Archive for the ‘Fathers and Sons’ category

bits and pieces

September 10, 2018

I did that thing again. I went out on my bike and tackled the trails. We’d had a week of rain and overcast skies, and I knew the trail was wet and muddy, so it wasn’t going to be a pleasant trek on those days. But then Saturday came, starting with rain and drizzle, and when I looked at the weather maps, we were pretty much done with the rain for the next week. That meant that I could get on the trail and grab some peddling time while everyone else feared more rain was to come. I started out under massing gray clouds, but by the time I got to my turnaround point, seen above, the sky was clearing. The week of rain had brought cooler temperatures too, so the ride was pleasant (though I did have to ride through some big puddles and a couple of spots of deep mud), and there were very few riders and runners on the trail, fearing more rain I suspect.

What you see above is the shipping container that the trail passes through below the construction on the interstate highway. It’s the green thing with the black maw.


The words “jock” and “jock strap” and “jockstrap” appear six times in the current manuscript of One-Match Fire. I know this because I did a word search for them, having found in one story that I use “jock strap” and in another “jockstrap.” (It’s about four men, two of whom go from boys to men in the story and two of whom are runners.) Based on the dictionary on my phone (and the one in the app on my computer), the proper spelling is as a single word. Now you know the proper spelling, should it come up in conversation. You don’t have to thank me.


I think I mentioned before that I have a mild “case” of synesthesia. I know the “color” of each letter of the alphabet, for example, and I can picture the “shapes” of most sounds. (Classical music is especially “shapely” to me.) I thought for a long time that everyone was this way, but it turns out most are not. I also used to think that everyone dreamed in color, as I do, but apparently that’s not true either.


I had a runner friend who is also a handyman come by one afternoon last week — during the rain, which was handy for the man — to shuffle through the itchy insulation in my attic, stepping from joist to joist, to seal some leaks in the roof (that the roofers didn’t). The leaks are most common during driving rains, which led me to think the flashing wasn’t sealed properly. I reasoned this through without having gone into the attic myself. When my friend got up there, he confirmed it through observation. And then he sealed every bit he could find as well as replace both the bulbs and the pull chains in the two light fixtures up there.*

I’ve lived in this house 31 years, and I think I’ve been into the attic four times, three of those times getting no farther than poking my head in through the access panel.


I currently have 12 story submissions circulating. That’s comprised of five stories as multiples and the One-Match Fire novel (in an earlier form) at a contest. The oldest is from last December, and I’m pretty sure it’s not a contender (though I’ve heard stories of older submissions getting accepted). I know/suppose I should be more aggressive about submitting my stories, but I’ve never been a hustler, and with my withered self confidence I understand why I’m not. Still.



*All of his work getting things done around my house motivated me to do some things myself! Fortunately, the feeling passed.


call it finished

August 27, 2018

After weeks of dithering I finally added “Spring Fever” and “Deadfall” as chapters 21 and 23 to the manuscript of One-Match Fire. On some barely conscious level I now consider the story finished. I need to give it a read through from the start, with the knowledge and depth these two newest chapters (and one new character) give the story to see what ripples they have throughout the telling, what prep work I might need to give the earlier chapters, and what fixes may be called for. (I added the minor mention of a birthmark to an early chapter so that it is “in place” when the birthmark plays its part in chapter 21, for example. But that’s an easy fix. I will be on the watch for bigger, more structural changes in my comprehensive read through.)

The addition of these 8,000+ words swells the novel to nearly 72,000 words, which is fine. I wasn’t striving to add the stories as a way to reach some arbitrary word count so that I could define the work as a novel; my purpose was merely to complete the telling of the tale, and I feel that this is done now.

This is both momentous and anti-climactic. And it signals more hard work to be done now that I am ready to begin shopping it around once again. Seven* of the chapters have already been published separately (plus one story that occurs after the scope of the novel, and I’m sending around another post-novel chapter), so I feel as though the novel has some pedigree. I hope this helps with getting some traction among agents and publishers.

