Archive for the ‘Fathers and Sons’ category

open road before me

June 29, 2015

I devoted my weekend writing time to reading the notes I have been compiling for a while toward a new Finnegans novel. (12,000+ words of notes!) I’m making that lane change I discussed in my last post, moving from the Fathers and Sons stories and into something completely different: a Finnegans novel.

I began this humble blog in part as a way to discuss my fledgling efforts on my Finnegans novels. They are cozy mysteries, but they are unique within that genre because they don’t include a murder. I’ve always said that there is plenty of evil that people can do that doesn’t involve murder and often not even crime. (Doyle once calculated that a little more than half of the Sherlock Holmes tales didn’t include a murder and that many weren’t even about crimes, so I feel like I have a literary leg to stand on.)

I had read extensively in the cozy mystery genre, and nearly all of the novels had a murder that the sleuth eventually solved. I have to say, most of this felt contrived, even over the top. And I really don’t think, as some have asserted, that a reader needs something as startling as murder to stay interested in a mystery story. Or rather, I think readers of the cozy mystery genre might welcome a little variation in the formula. Thus my murderless mysteries with a husband and wife team of sleuths who stumble upon whatever is wrong, often not even knowing that something is wrong, and resolving it all in the end.

I’ve written four Finnegans novels (none published though one had some bites when I was shopping it around). They are early efforts, and while I think I can probably salvage a couple of them, I’m eager to get going on this new one to have a fresh start. I have my two central characters well sorted out (from having written the four existing novels), so all I need to do is plunk them down in my plot and let the words flow. (Unlike my “literary” Fathers and Sons stories, I’m not trying to be any more “meaningful” or “lofty” than to tell a good story that can be appreciated on that level alone. I don’t have to anguish over each word and bit of punctuation as I do with the F&S stories. Thus, I think the words can flow on the Finnegans stories.)

As I was reading the 12,000+ words of my notes, I came upon little devices and developments that I had forgotten about and am eager to get into the novel. I also came upon some dead ends that I can discard without a problem. This story happens to involve the wonderful sport of running, and my personal experience with that in recent years will inform the writing in a pleasing and fruitful way, I hope. (I had conceived this plot device for the story before I had taken up running. Kind of handy how my life interests took the turn they did then.)

Whatever the fog has been that has kept me from writing seems to be lifting. In recent weeks I have “finished” two short stories and even submitted some to magazines (!). I’m making my lane change and taking up the Finnegans novel. Things seem to be moving again. I hope it sustains.

I finished a story!

May 25, 2015

I know! I can barely believe it myself. I rose early this morning and stared at the screen long enuf to put down nearly two thousand words of new material to double the size of my Fathers and Sons story “Father’s Day” and brought it to something like a conclusion.

Sure, it still needs work, and it does not comply with the standard structure of a short story (the normally rapid falling off after the climax is more lingering), and I’m not sure I have the closing words just right, and the supporting character has come much more to the fore than I expected. But it achieves everything I’d set out to do. And best of all, it’s finished (in first draft).

Given my creative torment of recent months, this is an achievement. (Actually, it may be imagined creative torment. I think since the turn of the year, I’ve written three stories: “Boys are like puppies,” “Twice Blest,” and now “Father’s Day.” That’s a decent volume of output.)

Regardless, it feels good to cross this particular finish line. Now to see what lies ahead.

a moving story

March 3, 2015

I’m making some really nice progress on my latest Fathers and Sons story, “Father’s Day.” It’s been revealing itself to me cautiously and letting me craft it slowly and carefully. I’m pleased. (What an odd feeling!).

I have more than 1,500 words down, and I’ve reached the halfway point, at least as I understand the story now. I know what I want to do; I know the story I want to tell, and that’s refreshing. Too many times (too many failures) I have embarked on a story only to get stalled along the way, flailing about fruitlessly and surrendering in frustration. (How many metaphors did I mix in that last sentence? And is “flailing about fruitlessly” redundant?)

In structure, this story is going to be a lot like “The Lonely Road.” It will begin with a character in anguish and then end with healing tenderness. Only my central protagonist, Davey, and his wife, Kathy, are in the story, but it is very much about the relationships between fathers and sons. (In this way, the story is something like another F&S story I’ve written called “The Saddest Casualty” that has only Davey and his mother as characters but is also very much about Davey’s relationship with his father and the things that sometimes are not/cannot be said between fathers and sons.) Kathy is, of course, more discerning than her husband, so her reflections on his laments help develop the connections to the characters who are off stage.

The second half of this story takes place at the family’s little cabin in the Ozarks. I’m eager to get to work on that part since a) that cabin is their location of healing throughout the cycle, and b) I haven’t been out to my own cabin for more than two months (YIKES!), so at least I’ll get to experience one by proxy.

