Archive for the ‘Fathers and Sons’ category

“Moving Day”

February 4, 2016

In a feat of astonishing and thoroughly unexpected effort, I have “finished” my Fathers and Sons story “Moving Day.” I had a general idea of what I needed to do in the tale, but it didn’t work out that way. Instead I wrote a story from the viewpoint of the (teenaged) grandson, and I think it is better for it. I will, of course, refine/rewrite/rework the story in the days and weeks to come, but I think the foundation is laid.

It didn’t end as I expected it to, but given the revelation I spoke of in yesterday’s post, it makes perfect sense. Suffice to say that we are guardians of our own memories and the memories of others as much as we can be.

This leaves only two more stories to be written in the cycle as I currently conceive it. Two more! I can’t tell you how good this makes me feel. Only two stories left! In my writing life? It’s been nearly four years since I penned the first story in the cycle (which hasn’t found a home yet), and when I wrote that story (“The Death of Superman”) I had no idea it would open my creative self to an entire cycle of more than a dozen stories. Now I’m nearing the end, and with the recently understood revelation about my narrator (it’s a big dang deal for me!), I think those stories will be comparatively easy to get down in 1st draft. I know where to take them.

The next story, which I’ve titled “Men at Rest” and which is intended to “reflect” my story “Men at Work and Play”, is already presenting itself to me in my crowded and noisy little head. This was one I had intended to write in an “experimental” format with several narrators/points of view. But I don’t need to fuss with that any longer give my narrator revelation (see above, to your own peril and/or tedium). It’s a kind of wrap-up story, and it will be the second-to-last story in the cycle. But so much needs to feed into it, that I’m sure it will be the one I rewrite and revise and refine most of all. A good problem to have.

Then comes the last story, “Little Gray Birds.” I had an important insight about it while on the treadmill the other day. It came to me at about twenty minutes into a two hour run (damned marathon training plan!), so I had to keep repeating the idea to myself as I trotted along. In “Little Gray Birds” all is revealed. Or maybe not. I haven’t written it yet, and I’m still not sure what I’ve going to do with the narrator revelation I’ve spoken of (ad nauseam). That’s a down-the-road matter, and I’m sure I’ll bore you with it in the weeks to come.

whose story is it anyway?

February 3, 2016

So the other day I was pondering the (inevitable) movie that will be made of my Fathers and Sons story cycle, after it’s published, of course, and has collected numerous awards and accolades. I thought it would be difficult to tell the tales in visual form because so much involves the memories of the characters. So much is internal monologue. And I realized the movie version would need a narrator.

Then I wondered who could possibly be knowledgeable enuf about these characters’ lives to be able to tell their stories in sometimes quite intimate detail. And I had a revelation.

I have always asserted that a third-person narrator of any fiction should be as much a character (to the writer) as any character in the story. (I’ve babbled about it here on the humble blog even. Witness this old post. Nice Walden reference there too.) Even if this narrator is no more than the affectless voice that tells the tale, the writer should know him or her well. Know the narrator’s ambitions and frustrations and favorite foods and shoe size. What is the narrator’s motivation, agenda? Even if the reader never knows this, the telling of the tale will be better because the writer does.

And I realized who the narrator of the Fathers and Sons stories had to be. It was like a bolt out of the blue. Of course! It all made suddenly perfect sense. It made every single word I had written and would write fit the narrative precisely. Every thing spoken and unspoken, every nuance and sly reference, would be controlled and would serve a higher, deeper purpose. (Oxymorons are an important narrative device in the stories, by the way.)

I’ve struggled with some of the stories feeling too sentimental, but with this new narrator in mind, I think I can resolve that. Not necessarily by removing the sentimentality either. And as I go back to “finished” stories to polish and refine them, knowing exactly who the narrator is will guide me.

No, I won’t tell you who the narrator is. I’m not even sure I want to identify this person in the stories themselves. That may or may not feel like a cheat to the reader. I’ll have to see how it goes. But as a writer of the stories, it is a paramount matter and a profound understanding for me.

Can you tell this is a big deal for me?

believed defunct

February 1, 2016

I think I finally have closure regarding the fate of my story “Twice Blest” and the magazine that accepted it for publication then went on radio silence. I had tried various ways to reach the editor but got no response. I spoke to several friends and one editor who each suggested I wait for a while, which I have.

Recently I checked my gold standard for magazines — Duotrope’s Digest — and saw the the magazine in question is now listed as “believed defunct.” I wrote to Duotrope to see if they could give me any background, and they responded that they haven’t received any responses from the magazine either, despite repeated attempts. Thus their classification of “believed defunct.” (The person who wrote back said she’d had an experience similar to mine. I guess we’ve all been there.) I’ve also written to the editor of the defunct magazine, officially withdrawing my story.

I think that settles it. Not the outcome I wanted, but at least an outcome.

