I actually wrote this sentence

Posted August 25, 2016 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Fathers and Sons

When I was in graduate school, I came upon a sale of punctuation marks and loaded up. I’ve been using them ever since, which is how I can write a sentence full of commas, like the one below:

He seemed satisfied with this realization, this puzzling out of the mystery, sentiment being, in his experience, an unbreakable, though, he thought, insufficient bond.

This is from the story “Boys are like puppies.” The “He” in this sentence is a man visiting the family cabin, which is almost a character itself in my One-Match Fire stories. He doesn’t see the practical value of the place and the land. You can’t farm on it. The trees are too small for timber. The family aren’t hunters. Et cetera. But then he learns that the property actually belongs to the matriarch, who hadn’t come for this visit.

I like the sentence, though I won’t be surprised if some editor tells me to clean it up.

everyone needs an enemy

Posted August 22, 2016 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Humble efforts, short stories

This is, surprisingly, not going to be a post about my Fathers and Sons stories, my running, or my cabin in the woods! It is about my humble attempts at writing fiction, however.

Years ago, I was struggling with a story idea that eventually evolved into “Velvet Elvis”. (Perhaps my most fun story.) I had the basic conceit of the story, but I didn’t have the story to go with it. Then it dawned on me, as these things must when you’re a struggling writer who imagines he’s too good to pay any attention to conventional wisdom, that what my story didn’t have was conflict. I didn’t have an antagonist for my character, someone to push the story into gear. Once I realized that I needed that (and should have known all along had I deigned to listen to conventional wisdom) I blazed through the story, polished it a few (dozen) times, sent it out, won an award, and got published. I’m still very proud of this story, and to this day, my wife has little to no interest in attending art fairs any longer.

And so I’ve been struggling with another story I’ve mentioned here a time or two: “Old School.” I thought I had the antagonist. It was to be the central character himself, defeating his own goals by, um, failing to listen to conventional wisdom. But the story just wasn’t developing in my mind. I didn’t know where to take it. I knew how it would end, and even had a good start. And filling in the middle would just be journeyman work. But it wasn’t much of a story.

Then I realized that if I had a different antagonist, one who could bring a plot along with him or her, I would have a story to write. And once that was in my noggin, the story began to blossom. I now know the conflict and the resolution. It’s nearly to the point where I must just copy it down as it reveals itself to me. (See my recent post “mused, and amused” for similar blatherings.)

It is refreshing to have a story to work on that isn’t in the F&S universe. I’m still tinkering with them and waiting with growing dread for the response from one of my readers, but I take this new story idea as a sign that creative Paul is ready to move on to the next adventure.

the cabin at the end of the road

Posted August 19, 2016 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Roundrock

cabin

Happy Friday, everyone!

Just a picture of my little cabin. One room. No plumbing or electricity. Nice lake just down the hill. Solitude. Bliss.

upon reflection

Posted August 16, 2016 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Fathers and Sons, Roundrock

Tags:

Writing is rewriting.

That was a hard lesson for me to learn. I can still remember the early days of my first attempts at writing stories, pouring everything I had into them, considering them complete and perfect and unalterable, and they’d better be because I had nothing left in me.

I mentioned in my last post that I went out to my cabin at Roundrock last weekend. It was (effectively) a solo trip. I had brought along my dog, Flike, but he spent nearly all of the time inside the cabin, alternating between cowering on one of the beds and cowering beneath one of the beds. This dog weighs 75 pounds. He’s pure muscle and energy, with a deep bark. And he is terrified of flies! There. I said it.

August is a bad month in the Ozarks for horseflies. Ticks are on the wane, as are chiggers (evil, evil chiggers!), but if the dragonflies have not been doing their job all summer, the horseflies can be abundant. The males are benign, though annoying enuf being an inch or more long and buzzing angrily in your face, but the females will bite. They need a blood meal in order to produce their eggs so that more horseflies can bedevil my poor dog next August.

For reference, here is Flike:

Flike

The brown dog you see at 11:00 is Queequeg, a Pomeranian and, not surprisingly, the alpha male of the pair.

But enuf of that. Back to my point. My little cabin has neither plumbing nor electricity. The lack of plumbing a fellow can deal with fairly reasonably. But the lack of electricity for the laptop — where all of the writing gets done — is harder to deal with. My Mac has about a three-hour battery life, and I’ve experimented with large batteries (the kind you can jump start cars with) to supplement that, giving me about another three hours. But It’s never been that productive for me, perhaps knowing that my time is limited. So my weekend trips to the cabin are times for reflection and note taking (in the paper journal I keep there for that purpose).

