Archive for the ‘Fathers and Sons’ category

chronology of my Fathers and Sons stories

April 22, 2016

So on my day off yesterday, between creeping about the upstairs of my house and fighting off the sleepiness (I guess I really did have some affliction) I worked out the chronology of my Fathers and Sons stories, assigning a month and year to each based on age cues I had written in to them.

The (19) stories span the years 1968 to 2013. In that time, a man has a new son, that son has a new son, and that son has reached the age where he could have a new son. Each story is supposed to be able to stand alone, but taken together, I think they do a good job of telling the life stories of these three men, at least for the time we get to see them.

What I was specifically looking for by doing the chronology (aside from any anachronisms) were any large gaps in the narrative that perhaps needed to be filled with another story. In some cases, one story follows another by only a month. Most gaps are only one or two years long. But there is a nine-year gap in one case, fairly early in the chronology.

I’m not sure what to do about that. I don’t think it’s a bad thing per se. I don’t think it is calling out to be filled, and I don’t think any important character developments are missing that could be addressed there with a new story. (This, however, may be my story-telling fatigue asserting itself; I really would like to be finished with the Fathers and Sons cycle.)

I have an idea for a story. It would showcase different approaches to parenting, and I have notes for it. Plus I have thousands of words of notes for the other stories that I never used. I think I could write a filler story. But I worry that it would be just that: filler. My intent is not to contrast parenting styles; it is to tell the stories of these three characters.

Nailing down the chronology was an important step before the major rewrite (based on the narrator epiphany I had) could begin. Many of the stories include flashbacks and memories, and it may be that in the rewrites I’ll find ways to include more of this to address that gap period (and another of six years). Or not. The integrity of the stories is what will guide my fingers across the keyboard.

monsters in my head

April 6, 2016

I thought I should check in here since I haven’t had a post in a few days.

I have nothing significant to report on my rewriting work of the F&S stories other than that I have the opportunity to get it done or get it done right, and I know I must work toward the latter. Why embark on such an effort if I’m not going to do it as well as I can, right?

As for not doing something as well as I can . . .

I’m sure you’re familiar with the expression “the monsters don’t live under your bed, they live in your head.” The little running adventure I will undertake this coming weekend has been partying with the monsters in my head for the last week. I have a low-grade fever of anxiety. I am woefully under trained for this. And the monsters in my head know it. They remind me of this constantly. They laugh and point and jab each other in the ribs, guffawing about my impending disaster.

Actually, I don’t think it will be utter disaster. I don’t expect to run a brilliant race, and I am resigned to the pain that I know will come (just not as soon as mile 4 this time, okay?). I’ll run what I can and walk what I must and swallow far too many tablets of Vitamin I (ibuprofen) and finish, perhaps even upright.

And then I’ll tell you all about it, okay?

rewrite of first F&S story

March 28, 2016

Well, I’ve gotten down a first draft of the first rewrite of my first F&S story, “The Death of Superman.” I’ve recast if from a first-person narrator to third person. This involved more than just changing “I said” to “He said” since it opened opportunities for the new narrator to have an influence (while closing at least partially the first-person narrator from being reflective). Obviously, it still needs work, and I’ll read through it plenty of times before I consider it finished.

And I learned that despite having read the first-person draft literally dozens of times over the years, I still missed some glaring errors. Somewhere through the course of the years this story has existed, I moved it in time from a springtime visit to the family cabin to a November visit. This was partly thematic since the thoughts and emotions of the main character are in large part dealing with his father who is in the late autumn of his own life. But I also needed the main character to slip into one of his father’s old flannel shirts (flannel shirts being the “uniform” of these men across the cycle) while visiting the cabin, so I needed it to be a cool day. So at some point I moved the story into November, yet during my rewrite I found two old references to him making a springtime visit. Oops!

There were some other updates as well. I didn’t even think to consider, until I did the rewrite, that phrases like “tree tops” and “wood smoke” are actually single words when used as nouns. (In general, shorter word count in a submission is a good thing, and always, the right word in the right place is the best thing.)

I’ve noted here before that I can often catch overlooked errors when I take my laptop to the library and read through my stuff. The change in setting actually helps me see it all differently, with a more objective eye. So too with rewriting with a different narrator it seems.

Anyway, the comprehensive rewrite is now underway, and that’s a good feeling.

