Roundrock, interrupted

Posted August 21, 2017 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Roundrock

I made an abbreviated trip to my little bit of forest on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks over the weekend. The plan was for my wife and I, and the two dogs, to have an overnight at the cabin, with no real agenda before us but relaxing and maybe doing some chores if by some means mysterious we found the gumption. The weekend did not go as planned.

But first, a photo:

These are the stone steps leading to the cabin porch. There is a third one below these two. When the cabin was built on the sloping hillside, a good bit of gravel was pushed into place to create a level bed for the slab foundation. Once the work was done, the approach to the porch (from the east side, which is the view above) was a steep, irregular climb of a couple of feet. This arrangement persisted for many months, and my top priority during that time was to build a retaining wall in front of the cabin so that there would be no erosion (from the runoff of the roof), possibly weakening the support for the slab foundation. I got the retaining wall work done soon enuf, and future archeologists may, possibly, find wine and beer bottles in the backfill behind the wall.

Then came the eastern approach. I asked a man who has done some work for me out there if he could lay stone steps to the porch. I even showed him some large blocks of sandstone up the hill from the cabin that I thought would work well. He dismissed those and said he could provide stones much better, which he did. And now I have some rustic stone steps leading to the shady porch.

But it’s the topmost stone that is the point of all of this blather:

This is looking down on the top step and the second step, just where they overlap. (Would the lower step underlap?) What you can’t really tell from this photo is that the top stone step is actually polished from use. Many feet have tread on this step, many more than the two of us and our occasional guests could have provided in the time since the step has been there.

My idea is that this more regularly shaped slab of sandstone had graced the dooryard of some earlier Ozark home, perhaps going back to settlement days. But that’s the hopeless romantic in me thinking that. Still, it’s clearly seen use prior to coming to my little cabin. I wish I knew its story.

As for the weekend at the cabin, here is what happened. August is the peak time for horseflies in the Ozarks. Some years are worse than others, and this year has not been particularly bad with them, but you can’t tell that to my dog, Flike. He is terrified of horseflies. Never mind that he is 75 pounds of muscle and energy with a thick coat of fur and has nothing to worry about from a horsefly. If one buzzes across the porch while he is out there, he will quickly dart into the cabin and do his best to squeeze himself under one of the beds. Or into the tightest corner behind the mouse-proof cabinet. Or in my face as I’m attempting to relax on my pillow on the bed. He spent our entire time there in the cabin, panting heavily. He was terrified and traumatized.

When we saw that he wasn’t going to get any better, we decided to do him a kindness and just go back home where we could all sleep in our regular beds with no horseflies buzzing around us.

ten years!

Posted August 19, 2017 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Rants and ruminations

It was ten years ago today that I began this humble blog as a way to hold myself accountable for the writing I was attempting. At the time I had only one published story to my name. But I was embarking on writing a series of cozy mystery novels with the unique hook of not having a murder in them. I managed to write four of them, lost one in a hard drive crash, gave up on one as apprentice work, considered one as okay but needing work, and felt that one was good enuf to submit around, which I did, though I never got more than nibbles from agents.

In that time my writing has evolved. I still work on plots for the cozy mysteries (including one with a half marathon in it), but I’ve also written that weird novel The Sleep of Reason, which got more than nibbles but ultimately never went anywhere. (Why don’t I try sending it our more?) And I did a lot of work on a project I called Larger Than Life, which was based on the central character in my story “Travel Light,” but that fizzled, and I don’t feel any desire to return to it.

I also wrote a number of unconnected short stories in various genres, many of which found their way to publication.

And then I seemed to have found my great subject: the relationship between fathers and sons. All of my One-Match Fire stories, originally the few of them not intended to be anything more than independent stories with common characters, sprung from finding my subject. There are more of them for me to write.

Had I looked ten years into the future when I started this blog, I’m sure I would have seen myself as jaded with all of the commercial success I would have achieved. That hasn’t happened (neither the commercial success nor the jadedness). But I’ll persevere because I don’t know what else to do with myself.

