Archive for the ‘Fathers and Sons’ category

thoughts on Substack

September 27, 2021

You may be familiar with an online publishing medium known as Substack. It began as a site where people in the know could publish “newsletters” about their topics, and subscribers would get an email whenever a new “issue” came online. While many of these newsletters are free, others charge a monthly fee — the minimum is $5, so $60 a year — to access the content. Consider that some of these “influencers” have thousands of subscribers and do the math. One of the biggest is posted by a man who writes about Chinese culture and politics.

So now creative people are joining Substack. Writers are posting their novels a chapter at a time as an alternative to traditional publishing. One of the newest celebrity members of Substack is Salman Rushdie, who will serialize a new work (and put it behind the paywall).

I had heard a very enthusiastic account of one person’s use of Substack on The Writer Files podcast. (Mostly half-hour episodes, which are perfect for my tolerance on the treadmill.) I checked on her subscriptions the other day and she has upwards of 1,200 people signed up. At $60 a year, she’s grossing $72,000. (Yes, Substack takes a piece of that, but what’s left is still hefty.)

A writer friend of mine is posting some of his short stories on Substack, though they are free. The thing about Substack is that if you want to charge a fee and make it worth your time and effort, you must have a substantial following of people who are willing to pay for the privilege. And to have that, you must be a hustler, a self promoter, someone who already has a name and a following. I am certainly not that kind of person.

Nonetheless, I am thinking about beginning to post to Substack. My novel One-Match Fire contains 23 chapters. which means I could serialize two a month and have a year’s worth of content. After that, I could post some of the stories I’ve written in that universe that are not in that novel to continue the content. Seems like a safe way to experiment with the medium. Maybe I could develop a following in that time. Perhaps then I could serialize a newer work (my impossible-to-publish metafictional stuff) and charge a fee. Then retire rich.

I know that Substack has gotten some bad press. It’s been accused of being a haven for right-wing crazies though I haven’t noticed such, and it seems easy enuf to ignore. There have also been some grumblings about the “advance” that Rushdie supposedly received for joining the platform. But I don’t see the logic in that. He’s going to get a bigger advance from a traditional publisher than a no-name would, and no one complains about that kind of thing. Maybe I’m missing something, but it seems like a good and safe place to experiment.

So what do you think? Do you have any experience or cautions you care to share?

Edit 18MAY21 – It may prove to have been a good thing that I did not act on this idea.

“Hush Arbor” is in fron//tera

July 27, 2021

The copy of fron//tera containing my story “Hush Arbor” arrived yesterday. It’s a lovely edition containing stories and poems in both English and Spanish as well as color photos, artwork, and even graphic stories. One of the stories (not by me) is even set not very far from my home in the the Kansas City suburbs.

“Hush Arbor” is a story with two characters from my One-Match Fire universe. It may even have a supernatural element. I’m sorry there’s no online edition I can link you to.

“Hush Arbor” approaches

May 24, 2021

Over the weekend I received an email with the proof pages for my story “Hush Arbor.” It will be published in the bilingual journal fron//tera in July. I don’t often get to review the proofs for my stories, though this did happen with my very first piece all those long years ago, and I think I may have expected this process to be the norm. In any case, I read my story closely (and the table of contents, my bio, and the journal’s cover) and found no errors. I was also able to review the proof of the entire issue via Google Drive. I learned that I was mistaken in my understanding of how the journal works. I had though that my story was to be translated and appear in both English and Spanish, but that’s not the case. Rather, there will be stories and poems in English alongside others that will be in Spanish. Just as well since I don’t know how I would have proofed my story in a different language.

“Hush Arbor” features one of the characters from my One-Match Fire universe and another character who comes along after that novel has ended. Of course the cabin and the woods feature in it too. But I’ve added a new twist in this story by introducing the suggestion of something supernatural. Is it “real” or is it part of a child’s imagination? (I make a similar suggestion of the supernatural in my story “Magic for Beantown,” which may or may not have a leprechaun in it.)

Also featured in “Hush Arbor” are marbles in the gravel around the cabin.

fron//tera is expected to appear in July, and it’s a print-only edition, so I won’t be able to share the story with you. I’ve written about it on the humble blog here and here.

