Archive for the ‘Process’ category

epsom salts

February 23, 2014

So I managed to run 40 miles last week. That’s a new distance record for me, and while that may be a pittance for many, it’s a big deal for me. I didn’t set out to achieve that distance, and it was only Saturday afternoon when I realized that it was within grabbing distance, so I went for it.

After my long run on Sunday (9 miles, which isn’t the longest I’ve gone and which is, I’m sure, a pittance for many), I did something I’ve not done before. I took a hot bath with Epsom salts.

It was wonderful!

I thought, what a great post-run recovery tool! I wallowed in the hot water and bath salts on my aching leg muscles (those quads). And I wanted to have my laptop with me because I felt as though all good things were suddenly flowing through my brain. (Yes, it was probably just endorphins.) The writer Stanley Elkin was said to have done all of his work in the bath tub.

So I thought maybe an Epsom salts bath might be a creative tool as well as a recovery tool.

I’ll never know.

I fell asleep in the tub.

3,000 words

January 4, 2014

Is it just me, or have a lot of publications been limiting word count on short stories to a mere 3,000 lately? The last few calls for submission I’ve pursued had this limit, and I wonder if it’s the new thing (or maybe just a coincidence).

I found a magazine that put out a call with a theme that seemed to be a good fit for one of my Fathers and Sons stories, so I revisited the story (which had been simmering on my hard drive for a while) with the idea that I would submit to the theme and maybe have a shot. Of course, the magazine limited the word count to 3,000, and my story was 3,350 words. So I asked myself if I could cut out 10 percent and still tell the story I had to tell.

Turns out I could nearly do it. (I came up through journalism, so cutting superfluous words is a skill I’ve acquired.) I chopped and chopped and reworded and slashed and burned and killed my darlings and all of those things and got the word count down to 3,145. So close!

I had given an earlier draft of the story to my wife to read some months ago, and at the time she told me that the story had ended at a given point but that I had kept blathering on. I remembered that as I faced those last 145 words. So I checked how many words my ending blather came to, and they came to exactly 145 words. Truly. If I ended the story where she believed it ended, then I would make the cut.

My extra words at the end were intended to reinforce the theme of the story. (I tend to start with a theme and build a story plot to serve it.) But if my wife was correct then I didn’t really need that reinforcement. And presumably the editor would see that too. So I saved the file under a different name (to preserve my original ending) then chopped out those last bits of blather. With a little more tinkering, I got the word count down to 2,980, which I think is a safe buffer that did not comprise the story telling I wanted to do.

I sent the story in this morning. The magazine has a higher-than-average acceptance ratio according to Duotrope’s Digest, but its response time can be up to six months according to the reports. I dug a little deeper at the magazine’s site and learned that their 3,000 word limit is not some editorial preference but an actual physical limitation of the blogging software they use to post stories. So that cleared up at least one mystery.

The year is only four days old, but I’ve already submitted two stories (with reasonable hopes of acceptance) and I have a third I’m muscling to get ready for submission too.

chapter titles – any thoughts?

February 27, 2012

I realize it’s a bit premature to think that my chapter titles in Finnegans Deciphered are anything like final, but I don’t think it’s too early to ponder them and the work they can do.

The number 17 is important in the story. It happens that there are 17 chapters in my novel. I had thought briefly about making that happen deliberately for some thematic connection, but I realized that I wasn’t sure just what that connection would signify, so I abandoned the idea. Plus, though I knew I had finished up with 17 chapters in the first draft (merely by coincidence), I suspected I would be chopping one of the longer chapters in two, thus giving me 18 chapters. But I didn’t since that would have given the novel three chapters devoted mostly to a single event in the story, and I thought that was drawing too much attention to something that wasn’t that important to the plot.

But that’s not the point of this post. Rather, I want your thoughts/opinions on my chapter titles. I realize you don’t know the plot of the story, but that’s actually good for my nefarious purpose. My intent with these titles is to be both playful and intriguing. My notion is that someone might pick up the novel in a bookstore, not knowing anything of the plot, and scan the list of chapter titles. And if they are titled well, the individual will be intrigued enough to want to read the novel based on no more than what is hinted there.

