Archive for the ‘Finnegans’ category

not really Irish either

March 25, 2019

I am told that I have some small Scottish heritage, though I suspect “lineage” is the better word, and “small” should be in italics. I know of no cultural influence from my distant Scottish ancestors (on my mother’s side) that survives in me. It’s not that I would object to having this influence. Rather that it may as well not be listed in my pedigree since it doesn’t seem to affect who I am.

Even less do I have any Irish influence, though my best friend in high school was a first generation Irish American and whose father I could rarely understand because his brogue was so thick. I did understand him, though, when he said St. Patrick’s Day was for people who wished they were Irish.

But neither of these flaws in my makeup has prevented me from working on two stories with strong Irish influences. One I’ve mentioned before is a short story that may or may not have a leprechaun in it. And the other is an entire novel that is set in an Irish-American community and in which Irish heritage plays an important role.

I had “finished” the short story last fall and sent it to an editor who had accepted two of my stories in the past. I thought the possible supernatural angle was risky for the sports theme of the journal, but it had to do with running, so I gave it a try. The editor sent it back to me saying that it was pretty good but not quite there. He actually wanted more of the supernatural element. So I rewrote it and tried to play that up without being obvious and then sent it to him again. And he returned it again, saying he wanted me to be more obvious.

And so I’ve been working on it, not sure just what more I can do with it without giving away the hinted-at leprechaun element. In part because I like hinting and letting readers make the connections themselves but in larger part because the runner will get his wish through a means other than a magical beneficence from a demigod. That’s kind of the whole point of the story. And so I dither. Is this rewrite far enuf to satisfy the editor yet not so far as to give away the store? Is there more I can do to refine this truly fine point? Or is it just not going to get to the shape the editor wants? The fact that he’s given me two chances at rewriting tells me that I should put serious, worthy effort into it. And so I will anguish and wring my hands and let it incubate for another week or so to see if any revelations come my way.

The other Irish-y piece I’m working on, the novel, is one of the Finnegans cozy mystery novels I’ve been dabbling in for the last decade (and what I had begun this humble blog for originally back in 2007). The story is set in a small city that had a strong Irish history. That’s changing now, and that’s where a great deal of the tension in the story comes from. A new ethnic heritage is supplanting the Irish history of the town, and while some embrace this new reality, others (for reasons beyond the obvious) are resisting it.

I can mitigate my lack of authentic Irish cultural knowledge when I write about this community with the fact within the story, the town has existed in the American Midwest (in a state called Illinois) for nearly 200 years, so it is truly more American now than Irish. Thus my deficient Irish portrayal is actually more authentic since the community is not that much Irish any longer.

I have one more chapter to write to finish the first draft, and lest you think I’ve written all of this in the last two weeks, let me say that I had begun this novel more than a year ago when I (foolishly) believed I need to take a break from the One-Match Fire novel that was consuming me with no end in sight at the time. Even so, this Finnegans novel, which is one chapter away from being finished in first draft, is only 49,000+ words. I’ll o’er top the 50,000 word count barrier with the last chapter, and there are a couple of substantive characters/interactions I’m thinking of adding to what’s already written that will swell the word count, but I think it will come in at the minimum word count needed to qualify as a cozy mystery novel.

And that’s what I’ve been working on in recent weeks.


June 25, 2018

I find myself in that in-between place again. I have three stories I’m working on at the moment, and though some part of my brain thinks this is probably counterproductive — my creative “genius” being diluted across too many efforts — another part of me says that words are words, and if I can get them down in any fashion or location, I should call it a win.

I’m about three-fourths finished with the first draft of Finnegans Fogbound, a novel-length ambition and something I had embarked on to give myself a break from all of the fraught, literary anguishing I was doing with my One-Match Fire stories. The Finnegans novels are more light weight works, something like cozy mysteries that, while demanding in their own way, can be written without too much personal investment (if that makes sense). I don’t make literary references in them; I don’t strive for some profound, controlling metaphors or psychological insights that span Western civilization. Thus, a break.

But I may have stalled on that story. I’m not sure. I certainly know where the plot needs to go. I have all of the characters in place and developed nicely. I have all of the pieces on the table before me, but I can’t seem to bring myself to finish putting together the puzzle. I suspect it’s temporary and I’m just feeling the daunting demands of a novel-length effort. So I seem to have taken a break from the break I was taking.

And find myself back in the One-Match Fire universe after all. I’m making some decent progress on a story called “Spring Fever” which I think I’ve mentioned here before. It’s a love story, and I don’t write many of those, but I found I needed to get the points of this story worked out so I could revise a different story: “Little Gray Birds” which is part of the One-Match Fire novel and which I realized I needed to refine so I could consider that novel finished and ready to submit to scary agents. (You’re following all of this, right?) “Little Gray Birds” takes place after “Spring Fever” so what happens in the latter affects the telling of the former. Thus once I get “Spring Fever” worked out, I will go back to “Little Gray Birds” and hone/refine/enhance it and call it good.

