Archive for the ‘Fathers and Sons’ category

something new

August 5, 2019

I began something new over the weekend, but first, some backstory.

Nearer the dawn of civilization, which is to say back in my St. Louis life, I was a member of a small writing group. We met monthly to critique each others’ stories, and though I am sure none of my writing from that period survives, I really thought I had arrived then.

Among the members of the group was the leader’s sister, who professed that she was not a writer (I think her field was the Polish language), but she regularly had a story for us to dig into. One I specifically remember was an interior monologue about a character grieving over a friend who had recently died. The sister announced that she applied the Kubler-Ross Five Stages of Grief when she developed her story, carrying her character through each stage.

I can remember bridling under this, thinking that grief was personal and unique to each individual and didn’t necessarily comply with prescriptive stages. When I eventually wrote my own friend-dying story, I paid no attention to the “official” stages and just wrote from (my) experience. (The story eventually became “Unfinished Business,” and it was published many years later.)

And all of that is the backstory.

I began a new story over the weekend, “North, East, South, and West,” (which you’ll, of course, recognize is a reference from the first chapter of Moby-Dick), but the real new thing I did was begin writing this story from a prescriptive series of stages.

The “plot” of the story involves a man wandering through a forest on a hot August day. But it’s more than that, as you might imagine. And the new thing I am doing is applying the stages of the hero’s journey to his wandering. I’ve never written like this before, from someone else’s script so to speak. Most of my stories have been organic, if I can use that word, and while I might have an ending in mind when I begin, the ending I actually reach is often something completely different.

Not so in this case, or at least not so in the journey to the ending. While my character has many comical mishaps as he moves through the woods (he’s a city boy), his interior monologue (about certain aspects of his life) is where the steps of his hero’s journey take place. I made a list of the steps and then noted what aspects/events in the story would apply to each. (Dropping a couple.)

The story is speeding along. I sat Saturday morning intending to tinker with maybe a first paragraph and rose 1,300 words later. I added another 300 words to that in a second session. I can understand why some writers will develop detailed outlines before they begin.

I’m not sure I’m completely comfortable with this process of writing a story at someone else’s “direction”; even the things I’ve read about the hero’s journey concede that not all heroes hit all of the common points along the way. But for this story, it seems to be working for me.

__________

(In that last paragraph, should the semicolon go inside or outside of the quotation mark?)

“Three Small Words” finds a home

July 31, 2019

My story “Three Small Words” has been accepted by Adelaide Literary Magazine. It will appear in issue 27, which comes out next month in print and online. When it does, I’ll post a link.

This story is from my One-Match Fire universe, though it’s not part of the novel. Chronologically it takes place about a week before my story “Forest Succession” and speaks to what happens there.

confidence

June 17, 2019

I mentioned before that I had somehow written a 4,800-word story that would work well as an early chapter in One-Match Fire. I got the first draft done in two writing sessions (because I know the characters so well and I knew what hole in the narrative needed filling), and I’ve been refining it ever since. It’s part comical and part serious; it deals with a father helping his son face a rite of passage all boys face at a certain age. Plus it makes more clear the cause of a tension that dominates most of the second half of the novel.

I had looked at the 4,800 words, thinking that was really too long for an effective short story, and my refinements had been mostly about trimming the word count. But then I realized it wasn’t going to be a stand-alone story but a chapter in a much larger novel, and aside from being roughly similar in size to the other chapters, I didn’t need to reduce its word count for the sake of fewer words.

Better words, however, remained a goal. I had a first draft in hand, and there was still plenty I could do to it to make it better. In the end I shaved about 300 words, even as I more clearly defined the scenes and the state of the two characters’ minds.

And I’ve added it to the manuscript of OMF, making it the new Chapter Five and titling it “Confidence.” This swells the novel’s word count to 88,000 words. This also required me to add another inter-chapter vignette, which was handy since I used it to give further voice to one of the minor characters.

The word “confidence” has a double meaning, and I use both in the story, literally and thematically. I’m pleased with the new chapter. I think it adds something that was missing in the novel.

Update 18JUN19 – Although I’m thinking of changing the title from “Confidence” to “Rite of Passage.”

silent rejection

May 31, 2019

So last fall I had submitted one of the One-Match Fire chapters to a publication that was looking for stories with the theme of “initiation” to use in their issue 7. I thought at the time that my chapter/story might align well with that.

Not long after I received an email from an individual at the publication saying my story was short listed, which was nice.

Then, nothing. Nada. Crickets.

I wrote to the publication twice asking for updates and got no response at all. My guess was that the magazine had folded, and whenever I visited the site the most recent issue available was always number 6. I’ve certainly had a few close calls like that, so it didn’t surprise me.

I wasn’t too heartbroken about this since it is a One-Match Fire story and I’m now no longer going to try to get any more chapters published as I try to get the whole thing published instead.

