Archive for the ‘Fathers and Sons’ category

“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!

“Men at work and play” accepted for publication

April 15, 2014

I am still really weary from running that half marathon three days ago. (And we won’t talk about last night’s run.) But I’m feeling buoyant right now because in this morning’s email was an acceptance for one of my Fathers and Sons stories.

“Men at work and play” will appear in the next issue of Wolf Willow Journal, which will apparently make its appearance online tomorrow.

This is an important story in the cycle, even though not very much happens at all in the events I give. Three generations, knocking about the cabin, doing chores, a little fishing, a campfire, quiet closeness. It’s almost more of a vignette (or as I’ve seen disdainfully described lately, an anecdote but not a story). It is a kind of lens, collecting and focusing the lives that have come before in the stories of the cycle and foreshadowing many things that will come in the later stories. I intend to write a companion story for this called “Men at rest” that will parallel and fulfill much that is in this one.

I had sent “Men at work and play” off to this magazine based on a call for submissions with the theme of sanctuary, and the nurturing quality of the family cabin in these stories is something I have been trying to depict throughout. It seemed a good fit, and it was.

Interestingly, I’m actually going to be paid for this story: $20. (I hope that’s US dollars since the publication is based in Saskatchewan.) This is the third piece of my fiction that has earned me an income, so my bank account has swollen by $40.15. Woohoo! And it is the fourth of my Fathers and Sons stories to be published. I feel as though I’m getting some traction.

I’ll be sure to put up a link to the story when it appears.

story accepted

March 21, 2014

Nice way to start the new year. One of my Fathers and Sons stories, “The Most Natural Thing in the World,” has been accepted for publication.

It will appear in the May issue of MOON Magazine, addressing the theme of “The Wonder of Boys.” The editor made a couple of minor changes to the text but otherwise said she really liked it.

So I’ll post a link here when it comes up. This makes my twentieth piece of published fiction. I realize for some of you that’s a weekend’s worth of work, but it’s a landmark to me.

devil in the details

January 22, 2014

Ever hopeful, I sent in one of my Fathers and Sons stories, “The Death of Superman”, to a journal for consideration. Several days passed and I dutifully chewed my nails. Then a response came. And it wasn’t a rejection!

It wasn’t an acceptance either. It wasn’t even a request for changes. And it was only indirectly an acknowledgement of receipt.

The email stated that the editor couldn’t read the document I had attached. I’m willing to admit (reluctantly) that people may not read my stories by choice, but this was the first time someone could actually not read it at all (and presumably wanted to since she is an editor and I had submitted).

So I took at look at the file and discovered that although I had saved it with a .DOC extension, I had saved it as an RTF file. (I didn’t know you could even do that. I vaguely recall submitting something somewhere recently that actually did call for an RTF file. Now I have to worry that everything I’ve saved since is in that format.) The journal’s guidelines specifically called for .DOC files. So I re-saved it properly and re-sent it today.

No word on whether my rescue of the manuscript will have any effect on its possible acceptance.

Update 27-Jan-2014 - The editor wrote to say that she could not read the story and that I can expect a response by the end of February.

Update 22-Feb-2014 - The editor ultimately declined the story, but I got a personal rejection and a welcome to submit there again sometime.

thick skin report ~ it stings this time

January 12, 2014

So I recently received a no-thank-you from a magazine for one of my Fathers and Sons stories. That much is nothing special. It’s the nature of our business, right? But this one stung a bit.

I peeked into Duotrope’s Digest, where I log nearly all of my submissions and track their fates, to see what my acceptance-to-rejection ratio actually is. I’ve recorded 92 submissions there, but I had withdrawn 10 of those because they were simultaneous submissions that were accepted elsewhere. Eight more fall in the “Never Responded” category. So let’s say there were 74 viable submissions. Of those, five are pending a response, and fifteen were accepted for publication. (I have 19 published stories, so the calculations here won’t be exact — and anyway, I’m not a math person.) My ratio, then, is around one acceptance for every five submissions. (Check my math since, again, I’m not a math person.) According to Duotrope, I have a higher than average acceptance ratio.

That’s all fine and good, but a rejection is still a rejection, and this one hurt.

