Archive for the ‘Fathers and Sons’ category

inertia

February 24, 2017

Okay, so I sent out a query to an agent this morning for One-Match Fire. My inertia is broken. You have to be sanguine about these things, even though you know the odds are astronomically not in your favor. But you have to begin somewhere.

Now that it’s done, I suppose it will be easier for me to begin sending out more queries for the novel. Sometimes this part of the effort seems harder than the actual creative writing.

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I’m still reading White-Jacket. It’s a long voyage and the ship is now at anchor in Rio de Janeiro where the sailors are chafing at getting too little and too much shore leave. Melville is writing a humorous tale, but it is clear that just below the surface he is railing about the injustices and inhumanity of the Navy in those days. In fact, when the novel was published, a copy was given to each member of Congress and, I’ve read, it was instrumental in getting flogging banned as a punishment aboard U.S. ships. I’m enjoying every word, but I’ll be glad when I’ve finished the novel and I can move from the 19th Century and into something more contemporary.

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I crossed the 200-mile mark in my running two days ago. With the cold weather, I’ve done most of those miles on treadmills. But in the unseasonably warm days of late, I’ve been going outside for my miles. The transition from treadmill to pavement has been rough on my poor legs and lungs. The treadmill presents a continuous pace on a forgiving surface. The pavement, not so much. I constantly find myself going too “fast” to sustain, and my legs — especially my quadriceps — ache afterward. I don’t remember this much trouble in past years. Not sure why that is.

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I’m making some progress with the story I’m now calling “Stargazing and Eavesdropping.” A couple more scenes and I should have the first draft finished. Still no news on the status of the various stories I have out in submission.

betwixt

February 1, 2017

I don’t have much going on right now to report, gentle reader.

I’m between major projects. One-Match Fire is, I think, complete (though I am flirting with adding another story). I am poking at writing a query letter to begin sending it out, but I choke up because it is so important to get it right, and that will never happen.

I have an idea for a new novel blossoming in my head. It’s pretty much taking up all of my attention. Unlike One-Match Fire, which is not always happy but at least resolves warmly in the end, this novel would be grim and harrowing. It would be completely unlike anything I’ve ever written, and yet it is forcing itself into my mind, will I or nill I.

I’m not sure what to do about that. It’s too early to begin writing it (though I have worked out a couple of passages already), so I can let it gestate and continue to present itself to me. But I’m actually afraid of it. It’s not a nice story, and I don’t want to go where I would have to go (research) to be able to flesh out parts of the story.

So I thought I should go back to one of my Finnegans novels — the murderless cozy mysteries I want to write a series of, and for which I first began this humble blog. (This one deals with running a half marathon, too.) While fun, with intricate plots, they are not fraught with emotion and generational intrigue like One-Match Fire is. And they are a polar opposite to this new idea I have. So my thought is that if I devoted my efforts to one of those novels, I could either dissipate the urge to write that monster, or I could let it evolve sufficiently so that I could begin working on it properly once the Finnegans novel is in the can. (A large part of me wants the former to happen.)

I’ve said here before that it sometimes seems as though the stories exist “out there” and we writers are given glimpses of them so that we can put them down. If that’s truly the case, then I must have sinned grievously in a past life to be punished with this newest story idea.

a tree falls in the forest

January 25, 2017

Santa (or Krampus — not sure which in my progressive household) got my old chainsaw repaired, which meant on my next trip to Roundrock, I could do some serious damage to the trees there. It happens that one of my One-Match Fire stories is called “At Tree Falls in the Forest” and involves a father introducing his son to their chainsaw and carefully helping him cut down his first tree. Because my own chain saw was in disrepair and my sloth was not, I had not used it in perhaps five years. So it was with a little bit of audacity that I dared to write about using one in a story.

Thus when I got to use mine once again over the weekend, during an unseasonably warm winter day in the Ozarks, I had the chance to check my memory against reality.

The saw requires both chain oil and a fuel additive to run properly. When we got to the cabin on Saturday morning (after a 5.75 mile run and bagels, by the way) I found that I didn’t have any chain oil. Since my intent was to cut up a Blackjack Oak — a tenaciously hard wood that eats up chains — I certainly didn’t want to run it without. So after we got all of our gear settled in the cabin, we made a trip into town about ten miles away to visit the hardware store that has parted me from much of my money in the years that I’ve owned my woods. I found the chain oil without much trouble and grabbed some fuel additive while I was there. And then it was back to the cabin.

