Archive for the ‘Rants and ruminations’ category

hard core

August 18, 2014

I almost never tell people I know that I write. I think I’ve mentioned this before on the humble blog. In part it’s because the writing is my thing. I don’t want to have to share it with my immediate cohort. I also tire of the “advice” people (who know nothing about the process of the craft or the industry itself) feel they can beneficently bestow upon me to better my effort. (I get enuf of this from couch potatoes about running.) And there are probably plenty of other reasons that I’m not self aware enuf to know.

But I surprised myself some months ago after a Wednesday night group run, when the gang was busy rehydrating, as I confided to a fellow runner that, yes, I did write and that, yes, I wrote fiction and that, yes, some of it was even published. I blame the carb-loaded beer for my lapse in judgment. She immediately asked to read one of my stories, and since I had my usual supply of tiny slips of paper showing links to them (see my guerilla marketing post), and since, well, beer, I got brave enuf and gave her the slip for “The Lonely Road”, which I consider my best work to date. (I felt like I was baring my soul by sharing that.)

I think a couple of weeks passed before she showed up again at our Wednesday night run, and I asked her what she thought of the story.

She said she had lost the slip of paper with the link.

I gave her another slip.

Weeks passed before I saw her again, and she told me that she couldn’t make the link work. (It turned out that she’s not that computer savvy — she kept referring to the story as my blog.) So I took her iPhone and linked to the story on it to show her that it did exist. She subsequently confessed that she was not really much of a reader. I can see why she might not have pursued my story online.

Weeks passed, and I knew enuf to stop asking about my story. She didn’t bring it up, and I figured it was a lost cause.

But last week at our rehydration session, when most of the crowd had already staggered home and only a handful of us were left rehydrating, she said that she had actually started reading my story.

She said it was too hard core for her to get through!

Have you read “The Lonely Road”? I admit that it starts out coarse, but I did that deliberately to contrast it with the tenderness of the ending. Coarse, though, is not the same as hard core. Yes, the words “pussy” and “balls” and “hung” occur, and some frank innuendo passes between the rough characters and my innocent protagonist, but I think we all know people like this and have found ourselves in situations as I depict in the start of the story.

Still, I was surprised at her reaction. Granted, I don’t know her very well (she’s a much faster runner than I, so we don’t exactly chat on the trail as we trot along). Still, hard core?

She also confessed that she’d once again lost the link to my story. So I emailed it to her (as well as the link to “Velvet Elvis” that I consider a comic work — and thus not hard core). That was last Wednesday. I hope to find out this week what she might have read since then. Or not.

Honestly, though, I am grateful for her initial reaction. Just about everyone I’ve spoken with about that particular story has said “nice” and generic things about it. Some of you have made discerning comments (especially you!). And while that is nice itself, it’s not visceral the way my runner friend’s reaction was. Does that make sense?

“Hard core” suggests to me a lack of experience in this part of life for my runner friend. “Hard core” suggests an innocence and a fresh eye to the universe of my story (which is odd given that she’s a mother of teenagers and has been through a difficult divorce). But “hard core” is honest and even spontaneous. It is a gut reading by someone who is not a jaded reader.

I figure that, eventually, the fact that I write will become common knowledge among my running friends. Most of them, I’m sure, won’t give it a second thought, but a few (we have a disproportionate number of librarians and school teachers among us) may, perhaps, take up my stories and give them serious readings and then take the time to let me know what they think of them. But they’re going to have to pursue me and my stories. I’m just too shy to put myself out there.

the grind

August 4, 2014

I’m sure it’s getting tiresome – all of my talk of running and races and such. Perhaps more tiresome is when I try to draw writing lessons from my running.

Too bad.

I’ve never been much of a joiner. Perhaps it is because I was the persecuted kid in grade school; I was never welcomed into any group or clique (except by default with all of the other rejected kids). Don’t cry for me, though. I take strength from all of that. But I suspect that I went without for so long that I now see being a loner as a better, more preferred state and have turned the tables, shunning groups. In fact, in the two groups where I can claim membership — a local running club and a monthly book discussion group — I feel like an outsider only let in through charity or some community service-minded spirit. I realize that the problem is all inside my head, but that’s beside the point.