“A Civil Tongue”

Posted August 14, 2017 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Fathers and Sons

Tags: ,

I’ve been making fitful progress on a new One-Match Fire story that I’m calling “A Civil Tongue” for now. This story is intended to become part of the novel and not just another tale told in the universe of the novel but not part of it, such as my story “Fire Sermon.” (No luck so far in finding a home for that one.)

I’d mentioned my desire to write this story back in May, and I’ve mostly been just making notes for it since then. But I’ve had a few revelations about it recently, about what needs to happen in the story to show the evolving relationships between the three characters, and I think those revelations tipped the scale to let me actually begin writing it with purpose. (Rather than just writing scenes to plug in later once critical mass was achieved.)

The story involves a flashback, which I gave my position on in this recent post, and it’s important because it will identify a divergence betwixt two of the characters. The story is set about two-thirds of the way through the novel, and that divergence gains importance through the last third. But I also use it to make an early hint (in the flashback) of one character’s individual development as well.

I have around 1,100 words down, and I expect the story to finish with at least twice that. It won’t add tremendously to the word count of the novel, which is currently at 63,847 words, but I think it will make the novel richer and deeper. I’m glad it’s coming together.


another tale from the trail

Posted August 9, 2017 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Running


It seems that August is my time to have oddball encounters in a certain park along the Indian Creek Trail that I commonly run on early Saturday mornings. I’ve written about past odd encounters there here and here, both in early August.

My latest wasn’t as menacing as those other two, but I add it to my collection of unexpected experiences in the wee small hours of the morning there, miles from home and generally exhausted.

I was at about mile four of what would eventually become a six mile run when I ran into the shelter at this park to take a break and get a drink from the fountain. The shelter is very large, big enuf to hold a dozen picnic tables, a fire pit, two restrooms, and two water fountains. It’s roof is probably twenty feet in the air, and a series of I-beams and metal joists intersect to hold the roof over my head.

When I ran into the shelter in the pre-dawn murk, I think I registered that something was different, but I didn’t notice it consciously. Yet after my quick drink, as I was talking myself into heading out again, something made look up into the joists above my head. And this is what I saw:

What you see is a sample of the dozens of unopened water bottles that someone went to a lot of trouble to place up there. That I-beam is at least fifteen feet off the ground, and there is no easy way to climb to it. I suppose someone pushed one of the picnic tables under it and then an agile, foolhardy youth shimmied up there somehow and crept along the I-beam placing bottles that some other youth was likely tossing up. Also up there were a number of cups, possibly filled with something, so woe betides the custodian who might try to knock all of those things down with a long pole.



Posted August 7, 2017 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Rants and ruminations

Tags: ,

I was at a reading at a bookstore last week where the host and the guest author talked about many aspects of writing fiction (the host speaking inordinately too much about his own novels while the poor guest was there to plug his own, first novel), when the topic of flashbacks came up. A flashback is, basically, a scene, sometimes quite lengthy, set in a time before the main narrative of the story. It can be useful for giving background to show how a character or event came to be the way it is. And it can be sparked in several ways though most likely by something triggering the memory in a character.

Both the host and the guest author deplored flashbacks. They claimed that they took the reader out of the narrative and slowed down the experience of the story. (I think I have their objections right.) It has, apparently, become the fashion to deplore flashbacks. Even Colm Toibin is lamenting their use (though I’ve read a good bit of Toibin’s fiction, and he doesn’t stint on using flashbacks).

As extensively used and ingrained in Western literature as the flashback is, as hardworking a tool as it is, this seemingly recent objection to its use sounds a great deal to me like those who bemoan the new-fangled internet (or Internet) and word processors.

In fact, flashbacks go back to the Odyssey and have been part of literature ever since. My¬†One-Match Fire stories use flashbacks, and a careful reader could argue that the entire novel is a flashback. Since it is the story of three generations of men in a family, and since in real life we often learn important truths about our families years after they’ve happened, flashbacks seem essential to the verisimilitude of the telling. I’ve even been told on several occasions that I’m pretty good at writing flashbacks. I’d recount those occasions for you but I don’t want to take you out of the narrative of this post or slow down your experience of it.

