just my opinion (but I’m right!)

Posted June 24, 2016 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic

This whole thing, from the first entry I made nearly nine (!) years ago to today’s, this thing I’ve named Lucky Rabbit’s Foot, is a blog. The entries I make, from day to day and week to week, are posts. Today’s entry is not a blog. It’s a blog post. A post.

(WordPress more or less agrees with me. That’s cuz I’m right!)

running thoughts

Posted June 22, 2016 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Fathers and Sons, Process

Tags:

I spent an hour on the treadmill in my basement last evening (because it’s 97 degrees outside on the first full day of summer!) and soon after hurried up to my humble writing room to pop open one of my Fathers and Sons stories to incorporate the wonderful insight I had about it whilst pounding away on the ever-moving belt below my feet.

I don’t run with music or podcasts, nor when I’m on my treadmill do I watch television. I will look about the portion of my basement before me and lament all of the “stuff” my children have left behind in my safekeeping, but after a while, that gets boring and I go deep inside my head. Often my thoughts turn to my stories — finished and unfinished — and occasionally some insight pops up that must be incorporated. This kind of thing also happens when I’m running outside, generally when I have five or more miles to go before I get home (or to the bagel shop). In those cases I must repeat whatever this insight is, almost as a mantra, so I won’t forget it before my fingers can do their own running across the keyboard. If I’m lucky I can chant it in a cadence that matches my pace (i.e., slowly).

I’m not sure if there is a technical term for how my creativity works. It aggregates. It synthesizes. I think of some random thing, and I suddenly realize how perfectly it illustrates or suits a story I’m working on. This kind of stuff is unbidden but certainly not unwelcome. I can sit down with a pencil and paper and work out a plot in outline form (which I don’t generally do), and I can begin writing a new story from that. But these insights that come from out of the blue are what enrich the stories. The insight I had on the treadmill last evening fit nicely into one of the early F&S stories (in their internal chronology) and yet influenced the understanding of the second-to-last story. That’s good stuff. It fit so naturally that I sometimes actually believe there is a Muse out there tampering with my fecund brain, nudging it in the right direction for developing the stories. (I don’t actually believe this.)

And so, a little more progress. I’m grateful.

“doing nothing”

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

Tags: ,

“You’re an artist,” I said, “and for you doing nothing is doing something.”

Spoken by the narrator and central character of Iris Murdoch’s novel A Severed Head to his brother, who is a sculptor. I have now finished reading the fifth novel in the canon, just getting started on re-reading them all.

steer and cheer

Posted June 8, 2016 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic, Running

Tags:

Last weekend I volunteered at the Hospital Hill Half Marathon here in Kansas City. It was my second year as a volunteer. (I’m pretty sure I keep volunteering as a way to avoid actually running the thing. Note the second word in the run’s name.)

Once again, I was a course monitor, which means I stood at an intersection and made sure none of the runners accidentally turned up the street I was blocking (the “steering” part). I was also supposed to cheer the runners as they passed, but I personally hate it when people on the sidelines cheer me; it’s too easy since they have no idea what it’s like out there on the road. I get more benefit from fellow sufferers runners who goad and encourage and cajole and cheer me. So my cheering was minimal.

My station was at around mile 10.5, about one-millionth of the way up a mile-long hill. Just down the street from me was an intersection with a traffic light and two police officers to steer the runners and control the cars that desperately wanted to cross the course at that point. (These drivers were in a tight spot since the course was a circle, and anyone inside it was stuck — at least until there was a break in the pack of runners so the officers could let a car or two squeak through.) I had an uneventful point on the course, but that intersection down the block saw a lot of action.

I arrived at my station at the assigned time of 6:15 and reported in. Several other monitors were nearby at their stations, and there were two homeless people asleep not far away. The race wasn’t to start until 7:00, and even the fastest runners were unlikely to get to mile 10.5 for about an hour. So I was pretty much in place two hours before I was needed. Further, that far along the course meant that I would be there for a long time after the first runners passed since the slowest runners (and walkers) could take up to three hours from their start (in the last wave) to reach me.

