bits and pieces

Posted September 9, 2019 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic, Rants and ruminations, Uncategorized

This is a photo of a sort of landmark on my neighbor’s land out near my cabin. “If you come to the burned out truck, you missed the turn.” This was a working vehicle when it was parked. When we would come to our cabin, we would see it moved, so we knew he was using it for something. Then we found it looking like this. The story I heard later was that he was doing some controlled burning of the dry grass nearby and pretty much lost control of the fire. (You can see that this sits on a ridge top, thus wind.) So it sat like this for years but then one visit we saw that it was gone. I suppose it was worth something as scrap metal.

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I’ve gotten into a little flame war on Facebook about submission fees for journals. My position is that I will not pay to have my story considered for publication. (We’re all cautioned not to pay to have our novels published, so why should it be different for short stories?) When I see a call for submission that interests me, and I click the link, if I see that there is a submission fee that they “forgot” to include in the text of the call, I graciously add the fee in a comment below. And I’ve found I’m not the only one to do this. My submission-to-acceptance ratio is such that I can’t throw $3 (or as much as $25) in with each story I submit, even if they do pay for published stories.

Some editors have gotten feisty about this, writing at length about their cost of doing business, and I understand that, but I feel that they’re transferring this cost onto the submitter. I don’t make any money doing this either, so why should the funding onus fall on me?

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I was also a little feisty myself when I saw a different call for submission to a magazine I had submitted a story to several years ago. I had never received a response from the magazine, and I logged it as No Response in my tracker. Now I realize this is one way to manage the deluge of responses, but if so, it seems that the publication ought to say so. The same thing happened with a submission to the magazine a year ago. So when I saw their call, I added my comment that I’d never received a response. Factual, if a little embittered. The editor then responded to my comment with a profuse apology and noted that I was not the only one to raise such a concern. He said they are working hard to correct this. Then he sent me a personal message saying the same thing. That was nice, but it wasn’t really necessary.

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Sometimes I think writers are seen as merely commodity producers and revenue streams. (Note: I feel much this way when I go to the doctor.)

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I rode the 26+ mile Indian Creek/Blue River Trail on Saturday. Probably my best ride so far, not only because it was cool in the morning, but because my muscles and heart and lungs seem to be getting on board with the plan. (Just in time for cooler weather when I’ll put the bike away for the season.) On Sunday, I was struck down with a throat cold and wandered the house in a semi-conscious state, when I wasn’t napping. I don’t think the two are related, though I have no idea where I picked up the cold.

“Rollator” has found a home

Posted September 5, 2019 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Humble efforts, short stories

Tags: , ,

My story “Rollator” has been accepted by Falling Star Magazine. It will appear in the next print issue.

“Rollator” is a one-off; it’s not related to any of my other stories, and it’s meant to be comical as well as topical. The story was inspired in part by the drive I make to the park where I walk my dogs. Along the way, through white bread suburbia, there is one fine house that has a number of cars in the driveway and along the curb. I often see men and boys at work on these cars, and I recall that many years ago our suburban city had “outlawed” working on cars in your driveway. If you wanted to work on your car, it had to be done within your garage. A great cry was raised by reasonable people who said they were being denied what amounted to their hobby of being shade-tree mechanics. (I agreed with them, though I know nothing about engines, other than that my wife’s car now needs a new compressor!) So the law was reversed. (Still, it is illegal to create a gravel driveway in my community. If you already have one, it may remain, but any new or repaired driveway must be paved.)

So I would drive by this house and see this out-of-place pastime and wonder what the neighbors thought. On my own street, just down the block, there is a similar house with cars and car hobbyists, and the people living in it are the least pretentious, most salt-of-the-earth folk in the neighborhood.

Falling Star Magazine had a theme for the upcoming issue: intersections. Their suggestion was literal: what do you see across the street or at the busy intersection. My story worked well within that but also deals with the intersection of people and cultures and how finding the person within the culture is often necessary for some people to find commonality. My protagonist is a grumpy old man who gets around with the help of a fancy walker: a Rollator. He’s seen a lot of change in his neighborhood and he mostly doesn’t like it. Until one day . . .

Falling Star Magazine is a print publication, so I won’t be able to share a link when the story appears.

an overnight at the cabin

Posted September 4, 2019 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Roundrock

Tags:

After walking miles on Saturday morning at the zoo with my three-year-old grandson (and his parents and his infant baby sister), and then coming home and generally cooling off for a couple of hours, my wife, the dogs, and I decided to go to the cabin at Roundrock for an overnight. We didn’t leave until 4:00 in the afternoon, which, I think, is unprecedented for the lateness of our departure.

It was not our most productive visit to the cabin.

First of all, I know you’re thinking that you’ve already seen the photo above, and it’s true because you have. But in the month since my last visit (!) the wasps have been busy. Behold:

I think the work is done; there were no wasps working on this while we were there. Part of me wants to scrape all of that off of the cabin, but I’ve left a phoebe’s mud nest on the cabin (also under the porch roof) for years, and wasps are our friends. Still, I’m trying to arrange a power washer to clean the exterior of the cabin prior to re-staining it, and if I do, both of those mud structures will be gone.

