Archive for the ‘Humble efforts’ 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”┬ánow 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.)


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.


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?)

thick skin report: Mothership

July 6, 2013

So I received a rejection the day after Independence Day for my story “Diaspora” that I had sent to a speculative fiction anthology that was looking for material. The story had already been published in Crossed Genres, so I was submitting it as reprint material. I’d sent it in back in February and pretty much forgot about it until the rejection showed up in my email. It was a form rejection, so I’m pretty sure it was not at all what they were looking for.

It would have been nice had it been accepted, but I’m not broken up that it wasn’t. It’s a good story, and if there is ever another chance for me to get it out there, I’ll give it a try. Otherwise, I keep on keeping on.

alone time

July 2, 2013


I spent the weekend at my little Ozark cabin, immersing myself in my writing.

By “spent the weekend” I mean getting there around noon on Saturday since I had to, of course, run that morning, get some errands done, and then drive the two hours to the woods. And I left around 1:00 on Sunday since it was too cool to swim in my little lake and I had forgotten my toothbrush and my laptop battery and reserve battery had run out of power.

And by “immersing myself in my writing” I mean actually writing two stories, making copious notes on several others, writing a long letter to my aunt, sitting in a comfy chair on a shady porch overlooking a sparkling lake thinking about writing, and drinking far too much beer. Oh, and I also ran for three miles on wooded roads because I’m apparently insane now.

It’s an ideal place for solitude. A little cabin at the very end of an unforgiving road, more than two miles from the nearest paved road. Nothing but birds and deer and ducks and raccoons (raiding the bird feeder) and blue sky and white clouds and turtles surfacing in the lake below and insects lazily buzzing by and me and my laptop and my notes and my thoughts and my efforts to put together some fiction. I could concentrate on my ideas. I could read my words aloud and savor them in my mouth and ears. I could write and rewrite and consider and reconsider with no one around to judge or to urge. With only the life of two batteries to carry any kind of influence.

I could solve the power problem, of course, by having electricity brought in. And as soon as I find about $5,000 on the ground during one of my runs, I’m gonna do that. Of course, my currently modest property tax will then go up. As will my insurance premiums on the wooden cabin. And the local, spirited youth, who have up till now paid little attention to my hideaway, would probably find it far more interesting if it could power up their gaming devices and big screen televisions and boom boxes and who-knows-what-else-since-I’m-no-longer-a spirited-youth.

So as it was, I managed to get five hours of life out of my laptop, which was sufficient for me to write the first drafts of two stories. I’ve mentioned here before of my creative process. I accumulate notes on a given story until it seems to reach a critical mass and is ready to be written. That was how the first story got written, though I failed to use many of the notes I’d made for it in my frenzy to write the “whole” thing. And I’m pretty much afraid right now to go back and read what I’ve written since I’m sure it will make me cringe. It’s part of my Fathers and Sons canon, so I know I’ll come back to it soon and begin the polish. (Okay, “polish” is the wrong word. Maybe anguished tearing apart and tearfully piecing back together is a better way to phrase it.)

The second story is, well, a different story. I’d only come up with the premise for it about a week before and had barely made any notes. But it was clamoring for attention in my poor brain and I knew I wouldn’t get anything else done until I got its first draft out of the way too. I’m sure it’s even more cringe worthy than the first story. This one has nothing to do with the Fathers and Sons stories and is a stand alone. I think there’s something good there, and I’m sure more ideas for it will come to me. I think it’s good that I have a draft of it written. It anchors me in a way. I’m committed to it as I wouldn’t be to simply a collection of notes.

Could I have been more productive? Probably. I could have scheduled my time more rigorously, lined up little writing chores that I wanted to get done, brought another another backup battery, brought along a certain novel that needs careful reading, avoided the temptation to visit my neighbors to get the latest local gossip, avoided the temptation to sit and stare (too much, anyway), and maybe make better use of the daylight than I did cuz once the sun goes down, anything creative stops.

I don’t get enough of these writing weekends. But I have been pleased with what I’ve been able to do when I have indulged.


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