Archive for the ‘Rants and ruminations’ category

muddy editing?

June 3, 2019

Many years ago, in my river infatuation phase, I read a book called Big Muddy by B.C. Hall and C.T. Wood. It was about a road trip the two authors took from the headwaters of the Mississippi (in some place called “Minnesota” — sounds made up to me) all the way down the river to its arrival in the Carribean Sea. You can read the (scathing) Kirkus review at the link, and I remember my reading of the book at the time was similar.

Most of all I was struck several times by glaring inaccuracies in the book, and these were just the ones I knew about and could identify. The first was the title. In my universe, the Big Muddy is the Missouri River, though I’ve since learned that the Mississippi is also sometimes called that. But when the two passed through Saint Louis (where I grew up) it happened to be during the city’s huge annual festival, The Veiled Prophet Fair (now called Fair Saint Louis). In the book, though, they referred to it as The Veil of the Prophet Fair. Where was the editor?

They were attempting to match their account with Twain’s Life on the Mississippi, and thus brought in Twain references wherever they could. And so the author Hall, who was/is a university English professor, referred to two characters from Huckleberry Finn as “the Duke and the Dolphin,” and I don’t think there was any intended joke about this.

Lapses like that made me dismissive of the book as a whole. If it contained those errors, what else might it have gotten wrong? The book didn’t stay long on my otherwise burgeoning river books shelf.

I recently read Richard Russo’s early novel Risk Pool, and I could see in it how he was trying out certain characters and situations that he employed so well later in Empire Falls. But something happened twice in that novel that bugged me. He used the term “slight of hand.” Had he been referring to how small someone’s hands were, that wouldn’t have been a problem, but he wasn’t. He was referring to deliberate deceptions on the part of certain characters. What he needed to say was “sleight of hand.” Again, where was the editor?

bits and pieces

May 20, 2019

I started work on a new story over the weekend, and it’s always a hopeful time. It’s a pretty good little story, not part of any universe or with characters I’ve created before; it’s fresh, which is refreshing. I know just where the story is going, and I know what I want to do along the way, so it’s simply (!) a matter of capturing the words as they rumble through my head and typing them onto the screen. (And then refining and refining.)

Many of my story ideas mosey around in my brain for a long time, sometimes for years, before I get started on them, so I generally can’t recall what their genesis was. In this case, though, I can. Oddly, it’s related to two disparate things. One is the drive I make to take my dogs to the park (which also inspired this old post), and the other is visiting my mother in Kentucky recently. She getting on and getting around with a Rollator. Those two disparate things melded and gave me the story I’m working on. (Okay, a third thing: a feud betwixt two neighbors down the street who have a lot more in common than they realize.)


The farmers market in my suburban town opened for the season recently. My wife and I went there on Saturday (dodging raindrops) and spent $6.00 on two tomatoes. I have no idea whether that is a good price or not.

The market has been growing in popularity, and the city has been exploring ways to expand it. We went to a city council meeting where this was discussed, and while weighing the options, the goal was always to have the biggest farmers market in the county. (Our neighbor town to the west has created a space for one that will be very large, so, of course, we have to be larger. Maybe it’s a guy thing.)

As it stands now, our farmers market is just this side of corporate (4th definition). There is competition for prime stall placement, for example, everyone’s signage is slick, and even the Mennonites use iPads. I expect it to get worse as City Hall completes its expansion of the market. (There was talk of moving the whole thing to a nearby park, using the green space for “making green” instead, but there was a lot of opposition to that. I think the plan they settled on was to wrap the market shed around a corner at its current location to double its size. The objection to this was that they would have to elevate some of the stations given the topography, and the car wash that was occupying the coveted space had to go, which it has.)


The rejection mayhem continues. I got two rejections in the last week. I also withdrew a story from consideration. This reality, that rejection is a far more likely outcome than acceptance, is the chief reason why I don’t like submission fees.


I continue to pursue a definitive answer to my concern about getting chapters of One-Match Fire published and whether or not this hurts the novel’s chance at acceptance. I’ve written to several agents and even one publisher explaining my situation and asking for an opinion. So far none has responded. I’ve posted the question on a couple of message boards, but mostly all I’ve gotten is an echo, the responders saying they wonder the same thing. One responder on a certain forum was emphatic that I had forfeited my chance of getting the work published as a novel, but I checked his credentials, and he is not an agent, nor does he work in publishing. He also has thousands of comments on this forum, and in my experience, there are always one or two self-appointed “authorities” on such forums whose word must be taken as absolute, at least in their minds.

