Posted January 21, 2019 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic, Reviews and Responses

I have more books than time, which is a pretty good problem to have, I think. It’s a rare week for me that I don’t find myself at least once in a bookstore. Most commonly Half Price Books, near-ish to my home or the one farther away that tends to have the mix of books that better interest me.* Prospero’s, which I’ve written about here before. Rainy Day, our sole independent bookstore in Kansas City (general, not genre specific because there are a few of those as well). In a pinch, even the Barnes & Noble at the mall. Of course, any trip by air (say to Disneyworld) requires at least one new book and a back up, which is a perfect excuse to head out to add to the pile.

So my to-be-read pile generally accumulates faster than I can diminish it. As I write this, here is what I have — not necessarily in the order I will read them — in my TBR pile:

  • The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury
  • Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You by Peter Cameron
  • The Day That Went Missing by Richard Beard – I won this in an online contest I had forgotten I’d even entered.
  • The Round House by Louise Erdrich
  • The Nigger of Narcissus by Joseph Conrad
  • The Risk Pool by Richard Russo
  • Northline by Willie Vlautin
  • Go Down, Moses by William Faulkner (read once before)
  • Living to Tell the Tale by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I also have The Collected Stories of Grace Paley that I got about halfway through and set aside. I mean to return to it. Someday. Maybe. Same with Where I’m Calling From by Raymond Carver. Everyone moons about his short stories, but it just doesn’t happen for me. Out at the cabin I have The Complete Dorothy Parker, which I’ve been picking at.

I’ll certainly add to the pile in the days and weeks ahead, and I’ll supplement with books borrowed from the (socialist) public library.

There are more, of course. My house is filled with books, and nearly every room has some. Most of these I’ve not read, and so I may pick up one or two eventually. Others I dip into, such as the many books of Iris Murdoch lit crit on the sagging shelf in my writing room.

Right now I’m reading A Home at the End of the World by Michael Cunningham, whom I’ve gushed about here before. This was in the TBR, waiting for the right moment (partly just being long enuf since the last Cunningham novel I read) and it came recently. I just finished the novel Remember Me Like This by Bret Anthony Johnston. The writing in it is precise and correct, the images only occasionally seeming forced, but it felt lifeless. Soulless. More like an exercise in fiction than story telling. I needed a “rescue read” after I finished it, which is why I picked Cunningham from the pile.


*My neighbor works for Half Price Books, and I asked him once if they shuffle titles between stores to get the right blend for their neighborhoods. He said they did not and that for the most part, the store presents whatever the people in the neighborhood bring to it for trade or cash. So I guess I live in the wrong neighborhood.


smile in the sky ~ Skywatch Friday

Posted January 18, 2019 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic


Of course I might see something like this at the Happiest Place on Earth. I captured this image just as the skywriting was beginning, but the plane went on to write more text after it. I wasn’t able to see it again until too late, when the wind had obliterated whatever it had said.

Go to Skywatch Friday!

writing in wonderland

Posted January 17, 2019 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic


As you can see, I had it rough last week in Wonderland. My half hope was that the upset in my routine might spark a burst of writing. This has happened during other trips I have taken.

Not so this visit. The room my wife and I had was fine (though a long walk from anywhere, and all we seemed to do last week was walk), but rising early and attempting to sit before the laptop to make the magic happen was unsuccessful. In fact, after the first couple of days of walking (did I mention that?) I no longer rose early at all. Just early enuf to get showered and dressed in time to eat some (costly) breakfast then queue up for the bus to take us all somewhere else to do more walking. So very tired.

I did manage to make a lot of notes for revelations I had about the various stories I’m working on. I had brought a small notebook and mechanical pencil (that I feared would be confiscated by the security people at the airport) for this purpose. (I do something similar at work, though without the security worries.)

Once I was home again — having cleverly taken off one more day from work so I could relax after my vacation — I transcribed my notes to my stories as best I could, and I’ve managed to finish another one of them. I may have rushed the end, but maybe not. I’ll let it simmer for a while.

