Archive for the ‘Humble efforts’ category

something completely different

August 29, 2016

I did something different and refreshing over the weekend. I worked on a new short story that does not belong to the One-Match Fire/Fathers and Sons universe. I’ve mentioned here once or twice that a story has been knocking around in my head lately that I’ve called “Old School.” It is based on an event that happened to me, one that I’m still not sure isn’t an elaborate joke. Regardless, the story takes that event to its logical conclusion, at least to the conclusion I would take it to if I were actually confronted with the scenario.

I managed to write what I estimate is two-thirds of the story. It’s pretty good so far, and I know how to end it (that “logical conclusion” bit), so it’s really just a matter of putting fingers to keyboard in whatever time I can steal from the rude realities of my life. Then, of course, I need to let it rest and come back to it to revise and enhance.

The story is more comic than dramatic. It’s in the same vein as “Velvet Elvis,” which I think is a pretty good bit of story telling. It’s fun to write, especially after I realized the story needed an antagonist.

What’s also important, though, is that it was a much-needed break from the F&S stories that have consumed so much of the last four years of my life. I really felt good embarking on a different story, especially “just” a short story since the time investment won’t be gargantuan.

Also, here is a photo of Philip Roth and Sisyphus. I made that bronze bookend.

Roth and Sisyphus

everyone needs an enemy

August 22, 2016

This is, surprisingly, not going to be a post about my Fathers and Sons stories, my running, or my cabin in the woods! It is about my humble attempts at writing fiction, however.

Years ago, I was struggling with a story idea that eventually evolved into “Velvet Elvis”. (Perhaps my most fun story.) I had the basic conceit of the story, but I didn’t have the story to go with it. Then it dawned on me, as these things must when you’re a struggling writer who imagines he’s too good to pay any attention to conventional wisdom, that what my story didn’t have was conflict. I didn’t have an antagonist for my character, someone to push the story into gear. Once I realized that I needed that (and should have known all along had I deigned to listen to conventional wisdom) I blazed through the story, polished it a few (dozen) times, sent it out, won an award, and got published. I’m still very proud of this story, and to this day, my wife has little to no interest in attending art fairs any longer.

And so I’ve been struggling with another story I’ve mentioned here a time or two: “Old School.” I thought I had the antagonist. It was to be the central character himself, defeating his own goals by, um, failing to listen to conventional wisdom. But the story just wasn’t developing in my mind. I didn’t know where to take it. I knew how it would end, and even had a good start. And filling in the middle would just be journeyman work. But it wasn’t much of a story.

Then I realized that if I had a different antagonist, one who could bring a plot along with him or her, I would have a story to write. And once that was in my noggin, the story began to blossom. I now know the conflict and the resolution. It’s nearly to the point where I must just copy it down as it reveals itself to me. (See my recent post “mused, and amused” for similar blatherings.)

It is refreshing to have a story to work on that isn’t in the F&S universe. I’m still tinkering with them and waiting with growing dread for the response from one of my readers, but I take this new story idea as a sign that creative Paul is ready to move on to the next adventure.

“Pandora’s Tackle Box” appears again

March 30, 2016

My short story “Pandora’s Tackle Box” is now in print (again) at Ealain. I cannot give you a link to it there since it is protected by a pay wall. (“Ealain” is an Old Irish word that translates as art, science, an acquired skill.)

This is the third printing of the story. It first appeared five years ago in A Golden Place and then again a year later in the print anthology Harnessing Fire: A Hephaestus Devotional. (I have a character in the story named Old Festus.) I’m happy to see that the story is still interesting enuf to find editors that want to run it. I am not, however, out hunting up likely targets for it. I simply came across a call with the theme of Pandora’s Box, and the magazine allowed reprints, so I submitted it.

No news yet on when “Been Lonely So Long” will come out. And I’m still lamenting the apparent demise of the magazine that had accepted “Twice Blest.” But onward and all of that, right?

bits and pieces

March 9, 2016

So I’m having a slow start on the last Fathers and Sons story, “Little Gray Birds.” It’s not a bad start. Just a slow one. I don’t want to push it and get frustrated should it go in the wrong direction, but I would like to get it moving. I blame the good weather, which had me out at my little Ozark cabin on mornings when I might otherwise have been writing. Also, the fact that so much must come together in this story, and I haven’t quite figured out how to do that. It will come. And then it will be revised. And then I’ll have to go back over all of the stories and muscle them into some kind of final form. And then, well, that will deserve some thought.

