Archive for the ‘Rants and ruminations’ category


June 25, 2018

I find myself in that in-between place again. I have three stories I’m working on at the moment, and though some part of my brain thinks this is probably counterproductive — my creative “genius” being diluted across too many efforts — another part of me says that words are words, and if I can get them down in any fashion or location, I should call it a win.

I’m about three-fourths finished with the first draft of Finnegans Fogbound, a novel-length ambition and something I had embarked on to give myself a break from all of the fraught, literary anguishing I was doing with my One-Match Fire stories. The Finnegans novels are more light weight works, something like cozy mysteries that, while demanding in their own way, can be written without too much personal investment (if that makes sense). I don’t make literary references in them; I don’t strive for some profound, controlling metaphors or psychological insights that span Western civilization. Thus, a break.

But I may have stalled on that story. I’m not sure. I certainly know where the plot needs to go. I have all of the characters in place and developed nicely. I have all of the pieces on the table before me, but I can’t seem to bring myself to finish putting together the puzzle. I suspect it’s temporary and I’m just feeling the daunting demands of a novel-length effort. So I seem to have taken a break from the break I was taking.

And find myself back in the One-Match Fire universe after all. I’m making some decent progress on a story called “Spring Fever” which I think I’ve mentioned here before. It’s a love story, and I don’t write many of those, but I found I needed to get the points of this story worked out so I could revise a different story: “Little Gray Birds” which is part of the One-Match Fire novel and which I realized I needed to refine so I could consider that novel finished and ready to submit to scary agents. (You’re following all of this, right?) “Little Gray Birds” takes place after “Spring Fever” so what happens in the latter affects the telling of the former. Thus once I get “Spring Fever” worked out, I will go back to “Little Gray Birds” and hone/refine/enhance it and call it good.

So I’m busy with that.

And I’m still riding the creative wave of that story “MTWTF” about an incident in my distant and murky past (highly fictionalized in the story) and find myself making notes — even writing bits of story — about one of the characters in “MTWTF.” Clearly I have more to say about this person and need to write another story to do it. (“MTWTF” is not yet published, and it’s being read by a trusted friend now.) Thoughts intrude, and I don’t mind making notes about future work while they occur to me. I can see the structure of the story — it’s really just a character sketch using a day-in-the-life structure to hang it on — and I know the character, so the ideas are coming fast and frenzied. It’s not a bad state to be in if you’re a writer, I suppose.

So if I’m not too diluted and dissipated by my creative ferment, a few good things should result in the coming days. Fingers crossed.



Blogspot hates me

June 7, 2018

From the first days of my blogging life, back in those wild, heady days of Roundrock Journal more than a decade ago, I always had periods where any comments I made on blogs hosted by Blogspot (sometimes known as Blogger) would have trouble posting and/or disappear altogether. It didn’t help when spam became so pervasive and Blogspot added steps to commenting to prove I was an actual human and not a spambot.

Then the troublesome period would pass, until for whatever reason I began having trouble getting my wise and witty comments to post on Blogspot blogs.

I’m in one of those periods again, it seems. So for those of you out there who haven’t seen a snarky comment from me on your blog in recent weeks, I suspect this is the reason why. I’ve lost the means of expression but not the depth of my love for you.

Philip Roth

May 24, 2018

I’m sure most of you know that I have been a reader of Philip Roth’s books for nearly four decades. I’ve read his entire fiction output (except some of his very early short stories that are not in print any longer), some works several times, and one (The Ghost Writer) more than thirty times I’ve estimated. He died on Tuesday at the age of 85, and I think it’s appropriate I make some mention of him on this humble blog.

Philip Roth is my favorite writer. (I consider Iris Murdoch to be my favorite novelist. There is a difference, I think.) With Roth’s fiction, especially the novels of his middle period, I get the sense that every word, every bit of punctuation, is exactly right. There are some sentences that I will pause after reading, reading them again because they strike with such power. He was not my introduction to Jewish literature in the U.S. (that would be Chaim Potok) but Roth did show me how the U.S. Jewish identity could be looked at in a different way. I always found his characters credible, with realistic motivations as well as self-destructive tendencies. (Even when his characters were often thinly veiled versions of himself, sometimes named Philip Roth!)

But I was never a fan of the man himself. It was always all about the work for me. I know he’d been defined as a misogynist and a self-hating Jew, but I won’t pause on those judgments. In fact, when I read the biography of him called Roth Unbound, I found myself not wanting to know about his personal life and how it informed his fiction.

You may know that he stopped writing fiction some years back. (Many people did not believe it when he announced this and are expecting posthumous novels now. I doubt it.) As with many of his statements about his works, I’ve heard him say various things about his cessation. Most recently it seems that he acknowledged that he had written himself out and that he was past his best years. That aligns with what I’d found in reading his later works. He seemed to have lost his subject, or rather, was stuck with his subject — his past — and couldn’t stay contemporary. (His last novel was about the polio epidemic of the 1950s.) And I think he tipped his hand with his late novel The Humbling. It is the story of a renown actor who has lost his talent. I think Roth was acknowledging in his fiction that he was slipping as well. (The critics were not kind to the novel, not regarding the story but regarding its execution. It was derided as “thinly imagined” for Roth.)

I will continue to re-read his novels but all things must pass.

uncomfortable myths

May 15, 2018

Long-time readers (both of you) know that I’ve been devouring the fiction of Rabih Alameddine in recent months and must even pace myself to spread it out over time.

