bits and pieces

Posted January 21, 2020 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic

The beer dilemma I wrote about last week has clarified quite a bit since then. My son and his wife, freshly back from Kenya, visited this last weekend bearing gifts. Among them were two masks (which will go to the cabin) and a three-legged mzee stool (elder stool) that sits so close to the ground that getting on/off it will help with my fitness.

Also gifted was the beer they hinted at before. It turns out not to be a large selection of African beers but a single can of Tusker that they bought in the duty free shop at the Nairobi airport. I’ve had Tusker before, and this new can is now just chillin’ in my refrigerator, alongside a couple of Bud Lights that survived the year-end culling. I don’t feel so bad leaving a single beer idle for a year.

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“MTWTF” will come out in Workers Write! in April. And I’m being paid for it! I will receive the princely sum of $30, which makes it the third time (and the highest amount) I’ve been paid for a story. (There was a fourth promise of a token payment for a very early story, but that never appeared, and the publication is now vanished as well.)

The email telling me this also said that I’ll get an author’s proof of the article to see what I think of any edits they make. This always unnerves me. Only rarely have my stories been edited, and I make no secret of the fact that I consider grammar optional for creative writers. I’m sure I won’t object to any technical changes they want, but the story has a distinctive voice, and I don’t want to compromise that.

Originally, I had thought about writing a series of stories about the main character in “MTWTF,” but that enthusiasm faded. Now that this story is being published, I find myself thinking more about the next one in the series and how I can/might write it.

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There was some big sporting event over the weekend that apparently has given Kansas City a lot to be proud about.

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Winter has finally decided to arrive around here, which limits my opportunities (i.e., will) to visit Roundrock, but I may see a window of opportunity that I should exploit. Not sure what I will do if I go (other than lament if the spillway still isn’t repaired and my new load of gravel still isn’t delivered), but I felt quite satisfied when I did all that clearing work down among the pecans below the dam on my last visit, and there’s more of that to do, so perhaps more of that is to be done.

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From the jacket flap of the book Nat Tate: An American Artist 1928 – 1960 by William Boyd:

“. . . the artist’s most profound dread – that God will make you an artist but only a mediocre artist” – David Bowie

MTWTF has found a home

Posted January 20, 2020 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Humble efforts, short stories

Tags: ,

My short story “MTWTF” has found a home. It has been accepted by Workers Write!, an annual print publication now in its 16th year.

I checked my records and learned that I’ve been circulating this story for a year and a half. I didn’t realize I had been trying so long. In that time I’d sent it to a total of 18 prospective publications and received 16 rejections. (One was pending response at the time of acceptance.)

I’d sent this to Workers Write! last summer, and while I never despaired, I suspected it was just one of those publications that only responds if interested. (Most of the rejections for this story were swift. And there were so many rejections!) I liked this story — I even dared to share it with a writer friend whose opinion I respect — but I began to suspect it was too quirky for publication. At nearly 4,000 words, I knew it was close to the it-must-be-a-perfect-fit status to be accepted. Glad that was not the case! (Or maybe it was. Maybe it is a perfect fit.)

I don’t know yet when the issue will come out — I’m going to get more details and a publishing contract for it soon, I’m told.

Anyway, pretty good start to a new year.

liquid lament

Posted January 16, 2020 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic

It had been my practice when the kids were little to give up something each year. Among my annual sacrifices were popcorn, pizza, ice cream, chocolate (the hardest not due to temptation but because it’s an ingredient in so many things), and beer. The point was to show the kids that they could control their appetites if they chose.

It happened that the most recent time I gave up beer, a few years ago, my son Seth had brought me a big collection of exotic beers as a Christmas gift. Rather than see me try to drink them all in the week between Christmas and the new year, he took them to his office where they (reportedly) disappeared quickly.

For 2020 I am once again giving up beer. This will make “rehydrating” after my bike rides a little more challenging — once the weather turns tolerable again for riding — but otherwise I don’t see much of a downside. I will admit, though, that in the latter half of last year, I was exploring many new and different kinds of beers; I even found some I liked (though not IPAs!).

