Archive for the ‘Fathers and Sons’ category

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.


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:


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.)


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.

inspired (or maybe not?)

December 22, 2014

There is a school of thought (school?) that says one should not wait for inspiration to strike before working on some creative project, in my case short stories. Rather, one should plug away at whatever is underway and muddle along until something gels or inspiration does strike or at least you’re not wasting your time on social media.

I’m of two minds about this. I’ve had too many stories (and even attempts at novels) go astray because I was simply plugging away at them without knowing where I needed to go. I didn’t have the big picture or the fine ending or the controlling metaphor or the overarching theme or the elusive inspiration. Or even a plot at least once. I’ve devoted a lot of time and effort to things that turned out to be frustrating dead ends. (And don’t tell me I was at least practicing the craft. I don’t think I buy that.)

So I’m reluctant to stare at a blank screen or a stuck story and try to “force” my way further. When I’m stalled, there’s a reason, and I think my job at that point is to figure out what that reason is and how it can be addressed. Neither is generally clear then. In my story “Twice Blest” I needed to come up with the “twice” part of it. (See Quality of Mercy. Note: I am by no means a Shakespeare scholar!) And I didn’t have it. I built to it, but I didn’t have the delivery. I was stalled. And no amount of fidgeting with the words was making any difference.

What I needed was some time away and some reflection. I know it sounds cliched (or at least thoroughly unreliable), but when I’m struggling with something like this, the resolution generally comes to me as an epiphany. It just dawns in my little head in some useful and (in the end frustratingly) obvious way. (Often it happens when I’m out running, far from paper and pencil.) And so it was with this story. The answer was there all along, in the notes I had been keeping for the story. I just didn’t recognize it until I started reading one of the other stories in this cycle and saw an important connection in theme (that is supposed to run through them all).

“Twice Blest” is not finished yet, but the core of it is in place. I need to plug away at it now in a way I couldn’t have allowed myself before (with an eye to the controlling metaphor business). And I’ve already turned my eyes to the next story in the cycle. I’m hoping it will be less difficult, but I’ll need to dig in to find out.

progress report

December 1, 2014

I seemed to have found enuf stillness and self-respect within me to finish my latest Fathers and Sons short story “Twice Blest.” I got a solid first draft completed over the weekend. I’ll need to work on it, of course. Perhaps flesh it out. Perhaps tighten it here or there. That will come with time. At least that’s how it works for me.

I’d said in an earlier post that what goes on in this story will affect every word of every story subsequently in the chronology of the cycle (and even the four that are already published and thus carved in stone). I’d also said that the thoughts and feelings of the character in this story are completely unlike my own life experience, so I was struggling to create out of whole cloth.

This is odd in two ways. The first is that, as I was digging through my dark and troubled psyche for this story, I realized that the thoughts/feelings my character has are probably felt by many, and maybe even most, new fathers in varying degrees. It’s the kind of thing we’re not likely to be proud of or even admit to, but I think it’s there.

The second is that this story was supposed to be a toss off. The character, Joe, is the first father (and eventually grandfather) in these stories (thus far he makes an appearance in “Men at work and play”), but I had really found myself focusing on his son, Davey, and his grandson, Curt. So I said to myself, “Self, Joe needs more love.” And I thought I should toss off a quick, early story in the cycle to flesh out his character a little. I was surprised at the sudden depth and resonance of the story that came my way. So much for a toss off.

So, it feels good. It feels almost like momentum, which is an unfamiliar feeling of late. I’d already written the next story in the chronology, but it seemed too sweet at the time, so now I can work on it informed by the developments in “Twice Blest.” And then comes the third story in the cycle, which has the tentative title of “Boys are like puppies,” and which I think is true in many ways.



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