writing is rewriting

Posted April 26, 2017 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Fathers and Sons

and rewriting is hard!

I’ve doubted my One-Match Fire story “Men at Work and Play” for nearly as long as I’ve had it written. It’s full of sweetness and light, and it certainly achieved what I wanted it to when I wrote it — I even got it published — but it never quite felt like it belonged. It was just too nice, and as the stories evolved, I could see that it wasn’t a good fit.

So I’ve been working on it in recent days, not so much to make it bleak and fraught but to change its tone slightly — just enuf to give it the edge it needs and relate it better to later stories in the cycle. In the story (which you can read here if you want) the grandfather, father, and son do some work on the cabin. But in my revision, two of them must also do some work on their relationship since there was an uncharacteristic explosion of anger by one of them. None of that is in the story now, and once I’m finished putting it in, it will be indirectly referenced and only “explained” much later in the cycle of stories (which means I need to tinker with that later story a little too).

Many things are left unsaid in relationships. Many answers are only revealed years, even decades later. I do a little of that in the stories, just as it happens in real life. (For example, I learned only last week that my father had rickets as a boy from malnutrition. Now I understand why he pushed some dietary supplements on us.) I wonder if my oblique references to a “fight” in the story will leave the reader unsatisfied — for the moment. I worry that an agent or editor will want it spelled out more clearly. But I guess that’s part of rewriting, too.


“where late the sweet birds sang” debuts, somewhat

Posted April 24, 2017 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Fathers and Sons, short stories

Tags: ,

My One-Match Fire story “where late the sweet birds sang” has now appeared in the real (virtual) world. It was accepted (last summer?) for the Selected Places anthology put out by Simone Press, a British publisher seeking stories where place is a dominating factor. My story takes place at the family cabin in the Missouri Ozarks (and in the protagonist’s mind), and I suspect (not having read the anthology yet) that I am the “exotic” component to the anthology, the rest likely being works set within the United Kingdom.

I’ve written about this here and here (when the story was still titled “The Death of Superman” and the anthology was still titled Pulled by Place).

The anthology is an ebook, available through Amazon. As a contributor, I will get a free copy to download to my Kindle, which rests forlornly on the shelf beside me. There is actually a window (late next month) when I will be able to download my free copy. And I shall.

But when I went to the site recently, I saw that there will also be a print edition. And surely I needed to have that to hold in my quaking hands! (The shelf of lit journals with my stories in them is slowly filling; I must add this physical document, n’est-ce pas?) So I began the process of ordering it through Amazon. The cost was displayed in British pounds, and I had no idea what the equivalent amount was in good old American dollars, but that wasn’t going to stop or slow me at all. I made my order and pressed the SEND button. When the confirmation email arrived, I learned that I has just spent $23 (and some change) on a paper copy of a document I will get free in virtual form.

But I don’t mind!

persistence in the face of withering rejection

Posted April 12, 2017 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Fathers and Sons, short stories

In three days I’ve received three rejections for stories I had sent out. All three were for chapters from One-Match Fire that I thought stood on their own well enuf to be considered discrete stories. The rejection emails were form letters, assuring me that such decisions are objective subjective and that my stories very likely will find worthy homes elsewhere. But one of the rejections did have a two-sentence, story-specific comment inserted. Basically it said that nothing happened by the end of the story.

The story was “Moving Day” and something very specific does happen in the story, in the context of the whole novel. And that was the problem. This story, I suspect, can’t really stand alone outside of the novel. It plays an important role in the novel, but only as a part of it.

So, lesson learned. Maybe. If I see a call with a theme that might align with “Moving Day” I’ll send it out again. I’m just that way.


I was going to title this post “nonetheless, he persevered” but I didn’t want to co-opt that cultural meme. It’s already doing far more worthy work.

two countries, separated by a common language

Posted April 10, 2017 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Rants and ruminations

Tags: , ,

I am currently reading the novel Still Missing by Beth Gutcheon. It’s about a woman whose boy has been abducted, and it’s mostly psychological rather than gritty and harrowing (but it is harrowing in its low-key way). The novel itself came out in 1981 but it was reissued by Persephone Books in 2010 in a gorgeous edition that will stay on my shelf long after I’ve finished the novel. (In fact, Little Boy Lost by Laski, that I mentioned here, is a reissue by Persephone Books. They obviously love the work they do.) Persephone Books is a UK establishment devoted to bringing back to life the works of neglected authors — mostly women — of the 20th Century.

So it is curious to read a story set in Boston in the late ’70s and come across the words “tyre” and “grey.” (Haven’t come across “colour” yet. UPDATE: I did come upon “colour” later in the book as well as “bum” where American English might have said “bottom” or “butt.”) I must have acquired a copy intended for the British market, but that’s all right.

My copy is also second hand. I found it through ABE Books, where I’ve spent literally hundreds of dollars over the years. It sat on a shelf at some used book store (I think on the campus of Yale University), evidently for years. Each time I open the book, I get the strong scent of mildew. Not really a pleasant smell, but an honest one.

the reality of the other

Posted April 6, 2017 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Rants and ruminations

Tags: ,

“Love is the extremely difficult realisation that something other than oneself is real.”

Iris Murdoch
“The Sublime and the Good”

I’ve long fixated on this quote from Iris Murdoch. It is, on the face of it, so very obvious. Of course other things exist outside of our life and influence! But it’s always seemed harder for me to realize this, to make it real in my head, to see with this vision.

