succession success

Posted November 20, 2017 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Fathers and Sons

I mentioned in my last post that I’ve been making some progress on a new story. Since then I’ve more than doubled the word count, and that was after some serious editing to clean out excessive phrasing. It’s a tighter story, even as it’s grown longer overall.

The working title is “Forest Succession” and you can guess that it’s about the little cabin in the woods that my One-Match Fire family has. It’s not a story for that novel; in fact, it occurs many years after the end of that novel. But it involves the same characters and the hundred-acre forest they have been going to for four generations (five if you count the great, great grandfather who first bought the property).

The idea I’m writing toward is that just as a forest goes through a succession of trees in a cycle that eventually repeats, so the property is going through a succession of people coming to it who will leave their own marks on it.

I should have a first draft finished with one more writing session. It’s satisfying.



Posted November 16, 2017 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic

Yeah, I’m still here. Life intervenes sometimes.

I am making some satisfying progress on a new story and otherwise just moving along.

A sixth grandbaby is due in April.

We will have five houseguests for the Christmas holidays, three of whom will be under three years old.

I earned one black toenail from the half marathon last month.

Kansas City Half Marathon 2017 recap

Posted October 25, 2017 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Running


I suppose I should write about this rather than keep avoiding the subject. I’ve not written much about my running because it’s been going so badly lately. And the half marathon I “ran” last weekend was no exception. But I want running to be a part of my life, I want to be able to use running as part of how I define myself, so I shouldn’t shy away from discussing it.

And despite how poorly I am running lately, there are runner friends of mine who can’t run at all. One woman whose blog I read used running to battle her depression and has even run the Boston Marathon (the Holy Grail for runners) but now due to an injury can barely get out and do a few strides any longer. Another friend I know personally, and whose pace in a 5K is my personal goal, needed foot surgery and is now getting around on crutches. She hopes to get back to running, but there doesn’t seem to be any guarantee that she will. Yet another woman I know had to have knee surgery and is now on the injured reserve list, though she has been walking a lot and doing some short runs. And a man I know had to end his streak — running at least one mile outside every single day — after 11 years because of an injury. (Imagine running every day for 11 years!) Compared to these people, I have little to complain about. But I probably will anyway.

The first thing I should tell you about the Kansas City Half Marathon is that I did not train for it at all. In August and September I ran a total of about 40 miles. I’ve done that much on some good weeks, but that comes about to about 5-mile weeks in the time I should have been training for 13.1 miles. So, as I said, I was not trained for this race at all. But I had signed up for it last spring, soon after I had completed the Brooklyn Half Marathon, when I was energized and in denial about my declining performance. And I know I would have regretted not lacing up for the Kansas City Half (in part because I’d already paid for it). So lace up I did.

I’d run this half twice before, and I ran the full Kansas City Marathon once, so this has become something of a tradition for me. This year, however, they had changed the course. Chiefly they reversed the direction, but they also made some changes in the latter half that involved hills. Thus whatever performance I could have mentally called upon from my past runs wasn’t going to apply. So I was going into a new course with no training. What could possibly go wrong?

One thing I thought I could do mitigate my current inability (and lack of training) was to run with a pace group that would control my pace. I could pick a pace group that would finish in a modest but committed time, certainly not near the best I’ve ever done, but better than the completion time threshold I had set for still holding some self respect. Controlling my pace is, I think, part of my problem. I get going faster than my heart and lungs can support and I get winded. Thus, running with someone who would set a pace (which would vary depending on the terrain) could be a way for me to manage my moderate skills (and lack of training). So I picked a pace group that seemed reasonable, with plenty of cushion between it and that finish time limit self-respect threshold. I was really counting on this to work for me.

It didn’t. As I look back now, I see that the pace group I had chosen was only six minutes slower than my best half marathon time ever. There was nothing modest about this pace, at least for me. I’m not sure why I made such a poor choice.

