Archive for the ‘short stories’ category

“Election Day” is up for reading

August 23, 2021

My recently accepted story “Election Day” is up for reading in the holding pen at Down in the Dirt Magazine. The piece will appear in an upcoming printed volume, but the editor has posted it online already.

“Election Day” has been accepted

August 19, 2021

Well, the drought of 2021 has ended; one of my short stories has been accepted for publication in Down in the Dirt.

I wrote the story “Election Day” based on my experience volunteering at the last two elections in my community. (I’m scheduled for the general election in November too. I’m becoming a junkie.) While the incident I wrote into the story didn’t happen, I had discussed the possibility of it with our site supervisor at the time, and she confirmed that such things do happen. Nor is it an especially atypical incident in modern America; I just framed it into an election day.

The acceptance letter I received is nearly a thousand words long and goes into some detail about the various ways they will publish the story (online later this week, in the v190 bound edition in December, possibly in a collection next year). Curiously, aside from my name in the salutation, there was no personalized information, not even the title of my story, in the acceptance letter.

This acceptance came quickly. I had only submitted to the journal four days before. (While this isn’t the fastest acceptance I received — that one came in a few hours — it is the first of this year.) I am on staycation this week, and I had risen from a four-hour nap (I’d ridden the 26-mile route on the trail that morning) to find the acceptance email.

This is also one of the fastest written stories I have done: two weeks from start to submission. Re-reading it now, there are a few things I would tinker with but I think the story stands well as it is.

I’ll publish the link when it comes online.

“Hush Arbor” is in fron//tera

July 27, 2021

The copy of fron//tera containing my story “Hush Arbor” arrived yesterday. It’s a lovely edition containing stories and poems in both English and Spanish as well as color photos, artwork, and even graphic stories. One of the stories (not by me) is even set not very far from my home in the the Kansas City suburbs.

“Hush Arbor” is a story with two characters from my One-Match Fire universe. It may even have a supernatural element. I’m sorry there’s no online edition I can link you to.

Friday Feature ~ “Race to the Summit”

March 12, 2021

In my early writing years, I spent a lot of time and thought on what kind of stories I wanted to write. Did I want to write in a certain genre? Serious stuff or comic stuff? Realistic fiction or speculative fiction? What did I like to read and could I emulate it? I was still finding my way, perhaps my style, and certainly my subject. So I was trying out different things.

“Race to the Summit” was the second story I had accepted for publication. This was back in 2007 (published in 2008), so nearly two decades had passed since my first published story. I can tell you that I thought a lot about whether or not I was really a writer if it was taking so long to make the magic happen again. (I was writing and publishing a lot of nonfiction in those years.) I began to think that getting “The Mythmaker” published was just a fluke, and I remember setting myself a standard at that time: I wouldn’t consider myself a writer until I had at least ten stories published. That number seemed impossibly ambitious, but if I could achieve it, I would have a substantial body of work that couldn’t be dismissed as luck alone.

So I was encouraged when “Race to the Summit” was accepted for an anthology of speculative fiction: Beacons of Tomorrow. My story is more fantasy than science fiction, or maybe magical realism. I must have been reading a lot of Garcia Marquez at the time for the influence is clearly there. This is one of the few stories of mine that actually received editorial suggestions. I recall one scene that was depicted in a clumsy way that the editor wanted changed, so I did. There may have been a few word changes as well. I wish I could remember more about the genesis of the story; there may be something in one of my journals about it, but good luck finding that! The story involves an earth-bound boy who is infatuated with a girl he imagines to be an angel — a time-honored theme — and his jealousy in learning there is another boy who seems to have captured her attention. What he learns in the end is that he is both right and wrong.

I’m not sure how I learned of the call from Beacons of Tomorrow for speculative short stories, though I suspect it was through Duotrope, which I’ve relied on greatly over the years. By this time, email was the fashion and I submitted in that way. And once again, when the acceptance came through, I kept my success to myself. I suspect I wouldn’t let myself believe it until the printed copy was in my hands. I guess my ambition was a fragile thing. But I now had two short stories published, and I was beginning to believe I might actually pull off this writer thing. Like “The Mythmaker,” my second story appeared in a print journal, and I cleared a space on my bookshelf for these two trophies of mine, where I could see them easily as I sat at my writing desk.

