by the numbers (just a rambling post)

Posted November 12, 2018 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Rants and ruminations

When I woke on Saturday, it was 12 degrees outside! That would be negative 11 degrees as most of the rest of the world sees it. It’s early November, too soon for this.


My One-Match Fire manuscript currently has 77,532 words. There may be a misplaced or missing hyphen here or there in the document, but I don’t see myself making any more changes to it, so that seems to be the final number. (I’m now wrasslin’ with trying to write a decent query letter. Ugh!)


I am currently re-reading The Red Pony; it has been XX years since I last read it. (I currently have a fascination with “grit lit” and Steinbeck was considered one of the pioneers of that sub-genre. My favorite among the modern writers in this area is Willy Vlautin. And I loved the movie made of his novel Lean on Pete.)


I made the mistake of peeking into my submission log at Duotrope’s Digest the other day. It turns out that in the last 9 years, I have recorded 206 submissions there (of 43 stories). Add to that a dozen or so I have made that aren’t recorded there (because Duotrope doesn’t/didn’t include a particular publication in its stable or I wasn’t using it in my early days), and I’ve averaged nearly 25 submissions a year. I have no idea if that’s an aggressive or modest submission pace. I am a little surprised that the number is that high, honestly.


Yesterday was Veterans Day in the U.S. The armistice that ended World War I (or The Great War) took effect at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, 100 years ago. Oddly, the armistice was signed at 5:20 a.m. but didn’t take effect for nearly 6 hours. Imagine hearing the news that the war had ended but then learning in the ensuing last-minute land grabs that your son or husband was killed anyway.


I learned over the weekend that one of my submissions has been shortlisted. As far as I know, that’s never happened to me before. I suppose my stories that have been selected have run through several reviews and survived to acceptance, effectively being shortlisted, but this is the first time I’ve been told as much. The submission tracker at Duotrope’s Digest has a feature for updating a submission as being shortlisted, but I never imagined I would ever check that box. Now I have. The email from the editors said I would hear something “in a few weeks.” (I also checked the Duotrope submission history of this story, and this is only the second time in the many years of its life that I’ve ever submitted it.)



Missouri moon ~ Skywatch Friday

Posted November 2, 2018 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Roundrock


This photo is from last weekend when I was down at my little cabin in the Missouri Ozarks. I was actually standing in the bottom of the washed-out spillway beside my dam. (The crew is supposed to come today to begin the work of repairing the spillway.)

It was a perfect day to be in the woods, with the October blue sky overhead.

Go to Skywatch Friday.

a tree falls in the forest*

Posted November 1, 2018 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Roundrock

Tags: ,

I mentioned earlier that I had found a hickory tree that I thought was suitable for cutting down and cutting up** for my friend Todd’s barbecues. As I was watching the fire die near the end of my Saturday cabin trip, I realized that I needed to harvest that tree then or I might never get around to it. (I don’t like using the chainsaw when I’m alone in the forest, and most of my trips are solo adventures.)

So, thrilled by this uncharacteristic decisiveness on my party, I pushed myself up from the comfy chair and fetched my chainsaw out of the cabin to see if I could get the thing started, a prerequisite to actually, you know, using it. I had also remembered to bring the gasoline from home, so the stars were aligning.

When I leave the chainsaw unused for a long time, it’s harder to start. In the past, when I’ve done this, it usually takes three sessions of vigorous pulling on the starter cord (as well as colorful language) before the machine sputters to life. After my third, failed round with the cord this time I was beginning to despair, but I gave it a fourth try and I did get the saw running after all!

The tree I was cutting down was standing beside my mostly overgrown road down into the acre below the dam. It was leaning toward the road, but I wasn’t worried about it someday falling and blocking the road because a) it was youngish and looked vigorous, and b) I rarely drive down that road. But its lean, in the perfect direction for felling it, meant I didn’t need to do the usual wedge cut and could go directly with a straight cut across the trunk (at its base) and the lean would direct the fall better than any wedge cut could.

