unburdened (a tiny bit)

Posted January 23, 2017 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic



So the point of the original fire sermon is that we are burning with desire for our sensory lives and that if we can unburden ourselves of these appetites, we can better achieve nirvana. At least according to my understanding of the Buddha’s teachings. (Thank you, Wikipedia! But isn’t desiring to achieve nirvana a, well, desire?)

In my story of the same name one of the characters is unburdening himself of many old and no-longer-needed possessions, literally burning them in a fire. (One of them just happens to be an old peach crate. He probably kept vinyl records in it at one time.) The other character unburdens himself of some gripes about his life while sitting around that fire. (He also unburdens himself of a lot of beer.) The inability to listen, to heed one of the senses, also plays into the story. You can see I am conflicted about this whole freeing yourself of your senses business.

And all of that.

I have a rolling file cart in my little office at home where I keep “important papers,” but lately I’ve thought I need to unburden myself of a lot of them too. Over the weekend I grabbed one of the folders at random from the cart. It was a collection of rejection letters I had received years ago. The most recent one was literally 21 years old. Most were for feature articles I was pitching, but there were a few early fiction rejections as well. And these were actual paper letters. Some of them even handwritten. (Who sends handwritten letters anymore?) Old school stuff. I spent about three minutes leafing through them and reminiscing wistfully (is there any other way to reminisce?), then I closed the folder and carried the entire thing down to the recycling tub in the garage. Unburdened.

That leaves dozens of other folders in the cart (and who knows what in the file cabinet at the back of the closet or the box of “important papers” on top of it) still to be culled. I suspect it will get easier as I go along.

so I did a thing

Posted January 16, 2017 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Fathers and Sons


I’ve been fooling around with my story “Fire Sermon” for a couple of weeks. I got the first draft down without too much agony, and it’s been through a few rewrite sessions, but I kept telling myself it “wasn’t finished” and “wasn’t ready.”

Sometime over the weekend I came to understand that this was code, and the message behind it was that I was too chicken to just finish it and try submitting it.

So I did.

“Fire Sermon” weighs in at 3,540 words (exactly, at this moment), and that immediately put it out of consideration at many publications that had calls with themes that my story might fit. (What is it with shorter short stories? Are they easier for editors to publish? For readers to read? Can you really cover a human story in only 1,000 words?) So I broadened my search for a potential home and came upon a new-ish journal published from somewhere in the Midwest (tantalizingly vague on their webpage, though physical location doesn’t really matter in cyberspace, I suppose). And off the story went.

Now I have a tw0-month wait for a response. And in that time I hope to be able to turn my attention to other stuff. My playful story “Stargazing” is only about two-thirds written and deserves some love. And ideas for the sequel stories to One-Match Fire continue to come to me, so there’s some note-taking to be done there. Plus that pesky query letter for the novel. And there are plenty of other ideas in the mental hopper.

BTW, although “Fire Sermon” has two characters in it from the One-Match Fire stories, it isn’t really part of that novel. (I just know these two people very well and could write about them more easily.) One-Match Fire has a specific narrator — I’ve always asserted that a story’s narrator must be as much of a character, at the very least to the writer, as any character in the story — but that will not be the case with these subsequent stories. I’m not sure who that narrator will be, or even if it will be the same narrator for each story, but my point (and I do have one) is that I didn’t have to craft the telling of this tale in the voice of the person telling the other tales. That made the job easier.

damned hard

Posted January 10, 2017 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Fathers and Sons

Writing a query letter (for One-Match Fire) that I am confident about is damned hard.

from better to bitter

Posted January 9, 2017 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Roundrock

It’s not all shivering and shoveling around here. In fact, before the recent weather turned from better to bitter, I was actually able to go out to my Ozark cabin on New Year’s Day and stay the night. Thus I brought 2017 in properly. (Sadly, I was unable to make it out to Roundrock even one time for the whole of December. I don’t think that’s unprecedented, but I can’t recall the last time that’s ever happened in the nearly fifteen years I’ve been stomping around those woods.)

Back when Roundrock Journal was still alive, I would make a post each January tallying my visits for the prior year. I keep a calendar on the wall of my little cabin, and I would put a star on the dates I visited, sometimes leaving cryptic one- or two-letter notes on a date that would mean nothing to me at the end of the year.  And so, gentle reader, I’m going to make my 2016 tally here this year.

