Archive for the ‘Omphalos’ category

Oeuvre becomes Obelus

August 31, 2020

I did some radical surgery on Oeuvre over the weekend. I cut about 21,000 words from the 122,000-word document.

That was a bulk cut, not a judicious paring of extraneous words here and there throughout the manuscript. Oeuvre has four parts. The first two are the substance of the story; the second two are more like commentaries on it, alternative histories and interpretations. I had originally wanted to include them because four novellas figure in the story, and I thought it would be magically meta to have four parts to my novel as well.

But those latter two parts had their weaknesses. Much of it felt forced and didn’t really add to the story. I’d been feeling uncertain about them for about a month, especially when I wrote a synopsis for the two sections and felt underwhelmed with what I had, so I thought I would try cutting them and seeing how I feel with the result. I’m now in the process of seeing how I feel with the result.

I did retain one bit of the excised text, having an appropriate place to slip it into the surviving story. I liked the bit and would have been sorry to lose it since it was a nice scene for a nice character.

Honestly, I don’t think the work suffers from the severe editing. I’ll watch how I feel in the days ahead.

I was also never in love with the overall title Oeuvre. I thought it was otiose. The title of the third section was Obelus, which is, among many other meanings for the word, a typographer’s symbol to indicate that a passage is spurious or doubtful, and that ties in nicely with the theme of the story. So Oeuvre has become Obelus.

And I think I that at least three of the pieces from the deleted fourth section, Olios, can stand alone as short stories. Once I feel fully confident that my change is good and permanent, I’ll probably begin shopping those around. (Actually, one of them began as a short story, and it was what inspired me to write the novel, so it has a nice pedigree and evolution.) My other novel, One-Match Fire, which is in circulation and getting periodic rejections, has twenty-four chapters, and I managed to get ten of them published as stand-alone stories. Then I began to hear dire judgments that I had forfeited the first publishing rights to them and could never get the novel published as a whole. I did a little research, and even asked a few agents and editors if this was true, and I was assured it was not. (There is so much contradictory conventional wisdom in this world of writing that I am convinced I must just keep my own counsel.) Anyway, I’m still a little cautious about trying to get those three pieces from Olios published until I am certain they will not be part of Obelus any longer.


Any WordPress experts out there? I am getting messages saying that the autosave function will not work and that I do not have permission to save my own blog posts. I poked around in my settings, and even changed my password, and I seem to have found a workaround. But if anyone knows what is wrong or how to fix it, I’d be glad to hear.

bits and pieces

July 27, 2020

I took off of work last Friday as a sort of mental health day (and also because we now have “unlimited” vacation time, which tends to cause employees to take less vacation time than if they knew they had an upper limit). My plan was to go out to my little cabin and relax, maybe do some chores, maybe do some writing, maybe swim in the lake.

What I had dismissed was the unpleasant (for our part of the world) heat and humidity. I arrived at the cabin early in the afternoon and the temperature on the shady porch was 90 degrees. The temperature inside the cabin (with a metal roof) was a cooler 88 degrees. There was certainly no way I was going to do chores in that heat, especially since I was alone. That left all of the other activities. As you can see above, I did do some writing on that hot porch, but it was impossible to concentrate. Not only were the fish jumping on the lake, but birds were flitting in the trees all around me, including hummingbirds fighting at the feeder I set out, and I had further confrontations with those wasps (see here). I finally took a scorched earth policy that included bug spray, a swatter, and removal of their nest. My shirt was clinging to my sweaty skin, and I imagined other insects biting and stinging me through it.

I had intended to stay the night, but the prospect of sleeping in an 80+ degree cabin was not appealing. Once I resigned myself, I packed up and headed home where there is running water, clean sheets, and air conditioning.


Not the finest photo I’ve ever taken, but it depicts what I want to show. Some critter has moved one the large grandchildren marbles from the gravel up onto the stone step to the cabin porch. (Note that one of the seven grand marbles is missing altogether.) My guess is a raccoon did this but I have no idea why. Before leaving I returned the marble to its peers and stomped them all more deeply in the gravel.


As I write this I am about 1,000 words from being finished with the complete draft of Ouroboros – Omphalos – Obelous – Olios. (I’ll probably call the collection of the four sections Oeuvre. That will be about 110,000+ words, written in seven months. I’ve never done this kind of thing before: the pace, the frenzy, the story evolving as I write it. Parts of it are with readers, but once I have those responses, I think I’ll be able to complete the comprehensive rewrite, and then . . .