So here are the titles as they currently exist:

  1. In which Greg doubts he is welcome
  2. In which Ann and Greg meet their fellow guests
  3. In which Greg has a date with history
  4. In which Ann takes a turn about town
  5. In which Ann and Greg have a pretty good lunch
  6. In which Ann and Greg have a very nice dinner
  7. In which Ann and Greg have a nice conversation with Ava and Willows
  8. In which Ann and Greg go Sunday cycling
  9. In which Ann and Greg spin and spin
  10. In which a sleepy afternoon is interrupted
  11. In which many revealing words pass among new friends
  12. In which Greg doesn’t feel very good but soldiers through the morning
  13. In which Greg misses the point but presses on regardless
  14. In which Ann holds court
  15. In which Greg grows weary of the chase
  16. In which Greg learns there is more
  17. In which Ann has one surprise left

So there you go. Based on these, do you think someone might be intrigued? Do they do that kind of work?

Just as the right book title can often make the difference, I think good chapter titles can be a sort of marketing tool as well. At the very least, I think a writer should give them some thought even if a reader never does.

I suspect that the “In which” business might be a little cloying. It’s actually meant to mimic a writing style of old. A hundred-year-old novel also plays an important part in the story, so I feel permitted to use this format in my chapter titles. I can remember reading some old works (published in the same era as my fictional novel — which may be one of the few times a person can call a novel “fictional” and not be redundant) where each page had a unique title in the header.

Of course I can’t know that the final work would even have a page listing chapter titles, but I can’t concern myself with that possibility now. Right now I am trying to make the novel coherent and whole. I’m trying to make every component contribute and be worth its weight.

from tone comes voice comes story

February 8, 2012

I’m making pretty good progress with my story I’m calling “Superman.” This is the one I’m “forcing” myself to write rather than waiting for it to arrive fully formed in my feverish brain, only needing to be written down. I have to say I’m enjoying the process. I think just as deadlines often spur creativity, a little rigor and discipline can do the same.

That being said, I seem to possess an essential control I need to conjure this story. I have determined the tone I need to use to set it down, and that’s made the difference. It’s an elegiac tone. It’s a story of memory and a bit of regret, and by knowing that, I know the words to use. I know the voice to use. And by having the tone and the voice in hand (as well as the bare bones of the plot) I can write the story.

I’ve said before that my story “Velvet Elvis” seemed to have written itself. There are whole parts of it that I can’t recall writing, little comic bits or turns of phrase or connections that I can’t give an account for. I think that’s because I had the voice in mind as I wrote it. It was a comic voice (much like the one that guided “Moron Saturday“), which is different from the one for “Superman,” but with the voice in place, that story flowed.

And so it is with “Superman.” It helps that the story does spring more rather than less from my own life experience (as all stories must, right?). This is the story I hinted at in this old post. I said that I have the bare bones of the plot in mind, but I’ve found myself diverging from them some as I write. And I’ve realized that an exact road map is not essential, at least for this story. What I’m finding on the page is better than what I had imagined I would put there.

I suspect this can explain those “seat-of-the-pants” writers who claim they start out writing a story with no idea of its plot. Perhaps they do not have the plot (though maybe they just don’t realize they do), but they do have some other essential components: the right voice, a real character, a compelling setting, or a combination of these. And whatever the melange, the story flows naturally from it. So these writers think they don’t know the plot when actually story is already whole and just waiting to be written down.

forcing the issue

February 1, 2012

I claim that I can’t “force” a story onto the page until it is ready to be written. I’m sure you see that for the bogus rationalization it is.

Sure, my stories do need to accumulate critical mass before they will fall together, and I’m often still finding things that fit perfectly in stories long after I’m sure they’re finished, but too often I use these parts of my process as a way to not put out the effort of actually writing. Rather than sweat blood by typing words onto the screen, I assure myself that I need the story to “cook” longer, and I make a blog post instead.

Not so right now though. I’ve had a story idea, which I’m tentatively calling “Superman,” knocking about in my pointed little head for a while. I’ve been accumulating notes for it, bits of dialog, ideas for development, and such in a Word file, as is my usual practice.  And vigorously avoiding the actual writing, which is also my usual practice. Not any longer.

