bear wants to fight you

Posted April 9, 2018 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic

I drove to the Missouri state capital and then walked into the Missouri state capitol over the weekend. There was a ceremony being held there for awarding professional engineering certificates to young men and women who had earned them, and since one of those engineers happened to be my eldest son, it seemed right to attend.

Bears appear in various insignia of the state of Missouri and though wild black bears were more common in the state a century ago (and were believed to have been extirpated since), they have been making incursions from our neighboring state to the south, and it’s now thought that in some wilder parts of the Ozarks, we might have a sustaining black bear population. (In fact, I had thought that I saw signs of a bear in my woods on the edge of the Ozarks and even sent photos of the “evidence” to the local conservation agent. Sadly, he told me it was more likely the sign of a deer with curious feeding habits. Still, local, unconfirmed sightings of bears abound. There have even been two reports of seeing Bigfoot in my county!)

There was certainly no shortage of bears in the capitol, including this finial (?) at the bottom of a stair railing. This fellow stands about ten inches tall. Because of the staging of the ceremony, I had to take the picture with this angle so I didn’t have a lot of stagecraft clutter in the background. From this vantage, he (?) looks as though he is spoiling for a fight, though the original angle I’d intended made him look as though he wanted to dance with you.

Having arrived early for the ceremony (there was snow in the forecast, so I allowed extra drive time that I didn’t need), I made my way to the library there. I’m happy to report that on their shelves they had three of Rabih Alameddine’s novels and six of Iris Murdoch’s.

 

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bits and pieces

Posted April 4, 2018 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic

I don’t have any significant developments, profound revelations, or great progress to report, so I’m falling back on the reliable core dump of my brain for a post. You’re welcome or I apologize, whichever you consider apt.

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I had a brush with opportunity and terror over the weekend. While my wife and I were at dinner on Saturday, I received an email from an editor who had recently accepted a story of mine. He said that the society that publishes his journal was having its annual conference in the college town not too far from my home and that I could apply for a slot on their agenda to read one of my stories.

As you might imagine, I was a bit distracted at dinner and was eager to get home to look into the matter. I wrote to the conference organizer as the editor had suggested, making my case to give a reading. (Nota bene: I have never done a reading before.) Within the hour I received a response from the organizer saying that she would present my request to the committee, and the wording of her email suggested that was a mere formality, that it would be approved. She also answered several of my questions. No, I would not have to wear a tie. Yes, I would have to join the society and pay the annual dues ($???). Yes, I would have to pay the full registration for the conference ($150).

A quick cost/benefit/terror analysis showed I could not possibly justify the expense with the payoff. So I wrote to the organizer again and withdrew my request. She wrote back saying it was a shame and that if I were a student (I’m not), I could petition for housing costs at the conference. (Literally a half hour from my own bed and pillow.)

All of this transpired over only a few hours Saturday evening, so I didn’t have the chance to get too emotionally invested in it. Good thing.

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My work on Finnegans Fogbound is progressing. I’m producing about one chapter a week, and I’d say I’m a third of the way through the first draft. Its closest genre is a cozy mystery, and I began a half-hearted search for publishers of these to buoy my enthusiasm. Almost immediately, I found one that really looked like a good fit. They didn’t want one-off novels but series, and I have plenty of Finnegan novel ideas in the works (and even drafted). But being a publishing neophyte, I wasn’t too clear on their division of proceeds. The website said that the publisher would retain all income earned by the physically printed copies and the author would get the income from “all other sources.”

This sounded sketchy, so I dug around a little and found a Redditt site that discussed this very publisher. The comments were unanimous that this was, indeed, sketchy and that a) writers are entitled to a share of all proceeds, and b) a writer would do better to self publish than enter this kind of arrangement. I then wrote to the Writer Beware section of the Science Fiction Writers of America site to present the scenario. (Have you visited that site? Lotsa good stuff for us neophytes.) I got a quick response (I really wasn’t expecting any response at all) saying the arrangement was “not kosher” and that I should pretty much run from it.

And I have.