So I’m busy with that.

And I’m still riding the creative wave of that story “MTWTF” about an incident in my distant and murky past (highly fictionalized in the story) and find myself making notes — even writing bits of story — about one of the characters in “MTWTF.” Clearly I have more to say about this person and need to write another story to do it. (“MTWTF” is not yet published, and it’s being read by a trusted friend now.) Thoughts intrude, and I don’t mind making notes about future work while they occur to me. I can see the structure of the story — it’s really just a character sketch using a day-in-the-life structure to hang it on — and I know the character, so the ideas are coming fast and frenzied. It’s not a bad state to be in if you’re a writer, I suppose.

So if I’m not too diluted and dissipated by my creative ferment, a few good things should result in the coming days. Fingers crossed.


steer and cheer

June 1, 2018

I’ve mentioned that in the Finnegans Fogbound story I’m writing there is a half marathon and a 5K. One of my central characters walks the 5K, and the other is a course monitor on the half. She stands at an intersection and makes sure no one turns up the street she’s on by mistake since it’s not part of the course. (Seems silly, I know, but I’ve seen this happen. When runners are “in the zone” or exhausted or in pain they are no longer subject to reason or even the behavior of hundreds of other runners flowing around them. They do make wrong turns.)

I’ve been a course monitor a half dozen times, so I think I can write this bit from experience, but just to bolster my literary experience, I’m going to be one again tomorrow.

Tomorrow Kansas City will host the 45th running of the Hospital Hill Half Marathon and I’ll be a course monitor at about the halfway point. The run is named for the hill in town (at about miles 3-4) where many of the hospitals were clustered back in the old days. It is considered one of the more challenging runs in town because of that hill (and others), and it’s one I never did in my years of throwing one foot in front of the other. (In fact, when I see all of the dogged runners push past me — my site is on an uphill — I’m hoping to get some inspiration not only for my story but for returning to running. We’ll see.)

So anyway, while you’re asleep abed tomorrow morning, I’ll be on a quiet corner in Kansas City, ready to steer and cheer thousands of runners and walkers on their way.

let’s call it progress, shall we?

May 16, 2018

I won’t say I’m not making any progress with Finnegans Fogbound, but the word count is not swelling the way it has been in past weeks. Generally, when I’m starting on a new story, I watch closely for the point when I reach “critical mass,” when the story has accumulated enuf substance that I can tell it’s going to last and that I’ll actually finish it. I reached that point several weeks ago with this novel, and while that’s encouraging, it’s also a newfound problem for me.

When I was immersed in the One-Match Fire stories, I was essentially writing a bunch of stand-alone short stories that happened to have the same characters and a continuous narrative across them. Plus I had been writing them for so long and had gone back into them so many times, that I knew just where each little thing happened or was said and where each new little thing or comment could/should/would go.

Being relatively early in the writing of Finnegans Fogbound, I don’t have that familiarity yet. I have the critical mass — about 40,000+ words — but since it’s a “cozy mystery” novel, there is plenty of set up and foreshadowing and oblique reference that must take place throughout the novel. And I was getting lost. (For example, what color are the bibs for the half marathoners and what color for the 5K runners in the race that the novel features? I needed to include this when I was describing one of the runners hurtling across the finish line, but where was the reference?) I had approached writing this novel as I had the One-Match Fire stories. Each chapter was a separate document in my computer. I have sixteen chapters to date, and where in each of those separate documents was this or that reference that I needed to find or enhance or simply understand?

So I changed my method. I spent a short while recently blending all of the discrete chapters into a single document. That way I could more efficiently search for a given word (say, “bib”) and know what I needed so I didn’t stall at a further point in the story. This also allows me to more easily know my word count. (I’m going to have written a lean novel with this one unless I come up with some substantive subplot of force into it. Not sure if that will happen though. I think the nature of the “bad guy” does need more enhancing, so that might be where to do it.)

I’ve also been spending a lot of my writing time re-reading the 40,000+ words I’ve written. This has inevitably led to many edits on the fly, which is a good thing, but it’s also giving me a better comprehensive understanding of what’s happened in the story so I know what’s still to happen. (I realize how amateurish that must sound, but as I said, it’s a cozy mystery, so structure is critical and reminder is necessary.)

Thus in the past week or so, I think I’ve only added 400 words; I’ve swollen the novel’s size by a hundredth. Go me!

