“Men at Rest”

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


My Portland sojourn ends today. Later this afternoon, I will be returned to the frigid Midwest. Farewell to sixty-degree, (mostly) sunny days and actual outdoor running and mountains in the distance. Farewell to Powell’s Books (visited three times in three consecutive days.) Farewell to the little granddaughter and her proud parents.

Along with seeing some sights and soothing an infant and eating too much, I had wanted to get some writing done. I didn’t want my week away to interrupt the momentum I’ve had since the turn of the year. And so I made a tentative beginning at the next Fathers and Sons story, “Men at Rest.”

I’ve been anticipating this one for a long time. It is a companion to my published F&S story “Men at Work and Play.” Some things were set up there that are fulfilled in this later story. As with most of the stories I’ve written, I had begun collecting notes for it in a Word file and then adding to them as insights arrived or bits of dialog worked out or things-that-didn’t-fit-in-other-stories-but-were-too-good-to-throw-out happened. When I sat down to begin this story, I had more than three thousand words worth of notes accumulated.

I’ve said here before that if I can get the right beginning words to a story worked out, the rest of the story usually pours forth and I mostly just have to keep the fingers flying across the keyboard as though I’m taking dictation. That happened this time. I knew the opening words, who spoke them (the grandson), and I could picture the setting where it happened. I knew what I wanted the story to do, and I knew how to end it. All of the pieces were in place. It was easy to grab a few hours of solitude each morning if I rose at 3:00 a.m. (which I did all but one day).

The first day I was happy enuf to get one whole paragraph written. But I tinkered a bit more in the quiet house and ended up with more than 900 words after the first session. That felt good.

Subsequent days weren’t always as productive, at least in word count, but I was doing the muscle work to get the characters to do what I needed. My real goal, aside from wanting to sustain the momentum, was to get enuf of the story down so that when I got back to my humble writing room at home, I would be able to pick it up and keep going.

The words continued to accumulate, and the story progressed. And yesterday morning, the day before I was to leave Portland, I finished the first draft of the story. 3,000+ words. Good words, I think, too.

Of course I’ll need to review and reconsider and redo and rewrite. The story is far from finished. But not only do the earlier stories affect this one (“Men at Rest” is the second-to-last story in the cycle), but this one has ripples that affect the telling of the earlier stories as well. Though they are supposed to stand on their own, they are a whole. (In fact, I’m not sure “Men at Rest” can stand on its own; much of it doesn’t make sense without the preceding stories to inform it.)

So I’m in a good place, and as amazing as it sounds to me, I only have one story in the cycle left to write.

repeating myself

Posted February 9, 2016 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Uncategorized

I’m not sure what I think about getting my stories reprinted. Sure, I’m happy to see them get a new life and be (possibly) read by new readers. And if the original venue has gone away (it’s happened with several of my stories), a reprint is a way to keep the story alive on the internet.

Yet it also feels lazy in a way. I didn’t write a new story; I merely put a little effort into finding a new place for an old story. I didn’t “create” something, but I get to wallow in the pride of seeing it in print again. (It’s almost legendary to hear of some famous writer who goes to a reading and gives a selection of his/her old work because he/she is blocked and not producing any new work.)

I am blathering about this because one of my stories, “Pandora’s Tackle Box,” is being reprinted for a second time. Ealain magazine will be running it in an upcoming issue with the theme of . . . Pandora’s box. This story first appeared in the Spring 2011 issue of A Golden Place. It then found a place two years later in Harnessing Fire: A Hephaestus Devotional (which is a print document only). And now it will appear in Ealain.

My story “Travel Light” has also done some recent traveling. It first appeared in Penduline Press two and a half years ago and will soon come out in If and Only If Journal later this year. (By the way, in my current view of things, “Travel Light” is the best writing I have ever done.)