Anyway, when we took off, the first thing we faced was a mile of uphill running into downtown Kansas City. I could feel myself straining to keep pace with the group, and it wasn’t long before I knew it wasn’t going to work. I began walking at the half-mile mark, watching the pace group move farther from me. It was the first of many, many walking breaks for the next 12.6 miles. I could run, but I couldn’t keep running. I had to take walking breaks and pant heavily.

Fortunately, I was not the only one like this. I don’t mean to disparage these other runners, but I am glad I was not alone in my performance.

After turning the first mile we had a long stretch of nearly a mile going downhill before we turned onto flat ground and headed for the Jazz District of Kansas City. This circuit is a recent addition to the route, and it’s a good choice since Kansas City and jazz have a long history. Alas, early on a Saturday morning, the place was deserted. And after we left the Jazz District we faced more than a mile of uphill running. I continued to alternate running and walking, and I hit all of the water stations, but I was not doing well. (Note that this particular uphill mile had been a delightful downhill run in the past, before they reversed the route.)

But I persevered, and mile 5 meant the top of the hill. From here we had about two miles of generally downhill running, and it was somewhere in these two miles that I hoped to see my wife and grandson Emmett, ready to hand off a candy bar to me for quick energy. (I had also carried four packets of GU — chocolate mint, which is my favorite — that I was eating every three miles or so.)

By this point I had pretty much found my informal group. I keep passing and being passed by the same runners. Occasionally I would think that just about everyone who was behind me but was going to pass me had already done so. Then another pack of runners would hurtle past. Some of these packs were later pace groups, and I saw their dedicated times (on little flags held by the pacers) approaching that threshold time I needed to beat. Being passed didn’t bother me much because a) my goal was to finish before the threshold time, and b) I was out of my mind with fatigue. It was somewhere at about this halfway point that my legs started to give me grief. This was surprising since my legs almost never give out, but this run they were. My right quad, just above my knee was burning with an unfamiliar pain, and I could feel a wicked case of shin splints coming on. Even the soles of my feet felt odd, almost liquidy. But what could I do? I was only half way through the torment, and if I was going to retain any measure of self respect, I had to get to the finish under my own power. So power on I did.

And it was not long after this that I ran past my wife and grandson. They didn’t see me, and I only spotted them after they were behind me. (I had given up expecting to see them in this area where she said she would try to be since another block ahead was a turn onto a street and a new part of the course that was not spectator friendly.) So I turned and trotted back to them, grabbed the candy bar, moaned my agony, and took off again. I am told that little Emmett was very upset that I didn’t stick around. (Part of me was too.)

I continued to alternate walking and running, knowing that in about two miles I had a long uphill before me. I would likely walk more of that than run it. Shortly after the halfway point the course split, the full marathoners going to the south while we half marathoners continued to the west. We ran through the Plaza shopping district, nice, but also mostly empty on Saturday morning. The pack had thinned by this point such that the police were letting cars cross our path when there were sufficient breaks among us. There were also a lot of ambulance sirens in this area. I can’t say if they were picking up exhausted runners, but it was unnerving, and while the cars had to yield to us, I suppose we runners would have to yield to an ambulance that needed our roadway.

The big hill arrived. I made the turn and ran as far along it as I could, but it was only a fraction of the distance to the top, and my walk/run method was once again in full use. I’ve driven these particular roads hundreds of times, but I never appreciated the subtle rises and falls in them from the seat of a car the way I did with my feet.

Somewhere around mile 10 the first full marathoner passed me. The escort motorcycle had been chirping behind me all the way up that long hill, and he caught up on the flat bit after it. The full marathoners’ course went out for 13.1 miles after the split then rejoined our course for the remainder of the way. The runner was little more than a stick man. He was tall and lean and seemed to have no more muscle on him than was necessary to allow him to float past me. He also had no more clothing on him than the skimpiest purple shorts I’ve ever seen on a person. (The weather was about ideal for running: in the fifties and overcast. The thunderstorms would come that evening.) Soon after, another young man passed me, and he was moving with such grace that I knew he was an athlete. We half marathoners had blue on our bibs; the full marathoners had yellow. Had I turned to look at these people passing me so effortlessly I could have confirmed that they were running the full, but I didn’t because agony.

