Archive for the ‘Rants and ruminations’ category

and so, a turn of the year

January 1, 2019

I’ve long thought that the first day of spring ought to be when we reckon the changing of the year.* It makes a sense that I can see — the whole rebirth thing — that I can’t see in making the darkness of winter (in the northern hemisphere) the apparently arbitrary turning point.

But enuf of that. I “finished” the story “Three Small Words” yesterday. It’s part of the One-Match Fire universe though it takes place long after the end of that novel. (I know these characters so well now that it’s “easy” to write about them.) And at the top of the first page of the story I wrote “Copyright 2019 by the author.” It felt daring when I did that. A day early, of course, but also ambitious and hopeful — the first of a year’s worth of efforts in what really is a difficult and only infrequently rewarding craft.

I had intended to write a post here about the comparatively large number of publishing successes I had in 2018. But calculating this is iffy in itself. (Alliteration doesn’t work so well with the letter “i”.) Stories published within the year? Accepted within the year? Submitted within the year but accepted after the turn of the year? (I even have a story that I learned late last year was shortlisted, so should that be accepted soon in 2019, does it count for 2018? Or should I be fudging all of these dubious standards to swell my acceptances in 2019?)

As it stands, here is how 2018 broke down: seven of my stories appeared in print during the calendar year. At least one I know had been submitted in the distant past of 2017. By any count, that’s been my most successful year since I began writing/submitting fiction earnestly. (And as full disclosure, I also submitted eight other works in 2018 for a total of thirteen submissions still pending. Should any be accepted today or later, I’m going to tally them in the 2019 column. And fuller disclosure, I had twenty-seven rejections in 2018.)

In the coming days I hope to write my annual post about my visits to Roundrock for 2018, but I have to get down there to retrieve the calendar hanging on the wall (perhaps this weekend if the weather favors my fate). I’m not striving for any “successes” with those visits — not more than the year before, for example — but I always feel I don’t get down there as much as I’d like. Life interferes. (I read someone’s account of having several hundred rejections last year. Was he more diligent than I or less selective?)

I guess our little monkey brains want to quantify our lives so that we can make better sense of them and hold the (mostly) illusion that we are in control. Whatever.

I hope you stride hopefully into 2019. I know I’ll want to hear all about it.

*And some cultures do, as I learned when I acquired a Moslem daughter-in-law.


bits and pieces

November 28, 2018

I received three rejections over the weekend for stories I had submitted. Two were form letters, but the third was specific and detailed, saying how much they liked my story. “We really mean it.” And although they declined to publish it, they said they wanted to see more from me. Then I checked their submission calendar and found they were closed to submissions until the spring.


We had a baffling mystery at our house last weekend. My son and his wife were staying with us for the holiday, and my daughter-in-law noted that she could not get any hot water for her shower. She’d turned the handle all the way toward the “hot” side, but the water would not warm. We had that problem with the furnace a couple of weeks ago, and I don’t think anyone had used the guest bathroom since then, so I figured that bit of work must have affected the plumbing somehow. But then my son tried to have a shower and found that if he turned the knob in the “cold” direction he could get all of the hot water he wanted. We’ve lived in this house for 31 years, and this is the first time this kind of thing has ever happened.

It turned out to have a simple explanation. Apparently in faucets with a single handle (which is all of them in our house) there is a “switch” inside that, after years of use, can get flipped somehow. So hot becomes cold and cold becomes hot. The fix is fairly simple (for a plumber) but it involves shutting down all of the water in the house, which I don’t really want to do in the current cold weather. We don’t have any guests staying in the near future, and we know the solution to the problem, so it’s not really a priority.


I finished the rewrite of the story with the leprechaun in it and enhanced the supernatural part some, as the editor suggested. I sent it back to the editor with fingers crossed. He’s been known to take months to respond, so I’ll just move on to something else now.

punctuating stammering speech

November 19, 2018

as in, how do you do it?

In one of my stories I have two runners trying to have a conversation while they are running. One of them is fit and fine, but the other is a beginner, and he’s having trouble keeping up, much less pushing out words between his gasping breaths.

Here is a line of dialog from the non-runner:

“Not sure you can call . . . what I do . . . running.”

The point is to show how much struggle he is having pushing out words as he’s barely able to breathe enuf to keep running. (Later I use this same punctuation when the man is trying to speak as he is sobbing.)

My question is, is this how I should punctuate the sentence to get this across?

I don’t think an em dash would be right. That’s for interruptions and abrupt stops. And I don’t want to put something like *gasp* between the words. I tried punctuating each fragment as a sentence, putting a period at the end. But that didn’t look right. Still, I don’t know if what I’ve chosen now is right either.

I’ve made some forays onto the internet to try to find guidance, but I haven’t found anything that fits. About the only other solution I can think of is to watch for this same sort of thing when I’m reading and see how another writer and/or editor did it.

Unless you know.

Prometheus, bringer of fire

November 16, 2018

In my story “Pandora’s Tackle Box,” (sadly, the online mag that has published it has vanished) I have two brothers who are avatars for the mythical brothers Prometheus and Epimetheus. Poor Epimetheus falls madly in love with Pandora (or rather with her fishing tackle) while his smarter brother, Prometheus, watches and shakes his head.

