Archive for the ‘Larger than Life’ category

“Travel Light” is available for your reading pleasure

September 23, 2013

My story “Travel Light” is now up at Penduline Press. Surf on over there if you’d care to read all 5,290 words. They had a call for submissions dealing with the Seven Deadly Sins, and my story addresses gluttony (though self loathing would have served had it been one of those sins).

This story began its life as chapter two of my failed novel Larger than Life. It is out of tone with the rest of the story, which is part of why I think the novel never gelled. It was never as good as its start.

I actually wrote “Travel Light” to be no more than a short story, but it seemed that there was more to the Chris Newton character, so I began exploring that and thought I had enuf story for a whole novel. Chapter one, which is admittedly a fantasy inside the mind of Chris Newton (or is it?), was also out of tone. And the last chapter, which was going to tie all of this disparity together with an upbeat ending, was also more fantasy than the center of the novel. But the center did not hold and the thing fell apart.

The story takes place during a float trip on the Kaw River, which is an actual river that pours into the Missouri River at Kansas City. I had floated it some years ago with my sons’ Scout troop, and it really is as wretched a float as I describe in the story. Whether the river is a metaphor for the character’s life is your call, of course.

“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.

more negative attention

September 21, 2012

I received another rejection this week (so far). It was for my short story “Travel Light,” which is/was chapter two of my languishing novel project Larger than Life. It wasn’t a detailed rejection letter, but it was personalized, and when I wrote a quick email back thanking them for the consideration and feedback, they wrote back in turn thanking me for submitting. I appreciate that kind of respect and courtesy.

The story takes place during an office float trip, and I wrote about it in a bit more detail way back here. I suspect now that this stand-alone chapter may be as far as that novel ever really gets. Sure, I’d written perhaps 40,000 words for other chapters, but the effort stalled, and I’m losing touch with the protagonist and his motivations. I don’t see myself getting back to that place, and I’m honestly not too broken up about that. There is another character in that universe that I’d like to write a piece about. Oddly, he was a minor character who is more referenced than seen in that tale. But that may be all the farther I venture into that universe. Fathers and Sons has since taken over my creative life, and for now, that’s been a satisfying place to be.

The rejection email for “Travel Light” said that the editors really liked the characterization but they felt that the piece wasn’t structurally where it needed to be yet. (One other rejection had also mentioned the good characterization of the story.) I’m not sure what to make of the structure comment though. I’m not disagreeing with it; I just don’t know how I can use it to improve the story. While I do a little bit of flashback, it is mostly a straightforward account of a day on the water in a canoe. The whole trip is a metaphor for the character’s current state in life. Slow. Hung up on hidden sandbars. Every inch forward a struggle. That kind of thing. I can’t see my way around that part of the structure; it seems so apt for what I want to show. Well, I suppose the editors meant something else with their structural comment.

I wish I had other news to share with you, gentle reader. As I mentioned in a recent post, several submission deadlines have passed for various magazines, and I’m biting my nails in anticipation of responses for the pieces I’d sent in. (Also, how/why is it that people chew their fingernails when they’re nervous? Is that a learned behavior? Is it culturally specific? And why that?) I was hoping I could share with you the wonderful news of one of my Fathers and Sons stories being accepted, but that hasn’t happened yet.

I can share this with you, however. I get on an airplane later today and go to this place called New York. (It really exists; I’ve verified it personally.) I’m going to do a little bit of sight seeing, and then I’m running in a 10K with my daughter on Sunday. She runs marathons several times a year; I’m not sure how she’ll cope with my plodding pace. I’ll tell her to run on ahead without me, but she’ll be polite and stay with me. It seems exact in retrospect, but I never would have guessed how similar long-distance running is to writing. I’ve seen this very point come up in several other writing blogs I visit. Finding such dovetails in life and work is much like getting a respectful rejection letter. I feel good even though it hurts a bit.

not quite a rejection, certainly not an acceptance

March 29, 2012

Exactly 261 days ago, in the middle of last summer, I had submitted my story “Making Light” to an anthology of stories in the workplace. “Making Light” is a chapter from my novel-in-limbo, Larger than Life. It seemed self contained as a story, so I thought I had nothing to lose from submitting it.

The posted response time at the anthology was 60 days. After four months I wrote to the editor asking if there was any news. That was in October. At the time they said that progress on the anthology was coming along slowly, more slowly than they had expected, and they thanked me for my continuing patience.

Today I received an email from the editor with the bad news — his bad news, but also mine, I guess. He said that the anthology was not going to be published after all. So I didn’t really get a rejection.

It’s a quirky little story. I’ll continue to look around for likely markets, but I had submitted it before mostly on a whim. Nothing gained, but nothing really lost either.

Ten to one

May 16, 2011

In the times when I’m away from my laptop and can’t indulge in feverish composition, I often have flashes of insight about the stories I’m working on. (Do these flashes come because I’m away from my laptop? Does the inability to be writing cause me to have these moments of inspiration?) When this happens I generally make feverish notes so the thoughts don’t get away. I always keep a small notepad and (mechanical) pencil at hand, and generally regardless of whatever I am (or should be) doing, I will take up pencil and pad and scratch down a few lines until I have my brilliant thought safely corralled.