I’ve cut down many trees in my forest. This one was different only in its perfect setting. The lean. The open space for it to fall into (the road). The perfect weather. The running chainsaw. I had no expectations of anything special happening with this harvest.

Which really enhanced my surprise when something special did happen.

I was cutting directly across the trunk, an inch or so above the ground, and I was about two-thirds of the way through it, waiting for the tree to begin pitching forward, when it happened.

The tree began to bleed.

I mean copious amounts of blood, which my whirling chainsaw was spreading across the forest floor, across the chainsaw, and across me.

At first I thought that some critter lived inside the tree and that I had sliced into it. But a moment’s reflection allayed that. The tree was too small (maybe a foot in diameter) to have a cavity big enuf for a critter, at least one that contained enuf bodily fluids to produce what was gushing from the cut.

It was water, of course. And it was pouring from the cut. I killed the chain saw and stepped back, watching as the water rushed and then oozed. Apparently there was enuf of a cavity in the heartwood of the tree to have collected a lot of water, and by cutting into it, I had released this water.

It was startling, as you might imagine. Normally the most common by product of cutting down a tree is very dry sawdust! I was two-thirds done with the cut (as you can see from the wet and dry portions of the stump in the top photo) and had to stop just to collect my wits.

And still the tree was standing; it hadn’t begun its fall. Once I realized what had happened, I knew I could finish the job without offending the forest gods. The ooze had stopped and the chainsaw had started, so I applied myself to the job once again and very soon a tree fell in the forest, making a lot of sound.

Then it was a simple matter of cutting the trunk into manageable pieces to load into the bed of my truck. I was curious to see what kind of cavity was in it, but that was disappointing.

It’s hard to tell from this photo, but only the lowest part of the tree had any cavity. The left end of the log on the top right shows it. Not so much. The end you can see of the log next to it is dark from the color of the heartwood rather than from a cavity. You can see my chainsaw resting on the stump, which gives you more perspective to the size of the tree than the rest of the photo does.

The tree had fallen hard onto the road, and as I bucked the log, I rolled it back and forth across the road to get the saw through it.

And amidst all of this mayhem was a turtle. Half buried in leaves and grass in the road was a common box turtle. It was in the space betwixt the top right log and the one next to it. I don’t think the tree fell directly on it, but when I was rolling the log around, I’m sure I rolled over it once or twice. The carapace appeared undamaged, so I carried to turtle into the forest and set it beside the base of a tree. It never emerged from its shell.

I got back to the business of bucking the log so that the road I rarely used would be reopened. That done, I carried the saw and gasoline back up the hill to the cabin. (The saw needs to cool before I put it back in its case and back into the cabin.) Then I jumped in my truck and backed it down the road. This road has been washed out and gullied by water coming down the hillside, so I put the truck into four-wheel drive just to make sure I could bump through it all. I had no problem.

When I got the truck in position and dropped the tailgate, I took a moment to check on the turtle. It was gone. I couldn’t see it anywhere around either. I think it made good its escape from the noise and heavy things falling from the sky.

The logs were loaded soon, and the road was cleared, and Todd’s present was ready. After that it was time to clean up and close the cabin for the day. The fire was out. The dogs were eager to go home. We still had daylight to travel by. And a good day in the forest was concluded.


*also the title of one of my One-Match Fire stories, which I wrote about yesterday.

**I love how these two contradictory-seeming wordings are exactly right

“A Tree Falls in the Forest” finds a home

Posted October 31, 2018 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Fathers and Sons

Tags: , ,

It seems like only two days ago I was reporting that one of my stories had been accepted for publication with a literary magazine. And now, only two days later, I get to report another acceptance! I don’t think this has ever happened to me before, that I received two acceptance notices in one week.

Halfway Down the Stairs responded to a submission I had made two months ago for their “Coming of Age” theme. They are an online quarterly, and the issue with my story comes out in early December. I’ll post a link when it’s up. “A Tree Falls in the Forest” is one of my favorites. (I love them all equally, as a good parent should!) It really is a transitional moment in the story line of the novel, and I get to describe the son, Curt, as both a snotty pre-teen and a loving boy while his father is both bemused and confused.

