I, so we don’t exactly chat on the trail as we trot along). Still, hard core?

She also confessed that she’d once again lost the link to my story. So I emailed it to her (as well as the link to “Velvet Elvis” that I consider a comic work — and thus not hard core). That was last Wednesday. I hope to find out this week what she might have read since then. Or not.

Honestly, though, I am grateful for her initial reaction. Just about everyone I’ve spoken with about that particular story has said “nice” and generic things about it. Some of you have made discerning comments (especially you!). And while that is nice itself, it’s not visceral the way my runner friend’s reaction was. Does that make sense?

“Hard core” suggests to me a lack of experience in this part of life for my runner friend. “Hard core” suggests an innocence and a fresh eye to the universe of my story (which is odd given that she’s a mother of teenagers and has been through a difficult divorce). But “hard core” is honest and even spontaneous. It is a gut reading by someone who is not a jaded reader.

I figure that, eventually, the fact that I write will become common knowledge among my running friends. Most of them, I’m sure, won’t give it a second thought, but a few (we have a disproportionate number of librarians and school teachers among us) may, perhaps, take up my stories and give them serious readings and then take the time to let me know what they think of them. But they’re going to have to pursue me and my stories. I’m just too shy to put myself out there.

Update 2OCT14: My friend told me the other evening (at our post-run rehydration) that she did finish reading the story and that she thought it had a good ending. It warmed my black and shriveled heart to hear this.

perils and promise of procrastination

June 18, 2014

I’ve received a flurry of rejection letters lately, which is never fun but is a fact o’life in this kind of ambition. Mostly they’re for various Fathers and Sons stories of mine (though two have been close calls for an independent story, “Been Lonely So Long,” that included some very positive comments from the editors).

This has added to my growing consideration lately that perhaps I should not be submitting these Fathers and Sons stories for publication as one-offs. I do write them as complete in themselves, and they could stand on their own as whole stories. But they are part of a larger universe, which supports and illuminates both the parts and the whole. And since that universe is still under construction, the independent stories just may not be in final form until the whole is in final form. Does that make sense?

For example, a rejection I received last week was for my original Fathers and Sons story, “Death of Superman.” In the chronology of the stories, it takes place near the very end, but in my grand vision of a published collection, it would be the very first story, setting up a tension that would infiltrate each story that followed (going back in time), only being resolved in the revelations of the very last story (which I’m calling “Little Gray Birds”).

I’ve mentioned here before that I had originally written “Death of Superman” as a stand-alone story. I had no idea at the time that a universe of stories would spring from it. (There are twelve of them at the latest count. Some are finished and published while others are still just a collection of notes.) But as the other stories began to flow from it, and as I grew to understand the characters better, I’ve revisited “Superman” and revised it so that it better fit in the whole. One example is the narration. “Superman” is a first-person story. My character David is telling the tale, and it’s a reflective story. The trouble is that David, as he has evolved in the other stories, is not a particularly articulate or insightful man. (He is a good man, though.) And so I had to “dumb down” the quality of his narration from what I had originally written. That’s fine. It’s still a good story, and the fact that David misses so many messages in the course of the story helps allow his epiphanies in later stories.

And other similar things. There are certain tropes and devices that are cropping up in the stories. One example is cotton flannel shirts. They are a sort of uniform between two of the fathers and sons and a symbol of benign rebellion by the third. The title “Little Gray Birds” is itself a reference to a fleeting but important moment in an early story.

But the “Superman” submission that was rejected only last week was submitted nearly a year ago. (Such response time being the subject of a different post.) The story had gone through several revisions in that time, and the one submitted was quite different from the more integrated version now.

My point is that until all of the stories are written, I’m not sure that their influences on each other will be settled and clear. And so if I get them published now, I fear that they will be carved in stone and immutable. Thus an opportunity to better integrate the story will be lost.

That’s lofty and noble, but it’s advice I’m unlikely to heed. Practical Paul says that a published collection is a worthy but possibly overly ambitious dream while actual published stories are tangible and get free beers for the writer. (Never once!) Plus, I’m not sure how “immutable” stories are even after they are published. So I’ll likely continue to submit them even as I wring my hands over their internal influence and integration.

In other news: My legs are still a little wobbly after Sunday’s epic half marathon. I took a run yesterday that was a mess, but I intend to give it a go tomorrow. Gotta get my miles.