Despite not have a clear direction for the story’s development, I’ve been writing it. “Forcing” it out of my head and onto the screen. I’ve managed to put down more than a thousand words of this unformed story, which seems like a good thing. Actually, it’s helped me see my way through the mess of ideas and half-thought thoughts to a coherent story. The train may still derail, but at least I can see the tracks.

And I’ve found something else. In that Word file of notes and ideas for this story are a bunch of notes and ideas that no longer fit, but they do look like a coherent set of materials for a another story. It’s a story idea that’s been knocking around in my brain a little lately as well. Actually, it was never much more than a clever (if a little bit naughty) title, but all of those spare notes for “Superman” dovetail with it nicely, and I’m beginning to see the critical mass for it coalesce as well.

So my writing-avoidance rationale has doubled down on me. By not writing but merely making notes, I’ve accumulated enough notes for two stories that I need to write. I suppose it’s time to get back to work, right?

Finnegans Deciphered, and collected

January 17, 2012

I’ve passed an important milestone on my journey to complete my novel-in-progress, Finnegans Deciphered. I consolidated all of the chapters into a single document.

For me, that’s a sign that the major writing is now finished. All that remains is tinkering and, of course, wholesale editing and possibly rewriting and hair-pulling frustration and unfocused anguish. But at least the hard part is now behind me!

The final document has swelled by four hundred words since I did my first count of the “finished” novel. That’s the result of my wedging in of late revelations and plot needs, but it’s not the four thousand or fourteen thousand more words I’d feel more comfortable with. The novel barely qualifies as a novel, at least by commonly accepted word-count standards. But I won’t concern myself with such outside standards. I have to be true to the tale I have to tell. Plus, it’s possible that as I do more comprehensive read throughs, I’ll develop this or that plot point or character quirk or even monkey around with the tone and I’ll find more words that need to be said. Or not.

It’s come to seventeen chapters, and seventeen happens to be a significant number in the plot. Nonetheless, I suspect one of those chapters will be split in twain (a possible location for more words to add to the count), so that coincidence of chapter count and plot point won’t survive. That might have been fun to keep, but it also seems a bit twee. (Also, it’s only coincidence that I posted this entry on the 17th of the month.)

So now I’m at the point where I have a whole document “in hand.” That will make for more difficulty finding given places in it that I want to address, but I think I know the story well enough now to be able to navigate it. Perhaps I will print (on paper!) the whole thing and have it literally “in hand.” Then I could carry it and a red pencil to my cabin in the woods for a weekend read-through session. Sounds lovely.

Finnegans Deciphered ~ the progress thusfar

January 2, 2012

I ramble a lot in these blog posts, so maybe I’ve mentioned this before, but I think I am in the end game of my work on Finnegans Deciphered. The little revelations about this or that in the plot have more or less ceased popping into my head. I’m not getting the same understandings of how a given development in the plot ripples through the story any longer. (In fact, I’m beginning to have these insights again about Larger than Life, my fits-and-starts work in progress.) I take all of this as a sign that I’ve pretty much told the story I have to tell, and now I need to polish it. Why, I’ve even begun tinkering with a query letter for the manuscript.

I noted in an earlier post that I had no idea how many words the novel came to or whether I’d need to come up with some subplot to beef it up to “novel length.” And I’d avoided doing an actual word count for a long time because I was afraid of what I would find (or not find). But I whipped up the courage over the weekend to do the math — thanks in part to the frisson of good vibrations that a large glass of iced tea often gives me — and to face the result.

And the result is . . . passable. The word count as it stands today is 61,576, which, I think, meets the minimum for calling my novel a novel. I suspect that there is some fat in that number, that I will need to trim my florid prose a bit in my editing, and that may take me below the 60,000 word threshold, but I also suspect that in my continuous read through, I’ll also discover places where I need to supplement my words and even add bits more to the plot to help it make sense (or in some cases, make less sense since it is a mystery novel of a sort).

