Archive for the ‘short stories’ category

thick skinned report – 1st rejection of 2019

January 5, 2019

I got my first rejection of 2019 yesterday. The first of many, I assume.

I had sent my story “Forest Succession” to a journal in mid-October in a daring move because I wasn’t responding to a themed call for submission but simply found a journal that seemed to align with my story and tone.

I received a form rejection email, but it was professional enuf not to crush my black and shriveled heart too much.

In the last year and a month, I’ve sent the story to sixteen* publications and received twelve rejections (three of which were personalized) and one “no response” (which the pub noted up front was possible). The story has evolved a little bit in that time but not substantively.

I think it’s a good story. I think I just need to find the right home for it. It’s currently in submission at three publications, and I regularly look for journals and calls that might be suitable for it. The story is (what I believe to be) the final one in the overall One-Match Fire cycle, though it is not part of the novel itself. (Not yet. I keep thinking I should just add all of these after-the-fact stories I’m writing to it. Sigh.)


*I had a technical writing teacher in college who provided instruction on when to use numerals and when to use the words for the number in text. He was a bit haughty about it, saying his instruction was the only one we ever needed to heed. (That’s probably why I still remember his name after *mumble-mumble* years.) Anymore, I just write with whatever the thought is at the moment. It’s my blog, after all.


when a rejection isn’t a rejection (but still is)

December 13, 2018

So I received a rejection email for a submission recently, but it’s unlike every other rejection I’ve received, and that’s in part because I’ve chosen to see it as a rejection.

A publication was looking for travel stories, and I had one originally published in 2009 about an experience I had when I was visiting my son in Kenya (“Night Train to Kisumu”). Since the new publication would consider previously published work, I sent in that story on the chance that it would be accepted. (Also, the online journal that had originally published the story has long since disappeared.)

The rejection that was not a rejection (but that I’ve chosen to consider a rejection) came this week. The editors said that they really liked the piece but wanted some changes made to it. The changes were substantial and structural (though sensible), but I didn’t really feel like muscling my way through a ten-year-old story that had already been published and would at best be a reprint and that wasn’t going to garner me a nickel. 

So I responded to the rejection that wasn’t a rejection saying I was offering a rejection to their suggestion of revision. I don’t really expect any response, and I consider the matter closed, but if they come back with an acceptance of the story as written, I suppose I’ll go with it.

whence good ideas?

December 10, 2018

In a past life I wrote a lot of copy for a woman who was publishing a magazine that focused on a lucrative but hitherto underserved market* of big spenders in my town. Her magazine was slick and successful, but her pockets were not deep enuf, and she had to walk away from the venture after two issues. (It was subsequently taken up by other publishers in town, including the local fish wrapper, and continues in various forms to this day.)

I had sustained my writing relationship with her for a while after when she took a job with a propane company, producing newsletters. (This was back in the days of print.) She and I developed a professional friendship that included a few business lunches and chatty phone calls. And one bit of wisdom I gleaned from this was her offhand comment once that the good ideas always come back. Her point was that if an idea keeps presenting itself to you, then it must be good in some way you don’t yet recognize and it is probably worth your pursuit.

And thus is the case with the latest story I’m working on: “Icarus.” A little sleuthing showed me that I had begun this story nearly four years ago, and while I continued to keep notes in the ensuing years and even made an ill-fortuned attempt at writing it (making it a running story, which didn’t have legs), I never achieved the critical mass to really get it underway. (Yeah, I just split an infinitive! Fight me!)

I guess for me, critical mass can be achieved in different ways. Sometimes just the accumulation of notes can be enuf to get me going. In the case of one story, “When We Were Young and Life Was Full in Us,” I had the story in mind but didn’t have some controlling feature I needed. It turned out that what I needed was the correct tone, and once I settled on that (playful innocence), the story flowed. More recently I spoke of my story “MTWTF” (still not found a home, alas) and how once I found the structure for telling the story — the passage of a work week — the story came forth easily.