Seth and his wife spent the holidays in Kenya with her family. They’re back in the States now, and they’re coming to visit me and my wife (and the dogs and his brother and his brother’s wife and their two kids) this weekend.

Guess what he’s brought me from Kenya.

two photos

Posted January 14, 2020 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic, Roundrock

This, friends, is the nearly empty lake bed at Roundrock. Fortunately, this is also a very old image from a decade ago. I took this not long after the dam had been built but before the cabin had been.

In fact, the dam was “re-built” in this photo. Ozark soil is not really all that suitable for holding back water (unless you have the resources of the federal government, then, damitall!). So when my dam was originally built it leaked excessively. The builder said it might, but he came back out to work on it more including scraping up some soil that might have a few molecules of clay in it to pack on the dam.

It still leaks, but it’s getting better, in large part because the bottom is building up its layer of silt, which, while it isn’t the best at containing water, is better than gravel.

What you see in the puddle is the plastic drum that serves as the “drain” for the lake. It connects to a pipe that emerges on the other side of the dam with a valve that can be opened and closed. I’ve opened the valve exactly twice because who doesn’t like a terrifying burst of water under high pressure inches from your self! (In retrospect, I’m not sure why I would ever want to drain my lake, but there it is.) At full pool the area you see in the photo would have eighteen feet of water in it, and often does.

What you see in this second photo is a portion of the fire ring retaining wall and two dog treats. We’ve been searching for treats that Flike will eat since his old favorite is no longer being made. (Some say it was a choking hazard and was discontinued by the manufacturer, but Snopes says otherwise. It was a hoax, but it was so successful that the product has disappeared.)

Anyway, we tried giving Flike the treats you see above. He dutifully carried his treat into the other room — as dogs do — and then it was gone. It turned out, however, that he politely took the treat into the other room then spit it out. Queequeg, never one to miss an good thing, then was eating Flike’s rejected treats.

So now we have a bag of these things that one dog doesn’t want and the other dog shouldn’t have. (He’s a little chunky.) Thus I took two out to the cabin and put them in a visible place. My hope is that some coyote or even a raccoon or opossum will happen upon them and find out they are just wonderful and then eat them. If so, there’s plenty more where those came from.

Still, Flike doesn’t have a suitable treat yet.

Ouroboros

Posted January 13, 2020 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ouroboros

Tags: , , , ,

My new project continues to consume my imagination and more than my regular amount of writing time. Last weekend I was pleased to have more than 4,000 words written, but since then I’ve had such fundamental insights about what direction to take the story that every one of those 4,000+ words needed to be reconsidered. It’s all good though since I now have more than 12,000 words written, and they’re all in line with my latest understanding of where the story is going and how it’s getting there. (Also, note this nearly unprecedented happening in relation to the story: I drank two pitchers of iced tea — unsweetened, of course — on Sunday as the words flowed. As far as I can recall, I had only done that once before, and it left me so agitated my skin was buzzing. Not so on Sunday.)

I think I mentioned that I dug an old story idea out of my file of old story ideas as something to play around with as I waiting for something to grab me. It turns out this old story is what grabbed me, and while I know my tone and approach are different from what I had imagined in old story days, I think it is going to be a much better developed tale full of fun ideas and interesting snark.

When I first started working on this, I had no more plan for it than to be a short story, but then, just for fun, I began imagining how the story would actually take place in the real world. Various means suggested themselves to me, and for a brief while I even thought of trying to live the fiction. Instead, I took the route of merely writing it as fiction.

Chief among my challenges was coming up with enuf motivation for my two characters to carry out the steps to the story at the length of a novel. In walked a new character to provide the motivation. If One-Match Fire is about fathers and sons learning how much they love each other, this new story is about brothers squabbling and finally coming to respect each other. Once I worked out the sibling rivalry motivation, a lot of the pieces began falling into place.

