Archive for the ‘Humble efforts’ category

scatterbrain

July 8, 2014

What to do? Maybe the summer doldrums are playing games with my motivation, sending my directional compass spinning wildly. I continue to pick at my Fathers and Sons stories, ideas for them still pop into my head unbidden, but it’s not happening with the white-hot intensity of earlier months. (Still, that leaves plenty of material to keep me busy.)

At the same time little developments and ideas for an unrelated story I’m calling “Double knot” have been asserting themselves. This story idea — more of a character idea — came to me some months ago, and I copied down my thoughts and notes and revelations as they came in their sudden flurry. And then the urgency seemed to subside for a while. Yet now it is back, suggesting that I take a break from the F&S stuff and give it some love. And maybe I should. Maybe that would be a healthy break. (This story would be about the character in “Travel Light,” though farther down the road of his life.)

And recently, and most unexpectedly, an old plot idea I’d had for a Finnegans novel sort of floated to the surface of my mind and said it was time to get started on that. I think it is only coincidental that the story would involve running, but maybe not. (I have wanted to write a series of cozy mystery novels that are unique in that they do not involve a murder and mostly don’t even involve a crime. There is plenty of evil that people can do that doesn’t involve the law.)

And so my thoughts are all over the place. I’m not sure where to give my attention, and that alone pretty much paralyzes me into doing nothing at all. I’ll get out of these doldrums soon enuf, and then the words and ideas will flow. I think.

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.

slash and burn

May 22, 2014

I recently saw a call for submissions (in a Facebook group called “Calls for Submissions”) asking for works dealing with death, the departed, and such things that haunt the memory (even ghost stories). One of my early stories, “Unfinished Business,” is pretty much all about that, so I wrote the editor and asked if she took reprints. She said they would be considered, but they’d have to be really good. (Which raises the question, do non-published works not have to be really good? But that’s not the point of this post.)

The maximum word count is 5,000. I checked my story and it weighed in at 5,690 words. It’s the longest story I’ve ever written. Could I trim 15 percent and still have the story? I decided to give it a try.

I sat down with it the other night and slashed mercilessly (also spotting quite a few typos that I’d never seen before). I cleaned out wasted words, useless sentences, even an entire paragraph. It was a nostalgic adventure, taking me back not only to the writing of this story, which went through many incarnations, but the living of the events that inspired the story. (I think since it is drawn from actual experience, I let it get so long to begin with, cramming in every detail and memory.)

After my cutting session I checked the word count, and it came to 5,480 words. Damn! Obviously I’m going to have to look for actual substance to get rid of. How to do that? There is a central conceit to the story dealing with what memory actually is, and isn’t, and I don’t think I need to try to sustain that in this new, shorter version, so that may be an area where I can do some trimming. But that ain’t going to account for nearly 500 words.

So I’ll keep at it. And maybe in time for the deadline at the end of August, I’ll have done it. And then it will be “really good.”

Update 26-May-2014: I completed the slash and burn this morning and made the submission. Response is expected in November. Since the publication is not listed on Duotrope’s Digest, I have no convenient way of tracking my submission. By November I’ll probably have forgotten that I had even sent it in, and maybe I’ll get a happy surprise then.

“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!

suspended submission

March 7, 2014

I received a non-rejection for a submission this week. It wasn’t an acceptance either. Or a request for a rewrite. In fact, it was unlike any response I’ve ever received. But it was nice.

I’d sent one of my Fathers and Sons stories to a lit journal that had issued a call for submissions, which is commonplace. Then I got busy working on other things and occasionally wondering what the status of the submission was (along with the half dozen others I have out there). In that time I received a rejection for a different story and moved on. Then this response came up in my email.

The note said that they were not sending me a rejection of the story. Rather, due to “administrative setbacks” (which I imagine means cash flow problems) they were suspending their journal for the time being. They wanted to release me from the “uncertainty of submission limbo” until they resolved their problem. Should that ever happen, they assured me they would take up consideration of my story again, and if they wanted it, they would ask at that time if it was still available.

I’ve certainly had my share of submissions lost in limbo. I’ve had some pieces for which I never received a response, but I’ve heard stories of writers getting positive responses sometimes years later, so I hold out hope on a few of those. But to get a frank and thoughtful response like the one above is nice. Imagine your journal, your pride and joy and the fruit of your dreams, going belly up, and yet you take the time to write to each of your submitters to give them some info and closure. That takes some guts, I think.

So, onward.

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.)

muscling

November 17, 2013

They say that muscle weighs more than fat, and with all of my running of late, I seem to be putting on some muscle. (After that half marathon I did last month I had aching muscles where I didn’t even know I had muscles!)