It’s a delightful coincidence that this story was accepted the same week as “Deadfall” since the two are a matched set. There are echoes of each story in the other, and “Deadfall” resolves some of the tension in “A Tree Falls in the Forest.” Nice that they’re coming out at nearly the same time since they should be read together.

I had submitted this story fourteen times, going back two years (!), and all but two were rejections. Of those two, one was this acceptance and the other was a withdrawal for a submission I had made last weekend.

So, two acceptances in one week. I’m now having trouble processing all of this — I guess it’s called — self esteem.

a day in the woods

Posted October 30, 2018 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Roundrock

Tags: ,

My plan to have an overnight at my little cabin on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks last weekend was upset by last-minute grandparenting duties on Friday afternoon, so we hauled ourselves out there on Saturday morning and made a full day of it.

My goal had been to have a fire Friday evening, burning up a lot of junk that had been accumulating, and sitting around it musing about the universe as the darkness gathered. Since there had been rain in the forest recently, I felt more comfortable about having a fire; the fire ring is well contained and circled by plenty of open gravel. Still, I worry, so a wet forest lessened my concern. Thus when we went down on Saturday morning instead, I decided we could still have the fire and more or less tend it all day.

Before that, though, we hiked up to our northeast property line to survey the clearing that our new neighbor is doing along the fence. He’s cleared what I guess will be a wide road there, but I didn’t see anything different about it since my last survey, though later in the day we did hear some heavy machinery up that way.

After that we poked around the cabin — the ripening buckeye in the photo above was a happy find — and looked at the much-diminished lake. The recent rain hadn’t recharged it and I always worry — I fret a lot, don’t I? — that the water won’t be deep enuf for the fish in it to overwinter. But that’s never been a problem in all of the years, so I should stop worrying, shouldn’t I?

Our feet had steered us into the acre below the dam where years ago I had planted 50 pecan trees in more or less straight rows. Most of them died so I planted 50 more. Of those 100 hopefuls, about a dozen survive and  though they haven’t begun bearing nuts, they are nearly all taller (much taller) than I am. In one I found what you see in the photo below. Is this a mockery of my pecan plantation ambitions or just some festooning for Hallowe’en?

Years ago, in fact I think before the cabin was even built, I had cut down a hickory tree and delivered the logs from the trunk to my friend Todd. He uses the wood for his barbecues (though my palate is not sensitive enuf to appreciate whatever distinctiveness this gives the cooked food). In that time, Todd had moved from Kansas City to some place called Reno, Nevada. And then he moved back to St. Joseph, Missouri. In all of his travels, he had carried these logs with him, cutting off whatever he needed for his barbecues. He told me recently that he was down to his last bits of hickory from my forest. He didn’t say outright that it was time for me to supply him with more, but that’s the message I took. Anyway, as we were walking back to the cabin from our pecan peregrination, I saw a shagbark hickory tree that I thought was the right size for cutting down and cutting up to deliver for Todd. And someday, I thought, I might even do that!

So, a wet forest meant that the kindling I could collect would be wet as well. And experience has taught me that wet kindling can mean that a one-match fire might not happen. I think this is why I dithered about getting a fire started, that I might not do it with only a single match this time. I don’t know why this is important to me (other than that One-Match Fire is the title of my novel and a “challenge” among the characters in it). But I had a lot of tinder (mostly paper bags from my many visits to the bagelry) and I figured that enuf of that would make the difference.

It only just did (with the application of two matches, sadly). I burned up all of the tinder I had and resulted in only a few tiny flames high in the teepee of kindling sticks I had so carefully built. (Normally, you want the flames to be at the bottom, working their way up.) So I frantically dashed through the forest, looking for more kindling to add to them, hoping I could keep the flame alive long enuf for it to dry the rest of the wood and catch properly.

Perseverance paid and I did get a real fire going, adding thicker kindling and eventually adding a few pieces of larger wood, also wet-ish but when it started snapping I knew the fire had caught properly. Here is a look at the fire, supplemented with one of those packets of razzle dazzle to enhance the flames.

