“It’s not you. It’s me.”

Posted June 18, 2018 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Fathers and Sons

I received a unique rejection letter over the weekend. I’d probably get more rejection letters if I sent out more submissions, but that would require effort and confidence and other qualities that I rarely possess, so I spare myself a great deal of disappointment by being a lazy slug.

But anyway, the rejection I received was for a submission of a story I had made months ago and that I had forgotten about. It was by email, and it was actually lengthy for both a rejection and an email. The first third of the letter was the standard let-you-down-gently, template stuff that never mentions the actual name of the story. Routine. But then it ventured into fresh territory.

The editor devoted the remaining two-thirds of the email to explaining that after their next issue, the publication would cease to exist. They had lost their funding.

I’ve certainly seen publications go out of business. (One even did so immediately after accepting one of my stories.) But I’d never seen such an announcement in a rejection letter. It seemed to me that the editor took this unlikely opportunity to make the announcement because she wanted to tell the world in every way she could what her painful news was. It almost seemed like a memorial.

The rejection letter devoted a lot of words to encouragement, telling me (and I realize it was not me so much as all recipients from their slush pile who received the non-personalized email) to continue writing and submitting and being part of the community of creative people.

So I guess I’ll do that.

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Skywatch Friday ~ blue green

Posted June 14, 2018 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic

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While I was in New York for five days, the dogs were at “camp” and they’re always glad to come home afterward. I’m trying to get them back to their normal, but even though they’re in their familiar house with the familiar beds (and smells), I’m off at the office all day, so they’re home with only each other (and the four birds and the constantly changing parade of fish).

So yesterday, even though it was 93 degrees F (“F” is for Fahrenheit, though I could think of another word), I took them to the park we often visit for a trip around the lake. We only made it about a third of the way before the littler dog, Queequeg, was in obvious distress. So we turned around, did a little cross country, and then got back in the Prolechariot to head home to air conditioning and copious water.

On the quick hike back to the truck, I snapped the photo above. I liked the contrast of the blue sky and the green trees.

ferment of spring

Posted June 11, 2018 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Fathers and Sons

Tags: ,

So I’ve been in NYC for the last few days (home again soon) and wondering if lightning might strike twice, that I might write a whole story because there must be something magical or psychological about being out of my routine and my element, the way this has happened a few times in my past.

And so, without much in the way of specific intent, I opened the file of notes I’ve been keeping about a love story I want to write as part of the collection that will comprise the sequel to One-Match Fire. (No developments there though.) So the story has had the working title of “Spring Fever” (to somehow companion with a yet-to-be-written story I’ll call “Cabin Fever”), and this story, which I intend to be the first in the collection, will make clear what the central conflict was in OMF (if the perceptive reader doesn’t figure it out). And I think this is why OMF has been languishing; I’ve needed to nail down some bits in this story in order to refine the ending of OMF so that I can consider it finished once and for all.

So on my first freakishly early morning, in the house that was still quiet despite a latent frenzy in the form of a toddler and twin nearly one-year-olds, I began the story. Exhausted after writing about 113 words, I figured my ambition was unrealistic. But the house remained quiet and the laptop remained open and some further words followed. I ended my first day of writing at more than 600 words. I hadn’t even introduced the love interest yet, but I achieved a kind of momentum.

And so on the second morning, I returned to the story, added even more words, brought in the love interest, and doubled my word count. By the third morning I had more than 2,000 words, many of them pretty good and in decent order. Even so, I don’t think I’ve gotten to the meat of the story yet; it’s all lighthearted so far.

Regardless, it’s begun and I expect I’ll stay with it (even after I return to the Midwest) and get the thing whole written, just not all outside of my comfort zone. And that’s a good thing.

Blogspot hates me

Posted June 7, 2018 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Rants and ruminations

From the first days of my blogging life, back in those wild, heady days of Roundrock Journal more than a decade ago, I always had periods where any comments I made on blogs hosted by Blogspot (sometimes known as Blogger) would have trouble posting and/or disappear altogether. It didn’t help when spam became so pervasive and Blogspot added steps to commenting to prove I was an actual human and not a spambot.

Then the troublesome period would pass, until for whatever reason I began having trouble getting my wise and witty comments to post on Blogspot blogs.

I’m in one of those periods again, it seems. So for those of you out there who haven’t seen a snarky comment from me on your blog in recent weeks, I suspect this is the reason why. I’ve lost the means of expression but not the depth of my love for you.

2nd ugliest building in Kansas City

Posted June 4, 2018 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Running

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This was the view from my “steer and cheer” station during the Hospital Hill Half Marathon on Saturday. As you can see, a wicked storm has passed through during the night. I had to slalom through the streets on my drive here, dodging downed branches and unmoored trash bins far from their homes. When I got to my station, lightning was crackling through the sky and the clouds were growing darker. Emergency sirens were wailing throughout the neighborhood, and the race organizers were sending texts to “seek shelter” and “wait for instructions.” (I had thought about wearing short pants because of the forecasted heat, but decided not to. While waiting for whatever to transpire, I pulled on a hoodie to keep warm.) In all, a dismal portent for the race, but runners are dogged people, and running in the rain is actually kind of nice (if it is warm enuf). Eventually, I learned that the start was delayed by a half hour to let the weather pass, which it did.

I was at about mile 6.5, the halfway point. Despite the late start, it would be a half hour before even the fastest runner passed me. When he did, he made it look effortless. He was focused and didn’t acknowledge me as he kept his pace going up the hill I was on. Some people are just born with a different set of heart and lungs than the rest of us. This man was obviously born to run (though he supplemented his good genetics with lots of training and commitment I’m sure). Five or ten minutes passed before the next runners came along, and for the first half hour of my shift, the swiftest runners were spread out. The pack of runners that comprised the bulk didn’t arrive until after this.

