Archive for the ‘Fathers and Sons’ category

“Fire Sermon” finds a home

January 11, 2018

My short story “Fire Sermon” has been accepted for publication in The Magnolia Review. (This is the story I’d said in a recent post that I had considered submitting to this very magazine and then found that I already had!) I had answered a call for submissions on the theme of “fire,” which is significant in the story (as you can probably guess from the title), but it was also a publication that wanted all author-identifying information stripped from the submission. That was how I discovered that I’d already submitted there; I happened to have a sanitized version of the story on my desktop and began to wonder why. So I checked my submission log and made the discovery. (I am always nervous when I have to submit something with the identifying information removed. I fear that the link will be lost and my work won’t get published as a result. One of my very early published stories went something like this. The editor had lost the story document itself and wrote me asking that I send it again. He said he was lucky that he was still able to find my original email!)

I’ve written about this story several times in the last year. It has two characters (and one cabin) in it that do appear in the One-Match Fire novel, but the story isn’t part of that collection. Actually, as I’ve also said, I am beginning work on another collection of these stories that would be called Nature Always Wins.

I understand that The Magnolia Review comes out twice a year, online. I’m not sure when the issue with my story appears , but I have to get some documentation back to the editor before the end of this month. I’m unclear whether the edition will be accessible to everyone online or if you must have a subscription. (Past issues are accessible.) I’ll be sure to post the link when the issue comes up if it’s available.

Pretty good start for the new year.



called “Three Small Words”

January 2, 2018

You’ve seen this photo of me on the humble blog before. Sometime in my early years I was afflicted with something that was severe enuf to get me hospitalized. The only person still alive who was around at the time (aside from myself, of course) is my mother (and my older brother and my younger twin sisters), and she’s vague on the details any more. Years ago, when I first came upon this photo in a dusty album, she told me I had pneumonia, though maybe she said whooping cough. Now she is no longer sure.

I keep this photo on my desk and see it every day. The mystery of it has affected me deeply. (I’m hoping whatever the affliction was, hasn’t.) As you may recall, I used a photo like this as a MacGuffin in one of my One-Match Fire stories: “Moving Day.” The son finds a picture of his father in a similar circumstance, and it basically sets the course of his life. (“Moving Day” will be published in THEMA Literary Journal this summer.)

In that story universe, I’m revisiting the photo in a new story that I’m calling “Three Small Words.” The son, now an adult, has reason to think that there may be some very long-term consequences to whatever had afflicted his father a half century before. But with no one around to tell him what it was (his father having no memory since he was only a few months old at the time) he has to begin his research blindly.

Similarly, I have made a few tentative steps toward finding out whatever had afflicted me. I asked my mother what hospital I would likely have been in and she told me it would have been where she had trained as a nurse. So I called the medical records department at that hospital and asked about documentation from more than a half century ago. I was met with barely suppressed laughter. The woman I spoke with said that any records predating 2005 had been long since destroyed. I suspect that’s not wholly true but patient confidentiality laws being what they are, I’m finding that hospitals are pretty tight lipped about all of this. (I’ll try a different route later. It may be that the records were microfilmed or digitized and I could still have access to my information.) Early in my St. Louis life I was hospitalized again with appendicitis. I’ve wondered if my record from that event might contain a reference to my earlier hospitalization, and so I’ve inquired at that hospital as well. So far, no response.

I intend to use my frustrations in the story, my character coming up against the same brick walls. And since the photo is only the MacGuffin, finding the information is not nearly as important as the quest.

subtle jolts

December 26, 2017

Profound shifts in my life often come in subtle, unexpected ways. And, I’ve found, sometimes the most obvious thoughts or understandings just don’t come to me in the fundamental ways they should (though perhaps they do come to others) until I am jolted into “receiving” them.

