omne trium perfectum

Posted January 30, 2019 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Process, Toolbox


Like a dog worrying an old sock, I sometimes just can’t let go of an idea. That can be a good thing, of course, or it may be a bad thing, or it may just be an inconsequential thing.

I mentioned in this recent post about what I believed was the genesis of my use of “threes” in my writing. I’m reading a Joseph Conrad novel now — a rippin’ yarn about a sailing crew on a long and dangerous journey that carries some implied and overt lessons about racism, including Conrad’s own perhaps — which makes me think about those “threes” again.*

And it turns out that use of threes is actually commonplace as a rhetorical device. This Wikipedia entry goes into some detail (with the added links) about not only the device in its various forms but examples of it across ages and cultures.

I don’t know if knowing this is humbling or exalting for my ego and writing aspirations. I like to think that I came by it honestly, that I absorbed it by osmosis from reading or that it is part of human hardwiring. But as I’ve said here many times, I don’t really want to know too much about my creative process lest I slay it with consciousness. I suspect that I’m going to be extra aware in the weeks and months ahead, either deliberately choosing to use the device or questioning/doubting when I do so unconsciously and then recognize it later. (And I realize that with these kinds of things, less is generally more. More or less.)

Also, I wonder if this is the reason I am a strong advocate of the Oxford comma.


*This copy of the novel has about forty pages of foreword and analysis about the novel and Conrad’s writing in general, including a reference (maybe even a gibe) to his use of threes.

Also, the title of this post is supposed to be set in italics, and I have used the proper HTML to do that, but it keeps getting dropped.


sez who?

Posted January 28, 2019 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Rants and ruminations

Tags: ,

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?


Posted January 21, 2019 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic, Reviews and Responses

I have more books than time, which is a pretty good problem to have, I think. It’s a rare week for me that I don’t find myself at least once in a bookstore. Most commonly Half Price Books, near-ish to my home or the one farther away that tends to have the mix of books that better interest me.* Prospero’s, which I’ve written about here before. Rainy Day, our sole independent bookstore in Kansas City (general, not genre specific because there are a few of those as well). In a pinch, even the Barnes & Noble at the mall. Of course, any trip by air (say to Disneyworld) requires at least one new book and a back up, which is a perfect excuse to head out to add to the pile.

So my to-be-read pile generally accumulates faster than I can diminish it. As I write this, here is what I have — not necessarily in the order I will read them — in my TBR pile:

  • The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury
  • Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You by Peter Cameron
  • The Day That Went Missing by Richard Beard – I won this in an online contest I had forgotten I’d even entered.
  • The Round House by Louise Erdrich
  • The Nigger of the ‘Narcissus’ by Joseph Conrad
  • The Risk Pool by Richard Russo
  • Northline by Willie Vlautin
  • Go Down, Moses by William Faulkner (read once before)
  • Living to Tell the Tale by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I also have The Collected Stories of Grace Paley that I got about halfway through and set aside. I mean to return to it. Someday. Maybe. Same with Where I’m Calling From by Raymond Carver. Everyone moons about his short stories, but it just doesn’t happen for me. Out at the cabin I have The Complete Dorothy Parker, which I’ve been picking at.

I’ll certainly add to the pile in the days and weeks ahead, and I’ll supplement with books borrowed from the (socialist) public library.

There are more, of course. My house is filled with books, and nearly every room has some. Most of these I’ve not read, and so I may pick up one or two eventually. Others I dip into, such as the many books of Iris Murdoch lit crit on the sagging shelf in my writing room.

Right now I’m reading A Home at the End of the World by Michael Cunningham, whom I’ve gushed about here before. This was in the TBR, waiting for the right moment (partly just being long enuf since the last Cunningham novel I read) and it came recently. I just finished the novel Remember Me Like This by Bret Anthony Johnston. The writing in it is precise and correct, the images only occasionally seeming forced, but it felt lifeless. Soulless. More like an exercise in fiction than story telling. I needed a “rescue read” after I finished it, which is why I picked Cunningham from the pile.


*My neighbor works for Half Price Books, and I asked him once if they shuffle titles between stores to get the right blend for their neighborhoods. He said they did not and that for the most part, the store presents whatever the people in the neighborhood bring to it for trade or cash. So I guess I live in the wrong neighborhood.

smile in the sky ~ Skywatch Friday

Posted January 18, 2019 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic


Of course I might see something like this at the Happiest Place on Earth. I captured this image just as the skywriting was beginning, but the plane went on to write more text after it. I wasn’t able to see it again until too late, when the wind had obliterated whatever it had said.