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I’m reading Stray City by Chelsey Johnson right now. I saw it recommended on one of the literary websites I haunt (Electric Literature, Literary Hub, The Millions, Pete Lit, not sure which) and while I tend not to like the books I take up from these places (they’re too hip, maybe?), the plot sounded interesting, and my local indie bookstore had it on the shelf, so I bought it.

I’m learning a great deal about the lesbian subculture of Portland, Oregon in the late ’90s, but it took me about a hundred pages to engage with the novel. Having spent some time in Portland in recent years, I’ve enjoyed the location references she presents, but I’m also noticing that I can “see” her writing. I can see the devices and the pacing that she’s using to advance the story. She’s also almost too descriptive much of the time. All of that is supposed to disappear, or rather, not be noticed consciously.

I’m more than half way through now, and I’m not sure where the story is going, which I guess is a good thing.

meanwhile, at Roundrock

Posted March 28, 2018 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Roundrock

Tags: ,

It hasn’t been all writing fun and games for me. I have also been visiting my Ozark acres and little cabin in the woods. I was there two weekends ago for an overnight that involved having a large fire to burn more junk as well as to do battle with the blackberries and chores around the cabin.

I’ve told my wife that when we retire, I no longer want to have a yard to care for or gutters to clean or all of that suburban nonsense that we endured in order to have a nice place to raise our children. (And now that we have two dogs, we’re pretty much still raising children.) I can see myself in some two-bedroom urban condo, a floor or two above the street, maybe with a nice view of the downtown and no lawn to mow or neighbors to “keep up with.” (I’ve never been a joiner or one to want to fit in especially, but I also recognize that if you live in a community — even vanilla suburbia — you live with a community and there are certain minimum appearances — like a mostly green lawn — that must be maintained for the good of civilization.)

And all of that is a way to say that though I may yet realize this ambition, having 80 acres of Ozark forest with a small cabin and a lake that leaks is pretty much taking my suburban woes and multiplying them. My yard is 80 acres! And each visit to Roundrock* means chores and chores and chores to be done!

On this most recent visit my main chore (after doing battle with the blackberries among my pine trees) was to set up a new place to stack the firewood I cut. Several “problems” aligned in this latest project, and it was mostly the delivery of the load of gravel (recounted here) plus overcoming inertia that allowed me to address them.

I’ve been maintaining and expanding the graveled area around my cabin not merely to have a tick-and-chigger-free space there to move around in but also to keep a buffer between the wooden cabin and any ground fire that may sweep through the forest. (Ground fires are not uncommon in the Ozarks, though there has been only one during my tenure and it didn’t get close to the cabin, and they’re mostly considered benign as long as they stay on the ground and don’t get into the tree tops.) By having an area that is not combustible, I feel that I am performing my due diligence (so that the insurance man won’t reject my claim should I need to rebuild the cabin).

A fact of life about any forest is that leaves will fall from the trees. And then they accumulate, often just where you don’t want them. (One of those places is the north side of my cabin, and raking leaves from there is a year-round chore for me.) The past structure I had for my firewood was too low to the ground. It allowed leaves to pile up against it. Not only was this a potential fire hazard, but it provided haven for all sorts of vermin I might not want too close to the cabin, and it allowed any rain that fell on the firewood to keep the wood damp since the leaves prevented normal evaporation. (Same three points regarding the leaves against the cabin.) So my hope was to create a new place to stack the firewood that would be raised sufficiently to allow the wood to stay mostly dry and to allow any blowing leaves to pass under on their way elsewhere.

Another chore of mine through the years has been to build a retaining wall in front of my cabin. I did this originally because I worried that the cabin was perched on a hill too steep for the good of the concrete floor/foundation. So I got several pallets of cottage blocks over the years and built my wall to shore up the cabin. (I backfilled the wall with very good soil so that I could have a garden of red flowers in front of the cabin to attract hummingbirds. Nature had other plans!) But this wall has continued to the east, toward the area where the fire ring and its attending wood pile is. Part of this extension was not only to satisfy my human need to impose order on chaos but also to ensure that not all of the gravel I (and others) laid down would wash down the hill.

This wall extension needed to be higher than the current level of the gravel since I intended to lay more until it and the gravel bed were level, thus allowing blowing leaves to keep moving and not collect. And then I got the gravel delivery two days before Christmas last year, and my excellent son-in-law shifted about a third of the delivery to its new location against the wall, but the woodpile area remained untouched.