Now I can polish the story a little more and start sending it out to other markets.

progress, plodding progress

January 25, 2016

So over the weekend I tackled a new Fathers and Sons story, “Moving Day.” I was pleased when I managed to get down a whole 75 of the right words for the start. Getting a story started properly is a big deal for me. If I make a misstep at that point, I often have a hard time getting enuf story accumulated to reach critical mass. I suspect that I have abandoned some good stories simply because I started them wrong and gave up.

But not so with “Moving Day.”

Those 75 words transformed into nearly 600 before my first session was done. After my second session, I had more than 1,600 words down. Good words, at least as far as I can tell this early in the game. More importantly, the story has found its direction. When I was initially imagining the plot and purpose, it was unlike what the story has since become. The three usual characters are involved: grandfather, father, son. But so far, the father is absent as a physical presence in the story. He is off running errands while the grandfather and grandson are sorting through boxes, memories, and their emotions. (The title, of course, is supposed to carry more than just its literal meaning.) That had not been my original concept for the story. Instead of those two sitting quietly in the old house the grandfather will soon be leaving, I had first thought of having all three characters in the new apartment, squabbling because of the frustration of trying to get too much done in a weekend. So the setting has changed as has the cast of characters.

Even more importantly, a significant moment of character development has occurred in the story, as though on its own. This was something I did not see coming, but it makes perfect sense, works perfectly in the sequence of the stories, and springs naturally from the complex emotions between two of the characters. The grandson (who is a teenager) thinks he hates his father. But then he gets an offhand revelation about him from a photo he’d never seen before. The grandfather, whose memory is slipping, can’t give any more details about what the photo is apparently revealing. But that moment gives the grandson direction for the rest of his life, though he doesn’t know it at the time. This direction for the grandson’s life had always been there; I had always intended to develop the character in this way. But to have its causal moment in his life pop up unexpectedly and link so exactly to the flow and the dynamic between the characters is a delightful, much-welcomed development.

I’ve always said I never want to know too much about my creative process. I’m happy to have it bubble along, plodding as it sometimes is. But I fear that if I am too conscious of how it works, I’ll seize up, observing and questioning the process rather than the outcome. Nonetheless, I can see how this much-welcomed development has grown from my understanding of the characters and the various plots I’ve thrust them into. It makes perfect process sense in retrospect. I’m not sure it would have happened, though, if I had deliberately asked myself to cause the development based on my understanding of the characters and plots. It was revealed rather than crafted, if that makes sense. I love when that happens.

Later in the day: OMG! I just realized that a similar photograph exists of me. It is much like the photo the grandson comes across in the story. I had not remembered this at the time I was writing. More of my creative ferment, I guess.



something of a problem

January 14, 2016

So I’m having something of a problem with one of my accepted-but-not-yet-published stories. I wrote several months ago about my story “Twice Blest” being accepted at a certain magazine. That edition was supposed to appear in early November. Then I received an email from the editor saying it would appear shortly after Thanksgiving.

To date, the newest edition of the publication has not yet appeared. I have written to the editor three times and to the magazine’s general email address. No response at all. I found the magazine on Facebook and posted a query there then found the editor on Facebook and sent her a message asking the status. No response at all.

My fear is that something significant has happened that has prevented the editor/magazine from going forward. That would be unfortunate for all involved, of course, and I don’t want to come across as callous or uncaring. But not knowing anything is uncomfortable for me as well.

I contacted a friend of mine who is an editor of a different publication and asked him if this signified anything. He suggested that I wait it out for a while. It was his idea that I try to reach the editor/publication through social media, and I was glad to give that a try.

Ultimately, though, I have to decide if I should withdraw my story from consideration so I can start sending it around elsewhere. And if I can’t get a response at all to my status queries, can I be sure that anyone there will even receive a withdrawal notice from me? Might I get the story accepted elsewhere and then find this original publication has come back to life and already published it?

Has this kind of thing ever happened to you? What would you do?

riding a wave of momentum

January 11, 2016

Well, the grandson (#1) has completed his three-week visit and has gone home to New York. Granddaughter (#1) has made her appearance in Oregon but has not yet travelled to meet me. Grandson #2 has not yet arrived. Seriously cold weather has returned to my part of the country. With all of this social liberty, and the hostility of the outside world, I chose to hole up for the past weekend and try to get a comprehensive sense of my Fathers and Sons stories. This involved reading all of them in the order of their internal chronology to see what worked, what isn’t working, what holes still need to be filled, and how much farther this journey will go.

One thing I learned early in this effort is that I truly love sentence fragments.

Here’s what else I’ve learned.