 *   *   *

I’m still picking away at the book Roth Unbound. It’s fascinating to me since I love Roth’s writing so much. Each chapter (and I strive to read a chapter each night and sometimes even achieve that) takes up one of his novels (though the most recent chapter squeezed three shorter, related works into one) and gives background into the sources of the stories, much of which came directly out of Roth’s personal life. But I must confess that I don’t altogether like peeking behind the curtain. Learning how much of The Ghost Writer, for example, was a transcription of actual events in Roth’s life (okay, not the Anne Frank part of the story) de-mythologizes the story a bit for me. I’ve read that novel more than thirty times, and I’ll go on reading it, but knowing that it isn’t all some fabulous creation new to the world makes me a tiny bit sad.

*   *   *

Two years ago, my daughter (who lives in NYC) gave me a book titled A Race Like No Other, by Liz Robbins. It’s a mile-by-mile account of the New York City Marathon. The book has been sitting on my to-be-read shelf since then. I’ve meant to pick it up and read it, but other books always got in the way. Now the time has come to read it, to study it, to scrutinize it. The reason is that by some random bit of chance, I won the lottery and am now going to be running in the New York City Marathon in 2016! I’m thrilled and terrified. This will be my fourth marathon — I’ve run two: Portland and Kansas City, and I have St. Louis coming up in a month — so I hope I’ll have some lessons learned and good training figured out to make this one more than a festival of grinding pain.

repeating myself

February 9, 2016

I’m not sure what I think about getting my stories reprinted. Sure, I’m happy to see them get a new life and be (possibly) read by new readers. And if the original venue has gone away (it’s happened with several of my stories), a reprint is a way to keep the story alive on the internet.

Yet it also feels lazy in a way. I didn’t write a new story; I merely put a little effort into finding a new place for an old story. I didn’t “create” something, but I get to wallow in the pride of seeing it in print again. (It’s almost legendary to hear of some famous writer who goes to a reading and gives a selection of his/her old work because he/she is blocked and not producing any new work.)

I am blathering about this because one of my stories, “Pandora’s Tackle Box,” is being reprinted for a second time. Ealain magazine will be running it in an upcoming issue with the theme of . . . Pandora’s box. This story first appeared in the Spring 2011 issue of A Golden Place. It then found a place two years later in Harnessing Fire: A Hephaestus Devotional (which is a print document only). And now it will appear in Ealain.

My story “Travel Light” has also done some recent traveling. It first appeared in Penduline Press two and a half years ago and will soon come out in If and Only If Journal later this year. (By the way, in my current view of things, “Travel Light” is the best writing I have ever done.)

I’m happy enuf about this. To the fresh eyes these will be fresh stories. I’m glad for the credentials, and the fact that different editors like the stories enuf to want to reprint them suggests that I can actually, you know, write. (Negative correlative: if enuf different editors don’t like a story, what does that suggest?) But I’d also like to see more of my Fathers and Sons stories find homes.

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.

signaling a lane change

May 29, 2015

Maybe. Perhaps. Possibly. Dunno yet.

Long-time readers (both of you) will recall that along with the Fathers and Sons stories that have monopolized my creative self for a couple of years, I also have a finished novel titled The Sleep of Reason that I really should be shopping around. I had some good nibbles for it in the past, but my enthusiasm to submit had waned, lethargy and entropy ensued, and now I’m mired. Poor me, right?

You may also recall that I had embarked on writing a series of murderless cozy mystery novels with a husband and wife team of reluctant sleuths, all set in or featuring the bed and breakfast inns where they would stay on their travels. (They were my original purpose for starting this humble blog.) I’ve written four novels in that series, one of which I think is actually good, two of which I think can be salvaged, and one of which may remain forever on the self of apprentice work. In recent weeks, ideas for a couple of the unwritten entries in this mystery series have been presenting themselves in my tortured little brain. I pretty much have the basic plots worked out for these, and I’ve compiled lots of notes for them over the years. I think I have critical mass achieved for one of them. (It involves running!)

And so I wonder if maybe it is time for me to step away from the Fathers and Sons stories (so fraught and literary they are) and put some time/effort/creativity into the less demanding cozy mystery stories. I wonder if my current seeming stalemate with the F&S stories combined with the fresh ideas for the cozy mystery stories might be a sign that I should change lanes for a while.

Can I travel freely and easily between styles and genres as I propose? I think so. I’m not prohibiting myself from doing one or the other (or even some third thing if it presented itself — but not poetry; I can’t do poetry). I like to think I could work to exhaustion on one and then pick up fresh with another since they are quite different. I think that’s what I’m going to try to do.

My mother told me long ago that you should always use the turn signal in your car, even if you don’t see anyone around you, because you may be signalling for the car you don’t see. And that’s kind of what this post is like. Maybe there is someone actually reading this and will appreciate my signal.