So I was well more than half way through the course, but my legs were hurting and though I finally managed to get my breathing under control such that I could sustain more distance between walks, I was too exhausted to do much. I plugged along. There are parts of the run along here that I have no memory of. It was hilly along here, though falls as well as rises and it was just a matter of persevering. There was no glory in it, no runner’s high. But also no defeat.

We wove through a neighborhood I’ve run in several times before on other races. I’m grateful that these folks tolerate having their street closed for a few hours a few times a year.

Somehow I had fallen in with a pace group. It was the one I probably should have chose at the start, much slower but still faster than my threshold. The lead pacer kind of pulled me into her group and spoke encouragement to me, and she got me up the very last hill on the course though I had to walk after that and lost the group.

No matter. The last half mile was a glorious downhill run. I knew this was coming because I had driven the course a few weeks before. (I ran a 5K several weeks ago that had an uphill finish, which is just mean.) Once I crested the hill and saw the half mile laid out before me I thought I would find a burst of energy and finish well. But I was so shot (remember, no training) that I actually had to walk a few blocks just so I would have something in the tank to run across the finish line.

And I did. I came down the hill and saw the finish arch ahead of me. The pack was very thin at this point and I could run right down the middle of the chute. Some friends on the sidelines spotted me and shouted encouragement. And then it was done.

I accepted my medal (I really wish they would hang these things around your neck rather than just hand them to you) and a bottle of water, most of which I poured on myself despite the chill. Then I found the chocolate milk but only took two cartons. Somewhere in the crowd was my wife and grandson, and my job was to find them and try to endure the ride home without cramping too badly.

They were in a grassy area near the finish. Emmett was playing, as he was supposed to be, when I staggered up. He was happy to see me again, but he had playing to do. Libby and I talked about going over to the finish line festival full of booths, with free massages, sandwiches, and beer as well as hundreds of sweaty people, but Emmett was fussy, having given all of the patience he had to being good for the morning, so we decided to leave and steer ourselves homeward. We did have to stop once so I could get out of the car and stand until the cramping in my shins (!) passed.

Once home I did some foam rolling and some stretching, and then I took a long bath with Epsom salts and finally crawled into some comfy sweats.

Once the official statistics were posted online I found that I came in 73rd of 97 men in my age group. That was acceptable enuf, but more importantly, I beat my threshold time by seven minutes and seven seconds!

I don’t have anything on my dance card right now, which is a peculiar feeling. I need to ramp up my training runs again and see how that goes, and then maybe I’ll look around for another race.


an acquired distaste

Posted October 23, 2017 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Rants and ruminations


I’ve written about this at various times over the near-decade that I’ve been keeping this blog, but it’s a thought that comes to my mind often. It has to do with writing (and reading) and what many people have come to believe is proper (and improper). Essentially, it bugs me when people object to what is not, objectively, improper grammar. Or rather, what is perfectly clear speech or writing that doesn’t match some arbitrary “rule” of grammar. For example, a split infinitive: “to boldly go where no one has gone before.” Or ending a sentence with a preposition. Or use of the passive voice. Or sentence fragments.

Usages like these work perfectly well to get meaning across to readers/listeners, and their composition can be elegant or at least not clumsy. But that someone would automatically object to these instances, claiming them to be poor grammar and sniffing disdain at them, strikes me as unconsidered. It strikes me as an acquired distaste. This is something one has learned to object to without there being anything inherently (or effectively) wrong with the usage. They might never have objected to the usage unless and until someone told them it was “wrong.”