I spent most of my time traveling between the comfy chair on the shady porch to the comfy chair before the fire ring. I reflected. I carried on conversations with myself — out loud — and various others who needed to hear my advice and opinions. I worked out story problems in my head and discussed at length with myself bits of dialog and plot development and story enhancements and all kinds of really brilliant things, some of which I remembered long enuf to write in my journal.

Foremost among the ideas I developed was a need to rewrite about a third of the penultimate story in the One-Match Fire cycle, “Little Gray Birds.” In that story the grandson, Curt, reflects on a discovery he made about his past. It is introspective, and I think it’s well done as it stands, but I think it can be done better as dialog between Curt and his mother. His mother can reveal/confess something in her background that is tremendously important to Curt. I think it works better that way, is more dramatic, and gives the mother character a little more presence in the stories.

And so, writing is rewriting. The brilliant way I had figured out how to write this new development, sitting around the campfire and drinking beer, has somehow escaped me. Or much of it has. Or perhaps the seeming brilliance of it has. But I’m working on it. Somehow I’ll finish it then shoehorn it into the story and see what I think of it.

I don’t foresee another trip to the cabin soon, so maybe I’ll finally be able to put these stories to rest.

old and new

Posted August 15, 2016 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic, Roundrock

mantis

A few of you know this though most of you don’t. I have kept another blog for more than a decade. It’s about my cabin in the woods plus the 80 acres around it and the lake below it. I call it Roundrock Journal, but don’t try to search for it; you’ll be disappointed. That blog uses WordPress software, but it is not hosted by WordPress. Keeping a blog for that long (on a server that maybe doesn’t have the best firewalls) apparently increases its chances of being targeted by evil doers. It’s been hacked a few times, but my crack technical team (daughter, son-in-law, and now grandson) have been able to get in the back door, clean out the malicious code, and restore the blog to its rightful glory. That is, until this last time.

Roundrock Journal is toast. The latest hack has been pernicious. Most of the time even I can’t get in. (Some have reported luck getting to the blog on their iPhones.) The team has put some effort into scrubbing the blog, but it’s apparently not enuf. (I first started using “enuf” on Roundrock Journal.) I’m told that the hundreds of thousands of words of text I’ve written there and the thousands of photos I’ve posted can (somehow) be captured and moved to a new blog that would be hosted by WordPress. This would cost a little money but nothing outrageous, especially if it meant I could avoid hackers better. However, the work to capture and move the substance of the old blog — for the first five years I made a post every single day — is a much bigger task than I want my crack technical team to undertake. Not only do I need this same team to drag my sorry self through the New York City Marathon in a few months, but they’ll also be the ones who will pick out my nursing home. So I’ve decided to retire Roundrock Journal. It had a good run, as they say, and this humble blog has long been in need of some diversity, so I can begin making Roundrock posts here. Everyone wins!

I call my 80 acres Roundrock, continuing a long tradition of people naming places. The reason I used that word is because the place is — literally — filled with round rocks. Behold:

round rock

I have collected perhaps a hundred of these round rocks. Hundreds more await. Kick away the leaves in certain parts of my forest, or stumble along the wet-weather stream that bisects my acres, and you can find them easily. The one in the photo is about the size of a grapefruit, which is their most common incarnation, but I’ve found some as small as golf balls and as large as basketballs. (There is a fragmented one on my neighbor’s land that is the size of a beach ball.) These are not rounded by rolling around in a stream. Roundrock is mostly ridgetop. Rather, they grew this way. Yes, the rocks grew into these nicely spherical shapes, just calling out for a human hand to hold them and put them in gardens and on book shelves and here and there. When I get the gumption, I’ll explain how they came to grow, but I’ll tell you now that it involved a meteor impact.

So Roundrock Journal is retired, but the stories about it will live on here. I hope you can tolerate them.

That preying mantis in the top photo greeted me when I spent the weekend at my cabin. It hung around for a while, but eventually it moved on to do whatever it is they do.

 

a tale from the trail

Posted August 10, 2016 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic, Running

Tags: , ,

Wow! It was a year ago that I posted an account on this humble blog of an eerie encounter I had one early morning as I was running in my quiet suburban neighborhood. See the riveting account here. (I was certain I was about to die!)

