Archive for the ‘Ramblings Off Topic’ category

bits and pieces

November 2, 2022

We had our house painted last week. It was unremarkable for the most part. We had some wood rot repaired, and some patches were made here and there to cover “issues” that will some day have to be addressed (but not by me, I hope!). The crew then pressure washed the house before they would paint it. Then cold weather came and that delayed them. But painting day finally arrived, and they did what you see above to the windows. They smeared a kind of gelatinous substance on the panes. From every room in the house, this was the view outside for several days.

They painted mostly with a spray gun, though they followed up in some places with a roller and used a brush where detail work was needed, especially the trim. We stuck with neighborhood-scandal yellow, and the painting work was done in two days.

Then, on the last day, a woman attacked the windows with a razor knife. She scored the goo around the four sides and then peeled it (and any stray paint) from the glass. Clean and easy. No taping. No steady-hand work with a small brush. I was impressed.

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During the days of painting, I was expecting my box of author copies of One-Match Fire, and I was certain it wouldn’t reach me in all of the confusion. But it did.

There was some mix up with the printer, and my copies were delayed. Friends and family were getting theirs, and they’d send me photos. But it was frustrating to see my novel in the hands of others and then see my two empty hands.

The publisher says sales have been “good,” but I haven’t seen any numbers. I’ll take “good.”

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Books read in October:

Now that I’m not reading and re-reading the proofs of OMF, I’ve been able to return to my usual reading pace. Here are the books I read last month:

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng – I’d known about this book for a long time, but I’d never read anything of hers. There is an adoption subplot in it, and I’m interested in that for a story idea of my own, so I checked it out from the library. This book is well done. The writing is clear and crisp, and the characters are drawn well. But, to me, this didn’t feel like a book that had to be written. It seemed more assembled, as a good idea for a novel, but not something that had grabbed the writer by the throat, saying “write me!”

All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung – Not a novel but a memoir, which is something I don’t read much. The story involves a woman, adopted as an infant, who struggles to learn about her birth family. She finds out a good deal, including learning she has two sisters, one of whom she develops a close relationship with, but not all that she learns is good.

The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa – A book I found wandering the stacks at my local library branch. This is a mild road-trip story about a man trying to find a new home for his cat, a stray he found on the streets of Tokyo. The “why” of his endeavor eventually becomes clear, but the cat will have none of it, escaping his new home to remain close to his original human. It’s a tear-jerker. (Also, it was a British translation from Japanese, hence some different spellings, including the double-L in the title.)

The Boy With a Bird inis Chest by Emme Lund – Just what it sounds like. A boy has a bird living in a cavity in his chest. Through his exposed ribs you can see it. The bird talks to him and he talks back. His mother knows that he will be hunted if the “Army of Acronyms” learns about him, so she takes them into hiding, eventually leaving him with his cousin while she hides elsewhere and making little contact with him (thinking they’re safer if separated). Through the unfiltered life his cousin leads, the boy learns about himself and about love, and the story ends with him finding love and peace (and maybe a surcease from his pursuers). This one grew on me.

Start Without Me by Joshua Max Feldman – The events in the story transpire over a single Thanksgiving Day as a hapless ex-musician and a stifled flight attendant are thrown together as strangers and bounce around Connecticut trying to connect with family and each other. It sounds contrived, and some of the situations felt over-the-top, but I thought it all worked. I’ll likely read more of Feldman’s work.

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By hoarding the gas discounts I get from the grocery store (and gaming the system a little), I was able to fill the tank on my truck (nearly 15 gallons) for only $1.18 total. That was SIX CENTS per gallon I paid. My receipt said I saved more than $54 dollars on that fill up.

I figure I can’t be the only one doing this. I wonder when they’ll discontinue the benefit.

#Sunday Sentence

October 23, 2022

This is one of my occasional participations in David Abrams’ Sunday Sentence project, sharing the best sentence I’ve read during the past week, “out of context and without commentary.”

At the end of every long, large Saturday-night party in the suburb of Shady Hill, when almost everyone who was going to play golf or tennis in the morning had gone home hours ago and the ten or twelve people remaining seemed powerless to bring the evening to an end although the gin and whiskey were running low, and here or there a woman who was sitting out her husband would have begun to drink milk; when everybody had lost track of time, and the baby-sitters who were waiting at home for these diehards would have long since stretched out on the sofa and fallen into a deep sleep to dream about cooking-contest prizes, ocean voyages, and romance; when the bellicose drunk, the crapshooter, the pianist, and the woman faced with the expiration of her hopes had all expressed themselves; when every proposal–to go to the Farquarson’s for breakfast, to go swimming, to go and wake up the Townsends, to go here and go there–died as soon as it was made, then Trace Bearden would begin to chide Cash Bentley about his age and thinning hair.