“Hush Arbor” revisited

January 27, 2021

Last summer I had submitted my story “Hush Arbor” to a print journal named fron//tera, and it was accepted for publication. The forecasted publication date was for October of 2020, but we all know what 2020 was like. That date came and went, but the journal did not. I had researched it online, and they had a few good-looking issues listed, but they did not respond to my emails. Worse, Duotrope, that great listing of journals and publishers, had dropped fron//tera‘s listing altogether.

But yesterday I received an email from the publishers saying that while the issue was delayed, it was still going to happen, likely in the spring of this year. They even sent a mock up of the cover, which looks nice. (Though my efforts to post a copy of it here are mysteriously unsuccessful.)

fron//tera is bilingual, English and Spanish. (It’s published out of Madrid and Portland.) As far as I can recall, I’ve never had one of my stories translated to another language.

“Hush Arbor” is part of my One-Match Fire universe, though it is not part of that novel.

“Hush Arbor” has found a home

June 18, 2020

My story “Hush Arbor” has been accepted at fron//tera, a Spanish and English literary journal based in Madrid and Portland. It will appear in volume 3, themed Natural States, though I don’t know yet when that will come out, but it will be print only.

I also don’t know how/if it will be translated to Spanish; I do know, however, that I won’t be the one doing this.

This story includes two characters from my One-Match Fire universe, though it is not part of that novel. It also may or may not have a talking fox named Scrapefoot in it.

I had submitted this story to six other publications and received a rejection from five. With the acceptance at fron//tera, I have withdrawn that sixth submission.

bits and pieces

April 13, 2020

A photo from the archives. This golf ball had been pressed into the fresh concrete of a sidewalk near my home, and weather and usage had cracked away the thin layer above it, revealing the incongruous ball below. Since there are no courses nearby, the ball was evidently placed here deliberately. This patch of sidewalk has since been replaced, so this little mystery is no longer there.


Have you ever seen or heard of a menace being dismissed as “moonlight”? That the menace is more imagined than substantive? I mean beyond the literal sense of a shadowy something cast by weak light from the moon. More in the way of a noun. “You’re nothing more than moonlight!”

I’m using it much this way in Ouroboros when a character has very little to work with (moonlight) but needs to make some big conclusions.

It seems like I’ve seen this usage, but I can’t find it as a legit definition anywhere. (If not, then I’m going to use my writerly privilege to evolve the meaning of the word!)


We’ve named our kitchen table Autumn because it is always dropping its leaves.


I had worried that One-Match Fire was not going to be publishable as a novel because ten of its twenty-four chapters have already been published as stand-alone stories. I even asked about this on various publishing-related blogs and message boards, but I got contradictory responses. Some insisted that I had forfeited first rights to the whole by publishing some of the parts so no publisher would touch the novel. Others had never heard of such a thing and thought that this history showed the whole had a market. One publisher I was interested in (whose submission window finally opened this month) was unclear about it in the guidelines, so I wrote to the email address they listed for questions. I got a response within a few hours from the editor herself saying that she’d heard of this “stigma” but that she didn’t think it was valid, certainly not with the indie presses. (She also said that getting ten of the stories in print already was impressive, which was a nice word to carry me into the weekend.) So I submitted the novel to this press. Whether they bite on the whole or not is dependent on their stylistic judgment, but at least I know that it has a chance.


My friend Peter Anderson had one of the short stories in his collection, Where the Marshland Came to Flower, reviewed last week on the Story366 blog. The editor there is reviewing a short story every day of this leap year, and last week he reviewed one of Anderson’s from his collection. The title of the collection is from a poem by Nelson Algren. (And one of the stories had been previously published prior to the whole.)


In Ouroboros, I have a semi-literate character use the word “accept” in place of “except” in an email. Funny, then, that in my re-read this weekend I found myself using “except” when I meant to say “expect.”

here and there

November 18, 2019

Where have I been that I haven’t made a post for two weeks? Well, here and there, but mostly here, without a lot of motivation.

Two weekends ago — a four-day weekend for me — my wife and I went to Paducah, Kentucky to see my mother. She is not doing well, and all of my (many) siblings are making their farewell visits. She is resigned to what’s coming, and she’s well cared for; her sister and my sister, both nurses, live in town. Still . . .

The drive home from Paducah to Kansas City was harrowing. An early season sleet and snow storm, and ridiculous temperatures for early November in the lower Midwest, meant our drive was pretty much white knuckles the whole way. (My drive, that is. My wife sat in the passenger seat and did the navigating and running commentary on the weather, the road conditions, the wiper blade conditions, the nearness of semis, and whatever else came to mind when she lifted her eyes from the book she was reading (about arrowna fish, of all things!).)

