Archive for the ‘Fathers and Sons’ category

still more progress

November 27, 2015

I’m making some progress with my story “Over, Under, Through.” I’ve added more than a thousand words to it in the last week. Considering that I’m not really sure what the story is supposed to be doing, I consider those thousand words real progress. Actually, my thoughts are coming together. I see what the story can do for the Fathers and Sons cycle, so all of my struggle is going in that direction. Whether that is the story I end up with, I can’t say at this point. But it is nice to feel progress in my humble writing efforts. It’s been a while.

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I finished Look Homeward, Angel the other night after a couple of marathon reading sessions. Wolfe really was a talented writer (despite his cringe-worthy, dated thoughts about those less fortunate), but he certainly needed an editor, and I think he needed even more editing than the extensive work he’d received. (But as I think I said, I read a “restored” version of the novel.) Some of the images he created, and the words he used to do so, are masterful and memorable. Nonetheless, I don’t see myself returning to his novels. I may look up some of his short story collections, but there are other books to get to first.

One of which is the book I’m reading now: Van Gogh: His Life and His Art by David Sweetman. I’m not very far into it, but I’m enjoying it a lot. Even this early section, most of which is about people in Vincent’s young life rather than Vincent himself, is interesting to me.

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And speaking of progress, my experiment of wearing arch supports in my running shoes seems to be working. Since I started doing this a few weeks ago, I’ve only had two incidents of the tight Achilles tendon after a run. My feet have grown accustomed to having the inserts in the shoes, and they don’t seem to affect my gait at all. Granted, I’ve been doing a lot less running since the marathon a little over a month ago (this week I will be lucky if I clock four miles), so that may also account for the better tendon. I’m trying to heal a sore hamstring in my left leg, so I’m backing way off the running, probably for the rest of the year.

fresh effort at a story

November 17, 2015

So I’ve started fooling around with a new story in my Fathers and Sons cycle. Yeah, I know. I’m as surprised as you are. I still have about a half dozen I hope to write, and they benignly bounce around in my head most of the time. Occasionally, one will accumulate enuf mass to assert that I need to work on it as an actual thing (rather than the idea of a thing). So it is with this newest story, which is titled “Over, Under, Through.” That’s not a reference to General Patton, though he apparently gets credit for the term, but more of a guy thing (there are three guys in my stories) and maybe something else.

Not much happens in the story, at least in terms of plot. My middle character, David, is sitting with his father in the care home where he lives. The father is unaware of his son’s presence while David’s mind not-so-benignly bounces around with thoughts and concerns. Very much present is the grandson, who is only there in the form of a printed email. The story ranges over a great many important points across all of the Fathers and Sons stories, and it will tie many of them together (“tie . . . together” — is that redundant?) and feed subsequent plot points. This is one of the latter stories in the cycle, though at present I see two more after it.

This doesn’t feel like the false start of my many recent attempts at writing something. I certainly hope it has achieved critical mass and will develop into something whole, when I take the time to sit before the screen of jumbled notes and try to assemble them into a coherent story. You’re welcome to ask me about this as a nudge.

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I’m still reading Look Homeward, Angel, though I am now in the last third. All of the qualities I enjoyed earlier are still there, but so are the faults. I’m no more drawn to Wolfe now than before. Not sure what I’ll read next.

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The editor who accepted my Fathers and Sons story “Twice Blest” has reported that publication has been delayed. Rather than appearing last weekend, it looks like it will come out next week. As always, I’ll be sure to shout it from the rooftops (or at least post a link here) when that happens.

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I don’t have any runs on my calendar until April. I’m still recovering from that marathon last month — my left hamstring muscle hurts, and I keep “re-injuring” it with every training run I do. I had hoped to be up to double-digit miles in my runs by now, but last night’s mere five-miler has left me in pain. I’m doing exercises and stretching, and I’m running a lot less than before. Now that I’ve reached my 1,000-mile goal for the year, I intend to take it easy through November and December to heal. Then I’ll ramp up again in the new year.


“Twice Blest” has found a home

October 6, 2015

My Fathers and Sons story “Twice Blest” has been accepted for the winter 2016 issue of Writers Tribe Review.

I had submitted it in response to their call for stories under 3,000 words on the theme of family. Of course, my Fathers and Sons stories are all about family, and at a lean 1,300 words, “Twice Blest” certainly met their length requirement. I’ve written about this story here on the humble blog a few times, perhaps most fully here. The title comes from The Merchant of Venice, specifically from the well known Quality of Mercy speech. The story is set in the spring of 1968, which is not necessary to know to read the story, but it does give a deeper meaning to some cryptic statements by the father. When the inevitable collection is published, this will be the first in the chronology of the stories but, as I envision it now, the second story in the collection.

I don’t know exactly when the winter issue will be published*, but it will be online, so I’ll link to it when that happens. This is the fifth of my Fathers and Sons stories to be published and my twenty-first short story to be published.