Prometheus, as you know, was the Titan who stole fire from the gods on Mount Olympus and gave it to mankind, allowing civilization to develop. (And he was punished for this by being chained to a rock for all eternity, each day having an eagle eat his liver, only to have it grow back again overnight. In some stories he was later rescued by Hercules.)

Well, Prometheus visited my house last night and delivered fire, in the form of an induction fan so that my furnace could run once again. Within an hour the house was warm again and all was right with the world. My son and his wife are visiting next week, and although she has frolicked in the snow this week over in St. Louis where they live, she is from Kenya, about where the equator crosses it, so cold weather is not part of her life experience. I’m glad the house will be warm for their visit.


November 15, 2018

Second night without heat. Fortunately, no busted pipes or expired pets. We’ve doubled our count of space heaters (to four!) but they’re just making a small zone of tolerance in an otherwise chilly house.

There was some snafu with the HVAC company that came out to our house on Tuesday and the necessary part was never ordered. After some funny-if-it-weren’t-so-damned-cold calls to that company, and a half day taken from work to wait for the repairman who never came, I called another service company that has made the same promises as the first and is supposed to deliver on them today.

We have electricity and hot water, so I’m presentable for going to the office. Even so, they keep that space cool enuf that I wear a hoodie even in the summer. Will I come home to a warm house this evening?

more bits and pieces

November 14, 2018

The forecasted low last night was 17 degrees. Only coincidentally did the furnace in my house die yesterday evening. Completely. The house had no heat other than what a batch of cookies in the oven and a load of laundry in the dryer could produce. (Also, two anemic space heaters snatched from my wife’s office.) The part needed is in a warehouse across town, and it’s supposed to be delivered and installed later today. Whether or not my pipes freeze in that time (or the four birds, two dogs, and uncounted fish object) I don’t know at this time.


Remember that story I mentioned before with a leprechaun in it? I wrote it up quickly and sent it to a magazine I thought might like it (for its running aspect, not for the supernatural part). And I heard from the editor yesterday. He didn’t object to the supernatural part; in fact, he wants me to expand on that and put more leprechaun in it! That was a surprise. (He also suggested I delete some of the repetitive phrasing I sometimes use too much).

This is the first time I’ve ever had an editor ask for a rewrite. One editor had me change the very last sentence of a story, but that’s as close as I’ve come. The trouble is that the point of the story is that my character must reach his (running) goal without relying on magic. That’s the lesson of the story and what comprises the last third of it. So I’m not sure how I can expand on the supernatural part. But I know that many wish granters are devious and put barbs in their grants to catch up the recipient, so I’ll research that some and see what I can do with it.


Visitors to this humble blog spiked yesterday so much that WordPress sent me a notice. Now, a spike for my visit average ain’t much, but I don’t know why it happened. I can’t figure out from the dashboard why I had the spike. The only search term it cited was “who carries the rabbit’s foot in the book the things they carried.” Well, maybe one or two new readers will hang around.

by the numbers (just a rambling post)

November 12, 2018

When I woke on Saturday, it was 12 degrees outside! That would be negative 11 degrees as most of the rest of the world sees it. It’s early November, too soon for this.


My One-Match Fire manuscript currently has 77,532 words. There may be a misplaced or missing hyphen here or there in the document, but I don’t see myself making any more changes to it, so that seems to be the final number. (I’m now wrasslin’ with trying to write a decent query letter. Ugh!)


I am currently re-reading The Red Pony; it has been XX years since I last read it. (I currently have a fascination with “grit lit” and Steinbeck was considered one of the pioneers of that sub-genre. My favorite among the modern writers in this area is Willy Vlautin. And I loved the movie made of his novel Lean on Pete.)


I made the mistake of peeking into my submission log at Duotrope’s Digest the other day. It turns out that in the last 9 years, I have recorded 206 submissions there (of 43 stories). Add to that a dozen or so I have made that aren’t recorded there (because Duotrope doesn’t/didn’t include a particular publication in its stable or I wasn’t using it in my early days), and I’ve averaged nearly 25 submissions a year. I have no idea if that’s an aggressive or modest submission pace. I am a little surprised that the number is that high, honestly.


Yesterday was Veterans Day in the U.S. The armistice that ended World War I (or The Great War) took effect at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, 100 years ago. Oddly, the armistice was signed at 5:20 a.m. but didn’t take effect for nearly 6 hours. Imagine hearing the news that the war had ended but then learning in the ensuing last-minute land grabs that your son or husband was killed anyway.


I learned over the weekend that one of my submissions has been shortlisted. As far as I know, that’s never happened to me before. I suppose my stories that have been selected have run through several reviews and survived to acceptance, effectively being shortlisted, but this is the first time I’ve been told as much. The submission tracker at Duotrope’s Digest has a feature for updating a submission as being shortlisted, but I never imagined I would ever check that box. Now I have. The email from the editors said I would hear something “in a few weeks.” (I also checked the Duotrope submission history of this story, and this is only the second time in the many years of its life that I’ve ever submitted it.)