I don’t know about you, but I’m sure enjoying these longer days we’re having!
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic
My wife and I made a dash down to Paducah, Kentucky over the long weekend (beginning on Thursday — gotta use up the vacation days or lose them!) to see my mother, who is not well. We had gotten dire reports from my aunt about my mother’s condition, but when we got there, my mother was doing much better, and the prognosis from various doctors had improved significantly. She even went out to dinner with us, which was in high contrast to what we’d heard about her in the weeks before our visit.
The trek from Kansas City to Paducah is seven hours of hard driving. Add to that nearly an hour more because we had to take the dogs (Flike and Queequeg) to their kennel in rural suburban Kansas City before leaving. The drive to Paducah is tedious, leavened only by living within my mind as the miles passed. (I pretended I was running a marathon. I reviewed my stories. I made small talk. We had two collections of short stories as audio books to listen to, but we never used them.)
Our visit involved mostly sitting around, which is about the best my mother could manage, but I did get in a nice nap on Friday afternoon. (After sleeping 11 hours on Thursday night, which is completely unlike me.) Our plan was to stay until Sunday morning, but the weather in St. Louis (though which we would pass) and Kansas City was getting uglier, with reports of thousands of traffic accidents. On Friday evening, we decided to leave a day early with the hope of beating the weather or, at the worst, spending the night in some town betwixt there and here as we collected our courage to finish the miles on Sunday.
Saturday dawned in Paducah at 63 degrees. (I had considered a pre-dawn run but hadn’t brought reflective gear or my head lamp.) It was overcast, and rain threatened, but this was perfect driving weather. Because of the reports of the conditions in St. Louis, we chose to take the southern route home, crossing Missouri through the Ozark Mountains and then scooting up the western side of the state to Kansas City. The temperature fell throughout the day, and by the time we got to Springfield, Missouri (about 5 hours in), we were driving in freezing temperatures, with some precipitation spitting at us. I kept expecting the highway to be closed since the reports we could get on our phones said parts of the interstate were shut down. Yet on we drove. I expected each next burg sizeable enuf to have a motel to be the end of our journey for the day, but the highway continued to be clear, dry, and open, so we pushed on. The closer we got to Kansas City, the more certain I was that we would be sleeping in our own bed that night, and that our dogs would be sleeping in it with us.
Within about 30 miles of home, my wife told her phone to find us a route to the kennel where the dogs were languishing. This route took us down many two-lane country roads, but all of them were open and passable. We paid the ransom on the dogs and then made our way home without incident.
I understand there were 1,500+ traffic accidents in Kansas City over the weekend of our return. We didn’t find any conditions that would have suggested that, but I suspect we’d arrived after the (socialist) road crews had done their work.
So the long weekend adventure was done. I did my dutiful son obligations (and my mother has been doing well since the visit) and I covered 500+ miles twice in the trusty Honda. Now I am home, desperately trying to get the house in order and more or less clean enuf for the arrival of all of my children, their spouses/girlfriends, and their offspring for the holidays. The forecast for Christmas Day is 63 degrees. I wish I was going to be at my cabin.
Categories: Fathers and Sons
There is a belief among writers that you pretty much have just one story but that you keep on telling it for the rest of your life. I can understand that, at least for some writers. And it’s maybe not a story actually but a theme or an idea or a subject that you keep revisiting, trying to puzzle out in words what about it burns so strongly within you or maybe trying to finally tell the story exactly right.
I have been flirting with the “finished” One-Match Fire manuscript for weeks, telling myself that I need to give it another read through to muscle it into final form so I can begin submitting it. I realize that I’m actually frightened of both the big job of preparing it for submission and the big risk to my very soul in submitting it for objective evaluation (and likely copious rejection). But I’ll get the job done.
Except that I’m realizing the job will never be done. I’m currently working on a story called “Fire Sermon” and it’s coming along slowly but well. It deals with the friendship of two of the characters from One-Match Fire, and, importantly, these characters’ relationships with their fathers and sons. So it fits with the theme of my novel. It doesn’t fit into that novel per se, but it’s cut from the same cloth. And the longer I live with these characters, the more stories I see for them (or that they are revealing to me if you want to get mystical).
Thus I’m already having initial thoughts about the inevitable sequel to One-Match Fire. More stories about these characters who have taken up residence in my head and are knocking around noisily like the person in the apartment upstairs. The novel focuses on three characters: a grandfather, a father, and a grandson. But at the end of the novel, the grandson is an adult, on the verge of marrying and even considering becoming a father himself. Stories abound. And I’ve been told that I’m pretty good at writing flashbacks, so even characters and events long past can be marshaled in and put to good use. As long as I draw breath, I can probably write stories about these people, and so I can fill enuf pages for another novel.
I think I must since I’ve already come up with a title for it. Don’t you think Embers is an appropriate name for a novel to follow one called One-Match Fire?
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic
Categories: Rants and ruminations, Roundrock
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic, Rants and ruminations
Some of you know that I’ve kept a paper journal for the last 35+ years. With a mechanical pencil I hand write entries into spiral notebooks with some college name/logo on the cover. In the early years, before I could have ever imagined the scope of my endeavor, I didn’t date the entries. But soon enuf I did. Then I began putting the time of day beside each entry since I was often hustling to my journal to get down whatever brilliant thought I’d had when untethered to it. Some entries might be a sentence or two. Others could go on for pages. And while I might make three and even four entries in a day, I could also go weeks without one. Still the words accumulated, and I am now on journal number 28 (from Syracuse University, where my clever nephew attended).
