Archive for the ‘Ouroboros’ category

bits and pieces

November 16, 2020

This is a picture of my lake at its “lowest point.” Actually, I’m pretty sure it’s before any water collected behind the dam (aside from that bit of ice you see). So this is the water-side of the dam, and at full pool, I would be under 18 feet of water here. See my old truck up among the trees? That white barrel with all of the holes in it is part of the drainage system. It is connected to a pipe that runs under the dam and has a valve on the opposite end. I can open the valve to let water out (though why?). The few times I’ve done this, I’ve seen dozens of small fish come out as well.

I think I told you that my son who lives down the road is moving to a new house in his college town and that my weekends of late have been devoted to either heavy lifting or grandparenting, which can include heavy lifting. Thus I haven’t been able to get out to Roundrock as much as this mild November weather has permitted. Closing is this week though, and the time pressure of all of the work will lessen afterward, so I’m hoping the weather will hang on long enuf for me to get some quality time out there.

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I mentioned here before that I intended to give periodic accounts of my submission effort with Obelus, but I’ve decided against doing that. One of the reasons I lost interest in running, I think, was because I had tried to quantify it too much. Instead of being in the moment as my feet were slapping the pavement, I was recording my runs (with my fancy running watch) and analyzing them afterward, anguishing over a slower pace or a shorter distance or some hill that defeated me. I think it focused me on the deficiencies rather than the overall purpose (which may have been fitness or may have been the pursuit of something outside of my normal). And thus I fear the same thing can happen with documenting my Obelus submission campaign. I don’t know how many queries I’ve sent but I fear that when I start tabulating the inevitably high rejection rate, I’ll get disheartened, which isn’t helpful. So blissful ignorance gets to reign. (Or takes the reins, or rains on me.)

Still, when I read some of the junk that gets published, and the occasional metafiction I find, I feel certain that Obelus does have a place and it’s just a matter of perseverance.

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I can report that my use of white noise (to silence the heartbeat I can hear in my right ear) has been successful. I think I am able to concentrate better without the constant throb. I’ve also stopped actively “listening” to the white noise and it just does its thing in the background. What’s especially interesting is when my writing session ends and I turn it off. Then the silence in the room truly is loud.

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When I’m not writing in the early hours or grandparenting in the others, most of my free time lately has been spent raking: the leaves in my yard and my fingers through my long quarantine hair. The trees around here are mostly finished dropping their leaves — except the oaks, which will dribble leaves all winter but only lose the bulk of them in the spring when the new growth comes out — so my efforts with the rake will stop seeming less futile soon. Still, my two long-haired dogs will find ways to drag leaves (especially the cypress leaves) into the house in their fur. That will be a clean-up task that will last all winter.

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Existential musing: All of my life, when I’ve looked in the mirror, I’ve seen my face. The same face as yesterday and the day before that. Going back to my youth and childhood, probably to when I first recognized myself in the looking glass. Sure, I’ve changed over the years, but the gradual pace of it has allowed me to see the “same” face each new day.

Except now. These days when I look in the mirror, I pause and wonder who it is looking back at me. My quarantine hair touches my collar now and billows out to the side around my neck. This is the longest my hair has ever been in my entire life and it makes me “not recognize” myself in the mirror for a moment.

I have no plans on getting my hair cut soon, and it’s getting time for me to get some of those rubberbandy things girls use to pull their ponytails together. (My eyebrows, on the other had, may get a mowing. They curl down and sometimes catch in my eyelashes, which is annoying.)

bits and pieces

October 26, 2020

I continue to send out queries for Obelus, and I continue to refine my letter, and I continue to keep the faith. I’ve even come up with an “elevator pitch,” which I think is crass (the need for one, not the pitch itself). What kind of service are you doing to your 100,000+ word novel by condensing its substance into two or three breathless sentences? Anyway, I spent two hours on Saturday morning reviewing potential agents, studying their interests, their submission guidelines, and managed to send only two queries.

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Also, someone please explain to me the wonder that is If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler. I promptly read it when an agent who turned down Obelus had hoped it would have been more like that novel. A lot of people have said how wonderful that novel is, but I didn’t see it. Maybe I just had a crappy translation, but it seemed cumbersome, with characters I couldn’t engage with, and a plot that, while innovative (for its time?), was obvious.

Same with The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde. I’d classify it as “high metafictional” but it just wasn’t my thing. After I figured out the tone and style, I just wanted to get done with it. Yet people praise this novel.