Source: “O Youth And Beauty” by John Cheever

#Sunday Sentence

October 9, 2022

This is one of my occasional participations in David Abrams’ Sunday Sentence project, sharing the best sentence I’ve read during the past week, “out of context and without commentary.”

No matter how a child joins your family, their presence changes all the rules; they move into your heart and build new rooms, knock down walls you never knew existed.

Source: All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung

bits and pieces ~ Make Today Awesome

October 4, 2022

Small Paul at play on his front porch. He got his very first haircut recently, but they wanted to keep some of his curls. I think it looks good.

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I’ve spoken of my reading pace being slowed for reasons. Those reasons are the work I’ve been doing on One-Match Fire in the run up to publication. I think I’ve read closely through the entire manuscript a half dozen times in the back and forth with the editors and designer.

Here are the books I managed to find time to read in September:

Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey – I learned about this novel from one of the podcasts I listen to on my treadmill. This is many things. It’s a love story. A fantasy. It’s a story of longing. It’s about imperialism. There are Ugly Americans. There are disabilities. Of course, there’s a hurricane. I really enjoyed reading this, especially reaching the ending that wasn’t altogether happy but that was inevitable. (By the way, this mermaid is most definitely a woman of color!)

My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok – I’d first read this in high school, and it must have been an eye-opener for the provincial little kid I was then. Its theme is universal though the story is specific. It’s about an artistically talented Hasidic boy in New York who struggles with the demands of his art and those of his faith. This is another novel that doesn’t have an altogether happy ending, but it is inevitable. I think this is considered Potok’s best work.

Savage Tongues by Azareen van der Vliet Oloomi – Another podcast find and, happily, also found on the shelf of my local library. In this story a woman and her friend travel to Spain where the protagonist had spent a fateful teenage summer in an out-of-balance sexual relationship with a man who both loved her and used her. She has been haunted by that all of her life, and her return was an attempt to bury the ghost. I think she did.

So that’s two novels by women to one by a man. I’m not actively trying to favor women writers, but it’s nice to see what the randomness of my finds provided.

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Meanwhile at Roundrock, the beavers are expanding their range. My wife and I ventured across the dam to the other side of the lake on our last visit to inspect what appeared to be a second den in the soft earth there. Not only did we confirm that they’ve established a second den, but there was a third under construction and what looked like the diggings for a fourth as well.

The lake is low, and it will likely remain that way for a while since there’s no rain in the forecast. I don’t think this affects the beavers, and the fish in the lake have been through much shallower times, but a solid rain or two would be nice now and then. The deepest part of the lake is still more than 12 feet down, but the more water there is, the better the fish will overwinter.

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I speak of listening to podcasts a lot here, so let me give you a rundown of the ones I like. I’m always on the lookout for new ones, so if you have a suggestion, let me know.

I’m a Writer, But – Two writer friends in Chicago host this, and it’s mostly an interview session with up-and-coming authors. Usually there’s short reading. It’s hip and fun, and they often dip into the particular demands of being a writer with small children. It’s about an hour long, which makes it pretty good for my current treadmill abilities (which is to say, it allows for gasping breaks now and then). Also, probably the best theme music.

This Podcast Will Change Your Life – Another Chicagoland podcast, brought to the world by Ben Tanzer, who blurbed One-Match Fire, folks. A lot of give and take betwixt the host and the guest, who are mostly writers or people in the industry. Very informal, which allows it to be wide ranging. Episodes are generally at least an hour long.

Otherppl – Truly a top-notch podcast hosted by Brad Listi. You’ll hear deep and interesting conversations with deep and interesting people. Often the discussion will take a long tangent onto some subject the host and guest share an interest in that is not really about the book being promoted. It’s never disappointing, and being about an hour and a half long, it’s just about perfect for the drives to my cabin.