I was eager to cut up the tree. It was a double-trunked beast, and one trunk had already fallen to the ground. I had already cut it as much as my arm muscles could with a hand saw, and then the remainder of the trunk just lay on the ground, taunting me with each visit. That would change this time, and I intended to bring its companion trunk — still standing — to the ground and eventually into my campfire.

All I had to do was add the chain oil in its proper spot and then fuel up the saw, tug on the cord until it started, and begin the mayhem.

Simple as that.

I opened the screw-top cap to add the chain oil and began pouring it in, surprised at how thirsty the saw was, but it had been five years since I’d given it any attention, so what did I know? Having topped off the chain oil using nearly the entire bottle, I then turned to the fuel to put it in. And that was when I realized the mistake I had made. I had filled the fuel tank with the chain oil. Which is a kind way of saying I am an idiot. I don’t know how much Santa/Krampus paid to have my chainsaw repaired, but in my foolish act I had pretty much just undone all of it.

And so I stood there pondering what it was I had done and what I could do about it. The obvious answer was the only answer. I had to pour the chain oil out of the fuel tank and into the bottle from whence it came then somehow clean the fuel tank before adding actual gasoline. (Also actually putting the chain oil in the proper reservoir.) And so I did. It was easy enuf to pour the thick oil back into the bottle, but cleaning the tank was more of a challenge. I carried the chainsaw into the woods (across the road and thus not in the lake’s watershed) and then tilted it so whatever gunk remained in the fuel tank could drip out. I suspect I was violating if not actual laws then prudent environmental good sense by adding this hydrocarbon ooze to the forest floor, but it wasn’t too much. I then wrapped a paper towel around my finger and poked into the fuel tank to swab out whatever gunk I could touch. After that I returned to the cabin and filled the tank with gasoline, like any otherwise capable woodsman would have done originally.

So, all was in readiness, and all I had to do was start the saw. I pulled on the cord. And pulled. And pulled. And the saw would not start. Only then did I remember that there is an on/off switch by the handle that is nicely placed so you can thumb the machine off easily in an emergency. And it was set for “off.” Having remedied this, I tugged on the cord again. After a few tugs, the machined roared into life.

And then sputtered into silence.

So I tugged again. The same thing happened. And it happened several more times as I realized that the engine needed to clear the gunk that was in it from my earlier mishap. After a few minutes of tugging and fuzzy hopefulness, I did get the chainsaw running in a sustained way. It was still a little fussy, and I had to restart it several times, but I was able to cut up the fallen Blackjack Oak as well as its standing companion. Here you can see some of my handiwork:

logs

(That’s the much-dimished lake in the background. No swimming this visit.)

Later in the afternoon I schelpped the saw down into the dry part of the lake bed (don’t ask, I’ll just whimper) and cut up some willow trees that are growing there. It’s a defiant act of mine since there are far more willows than an afternoon and a tank full of gas can address, but it’s a start.

So the trip to the woods was a success despite my mishap. We cooked our food over a (one-match) fire (abetted by some oil-soaked rags) with wood I had cut, mused before the flames and embers, and then eventually crawled into our beds in the cabin for a sleep well earned.

I woke in the middle of the night to rain hammering on the metal roof of the cabin. It was not unexpected, and the poor, diminished lake certainly needed a recharge, but it continued through the night and into the wan light of dawn. Our plan had been to ravage the forest more with the chainsaw on Sunday, but the rain, and the falling temps, had conspired against us. So we packed our gear into the truck and steered ourselves toward home. When we could get a cell signal (our cabin is on the wrong side of the ridge for that), we learned that seriously bad weather was coming to the area, with possible tornados. So I guess it was just as well we left any tree felling that day to the wind.

 

so I did a thing

January 16, 2017

I’ve been fooling around with my story “Fire Sermon” for a couple of weeks. I got the first draft down without too much agony, and it’s been through a few rewrite sessions, but I kept telling myself it “wasn’t finished” and “wasn’t ready.”

Sometime over the weekend I came to understand that this was code, and the message behind it was that I was too chicken to just finish it and try submitting it.

So I did.

“Fire Sermon” weighs in at 3,540 words (exactly, at this moment), and that immediately put it out of consideration at many publications that had calls with themes that my story might fit. (What is it with shorter short stories? Are they easier for editors to publish? For readers to read? Can you really cover a human story in only 1,000 words?) So I broadened my search for a potential home and came upon a new-ish journal published from somewhere in the Midwest (tantalizingly vague on their webpage, though physical location doesn’t really matter in cyberspace, I suppose). And off the story went.

