Archive for the ‘Fathers and Sons’ category

so I did a thing

January 16, 2017

I’ve been fooling around with my story “Fire Sermon” for a couple of weeks. I got the first draft down without too much agony, and it’s been through a few rewrite sessions, but I kept telling myself it “wasn’t finished” and “wasn’t ready.”

Sometime over the weekend I came to understand that this was code, and the message behind it was that I was too chicken to just finish it and try submitting it.

So I did.

“Fire Sermon” weighs in at 3,540 words (exactly, at this moment), and that immediately put it out of consideration at many publications that had calls with themes that my story might fit. (What is it with shorter short stories? Are they easier for editors to publish? For readers to read? Can you really cover a human story in only 1,000 words?) So I broadened my search for a potential home and came upon a new-ish journal published from somewhere in the Midwest (tantalizingly vague on their webpage, though physical location doesn’t really matter in cyberspace, I suppose). And off the story went.

Now I have a tw0-month wait for a response. And in that time I hope to be able to turn my attention to other stuff. My playful story “Stargazing” is only about two-thirds written and deserves some love. And ideas for the sequel stories to One-Match Fire continue to come to me, so there’s some note-taking to be done there. Plus that pesky query letter for the novel. And there are plenty of other ideas in the mental hopper.

BTW, although “Fire Sermon” has two characters in it from the One-Match Fire stories, it isn’t really part of that novel. (I just know these two people very well and could write about them more easily.) One-Match Fire has a specific narrator — I’ve always asserted that a story’s narrator must be as much of a character, at the very least to the writer, as any character in the story — but that will not be the case with these subsequent stories. I’m not sure who that narrator will be, or even if it will be the same narrator for each story, but my point (and I do have one) is that I didn’t have to craft the telling of this tale in the voice of the person telling the other tales. That made the job easier.

damned hard

January 10, 2017

Writing a query letter (for One-Match Fire) that I am confident about is damned hard.


December 29, 2016

So I’m reading this book Santa left under the tree for me: Sherlock Holmes FAQ by Dave Thompson. It’s full of interesting tidbits. (Did you know that Conan Doyle supposedly read Moby-Dick avidly? This would have been at the time when the novel was obscure and even dismissed.) Even so, it often seems like the author wants to show off his erudition, with pages-long tangents into some facts he’s uncovered that are only tenuously connected to Sherlock Holmes.

A recent chapter I finished began with a short paragraph that contained the word “whatsoever” twice. This didn’t seem like an ironic repetition or a flourish of his style. (The word appeared once more in the chapter.) I think it was just the result of quick work and poor editing. That’s unfortunate, and I did pause when I came across it, but I managed to keep reading the chapter.

This is a writerly failing of mine. I tend to repeat words, and I don’t realize it when I’m doing so. I only catch them (when I catch them) in my editing reviews of my stuff. And then I sometimes only catch them when I’m reading my writing aloud. As far as I can recall, I’ve never used the word “whatsoever” in any of my writing; my repeats tend to be a more commonplace words, and usually verbs. Just this morning I found the word “know” twice in one sentence, for example.

This isn’t necessarily bad, but it usually is. It’s certainly weak writing or at least an opportunity/need for stronger writing. And I’d like to be the one to find these instances rather than some editor down the road. Or worse, that neither of us would find it.


My work on “Fire Sermon” is coming along nicely. I’ve more than doubled the word count at this writing — I’m taking a break from the story to write this post — and I’m up to 1400+ words. Pretty good words too. The story has taken a little turn I wasn’t expecting, but it’s completely in keeping with the theme, so that’s fine. I have no complaints about it whatsoever.

ever on and on

December 19, 2016

There is a belief among writers that you pretty much have just one story but that you keep on telling it for the rest of your life. I can understand that, at least for some writers. And it’s maybe not a story actually but a theme or an idea or a subject that you keep revisiting, trying to puzzle out in words what about it burns so strongly within you or maybe trying to finally tell the story exactly right.

I have been flirting with the “finished” One-Match Fire manuscript for weeks, telling myself that I need to give it another read through to muscle it into final form so I can begin submitting it. I realize that I’m actually frightened of both the big job of preparing it for submission and the big risk to my very soul in submitting it for objective evaluation (and likely copious rejection). But I’ll get the job done.

Except that I’m realizing the job will never be done. I’m currently working on a story called “Fire Sermon” and it’s coming along slowly but well. It deals with the friendship of two of the characters from One-Match Fire, and, importantly, these characters’ relationships with their fathers and sons. So it fits with the theme of my novel. It doesn’t fit into that novel per se, but it’s cut from the same cloth. And the longer I live with these characters, the more stories I see for them (or that they are revealing to me if you want to get mystical).

Thus I’m already having initial thoughts about the inevitable sequel to One-Match Fire. More stories about these characters who have taken up residence in my head and are knocking around noisily like the person in the apartment upstairs. The novel focuses on three characters: a grandfather, a father, and a grandson. But at the end of the novel, the grandson is an adult, on the verge of marrying and even considering becoming a father himself. Stories abound. And I’ve been told that I’m pretty good at writing flashbacks, so even characters and events long past can be marshaled in and put to good use. As long as I draw breath, I can probably write stories about these people, and so I can fill enuf pages for another novel.