In any case, I’m not about give up the flashback device. (Or the Oxford common. Or my lament of double spacing after periods.)

this is only a test

Posted July 31, 2017 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic

So as you know, I have four adult children. Each is married. Thus there are eight people I am emotionally, or at least legally, attached to that I have gotten to know pretty well. And without exception, they are fine people.

But do they read my blog?

I don’t think so. Back in the day some would read Roundrock Journal and even leave comments on it. Snarky comments generally, but comments showing they’d read it. That practice seemed to fade over the years.

I don’t think any of them read this blog. So this post is a test, and a taunt. Let’s see if any of them acknowledge this post in any way.

(And to those of you who visit regularly and/or comment, thank you!)

babies and babies

Posted July 27, 2017 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic

You would think it was all babies around here, as much as I’ve been posting about this news (here and elsewhere), and it pretty much is. My wife came home from two weeks of grandma-duty in New York to bring more reports of the babies, their brother, my daughter (the momma), and her husband. So it’s been a high profile matter in my life recently.

You see Rett and Evie (Everett Travis and Elizabeth Viola) about a week old above. They actually made a trip to Starbucks this week, though I can remember the days when you didn’t dare take a newborn outside of your house for weeks and did your best to limit visitors bringing in nasty germs. The day my wife returned from NYC, their other grandmother arrived for a stay of more than a month. It happens that she’s an OB/GYN Nurse Practitioner, so she should be handy with mom and baby.

But these aren’t the only babies that deserve a shout out.

One day several years ago, my son and I returned from a weekend at the cabin to find new members of our family. Being unsupervised, my wife had gone to a bird show (there, apparently, are such things) and found herself in possession of a pair of love birds, whom she named George and Gracie. Lest you be misconceiving these things, love birds don’t coo and chirp. They screech! And they bite! There’s nothing lovely about love birds aside from their pair bonding and bright colors. But there they were, members of the family.

And the two made many unsuccessful attempts to expand the family. In an ill-advised maneuver to abet their plans, my wife added a nesting bowl to their cage. After a time, Gracie began filling it with sterile eggs. She would sit on them hopefully for weeks and weeks, and eventually my wife would remove the fetid things and crack them open above the garbage disposal, always finding them unfertilized. Yet it continued.

And it happened again in the weeks before her trip to New York. There was a clutch of three eggs in the nesting bowl, and my wife wanted to clean them out of there before she left, so the morning before her departure, she reached into the bowl and then tugged her hand back quickly, having touched something soft and yielding among the eggs.

As you’ve guessed, it was a hatchling. George and Gracie had finally managed to get it right. The trouble was, my wife, the primary caregiver to all living things in our house, would be leaving the next day, and would these unexperienced parents be able to care for their offspring as well as she could?

But go she did. And parent their offspring George and Gracie did. Behold below the two-plus week old baby love bird:

I was on duty as primary human caregiver for the first two weeks of Ronnie’s life (points to the first one to come up with the obvious source to that name), and in that time he (I say it’s a he, but I don’t know that, and “Ronnie” is sufficiently androgynous to serve) fell out of the nest twice, falling 10 or so inches to the wire floor of the cage to huddle in a corner, sometimes attended by his mother and sometimes not. I returned him to the nest both times, getting bitten for my trouble, but the third time I just left him down there, assuming that the fall was probably worse than whatever hardships he (she? it?) might suffer on the floor of the cage. Ronnie didn’t seem to be any worse for it.

When my wife returned and examined the situation, having assumed Ronnie would die on my tenure, we moved the nest lower on the side of the cage so that should Ronnie fall out again, the fall wouldn’t be as far.

And so the household expands. I was never too pleased to have love birds added to the mix, but seeing them finally work out how to bring forth offspring, I’m willing to concede them their success. (And what choice do I have anyway?)