I really thought I had a good story for a really good market, and some part of me was certain the editor would feel the same way. The editor was quite gracious about the rejection, writing me a detailed email explaining why my story (“Runaway”) wasn’t right for his magazine. Every word he said was right, and that’s perhaps why it stung so much more than normally.

In retrospect, it was not the right story for his magazine. My story is more reflective and internal than the typical thing he publishes. Had I not been so impressed with my story and its worth, I might have realized this and not sent the mismatch.

Still, his detailed rejection response gave me plenty to fret over. While he liked the opening (and said one of his staff found one image will likely stay with her) he thought the story slowed down after that. He said it had too much back story, exposition, and reflection. That’s certainly true, but that is also pretty much what my Fathers and Sons stories are. They span three generations of men and their sometimes difficult relationships with each other. Events that happen 30 years before have influences much later. There must be some back story, and there certainly must be some reflection.

What stung the most — and I’m not saying the editor is wrong — is that he said the story was too “sentimental” for their tastes. I’m troubled by this because, I guess, it’s the only way I know how to tell the story. It’s not humor. It’s not speculative fiction. It’s about the joy and anguish of three men related to each other as fathers and sons. There is a ton of sentiment in their lives.

I realize that half the tale is in the telling, and maybe I’ve laid it on too thick in this piece, but part of me feels a little helpless. Sentimental. That’s a big word, and if it’s a flaw, it’s a big flaw.

Still, I’m already thinking about ways to revise the story to maybe diffuse the heavy dose of sentimentality in the last paragraphs. Maybe I did overdo it.

So I’ll lick my wounds and stand up straight and move on. (But it still stings.)

“When We Were Young” is online

December 18, 2013

My story “When We Were Young and Life Was Full in Us” is now up at The Fictioneer. This is one of the stories in my Fathers and Sons cycle, the other published piece being “The Lonely Road.”

I’m really fond of this story, and not just because it contains teenage sex. I think it is my most controlled work, in which I was aware of what I was doing with every word and bit of punctuation. I felt as though the story emerged naturally and mostly in final form on first draft.

Which is balderdash, of course. This is also the story I’ve passed around to several friends for comment including Averil Dean, Pete Anderson, my lovely daughter, and, most certainly, my wife. Each made suggestions for changes and improvements and/or reinforced what felt strong and right to me. And don’t forget that the editor required me to change the last paragraph since the original was too literal. To make that change, I found I had to make a few minor changes throughout the story. So it clearly didn’t emerge in final form at the beginning.

But I knew the characters well by the time I got this story into rewrites. I knew just how to change it, just what to say, just how each would react. I don’t often feel this way with my stories, which is probably why I have so few published or even in what I’d consider finished form. For me it’s rare when my creative engine is firing on all cylinders.

If you have a chance to read it, I’d love to hear what you think. There is an option to leave comments at the story site, and of course you can leave your witty and insightful comments here too.

Update 5-APR-2014 – The magazine was only available online for a couple of months. There is no longer a link to the story you can go to in order to read it.

dumbing down even the punctuation

December 2, 2013

That title is unfair. It’s probably just click bait, but whatever.

I think I’ve mentioned here before that as my Fathers and Sons stories evolve, I’m learning more about each character. (It’s as though they really exist out there in some imaginary reality and I am slowly getting more glimpses of their inner lives, but I realize it’s really that the needs of the plot are directing their subconscious development in my chaotic mind.) One of the things I’ve learned about the central character, Davey, is that he is not very bright. He’s a good man. He’s honest, hardworking, loyal, loving, and wants to do the right thing all the time, but he’s one of life’s “C” students. He’s never going to see the nuances that his much brighter son and wife do, and he’s slowly coming to understand and accept this. He is supposed to be just an average guy, very accessible, very relatable, very likeable.

As a result, I find myself rewriting much of his dialog and introspective bits to make them less articulate and insightful, more prosaic. I recently had the opportunity to review the very first Fathers and Sons story I’d written, “The Death of Superman”, to prepare it for submission to a magazine for consideration. (I revisit that particular story a lot because it’s where this whole cycle sprung from. That was supposed to be a one-off piece; I never expected the characters to leap from the page and grab me by the throat.)

What I found in my most recent pass through was that as I was bringing the vocabulary, the sentence structure, and character-expressed insights down a notch or two, I wondered if Davey would use semicolons in his speech.

