Archive for the ‘Humble efforts’ category

a beginning

December 23, 2019

It is a truth universally acknowledged among creative writers that you should tell your story once, and you should do it in writing. The corollary is that if you discuss your story idea with others you might somehow dissipate the urge to tell it further, thus losing the drive or momentum or mojo or whatever to do the truly hard work of writing the damned thing. And so I make this post with trepidation.

I’ve begun work on a new, big project. I’d mentioned before that I’ve been flailing, looking around for the next inspiration to take hold, and I think it may have happened. The short story I talk about writing in that earlier post is finished and even submitted. It’s a little fun-and-games type piece, but my mind would not let it go after I “finished” it, and I began imagining how the story could actually take place in the real world. And the more I imagined it, the more things came to me. Solutions, settings, characters, conflicts, even motivations (which are key).

So now I’ve begun work on a novel of the story. I realize the inherent challenge (or perhaps incipient failure?) in trying to flesh out something like a 1,900 word short story into a full-blown novel (or perhaps novella, which actually works well for what I have in mind).

Yesterday, on the first full day of winter, I rose at my accustomed and unholy hour and began work on the novel. By the end of my session I had finished a first draft of a first chapter, with nearly as many words as the origin short story has.

So very much is going on in this story — obscure references and oblique foreshadowing, reliable and unreliable narration, characters with more depth than seems apparent, feints and deceits, plotting within plotting, early preparation and final payoff, even some metafiction maneuvering — that I constantly doubt my ability to do it well enuf. But that’s always been the case for me.

It has been a long time since I have written an actual novel. “But what of One-Match Fire?, you say.” Well, that began as a single short story, which was another one I couldn’t let go of after I’d “finished” it, and several related but independent stories grew from it. I was well along this road before I realized that what I was accumulating was a novel in stories. Even so, it felt like just writing a whole bunch of short stories that benefited from having the same characters, setting, and theme. That there was an arc in it was a late and nice revelation.

Not so with this work (which I have a tentative title for, but it’s only a placeholder for now — I’ll probably seek counsel from my favorite poet for a title to this one too). This is a much longer and more perilous road. I think I know my destination, and a few of the big stops along the way, and even some of the people I’ll meet, but beyond that I’m traveling blind, and I’ll only discover a lot of the tale as I tell it. Also, at this point I don’t see the need to travel to Belgium to do more research.

But it feels good, feeling inspired again. I hope to ride this wave (and a couple of other metaphors as I think of them)!


December 2, 2019

With the “completion” of One-Match Fire, I’ve been flailing. I’m looking everywhere for my next great subject or character or theme that will consume me as OMF did for a decade. I have written a half dozen stories about those characters in the years subsequent to the completion of the OMF storyline, and while a few of them have been good, others just feel thin and forced.

I’ve written other stories too, and while several have been published, they’ve been one-offs that are more “manufactured” than written. I’ve also revisited two of my Finnegans cozy mystery novels, preparing them (and myself) for the thankless effort of submitting them here and there. (They are good, but they are completely outside of the “literary” writing I do; I’m even using a pen name for them.)

I’m also trying to be more businesslike in this hobby of mine. I’ve been researching potential publishers for OMF and have made a half dozen highly targeted submissions, all of which will have no response until the spring. And I keep searching.

And so, in my otherwise directionless state, I reached way back for a story idea I had made notes on more than a decade ago. (A friend once told me that the good ideas never go away, and she was right. Thanks, Margie!) It’s an ambitious blend of literary pretension, meta machinations, some Poe influence, too much alliteration, shaggy doggedness (which kind of serves the point), and the clear influence of all of the Borges I was reading in those days. Plus it all hinges on the very last sentence, which pulls the rug out from under the reader. “Wait! What?”

I’ve actually completed the story, and I’m sure it’s nothing like what I had imagined writing back then, but it feels like a worthy piece nonetheless. It gets the job done, though perhaps a bit more directly that I’d probably originally intended. Still, it’s nice to get an old, old idea in shape. Or rather, started into shape. I’ll need to come back to it many times. (Next up, perhaps one I tinkered with during my equally distant Faulkner phase.)