I get it. Writing is a perilous business. We work with uncertainty and doubt, never sure if we’re getting our meaning across as well as we can, (sometimes not even sure what our meaning is). And so “rules” of grammar and composition can give a kind of certainty, can relieve us of a next-level effort of expressing meaning through creation. Similarly, they can relieve a reader of the effort needed to understand a writer’s work. (There are plenty of cases when I’ve had to reread a sentence two or three times to extract its meaning: Moby Dick, anything by Faulkner.) And in my observation, many people need clear rules in order to get through life.

But I’ve always thought that creative types are here to create the culture rather than merely reflect it.

Still . . .

I’m finding myself struggling with this very “distaste” thing in the book I’m reading. The writer has gotten excessively creative with wording, and I suppose it’s intended to leave strong, lasting images in the reader, but I think the writing gets in the way of the story; the clever writing seems to exist for its own sake rather than to advance the story. And then it makes me object.

Here are some examples:

  • “his shirt wounded with gray sweat stains”
  • “a toast-colored mustache”
  • “earlobe-sized berries”
  • heat lightning “luminescing distant acres of wheat”
  • the glow of the television “fire-flying” her face

Why was the word “wounded” used in that context? The character wasn’t suffering or victimized; it was merely a hot day. I have a hard time picturing what color toast is. Why compare the berries to earlobes? There was no connection in the context. “Luminescing” seemed like a reached-for word rather than the right word. Fire-flying?

There is something like this on every page. I understand that these create images, but are they useful images to the purpose of the story? Or are they ornamentation that pulls the reader out of the story? Yet not every sentence contains such a device. It seems as though the writer has a workable, readable basic style that carries the story along effectively and yet has picked occasions to doll it up.

And so I get yanked out of the narrative. Is this an acquired distaste of my own?

meanwhile, back at the cabin*

Posted October 16, 2017 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Roundrock


We made a day trip down to Roundrock on Saturday, doing nothing special until is was time to leave. Then we got our big surprise.

I’m sure I could count on one hand (yes, I can count that high!) the number of months over the last decade when I hadn’t made at least one visit to the cabin, but with this October shaping up as it is, I was worried that it would become one of those unvisited months. Thus our trip.

We had nothing much on our agenda, and since I forgot to bring the gasoline for the chainsaws, even the vague idea to clean up here and there, was dismissed. Upon entering the cabin, though, I found that both of the mousetraps I had set on my last visit had fulfilled their destiny. There were two dead (and mostly desiccated) mice in the traps. While this was good, it was also disconcerting. How are the mice getting into the cabin after nearly a decade of not being able to? (Or not having done so?) Libby suggested that we couldn’t reuse the traps since they now had the “smell of death” on them, but I’m not sure mice have that level of existential thought, though I do think they are attracted to smells. (I had baited the traps with a piece of extra sharp Swiss cheese and a bit of a chewy dog treat, and topped them both with a dab of spicy mustard.) Either way, I threw the traps onto the ash in the fire ring, to be consumed in the next fire (and to add their metal mechanisms — sprung — to the ash).

We poked around. I swept some corners of the cabin. I screwed an attachment in a wall stud so I could hang the wheelbarrow and thus regain some floor space. I liberated some cedars from their earthly toil. I raked leaves away from the back of the cabin. I took a “nap” which mostly consisted of closed eyes and slow breaths as I imagined a scene from a story I’m working on. (This resulted in a page of notes I wrote soon after.) We ate our lunch an hour early. I pulled weeds out of the gravel near the fire ring. I loaded the wheelbarrow into the bed of my truck to take home in faraway suburbia for some much-needed yard work. That kind of thing, for about five hours. (It’s a two-hour drive each way for a cabin trip, so we strive to spend more time actually there than it takes to get to and fro.) And then it was time to begin packing to head home.

We were nearly gone — the dogs were already in the car — when Libby opened the drawer of the metal cabinet to get a tissue and made her discovery.