Friday Feature ~ “The Mythmaker”

March 5, 2021

In the preface to the great collection titled The Stories of John Cheever, he notes that he’d left out the “embarrassingly immature” pieces. I remember reading that forty years ago when the collection first came out, and I thought that if a writer of Cheever’s calibre could admit to novice work, I should not be hesitant to say the same about my own.

I am embarking on a semi-regular post on the humble blog in which I visit my published stories and tell you something about them. My thought is that I will do this on Fridays — hence the clever title for the series — but I don’t promise to be consistent about making weekly entries. Still, here I go.

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“The Mythmaker” is my first published short story, appearing in the Spring 1990 issue of The Platte Valley Review. It’s astonishing to me that this was more than thirty years ago. I had been writing seriously for about five years by then (and keeping a writing journal even longer), but I’d had no success getting any of my (embarrassingly immature) stories published. Several well-intentioned people, who weren’t writers, told me the conventional wisdom they had heard, that it would take ten years of effort to get something published. I took that as a given at the time and surprised myself by doing it in five years.

My story is a sort of reminiscence by an old man whose family was an important part of Kansas City history but whose fortunes had fallen greatly by his generation. My city has something of a reputation for not knowing its own past. The story and characters are pure fiction, of course. I wrote it for a contest that a local magazine held for Kansas City stories, suspecting, rightly it turned out, that the winning story would be about a divorced woman having trouble coping with her divorce. The only component I missed in my prediction was that she did her laundry in a laundromat. Still, I thought mine was a pretty good story and I hung on to it.

Then I went to a writers conference at the Kearney State College in Nebraska. The focus of the conference was regional literature, which was something I was interested in at the time. This was my first writers conference and I was duly awed by being able to hang out with like minds, most of whom had credentials. By the end of the long weekend, when the conference was coming to a close, I happened to be walking down the hall beside a man attending, and he said, out of the blue, “So what do you write?” I told him I had a story about history and loss, and he said that he’d like to read it. Oh, also, that he was the editor of a journal called The Platte Valley Review published by that college.

When I got home I sent him my typewritten story — this was in the days before email was prominent, so it went by snail mail — and crossed my fingers. I don’t recall how long I waited to hear from the editor, but when I did, it was the best news in the world. He liked my story and wanted to publish it in his journal. I had done it!

For weeks, perhaps longer, I told no one my news. I wanted to savor it as my own private delight. It may have only been when the five contributor copies arrived in a bulging brown envelope that I shared my secret. I don’t recall, but I do remember how it made me feel at the time, that I could do this thing I had so much dreamed about since I was a child.

bits and pieces

February 15, 2021

Is it bitterly cold where you are? Relative to our norm and experience, my part of the country (Kansas City) has been in the deep, deep freeze for more than a week now. And it’s forecasted to continue for at least a few more days, with nighttime temps well below zero Fahrenheit. Even so, I still see people out running and even riding their bikes. I took last Friday off of work, and today is a work holiday, so I got to have some leisure time during this polar vortex. But maybe this coming weekend I can get out to the cabin if the warming forecast holds. The lake must be nicely filled with all of the snow that should be melted by then. I haven’t been to Roundrock yet in February and I only made one visit in January.

My neighbor down there raises beef cattle, and I asked him how the cows were coping with these dangerously cold days. He says they mostly stay out of the wind and eat a lot to keep the fires of their digestion burning. And I realized that in the winter, I, too, stay out of the wind and eat a lot.

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I’ve been working on a few short stories in recent weeks. I’m still lamenting the lack of some new big work that will grip my imagination the way Obelus did last year, but the short stories are filling the void nicely for now. They’re pretty good stories, I think. Worth rising early on the weekends to tinker with. Through the week, as I’m working for the man, I keep a notepad near me to scribble down story ideas as they come. Then in my weekend writing sessions, I work with those notes to jumpstart a new piece or enhance an existing piece. It’s a process that seems to work well for me. And I use it as a gauge to determine if a story is finished. If I am no longer getting thoughts about a given story, that suggests to me that it’s finished.