The image above is detail from a Dore illustration titled “Don Quixote in his Library.”

wet words

October 1, 2019

It wasn’t all physical labor at my cabin over the weekend. I also used the solitude to make copious notes for one of my stories. (A story I wrote some months ago and knew was not very good.)

The pressure washing of the cabin left the interior dry (aside from a few places where water trickled in under the sill), so the brain work I did on Friday night and Saturday morning was safe from the elements.

My jeans, unfortunately, were not. Both the spray of the pressure washer and the rain that began once that work was done had pretty much soaked my clothes. I’d brought a change, but I was so eager to get in the truck and get home that I didn’t bother with that.

I tore the pages of my notes from the little book I keep at the cabin for that purpose, folded the bundle, and slipped it into my pocket. Then I got about packing up and otherwise closing the freshly bathed cabin.

By the time I had this done — not much more than fifteen minutes — the pages of notes in my (apparently wetter-than-I-thought) pocket were a sodden mess. I sat in my truck, out of the rain, and gently teased the pages apart , noting that though the printed ink on the page had run, my pencilled notes had not. I laid out the pages on the seat beside me to let them dry, then I drove home.

Above is what I had when I sat down to transcribe them into my laptop. I was able to squint and read all of it, though I think there is a page missing.

So along with learning how to use a pressure washer, I also learned how to better care for my precious notes.

“Rollator” has found a home

September 5, 2019

My story “Rollator” has been accepted by Falling Star Magazine. It will appear in the next print issue.

“Rollator” is a one-off; it’s not related to any of my other stories, and it’s meant to be comical as well as topical. The story was inspired in part by the drive I make to the park where I walk my dogs. Along the way, through white bread suburbia, there is one fine house that has a number of cars in the driveway and along the curb. I often see men and boys at work on these cars, and I recall that many years ago our suburban city had “outlawed” working on cars in your driveway. If you wanted to work on your car, it had to be done within your garage. A great cry was raised by reasonable people who said they were being denied what amounted to their hobby of being shade-tree mechanics. (I agreed with them, though I know nothing about engines, other than that my wife’s car now needs a new compressor!) So the law was reversed. (Still, it is illegal to create a gravel driveway in my community. If you already have one, it may remain, but any new or repaired driveway must be paved.)

So I would drive by this house and see this out-of-place pastime and wonder what the neighbors thought. On my own street, just down the block, there is a similar house with cars and car hobbyists, and the people living in it are the least pretentious, most salt-of-the-earth folk in the neighborhood.

Falling Star Magazine had a theme for the upcoming issue: intersections. Their suggestion was literal: what do you see across the street or at the busy intersection. My story worked well within that but also deals with the intersection of people and cultures and how finding the person within the culture is often necessary for some people to find commonality. My protagonist is a grumpy old man who gets around with the help of a fancy walker: a Rollator. He’s seen a lot of change in his neighborhood and he mostly doesn’t like it. Until one day . . .

Falling Star Magazine is a print publication, so I won’t be able to share a link when the story appears.

three strikes

April 25, 2019

Wow! I’ve already received three rejections this week, and the week ain’t over.

It’s not as tough as I make out. One piece had been out for 11 months before I got the rejection, and it’s just as well since in that time I had substantially revised it; I wouldn’t have wanted it published as it was from back then.

Another was a long shot, and I don’t think the story was really finished anyway. I think the substance of it is there, but I’m still tinkering with it. So no hurt feelings here.

The third was for “MTWTF” that I’ve talked about here before. It’s a quirky story, which doesn’t really hurt its chances, I think, but it’s also a long story, which, in combination with quirk, I think does hurt its chances.

Still, onward!

But this reality of creative writing and submitting convinces me more and more that paying a fee to submit a story is not a cost-effective production model. (And as I think about it, I see plenty of cautions against submitting novel manuscripts to publishers who charge an up-front submission or reading fee. Invariably, they’re identified as scammers or at least places to avoid. Yet for journals, we’re supposed to be okay with that same thing?)