But for some reason earlier this week, I checked the publication online again and found issue 7 now available. Of course I had to look to see if my story was present, and it wasn’t.

I understand that many publications will use a tacit rejection of no response at all unless they are interested. But this outfit did seem interested last fall when they told me the story was short listed. So it seems reasonable to me that such a status would merit a final rejection letter.

On balance, I’m not upset. Getting the story accepted could be problematic for my efforts to get the novel published. But it would be nice to have received a response given the earlier status.

various thoughts on submitting a novel

May 29, 2019

I’ve begun submitting queries to potential agents for One-Match Fire. I dithered and hesitated for a long time, thinking the wording of the cover letter had to be perfect. But I knew I would never recognize when perfection was achieved, and I also knew I was mostly just stalling.

I’ve put my basic query together, and I refer to OMF as a novel-in-stories, and I continue to tinker with it, but it’s now a working document that I customize for each submission.

I’m using the new-ish agent function at Duotrope’s Digest. It’s still considered beta, but I’ve found that it seems to be more current than what’s at AgentQuery. I don’t know if the former “polices” its entries better, but I have seen some outdated information about agents at the latter. Duotrope also keeps a log of my queries so I don’t have to.

What’s common I’ve found at most of the agents I’ve submitted to is a statement something like “we will only respond if we are interested.” I guess that’s easier for them. And maybe it’s easier on the hapless submitter not getting dozens of soul-killing rejections. But like the promised letter or postcard that never comes, you wonder.

Some agent webpages have detailed guidelines while others are sparse. Some want an attachment to the submission email, some will delete any emails with attachments. Some ask for the first three chapters while others want only ten pages.

I dipped into the OMF manuscript and removed all unnecessary line breaks so that the text I can fit into a page-limit submission will be a little greater. You never know if the added sentence or two might be the persuasive eloquence that will win the day.

I’m trying to target my submissions now. So far I’ve only submitted to agents that are interested in story collections. (I’m still not certain how lethal or benign having some of the chapter already published is. I’ve been told that a story collection often needs to have 40 percent of its stories previously published to be considered marketable. This is also why I’m calling it a novel-in-stories, which I guess is more palatable than a story cycle, which is what I had originally conceived it to be. Still, if an agent doesn’t respond because the published chapters were the deal breaker, I’ll never know that.)

But I expect that I’ll soon move into a mere numbers game once I exhaust the list of story-collection agents I can find. And maybe after that I’ll begin submitting directly to publishers who are open to queries.

And I hope that taking this action, which “means” OMF is finished, will free my mind to working more earnestly on other work.

“Forest Succession” is up at Heartwood Literary Magazine

May 21, 2019

My story “Forest Succession” is now up at Heartwood Literary Magazine. Though the story deals with one of the characters from One-Match Fire, it is not part of that novel and, in fact, occurs much later after the novel ends.

I wrote this story as a kind of coda for the OMF universe, but it hasn’t worked. I am still scribbling other stories with these characters, including one that immediately precedes and supplements it and now one that would immediately follow it.

I should count myself as lucky to have so much material to work with, and I guess I do, but I should explore other fictional worlds too.

too much or just enuf?

May 8, 2019

So I’ve been having this mental struggle lately, and I’ve tried getting a solid answer to my dilemma, but so far nothing.

One-Match Fire has 23 chapters (and 22 inter-chapter vignettes). Of those chapters, I’ve had ten published as stand-alone pieces in various lit journals. I’m happy about that. But I’ve begun to worry that this may have been too many.

My guess is that having some of a novel published early will help its chances to find representation and a publisher. Certainly I’ve seen paragraphs in the end pages of many novels that state that parts of the novel had appeared in print in slightly different form. So getting several chapters published would suggest that the parts are worthy and perhaps so is the whole.

But how much is enuf and how much is too much? I’ve had nearly half of the novel before readers’ eyes already. Would a potential agent think that so many parts of the work have already been out that there isn’t enuf of the whole left to make it worth pursuing? Is there a certain maximum percentage to these things?

I’ve talked to several of my writer friends. I’ve posted my question on a couple of forums. I’ve even written directly to agents to ask (though I don’t ever expect a response from them).

My gut (and a friend) tells me that I shouldn’t try to get any more of the novel published. There are two chapters that I think might be worthy, but I’m not going to shop them around any longer. (There are also three that are currently in circulation, so they may still appear in print.)

But another part of me thinks that if the novel itself were never published, these last few chapters that might be worth publication will languish and never be seen.

I don’t know.

__________

Here’s another random photo from the archives.

That’s from eight years ago, so Flike must not have been even a year old in the photo. That’s the corner of the cabin to the right, of course. And that area behind Flike is where I’ve been slinging gravel lately to make things a bit more level and to perhaps deepen the rock enuf to prevent at least some of the weeds from coming up through it.