January – I was able to visit twice, on the 2nd and on the 30th. Likely the cold of winter prevented other visits, and certainly prevented overnight visits, though I think there was a trip to New York around this time too.

February – An overnight! I went down on Saturday, the 20th, and returned on Sunday. We must have had unseasonably warm weather then for me to spend the night in an unheated cabin in the Missouri Ozarks in February. But such weekends sometimes happen around here, and I even feature such unlikely weather in my One-Match Fire story “Boys are like Puppies” when the characters make a warm day trip to the family cabin in a fictitious February.

March – Another overnight, Saturday and Sunday, the 5th and 6th. Again, the weather must have been favorable. And then I returned on the 26th, making a solo trip, as I felt the need to note on the calendar. “Solo” likely included my dog, Flike, but he doesn’t make notes on the calendar, so I can’t be sure.

April – Both an overnight and a solo one at that. But that comprised my total visits to the cabin for the month. No cryptic notes to indicate what I was about then, though there was likely a campfire and perhaps some beer. Maybe even a cigar. Can’t be sure, again.

May – Another mid-month overnight trip — getting some use out of the old bunk beds in the cabin — but not one marked as a solo, so my wife must have been along, as well has her dog and mine. We had also made a trip to Kentucky over the Mother’s Day weekend to see my mother, so my opportunities to visit the cabin were limited.

June – Once again, an overnight, early in the month. No notes about the nature of the visit, but it likely included sawing logs and hiking about. No swimming in the lake is reported either.

July – A late-in-the-month overnight visit, just in time to give the month a tally on the calendar. Again, no swimming in the lake.

August – Not only another overnight weekend early in the month but a single-day visit the very next weekend. I wish I could tell you what I did either visit, other than confirm I did not swim, but the case is closed, I’m afraid.

September – An overnight during the Labor Day weekend, though I did not stay through the Monday holiday. Although I have recorded in past years swimming in the lake as late as October, I did not swim this September.

October – Just one visit, Sunday the 16th. Perhaps I was devoting my weekends to (insufficiently) training for a big run I had coming up the next month. I did run the Kansas City Half Marathon in October, which would have consumed a weekend itself.

November – Only one visit, but it was my traditional Black Friday venture, when I turn my back on the crass consumer culture and enjoy the mild fall days in the woods, soon to be gone. (The mild days, not the woods.) I had ventured to New York earlier in the month for a week for this little run I did then, so two weekends were devoured by that (and I was hobbling around for the week or so afterward).

December – Not a single visit. All of my children and grandchildren were coming for the holidays then, so much of my time was devoted to getting the household ready for them. I recall at least one Saturday when I thought I could have darted down to the cabin for a solo trip, but the guilt was apparently too much.

My wife used to accuse me of going to the cabin “every weekend” (and saying it in such a tone as to imply that was a bad thing). The evidence in recent years contradicts that. I don’t quite feel bitter about this, though I do wish I had more time for visits.

As to the lack of swimming, I remember reading something about a certain algae bloom in the region that was eating people’s brains, and I think that was the deterrent during the few opportunities across the summer when I might have dipped a toe in the lake.


Have you ever heard of synesthesia? It is a conflation of senses that some of us are “afflicted” with. The most common manifestation is the “knowledge” that letters (and words) have an inherent color. I have always known this about letters, and I can recall having a conversation with my older brother about it when we were both children. (I also know the shapes of most sounds.) Some say that this “ability” is how metaphor originally rose in human creativity. The colors I’ve given to the months above are my attempt (with the limited color palette in WordPress) to let you see what color each month’s name is. “October” is a white word, and that wouldn’t have worked on the screen had I painted it that color.

hero or fool?

Posted January 5, 2017 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic


We experienced 1 to 3 inches of fluffy snow in the overnight, and I found myself bundled and on my driveway at 4:30 this morning, wielding a snow shovel to make a path. Note that it was 11 bone-chilling degrees outside, and even the dogs had chosen to stay snug in (my) bed rather than come out and frolic with me.

I thought myself virtuous, abetted by the fact that the scrape of my shovel was the only one I heard in the whole neighborhood at that unholy hour. Sure, home ownership in vanilla suburbia is often a series of conventional behaviors disguised as virtues, but I still thought I had chosen heroically.