Always nice to put good news on the blog.

*Update: I re-read the acceptance email and learned that the next issue is scheduled to be published on November 14, 2015. So, that’s good.

when a rejection isn’t a rejection.

August 31, 2015

Okay, so it’s really an actual rejection. The magazine will not be publishing my story. But I can milk a little satisfaction out of this, can’t I?

I sent one of my Fathers and Sons stories, “Father’s Day,” to a magazine that had called for pieces that addressed catharsis in some way. Two months passed. Then I received a very nice rejection letter from the editor. She said that she really liked the 3,900 word story I’d sent but that she would have to decline it because in the two months since she made the call, she had changed her guidelines, limiting the pieces she would accept to no more than 1,500 words.

Well, darn!

writing is rewriting

August 17, 2015

“I spent the morning putting in a comma and the afternoon removing it.”

Gustave Flaubert

“I turn sentences around. That’s my life. I write a sentence and then I turn it around. Then I look at it and I turn it around again. Then I have lunch. Then I come back in and write another sentence. Then I have tea and turn the new sentence around. Then I read the two sentences over and turn them both around. Then I lie on the sofa and think. Then I get up and throw them out and start from the beginning.”

E.I. Lonoff in Roth’s The Ghost Writer

So, writing is rewriting. That was a hard lesson for me to learn when I was just a pup starting on this adventure. The stories I wrote then demanded so much of me, so thoroughly exhausted my life experience and the shallows of my musings, that when I finished one, there was nothing more I could do with it. It was finished. Complete. Perfect just the way it was. And behind me.

And undoubtedly dreadful. I’ve not whipped up the courage to go back and read any of those from the early days. I know now that they were my apprentice work, my crawling before stumbling before walking before running. And I know even more, know with well-deserved humility, that no first draft is complete or perfect just the way it is. Certainly not one of mine anyway.

This has not been a good writing year for me. I know many people are dismissive of the idea of “writer’s block.” And perhaps that is not what is afflicting me. Ideas for new stories, ideas for developing partially written stories, even ideas for stories that are finished and published, flood into my chaotic brain just as much as they ever did. But sitting before the laptop in the wee small hours of the morning and making myself enter that creative place where the writing flows (or trickles or sometimes dams up) has just not been happening. Yes, I did manage to put together two short stories in the last few months, but they were completions of work I had started long before, and I’m not sure they’re actually complete. Two stories in eight months ain’t much in the realm of productivity.

But if you can’t write, you can always rewrite, and that’s what I’ve been doing more of lately.

One of my “completed” Fathers and Sons stories (one? more like a half dozen!) had always felt forced and more than a little schmaltzy. Despite those misgivings, I had submitted it to several magazines and duly received rejections. Fine. That’s the nature of this biz. Knowing that it wasn’t right, I’d revisit it and tinker with this or that, and maybe I’d improve it in increments, but I wasn’t getting it where it needed to be. It was flawed in some deep way that I couldn’t identify.

But then the epiphany came. One of the fathers in the stories succumbs to dementia in his old age. Much of the sons’ legacy is lost (or trapped) inside his mind. And what is gleaned from there is suspect. What I realized, as I reflected on the many stories in their many states of completion, is that memory is a recurring theme throughout them. I hadn’t set out to make this a touchstone. (I hadn’t even set out to write a cycle of stories; I just wrote one, liked it, set it aside, then found I had more to say about the characters.) Memory recalled, memory mistrusted, and, in the case of this story, memory manufactured and whether true or not, cherished.

The story is titled “Comfortable in his skin” and it deals with a pivotal day in the life of one of the sons. Yet as he remembers the day, he can’t be sure it happened they way his imagines. But he decides he’s going to accept the memory as true.

The problem with the story was that I’d had the wrong narrator. I had the father telling the story, lovingly, about his son and this important day in his young life. And while that would make it true in the universe of the cycle, it was just too saccharine and “final” for my liking. To have the son “remember” the day decades later, to have him fill in the missing parts as he wanted them to be, allowed the schmaltziness to become sweetness. It’s still a sentimental story, but it is the story as well told as my skills can do.

Discovering the theme of the story is what allowed me to salvage it. That same thing happened in a big way in my story “When we were young and life was full in us,” which I still think is the story I’ve written with the best control; every word in it was considered and weighed. Every sentence was turned around. I think I did get that one exactly right. (And there is a motif in “Comfortable” that recurs in the later-in-the-cycle “When we were young” that I’m pleased with.)

Is “Comfortable in his skin” finished? Probably not. I’ve sent it to a writing friend for his opinion. (Note: he told me I was always welcome to send him stuff.) I’m not good at taking advice, but he is good at seeing through the fog, so I’ll give his words consideration.

I’m not sure I’m past whatever has bottled up my creativity this year, but it is gratifying to get another story in better shape. I’ll take that much until something better comes along.

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.


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