I listened to the birds. Tried to stand in the sun creeping over the hill behind me. Watched as one of the homeless men rose and walked off in a huff. Used the portable toilet that was set up not far from my station. (It reeked already!) Listened to the birds some more. Looked at my phone repeatedly. Not long after 7:00 the police down the block began to set up their cones. They would let the traffic flow as long as they could but were ready for when it was time to shut down that stretch of road.

As I expected, the first runner came by at about 8:00. He was escorted by a police motor cycle, and he looked as fresh as if he were still in his first mile rather than his tenth, going uphill. I really do admire these people with such natural talent and the drive to develop it. (That will never be me, of course.) And then there was a break in the action. Probably fifteen minutes passed before the next runners came along. This is often the case. One runner stands out and is far ahead, then the other elite runners come rushing along, still far ahead of everyone else. One of these elites is a young man I see at nearly all of the races. Only this time, he was doing something different. He was pushing a baby stroller, apparently with an occupant. I’d never seen him do that before, and perhaps he simply couldn’t get out of his parenting duties that morning, so he brought the baby along. In any case, I think he was one of the top five runners!

My job was not only to keep the runners on course — and this is a real concern since mental acuity can be left at about mile five for many people; I even got off course briefly at the St. Louis Marathon (though I think I was at about mile 18 when that happened and the course monitor had abandoned his post — the jerk!). But I was also responsible for keeping cars off the course. So I had to tell any drivers coming down my connecting street that they had to turn around and find another way. Early on, I let a few by since they claimed they were “late for work” and there really weren’t any runners on the street yet. But after that, I got draconian and stood my ground. (They were all compliant without complaint.)

The course had nearly three miles left after my station. A fast runner could do that in 15 minutes, despite the hill. I was not at all surprised, therefore, when that runner with the baby stroller passed again, going the other direction! My guess is that he had crossed the finish and then decided to run the course backward, or perhaps run to the tony shopping and dining district at the bottom of the hill where he might meet friends and family for breakfast. Still, pushing a stroller!

Sometime around then, the homeless man across the street awoke and scooted across the course to use the portable toilet that was there. I don’t know if it was in place when he rested his head on his stone pillow the night before, but he certainly seemed glad to have it that morning. (Note: I only saw one runner use the toilet while I was there.)

As time passed, the frequency of runners grinding up the hill increased. I could see them coming a couple of blocks below me, and they were mostly concentrating on the physical demand of it, so I didn’t want to disturb their focus. Plus, these fleet and fit runners didn’t need encouragement from some schlubby guy on the sidelines. They were born to the job.

As the numbers increased, I watched for faces I knew. Several friends had said they were running Hospital Hill (one for the last time since she was moving to another city), and if I spotted them, I wanted to shout something to them. With one exception, I missed all of them. At this point, all of the people were running up the hill. I know how hard that is, how important it is to stay on task. I didn’t want to interfere with that, though farther up the hill, where there was a water station, I heard regular cheering as runners passed. (Also, cowbells. I hate those things!)

Down the hill, where the police were, I saw some action. One runner actually did turn the wrong way there. (There was no turn at that point; the course went straight.) The officer nearest barked in the way that only beefy men of unquestioned authority can, and the runner was quickly back on course. Similarly, a few cars tried to turn onto the course (rather than take the opportunity to cross it), and similar barking fixed the problem. In several of the long races I’ve done, drivers somehow have gotten onto the course and driven among the runners, either oblivious to what was happening or else feeling privileged enuf to be an exception. The struggle is real.

I learned later than just beyond this traffic light, a runner had collapsed. Collapsed or sat himself down. Apparently he was suffering from vertigo. The emergency team was dispatched. And then an ambulance arrived to take him to the hospital one block away. (Whose insurance pays for this? The runner’s? The run’s?)

Hundreds of runners passed me as I stood at my station. I saw people doggedly grinding their way up the hill. Others blissfully untroubled and carrying on conversations with their fellow runners. Most were drenched in sweat. Many people looked as though this race was their last earthly act. One young couple may have been at the end of their relationship. He was struggling, wanting to walk up the hill while she was “cheering” him in a most adamant way. (“GET YOUR HEAD OUT OF THAT SPACE!”) Maybe tough love was needed at that point. It didn’t look like it was working.