Although these notes sometimes deal with a short story I’m working on or even what I plan to do for the coming weekend, they mostly fall into two categories right now. Either they are about the Finnegans novel I’m currently working on or they are about the Larger than Life novel I’ve set aside for the present.

What I’ve found in recent months is that the ratio of Larger notes to Finnegans notes is about ten to one. I have about ten insights about my frustrating Larger than Life project to every one I have for my Finnegans novel. I suspect there is a message in that for me.

I don’t want to parse this too finely. The Finnegans novels — I have about a half dozen plots I’m actively developing as the muse visits me — have been knocking around in my head much longer than Larger than Life has. It may be that I’ve worked out most of the character and plot development for those stories and just don’t “need” the insights now. Also, Larger than Life is a more ambitious work; I intend for it to present a much more complex character with a more challenging storytelling approach. The Finnegans can more or less be taken at face value. My Larger than Life character — let’s call him Chris, though he would prefer a different name — merits a more careful and considered view.

Larger than Life continues to both tantalize and frustrate me. It’s probably going to be the hardest thing I’ll ever write. I began work on it, managed to get about six chapters written, and found that I still didn’t know the story well enough to do it justice. It’s certainly become a much deeper telling than what it had started out as. The character’s journey and destination, while the same as originally, are also different. I’m still trying to understand it and how to present it, which is why I think the insights that come to me continue to come to me. I’m still learning what the story is that I have to tell.

I don’t mind this. Larger than Life will be a much better story than what I had originally conceived. I just don’t know when it will be time to start writing it again. And my Finnegans story would appreciate more mental space for its development in the meantime.

Out of my mind

February 28, 2011

Not an hour goes by that I don’t have some idea or impression or solution for my novel-in-hibernation, Larger than Life. (As I noted before, I’ve even had this happen in my sleep.) If I’m not near my computer, I jot my note on a piece of paper (with a mechanical pencil, of course) to transcribe it and incorporate it later.

By the time I’m at the computer, I usually have a pile of these notes waiting for attention. And if it’s not for Larger than Life it’s for Finnegans Deciphered (the one I am working on right now) or for any of a half dozen novel and story ideas I’m gestating.

I have no complaint about this. It’s how I evolve my ideas, and eventually enough of it gels into a whole.

What’s curious to me, though, is that absolutely none of this is happening with my novel, The Sleep of Reason. I’ve finished that novel, and I’m (still) shopping it around, but unlike everything else I’m working on, no fresh ideas are coming to me for it. Zilch. Zip. Nada.

Is it because that novel truly is finished? Or is it that I have closed my mind to it, believing it is finished? Or am I simply not allowing myself to give any more creative effort to it. I don’t know, and I don’t suppose I care either. The ferment that I’m currently experiencing for my other efforts had happened to me at the same pace when I was toiling through The Sleep of Reason. I was in the thick of it back in those days (not so long ago either). Which is why I’m a little surprised that it’s not still happening.

Yet another post on my progress with Finnegans Deciphered

February 20, 2011

Yawn! Can I bore you with yet another post on my progress with Finnegans Deciphered? I am making progress. I certainly have the momentum and the critical mass necessary to convince myself that I have a whole story to tell and that I will be able to tell it. All is right with that world.

I continue to discover and correct all of the little inconsistencies that creep into my writing, especially on longer, larger works. If he has this realization now, then that couldn’t have been the case then? Didn’t I already bring up this point? Has this bit of character development been brought up yet? Don’t I want to introduce this or that feature sooner? Don’t I want to withhold this or that feature for later? All the mechanics of plotting and character development. It’s gratifying when I make the corrections even as it’s embarrassing when I discover the need for them.

Across six and a half chapters I’ve managed to compile 21,000+ words, and though I don’t write to prescribed word counts — I’ll tell the story I have to tell, dammit, and then be finished — I’m constantly checking this number. Those chapters will likely grow over time as I find I needed to lay the groundwork for later developments.

Ideas for necessary plot developments continue to reveal themselves to me. A couple of minor characters are playing larger roles than I had originally envisaged. I find I want to do more research — specifically to visit a certain Missouri River town and go bicycling. In all, it seems like a healthy progress.

It’s just boring as blog fodder.

In other news, Larger that Life continues to force itself into my brain. I am constantly making notes about how this new chapter needs to be developed and how that new chapter needs to now be created. My protagonist is evolving, and the story/character as I had originally seen them are long ago left behind. All I need are more hours in the day.

In your dreams (or mine anyway)

January 27, 2011

This has never happened to me before. As I slept the other night, I dreamed of an inconsistency in the manuscript I’ve written (so far) of Larger than Life. I didn’t dream up the inconsistency; it was an actual one in the story that hadn’t occurred to me, and the fact of it entered my dream.