I guess it begins

March 25, 2016

All plans are provisional. Certainly in the wooly, haphazard discipline that is creative writing. My plan had been to devote a few more weeks to refining “Little Gray Birds,” the keystone, capstone, and cornerstone of my Fathers and Sons cycle, and then go back over all of them to make a comprehensive rewrite of each to integrate them more fully and pull the parts into a whole.

And I will do that, only I’m beginning sooner than I expected.

I am always on the prowl for possible venues for my stories. I visit a few sites online that have calls for submissions, and while most of them are opaque because I am usually not familiar with the journal, some list themes they are soliciting for. And that makes them a little more likely because I can see if the story I have ready matches the theme (or can be spun to appear to match it — which has worked more than I would have expected). And so I found one for an upcoming anthology with a theme that I thought was perfect for my F&S story “The Death of Superman.” The trouble was, when I visited the site, I found that their existing anthologies were crime noir and horror, which didn’t look like a fit after all. My stuff carries the pretense of being literary rather than of a genre. But I was intrigued, so I wrote the editor and described my story a little, asking if it could possibly be what the mag was looking for. After a few weeks, after I’d given up thinking I would get a response, the editor wrote back and said the story sounded exactly like what they were seeking.

And so I had found a likely target for “Superman,” which I’ve always been surprised hadn’t found a home yet. I’ve sent it out much in the past, and I really think it is a good bit of writing with two well-presented characters (one present, one in memory), but it never found acceptance. This time it looks as though it has a better chance.

Except,

I need to rewrite it. The story, as it exists, is told by a first-person narrator, and it works well that way. But that comprehensive rewrite I want to do will require it to be told in third person. I’ve decided to do that before I send it off to see if the second version is “better” than the first. Better being relative, of course, and perhaps “final” is more correct. Once I have both versions before me, I can decide which I would rather set loose in the wild. Fortunately, the submission deadline for this themed anthology is in August, so I have plenty of time to write the rewrite. (Long-time readers — both of them — may recall that I had written an entire novel in first person before realizing right at the end that it had to be told in third person. I rewrote that beast and had a better novel, which actually got some nibbles from a few agents before the forces of entropy assaulted my ambition and I set it aside. Just as well. Had that been a success at that time, I don’t think I ever would have become the person who could write the Fathers and Sons cycle. Still, I’m a practiced hand at rewriting from first to third.)

So I’ve created a new subfolder on my drive. I’ll put the rewrites there and let them accumulate. And the first one I will do is the first one I ever wrote and the first one in the cycle (though not first in chronology, but it sets up a tension that spans all of the stories). I’ve printed the story on actual paper and I will work from that, transcribing directly into the new file in the new directory. (When I had rewritten that novel, I had two laptops open on the desk before me, reading from one and writing to the other. It was clumsy, and I had to make sure one of the laptops was not online since Microsoft could tell that two identically licensed incarnations of Word were being used and, technically, that wasn’t allowed — though I think it was since both computers were mine and I had paid for the software, but their bots didn’t know that as they scanned the web looking for possible infractions). Thus the paper copy, which is probably better for me anyway. For me, writing isn’t about technology, and while a computer takes a lot of the drudgery out of writing, it still goes on mostly inside my head. The paper document just seems more pleasing.

And so I’m begun on my project sooner than expected, but why not?

finished!

March 21, 2016

And by finished I mean not really finished and not even close to finished and now the hard work must begin because it’s hardly finished at all. But finished as a first draft. I wrote the last words of “Little Gray Birds” over the weekend and “finished” the last story of the cycle. (Except now I have this short coda I want to write as well, but that will be easy. *sardonic chuckle*)

It’s pretty good, I think. Ties everything together sufficiently, though the subsequent thousands of readings I give it will refine that a bit. And the rewrites of all of the other stories, in light of the narrative revelation I had some weeks ago, will strengthen those bonds.

The draft I have comes in at* just under 2,000 words, and my notes for it still contain about 5,000 words, so there is much material I have had to leave out. Most of it just didn’t fit with the plot as it evolved or with the tone I was trying to achieve. Some of the notes were for a different “Little Gray Birds” I might have written at a different time. Some of it I may still find a place for, if not in “Birds” then perhaps in one of the earlier stories. Who knows. Maybe as I muscle my way through the entire cycle I’ll find some hole that needs to be filled and write yet another story.

As things stand right now, the first two words of the cycle (in “The Death of Superman”) are “My father.” And the last word of the cycle (in “Little Gray Birds”) is “everything.” That should give you a good idea of the subject matter of the stories. And I didn’t even plan it that way.

