Posted January 18, 2018 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic

Tags: ,

True story: On a day not unlike recent days (when darting into daunting double digits is doubtful), though nearly four decades ago, I was a callow undergrad at a sprawling commuter college* in the city where I lived. After the day’s classes, I went out to my Volkswagen Beetle and found the door locks frozen. So I called Campus Security since they prowled the parking garages to help the hapless. They told me that there was nothing they could do, but that they recommended people keep a can of de-icer in their cars for just such incidents. So think about that. You can’t get into your car, but you should keep the remedy for that within your car. (I eventually went to the cafeteria, got a large bucket of hot water, and poured it on my door handle. That worked. Of course adding water to a lock that had already frozen once was a fool’s solution, but it was an old Beetle, so I just left it unlocked for the rest of the winter.)


When I read Don Quixote many years ago, I kept a record of the number of pages I had completed as a weekly footnote in my old blog, Roundrock Journal. The paperback copy I had (which I intended to read on the 24 hours of my traveling to Nairobi and back) was 700+ pages. For whatever reason, I didn’t get much reading done on the plane, and it subsequently took me several months to finish the novel. I’m beginning to think I should do the same with The Hatawaki. I’ve been at it for more than a week, and I’m only a third of the way through it.


Here is a picture of a round rock at my cabin:


I realize that I am probably missing some opportunities by not submitting my stories to magazines that charge a fee, even a nominal fee, but the ratio of acceptance to rejection in the submissions I have made elsewhere doesn’t give me the confidence to risk the money.


One unpleasant discovery when I was prowling through the history of this blog, as I reported last week, was finding that someone had linked to one of my posts and said dismissive things about it. I had asserted in my post that the old dictum that the only dialog tag should be some variation of “said” was arbitrary and often a wasted opportunity to use a stronger verb. The other blogger said that my post was “typical” of a naive line of thinking about writing, common to beginners. This other blogger has several novels published and happens to be a descendant of a very prominent British writer and thinker, but I still stand by my assertion about dialog tags! (In fact, one character just “chirped” in The Hakawati!)


And here is a picture of my dog, Flike:


I dream in color. What about you?



*And where my daughter-in-law is now a student!


sonder, out yonder

Posted January 17, 2018 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Rants and ruminations, Roundrock

Tags: , , ,

I once found a stubbed-out cigarette on one of the blocks of the retaining wall behind my cabin.

My first reaction was alarm. The back of the cabin is where dried out fallen leaves collect against the wooden wall. Cigarettes require a flame and themselves burn. But it seemed that the smoker was fastidious about his habit (I assume it was a “he” though I have no reason to think that) and snuffed it safely, though packing out his trash was apparently beyond the range of his perceived responsibilities.

But after my initial alarm, I began to imagine my interloper and his visit. Had he arrived by car or had he walked the considerable distance from anywhere to reach my end-of-the-road little cabin? Did he come down my road or hike cross country? Did he walk around the cabin and appreciate the setting? Or did he sit on the retaining wall as he enjoyed his cigarette? If so, why at the back of the cabin and not on the porch where he could look down on the glinting lake? Though perhaps he started there and merely sauntered. Did he try the door to see if it was open? Peer in the windows? Did he sit in one of the chairs? On the porch or around the fire ring? Did he heft the round rocks all around? Did he come with intent, to see the cabin in its place? Had he heard of it? Or was he just wandering the woods that day and come upon it? How long did he stay? And what did he think while he was there? Did he imagine for the time that the place was his own? Imagine throwing a line in the water? Throwing a steak on the grill? Telling stories around a fire? Or did he scoff at its humble setting? What was his name? Was he tired when he arrived and rested when he left? Was he alone? Did he meet someone there? Has he ever been back? Does this happen often?

I sometimes find the spoor of interlopers in my woods: beer cans, candy wrappers, footprints, emptied shotgun shells. Once, a horse shoe.

I have no illusions about the concept of private property, especially in isolated places infrequently visited. I also think it’s presumptuous in a way to think of “owning” a piece of land, at least on the time scale of land. I sometimes think of myself as more of a tenant of the 80 acres than an owner. A caretaker, maybe. A steward. Transitory. I can point to my influences, the changes I’ve made, both successful and not, and speak of the emotional connection I have to the place. But in a century, my connection won’t really be known to the next tenant in the woods. It seems unlikely that anyone will ponder who I was in my time and tenancy.

Maybe that’s why I write stories. To live beyond myself.

embrace the hopelessness

Posted January 16, 2018 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Rants and ruminations

Tags: ,

“Belief is the enemy of a storyteller.”