Part of my process is to begin a story by tumbling all of my thoughts into a Word file just to see what I have and what suggests itself. As I’m writing, I add to this file just so my stray thoughts and surprising revelations and brilliant insights aren’t lost until I can wedge them into the narrative. Plot points, character development, descriptions, reminders. I have a whole page where I have reworked every single character’s name several times. (Curiously, or maybe not, every single character in my completed novel, The Sleep of Reason, was changed from what I had at the start. Also, no news on the progress of that novel finding an agent, though I am hoping now that the holidays are past I can begin shopping it around again with more hope for attention.) The notes file I have for Finnegans Deciphered stands at about 12,000 words. And that’s just notes. I intend to read through it to see what points I may have missed (or dismissed) that might still find their way into the novel.

Another curious thing, though it retrospect it seems perfectly organic, is that my two main characters, Ann and Greg Finnegan, have taken on lives of their own. I envision a series of novels with them — that had been the goal from the start — but I’m seeing things about their character and their history that I can work in to the other novels. I’m even having a good time imagining an “origins” novel about them. Of course, long-time readers of this blog will know that this is actually my fourth Finnegans novel. The first was apprentice work, from which I intend to steal certain things. The second is a good story that needs an overhaul. The third was lost in a hard drive crash (though I think enough of it survived in email attachments to resurrect it). And now I have the fourth nearly finished. So the Finnegans exist in a world; it’s not surprising to see that they have whole lives and backstories.

So here we are at the start of a new year. I feel as though I am in a good place, which is something to be pleased about (though that might be the iced tea talking).

pencil work

December 19, 2011

I’m at the “pencil work” stage of  my progress with Finnegans Deciphered. I’m picking my way through it, adding this little revelation here, pumping up that bit of dialogue there. Fixing mistakes. I found a missing question mark at one point, for example.

In the story my protagonist, Greg Finnegan, is reading a novel and fearing that there is some subtext to it that he is missing. Resolving that is the whole point of the story, but its real-world analog has me bothered. I feel as though I am marking time, waiting for some subtext about my story to come to me. I fear that the novel is dancing over something deeper that hasn’t yet revealed itself to me. If I keep at it, this thinking goes, the epiphany will come.

Thus the pencil work. The fine tuning. I keep tinkering with it, hoping that something I’ve overlooked will become clear. Does this ever happen to you?

And so I’m in pursuit of a prey that may not be out there. Eventually, I suppose, if I don’t make this vague discovery, I’ll decide that the novel is whole and complete as it is and begin the gargantuan task of preparing it to be shopped around.

I haven’t dared let myself do a word count. I’ve told the story I have to tell (except for the fretting above), and I hope it comes in at the minimum a novel “requires.” But if it didn’t, what would I do? I suppose I could bring in some superfluous subplot. Some red herring, say. (The story fits vaguely into the cozy mystery genre.) Or I could give more background to some of the characters. Or something. But all of that seems contrived and unnecessary.

Well, we do what we can do.

anatomy of a story ~ “Velvet Elvis”

December 12, 2011

Consider this a companion post to the one I did last week about my story “The Respite Room.” In that post I dared to venture into the dark, cobwebby labyrinth of my creative process to attempt to understand how that story evolved. I’m trying to do that same with this post, dealing with the bits and pieces of my memory of writing “Velvet Elvis,” which is now up at Bartleby Snopes.

I had the kernel of “Velvet Elvis” around for a long time. At least a decade. Somewhere in the 20+ paper journals I’ve kept over the years I have a few entries exploring the original idea. I have thought about going back to find those entries, but it would be a gargantuan search with little to no payoff. The story is what it has become; it is not what it might have originally been. Still, should I ever be randomly flipping through the pages of one of those journals and happen upon the notes I made for the story then, I will be interested to see what I was thinking in those days.

In “Velvet Elvis” I have an artist who infuses her paints with scented oils. Thus her rose paintings smell like roses. Her pine forest paintings smell like pine forests. And so on. Her innovation is popular at the art fairs where she exhibits and she’s the de facto queen among the other exhibitors, and she is my antagonist. In the story I try to portray this innovation as no more than a gimmick, one that will lose its lustre quickly, though she doesn’t realize this. However, in my original conception of the story, this was the innovation of my protagonist. I had thought that my protagonist (a woman originally) was struggling, weary of the drudge of constantly exhibiting and looking for a way out, only to come up with the scented paintings innovation and become the queen. (That story would have been told by her nephew — for some reason that I don’t recall.) The innovation was to be so spectacular that other painters were trying to learn her secret, even attempting to bribe the nephew so that he would chip some paint from one of her works so it could be “analyzed” and have its secrets revealed.