  • I’ve written 16 of these stories (most still in draft mode). I hadn’t realized there were that many.
  • Of these, four have been published and one is accepted for publication.
  • Two unpublished stories were sent to magazines for consideration over the weekend. (Go me!)
  • Some of these are very, very good. Some need lots and lots of work.
  • These 16 stories currently comprise more than 46,000 words.
  • One, of more than 4,400 words, may not make the cut. (It’s one of those that needs lots and lots of work.)
  • I have three stories still to write in the cycle as I conceive it.
  • I expect the three remaining stories to contribute about 10,000 words.
  • The cycle has a specific starting date in real time: the spring of 1968. I need to give more effort to pinning down more precisely when the subsequent stories occur given that starting point, mostly to know the age of the characters.
  • The overall cycle is mostly about the middle character (both a son and a father), Davey. That was not my original intent, but I have no complaint. I understand this boy/man.
  • There is a lot of skinny-dipping in the stories. Also peeing in the forest. And talk of underpants. Trust me; it’s thematic.
  • Memory is important in the stories. Good memory. Lost memory. Faulty memory. Made-up memory.
  • Even people who deeply love each other will hide things from each other or find they cannot say some things.
  • Most of the stories I’ve written with a first-person narrator sound wrong and jarring. Gonna have to fix that. (I used first person in these cases to emphasize the self deception people can commit, but I can probably do it just as well with a third-person narrator.)

I don’t know if I’ll discover I need more stories or not. Given that the middle character gets most of the attention, I may conclude that the grandfather and/or the grandson needs more development.

Part of the point of the comprehensive read through was to spur cross pollination, and I think it is working. Though each story is intended to stand on its own (at least the ones that are published or that I’m trying to get published), they are interrelated. So an insight in one might serve a purpose in several other stories. Similarly, there are tropes that pop up in the stories to tie them together or at least give tangibility to the universe they are in. Cotton flannel shirts are an example of this. Repeated adjectives another (“green, green eyes”). My hope is that more things like this will occur to me in the coming days and weeks as a result of the read through, and I can go back to the stories with these fortifying elements.

I spent the entire weekend in sweats (except for an hour or so on the treadmill). I brushed and flossed twice and showered at least once.

I know it all sounds so very creative and glamorous, but I assure you it’s hard work. When it all comes together in the end (should I live that long), it will be a beautiful thing. (Just like you are!)


tavallodet mobarak!

December 28, 2015

So, for some unfathomable reason, both NBC and NPR chose not to deliver this important piece of news: my granddaughter, Elaheh Laurel, was born on Saturday, December 26, in Portland, Oregon. “Elaheh” is the Farsi word for “goddess.” A lot of texting and Facetiming has been darting about the intertubes, but I won’t get to see her in person until early February when my wife and I make a trip up there. In the meantime, the other in-laws are in Portland for a month’s visit, which is great since mom is recovering from the C-section delivery.

Also in the meantime, my grandson, Kenneth Gunner, is here in Kansas City for a three-week visit. He’s a delight, and I mean that in more than just a doting, grandfatherly sense. He is a happy, happy baby who hasn’t developed any stranger aversion. He’ll go to anyone and loves to play. He also loves to feed people (and dogs) his Cheerios. He’ll be here for his first birthday early next month, so that will be fun.

And then, come March, my next grandchild should make his appearance. Emmett Undetermineded-as-yet-middle-name is expected to arrive then. His parents (my youngest son and his wife) live about forty minutes down the road, so I’m sure I’ll get to see Emmett a great deal.

*   *   *

I’ve been experiencing an unexpected bout of creativity (or more likely motivation) lately. I’ve muscled my latest Fathers and Sons story, “Over, Under, Through”, into really fine shape. I like what I’ve done with it, and it’s already got me to thinking about the next story in the cycle I need to write as well as what subtle linkages I can pepper into the other stories already written or yet to be written.

Which leaves me with a bit of a quandary. While several of the unpublished Fathers and Sons stories are finished in my mind, and I’ve even shopped some around for publication, with each newly written story I find new connections with the others. This makes sense, of course, because they all occur to the same characters in the same universe. And I want to incorporate those connections, either by oblique reference or character development or foreshadowing or whatever. Yet if one of the stories gets published, I consider it carved in stone. And as such, I don’t suppose I can then tinker with it to make these connections that come to me from subsequent work. Thus the quandary. Do I try to get any more published as individual stories, or do I hold on to them so I can refine them as needed until they are all finished and the entire cycle is collected into single, no-doubt-prize-worthy unit?

*   *   *

Perhaps as antidote to this, I’ve begun making notes on a different story, one that is not a part of the Fathers and Sons universe or that is connected to any of my other characters. It will be a fun story, something like “Velvet Elvis” was/is fun, though it will involve a couple of love stories. I’ve had the kernel of the idea for this story for decades — literally — and it has to do with the two words “piece” and “peace.” I’ll leave it at that, and I still have plenty of story to think through before I can even begin writing it. But it does feel good to feel motivated.


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