Isn’t that a strange thought?

I try to use semicolons in my stories, in part because they are a useful bit of punctuation, but mostly because I read some puffed up know-it-all say that semicolons are archaic and confusing to modern readers (who, he seemed to think, need their writing dumbed way down). Plus, semicolons lend themselves to the conversational style most of my story narrators use. (If you search way back in this humble blog, you’ll find my rants about how you should treat your narrator as another character of your story, with a background and style at least as well developed as the characters the story itself is about. Does that make me seem like a puffed up know-it-all?)

And so when I found some semicolons in Davey’s narrative — “The Death of Superman” is told in first person — I paused and wondered if I should take them out. They seemed too “sophisticated” for this average guy. Raise your hand if you think about proper punctuation for your thoughts and utterances. I know I don’t. I just let the blather fly without a thought to how I would punctuate any of it. And so, I realized, I was being a little nuts trying to clean up the punctuation of Davey’s internal monologue. I’m reminded of this offering from the late, lamented Boggleton Drive comic.

So I submitted the story over the weekend and got the automated thank-you response, telling me the editors hope to respond within 90 days. That’s certainly better than the 512 days it’s taken another publication (so far) to respond. (I’m guessing that one wasn’t accepted, which is just as well since I hadn’t dumbed down the narrative nearly enuf on that draft back in those days.)

“When We Were Young and Life Was Full in Us”

October 31, 2013

I’ve been circulating my Fathers and Sons story “When We Were Young and Life Was Full in Us” for several months now. (Actually nearly a year and a half, it turns out.) The story has stayed more or less unchanged since I reached what I considered the final draft, though I always looked for chances to bump up the verb power or create the perfect image. It’s my teenage sex story, so there is lots of opportunity to use strong verbs and images.

Early on I had sent the story to two readers, one of whom writes in a genre that indirectly matches what I was trying to do, and the other being far closer to the age range of my two characters. I wanted their insights, whether the story was “realistic” and whether it was “true.” I received a few comments/suggestions, and I made changes where I thought I could, but I believed in the story mostly as I had written it. So out it went.

According to my records, the story received 11 rejections. That’s hardly even a beginning for submitting a story, and I continued sending it out undaunted.

And then I received a response from an editor who said she really liked the story and wanted to publish it . . . if I changed the ending.

I have not had much editorial change done to my stories. One early story (“Race to the Summit”) did get muscled over to rearrange plot points and even change the title, but the basic story remained. In one case (“The Lonely Road”) the editor wanted two bits of punctuation added. And in another (“Velvet Elvis”) the editor suggested a change to the last sentence that really made the difference to the story. But aside from those three cases, my other stories have been published as I wrote them.

So I was a bit uncomfortable with the idea of changing the ending of “When We Were Young.” It ended the way it had to end. I wrote the editor and asked her what she didn’t like about the ending and what she thought needed to be done. She gave me some pointers that I mulled, but I was not much better off than I had been before. So I did what I always do when I need to muse. I went to my cabin in the woods for the weekend with the story on paper and a mechanical pencil in hand. I sat in the comfy chair on the shady porch and tinkered with ideas and sentences. Then I sat in the comfy chair before the campfire, with a mechanical pencil in one hand and a beer in the other and tinkered some more. But I wasn’t making much progress. I guess the problem was that I had been so close to the story for so long, I cold not get an outside perspective on it.

So when I got home, I did what I should have done from the start. I sent the story to a fellow writer whose opinions I respect and asked him what he thought. Thus began an exchange of emails with ideas and questions and comments. Oh, did I mention that I had to get the rewrite done in less than a week, and even then there was no guarantee of acceptance?

I took the insights my friend gave me and combined them with the tinkering I had done at the cabin, and I came up with a new final paragraph for the story. I think I more or less said the same thing I had said before, but I was far less direct about it, and the voice more closely matched that in the rest of the story.

I let the change stew for a day and then came back to it, fine tuning it, and finding places throughout the story where I could make minor adjustments to lead up more exactly to the new ending.

Then I sent it to the editor and began chewing my nails. Two days passed before I received a response.

She liked the ending and will publish the story.

So “When We Were Young and Life Was Full in Us” will appear in the Winter 2013 edition of The Fictioneer, which is the literary magazine of Unsolicited Press. It’s a print publication, but they generally feature one or two of the stories online. I’ll provide the link (if and) when it is available.