The point is that I pretty much keep my own counsel. I am training right now for a full marathon in October.* There are all sorts of rigorous training plans I could be following, with miles allotted to certain days, exercises allotted to others, rest days in between, and I know people who do follow these plans. I don’t. I tell myself that I should, but I don’t. I just grind out the miles, trying to go farther each week and maybe occasionally trying some suggestion I’ve overheard at some post-run rehydration session. If I did follow such a plan, I’d probably run a better marathon. I’d probably have less fatigue, more endurance, fewer aches and pains, something resembling a smile on my face as I cross the finish line. Part of me knows this, and that part of me says maybe I’ll actually follow a plan for my next marathon. (I must run at least two.)

The other part of me knows, however, that if I had a formal training plan drawn up, I wouldn’t follow it. I would try at first, and I would anguish when I started slacking, but I would fall into my usual just-grind-out-the-miles mindset. It’s self defeating, I know. But it is who I am.

And now the tenuous connection to writing.

I’ve tried a couple of times to join writing groups. I’ve never been satisfied with the results. When others read my stories and find “faults” or “weaknesses” or “areas for improvement” I nearly always automatically reject their input as missing the point or lacking a sufficient understanding of my brilliance or that kind of thing. Part of it is sheer defensiveness, of course. Part of it is not being comfortable with group dynamics. Part of it is laziness; rewriting is hard. And a small part of it, I really do think, is that I am right and they are wrong. So I keep my own counsel.

On the other side, I can’t ever seem to find anything nice to say about other peoples’ draft stories. All I can ever do is pick them apart and find their faults (real or imagined). Again, I fail in the whole group dynamics thing.

So I shun advice (for the most part — some of you have been helpful in your insights when I’ve dared to share something with you) and just grind out my work in the best and only way I know how. Yes, I might write more or better — or get more widely published — if I listened to more advice from others, kept to a more rigorous writing schedule, tried tricks like writing prompts to warm up, went to writing retreats, and all of those sorts of things. But that doesn’t seem to be who I am.

Yet my wandering in the wilderness must work. I am seeing stories published. I am getting supportive words from editors. I am developing a voice that I can call upon. Could I do even better? Perhaps. Will I try? Unlikely. I’ll just keep grinding along.

leafbullet2

*You can expect a thorough, blow-by-blow account here on the humble blog.

the Liebster Award

May 26, 2014

So, I hate these kinds of things. I’m really pretty much a private person, and receiving the Liebster Award (from Donna Everhart — thank you so very much, sweetie pie!) means I now have to spill my guts and put them on display for everyone (or at least the five or six people who read this humble blog) to dissect and chuckle over. Sheesh!

The way this torment works is that I am supposed to provide eleven random facts about myself and then answer the eleven questions that Donna Everhart (thank you so very much, sweetie pie!) has posed. I’m also supposed to nominate other bloggers for this prestigious award, but I’m not going to do that to them. Sorry if I’ve destroyed the chain mail magic.

So, the stuff about me:

  1. I was born in Kansas City and raised in St. Louis. My four children were born in St. Louis and raised in Kansas City.
  2. I’ve been to Vancouver, Canada and the Bahamas. Oh yeah, and Kenya. (My son was serving in the Peace Corps there and held me to a flip promise I’d made that I would visit him.) But that’s as far as I’ve ever been from the United States. I’d like to change that, but someday never comes.
  3. I will have been married 34 years next month. We managed to have our four children (a girl and three boys) within the first four years (and one month) of our wedding day. The “third” child was a set of twins.
  4. As a child, I was religious and even considered making it my life’s work, but I am now about as far from that as a person can be. Amen!
  5. I used to weigh a lot more than I do now. A lot more! In fact, I’ve lost so much weight that I’m nearly half the man I used to be. (My story “Travel Light” is based on unfortunate fact.) Old acquaintances have quite literally not recognized me. Now I run half marathons (one coming up this weekend) and have the same waist as I did in high school. No one is more surprised by this than I am.
  6. I don’t seem to have any allergies aside from shellfish (but we won’t go into the unpleasant — and nearly instantaneous — consequences of eating that). I don’t get poison ivy or pollen sneezing fits or that kind of thing.
  7. I have a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a master’s degree in professional writing. The former seems pointless in retrospect and the latter was only for me. I certainly don’t want to write for “the man.” I did write more than sixty feature articles for newspapers and magazines as a freelancer, some of which you can still find online, but I don’t anymore. I also parlayed that master’s degree into a part-time teaching job at the local community college. It was remedial English composition. The pay was lousy, the workload was tremendous, and the warm fuzzies were too infrequent.
  8. My favorite movie, at least based on number of viewings, is Field of Dreams. The fact that I’m writing a cycle of Fathers and Sons stories makes perfect sense in light of this. (If you’ve seen that movie, you know what I mean.)
  9. I have another blog, one that I’ve kept for more than nine years, but I’m not going to tell you what it is.
  10. “Paul Lamb” is a pen name. Most of you know my given name.
  11. I’ve been told that I’m made of schmooze, that I’m pleasingly flirtatious, and that I make people feel good about themselves. Secretly, though, I am shy and extremely lacking in confidence. Also, I can hold a grudge at Olympic levels.

