Archive for the ‘Rants and ruminations’ category

for and against

March 15, 2017
  • Oxford comma: I’m for it!
  • Double spacing after a period: Just don’t!

I’m sure there are other things I seethe about, but nothing is coming to mind at the moment.

Also, I am now up to four declines from agents for One-Match Fire. It’s funny that I can wait for months to get a response/rejection for a submitted short story, but so far these agents have responded within hours about the novel. (“Funny” may not be the correct word there.)


I’m currently reading We The Animals by Justin Torres. (I should have it finished by the end of today.) I picked it up because I understood it was about abusive fathers and their sons, and it is about that a bit, but it’s mostly about brothers. It is filled with short vignette chapters that are intense, staccato, and piercing. I’m hoping that it adds up to something in the end. It’s only 123 pages, so if you have even the slightest interest, you should read it; you’ll have it done in a couple of days.

“we should each do good where it is near to us”

March 8, 2017

“One can never be sure of the end, only the means, and so we must be sure that the means are good. One can never be sure of the motives of anyone but oneself and those we can examine to ensure that they are pure. All that seems to be certain is that we should each do good where it is near to us, where we can see the end of it, and then we know that something positive has been done.”

from chapter one of Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski

The novel is set in France in the years immediately after the Second World War, though the first chapter takes place early in the war. It involves a British man searching for the infant son he had to abandon shortly after his birth. He learned later that his wife was killed by the Gestapo, but he is chasing a lead to where his boy might be years after.

The quote is spoken by the wife of a friend of the protagonist. She worked in the Resistance (and may have been instrumental in saving the life of the sought-for boy) but she argued with her husband what had to be done to resist and still remain human. He, who admitted the necessity of sabotage and even murder, said her values were those of a saint and not of a human during an occupation.

I devoured this book in a couple of days, and I will certainly read it again, but I’m sure you can see how nicely it fits with my great theme of fathers and sons. The novel deals with things beyond the search, of course, such as duty and responsibility, self sacrifice and self indulgence, deceit and honor. If the very last sentence doesn’t rend your heart, you’re not human.

(Beware the movie version starring Bing Crosby. It was reviled by the author and while it is enjoyable doesn’t come close to touching on many of Laski’s themes in the novel.)


February 1, 2017

I don’t have much going on right now to report, gentle reader.

I’m between major projects. One-Match Fire is, I think, complete (though I am flirting with adding another story). I am poking at writing a query letter to begin sending it out, but I choke up because it is so important to get it right, and that will never happen.

I have an idea for a new novel blossoming in my head. It’s pretty much taking up all of my attention. Unlike One-Match Fire, which is not always happy but at least resolves warmly in the end, this novel would be grim and harrowing. It would be completely unlike anything I’ve ever written, and yet it is forcing itself into my mind, will I or nill I.

I’m not sure what to do about that. It’s too early to begin writing it (though I have worked out a couple of passages already), so I can let it gestate and continue to present itself to me. But I’m actually afraid of it. It’s not a nice story, and I don’t want to go where I would have to go (research) to be able to flesh out parts of the story.

So I thought I should go back to one of my Finnegans novels — the murderless cozy mysteries I want to write a series of, and for which I first began this humble blog. (This one deals with running a half marathon, too.) While fun, with intricate plots, they are not fraught with emotion and generational intrigue like One-Match Fire is. And they are a polar opposite to this new idea I have. So my thought is that if I devoted my efforts to one of those novels, I could either dissipate the urge to write that monster, or I could let it evolve sufficiently so that I could begin working on it properly once the Finnegans novel is in the can. (A large part of me wants the former to happen.)

I’ve said here before that it sometimes seems as though the stories exist “out there” and we writers are given glimpses of them so that we can put them down. If that’s truly the case, then I must have sinned grievously in a past life to be punished with this newest story idea.

a distinction

December 12, 2016


Deer have antlers, not horns. Is this important to know as general knowledge? Or is it just a burdensome detail pertinent to specialists alone? (I’m using a small conversation about this in a story. Can random knowledge be burdensome? Useless?)

Your thoughts?

memento mori

December 7, 2016

Some of you know that I’ve kept a paper journal for the last 35+ years. With a mechanical pencil I hand write entries into spiral notebooks with some college name/logo on the cover. In the early years, before I could have ever imagined the scope of my endeavor, I didn’t date the entries. But soon enuf I did. Then I began putting the time of day beside each entry since I was often hustling to my journal to get down whatever brilliant thought I’d had when untethered to it. Some entries might be a sentence or two. Others could go on for pages. And while I might make three and even four entries in a day, I could also go weeks without one. Still the words accumulated, and I am now on journal number 28 (from Syracuse University, where my clever nephew attended).

I will likely never go back and read my journals. A lot of it is probably embarrassingly immature or focused on some event/issue of the time that is no longer pertinent. Any given brilliant idea is lost within a hundred quotidian thoughts. There isn’t a search function in paper journals. My middle son has stated that when I am gone (not too soon, I hope) he intends to read my journals from start to finish. (Consider what a dampening effect this has on my entries once I realize someone I know will be reading them.) He was never much of a reader growing up, and now his job (and daughter) demands most of his time, and any reading he does should be in his field (oncology). I also suspect he’ll get bored quickly with my entries and skip a lot of it.

My point is that I have all of these journals that will likely never amount to anything other than ash after some cleansing campfire. I don’t suppose I would mind that too much as long as it was a campfire at my cabin.