I’ve invented a new game called Lasts. I list the last things I did before quarantine and invite you to do the same:

  • last time eating out – First Watch for breakfast in March
  • last haircut – February. I’m just a few weeks away from sporting a sweet ponytail.
  • last public entertainment event – A musical called Fun Home at the Missouri Repertory Theater
  • last movie – Dr. Doolittle (!) in January

What about you?


Before going to the cabin on Friday, I rode the recurring 26-mile trek on the Indian Creek and Blue River Trails. Because of the heat, and because the trail can get crowded, I started at 5:00 a.m. Technically, I don’t think I was supposed to be on the trail for about another hour, but I knew the route, and I had a light on the front of my bike, and who ever heard of getting pulled off the hiking/biking trail by the police?

I got pulled off the hiking/biking trail by the police! Sort of. The trail in this stretch passes through a lot of neighborhoods, which means it crosses a lot of surface streets. As I was approaching one of them — in the moonless dark with only by former running headlamp strapped to my handlebars to guide the way — I saw a bright light far ahead of me. At first I thought it was just another cyclist coming my way. The closer I got, however, the larger whatever it was, was. Then I guessed it was a maintenance truck (though the trail is in fine condition here). When I finally reached it, I found that it was a police car shining an intense light down the trail where I had come from. I stopped beside the officer, thinking I was busted, and he asked me if I’d seen any juveniles hanging out on the trail. I hadn’t, but there was apparently a runaway incident the night before and the police were looking in likely places for her. I have seen a lot of kids hang out on and beside the trail, though none ever at 5:00 a.m. The officer wished me well, and I was on my way again.


July 13, 2020

For those of you following my Ouroboros writing saga, I can tell you that I have the third part of the collection “finished.” I wrote the last 1,000 words of Obelus over the weekend. It comes to 13,000+ words, which is sufficient (since it qualifies as a novella).

I think I mentioned that the word “obelus” has a number of meanings, and my use is of the meaning of the typographer’s symbol of a dagger to indicate that a passage or reference is of dubious reliability. There are eleven parts in my Obelus, and their intent is to upend everything that comes before it in Ouroboros and Omphalos. (The shifting nature of identity and even reality is a major theme in these works. The fact that “obelus” has so many possible meanings feeds into this nicely.)

I say it is finished, but I’m sure I’ll come back to it. As phrasings or character traits or tropes come up in the other three parts, I may revisit Obelus to reference or develop these. I may also find that I want to write about a whole new matter — a twelfth part — to slip into Obelus. Thus I fully expect the word count to go up, maybe a little, maybe a lot. But if not, I do consider it sufficient as it stands.

The hard part comes now. Olios is part four, and it will involve altogether new writing. It’s going to be a collection of short stories and other writing referenced in the other parts, and I have to write them. (I half believe that the first three parts existed “out there” somewhere and I was just taking dictation as they were revealed to me. I don’t truly believe this kind of thing, of course, but it does come up in one form or another in the story.) I have one finished and another well on the way. But I need about four more to do justice to the section and the whole collection.

This work has been a beast. In the first six months of this year, I couldn’t get it written fast enuf (and I’m thinking of changing every “enough” in the work to “enuf” just because it is intended to be very self-conscious writing), but the days of 9,000 words written in one sitting are gone. I was happy to get 1,000+ words down last weekend. I’ll apply myself and get the work done, reaching at least the 10,000 minimum to qualify as a novella. But I must write these pieces in different styles, with different voices and vocabularies and even different (fictional) audiences, so I’ll have to find a different motivation than the momentum of the frenzied days.

I hope in the end it adds up to something worthwhile.

bits and pieces

June 29, 2020

This random photo from the archive is actually a stitched-together panoramic of the lake viewed from just below my cabin. This makes the lake look crescent shaped, but it is not. It is the typical teardrop shape of a lake made of a dammed valley. Also, beautiful bleakness of winter.


My report several weeks ago of reaching peak suburbia because even the fire hydrants were being painted gray was mistaken. That turned out to be a primer and they are now shockingly yellow again.


Shortly after I began working from home, back in March, I developed a pain in my backside (“backside” is a euphemism) that I attributed to sloth or cycling (though I hadn’t started up again for the year then) or maybe from shoveling too much gravel at the cabin. I couldn’t really account for it, but it wasn’t going away. And speaking of not going away, I had scheduled a week of vacation back in January for the first week in June. When that came, my wife and I did NOT go away to the west coast as we had planned but just hung around the house. However, what did go away was that pain in my backside. And when I returned to work after my week off, the pain returned too. Somehow, working from home was a pain in the, um, backside. And I figured it out. The seat of the desk chair where I do all of my personal writing and web surfing turned out to be set one and a half inches lower than the chair I was using in my work-from-home office space. It’s an old wooden swivel chair, substantially built, that I upended and figured out how to adjust. Using a tape measure, I lowered the seat exactly one and a half inches and then gave it a try. The pain has not returned. I think I solved the problem.


