“Hush Arbor” is in fron//tera

Posted July 27, 2021 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Fathers and Sons, short stories

Tags: , ,

The copy of fron//tera containing my story “Hush Arbor” arrived yesterday. It’s a lovely edition containing stories and poems in both English and Spanish as well as color photos, artwork, and even graphic stories. One of the stories (not by me) is even set not very far from my home in the the Kansas City suburbs.

“Hush Arbor” is a story with two characters from my One-Match Fire universe. It may even have a supernatural element. I’m sorry there’s no online edition I can link you to.

the NYC grands at Roundrock

Posted July 26, 2021 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Roundrock

Tags: , , ,

The NYC grands have been here for the entire month of July, but their social calendars are so busy that we had to find a time in their schedule to go to my cabin. This ended being last Wednesday, so I took off of work and we traveled down there with the promise of a fire, S’mores, and maybe chopping down a tree.

My daughter took the photo above, which is a panoramic of the lake, so it’s a bit distorted and looks larger than it is. (Click to embiggen.) In the foreground on the left you see some of the branches of a fallen tree. This was one of the few trees right up at the lake’s edge that the builder had left (actually a cluster of three trees) when he pushed everything else down to make the basin. It was a nice tree, but it was slowly dying, and I feared that it would fall into the lake, which would make it a lot harder to deal with. But it turns out I didn’t have to deal with that outcome because another builder brought it down on the land instead.

Here is some other, nearby handiwork* of that builder;

The beavers have moved their operations to the cabin side of the lake now. Not sure why since there are plenty of waterside trees near their den. (See the embiggened panoramic above.) And the mostly gnawed-through tree you see here will likely fall into the lake, which won’t be a problem for the beavers, but will make swimming and fishing there more challenging. (I’ve read some recommendations that you don’t really want to swim in a lake beavers use.)

So that was this trip’s surprise, but the grands loved it and the fact that wild animals did the work. We visited and talked about it a couple of times that day. The oldest one, Kenneth, who is six and a half, had been to the cabin once before, but that was more than three years ago. He claimed to still have some memories. The twins, Rett and Evie, had not been before but had been regaled by Kenneth, so they were excited by everything.

The first task of the day, once we unpacked and completed our inspection of the beaver doings, was to build a fire. The grands helped, though Evie didn’t understand why I was tearing pages out of a notebook and crumbling them. Until she did, and then she did so as well. I topped the crumbled pages with an egg carton (thank you for this suggestion, Ellen!) and then began adding sticks on top of that. When I had sufficient kindling in place, it was time to bring out the one match. Kenneth wanted to be the one to light the fire, and he did successfully strike the match, but holding it to the paper was a bit beyond him since he was afraid of getting burned. So I did that part, but he get’s the credit for lighting the day’s one-match fire.

As the fire burned to cooking coals, I got the grands busy with scattering marbles in the gravel around the cabin. I’d been hoarding marbles for a long time in anticipation of this, and when I poured them out with instructions, the grands got to it.

Here you see Evie selecting all of the blue marbles, which I told them I wanted scattered on the west side of the cabin. There is also a gravel bed in front of the cabin that is for only red, yellow, black, and white marbles. These are the colors of the Kenyan flag, and Small Paul, who is half Kenyan, gave me those marbles as a gift. Once the visiting grands understood this, they supplemented that bed with the proper colored marbles too. It was fun and exciting work for them. (Good thing, too, since I expected the gravel pile to really interest them, as it does Emmett, but they took no notice of it.)

When the fire had burned sufficiently, we got started on cooking our burgers and later S’mores. An innovation my daughter introduced was to use Double-Stuffed Oreos in place of Graham crackers for the S’Mores. That’s much too sweet for me, but the reports I received gave them an official thumbs up.

Then it was time to cut down the tree, as I pretty much promised Kenneth we would do. There was one in the place where I park that I wanted to take down and so double the parking area. It was less that a foot in diameter and should have been easy work except for two things. One is that it was leaning toward the cabin, with enuf heavy branches on the cabin side to make it want to fall that direction naturally, regardless of how I cut it. The second problem was that it was a Black Jack oak, which pretty much dulls a sharpened chain maliciously.

Part of the solution was to tie a rope to the tree as high as I could reach and then take that around another nearby tree. Thus my helpers (son-in-law, mostly, though the grands wanted to participate) could pull the rope from around the “corner” of the second tree and help direct its fall while being out of its way.