I’m happy enuf about this. To the fresh eyes these will be fresh stories. I’m glad for the credentials, and the fact that different editors like the stories enuf to want to reprint them suggests that I can actually, you know, write. (Negative correlative: if enuf different editors don’t like a story, what does that suggest?) But I’d also like to see more of my Fathers and Sons stories find homes.

incident on a plane

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

So I flew to Oregon last week (to make the acquaintance of my new granddaughter) and experienced a little excitement on the way. Our plane was still airborne, about a half hour outside of Portland, when a man came walking down the aisle. He passed me, and soon after I heard people shouting “Get him!” and “Don’t let his head hit the floor!” Then I felt this man fall against my shoulder on his sudden trip to the floor. (Would it be the “deck” on an airplane the same way a wall is a “bulkhead”?)

So there the man lay, in the aisle right by my seat, his eyes rolling back in his head as he groaned and moaned. He was a big, powerfully built man along the lines of a football player. Suddenly people were up and crowding around the man. (As much as you can crowd up in an airplane aisle.) One young fellow actually leapt over him and then knelt beside the man’s head to hold it. Turns out the aircraft was filled with nurses. At least a half dozen were there on the spot, acting and speaking authoritatively, but since the space was so limited, it was only the young man kneeling there and the young woman at the man’s feet who could actually administer any care. Even the flight attendants — for whom this kind of thing must be as close to a professional nightmare as it gets — couldn’t get near the man. The man drifted in and out of awareness, sometimes answering the nurse’s questions, sometimes not. A bag of ice was called for. A cup of water. An announcement went over the address system calling for any medical professionals to come forward, which they pretty much couldn’t since they already had.

Eventually a man who identified himself as a doctor was able to push his way through the many, many nurses jammed in the aisle, and he took the place of the male nurse who had gotten their first. This was all right beside my seat, so I was able to listen as the care was given.

The fallen man was questioned about his medical history, and his answers came sporadically. No, he was not diabetic. No, he had no heart condition or any other problems. No, he was not taking any medications. He gave his name when asked, but I think everyone missheard him because he tried correcting people several times as they repeated it. (They called him “Dan” but from what I could tell, his name was “Dain.”) The doctor had the man grip his own fingers and then try as hard as he could to pull his arms away from each other. The doctor had sized up the situation quickly (and correctly it turned out) that the fallen man had had a sudden, precipitous loss in blood pressure. Apparently, this effort to pull his arms apart while gripping his fingers would elevate his blood pressure. The man couldn’t do it though, in part because he was still somewhat delirious and in part because he had no room in that narrow aisle to maneuver his arms very well. Soon a blood pressure cuff was presented (because I suppose that kind of thing can come in handy on long flights in planes full of all kinds of people), but the man’s beefy arm was too big for it. The nurse had to ask the doctor to hold the cuff shut around the man’s arm as she took the reading. After several tries they were able to confirm that the man’s blood pressure was dangerously low.

The fallen man, by this time, was no longer interested in being the center of attention, and said he just wanted to get up and go to the bathroom, which was his original goal when he came down the aisle. The doctor would have none of that though and commanded the man to stay on the floor (deck?) and perhaps raise his knees if he could. Several passengers in nearby seats helped him do this, and the man reported that he almost instantly felt better. Then the doctor asked the nurse at the man’s feet to lift his legs. This nurse was a tiny person, and I imagine lifting and holding up the legs of this large man was a challenge. But in my observation, nurses are up for the challenge. When she did this, the man again reported that he felt a lot better. The doctor took this as a sign that his original assessment had been correct, and when they took the man’s blood pressure again, it had elevated to a better level. The doctor cautiously asked the man if he thought he could get himself into a seat, which the man felt he could, and the passenger across the aisle from me quickly volunteered his seat for the man. Getting this large, unsteady man easily into the small seat was a challenge the flight attendants were up for. One told the doctor to raise the armrest on the aisle seat just surrendered by the passenger. This is the aisle arm rest, not the one between the seats. I didn’t know you could raise this, and neither did the doctor who fumbled with the attempt. Finally, the flight attendant authoritatively barked to the doctor “Look at me! Watch me!” She then demonstrated on a nearby seat where to find the secret latch that allowed the arm rest to be raised. (Now I know how to do this too.)