Dear Donna Everhart has supplied the following questions for me to answer (thank you so very much, sweetie pie!):

1. What are your five favorite books?

This is problematic because I think such a list can change over time. If I had to pick today — and it seems I do since I must answer this question — they would be,

  • The Ghost Writer, by Philip Roth – I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read this, but I suspect it’s near thirty, and every time I find something new in it.
  • Moby Dick – Natch! I’ve read this only three times, which is like saying I’ve barely read it at all. The latest of those readings was with my monthly discussion group, and we took two years to work our way through it.
  • Walden – Again, obvious. I think I’ve read this one thrice as well. It’s a quote factory, to be sure, but there is still a lot of insight and just plain quirkiness to it.
  • The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll, by Alvaro Mutis – I’ve always had an interest in Latin American magical realism, and though this doesn’t quite fit in that category, the character Maqroll doesn’t quite fit in any category either, which is why I like him.
  • The Sea, The Sea, by Iris Murdoch – It’s her retelling of The Tempest and while it is interesting on its own, this was the first of her novels I had ever read. I was introduced to her philosophical style and characters as well as peoples’ lives very unlike my own. I’ve since read all of her novels and some of her nonfiction (though most of that is way over my head).

2. What are you most afraid of?

Regret. Not monsters. Not Republicans. Not getting hit by a car when I’m out running. Not disease. Regret. The road not taken. The lack of courage to act when I should have. The missed opportunity. The unspoken word. And the ensuing, searing, lifelong regret. (Also, the Liebster Award.)

3. If you could pick one, which would it be? A week on an beautiful tropical island by yourself with just the essentials – or – a week in Vegas with ten of your closest friends and anything you want.

Since I can’t have what I want (don’t ask!), and since Las Vegas has no appeal to me (though at least one frighteningly talented writer has come from there), and since I don’t think I even have ten friends, I would certainly pick the tropical island and the essentials. I sit and muse a lot. I like quiet and solitude. I could be happy for a week, alone on a beautiful tropical island. That was an easy question.

4. Your favorite food?

Well, this has probably changed in light of point 5 above. But it has consistently been a big plate of spaghetti with marinara sauce. In fact, my wife’s marinara sauce was one of the things that made me fall in love with her. I don’t eat this way much anymore unless I’m carb loading for a big run. And since I happen to have a big run coming this weekend, it’s spaghetti time!

5. When did you know you wanted to be . . . <fill in the blank>

An office drone in a cube farm? I never wanted to be that, but it pays the bills and I can very easily walk away from it at the end of the day. A writer? As far back as I can remember. I was writing stories as a lad. Dreaming stories as a teen. Practicing my craft as a young married man. And realizing it in my modest way now. I had a brief flirtation with becoming a medical doctor, but fortunately for my potential patients, that never happened. (My son is a doctor, however.)

6. If you could have one “do over” what would it be?

This relates to my whole musing on regret above. I think I’ve made pretty good life choices based on my modest abilities and drive. But there have been a few jobs that I never would have taken if I’d known what they would do to the rest of my life. I am still haunted by the memory of a certain person I worked for thirty years ago who had absolutely everything wrong about life and absolute assurance that she was right. And at the time she was getting a degree in counseling so she could “help” people! I have tried and tried to work her into a story — as a way to exorcise her from my memory — but it’s never worked. I would never have taken that job if I could have such a do over. One or two other jobs were stinkers but probably built character or some other edifying thing. Otherwise, I might have chosen to begin running sooner in my life, but I’m sure I’m getting boring about that.

7. There’s a tornado warning and you only have five minutes to get your sh– together.  What do you grab?

My laptop. My glasses. Some clean underwear.

