Archive for the ‘Fathers and Sons’ category

vignettes

February 20, 2019

What of One-Match Fire? you say. What’s the latest news in that adventure?

Well, I seem to have a serious case of not-being-able-to-let-go. I was cautioned about this by a friend. That it was never going to be perfectly finished in my eyes and that I had to reach a point where I released my grip and surrendered it to the world.

And I thought maybe I was there, except the nagging wouldn’t relent. More than just pencil work and trying to refine verbs or staggeringly beautiful sentences, I thought there were some gaps in the story telling that needed to be filled somehow. The novel spans more than forty years in the lives of three people (two fathers, two sons), and there are several long spans of years in the narrative that are not represented. There are some significant life events that readers don’t get to see or the characters to experience. They’re just “understood” to have happened. And that seems insufficient, even a cheat to the reader.

There are 24 chapters in the novel as it currently stands, and that includes two late-addition chapters that were originally intended for the inevitable sequel. (Isn’t that further evidence that I can’t let go?) The gap filling that I think is needed is more than just bringing in some references to existing chapters. In part, I think the chapters are complete and whole as they are currently written. The fact that ten of them have been published as stand-alone stories confirms this in my inchoate mind. So I don’t really want to attempt to substantially change them. And the idea of writing whole new chapters is too daunting for my little mind to be willing to engage. Plus I think a whole new chapter to deal with this or that subtlety might be stretching its worth and/or diluting its impact.

So, somehow, I came upon a different solution. I am now writing 300-word vignettes that I will slip in between the chapters. Vignettes are handy because they don’t really need a beginning, middle, and end. They are just snapshots of a moment, of a thought. But if done right, they can set up or clear up some later or earlier matter in the bigger narrative. They can show how a certain decision was made or why a certain action was taken. They can effectively fill some of the gaps without the need to write a few thousand words to do so.

One-Match Fire is written with a third-person narrator. (Originally, before I realized that the stories I was writing were accumulating into an actual novel, I wrote several of them in first person, and one was even published in that state. But then, when I saw I had a novel rather than a cycle, I figured I needed to rein in the narrator, at least give it a consistency that the reader would follow. So I made it third person, with a specific narrator in mind. Then it became a different person who is the narrator, which I thinks works better.)

The vignettes, on the other hand, are being written in first person. I think this gives a better glimpse into the minds of the characters in these critical moments. I can show the characters to the reader in ways the characters wouldn’t show themselves to each other, giving them more depth. (Uncertainty. Doubt. Regret. Fear. Shame. All human qualities that the characters would keep stuffed inside themselves rather than trouble the people they love.)

I don’t think having between-chapter vignettes in first person is unconventional to the point of being experimental, and I don’t think it would jar the reader, once the pattern became apparent. And I do think it serves the story well.

I’ve written four thirteen of these so far. That leaves only nineteen ten to go. To this point they’ve been easy to write, and that’s due to me knowing what holes need filling (and knowing these characters so well). But I’ve done the easy stuff. Part of what lies ahead is defining what holes are still out there, and which are more important to address than the others.

And then, once I have all twenty-three written, I’m promising myself I will consider the novel finished.

“Twice Blest” has found a home

February 4, 2019

My One-Match Fire story “Twice Blest” has been accepted for publication in The MOON Magazine. It’s supposed to appear in The Power of One-themed issue, which is scheduled for this month, so any minute now! (I’ll post a link.)

UPDATE: And here it is!

I had originally submitted this story for their Atonement-themed issue (coming in March), and the editor wrote back saying she wanted to use it earlier, if that was all right with me. And of course it was! (She also said some very nice things about the story.)

The MOON Magazine had published my story “The Most Natural Thing in the World” back in 2014, so that’s two One-Match Fire stories they’ve accepted. This is the tenth OMF story (of the 24) that has been published, which makes me think the whole might be at least as good as the parts.

“Twice Blest” has a history. It was originally accepted in 2015 by a magazine that quickly went defunct before they could publish my story. Its peregrinations took it to more than a dozen publications before it found a home. I don’t know if that’s a good number or an embarrassing number, but it’s my number. (I’m constantly fussing with these stories, so I think the 2019 version is better than the 2015 version would have been.)

The title comes from the Quality of Mercy speech in The Merchant of Venice, which speaks of how showing mercy benefits both the giver and the receiver. (That’s why I had submitted for the Atonement-themed issue originally.)

So, not a bad start to 2019.

no account

January 7, 2019

Accounting was definitely not my best subject in college. Nor was calculus, statistics, production, finite mathematics, combinatorics, fortran/cobol, and most economics. (I shudder just remembering those days.) I’m clearly not a quantitative person. But give me a literature or philosophy class and it’s straight As, baby!

So I can’t give you an accounting for my recent surge in writing productivity. Since the turn of the year I’ve written two stories (first draft, natch) and have a good start on a third. I wrote one of those stories in a single session! Yes, they all deal with my OMF characters in the years after that novel, and thus they are obviously easier for me to write since I know those characters so well. Even so, this level of productivity is unprecedented for me. I’m struggling to explain to myself why.