I feel as though I’ve gotten past something, some damned thing that wasn’t letting me write at all. I haven’t resolved that something yet, but I’m in battle with it, and I’m grateful that I’ve made enuf progress to be able to write again. Maybe next I’ll be able to read fiction the way I used to.

Wish me luck. And momentum.

a spark

February 24, 2015

Following Saturday’s feat of will (when I rose early and managed, despite my inertia, to get two of my stories submitted to lit mags), I rose early on Sunday to see if I could do some actual, you know, original writing.

Sometime back I had said I needed to work on my Fathers and Sons stories in the order they will occur in the chronology of the tale. I assumed that by treating the cycle somewhat like a novel, I would see/know/develop the relationships between the characters, the stories, and so forth. Sounds like a fine idea, but I haven’t had the luxury lately working in a sensible, coherent manner. Any story, in any order, that presents itself to me, that asserts it should be written, is motivation enuf for me to give it a try.

And so it was on Sunday morning. One of the stories in the cycle I’m calling “Father’s Day,” and this has been the one that has been growling at me, is insisting that it be written now. I’d been making notes for this story for as long as I’ve been working on the Fathers and Sons stories (I think it’s three years now!). I’ve learned from experience that if I don’t wait until I have critical mass, an attempt to write a story that isn’t ready will fail. I took the growling as an indication that part of my creative self had decided that “Father’s Day” had reached critical mass.

And so that is the one I chose to attempt to try to perhaps maybe just maybe make a tentative, un-confident beginning with. I have the “plot” of it mostly worked out already in my head. (It begins and ends with two people together in bed, the same people but different beds.) And I certainly know the theme and tone I want to achieve. These two have, for me, been the greatest indicators of critical mass in the past. All I had to do was get some words down. I could revise them later, but I needed to get the pixels on the page (so to speak) and make a beginning.

Surprise! I managed to get 500 words strung together. I agonized over these words for several hours. I wrote them and erased them. I moved them around. I reconsidered. I strengthened. I obscured. (Can I use that as a verb?) I fussed and fretted. And I stuck with it despite my doubts and misgivings. I think they’re 500 good words, and I think they are a good beginning as well. I think I can come back to them now and pick up where I left off.

The 500 words are barely the beginning of the actual story. I suspect this will be one of the longer of my stories, so I may be at this one for a long time. That means I need to be concerned that I don’t lose the momentum or spark or vision or whatever it is that has allowed me to write once again.

But for now, I am writing. I said yesterday that I lately have felt like a stranger to myself. Today I feel like a stranger in a strange land.

Icarus

January 12, 2015

On the advice of several of you kind folk, I have stepped away from the Fathers and Sons stories for a while and begun my epic struggle with the unrelated story “Icarus” that I’ve mentioned here once or twice.

I’m not abandoning the Fathers and Sons stories. Over the weekend I tinkered with the two latest, shoring up this and that, finding stronger words, making ideas more clear. I think they’re in pretty good shape, and now I will let the collection simmer for a while. This seems to be an effective means of development for me. Thoughts will continue to come to me about them, thoughts that will sharpen and focus them. And I’ll probably drop in a few times just to put down whatever my latest brilliant thought is. If enuf critical mass develops, I may even start work on a totally new F&S story. (There are at least four more I must write.) If that happens, it will be a good thing; if it doesn’t, that won’t be bad either.

As for “Icarus” I feel as though I have made a good start on it. I worked on it for two hours on Saturday and wrote a whopping thirty-four words! I’m not being sarcastic. I think that was good.

I’d been making notes for this story on Google Docs (I think they call it Drive now.) I even wrote perhaps a thousand words of the story there. But it is evidently the wrong context for me. I look at the screen and the layout and all of that, and it isn’t conducive. I need Word (which I’m sure Microsoft is pleased about). I had intended to use Google Docs because I could access the story file from any online computer (read: at work) and be productive as inspiration struck. But I’ve found that I need the silence and solitude of my early morning sessions in my cozy writing room at home. That is the context I’ve created for my creativity. (I hope that doesn’t sound precious and self-indulgent; self knowledge is supposed to be a good thing.)

So I re-began “Icarus” over the weekend, in Word, not consulting the file of notes I have on Google Docs. I think (hope, wish, intend) I need a fresh start to the story. I think I started down the wrong road the first time, and I fear that if I go back even to peek at it, my thoughts will get stuck on that road. There are certainly parts I’ve already written that I’ll use in my new effort, but I’ll do so with a clean perspective.

Regardless, “Icarus” is going to be a tough story to write. (Hence the adjective “epic” above.) I’ll probably have to step away from it a few times as well.

