Archive for the ‘Humble efforts’ category

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.

thick skinned report

May 12, 2015

I got two rejection letters over the weekend (coincidentally on my drive home from the miserable half marathon).

One was for “Twice Blest” and it came all the way from Jerusalem. A journal there was looking for pieces about “men” and since that story is part of my Fathers and Sons cycle, I gave it a try. They chose not to use it, and they sent a form email, but it was a fair attempt. (Plus, I’d since modified the story in what I think was a necessary way, so now I have something better to submit elsewhere.)

The second was for “Been Lonely So Long,” which is accumulating encouraging rejection letters. This email was personalized and detailed. I was told that I am a good writer and that my thematic use of the first person plural narration was clever, but they found a few faults as well. One was the intervention the characters stage for one of their own. The editors didn’t find that they characters knew that other person well enuf to stage an intervention. But that was pretty much exactly my point. Maybe I was too subtle about this and need to draw it out a little more clearly. They also didn’t like the last sentences, which seems to be my weakness. I’m not sure what (if anything) I want to do about that. It speaks to the theme (the nature of compassion), but again, maybe I’m too indirect about that. I’ll ponder it.

“Been Lonely” been busy

April 23, 2015

I got another rejection this week for my story “Been Lonely So Long.” (I actually do remember making this submission.) Once again, it was a personalized, very encouraging rejection email. The editor took the time to tell me that my story had made the short list, and they even published those of us on that list on their web page.

“About 10 percent of more than 300 entries made the shortlist. At that level, all of the pieces were in some way well written, entertaining, innovative or insightful. Although the following pieces did not make the cut, we’d like to acknowledge the writers here for their compelling work. It was a close call. Thank you to everyone for submitting.”

(Then they spelled my name wrong. Oops.)

The editor encouraged me to submit again (when the window opens), which is always a warm fuzzy.

Apparently “Been Lonely So Long” is a good story. I can think of one or two mags I ought to inflict it upon. I may even do that.

so I got a rejection . . .

April 6, 2015

. . . which means I apparently made a submission. The story is “Been Lonely So Long.” It’s a one-off. It’s not part of the Fathers and Sons universe at all. It was just something I tossed together based very loosely on a group of people I sort of know, heavily fictionalized, and set in a different city. Yes, it involves runners. And beer.

It is narrated in first person plural, and I did that not for the novelty but for thematic reasons. (Basically, it’s easier to avoid responsibility by being part of a group than by being an individual. It’s my musing on the nature of charity. Sometimes I think that is my big theme.)

I had forgotten that I had submitted it, though I had done so less than a month ago. Oh well. But it was a very nice, personal rejection letter. The editor said my story came close to acceptance, and he encouraged me to submit to the journal again (when their submission window opens next time). Such encouragement is nice, but as I said, it’s a one-off piece. I don’t have anything else with such a thematic structural build to it. I’m sure I’ll write something that crafty again sometime, but for now, it’s all I have.

inspired (or maybe not?)

December 22, 2014

There is a school of thought (school?) that says one should not wait for inspiration to strike before working on some creative project, in my case short stories. Rather, one should plug away at whatever is underway and muddle along until something gels or inspiration does strike or at least you’re not wasting your time on social media.

I’m of two minds about this. I’ve had too many stories (and even attempts at novels) go astray because I was simply plugging away at them without knowing where I needed to go. I didn’t have the big picture or the fine ending or the controlling metaphor or the overarching theme or the elusive inspiration. Or even a plot at least once. I’ve devoted a lot of time and effort to things that turned out to be frustrating dead ends. (And don’t tell me I was at least practicing the craft. I don’t think I buy that.)

So I’m reluctant to stare at a blank screen or a stuck story and try to “force” my way further. When I’m stalled, there’s a reason, and I think my job at that point is to figure out what that reason is and how it can be addressed. Neither is generally clear then. In my story “Twice Blest” I needed to come up with the “twice” part of it. (See Quality of Mercy. Note: I am by no means a Shakespeare scholar!) And I didn’t have it. I built to it, but I didn’t have the delivery. I was stalled. And no amount of fidgeting with the words was making any difference.

