Friday Feature ~ “Time Heals All”

Posted July 1, 2022 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Friday Feature

Tags: , , ,

“Time Heals All” was a story I had been shopping around for some time before it found a home at Temporal Element Anthology in April of 2013. According to the story’s record at Duotrope, I had submitted it 11 times before it was accepted. I don’t consider that a huge number, and I think its rejections had more to do with me sending it to unsuitable markets than any deficiency in the story itself. In any case, the print anthology Temporal Element snapped it up and then interviewed me a little later. The editor also paid me 15 cents for my story. He sent me a Buffalo nickel and a Liberty dime, which I thought was a pretty cool way to pay someone when you have a limited budget.

This story was strongly influenced by a story I’d read by Isaac Asimov, which had a similar shaggy dog-ish ending to what I used. Basically two workers in a science fictional universe (nurses in my story) go about their business and seem to move the plot forward, but it is only in the last sentence that the reader — and the one character who hadn’t read the brief on their job — learns what the real story is.

You can read the story here.

a recent visit to Roundrock

Posted June 28, 2022 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Roundrock

Tags: ,

Though the temps have been miserably high for mid-June in my part of the country, last Sunday was much more seasonable, and Libby and I decided to dash down to Roundrock for the day to enjoy our little bit of forest on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks. We passed through a little rain on the way there, so the forest was wet when we drove in (on our nicely solid, recently re-graveled road through the trees). We had talked about maybe having a fire in the ring, but the wet kindling would have made that a challenge, and inertia made it impossible, so we didn’t.

We had no agenda for the day. I wanted to cut the grass below the cabin leading to the lake, since my New York grands will be coming next month, and it’s likely they’ll want to try fishing since we’ve recently pulled some lunkers out of the lake (though I worry that the lunkers may pull my grands into the lake). That involved firing up my cantankerous weed whipper, so I put that off for as long as I could. But the day progressed, and the sun was beginning to peak out of the clouds, which would make the shoreline work hot, so I finally got my gear together and got started. It’s now my policy to buy power tools that are made in America so that I can use English swear words when I’m trying to start them. I aired a lot of English as I tried and tried to get my weed whipper going. It eventually happened, and I made my way down the hill to the lake where I attacked the mix of grasses and scrub. But the engine died a number of times as I worked, and I only got about half of the work done before it died and would not start again. I called it good and retreated to the shade of the cabin porch.

I had put off cutting this grass on previous visits in part because the daisies were blooming there and I didn’t want to mow them down. But I also wanted to cut the grass and scrub as close to July as I could so it would have less time to grow tall again before the grands arrived. About halfway up the hill to the cabin these beauties were blooming, and I’m glad the whipper’s engine gave out before I got to this point.

In my old blog, Roundrock Journal, I used to identify these plants by using several trusty references. But now I just take them as they come. A pretty white flower tower. That seems sufficient.

So we sat in the comfy chairs on the shady porch overlooking the sparkling lake and ate our lunch of salad and cheese and crackers. (We might have had chicken sandwiches if I’d gotten a fire going, but that didn’t happen.) I drank my iced tea (unsweetened, of course). And we watched the lake. A few turtles were surfacing on the water to get a breath of air before diving to the bottom again. A few times a hunting bass created ripples as it struck at an insect on the water. The dragonflies patrolled the surface, eating plenty of mosquitos, I hope. The turkey vultures circled over our south ridge. But the beavers never made an appearance. They’d done more work on their lodge, including packing the sticks with mud, because a nice crop of grass was growing on it.

We did take a hike onto the dam, in part to check on the repaired spillway. It’s in good shape, but it doesn’t look as though we’ve had any rains strong enuf to put it to use. The dam was thick with tall grasses, and we waded about three quarters of the way across, as far as the overflow drain. It was still free of sticks and debris since my last visit when I cleaned it. That also tells me we haven’t had a strong rain in a while. The grass beyond this point was too dense for our tick-avoiding selves, so we turned around and hiked back to the cabin. Even though it wasn’t excessively hot, it was more pleasant in the shade, so we retreated to the porch again.

I’m not sure how long we sat there, but the clouds had begun massing again and I feared a storm was coming (there was a small chance of it in the forecast), so we began packing up to leave. If the storm came, it was after we left, for we drove home in strong sunlight.