I am about two weeks away from beginning to wear a pony tail given my quarantine hair and its lack of cutting for months.


The Saharan dust cloud reached Kansas City over the weekend. The streetlights didn’t go on as I’m told they did in other cities, but there was a brown haze in the air even when it was sunny.


I continue to work on the four novellas that have captivated me since before the turn of the year. They are Ouroboros, Omphalos, Obelus, and Olios. I think I’ll collect them and call the whole thing Oeuvre. The first two parts are “finished” and I have about ninety percent of Obelus drafted. I’ve poked a little into Olios, and it may actually be the hardest part to write, though I’m not shooting for 40,000 words (nor in Obelus).

The word “obelus” has a number of meanings, and the one I am using is the typographer’s mark of a dagger, which also has several meanings. The usage where the dagger marks a passage of dubious origin or veracity is what I want. “Olio” is a kind of stew of disparate components, which works perfectly for my intent in that section.

bits and pieces

June 17, 2020

Random photo from the archives


My son recently announced that Grand #8 is in production and is expected to make an appearance in early September. The boy is to be named after his paternal grandfather (though his maternal grandfather also has that name).


Spell Check in Word sometimes reveals surprising things to me. For example, I recently intended to type “in the” and somehow came out with “int.” (Hitting the space bar at the right moment has often been a challenge for me.) So there sat “int” without the squiggly red line below it. Turns out that “int” is a standard abbreviation for words like “interior,” “internal,” and “international.” Such revelations come at least weekly to me.


Quietly, the city where I live has been painting the fire hydrants gray. That has to be peak suburbanism. I’m sure the firefighters know where every single hydrant is in the city, so they probably didn’t need to be bright yellow. But still, gray?


I am only a few pages away from filling my current journal (#28). I use spiral notebooks with college logos on them (current: Syracuse University, next: Villanova). In past years I was able to fill an entire notebook (college ruled pages, too) in less than a year. I’ve been working on this one since late 2016. I attribute this slow progress in part to keeping a lot more notes on my computer and also writing many things — such as my trips to Roundrock — on this humble blog. Before I would write full accounts of such trips in my paper journal, which filled pages. Lately I’ve realized how impossible it would be to find any given things in those thousands of pages of all of my past journals. And I’m sure there are things in them that I no longer even remember. Should I devote some time each day to reading them from the start? Or would that be too embarrassing?


On Friday during my “vacation” last week, I rode the entire length of the Indian Creek and Blue River Trails: 26+ miles. This was the first time this year that I did that, and my quads were reminding me about it for several days. I completed it — my heart and lungs were in the game — but my legs were finished at about mile 20 and had to be coaxed along. Still, I’m eager to do it again, and by the fall, I’m sure it will be no problem at all.


The first draft of Omphalos (the sequel to Ouroboros) is completed and I’m getting it out to some favored and treasured readers. Then what? Since a character’s four novellas feature in my two novellas, my wife thinks I should also write four novellas about all of this. (I’m glad I didn’t feature a dozen novellas!) I tend to shy away from challenges, but this work has been unprecedented for me (I wrote the first 45,000-word draft of Omphalos in six weeks), and already I have ideas on this sequel to the sequel. (Nothing yet on the fourth, but I’m not worried. Update: I know what I want to do with the fourth novella, and I’ll call it Olio. Trust me, it makes sense.)

My working title for my third novella is Obelus.

the drill

June 4, 2020

Yeah, I’m still around.

I can tell you that I finished the first draft of Omphalos last weekend. It is definitely first-draft material, but ideas for it have been pouring into my head to refine it. Pretty soon I’ll have something to send to a couple of readers whose thoughts I trust and respect.

The photo above is of the side of my cabin. The carpenter bees have discovered it and are drilling holes in the wood to lay their eggs. I don’t have too much trouble with this since the holes are small and there aren’t too many of them. But they are constantly buzzing about the cabin, either to find a new place to drill a hole or to guard the holes with eggs in them.

I had thought that the pressure washing and fresh stain on the cabin last fall might deter the bees, but not so. I’m probably going to set out a bee nest to see if they’ll use that instead.