Could it be that I’m not devoting hours and hours of my weekend mornings to running and so can use the time for writing? (The math does work, but that seems too quantitative an explanation for what seems a qualitative matter. And why only now since my running hiatus has been far longer than that?) I wonder if the recent holidays and the upset in routine might be the cause. I have found that when I’m traveling that I tend to be more creatively productive. For example, I’ve done some good writing while staying at my children’s houses.

I’m kind of hoping that is the explanation because my routine is about to be upset again. (Running may even be involved.) Not for a long time, but profoundly while it is happening. More on that later perhaps. In the meantime, I’ll take the mysterious productivity.

thick skinned report – 1st rejection of 2019

January 5, 2019

I got my first rejection of 2019 yesterday. The first of many, I assume.

I had sent my story “Forest Succession” to a journal in mid-October in a daring move because I wasn’t responding to a themed call for submission but simply found a journal that seemed to align with my story and tone.

I received a form rejection email, but it was professional enuf not to crush my black and shriveled heart too much.

In the last year and a month, I’ve sent the story to sixteen* publications and received twelve rejections (three of which were personalized) and one “no response” (which the pub noted up front was possible). The story has evolved a little bit in that time but not substantively.

I think it’s a good story. I think I just need to find the right home for it. It’s currently in submission at three publications, and I regularly look for journals and calls that might be suitable for it. The story is (what I believe to be) the final one in the overall One-Match Fire cycle, though it is not part of the novel itself. (Not yet. I keep thinking I should just add all of these after-the-fact stories I’m writing to it. Sigh.)

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*I had a technical writing teacher in college who provided instruction on when to use numerals and when to use the words for the number in text. He was a bit haughty about it, saying his instruction was the only one we ever needed to heed. (That’s probably why I still remember his name after *mumble-mumble* years.) Anymore, I just write with whatever the thought is at the moment. It’s my blog, after all.

and so, a turn of the year

January 1, 2019

I’ve long thought that the first day of spring ought to be when we reckon the changing of the year.* It makes a sense that I can see — the whole rebirth thing — that I can’t see in making the darkness of winter (in the northern hemisphere) the apparently arbitrary turning point.

But enuf of that. I “finished” the story “Three Small Words” yesterday. It’s part of the One-Match Fire universe though it takes place long after the end of that novel. (I know these characters so well now that it’s “easy” to write about them.) And at the top of the first page of the story I wrote “Copyright 2019 by the author.” It felt daring when I did that. A day early, of course, but also ambitious and hopeful — the first of a year’s worth of efforts in what really is a difficult and only infrequently rewarding craft.

I had intended to write a post here about the comparatively large number of publishing successes I had in 2018. But calculating this is iffy in itself. (Alliteration doesn’t work so well with the letter “i”.) Stories published within the year? Accepted within the year? Submitted within the year but accepted after the turn of the year? (I even have a story that I learned late last year was shortlisted, so should that be accepted soon in 2019, does it count for 2018? Or should I be fudging all of these dubious standards to swell my acceptances in 2019?)

As it stands, here is how 2018 broke down: seven of my stories appeared in print during the calendar year. At least one I know had been submitted in the distant past of 2017. By any count, that’s been my most successful year since I began writing/submitting fiction earnestly. (And as full disclosure, I also submitted eight other works in 2018 for a total of thirteen submissions still pending. Should any be accepted today or later, I’m going to tally them in the 2019 column. And fuller disclosure, I had twenty-seven rejections in 2018.)

In the coming days I hope to write my annual post about my visits to Roundrock for 2018, but I have to get down there to retrieve the calendar hanging on the wall (perhaps this weekend if the weather favors my fate). I’m not striving for any “successes” with those visits — not more than the year before, for example — but I always feel I don’t get down there as much as I’d like. Life interferes. (I read someone’s account of having several hundred rejections last year. Was he more diligent than I or less selective?)

I guess our little monkey brains want to quantify our lives so that we can make better sense of them and hold the (mostly) illusion that we are in control. Whatever.

I hope you stride hopefully into 2019. I know I’ll want to hear all about it.

*And some cultures do, as I learned when I acquired a Moslem daughter-in-law.

“A Tree Falls in the Forest” is now up Halfway Down the Stairs

December 4, 2018

Pleasing that I can follow yesterday’s post with the announcement of another published piece today. My One-Match Fire story “A Tree Falls in the Forest” is now up at Halfway Down the Stairs. I had submitted for their Coming of Age call for submissions.

This story occurs about 15 years earlier in the OMF cycle, with the two same characters as in “Deadfall,” both being much younger. I really like this story; everything came together perfectly when I was writing it. There are many significant echoes between these two stories, and it’s better to read “Tree Falls” first and then “Deadfall,” but nothing is lost reading in either order.