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.

triplets, triptychs, trinities

December 31, 2018

My high school English teacher had assigned Lord Jim as my reading and term paper project in my senior year. That turned out to be a watershed moment in my (eventual) creative life because it introduced me to Joseph Conrad, whose novels I’ve read throughout the ensuing decades. Some I’ve read more than once. Lord Jim I’ve read thrice. (Maybe more. I wasn’t keeping good records in my callow youth.)

When my reading turned to Philip Roth, and I read some of his nonfiction, he discussed the influence Conrad had on his own writing and teaching. What I specifically remember was his respect for Conrad’s use of threes in a sentence: three examples, three clauses, three points.

I had long noticed by that time that I was commonly using threes in the sentences I wrote, and I was delighted to learn their apparent influence from my extensive reading of Joseph Conrad. Normally I don’t want to know too much about my creative process since I fear familiarity will lead to analysis, which would slay creativity. (Have I really been writing this blog for more than a decade?)

So here is a sentence I recently wrote for a story I’m working on (with the apt title “Three Small Words”*):

“Nonetheless, he wanted to find some moment, some event, some thing in the past that could be blamed and attacked and conquered rather than admit that his father had been mortal all along, was now simply getting old, and had a limited number of days as all men do.”

By my count, there are three incidents of threes in that sentence. I did not do this consciously; it just rose from the murk of my creative subconscious and flowed through my fingers onto the keyboard and then onto the screen.

I realize that it may be one of those darlings you’re supposed to kill, and that my yet happen since I’m only in the first draft stage.

But for the present I’m going to wallow in the perceived influence of Joseph Conrad.

*The three small words in the story are “Don’t tell Mom,” and an argument in the story is conducted with a series of three-word sentences, but the title harkens to some other threes in One-Match Fire including the three notes of the whippoorwill and the words “I love you,” a feeling that permeates that novel in many unspoken ways, so the whippoorwill is given the job of saying it.

writing is rewriting

November 26, 2018

and I much prefer writing.

I mentioned before that an editor liked a running story (with a hint of leprechaun) that I had submitted and asked for a rewrite, enhancing the (possible) supernatural element of the tale. I’ve been struggling with that task ever since.

I’ve found that actual rewriting — taking a “finished” piece and reworking it — is different from the ongoing rewriting that is part of the normal editing and evolving of a story in progress. The latter is in flux in my mind, and I can wrap my head around its shifting nature. Not so with the former.

I suppose when I consider a story “finished” I lock it down in my little mind. Its words and sentences and order and development are all in their proper places, and any change to that, especially directed from the outside, is a kind of violence to the settled system. Each word had stood in its exact place in the “finished” work, the right flow was achieved, the right order led to the inexorable end. But with a rewrite I have to rip much of that apart and try to piece it all back together, with new, added parts that also need to find their places.

The story deals with a man asking a wish of someone whom he drunkenly thinks can grant it. This happens, but cautionary tales through the ages have warned of the need to be careful and specific in phrasing wishes to supernatural wish granters, and my character learns this lesson.

So I have the basic rewrite cobbled together now. It’s not finished. It needs a lot of love and a fair amount of cosmetics to smooth the clumsy transitions where I forced parts together. But it’s something I can work with. I’ll give it time to gestate and return to it to see what can be done.


“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.


October 3, 2018

So one of the lit mags that ran one of my stories, The Magnolia Review, which ran “Fire Sermon,” has a Kickstarter campaign and if they raise enuf money, they’re going to put out a print edition of the issue with my story in it. Through some quirk, I received an email about it, welcoming me to make a pledge.

While it is nice to see the shelf with the journals holding my stories getting more full, I don’t absolutely have to have a printed copy of each one. Still, I went to the site just to see what it was all about.

And what did I find but that they excerpted my story as a sample of what was in the issue.

As I write this, they have a long, long way to go to reach their goal, but I confess that I did do my part to help them reach it!

Update 1NOV18: The campaign did not reach its goal by the deadline, and I got an automated email telling me this. But the emails contributors received from the editor herself prior to this spoke of seeing proofs from the printer, as though publication was going to happen. I don’t know where this stands, but I’m guessing this one won’t be added to my shelf.