Which gave me a lot of time for reflection and observation.

The building you see in the photo above has been called “the second ugliest building in Kansas City.” And what you see is an improvement over how it looked in the past. It happens that when I was in graduate school, I would pass this building on my way to class. I got to see it, warts and all, in the earlier days and wondered how such an eyesore could have come to pass. It was only decades later when a runner friend told me he had worked in this building for a time and that they had joked that it was the second ugliest in the city. The joke, of course, is that it was so bad it couldn’t even be called the worst. It failed at being a failure. And then there is the inevitable question, which I don’t have an answer for.

As I watched the runners (and walkers) passed, including a man in a kilt and a woman in a knee-length skirt and all manner of fitness levels (some were panting hard as they pushed up the hill, others were having casual conversations), there was another little vignette playing out before me.

On the brick wall behind that fallen tree, a juvenile starling would perch and flutter its wings. The fluttering business is how juveniles trigger the feeding response in their parents. The starling would sit on the wall and flutter for a while, then fly off, only to return a few minutes later. I’m sure it was saying “Feed me, Mom!” And the fallen tree before it suggested that the juvenile wasn’t going to get a meal, that the juvenile was probably an orphan. My guess is that its nest had been in that tree, and when the storm knocked it over, the parents were killed, with only the nestling surviving. This would explain why it was staying in that immediate area. It was hard to watch this; I’m a softy.

But runners and walkers kept flowing past me, thanking me for volunteering, and the occasional car came up behind me, hoping to somehow get to the other side of the street, beyond the flow of runners. My job was to make sure they didn’t hit anyone or even arrest the flow of the runners, so I watched for gaps and then waved the drivers through.

Oddly (sadly?), the very last person on the course, attended by two pacers who were at her side, gave up directly in front of me. She said she couldn’t go any farther — she’d gotten half way, and she was struggling up just one of the many hills still before her, but it looked clear to me that she was in distress — and so she fell back to the sag wagon and was driven to the finish.

And so I had an eventful race, standing in one place for a few hours and watching the human (and non-human) drama transpire before me. Plus I got a shirt out of it.

steer and cheer

Posted June 1, 2018 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Finnegans, Running

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I’ve mentioned that in the Finnegans Fogbound story I’m writing there is a half marathon and a 5K. One of my central characters walks the 5K, and the other is a course monitor on the half. She stands at an intersection and makes sure no one turns up the street she’s on by mistake since it’s not part of the course. (Seems silly, I know, but I’ve seen this happen. When runners are “in the zone” or exhausted or in pain they are no longer subject to reason or even the behavior of hundreds of other runners flowing around them. They do make wrong turns.)

I’ve been a course monitor a half dozen times, so I think I can write this bit from experience, but just to bolster my literary experience, I’m going to be one again tomorrow.

Tomorrow Kansas City will host the 45th running of the Hospital Hill Half Marathon¬†and I’ll be a course monitor at about the halfway point. The run is named for the hill in town (at about miles 3-4) where many of the hospitals were clustered back in the old days. It is considered one of the more challenging runs in town because of that hill (and others), and it’s one I never did in my years of throwing one foot in front of the other. (In fact, when I see all of the dogged runners push past me — my site is on an uphill — I’m hoping to get some inspiration not only for my story but for returning to running. We’ll see.)

So anyway, while you’re asleep abed tomorrow morning, I’ll be on a quiet corner in Kansas City, ready to steer and cheer thousands of runners and walkers on their way.

MTWTF

Posted May 29, 2018 by Paul Lamb
Categories: short stories

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I began writing Finnegans Fogbound as a respite from the One-Match Fire stories and now I find myself working on a stand-alone story “MTWTF” as a respite from Finnegans Fogbound.

In fact, I’ve written a first draft of the entire 4,000-word story in a single weekend! (This has precedent. Years ago I wrote my story “Diaspora” during a stay at a lovely bed and breakfast in New Mexico. And last fall I wrote two stories — “The Kick” and “Forest Succession” — while staying for a week at my son’s house in Seattle.)

I’ve had “MTWTF” for decades. It’s based on an incident in a past life in a faraway city among people who are now ghosts. I’d always wanted to write a story about the incident, but I could never think of a structure for telling it (or a tone). I suppose you can guess the structure I struck upon based on the title, and though it deals with a serious matter, I didn’t think I had the authority to deal with it seriously, so I booted up my snarky narrator and let him do the work. (He proved his worth most recently in my story “Old School.”) Once I had those worked out, the story flowed. 4,000 words of flow, and I half think I want to cut that some, but the story is whole as it stands, and I have already cut out much, including an entire character who merited my narrator’s comic savagery but whose backstory didn’t need to stay.

So, first draft.

I say the incident involves people who are now ghosts, and while I don’t mean that literally, I am certainly haunted by one of them. The central character, the antagonist who is a deserving victim of her own short-sighted do-goodery, has been a recurring voice in my head spanning those decades. Whenever I second guess anything I do or have done or want to do, I hear her voice. She was full of judgment then (as well as unsolicited advice) and her haint still is. I’ve wanted to write this story as an exorcism as much as to tell a comic tale. (Oddly, now that I’ve written about her, I find that I want to pummel her more and may summon her specter again for more abuse.)

So, “MTWTF.” I’ve thought about tossing a lower-case “h” into the title, but I think it weakens the impact of the acronym, and no one is going to be confused without the “h” anyway. I’ll let it simmer for a while. Maybe send it off to a friend who has graciously offered to read anything I send him (and who is getting his second novel published!!!). Come at it with a critical eye and see if there are more words I can remove or condense. And then I guess shop it around.