So it seems with “Icarus.” It’s based on a colleague I knew back in my (dark, dismal) teaching days and a misstep he made. The story is as old as time, or at least as old as men and women have been pursuing relationships, and I saw early enuf how the tale of Icarus flying too close to the sun was apt as a metaphor for the man’s foible. But there was something missing that was keeping me from telling the tale.

Once again, tone to the rescue. I am now trying to tell this man’s (fictionalized, Greek-tragic) story from the point of view of a bemused best friend who tries to help his buddy understand the doom he is pursuing. I’ve made them teachers in an English department so I can toss in some clever words. I think it’s going to work this time.

Of course, half the tale is in the telling.** I know the plot; I can see the end (flames). But getting there is what I have to do. I am lucky to know that kind of tone I’m reaching for, and I think that will guide my word choices, my syntax, the birth of the metaphors, the flow of sentences, the congealing of paragraphs, and all of that.

So, I’m flying forward on what I hope are reliable wings with this story. (And I’m boasting perhaps too confidently, having only amassed a few hundred words so far.)



**A saying that I think I came up with on my own (though I am willing to concede that I read it somewhere and don’t recall)

regarding leprechauns and running

October 8, 2018

I mentioned in a post a few weeks ago that I was making notes about a story with a leprechaun in it. I want to say that I don’t write fantasy, and maybe by some definitions of the genre I don’t, but I just counted, and six of my twenty-nine published stories have a fantastic element that drives the plot, seven if you want to loop in science fiction. That’s more than the number of my stories that involve running as important to the plot, which surprises me.

I “finished” the new story, the one that involves the leprechaun (though you wouldn’t recognize him as such on a first reading, and he’s not the central character). This story doesn’t change the math though since it involves both fantasy and running.

I’m calling it “BQ,” which may mean something to a few of you. It’s made clear in the story what that references. Right now it sits at 2,200+ words though I think that may increase a bit as I fortify the growth of the character in the plot.

After I wrote the last words of the story — last words that came to me unbidden and really, really summed up the theme (as though by magic) — I gave the story a read through out loud and really liked what I heard. I realize this is tempting fate, being so confident about a story at such an early stage, but sometimes my stories do develop this way. I guess this is the story I had hoped to write during my week in Seattle; it just came to me in its own time.

So I’ll let it gestate for a while and continue to tinker with it. But I already have a journal in mind that I think will like it. Nice way to start a week.

“The Kick”

September 20, 2018

My story “The Kick” appears in the latest edition of Aethlon: The Journal of Sport Literature. Once again, I’m in the latter half of the volume, but I don’t mind. It’s a good-looking publication. (This is the second story I’ve had published by Aethlon!)

“The Kick” is the closest I’ve come to writing a 2nd-person narrator story. I don’t think it’s quite that, but the voice seems compelling (to me). This story is not part of the One-Match Fire universe, but it does involve running.

Yes, the edition date is a bit old, but it is the most current edition. I suppose they’re a little behind in issues and they’re keeping the dating consistent.

a week of this, and that, and the other thing

July 13, 2018

How did a week go by and I not make a post? I’ve been a bachelor for all of that time (and a few days longer) while my wife darts around this state called Colorado — I’ve confirmed it’s a real place despite the odd name — seeing all but one of her sisters. So I’ve had parenting duty for the two dogs, the four (!) birds, and countless fish. Plus I’ve been trying to keep the anemic lawn alive in this monstrous heat (consecutive 100+ degree days). Plus working. And reading. And writing. And generally picking up after myself. So I guess time passes when you’re busy with things like that.

And it was only a week before this that my wife was in St. Louis with our son and daughter-in-law, providing emergency transportation while their car was in the shop. And then about a month before then, she was in Seattle with our other son and daughter-in-law and their little girl. And me during all of her trips playing the dog father.