So, back to the routine where I hope I will return to my recent writing ways, which have been productive.

where elsewhere was

Posted January 16, 2019 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic


On Saturday reports began to reach me of a monster snow storm in my part of the county (specifically Kansas City, but reaching all the way to the Atlantic if all of the breathless weather reports could be credited). (Also, apparently they’re naming snowstorms now?) I was not there and could only chuckle at the misfortune my neighbors were facing. Where I was, the temperature reached 80 degrees on Saturday, which was a hardship for me since I was doing (what seemed like and may have even been) miles and miles of walking in the hot sun. Poor me.

It seems that my personal odometer turned over a significant number last year and my children decided to send all of us (10 adults and six children under four) on a great trip to the sub-tropics. We spent six days there (plus a travel day fore and aft), frolicking with the grands and spending money on overpriced trinkets with ease and carelessness. I think it was the first time all of my children and their spouses and children were in the same place at the same time.*

I am not allowed to know how much money was spent on this great adventure, but I can tell you that the incidentals I picked up — occasional meals, treats, toys, photos — reached four digits (plus two digits after the decimal point)! (They give you this wrist band that is tied to your credit card, and you just wave the band before a chip reader to make a purchase. Ingenious. Evil, but ingenious.)

There was plenty to see and do, much of it suited to toddlers and some of it suited to moms and dads who had grandparents at hand to watch the toddlers. We didn’t do it all — a week is not nearly enuf time — but we did a good deal of it, some of it over and over.

There was also a series of running events for the time we were there, beginning with a 5K on Thursday, a 10K on Friday, a half marathon on Saturday (which my son and daughter did, pausing every half mile for a photo with this or that character), and a full marathon on Sunday. When this whole this was organized nearly a year ago, there was some thought that my running hiatus was going to be short lived and that by the time this trip came around, I would be ready/willing/able to trot in at least a couple of the races. I did not. (But what seemed like and may have even been miles and miles of walking left my legs aching each night; they’re still sore now.)

We stayed out for long days and long miles that stretched into the dark on at least a couple of occasions. (Past the bedtime of all of the toddlers and at least one of the grandparents.) In the dark we saw things like this:

Confession time: I had spent my whole life avoiding this place. It always seemed commercial and a little cheesy and beyond the pale. We never planned a family vacation here, and when my daughter did manage to find herself there (in love with a boy whose family visited often — she married that boy and now their boy has been to the resort at least twice in his four years) I looked the other way and bit my tongue.

But then I got there and experienced it all first hand. And while it is all of those things, it is also much more. It really does deliver family-quality entertainment. It was clean and efficient and completely G rated. The kids were constantly entertained, sometimes so much that they went into melt down mode, but it doesn’t really take much with a toddler.

So if there is talk of another trip next year where this old runner might actually lace up for some of those races . . . well . . .


*There was one hiccup. My grandson Emmett, who lives fairly close to me and whom I get to see regularly, was so excited about his trip to Disneyworld that he was scampering about and tripped, bonking his forehead on a concrete pillar at the airport in Kansas City. His forehead swole and bruised, and of course he was screaming, so his parents had the airport medical team rush to our gate — about fifteen minutes before we were to start boarding — to examine him. They took him outside to the ambulance to take his vitals, and in the end, his parents took him to the emergency room where he was deemed fine but probably not suited to travel that day. They scrambled with the airline and got a flight out the next day, joining us a day late, but with a little 2.5 year old once again full of the enthusiasm and excitement requisite for the Happiest Place on Earth.

please stand by

Posted January 14, 2019 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic

I am elsewhere right now, but I will return, with a tale to tell (maybe . . . I’m kind of shy and private, but if you had given me your address, I would have sent you a postcard).

Roundrock reckoning 2018

Posted January 10, 2019 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Roundrock


Are there weather gods who sometimes smile favorably upon me, or is it merely the machinations of a complex climate and a zillion factors, including the beat of a butterfly’s wing in Beijing, that gave me a nearly 60 degree, sunny day in early January to make my first visit to my little bit of forest on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks for 2019? Probably best not to try to examine this too closely.

I did get down to my woods last weekend, and among the chores for the day was to collect the calendar that hangs on the wall in my cabin to make a reckoning of my visits for last year. I have this sense that I’m not getting down there as much as I did in yore, but I don’t want to pull out the old calendars (yes, I’ve kept them all) and run a comparison. I may find my fear mistaken or confirmed, and neither is desirable.