The Writer Files – Half-hour-ish episodes with writers and others in the industry. The focus here swings toward craft though I’ve discovered several new writers I have chosen to read. Most episodes feature writers, including at least one Nobel laureate, but neuroscientists have also been on to talk about the science of creativity. The host, Kelton Reid, undoubtedly has the smoothest voice in the industry.

Writers on Writing – Interviews with authors, including Pulitzer prize winners, about upcoming works. It’s hosted on alternate episodes by two different hosts. I generally tune in to the ones hosted by Marrie Stone. Episode length varies, though you can usually count on at least an hour of interesting conversation.

I’ve sampled other podcasts but not stuck with them.

What do you recommend?

an unintended bias

September 28, 2022

I’m listening to a lot of podcasts lately (mostly on my treadmill or on my drives to and from my little cabin in the Ozarks). Nearly all of the podcasts I listen to are interviews with writers or about some aspect of publishing. It’s insightful, and I’ve discovered a few new authors I’ve enjoyed reading.

More importantly, though, is that I’m learning different ways to approach and appreciate fiction. Recently I heard one woman writer make the observation that while women will extend the courtesy of reading men’s novels, men rarely return the favor and read women’s novels. She said this in a tone that implied that this is a universally held opinion.

I had never considered this. I don’t think I’ve even considered myself an “equal opportunity” reader. I think I just read what sounds interesting to me, regardless of race or gender or ethnicity.

But I decided to review the books I’ve read thus far in 2022 to see how the male/female authorship ratio comes down. Here’s what I’ve learned.

To date I’ve read 34 books this year (which is a bit slower than my normal pace, for reasons). Of those, 21 were written by men and 13 were by women. I don’t consider that a grotesque imbalance, but it does point out a tendency that suggests I may have a bias. And I think it further suggests that this bias may be common.

Even so, I don’t know that I want to deliberately “correct” the imbalance. I still want to read what sounds interesting to me. (And I’m still working through my re-read of Iris Murdoch’s complete fiction canon.) I want to think that I pick up a novel regardless of the sex of the author. I have tried developing an interest in contemporary Japanese fiction, and I seem to be reading a lot more Middle Eastern fiction lately, but, again, that is guided by interest without consideration to the sex of the author. Still, this is something to ponder.

So what about you? Do you find yourself reading one sex over the other?

bits and pieces

September 20, 2022

I may have shown you this photo before. That’s a particularly nice round rock, about the size of a grapefruit, with the tannish color that distinguishes it from most of the others I have in my forest, which are generally whiter. The location is where my cabin now stands, so this is a very old photo.

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I am now on LinkedIn. I’m not sure why. But if you want to “connect” or “follow” or “stalk” or whatever is done there, look me up.

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I’ve also updated the About Me section on this blog. You can get to it by clicking on the link in the sidebar on the right (on larger screens) or by clicking here. I’m still the same old me though.

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The reprint of my story “Travel Light” in Made of Rust and Glass will be delayed until the end of October because the publisher (and his whole family) contracted Covid. In our mostly vaccinated civilization, the virus tends to manifest as a very bad cold (that’s how it affected me last April), and that seems to be what happened to the publisher et al. Best wishes for a speedy recovery.

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Cross your fingers, gang. It looks as though that massive cypress tree in my back yard will not have a harvest of “cones” this year for my dogs to bring in the house. I have found a few in the yard (a little early in the season, too), but when I look up in the tree I don’t see the hundreds of them at the tips of the branches I saw last year. The dogs will still bring in the feathery leaves from the cypress, but they don’t puncture the skin on the soles of your feet when you step on them in the night. The squirrels, on the other hand, have built a second big nest in the cypress, and they regularly visit the bird feeder to empty it.

Beneath the cypress tree, in a raised bed built especially for them, my impatiens have lost their fight with the heat and drought of this summer. Last year we had removed two ash trees on our western fence line (that sounds so grandiose). They had kept this flower bed shaded from the afternoon sun. This year the impatiens received the full force of that sun, with atypical heat, in a worse-than-normal drought. Though we were vigilant about keeping them watered — and I had added peat to the soil before planting and mulch on the soil after planting — the impatiens couldn’t thrive and barely survive. They’re an understory plant not suited to too much direct sunlight. So now they’re spindly, losing leaves, sending up few flowers. I keep hoping for a second act when the milder fall temps come. (And I calculate what different flowering plant might do better in that bed next year. Maybe wax-leaf begonias?)

bits and pieces

September 6, 2022

In recent weeks, I’ve had two accepted stories fail to reach publication because the anthologies that took them subsequently failed to come together. This has happened to me at least once before, and I suppose it’s to be expected if you do enuf submitting.