Go to Skywatch Friday!

writing in wonderland

Posted January 17, 2019 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic


As you can see, I had it rough last week in Wonderland. My half hope was that the upset in my routine might spark a burst of writing. This has happened during other trips I have taken.

Not so this visit. The room my wife and I had was fine (though a long walk from anywhere, and all we seemed to do last week was walk), but rising early and attempting to sit before the laptop to make the magic happen was unsuccessful. In fact, after the first couple of days of walking (did I mention that?) I no longer rose early at all. Just early enuf to get showered and dressed in time to eat some (costly) breakfast then queue up for the bus to take us all somewhere else to do more walking. So very tired.

I did manage to make a lot of notes for revelations I had about the various stories I’m working on. I had brought a small notebook and mechanical pencil (that I feared would be confiscated by the security people at the airport) for this purpose. (I do something similar at work, though without the security worries.)

Once I was home again — having cleverly taken off one more day from work so I could relax after my vacation — I transcribed my notes to my stories as best I could, and I’ve managed to finish another one of them. I may have rushed the end, but maybe not. I’ll let it simmer for a while.

So, back to the routine where I hope I will return to my recent writing ways, which have been productive.

where elsewhere was

Posted January 16, 2019 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic


On Saturday reports began to reach me of a monster snow storm in my part of the county (specifically Kansas City, but reaching all the way to the Atlantic if all of the breathless weather reports could be credited). (Also, apparently they’re naming snowstorms now?) I was not there and could only chuckle at the misfortune my neighbors were facing. Where I was, the temperature reached 80 degrees on Saturday, which was a hardship for me since I was doing (what seemed like and may have even been) miles and miles of walking in the hot sun. Poor me.

It seems that my personal odometer turned over a significant number last year and my children decided to send all of us (10 adults and six children under four) on a great trip to the sub-tropics. We spent six days there (plus a travel day fore and aft), frolicking with the grands and spending money on overpriced trinkets with ease and carelessness. I think it was the first time all of my children and their spouses and children were in the same place at the same time.*

I am not allowed to know how much money was spent on this great adventure, but I can tell you that the incidentals I picked up — occasional meals, treats, toys, photos — reached four digits (plus two digits after the decimal point)! (They give you this wrist band that is tied to your credit card, and you just wave the band before a chip reader to make a purchase. Ingenious. Evil, but ingenious.)

There was plenty to see and do, much of it suited to toddlers and some of it suited to moms and dads who had grandparents at hand to watch the toddlers. We didn’t do it all — a week is not nearly enuf time — but we did a good deal of it, some of it over and over.

There was also a series of running events for the time we were there, beginning with a 5K on Thursday, a 10K on Friday, a half marathon on Saturday (which my son and daughter did, pausing every half mile for a photo with this or that character), and a full marathon on Sunday. When this whole this was organized nearly a year ago, there was some thought that my running hiatus was going to be short lived and that by the time this trip came around, I would be ready/willing/able to trot in at least a couple of the races. I did not. (But what seemed like and may have even been miles and miles of walking left my legs aching each night; they’re still sore now.)

We stayed out for long days and long miles that stretched into the dark on at least a couple of occasions. (Past the bedtime of all of the toddlers and at least one of the grandparents.) In the dark we saw things like this:

Confession time: I had spent my whole life avoiding this place. It always seemed commercial and a little cheesy and beyond the pale. We never planned a family vacation here, and when my daughter did manage to find herself there (in love with a boy whose family visited often — she married that boy and now their boy has been to the resort at least twice in his four years) I looked the other way and bit my tongue.

But then I got there and experienced it all first hand. And while it is all of those things, it is also much more. It really does deliver family-quality entertainment. It was clean and efficient and completely G rated. The kids were constantly entertained, sometimes so much that they went into melt down mode, but it doesn’t really take much with a toddler.

So if there is talk of another trip next year where this old runner might actually lace up for some of those races . . . well . . .


*There was one hiccup. My grandson Emmett, who lives fairly close to me and whom I get to see regularly, was so excited about his trip to Disneyworld that he was scampering about and tripped, bonking his forehead on a concrete pillar at the airport in Kansas City. His forehead swole and bruised, and of course he was screaming, so his parents had the airport medical team rush to our gate — about fifteen minutes before we were to start boarding — to examine him. They took him outside to the ambulance to take his vitals, and in the end, his parents took him to the emergency room where he was deemed fine but probably not suited to travel that day. They scrambled with the airline and got a flight out the next day, joining us a day late, but with a little 2.5 year old once again full of the enthusiasm and excitement requisite for the Happiest Place on Earth.

please stand by

Posted January 14, 2019 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic

I am elsewhere right now, but I will return, with a tale to tell (maybe . . . I’m kind of shy and private, but if you had given me your address, I would have sent you a postcard).