I think I must since I’ve already come up with a title for it. Don’t you think Embers is an appropriate name for a novel to follow one called One-Match Fire?

never done that before!

November 30, 2016

To my memory, I did something over the weekend that I have never done before.* I submitted one of my short stories to a contest. I even paid a fee ($10) to enter. Paying a fee for a submission was something I swore I would never do. (Of course I also never imagined myself entering and running marathons, so I guess there are no absolutes.)

The story I submitted is “A Tree Falls in the Forest,” which is one of my One-Match Fire pieces. I’ve read and re-read this story many times (is that tautological phrasing?), and I’m really satisfied with it. I’m more than satisfied; I’m pleased with it. I think it may be the best realized story I’ve ever written (but I’m trying to avoid making absolute statements any longer).

I’ve read some of the stories that the magazine has published, and I think my story seems to fit, though I never feel sure about these judgments. I feel so confident about my story, though, that I hesitated only a few days before submitting.

I know some writers enter every contest they can find. From what I can tell, many use their wins as marketing tools, to increase their brand and suchlike. (“Suchlike” is an actual word. Look it up!) That’s fine for them. And I suppose winning this or that famous (or not-so-famous) writing contest may increase the writer’s profile among readers and increase the writer’s marketability among publishers. I’ve never been concerned with my “brand” as a writer. I’m too shy to market myself. I am grateful a) that my story is as well done as I can make it, and b) that my story gets published at all. It’s much like my approach to running in organized races. I’m not out to win a medal for my age group. (I’ve only done that twice, and both were by default.) I’m satisfied to run the race as well as I can and to collect the finisher’s medal (that everyone gets who staggers across the line).

Still, along with the prize money for this literary contest, there is also a bronze medal. I could be pleased having that sitting on my desk.


*The more I’ve reflected about this the more I seem to recall having submitted something once before. I can’t be sure.

“Runaway” debuts!

November 21, 2016

My One-Match Fire story “Runaway” appeared over the weekend in Aethlon: The Journal of Sport Literature. And that’s a bit of eager overstatement. The editor wrote to say that the print edition has gone to the publisher, but she sent me a downloadable PDF, and I consider that good enuf to call it published.

I was never able to lay my hands on an earlier copy of this magazine, and I couldn’t find one online, so I didn’t (don’t) know what to expect. The downloaded edition has 227 pages, so it is clearly a document of some heft. (My story appears on page 209.) I was able to find a registry of past contributors to the magazine, and there are some names with heft among them too. I can’t say when I’ll get my two contributor copies, but I already have space cleared on my shelf for them.

This is the fifth One-Match Fire story to see publication.


October 31, 2016


One-Match Fire is smoldering. I’ve worked through it with the comments of my beta readers, made many of their recommended changes, made additions and changes and deletions of my own, and have assembled all of the separate stories into a single document. The word count comes in at just over 62,000, which is about the minimum definition for a novel. (I still worry that there are some gaps in the narrative — too many years pass between some chapters — and an editor will ask me to fill it with another chapter or two, but I don’t see the overall length getting significantly longer.)

I’ve said here before that I embarked on these stories with no idea or intention that they would become a novel. In fact, I wrote the first story, “where late the sweet birds sang,” as a one-off with no eye to writing any more. But I found I liked the character, and the cabin in the woods was such a beckoning, evocative setting, that I wrote a few more. And a few more. And then I found I had twenty-one stories spanning something like forty-four years and 62,000 words.

Many of the revisions I made were needed to polish away the edges of stand-alone stories. I repeated some things and referenced more times than necessary bits of history in the overall narrative because each chapter was originally just a story that would appear in print on its own. Once these were combined and could rely on each other, a lot of that repetition needed to go. And so it has.

I did have one curious problem that both of my readers cited and that I had an unreasonably difficult time addressing. One of the early chapters is titled “Boys are Like Puppies” (and they are!). In this five-character story (if you count the puppy) I had characters named Joe, Jon, Jack, and Jerry. How is that even possible? Joe is the grandfather, and that name is untouchable since he lives throughout the novel. Jon is actually a biblical reference, and I didn’t want to lose that. Jack was the puppy, and I had originally wanted to name my own dog, Flike, Jack, so that was an emotional attachment. And Jerry was supposed to be the same character as appears in my story “The Infinite Regression of Jerry C,” which is somewhat based on a true story of an actual man named Jerry. There was no real need to make that connection since that story doesn’t feed into the whole fathers and sons ethos at all. I guess I just liked messing with that character again.

But I made some changes. Jack the puppy became Buddy (which does have some thematic purpose), and Jerry became Lee because I knew a Lee who was a jerk, just like the character in this story is intended to be.

So One-Match Fire smolders. I’ll need to give it some attention and a few big read throughs again, and then it will be time to begin the dance with potential agents and publishers. But before that, I have a little foot race (Sunday!) that needs my focus. And then, there are all of the other stories I’ve been wanting to write for a long time.