Archive for the ‘short stories’ category

screw it!

September 3, 2014

I’ve mentioned here (or maybe it was in the comments on your fine blog) that I’ve been stymied by a story idea that I can’t ignore and yet can’t seem to write. It’s been frustrating, as you can probably imagine, because it wouldn’t let me focus on anything else, which meant my Fathers and Sons stories have been languishing (and I really need to get those finished).

The story had its genesis probably thirty years ago. I was at a party where I saw a man I knew and respected (who was old enuf to be my father) chatting up a woman (old enuf to be my mother) who was not his wife. He looked so at ease and even happy with her that the thought instantly sprang into my head that he was about to embark on an affair with her. Did that ever happen? I doubt it. But I know the woman was not happy in her marriage, and I later learned that her son (who was old enuf to be my brother) came to hate his mother in her later years for the way she treated her husband (and that son’s father). I never knew the details of that hatred, but the fact of it dovetails with my imagined infidelity.

Couple that with a rumor going around my office in recent months of a man (who should know better) apparently carrying on with a woman (old enuf to be his daughter) in apparently not-so-discreet ways at the office. This uncomfortable situation (if it was even true) stayed on my mind. And what does a writer do with troubling thoughts? Put them in a story, of course.

But the story wouldn’t gel. I made copious notes about it: impressions, bits of dialog, insights. All about a subject that is pretty much foreign to me and unpleasant in any case. And I struggled with writing the story. I even kept the draft of it on Google Drive so I could access it at work (!) when no one was looking to try to sustain the writing effort.

Weeks and weeks and weeks of this struggle passed, and I was getting nowhere with the telling. I rearranged sentences and fine-tuned images and did little more than nothing at all during this time, feeling frustrated and confused and knowing that other writing needed to be done but wasn’t getting done.

So I finally said “Screw it.” I’ve abandoned that story. It ain’t coming. And I ain’t fighting it any longer.

And as though to reward my resignation, my Muse has visited upon me several important insights on one of my Fathers and Sons stories, an important, early story that needs to be added to the canon and that will resonate across all of the subsequent stories in the cycle.

That other story, though, still asserts itself. I’m not sure what I want to do about that. I guess I’ll keep taking notes about it. Maybe enuf of it will come together to let me write something. If not, fine, too.

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.


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