So here is my month-by-month for 2018:

  • January – I made two visits this month, on successive weekends, and the second visit was an overnight (Friday and Saturday, which is itself uncommon), which means it may have been truly favorable weather, or I shivered through the night in the unheated cabin under insufficient blankets.
  • February – An odd middle-of-the-week Wednesday visit, likely to meet someone about getting some work done, though I don’t recall what that might have been. I’d also made a visit only four days later on the following Sunday. Something must have been afoot.
  • March – Only one visit, but it was another Friday/Saturday overnight. The weather was more likely favorable by this time, and I probably had a campfire to burn a bunch of scrap lumber from the fence I am slowly rebuilding around my back yard in far away suburbia.
  • April – Pretty much a repeat of March, with a Friday/Saturday overnight. I think perhaps I should not call these uncommon anymore. (If I can get out of the office early enuf on a Friday, I can get down to the cabin with sufficient daylight left to build a fire and burn a burger.)
  • May – Yep, only one visit and it was a Friday/Saturday overnight again. I probably had most of the scrap lumber burned by then, or else I replaced another panel of the fence and had more.
  • June – I made two day trips to the cabin this month. Both on Saturdays, and the second, on the last day of the month, included swimming in my leak lake, so it must have had sufficient water to dip in a toe or two.
  • July – THREE visits this month. A day trip on the 8th that included a swim as well as another day trip on the 22nd and then yet another Friday/Saturday overnight on the last weekend of the month. It was surely hot and buggy by then, so maybe I was escaping responsibilities at home or something.
  • August – Only one visit, but what seemed to be becoming my norm: a Friday/Saturday overnight.
  • September – Only a single day trip visit on a Saturday late in the month. I may have stolen time to make the visit just so I wouldn’t clock a whole month of my life without a visit to my cabin. I think I was visiting the grands in New York this month, which could account for the infrequency.
  • October – Two day-trip visits on the first and last Saturdays of the month. One year it was both warm enuf and there was enuf water in the leak lake to swim in October, but it was not this year.
  • November – A repeat of October, with two day-trip Saturdays bookending the month. The latter was my one-day-delayed annual anti-Black Friday visit when I thumb my nose at the crass commercialism of our society and escape to the woods.
  • December – Again with the two day-trip Saturdays. It may have been on one of these that I saw an osprey on my lake and on the other that I saw a bald eagle. My son and his wife were in town for the holidays, and I thought there might have been a cabin trip then, but for whatever reason, it didn’t materialize.

For years I have kept a visit journal on the little table in the cabin.* In it I record each visit and what I saw or did then. Who was along. Interesting wild events. And such. If I brought that home with me each January, I could write a more detailed account of my visits, but I fear that would probably bore you, and I also tend to write accounts of most of my visits on this humble blog anyway, so I’d probably be repeating myself.


*I actually began this as an exercise for a story I was working on that eventually became “where late the sweet birds sang” published in the Selected Places anthology in the summer of 2017.

no account

Posted January 7, 2019 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Fathers and Sons

Accounting was definitely not my best subject in college. Nor was calculus, statistics, production, finite mathematics, combinatorics, fortran/cobol, and most economics. (I shudder just remembering those days.) I’m clearly not a quantitative person. But give me a literature or philosophy class and it’s straight As, baby!

So I can’t give you an accounting for my recent surge in writing productivity. Since the turn of the year I’ve written two stories (first draft, natch) and have a good start on a third. I wrote one of those stories in a single session! Yes, they all deal with my OMF characters in the years after that novel, and thus they are obviously easier for me to write since I know those characters so well. Even so, this level of productivity is unprecedented for me. I’m struggling to explain to myself why.

Could it be that I’m not devoting hours and hours of my weekend mornings to running and so can use the time for writing? (The math does work, but that seems too quantitative an explanation for what seems a qualitative matter. And why only now since my running hiatus has been far longer than that?) I wonder if the recent holidays and the upset in routine might be the cause. I have found that when I’m traveling that I tend to be more creatively productive. For example, I’ve done some good writing while staying at my children’s houses.

I’m kind of hoping that is the explanation because my routine is about to be upset again. (Running may even be involved.) Not for a long time, but profoundly while it is happening. More on that later perhaps. In the meantime, I’ll take the mysterious productivity.