Archive for the ‘short stories’ category

slash and burn

May 22, 2014

I recently saw a call for submissions (in a Facebook group called “Calls for Submissions”) asking for works dealing with death, the departed, and such things that haunt the memory (even ghost stories). One of my early stories, “Unfinished Business,” is pretty much all about that, so I wrote the editor and asked if she took reprints. She said they would be considered, but they’d have to be really good. (Which raises the question, do non-published works not have to be really good? But that’s not the point of this post.)

The maximum word count is 5,000. I checked my story and it weighed in at 5,690 words. It’s the longest story I’ve ever written. Could I trim 15 percent and still have the story? I decided to give it a try.

I sat down with it the other night and slashed mercilessly (also spotting quite a few typos that I’d never seen before). I cleaned out wasted words, useless sentences, even an entire paragraph. It was a nostalgic adventure, taking me back not only to the writing of this story, which went through many incarnations, but the living of the events that inspired the story. (I think since it is drawn from actual experience, I let it get so long to begin with, cramming in every detail and memory.)

After my cutting session I checked the word count, and it came to 5,480 words. Damn! Obviously I’m going to have to look for actual substance to get rid of. How to do that? There is a central conceit to the story dealing with what memory actually is, and isn’t, and I don’t think I need to try to sustain that in this new, shorter version, so that may be an area where I can do some trimming. But that ain’t going to account for nearly 500 words.

So I’ll keep at it. And maybe in time for the deadline at the end of August, I’ll have done it. And then it will be “really good.”

Update 26-May-2014: I completed the slash and burn this morning and made the submission. Response is expected in November. Since the publication is not listed on Duotrope’s Digest, I have no convenient way of tracking my submission. By November I’ll probably have forgotten that I had even sent it in, and maybe I’ll get a happy surprise then.

“The Most Natural Thing in the World” is now up at MOON Magazine

May 5, 2014

My latest Fathers and Sons story, “The Most Natural Thing in the World”, is now up at The MOON Magazine. Hop on over there if you care to and give it a read. I’m especially interested in what you think of this one. You can leave a comment there, or you can post one here. Or not. Up to you.

A lot is happening in the background of this story. A significant character development is beginning to be expressed here, one that will affect the father and son dynamic of the subsequent stories.

A word of caution, however. When you go to that link, you’re going to get smacked in the face with my face. I hope you don’t turn to stone or anything when you see it. (That photo was taken on the day I ran my second 5K. What a neophyte I was!)

I hope you like the story.

“Men at work and play” is now online

April 17, 2014

My story “Men at work and play” is now up at Wolf Willow Journal. Click on over there and have a read if you’re interested. As of this morning, it bears the title of “The Shawl in my Closet” but I’ve asked the editor to fix that.* The story begins “Curt knelt in the gravel before the dying fire . . .” If you see that, you’re in the right place. And if you care to, let me know what you think.

For one of my early published stories, the editor had used the wrong name in the byline. That never got fixed though I had asked. Oh well.

I read through “Men at work and play” now and spotted all of the things I would have fixed if I’d seen them before submitting. I can’t believe I use the verb “slump” in successive sentences. I have a dangling modifier that sticks out. (I’m not usually too bothered by these, but this one bugs.) And do I really need to say they’ll be a mess twice?

As I said in yesterday’s post, not a whole lot happens in this story . . . except for everything. What came before and what comes after in the cycle of stories gets concentrated and focused in this one. That I could even write this I take as a sign that I’m finally in control of the shifting, amorphous mass of tales that have been presenting themselves to me over the last two years.

So this marks the fourth Fathers and Sons story to see publication: “When We were Young and Life was Full in Us,” “The Lonely Road,” “Men at work and play,” and the forthcoming “The Most Natural Thing in the World.” I have a couple of others in circulation. I’m feeling pretty good about this whole cycle.

* Fixed!

“When We Were Young” is online

December 18, 2013

My story “When We Were Young and Life Was Full in Us” is now up at The Fictioneer. This is one of the stories in my Fathers and Sons cycle, the other published piece being “The Lonely Road.”

I’m really fond of this story, and not just because it contains teenage sex. I think it is my most controlled work, in which I was aware of what I was doing with every word and bit of punctuation. I felt as though the story emerged naturally and mostly in final form on first draft.