By the time they got the man into this seat, the crisis was over. Even I could see how recovered he was. The doctor spoke at length with the flight attendants, who were filling out some forms and asking questions. And then the captain’s voice came over the address system, asking us all to be patient after we landed since the stricken man would be visited by EMTs and then escorted off the plane before any of us would be allowed to leave. By this time the man was mostly over the attack and was joking about how this was his secret way of getting off planes before everyone else and how it worked with every airline. (I noted that he never did get to visit the bathroom.)

After I got off the plane and into the terminal, I saw the man sitting on a gurney, surrounded by EMTs and security people. He looked dazed, but otherwise I think he was okay. I later saw him on his own at baggage claim, I suspect more stricken with embarrassment than anything else any longer.

Later, when I left the terminal, in search of a cab, I saw the two nurses who had first attended the man. (Apparently they were a couple.) I asked the man if he had any hesitation, literally leaping into a situation like that. He said he had none at all, that while he had no moral or legal obligation, he would have felt horrible if he hadn’t acted as he did, without hesitation.

My son and daugther-in-law — Elaheh’s parents — are both doctors, and they confirmed that they would have done the same. And I suppose I would too, if I ever found myself in a situation where someone needed some emergency wordsmithing.

“Moving Day”

Posted February 4, 2016 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Fathers and Sons

In a feat of astonishing and thoroughly unexpected effort, I have “finished” my Fathers and Sons story “Moving Day.” I had a general idea of what I needed to do in the tale, but it didn’t work out that way. Instead I wrote a story from the viewpoint of the (teenaged) grandson, and I think it is better for it. I will, of course, refine/rewrite/rework the story in the days and weeks to come, but I think the foundation is laid.

It didn’t end as I expected it to, but given the revelation I spoke of in yesterday’s post, it makes perfect sense. Suffice to say that we are guardians of our own memories and the memories of others as much as we can be.

This leaves only two more stories to be written in the cycle as I currently conceive it. Two more! I can’t tell you how good this makes me feel. Only two stories left! In my writing life? It’s been nearly four years since I penned the first story in the cycle (which hasn’t found a home yet), and when I wrote that story (“The Death of Superman”) I had no idea it would open my creative self to an entire cycle of more than a dozen stories. Now I’m nearing the end, and with the recently understood revelation about my narrator (it’s a big dang deal for me!), I think those stories will be comparatively easy to get down in 1st draft. I know where to take them.

The next story, which I’ve titled “Men at Rest” and which is intended to “reflect” my story “Men at Work and Play”, is already presenting itself to me in my crowded and noisy little head. This was one I had intended to write in an “experimental” format with several narrators/points of view. But I don’t need to fuss with that any longer give my narrator revelation (see above, to your own peril and/or tedium). It’s a kind of wrap-up story, and it will be the second-to-last story in the cycle. But so much needs to feed into it, that I’m sure it will be the one I rewrite and revise and refine most of all. A good problem to have.

Then comes the last story, “Little Gray Birds.” I had an important insight about it while on the treadmill the other day. It came to me at about twenty minutes into a two hour run (damned marathon training plan!), so I had to keep repeating the idea to myself as I trotted along. In “Little Gray Birds” all is revealed. Or maybe not. I haven’t written it yet, and I’m still not sure what I’ve going to do with the narrator revelation I’ve spoken of (ad nauseam). That’s a down-the-road matter, and I’m sure I’ll bore you with it in the weeks to come.

whose story is it anyway?

Posted February 3, 2016 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Fathers and Sons, Process

So the other day I was pondering the (inevitable) movie that will be made of my Fathers and Sons story cycle, after it’s published, of course, and has collected numerous awards and accolades. I thought it would be difficult to tell the tales in visual form because so much involves the memories of the characters. So much is internal monologue. And I realized the movie version would need a narrator.

Then I wondered who could possibly be knowledgeable enuf about these characters’ lives to be able to tell their stories in sometimes quite intimate detail. And I had a revelation.