For example, and tangentially related to the point of this self-indulgent post, Iris Murdoch has a statement in one of her philosophical works* that goes like this: “Love is the extremely difficult realization that something other than oneself is real.” My understanding of this is that other people actually exist and are whole human beings with lives and dreams and frustrations just as valid — and apart from — my own. They are no more “walk-on” characters in the story of my life than I am a “walk-on” character in their lives.** (And that we can’t truly love another person until we acknowledge that they exist apart from us. And until we do, we only love our fabrication of this other person and not the actual other person.) Doesn’t this seem like the most obvious thing in the world? That other people really exist? And yet it is not my first thought when I see someone walking down the street, that this person I glance at briefly has a life beyond me, a life that doesn’t include me at all. Maybe I’m more self contained (or selfish) than other people who grasp this understanding — and live it — readily.

But onto*** the point of this self-indulgent post. I recently had one of these subtle jolts. It was about something that should have been the most obvious thing in the world to me, especially since I’ve written so many stories about fathers and sons, but the point had never occurred to me. I was in Seattle for the Thanksgiving holiday with my son, his wife, and their daughter, Ela. Ela is fussy. She is willful (which I think is a good quality for a future woman in our culture!) and often won’t willingly do what is requested/required of her. One example is bath time. My son must cajole her into taking her nightly bath if she is not in the mood for it. I first observed this when he began walking about the house singing “It’s bath time for Dad and Ela. It’s bath time for Dad and Ela” (to the Popeye tune).

My first thought when I heard this was that I was not going to take a bath with my granddaughter. And here is the big revelation: He was using the name “Dad” in reference to himself! I, who defined myself as “Dad,” was not “Dad” any longer; I was now Grandpa. And the jolt wasn’t that he was “stealing” my identity from me but that it has passed to him. I had to stop seeing myself as this person and start seeing him as this person.

And, of course, I had known all along — intellectually — that my son was a dad in the lower case. But seeing this fundamental yet profound quality in another person — as another person — was something I had not grasped, had not given myself motivation to see and accept or even consider.

I’m not sure that I’m making my point very well. It isn’t that my son is a Dad in the upper case. It’s my realization of it in more than just an intellectual, abstracted way. The world has shifted and it took a jolt for me to see/accept/understand/be at peace with it.

And, further of course, I’m going to incorporate this into one of my stories. My father character David will be a grandfather and will hear his son use the word “Dad.” David will automatically think it’s a reference to himself and then have his own jolt when he realizes it’s a reference to his son, his boy, his child who is now a parent. As it should be. Right on time. Part of the natural, wholesome order of things. Yet hard to internalize for him.


At this point you might be saying to yourself, “But I thought One-Match Fire was finished.” And you’d be right. I’m now working on stories for the inevitable sequel, which I’m calling Nature Always Wins.


*”The Sublime and the Good” – I don’t profess to grasp her philosophical writings very well.

**The recently coined word “sonder” seems to be just what I’m attempting to define here.

*** or should that be “on to”?

the unbearable creativity of distance

November 27, 2017

Depending on when you are reading this, I may be several miles above the planet, winging my way home from Seattle. My visit was circumscribed by the needs (demands?) of a fussy almost two-year-old, so I didn’t do much in the way of sight seeing or touristy stuff. (Nor did I go running, though had I wanted, it happened that the Seattle Marathon took place while I was in town. The day was filled with ominous clouds and frequent rain and plummeting temperatures, but despite such delightful conditions, I could not have done anything respectable with that distance right now.)

I did, however, manage to finish two stories. (I am as amazed as you are!) The first is the story I’d mentioned recently called “Forest Succession.” I’ve already sent it to a trusted reader, and I’m feeling good about it. It is not part of the One-Match Fire novel, but it does deal with many of the characters in there, though much later than the time period the novel covers. (I have a vague notion of writing a sequel to that collection.)

The second is a wholly new story that I’m calling “The Kick” and that is unrelated to anything I’ve written, though it is about running, sort of. I’ve often growled at the word count limit of many publications. A thousand words just doesn’t seem enuf to tell a solid story; the shortest of mine start at more than twice that number. Yet “The Kick” comes in at just over one thousand words, so maybe I finally have a contender. It’s only a first draft, of course, so it is likely to change.