There was a mouse in the drawer. Not only a mouse, but a momma mouse with three babies hanging from her. (Apparently they’re called pups.) She had made a nest of the oven mitt we’d kept there. When Libby spotted the mouse, she quickly disappeared, leaving one pup behind. We slowly began emptying the drawer (and throwing out many foul-smelling things), but we could not find the mother mouse. Then we moved to the cabinet below the drawer. In here we have kept the extra sheets for the beds, towels, blankets, and all sorts of things we’d put away exactly because they would make nice mouse bedding. Slowly we began removing these, and on the fleece blanket Libby uses to keep warm on cold nights, we saw a chewed hole in it. Still, we could not find the mother mouse. But as I was holding the blanket, I saw it move and I knew the mouse was within the folds. Just has Libby had done with the one pup we’d retrieved from the drawer, I took the blanket far from the cabin and then opened it. There was momma mouse, looking bright eyed and plump, with clean, thick fur. (Another mystery is how these mice are feeding themselves in the cabin since we’ve put away all of the edibles. The conclusion is that they’re coming and going through some means mysterious.) Also with momma mouse were two pups. I shook them off the blanket and wished them well there in the woods, then I opened the blanket fully and shook it again.

We brought home all of the washables from the cabinet (and put a new oven mitt on the list of things we need for the cabin). They’ve all been laundered and are ready to be returned on our next visit.

I should say that we had purchased this metal cabinet specifically because we thought it was mouse proof. Even with it emptied (and Windexed clean), we could not find an entrance. It will get a more thorough examination on our next trip.

I’ll get more mouse traps, and I think I’ll get some of that nasty poison to stick behind the cabinet in the corner. We’ve always been reluctant to use poison because of the small dog, though there are places he can’t reach that mice can.

I intend to bring a ladder on my next visit and examine closely the eaves outside of the cabin and their corresponding parts inside. There has to be an entrance somewhere.

You may remember that we’d had a break in last spring. By squirrels, but still! Libby’s idea is that once the forest learned that there were edibles in the cabin — in that case birdseed — the word got around and now the mice, who’d never shown an interest in the cabin before, are determined to move in. That makes the most sense right now.

In my One-Match Fire story “where late the sweet birds sang” the narrator laments that his father had never been able to make their cabin mouse proof, and I was always a little smug that mine was. I am chastized.

Also, this is not a mouse:



*A paraphrase, as I’m sure you recognized, of the phrase “meanwhile, back at the ranch” which has a long and storied history.

“remembering makes it new.”

Posted October 12, 2017 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic

Tags: , ,

“Forty-three years old, and the war occurred half a lifetime ago, and yet remembering makes it new. And sometimes remembering will lead to a story, which makes it forever. That’s what stories are for. Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can’t remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story.”

spoken by the narrator in The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

I hope to hear Tim O’Brien speak this evening at the Kansas City Public Library.

“Moving Day” has found a home!

Posted October 10, 2017 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Fathers and Sons, short stories

Tags: , ,

My One-Match Fire story “Moving Day” has been accepted by THEMA Literary Journal and will appear in the Summer 2018 issue next June.

I had submitted the story last June (by snail mail!) and had nearly forgotten that I did. I responded to a themed call for submissions — the theme being “The Face in the Photo” — and sent this story since a photo plays a critical role in it and in the plot of the novel, actually directing the course of one character’s life in part. You can read about my submission in this old post.

So I have a small, one-page contract to sign and return and I’ll get one copy of the printed journal (next June) as well as actual payment of $25! Aside from the 15 cents I got for one story (a Buffalo nickel and a Liberty dime), this is the first time I’ve ever been paid for my fiction. (Actually, not quite true. I was promised $10 for a story years ago, but the check never arrived.)

This is the seventh One-Match Fire story to see publication — that’s one-third of the whole novel — and my twenty-fifth story published.

I had been reviewing my various outstanding submissions in the tracking function at Duotrope’s Digest that very morning and was sad when I learned that I had not seen a single thing published this year (which didn’t make sense since I’ve had two stories published this year). In fact, the day THEMA’s acceptance letter came (via the postal mail, by the way, in my return-addressed envelope), I had received two email rejections for different stories I had submitted elsewhere. I was feeling dejected, but not so much anymore.