Archive for the ‘Fathers and Sons’ category

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.

in the ether

October 10, 2016

You send out your stories to likely magazines and you cross your fingers, and if you’re wise, you get yourself focused on other things so you won’t fret about your darlings out in the world. And then maybe you hear from one of the magazines saying they like your submission and want to publish it. And if you’re wise, you indulge in a little (or more than a little) well earned revelry. But then weeks go by without another peep from the publisher. Weeks turn into months. Excitement wanes. Worry ensues. And you wait for — hope for — some indication that your story is still in the works.

I’ve had enuf stories in circulation to have experienced many kinds of outcomes. High-profile publication. Labor-of-love publication. Disappearing publication. (True. Two of my stories were published online and then the zines just disappeared from the internet.) Denied publication. (One of mine was accepted by a magazine that then went out of business before my story appeared.) And, of course, my full share of rejections, which is something you have to get used to in a campaign like creative writing.

And then there’s my experience over the weekend. My One-Match Fire story “where late the sweet birds sang” was accepted some months ago by Simone Press, an anthology publisher in the UK. My story, about the family cabin that features throughout One-Match Fire, is the first chapter though it takes place late in the chronology of the overall novel. (I’ve been counseled to refer to the collection not as a story cycle but as a novel. I’d long suspected that was the case, but since I was trying to get many of the stories published on their own, I knew that a piece from a “story cycle” probably stood a better chance with an editor than a “stand-alone chapter” from a novel would. In any case, I’m no longer trying to get any of the unpublished stories/chapters published, and I say that half believing that it will cause the one or two currently out there for consideration to be accepted!)

Anyway, back to my narrative. Simone Press had accepted my story a couple of months ago, and I was told I would be hearing from them with a contract eventually. And I wisely got myself focused on other things so I wouldn’t fret about it. Weeks turned into months and I didn’t hear anything, but nor did I worry. Then the email came. The publishing contract for my story arrived. I’ve been asked to complete it and return it. The contract contains all of the usual stuff — there is nothing objectionable in it. So I’ve completed it, signed it, and returned it. Now I must wait for publication, which is scheduled for April of 2017. Somewhere along the way I had thought publication would be at the end of this year, but that’s not really a problem.

I am currently deep in the “final” rewrite of the stories, using the detailed insights from one of my readers as a guide. My spontaneous tinkerings with the stories have mostly subsided, so I think I have them more or less realized. Now for the polish and good wishes. I’ve even been chewing on some ideas for the query letter I will eventually send to agents.


thick-skinned report

August 31, 2016

I don’t think I’ve written a post like this in a long time. Or at least one using the old title.

I had submitted my F&S story “Twice Blest” to Front Porch Review on Thursday of last week. I received the rejection yesterday. Five days, and actually only two working days. That’s a quick response, even if it was a rejection.

But what a nice rejection it was. I got a personal email from the editor. He explained why it didn’t fit their needs, with detail, rather than just making that statement as most other rejection letters do. He also made suggestions for how to improve the story, (I suppose) unknowingly telling me to do pretty much what the rest of the stories in the cycle actually do do. So that was nice.

This was the story that got accepted by a publication that fell off the radar before it could get published. It’s subsequently made the rounds at a few places but been declined each time. It hope it isn’t cursed by its near publication early in life. You know how formative early in life experiences can be.

I actually wrote this sentence

August 25, 2016

When I was in graduate school, I came upon a sale of punctuation marks and loaded up. I’ve been using them ever since, which is how I can write a sentence full of commas, like the one below:

He seemed satisfied with this realization, this puzzling out of the mystery, sentiment being, in his experience, an unbreakable, though, he thought, insufficient bond.

This is from the story “Boys are like puppies.” The “He” in this sentence is a man visiting the family cabin, which is almost a character itself in my One-Match Fire stories. He doesn’t see the practical value of the place and the land. You can’t farm on it. The trees are too small for timber. The family aren’t hunters. Et cetera. But then he learns that the property actually belongs to the matriarch, who hadn’t come for this visit.

I like the sentence, though I won’t be surprised if some editor tells me to clean it up.

upon reflection

August 16, 2016

Writing is rewriting.

That was a hard lesson for me to learn. I can still remember the early days of my first attempts at writing stories, pouring everything I had into them, considering them complete and perfect and unalterable, and they’d better be because I had nothing left in me.

I mentioned in my last post that I went out to my cabin at Roundrock last weekend. It was (effectively) a solo trip. I had brought along my dog, Flike, but he spent nearly all of the time inside the cabin, alternating between cowering on one of the beds and cowering beneath one of the beds. This dog weighs 75 pounds. He’s pure muscle and energy, with a deep bark. And he is terrified of flies! There. I said it.

August is a bad month in the Ozarks for horseflies. Ticks are on the wane, as are chiggers (evil, evil chiggers!), but if the dragonflies have not been doing their job all summer, the horseflies can be abundant. The males are benign, though annoying enuf being an inch or more long and buzzing angrily in your face, but the females will bite. They need a blood meal in order to produce their eggs so that more horseflies can bedevil my poor dog next August.

For reference, here is Flike:


The brown dog you see at 11:00 is Queequeg, a Pomeranian and, not surprisingly, the alpha male of the pair.

But enuf of that. Back to my point. My little cabin has neither plumbing nor electricity. The lack of plumbing a fellow can deal with fairly reasonably. But the lack of electricity for the laptop — where all of the writing gets done — is harder to deal with. My Mac has about a three-hour battery life, and I’ve experimented with large batteries (the kind you can jump start cars with) to supplement that, giving me about another three hours. But It’s never been that productive for me, perhaps knowing that my time is limited. So my weekend trips to the cabin are times for reflection and note taking (in the paper journal I keep there for that purpose).

I spent most of my time traveling between the comfy chair on the shady porch to the comfy chair before the fire ring. I reflected. I carried on conversations with myself — out loud — and various others who needed to hear my advice and opinions. I worked out story problems in my head and discussed at length with myself bits of dialog and plot development and story enhancements and all kinds of really brilliant things, some of which I remembered long enuf to write in my journal.

Foremost among the ideas I developed was a need to rewrite about a third of the penultimate story in the One-Match Fire cycle, “Little Gray Birds.” In that story the grandson, Curt, reflects on a discovery he made about his past. It is introspective, and I think it’s well done as it stands, but I think it can be done better as dialog between Curt and his mother. His mother can reveal/confess something in her background that is tremendously important to Curt. I think it works better that way, is more dramatic, and gives the mother character a little more presence in the stories.

And so, writing is rewriting. The brilliant way I had figured out how to write this new development, sitting around the campfire and drinking beer, has somehow escaped me. Or much of it has. Or perhaps the seeming brilliance of it has. But I’m working on it. Somehow I’ll finish it then shoehorn it into the story and see what I think of it.

I don’t foresee another trip to the cabin soon, so maybe I’ll finally be able to put these stories to rest.