This also leaves me with the challenge of working on something new. I have several unfinished, stand-alone stories I can return to, including one called “Stargazing” that’s been taunting me. It’s a fun story, not meant to be serious or literary, but that doesn’t make it any easier to write, or rather, to finish. I got it nearly to the end. And, of course, there is that Finnegans novel I had started some months back which is about two-thirds finished. I’ve figured out some fundamental changes I need to make to the story already written, including changing one character from a man to a woman, but I’m not sure I want to leap into a novel-length project just yet. More dithering, I guess.


*I had a technical writing instructor in college who insisted that you could never start a sentence with a numeral. I always considered it one of those arbitrary usage rules much like a split infinitive or ending a sentence with a preposition. Ever hear of this?

before and after

August 20, 2018

So it’s not all grandkids and sneaking off to my cabin around here (or sneaking off to Kentucky or having guests from Kenya staying at my house)! I’ve actually be doing some writing.

You know about the various mutations of the story I’ve called “Spring Fever.” I — once again — think it is finished, and I’ve got a good first draft of another story: “Deadfall.”

I’ve pretty much decided that these two stories, comprising more than 7,000 words together, are going to be added to One-Match Fire, to bracket what had been the second-to-last story, “Little Gray Birds.” I fought this idea for a long time since these two were intended to be part of the sequel, Nature Always Wins. But the more I worked on them, the more I could see how they were tied to the events and themes in One-Match Fire. They fit nicely there, though once again “Little Gray Birds” needs some work. I had adjusted it to accommodate “Spring Fever” but now that I’ve decided “Deadfall” will follow it, I need to adjust it further.

And then I need to do a read through of the entire novel since the addition of those two stories more or less compromises the narrator I had been writing from. Now I don’t know who is narrating the stories, and I’ve always thought that you ought to know your narrator at least as well as your characters, even if the narrator does not appear in the story. It’s more a way for me to keep control of the tone and voice than anything else, and now I have to come up with something. (Half the tale is in the telling!)

As for Nature Always Wins, I’ve written four stories for it. The two I mention above, another called “Fire Sermon,” which has been published, and the fourth, called “Forest Succession,” which I’m shopping around. I have a clear idea for a fifth story in that collection (hint: it involves running a marathon). But even if I write that, I don’t know if there really is enuf further material to achieve the critical mass of a novel. Still, One-Match Fire began as a one-off about a cabin in the woods, and look where it went.


August 6, 2018

You’re too polite to ask, but I’m sure you’ve been wondering: what’s the status of “Spring Fever,” that love story that ties in to the One-Match Fire universe?

Well, I’ve pondered it, revised it, shortened it, deepened it, and more or less struggled with it, and now, at 4,300+ words, I think I’ve finished it. I introduce a new character and a new relationship (one that might threaten the dynamic of my One-Match Fire family or one that may broaden and enrich it).

But it ain’t that simple. The story ripples and I still need to revise “Little Gray Birds” (currently the penultimate story in One-Match Fire) as a consequence.

And if/when I do that, I’m finding that I’m left with some unfinished business in that novel. There is a consequence to “Spring Fever” that can’t be left unspoken in the story line. So I see myself writing yet another story for One-Match Fire. (Recall that I had not been trying to submit the novel because I had this nagging notion that it was “not finished.” And here I am, not finished with it.) I’ve already begun making notes for that new story, and I even have a tentative title for it: “Deadfall.”

“Spring Fever” was meant to be the first chapter of a sequel to One-Match Fire, resolving the great mystery in the relationship between a father and son there, but now I’m thinking that maybe “Spring Fever” just needs to be added to One-Match Fire as its own chapter. There’s a place for it. The story would fit nicely in the narrative and it would add its heft to the novel, a novel that I always thought was a little short in terms of word count anyway.

And if I write that “unfinished business” story and add it to the novel as well, I’ll have a bit more heft and substance.

The trouble is that all of this requires a fundamental rethinking of the “resolution” of the conflict in the novel. Rather than being implied, it will be stated. I’m becoming more comfortable with this, but change is not always easy.

productive weekend

July 16, 2018

I wrestled mightily over the weekend with that story of mine: “Spring Fever.” I thought it was finished, but not so. I’ve mentioned before that in the chronology of these stories, it occurs before “Little Gray Birds” and affects what happens there.