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In the meantime, any work at all on anything else at all is pretty much not happening at all. I’m barely submitting even the finished short stories I have, and I’m not writing any new ones. I made a kind of decision over the weekend that I need to compartmentalize my time, devoting a certain amount to Obelus submissions and a certain amount to new writing.

And so, I began work on a new novel, which I’m tentatively calling A Short Walk in a Sad Place. I’ve been making notes on this since the middle of summer, and the “plot” has evolved considerably since then. This is how Obelus happened, becoming something far different from what I had originally conceived, so I consider it a good thing. A Short Walk will be another metafiction, and I think it will be fun to work on.

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My son, who lives a half hour down the road, is moving to a different part of his college town (to ensure his children get into a good primary school), so my weekends have been devoted to helping with that. My truck has proved useful, as has my back. My wife has provided childcare. There is currently some confusion about closing dates on the current and new houses and how their timing may/may not require time in a motel for this family of four (their three cats would chill in my basement). This hasn’t interfered with my “writing” time, but trips to the cabin have dried up.

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I’ve taken the two mandatory training classes for my election day volunteering, and I’m taking one of them again later this week so I can feel a tiny bit more confident about not screwing up too badly when I’m working at the polls. It will be a long day. I must be at the polling site at 4:30 a.m. (not a problem for me, and it’s just a few blocks from my house), but I have to stay until the polls close (at 7:00 p.m.) and then later to help close up the shop and complete all of the paperwork. So I’m taking election day and the day after off from work. Perhaps I’ll have some interesting stories to tell when I’m done.

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In an old college notebook, with some remaining unused pages that I jot spontaneous notes on as I’m writing or researching, I found an assignment for a class I took more than 40 years ago: a three-page paper about Ben Franklin’s autobiography. I don’t know what became of the paper I wrote, but the assignment sheet — a mimeograph — has my handwriting on it from that distant age. It’s surprisingly legible; I seemed to remember having terrible handwriting, but I guess not. The assignment sheet will go in the recycling bin, 40 years after its creation.

Obelus query status

October 19, 2020

A friend once kept an account of the submission status of his novel on his blog, culminating in his publishing success, and I thought I might do something similar with Obelus.

I’ve mentioned before that I truly think submitting a novel — to agents and to publishers — is a numbers game, and success is more likely to be achieved through volume rather than precision. I think the factors in success are so variable that even the best written query, adhering exactly to a site’s submission requirements, can meet with rejection unless it reaches the right agent in the right mood on the right day. Something that might seem appealing on a Monday morning could get dismissed on a Friday afternoon. I realize that literary agents are professionals, and for the most part I don’t think they are capricious, and I’m sure they know their markets, but they’re human too.

I’ve visited hundreds of agent websites and studied their wish lists, and in my observation these are imprecise, suggesting an agent will just “know it when they see it.” Sure, many agents say, for example, that they are only interested in women’s literature or young adult novels. That’s precise enuf for me to know not to send my query. (What of a young-adult novelist? Is it clear what type of YA novel the agent is looking for?) But when the agent lists “literary fiction” as their field, just what does that mean?

Not much, and so volume approach.

To date I’ve sent 77 queries to agents, mostly by email though a handful were submitted via a given site’s online submission manager. I didn’t do a tally, but I think most of these have said they won’t respond unless interested. Several state that if there is no response within a specified number of days, the query was rejected, which amounts to the same thing. One said to expect a response in six months. Others have spans of a few weeks to a few months. It’s because of this that I’m not doing the conventional method of picking my “top ten” targets and waiting until I have a response from each before moving on to my next ten. I just don’t seen how that would be efficient given the variables.

In some cases, the agent will list their clients so that you can get an idea of what they like, but in nearly all of those cases, I’m unfamiliar with the authors or the list is of the last ten years of Pulitzer Prize winners. In a couple of cases the agent has asked for my “platform” and “marketing plan,” which I can see might make sense for nonfiction, but for reclusive, antisocial fiction writers, not so much. (I can’t ever see myself as an “influencer.”)

Of the 77 submissions, I have received 15 rejections. Most of those were automated and most came within days. As unpleasant as a rejection email is, I think it’s better than not getting any response at all. I have received two personalized rejections, including one that offered some praise and went into detail about why it was declined, even welcoming further submissions.

I think I’m about halfway through the potential agents listed in Duotrope. It’s a painstaking process, and on a good day, I can get about a half dozen submissions made. I expect a couple more months of this, all the while refining my query letter.