I think that’s where the story idea began to falter for me all those years ago. The process of “analyzing” paint chips it far too technical for my skill (or my will to research), and I began to think that such an “innovation” was probably not even all that innovative in that group. If one painter could figure out how to do it, other painters of equal technical skill could likely do the same. They wouldn’t need to steal the secret; they could figure it out on their own. For all I know, artists are doing this very thing now.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been to the kind of art fair I depict in my story. I’m not talking about the “starving artist” exhibits that pop up at hotels and convention centers, selling mass produced, “one-of-a-kind” paintings made in China. Rather, I’m talking about street fairs where there is an eclectic collection of artists working in all kinds of media. There is a festival feel to these things, with live music and food tents and throngs of people and a subculture all its own. We have a number of these in Kansas City throughout the year. My story is set in the lower tier of these kinds of festivals. My characters are struggling, attempting to become worthy of getting exhibited in the major fairs. (The “best” art fair we have in Kansas City supposedly has an 11-year waiting list for a booth.) What I’ve noticed at these fairs is that, at least in some cases, when one artist comes out with some innovation, some fresh idea that gets a lot of attention, that same idea begins to appear among other artists’ works at subsequent fairs. The idea gets copied and milked for as long as it can.

But the story was still stuck because I didn’t really have a problem for a sympathetic character to overcome. I’ve said several times in this humble blog that the art gene that makes occasional appearances in my family skipped me. I cannot make physical art. I cannot carve. I cannot sculpt. I cannot draw or paint. Late in his life, my father took up painting and drawing and found he had a real talent for it. Mostly he painted copies of other works or photos, but I have several of his pieces. (Skip a generation and stop at my daughter. She also has the painting and design talent. I have several of her works as well.) My father painted little that could be called original, which is fine. He didn’t exhibit or sell his work; he painted for his own enjoyment. But I sometimes wondered if he ever tired of just copying and felt frustrated that he couldn’t create something out of whole cloth. And that gave me the idea for a new protagonist in my story, a man this time, but a man who had run out of ideas and was just hanging on, trying to make the rent with his work at these fairs but seeing the end coming.

I imagined myself having a conversation with this man, listening to his laments about being left behind, about being creatively bankrupt. And that mysterious creative part of me supplied my fictional painter with a solution to his problem. I actually saw myself telling my fictional painter how he could reignite his work. This is not how the problem is resolved in my story, not in process but it is in outcome. (Read the story and you’ll understand what I’m babbling about here.)

Once I had the bit of plot worked out, the story wrote itself. I don’t think I even went though very many drafts. Actions and reactions just blossomed in my head. The foreshadowing I needed became apparent to me, the parallel structures suggested themselves readily. The bit I relate in the story about a painting being stolen was actually told to me by a painter many years ago; the memory of it popped into my head when I needed it. I did do a bit of research to give the story some substance: I visited every local art fair I could and even found a discussion forum online for this subculture that helped me understand how things there work. And I sent the “final” draft of the story to my daughter for her technical input, specifically about making scented paint. The stars aligned for me with this story and I had a working plot and development.

Then came the hard part: finding a home for it. I began submitting it a year ago. I sent it to five different magazines before it was accepted by Bartleby Snopes this last September. My first rejection came from Johnny America, but it was a personal rejection with positive things to say about the piece. The second was from Rose and Thorn Journal and it was a form rejection. (In retrospect, I’m not sure I made a very good effort at matching the story to the magazine’s interests.) I submitted it to The Foghorn, and when I didn’t hear from them long after their average response time, I withdrew the submission and got it into circulation again. My next rejection came from Jersey Devil Press, but it, too, came with encouraging words. I was certain I had a good story that just needed to find the right editor. And then I submitted it to Bartleby Snopes where it got a welcome acceptance. (This submission also seemed like a miss-fit. My story is longer than the usual things I’ve seen published there.)

Some random points:

I use the word “fistfuls” in the story. I think some purist would assert that the correct plural of that word is “fistsful” but that sounds dreadful; I would refuse to use it. If I’ve just coined a new word, the world is welcome to use it.