And so this story finally comes round to my visit two weekends ago. I had my wall of cottage blocks. I had my pile of gravel. I had weather that was just slightly chilly, which is ideal for running and manual labor. I had a full day before me. And I had that rarest of things in my life: actual motivation!

The first task was to move the too-low-to-the-ground current wood pile and disassemble the existing “rack” I had built for it. Much of the wood, it turned out, literally crumbled in my (gloved) hands because it was so rotten (from being constantly moist). The former rack consisted of several bricks with an old hickory wheel barrow handle and a thick cedar plank stretched across them. Once I had those out of the way I could begin my real work.

First I raked the area clean of the collected bits of bark and forest debris and whatever might be living in it. This all went over the side of the wall (being only two blocks high). Then I began moving fresh gravel into place. I estimate that I shifted twenty wheel barrow loads of gravel into an area maybe fifteen feet long. It’s not hard work while you’re doing it, but you remember doing it the next day. Then I needed to level the twenty piles of gravel, grading them to the top of the wall. Easy enuf work as well. So the prep work was done.

Many years ago, a friend was making an addition to his house and had many paving blocks and bricks he wanted to get rid of. He offered them to me and I hurried to his house with my eldest boy to stack them all in the bed of my truck. I don’t know how long I drove around town with that weight in my truck before I got to visit my woods, but as I remember, it was a couple of weeks. When I did get down there, I unloaded the blocks and bricks and stacked them beside a tree where they would be handy when I finally found a use for them. They turned out to be a fine place for two forest creatures to call home: black widow spiders and scorpions. (Yes, I saw the scorpions with my own eyes. Black things with yellow chevrons. I’ve never found their match in any critter guidebooks.)

Eventually the blocks became my original fire ring. They served there well for many years until I got my latest load of cottage blocks and built a new fire ring. So the old paver blocks were stacked neatly near the new wall, waiting their next role in life. It happened that I had eighteen of them. I thought that if I stacked them three high and stretched steel bars across them, they would be high enuf to allow blowing leaves to pass through and strong enuf to hold firewood. The trouble was finding steel bars that were long enuf to do the job. (The steel fence posts I have all over the place are only about six feet tall.)

When we had bought the land (how long ago? I would have to look it up to know), the realtor said that our particular 80 acres had been leased to the Have to Hunt Club. (There was even some signage left of their tenure.) In addition to the lake that we added, there is a small pond on the property, and this is a game magnet, especially favorable to deer hunters. Near the pond was an old blind up in a tree. (It would be a tree fort if you were a child.) The tree was dying. The blind was rotting, and the whole thing was going to fall soon, possibly across my road in. But one solid piece of the blind was the ladder leading up to it. When the blind finally fell after a strong storm (not across my road in) I collected the planks and parts as well as the ladder, which I just knew I would have a use for someday. Many of the rotten planks and parts went into the fire, and now they exist as the ash that is rising there. Some of the planks I use to weigh down a tarp I spread over parts of my graveled area to kill the upstart weeds. But the ladder just rested against a tree for years, awaiting its new life.

And because I could not find the steel bars I wanted, I realized one day that the ladder (made of good quality, treated lumber it seems) would serve just as well. I carried the ladder to the area I had added the latest gravel to so I had sense of how long my new wood rack would be. Then I spaced the old blocks along it to make six stacks of three blocks apiece; the eighteen blocks divided so nicely it seemed meant to be. After a bit of leveling, the old ladder rested evenly on the blocks, and you can see the result here:

There are a number of things to say about this photo. First, the lighter colored gravel is the new stuff I laid down. (Farther up in the photo is the gravel my excellent son-in-law laid down in December.) To the right along the edge of the photo is the older gravel. It’s darker for several reason: it likely came for a different part of the quarry and it’s been in the weather for a decade at least. In fact, after the oak trees release their pollen, everything has an orange tint, including this white gravel. It’s hard to tell from this photo, but the lighter gravel is higher than the darker gravel. I need to spread more gravel there to even out the two, the darker gravel being on ground that rises up the slight hill on the right.