Complicating this are a couple of stories that I intend to write once I get a draft of Fogbound finished. Ideas for these keep presenting themselves in my overwtaxed brain. They’re good ideas, and I want to develop them, but I want to finish one thing before diluting my efforts with another. The struggle is real, folks.

finding my way in the fog

April 30, 2018

So while I can’t say that I did a lot of writing on Finnegans Fogbound over the weekend, I can say that I made a lot of good progress.

First of all, I spent Friday evening and Saturday at my little cabin in the woods where there is no electricity (or plumbing) and so no writing was done whilst there. That left Sunday for my creative efforts, which mitigates my lack of word-count progress, right?

I won’t say that I lost my way with this novel because I haven’t. I know how it will end and how it will get there. But I lost something in the last week. My mojo, maybe. My focus, perhaps. I didn’t know if I was repeating my clever ideas and phrasings, and I couldn’t remember if I’d introduced this or that plot point (or just intended to in notes somewhere).

So instead of pushing to finish Chapter 15, I began a read through of everything I had written so far, making a few lines of synopsis notes for each chapter, thus giving myself a kind of road map of where I’ve been in the story to know better how to navigate where I must go. And if that metaphor is too annoying, then I just reread my stuff to know what I’d done.

I feel better oriented now and in the right place to push on with the rest of the writing (as well as know where some weak areas need attention). I’m guessing I’m about two-thirds of the way done with the first draft. I didn’t keep a record of when I’d started to know how long it’s taken me to get here, but I’m not disappointed with my progress.


concerning dishes and laundry and half marathons and the like

April 23, 2018

Sorry about the last two weeks and me being more or less absent in cyberspace and all, but assuming the world doesn’t end today, I’ve written an account for your chortling pleasure.

I’ve been a bachelor for that time as my wife was in Seattle, bonding with our two-year-old granddaughter and doing what she can to help my son and his wife prepare for the new baby sister. (Who is due by C-section tomorrow and whose name will be Nilou, which is Farsi for lotus blossom. And I know right now you’re saying, “Don’t you mean Niloufar?” and I say, “No, just Nilou.”). So it turns out that laundry doesn’t do itself, dishes don’t get cleaned if you don’t do them, groceries run out, dogs need to be walked, floors need to be swept and mopped, and the list goes on, let me tell you! All of that and going to work at my regular schedule.

But I have been getting a lot of writing done. In those two weeks I’ve managed to write six chapters of Finnegans Fogbound. Sure, they’re first draft chapters and all that goes with that, but the groundwork is being laid. I have a total of 15 completed chapters now, and I’m guesstimating about 40,000 words. I’d said before that the story involves a half marathon in a small town, and I’ve just finished writing that bit, calling upon my own experience of running a dozen half marathons and resulting in an immensely richer story than I could have written without it. I think I’m about two-thirds of the way through the story.

My plan for the Finnegan cozy mysteries is for the husband and wife team to stumble into situations that aren’t even crimes* but in which some wrong needs to be righted. For Fogbound an entire city is suffering, and by the end of the novel, the healing has begun. No crime, certainly no murder, but a mystery resolved by some clever thinking and bold action.

At least that’s the plan.

I think I also said before that I started writing this story in part to take a break from the One-Match Fire universe that had consumed my creative ferment for years. I am getting that break, but I can also feel the itch to write another of those stories, which I’m calling “Spring Fever.” You know, when a young man’s fancy . . .


*Conan Doyle once did an analysis of his Sherlock Holmes stories and determined that most did not involve a murder and many didn’t even involve a crime.

where the latest Finnegans adventure stands

March 26, 2018

And you’ve been asking yourself, I wonder how he’s doing with that novel he’s working on? Well, I’ll tell you.

I’ve managed to write my way to the end of chapter 7. My husband and wife team — the Finnegans — are now immersed in the town divided by a river with a single bridge spanning it, and they’re poking around. They sense something is not right with the town, but they’re not sure what. Nor would they normally care since they’re just visiting while she is there to write an article about the half marathon the town hosts. But it’s a cozy mystery novel, so they will care, and they will figure it out, and they will even cause that which begins the town’s recovery from its ailment. But that’s all to be written still.

I estimate I’m about a third of the way through the story I have to tell. It’s coming along well; I don’t feel like I’m pushing any point beyond its purpose (which has been a problem for me in the past). I’ve introduced most of the characters, including the key character, and hinted at the remainder, including the antagonist character whose entrance I’m forestalling as a way to build the tension. (Most cozy mysteries have an off-stage murder that must be resolved; mine don’t. I’ve said before that I believe there is plenty of evil people can do that doesn’t involve crime. But I must set up tension early to keep the reader engaged.)

So far, the chapters are averaging 2,500 words, but I expect them to swell at least a little as I find any foreshadowing or character development or such that I need to do. I’m trying to be mindful of this short chapter length as a way to give the reader manageable chunks to read.