I’ve just about given up the notion of trying to get any more of the stories published as discrete pieces. I think they’re good enuf, certainly, (and I really should get “Fathers Day” out there for consideration since that holiday is coming up, plus a couple of stories are currently under consideration), but I know they’re all going to come under fundamental revisions (even the already-published pieces), so I guess they’re not finished either.

These are good problems to have, by the way.

 

 

*”Comes in at” – idiomatic expressions are really odd when you pause to consider them.

little gray birds

March 16, 2016

I’ve been able to make some good progress on my Fathers and Sons story “Little Gray Birds.” I have more than a thousand words of the story down, and I think it’s going in the right direction.

My process for years has been to collect my thoughts, bits of dialogue, ideas for character development, ideas for flashbacks and connections in a Word file. I just let them accumulate there until I think I have critical mass, then I start in with the story.  (The times I have tried to sit down and just start writing whatever came to me nearly always resulted in misfires, with the notable exception of my story “Travel Light”, which I still think is the best I’ve ever done.)

In this case, I had about 5,000 words of notes, more words than the entire story would encompass likely. What I didn’t have for a while was a way to start it. Then that came to me in one of those unbidden epiphanies that writers sometimes talk about (but not too much cuz you don’t want to jinx it). I had my start, a start that reached back across all of the stories and tied them together in a way that I had never considered before (but that I needed all along).

So with a good start and a decent amount of notes, “Little Gray Birds” is now underway. My guess is that I already have two-thirds of it in draft, but there is a lot that the last third must do, so the word count may mount. Also, I’ve decided to carve out a bit of introspection that was my original ending for the story to make it its own vignette. A sort of coda to all of the stories. I think it works better that way.

I can see the finish arch, but I’m not sprinting yet.

“Men at Rest”

February 11, 2016

Portland

My Portland sojourn ends today. Later this afternoon, I will be returned to the frigid Midwest. Farewell to sixty-degree, (mostly) sunny days and actual outdoor running and mountains in the distance. Farewell to Powell’s Books (visited three times in three consecutive days.) Farewell to the little granddaughter and her proud parents.

Along with seeing some sights and soothing an infant and eating too much, I had wanted to get some writing done. I didn’t want my week away to interrupt the momentum I’ve had since the turn of the year. And so I made a tentative beginning at the next Fathers and Sons story, “Men at Rest.”

I’ve been anticipating this one for a long time. It is a companion to my published F&S story “Men at Work and Play.” Some things were set up there that are fulfilled in this later story. As with most of the stories I’ve written, I had begun collecting notes for it in a Word file and then adding to them as insights arrived or bits of dialog worked out or things-that-didn’t-fit-in-other-stories-but-were-too-good-to-throw-out happened. When I sat down to begin this story, I had more than three thousand words worth of notes accumulated.

I’ve said here before that if I can get the right beginning words to a story worked out, the rest of the story usually pours forth and I mostly just have to keep the fingers flying across the keyboard as though I’m taking dictation. That happened this time. I knew the opening words, who spoke them (the grandson), and I could picture the setting where it happened. I knew what I wanted the story to do, and I knew how to end it. All of the pieces were in place. It was easy to grab a few hours of solitude each morning if I rose at 3:00 a.m. (which I did all but one day).

The first day I was happy enuf to get one whole paragraph written. But I tinkered a bit more in the quiet house and ended up with more than 900 words after the first session. That felt good.

Subsequent days weren’t always as productive, at least in word count, but I was doing the muscle work to get the characters to do what I needed. My real goal, aside from wanting to sustain the momentum, was to get enuf of the story down so that when I got back to my humble writing room at home, I would be able to pick it up and keep going.

The words continued to accumulate, and the story progressed. And yesterday morning, the day before I was to leave Portland, I finished the first draft of the story. 3,000+ words. Good words, I think, too.

Of course I’ll need to review and reconsider and redo and rewrite. The story is far from finished. But not only do the earlier stories affect this one (“Men at Rest” is the second-to-last story in the cycle), but this one has ripples that affect the telling of the earlier stories as well. Though they are supposed to stand on their own, they are a whole. (In fact, I’m not sure “Men at Rest” can stand on its own; much of it doesn’t make sense without the preceding stories to inform it.)

So I’m in a good place, and as amazing as it sounds to me, I only have one story in the cycle left to write.


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