I run that route regularly; lately it’s become my go-to Saturday morning run and not only because it ends at the neighborhood bagelry. This past weekend I ran it both Saturday (stretching it into more than 8 miles) and Sunday (seeking only the 6.1 miles I got from it, but giving me more than 40 miles for the week, which is only the second time I’ve ever done that!). On Sunday, my feet hit the pavement at around 4:30 a.m. (No, that’s not a typo! I love the solitude.) I reached the same shelter I discuss in that earlier post sometime around 5:00. These days I run with a headlamp. I hate the thing. Its elastic strap squeezes my pumpkin head, but I can see the trail below my stumbling feet, and I assume any cars coming my way when I’m running down (the middle of) the street can see me too.

When I came into the shelter, though, I had another unexpected encounter. I saw a lamp similar to mine bobbing betwixt the picnic tables. I assumed it was another runner, out at the ungodly hour to beat the heat (and the rain that had sprinkled me again this run). But it wasn’t. It was a woman dressed in a skirt and a jacket (from what I could tell in the dark) who may have been coming from the restroom there. Keep in mind I was the one running toward her. She had every reason to think I was the menace.

I wished her a good morning as I darted past, and she said something similar to me. (I forget what; I was so surprised!) Then I went to the water fountain on the far side of the shelter, not only to rehydrate but to put some distance betwixt me and the woman so she wouldn’t need to worry about my presence. After taking a few sips (rinse mouth and spit first, then drink), I turned to look for the woman. She was gone. I should have been able to still see her at this point if she was walking the trail, though that seemed unlikely. But she hadn’t walked to the sole car in the parking lot either. She effectively disappeared in the darkness.

I puzzled about this for a while. If she needed the restroom, why hadn’t she gone to the brightly lit, 24-hour convenience store not a block away? I suppose it was reasonable for her to assume that she wouldn’t encounter anyone in this little park. (After all, technically, I wasn’t supposed to be there. The trail is officially off limits until sunrise, which was still more than an hour away.) And she did have a light with her, perhaps pepper spray too, which she might have had in hand, with her thumb on the go button.

I’ll never know, of course.

Poe has a story called “The Imp of the Perverse” that deals with the self-destructive impulses in people: being terrified to stand at the edge of a cliff yet having some perverse desire to throw yourself off at the same time. I think I’m becoming this way about the shelter in the park on that bit of trail in the lonely hours of the pre-dawn weekends. Some perverse part of me wants to keep going there, actually hoping to have more incidents like this. In the mundane, white-bread existence of this suburban wage slave that I am, I can see how this makes a kind of sense.

But only after I finish that New York Marathon. Geez, that thing has me terrified in its own way!

And because I had included a photo of my pumpkin-headed self in that earlier post, I’m including one here:

me and three

This is a picture of my daughter, Rachel, her boy (in blue), Kenneth, me (in the cap), and my other grandson, Emmett. Somehow my face has actually managed to achieve a smile. (I don’t think it’s repeatable.)

Update 13AUG2016 – I ran through this park/shelter again this morning and encountered more than a half dozen women also running on the trail in the dark with headlamps. Of course, since it was before sunrise, they had no more business being there than I did. I don’t think they expected crossing paths with anyone since they were taking up the whole width of the trail and had to shout out to make way when they saw me approaching (with my headlamp on).

the tree has fallen

Posted August 9, 2016 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Fathers and Sons

I finished the “last” Fathers and Sons story over the weekend. And by “finished” I mean in a first draft only. It is titled “A tree falls in the forest” and I think it’s already in pretty good shape. It gets done the basics of what I wanted to get done. I quickly emailed it to my two readers, cautioning them that it was raw but that I thought it was important they have it to integrate with their understanding of the whole cycle.

About two hours after I emailed the story to them, I began revising it. Nothing substantive. Just stuff for the tone. Clarification of this and that. A few changed verbs. And added adjective or two.

I fully realize that the story will evolve; I certainly hope it does. It’s lengthy in relation to most of the other stories, and I found myself rushing through the end third of it; that will probably need to be developed more. But then I must call a halt, right? I don’t think there are any holes left to fill, any character development that is missing, at least essential character development. There are plenty of things I’ve left for the eventual reader to discover or discern. Or not. I don’t want to spell it all out and leave nothing for that reader to chew on and develop. I love stories that stick with me for days or weeks. I’d like to provide that kind of story as well.

But I’ll wait to see what my two readers think.


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