Ismael al-Kharrat
from The Hatawaki
by Rabih Alameddine

I am reading The Hakawati, by Rabih Alameddine*, right now. It is a 500+ page novel of stories — because a hakawati is a story teller in many Middle Eastern cultures — with a unifying narrative thread running through them. I’ve read two of his other novels (An Unnecessary Woman, which is his most conventional, and The Angel of History, which is his most current). I can recommend both.

I’m only one-fifth of the way through this novel and I’m already filled with despair. I think I could write for a hundred years and still not match one-fifth of Alameddine’s range of vision (or characterizations, or vocabulary). With every paragraph I read I ask myself why I even bother to write my little stories. (To be fair, I usually think this way about every writer I read.)

In the Acknowledgements section Alameddine has this to say:

“By nature, a story teller is a plagiarist. Everything one comes across — each incident, book, novel, life episode, story, person, news clip — is a coffee bean that will be crushed, ground up, mixed with a touch of cardamom, sometimes a tiny pinch of salt, boiled thrice with sugar, and served as a piping-hot tale.”

Despite all of my perceived shortcomings, I’m glad I live in a world with books like this.


*This name is a variation of the name Aladdin, whose tale was not originally part of the One Thousand and One Nights stories but was added by a later translator. Also, I love how Borges translates that title as A Thousand Nights and a Night.


ruff opinions

Posted January 15, 2018 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic


My dog has many strong opinions but only one word in his vocabulary.

a necessary corollary

Posted January 13, 2018 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Humble efforts, Process

A necessary corollary to the ambitious sentiments in my earlier post is that now on my weekend mornings, I must actually do the heavy lifting of creative writing. I can no longer “research” during this time but must leave that for the weekdays and reserve this time for entering the semi-mystical mental space of my creative genius.

momentum, maybe?

Posted January 12, 2018 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Finnegans


With the apparent (though only one time so far) success of my ambition to devote one night a week to the more mundane aspects of writing, I’ve begun to wonder if I ought to dedicate another evening of the week to another aspect of my writing.

Long-time readers will recall that I have written a few cozy-mystery novels with a husband and wife team called the Finnegans. Indeed, those novels were why I had originally begun this humble blog. I have four novels written for the duo. One is an apprenticeship mess, one was lost during a hard drive crash (though I think I have enuf pieces of it in emails to put it back together), one is pretty good but needs some structural work, and one is what I consider finished and that I had even begun shopping around years ago. But then my more fraught and literary One-Match Fire stories began asserting themselves in the limited space of my creative brain, and the poor Finnegans (who are not young people by the way) were shoved to the curb.

But the thing about the Finnegans novels is that they are not intended to be literary works. They are genre works, and though I think I bring a new look to the genre with them, they aren’t “deep” reads. They do what they set out to do but they don’t ask too much of the reader.

Which brings me back to my point. I believe I can write these novels in the evenings of the week, when the household is noisy and my soul is mostly crushed by the real world and so on. I don’t have to enter the same creative place in my mind that my loftier writing requires.

And so, I’ve thought, why not dedicate another night of my week to the Finnegans? I could polish the two novels that I think are ready, and I could retrieve the novel that was lost. Plus I have thousands of words of notes for a new novel that I could begin writing. This seems workable.

“Fire Sermon” finds a home

Posted January 11, 2018 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Fathers and Sons, Humble efforts

My short story “Fire Sermon” has been accepted for publication in The Magnolia Review. (This is the story I’d said in a recent post that I had considered submitting to this very magazine and then found that I already had!) I had answered a call for submissions on the theme of “fire,” which is significant in the story (as you can probably guess from the title), but it was also a publication that wanted all author-identifying information stripped from the submission. That was how I discovered that I’d already submitted there; I happened to have a sanitized version of the story on my desktop and began to wonder why. So I checked my submission log and made the discovery. (I am always nervous when I have to submit something with the identifying information removed. I fear that the link will be lost and my work won’t get published as a result. One of my very early published stories went something like this. The editor had lost the story document itself and wrote me asking that I send it again. He said he was lucky that he was still able to find my original email!)

I’ve written about this story several times in the last year. It has two characters (and one cabin) in it that do appear in the One-Match Fire novel, but the story isn’t part of that collection. Actually, as I’ve also said, I am beginning work on another collection of these stories that would be called Nature Always Wins.

I understand that The Magnolia Review comes out twice a year, online. I’m not sure when the issue with my story appears , but I have to get some documentation back to the editor before the end of this month. I’m unclear whether the edition will be accessible to everyone online or if you must have a subscription. (Past issues are accessible.) I’ll be sure to post the link when the issue comes up if it’s available.

Pretty good start for the new year.