I’m not sure what the grands’ schedules are for July, so I don’t know when we’ll all be coming down again, but I think I can probably squeeze one more solo trip down there to tidy up for their visit. Always something to be done in my forest.

a change in plans is the thing with feathers

Posted June 24, 2022 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic

So we (currently) have four curb trees in front of our house. Two are large lindens and two are squat whitebuds (redbuds with white flowers). Their branches hang over the street, and when the delivery trucks fly by, I generally have some snapped off branches to clean out of the street.

The whitebuds are the the greater problem. They are squat and misshapen, and because there is a large maple to their south, most of their branches reach to the north, over the street, to get sunlight. Since they are short, they tend to be struck by the delivery trucks more often.

And as happens when you live with other humans, someone complained to the city about this. I received an official notice that I had to correct the problem — shearing any branches lower than 13 feet over the road and 10 feet over the sidewalk — or face a fine. I spoke to the city forester (who knew we had an official forester?) and promised to get the matter resolved as soon as I could.

I got bids for the work (as well as some tidying up in my back yard), but the tree service said they were 8-9 weeks out. I was supposed to get the matter resolved within 10 days of the letter, but my call to the forester bought me some time.

As long-time readers of this blog (both of you) know, I have a chainsaw that I use frequently in my patch of Ozark forest. It struck me that rather than pay $300 to have the two whitebuds removed, I could do the job myself. (The lindens would still need the tree service.) I’ve certainly brought down much larger trees than these, and their major branching begins at convenient shoulder height, so I didn’t expect any great challenge getting this work done myself.

The daytime temperatures have been miserable, so I decided to limit myself to working on them bit by bit in the mornings. Select and cut away the worst offending branch then chop it into little pieces that I could stuff in lawn bags to be collected at the curb. And so it was happening until I ran into a problem.

Once I’d cleared enuf lower branches, I could see a nest farther up in one of the whitebuds. And as I looked more closely, I could see a bird sitting on the nest. It turns out that a mourning dove is sitting on a clutch of eggs in a doomed whitebud tree.

Work came to a halt as I assessed my willingness to pretty much destroy the nest and eggs. The assessment didn’t take long. Because I (think I) have a grace period with the city, my plan is to let the eggs hatch and the nestlings fledge. I don’t know how long the eggs have been there, but typical mourning dove brooding time in 14 days. I don’t know how long until the hatchlings are ready to leave the nest.

So there is the other whitebud tree I can fully remove. And there are many other branches in the nesting tree I can remove without disturbing the bird on the eggs. I think it’s going to look strange to have a trunk with only one branch on it for a while, but that’s my plan.

bits and pieces

Posted June 16, 2022 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic, Roundrock

Tags:

Those cool, wet days of spring that I mentioned in a recent post are gone. They’ve been replaced by heat reaching the triple digits in the afternoon and blue skies without a drop of rain in them. We removed two ash trees from our backyard last year, so more sun gets to the area. That’s been good for the grass, but the impatiens in the raised bed around the cypress are in for a scorching summer. I had anticipated this and did what I could to prepare the bed this year. I mixed a lot of peat into the soil before planting. My hope was that it would help retain water so the impatiens wouldn’t dry out as quickly. And once I planted them, I spread mulch around them with the hope it will help cool the soil from the sun and maybe reduce the evaporation from the ground. Just this week I bought a new hose so I could more effectively hand-water them (supplementing the impact sprinkler in the yard). I expect August to be the real test.

__________

That photo above is of a spiderwort that was blooming by my repaired spillway at Roundrock. An added surprise is that green insect crawling on it. Somehow I managed to take a decent picture of it. But here’s a rule of thumb: any time you want to create a breeze, just try taking a photograph of a flower.

__________

And speaking of Roundrock, the lake has been there for nearly as long as we’ve been stomping around that little bit of forest of the edge of the Missouri Ozarks. Probably about fifteen years. We never officially stocked it, though in the early years we did see little fish in the shallows. They were probably delivered as sticky eggs on the feet of wading birds. (We also have a small pond higher up in the lake’s watershed that has some fish, though the journey for a fish from there to the lake would be a long one and would only happen in a huge rainstorm.) For a couple of seasons, we would stop by a friend’s farm on the way down to fish one of his overstocked ponds, taking what few fish we caught in large buckets the rest of the hundred miles to our lake and pouring them in with good wishes.