You can also see some of the retaining wall at the top of the photo. That’s the old part. The cabin is to the right of this old part. It happens that the new part aligns exactly with the left side of the old ladder; it’s there, just under it.

You can also glimpse the lake through the trees on the right. When we visited, we were delighted to see it as full as it was. (About four feet below full pool.) I watch the weather in the area, and I hadn’t thought there had been enuf rain to fill the lake this much, especially as dry as the forest has been in recent months. Much of this will leak out under the dam, but spring rains will also fill it. (The night we spent there, nine Canada geese circled the lake a few times then splashed onto the water. They spent the night. Keep in mind these were not golf course geese accustomed to humans. These were truly wild ones, and it warmed my black and shriveled heart to think my attempt at stewardship was working.)

I don’t think I’ll ever cut enuf firewood to fill this rack. I’m not sure I’d ever want to have a need for that much. But I have capacity now, and I hope it works as intended to prevent leaves from accumulating.

I still have most of the pile of gravel; I don’t think my son-in-law and I have moved half of it yet. But as I said, there are areas I need to bring to even grade, and it would be nice to have an actual level area near the fire ring so we could put a table there that doesn’t cant down hill and let dinner slide off.

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*Roundrock is the name I’ve given to my property because of the obvious reason that it is filled with round rocks. I realize naming property is a bit pretentious, but I tired of referring to it as “the land” since that was vague.

where the latest Finnegans adventure stands

Posted March 26, 2018 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Finnegans

Tags:

And you’ve been asking yourself, I wonder how he’s doing with that novel he’s working on? Well, I’ll tell you.

I’ve managed to write my way to the end of chapter 7. My husband and wife team — the Finnegans — are now immersed in the town divided by a river with a single bridge spanning it, and they’re poking around. They sense something is not right with the town, but they’re not sure what. Nor would they normally care since they’re just visiting while she is there to write an article about the half marathon the town hosts. But it’s a cozy mystery novel, so they will care, and they will figure it out, and they will even cause that which begins the town’s recovery from its ailment. But that’s all to be written still.

I estimate I’m about a third of the way through the story I have to tell. It’s coming along well; I don’t feel like I’m pushing any point beyond its purpose (which has been a problem for me in the past). I’ve introduced most of the characters, including the key character, and hinted at the remainder, including the antagonist character whose entrance I’m forestalling as a way to build the tension. (Most cozy mysteries have an off-stage murder that must be resolved; mine don’t. I’ve said before that I believe there is plenty of evil people can do that doesn’t involve crime. But I must set up tension early to keep the reader engaged.)

So far, the chapters are averaging 2,500 words, but I expect them to swell at least a little as I find any foreshadowing or character development or such that I need to do. I’m trying to be mindful of this short chapter length as a way to give the reader manageable chunks to read.

I had conceived this plot years ago, long before I had ever taken up running. But now that I have that experience in my toolbox, including running more than a dozen half marathons (of varying levels of performance and self respect), I am able to write that part of the story much more deeply. I can’t imagine what kind of story I could have written without that experience, which may explain why it’s taken me years to come to write it. (Also, those One-Match Fire stories that had dominated my creative self for so long. In fact, I began this cozy mystery as a deliberate break from those stories, though they continue to intrude. Pesky things!) Also, my husband and wife team always stay in a bed and breakfast on their adventures, and I have made certain I have plenty of experience with that. Research is important!

So I am satisfied with my progress and the development of the story. Characters seem to be running up to me fully formed and asking breathlessly to be put in it. That’s helpful. And I know exactly how the plot should evolve. Plus, this isn’t intended to be a deep, literary tale, so I’m not burdened with all of the fraught underpinnings that would require. I can race through a first draft without feeling I’m cheating the story.

“Old School” is now online

Posted March 21, 2018 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Process, short stories

Tags: ,

My story “Old School” is now up at Bull & Cross. You can read it here.

I based this story on several things: a conversation with someone who made the basic assertion in the story (I was never certain whether or not he was serious about it); some bosses I have had through the years; and an accounting professor at the second college I attended whose appearance (and perhaps name) I used for the main character in the story.

This story is similar in spirit to my story “Velvet Elvis.” They build to an unexpected yet should-have-been-obvious conclusion.