But then I felt I didn’t have enuf* tension/conflict in the story, not for something the length of a novel. Enter a pretty good antagonist who very quickly took over the story and made it hers. This is one of those cases of a character taking on a life of her own. So she may end up being the protagonist rather than the antagonist.

But I felt I finally had all of the pieces in place. Then last week came along.

While I’m at the office, working for the man, plenty of insights come to me about the what and how of the stories I’m considering. I write these insights on a notepad I keep for this purpose, fold the removed pages in quarters, and slip them into my shirt pocket for transcribing later. Last week may have set a record for notepad pages. The ideas were flying into my head. And when the idea of creating some parallel structure within the novel arrived, everything about the story changed.

The story idea I thought I had turned out to be merely the visible part of a bigger and much crazier story. It’s becoming like a set of nested dolls. It’s consuming itself. I think it may be called fractal fiction or recursive fiction. It’s certainly metafiction. But I don’t want to cleave too closely to definitions; the story is busy writing itself and going in its own direction.

I have a great start. I know where I want to go — I’ve even begun writing the last chapters. I know some of the stops along the way. I think I have all of the characters I need worked out. The setting, which strictly is not important, is fine. I’m having a little trouble with establishing the year when the story takes place, but I think I have that resolved too.

I still don’t have a title though. “Ouroboros” is not really on target. “Frankenstein” is already taken. A few other ideas I’ve had miss the mark too. I’m sure something will come to me eventually.

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*I have worked in the word “enuf” to the story. I’m evolving the language. You’re welcome!

a little work in a little field

Posted January 8, 2020 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Roundrock

This is a clump of willow trees, or perhaps a single willow tree that has sent up several trunks from a single root. Anyway, I hate it.

This beast grew robustly in the open acre below the dam, and it didn’t belong there. When the man built the dam more than a decade ago, he noted that the area would likely be wet from leakage, and he was right. I had wanted to plant of grove of something down there, it being a place that received sunlight, was regularly watered (in much of the acre) and even had some good soil (in some of the acre). The dam builder suggested pecans, which can do well in water. So that’s what I ordered from the Missouri Department of Conservation.

The first spring I planted 50 pecan twigs. Most of them died. The second year I planted another 50 pecan twigs. Most of them died too. I began to see a pattern in my efforts, so the only further planting I did in the acre below the dam was a few cypress trees left over from a random planting around my 80 acres. (Ironically, only the cypress I planted below the dam did not die.) From that original planting of 100 trees, I now have a dozen that have survived and reached above deer-depredation height. (And I continue to find a plant that may be a pecan reaching above the meadow grass for the sunlight. I tried to plant them in a regular grid, and these upstarts fit that pattern. I watch them.)

But the willow did not belong. It was not a pecan, it was not in the grid, and it threatened to overshadow the pecans that are doing well in the northern part of the acre that has actual soil.

Wading into this grassy acre during three seasons of the year is madness. It is filled with ticks and chiggers and thorny vines (and even sleeping deer sometimes). So the willow got a reprieve until last weekend when the weather was forecasted to reach 54 degrees at Roundrock (it broke 60 degrees). I drove into the acre below the dam with the Prolechariot and parked in the tall grass. Then I put gas in the tank of my chainsaw (unnamed) and attacked the wily willow.

Willow wood is easy to cut through. It is soft, and in a campfire it burns fast. The only challenge before me was getting to the base of the clump, given the thick grass and the sudden presence of thorny vines. But, dear Reader, I managed. Soon the willow you see above was reduced to this:

The “trees” I liberated are piled nearby, and I’ll let them dry a little before I cut them into lengths suitable for the fire ring up at the cabin. I have cut other willows in my woods (actually in the dry lake bed), and they have not re-sprouted. I hope that’s the case with these stumps.

I spent a couple of hours in the sun on Sunday cutting down other, smaller upstarts in the pecan meadow, including a few thorny locusts.