I didn’t have much trouble adjusting to the two-hour time difference in Seattle (though the evenings were tough). Since I am naturally an early riser, I had no trouble with that part of the day; I actually had to sleep in. And since the household was quiet in the early hours, and since I had copious amounts of iced tea (unsweetened, of course), I found myself before my laptop with my ideas in my head, and the words flowed.

So this leaves me with the question, do I need to travel long distances and be in unfamiliar places in order to write? Does it do something to stimulate my creative ferment?

succession success

November 20, 2017

I mentioned in my last post that I’ve been making some progress on a new story. Since then I’ve more than doubled the word count, and that was after some serious editing to clean out excessive phrasing. It’s a tighter story, even as it’s grown longer overall.

The working title is “Forest Succession” and you can guess that it’s about the little cabin in the woods that my One-Match Fire family has. It’s not a story for that novel; in fact, it occurs many years after the end of that novel. But it involves the same characters and the hundred-acre forest they have been going to for four generations (five if you count the great, great grandfather who first bought the property).

The idea I’m writing toward is that just as a forest goes through a succession of trees in a cycle that eventually repeats, so the property is going through a succession of people coming to it who will leave their own marks on it.

I should have a first draft finished with one more writing session. It’s satisfying.

“Moving Day” has found a home!

October 10, 2017

My One-Match Fire story “Moving Day” has been accepted by THEMA Literary Journal and will appear in the Summer 2018 issue next June.

I had submitted the story last June (by snail mail!) and had nearly forgotten that I did. I responded to a themed call for submissions — the theme being “The Face in the Photo” — and sent this story since a photo plays a critical role in it and in the plot of the novel, actually directing the course of one character’s life in part. You can read about my submission in this old post.

So I have a small, one-page contract to sign and return and I’ll get one copy of the printed journal (next June) as well as actual payment of $25! Aside from the 15 cents I got for one story (a Buffalo nickel and a Liberty dime), this is the first time I’ve ever been paid for my fiction. (Actually, not quite true. I was promised $10 for a story years ago, but the check never arrived.)

This is the seventh One-Match Fire story to see publication — that’s one-third of the whole novel — and my twenty-fifth story published.

I had been reviewing my various outstanding submissions in the tracking function at Duotrope’s Digest that very morning and was sad when I learned that I had not seen a single thing published this year (which didn’t make sense since I’ve had two stories published this year). In fact, the day THEMA’s acceptance letter came (via the postal mail, by the way, in my return-addressed envelope), I had received two email rejections for different stories I had submitted elsewhere. I was feeling dejected, but not so much anymore.

the state of things (or of one thing in particular)

October 9, 2017

Above is all that remains of that notebook from my grad school days that I burned in the fire ring at Roundrock. I wrote about it in this recent post.


I devoted a lot of time over the weekend (betwixt watching Emmett and also driving the course of the half marathon I have in less than two weeks) to “finalizing” One-Match Fire. I’ve been tinkering with the stories, trying to focus and enhance them based on the understanding of the characters and the plots as they’ve developed over time. Now that I know this about a character or that is going to happen, I find places in the stories to develop or set the stage for these things. Nearly every story received a dozen or so new words, some a lot more, and I’ve written an entire new story (“Special-blest”) that includes a flashback that helps fill in some of the early years of one character. I’m now up to 68,237 words for the whole novel, not counting chapter titles, of course. This is about a 5,000 word increase since the last count, and most of it is due to the new story. Still, I feel more confident that it is novel length and that I can pitch it as such.

I have some thoughts still to come from a trusted reader, and that may affect (will, likely) how that new story evolves as well as a “guy thing” that I wanted to bring into the stories somewhere that I think is important for understanding part of the dynamic between one of the fathers and his son.

And then? A comprehensive read through to get the tone more consistent; the early stories are lighter, the later stories more serious. And I’ll look for any opportunities to flesh out characters or story based on what I know now that I didn’t know then. And now that I have the narrator clear in my head, I want to capture that person’s voice more consistently throughout.

And then? The terrifying work of sending it to agents? I must get myself to that point. I can’t fool around with this novel any longer. I have other ideas waiting in the wings of my poor brain.