I still employ my grammar violation of choice: sentence fragments. I don’t use as many as in “The Respite Room,” but there are enough. And, by golly, not a single editor pointed them out as a problem.

That very last sentence of the story is one suggested by the editor. It certainly delivers the payoff, and I’m glad he requested I use it.

Brian Keaney pointed out in the comments to my last post that the developments in my art fair story could easily apply to the publishing world. This was intentional on my part. (Really, it was!) If one were to read my art gimmick story and see parallels with the (fading) trend of vampire stories, say, I think that would be a valid reading. There are just as many gimmicks and trends in our business as in others.

Anatomy of a story ~ “The Respite Room”

December 5, 2011

I probably shouldn’t do this, but I want to write about the genesis and development of my short story “The Respite Room” since it has been on my mind recently. (The story will come out next month in the Little Patuxent Review, about which I am inordinately vain. The editor asked me to tinker with the last line, so I’ve been revisiting the writing of the whole piece since everything leads to that last line, of course.)

As you probably know from reading this humble blog, I am wary of knowing too much about my creative process. I fear that a consciousness of it may somehow slay its natural flow, the way I think some people’s slavish devotion to “writing rules” and “grammar rules” slay their own creativity (but that’s a different lament).

This story came from my experience for the last ten years volunteering in a respite room at a local hospital. The respite room is a place for the family members to get away from their patient’s room — the beeping monitors and sucking respirators, the unrelenting grimness — and take a break, have a sandwich, make some calls, watch some television, or just sit and relax.

Over the years, I have seen a lot of people pass through the room; I’ve seen the extremes of humanity because often their souls are laid bare. As I say in the story, these people are going through the worst moments of their lives, and I’m present as a mute witness. (I did not begin this volunteer work as a means to generate story material. If I had, it would have been a poor decision since it’s resulted in only a single story, one that I have struggled with for nearly as many years as I’ve been volunteering. But my personal motivation does flicker into my character’s motivation a bit, which I think gives him credibility.)

Conversely, I’ve seen a lot of volunteers who have helped run this respite room through the years. It’s tempting to believe that I’ve seen these people at the best moments of their lives, but I don’t think this is always true. I think that there is a predatory type of personality who is attracted to this kind of work. There are many types of personalities who do this work, of course, but I’m interested in the superior, arrogant person, the one who sees helping the unfortunate as a way to “straighten out their lives.” Who see managing such resources as requiring control and judiciousness. Who see the needy as “grasping” and “greedy” and the victims of their own poor choices who are lucky to get any help at all and ought to show more appreciation for it dammit! I’m not altogether fair in this portrayal, of course. I’m stressing this attitude a bit (but not very much, in my observation) in order to make it easier for me to understand and work with. And this kind of “predatory charity” is manifested in many other avenues of life in our complex society, which I think makes my story more universal while remaining specific. But I think I’m straying from my point in this post.

Anyway, this combination of seeing people at their worst and seeing others at their “not-best” has kept me reflective for a long time, and trying to write a story to crystalize my thoughts is the natural outcome, at least for me. And thus “The Respite Room.” (By the way, my original title was merely “Respite Room.” Somewhere along the way it picked up that definite article. I don’t know when that happened, but I don’t suppose I mind.)

I started writing the story as a first person reflection by a volunteer in such a room, mostly as an account of a typical day. My original goal was to suggest that the human interactions in the respite room were a microcosm of our overall society, and to that end I had intended slipping in all sorts of characters who would represent various groups who provide service in our communities: police, janitors, trash collectors, ministers.  That effort turned out to be more of a vignette than a true story, and I soon had to evolve it. I took it into third person narration so I could discuss my protagonist’s thoughts more objectively, and I found that all of the service-sector characters I had intended were drawing away from the point of the story (which was growing more clear to me as I struggled), so I dropped most of them, keeping only the police representative in the form of a hospital security guard. His presence does instigate a plot point; otherwise I might have dropped him too.