But in all of that time, we never fished our lake. What swam beneath the surface, we did not know. We swam in it, but didn’t have any encounters. And then the beavers moved in, and we stopped swimming in it. We could occasionally see some fish patrolling the shallow water near the shore if we stood silently and the sun was right and the gods were smiling.

Then, on a whim last visit, Libby said she wanted to try fishing. I had a little bit of tackle tucked into the corner of the cabin, but I think the last time I used it was fishing my friend’s pond a decade ago. I carried the pole (with a reel I had to re-assemble a little and a tiny lure that looked dried out and sad) down the hill before the cabin and tried a cast as Libby was coming down the hill behind me. The reel wasn’t really interested in cooperating, and I don’t think I had enuf weight on the end of the line, so my cast didn’t go more than ten feet from the shore.

And I almost instantly got a hit! It was a fighter, too. Libby was still coming down the hill as I reeled in what turned out to be some kind of sunfish of edible size. (I took a photo of it, but it came out blurry. Sorry.) Well, we weren’t in eating mode, so I wanted to release the fish as soon as I could. I’d had some practice with this when I caught bass during my callow youth, but this sunfish had a much smaller mouth than a bass, so I had some trouble getting the hook out. I did eventually, but I’m pretty sure that poor fish had a sore mouth for a while. Libby was at my side, giving me guidance.

So I cast again, thinking it was purest chance that I got a strike right away. And I got another strike by another big fish. It fought as I reeled it in, and it turned out to be a bass of keeper size if I were a fisherman (rather than a dilettante). I was determined to get a good photo of this one, but the bass jumped off the hook and fell into the dusty grass at my feet, flopping around and perhaps considering great existential questions. I managed to usher it back into the water, and I suppose it had a story to tell just like the sunfish I caught.

Then it was Libby’s turn to cast. On her third try, she got a strike as well! Hers turned out to be another bass, even larger than the one I had pulled in. I managed to get a somewhat decent photo of this beast:

With no scale and no ruler, I can’t tell you how big these bass were, but they were big enuf to fuel my imagination that my old lake is packed with lunkers just waiting for the right gear and patience to find them. (Or not. It is kind of cruel to do this to a fish if you’re not intending on eating it.) In all, we pulled out three keepers on seven casts.

So I think about the grands coming for their annual visit next month. I have enuf old poles that I could affix some static lines with some bobbers and hotdogs for bait that they could fool around with. But if they got a strike at all like the ones Libby and I got, I’m pretty sure the rods would get yanked out of their hands and disappear in the tea-colored water. So I need to think on that.

__________

Not that I’m counting, but so far this year I’ve had six stories accepted by lit mags (and two reprints). One is a story I had written thirteen years ago that got rejected 25 times! That’s a record for me (the six acceptances, but also the 25 rejections). I told Libby the other day that if I had worked as hard at anything else in my life as I have been about my writing ambitions lately, I could probably offer to buy Twitter for $45 billion.

__________

Here’s a bit of my undergraduate years, consigned to the fire:

the momentum continues ~ my story “The Travelers at Rest” has found a home

Posted June 13, 2022 by Paul Lamb
Categories: short stories

Tags:

I learned yesterday evening that my story “The Travelers at Rest” has been accepted at WayWords Literary Journal for its upcoming issue 7, projected for a mid-July release. I had submitted my story back in January for their “Vacation” themed issue.

Duotrope lists this publication as having both an online and print version, but I can’t see any online access to their prior issues, so I’m not sure if I’ll be able to give you a link. (I think the “electronic” status is a Kindle version of the issue.)

The acceptance letter stated that there would be (might be?) some edits coming. I doubt they’ll be anything I can’t agree with or at least provide a solid argument against.

This is an older story of mine. I had started it in 2009 and just kept tinkering with it. According to my records in Duotrope, I’d submitted this 26 times. Someone else might take that many rejections as a sign that the story just wasn’t any good, but I was always sure of this piece, and my experience has told me that success in this business is due as much to good timing/perseverance as it is to talent. So, after 13 years of effort, this little 1,890-word story has found its home.

The story was built on a phenomenon I’ve noticed a few times in my life when I’ve been traveling. I sometimes run into people I know at the most unlikely places, far from home. And usually they are people I’d just a soon not have run into. My story begins with this, and gives a few colorful examples, but then it transitions to something much better. One reading of this story could even find a supernatural element to it.