The photo above is what a wheel cover on my truck looked like the next day. The freezing rain had fallen on it, was spun out, and froze like this. The rest of the truck was about the same. All better now, but yikes!

This same sort of thing happened last year when we went down for a film festival and had to come back in a wicked storm.


On our way down to Paducah, because we were passing only six miles from the cabin, we detoured and made a quick visit. We spent less time there than the detour took to get there and then back to the highway, but it was a nice little chance to see the cabin. (On our way back, we passed again within six miles, but we did not choose to detour off the highway. All we wanted was to fetch the dogs from “camp” and get our tired selves home.)


However, last weekend, we did make a trip to the cabin. The weather was dry and the sun was out and the temps climbed into the 50s. Plus we had grandson Emmett for an overnight, and we asked him if we wanted to see our cabin. His enthusiasm for this prospect warmed my black and shriveled heart. So we moved his car seat into my truck, packed a day’s worth of gear, squeezed the two dogs in with us, and drove to the cabin.

Emmett had a grand time, in part because Grandma bought him a monster truck to play with when we got there. That’s Emmett you see at the top of the photo, pushing his monster truck up the gravel pile, which proved to be the most interesting feature of the whole place. That’s also another successful one-match fire I made to burn our hot dogs over. (I don’t think I ever need to eat another hot dog in my life.)


Emmett also found some of the many, many marbles I have scattered in the gravel around the cabin. He collected a few of these and then buried them in the gravel pile, only to “discover” them later.

I’m okay with this. The marbles in the gravel are for whimsey and color, and I hope that as the grands visit the cabin, they will find them and delight in them, just as Emmett did. If they sneak some away in their pockets after a visit, that’s fine with me. (I have plenty more.) Emmett brought these three to me as I sat in the comfy chair on the shady porch overlooking the sparkling lake. Before we left for the day, I returned them to the gravel, but we have a traditional Black Friday visit to the off-the-grid cabin coming up — I refuse to be a Consumer Culture Casualty — and Emmett may “find” them again.


Yesterday I spent two hours preparing a submission of One-Match Fire for a potential publisher and, due to some unholy state of sin on the part of Submittable, I lost all of the work I did! Microsoft teased me by saying the document was in auto-recovery, but I couldn’t access it, so I just re-did all of the work. I eventually made the submission successfully though I have no idea what my prospects are. I’ve submitted OMF to six publishers/contests, and so far I’ve received two rejections. One must have a thick skin for this business.

radical rewrite

October 7, 2019

So I wrote a story some months back, and I knew at the time it was thin. I saw that I was trying to tease more out of my idea than it had in it. The story involved two characters from my One-Match Fire universe (no surprise there), and it had to do with how people inhabit the names they are given.

That’s a lofty idea to work with, but what I didn’t have was a story for it. I had a conversation, set on the porch of a certain Ozark cabin, that brought up various thoughts about the names people had, but the beginning-middle-end construct I wrapped it in was weak and mostly pointless. The story framing really had no connection to the story theme.

And all along I was nagged by the thought that it could be better. I suppose as occupational hazards go, knowing you can do better at something is a good one to have, even if it is frustrating when it’s mysterious. When I was running, I knew I could run better if I trained harder. But with a story, with this story, the solution was not so obvious. The story’s not good. It could be better. But how, exactly, to make it better?

The inklings of how it might be done came to me when I was last at a certain Ozark cabin, and I made feverish notes about this as I recounted in this post. At the time, I knew I had my solution, and it was merely a matter of sitting down with my thin story and muscling it into better shape. Yet the fever has subsided, and the solution is not so clear.

I know what I need to do to rewrite the story. It’s pretty much a complete overhaul, wholly scrapping what I had written. (I don’t even want to read what I’ve already done lest it “taint” my rewrite effort.) But that’s where the hard work comes in. I’m trying something radically different. It is shaping up as a nontraditional narrative, mostly just conversation scraps between the two characters and not even in chronological order. Only the last conversation will bring a unifying point to the plot of the story. I’ve not done anything like this before, so I’m more unsure of my ability than I normally am. But it feels better, it feels to me that I can create the story better. So I persist.


