Archive for the ‘Humble efforts’ category

force of will

November 16, 2014

I rose early this morning, committed to forcing myself to spend some time before the computer, the recently and expensively upgraded computer, and stare at the screen for a few hours in an effort to get some new words on the page. It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to do that.

It worked.

Partly.

I managed to get down a couple hundred words. And good words too, I think. I’m trying to deep dive into the motivations of one of my Fathers and Sons characters, trying to make his (in)actions and attitudes in the story credible without revealing too much. (That comes as an aside in one of the later stories.) It’s not been easy, in part because I haven’t lived the kind of life this character has; I’m relying on my imagination (never sufficient) and force of will (rarely tested) to wring some ideas out of my head and onto the page.

I’ve always said that half the tale is in the telling, and that’s my challenge here. I know the man’s history. It’s the expression of it that stymies me. But some words came. A couple of hundred words. Not like the days when I was writing the Finnegans novels and could count on a thousand-word sprint across the page. But something.

The story I’m working on (working title: “Quality of Mercy” though I think I may change it to “Twice Blest” — both from The Merchant of Venice) will be the first one in the chronology of the Fathers and Sons cycle. It’s critical to set the stage correctly, which is probably why I am struggling so much with it. A lot is riding on getting it right. And if I do get it right, then I think it will allow me to fix some of the subsequent stories I’ve already written that just don’t quite work. Big job for this little story.

At some point, someone said that my Fathers and Sons stories are “sentimental.” I anguished about that for a while. I want them to be literary and serious and suchlike. But then I thought: screw it. I will write the stories I have to write. I will do the very best I can with what I have. This story is going to have a sentimental ending. A life-changing sentimental ending. But that’s what happens sometimes between fathers and sons. That’s true to life. That’s what I have to offer.

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.

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.


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