Similarly, a couple of decades ago, I was busy as a freelancer writing feature articles for magazines and newspapers — back in the days of print. I wrote more than sixty of these things before I gave up the ambition. (I gave up in part because I could never break into the slicks and in part because I realized that in my ten years of effort I had produced the equivalent of what one cub reporter would produce in a single year. Plus there’s no money in it.) Nonetheless, I have kept a copy of every publication that ran one of my articles. The stack sits on a shelf within arm’s reach of me as I write this. And yet, I will never go back and read these things. Nor will anyone else. It’s possible that the stack I have holds one of the few existing copies of the publications — and thus my articles — available in the physical world. Yet I can’t part with them.

And it continues. There was a time in my life when I wanted to become an authority in the literature of the Midwest. (There is actual scholarship devoted to this!) I read widely (but not widely enuf), and I even began collecting books. But I saw that my subject was too vast, so I tightened my focus to the literature of Missouri. But even that was too vast. So I tightened it further to the literature of the Ozarks (a vast and satisfying literature of its own). In the glass-fronted bookcase across the room from me I have books I have collected for this ambition. Some I have were published in the 19th Century and are likely among the few existing copies in the physical world. As with my journals and my feature articles, I am unlikely to read them again (since creating my own literature is now my interest). Yet I can’t part with them. The thrill of the chase — finding a long-sought novel — means I can never dispose of them. My children will get that job. (I just hope they have the sense to find out if there is some collector or a library that would want them.)

And it still continues. I’m looking at a rack of medals I’ve earned from the half and full marathons I’ve run. (The NYC Marathon medal is my all-time favorite, natch!) I have another rack of medals from “lesser” races. Dozens of these things that will mean nothing to anyone other than me. What’s to become of them? Since no one ran the race inside my head, the medals won’t have any specific meaning to them. I don’t suppose the metal of the medals is even high grade enuf to be good for melting down. (And I currently have two drawers packed with shirts I’ve earned from races. This does not even count the tech shirts from races that I have hanging in a closet.) This will all mean nothing to anyone after me.


(Gratuitous photo insertion.)

And consider my dead blog: Roundrock Journal. I kept that thing going for more than ten years, the first five years with a post every single day. Now it is lost (though I think you can find it through the Wayback Machine — I should try it myself). It existed and consumed a great deal of my creative self, and yet it is gone.

And so what is the point of this ramble? I’m not sure myself. I guess the ephemeral nature of existence or some such lofty thoughts. The traces we leave without even noticing? The accumulation of stuff?

splendid solitude

November 25, 2016

“The cure for loneliness is solitude.”

Marianne Moore
“If I Were Sixteen Today”*

I love my solitude. I live in my solitude. My creative ferment is most alive in my solitude. It’s why I rise at 3:00 a.m. on the weekends; I can enter the creative place in my mind and stay there without distractions to pull me out.

I love the quiet. I can hear myself think and dream and free associate. I can also hear my heartbeat, which was disturbing when I first noticed it several years ago but is now merely annoying.** (No, I do not have high blood pressure; I never have. I think my ears are — my right ear actually — just attuned to the flow of blood through nearby vessels.)

I think this is also why I prefer running alone rather than as part of a group, which I had tried for several years.

My solo trips to the cabin, while not good for actual writing, are nearly always great opportunities for ideas and problem solving. I generally come home with lots of notes. (There are distractions at the cabin, not the least of which being the itch to get out and ramble among the hills, though that is not necessarily bad for reflection.)

Of course, getting to whatever place of quiet solitude doesn’t automatically cause me to write pages and pages. Sometimes it still isn’t flowing.



*I have not read this essay.

**I have this idea that our bodies are actually very noisy places, with blood flowing, and food being digested, and glands secreting, and so on, but our brains have literally tuned these noises out beginning in the womb. Have you ever held a stethoscope to your stomach and listened? Sometimes when I lie in bed and I manage to turn off the censors (unwittingly) for brief moments I can hear all sorts of whooshing and crashing noises in my head, but as soon as I become aware of them, they go away. Tuned out.

just some things

November 18, 2016

My One-Match Fire story “Twice Blest” was declined by another magazine. That’s to be expected, of course. It’s a quirky story, but I’m still convinced that it has a niche out there. I’m not actively trying to get any more of the stories in the novel/cycle published, though “A Tree Falls in the Forest” is a likely candidate as well.

*   *   *

I’m making notes on a story I’m calling “Fire Sermon.” Although I don’t see it as part of the One-Match Fire collection, it does involve two of the characters. Once you get to know these people, it seems they have a lot to tell you.

*   *   *

I did not get any black toenails from running the marathon two weeks ago. That’s a first.

*   *   *

My hoped-for trip to the cabin this weekend doesn’t look like it will happen. Though we’ve been enjoying some balmy autumn weather, the temps are due to dip below freezing on Saturday night, which makes sitting around a (one-match) campfire drinking beer a chilly prospect. (Also, the head cold lingers, and I’m enjoying some terrific sinus headaches right now.) But we traditionally make a trip to our forest on Black Friday, pretty much to show that we are not consumer culture casualties, and that’s a week away. So it looks like November will not pass as a month without a cabin visit.

*   *   *

Since returning from New York (one week ago), I have worn my marathon Finisher hoodie every day and everywhere, and only one person has noticed and commented on it — and she had been excited about my run before I had left.