“The Most Natural Thing in the World” is now up at MOON Magazine

May 5, 2014

My latest Fathers and Sons story, “The Most Natural Thing in the World”, is now up at The MOON Magazine. Hop on over there if you care to and give it a read. I’m especially interested in what you think of this one. You can leave a comment there, or you can post one here. Or not. Up to you.

A lot is happening in the background of this story. A significant character development is beginning to be expressed here, one that will affect the father and son dynamic of the subsequent stories.

A word of caution, however. When you go to that link, you’re going to get smacked in the face with my face. I hope you don’t turn to stone or anything when you see it. (That photo was taken on the day I ran my second 5K. What a neophyte I was!)

I hope you like the story.

Trolley Run at work and play

April 28, 2014

One of my Fathers and Sons stories, called “Runaway”, is set during the Trolley Run, an annual event here in Kansas City for 26 years, um, running. I ran it last year, and I ran it again this year on Sunday. Before I bore you with my account of it below, I wanted to tell you that I considered running it pure research for my story. Granted, the story was finished last fall, and I’ve even been sending it out to a few places. But I was glad to run the race again just to gather whatever little details I might to add to the tale and the telling.

In my story, the son, Curt, is beginning to grow apart from his father. He’s about 11 years old, and that’s natural enuf, but the father, David (whom you’ve met in “The Lonely Road” and “Men at work and play” and the soon-to-appear “The Most Natural Thing in the World” as well as “When We Were Young and Life Was Full in Us” if you happened to catch it for the week or two the magazine allowed it to be online) is feeling the separation keenly even as he sees it as healthy and inevitable (and in part of his own doing). So I combined work and play, but on with the play by play:

*   *   *

I had really wanted to have a good experience this year at the Trolley Run. Last year, when I ran it for the first time, I was pleased with my performance. But I hoped in the time since then that I had gotten a little better and would turn in some “impressive” numbers.

I assumed I was fully recovered from the half marathon I did two weekends ago, though I had been running less in the subsequent days. I guess I was eager to find out of if my reduced training would help or hinder my performance on the four easy, downhill miles of the Trolley Run.

Unlike most runs, I got to the start with only an hour before it was to begin. That’s cutting it close for someone with as much pre-race anxiety as I have. But I immediately ran into some friends from the running club, and as I wandered around, I met more. City busses were pulling up constantly, disgorging runners who had parked at the finish and were being shuttled to the start. I understand there were about 10,000 runners and walkers this year, which is even more than last year. I suppose I was lucky to see anyone I knew but I’m glad I did.

I was afraid my luck would be thwarted, however, by the gathering clouds in the sky. It was nearly 70 degrees at 7:00 that morning, and the benevolent sun was shining on all of us, but a storm was rushing in from the west. The forecast estimated it would reach the city by around 10:00, and even if I walked, I’d be finished before then. It looked as though the storm had other plans, however, and was eager to be at the start of the race with the rest of us. The sky to the west was filled with dark clouds and they were getting closer every minute.

I was in the green wave once again, the third group to start. The first wave was to start at 7:45, but according to my watch, they were let out of the gate several minutes early. (Maybe I wasn’t the only one watching the sky.) By the time my wave was shuffled to the start, we were only a few minutes past the official start time. The small gang of friends I was with at the start all wished each other a good run. We would run at different paces, so we wouldn’t see each other again until the finish. I got my watch to find some satellites, and after a moment, I was across the starting mats and on my way.

Too fast.

As I said, I wanted to have a good run, but that meant marshaling my energy so that I could sustain it across even the comparatively short distance of four (downhill) miles. I made the mistake, there at the start, of looking at my watch and seeing the pace I was running. Much, much too fast. A lot of runners start out too fast because the whole pack is surging around them. I knew I would burn out quickly if I kept going at that pace (which didn’t really feel fast to me at the time). So I tried to throttle back. I did not look at the pace my watch reported but merely trotted along at what I felt I could sustain. And after a few turns and elbows in the ribs (the pack was dense for about two-thirds of this run) I reached the first mile marker. Of course I was already trying to negotiate with my rational self for a short walking rest because my lungs were really pretty angry with me. They say you should always be able to carry on a conversation while running and that if you can’t, you’re going too fast. I couldn’t at that point, but it was only because my lungs were monopolizing the conversation. I’d had a chest cold several weeks back. In fact, I was in the last stages of it when I ran that half marathon two weeks ago. I suspected I was not fully over it because I was breathing harder than I thought I should be at that point.