My hope was to have a fire on Saturday evening to sit before and contemplate the universe and my sorry place in it, but when we turned off the paved road to bump along the two miles of gravel road to the cabin, we splashed through a bunch of puddles; rain had apparently fallen that very morning. If so, the kindling on the forest floor would be wet and might not catch no matter how much tinder I used. I had a copy of the local newspaper to use as my tinder, and since that resource is in good supply (and free), I wanted to see how well it worked.

I have built fires in twilight, but I wasn’t eager to do that this time, so once we got the truck unloaded, I began collecting kindling and crumpling the newspaper to serve as tinder. The kindling was wet, so I gave myself permission to use more than one match to get the evening fire going. I needn’t have bothered. The newspaper sheets burned quickly and were soon gone, and the smallest bit of kindling had the smallest orange flames licking on it as a result. They didn’t last long. The tinder was gone. The kindling was wet. My mood was dampened. So I didn’t try lighting the fire again. (Note to self: Brown paper bags make better tinder. They burn hotter and longer than newsprint.)

With no fire to sit around, and with far more than 12 hours already on my consciousness clock for the day, and with the sun setting behind the western ridge earlier than official sunset, we decided to retreat to the cabin for the evening. We had a new LED lantern we wanted to use (and promptly broke the older LED lantern). I sat at the table and made notes in my visit journal, and some notes for a story that was blossoming in my head all afternoon, and then retired early. Flike had gotten into my bed before me though and claimed pretty much the center of the space. Since there are still horseflies buzzing around, he’d had a bad afternoon, so I tried to ease into bed around him. His rapid panting soon subsided to gentle breathing, so I was glad of that.

I managed to sleep for nearly twelve hours. It’s a little indulgence I allow myself at the cabin (and it helps balance the rest of the time when I wake freakishly early). Then it was time to rise and see what might be done with the day. Outside the remains of my attempt at fire (above) reproached me. The air was cool — in the 60s — so a dip in the lake wasn’t going to happen. I thought about maybe cutting down a tree beside where I park the Prolechariot, but that never happened.

About all we did was make and eat breakfast (oatmeal, various fruits, coffee for my wife, tea for me, both iced and hot, both unsweetened) and sit around. She read while I continued making notes for that story. I would rise occasionally to throw a stick for Flike to chase and to make sure Queequeg hadn’t been carried off by a bobcat. But actual chores, like spreading more gravel or pulling weeds, or even wandering down to the dam to see how much worse the spillway had become, didn’t happen.

I think we only stayed long enuf for lunch because we had lunch to eat in the cooler. But once that was dispatched, we began the hour-long process of packing up and cleaning up so we could head back to faraway suburbia where there was indoor plumbing and hot showers.

random photo Tuesday

Posted August 27, 2019 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic, Uncategorized

Tags: , ,

There are several things you can see in this photo. One is a selection of books from my Philip Roth shelves. I understand The Plot Against America is being made into a film. American Pastoral, The Human Stain, and The Dying Animal have already been done.

Another thing to notice is the relatively fine finish of the table top. This is not a piece of fine furniture; that’s a veneer on top of particle board. But it no longer looks as nice. The grands have all made contributions to its “seasoning.”

The third thing is that Sisyphus bookend. I made that at a several-weekends class at the nearby community college. I’m sure you know the story of Sisyphus from your general knowledge of Greek mythology and/or your familiarity with the writings of Albert Camus. (Right?) I created the form out of wax then dipped it repeatedly in the slurry that then dries and forms a shell around it. The wax is melted out of the shell, and the shell is filled with the molten brass. Then it’s a simple (and satisfying) matter of shattering the shell with a hammer to reveal the work of art within.

Were I to do this again — and I had wanted to make a pair of bookends at the time — I would probably just cast Sisyphus and then attach his hands to one of my round rocks. As a hobby, bronze casting is not cheap.

“Three Small Words” is now live

Posted August 26, 2019 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Fathers and Sons, short stories

Tags: ,

My story “Three Small Words” came up over the weekend at Adelaide Literary Magazine.

This story takes place long after the events in One-Match Fire, but it involves many of those same characters. In fact, this story occurs just one week before the events in my story “Forest Succession” in Heartwood. A pair of heartbreakers.

So “Three Small Words” is perhaps the best example of my use (overuse? misuse? abuse?) of the rhetorical device known as omne trium perfectum. I’ve mused about this here. The story’s title probably triggered a willful attempt to have various “threes” appear in it, but I don’t really remember one way or the other. (Or even a third.) Also, the call of the whippoorwill that recurs in the novel One-Match Fire is three notes, which the characters sometimes let stand in place of three small words they don’t say to each other often enuf. So, continuity.