But then I saw some movement down the street, coming my way through the snow-dappled light of the street lamps. Some neighbor, more sleekly bundled than I, was out for his morning run! Only his nose and eyes were exposed, so if I knew him, I didn’t recognize him. Nor did he take notice of me as he darted past at what would be my I-can-see-the-finish-line-let’s-get-this-done! pace.

And then I wondered which of us was the true fool.


Posted December 29, 2016 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Fathers and Sons, Ramblings Off Topic

Tags: ,

So I’m reading this book Santa left under the tree for me: Sherlock Holmes FAQ by Dave Thompson. It’s full of interesting tidbits. (Did you know that Conan Doyle supposedly read Moby-Dick avidly? This would have been at the time when the novel was obscure and even dismissed.) Even so, it often seems like the author wants to show off his erudition, with pages-long tangents into some facts he’s uncovered that are only tenuously connected to Sherlock Holmes.

A recent chapter I finished began with a short paragraph that contained the word “whatsoever” twice. This didn’t seem like an ironic repetition or a flourish of his style. (The word appeared once more in the chapter.) I think it was just the result of quick work and poor editing. That’s unfortunate, and I did pause when I came across it, but I managed to keep reading the chapter.

This is a writerly failing of mine. I tend to repeat words, and I don’t realize it when I’m doing so. I only catch them (when I catch them) in my editing reviews of my stuff. And then I sometimes only catch them when I’m reading my writing aloud. As far as I can recall, I’ve never used the word “whatsoever” in any of my writing; my repeats tend to be a more commonplace words, and usually verbs. Just this morning I found the word “know” twice in one sentence, for example.

This isn’t necessarily bad, but it usually is. It’s certainly weak writing or at least an opportunity/need for stronger writing. And I’d like to be the one to find these instances rather than some editor down the road. Or worse, that neither of us would find it.


My work on “Fire Sermon” is coming along nicely. I’ve more than doubled the word count at this writing — I’m taking a break from the story to write this post — and I’m up to 1400+ words. Pretty good words too. The story has taken a little turn I wasn’t expecting, but it’s completely in keeping with the theme, so that’s fine. I have no complaints about it whatsoever.

just, um, do it!*

Posted December 26, 2016 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Process

Tags: , ,

I tell myself that I can make all of the notes I want about my stories and that I can muse about them incessantly as I’m pounding out the miles on the treadmill but that I cannot do the actual writing of them until I’m in the proper mental place (Call it inspiration if you want. Or a kind of essential quiet and solitude. Or maybe just too much iced tea — unsweetened, of course.) And so I often don’t stare at the blank screen, attempting to will the words to come, because I am just not in that proper mental place.

Today was different. I rose early to the quiet house (with five extra people in it including a one-year-old whose birthday it is today!) and sat myself in front of my laptop. I did the usual internet surfing, visiting all of the regular sites (including your blog). I finished reading a novel (Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett). And vigorously avoided opening Word to have a look at any of the four stories I currently have underway. So far, that much was not different at all. But some nattering in the back of my brain (perhaps in the rudimentary brain stem?) told me to just, um, do it. Just open any one of the four and read what was there.

The nattering was such that I couldn’t resist it with my usual rationalizations. I actually did open one: “Fire Sermon.” (I think I picked that one because I’m still in that whole story line, as I mumbled about in this post. But I could be mistaken. It’s happened before.) And I just starting putting down words. Completely outside of that mythical mental place. I’ve always known that it is easier to rein in an overwritten story than it is to pad out an underwritten one. So whatever words I put down wouldn’t necessarily be wasted, even if they were not any good.

The words came easily. I know these characters well. And I know what I want the story to do in terms of tone and plot. I have the theme worked out. I just didn’t have the transition from moment to moment within the story in my mind. And you can’t go forward if you don’t know the way. (I assured myself!) But I did anyway, and it turns out I did know the way. Or the way I chose was a good one that does advance the story.

So I more than doubled the word count on the story this morning (going from 300+ to 700+). And I got over the transition hump so I can get my (drunk) character to say the things that need saying to develop the plot a little more and bring in the theme.

Was a lesson learned this morning? Have I realized that I don’t have to be “inspired” to just put words down?

No, but that’s because, honestly, I’ve always know that to be true. I guess the real lesson I need to learn is how to overcome inertia. (It’s the same with lacing up for a run. It’s so easy to say I’d rather be writing than running and then end up doing neither.)

What works for you. Enlighten me. Please!

*modified corporate phrase to show I’m more than just a shill for a product.