8. What’s the most difficult decision you’ve ever made?

So far? Letting go of my children. Letting them make adult choices (ones that I would not have made) and not objecting or resisting or counseling otherwise (unless asked). This really is the hardest part of parenting, which has been the hardest job of my life. But that’s only so far. Perhaps some tough choices lie ahead.

9. You’ve just received “The Call,” from your agent.  What would you do immediately after that call?

Sit quietly and savor the immensity of it, the validation of my effort and dreaming. As I said above, I can sit and muse with the best of them, and I’m sure that’s what I would do. Soon after, I would buy myself an expensive Mont Blanc fountain pen — with blue ink, of course — that I would use for signing the contracts that would come my way. It’s an indulgence I’ve promised myself when that day comes. No, I wouldn’t party, and I wouldn’t even announce my good news for a while here on the blog or among my friends. (Few of my day-to-day friends even know I’m a writer, and I want to keep it that way.) No, I would savor it selfishly.

10. Tell us your strangest habit.  (hopefully, nothing gross)

This is a tough one. I suppose if something is a habit, you’re not always aware that you’re subject to it. I can’t think of anything mortifying or embarrassing or even humbling. I honestly can’t. I’m an early-to-bed, early-to-rise kind of guy. I try to eat a handful of pecan halves before I run. I tap a set of chimes each time I go down the stairs in my house. But those seem more like behavior patterns than habits. I really don’t know the answer to this one.

11. What is your most embarrassing moment ever?

Another tough one. I tend to lead such a conventional outward life, and I’m secretive to the point of obsession about most personal things, that I don’t think I have much opportunity for epic embarrassing moments. My adult son walked into my bedroom just has I had emerged naked from the shower the other day, but that’s hardly embarrassing (and it’s the kind of thing the characters in my Fathers and Sons stories are completely comfortable with). I can remember thinking I was so clever by driving on the shoulder of the road rather that wait in traffic and then slamming into the side of someone’s car I didn’t see coming. I’ve gotten some facts wrong and not known it when I’ve pontificated on certain subjects before. I actually said out loud once that I was thinking of a career change and becoming a doctor to much (as it turns out valid) skepticism. But if there have been any pie-in-the-face, wet-my-pants embarrassing moments in my life, I seem to have repressed them quite effectively.

And so that is it. The Liebster Award seems more like a penance or punishment than an award. Thank you so very much Donna Everhart. As I said, I’m not going to inflict this on anyone else. And I suspect I’ve revealed nothing earth shaking about myself, mostly because I’m secretly just a very conventional guy. Sigh!

 

writing tips blog

March 24, 2014

I was tempted to title this post the BS Writing Tips Blog, but I refrained. (Though can I say I truly refrained if I said it in the body of the post? I’m so conflicted.)

Anyway, Bartleby Snopes, which was kind enuf to publish one of my stories, now has a writing tips blog, and the inaugural entry is up, here. This first entry seems a little obvious, especially to an iconoclast like me, but they welcome input in the form of comments, so perhaps a writerly dialogue will enhance their effort even more.

So surf on over there if you have a mind and see what you think.

know your reader

March 15, 2014

Back in the day, when I was guilty of committing journalism, one mantra that was supposed to guide my work was “know your reader.” Has there ever been a more impossible bit of advice than that?

I think the idea is that you must understand what your reader knows, wants, and needs. How smart they are. The range of their vocabulary. Their political leanings. Their attitudes and preconceptions. Their bedrock and their areas open to reflection. Or something like that. Once you know all of that about all of your potential readers, you encapsulate it. Then you a) deliver it, b) challenge it,  or c) ignore it and write what you want. But how can you really know the reader, much less a group of readers? Far less a group of anonymous readers who inconveniently do not fit into pigeon holes?

Certainly those who partake of recognized faux news outlets, those who have a tightly focused interest in a particular arcane subject, and others are ofttimes more easily identifiable, and you can somewhat “know your reader” and thus pander appropriately. But in my experience, the net is cast far wider than this for most writing, and I think this is even more true for fiction.

Yes, there are fiction readers who favor genre writing, and most genres have their conventions. (By “genre” I mean things like romance or crime or mystery or western or speculative fiction and not the broader definition I’ve seen lately of short story or poetry or flash.) Yet I suggest that even such genres have so much diversity in them, so many subcultures of readership, that their readers do not lend themselves to easy categorization. (And the iconoclast in me feels that such genre conventions should be shaken up anyway.)