The other part of the solution was a careful cutting of the wedge and the back cut to help direct the fall. Unfortunately, the tree wasn’t interested in cooperating. I think I should probably have started with a new chain, freshly sharpened, but I didn’t have one. I managed to make my cuts, but the back cut was on the cabin side, and when that was done, the tree began leaning toward the cabin. The back cut wasn’t far enuf through the meet the wedge cut, but the leaning was a problem, even with the gang pulling on the rope. The solution was to put a wedge in the back cut. And I happened to have a nice steel wedge in the cabin that I use for splitting wood. We worked that into the back cut and then took turns slamming it with the sledge hammer to persuade the tree not to fall on the cabin. With a little more very careful cutting with the dull chainsaw and some serious effort with rope pulling, the tree began to fall in the proper direction. And immediately got caught in the branches of another tree. So it was off the stump but still standing (more or less). This was, of course, a dangerous situation, especially with three grands (and three dogs) underfoot. But the whole tree cutting operation was out of order, so why not?

I grabbed the rope and moved into the road so I could pull it more directly in the direction we needed. My SIL pushed on the trunk, and together we managed to drag the base a few feet across the gravel while the top of the tree remained in the embrace of its kindred. But we kept at it, and when we got a rocking motion going, we could see progress.

The tree eventually fell on the gravel pile with a mighty crash, which was about ten feet from its intended destination, but that was still well away from the cabin. Then we gave the grands each a handsaw and they got to work removing branches, that we carried into the woods. The trunk of the tree lay across the parking area (we had moved our cars up the road before this), but the chainsaw had decided it had had enuf. We could start it but couldn’t keep it running. So my SIL and I grabbed the end of the shorn tree and carried it to the side of the parking area as it pivoted on its base.

Then it was time to go home. We packed up, which took more time than normally since so many things were brought out to entertain the grands. We made sure to splash through the stream we have to cross to get to the main road (Kenneth loved this), and by the time we got to the paved road (only two miles from the cabin), the twins were already asleep from their big day. Kenneth followed soon after.

I’m having all five (!) of the chains I have sharpened, and the next time I visit my woods, I’ll cut up the remains of that fallen tree beside the parking area. (Unless the beavers do it for me?)

Here is a recent picture of Small Paul, just because:

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*I’m not sure what the equivalent for “handiwork” would be for tooth work.

bits and pieces

Posted July 23, 2021 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic

The photo above is from 2005 and shows the failure of my earliest attempt to plant selected trees at Roundrock. As I recall, I had been given two maple tree seedlings as a gift. They were scions of some famous maple tree in history, and they came with translucent tubes that would protect them and serve as mini greenhouses. You see what the local fauna thought of that idea.

Through the years I have planted hundreds of trees and fruiting shrubs in my woods and fields, but only the shortleaf pines have been a success. I attribute that to the steel posts and steel fencing I put around them to protect them and serve as mini greenhouses. (And even that is often not enuf.)

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Update on the feature in Word that suggests wording changes: this AI does suggest using the Oxford comma, so it’s not all bad.

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Our mild effort at downsizing continues. My daughter and SIL and three grands are in town from NYC, and she has been rummaging through the boxes in the basement, finding treasures she wants to keep and things she can cast off. Several large trash bags have made it to the bin, and several more large boxes have been packed and taken to the shipping office to be sent to NYC. When they drive home later this month, a bench will be strapped to the roof of their car that had served my family when I was a boy. I’m not sure why she prized that old thing, but I guess I’m glad it is finding a new home.

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On Wednesday I was stung by a wasp on my right ear. Today my ear is swollen and is noticeably larger than its companion on the other side of my head. It’s also still a little sore.

I can recall being stung by wasps four other times and each time it has been on my right ear.

alternate Pi Day?

Posted July 22, 2021 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic

Tags:

Traditionally, Pi Day is observed on the 14th day of the third month, 3/14, because the mathematical value of pi is 3.14. Back in my running life, I would run 3.14 miles (basically a 5K) on Pi Day. Increasingly, Pi Day observations involve eating pie, which is sort of wrong and sort of right.