Confounding all of my need to focus is this little matter:

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Little Ken is now at home with his Mom and Dad (and dog, Crusher) in their tiny apartment in Brooklyn. I’ve been subsisting on the photos my daughter posts online, marathon texting sessions, and a few wonderful Facetime meetings. My wife and I will be going to New York in early February so we can meet the little guy in person. (I may also run a half marathon while I’m there depending on the weather.) I don’t think Little Ken will be talking or crawling by then, but I’m certain he is about as clever as they come, and I won’t be surprised by anything.

 

could it be progress?

January 5, 2015

I wrote a bit prematurely in my last post about the progress I was making with my latest Fathers and Sons story, “Boys are like puppies.” I spoke of having written 600 good words. And that was significant progress given the funk I’ve been in. (2014 was not a good year for me, ’nuff said.)

But I spoke too soon. I returned to the story later that day (which is a rare enuf event since I almost never attempt to write in the afternoon) and kept poking at it. The result was nearly 3,000 words down. (That magical number.) I “finished” the story, though I still need to complete one major transition and then let the whole thing percolate for a while before coming back to it with red pen in hand. (Did I just mix a metaphor?)

Still, this has been remarkable progress for me. And I don’t mean merely the word count but the accomplishment of finishing a story. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to do that. In the ensuing days a couple of thoughts came to me about how to elucidate the tone I want in the story, just a simple switching of roles so that a certain word is spoken by a better character. (It’s a “from the mouth of babes” moment that reveals a great deal.) I’m hoping more ideas like this come to me to strengthen the story telling, sharpen the characters, and deepen the pathos.

And then what? Do I attempt to sustain the momentum with another Fathers and Sons story? Or do I take a crack at something completely different? I have a story idea I’m calling “Icarus” that has been demanding attention. It will be a difficult story to get right, but I’m thinking I need to get it out of my head and out of the way so I can return to the other stuff.

*   *   *

(I’m sure you can tell that I found a great sale on parentheses.)

transitions

January 1, 2015

No, not some musings on the change from one year to the next. (By the way, is there some celestial reason why January 1 is considered the beginning of the new year in most of the world? Or is it just arbitrarily agreed upon? Seems like the first day of spring would make more sense, as many cultures do.)

Rather, I’m going to moan about what may be my biggest struggle with writing: transitions.

I’ve been picking at my latest Fathers and Sons story, “Boys are like puppies,” for a few weeks. And by “picking at” I mostly mean staring at the screen, waiting for the next words to come.

There are several things I want to do in this story. One is to contrast different fathering styles and attitudes toward parenting. This will involve casual nudity. (Ten-year-old Davey fears he has a tick on him and drops his pants before his buddy and the buddy’s father so that his dad can check his bottom.) Davey and his dad are comfortable with this — often they go skinny dipping together — but the other father is aghast and his son is embarrassed.

That scene, and another about the two boys peeing in the forest, are the crises that cause the other father to storm away from the campfire, dragging his son along. Davey doesn’t understand what happens and only knows that his new friend is gone. Davey’s dad tries to shield him from what went wrong, and it results in a more fulfilling weekend for the two of them.

I have these (and other) moments of the story clearly in my mind. The problem is stringing them together. The problem is in the transitions between these scenes. And my mistake for the past few weeks has been in trying to make the transitions rather than just getting more words down (those other moments of the story) and worrying about the transitions later.

It’s an old lesson that I seem to need to keep relearning. With past stories that bedeviled me I have just written the various scenes within them and then found a way to fit them all together. (“The Lonely Road” is a good example.) Usually, when I have most of the parts completed, the assembly becomes more evident. It all needs reworking after that, but writing is rewriting, as they say.

And so it has been with “Boys are like puppies.” I stared at the blank screen long enuf, wishing I could get to the funny scene of the naked boy before the campfire, and then decided I would just get that written and worry about the transition to it later.

The result was 600 new words. Satisfying words, and even an inkling of how to make the transition to them. My regret is that I didn’t do this weeks ago, but at least I’ve done it now and hope the momentum continues.

There are two other “big” scenes to complete in the story. And then the transition work. The incubation of it all. The reworking. Maybe even sending the draft to a couple of writer friends (and non-writer friends, who I’ve learned can give more visceral feedback). And on to the next story in the cycle. (I really want to write these stories in chronological sequence now, since each feeds into the subsequent stories, but a later story in the cycle, “Father’s Day,” has been hammering at my brain for a while now, so it may be the next project. Or at least I could write some of the scenes within it. Hmmmm.)

Or I might do something completely different. I have a couple of stories not in this cycle at all that are presenting themselves to me, and maybe it would be healthy to step away from the Fathers and Sons stories for a while to do something fresh. Whatever, it feels good to be getting some words down.


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