Archive for the ‘Fathers and Sons’ category

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 In any case, I’m no longer trying to get any of the unpublished stories/chapters published, and I say that half believing that it will cause the one or two currently out there for consideration to be accepted!)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.

the tree has fallen

August 9, 2016

I finished the “last” Fathers and Sons story over the weekend. And by “finished” I mean in a first draft only. It is titled “A tree falls in the forest” and I think it’s already in pretty good shape. It gets done the basics of what I wanted to get done. I quickly emailed it to my two readers, cautioning them that it was raw but that I thought it was important they have it to integrate with their understanding of the whole cycle.

About two hours after I emailed the story to them, I began revising it. Nothing substantive. Just stuff for the tone. Clarification of this and that. A few changed verbs. And added adjective or two.

I fully realize that the story will evolve; I certainly hope it does. It’s lengthy in relation to most of the other stories, and I found myself rushing through the end third of it; that will probably need to be developed more. But then I must call a halt, right? I don’t think there are any holes left to fill, any character development that is missing, at least essential character development. There are plenty of things I’ve left for the eventual reader to discover or discern. Or not. I don’t want to spell it all out and leave nothing for that reader to chew on and develop. I love stories that stick with me for days or weeks. I’d like to provide that kind of story as well.

But I’ll wait to see what my two readers think.

pictures of me

August 8, 2016

Paul in hospital

Or just one picture of me. Yes, that little boy in the hospital gown is me, more than half a century ago. And that’s my father with the Brilliantine in his hair. (Apparently that was how it was done in those days.) I have no memory of this, but my mother tells me that I had pneumonia severe enuf to get me hospitalized. (I don’t look too bad in the photo.)

One of my Fathers and Sons stories (now my One-Match Fire stories) has the grandson find a photo of his father as an infant with a caption on the back saying he is healthy again. His father, of course, has no memory of that time in his life, so the son can’t know what sickness he had. That one photo eventually steers the course of the grandson’s life (though he doesn’t realize it at the time).

I had completed the draft of that story and only then (consciously) remembered that this photo of me existed. Then I was on the hunt for it. If it existed any longer at all, it would be in one of the few photo albums my mother kept when she moved out of my boyhood home in St. Louis. She lives in Kentucky now, and while I had asked her to look for it, she said she tried and had no luck. But when I was down to see her on Mother’s Day, I combed through the albums and found the photo literally in the last one left.

I’m glad I have this photo. When my daughter was here last week, she scanned it for me (much better than the scan I tried to do at work), and now it’s in the digital universe. I’m also pleased to understand how it became part of the stew that makes up my creative self.

mused, and amused

August 2, 2016

I am certainly not the first, nor the only, writer who has sometimes half-heartedly believed that the stories exist “out there” somewhere and are revealed to us if we are good and patient and still. And our job is to scribble them down as they are revealed to us. I can understand why the ancients believed in things like Muses, whispering in their ears, telling them the tales or the songs that were wondrous and so human.

I am busy writing the “last” Fathers and Sons* story, which is titled “A Tree Falls in the Forest,” as you know from my last post. It is zooming along. I am scribbling and trying to keep up as the story blossoms in my humble brain. As the words flow through my fingertips and onto the keyboard, I keep seeing implications across all of the twenty other stories in this cycle of mine. Echoes. Reverberations. Hints. Influences. Explanations. It’s all connected, and I’m more than a little surprised by this. I understand, of course, that this is merely the effect of knowing these characters and the general story line so well, but that’s the quantitative Paul thinking. The qualitative Paul is the one who must do the writing, and that fellow is naive and not worldly wise and is easily impressed by such things. Rube!

The story is coming together nicely. I should have it finished by the weekend, and then I’m going to rush it off to my two readers to incorporate in their gracious and perhaps vicious analysis. I know what must be done in the story to get it to the finish, and with nearly every word, I’m seeing how it is tied to the other stories. It will be integral; it will belong.

And this amazes me. I thought I was done, and perhaps I was, and yet I write one more and it fits like the piece of a puzzle. But I must, must, must declare an end. Right?



*And by this I mean the last One-Match Fire story, of course.