A subsequent responder said she thought the publication of some of the stories probably wouldn’t be a problem. Still, I would like something conclusive (though would I accept it if it wasn’t the conclusion I wanted?).


I mentioned some weeks ago about wanting to post a short video of my lake at Roundrock here (as I used to be able to do) but that I was unable to figure out how. So I did something uncharacteristic: I did research. It turns out that I can post videos in the format my phone produces, but the assumption is that I’m using the paid-for version of WordPress and not the free one. I don’t suppose this is an accident. (In the past I was also able to put my text in color, but that feature has apparently dropped behind the paywall as well. Too bad since I signaled hidden messages on my posts with colored titles.)

latest recovery read

April 3, 2019

I mentioned recently that I was working my way through To the Lighthouse because I had re-read Mrs. Dalloway last year and really enjoyed it. But I knew I needed to put a little distance betwixt my Woolf readings, so I waited this long to pick her up again. (I did, however, buy a nice reading copy of Orlando over the weekend.) Her stream-of-consciousness, Modernist sentences took some effort, and I often had to re-read a given sentence, either because I didn’t understand who was talking/what was being said or because I just wanted to savor it again. So it was slow going, getting to that lighthouse.

When I finished it, I grabbed a novel called The Book of Joe, by Jonathan Tropper. The jacket blurb mentioned something about a troubled relationship between the protagonist and his father (plus the obvious Old Testament reference), so I was interested. It turned out to have less to do with that (the father dies pretty early in the story) and more to do with the protagonist becoming less of a dick.

It was a quick read, not demanding and not making any deep literary or philosophical allusions (that I spotted anyway), and when I was done I wanted to read something with a little more substance.

So I picked up Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf. I’d read at least two of his other novels years ago in a book discussion group I was in. (I miss those guys!) Our Souls at Night is a short book, and the copy I have is a small book, so even the “few” 179 pages are misleading since the physical page is undersized enuf that each page contains fewer words than a regular book would. I finished it in two days.

Haruf is perhaps as far from Woolf as a writer can get. I think he would make Hemingway seem verbose (if I were ever going to read a Hemingway novel again to compare, which I won’t). His sentences are spare. His descriptions are minimal. He comes directly to his points without a lot of verbiage or scene setting. He assumes that a lot of the story corollary is going to happen inside the reader’s head, so he doesn’t throw a lot of stuff at you.

Yet even so, his characters are believable and easily visible (though in my mind I did not picture the two main characters as Robert Redford and Jane Fonda, as they were cast in the movie made of the novel).

All of Haruf’s half dozen novels (I intend to read them all) are set in a fictional town called Holt, Colorado, on the Front Range. It’s a good setting for such spare writing since it is a spare country. He makes reference in each of his novels to characters who appear in his other novels, even touching on those plots. I’m fine with that (Elizabeth Strout does this sometimes, too), but what happens in Chapter 34 of Our Souls at Night is something I’ve never seen another writer do.

I won’t tell you what this is since the novel is such a short read. You could indulge yourself if interested, no?

famous for its regressive politics

April 1, 2019

In the third-person bios I provide on those rare occasions when a journal publishes one of my humble stories I say that I live “near Kansas City” (but escape to my Ozark cabin whenever I get the chance).

As you may know if you’ve read this blog long enuf, I grew up in St. Louis, as did my wife, and our four children were born there. I moved my young family to where we are now (30+ years ago) to take a job. When we were looking for a home, our first priority was to get into the best school district. And that’s how we landed on the Kansas side of the state line that Kansas City abuts. (Note: the Kansas City you’ve heard of is probably the one in Missouri, though there is one in Kansas as well, and there’s a North Kansas City that is also in Missouri.) Yes, I live in vanilla suburbia, but it was a fine place to raise children (who have all since escaped to live very different lives). The “problem” is that our home was/is in Kansas, which is famous for its regressive politics. (And spoken by someone who originally comes from Missouri, that’s a serious jibe! Though the recent Blue Wave did make some deep inroads!)

All of this is by way of explaining what is happening in Kansas today. As of April 1, 2019, the grocery stores can now sell “full-strength” beer. Before today, we had to settle for 3.2 percent grocery store beer or carry ourselves to unseemly package liquor stores to get the hard stuff. (And when I first moved here, you could not get an alcoholic drink at a restaurant unless you went to and were a member of dedicated supper clubs that had permits for such debauchery. True story!) You might think that someone who grew up in St. Louis (where Big Bru was a major employer) would be rejoicing at this, but that’s not really the case. And despite the kindly efforts of someone whose name might be something like Yellowstone, I have never developed a taste for craft beers (and I have tried!).