Enjoy! (but only if you wish; I’m not trying to impose any response, really)

Prospero’s Tempest

Posted March 19, 2018 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic

Tags: ,

No, not that Prospero, and not that Tempest. But in a city where the overweening entertainments seem to be professional football and NASCAR, a tempest about a bookstore is heartening, even as it is unfortunate.

Prospero’s is a used bookstore (records and other media, too) in Kansas City that I’ve been patronizing for years. For a long time it was my Friday evening destination, and if on rare occasions I or my wife didn’t buy at least one book, we’d spend an hour or two browsing and chatting with the owner. We’ve attended some of their poetry readings and folk music sessions, and I’m sure that over the years, we’ve spent hundreds of dollars there.

About two weeks ago I saw on Prospero’s Facebook page that they now had stickers for the store. I collect stickers like a fool. The best ones I put in my journal. Others I will put on the (unfinished) walls of my Ozark cabin. (And some I may have been known to carry with me when I ran to apply atop stickers I’d see fomenting hateful class wars and such.) Thus I took myself to Prospero’s the next chance I had — which was a Wednesday! — to see what books they might have to entice me and to get two stickers. Lucky I didn’t delay.

The very next day, I saw a post on their Facebook page stating that the stickers were gone. It didn’t take much research to learn the ugly story.

Note the wording in the sticker above (inside the front cover of my current journal — a place of honor!). A certain word there raise the ire of some and resulted in more that 300 comments on the sticker announcement post. It seems that the word “indigenous” had greatly offended many people. When I had read it I assumed that it meant that the bookstore was Kansas City bred and raised, a home-grown store and not part of a national chain. Not so to other readers who took it to mean that the owner was appropriating Native American culture for profit. And that’s phrasing it nicely. Apparently there have been some threats of violence over this. (Read for yourself. I couldn’t get very far through the 300+ comments on the announcement post nor the continuously growing number on the — heart-rending — retraction post.)

Were this a simple matter of some people not knowing the true meaning of a single word, I think it could be more easily dismissed. But it seems that some are choosing to be offended and finding the occasion to be viciously vocal. The Right-wing noise machine has been fired up, and many attacks are now ad hominem, leaving behind the supposed original “offense” of the wording.

I think it’s pretty obvious where my heart lies in this matter. A gentle man of books and the arts, a poet who knows his way around the English language, is going to get my favor until proven otherwise, and I’ve seen nothing otherwise in all of this.

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Prospero’s made it into the New York Times just over a decade ago for a sly act. Maybe it’s time for a follow up.

 

 

P.S. I did not vote in New York, but I was there for the fateful election day in 2016. I got the sticker from my daughter.

revisiting Daphne

Posted March 14, 2018 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic

Tags: ,

I’ve written here a few times about walking my dog around the lake in a neighborhood park near my home in suburban Kansas City. Now that the warmer weather has been giving the impression it’s going to hang around for a while, I’m visiting that park more often, and I was there over the weekend with my dog, Flike, on his leash.

You may remember this post from nearly a year ago when I opined about a tree there I’ve named Daphne. She is one of several immense and ancient cottonwood trees that stand in the park, and a terrific windstorm last summer had brought down some of those big trees. One was so immense that the poor parks people still haven’t finished cleaning up the uprooted trunk.

But Daphne continues to stand despite being in her “compromised” state. On a recent visit I noticed something about her I hadn’t before. High in her branches she has support system, a three-way arrangement, a love triangle if you will, to keep her from doing the splits permanently.

Can you make out the black wire strung between the three limbs? The city went to a lot of trouble to do this obviously, and I certainly respect the work, but to what purpose? Is the tree special in some way that it merits this kind of attention. The park is noted for having a fishing lake, a walking path, a playground, and seasonal bathrooms as well as “historic features.” Long ago, before the ubiquity of automobiles, a trolley ran out of Kansas City, and one of its stopping points was the suburb where I find myself. Urbanites of that time could take the trolley out to the hinterlands and walk to this park to stroll and partake of the manicured wilderness. Could Daphne have been connected to that in some historic way? Was she a planted tree perhaps? Would that be a reason for giving her this support garment, so to speak?

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Also, today is Pi Day.