Another way to think of the mathematical value of pi is to set it as a fraction, which is 22/7. Thus the 22nd day of the seventh month could also be observed as PI Day, don’t you think? (And eating pie could also be involved.)

throwback Thursday ~ my journal journey

Posted July 15, 2021 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic

Tags:

I continue to pick my way through my old journals. I’m up to #11 now, written in a notebook from Rockhurst College (now University) here in Kansas City in the last months of 1989. Beginning with journal #8 I had started using notebooks from colleges when my brother gave me one from Clemson, where he was attending at the time. Somehow I got one from the University of Nebraska at Omaha during this time as well. Not sure how that came into my possession.

I’m not finding much in the way of profound entries. In fact, I’m not finding anything profound. The journalling evolved in this passage from exclusively about story ideas to some musings about the state of my life or the world and then into notes I was taking for the feature articles I had begun getting published. For me anyway, there aren’t any rules about what should or shouldn’t go in my journals, so they’ve grown eclectic over the years.

I was also in grad school at this time, so some of my entries relate to that, and on the back pages the list of books I’d read reflects what I had been assigned in class. This is also the stretch where I began adding stickers to the inside of the front and back covers. Just tentatively though, with a few random stickers here and there. Today the inside covers are covered, and I collect so many stickers now that I put them on the walls of my cabin too.

I went on for pages and pages with notes about novels I would write some day, and for the most part I’m glad I didn’t. I think I was still searching for my subject and even my style. Would I write Thrillers? Mysteries? Science Fiction? Literature? Young Adult fiction? I was all over the board, and while I still don’t have a good grasp on my subject, I know what styles/genres I won’t be writing.

Oddly, I remembered having written extensively about a certain person I had worked with back in my St. Louis life, and these are the journals where those entries appeared. But it turns out I’d written far less about the matter than I thought. I also made far fewer entries than I would have expected about my move from St. Louis to Kansas City.

bits and pieces

Posted July 13, 2021 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic

The latest version of Word that has been pushed down to my laptop includes a feature that tags phrasing in documents to offer suggestions for improving it. This is more than just catching spelling errors or possible wrong word choices. This new feature suggests rephrasing of the highlighted text. So far, in all cases, the suggested phrasing is shorter and simpler. While this might be useful if I were writing a high school term paper or news article, it’s pretty much anathema to the playful narrative voice I tend to use in my stories and especially in Obelus.

For example, here is a sentence from Obelus that was cited: And he thought he could use some of that alive feeling at the moment, and not just because of the hangover. Word suggests that I change “at the moment” to “now” to be more concise, saying it would be clearer for the reader. The sentence is out of context, so it’s a bit unfair to use it as an example, but in context the character is pondering each moment in his so-called life, and I think my wording is exactly right to carry that point. Plus, my playful narrative voice. So far it hasn’t flagged any of my hundred-word sentences to make them more concise, but I’m sure that will be in a future upgrade. I guess my point is that this latest enhancement seems to be directed toward dumbing down the writing to make it more accessible to the lowest common denominator.

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The ponytail is now gone. It was never flattering; I don’t have silky hair that looks good on a person my age. I’m proud that I held out as long as I did since it meant staying out of a typically crowded and chatty place. Plus when I did finally get it cut, I went into the shop just as it opened, so there was only one other person present.

My hand still strays to the back of my head to touch the ponytail that’s no longer there. I think the experience of growing out my hair won’t be repeated (unless we face a new quarantine).

Anyway, civilized again.

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So I’m listening to podcasts, and some of them are very old (from more than ten years ago). In one I heard the participants discuss whether having work appear in a new-fangled online magazine was actually being published or not. Was it more legit to appear in a print journal instead? And the (tentative) conclusion at the time was that maybe it was good to appear online since so many more people would have the chance to read the work.

In more current podcasts (during and post-pandemic) the conversation sometimes turns to whether we should return to in-person readings at bookstores and similar venues. And the (tentative) conclusion is that doing a Zoom reading means appearing before so many more people than could have shown up at a bookstore reading.

Sunday Sentence

Posted July 4, 2021 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic

This is part of the SundaySentence project established by David Abrams to share the best sentence I had read in the last week, without context or commentary.

It is a road I have walked hundreds of times, a lovely lost tunnel through the trees, busy this morning with birds and little shy rustling things, my favorite road anywhere.

