Archive for the ‘Fathers and Sons’ category

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.

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:

16048341260_6c40ea9fa2_n

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.

 


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 29 other followers