Archive for the ‘Rants and ruminations’ category

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.)


editing jockstraps

September 12, 2018



*no image today*



I’ve long been a trifle smug about the fact that no editor has ever corrected the grammar in the stories I’ve had published. Once an editor suggested I add a hyphen (which I did), and twice editors requested fundamental changes to the endings of two stories (which I also did), but never has an editor told me to fix the sentence fragments or lengthy sentences or my enthusiastic use of semi-colons and em dashes. All of these things have become parts of my narrative style over the years, and all of these things have survived into the published stories.

I take that as evidence against the prescriptivists who insist on “proper” grammar and punctuation and how “you have to know the rules before you can break them.” (For the record, I know the rules, but I try to forget them. Also, I’m speaking of creative writing, not term papers or legal documents or such.) I’m not really out there, but I’m not interested in being timid and writing within constraints. Nor, I have seen, are most of the writers I admire playing by those rules much either. (My big bugbear is the insistence on only using some form of “say” as a dialog tag, which I’m sure I’ve mentioned a few dozen times before. Who decided that? And why are so many writers so automatic and vehement in their adherence to it?)

But lately I’ve begun to wonder what editing these editors actually do with the stories they receive. I spoke the other day of my using the incorrect spelling “jock strap” in One-Match Fire. Where that occurs (three times) is in the chapter titled “Runaway” and that story was published last year in a journal devoted to the intersection of sports and literature. Yet this incorrect two-word spelling appears in the printed journal. If it is truly wrong (and I yield that it is), then shouldn’t the male editor of a sporting lit mag have caught and corrected it? Had the editor been a woman and I had used the word “brastrap” I suspect it would have been corrected. Granted jockstrap is a rarified word and usage, but in that context it wouldn’t have been.

And so this makes me question my own (aforementioned) smugness. Are editors truly respecting the brilliance of my writing, or are they just not taking much time for fine tuning the works they accept. Or is there a third path I’m not seeing?

(And this leaves out discussion of the many rejections I’ve received for submitted stories. Maybe some of those were rejected because of my cavalier approach to “the rules.”)

white on white

August 31, 2018

Spotted these two white moths on the white door of my garage in white-bread suburbia.

I received one of those rare things this week: a personalized and detailed rejection email for my story “MTWTF.” I’ve never done the math, but I’m sure my ratio of form rejections to personalized rejections is twenty to one. So it is nice to get five paragraphs of attention from an editor, even if it is ultimately bad news.

Unfortunately, the specifics of the fault they found with the story were there in the email. Sure, no story is perfect, and certainly I don’t claim that my stories are without flaws, but to have them told to me takes some of the shine off of the personalized response.

The story is meant to be comic with a serious undertone — I wrote it with a deliberately affected tone — and it is based on an event in my long-ago life. I think I wrote the story I had, so I’m not planning on revising it. Still, the editor said “the writing was rather stiff, the conflict was weak, and it lacked a good opening hook.” He went on to say that there was too much “telling.”

Fair enuf, but that’s also mostly conventional wisdom, and I don’t really want to write stories to the norm. (I wonder what he would make of one of my One-Match Fire stories with all of their sentence fragments.)

I’m sure the ratio of rejections to acceptances for my stories is even greater than the ratio I state above. Rejection is part of this game.