The story I had mentioned before that I wanted to write based on the monomyth of the hero’s journey has been an experience much like what I recount above. It, too, nagged me as one that could be done better. And I’ve been working on it in fits and starts, trying to make it become something a whole lot more than what it began as. It retains a more or less conventional narrative approach, but what I do within that framework is getting refined. I don’t know when I’ll consider it finished (nor the one above), but at least I know it’s not there yet.

“Three Small Words” is now live

August 26, 2019

My story “Three Small Words” came up over the weekend at Adelaide Literary Magazine.

This story takes place long after the events in One-Match Fire, but it involves many of those same characters. In fact, this story occurs just one week before the events in my story “Forest Succession” in Heartwood. A pair of heartbreakers.

So “Three Small Words” is perhaps the best example of my use (overuse? misuse? abuse?) of the rhetorical device known as omne trium perfectum. I’ve mused about this here. The story’s title probably triggered a willful attempt to have various “threes” appear in it, but I don’t really remember one way or the other. (Or even a third.) Also, the call of the whippoorwill that recurs in the novel One-Match Fire is three notes, which the characters sometimes let stand in place of three small words they don’t say to each other often enuf. So, continuity.

Should I ever write enuf of these post-One-Match Fire stories, I will collect them with the overall title Nature Always Wins. (I’m even occasionally working on one called “Omne Trium Perfectum.”) It’s certainly thematic of these latter stories, and the term comes up once or twice in the former.

At the end of the story in Adelaide Literary Magazine my standard, self-deprecating bio appears as well as what may be a photo of myself. If so, it’s an old photo when I may have sported facial hair.

Though I knew the story was going to appear in mid-August, it was nice to see it come up when it did. I received two rejections last week. Both were for long-shot, random submissions, but somehow my skin in never thick enuf.

something new

August 5, 2019

I began something new over the weekend, but first, some backstory.

Nearer the dawn of civilization, which is to say back in my St. Louis life, I was a member of a small writing group. We met monthly to critique each others’ stories, and though I am sure none of my writing from that period survives, I really thought I had arrived then.

Among the members of the group was the leader’s sister, who professed that she was not a writer (I think her field was the Polish language), but she regularly had a story for us to dig into. One I specifically remember was an interior monologue about a character grieving over a friend who had recently died. The sister announced that she applied the Kubler-Ross Five Stages of Grief when she developed her story, carrying her character through each stage.

I can remember bridling under this, thinking that grief was personal and unique to each individual and didn’t necessarily comply with prescriptive stages. When I eventually wrote my own friend-dying story, I paid no attention to the “official” stages and just wrote from (my) experience. (The story eventually became “Unfinished Business,” and it was published many years later.)

And all of that is the backstory.

I began a new story over the weekend, “North, East, South, and West,” (which you’ll, of course, recognize is a reference from the first chapter of Moby-Dick), but the real new thing I did was begin writing this story from a prescriptive series of stages.

The “plot” of the story involves a man wandering through a forest on a hot August day. But it’s more than that, as you might imagine. And the new thing I am doing is applying the stages of the hero’s journey to his wandering. I’ve never written like this before, from someone else’s script so to speak. Most of my stories have been organic, if I can use that word, and while I might have an ending in mind when I begin, the ending I actually reach is often something completely different.

Not so in this case, or at least not so in the journey to the ending. While my character has many comical mishaps as he moves through the woods (he’s a city boy), his interior monologue (about certain aspects of his life) is where the steps of his hero’s journey take place. I made a list of the steps and then noted what aspects/events in the story would apply to each. (Dropping a couple.)

The story is speeding along. I sat Saturday morning intending to tinker with maybe a first paragraph and rose 1,300 words later. I added another 300 words to that in a second session. I can understand why some writers will develop detailed outlines before they begin.

I’m not sure I’m completely comfortable with this process of writing a story at someone else’s “direction”; even the things I’ve read about the hero’s journey concede that not all heroes hit all of the common points along the way. But for this story, it seems to be working for me.


(In that last paragraph, should the semicolon go inside or outside of the quotation mark?)

Update 6DEC19 – So trying to frame my story using the hero’s journey pretty much failed. I found myself just writing the story as it presented itself in my head, regardless of any “official” touchstones I was supposed to have achieved. I’m not sure it’s a good story, nor might it ever have been. It’s thin and even forced a bit. I’m letting it simmer on the back burner of my mind. Also, it’s now titled “Commonplace Book,” which I think better suits what’s going on in the story.