Eventually, most of the people passing me were walking. Among runners, this is an honorable way to manage hills. And this was at mile 10.5, so these people had already done a lot of hard work. Most of them looked spent, though they had nearly three more miles to go, one of which was the hill before them. Soon, everyone who passed was a walker. A few thanked me for volunteering (my brightly colored volunteer shirt probably gave it away), but I told them they were the ones doing the hard work. I was merely out there getting a nice tan.

One fit-looking man came walking by at that point. But he didn’t look altogether fine, and I asked him if he needed help. It turns out this was the man the ambulance had taken (one block) to the hospital . He’d had an IV to rehydrate him, and then he was determined to finish the race. That filled me with warm fuzzies (though I am sure the doctors at the emergency room didn’t like it).

I kept watching the faces for people I knew, though most of them were surely long past since they were all good runners. I did, however, see my running friend Renee. She had chosen to walk part of the hill, which allowed me the time to recognize her. I called out to her, and she steered her weary body my way. We shared a sweaty hug and then she trudged on. (I later learned that she did, indeed, finish the half, her tenth. I’ve only done eight.)

The walkers were a more diverse bunch than most of the runners who had passed earlier. All sorts of ages and body types passed me then. All of them looked spent. Most of them looked daunted by the hill before them. These walkers (who were by my unofficial estimate, half of the participants of the race) were more chatty than the runners. Many of them thanked me for volunteering, and I once again told them that they were doing the hard work. (I couldn’t say they looked “good” or “strong” or such, a lie I’ve heard many times. But I think they appreciated my assessment of their effort.)

Having been among the last to come in on some of my early races, I knew how important it was to stay at my post until the last person passed. Whoever that was, as well the hundred or so before him or her, had paid as much as the fastest runner and invested as much in self esteem as anyone. These people deserved the full race experience and support, and by staying at my station, I was doing my little part to give them that. The sweeper car would be directly behind this person, a walker of course, and he or she would be given as much respect as every other participant. (Except for the first 10K I ran when the sweeper car wished me well and drove on past.) About five hours after my shift began, I saw the sweeper car creeping up the hill, a pair of walkers before it. The last participant was gamely still on the course, and one of the race officials was matching him step for step.

When this man and his escort passed me, he still had nearly three miles to go, but my duties had officially ended. I was welcomed to show up at a pancake breakfast, a privilege I had earned as a volunteer, but I don’t think I can eat pancakes unless I have run a full or a half marathon, so I skipped that opportunity (it was at the start/finish area, which would have been a madhouse with no parking), and headed home.

I feel good about “giving back” to the running community since I have benefited from so many races. Will I volunteer for Hospital Hill again next year? Probably. Or maybe I’ll run the damned thing. I’ve decided that I’m going to limit myself to full marathons in the fall only. That will leave the spring open for “less” challenging runs. Maybe I’ll have the cajones to try this one in 2017.

“The Death of Superman” has found a home!

Posted June 7, 2016 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Fathers and Sons

Tags: , ,

I received a happy surprise in my email on Sunday afternoon. My Fathers and Sons story “The Death of Superman” has been accepted for publication in the Pulled by Place Anthology to be published by Simone Press. The story is about the family cabin and how it is intertwined not only in the lives of my three characters but in their actual identities. This is the publication I made veiled reference to in this earlier post. No info yet on when the anthology will come out, and I think it will only be in ebook format, though perhaps it will be in print as well.

This is the second fastest acceptance I have received. I had officially submitted it on May 30 and received the acceptance on June 5: six days! I’m especially pleased since the submission window doesn’t even close until the middle of August, so they must have liked what the saw so much that they didn’t need to wait to see what else might come in to push it out of contention. (The only time I received a faster acceptance was with my locally specific story “The Lively Arts in Kansas City” back in 2008; the editor accepted it only a few hours after I had submitted it.)