I had conceived this plot years ago, long before I had ever taken up running. But now that I have that experience in my toolbox, including running more than a dozen half marathons (of varying levels of performance and self respect), I am able to write that part of the story much more deeply. I can’t imagine what kind of story I could have written without that experience, which may explain why it’s taken me years to come to write it. (Also, those One-Match Fire stories that had dominated my creative self for so long. In fact, I began this cozy mystery as a deliberate break from those stories, though they continue to intrude. Pesky things!) Also, my husband and wife team always stay in a bed and breakfast on their adventures, and I have made certain I have plenty of experience with that. Research is important!

So I am satisfied with my progress and the development of the story. Characters seem to be running up to me fully formed and asking breathlessly to be put in it. That’s helpful. And I know exactly how the plot should evolve. Plus, this isn’t intended to be a deep, literary tale, so I’m not burdened with all of the fraught underpinnings that would require. I can race through a first draft without feeling I’m cheating the story.

who uses Scrivener (or anything like it)?

March 8, 2018

The One-Match Fire short stories that have occupied my crusty creative self for the last few years eventually coalesced into what could be called a loose novel form. I consider (most of) them stand-alone short stories (and some have gotten published as such), but collected in the novel format they feel more like episodes than an attempt at a continuous narrative. That’s fine, of course, and I think it works well enuf.

But now I’m working on that cozy mystery novel (Finnegans Fogbound) and I’m finding that I must give a great deal more attention to plotting than I needed for One-Match Fire. Events must happen in a certain order at certain times in certain ways. And I am out of practice in conventional novel construction.

A commenter here recently asked if I used Scrivener to do whatever it is that Scrivener does. I don’t. I’ve never considered it. Looking at the site, I see how it could help a writer organize the grand effort, but I wonder if I need such an involved tool. (One I would have to pay for.) Would it do anything for me that drafting an outline and keeping a list of characters can’t?

Do you use Scrivener or anything like it? I’d be grateful to hear your thoughts or recommendations.

feeling my way

February 26, 2018

I continue to make progress on the Finnegans Fogbound novel. I’m doing about one chapter a week, which means I’m working on Chapter Four right now. I consider this reasonable progress for a first draft

Each chapter is currently weighing in at around 2,300 words, which I fully expect to grow as I find needs to do set up for later developments, introduce characters earlier, flesh out existing characters more, or whatever the rewriting will require. I figure that chapter size is manageable for a reader of a “lightweight” novel.

Still, I worry about setting up the tension early enuf to hook the reader. So far I’ve made a few references to a not-yet-seen character who is a martinet and who will be the primary source of tension once the forces are all in play. (She has a huge humbling coming!)

I recently read Kate Vaiden, by Reynolds Price. It was a quiet, contemplative read, though I raced through the 300+ pages in less than a week. But the opening paragraph sets up the tension of the story. It states more or less exactly why things are wrong and what is going to be attempted to fix them. The next 300 pages then do that. Anyway, my point is that the reader of that novel is hooked from the start (or turned away, though that seems less likely for anyone willingly picking up a Price novel).

Of course, Finnegans Fogbound will be a cozy mystery, so likely readers will know there is something afoot and will be in the hunt to find out what it is. I think there will be less pressure to set up an obvious tension because of this. Still, genre novels have certain conventions, and you don’t generally want to break into a genre with something that bends those conventions.

But I’ve been accused of overthinking before.

lost in the fog

February 19, 2018

I am making acceptable progress on the beginning of my new Finnegans novel, which, by the way, I’m calling Finnegans Fogbound. I’m on chapter 3 and it’s mostly introducing characters and scene, though I’ve hinted at some of the coming tension. Still, it’s supposed to be a mystery novel, and these generally have some kind of hook in the beginning to draw the reader in.

This is problematic for me in large part because the Finnegans mysteries don’t involve any crime in the conventional sense. I still believe there is plenty of evil people can do to each other that doesn’t involved murder or even crime. (As an aside and a justification, Conan Doyle noted that more than half of the Sherlock Holmes stories did not involve murder and many didn’t even involve a crime.) Further, the Finnegans aren’t sleuths in the conventional sense either. They’re a retired husband and wife who stumble upon situations that need the light of day illuminating them. Generally, they don’t even know they’re on to something until late in the game.

Fogbound involves a half marathon (something I know a bit about) in a socially divided town. The dense fog hampers the running of the race and serves as a blatantly obvious symbol for the mystery.

As I said, I’ve begun chapter 3 but the whole things is an inchoate blob of words right now. I fully expect revisions to what I’ve written; I may even slip in another early chapter just to add that hook, but we’ll see.

Anyway, the writing is coming along fairly smoothly, and for that I’m grateful. I wish I could say the same for all of the stories in my head for the Clark family from One-Match Fire. Those are a struggle. A worthy struggle, but still a struggle.