What I needed was some time away and some reflection. I know it sounds cliched (or at least thoroughly unreliable), but when I’m struggling with something like this, the resolution generally comes to me as an epiphany. It just dawns in my little head in some useful and (in the end frustratingly) obvious way. (Often it happens when I’m out running, far from paper and pencil.) And so it was with this story. The answer was there all along, in the notes I had been keeping for the story. I just didn’t recognize it until I started reading one of the other stories in this cycle and saw an important connection in theme (that is supposed to run through them all).

“Twice Blest” is not finished yet, but the core of it is in place. I need to plug away at it now in a way I couldn’t have allowed myself before (with an eye to the controlling metaphor business). And I’ve already turned my eyes to the next story in the cycle. I’m hoping it will be less difficult, but I’ll need to dig in to find out.

force of will

November 16, 2014

I rose early this morning, committed to forcing myself to spend some time before the computer, the recently and expensively upgraded computer, and stare at the screen for a few hours in an effort to get some new words on the page. It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to do that.

It worked.


I managed to get down a couple hundred words. And good words too, I think. I’m trying to deep dive into the motivations of one of my Fathers and Sons characters, trying to make his (in)actions and attitudes in the story credible without revealing too much. (That comes as an aside in one of the later stories.) It’s not been easy, in part because I haven’t lived the kind of life this character has; I’m relying on my imagination (never sufficient) and force of will (rarely tested) to wring some ideas out of my head and onto the page.

I’ve always said that half the tale is in the telling, and that’s my challenge here. I know the man’s history. It’s the expression of it that stymies me. But some words came. A couple of hundred words. Not like the days when I was writing the Finnegans novels and could count on a thousand-word sprint across the page. But something.

The story I’m working on (working title: “Quality of Mercy” though I think I may change it to “Twice Blest” — both from The Merchant of Venice) will be the first one in the chronology of the Fathers and Sons cycle. It’s critical to set the stage correctly, which is probably why I am struggling so much with it. A lot is riding on getting it right. And if I do get it right, then I think it will allow me to fix some of the subsequent stories I’ve already written that just don’t quite work. Big job for this little story.

At some point, someone said that my Fathers and Sons stories are “sentimental.” I anguished about that for a while. I want them to be literary and serious and suchlike. But then I thought: screw it. I will write the stories I have to write. I will do the very best I can with what I have. This story is going to have a sentimental ending. A life-changing sentimental ending. But that’s what happens sometimes between fathers and sons. That’s true to life. That’s what I have to offer.


October 27, 2014

So I spent my money and got Word working again and all I had was my inner demons to keep me from working on my stories. And in the two weeks since I’ve been back in operation, the demons have won. I haven’t written a word. I’m barely even reading (although the book I have on the beside table is Under the Glacier by Halldor Laxness, which is a truly peculiar book by Iceland’s Nobel laureate). And I’m not even running much. In the three weeks since the Portland Marathon I think I’ve run under thirty miles. Thirty miles used to be my weekly goal, which I nearly always reached.

But something may have shaken loose. I seem to be getting some movement from the constipated bowels of my creative self. I’ve been making a lot of notes about the various Fathers and Sons stories that still need to be written. (I’ve decided that I need to write the remainder of these in the order of their chronology across the series. That leaves me with the first one to write, um, first. And I haven’t sufficiently imagined it in my head to begin. Or maybe that’s just an excuse.)

Even more amazing, one of my abandoned Finnegans mystery novels has been asserting itself in my head. I’ve been compiling fresh notes about that novel, and not just bits of dialogue or anecdotes to slip in, but thematic stuff, big stuff that can shore up the structure of the anemic novel. (Did I just mix a metaphor?) I had walked away from the Finnegans novels as too trivial, too lightweight to be worthy of my magnificent talent. Yes, I was that guy for a while. But the fact is that they would probably make an interesting series of novels about a husband and wife who stumble upon little and big mysteries every time they stay at a bed and breakfast. The research alone would be worthwhile, wouldn’t it?

So maybe I’m turning a corner. I have a half marathon to run this coming weekend, and if the knees don’t give up, neither will I. And if the words start to flow, I’ll stick with that too. Stay tuned.


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