This is the story that started it all. I had originally written it years ago as a one-off, with nothing more to it than exploiting the little cabin I have down in the Ozarks for a story (and to give my children a sense of what to do with the thing once I’m out of the picture). I had never intended it to be part of a cycle of stories, but I had tossed in a quick line about the narrator reflecting on how so many important moments of his life had happened at the family cabin (resulting in “When We Were Young . . .” and then logically from that “The Lonely Road” and then the other stories that together now comprise the 19 pieces of the cycle). “Superman” is the sixth F&S story and the 24th of my stories to be published. I’m beginning to feel legit.

I draw a great deal of satisfaction from my Fathers and Sons stories; I am proud of what they have become and where they have taken me as a writer. But I am also ready to be finished with them. (Though see yesterday’s post.) They have consumed the last four years of my creative life. I’ve written a few other things in that time, but F&S has been my focus, and my brain is getting more frequent pings from other story ideas; I’ll be glad when I’ll have the chance to fool around with those. Maybe they’ll result in another cycle of stories to devour me. (It’s happening. I’m already thinking of the things I can do to further the adventures of the character in my story “Travel Light.”)

I’m fooling around with the 19 F&S stories, pretending to myself that I’m honing and polishing them before sending them off to a beta reader (who is more of an alpha writer than I) with the idea that that would be the last effort before I begin the terrifying work of submitting the entire cycle to agents and publishers for consideration.

never-ending stories

Posted June 6, 2016 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Fathers and Sons

It’s hopeless. I thought I was done with the Fathers and Sons stories, at least in drafting them, but an idea for another story keeps intruding on the chaos that is my mind.

I rose early on Saturday to poke at the stories — I had recently changed one from first- to third-person narration and it was still rough in its verbs as a result — and found myself making notes for a new story. I’d written here before that there is a twelve-year gap early in the forty-four years these stories cover, and while I don’t think that’s necessarily bad, it did nag me as a hole that needed filling. Added to that was a feeling that I needed to flesh out better one of the qualities I reference in the grandson character (and it turns out his biggest quality given the way I’ve chosen to tell the stories — sorry, I know I’m being vague), so I began to think I could fill that gap and work on the grandson’s characterization by creating a “real-time” story containing a flashback story. I’ve done this a bit in a couple of the other stories, so it isn’t out of the blue.

Fortunately, this double story is revealing itself to me readily, though I’m far from having the whole of it in hand. And the universe I’ve already created for these characters — grandfather, father, grandson — is rich enuf that I can call on all sorts of facts about them to develop the new story. I just hope it doesn’t take me months to write and anguish over and read and reread and revise and revise some more and anguish further. Plus, these stories ripple among themselves. What happens in the new story may affect the telling of the other stories, and I’ll have to be vigilant about those implications so I can incorporate them where necessary.

Universe building is hard work!

“Runaway”

Posted May 25, 2016 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Fathers and Sons

Tags: ,

I was just lacing up to go for a run (82 degrees, 55% humidity) when my phone chirped and told me I had an email. It was an acceptance letter for my story “Runaway.” The publication is called Aethlon, a print journal that is interested in the intersection of literature and sports. “Runaway” is one of my Fathers and Sons stories, and I’m particularly proud of it because it was my first attempt to bring running into a story. I’d shopped it around a few places, but I had about given up on it in part because I was beginning to think the stories ought to just stay focused on being a collection rather than individual pieces here and there. I had submitted it to this magazine in February, prior to my thoughts on no longer submitting them.

So I have to do a little formatting to the document but no rewriting. I’ll get that done quickly and send it back to the editor. Then I’ll find something else to pay attention to because it looks as though the edition my story will appear in won’t be out until the end of the year.

I’m sure I’ll babble about this more as things develop.

Update: I made the few formatting edits that were required, and, of course, I tinkered with the story a bit, then I sent it back to the editor at the address he gave me. It was an invalid address. So I scrounged and found the correct address then re-sent it. Then I sent another email to the editor asking if he could confirm that he received it. Then I worried about it all day. Creative writing can be such a perilous endeavor!


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