I can’t account for it

May 25, 2020

One of the reasons I lost interest in running, I think, was because I was quantifying it too much. I would come home from work (back when I went elsewhere to work) and know I had to run at least four miles that evening if I was going to reach my target of thirty miles for the week. I wore a watch that talked to satellites and that tracked my pace and distance, and I could download this data when I got home to analyze my run, generally to feel disappointment in my performance. It got to be a chore, even an obligation, rather than something I did for exercise and esteem.

So now I find myself doing something similar with the writing of Omphalos. This thing continues to write itself. I have sat whole days at my computer, tapping away to get the story down as it reveals itself to me. I know where it’s going, and I know how to get there, but I still encounter surprises along the way. And the words just keep coming. At this rate, I’ll have the first draft done by the middle of June. I took ten years to write One-Match Fire, and Omphalos will be my second completed novel draft in 2020 alone. I can’t account for it, but then, I don’t want to. I want to ride the wave and be in the moment the way I failed to do when I was running.

I have kept one small quantifier in my journal about this. At the end of each week, I put down whatever word count I have achieved in the whole novel. And (unlike my running days) my pace has quickened. Here are some numbers:

02MAY – 4,600 words
11MAY – 16,660 words
18MAY – 25,000 words
25MAY – 38,900 words

I have two chapters left to write to complete the first draft, and I know I’ll easily exceed the 40,000 minimum for calling it a novel, though I’d be fine with it being a novella too. Ouroboros, for which Omphalos is a sequel, is at 47,600 words now. Both of those word counts will likely increase as I align better what happens in each work, putting in some foreshadowing and some back references and that kind of thing. I also have the wise thoughts of a trusted reader to use in Ouroboros (and then I’ll inflict Omphalos on him because I can).

I am in the moment with the writing of these works. And when I’m away, thoughts come to me about how to fix this or address that, and I want to get back to my keyboard to make the magic happen. It’s a good place to be and I don’t want to harm it by being too quantitative about it.


April 27, 2020

My novella Ouroboros (still working on it) sprang from a short story I had written, which sprang from some notes I had made for it more than a decade ago. I wrote the short story for a contest and submitted last fall (and learned last week that I didn’t win or rank), but the story’s premise wouldn’t leave me. I began to think about how the story would take place in the real world. The more I considered this, the more I saw that I had a novel, or at least a novella, on my hands.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned here that the writing of Ouroboros was unprecedentedly swift; I finished the first draft in two and a half (pre-quarantine) months, sometimes writing the whole day long on weekends. The more I wrote, the more story details and subplots and characterizations and meta derring-do came to me. (What would be the plural of “derring-do”?)

Ouroboros is now with a trusted reader, and when I have his responses and have incorporated them as well as I can, I think I will have a novel (it’s nearly 48,000 words, so by some definitions it’s a novel rather than a novella), that I can begin shopping around.

I feared, when I reached this point, that I would descend into a slough of despond because I wouldn’t have some great subject to drive my imagination. I had this happen when I had finished One-Match Fire (which is in submission at various places), but that was brief, for the short story that eventually became Ouroboros took over.

And now a story idea I’m calling Omphalos is pushing itself into my creative consciousness. (The title came to me from reading Fowles’ novel The French Lieutenant’s Woman, though the word’s rippling meanings seem to further support my story idea and dovetail well.) It will be a sequel to Ouroboros (or if some agent or publisher thinks Ouroboros is too short, the second part of it). The same characters will be in play (though I’m adding one foul-mouthed tweener), and they’ll mostly be dealing with the consequences of what happened (or what seemed to happen) in Ouroboros.

And just as with Ouroboros, thoughts and ideas and plot resolutions and characterizations and meta derring-do are rushing into my head for Omphalos. Once again, the (first-draft) writing is coming to me easily, and while the meta aspects of the tale are complex and need conscious awareness and adherence, I’m not slowing down or stalling. I began actual writing (rather than note compiling) of Omphalos over this last weekend, and I got down nearly 3,000 words, which is really very good for my normal pace. At this point I’m not stumbling about, wondering where the plot is or should be going. And since I know the characters pretty well already, I know how they should behave.


“Omphalos” is the Greek word for navel, as in belly button, and there will be a lot of navel-gazing in the story. (“Omphaloskepsis” is an actual word meaning navel-gazing.) But the word has had other uses and “meanings” through the centuries, and I intend to exploit those as well as I can or need in my story. Also, I like the repetition of relatively obscure “O” words as titles for these two works. (I suppose if I come up with a third work, I’ll need to find a third obscure “O” word title.)