He recently had an article in Harper’s* about comforting myths and how literature can be complicit with it. He takes several writers (including himself) to task for fostering (or being read as fostering) cultural myths about “others” that allow us to feel better about ourselves. (Yes, we were wrong, and we feel really bad about it. Yes, we’re not perfect, but look how bad it is over there.)

Near the end of the article he even takes on writing guidance, invoking that holiest of holies, John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction (which I’d read decades ago and felt smug about at the time). The iconoclastic part of me especially enjoyed this passage from Alameddine’s article:

When I started writing my first novel, a friend suggested I read John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction, which allegedly explained the principles of good writing. I hated it, not because it was bad advice but because it felt so limiting. Writers are supposed to show, not tell? I wrote a novel where the protagonist does nothing but tell. A short story should lead to an epiphany? Who needs that? When I’m told I should write a certain way, I bristle. I even attempt to write in opposition to the most recent book I finished. If my previous novel was expansive, I begin to write microscopically; if quiet, I write loudly. It is my nature.

*I hope that link works. Harper’s requires a paid subscription, but apparently they’re letting this one loose in the world.

grocer’s apostrophe

April 25, 2018

I never knew there was a name for it, but I’ve seen this usage of apostrophes all over the place. When you place an apostrophe before an S to pluralize a word, and you shouldn’t, it’s called a grocer’s apostrophe. I did not know that.





and so on

That site I link to above calls the apostrophe a “suspended comma.” I’ve not heard that term before either.

I’m not a grammar fanatic by any means, but when I see “mistakes” like these I wonder if the person was trying hard to be “correct” and missed the mark.


Also, Nilou was born yesterday. My sixth (!) grandchild and third granddaughter.

And so the grandbabies are thus:








February 1, 2018

It turns out that exactly a year ago I had written a similar post with the same title. (The man who built the lake and dam out at my woods used the word “betwixt” regularly in his speech. It’s hard to find occasion to use it in my world without sounding cloying or pretentious.) I am betwixt projects right now. Story ideas of Nature Always Wins have been pouring into my head, and I’ve been making my copious notes for them, but I can’t seem to write them. In part it’s because the ideas are, at this point, only ideas and not full plots, but I think the larger “problem” is that I am creatively exhausted by this family of men I have created. I think I need to leave their field fallow for a while and then come back to it when my energies have shifted. (Mixing metaphors for decades, folks!)

I mentioned in that earlier post that I had been overwhelmed by an idea for a darker novel unrelated to anything I’ve ever written. That idea is still around, and the copious notes I’ve made for it reside on my computer. But I am leery of beginning the work. I’m much more comfortable with sweetness and light. So it sits fallow too.

I have some older, unfinished stories that aren’t related to either of these ambitions that I could/should work on. One in particular is tugging at my brain. I’ve written two stories retelling Greek myths: “Moron Saturday” which is my version of the Diana and Acteon story, and “Pandora’s Tackle Box” which I think is evident. This new story would fall in that realm. It’s a kind of retelling of the Icarus myth, with a dose of Sisyphus and even Camus thrown in.

And then, if I cannot get any actual writing underway, there is always the business of getting One-Match Fire in submission. I think I’m scared of doing that.


Here’s a picture of my chainsaw. There isn’t much muddled thinking when I pick it up:

sonder, out yonder

January 17, 2018

I once found a stubbed-out cigarette on one of the blocks of the retaining wall behind my cabin.

My first reaction was alarm. The back of the cabin is where dried out fallen leaves collect against the wooden wall. Cigarettes require a flame and themselves burn. But it seemed that the smoker was fastidious about his habit (I assume it was a “he” though I have no reason to think that) and snuffed it safely, though packing out his trash was apparently beyond the range of his perceived responsibilities.

But after my initial alarm, I began to imagine my interloper and his visit. Had he arrived by car or had he walked the considerable distance from anywhere to reach my end-of-the-road little cabin? Did he come down my road or hike cross country? Did he walk around the cabin and appreciate the setting? Or did he sit on the retaining wall as he enjoyed his cigarette? If so, why at the back of the cabin and not on the porch where he could look down on the glinting lake? Though perhaps he started there and merely sauntered. Did he try the door to see if it was open? Peer in the windows? Did he sit in one of the chairs? On the porch or around the fire ring? Did he heft the round rocks all around? Did he come with intent, to see the cabin in its place? Had he heard of it? Or was he just wandering the woods that day and come upon it? How long did he stay? And what did he think while he was there? Did he imagine for the time that the place was his own? Imagine throwing a line in the water? Throwing a steak on the grill? Telling stories around a fire? Or did he scoff at its humble setting? What was his name? Was he tired when he arrived and rested when he left? Was he alone? Did he meet someone there? Has he ever been back? Does this happen often?

I sometimes find the spoor of interlopers in my woods: beer cans, candy wrappers, footprints, emptied shotgun shells. Once, a horse shoe.

I have no illusions about the concept of private property, especially in isolated places infrequently visited. I also think it’s presumptuous in a way to think of “owning” a piece of land, at least on the time scale of land. I sometimes think of myself as more of a tenant of the 80 acres than an owner. A caretaker, maybe. A steward. Transitory. I can point to my influences, the changes I’ve made, both successful and not, and speak of the emotional connection I have to the place. But in a century, my connection won’t really be known to the next tenant in the woods. It seems unlikely that anyone will ponder who I was in my time and tenancy.

Maybe that’s why I write stories. To live beyond myself.