Here’s what it is: At one point I have my protagonist reflect that he works hard, pays his bills, sets a little money aside, and helps his parents with their bills. Such a good son! But later in the story I have an observation that he could consider moving out of his apartment and buying a house because his parents would help him with the down payment. So in one case, his parents are poor and need his help and in the other they are well off enough to be able to stake him down payment money. Obviously that would need to be addressed lest the reader find it inconsistent.

But what amazes me is that this realization came to me in a dream! I’ve heard accounts of people who have solved problems in their dreams, or at least who have woken with a solution, presumably having solved it in their sleep. Until the other night, however, such a thing had never happened to me.

As for the inconsistency, I’m going to drop the bit about him helping his parents with their bills. It’s a nice quality to give to an overall likeable character, but there is more challenge to him, to get off fence where his life is currently stuck, in his having the ability to buy a house. Basically, he can’t avoid that kind of challenge/responsibility by claiming he can’t afford it.

I continue to surprise myself with the ideas I have for this novel that I’d decided to set aside for now. The story keeps pushing to the front of my brain. I think I’m going to have to write the whole thing somehow just to get some peace from it.

Speaking of which, in a couple of hours I intend to rest my head on my pillow, perchance to dream. Maybe some other plot revelation will come to me.

Update 2/7/11: It’s happened again. I woke from my sleep early this morning with a sudden realization about the name of one of my characters in my WIP. I had given the character the name I had because of its anagrammatic possibilities, but his name turned out to have an even deeper substance, one that ties even better with the plot. It was sitting there for me to realize for a long time. Granted, I might have reached this realization during my time conscious, but I didn’t. Sleep almost seems like another tool for the writerly toolbox.

Update 3/6/11: Happened again. This time just a “clever” name for a shop in town where my characters are staying, but it presented itself, and somehow in my dreaming I knew it would be good for the novel. And the name survived the perilous transition from sleeping to waking, so added it will be.

Confession; confusion

December 31, 2010

I had come to a decision. It was for my own good. It was clear and it was obvious. I was wasting my time, focusing on the wrong thing, or at least a thing that wasn’t paying off. I kept thinking it would get better or make sense or achieve critical mass or something, but it wasn’t, and I was deceiving myself thinking otherwise. I was putting a lot of effort into something that was just stalled.

So I made my decision. I was going to abandon work on Larger than Life and get on with my own life. The novel just wasn’t coming together. Too much of it wasn’t “revealing” itself to me. I wasn’t ready to write it. I didn’t understand the character well enough. Maybe I never would. And to keep plugging away at it was a big waste of time, especially since I have a whole bunch of Finnegan novels queued up, waiting for my attention. (Finnegan: my husband and wife cozy mystery novel series — though I’m not sure how well they fit into that category.) No, Larger than Life was at an end; a worthy effort, but a fruitless one in the end.

So to begin the new year I was going to put Larger than Life aside and embark on Finnegans Deciphered, my personal favorite among the many stories I’ve imagined for them. It was to be a fresh start at the new year on a new project that promised to be fruitful and lend itself to my creative energies (whatever they may be).

Finnegans Deciphered is a good story. I’ve written about it on this blog in some distant posts that are too distant for me to bother finding and linking to. It makes some nice literary references, it has some complex but credible characters, it has a nice and reasonable resolution of the tension, and I’ve been wanting to work on it for months and months.

I steered my thoughts to it, and I found all kinds of fresh ideas for its development and writing flowing through my fingers and onto the page or keyboard. It was coming along nicely, and I found that my notes file for the novel was just as thorough and comprehensive as I had remembered it to be. Finnegans Deciphered was one novel that was ready to be written. Green light: go!

Except that Larger than Life was not going to yield.

A friend once told me that you can recognize your good ideas by the fact that they won’t go away. Larger than Life won’t go away. It is as though by making the decision to “abandon” it, I have brought the novel to even more vitality in my pointed little head. Ideas for how to surmount plot problems are now bursting in my brain. The consequences of this or that character issue or plot point are revealing themselves to me apace. I’m seeing whole new chapters where I hadn’t before, chapters that needed to be there from the start, characters that I needed but didn’t know I needed. The whole theme of the novel has transformed in recent weeks. It seems that Larger than Life is not finished with me though I thought I was finished with it.

So I will not abandon it after all I guess.

It’s still going to be a long, difficult struggle to write this novel. That much is clear if nothing else is. My characters and their interactions are complicated, and in order to get them right, I’m going to have to toil and sweat and work and work and work. I don’t mind that, but it’s like learning that your child has some untoward talent that now must  be dealt with.

So how am I going to live my days? I’m not sure. I certainly will continue to struggle with Larger than Life, but I do want to put some effort to Finnegans Deciphered. I’m not sure how I’m going to do this or even if it is wise to try. But I am sure that it will make for an interesting new year.

*   *   *

I finished the Iris Murdoch novel The Book and the Brotherhood before the end of the year, which was a goal of mine. I loved the novel, and I suspect I will return to it again someday.

I’m now reading Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem on my Kindle and liking it a lot. I especially like the narrative voice. It reminds me a bit of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. I’m not sure about this whole eReader experience though. It works, but is it the same experience as holding an actual book in your hands?

*   *   *

Oh, happy 2011 to all of you fine folk!


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