Should I ever write enuf of these post-One-Match Fire stories, I will collect them with the overall title Nature Always Wins. (I’m even occasionally working on one called “Omne Trium Perfectum.”) It’s certainly thematic of these latter stories, and the term comes up once or twice in the former.

At the end of the story in Adelaide Literary Magazine my standard, self-deprecating bio appears as well as what may be a photo of myself. If so, it’s an old photo when I may have sported facial hair.

Though I knew the story was going to appear in mid-August, it was nice to see it come up when it did. I received two rejections last week. Both were for long-shot, random submissions, but somehow my skin in never thick enuf.

bits and pieces

Posted August 19, 2019 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic, Rants and ruminations

I finished reading that collection of short stories, Jesus’ Son, by Denis Johnson. And even though most of the stories were published in places like The New Yorker, Esquire, and The Paris Review, I just don’t get what’s appealing (or even well done) about them. Guess my stuff will never appear on those pages. (I seem to be okay with that.)

Now I’m re-reading Bruno’s Dream by Iris Murdoch. Altogether different kind of story telling.

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I also finished a first draft of the story of the man wandering in the woods and touching on many of the points of the hero’s journey (which I wrote about a little bit here). It’s nearly 4,000 words! I don’t think this writing approach worked for me. About half way through I disregarded whatever the next step of the hero’s journey was according to the scholars and just wrote in the direction the story was taking itself. If the second half does happen to line up with the HJ, then it was not done so consciously. (I seem to be okay with that, too.)


The photo above is the last known image of Peregrine. Peregrine was a log — about four feet long — that floated around my lake for years. It was part of a burn pile of trees removed from the valley (to make way for the lake), and it didn’t burn fully. When the lake filled, Peregrine floated to the surface and then just seemed to wander around the lake. Each time we visited, we’d seek it, and while it was often by the spillways, it was just as often at the other end of the lake. Some times it was high and dry when the leaking lake water receded, and then it would be moved when a storm recharged the lake.

Peregrine wandered this way for years, but I noticed that after a while it was floating lower in the water. Then, on one visit, I could no longer find it. That was years ago. I suspect that it got sufficiently water logged that it could sink. So it’s possible Peregrine is still in the lake, on the bottom.

Peregrine got its name from a sort of contest I held on my old blog. Readers suggested names, and this name came from someone in a place called Alabama (I know, it sounds made up). She said it was suited to the log’s wandering nature, and I agreed. (My truck, Prolechariot, was also named this way.)

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When I was a boy and even a young man, I loved violent storms. I loved to watch the sky light up and hear the crash and roll of thunder. I enjoyed seeing the branches of the tall trees getting whipped around by the strong winds. I suppose it was an early appreciation of forces greater than I am.

These days, not so much. I’ve noticed my appreciation of a good storm has diminished over my decades of being a homeowner. My house is near the top of a hill, so while I don’t have the basement flooding that many of my friends do (including my son whose first floor is partially below ground level), the high situation seems to subject my house to more of the force of the storm. In recent years I’ve spent nearly $10,000 on a series of sometimes ineffective roof repairs. And though this last time seems to have finally fixed the problem of the leaking skylight (by removing it altogether), I still listen for dripping water in that room, even during a light drizzle, and I still have to do something about the stained ceiling in there.

Plus my poor dog, Flike, is terrified of thunder (and flies). He cowers in the shower stall of our master bathroom at the slightest rumble (which has included our neighbor two doors down throttling the engine of his motorcycle). Friends have suggested Benadryl and thunder vests, but as soon as the thunder stops, he’s back to his ten-year-old puppy self.

short story collections

Posted August 15, 2019 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Reviews and Responses

Tags: ,

There’s something about reading short story collections that just doesn’t work for me.

I’m currently halfway through Denis Johnson’s collection Jesus’ Son, and I’m not enjoying it. Johnson is pretty much known for this particular work, and it received praise from high quarters. I acknowledge that I’m probably missing something, that my poor mind isn’t catching some nuance or insight, and that’s fine. Everyone has their interests, and his subject/style apparently isn’t for me.

But I wonder if I tried one of his novels I might feel differently. Sure, the characters in his short stories are mostly “low lifes,” living on the edge of society and not making very bright decisions (though I don’t have trouble with those same kinds of characters in Willy Vlautin’s novels), but it’s hard (for me) to build up any kind of interest or investment in these characters before the story is finished and it’s on to the next one. And I think that’s due to the short story-nature of the collection. Any one of the stories, read in isolation, might stand better for me, but grouped as they are, something happens or doesn’t happen.

Sitting abandoned on my reading shelf is a collection of Raymond Carver short stories. I could only get about halfway through it before I had to set it aside. (Johnson’s characters are a lot like Carver’s.) And before that I had to set aside a collection of Grace Paley’s short stories. And at my cabin I have a collection of Dorothy Parker’s works that I haven’t been able to soldier my way through.

There seems to be a pattern here.