Source: Wallace Stegner, Crossing to Safety

Friday Feature ~ “Velvet Elvis”

Posted July 2, 2021 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Friday Feature

Tags: ,

“Velvet Elvis” was a watershed story for me. In some ways I feel like this was the story that signaled I had finally become a writer. This must be so because I’ve written posts about this particular story four times on this humble blog. This one gives the genesis story, and it was fun for me to go back to read how it had evolved in my head. Here is where I announce its original acceptance; I had forgotten that the acceptance email had been shunted to my spam bucket. (It still amazes me that I read some writing advice once that said you should never use a semicolon!) This post is a brief announcement that the story won an award. And this post was a self-congratulatory one, which just shows you how happy this story made me at the time. (Since self doubt seems to be written into every writer’s resume, I think I’m entitled to this little bit of satisfaction.)

I think what was most important for me with this story was that I had discovered my preferred writing style. It’s something that first appeared in “Moron Saturday” and continues to this day in Obelus and Latest Big Project. What I had achieved, and sustained, was a snarky, comic voice in the narrator. It is playful and fun. It feels engaging and congenial, yet it allows me to hide some commentary and judgment within it. It also feels the most natural to me when I sit down to write. It’s easy for me to call up and put to work. (I don’t know why I try to write any other way.)

If you go to those links about the other posts, you’ll see that this story had a busy life. I’m glad it’s still online, though the editor told me it will eventually drop off since the journal is no longer being published.

A completely unexpected outcome of this story was that I made two new writing friends because of it. The editor, Nathaniel Tower, was very forthcoming and supportive in his comments about the story, and I’ve maintained an email correspondence with him to this day. And out of the blue, one of the other writers published in that edition, Wesley Scott McMasters, friended me on Facebook, perhaps because he liked my story, and we now have a postcard correspondence going. The postcards are supposed to be of museums we visit, but the pandemic quashed that a bit. I’m hoping we can revive it, though I’m still a little hesitant about getting out in public.

So I like revisiting this story. It re-energizes me when the unavoidable frustrations of trying to be a creative person in a crass world come. Plus I think it’s a pretty good tale worth telling.

throwback Thursday ~ my journal journey

Posted July 1, 2021 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic

I continue to dip into my old journals when the mood strikes. So far I haven’t discovered anything profound (in the scribbled musings of a twenty-something) but I am recalling a lot of lost memories and puzzling over why certain story ideas seemed so compelling to me back then. (I seemed to have had a speculative fiction bent at the time.)

I’m through Journal #5 now, which carries me into the early days of 1986. Somewhere in Journal #4 I had transitioned to writing exclusively with a mechanical pencil, which I’ve always preferred. Just the feel of my hand pushing a mechanical pencil across a page seems therapeutic to me. I’d also become consistent about dating my entries. And I’ve found a few notes I made about the notes I made, so I must have gone back sometime to re-read what I had written. I am now penciling in current dated notes as well, reflecting on what I’m reading from my murky past. Not surprisingly, many of the sentiments I wrote about those long years ago are still pertinent to me now. Others I’m glad to leave behind.

An interesting development in Journal #5 is that I had begun recording things other than story ideas. Specifically, I made a number of entries about some of the people I was working with and how petty they were. Granted, I was a callow youth at the time, but some of my coworker’s/superior’s behaviors still strike me as unprofessional and embarrassing. I guess I was learning more about the ugliness of life.

And Journal #5 is when I began listing in the back pages the books I had read. (I’ve said several times that someone will eventually take this comprehensive list of these books and say, “This explains everything, Your Honor!”) I continue to record my read books today.

The final entry in Journal #5 was about a new class I would be taking at night school. (I had completed my undergraduate degree a few years before and had begun taking evening classes to indulge this crazy notion I had of being a writer.) This particular class was about Feature Writing, and I was amazed that the instructor actually intended us to write one or two articles that we would get published! Heady stuff! (And it worked. This was a very important class in my life.) One of the class requirements was to keep a journal that we would turn in periodically for his review. Well, I was a veteran journal keeper by then, and I would be starting a new one — Journal #6 — coincident to beginning the class.

nothing special

Posted June 28, 2021 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Roundrock

Tags:

Just a couple of round rocks on the retaining wall behind my cabin. When my daughter-in-law first visited here, she saw the random piles of round rocks I had collected and placed some of them atop the retaining wall. Now, of course, they must stay there. Except I generally find at least one that has fallen off the wall. I’m not sure how that can happen. Surely the wind isn’t strong enuf to do that. Critters, maybe? But why?

The New York grands will be here for the entire month of July and I expect we’ll be making a trip to the cabin to burn some burgers and make s’Mores (S’mores?), so there will likely be a lot of rock rearranging and marble scattering then.