I have always asserted that a third-person narrator of any fiction should be as much a character (to the writer) as any character in the story. (I’ve babbled about it here on the humble blog even. Witness this old post. Nice Walden reference there too.) Even if this narrator is no more than the affectless voice that tells the tale, the writer should know him or her well. Know the narrator’s ambitions and frustrations and favorite foods and shoe size. What is the narrator’s motivation, agenda? Even if the reader never knows this, the telling of the tale will be better because the writer does.

And I realized who the narrator of the Fathers and Sons stories had to be. It was like a bolt out of the blue. Of course! It all made suddenly perfect sense. It made every single word I had written and would write fit the narrative precisely. Every thing spoken and unspoken, every nuance and sly reference, would be controlled and would serve a higher, deeper purpose. (Oxymorons are an important narrative device in the stories, by the way.)

I’ve struggled with some of the stories feeling too sentimental, but with this new narrator in mind, I think I can resolve that. Not necessarily by removing the sentimentality either. And as I go back to “finished” stories to polish and refine them, knowing exactly who the narrator is will guide me.

No, I won’t tell you who the narrator is. I’m not even sure I want to identify this person in the stories themselves. That may or may not feel like a cheat to the reader. I’ll have to see how it goes. But as a writer of the stories, it is a paramount matter and a profound understanding for me.

Can you tell this is a big deal for me?

believed defunct

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


I think I finally have closure regarding the fate of my story “Twice Blest” and the magazine that accepted it for publication then went on radio silence. I had tried various ways to reach the editor but got no response. I spoke to several friends and one editor who each suggested I wait for a while, which I have.

Recently I checked my gold standard for magazines — Duotrope’s Digest — and saw the the magazine in question is now listed as “believed defunct.” I wrote to Duotrope to see if they could give me any background, and they responded that they haven’t received any responses from the magazine either, despite repeated attempts. Thus their classification of “believed defunct.” (The person who wrote back said she’d had an experience similar to mine. I guess we’ve all been there.) I’ve also written to the editor of the defunct magazine, officially withdrawing my story.

I think that settles it. Not the outcome I wanted, but at least an outcome.

Now I can polish the story a little more and start sending it out to other markets.

marathon training

Posted January 26, 2016 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Running


I haven’t written about my running in a while, and perhaps you consider that a good thing. In any case, I’m going to babble about it now.

I’ve run two marathons: Portland and Kansas City. Be aware that I use the word “run” generously here. I think I walked about a third of the Portland Marathon and about a quarter of the Kansas City Marathon. It was somewhere around mile 18 of the Kansas City Marathon, when my legs and hips were hurting, and I had run out of Advil, and I was all alone on the course, and I still had eight (point two) impossibly long miles to go, that I decided I would never run another marathon. Why was I doing this to myself? I would stick to half marathons and master those. (I’ve done eight so far.) A half marathon is a challenging, honorable distance. A sane person could make that his target distance, his specialty, and get respect.

When I crossed the finish line at Kansas City (shaving 25 minutes off my previous time, by the way), my legs and hips and knees hurting so badly that I didn’t think I could ever walk upright again, my vision so tightly focused that I felt I was in a tunnel, my brain in OMG-let’s-shut-this-jerk-down-immediately mode, my senses slowly doing the same, I realized that I would keep running full marathons. I’d just beaten Kansas City. I could do it again.

But I decided if I was going to keep doing this to my body, I should approach it more intelligently. I shouldn’t let myself get so beat up by them. I should make each one an improvement over the last. And so, at the turn of the year, I downloaded a marathon training plan and decided to give it a try. The app quickly invaded my calendar and laid out my daily run quotas for the next three months. (I’m signed up for the St. Louis Marathon in April. They tell me there is free beer at the end!) Now I get daily popups reminding me that I need to get running and telling me exactly how much.

This plan is based on time spent running rather than a goal distance to run. So on this last Sunday, for example, I was to run 65 minutes at an easy pace to warm up, followed by 20 minutes at race pace, and then 5 minutes at an easy pace to cool down. (That’s a really long warm up.) It didn’t matter how much distance I covered as long as I ran for the specified time. I’ve asked around and done a little online research, and this kind of time-based training plan is actually well regarded.