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Last week I was in St. Louis at my son’s house. He had to travel for work, and since his wife doesn’t drive (much), I volunteered to care for Small Paul during the day and get her to/from school. It was a pleasant week, and I’m sure if you asked Small Paul, he’d agree. Coincidentally, when I went home, Small Paul and his family came to my house in Kansas City the very next day for the long weekend to celebrate (a little early) his second birthday. We had tried to work out how I could have stayed one more day and then we could all travel together, but too many cars (and a truck, though not mine) were involved, and there were too few drivers. Anyway, I hope Small Paul has some good memories of his Grandpa (though I’m Pa-Pa for now).

While in St. Louis, I also managed to visit an old friend of my youth for dinner and conversation. We had a great time swapping stories of our time in the Boy Scouts (that’s how far back our friendship goes) and generally catching up.

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Remember when I said someone complained to the city about our curb trees being too low? (And then neighbors all around the block were busy trimming their own curb trees, so it must have been a general complaint.) The tree service crew finally came out and trimmed the trees high enuf from the ground: 13 feet of clearance over the pavement and 10 feet over the sidewalk. They also trimmed some of the deadwood out of a few of the trees in my backyard. Then they cleaned it all up and drove away. So now I guess I’m good for a couple of years until the trees grow into the available space in search of sunlight and I have to do it all again.

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Books read in August:

It was again a lean month for reading (because reasons).

Ramadan Ramsey by Louis Edwards – I really liked this one. It’s the story of the love child of a Catholic girl in New Orleans and a Muslim Syrian immigrant boy (who is later deported in the confusion after Hurricane Katrina). The child grows and eventually learns he has a father in a faraway land, so he goes in search of him. (An unaccompanied minor who is aided by a few caring souls.) The sentences in this novel are rambling, and they require close attention, but they always deliver their punch in the end. So to with the whole novel. I’ll likely read this one again.

New Girl in Little Cove by Damhnait Monaghan – This is the kind of book I wouldn’t normally pick up, but Damhnait (pronounced Downith) is an internet and blogging friend of mine, so when I saw her book on a shelf at the bookstore, I grabbed it up. It is the story of a new French teacher at a tiny religious high school in Newfoundland and the troubles she has fitting in. Mix in a clash with the authorities and the inevitable awkward romance and you have a satisfying tale. I’ll probably read any future books by Damhnait.

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the blue and the gray ~ Skywatch Friday

August 12, 2022

I took the photo the last time I was out to my cabin. This shot is actually across my northern neighbor’s field, looking northwest. That’s his new gate in the lower left.

Those clouds did herald a little, much-needed rain for the area, but I’m sure overall we’re way down from “normal” for this time of year.

Go to Skywatch Friday to see more views of the sky from around the world. And add your own!

bits and pieces

August 11, 2022

One of my round rocks on the retaining wall behind my cabin.

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I went to a book launch at a grocery store this week. It seemed odd, but the event was packed. It was a book about a boy with a disability who wanted to play soccer, and it was based on a real boy. The book was funded by a charity that works with disabled children, and the manager of the grocery story was on the board of this charity, so that made the unlikely connection make sense.

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We’re back to scorching, dry weather in my part of the country. It pretty much keeps me indoors. I haven’t had to mow my lawn for weeks, and I’m not upset about that. I also haven’t made many trips to the cabin for a while. It’s too hot to do chores down there, too hot to sleep comfortably at night, too dry to have a fire, too far to just sit on the shady porch and gaze at the sparkling lake. But I’ll get out there sometime soon, I hope.

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As I write this, there are ten people currently in space. Here’s how I know.

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Here are the books I read in July:

Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi – I saw this referenced on the submission guidelines page for some lit mag I was researching. Of course, I had to read it. A man collects human body parts from the many terrorist bombings in the city. He wants to assemble a whole body so it can be buried properly (rather than thrown in a dumpster as seems to be the case for the parts). One bombing victim doesn’t realize he is dead, and his spirit wanders the city looking for a body to inhabit. Thus the assembled man comes alive. And then it seeks revenge on those responsible for killing the original owners of the various body parts. Except that when it avenges one, that body part falls off and must be replaced. And so the cycle of violence continues. The various power forces in the city find that chaos useful.