My One-Match Fire story “Moving Day” came out in THEMA Literary Journal during this week. There was apparently some delay with the printer, but here it is. My piece begins on page 55 (why am I always in the latter half of these journals?) and takes up twelve pages: the largest chunk of real estate between the covers. THEMA, as the name suggests, has a theme for each issue, and I had submitted for the theme “The Face in the Photograph.” In my story a son comes across a photo of his father as an infant, and though he doesn’t realize it at the time, the photo directs the course of the son’s life.


I managed to make it out to my cabin during the past weekend. I did some weed whipping (having remembered to bring the gasoline this time), found that no mouse had tripped the trap (maybe they prefer Swiss to the cheddar I had baited it with), and swam for an hour in the lake. I’d also remembered my swimming gear, including the hard-soled water shoes, so I could actually swim, with kicks and everything. It was another idyllic hour. And because I swam just before leaving, I thought I didn’t need to shower when I got home. That was a mistake I’ve been paying for during this week as well. I was apparently still infested with chiggers on my legs, and, oddly, my feet. I have been itching for days. Cortisone cream and antihistamines are intimate parts of my life lately. I thought the other day, as I was scratching, that I must find a way for one of my characters to say that the little Ozark cabin is in “Bugbite County.”


My work on “Spring Fever” creeps its petty pace. Every time I visit it, I hone it a little sharper. I don’t know if I’m nearly finished or if I’m nearly to the point of seeing how bad it is.


I use this image as my avatar in some places online, so you may have seen it before. I carved it into a Volkswagen-sized limestone boulder in 2005, and for most* of the days and weeks and months and years since then, the initials have been sitting mutely under twelve feet of water in my lake. I used a dull chisel and a hammer with a broken handle to carve this, but the one I carved on the side of one of the sandstone steps leading to the cabin was done with a Dremel.



*There have been some times when enuf water has leaked out of the lake to expose the boulder.


May 29, 2018

I began writing Finnegans Fogbound as a respite from the One-Match Fire stories and now I find myself working on a stand-alone story “MTWTF” as a respite from Finnegans Fogbound.

In fact, I’ve written a first draft of the entire 4,000-word story in a single weekend! (This has precedent. Years ago I wrote my story “Diaspora” during a stay at a lovely bed and breakfast in New Mexico. And last fall I wrote two stories — “The Kick” and “Forest Succession” — while staying for a week at my son’s house in Seattle.)

I’ve had “MTWTF” for decades. It’s based on an incident in a past life in a faraway city among people who are now ghosts. I’d always wanted to write a story about the incident, but I could never think of a structure for telling it (or a tone). I suppose you can guess the structure I struck upon based on the title, and though it deals with a serious matter, I didn’t think I had the authority to deal with it seriously, so I booted up my snarky narrator and let him do the work. (He proved his worth most recently in my story “Old School.”) Once I had those worked out, the story flowed. 4,000 words of flow, and I half think I want to cut that some, but the story is whole as it stands, and I have already cut out much, including an entire character who merited my narrator’s comic savagery but whose backstory didn’t need to stay.

So, first draft.

I say the incident involves people who are now ghosts, and while I don’t mean that literally, I am certainly haunted by one of them. The central character, the antagonist who is a deserving victim of her own short-sighted do-goodery, has been a recurring voice in my head spanning those decades. Whenever I second guess anything I do or have done or want to do, I hear her voice. She was full of judgment then (as well as unsolicited advice) and her haint still is. I’ve wanted to write this story as an exorcism as much as to tell a comic tale. (Oddly, now that I’ve written about her, I find that I want to pummel her more and may summon her specter again for more abuse.)

So, “MTWTF.” I’ve thought about tossing a lower-case “h” into the title, but I think it weakens the impact of the acronym, and no one is going to be confused without the “h” anyway. I’ll let it simmer for a while. Maybe send it off to a friend who has graciously offered to read anything I send him (and who is getting his second novel published!!!). Come at it with a critical eye and see if there are more words I can remove or condense. And then I guess shop it around.