Archive for the ‘Humble efforts’ category

writing is hard work

September 14, 2017

Not hard like farming or construction or breaking rocks or futures trading or writing poetry or countless other truly hard things are, but hard work in its own way.

I’m in New York right now, getting acquainted with my new grandbabies and trying to peck out a few words on my latest One-Match Fire story. (Once I have this one done and consolidated with the others, I’ll consider the novel finished and begin sending it out again.) My daughter’s household rises late in comparison to how I now live, so I was able to rise early on my first day here (despite sleeping in for an hour later than my usual time, though in retrospect, my actual usual time according to my body clock given the time zone change) and sit in the quiet darkness before my laptop, tapping away at the keys to spin gold from dross.

Or at least attempting to. The words come slowly. And I really need to get into the tone of the story I’m working on before the words will come at all, which means I need to re-read it from the beginning. Which in turn means that I need to revise it as I read it, perfecting this or that word choice, chopping or lengthening any given sentence, crafting the perfect metaphor, and on. So by the time I get to where I’d left the story my last writing session, enuf time has passed that the sleepy household begins rousing. Just as the words begin to flow, the solitude begins to end.

As problems go, it’s not so bad. As work goes, it’s not so hard. My visit here is intended to be a help to my daughter: rocking or changing either or both of the twins, playing with their older brother, and generally doing whatever I can to lighten her load. So it’s not like I begrudge the interruption in the writing; that’s not why I’m here.

But if I can get a few words in as well, I’ll be pleased.

(By the way, the story has a couple of flashbacks in it. I know this device is not currently in vogue, but I don’t care!)

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wistfulness

June 28, 2017

I had a wistful moment yesterday morning.

I discussed at some length in my last post about the journal that required printed submissions sent via snail mail and how I was going to do that with one of my stories, even though it seems so 20th Century.

Putting the document in order and printing it, and then writing an actual letter, wasn’t nearly as cumbersome as I had imagined it to be. I had the document in hand easily enuf and just had to search through the junk in the basement for an old fashioned manila envelope to complete the process.

So yesterday morning, I detoured on my way to work in the pre-dawn hours to the local Post Office to drop the manila envelope with my story in it in a mailbox, where it would be picked up and eventually delivered to a great southern city where it would be considered for the publication.

And as I drove away from the Post Office I recalled the very first time I submitted a story to a journal, more than thirty years ago. I can still feel the I-don’t-know-what that I felt then. The feeling that I was doing something wholly unique to me, wholly outside of my life experience and expectation. Something for myself, by myself. Something hopeful and ambitious and striving. Embarking on my writing career.

When I posted my submission yesterday, those same feeling returned. It was odd and satisfying. I enjoyed the feeling.

That story I submitted thirty years ago was not accepted. It never found a home, though I think it was a pretty good first effort. (I haven’t read it in years.) Perhaps my submission yesterday will have a better fate, but it’s already provided me with a lot of satisfaction, recalling those early sentiments as it has.

a couple of things

June 12, 2017

I mentioned sometime back on this humble blog that I had snuck the word “enuf” into my One-Match Fire story “where late the sweet birds sang” and so was proud to be doing my part to evolve the language in print, in the Selected Places anthology. And I think I also mentioned that I felt I ought to read all of the stories in the anthology. Thus the other day I took down the anthology from the shelf by my desk to begin reading it. But first I wanted to see that word “enuf” in print. So I went to my story in search of it. And I couldn’t find it.

The editor, apparently, didn’t think it was an appropriate neologism to include in her collection. Then I began to wonder what else she might have excised. I started reading the story side-by-side with the file for it on my laptop. And in nearly every paragraph I found differences, mostly in the cases of verbs that were less “powerful” than the ones I’d written. But there was a whole paragraph of nice descriptive detail (the smell of a forest in November) that was gone.

I acknowledge that an editor can do whatever she wants with a story, but generally if it’s something drastic (such as this) then the writer gets a chance to review the changes and even withdraw the story if it’s too much. I was surprised that I hadn’t been given the chance.

It was only when I came upon the name of the dog that I began to understand what I was seeing. I had originally named the dog Jack (which was a name I was considering for my own dog, Flike), but a subsequent story in the cycle included the dog, Jack, as well as characters named Joe, Jon, and Jerry. A friend who read that story commented on the clumsiness of the names, and my wife tried to figure out what great literary shenanigans I was up to with them. So, Jerry became Lee and Jack (the dog) became Buddy.

But obviously this change had happened after I had submitted the draft of the story to the anthology. And then I realized that all of the discrepancies between my draft and the one in print were likely due to revisions I had made to the story subsequent to its submission. I found the original email when I had sent the story, and attached was the draft of the story at the time. And everything lined up. Mystery resolved. Still, “enuf” didn’t make it into print.

__________

I received an email recently from the editor of If and Only If Journal saying that the publication had suffered an unexpected hiatus but that it was going to begin publication again after all. This journal had accepted my submission of “Travel Light” a long time ago. “Travel Light” first appeared in Penduline Press, but If and Only If was looking for such stories and would accept reprints. Thus my story would find a second home. But I hadn’t heard from the editor and the journal online hadn’t posted any news or updates. I assumed that though it was a valiant effort, it had folded as many lit journals do. But then came the surprising good news, reaching my inbox while I was out at my little cabin for the weekend where I am off the grid. Thus I didn’t learn of the email until I got home.

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.