This is a cedar I had edited last winter. Cedars are cooperative. If you remove all of their green parts, they will not re-sprout. I had hoped that this one would be easy enuf to wrest from the ground a year after its liberation, but the roots held fast, so I cut this one down with my trusty chainsaw too.

I estimate that if I have two more sessions in the pecans as I had on Sunday, I should be able to rid it of all of the upstarts that don’t belong. The dense grass will help keep some upstarts from sprouting, or at least reaching sufficient sunlight to survive, but I know that “maintaining” my pecan acre is going to be a job of constant vigilance. Any time you’re free . . .

bits and pieces

Posted January 6, 2020 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ouroboros, Ramblings Off Topic, Rants and ruminations

Tags: ,

When I treated myself to my new Macbook Air recently, I expected some transition issues as I moved programs and data from my older laptop to this new one.

Not surprising was the fact that Microsoft Word did not come across when I had the Apple Store make the transfer for me. It was only when I got home that I discovered this. (They could have told me!) So I dragged myself back to the Apple Store and tried to set things right. Also not surprising, this involved me handing over more money. No longer could I have a static copy of Word on my computer. In this new world order I must subscribe to the software. Microsoft will kindly keep my version of Word up to date for a “nominal” annual fee. Okay, so I have paid more than this fee a few times on dinner with friends, and there are some books in my collection that cost me greater sums. Still, I feel powerless, like I’m exactly where their craven capitalist hearts want me to be.

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The photo above is one I grabbed randomly from the 10,000+ I have on my computer. (Those did transfer properly from the old to the new machine.) At least I thought it was random in the moment I selected it. But it turns out to have a deeper meaning than I realized.

As you can tell, it’s one of the many masks we having hanging around the cabin at Roundrock. I took this photo nearly a decade ago, the the poor mask has faded a good bit since then. (It even housed a nest of hornets one year. Nice!) And all of that is fascinating on its own, but read on.

The work on my newest novel, which still only has a tentative title and no category on this humble blog, is racing along. It’s fantastic to feel as invigorated as I am about it. But it’s beginning to take on a life of its own. As the story progresses, I realize that I need to add this or that, chief of which have been new characters to carry part of the load. I had come up with one character who was going to be the main antagonist, but she had other plans. I don’t want to spill the beans (really, where did that expression come from?*) but she may be transitioning into the ultimate protagonist. And this story is becoming something like peeling an onion (an expression with a more obvious origin), with layers and layers I hadn’t realized. It’s a lot of fun, but I hope my creation doesn’t get out of my control. (The Frankenstein’s monster metaphor is not lost of me.)

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The holidays are now behind me. My out-of-town family visitors have all returned to their respective homes and my household is returning to what I consider “normal.” I managed to acquire a head cold from those sweet little virus vectors my grands are, but it is passing just in time for the new year at work to begin. We’re collecting things left behind by the Seattle gang, and when we’re convinced we’ve found it all, we’ll mail a package that direction.

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You may have done this yourself. Using the juice of a lemon as your ink and a toothpick as your pen, you write a super-secret message on a piece of paper that is invisible to the eye. Then your recipient holds the paper over an incandescent bulb, and the heat of it “chars” the dried lemon juice and the message appears. This being the 21st Century, though, who has incandescent bulbs in their lamps, right?

An alternative method is to hold the piece of paper over the flame of a candle, achieving the same result (though with a higher risk of burning the house down).

And so I am reconsidering the wisdom of sending such a secret message to my five-year-old grandson. (I have precautioned his mother.)

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Another outfit that may have me right where they want me is WordPress. I use the free version of the software, and for the most part, it is all that I need. But you may have noticed that the separators betwixt the subjects in posts like this one are no longer centered. Nor can I use asterisks as I did before (they change into bullets). Further, I don’t seem to be able to add color to the text, which was something I could do in the days before I upgraded the software.

I’m sure all of this would be resolved if I should buy the commercial version of the program.

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*Believed to have originated in ancient Greece where votes were cast with white or black beans dropped in a bag. If the bag was spilled, the outcome was revealed too soon. Thanks, Wikipedia!