I will likely never go back and read my journals. A lot of it is probably embarrassingly immature or focused on some event/issue of the time that is no longer pertinent. Any given brilliant idea is lost within a hundred quotidian thoughts. There isn’t a search function in paper journals. My middle son has stated that when I am gone (not too soon, I hope) he intends to read my journals from start to finish. (Consider what a dampening effect this has on my entries once I realize someone I know will be reading them.) He was never much of a reader growing up, and now his job (and daughter) demands most of his time, and any reading he does should be in his field (oncology). I also suspect he’ll get bored quickly with my entries and skip a lot of it.
My point is that I have all of these journals that will likely never amount to anything other than ash after some cleansing campfire. I don’t suppose I would mind that too much as long as it was a campfire at my cabin.
Similarly, a couple of decades ago, I was busy as a freelancer writing feature articles for magazines and newspapers — back in the days of print. I wrote more than sixty of these things before I gave up the ambition. (I gave up in part because I could never break into the slicks and in part because I realized that in my ten years of effort I had produced the equivalent of what one cub reporter would produce in a single year. Plus there’s no money in it.) Nonetheless, I have kept a copy of every publication that ran one of my articles. The stack sits on a shelf within arm’s reach of me as I write this. And yet, I will never go back and read these things. Nor will anyone else. It’s possible that the stack I have holds one of the few existing copies of the publications — and thus my articles — available in the physical world. Yet I can’t part with them.
And it continues. There was a time in my life when I wanted to become an authority in the literature of the Midwest. (There is actual scholarship devoted to this!) I read widely (but not widely enuf), and I even began collecting books. But I saw that my subject was too vast, so I tightened my focus to the literature of Missouri. But even that was too vast. So I tightened it further to the literature of the Ozarks (a vast and satisfying literature of its own). In the glass-fronted bookcase across the room from me I have books I have collected for this ambition. Some I have were published in the 19th Century and are likely among the few existing copies in the physical world. As with my journals and my feature articles, I am unlikely to read them again (since creating my own literature is now my interest). Yet I can’t part with them. The thrill of the chase — finding a long-sought novel — means I can never dispose of them. My children will get that job. (I just hope they have the sense to find out if there is some collector or a library that would want them.)
And it still continues. I’m looking at a rack of medals I’ve earned from the half and full marathons I’ve run. (The NYC Marathon medal is my all-time favorite, natch!) I have another rack of medals from “lesser” races. Dozens of these things that will mean nothing to anyone other than me. What’s to become of them? Since no one ran the race inside my head, the medals won’t have any specific meaning to them. I don’t suppose the metal of the medals is even high grade enuf to be good for melting down. (And I currently have two drawers packed with shirts I’ve earned from races. This does not even count the tech shirts from races that I have hanging in a closet.) This will all mean nothing to anyone after me.
(Gratuitous photo insertion.)
And consider my dead blog: Roundrock Journal. I kept that thing going for more than ten years, the first five years with a post every single day. Now it is lost (though I think you can find it through the Wayback Machine — I should try it myself). It existed and consumed a great deal of my creative self, and yet it is gone.
And so what is the point of this ramble? I’m not sure myself. I guess the ephemeral nature of existence or some such lofty thoughts. The traces we leave without even noticing? The accumulation of stuff?
Categories: Fathers and Sons
To my memory, I did something over the weekend that I have never done before.* I submitted one of my short stories to a contest. I even paid a fee ($10) to enter. Paying a fee for a submission was something I swore I would never do. (Of course I also never imagined myself entering and running marathons, so I guess there are no absolutes.)
The story I submitted is “A Tree Falls in the Forest,” which is one of my One-Match Fire pieces. I’ve read and re-read this story many times (is that tautological phrasing?), and I’m really satisfied with it. I’m more than satisfied; I’m pleased with it. I think it may be the best realized story I’ve ever written (but I’m trying to avoid making absolute statements any longer).
I’ve read some of the stories that the magazine has published, and I think my story seems to fit, though I never feel sure about these judgments. I feel so confident about my story, though, that I hesitated only a few days before submitting.
I know some writers enter every contest they can find. From what I can tell, many use their wins as marketing tools, to increase their brand and suchlike. (“Suchlike” is an actual word. Look it up!) That’s fine for them. And I suppose winning this or that famous (or not-so-famous) writing contest may increase the writer’s profile among readers and increase the writer’s marketability among publishers. I’ve never been concerned with my “brand” as a writer. I’m too shy to market myself. I am grateful a) that my story is as well done as I can make it, and b) that my story gets published at all. It’s much like my approach to running in organized races. I’m not out to win a medal for my age group. (I’ve only done that twice, and both were by default.) I’m satisfied to run the race as well as I can and to collect the finisher’s medal (that everyone gets who staggers across the line).
Still, along with the prize money for this literary contest, there is also a bronze medal. I could be pleased having that sitting on my desk.
*The more I’ve reflected about this the more I seem to recall having submitted something once before. I can’t be sure.