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Here’s a random picture of some round rocks:

querying

October 5, 2020

Simple word. Not so simple process.

In the last couple of weeks I have been submitting queries to literary agents for Obelus. (The novel is as finished as I can get it, though I did add “like an aneurysm” at one point in it over the weekend.)

This is harrowing work! It requires a lot of mental effort and a certain robust level of self belief, at least for me. I’ve written a query, and rewritten it a few times, and rewritten it more than a few times when I’ve pasted it into an email and re-read it. I struggled for a long time (well, several weeks) with writing a synopsis, then rewriting it to get it under two pages, then rewriting it every time I opened it. And then assembling all of this in the specification of each agent I thought might be a suitable target.

I’ve been researching agents every day. Mostly I’ve been relying on the huge listing in Duotrope (approximately 850 good souls), which is searchable based on a few criteria. But Obelus is quirky enuf — BTW, I’ve replaced nearly every occurrence of “enough” in the manuscript with “enuf” as part of the metafiction — that the search criteria in Duotrope don’t really align with it. After exhausting the few listings for “comedic” and “quirky” I’ve just begun going through the hundreds of agents who are interested in “literary” and visiting their actual websites to see if they might be suitable. (That’s another beef. Many of the agent websites are more biography than interest. You can often learn more about their education and pets than about the kinds of fiction they’re interested in.) I send my emails or complete the site submission forms and cross my fingers and move on to the next. (I’ve also dipped into AgentQuery, but I think that site’s gone static, and Manuscript Wishlist, but that’s pretty vague.)

I’m still convinced this is a numbers game. I can’t get a clear enuf indication from the listings and bios exactly what most agents want, and I suppose it’s an intangible want anyway, that I mostly just submit to any who don’t specifically rule themselves out. For example, I’ve come across many “literary” agents who turn out to only be interested in young adult novels (but no sparkly vampires, thank you!) or family sagas or even nonfiction. Those I pass. But the remainder mostly get a query from me. I feel that sooner or later my query is going to land before the right agent in the right frame of mind at the right moment to create an interest.

I don’t think I’ve exhausted even a quarter of the potential agents in Duotrope (either with a submission or a confirmation they’re not suitable), so I’ll be at this for a while.

Curiously, I have not been doing much other writing. I have an idea for my next novel, but it’s still gestating and far from a point where I can begin writing it. No short stories are demanding my attention, though I have a few ideas I think are pretty good.

In other news, grand #8, named Paul, is doing well. He’s three weeks old today, and I’ve been to visit him in St. Louis once (though with the virus rampant, that’s a risky thing to do).

Obelus, in the free world

September 14, 2020

On Saturday morning I spent nearly four hours sending the query for Obelus to fifteen potential agents. (And a couple more on Sunday for another eight. I’ve even received my first two rejection declines!) It was exhausting, mentally and emotionally. (I also got the oil changed in my truck.)

I had completed my read through of the 101,000+ words and worked and worked on the wording of the query, and I think I have it in pretty good shape. Of course, it was only when I was preparing the fourteenth query letter that I noticed the typo in it.

It turns out there are very few agents who specify that they are seeking metafiction. Adjectives like experimental, surreal, quirky, and slipstream come up, but I think they’re not quite right. Regardless, I’m pretty sure success at this thing is a numbers game. Send out a hundred queries, and somewhere in there will be the one or two who are receptive to whatever I have to offer.

Anyway, big step achieved.

Also, how do you identify a dogwood tree? By its bark!

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.

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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.

Olios

August 3, 2020

I “finished” Olios over the weekend. It is the shortest of the four sections of the work I’m probably going to call Oeuvre at 11,500 words. Aside from topping 10,000 words so the section could be defined as a novella, though, the length was never important or targeted.

The whole collection comes in at 119,541 words right now, which I guess is large by current novel standards, but the latter two sections comprise 25,000 of those words, and they are more a collection of vignettes than a continuous narrative, so they’re in bite sizes.

There are a few points I need to adjust in the first two parts — bits of character development I’ve reconsidered — that will reduce the word count by a fraction, and I will need to commence my comprehensive read through soon, but I think I need to step away from it for a while. (Plus I’m waiting on the response from a respected reader for one of the parts.)

But soon I think I will have a final document, and then I will have to try to do something with it. It’s been a wild seven writing months!

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.

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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.

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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 . . .

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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?

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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.

Obelus

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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.