I have a few finished pieces in circulation, but they’re quirky, and finding the right market for them has been challenging. Last weekend I got slammed with I think six rejection emails. That’s part of the process, and I’m toughened up enuf to cope with it, but I’m sure there’s a home for them, and when they get declined it’s just frustrating to see I haven’t found it yet.

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Nilou says “Salaam,” y’all!

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I think I mentioned here that I’d read Lonesome Dove last year and really enjoyed it. The copy I have was given to me nearly 20 years ago by a friend who inscribe it to me. It’s a tattered paperback of more than 900 pages, but I raced through it. And I decided I wanted to read more of Larry McMurtry, so when I was at the used bookstore recently (note, I do not go shopping during this pandemic — I only go to essential places like the grocery store and the used bookstore, and I think I can cut back on the grocery store) I saw a copy of his novel The Last Picture Show on the shelf and bought it. I finished reading it last week and thoroughly enjoyed it. The tone is well managed and the characters are well drawn. I don’t think it’s for everyone (so much teen sex!), but it put me in mind of Kent Haruf, so I sent my copy to a friend who appreciates that writer.

McMurtry has a huge body of work, so I can dip into his fiction for a long time. The Last Picture Show, for example, is the first of four novels about the same characters and place. I’m always pleased when I happen upon a writer I like who has more stuff waiting for me.

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Currently reading: Platte River by Rick Bass. Oddly, it’s not engaging me.

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Like the Dude, my ponytail abides.

“Icarus” revisited

February 3, 2021

This is going to sound a lot like last week’s post about my story “Hush Arbor.” Just as with that story, I had my story “Icarus” accepted, in this case at The Magnolia Review. But the extraordinary events of 2020 intervened, and not only was publication of “Icarus” delayed, but I feared that the journal itself had gone dark.

But then I received an email this morning from the editor apologizing for the delay and announcing that the issue with my story was in its final stages of production. Volume 6, issue 2 of The Magnolia Review will be coming out online very soon and possibly even in print.

This is the second story I’ve had published in The Magnolia Review. My story “Fire Sermon” appeared there several years ago and was even nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

When the issue goes live, I’ll post a link here.

“Hush Arbor” revisited

January 27, 2021

Last summer I had submitted my story “Hush Arbor” to a print journal named fron//tera, and it was accepted for publication. The forecasted publication date was for October of 2020, but we all know what 2020 was like. That date came and went, but the journal did not. I had researched it online, and they had a few good-looking issues listed, but they did not respond to my emails. Worse, Duotrope, that great listing of journals and publishers, had dropped fron//tera‘s listing altogether.

But yesterday I received an email from the publishers saying that while the issue was delayed, it was still going to happen, likely in the spring of this year. They even sent a mock up of the cover, which looks nice. (Though my efforts to post a copy of it here are mysteriously unsuccessful.)

fron//tera is bilingual, English and Spanish. (It’s published out of Madrid and Portland.) As far as I can recall, I’ve never had one of my stories translated to another language.

“Hush Arbor” is part of my One-Match Fire universe, though it is not part of that novel.

“Hush Arbor” has found a home

June 18, 2020

My story “Hush Arbor” has been accepted at fron//tera, a Spanish and English literary journal based in Madrid and Portland. It will appear in volume 3, themed Natural States, though I don’t know yet when that will come out, but it will be print only.

I also don’t know how/if it will be translated to Spanish; I do know, however, that I won’t be the one doing this.

This story includes two characters from my One-Match Fire universe, though it is not part of that novel. It also may or may not have a talking fox named Scrapefoot in it.

I had submitted this story to six other publications and received a rejection from five. With the acceptance at fron//tera, I have withdrawn that sixth submission.

“MTWTF” has arrived

June 15, 2020

My short story “MTWTF” has appeared in print. The copy of WORKERS WRITER! Tales from the Classifieds arrived in my mailbox over the weekend.

Like so many of my stories, I’d had this one for a couple of years, shopping it around until it found its proper home.

The story was not heavily edited (though they did change “bosom” to “chest” and a few minor things like that), but the review process was pleasant and professional. This was one of the few times I’d received a proof copy of the story to review prior to publication. And the editor responded personally to me twice when I had asked about publication dates. This was delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

My story appears in the back third of the collection, which is fine and it reminds me of my running days at the back of the pack, but I’ll consider it a great day when one of my pieces appears in the front half of a journal!