The thing is, I’ve drifted from the true faith and now actually prefer to drink non-alcoholic beer. Sure, I can drink a “full-strength” beer at a restaurant. More than one even. And alcohol-containing beer can sometimes be found in my refrigerator, but given my druthers,* I will supply myself with non-alcoholic beer.

And there’s the rub. For some reason, in the middle of March, all of the grocery stores pulled ALL of the 3.2 beer from their coolers. The shelves were either left empty or they were filled with bottled water. I suppose that was a Puritanical requirement of the law change for some reason, but in that time I could not find my non-alcoholic beer. Certainly the unseemly package liquor stores didn’t carry it. Why would they? I even went across the state line to Missouri to find it, but the grocery stores there didn’t carry it either.

And so the new alcoholic era begins today in Kansas. It remains to be seen whether or not I’ll be able to find my non-alcoholic beer in this embarrassment of riches.

*”druthers” is a curious, regional contraction of “would rather.”

how to survive the end of the world

February 15, 2019

Many years ago, on my now-gone blog, Roundrock Journal, I would post occasional videos. Generally these were of scenes or events in my little bit of forest on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks. At the time, WordPress couldn’t take direct importing of videos (or if they could, my knowledge/skills weren’t up to the task), so I would post them on Yahoo Videos and then put a link for them in the blog post. I got good enuf at it that it became almost a weekly thing.

But then Yahoo announced that it was discontinuing that service. We users were given plenty of notice about this so we could download our uploads to save them. I always had my videos on the computer first, so I still had (have) them and just let my account disappear. (I made a few attempts at using YouTube for the same function, but by then my Roundrock Journal days were coming to an end as well.)

Recently, as you probably know, Google announced that it was ending the Google+ service. I have/had a Google+ account, but after a flurry of early use, my motivation flagged (as did apparently the motivation of millions of other users). The last time I was on it was nearly a year ago when my kids all tried to have a video chat using the Hangout function. (It didn’t work very well.) So I wasn’t at all upset to see my Google+ account go away.

But now, of course, I look at all of the other services I use with a nervous tic. I have a Flickr account where I dump notable photos I have taken or snagged. Did I hear something recently about that service being in jeopardy?

More concerning, though, is the thought of my Google Drive going away. (Back in 2009, I wrote about my use of Google Docs, as it was known then, here and here and here.) One ambition I had was to write an entire story, to what I considered a publishable state, entirely on Google Docs/Drive, the advantage of this being that I could use it at work and appear to be, you know, working. That never really happened. But I did and do use Google Drive as a back up. I’ve placed whole novels there to be safely stored, and occasionally, when the spirit moves, I will back up selected stories too. (I also have two other back up media I use. Sporadically.)

But there was one story that existed only on Google Drive. (Story notes actually. Not much in the way of development.) And I began to worry that this service might go the way of those others too. That story (and all of my backups) would then be lost.

So the other day I copied all of the notes for that story onto my computer where it will sit with the others and be backed up by my two other methods. Sporadically.

I need to be more diligent about making back ups. I know this.

sez who?

January 28, 2019

I’m always on the look out for rule breakers. I’ve said before that creative writing is such an uncertain process — does this work? will anyone read this? should I throw away this whole paragraph? do I even know what I’m trying to say? should I have changed my major years ago? — that there is a seductive quality to so-called writing “rules.” My personal bugbear is the admonition that only some variation of the word “said” is acceptable as a dialog tag.

So I’m plowing through Joseph Conrad’s The Nigger of the “Narcissus” right now, and in the first chapter I came across this bit:

The mate went on faster: — “Craik — Singleton — Donkin. . . . O Lord!” he involuntarily ejaculated as the incredibly dilapidated figure appeared in the light.

So there’s a dialog tag you don’t see everyday. And I count two adverbs in the mix. On the preceding page, one character “growls” and another “yelps.” And this is within the first ten pages of the novel.

Granted, this is late 19th Century writing (by a man whose first language was not English, by the way). And people don’t write that way much anymore, but are we richer or poorer for it?

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.

UPDATE 20FEB19 – I came across a bit of text in a novel that has a similar scenario in it. Two people are climbing a hill, and one is less fit than the other. The stammering was punctuated with periods rather than ellipses, making them sentence fragments, which I can see makes sense. I may do that with mine.

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.