Yet for the writing I’m trying to steer my humble abilities toward — general literary fiction — I think the readership is so amorphous that there is no point in trying to target it. And not only that, but this genre definition seems so broad that a vast diversity of approaches to story telling seem to fit. I try reading journals to see what kind of fiction they publish, and I often see work that is different from what I do. I read the work of friends and see that the kind of general literary fiction they write is often different from what I do. I’m not saying I’m a misfit (that’s for you to decide) but that I am one among thousands of individuals. I do what I can until I’m satisfied — and thus I guess I know at least that reader — and then send it out, sometimes almost blindly. And I think the closest I can come to knowing my reader is knowing the kind of fiction a given editor publishes.

So I don’t even try to know my reader anymore. I write the stories I have, to the best of my humble ability, and then try to find them homes. I suppose that sounds like blasphemy to some, but it’s a place I’ve arrived at after years of effort and rumination.

I read somewhere — and I wish I could find the source — the each person’s life, even the most simple person you know, is like an entire book, and the best you can ever hope to know is a few pages from their book. I think for the most part, that is true. And if so, then what hope can you have to know a reader, a reader you have never met, who lives on the other side of this planet we are on, who brings his or her own lifetime of experiences to reading and understanding your story?

And if this reader is taking the time to read what you’ve poured some of your own heart and soul into, then maybe the table should turn and you should give them the chance to come to know you a little better.

What do you think? (and I know you think cuz I’ve read your blogs and stories)

random ramblings

February 16, 2014

Obligatory comment about the astonishment and embarrassment for not having posted here in far too long.

I don’t have any great news to report, no happy acceptances of my stories to revel in or wound-licking rejections to lament. I don’t really want to throw out posts in which I pontificate about this or that (or the other thing) since I’m sure my thoughts are no wiser or more discerning than anyone else’s. (And what if they’re far, far less?) I did run a 5K in 13 degrees around a windy stadium parking lot last month, but it was not a shining moment for me (and I got a finisher’s medal, which I think is ridiculous for trotting a mere 3.1 miles). I could put up an adorable photo of my dogs, perhaps (since I don’t have any grandchildren — and I’m not at all bitter or resentful about that. Not at all!).

Even the writing is humdrum. I continue to pick at my Fathers and Sons stories. I have a number of them out to magazines for consideration. (Even after sending them out, I continue to tinker with them.) I’m contemplating sending one of my Finnegans cozy mystery novels (remember those?) to a small publisher for consideration too. Even my finished novel The Sleep of Reason is getting some long-overdue attention from me for possible submission.

I’ve had this idea for a story for a few years that I’ve tried working on lately. I think it was conceived during my Borges-reading period. It circles back on itself in a satisfying way, or it would if I could write the damned thing. But I fear the ambition exceeds the ability with this one. I’m not sure I have the chops to write it in the way I imagine it in my pointed little head. Frustrating.

Similarly, I have another story idea that seems to be born of my Faulkner-reading period. Oblique references. Tortured souls. Tortured sentence structure. Another theme where circles play a part. (What’s up with that?) I guess I’m the guy to write it, but how? How?

Also, is there such a thing as spandex rash? (Apparently so.)

Here’s a picture of my little cabin in the woods:

cabin

because iconoclast

January 30, 2014

I love that the word “because” has become a preposition. “I was late for work because traffic.” I love this fact not so much because I’ll use it in my writing (because unlikely) but because it is a clear sign of the evolution of our language. The construct even has a name: “because NOUN.”

I make no secret of my war with grammar Nazis. Greater minds than mine have called grammar a tool, not a rule. I assert that creative writers are given a free pass on grammar (and punctuation and even spelling) if their writing calls for it. As long as the message is getting through (or not getting through if that’s the intent), then grammar is optional.

Of course if you’re writing technical manuals (which I did for years) or legal contracts (which I did for years) or magazine articles (which I did for years) or even high school term papers (which I did for years), then the “rules” of grammar are necessary to achieve the lingua franca.

But if your thang is creative writing, then help us evolve the language. Be out front and create new styles, new words, new constructions. Evolve “teh grammar.” Because internet, I understand.

