so I thought I was done

Posted July 20, 2016 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Fathers and Sons, Uncategorized

Throughout the writing of my Fathers and Sons stories, I kept myself blissfully unaware of the overall word count. I simply wrote the stories I had as well as I could. I knew after about four written that I had something bigger on my hands than just a handful of short stories, and at the time I didn’t know how many there would be or when (if) they would have an end.

But then I decided last week that I was done. I had told all the stories I needed to tell in this universe. Nineteen stories and a short coda. I prepared the documents and sent them to my beta readers. I’d sent them as individual files, but one of my readers asked if I could combine them into a single file. That was easy enuf to do, and I did, and I sent that new document to him.

But because they were now in a single document, I could not stop myself from checking the overall word count, the value that was meaningless to me all along and that suddenly seemed interesting once I actually had it.

The nineteen stories plus one coda come in at about 56,000 words. That’s not bad at all. It will likely change as I deal with the no doubt profound, insightful, quite helpful input my two readers offer.

But nagging me is the fact that the word count comes just shy of 60,000 words, which is the generally held as the minimum considered sufficient for a novel. My thoughts are slowly shifting toward marketing this collection, and, as I said before, the idea of a story cycle seems less likely than just calling it a novel. But coming up short on the word count might make that difficult as well.

And so, what happens? Well, my brain has begun sending me ideas for a couple more stories I could write for the cycle. I’d mentioned before that there are some gaps in the years. I suppose I could attempt to fill those a bit. And I really do know these characters well. If I contrived some new situations for them, I’m sure I would understand how they would behave and think and react. I could do it.


trigger, pulled

Posted July 18, 2016 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Fathers and Sons

I decided I was done. Done enuf to send my Fathers and Sons stories to two readers. This is the end game, at least for my input. I’m finished with the architecture and deep diving in these stories. They are done.

I have, of course, continued to have minor revelations about the stories, mostly how to shore up this reference in that story or otherwise make them reflect and react to each other. They are stand-alone stories that work together as a whole. And I’ve found that by stepping back from them, I have a different perspective. I’m seeing some things that I hadn’t before.

I hope my readers have input for me as well. Minor fixes or major reworking. Suggestions. Insights. Revelations. Disgusts. Disappointments. Delights.

And then I’ll go over them yet again.

I’ve already been giving some thought about submitting the cycle to agents. And what I’ve found is that no one seems to be interested in representing story cycles. Story collections, yes. Novels, yes. But story cycles seem to be a not-very-well-known form. I’m sure if I get a bite from an agent, I can explain how I see the stories working together and then drop in the word “cycle” casually.

But that’s down the road. Right now I’m waiting to hear from my two readers. And I’ve actually begun tinkering with a story idea that is not related at all to my Fathers and Sons stories. Feels refreshing.

happy birthday

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

Today is Iris Murdoch’s birthday, but you probably already knew that.

fever dreams

Posted July 13, 2016 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Fathers and Sons, Process

As you know, I can’t let go of my Fathers and Sons stories. I continue to think of little and big things to do to them to improve their development, their integrity, and their overall literary glory. The most recent idea I had was to move a big chunk of one of the early stories (in the chronology) into one of the later stories as a flashback. (Flashbacks are all over the place in these stories, and I attribute that to reading Go Down, Moses, in which important revelations about past events are provided in later stories almost casually, sometimes in just a single word in the right place, and can be easily overlooked by a cursory reading.)

The problem with this latest idea was that by removing that chunk from the earlier story, I was essentially gutting it, leaving far too little behind to be called a story. I tried thinking of ways to hint at what would be missing, to suggest there was more to the story than the trifle that would have been left, but that seemed more contrivance than story telling. Then I thought that maybe I should just leave it all alone. Then I didn’t know what to think.

And then, I caught a cold.

I am now home from work for the day (in sweats and in a semi-coherent state of mind). I had come home from work yesterday before noon, knowing I wasn’t going to be productive. I crawled into bed and slept for five hours only to rise and eat some popsicles (to soothe the burning throat) and then crawl back into bed again. I slept fitfully, tossing and turning enuf to make the dog decide the floor was a more comfortable place to sleep for the while.

But in those restless turnings I had a revelation about this latest fix I want to make to the story. The answer came to me in a fever dream. Basically, I don’t need to remove the whole chunk of the earlier story. I just need to make a revelation about it in the later story. This revelation perfectly fits the theme of the later story and resonates across all of the stories with its significance. (I don’t know where these epiphanies come from, but I’m grateful for them.)

So I need to tinker with that earlier story and make the insertion in the later story. And then . . . call it done?

happy birthday

Posted July 12, 2016 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic

Today is Thoreau’s birthday, but you probably already knew that.

what’s in a name?

Posted July 11, 2016 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Fathers and Sons, Process

Tags: , , ,

My Fathers and Sons story “The Death of Superman” has been accepted for an upcoming anthology. I’d already blathered about this in an earlier post. And so it is in an odd place that I find myself because I want to change the title of the story.

True confession: I was never really in love with that title. The idea was that the narrator considered his father to be a superman. A giant. A hero. And that much is true. But in the evolution of the story, I had changed it from a first person narrator to third person. And no one actually dies in the story. And the pop culture reference might misdirect or confuse eventual readers. And, honestly, I’m not sure I can actually use the title: is it copyrighted?

So I’ve stumbled on a new title that is more fitting and in the public domain: “where late the sweet birds sang.” You will, of course, immediately recognize that as coming from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73, where he speaks of the “bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.” He’s speaking, literally of autumn in the forest with all of the singing birds gone and metaphorically of the passing of youth, the approach of death, and all of that. (The next story in the cycle, “Twice Blest,” takes its title from The Merchant of Venice, so there’s that.)

In my story the no-longer-young main character is at the family cabin in the forest, lamenting the fading of his father from the vigorous man he once was. His father is in the late autumn of his life, and the son is past the vigor of his own youth. Plus, completely coincidentally, birdsong has played an important part in many of the subsequent stories. They were written before I had this realization of the better title, but I saw the fit instantly.

I’ve written to the editor who is publishing the anthology, asking if it is too late to change the title. No response yet, and if it goes to press with the prior title, that will be fine. But going forward, I will use the new title. In the eventual (and inevitable) publication of the entire cycle, it will carry that new title as well. Most of the already-published F&S stories have been altered since publication, so there’s that, too.

my one-match fire went out!

Posted July 1, 2016 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Fathers and Sons

Tags: ,

one-match fire

I said in my last post that although there are plenty of stories I could still write for my Fathers and Sons cycle, I was only going to do one more. It was to be called “One-match fire” and it would have filled in some gaps in the narrative. But the more I thought about the characters in the stories and how the events I wanted to describe would take place, I realized the characters would have been much younger than they needed to be to have the events occur during the gaps. Each father was going to teach his son how to build a one-match fire — twenty years apart. But I needed tweener sons, and this kind of skill in this kind of family would have been handed down to a son much sooner than his tween years.

Yet I can still draw some warmth from this fire because I can use it in two different existing stories. One would be a flashback within “Men at Rest,” and the other would be an example of the very theme of the other story “Meet the Teacher Night.” (That latter story I’ve thought as the weakest of the bunch, but this little thematic addition will help.)

And the fire you see in the photo above is an actual one-match fire I built and cooked my dinner over (probably hot dogs). It’s out at my little cabin in the Ozarks, which was the impetus for the original Fathers and Sons story.


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