Which is balderdash, of course. This is also the story I’ve passed around to several friends for comment including Averil Dean, Pete Anderson, my lovely daughter, and, most certainly, my wife. Each made suggestions for changes and improvements and/or reinforced what felt strong and right to me. And don’t forget that the editor required me to change the last paragraph since the original was too literal. To make that change, I found I had to make a few minor changes throughout the story. So it clearly didn’t emerge in final form at the beginning.

But I knew the characters well by the time I got this story into rewrites. I knew just how to change it, just what to say, just how each would react. I don’t often feel this way with my stories, which is probably why I have so few published or even in what I’d consider finished form. For me it’s rare when my creative engine is firing on all cylinders.

If you have a chance to read it, I’d love to hear what you think. There is an option to leave comments at the story site, and of course you can leave your witty and insightful comments here too.

Update 5-APR-2014 – The magazine was only available online for a couple of months. There is no longer a link to the story you can go to in order to read it.

“When We Were Young and Life Was Full in Us”

October 31, 2013

I’ve been circulating my Fathers and Sons story “When We Were Young and Life Was Full in Us” for several months now. (Actually nearly a year and a half, it turns out.) The story has stayed more or less unchanged since I reached what I considered the final draft, though I always looked for chances to bump up the verb power or create the perfect image. It’s my teenage sex story, so there is lots of opportunity to use strong verbs and images.

Early on I had sent the story to two readers, one of whom writes in a genre that indirectly matches what I was trying to do, and the other being far closer to the age range of my two characters. I wanted their insights, whether the story was “realistic” and whether it was “true.” I received a few comments/suggestions, and I made changes where I thought I could, but I believed in the story mostly as I had written it. So out it went.

According to my records, the story received 11 rejections. That’s hardly even a beginning for submitting a story, and I continued sending it out undaunted.

And then I received a response from an editor who said she really liked the story and wanted to publish it . . . if I changed the ending.

I have not had much editorial change done to my stories. One early story (“Race to the Summit”) did get muscled over to rearrange plot points and even change the title, but the basic story remained. In one case (“The Lonely Road”) the editor wanted two bits of punctuation added. And in another (“Velvet Elvis”) the editor suggested a change to the last sentence that really made the difference to the story. But aside from those three cases, my other stories have been published as I wrote them.

So I was a bit uncomfortable with the idea of changing the ending of “When We Were Young.” It ended the way it had to end. I wrote the editor and asked her what she didn’t like about the ending and what she thought needed to be done. She gave me some pointers that I mulled, but I was not much better off than I had been before. So I did what I always do when I need to muse. I went to my cabin in the woods for the weekend with the story on paper and a mechanical pencil in hand. I sat in the comfy chair on the shady porch and tinkered with ideas and sentences. Then I sat in the comfy chair before the campfire, with a mechanical pencil in one hand and a beer in the other and tinkered some more. But I wasn’t making much progress. I guess the problem was that I had been so close to the story for so long, I cold not get an outside perspective on it.

So when I got home, I did what I should have done from the start. I sent the story to a fellow writer whose opinions I respect and asked him what he thought. Thus began an exchange of emails with ideas and questions and comments. Oh, did I mention that I had to get the rewrite done in less than a week, and even then there was no guarantee of acceptance?

I took the insights my friend gave me and combined them with the tinkering I had done at the cabin, and I came up with a new final paragraph for the story. I think I more or less said the same thing I had said before, but I was far less direct about it, and the voice more closely matched that in the rest of the story.

I let the change stew for a day and then came back to it, fine tuning it, and finding places throughout the story where I could make minor adjustments to lead up more exactly to the new ending.

Then I sent it to the editor and began chewing my nails. Two days passed before I received a response.

She liked the ending and will publish the story.

So “When We Were Young and Life Was Full in Us” will appear in the Winter 2013 edition of The Fictioneer, which is the literary magazine of Unsolicited Press. It’s a print publication, but they generally feature one or two of the stories online. I’ll provide the link (if and) when it is available.

“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.

thick skin report: Mothership

July 6, 2013

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

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

alone time

July 2, 2013


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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