Consider the man in the car next to you or the woman wandering the mall with a bag of things or the person sitting in the toll booth or any random individual you see in the background of a newscast. Each of these people has a life as valid as yours, as full as yours is with hopes and dreams and frustrations and kindness and cruelties. Each of these people is more than just a walk-on character in your life story, just as you are more than a walk-on character in their life stories. And there are billions of these people. Billions of realities as real as you.

At least, that’s how I interpret Murdoch’s famous quotation.

I recently finished reading Murdoch’s novel An Unofficial Rose (in my quest to read through her entire fiction canon a second time). In it there are two young characters: Penn, a boy of 15 who is visiting from Australia, and Miranda, a girl of 14 who is his cousin and budding love interest. (He thinks he loves her, not the other way around.) So of course he broods about her constantly. And among his broodings is this little passage:

But what one loves is, after all, another human being, a person with other interests, other pains, in whose world one is oneself an object among others.

I think that distills Murdoch’s precept into a realization in her young character (even if it is perhaps more deep and thoughtful than one could expect from a 15-year-old boy). Too bad he doesn’t follow through, but like many of us, he has a hard time seeing with that vision.

Penn is a foolish boy, and Miranda is a clever-beyond-her-years girl. He presses his suit, physically and futilely, and is rebuffed handily.

Read into this, if you wish, some parallels to The Tempest. Penn as Caliban and Miranda as, well, Miranda.

literary elitism

Posted April 5, 2017 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Rants and ruminations

I am not a grammar Nazi (or Alt-Write as some wag put it). Back when I was writing technical manuals and legal contracts, I adhered to the “rules” of grammar and the house style sheet. But as I transitioned into writing feature articles for magazines, I began to loosen my standards with the idea of aiding the communication of the message by means memorable rather than means strictly correct. (It’s one of the reasons I gave up teaching freshman comp at the local community college. I no longer “believed” in the authority of grammar. Also, I was a crap teacher.) Now that I write fiction, I give no care at all to the rules; if a collection of words works, it works. (That being said, grammar, or at least culturally standard methods of arranging words, can help avoid confusion — hence my advocacy of the Oxford comma. Still, the rules of grammar are, some say, the imposition of the culturally elite’s way of speaking on everyone. I’m so conflicted.)

Flowing ever so obviously from this is my tolerance/acceptance/respect for all genres of writing. I don’t try to write Westerns, for example, or bodice-ripping Romances, but I have no quarrel with those who do or with those who read those genres and enjoy them. Writing is still writing, and even the most formulaic story took effort and concentration and some amount of skill to write.

Which then leads ever so obviously to the Twilight novels by Stephanie Meyer. I have not read them, though millions of people have, and I have only seen one of the movies (which I can never un-see, I’m afraid). Yet this post (item #5) over at Interesting Literature seems to raise those novels out of their genre a notch. Who knew they had such a pedigree?

break in!

Posted April 4, 2017 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Roundrock

Our little cabin in the Ozarks was broken into!

By squirrels.

The last time we were down to Roundrock — more than two weekends ago — we arrived to find the door to the cabin wide open and a squirrel scrabbling at one of the windows to get out. I stepped away from the door and the frantic squirrel must have decided the time was right to exit there, and did so. Then I stepped into the cabin, half expecting other varmints to be inside, perhaps ready to leap onto my head and claw at my eyes.

There weren’t any, but there apparently had been many; they left their evidence behind. From what we could discern, the door to the cabin had been open for several days given the accumulation of “evidence” in many places. And more precisely, the cabin had been open for several nights because that’s when all of the birds in the forest would have been in there roosting.

I had a fifty-pound bag of black-oil sunflower seeds for the bird feeder sitting on a table inside the cabin. It is too big to fit in any of the metal containers I normally use for edibles we keep there, but in all of our years, we’ve never had critters get into the cabin. So I wasn’t worried about it sitting out. My plan was to use the sunflower seeds in the feeder until the bag was diminished enuf that it would fit in the old metal popcorn tin I had. Our furred and feathered invaders decided to help me with that ambition. We found the bag torn open and seed scattered all over the cabin, behind the furniture, on the window sills, and even cached in the pocket of a small backpack hanging from a nail. (Fortunately, the varmints didn’t molest the beds/sheets/mattresses/pillows!) The bag of seed now fits in the tin, by the way.

So, much of the furniture and fixtures got moved out of the cabin and the broom was brought into service, poking into corners it hadn’t visited in a long, long time. Wet rags were then employed to remove other manifestations of our visitors. And we consoled ourselves with the observation that it could have been a lot worse (had raccoons or coyotes moved in, for example).

The odd thing about it was that the door was locked. The lock is in the handle, and although the door was hanging open, the handle was firm; its lock was applied and the handle wouldn’t turn.

My guess is that when we last left, I had locked the door and pulled it shut behind me but the bolt didn’t seat itself in the frame. There were windstorms in the area in the preceding week, and it seems possible that the door could have been blown open since it wasn’t actually latched (I’m further guessing).

Once we got all of that work behind us, we proceed with our intended agenda for the weekend, which included cutting more wood with the chainsaw and then splitting that wood with the sledge and wedge. A campfire ensued, and some beer was consumed. Much needed rain came the next morning, and a text from my son had found its way to us (despite the spotty cell reception on our side of the ridge) asking for our help with his effort to complete his master’s degree (our help being watching the baby while he went to the library), so we cut our weekend short and headed for home. And, of course, as I left, I tripled checked the door to ensure that it was closed, locked, and latched.