In a way, it’s pathetic that some will insist that certain standards of grammar (that prevailed usually in the generation just before theirs) are fixed or at their finest and that any deviation is suspect or trendy or just plain wrong. Because myopia.

I suspect that the because NOUN construct is merely trendy and won’t make its way into standard usage, though the generation after mine seems to be its greatest user.

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.

a one-time fling or a long-term relationship?

December 27, 2013

So clue me in. Just how is one supposed to react after getting a story accepted by an editor? I mean aside from turning cartwheels and such.

I’ve always thanked the editor and praised his or her exceptional taste in fiction after I get the news that a story is accepted. And I generally send a follow-up gushing of thanks after the story actually appears. But beyond that?

Should I be trying to maintain a relationship with the editor and/or publication? Friend them on Facebook? Is that more or less expected? Or is the transaction completed and ’nuff said?

In a couple of cases, I have kept up tenuous email conversations with editors (or left comments on their blogs). I’m not sure why other than that we have the common interest of writing and fiction (and because they wrote back). But I haven’t pursued this with all of the editors who’ve accepted my stories. And I haven’t done this with the intent to grease the wheels for future acceptances. (Though three publications have accepted second stories of mine.) In fact, I fear that these people get so many, many emails that the last thing they want is for someone to be knocking on their door with no purpose beyond staying in contact.

I’ve also been in a circumstance where I could have arranged to have lunch with a certain editor since I was in her town. Does that seem reasonable to pursue? Or creepy? (My few meet ups with fellow bloggers have not been successful. In one case I was so disillusioned that I stopped contact altogether.)

I realize, of course, that there is no universal truth about this and that each situation should be dealt with according to its own evolution. But I wonder if there is some norm, some generally accepted level of dialog for this.

What do you do?

dumbing down even the punctuation

December 2, 2013

That title is unfair. It’s probably just click bait, but whatever.

I think I’ve mentioned here before that as my Fathers and Sons stories evolve, I’m learning more about each character. (It’s as though they really exist out there in some imaginary reality and I am slowly getting more glimpses of their inner lives, but I realize it’s really that the needs of the plot are directing their subconscious development in my chaotic mind.) One of the things I’ve learned about the central character, Davey, is that he is not very bright. He’s a good man. He’s honest, hardworking, loyal, loving, and wants to do the right thing all the time, but he’s one of life’s “C” students. He’s never going to see the nuances that his much brighter son and wife do, and he’s slowly coming to understand and accept this. He is supposed to be just an average guy, very accessible, very relatable, very likeable.

As a result, I find myself rewriting much of his dialog and introspective bits to make them less articulate and insightful, more prosaic. I recently had the opportunity to review the very first Fathers and Sons story I’d written, “The Death of Superman”, to prepare it for submission to a magazine for consideration. (I revisit that particular story a lot because it’s where this whole cycle sprung from. That was supposed to be a one-off piece; I never expected the characters to leap from the page and grab me by the throat.)

What I found in my most recent pass through was that as I was bringing the vocabulary, the sentence structure, and character-expressed insights down a notch or two, I wondered if Davey would use semicolons in his speech.

Isn’t that a strange thought?

I try to use semicolons in my stories, in part because they are a useful bit of punctuation, but mostly because I read some puffed up know-it-all say that semicolons are archaic and confusing to modern readers (who, he seemed to think, need their writing dumbed way down). Plus, semicolons lend themselves to the conversational style most of my story narrators use. (If you search way back in this humble blog, you’ll find my rants about how you should treat your narrator as another character of your story, with a background and style at least as well developed as the characters the story itself is about. Does that make me seem like a puffed up know-it-all?)

And so when I found some semicolons in Davey’s narrative — “The Death of Superman” is told in first person — I paused and wondered if I should take them out. They seemed too “sophisticated” for this average guy. Raise your hand if you think about proper punctuation for your thoughts and utterances. I know I don’t. I just let the blather fly without a thought to how I would punctuate any of it. And so, I realized, I was being a little nuts trying to clean up the punctuation of Davey’s internal monologue. I’m reminded of this offering from the late, lamented Boggleton Drive comic.

So I submitted the story over the weekend and got the automated thank-you response, telling me the editors hope to respond within 90 days. That’s certainly better than the 512 days it’s taken another publication (so far) to respond. (I’m guessing that one wasn’t accepted, which is just as well since I hadn’t dumbed down the narrative nearly enuf on that draft back in those days.)


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