I thought I had the two sorted out, but when I looked at “Birds” again, I realized that two characters there were more or less having the same conversation they would have had a month or so before in “Fever.” What to do?

I debated revising “Birds” heavily, but the point of that story (a point) is a resolution of much of the tension that had been building in One-Match Fire. What’s in it belongs in it and not in “Fever.” So the slash and burn had to take place in “Fever.”

And so I got to it. I eviscerated cut out several hundred words (from what I had thought was a high word count anyway), removing the “same” conversation that appears in “Birds” and substituting it with something more revelatory for one of the characters and his relationship with his father. It’s not finished, and neither is “Birds,” but I think I’ve got the fundamentals in place.

Writing is rewriting, as they say.

a week of this, and that, and the other thing

July 13, 2018

How did a week go by and I not make a post? I’ve been a bachelor for all of that time (and a few days longer) while my wife darts around this state called Colorado — I’ve confirmed it’s a real place despite the odd name — seeing all but one of her sisters. So I’ve had parenting duty for the two dogs, the four (!) birds, and countless fish. Plus I’ve been trying to keep the anemic lawn alive in this monstrous heat (consecutive 100+ degree days). Plus working. And reading. And writing. And generally picking up after myself. So I guess time passes when you’re busy with things like that.

And it was only a week before this that my wife was in St. Louis with our son and daughter-in-law, providing emergency transportation while their car was in the shop. And then about a month before then, she was in Seattle with our other son and daughter-in-law and their little girl. And me during all of her trips playing the dog father.


My One-Match Fire story “Moving Day” came out in THEMA Literary Journal during this week. There was apparently some delay with the printer, but here it is. My piece begins on page 55 (why am I always in the latter half of these journals?) and takes up twelve pages: the largest chunk of real estate between the covers. THEMA, as the name suggests, has a theme for each issue, and I had submitted for the theme “The Face in the Photograph.” In my story a son comes across a photo of his father as an infant, and though he doesn’t realize it at the time, the photo directs the course of the son’s life.


I managed to make it out to my cabin during the past weekend. I did some weed whipping (having remembered to bring the gasoline this time), found that no mouse had tripped the trap (maybe they prefer Swiss to the cheddar I had baited it with), and swam for an hour in the lake. I’d also remembered my swimming gear, including the hard-soled water shoes, so I could actually swim, with kicks and everything. It was another idyllic hour. And because I swam just before leaving, I thought I didn’t need to shower when I got home. That was a mistake I’ve been paying for during this week as well. I was apparently still infested with chiggers on my legs, and, oddly, my feet. I have been itching for days. Cortisone cream and antihistamines are intimate parts of my life lately. I thought the other day, as I was scratching, that I must find a way for one of my characters to say that the little Ozark cabin is in “Bugbite County.”


My work on “Spring Fever” creeps its petty pace. Every time I visit it, I hone it a little sharper. I don’t know if I’m nearly finished or if I’m nearly to the point of seeing how bad it is.


I use this image as my avatar in some places online, so you may have seen it before. I carved it into a Volkswagen-sized limestone boulder in 2005, and for most* of the days and weeks and months and years since then, the initials have been sitting mutely under twelve feet of water in my lake. I used a dull chisel and a hammer with a broken handle to carve this, but the one I carved on the side of one of the sandstone steps leading to the cabin was done with a Dremel.



*There have been some times when enuf water has leaked out of the lake to expose the boulder.

still working on “Spring Fever”

July 6, 2018

I’ve been working mightily all week on my story “Spring Fever” and I think it have it more or less muscled into shape. It currently sits at 4,400+ words, which ain’t bad for a short story, but it’s bigger than I expected. Still, I can’t find an ounce of fat on it.

I’ve also done some work in the One-Match Fire story “Little Gray Birds” that is related to this, trimming and changing as necessary to get the stars aligned betwixt them.

I’ll continue to read “Spring Fever” and find ways to hone it, but I think it’s nearly whole, and I have a market in mind for it already.

Satisfaction from my writing efforts. Imagine that!

Also, here’s a mushroom rock in western Kansas. (I did not deface it.)