I checked the submission history for this story and learned that I had received an even dozen rejections before this acceptance at Halfway Down the Stairs. (I also have one withdrawal, which I made after I received the acceptance.) I’d read somewhere that if you get a given number of rejections for a piece — I don’t remember the number the writer gave — then you should consider that maybe you have a bad story or a badly written story and to stop flogging it. I think that kind of idea is wrong. One thing I’ve learned in submitting stories is that it can be a numbers game. There are thousands of journals looking for fiction, and among there are many editors who simply aren’t interested in what I have written. Fine. But among those thousands are many who are interested. My job is to find the latter. Sure, you can narrow your focus based on what you can learn about various publications, but the number you can do that with is minescule compared to the number you know nothing about. A dozen submissions ain’t nothing. Five times that, the same.

Halfway Down the Stairs is named, I’m guessing, after a poem titled “Halfway Down,” by A.J. Milne (of Winnie the Pooh fame). In the poem the child stops and sits on the middle stair in suspended action. I don’t know if that’s how the journal truly got its name, but the image of a child halfway between here and there does fit nicely with the theme of my story. (Also, my wife’s Pomeranian, Queequeg, sits halfway down the stairs at our house. I’m pretty sure he does this because it gives him the best view out the sidelight windows by the front door, but maybe he has something more thematic in mind too.)

“Deadfall” is now up at Hedge Apple

December 3, 2018

My One-Match Fire story “Deadfall” is now up at Hedge Apple. Actually, it appears to have been up for a month and I didn’t know it; I never received an email about it.

This is the penultimate story of the novel. It is one of two “crisis” chapters near the end and it reveals a great deal of information about one of the characters. I had submitted to the Personal Identity theme they had called for. This was also one of two stories that I had originally intended to part of the inevitable sequel but then found room for in OMF.

So if you have an interest or inclination, click on the link and read the story. You can leave a comment there (effusive ones are nice) if you wish.

Also, they include a photo to accompany the story — I don’t know if you can see it in your browser — and it’s a bit excessive as an example of what is in my story. Still, nice little touch they added.

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Anyone know how to modify text in the headline of WordPress posts? I used to be able to make words italic, for example, and even change their color using my rudimentary HTML skills, but that doesn’t seem to be allowed any longer. I suppose I could look it up online somewhere, but it’s so much more pleasant to talk with you.

punctuating stammering speech

November 19, 2018

as in, how do you do it?

In one of my stories I have two runners trying to have a conversation while they are running. One of them is fit and fine, but the other is a beginner, and he’s having trouble keeping up, much less pushing out words between his gasping breaths.

Here is a line of dialog from the non-runner:

“Not sure you can call . . . what I do . . . running.”

The point is to show how much struggle he is having pushing out words as he’s barely able to breathe enuf to keep running. (Later I use this same punctuation when the man is trying to speak as he is sobbing.)

My question is, is this how I should punctuate the sentence to get this across?

I don’t think an em dash would be right. That’s for interruptions and abrupt stops. And I don’t want to put something like *gasp* between the words. I tried punctuating each fragment as a sentence, putting a period at the end. But that didn’t look right. Still, I don’t know if what I’ve chosen now is right either.

I’ve made some forays onto the internet to try to find guidance, but I haven’t found anything that fits. About the only other solution I can think of is to watch for this same sort of thing when I’m reading and see how another writer and/or editor did it.

Unless you know.

UPDATE 20FEB19 – I came across a bit of text in a novel that has a similar scenario in it. Two people are climbing a hill, and one is less fit than the other. The stammering was punctuated with periods rather than ellipses, making them sentence fragments, which I can see makes sense. I may do that with mine.

“A Tree Falls in the Forest” finds a home

October 31, 2018

It seems like only two days ago I was reporting that one of my stories had been accepted for publication with a literary magazine. And now, only two days later, I get to report another acceptance! I don’t think this has ever happened to me before, that I received two acceptance notices in one week.

Halfway Down the Stairs responded to a submission I had made two months ago for their “Coming of Age” theme. They are an online quarterly, and the issue with my story comes out in early December. I’ll post a link when it’s up. “A Tree Falls in the Forest” is one of my favorites. (I love them all equally, as a good parent should!) It really is a transitional moment in the story line of the novel, and I get to describe the son, Curt, as both a snotty pre-teen and a loving boy while his father is both bemused and confused.

It’s a delightful coincidence that this story was accepted the same week as “Deadfall” since the two are a matched set. There are echoes of each story in the other, and “Deadfall” resolves some of the tension in “A Tree Falls in the Forest.” Nice that they’re coming out at nearly the same time since they should be read together.

I had submitted this story fourteen times, going back two years (!), and all but two were rejections. Of those two, one was this acceptance and the other was a withdrawal for a submission I had made last weekend.

So, two acceptances in one week. I’m now having trouble processing all of this — I guess it’s called — self esteem.

“Deadfall” finds a home

October 29, 2018

My One-Match Fire story “Deadfall” has been accepted by Hedge Apple for its “Personal Identity” themed issue. It should appear online next month (and is apparently “in the running” for the print edition to come out in December — I do like seeing the shelf with the journals carrying my stories getting fuller).

This story is a recent addition to the novel, one that I had originally intended to be part of the “inevitable sequel.” It’s a companion to the other recent addition: “Spring Fever.” The two clarify and then resolve the major conflict in the latter half of the novel.

This is the fifth story I’ve had published this year and my thirtieth published story.