September 9, 2013

I fear it’s going to be a long time before I finish my Fathers and Sons cycle of stories. I have twenty of them so far, though only three are in what I consider “finished” form. They are the stories of the relationships of three generations of men and boys over about thirty years, and as I live in their world I sometimes see gaps in the narrative and realize I must develop more stories to fill those voids. So I may have more stories yet to write. Regardless, I’m glad that I’m still on fire about them; it’s going to be a long journey. Increasingly, too, they feel like actual people, that I’ve been given the privilege of peeking into their lives and documenting it all. That makes the effort more manageable.

One of those “fill the gap” stories recently barged into my head, and I’ve been struggling to see how it should be developed. I generally knew what I was trying to achieve, but I didn’t clearly understand the character’s motivation at that point in his life. I was amassing notes for the story, little revelations, bits of dialog, that sort of thing. But I didn’t have the glue to hold it all together.

Yet I had a breakthrough the other day. (It was late in the afternoon. I was sitting at my desk at the office, supposedly working for the man, when the revelation came to me. I didn’t even have the caffeine boost from my morning tea.) I understood the motivation of the character. (He’s disappointed with the dad he got in life — the little jerk — but I wasn’t clear on exactly why.)

So now I have the framework on which to hang all of my thoughts for this story, which has the tentative title of “Unmet Expectations” by the way. I still have a long way to go before I’ll be ready to write it, but at least I can focus better and sift through all of the ideas that come to me.

The consequence of this, in a multi-generational collection of stories, is that each of these revelations has ripples that wash through the years and the lives of these three (and those in their lives). The reason the son is disappointed with his dad has echoes in other stories. It has beginnings in various places and in various ways. It has consequences. All of this enriches the other tales, of course, but it means that I can’t finish them because they’re still being informed.

I’ve thought that I should try to write the stories chronologically and that this might help me “control” these revelations or cause them to present themselves in a more orderly, more manageable way, but part of me bristles at that. One thing I’ve learned about the creative part of me is that it is not under my control. These realizations come to me unbidden (often when I’m out running and far from the laptop), and I can’t really “force” them to arrive. I just have to muse and ponder and keep making notes. And write, which I need to get back to doing right now.


August 5, 2013

How is it that I’ve been away from this humble blog for so long? Here’s how: I don’t have anything spectacular to fulminate or pontificate about. I think the summer heat and humidity have drained any original thoughts from my head.

I could tell you about the three rejections I received in seven days, but that’s hardly newsworthy or unique in our trade. Or I could tell you how wonderfully my Fathers and Sons stories are coming along, but there’s nothing especially interesting going on there either. Curiously, I seem to be getting ideas for stories outside of that universe more than I do within it. I’ll take them all, of course, but the Father’s and Sons bits are of a piece, and I don’t like having them left undone, assuming “done” is a state I could ever achieve with them. The more I write of these three men the more I see needs to be written.

Actually, I’m just about ready to give up on submitting the individual stories for publication. I’m not sure any of them will be finished until all of them are finished. Each grows from and feeds into each, so no one story feels as though it is properly “told” because I’m always seeing ways it must be adjusted or refined to serve the evolving needs of the other stories.

I’ve said before that I consider Fathers and Sons to be a “novel in stories” (which is a concept I came up with independently but that I’ve seen here and there now that I’m aware of such a beast). There will be a narrative that connects them all, but the stories won’t be spaced evenly through time the way a conventional novel normally is. I like to think that each of the stories can stand alone as a whole, and that’s certainly how I’m writing them, but as I said, they’re not going to be finished for a while. Does that make sense?

So I’m now writing them with a longer-term view. Perhaps I will submit individuals here or there, especially if I find a submission call that seems suitable — and I probably have a half dozen submissions currently out there — but all of that will be provisional since the stories could change.

I don’t mind this, but I do miss the gratification of the occasional acceptance. So I’ll keep doing the only thing I know: writing and rewriting. And that’s why there’s just not much to talk about lately. (Aside from the ceaseless running. I’m building toward my first half marathon in October. It’s terrifying, even though last week I did lace up to run that exact distance — 13.1 miles — and did it. Then comes 2014. A full marathon?)


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