At mile two the first water stop loomed before us. I was running down the middle of the road (less slope there to avoid potential knee or hip ache) and had to cut over quickly to grab a cup. I try to be charitable in my assessments of other people’s efforts, especially those of volunteers. But I have to say the water stations on this run were terrible. Perhaps they were unprepared for the number of runners. Or maybe those of us in the middle of the pack were coming along a little late. But they didn’t have enuf cups filled (though they were frantically trying to) and wound up just handing us the bottles of water intended for filling the paper cups. This is problematic for two reasons. One, even an eight-ounce bottle of water is too much to drink on the run. So then you have the half-filled bottle to carry along with you. Or, two, you take a couple of sips and then throw the bottle, mostly still filled with water, down on the ground. That’s what I did. As had hundreds of others. So there were plastic bottles in the road that our fleet feet had to race across. (I had thrown my bottle to the curb.) Something similar had happened to me on the St. Patrick’s Day run when they served (too much) water in large plastic cups that then littered the ground beneath our feet. Because road hazards. I didn’t even slow down at the second water station on the Trolley Run.

All the while, my lungs were screaming at me to STOP THIS INSTANT! By this point I was on the true downhill stretch of the course, a straightaway before the last turn to the finish arch — my absolute favorite finish stretch in the city. I wasn’t about to stop, and I had more or less vowed to open up on this stretch and maybe grab a fast enuf mile to beat my performance last year. Except I didn’t have anything left in me to open up the run. I just plodded ahead, throwing one foot in front of the other and, curiously, continuing to pass people.

When I finished the long straightaway and turned toward the finish arch perhaps a quarter mile ahead, something clicked and I did manage to pick up the pace a little. I’m sure I looked ragged. I felt ragged. I knew that there were photographers in the area, and I didn’t want to look the way I felt, but by then it was all about finishing the run as well as I could regardless of how I looked. So I threw my mouth open, threw my feet before me, and threw everything I had left into the run. The cheering crowds. The gentle downhill straightaway to the finish. The delicious delirium of being within reach.

And then I crossed the finish mats and switched off my watch. I was panting, but I wasn’t about to spiral to the ground or empty my empty stomach. I was done, and my lungs were grateful. The chute after the finish was crowded (just like last year — ugh!), but I managed to get the timing sensor clipped from my shoe, and then I went in search of chocolate milk. My wife and son found me, and we pushed our way through the crowd to the party booths beyond. One bottle of Propel (not too bad), one slice of pizza, one whole wheat roll, and four blessed, blessed bottles of chocolate milk later, and I was ready to go. I met some of my running friends and we shared high fives. But I was beat.

I had really wanted to have a good run this year. But I did not. I had a GREAT run this year. The reason my lungs were so angry was because I had run — and sustained — a very fast pace for my ability. I had shaved four minutes off of my time from last year. I ran faster for longer than I ever have. And I beat the rain.

So I’ve had a good Rock the Parkway half marathon and two weeks later a good Trolley Run. Seems like I’m going to have to keep this up now.

“Men at work and play” is now online

April 17, 2014

My story “Men at work and play” is now up at Wolf Willow Journal. Click on over there and have a read if you’re interested. As of this morning, it bears the title of “The Shawl in my Closet” but I’ve asked the editor to fix that.* The story begins “Curt knelt in the gravel before the dying fire . . .” If you see that, you’re in the right place. And if you care to, let me know what you think.

For one of my early published stories, the editor had used the wrong name in the byline. That never got fixed though I had asked. Oh well.

I read through “Men at work and play” now and spotted all of the things I would have fixed if I’d seen them before submitting. I can’t believe I use the verb “slump” in successive sentences. I have a dangling modifier that sticks out. (I’m not usually too bothered by these, but this one bugs.) And do I really need to say they’ll be a mess twice?

As I said in yesterday’s post, not a whole lot happens in this story . . . except for everything. What came before and what comes after in the cycle of stories gets concentrated and focused in this one. That I could even write this I take as a sign that I’m finally in control of the shifting, amorphous mass of tales that have been presenting themselves to me over the last two years.

So this marks the fourth Fathers and Sons story to see publication: “When We were Young and Life was Full in Us,” “The Lonely Road,” “Men at work and play,” and the forthcoming “The Most Natural Thing in the World.” I have a couple of others in circulation. I’m feeling pretty good about this whole cycle.

* Fixed!


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