Unfortunately, because I am a slower runner, I really am not getting a lot of distance logged in a week. My “race pace” is probably an easy, cool-down pace for more experienced (talented) runners. Compounding this is the treadmill I use that is down in my basement. I am the third owner (at least). It’s an old machine, an off brand, a cut-rate, entry-level product, and it’s pretty beaten up. I am certain that it hasn’t been (or even can be) calibrated since it left the factory to record distance properly. For example, I know how far I can go if I run continuously outside for 65 minutes. I (and the satellites) have documented it a number of times. It’s a fairly consistent distance. When I finished that same time on my treadmill Sunday, the evil machine’s odometer reported about half that distance covered. (The longest run I’ve ever made on my treadmill was reported as 9 miles. If this calibration issue is real, then that may have been an 18 mile run!) There appears to be no way to calibrate this low-end machine, but that’s not really important since I am training for time rather than distance. The treadmill still allows me to keep throwing one foot in front of the other. Endlessly. And when I face that full marathon in April, I’ll already know the distance it covers. My challenge will be to withstand the time it takes me to do so. (I know it sounds touchy-feely, but I have found that running a marathon truly is a journey into myself. I get to see just how much is in me, how much I can call on myself, rely on myself, trust myself. It sounds hokey, I know, but I really do learn a lot about myself in those lonely, painful upper miles.)

I’ve been on this training plan for three weeks now. And the biggest surprise to me is that I’ve actually stuck to it! (I’ve only skipped one session, a twenty-minute easy-paced run in the first week, but GrandsonKenneth was visiting that evening, so I feel I had a good excuse.) I fully expected skeptical Paul to step in by now and assert that these things are a bunch of hooey. Yet there is something about having a written plan that makes me feel obligated to carry through with it. I discuss it with my wife, explaining what each day’s run will entail, as much to boost my own confidence as to give me one more person to hold me accountable. (Important to note: the plan does not call for running every day. Right now Mondays, Fridays, and Saturdays are rest days. And runners are constantly chided to honor rest days. So I don’t have any complaint there.) Tuesdays and Thursdays call for easier runs. Wednesdays are more challenging with a mix of easy and race pace times during the run. And Sundays are the long-run days. Over these last three weeks, the duration of each of these sessions has gotten longer. When I first downloaded the app and scanned the requirements down the road, I knew I would be dropping out by about now. There was no way I was going to subject myself to what the app would be calling for over time. I was certain those distant three weeks ago that I couldn’t do what I was going to be called on to do. Yet without exception, I have done it. I’ve met the duration goals every time. Maybe there is something to these training plans.

Right now I’m stuck with running inside on the treadmill. The weather has been cold, the evenings dark, the roads and sidewalks just as often icy as not. Running for time is easy on a treadmill. The evil machine even has a timer on it (that I’ve confirmed is more or less accurate when compared to the timer on my phone). I can just keep going for the time required. Running outside will be different. If I were to run outside for today’s quota of time (45 minutes at an easy pace) I would feel frustrated because I know I would want to go farther (rather than merely longer). Running for distance is easier outside. And that may be how I finally abandon this training plan. Once the weather breaks, let’s say March will bring consistent outdoor running conditions, I will probably disdain the dreadmill in the dark basement and grab my miles outside. I will probably easily meet the time requirements of the training plan, but I’ll also probably go longer. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, especially since it will be closer to the actual marathon. I’ll want to build more miles in my base. And it may be that all of this indoor training will have helped me to do that.

Assuming I survive the St. Louis Marathon, I intend to find one to run in the fall. I’m in the lottery for the New York City Marathon, but I have no realistic expectation of getting in. I have found one in December though that looks especially appealing. It’s on a “pancake-flat course” on the island of St. Croix, in the U.S. Virgin Islands. They start the run before dawn so runners don’t suffer too much from the heat (in December!). No doubt I’ll follow a training plan for whatever fall marathon I run. But I may go for a distance training plan then since I will have the opportunity to run outside. Stay tuned.


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