But enuf of that. I am in that curious state of muscling my stories lately. As I have noted here before, my stories tend to have a year+ development period. I may get the core of the story down quickly, even in a single setting, but then the requisite, relentless rewriting begins. And the further musing. And the general paying attention to life for little bits of reality that I might use in the story. And the tinkering. And so it seems as though a full year must pass before I have a story in what I believe is a finished state. (I could probably say the same thing about blog posts, but I don’t want to wait a year to post. A couple of weeks is long enuf.)

And for most of my stories right now, I’m in that frustrating and yet fruitful middle passage state. The plots are mostly worked out. The themes are in mind (though when themes evolve, I find my greatest burst of creativity and work). I’m just tinkering with the verbs, the images, the foreshadowing, and for the Fathers and Sons stories, the places where their interconnectedness can be worked in. I’m muscling the stories into shape. It’s a slow process.

But that’s where I am and they are. I don’t mind this, of course. Writing is rewriting, as they also say. But I miss those heady days when a new idea burns so hot in my little head that I must push everything else aside so I can work on it, actually create, actually write.

It happens. I mentioned several weeks back that a certain short story pretty much forced itself upon me and I knew I had to get a first draft down before I’d be mentally free to work on anything else. And so I did. It was a mess. But then the muscling began, and now that story is in a pretty good state. I’m going to give it some time, and come back to it repeatedly to see where I can refine it, focus it better on the underlying theme (the nature of charity), and do what I can with it. This one feels different, though. It feels as though I will have it in a finished state sooner rather than later.

Such an erratic state of being, isn’t it?

__________

For the record, the word “enuf” is my attempt to evolve the language. I’d like to contrive a story in which I could use it so that it would be in print. You’re welcome to do the same, with “enuf” or any word of your own.

“Travel Light”

September 2, 2013

When last I reported in, I’d said that one of my stories was being considered by an editor but that she wanted to see the longer version of it, having intuited somehow that there was a longer version of it. Well, there was, and I sent it to her.

Then I went away for the weekend (to the cabin in the woods) and came home to find an email from the editor saying she loved the longer version and wanted to use it in the next issue of Penduline Press. This is the magazine that published my story “The Lonely Road” last spring. This time around, the magazine’s theme was the Seven Deadly Sins. Mine happened to be gluttony.

“Travel Light” was originally to have been chapter two of my abandoned novel Larger than Life. It and chapter one, the only parts I thought were successfully completed, were very much out of tone with the rest of the novel as I was writing it. That should probably have been my sign early on to give up sooner than I had. In any case, I thought “Travel Light” was a good piece on its own, and I’d been shopping it around for a couple of years. I’m so happy that it found its home with a publication that I respect and have been associated with in the past.

I don’t know when the issue will be out, but you can be sure I’ll shout about it when that happens. Warm fuzzies, everyone!

small news

August 23, 2013

I’ve been in Portland, Oregon all week, visiting my son and daughter-in-law. And running. It’s a very runner-friendly town. But anyway, back to writing news.

I received an email this morning from an editor at a magazine where I had sent a story for consideration. There was a call for submission, which allowed me to target my submission nicely since the piece really was pretty much about the theme of the upcoming issue. The problem was that the word count was limited to 5,000; my story was 5,290 words. So I crawled all over it, eliminating this, cutting that, rewriting to be more concise where I could. And after a little bit of effort — I’ve had this story for several years, so I believed it to be as refined as it was ever going to be — I managed to get it just under the 5,000 limit and sent it in.

The email I received said that the editor felt there must have been more to the story, which she said she liked very much, and could I please send her the longer version? I had not said anything about the story having had a longer version in my submission. Yet she sensed that there was one. (Perhaps my edits had been clumsy?)

And so the longer version went out the door this morning. (Then I went for my morning run, and at mile 4 I realized that I had sent the email without attaching the document. Another two and a half miles afoot before I could fix that. And when I did get back to my son’s apartment, got myself showered and dressed, and got myself before the laptop, I found that I had included the attachment.) The deadline for submissions is the end of this month, so I was flattered that I had heard even what I had before then, even more so the nature of what she asked. I’m hopeful, but it could be that the extra 300 words won’t give the editor what she’s expecting. I’ll let you know.

The story is titled “Travel Light” and it was to have been chapter two of my abandoned novel Larger than Life. It is a good piece; it is a study of a certain compulsive personality that melds nicely with the Seven Deadly Sins theme of the magazine.

So, an interesting email.


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