Archive for the ‘Process’ category

mused, and amused

August 2, 2016

I am certainly not the first, nor the only, writer who has sometimes half-heartedly believed that the stories exist “out there” somewhere and are revealed to us if we are good and patient and still. And our job is to scribble them down as they are revealed to us. I can understand why the ancients believed in things like Muses, whispering in their ears, telling them the tales or the songs that were wondrous and so human.

I am busy writing the “last” Fathers and Sons* story, which is titled “A Tree Falls in the Forest,” as you know from my last post. It is zooming along. I am scribbling and trying to keep up as the story blossoms in my humble brain. As the words flow through my fingertips and onto the keyboard, I keep seeing implications across all of the twenty other stories in this cycle of mine. Echoes. Reverberations. Hints. Influences. Explanations. It’s all connected, and I’m more than a little surprised by this. I understand, of course, that this is merely the effect of knowing these characters and the general story line so well, but that’s the quantitative Paul thinking. The qualitative Paul is the one who must do the writing, and that fellow is naive and not worldly wise and is easily impressed by such things. Rube!

The story is coming together nicely. I should have it finished by the weekend, and then I’m going to rush it off to my two readers to incorporate in their gracious and perhaps vicious analysis. I know what must be done in the story to get it to the finish, and with nearly every word, I’m seeing how it is tied to the other stories. It will be integral; it will belong.

And this amazes me. I thought I was done, and perhaps I was, and yet I write one more and it fits like the piece of a puzzle. But I must, must, must declare an end. Right?



*And by this I mean the last One-Match Fire story, of course.

fever dreams

July 13, 2016

As you know, I can’t let go of my Fathers and Sons stories. I continue to think of little and big things to do to them to improve their development, their integrity, and their overall literary glory. The most recent idea I had was to move a big chunk of one of the early stories (in the chronology) into one of the later stories as a flashback. (Flashbacks are all over the place in these stories, and I attribute that to reading Go Down, Moses, in which important revelations about past events are provided in later stories almost casually, sometimes in just a single word in the right place, and can be easily overlooked by a cursory reading.)

The problem with this latest idea was that by removing that chunk from the earlier story, I was essentially gutting it, leaving far too little behind to be called a story. I tried thinking of ways to hint at what would be missing, to suggest there was more to the story than the trifle that would have been left, but that seemed more contrivance than story telling. Then I thought that maybe I should just leave it all alone. Then I didn’t know what to think.

And then, I caught a cold.

I am now home from work for the day (in sweats and in a semi-coherent state of mind). I had come home from work yesterday before noon, knowing I wasn’t going to be productive. I crawled into bed and slept for five hours only to rise and eat some popsicles (to soothe the burning throat) and then crawl back into bed again. I slept fitfully, tossing and turning enuf to make the dog decide the floor was a more comfortable place to sleep for the while.

But in those restless turnings I had a revelation about this latest fix I want to make to the story. The answer came to me in a fever dream. Basically, I don’t need to remove the whole chunk of the earlier story. I just need to make a revelation about it in the later story. This revelation perfectly fits the theme of the later story and resonates across all of the stories with its significance. (I don’t know where these epiphanies come from, but I’m grateful for them.)

So I need to tinker with that earlier story and make the insertion in the later story. And then . . . call it done?

what’s in a name?

July 11, 2016

My Fathers and Sons story “The Death of Superman” has been accepted for an upcoming anthology. I’d already blathered about this in an earlier post. And so it is in an odd place that I find myself because I want to change the title of the story.

True confession: I was never really in love with that title. The idea was that the narrator considered his father to be a superman. A giant. A hero. And that much is true. But in the evolution of the story, I had changed it from a first person narrator to third person. And no one actually dies in the story. And the pop culture reference might misdirect or confuse eventual readers. And, honestly, I’m not sure I can actually use the title: is it copyrighted?

So I’ve stumbled on a new title that is more fitting and in the public domain: “where late the sweet birds sang.” You will, of course, immediately recognize that as coming from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73, where he speaks of the “bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.” He’s speaking, literally of autumn in the forest with all of the singing birds gone and metaphorically of the passing of youth, the approach of death, and all of that. (The next story in the cycle, “Twice Blest,” takes its title from The Merchant of Venice, so there’s that.)

In my story the no-longer-young main character is at the family cabin in the forest, lamenting the fading of his father from the vigorous man he once was. His father is in the late autumn of his life, and the son is past the vigor of his own youth. Plus, completely coincidentally, birdsong has played an important part in many of the subsequent stories. They were written before I had this realization of the better title, but I saw the fit instantly.

I’ve written to the editor who is publishing the anthology, asking if it is too late to change the title. No response yet, and if it goes to press with the prior title, that will be fine. But going forward, I will use the new title. In the eventual (and inevitable) publication of the entire cycle, it will carry that new title as well. Most of the already-published F&S stories have been altered since publication, so there’s that, too.

running thoughts

June 22, 2016

I spent an hour on the treadmill in my basement last evening (because it’s 97 degrees outside on the first full day of summer!) and soon after hurried up to my humble writing room to pop open one of my Fathers and Sons stories to incorporate the wonderful insight I had about it whilst pounding away on the ever-moving belt below my feet.

I don’t run with music or podcasts, nor when I’m on my treadmill do I watch television. I will look about the portion of my basement before me and lament all of the “stuff” my children have left behind in my safekeeping, but after a while, that gets boring and I go deep inside my head. Often my thoughts turn to my stories — finished and unfinished — and occasionally some insight pops up that must be incorporated. This kind of thing also happens when I’m running outside, generally when I have five or more miles to go before I get home (or to the bagel shop). In those cases I must repeat whatever this insight is, almost as a mantra, so I won’t forget it before my fingers can do their own running across the keyboard. If I’m lucky I can chant it in a cadence that matches my pace (i.e., slowly).