So, June has been a good month for me so far.

and then this happened ~ Floyd County Moonshine

Posted June 10, 2022 by Paul Lamb
Categories: short stories

Tags:

Way back in April, I mentioned that one of my stories, “The Retreat of the City Folk,” had been accepted by Floyd County Moonshine, an Appalachian journal that called for “local color” stories. I submitted my story and received an acceptance the very next day, which was nice.

At the time, the editor said my story would appear in the September issue, but last week he wrote to me saying they could fit my story into the June issue, which you see above. My contributor copy arrived in the mail yesterday.*

As I said in that earlier post, this bit of fiction is based on an actual incident my wife and I faced at some rural property we owned prior to Roundrock. I compressed the timeline and adjusted the parties involved, but the issue it speaks about — timber trespass — is a serious problem in rural forests. We fared better than the characters in my story, but not much better.

So far, June has been a busy month for my creative life. I’m hoping to keep the momentum.

__________

*My story begins on page 82 of the journal. I don’t think I’ve ever had a story appear in the first half of any print journal yet, so that’s still my ambition.

my story “Memento Mori” has found a home

Posted June 7, 2022 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Fathers and Sons, Humble efforts, short stories, Uncategorized

Tags: ,

As I was preparing yesterday’s post about “A System Reboot” being accepted at a lit mag, I received an email letting me know that my story “Memento Mori” has as well! “Memento Mori” will appear in the “This is the End” themed issue of Cape Magazine. It is my understanding that the issue will come online this month. When it does, I’ll post a link.

This is an interesting story for me. It’s essentially my rewrite of Hemingway’s “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” (though mine is in a dark and dirty place, and I have a different ending — also, thanks, Pete, for the link to your version). I explained this when I made the submission, though I have no idea whether that affected the approval decision. And although it stands on its own and makes no reference to it, the story is part of my One-Match Fire universe.

I had conceived a series of stories revolving around a single incident and how this incident would ripple through the lives of people connected to it, even tangentially. In a different story (“First, Do No Harm,” which I’m shopping around vigorously) two of my OMF characters happen upon the incident and react as their characters would. “Memento Mori” is the incident itself.

I found myself so giddy after receiving two acceptances in a matter of minutes that I continued to check my email repeatedly through the day to see if there were any more! (Alas, no!)

my story “A System Reboot” has found a home

Posted June 6, 2022 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Humble efforts, short stories

Tags:

I learned over the weekend that my story “A System Reboot” has been accepted by OpenDoor Magazine for its upcoming Mental Health issue. It should be coming out online later this month. When it does, I’ll post a link.

This is perhaps the most unique story I have written. It is about an incidence of transient global amnesia that serendipitously happened on the day before inauguration in 2021. My protagonist temporarily lost her memory for a day due to an accumulation of stress that had peaked that morning. (Among the stress was the dread of what might still happen in the last few hours that the Orange Man was still in office.) Her memory returns — her system reboots — on Inauguration Day, just as the nation is rebooting and leaving a trauma behind.

Such a fine, metaphorical coincidence might seem too pat, too opportune to be allowed. Except that it really did happen that way! And it really did happen to me and my wife! She had an episode of TGA on the day before the inauguration. It was scary for a while, because I feared she was having a stroke. Once that was ruled out, and the “benign” diagnosis of TGA was given, the day became fun in a way. She kept asking me the same questions every twenty minutes, having forgotten that she’d just asked them. Essentially, she lost the ability to make short-term memories for a day, and her long-term memory was clouded for a time. She didn’t know we had grandchildren, didn’t know that our own children were married, didn’t even recognize her iPhone. Most comical of all, she thought that Ronald Reagan was president. I think that was the most merciful aspect of her affliction: she didn’t know who the actual president was at the time.

She was fully recovered by the next day, though she has no memories of the actual event. I began writing this story merely to give her an account of what happened. Then I modified it into a piece of fiction, and now it will be published.

bits and pieces

Posted June 2, 2022 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic

Although we had some 90-degree days in April, spring around here has been cool and wet for the most part. Flowers are robustly blooming everywhere, and my scandalous lawn is currently thick and green. (Come back in August and we’ll reassess.) One consequence of last summer that lingers is the huge harvest of cones from the cypress tree in my back yard. The dogs continue to bring shattered remnants into the house (it’s like stepping on a tiny, sharp Lego), we sweep shards by the thousands off our porch and walks, and miniature cypress trees are sprouting in the flower beds. In years past, a bountiful cone season has been followed by a year or two of no cones from the tree, and that’s what I’m hoping for this year.