Now I have a tw0-month wait for a response. And in that time I hope to be able to turn my attention to other stuff. My playful story “Stargazing” is only about two-thirds written and deserves some love. And ideas for the sequel stories to One-Match Fire continue to come to me, so there’s some note-taking to be done there. Plus that pesky query letter for the novel. And there are plenty of other ideas in the mental hopper.

BTW, although “Fire Sermon” has two characters in it from the One-Match Fire stories, it isn’t really part of that novel. (I just know these two people very well and could write about them more easily.) One-Match Fire has a specific narrator — I’ve always asserted that a story’s narrator must be as much of a character, at the very least to the writer, as any character in the story — but that will not be the case with these subsequent stories. I’m not sure who that narrator will be, or even if it will be the same narrator for each story, but my point (and I do have one) is that I didn’t have to craft the telling of this tale in the voice of the person telling the other tales. That made the job easier.

damned hard

January 10, 2017

Writing a query letter (for One-Match Fire) that I am confident about is damned hard.

whatsoever

December 29, 2016

So I’m reading this book Santa left under the tree for me: Sherlock Holmes FAQ by Dave Thompson. It’s full of interesting tidbits. (Did you know that Conan Doyle supposedly read Moby-Dick avidly? This would have been at the time when the novel was obscure and even dismissed.) Even so, it often seems like the author wants to show off his erudition, with pages-long tangents into some facts he’s uncovered that are only tenuously connected to Sherlock Holmes.

A recent chapter I finished began with a short paragraph that contained the word “whatsoever” twice. This didn’t seem like an ironic repetition or a flourish of his style. (The word appeared once more in the chapter.) I think it was just the result of quick work and poor editing. That’s unfortunate, and I did pause when I came across it, but I managed to keep reading the chapter.

This is a writerly failing of mine. I tend to repeat words, and I don’t realize it when I’m doing so. I only catch them (when I catch them) in my editing reviews of my stuff. And then I sometimes only catch them when I’m reading my writing aloud. As far as I can recall, I’ve never used the word “whatsoever” in any of my writing; my repeats tend to be a more commonplace words, and usually verbs. Just this morning I found the word “know” twice in one sentence, for example.

This isn’t necessarily bad, but it usually is. It’s certainly weak writing or at least an opportunity/need for stronger writing. And I’d like to be the one to find these instances rather than some editor down the road. Or worse, that neither of us would find it.

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My work on “Fire Sermon” is coming along nicely. I’ve more than doubled the word count at this writing — I’m taking a break from the story to write this post — and I’m up to 1400+ words. Pretty good words too. The story has taken a little turn I wasn’t expecting, but it’s completely in keeping with the theme, so that’s fine. I have no complaints about it whatsoever.

ever on and on

December 19, 2016

There is a belief among writers that you pretty much have just one story but that you keep on telling it for the rest of your life. I can understand that, at least for some writers. And it’s maybe not a story actually but a theme or an idea or a subject that you keep revisiting, trying to puzzle out in words what about it burns so strongly within you or maybe trying to finally tell the story exactly right.

I have been flirting with the “finished” One-Match Fire manuscript for weeks, telling myself that I need to give it another read through to muscle it into final form so I can begin submitting it. I realize that I’m actually frightened of both the big job of preparing it for submission and the big risk to my very soul in submitting it for objective evaluation (and likely copious rejection). But I’ll get the job done.

Except that I’m realizing the job will never be done. I’m currently working on a story called “Fire Sermon” and it’s coming along slowly but well. It deals with the friendship of two of the characters from One-Match Fire, and, importantly, these characters’ relationships with their fathers and sons. So it fits with the theme of my novel. It doesn’t fit into that novel per se, but it’s cut from the same cloth. And the longer I live with these characters, the more stories I see for them (or that they are revealing to me if you want to get mystical).

Thus I’m already having initial thoughts about the inevitable sequel to One-Match Fire. More stories about these characters who have taken up residence in my head and are knocking around noisily like the person in the apartment upstairs. The novel focuses on three characters: a grandfather, a father, and a grandson. But at the end of the novel, the grandson is an adult, on the verge of marrying and even considering becoming a father himself. Stories abound. And I’ve been told that I’m pretty good at writing flashbacks, so even characters and events long past can be marshaled in and put to good use. As long as I draw breath, I can probably write stories about these people, and so I can fill enuf pages for another novel.

I think I must since I’ve already come up with a title for it. Don’t you think Embers is an appropriate name for a novel to follow one called One-Match Fire?