The Lost Manuscript by Cathy Bonidan – Another epistolary novel (see last month’s reads) about a woman who happens upon a fifty-year-old novel manuscript in the bedside table of an inn where she stays. She becomes obsessed with finding the original writer and the various people along the path of its journey to that bedside table. I think this must have sounded better in concept than execution. Her discoveries about the various people who had a hand in the adventure come easily, and the conclusion wasn’t very satisfying to me.

So obviously I didn’t do much reading in July because reasons.

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bits and pieces

July 25, 2022

The word of the day is HOT. I know my part of the country, of the world, is not unique in this way, but we’ve been under days-long heat warnings, with cautions to stay indoors and watch out for our neighbors. The temps have moderated some, and we’re closer to “normal” for this time of the year, but I expect we’re living through our future in our present.

I’ve not been out to my little cabin in the woods for a while because it’s just too hot to do anything but sit in the comfy chairs on the shady porch overlooking the sparkling lake. But maybe with the moderating temperatures, I can get a visit in soon. And if the forecasted rain actually falls, maybe I can have a fire too.

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My story “Motet” is now up at MockingOwl Roost. It appears on page 7 of the online edition; you should be able to scroll to it, though there is a page-advance arrow that appears at the lower left you can click on too. This is a short work, so you should be able to speed through it. This is one of those rare stories that came to me almost fully formed. I happened to be raking fallen leaves in my front yard last year and paused to lean on my rake and indulge in some introspection, which is the theme of the issue.

Also influencing this story was an art exhibit I had attended at my hometown museum, The Nelson Atkins. It was Janet Cardiff’s Motet, which has been described as an audio sculpture. Here is a link to the artist talking about her work, and you can hear some of it being “performed.”

Significantly, I think this is the first time one of my stories has appeared in the first half of a publication. In fact, it’s the first story in this publication. I’ve arrived!

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The New York grands were here for 3+ weeks, which kept me busy most of that time. One of the things their momma (my daughter) does is enroll them in swimming classes while they are here. Apparently, access to public pools is limited in Brooklyn, and demand for openings in classes is high. So they come to the broad plains of the midwest where pools abound and can be enrolled easily. Daily pool time has been especially beneficial with the heat wave they endured while here. Their cousins Emmett and Alice, who live just down the road from me, were able to make many appearances and get in lots of swimming time too. And their Seattle uncle (my son) gave us all a big treat by renting a movie theatre exclusively for us, providing lots of snacks, and giving us our own screening of Lightyear. It turns out that most of the kids in our pack were still a little too young to sit through a full-length movie, but their restlessness was certainly tolerable given that we were the only ones in the theater. (Also, it turns out this is not an especially expensive thing to do. Who knew?)

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Last winter, when Small Paul’s grandmother from Kenya was here, we had signed up for a 5K that would be run underground in an old limestone mine. She’d done a 5K with me on Thanksgiving morning (very cold!) and the novelty of an underground run was next on her list. But COVID concerns led to the race being postponed. Now it comes up next month. Grandmother is back in Kenya, so my son will wear her bib and he and I and my daughter-in-law will complete the 5K. Grandparenting, it turns out, is a busy occupation!

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I may have mentioned here that I recently wrote a story called “The Enormous Earbuds.” It’s my version/rewrite/homage to John Cheever’s story “The Enormous Radio,” though I flip the script at the end. I had never used earbuds before, so my depiction of them was slightly wrong in the story. But my wife, who is always my initial reader and who uses earbuds, pointed out my mistake, which I then corrected. I have the story on submission at a few magazines; maybe it will find a home.

But I can now report that I have a set of earbuds of my own. Apple calls them AirPods, but I’m going to stick with earbuds since that’s the term I use in my story. Anyway, how did I live so long without these things? I listen to podcasts while on my treadmill and when driving to/from my little cabin on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks, and I had treated myself to a set of wireless headphones that clip over my ears (to stay in place since I’m so “vigorous” on my treadmill), and they’d been fine. But now I have these earbuds, and what a difference! As I write this I’m listening to a medley of classical pieces — update: I just changed it to Thomas Tallis’ “Motet” — which is a nice environment for writing a blog post. (Not sure I could do this when working on a piece of fiction since I pretty much have to “enter” that world, and most classical and jazz music needs to be listened to. So I’ll continue with brown noise then.)