__________

June is opening day at many lit mags and publishers, at least in terms of reading/submission periods. The month has barely begun, and I’ve already made more submissions than I might normally make in an entire month. I’m hoping one or two find a home.

One of my submissions was to a contest that had a 5,000-word maximum limit. The story I had that I thought most suited was 6,000 words. I spent three days trimming the fat from the story. There were several instances where I needed to word the text more concisely, others where I was repetitive or indulgent. But even with those trimmings, I’d only dropped about 250 words. Determined, I began looking for more substantive edits, removing solid bits of enhancement to leave behind only the basic story. Many conversations got shortened. Images and some sensory details were removed (my protagonist was taking many walks around her neighborhood). Some development of minor characters — nice but not necessary — got dropped. In the end I got the story below 5,000 words and made the submission. Fingers crossed.

__________

Speaking of rejections, I received a detailed rejection for Obelus from one publisher. Specific mention was made of what parts they liked/thought worked, but their reason for declining it was vague to me. Still, it was nice, as rejections go.

__________

Here are the books I read in May:

The Atmospherians by Alex McElroy – One of the first things I did when I got to New York in April was go to the bookstore near my daughter’s house to buy a book. I’m happy to support any indie bookstore. This was the book I bought. It’s a tale well told, but it took me a while to get into it. It’s about a pair of people who set up a sort of commune to help men rid themselves of toxic masculinity. Like most well-intentioned endeavors, it takes on a life of its own.

The Luxury of Exile by Louis Buss – I picked this one up at the used bookstore here in town to take with me to New York (in case I couldn’t find anything while there). I ended up reading this one after I got home. It’s about a shady antiques dealer/bookstore owner who goes on a quest to find Byron’s lost memoir. In some ways this is like my novel Obelus. Along the way, the protagonist learns a lot about himself.

Such Good Work by Johannes Lichtman – A roaming-the-library-stacks find, this one is about a recovering addict who finds purpose serving refugee families in Sweden. It felt like two books to me. The first half is nearly all about the man’s fight to not relapse, and I suppose that’s important to contrast with the person he becomes, but it seemed overdone to me.

The Wrong End of the Telescope by Rabih Alameddine – I’ve been devouring Alameddine’s novels since I first crossed paths with his An Unnecessary Woman several years ago. This did not disappoint. The novel tells the stories of two strong women whose worlds intersect at a refugee camp on the island Lesbos. One is a refugee from her family, the other from the horrors in Syria. It also has a nice metafictional touch that I liked because the protagonist speaks directly to (and about) the author.

__________

Here’s a picture for Throwback Thursday:

__________

That picture was taken when I was on an epic road trip with my grandparents from their home in western Kentucky to the Outer Banks of the Carolinas. We stopped at some formal garden along the way, which probably didn’t have much appeal for the boy I was then.

One thing I do remember from the trip was that while we were in some random store, I saw some books on a spinner rack and picked out The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester. I’m sure I just wanted something to help me pass the long hours in the car, but it was a good choice. That novel is one of the classics of science fiction. I remember my grandparents’ house having a room full of books of all kinds, so I doubt they minded spending a few dollars on a book for me at the time.

my story “Salvage” has found a home

Posted May 31, 2022 by Paul Lamb
Categories: short stories

Tags:

I learned over the weekend that my (mildly) speculative fiction story “Salvage” has been accepted for a new anthology that will appear sometime around the end of the summer.

I had responded to a Facebook call specific to the anthology, and since it’s a new publication, it isn’t listed in any of my usual resources (Duotrope, Poets & Writers), I pretty much submitted blindly. The editor responded a week later, apologizing for having taken so long. He wanted to know if I would be up for some minor edits, and if so, he wanted to include my story in the anthology. And so it will happen. (Haven’t seen the proposed edits yet.)

I don’t think the anthology has a name so far, but it is being published by the House Publishing House. “House” is the surname of the editor/publisher.

“Salvage” is an interesting story, or the story behind the story is. I’ve been slowly reading through my old journals, looking for ancient gems I’d forgotten about. Mostly I haven’t found any, but the basic story for “Salvage” was one that I did find. It was in one of my earliest journals. I’m not sure why I didn’t try writing it then, but I’m glad I rediscovered it.

The anthology will come out sometime around the end of the summer. I’ll make some noise about it then too.