And I found I was lacking a clear representation of that “predatory charity” personality, so I added a new character. She makes an appearance at the end, though I reference her early in the story, and I think that fix is what made the difference and finally allowed me to see the real story I wanted to tell. It allowed me to pull together the fragments I had. I often get these kinds of epiphanies in my writing; they’re not necessarily some revelation a character receives but rather ones I receive about how to develop the story. When this happens, a story I’ve struggled with for years suddenly seems to flow through my fingers onto the keyboard in final form. (This recently happened with the story “Velvet Elvis” — which should appear this month in Bartleby Snopes — I had been casting about for a plot for the basic idea behind it for many years too.) The trouble with relying on this writing-through-epiphany process is that it can sometimes take years for it to happen, which tends to limit productivity.

But now I have “The Respite Room” finished and accepted. I’m enjoying all of the warm fuzzies that come with that and chiding myself for not working on more stories. But I think I needed to get through my analysis of this story, which has been on my mind as I said earlier, so I could be free to work on those other stories. Will the stories now flow? I will watch and see.

A few stray thoughts:

I had written about my struggles with this story as long ago as this post back in January of 2009. In that I discussed the placement of a single word. Curiously, in the final story I’ve chosen the wording that I had rejected in that blog post. Also curious is how my intention in the wording has been taken from me and completely subverted by current events. Back then, I wanted to suggest that my hospital security guard character was a benign, almost comical person and certainly one with no menace. (It makes sense in the story.) I speak of his menace as being seen in nothing more than the canister of pepper spray he has on his belt. The point was to suggest that he was not menacing at all. Recent events with the use of pepper spray in the Occupy movement turned that completely around. I don’t think it hurts the story, but it does add another bit of meaning to it I hadn’t intended.

I use sentence fragments throughout the story. I have no reluctance with flagrantly breaking the so-called “rules” of grammar. As you know if you’ve read my rants in this humble blog, I think creative writers get a pass on grammar if they are able to get their meaning across in some rule-breaking way. (I recently saw the adverb “hectoringly” used in My Antonia. I’m sure the writing mavens would have catalepsy over that — adverbs are bad, don’t you know. Willa Cather didn’t seem to get that memo.)

I alternate plot-furthering paragraphs in the story with backstory paragraphs. I hadn’t realized I was doing that until a recent read through. I’ve been told before that I’m pretty good with seamless flashbacks. I’ll take that on faith; I just write what I write. But I was a little surprised to see how I was telling two stories. As I’ve said before, half the tale is in the telling. It seems to work.

Some of my liberal politics do creep in. They’re in keeping with my protagonist’s ethics, and it think they give counterpoint to the antagonist’s attitude. But I’ve done it so subtly that I think you would have to go looking for my bleeding heart in the story to find it. The lack of universal health care? The lack of a national service model? The fact that every aspect of our community is tied to every other aspect? It’s in there, and sometimes a paper cut is more than a paper cut.

This is one of my “serious” stories. I do seem to write in dichotomies. My stories have either been serious, “literary” works or they’ve been snarky, comical works. (“Velvet Elvis” is one of the latter.) I can’t account for this — maybe I don’t want to know why — but it may be that I need the release of a comical story after all of the wrenching effort of writing a serious story. Or I write the serious story to persuade myself that I’m not just writing stuff to make people laugh. Whatever. I write what I write.

Somewhere along the road I also “realized” that my protagonist is married to one of the minor characters in that novel I’ve been struggling with: Larger than Life. His wife does not make an appearance in the short story — I’m not even sure he’s married yet in the setting of the story. And he is only mentioned by name in the novel-in-progress — though by then they have two children. Faulkner did this a lot in his stories and novels. (Nota bene: I’m not claiming I’m in league with Faulkner!) Characters who are the subject of whole novels are given tangential references in other of his novels. Often, this illuminates both works in unexpected ways. I don’t think this brilliance is happening in my humble scribbling. Nor was this relationship between these two characters my original intention with either work. I just sort of realized it one day. I suppose that strengthens my understanding of these two characters, making it easier to write about them and find their places in their respective stories.

As I said above, my intent on taking this perilous journey into my creative process was to give myself some closure on this story that has occupied my heart and mind for nearly a decade. I’m pleased with it, but I’m eager to move on as well. Catharsis achieved, I think.

Little Patuxent Review is a print-only publication. I won’t be able to give you a link to find the story online. After a suitable time, I’ll post the text of it here on the odd chance that you might care to read it.


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