I didn’t burn much of the trash lumber I have been accumulating. It’s mostly rotten fence pickets and braces, and they were more wet than the wood I found in the forest. I did burn one old bird house that had fallen from its nail in a tree. And I’d brought some fallen branches from home that went into the fire. But once we had enuf flame and coals to cook our lunch (pork chops we’d gotten somewhere), I stopped stoking the fire since I didn’t want to have some monstrosity I would need to tend into the evening as it burned out enuf to leave it (or quench it with the water I had at hand).

The weather was about as perfect as it could have been. We arrived in the 40s, but by lunch time (approved of and shared with the dogs), the temps were somewhere in the 70s. It was easy to sit in the comfy chairs and eat our late lunch (supplemented in my case with iced tea, unsweetened, of course) and watch the fire. And we did this for a long time. We talked vaguely about power washing the cabin exterior and re-staining it. About maybe getting more gravel spread on our road through the trees when the men (finally) come to repair the washed out spillways (an unasked-for but appreciated benefit of the lake being low is that I don’t have to worry about the spillways being fully breached by a big water event). About upcoming travel plans. About everything and nothing.

The fire sputtered and mostly died. I quenched the sizzling coals with water and spread them around the ring. It was time to pack the truck and head home.

And then I experienced something I never have before in my forest, but that’s another tale for another day.

“Deadfall” finds a home

Posted October 29, 2018 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Fathers and Sons, Humble efforts

Tags: , ,

My One-Match Fire story “Deadfall” has been accepted by Hedge Apple for its “Personal Identity” themed issue. It should appear online next month (and is apparently “in the running” for the print edition to come out in December — I do like seeing the shelf with the journals carrying my stories getting fuller).

This story is a recent addition to the novel, one that I had originally intended to be part of the “inevitable sequel.” It’s a companion to the other recent addition: “Spring Fever.” The two clarify and then resolve the major conflict in the latter half of the novel.

This is the fifth story I’ve had published this year and my thirtieth published story.

delicious ambiguity

Posted October 26, 2018 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Reviews and Responses

Tags: , , ,

“Nothing is better than love,” says Dr. James Darke in the novel Darke by Rick Gekoski.

I picked this up at the used book store last weekend because the synopsis on the flap appealed to my curmudgeonly, misanthropic soul, the book being about a curmudgeonly, misanthropic soul. Due to a series of unfortunate life events, the protagonist has essentially walled himself into his London house, seeing no one, having his groceries and such delivered, and even sealing the mail slot in his front door so he won’t receive any missives. It’s over the top, of course, but it’s nicely done, and it’s a first-person narration so you can’t be sure just how much is true.

But on to that quote.

On face value it seems true and honorable, even if spoken by a curmudgeon. Love is the greatest thing. Yet if you think of the sentence as an equation, with two components, A (nothing) and B (love), you can reach a different conclusion. “A is better than B.” Love may be dandy, but Nothing is better.

The sentence is ambiguous; we live in the ambiguity!

I can tell you from the context of the statement that curmudgeonly Darke does mean that having nothing in his life is better than having love in his life. (“Nothing” being no personal entanglements or dealings with others. As close as he has come, so far, is the limited dealings with the workman who sealed the letter slot on his door and a char woman of foreign extraction who comes once a week and upsets his equilibrium. He pretends to be partly deaf with both of them to limit interaction even more, but the char sees through this early on.)

I’m only a third of the way through the novel, and I suspect that the equation in that statement will be reversed by the end, but in the meantime I’m enjoying the writing and the character.

Curiously, so far this novel bears a strong resemblance to Iris Murdoch’s novel The Time of the Angels. It too has a man who has removed himself from society, seeing no one and throwing away all of the mail he gets. As well, he has an adult daughter and a housekeeper who is foreign and who has developed a relationship with him. I don’t know yet how far Darke will hold to this course, but I hope not too far since the Murdoch novel does not end well.