I’m not sure if there is a technical term for how my creativity works. It aggregates. It synthesizes. I think of some random thing, and I suddenly realize how perfectly it illustrates or suits a story I’m working on. This kind of stuff is unbidden but certainly not unwelcome. I can sit down with a pencil and paper and work out a plot in outline form (which I don’t generally do), and I can begin writing a new story from that. But these insights that come from out of the blue are what enrich the stories. The insight I had on the treadmill last evening fit nicely into one of the early F&S stories (in their internal chronology) and yet influenced the understanding of the second-to-last story. That’s good stuff. It fit so naturally that I sometimes actually believe there is a Muse out there tampering with my fecund brain, nudging it in the right direction for developing the stories. (I don’t actually believe this.)

And so, a little more progress. I’m grateful.

rewrite of first F&S story

March 28, 2016

Well, I’ve gotten down a first draft of the first rewrite of my first F&S story, “The Death of Superman.” I’ve recast if from a first-person narrator to third person. This involved more than just changing “I said” to “He said” since it opened opportunities for the new narrator to have an influence (while closing at least partially the first-person narrator from being reflective). Obviously, it still needs work, and I’ll read through it plenty of times before I consider it finished.

And I learned that despite having read the first-person draft literally dozens of times over the years, I still missed some glaring errors. Somewhere through the course of the years this story has existed, I moved it in time from a springtime visit to the family cabin to a November visit. This was partly thematic since the thoughts and emotions of the main character are in large part dealing with his father who is in the late autumn of his own life. But I also needed the main character to slip into one of his father’s old flannel shirts (flannel shirts being the “uniform” of these men across the cycle) while visiting the cabin, so I needed it to be a cool day. So at some point I moved the story into November, yet during my rewrite I found two old references to him making a springtime visit. Oops!

There were some other updates as well. I didn’t even think to consider, until I did the rewrite, that phrases like “tree tops” and “wood smoke” are actually single words when used as nouns. (In general, shorter word count in a submission is a good thing, and always, the right word in the right place is the best thing.)

I’ve noted here before that I can often catch overlooked errors when I take my laptop to the library and read through my stuff. The change in setting actually helps me see it all differently, with a more objective eye. So too with rewriting with a different narrator it seems.

Anyway, the comprehensive rewrite is now underway, and that’s a good feeling.

little gray birds

March 16, 2016

I’ve been able to make some good progress on my Fathers and Sons story “Little Gray Birds.” I have more than a thousand words of the story down, and I think it’s going in the right direction.

My process for years has been to collect my thoughts, bits of dialogue, ideas for character development, ideas for flashbacks and connections in a Word file. I just let them accumulate there until I think I have critical mass, then I start in with the story.  (The times I have tried to sit down and just start writing whatever came to me nearly always resulted in misfires, with the notable exception of my story “Travel Light”, which I still think is the best I’ve ever done.)

In this case, I had about 5,000 words of notes, more words than the entire story would encompass likely. What I didn’t have for a while was a way to start it. Then that came to me in one of those unbidden epiphanies that writers sometimes talk about (but not too much cuz you don’t want to jinx it). I had my start, a start that reached back across all of the stories and tied them together in a way that I had never considered before (but that I needed all along).

So with a good start and a decent amount of notes, “Little Gray Birds” is now underway. My guess is that I already have two-thirds of it in draft, but there is a lot that the last third must do, so the word count may mount. Also, I’ve decided to carve out a bit of introspection that was my original ending for the story to make it its own vignette. A sort of coda to all of the stories. I think it works better that way.

I can see the finish arch, but I’m not sprinting yet.

whose story is it anyway?

February 3, 2016

So the other day I was pondering the (inevitable) movie that will be made of my Fathers and Sons story cycle, after it’s published, of course, and has collected numerous awards and accolades. I thought it would be difficult to tell the tales in visual form because so much involves the memories of the characters. So much is internal monologue. And I realized the movie version would need a narrator.

Then I wondered who could possibly be knowledgeable enuf about these characters’ lives to be able to tell their stories in sometimes quite intimate detail. And I had a revelation.

I have always asserted that a third-person narrator of any fiction should be as much a character (to the writer) as any character in the story. (I’ve babbled about it here on the humble blog even. Witness this old post. Nice Walden reference there too.) Even if this narrator is no more than the affectless voice that tells the tale, the writer should know him or her well. Know the narrator’s ambitions and frustrations and favorite foods and shoe size. What is the narrator’s motivation, agenda? Even if the reader never knows this, the telling of the tale will be better because the writer does.

And I realized who the narrator of the Fathers and Sons stories had to be. It was like a bolt out of the blue. Of course! It all made suddenly perfect sense. It made every single word I had written and would write fit the narrative precisely. Every thing spoken and unspoken, every nuance and sly reference, would be controlled and would serve a higher, deeper purpose. (Oxymorons are an important narrative device in the stories, by the way.)

I’ve struggled with some of the stories feeling too sentimental, but with this new narrator in mind, I think I can resolve that. Not necessarily by removing the sentimentality either. And as I go back to “finished” stories to polish and refine them, knowing exactly who the narrator is will guide me.

No, I won’t tell you who the narrator is. I’m not even sure I want to identify this person in the stories themselves. That may or may not feel like a cheat to the reader. I’ll have to see how it goes. But as a writer of the stories, it is a paramount matter and a profound understanding for me.

Can you tell this is a big deal for me?


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